Inspektor 12 Kronicles 11a: Dual Homage II

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The Saga:
The Homecoming
One Zero Nightmare
Miracles, Miseries
Inspektor Jekyll
Dual Homage I

**{The Legend of KFC & Blueboy; A Dual Homici - er, Homage, Act II. And still a Quinn Martinn Seductionn...}**

“Since when is the ability to think for herself an asset - in a woman?” --- Dr. Jonathan Franklin, Spring 1976.

Jonathan Carlton Franklin and Kathleen Elizabeth Carver were destined for each other; that much was certain from day one. Not only was their shared destiny pre-ordained; it was also - unbeknownst to both - pre-arranged during Jonathan’s adolescence in Typical Medieval Fashion. Theirs would be a true Power-Coupling in every sense of the term, it was fervently hoped. And if there was any Justice in the cosmos, they both would have eventually built a happily-ever-after, end of story together.

But we can all rest assured that there is no Justice in the cosmos **{Dreadfully sorry, Buford T}...........**

JCF grew up poor but Yankee in a modest 10-bedroom / four bath pine-log privy - the basement of which being rented out as a “luxury bachelor’s pad” to a rather weird chap named Gerrry Rivers, or some such {the third “r” in his name supposedly signifying his “dare to be different” - read that as “rebel without a clue” - tendencies}. Now then, our Young Jonnie was born with a notorious mechanical bent - by age five, he could completely disassemble any given electrical or mechanical device, tinker with it for a bit, then carefully re-assemble it in proper working order - all without any instructions, blueprints, schematics, what have you. Oh yes - the device would then operate several times BETTER than it did before. Mama Franklin never had to worry about burned toast, sour milk in the icebox during summertime, or a bollixed-up sewing machine, thanks to her young son’s genius.

Jonnie didn’t stop with just the toaster, refrigerator, and sewing machine; by the time he was eight, he had pretty much optimized - and in a few cases crudely automated - his family’s entire house. Everything from the newfangled air-conditioner, to the plumbing, to the radio and telephone - and even both his parent’s flivvers - had been subjected to Jonnie’s wizardry, and virtually everything Jonnie “breathed on” performed several grades better than they had in their OEM-state. The appliances all operated perfectly whilst drawing at minimum 50% less current than they originally did; the homestead’s plumbing efficiency wouldn’t be matched in the world at large for decades yet; and both his parent’s cars averaged 35 miles per gallon, and 75,000 miles of ultra-reliable service before maintenance was necessary. Unless of course a tire blew out, a hose burst, or a fan belt broke.

Needless to say, Papa Mert Franklin eventually had more than a few dollar $ign$ floating before his eyes, once he realized the true depth of his son’s genius - and the true depth of PROFIT already connected to those incredibly low utility bills and nearly non-existent automobile repair bills he happily paid each month. In the end, he was all set to quit his job at the sawdust-factory and slap down a first-n-last towards a storefront in town: Franklin’s Quicker-Fixer-Upper Shoppe. He’d be the brawn; the boy would be the brains; and they’d bloody well clean up HUGE, with this kind of racket!! However, Papa Mert Franklin’s “Great Gildersleeve Moment” was almost instantly deep-sixed via Mama Marge Franklin’s trusty old oak rolling pin. All it took was a solitary tactical conk on Papa Mert’s noggin - one that made Jawn Henry look like a powder puff in comparison, and also made Papa Mert see the proverbial “billions and billions” of stars for a good hour afterwards. HER precious baby boy would be party to no such vulgar thing, thank you very much!! Instead, the family’s by now ample {and steadily growing} stash of “butter and egg money” would be put to much better use by placing Jonnie within a private educational system geared towards developing and nurturing bright and gifted children in a much more conducive learning environment than the public education system could ever hope to provide.

Thus, at the ripe old age of 9, Jonnie was plucked from the mundane public school system, and was plunged straight into the educational fast-track, being enrolled in a certain Academy that will remain nameless, with a simple “sink or swim” mindset behind it all. Not knowing any better, Jonnie reflexively fell into a metaphoric butterfly-stroke, and never looked back. Within his first month, he’d tested completely out of both grade school and junior high school-level curricula, which was more than enough to make the Academy’s headmaster and his select staff quickly sit up and take notice. Before Jonnie tested again, it was decided that he’d be placed as an academic high school freshman, then be let totally off the leash from there. Unspoken but strong was the hope that he’d decide to serve out a full four years or even more, refining and polishing his socialization and peer group interaction skills in the bargain. Mama Marge Franklin was all for the plan, as was her hubby Mert - after a few more “persuasive” noggin-conks.

Unbeknownst to anyone however, Master Jonathan Carlton Franklin was already a young man on a serious mission. He literally flew through his studies like he had perhaps five minutes left to live. Barely a year after enrolling, Jonathan had bypassed freshman studies after a mere two months, and was already almost done with his sophomore “year” to boot. The only thing that even remotely held him in check for any length of time academically was his palette of industrial arts courses. Everything from constructing a doorbell out of scrap materials and a 6 volt lantern battery, to understanding the basics of how a then-theoretical nuclear chain-reaction worked was within the scope of his curricula, and boy did he ever relish applying himself heart and soul to these particular studies. As such, he eventually entered, and easily won, an international youth science project contest. His winning entry was a wildly hot-rodded combination radio and telephone signal antenna / booster - “satellite radio,” and “4G crystal-clarity cellular signal” would both eventually grow directly from this particular taproot.

If that wasn’t enough already, in the wake of the contest Jonnie was also offered no less than three separate college scholarships, and one business proposal from a certain Lectro Corporation to bring his prototype to the mass market. After a couple of in-depth meetings with both the Academy’s Headmaster and his folks, and more than a few noggin-conks endured by his Papa when poor Mert started to see those floating dollar $ign$ again, Jonnie made his move on the business proposal by first patenting his invention {rights retained in perpetuity}, then offering exclusive production and marketing / distribution rights to Lectro, for an initial five year period. The perpetual royalties his family would soon see sealed the deal of their collective prosperity, despite the 60-40 monetary split the Corporation eventually went to court to insist upon.

Jonathan had good reason to vividly - and bitterly - remember that first Franklin Family courtroom experience, in his later life. Originally, Lectro had made an offer of a 75% - 25% split - in their favor, of course. Jonnie’s parent’s lawyer wisely told the Corporation to stuff their offer “where the sun don’t shine,” and contact them when they might have a less greed-driven proposal in mind. The immediate response was an offer of 60-40; better, but the firm was still creaming off way too much for themselves, in the Franklins’ opinion. Per their lawyer’s advice, the Franklins promptly rejected the new offer, then prepared to hunker down and simply wait the wolves out. They might have succeeded, if it wasn’t for a certain slimy journalistic muck-raker the opposition had quietly hired some time before, to stir the pot in Typically Devious Fashion. His name was Gerrry Rivers, the very same tenant currently living in the basement bachelor-pad of the Franklins’ mansion-esque pine-log privy! Mert, Marge, and Jonnie would soon deeply rue their blissful ignorance, where their “cellar-dweller-feller” was concerned………….

Initially starting with a simple “Boy-Genius In Legal battle” premise, “The Rivers” stealthily dug deep into the gutter, swam many a cesspool, and otherwise looked under virtually every turd and rock he could find, until he struck Millorganite - er, ah, paydirt. It all boiled down to Jonnie’s family tree - were the modern Franklins by any chance related {however distantly} to one Benjamin Franklin, he of eccentric scientific pursuits, and the scourge of tyrants, founder of nations, rouser of genteel rabble, and a staunch purveyor of good old civil disobedience? Well, yes - yes they were, it was reluctantly admitted. That very reluctance was just the sort of red flag The Rivers was looking for - I mean, why the hell wasn’t the Family Franklin playing up to the hilt their ties to one of America’s FOREFATHERS, and exercising enough clout to easily negotiate a 90 - 10 monetary deal in THEIR favor, for crying out loud? The more The Rivers pondered the question, the more it all didn’t make sense - until a colleague reminded him that Benjamin Franklin never PROPERLY married.

Bingo! Bango!! Bongo!!! And Irving!!!!

From that point on, The Rivers’ job was a piece of cake - all it took was a days’ research in the sub-sub basement “black alley” of the Smithsonian Institution {where all the scandalous records and countless skeletons were kept quietly on ice}, and a generous $50 tip to his inside contact to look the other way whilst he got all the dirt on film. Once his field / grunt work was finished, The Rivers was well-pleased with himself. He’d write the Mother of All Sensational Tabloid Exclusives, place it on all the wire services for immediate dispatch, then high-tail it straight to Lectro’s headquarters, and demand a bonus of two more G’s - or at the very least one of them cushy Chicago-style union gigs where you showed up for work only one hour each month…… collect the months’ pay…….

Meanwhile, three whole weeks had gone by before the Corporation - this time through the local Circuit Court - reiterated their 60-40 offer; the Franklins instantly rejected it again, then settled back down in their family bunker. Barely twelve hours later, without even the slightest hint of warning beforehand, The Rivers’ journalistic equivalent of a 25 megaton, ultra-high-yield ICBM airburst just below the mezzosphere over an absolutely stunned American nation, before the shockwaves quickly spread out to encompass the globe.

**BEN FRANKLIN’S BOY GENIUS DESCENDANT ILLEGITIMATE!!** screamed the first newspaper front page banner headline, in bold 48-point typeface above the fold. And then all hell broke loose as The Rivers’ hack-piece quickly “went viral” - a good sixty years before the term was even dreamed of - around the rest of the planet:









Ad infinitum.

See, even though Benjamin Franklin never married properly in the eyes of the Church, he did wildly indulge in what was supposed to be an exclusively matrimonial fringe-benefit. To be absolutely blunt about it, Benjamin Franklin fucked like a rabbit on crack, indiscriminately, all throughout his adult life - even during his common-law “marriage.” That was bad enough, but the crux of the matter that would directly affect poor Jonnie two centuries hence was far worse, indeed. Succinctly, during his post-American Independence time in England - whilst his common-law wife kept the home fires burning in Boston - Ol’ Randy Ben’s loins were eventually deeply stirred up by his live-in housekeeper, and he wasted no time whatsoever in inviting her to do the horizontal hula with him, which she happily agreed to on the spot. All well and good, save for three things - the housekeeper was a mere thirteen years old when sixty-something Ben came-a-courtin’; she got pregnant their very first tryst together; and the coup-de-grace was that she hailed from the Dark Continent! That’s right, friends and neighbors - Jonathan Carlton Franklin’s 10-great paternal Grandmother was a “permanently indentured servant,” ie, a black female slave “with benefits.” But absolutely no rights or privileges of her own, seeing as how the then-nascent American society viewed the “lower castes” - read that “those of objectionable ethnic background” - in those times.

How did History record Jonnie’s 10-great African Grandma’s name, you ask? It was Screwgood - Soylents Screwgood **{so help me Nicholas Cage, and forgive me Chuck Heston}**. Within an hour of the story breaking, Lectro was on the phone to the Franklins’ lawyer, claiming total responsibility, and reiterating their last compensation offer - or else more such stories would appear, AND their next financial offer would shrink drastically, both measures backed with full Court approval. And once Miss Screwgood’s name, age, adulterous actions, country of origin, and ⅗’s societal stature saturated the teletypes and wires and cables and radio antenna towers worldwide as the linchpins of The River’s hideously filthy story, the Family Franklin were only too happy to quickly agree to the 60-40 deal, provided that the scandal could be swiftly hushed up, and re-buried before it hit the newsreels for a second, and longer-lasting go-round. Lectro readily agreed to the “in-toto burial” clause requested by the family {and endorsed by the hearing Judge}, the cost of which the Corporation would bear, gratis. Thus, the story was hot stuff for perhaps 30 hours or so, then simply vanished without trace just before it hit the celluloid - as per the settlement - leaving the Franklins more or less in peace.

All except for Jonnie, that is.

From that awful day forward, poor young Jonathan Franklin had to run the excruciatingly painful gauntlet of his classmates’ relentless and downright cruel teasing of him.

“Hey SPEWGOOD - was yo’ ten-great Gran-mammy a moaner, or a screamer?” “Hey SCREWLOOSE - did yo’ 10-great Gran-mammy hook her vibrator up to Ben’s kite, when he flew it?” “Hey SCREWBALL - I heard that yo’ ten-great Gran-mammy earned $95.17 one time, by having sex-for-pay with the men in her village. Who gave her the seventeen cents? They ALL did!!” “Hey SCREWTHEPOOCH - was it true that yo’ ten-great Gran-mammy could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch?”

With rare steadfast courage, Jonnie tried everything he could think of to cope. He ignored them. He fought with them. Hell, he even tried to laugh along with their cruel jokes and stupid taunts; although it didn’t work either, he did manage to earn a small measure of respect for his amazingly mature attitude towards self-deprecation, and “taking it on the chin like a manly-man would.” In later life, those traits became extremely well-developed indeed, but were almost always overshadowed by his genius, which had become hopelessly embittered, if not downright warped altogether. The poor lad WAS still only ten-going-on-eleven years old when the whole sordid mess first blew up, remember. As such, the ceaseless teasing and ribbing well and truly arrested Jonnie’s emotional development, permanently twisting and savagely stunting it for all time. He never blamed his parents for either this, or what would eventually go down shortly - he knew from the get-go that the scandal was purely an outside attack on his family, with the bull’s eye permanently mounted on his own tenderling-genius ass.

Finally, after a full year-and-a-half of gauntlet-running that deeply scarred Jonnie’s psyche to the very core, his parents decided that their obviously suffering son should take a sabbatical from his studies, and simply disappear into the bosom of his loving family whilst his horrible psychological wounds healed. Although he was a near-total emotional basket-case by now, Jonnie nonetheless stubbornly refused to lose one iota of his academic momentum. After much bitter debate with his parents - complete with showers of conks on Papa Mert’s poor noggin - it was finally decided that Jonnie would resume his studies via weekly correspondence. Thus, he could continue pursuing his education completely free from the multiple on-campus distractions of that blasted family-tree scandal, and the Academy wouldn’t lose both a star pupil, and a pair of most generous benefactors in Papa Mert and Mama Marge Franklin.

Then too, the family Franklin had also been dealing with fending off a determined media onslaught that rose up in the wake of the The Rivers’ scandal, focusing this time on Jonnie’s “Boy Genius” stature, and what sort of Great Figure he might or might not become as an adult. This was the tipping point where Jonnie’s individual sabbatical turned into a Franklin Family Sabbatical. Without warning, they all just up and split one day to a new exclusive inland retreat on the East Coast that had very recently been constructed on remote Neshobe Island, once the fabled stomping grounds of the legendary Aleksander Woolcott, founder of the storied Algonquin Round Table, and great friend of one Harpo Marx {believe it or not, also a member of the ART}. Still blissfully ignorant, Mert and Marge left Ol’ Man Rivers in charge of their homestead - and were totally bemused when he casually paid a full six months’ rent in cash, as a “show of good faith” the day they handed him the keys. Had the Franklins discovered exactly where Gerrry’s fat bankroll had originated, it’s entirely safe to say a much, MUCH different story would be unfolding here.

As far as Mert, Marge, and Jonnie were concerned, Neshobe was just what the doctor ordered - peace, quiet, and gorgeous scenery were in magnificent overabundance on that tiny isle, and outsiders were neither welcomed, nor tolerated. The island’s caretakers were fiercely protective of both the island in general, and the honored guests that retreated there in particular. Quite simply, on Neshobe Island the outside world stayed in the outside world - period. As such, the Franklins left the rat-race back on the mainland, where it belonged. Which meant that their therapeutic decompression could start immediately.

Although seemingly aloof for the first few days, Jonnie nonetheless began to quickly fall under the wonderful magic spell Neshobe generated naturally. Being a village-kid, he’d never been much exposed to Nature in the raw on a grand scale, and was instantly captivated by it all. Sunrise, sunset over the river; the evening call of the whippoorwill echoing across the water, and being answered onshore; a lovely and ancient oak tree forest on the island’s northern tip; even a natural mineral hotspring that somehow formed a steamy miniature Niagara Falls **{Slowly I turned…}**, before it ultimately debauched into the wide and lazy river that Neshobe was firmly situated in the middle of. All this, and much more washed over Jonnie the entire time his family was there. Many, many moons later, a grown Jonathan would harken back to these preciously golden days through his secret purchase of another tiny-but-gorgeous island down Bermuda-way: Saint Emil.

For now, though, the Franklins just simply relaxed, and let go of all their cares and worries. Jonnie, who’d already ravenously devoured the entire known history of Neshobe by the second day they were there, immediately followed in Aleksander Woolcott’s eccentric footsteps by acquiring a raging addiction to the ultimate “gentleman’s sport” of croquet. Forget baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or soccer. Croquet - essentially polo on foot, sans either horse or body of water, mixed with a touch of English Cricket - was the bees’ knees, as far as Jonnie was concerned. And like “Unka Acky-Wooky” before him, Jonnie soon became the Minnesota Fats of the sport, eventually going so far as to winning the solid platinum Croquet Singles World Exhibition Cup the summer when he was seventeen years old. He never lost his love for the game, either. Even in his twilight years, long after the megalomania had come to the forefront, Jonathan Franklin took immense {and perverse} delight in “going buckety-buckety” with his beloved croquet mallets all up and down the shores of St. Emil - whilst the island was literally in the eye of a perpetual, and stationary F5 {The Finger of God} hurricane, generated by his newly-acquired “weather-control device.”

The Franklins’ Neshobe idyll wound up providing young Jonnie with not one or two, but three watershed moments that would dramatically shape and define his ultimate destiny. The initial moment occurred the very first day of the retreat, when Jonnie met one Freddy Rawlins, the brilliant and precocious six-year-old son of Thelonius and Maddie Rawlins, the permanently live-in caretakers of Neshobe. The adult Franklins and Rawlinses {and what was in their pocketses} hit it off immediately - Freddy having much the same “genius” aptitude as Jonnie being a perfect icebreaker for the two couples. After thoroughly comparing notes, Thelonius and Maddie quickly grew thick as thieves with Papa Mert and Mama Marge.

The boys did their bit too. Both being the only children in their respective families, they had each quietly longed for a brother or sister to go through life with. Much like their folks, Jonnie and Freddy quickly gravitated towards each other, thoroughly compared notes, then also instantly became thick as thieves, just like the Old Farts. Freddy had the same eidetic recall as Jonnie, and was well along his own prodigy path, fuelled by his infatuation with all things mechanical. Their only difference in aptitude was that Freddy was firmly rooted in the invention / designing / creative thinking side of the equation - the wildest flights of fancy, perfect for his vivid imagination. Jonnie was just as firmly entrenched on the practical assembly / manufacturing and technical maintenance side - he’ll MAKE it work; or work better; or else! In due time the boys would eventually join forces, unselfishly share all their many talents with each other, and pursue their destinies together with astonishing success. For the nonce though, they both had an absolute blast together simply being “adopted” brothers, as the idyll slowly rolled ever onward.

The second crucial moment in Jonnie’s life happened roughly two months into the Franklin’s stay on Neshobe. Thel, Mad, Papa Mert and Mama Marge thought it would be a splendid idea to treat the boys to a “Family Fun Day” back on the mainland - with the bulk of the morning and early afternoon being spent taking in a science-fiction film double-feature matinee at the local Rialto. The silent “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” starring John Barrymore was the first feature on the bill, and the boys found it to be a rather pleasant AND somewhat gruesome {JB’s “Mr. Hyde” makeup job} tale. As the end credits rolled, Jonnie remarked that he could clearly feel the same dichotomy of man’s dual inner natures within himself - which briefly raised the eyebrows of all the Old Farts just before they went to score more popcorn, and use the loo. However, it was the second flick that really knocked the socks off of both Freddy and Jonnie. Fritz Lang’s iconic masterpiece “Metropolis” was the second half of the double bill, and both boys developed instant and DEEP crushes on Hel / Maria the robot. Freddy also got off on the sheer brilliance of the film’s settings, as well as the trick photography, and fairly advanced-for-the-day special effects.

On the other hand, Freddy’s adopted Big Bro Jonnie only had eyes - and the odd one or two billion naughty thoughts - for Brigitte Helm; a beautiful young woman who was {seemingly} turned into a wildly alluring female robot, right before his very-believing eyes. ***Oh, to have absolute control over SUCH a dazzling mechanical creature - who could ask for anything more?*** the hopelessly smitten Lad thought to himself. However, Jonnie later stunned all four adults present when he sneered to Freddy about how the robot-Maria “almost knew her proper place, and got what she deserved in the end.” Unsure about how to respond to such a boldly cynical statement from so young a lad, the grown-ups silently let the comment pass - but from then on kept a sharp eye on both boys’ behavior. This might be another sign of psychological trauma fallout in young Jonnie - which Freddy would need to be completely shielded from - and was well worth keeping abreast of.

As far as the Lads themselves were concerned, the rest of the mainland junket passed by in a happy blur for the gifted duo, who were both hopelessly yearning to be “abreast” of Brigitte Helms’ lovely twin peaks themselves, be they flesh, or metal!! Freddy was already sketching his brilliant and incredibly detailed version of the Maria-Robotrix - who would have needed a spine like a piece of super-heavy-duty railroad rail, just to be able to {barely} support the ENORMOUS mammaries he quite fancied. For his part, Jonathan was muttering something about buying the artificial skeleton from the Academy’s well-stocked biology department “to play around with.”

By the time the group hit the shore of Neshobe again late that evening, $1500 had been wired to the Academy, who promised to have the skeleton Jonnie wanted, as well as the full graduate course of human physiology / biology lessons on the island within 36 hours. Another $1500 had been wired at the same time to the Edison Labs world headquarters in Menlo Park, along with a lengthy list of various electrical and mechanical parts, plus more than a few chemicals; all of which were likewise promised to be on the island within 36 hours. Not wishing to risk upsetting Jonnie, by mutual agreement the four adults all refrained from any type of inquiry as to what the Lads were up to; they simply ordered everything without question, and quietly let the “Yutes” {a-la “My Cousin Vinny”} have 100% free reign. The boys would dish when ready; if not, well, perhaps Jonnie was old enough to be introduced to Mama Marge’s patent-pending noggin-conk method of “persuasive therapy”………..

More weeks turned into months, and soon enough the adults started to quietly talk about what the Family Franklins’ next step might be. Their idyll had been crazy-therapeutic thus far; the lads had never been happier - nor the adults, for that matter. Perhaps thought should be given to possibly making the “Neshobe Exile” permanent? Jonnie kept his torrid educational process zinging right along with little obvious external effort. What’s more, he appointed himself Freddy’s first and premier mentor, and was furiously grooming him for the academic fast-track, much to the surprise and great delight of the Old Farts. Freddy happily took to the situation like a duck to soup **{Namecheck, Rufus T. Firefly}** and would likely be ready to enter Jonnie’s Academy by the end of the calendar year, all things considered. Finances were no issue; in addition to three months’ rent up front when the Franklins first arrived, Papa Mert and Mama Marge had also given Thel and Mad a generous amount of seed-money to finance the publishing of two cookbooks Mad had written just before the Idyll began. Both became instant best-sellers within a couple weeks of their initial appearance on the commercial market. Ergo, Thel and Mad were by now as financially secure as Papa Mert and Mama Marge, and became even moreso once they licensed the second and third printing rights to some chap by the surname of Dalton.

However, the question of making the idyll permanent or not was ultimately answered by Freddie and Jonnie a month later, on the day of Jonnie’s 13th birthday. Although winter was fast approaching, Mother Nature granted one final day of mild temperatures, light winds, and no rain. As such, Neshobe Island echoed once more to the happy shouts, and frequent laughter that had become part and parcel of the Franklin Family Idyll. Jonnie had amazingly ROARED back from his emotional trauma with virtually no apparent ill-effects; he now seemed to be a typical bright, active boy of impending teenage, happily leading his adopted little brother through life, and all its’ wonders. True, he and Freddy were still mostly preoccupied by the “top secret” project they started the night of their movie-junket, but other than that, they both showed every sign of simply being a pair of well-adjusted {if a bit overly curious about many things beyond their young ages}, and quite clever, young boys.

Just HOW clever this pair of Yutes actually was became apparent a scant five minutes after the Old Farts called the Lads down to the beach for Birthday-luncheon. Right after Freddy and Jonnie sat down at the driftwood picnic table Thelonious and Papa Mert had built early in the idyll, Maddie exclaimed “Oh fudge - I forgot to bring down the lemonade!” Before either Thel or Papa Mert could rise, Jonnie said “Oh, don’t worry Mama Maddie - I’ll fetch it directly.” Bemused, the adults watched with great curiosity as Jonnie popped the latch of the wooden “briefcase” he’d been carrying around for the last few weeks. The rectangular lid was lifted up, revealing a typewriter keyboard connected to a veritable rats’ nest of wires that all ran into a simple black cube. Jonnie nonchalantly worked the keyboard for twenty seconds, then sat back with a knowing grin beginning to form on his tanned face. “Lemonade en route!!” he chirped brightly.

The adults saw what looked like a miniature radio antenna rise up several inches from the black cube; thirty seconds later, they clearly heard the front door of the Franklin’s cabin open and close. After a minute, the Old Farts heard the door open and close again, followed immediately by the sounds of an individual making their way briskly along the path through the forest that led down to the beach. Thel, Mad, Mert, and Marge all exchanged alarmed glances - a trespasser on the island NOW, of all times? They looked at the Lads - Jonnie’s grin was wider yet, and the adults also noticed that Freddy was beaming too. Several moments later, the Old Farts were stunned to see a shapely, vaguely familiar-looking young woman emerge from the wooded path, gracefully carrying a tray loaded with glasses, a large carafe of ice cubes, and the forgotten pitcher of lemonade!! She stood about four and a half feet tall, with a figure that strongly reminded all the adults of Betty Boop. That impression was bolstered by the naughty-short, bright orange sleeveless “flapper dress” that clung tightly to every square inch of her body, and a huge pair of grey-green eyes that all but monopolized her otherwise cute face, tiny, perky Cupid’s Bow lips and all. And yes, she was wearing a Boop-garter midway up her left thigh as well. Her clear skin was deeply tanned, which complemented both her minidress, and the bright henna plume that crowned her lovely head, and hung down loose and wild past her shoulders.

She wordlessly brought her cargo to the picnic table, carefully set it down, then spun on her dainty, unshod heels and briskly retraced her steps. Every adult remained silent and immobile, as the entire group watched the oddly stone-faced newcomer head back up the wooded path with a gait that was both graceful yet extremely toy-soldierish in execution. The group soon heard the cabin door open and close for a third time, then all was still. Gregarious as always, and with twinkling eyes, Papa Mert broke the heavy silence after a minute and a half. “Boys, you haven’t been holding out on your Dear Old Dads now, have you?” Maddie and Mama Marge - for once - remained silent. “Aw, naw Papa!! Nothin’ like that” Freddy and Jonnie replied in perfect unison. Thel stroked his bearded chin thoughtfully, a hint of a chuckle underpinning his deep bass voice as he asked “Okay then, just WHO was it that fetched our lemonade down to us here?” Brilliantly beaming at his father, Freddy happily said “Oh not ‘who’ Pops, but ‘what.’ “

With that, Freddy hastily worked the keyboard that a now broadly smiling Jonnie had moved over to him, then sat back all Cheshire cat-like, clapping his hands twice in gleeful anticipation. Moments later it was the familiar cabin door open-and-close, then quickstep down to the beach; the pretty girl soon emerging from the woods once again, and then making her gracefully-halting way towards the group. She stopped just short of the picnic table, curtsied politely to the whole congregation {which flashed her ridiculously deep cleavage}, then went to stand directly behind the Lads. She neither spoke, nor moved once she was behind Freddy and Jonnie, and her expression remained just as devoid as it was during her debut minutes ago. In unison, the Lads put an arm around each other’s shoulders, then proudly said “Popses and Momses, meet Helen; she’s our new Robot!” The Old Farts saw Freddy hit the spacebar on the keyboard twice, then were absolutely gobsmacked when the shapely girl approached the head of the picnic table once more, turned to face the assembly, then haltingly raised her right arm and performed a perfect “Sim, Sim, Salabim” gesture, complete with a deep mechanical-yet-graceful bow, and another, more-lingering glimpse of her outrageously deep cleavage.

For a long while nobody spoke, nobody moved. Aside from a gentle breeze rustling the last straggling leaves on the faithful oaks surrounding them, the only sound was a soft tick-tick-tick coming from the now passively immobile “girl.” Maddie finally broke the ice with a bewildered “Freddy Honey, can you tell Mama about how you and Jon-Boy made your little friend, here?” Beaming, Freddy exclaimed “Oh, it was a cinch, once Jonnie decided where every part of her guts would go!” Thel eyed his son curiously. “What ‘guts’ do you mean, Son?” he asked calmly. “You know Pops - the motors and gears for her joints, the battery for her heart, and all the rest of the neat junk we ordered from Mr. Edison the night of our movie party.” Both Papa Mert and Mama Marge had gotten up from the table, and were examining Helen up close. Jonnie was proudly showing off her amazing features, starting with her smooth, tanned, blemish-free skin.

“It’s that canvas left over from the kayak Papa Thel made last year,” Jonnie stated proudly. “Once her internals were set and ready, I carefully traced Helen’s body onto the canvas, and cut it out as five separate pieces - two arms, two legs, and the torso including her head. We soaked each piece in a bucket of mink oil for two weeks, then put them on wet. Freddy did a great job stitching the seams together - you can’t even see the stitches from the outside!” Jonnie turned Helen so her back was facing the group. From a normal distance, she appeared completely human, but if one looked closely, they could just detect a faint line running vertically on her body’s exact centerline, as well as similarly discrete lines on the backside of her arms and legs. Even so, the anomalies looked for all the world like faint surgical scars, or stocking seams - until Jonnie reached up under Helen’s flowing henna hair, and casually unzipped her “skin” from collarbone to vertical smile!!!!

Mama Marge and Maddie gasped, whilst their menfolk whistled through their teeth in unison. Jonnie carefully laid back Helen’s supple outer covering, exposing the bakelite skeleton that had been ordered from the Academy the night of their mainland-junket. The Old Farts were amazed at all the machinery that had been packed into the skeleton - they could see small motors, gears, cylinders, tubes, pistons, bulbs, and wires crammed into every nook and cranny. What’s more, each item was placed in a neat and orderly fashion, as if it had belonged there from the beginning. After five minutes of silent scrutiny by the group, Papa Mert made a quiet statement. “It’s as if we’re looking at the insides of a very special human being! I am absolutely amazed at the fine job you and Freddy did on her, my Boy.” Mert backed his words with Jonnie’s favorite form of Fatherly affection - a strong embrace of his gifted son’s shoulders, and a thorough tousling of the lad’s hair.

Mama Marge, who had been silently marvelling at how soft the mechanical girl’s skin felt to her inquisitive fingers, finally found her voice. “Why on earth didn’t you boys tell us about this sooner? Papa Thel, Momma Mad, Papa Mert and I could have helped you two out, I’m sure.” Freddy piped up brightly: “Oh Mama Marge, Jonnie and I wanted to do this all by ourselves to surprise you! Y’all still like our surprises, right?” Mama Marge pulled her adopted nephew in for a warm and loving hug. “Us Old Folks absolutely adore your surprises, Precious.” She kissed his cheek sweetly. Cupping Freddy’s chin and gently tilting his head back just enough so he could look up at her directly, Mama Marge smiled and went on with total kindness. “Answer me two questions though, Sweet Pea?” Freddy nodded eagerly. “Why did you soak the canvas in mink oil, and why did you put it on her wet?”

Freddy’s eyes sparkled brilliantly. “The mink oil makes the canvas soft, and we put it on Helen wet so we could work it into proper position before it dried out, and stretched tight. It made my stitching easier, too.” Marge beamed at Freddy whilst Thel grinned. “Just like building a kayak or canoe, eh, Boyo? You learned well from our project last year, didn’t you?!” He thumped his son’s back with deep pride and affection. Jonnie spoke up. “The mink oil also makes Helen’s skin watertight, although it nearly ruined the flesh tone we gave her by darkening the dye several shades at her skin’s seams.” The adults looked at the robot’s skin more closely - it did look as if she was either a “scarred” Latina with heavy suntan, or a “scarred” and slightly jaundiced American Indian, but it wasn’t a jarring enough circumstance to fully shatter her verisimilitude, all else being equal. Thel caught Jonnie’s eye. “Say Jon-Boy, how exactly does Helen work? I don’t see anything inside her that looks like a battery?”

“That’s because her power cell is in her head, Papa Thel,” Jonnie explained with a smile. “We ran out of room in her chest area, thanks to the relays and the fact that Helen’s boobies aren’t hollow inside.” Freddy giggled furiously as Mama Marge flinched at Jonnie’s childishly risqu`e statement, before shooting him a strong “watch it, Kiddo” look, whilst trying her damnedest not to crack a broad smile, spoiling the illusion of her “disapproval.” Papa Mert, his nose literally deep inside Helen’s back cavity, let out another whistle of amazement. “By golly, that relay I see in the right side of Pelen’s Elvis - er, ah I mean Helen’s pelvis - looks just like the big ones I worked with when I was still with the railroad!” Beaming, the Lads nodded together. “It’s the same basic design, but scaled down and re-purposed, Papa” Jonnie said with evident pride. “You know how I love to tinker - making Helen here has been nothing but one great BIG tinker, for me! Her brain mechanism is a cross-breed of player-piano guts, augmented with tweaked telegraph components. A small radio / telegraph receiver is built into her head, above her main power cell.”

Jonnie motioned Freddy to hand him the keyboard. Opening the wood case fully flat on the picnic table, he continued explaining. “This keyboard is how Helen is controlled. You simply type the commands in here, and they are literally telegraphed into Helen’s head and chest, where the relays convert the code into physical action using the battery for power.” Papa Mert grinned widely. “So Helen is just like a lovely cross between a telegraph with a powered #2 railroad turnout, or #6 track crossover, in basic function?” Jonnie giggled and nodded. “Somewhat like that Papa, yes! But don’t forget to add in the new automatic crossing gates, for good measure - she commits traffic-stopping locomotion too, y’know.” Everybody had a good laugh over Jonnie’s deadpan quip, save Helen, of course. She remained where she was, quite oblivious to everything, patiently awaiting her next typed command.

Maddie had a question or three. “Honey, can Helen see and talk?” Jonnie was quiet; he simply shot Freddy a grin that said “Your turn, Little Brother!” “She can’t talk yet, Momma” Freddy began with surprisingly mature confidence in his voice. “We wanted to get her up and moving before we started adding the frills.” Freddy licked his lips. “As for Helen being able to see, well………” He looked in silent appeal to Jonnie, who nodded with compassion. Jonnie said “Momma Maddie, Helen can see rather well, but not in exactly the same way we do. I was originally going to rig up a two-camera stereo-opticon system for her eyes, but Edison Labs doesn’t make a small enough camera for me to start with yet. They did mention something about that new firm down in eastern Tennessee possibly being able to help by this time next year, but I wanted results NOW. Sooooo, I went with Plan B.” Clearly enjoying the rapt attention of all the Old Farts, Jonnie paused for dramatic effect, before pridefully thrusting out his chest.

“Helen’s eyes are actually special dual-purpose lenses I designed and made myself. Her vision is made up of electronic radiowave impulses that are sent out through her eyes, then bounce off all local objects before returning back through her eyes. The information is imprinted on her memory cylinder, and is continually updated until she stops moving for more than a minute or two. The original device was designed during the Great War; it’s called ‘radar.’ Myself, I call it ‘Helen’s optics system,’ ‘cos of all the tweaks I made.” Papa Mert cleared his throat. “You said something about ‘power cells’ in her head, Son?” Jonnie nodded. “Yes sir. Edison Labs is pushing what they call ‘dry cell’ technology. A dry cell doesn’t have reactive liquid to help generate power; the core uses a pair of solid ‘anti-agents’ nested one inside the other, to trigger the reaction that generates the power. The ‘anti-agent’ used depends on the core material of the cell. Lithium uses one type, zinc uses another, nickel uses yet another. I modified lithium cores to react with normal table salt - a sodium reaction releases the most power with the smallest amount of reactive materials needed. Helen can run for 48 hours of normal use before her cells need to be re-charged, or 24 hours under extreme conditions. When her power levels drop, I just plug her into an outlet like I would a radio for six hours, and bingo! She’s fresh as a daisy!”

At this point, Maddie suddenly interrupted the conversation. “Say Margie-Sugar, what’cha got going on the spit? Something smells a little burnt, if you ask me.” Startled, Marge looked up, her nose wrinkling. “I don’t have anything on now, Hon - least of all anything that smells like that!” “Ho-ly SHITSICLES” Thel and Mert exclaimed in unison. “THE CABIN’S ON FIRE!!!”

For a stunned minute or so, the entire group simply stared at the clouds of billowing smoke and roiling flames clearly visible just beyond the head of the path through the woods. Abruptly, they all sprinted off up the trail as fast as they could. At the head, Thel began barking orders. “Maddie and Marge, grab the fire buckets from my machine shop, and start on a firebreak. Mert, hang with me. Boys, man the pump on the well, and let’s hope and pray your pressure-boosting thingamabob works, Jon-Boy!!” Thel waved each group off in their directions before grabbing the neatly coiled fire hose hung on the side of the compound’s well. Mert made sure the nozzle was tight, then checked the other end connected to the sump of the well. “Right and tight, Thel. Let ‘er rip!” Thel looked over at the boys, who were furiously priming the pump. “Pressure?” he roared. Jonnie kept pumping frantically as Freddy flashed his father a double thumbs-up. “Full blast, Pop!!”

With that, Thelonius opened the nozzle, and cascades of water under considerably extreme pressure erupted from the firehose, which immediately began to dance around like a rather angry spitting cobra in his hands, before Mert came to Thel’s aid with two strategically placed boot heels, to act as an ad-hoc pressure regulator. This allowed Thel to more easily direct the enthusiastic water spray. Fortunately, the fire hadn’t yet gone out of control, and was completely quenched within fifteen tense minutes. Maddie and Marge collapsed in an exhausted heap the instant Thel proclaimed the fire all the way out. They’d been frantically building a fire-break with beach sand between the cabin and the rest of the compound. “Whoo Lord, I sure could use some of that lemonade right now!” Maddie was fanning herself with both hands. “Freddy Sugar, why don’t you ask Helen to bring us the lemonade again?” Both boys stopped dead in their tracks. “Holy cow!! We forgot all about her!” Jonnie exclaimed, as they both raced off back down towards the beach. Forty seconds later, all four adults were rapidly boogie-ing down the path themselves, in response to the frantic screams of Jonnie and Freddy.

Bursting out onto the beach, the adults were astonished to see Freddy hopping up and down, screaming his lungs out, and hurling every rock he could lay his hands on at a motorboat that was already several hundred feet away from their shore, heading for the far bank of the mile-wide river with evident haste. But even more astonishing was the small figure in hot pursuit of the boat - Jonnie - “swimming like a berzerk human paddle-wheeler” his Papa Mert marvelled, compelling him and the the others to stop and stare in amazement. Although his effort was game indeed - and damn near succeeded - Jonnie’s valiant pursuit ultimately failed in the end; the perp had just too big a jump on him to overcome “bare-handed” as it were. An exhausted but fuming Johnnie stomped out of the river some five minutes later, barely acknowledging the towel that was wrapped tightly around him, and the vigorous rubbing that quickly ensued. The mysterious motorboat had, of course, long since vanished.

“That rat-bastard stole my Helen!” One and all were stunned again - Jonnie’s seething observation was delivered in a strikingly deep adult voice, tinged with a timbre that could only be described as “villainous” - and made both women shudder violently the instant they heard it. Mert looked askance at his utterly distraught son, startled by how tall Jonnie now suddenly seemed to be, and how well-defined his muscles were becoming. “Uh, oh - Kiddo’s hitting the pubes early, just like I did,” the bemused Mert chuckled evilly to himself. “Oh, Margie’s just gonna LOVE this!” He hugged his boy reassuringly. “Take it easy, Sport. We’ll get your robot back, don’t worry.” Jonnie sighed dejectedly. “I don’t see how, Papa. She’s probably already halfway across the county with that moron who grabbed her, by now.” Jonnie’s voice was once again his bright soprano, although that odd “villainous” timbre was still present.

Mert and Jonnie looked up at Freddy’s excited shout, just then. The lad came sprinting up from the beach, straight to his father’s side. “Look what I found on the beach, Pops!” He thrust a small card into his father’s hands. “A calling-card?” Thel muttered. He peered at the embossed lettering. “ ‘Gerrrald Rivers, Investigative Reporter. Ph. Susquehana 2222.’ Say Mert, isn’t this your home phone number?” Mert came over, and Thel handed him the card. “By golly it is!! And Rivers is our sub-tenant, too! Never did know what he does for a living, though. Always pays the rent on time, and in cash.” He paused to scratch his head thoughtfully. “I wonder…….” He trailed off, then shot a shrewd look to Marge, who immediately nodded. “What’s Mr. Rivers got to do with all this, Papa? We should be trying to find the jerk that snatched Helen!” Jonnie was angrily shifting his weight between legs, like a prizefighter “on his bike.”

Mert was about to answer, when Maddie came running over from the boathouse. “Sugar Popsy, somebody done punched a big old damn hole in the bottom of the kayak with one of our own fire axes! And when they did, they dropped THIS!” She slapped a gold money-clip down on the picnic table, right in front of Thel. Not only was the gaudy, oversized clip full of {ironically} Ben Franklins, it shamelessly broadcast a strong hint as to who its’ owner was by being comprised of an Old English “G” and “R” paired together as the front face of the clip. Marge sighed, and Mert burst out laughing. “That’s rich!! The boob winds up paying us for all the damage he did!!” An angry fist suddenly slammed down on the picnic table, causing the lemonade pitcher - and both Maddie and Marge - to jump violently. “Damn it Papa - what has Mr. Rivers got to do with all of this?” Jonnie’s voice had gone deep again, making his roar very effective indeed. Freddy’s eyes were as big as the now-departed Helen’s boobies were, and his mouth was drawn into a soundless “o.” Cool as a cucumber, Mert motioned for Jonnie and the others to sit down, which they silently did. “My Boy, our good Mr. Rivers appears to be up to his neck in a great deal more than just Helen’s kidnapping.” Marge looked askance at her Hubby - surely “theft” would be the better term for a manufactured object than “kidnapping,” no matter how human-looking it was?

Mert however, knew exactly what he was doing. Choosing the word “kidnapping” deliberately, Mert skilfully compelled his brilliant son’s complete attention by gently acknowledging the underlying truth that was obviously in Jonnie’s heart. To wit: Jonnie clearly thought of his robot Helen as a person, and most definitely NOT as a mere object. And Mert spoke of Helen accordingly. Caught completely off-guard, Jonnie was instantly overwhelmed by a veritable tsunami of joy and love that surged through him in the wake of Mert’s wise and compassionate opening remarks. “Papa knows exactly what I’ve done with Helen - and approves!” he thought to himself with great giddiness.

Eyes all a-twinkle, Mert continued - but not before shooting a discreet “get a load of our Son now” look to Marge. Marge emitted a tiny gasp when she saw the beatific smile on her darling baby’s cherubic mug, but otherwise remained quiet and motionless. “Jonnie my Boy, Mr. Rivers is apparently not a very nice man at all. He’s likely the one who started the fire as a diversion to distract all of us, whilst he snatched Helen.” Mert paused to take a large swig of lemonade. “Finding both his calling card AND his apparent money clip here on the island immediately after the fire is pretty good circumstantial evidence, what with Neshobe’s exclusive privacy and what-not. Follow me so far?”

Jonnie nodded vigorously.

“Splendid. As for the other side of the coin……….” Mert paused to make direct “are we 100% sure about this?” eye contact with his Little Woman, who nodded just as vigorously as Jonnie had. “As for the other side, I’d say it’s probably a 90% certainty that our bemused and bemildered Mr. Rivers is also the one who wrote the ‘Soylents Screwgood’ article two springs back.” With the proverbial 800 pound gorilla now in clear and present evidence, all and sundry nervously awaited Jonnie’s reaction at having his thinly-healed emotional scars ripped wide open once again. Seconds turned into minutes, Jonnie remaining silent and motionless. Finally, all the Old Farts saw the tears begin to silently stream down Jonnie’s ruddy cheeks. What happened next was the Mother Of All Heart-Wrenches.

“Why do they all want to keep hurting me every chance they get?” Jonnie wondered aloud with tremendous poise, his voice a croak somewhere between child and adult. Quite naturally, Mama Marge began to rise to her Baby’s aid and comfort, only to be thoroughly balked with a viciously stern “Woman, if you even think to mollycoddle him right now, you’ll taste MY cast iron skillet noggin-conks, kapish?” glare from her Hubby. Oblivious to the silent conversation nested within his parent’s glances, Jonnie sadly went on. “I mean, it’s not like I’m some sort of criminal, or freak of Nature ‘cos of my genius, is it?” Jonnie’s hurt was palpable by now, his voice beginning to quaver a little bit. Mert sighed tiredly. “My Boy, our world is changing day by day, and not always for the better, I hasten to add. You’re going to find out that as you get older and more mature through direct experience, you’ll be lucky indeed if you end up with one or perhaps even two friends that are what we call ‘true,’ in any or every sense of the word. God willing, you’ll likely marry one of them sooner, rather than later.” Jonnie looked about ready to go volcanic, but Mert calmly went on, after shooting his son a manly wink - which instantly pacified Franklin the Younger.

“Mr. Rivers is actually a good case-study of Janus, if you remember your ancient Roman mythology. He presented himself to your Mother and me as nothing more than a slightly eccentric loner, albeit a loner who could pay rent in full, in cash, on time, every time. He did show a small spark of interest when you first enrolled in the Academy, but it went no further than that, or so we thought. Looking at things now though, it’s pretty clear he was playing his cards close to his chest, even then. When the Lectro Corporation made the first offer on your antenna-gizmo, Mama and I had no idea that Rivers had already button-holed our shyster Mr. Milton some weeks before about our relationship to your 10-Great Grandfather - and I think you can put together the remaining pieces from here, yes?”

Jonnie wolf-whistled through his teeth and nodded vigorously, wide-eyed. “I sure can, Papa. Lectro hired Mr. Rivers to do us dirty, so they could rip us off for the duration of the contract we were forced to sign with them!! Sure, they’re paying us X amount of dollars as per the deal, but they’re holding a lot more of it back by keeping us in check with the threat of more dirty laundry to air, as they see fit. Thank God Mr. Milton had me patent the antenna before we even had an offer from those lousy crooks! Once their contract runs out with us we’ll be free, but for now we just have to play the game. Not that I like it AT ALL, mind you.” Abruptly, Papa Mert, Mama Marge, Pops Thel, and Momma Mad broke out in wildly enthusiastic applause, which startled and then quickly embarrassed Jonnie.

“WELL spoken indeed, my Boy!!” Papa Mert’s love and admiration were ectoplasmic. “Score ten for you, Jon-Boy! Just brilliant!” Like Mert, Pops Thel’s love and admiration were on display for the whole world to see and hear. Freddy and the Ladies put their $.02 in as well, bathing Jonnie with hugs and kisses and a bit of Freddy-roughhouse. All because Jonnie kept his cool despite this new and very violent abuse of his fragile psyche, which the adults were still worried about, although they gave no outward signs.

The boys’ face clouded suddenly, and he dejectedly cupped his chin with his left hand. “It’s all well and good, but Mr. Rivers still has my Helen, at the moment.” Mert made a deliberate show as he cleared his throat, then with a theatrical flourish blew his nose loudly. He locked eyes with his son, an evil grin on his face. “Jonathan my Boy, why don’t you just call Helen back here right now?” Jonnie inhaled deeply, prepatory to begin howling about his Papa being stark raving nuts, when he suddenly noticed that Mert was gently patting the wooden case under his elbow that served as Helen’s central control system!! Which had been completely overlooked by Rivers, most likely because Jonnie had reflexively closed and locked it up tight, then quickly stashed it underneath his place at the picnic table, just before he responded to the fire alarm.

“I don’t believe it! He goes through all the rigamarole of stealing a prototype robot - destroying a vehicle and setting a fire in the process - then forgets to steal the very thing that makes her work? I’ll bet he’d also break into and hotwire a car, despite having a key already in the ignition, and the convertible top down! Just how dumb is this Rivers character, anyways?” Without waiting for an answer, Jonnie carefully opened the case, and got set to send out Helen’s recall signal - but paused almost immediately, his fingers hovering over the keys. “What if Helen gets my signal, and she’s in a car halfway across a bridge, or flying in an airplane when it comes through? She could easily be destroyed before she even got started back to us.” Jonnie’s face clouded again, and he slowly shut Helen’s control case. “We have to wait until we know she’s done being taken wherever Rivers is taking her. But HOW will we know that?”

Thel immediately spoke up. “Folks, I think it’s time the Franklins become aware of a certain Miss Francine Spayed. She’s the best private operative on the whole of the East Coast, and has been a Great Friend to us Neshobians since the first day we opened as an exclusive retreat. I’ll just mosey in and see if I can raise her on the short-wave. Hopefully, she’s between gigs at the moment. Sit tight, I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Thel was gone about twenty minutes; in the meantime, the others had heartily enjoyed a delightful discussion about all the uses Helen could be put to, once she was back home where she belonged. No adult slipped up and called Helen “it,” or “the thing.” Every reference was to “she,” “her,” or {as Mama Marge put it} “the poor dear.” No sense in setting off Jonnie needlessly, the unspoken grownup-vibe implied with complete clarity. Thankfully, Thel was all smiles when he eventually rejoined the group.

“Cheer up, Boyo,” he boomed, whilst clouting Jonnie on the shoulder. “Miss Spayed is on the case - she’s setting up a stakeout of your folks’ place as we speak. We’ll have Helen back here with us before you know it!” Jonnie was astonished. “D’you really think Miss Spayed can bring my Helen back, Papa Thel?” His adoptive father smiled a huge smile. “Make book on it, Young Man. And she’ll be more discreet than a horde of churchmice, to boot!” The next two hours saw a resumption of the discussion over Helen’s uses during their way-delayed luncheon, Jonnie taking a much more active role in the conversation, now that his mind {and ravenous hunger} was eased somewhat. About a half hour after dessert, Thel’s radio-handset buzzed. “Spayed calling Neshobe! Spayed calling Neshobe! Anybody home, Thel or Maddie? Over.”

Thel scooped up the handset, and mashed the talkswitch. “Thel hearing you loud and clear, Fran! What’s the dope? Over.” Jonnie’s eyes widened as he listened to Miss Spayed’s lovely contralto voice. “Thel, your perp pulled in to the Franklin place about ten minutes ago. He had a helluva time getting his “cargo” out of the back seat of his Tin Lizzie.” Fran giggled. “I’ve never seen a perp so frustrated! He was about ready to take a hacksaw to Miss Franklin, when he finally realized that he forgot to untie the ropes strapping her down!” At the mention of the hacksaw, Jonnie half-leaped up, before Fran’s contagious laughter froze him in midair, and reversed his course of motion. “He didn’t hurt Helen, did he, Papa Thel?” Jonnie asked fearfully. Fran didn’t miss a beat. “Who’s that, Thel - Jonnie, or Freddy? Over.” Thel grinned at Jonnie. “That’s Jonnie, Fran, and rest assured he really dotes on Helen!” Before Thel could say “over,” Jonnie beamed, and shouted “Pleased to know you, Miss Spayed! I’m Jonathan Franklin, the one who invented Helen! I can’t thank you enough for helping us!! Over.”

“Well I’m pleased to know you too, kind sir! In my racket, it’s not every day I get to meet brilliance-on-the-hoof, if you will.” Jonnie swooned at the evident wink-wink in Fran’s lovely voice. “And please, call me Auntie Fran. I don’t stand on formalities very often. Oh, and your Helen’s fine, so far. She was intact but immobile when Rivers finally got her out of the damn car. And although I only saw her from a distance through my field glasses, I must say that Helen is absolutely adorable! Over.” Fran had started giggling again - and Jonnie suddenly was all a-tingle from toenails to scalp, for a reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on. However, Papa Mert and the rest of the Old Farts could put their fingers squarely on the reason for Jonnie’s strange new sensation, merely by noting the rather goofy grin his face took on as Fran was giggling away.

Jonnie was experiencing his first adult crush, zeroed in on a woman he had never even seen OR heard, before today.

Fran’s voice “had the Power” in spades, and the young Jonathan was instantly conquered by it. Jonnie had absolutely no idea that Francine’s introduction into the proceedings had actually been arranged some time before. What’s more, Fran had briefly appeared in one of the newsreels the group had seen during their earlier movie-junket! Her giggles soon died down enough so she could ask what the next move was. The group pondered in silence for perhaps a minute, before Mert spoke up. “Mert Franklin here, Miss Spayed. I think it would be wise to sit tight until Rivers goes to sleep, provided he doesn’t leave in the meantime. Your thoughts? Over.”

Fran responded instantly. “Pleased to know you, Mert. I’ve crossed paths with Rivers many times over the years, and unless he’s acting 100% under his own volition - which I strongly doubt is the case here - he’s likely to lay low for a day or three whilst the heat dies down, and his higher-ups quietly join him on-scene. It’s a pattern of his that I was quick to spot during our very first run-in about ten years back. And please, call me Fran, OK? Over.”

“Sure thing, Fran! Pounce when he’s sawin’ logs, waitin’ for the big bosses - sounds like a smashing strategy, if I do say so meself. In the interim, can we keep you on this party-line, or do you have other engagements pending? Either way is fine with us. Over.” In response, Fran said “Wel-l-l-l I’d really like to stay and chat with you folks until Zero Hour, but I do have a few quick but important errands to run. Don’t worry about the stakeout though - I’ve got a few subordinate operatives covering three quarters of the compass here, visually and sonically. All they need to do is overlap their coverage with each other during my absence. And they’ll ping me if necessary, as well. So, shall we reconvene on-air say around 10 tonight? Over.”

All the Old Farts nodded, then a grinning Mert said “Works for us, Toots! TTFN. Over.”

“TTFN right back atcha, young fella!” Fran giggled once more. “Until this evening, then. Spayed over and out.”

Two silent minutes later, Freddy piped up. “Say! I’d forgotten how cute Miss Spayed’s voice is, seeing as I last heard it a couple months before the Franklins got here. Isn’t she a real Nightingale, Jonnie?” Jonnie nodded emphatically, goofy grin still on his face. “I’ll say she is, Ferdo!! I could float to straight to Heaven on the strength of her voice alone.” Making eye contact with Thel, Jonnie boldly asked “Is the rest of her as pretty as her voice, Papa Thel?” The brown-eyed handsome man let out a deep chuckle, and did a Groucho Marx-style wiggle of his bushy eyebrows. “You just wait and see, Boyo. You just wait and see.” Pleasantly mollified, Jonnie sat quietly, simply drinking his lemonade for several minutes. Presently, Thel and Mert rallied the rest of the Family to go and properly assess the damage to the cabin. The task actually had dual purposes - weighing the pros and cons of repair vs. replace-in-toto; and scaring up any other clues The Rivers might have left behind.

Four exhausting hours later, the group took a break for a swim and a snack. Outside of an empty kerosene can near the half burned-out cabin, and a pocket-shaped piece of black cloth Thel spied on the beach as he hit the water with a belly-flop, no further evidence of Rivers turned up. Not that any more evidence against The Rivers would seal the deal, mind you - Gerrry’s goose was already cooked with what was found {and who he kidnapped} earlier. Unbeknownst to anyone, though, there would shortly be another cooked goose to reckon with - as well as a certain 13-year-old’s already glass-fragile emotional state, when that next bump came. After an energetic half-hour of all and sundry thoroughly enjoying the water, the group reluctantly hit dry land to catch their breath, and towel off. The happily giggling boys were stunned when Helen’s control-box suddenly started to bounce up and down rather violently, followed immediately by a harsh-sounding buzzer, several electronic crackles, and finally, a puff of smoke!

The adults looked around quizzically. “My stars!! What in the world was THAT all about, Jon-Boy-Sugar?” Maddie asked. Before her speechless adopted nephew could reply, the island’s short-wave handset came suddenly alive: “Spayed to Neshobe! Spayed to Neshobe! URGENT!! URGENT!!! Pick up, damn it!!” Thel scooped up the handset, and mashed the button. “We’re here, Fran - what’s all the fuss about, over?” Her reply was chilling. “My boys just sent me word - apparently there’s been a large explosion in the Franklin house! I’m about five miles away yet, so I don’t know what the hell’s going on at the scene. Have you all had any indication of trouble on your end, over?” Thel started to reply in the negative, but was abruptly cut off by Jonnie’s anguished roar. “That rat-bastard tried to look inside my Helen’s battery, and blew the both of them up!” For the next few minutes, a small country’s entire population could have been completely deafened by the profound silence that gripped both Neshobe Island, and the lone shortwave radio it housed and was broadcasting through.

“Could you please explain yourself Young Man, over?” Fran’s lovely voice was gentle, but oddly distant, once she finally broached the silence. A thoroughly devastated Jonnie didn’t hesitate. “Aunt Fran, I built a few anti-tampering devices into Helen, should she ever fall into the wrong hands. Thanks to the Lectro Corporation, I don’t ever want anyone to try and steal my product designs again! But apparently this jackass found her battery, and got too curious for his own damn good.” What the young man said was ominous enough, but it was the way that he said it that really set off the alarm bells in everyone who could hear the lad’s voice. Said voice had “cracked deep adult” again - and this time remained that way. Quite unaware of the unsettling command his voice now possessed, Jonnie continued. “What I can’t figure out from here is what he did to trigger the bigger bang - unless he accidentally broke something else whilst he was mucking about her insides, over.”

A befuddled Fran was silent for almost a minute. “I don’t know what to tell you, Hon - I’ll lay eyes on the scene in about five more minutes; perhaps once I describe things to you we’ll know more, over?” Jonnie nodded grimly. “Right you are, Aunt Fran. We’ll be standing by, over.” With what could be described only as complete and utter disgust, Jonnie carefully put the handset down, then yanked himself savagely to his feet, and stalked off down the beach, his seething anger all but palpable. None of the Old Farts made any move to go after him - but Freddy zipped off after his idol immediately, despite numerous quiet protests from all the adults. Catching up to Jonnie, Freddy tried his best to match stride with his Big Bro, but his legs just weren’t long enough. Jonnie saw him “Gomer Pyle-stepping” out of the corner of his eye, and subdued his angry gait just enough so Freddy could lockstep with him. After they had paced together for a spell, Freddy made bold, and said “Say, Jonnie - could he have somehow caused a cooling line leak that dropped into her dry-cell when he opened it?”

Young Franklin halted, and gazed stone-faced at his incredibly bright adopted Little Brother for long enough that Freddy started to squirm, before suddenly snapping his fingers and exclaiming “BY JINGO, Ferdo!! You nailed it!” Much to Freddy’s relief, his Big Bro instantly shot him a brilliant Smile, and tousled his hair, just like Papa Mert did. “That has to be it - Rivers’ criminal stupidity triggered a liquid nitrogen / sodium-lithium chain reaction! Damn fool’s lucky he didn’t take half the village with him!” A beaming Freddy said “I’ll say! Can you imagine how loud that bang must have been?” He giggled gleefully, and clapped his hands once, loudly. “KA-BOOM!!!” Due to the unique bond they warmly shared, Freddy’s childish observation got both lads laughing heartily, despite the overwhelming grimness of the main situation. As far as they were concerned, Rivers had blown up, then popped a paper bag between his hands, and was rewarded for his troubles - in Typical Wile E. Coyote Fashion - with a face full of highly-unstable explosive talcum powder immediately thereafter. As they were soon to find out though, the reality was far more disturbing and carried some heavy ramifications.

The Old Farts were relieved indeed when the Lads returned a short while later. Their arrival coincided with a call from Fran. “Spayed to Neshobe, over!” Thel replied “We’re right here, Fran. How does it look, over?” A pause of about 20 seconds. “I won’t lie to you, Hon. It looks like a small war was fought here - a losing war. The house is basically gone, likewise Rivers and Helen. Tell Jonnie I’m SO sorry for his loss, over.” The group was stunned silent; even though they had an idea of what happened already, confirmation of the fact still had a tremendous impact on all concerned - especially the Family Franklin, who realized that they were now essentially homeless. Jonnie slumped dejectedly at the picnic table. “So now I guess I’ll be wanted for murder, like John Dillinger.” He abruptly slammed both fists hard on the table. “WHY couldn’t that miserable freak have kept his goat-humping hands off of her?” Mert and Marge remained silent, but exchanged nervous glances - how much more pressure and stress had to pile up, before the boy cracked completely?

Much to Jonnie’s secret delight, Fran had some answers. “Folks, I think I’ve got the start of a game plan we should follow to the letter. I’ll run all the interference I can here tonight, then I’ll mosey on down to Neshobe and rendezvous with you all in the morning. All you lot need to do for now is try to relax, and get a good nights’ rest; come out slugging bright and early on the morrow when I get there. Fair enough, over?” Mert said “Sounds like a Plan, Fran. We’ll keep the line open on standby, should anything crop up between now and then. Over.” Fran giggled tiredly. “Roger wilco, young fella! Things will work out, believe me. Might have to take a few extraordinary steps, but I’ve seen bigger messes than this one that have been fully survived. Keep the Faith, and G’night, all! Spayed over and out.” The group responded in unison: “Good night, Fran! Thanks again for everything. Neshobe over and out!”

Since evening was well along, the group hastily lit the tiki-torches, and prepared the beach for a quick light supper, and the conclusion of Jonnie’s birthday festivities. Although the lad appreciated his gifts, and put on a bright face for the benefit of the others, the Old Farts knew by instinct that he must be suffering hellishly, beneath the thin veneer. Thus, they made an effort to gently distract his focus by including both him and Freddy in the adult pow-wow after the picnic table had been cleared, and the party wound down. Thel chaired the meeting.

“Well boys and girls, it looks like the Franklins are going to move into the boathouse loft for the time being. With it being so late in the season, we probably won’t be able to get a contractor out here to rebuild their cabin until the spring.” With a slight grin, Thel raised one hand, and pointed to his son. “And before you start pestering Momma and me, Boyo - yes, you can bunk with Jon-Boy whenever you want to, so long as it’s OK with his Folks.” Freddy looked eagerly over to Mert and Marge, who both smiled brightly, and nodded. “You already mind your P’s and Q’s splendidly, Squirt, so welcome aboard!” Mert gave Freddy a clout on the shoulder, and Marge winked at him impishly, which had the lad happily on Cloud Nine in short order.

It was further hashed out that the Franklins would quietly make their Neshobe idyll permanent, barring any unforeseen twists Francine Spayed might toss into the mix when she arrived next morning. The Old Farts also took great pains to ease Jonnie’s concern about “murdering” The Rivers, soberly pointing out that it was Gerry’s actions alone that caused his demise. “It’s not like you purposely built Helen as a bomb to get back at him, my Boy,” Mert remarked with a wry grin. Jonnie answered with a wry grin of his own. “If you say so, Papa. You all know I’d never intentionally harm anyone - so if you think I’m copasetic in this particular scenario, I’ll defer to your judgement.” The whole group was spellbound by the lad’s newly-deep voice; it was even more compelling at reduced volume and intensity. But it was his surprisingly mature attitude he was displaying for all to see that really resonated with the adults. Perhaps the boy just might be able to bounce back from so much pain and chaos in such a short space of time. And on his birthday, yet!!

As it turned out, Jonnie would indeed bounce back fairly well in the short-term - it would ultimately be at the beginning of the long-term, before the other shoe would finally drop.

Almost exactly eight hours after the Group confab concluded, both Jonnie and Freddy were startled awake by the sounds of a well-tuned radial engine that circled Neshobe three times, before beginning rapid descent. In a twinkling, both Lads threw on robes, slid down the staircase bannister in the boathouse, and made a beeline to the beach. They hit the sand just as the source of the engine noise daintily alighted the wide river, and quickly taxied to the dock. The Old Farts were seated at the picnic table, and they motioned the boys over to them so they could enjoy this spectacle together.

Spectacle it was, and then some - the vehicle almost at the dock was a cobalt blue Curtiss-Wright triplane, with pontoon-skids where the more customary wheeled landing gear would be. It bore no emblems or markings of any kind, save for a discrete “NCC-8675309” in white lettering on the conical cowling of the engine ahead of the fuselage. Once snuggled up to the dock, the pilot cut the motor, and nimbly jumped from the cockpit, pausing just long enough on the bottom wing to shuck her goggles, scarf, and leather helmet; her gorgeous auburn hair taking the breath away from both boys as it emerged. The newcomer had no sooner hit the sand, before she was pounced on by Freddy. “Auntie Fran!! You’re here!! Hot ziggety!!” He gave her a fierce bearhug, which she answered in-kind, along with a sweet kiss. “And how’s my Dearest Striped Tiger, this morning? Ready for an Adventure?” Freddy laughed, made a clawing motion with both hands, and snarled “You betcha,” and Jonnie all but swooned at the sound of her voice; a thin trickle of sweat started running down his back as Freddy walked the stunningly lovely Francine Spayed up the beach to the group.

She beamed as Thel spoke up. “Glad to see you, Fran!!! Let me introduce you to Mert and Marge Franklin.” The couple smiled shyly, but warmly shook hands with Fran, who exclaimed “Oh I’m SO glad to finally meet you both!! Thel and Mad can’t say enough good things about you folks, and now I can see why.” She giggled. “To be honest with you, I’ve been sort of a fan since Jonnie’s antenna hit the market - it has made my work a LOT easier, let me tell you.” Mert and Marge both beamed, and with a twinkle in his eye Mert piped up “Well Girlie, why not thank the man responsible - he’s dying to meet you, too!” And just like that, a stunned and suddenly shy Jonnie was gently hauled up before the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

For several delicious seconds, Jonathan and Francine silently studied each other. Jonnie was pleasantly startled to realize that even though Fran was wearing glossy flight boots, she was still a good three inches shorter than he was. This fact was quickly overshadowed by her beautiful face; huge grey-green eyes, Cupid’s-Bow lips and all - she could have easily been the exact model for Helen, right down to her more than ample bustline that severely strained her greatcoat until she slowly unbuttoned it. The Lad’s knees went watery when Fran smiled dazzlingly at him, and said “It’s a real pleasure to meet you at last, Jonathan!! I’m so sorry about poor Helen….” That was as far as she got, before being enveloped in a bearhug that literally lifted her clean off her feet. “Oh Aunt Fran, I miss her so much!!” After a few intense moments Jonnie gently put her down, then buried his head on her shoulder, sobbing quietly.

She held him close, and let him get the anguish out of his system. “It’s okay, Dear Boy. Auntie Fran understands perfectly.” He voice was a sweet whisper, for his ears alone. She stroked his forehead tenderly, until he spent his emotion. With a sixth sense, Fran lifted Jonnie’s head from her shoulder, and gave him a loving kiss directly on his lips. She pulled back just a bit, and giggled softly. “Better now, Hon?” Her eyes scintillated at him, and at that precise instant the third, and most important, watershed moment of the Neshobe idyll hit him full force - when Jonathan Carlton Franklin fell in love with one Francine Helena Spayed………

For the initial part of that memorable morning, Fran gave a concise rundown of the last 20 hours or so, a thoroughly besotted Jonnie never far from her side. Thanks to the sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment Fran and her colleagues were utilizing for this op, it was eventually learned that The Rivers received telephoned instructions a couple hours after he arrived home, charging him to locate and identify the purloined female robot’s power source, so that they might reverse-engineer a new control box, and hopefully restore her to functionality. Gerrry was also informed that thanks to his slip-shod acquisition efforts, his pay would be docked accordingly, unless and until he “made good” across the board. Natural-born klutz that he was, poor Gerrry never fully realized the very real danger he was in from the outset, as he slashed open the skin of Helen’s back, then ham-fisted his way inside the mechanical girl, all the while seething over his rebuke and loss of mazuma. Although he miraculously avoided triggering all but one of Helen’s protective booby-traps, he nonetheless sowed the seeds of his and her ultimate demise by damaging her intricate cooling system as he wantonly sought her source of power.

Heedless of the tiny sky-blue drops of moisture that instantly froze and fractured whatever they dropped on in his wake {including small bits of the heavy steel-smithies’ gloves he was wearing}, The Rivers finally made his clumsy way inside Helen’s skull, and found the hidden latch that fully opened her cranium, and exposed her power cell. Not knowing any better, the doomed muck-raker used a screwdriver as a chisel on the cover of the custom-designed battery - creating a domino effect of: triggering the one booby-trap that he had not missed, which poked a larger hole in the already damaged cooling line wrapped around the sophisticated dry cell, which then sent a tiny pressurized stream of minus-265-degree {Kelvin} liquid nitrogen directly into the battery’s catalyst-core a micronic instant after The Rivers pried open the cover to fully expose it. And as {bad} luck would have it, Gerry’s “screw-chisel” actions also managed to generate one single, solitary spark - just as the battery cover was lifted, and the coolant scored a perfect bullseye on the now exposed catalyst-core.

Such was the magnitude of this last little boo-boo, the hapless Rivers exclaimed “Oh” in the mortal realm………………….

………….. and “SHIT!!!” in the Afterlife.

“Miserable bastard never knew what hit him,” Fran giggled, coquettishly winking at Jonnie, before continuing her narrative.

The blast instantly pulverized almost the whole of Casa-Del-Franklin and its’ contents, along with The Rivers’ jalopy {and both Franklin flivvers}; downed telegraph poles, cracked ceilings and foundations, and shattered every last pane of building and motor vehicle window glass for eight city blocks in every direction surrounding ground-zero; and ultimately left behind a crater in Gerrry’s old luxury bachelor-pad that soon filled up with raw sewage, courtesy several ruptured sewer mains. Fran’s subordinates, camped out on a hill an eighth of a mile from the house, were extremely lucky - aside from some slight shrapnel wounds, a bit of flash-blindness, and a severe ringing in their ears for several days afterwards, they survived the blast more or less intact.

Fran paused the narrative for several moments, kindly enabling everything said so far to properly sink into her new friends. She put an arm around Jonnie’s shoulder and squeezed briefly, before relaxing {but still maintaining} the embrace. Several minutes later, Mert spoke up. “Fran, what’s the authorities’ take on all of this? Are we criminally liable for anything?” Stout fellow that he was, Mert wanted to ease Jonnie’s worries straight away, hence the most difficult issue being brought up first thing.

Fran never hesitated. “Here’s the straight poop, Mert. I had to run interference and pull strings well into the wee wee hours last night, but the powers-that-be likely won’t give you much bother at all.” She giggled. “I had no idea you’re grade-school chums with the Chief of Police of your village! Stroke of great good fortune, I must say.” She beamed at Mert, and tightened her embrace of Jonnie once more. “Cheer up, Buckaroo! You won’t be walking The Green Mile, or sitting in Old Sparky any time soon, rest assured!” She gave him a quick kiss.

Mert chuckled, evidently quite pleased that Fran already had Jonnie wrapped around her little finger. “Yeah, Otto Binder and I actually go back to kindergarten - his Pappy was Chief of D’s on the force, growing up. We still play poker twice a month; him and his wife Joy are just good people.”

Fran giggled. “Well, Otto’s eyes were as big as dinner platters after I told him what was really going on with Rivers, and Jonnie’s robot. Matter of fact, he helped me run interference when ‘Hoove’s Stooges’ showed up just after midnight!” At this, Jonnie sat bolt upright, reflexively shaking off Fran’s continuing embrace. “Oh no!!! Now the G-Men are involved in all this? Didn’t I predict last night that I was going to wind up Public Enemy #1? Thank you all ever-so-much for the crap-ton of sour persimmons that have now been dumped square in my lap, Folks. If you’d all be so kind as to get the fucking hell out of my way, I’ll be off now to settle accounts with Mister J. Edgar Panty-Queen himself, in classic “Man-to-Victim” style. No sense in delaying the inevitable, right?”

Before the thoroughly incensed Lad could make any move to leave, he was suddenly and soundly crashed right back down to Earth - via Francine’s stinging slap to his face. “How DARE you speak so crudely in front of your family! And right in front of a guest, yet!! You have absolutely NO idea whatsoever about the countless rings of fire your Mothers, Fathers, and I have been jumping through all this weekend, just for you!!! You ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself, young man!!! The very idea……” A seriously thunderstruck Jonnie was virtually paralyzed as his newfound Muse stalked away back down the beach in searing anger, waving her hands violently in the air, and muttering icily to herself the whole time. The Old Farts were all silent masks of extreme disappointment; Freddy had burst into tears. It suddenly dawned on the Lad just how big a blunder his little outburst really was.

On the verge of torrential tears himself, he finally sprinted after the gorgeous redhead. “Aunt Fran, please wait! PLEASE!!!!” The curvy operative had reached her triplane; she daintily hopped on the lowest wing, and quickly fished a canvas bag out of the cockpit. As Jonnie pounded up to the plane, Fran hurled the large and heavy pouch straight at him. “HERE!!! This is all that’s left of your poor Helen! Tell her goodbye, why don’t you?” The sack landed at Jonnie’s feet and popped open, releasing a veritable geyser of shattered and scorched bakelite fragments - as well as half of a charred skeletal hand, and one whole - albeit somewhat melted - skeletal foot, violently severed just at the ankle. An acrid, heavily ozone-laced stench hit the boy’s nostrils as the fragments sprang loose from the bag.

Jonnie, frozen in shock, looked up at Fran, tears gushing from his eyes. The redhead silently stared him down, an inscrutable expression set in stone on her beautiful face. A few uncomfortable minutes later, she finally spoke. “The fire Marshal estimated the explosion to be equivalent to ten tons of dynamite - which is why you’re still smelling the ozone from the energy released during the blast.” Fran’s voice was calm and matter-of-fact. “The fire Marshal also said that Rivers did himself in by causing the explosion in the first place. In a nutshell, you are completely in the clear, Honey.” To Jonnie’s utter amazement, Fran dropped back down off the wing and just stood there, arms spread wide and ready for a hug - if he so desired. For the second time that day, Jonnie gratefully sprang into Fran’s loving arms, and at last erupted into completely unfettered and full-on tears, cries of searing emotional pain, and a colossal meteor shower of apologies. For a good ten minutes the ginger-goddess consoled and completely forgave the desolate young man, once again letting him fully spend his grief within her oh-so-sweet embrace.

Finally played out, an exhausted Jonnie lifted his head from Fran’s shoulder, and looked her square in the eyes. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw the haunted, world-weary look his peepers had taken on - he looked like a 40 year old man, for a brief moment. It was only a superhuman shot of iron willpower at that instant, that kept her from making any outward signs that would betray her own shock and dismay at his appearance. “Am I Evil, Aunt Fran?” Yes, Fran could actually hear Jonnie evoke the capital “E” when he said “Evil” - that’s how serious he was. Without hesitation, Fran smiled and said “Jonathan, you’re about as far AWAY from being Evil as it’s possible to be. Believe me, in my line of work I can spot the Real McCoy from a mile off - and you aren’t even the tiniest of blips on my radar. Or anyone else’s, for that matter. You’re just a brilliant, sensitive, and at the moment an also very confused young man. Period.”

Jonnie visibly relaxed upon hearing Fran’s declaration, but the redhead herself had to use every trick in her book to avoid giving her words the lie - through inadvertent body-language, among other subtleties. The lad was just too damn sharp for his own good, and couple that to his frail, woefully-battered psyche……… Fran ended that train of thought - and also redirected the lad’s attention - the best way she knew how, by favoring Jonnie with one more passionate kiss, and a full-body embrace for good measure. The longer Jonnie remained ignorant of the absolute truth of his situation, the better. All Fran could do now was pray that there was enough time left to fortify Jonnie enough to be able to stand firmly against the dark forces that were already swirling towards him, before the shit finally hit the fan.

Blissfully unaware of Fran’s inner disquiet, Jonnie was simply savoring that special comfort that only a beautiful, caring woman could provide. He was 100% sure that Fran would keep him safe from a murder rap, now; and he was also just beginning to lose the cutting edge of his grief over Helen. Although he would have loved to remain alone there at the dock with Fran indefinitely, he knew that he needed to own up to his bad behavior sooner rather than later. As such, he reluctantly pulled back from Fran’s delightfully warm and soft figure just enough to catch her eye. “I guess we better get back so’s I can take my medicine, Aunt Fran.” She pulled him close for one more kiss and hug. “I’ll be by your side the whole time, Dear Boy. But you really do need to make things right with your family ASAP. They love and understand you better than you might think, y’know.”

Jonnie sighed heavily. “Perhaps, but I do wish they’d stop acting like I was made of glass, and about to be sucked up by a tornado every time a bit of bad news crops up! I might be young, but I daresay my intellect is enough to keep the playing field nearly level, all things considered. I mean, just how many other 13 year old genius-millionaires do you know of, Miss Spayed?” Fran giggled merrily as Jonnie kissed her hand with all the mock-gallantry he could muster - then immediately sprinted away with a challenge of “Last one back has to kiss a snapping turtle!” With her giggles giving way to full-blown laughter, Fran took off after the rascal, catching up to him a scant two yards before they both slammed a foot down on one of the picnic tables’ benches in perfect unison, each claiming the victory, and each laughing like hyenas the whole time. Ever gregarious, Mert dryly said “Well, at least you two came back all smiles…….” Jonnie instantly cut him off. “Please forgive my rudeness Papa, but may I have the floor for a minute? There’s something I need to say to the entire Family, including Aunt Fran, here.”

Without hesitation, Mert gave his son a small grin and said “You certainly may, my Boy. Speak your piece.” Jonnie smiled wanly. “Thank you, Papa.” The Lad promptly went to the head of the table, and calmly squared his shoulders. He gazed directly at the entire group, and began. “Mamas and Papas, **{All the leaves are brown????}** Ferdo, and Aunt Fran, I want to formally apologize to you all for my disgusting behavior this morning. There was and is absolutely no excuse for it, and I am as sorry as I can be that it even happened at all. Despite Aunt Fran mentioning how hard you all have been working to help me, I am still a right jerk with a short fuse and temper, as was demonstrated through my actions this morning. Do you think you can ever find it in your hearts to forgive me, for treating you so?”

Jonnie didn’t fail to register that Momma Maddie and Mama Marge by now were weeping silently, and both were also sporting ghost-smiles. Although dry-eyed, Papa Mert and Poppa Thel wore ghost-smiles of their own, as did Fran, who reached out and took his left hand tenderly into hers. As a precision unit Thelonious, Maddie, Freddy, Mert, and Marge said “Sure we can,” then all promptly got up to warmly embrace yesterday’s Birthday Boy. A bemused Jonnie said “Thank you all, my Family. This will never happen again, so help me Buster Keaton!” For the next few minutes, the group held the embrace whilst Mert and Marge promised to {gently} hold him to his concluding declaration, should the need ever arise once more. The sentiment was quickly echoed by Thel, Mad, Fran, and Freddy, effectively closing the matter for the nonce.

After lunch, whilst the Old Farts and the boys began to winterize the island, Fran spent much of her afternoon getting reports from her subordinates as their mopping up was concluded, and making arrangements to eventually have a permanent “satellite” office on Neshobe, as soon as her workload would allow. She also found time to give Freddy and Jonnie a joyride in her triplane, Freddy having great fun as the “tail-gunner” thanks to the twin broomsticks Fran had installed in the plane’s actual tail-gun mount. The real guns were now 360-degree swivel-mounted in forward facing positions flanking the fuselage on the front edge of the triplane’s bottom wing; both control yokes comfortably within Fran’s easy reach inside the cockpit. A quiet but definite sign that the stakes in this little game were already being raised to dangerous heights. And it was also a clear sign that the curvy redhead had absolutely no intention of being caught flat-footed when - not “if” - things started to go south, if she could help it. For his part, after some initial motion-sickness, Jonnie found he quite liked flying - and not just because the pilot was a boobtacular knockout that was sorta sweet on him, either! There was something deeply thrilling about being able to soar in the air the way the birds do - almost a feeling of “conquering the elements,” as Jonnie eagerly described it to the Old Farts upon their safe return to Earth after 90 minutes aloft. Little did anyone know that the notion of “conquering the elements” would eventually acquire a much darker meaning several decades hence - or that the actual attempt to do so would signal the beginning of the end for one Jonathan Franklin.

It had been a trying couple of days for all concerned. Jonnie and Freddy began yawning halfway through dinner, and couldn’t stop. Immediately after dessert, the lads were dismissed to the bunkhouse, with nary a protest from either. The Old Farts lingered for two rounds of coffee, quietly discussing both the recent turn of events, and possible responses to said events, before also retiring fairly early in the evening. Despite his to-the-bone fatigue, Jonnie nonetheless found it hard to drop off into the arms of Morpheus. Along with many naughty thoughts about his now-Beloved Auntie Fran, Jonnie’s mind was also dealing with yet more new sensations - chief among them, a fast-growing hunger for the raw, cold, and sharp sting that only REVENGE could bring about.

Had he been thinking a bit more coherently, Jonnie would have been greatly bothered by that disturbing hunger - “Vengeance is Mine, sayeth the Lord,” after all. As it shook out though, the simple yet potent combination of complete physical and emotional exhaustion was more than enough to cloud the yute’s better judgement, if not totally blank it out altogether. Jonnie’s reasoning was that the Lectro Corporation had crossed the proverbial line in the sand, when they orchestrated Helen’s kidnapping and ultimate demise. His family’s financial bloodletting aside, the sheer audacity of Lectro trying to seize Jonnie’s virtually priceless intellectual property - rendering the Family Franklin homeless in the bargain - just to demonstrate their near-total power over them all was well beyond the pale, indeed. A gross cruelty that could be properly answered in one and only one way - complete and total corporate annihilation. Who would think to expect a retaliatory offensive strike from a thirteen year old boy, anyway? For an instant, Jonnie’s bold notion gave him pause: **Really now, one snot-nosed kid with a grudge going after an entire Corporation, all by his lonesome? Get smart, Boyo!!** An evil grin then appeared on Jonnie’s face, as he whispered to himself “Yes, but no one was expecting the Spanish Inquisition either now then, were they?!!”

To be sure, Jonnie had already delved deep when his World History courses began to focus on the robber barons, and corporate tyrants. Deep enough to understand exactly why they were successful, as well as identifying their many mistakes, and understanding the consequences thereof. Thus, the sudden notion of corporate liquidation at his own hands quickly flamed into being, thanks to the exhaustive research Jonnie had already done. The logic was brilliantly simple. All the clever Lad needed to do was surreptitiously acquire enough Lectro stock to become a majority shareholder; the rest would quickly be played out, once he had proven his controlling interest. Jonnie also knew going in that the scenario would almost certainly be far more deadly than the SMC Cartage Company of Chicago’s infamous “Valentine’s Bruncheon-Dance of ‘29,” should his plan have even the tiniest of miscalculations. If the exercise failed in any way, it would be because Jonnie simply hadn’t done all his homework properly, before going in. Lectro had shown him a bit of their power, and he wisely respected it, to a degree. They weren’t merely a gang of neighborhood bullies, looking to shake him down whilst he was running his paper route - they were a thoroughly corrupt {and lethally dangerous when angered} organization concerned only with their own profit-margins. Nay-sayers, whistle-blowers, and would-be corporate raiders were quickly and mercilessly {and permanently} dispatched, with nary a flinch or even the slightest of moral pangs.

Thus it had always been, and thus it always would be. Lectro thought themselves invincible; Jonnie was confident that their very arrogance would ultimately prove to be their Achilles heel. He’d need to have a serious talk or three with the Farts and Aunt Fran before he could finalize the plan of attack, but he was almost 100% sure they’d go for it straight away, seeing as how they’d all been affected by Lectro’s deviousness along with him. And Jonnie would insist that Freddy be in the loop from the outset, as well - despite his tender age, this would be a good learning experience for the Lad, who would likely be facing some Hellhounds on his own trail, the instant word got out that he was enrolled in the Academy. Other than that, Jonnie would also try to keep Freddy as far away from himself as much as he could if the shit hit the fan the wrong way, thus effectively splitting the targets any surviving hostiles might be gunning for.

As these and other thoughts continued to play out in Jonnie’s weary brain, he finally crossed the threshold of twilight sleep just after midnight, and gladly relaxed himself the rest of the way. However, the exhausted lad became semi-conscious in the absolute pit of the long night, when he was startled to feel something warm and moist brush directly across his lips. Thinking he was experiencing a waking-dream, Johnnie didn’t bother to open his eyes, but he did lay still for several moments. As he was again just beginning to fuzz out, he felt the soft, warm moistness on his lips again, this time accompanied by a strong perfumed scent of - gardenias?

Cracking his eyes to tiny slits, Jonnie could see that that the moon was full, and shining right into his bunk-cubicle through the round window opposite his bed. The moonbeams also gently silhouetted a humanoid figure on bended knees and elbows, straddling him on his bunk, large breasts dangling alluringly, the head leaning down right above him!! Before the gobsmacked young man could react, a soft but firm hand was placed over his mouth, and an incredibly familiar whisper-voice began to sound in his confused ears. “Shh, shh, shh - It’s only me, Sweetheart. We have to be quiet, if we don’t want to wake the rest of the Family.” Recognizing the lovely voice immediately, Jonnie obeyed her instructions, and relaxed in total silence. Much to the Lad’s astonishment, she quickly slipped herself under the covers with him, and immediately began kissing him with a rare passion. Jonnie abruptly took a fifteen second virtual tour of the Petrified Forest, before fully succumbing to his body’s natural proclivities; he soon began answering these new stimuli in proper fashion.

In no time at all, clothing was quickly discarded, and both bodies began actively seeking the other’s pleasure domes in earnest, through increasingly vigorous {and painstakingly quiet} sensual contact. Sets of genitalia instantly became engorged with equal measures of blood and adrenaline, and ramped up the raw urgency by several notches as they were played against each other with near-total abandon. Soon enough, the lovers began to work towards that intimate coupling that would ultimately contain and disperse their ever-growing fires down below. The heat was quite literally on, and both participants were of one mind by now - it was time to rock the firmament like it had never been rocked before, by giving full release to what both had been eagerly building to over the last quarter-hour.

As Jonnie’s loins began to feel the tingle they’d been aggressively hunting for, he felt his partner begin to silently quake and shudder atop him - she was obviously still in lockthrust, and was as ready to make with the wild-surf schtick as he was. But as the incredibly powerful waves of the most intimate pleasure of all hit the pair in perfect unison, Jonnie was stunned to look up and see that his lover had somehow reversed her position astride him by 180 degrees, and was now facing away, even though they were still tightly coupled. And as the sensual tsunami of sexual culmination engulfed his brain for the very first time, the one thing he would forevermore remember would be total astonishment, because his lover had literally ripped her skin open from collarbone to vertical smile whilst she silently orgasmed - exposing a bakelite skeleton, packed with wires, tubes, gears, and motors……..


“Jonathan? JONATHAN!!! Are you alright, my boy?”

Jonnie’s panic-stricken eyes shot open at the sound of Papa Mert’s voice - and immediately shot closed again as full daylight struck his retinas! Mert quietly opened the door just enough to poke his head in. “Everything okay, Son? We heard you call out just now - was it a nightmare?” A thoroughly flustered Jonnie somehow got it together enough to croak, “Yeah, bad dream, along with some more growing pains in my legs, Papa. I’ll be okay once I stretch, and finish waking up.” Although he didn’t dare make eye contact with his father, Jonnie just knew that Mert’s eyes were all a-twinkle. The elder Franklin chuckled softly, and said “Take your time, my Boy. Oh, and when you do come down, give me the old high-sign, and I’ll distract Mama long enough for you to get your sheets in the wash. She doesn’t need to know exactly what kind of growing pains you had this time, right?” As Mert went away laughing quietly, a mortified Jonnie groaned loudly, and buried his head under his pillow. Leave it to Papa Mert to twig it that his young son had had a rather vivid wet dream!!

However, as Jonnie extracted his head from underneath his pillow, he once again caught a strong perfumed scent - of gardenias!! ON HIS PILLOWCASE……………

Wet “Dream???”

A thoroughly befuddled Jonnie dressed quickly, and slid down the boathouse bannister, nearly colliding with his parents upon landing. “My stars, Honey-Bunny! You should always honk your horn when blowing through a boulevard stop like that!!” Jonnie profusely thanked the Lord Above that Mama Marge was in playful good spirits. She would be much less likely to notice telltale signs of Jonnie’s advancing puberty, this way. “Sorry, Mama!! I’m hungry enough to eat two grizzlies right now. Guess I was a bit too narrow-focused on the bannister back there. When’s breakfast?”

Marge hesitated for a moment or two, obviously still trying to come to grips with her darling Baby’s new manly-man voice. “Well, Momma Maddie had the muffins in a half-hour ago, so I think we can head straight to the Rawlins’ cabin from here. Shall we?” Marge, both hands on her hips, crooked her arms wide at the elbows; the time-honored cue for her “gentleman callers” to link arms with their Precious Lady and assume proper escort-duty, which they quickly did. Much to the happy trio’s delight, they met Fran midway up the main path - she’d been coming down to fetch them for the vittles.

“Well! Fancy meeting YOU-ALL, here!!”

Jonnie had to bite his tongue - hard - to keep from either groaning or going all googly-eyed, as he beheld the lovely redhead. Her hair was still dripping wet from a shower, but was fetchingly pulled back from her face via a simple light green hairband that matched her rather short terrycloth bathrobe perfectly. Her shower must have been on the cool side, ‘cos even Little Stevie Wonder hisownblindself could have easily seen the proof that she wasn’t wearing a bra, through the fluffy green fabric stretched tightly over her, from her shoulders to her upper thighs. Jonnie quickly slammed his eyes tight shut, not even DARING to think about the likelihood of her being just as bare “below,” as she was “above.”

As she moved in for a quick kiss and hug, he once more caught scent of gardenias…. That did it. Jonnie quickly opened his eyes and his mouth at the same time, intending to try and pin her down somehow about last nights’ “dream,” only to be abruptly silenced by her still-incoming kiss - which became quite French indeed, thanks to his sudden impression of a gaping blowfish!! Matters weren’t helped much when Fran broke their deep liplock with an audible POP! a few seconds later, said "And Good Morning to You, Hon," and started giggling heartily. She then threw gasoline on the bonfire when she happily rested her head against his shoulder, giving him a perfect view of her still-quaking {and most definitely bra-less} cleavage. Amazingly, Mert and Marge seemed totally oblivious to all this drama, being engaged in an animated conversation about all the improvements they wanted to make on their cabin, once spring came again.

Fran glanced up at her Lad with a broad smile, and chirped “Sleep well last night did you, Hon? I sure did!! Must have been the lovely river breezes.” She giggled anew, and winked at him. By now, Jonnie was furiously praying for a handy patch of quicksand to appear and quickly swallow him whole, but as usual, Fate had other plans; the thoroughly flustered teen remained on terra-firma, arm-in-arm with his would-be Muse, who seemed bound and determined to “innocently” embarrass him to death!! Well, there was at least one thing he could safely clarify, before his head spontaneously combusted. Taking a couple deep breaths, Jonnie casually asked, “Say, Aunt Fran - what’s that scent you’re wearing? It smells just like that patch of wild gardenias Momma Maddie grew this past spring.”

Fran sighed happily, and drew Jonnie’s arm into a tighter embrace across her shoulders. “It’s called ‘Lin Blanc,’ Hon. It’s from Paris - I picked up a bottle of it on my last trip there back in January. Do you like it?” At last - somewhat safe territory!! Jonnie nodded and smiled. “I sure do, Aunt Fran. I’ve always enjoyed the smell of gardenias, even back home in the village. This might sound strange, but whenever I catch the scent, I somehow always feel totally peaceful, and relaxed.” If Jonnie was expecting Fran to rise to his bait, he was instantly disappointed when Fran simply snuggled closer on his shoulder and said “What a lovely notion! Maybe I’ll write to the manufacturer, and suggest they try to market it over here. Might have to translate the name though - I rather doubt Mrs. Thing in Peoria would buy a scent with a name that sounds to her like “lint blanket,” you know?” She giggled. “ ‘White Linen’ has a much better ring to it, doesn’t it, Hon?” Jonnie smiled and nodded absently, just as they reached the Rawlins’ cabin, which all but swept the gifted - but soon to be troubled - boy clean off his feet, once he got a good whiff of Momma Maddie’s famous blueberry muffins……....

What nobody on Neshobe Island knew on that long-ago, late-fall morning, was the tremendous symbolism “White Linen” would eventually acquire, from Jonnie’s viewpoint. It would come to represent both his greatest joy, and his deepest heartbreak - in many more ways than one. And the raging storm that it would eventually ride the crest of would have terrible ramifications that would ultimately encompass the entire globe - and affect a certain segment of the electronics industry in ways that even the wildest of fiction-writers couldn’t possibly dream up.


Katy Franklin paused her narrative here, and gazed expectantly at her companions within Inspektor 12’s private suite atop Robo Depot’s Building 917. It took Duke, Sophia, Maisie, Chase, Rosie, Rochelle, and Liza a few moments to fully snap out of their collective trance-state. In the space of just fifteen minutes, they had vicariously lived the first thirteen years of the infamous roboticist Dr. Jonathan Franklin’s life, in Typical “The Inner Light” Fashion **{TNG-hint; TNG-hint}**. Such was the group’s state of awe, nobody took notice of the fact that behind the suite’s gore-smeared blast-gate, the still virus-stricken Inspektor 12 had somehow completely re-assembled poor Kaitlyn, right down to her last eyelash and pinky-toenail. However, the gorgeous Asiatic robot woman remained dormant, with a look of utter shock still frozen on her lovely, motionless face. What’s more, the Inspektor himself was sound asleep, chin cupped in his left hand, snoring his head off, both legs propped up on his workstand. Resting against his left elbow, angled so it could be clearly seen by the security camera, was a small sign, written in the Inspektor’s own unmistakable hand.

It said “Hey, remember me? I used to be the STAR of this crummy story…………”

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