"Late" – Part 2

In the hall, she found Charles waiting at the top of the stairs that led to the basement. As soon as he saw her emerge from the workroom, he motioned for her to follow him and headed down. When she reached the stairs herself, he was waiting on the landing at the halfway point, and again, once he knew she was following, he bolted ahead of her. Magellan was already out of sight.

"Where are we going?" she called down the stairwell.

"My Lair," he called back up. "At least, that's what Uncle Bart calls it. Gelly, now what are you up to?" he asked, as the dog doubled back and ascended the stairs to the landing. Magellan waited there for Dorothy to join him, then walked the rest of the way down by her side. She found Charles lounging in the doorway at the end of a short passage. He straightened up as she approached, and with a sweep of his hand, proclaimed, "Welcome to my workshop."

The door was open, and the lights were on. Standing aside, he allowed her to precede him into the low-ceilinged room. He might have called it a workshop, but there was much more to it than that. Dorothy's first reaction was to ask him, "Do you live down here?"

"I wish I did," he grumbled a little. "Still have to report to old Muntz Manor a few nights a week, or I hear about it from the Parents. I bunk down here pretty often, though."

Charles Muntz's Lair was an odd mish-mash of workshop and makeshift apartment. His drafting table shared a rolling chair with a massive old desk, and his workbench and tools took up one corner of the room. The dog bath stood in front of the workbench, and Charles set about emptying the soapy water from it through a hose into a drain in the floor. On the wall opposite the door, a kitchenette had been assembled from a laundry sink, a Hoosier cabinet, a hotplate and a gleaming new electric refrigerator. Through a narrow doorway, Dorothy could see a pedestal sink and mirror, and presumed that was the bathroom. To the left, the "living" portion of the room contained a Morris chair and a drop-leaf side table. The space was dominated, however, by a full-sized bed, crammed sideways into an alcove almost too small for it. The ornate Chinese silk throw and fat, tasseled pillows on it seemed overly luxurious for a space intended for simply "bunking down," but she supposed the Kid liked his comforts. This extended to the large fur rug on the floor.

"Grizzly bear," said Charles, when he noticed her looking at it. "Bagged him on a trip to Alaska, a couple of years ago." As he checked the connection on the incoming hose that ran from the laundry sink, he added, "Had to take the head off; I was getting complaints."

"What sort of complaints?" she laughed a bit, baffled by this remark.

Charles had his back to her, still tinkering with the dog bath. "Oh, you know: 'It's looking at me,' 'It's going to eat me,' 'Oh the poor teddy bear…'" He glanced over his shoulder at her with a grin, then abruptly cleared his throat and shifted gears. "That's Grandpa's old desk," he nodded in the general direction of it as he turned his face toward the tub again. "Look at the top, you can still see his sketches."

Dorothy obliged him by walking over and examining George Muntz's artwork. He had inked into the leather top of the desk a variety of automobiles from early in the century, sketched from several angles. "Did Muntz Industries build automobiles?" She hadn't heard of this before.

"No, Grandpa just likes them. Lucky for me," Charles noted. "Got my first roadster from him when I turned fifteen. Mother nearly went off in a fit. 'It's the twentieth century, Alma!'" he was channeling George Muntz again. "'Every young fellow needs an automobile!' He tinkered with some engine improvements, then we started moving into aeronautics. 'That's the wave of the future, Charlie! Man was born to conquer the skies!' You know he started out designing engines for mining equipment; he had three patents before he was twenty. Now it's aero-engines. 'Progress, Charlie, Progress!'" He chuckled fondly at this, and declared, "He's a genius, Grandpa."

"Is this you?" Dorothy asked, carefully picking up a framed photo from the desk.

"Oh, you found that, did you?" he asked, with a sly smile. Standing up, he came to look over her shoulder. In the photo, a younger, gawkier Charles was posed with a large rifle, standing in front of an enormous, dead pachyderm. "Biggest bull elephant you've ever seen, taller than this room. I shot him on my first safari, when I was fourteen."

Remembering Gus's "grain of salt" comment, Dorothy might have been skeptical of this claim, but the boy with the rifle was definitely Charles, and written in one corner of the photograph was the caption: C. F.'s first Elephant, May 29, 1924.

"Uncle Bart took the photo; that's his handwriting. I've got the tusks mounted. I wanted to hang them over the desk, but there's not enough room." He reclaimed the photo from her and restored it to its honored spot. "Looks like the dog bath has finished draining. Come on, Gelly," he summoned the dog.

Magellan looked from his master to the bath, gave a little snort, and settled himself down on the floor where he was. Charles, fists planted on his hips, glowered at the dog for a moment, then sighed. "All right. But don't think you're going to get away with this forever," he warned, as he retreated to the kitchen cabinet and came back with a couple of dog biscuits. "Big puppy," he noted to Dorothy, with half a grin. Magellan had clambered back to his feet, snuffling eagerly. "If you want a treat, you have to get in the tub first." This time, the dog obeyed, and Charles handed over a biscuit. Gelly wolfed it down and started sniffing for more. "Oh, no," Charles fended off the dog, stuffing the spare biscuit in his pocket. "You get the other one when you're clean."

"How does this thing work?" Dorothy asked, walking around for a better view of the machine. It was basically an oval wash tub with an enclosed motor at one end. Attached to the motor were three rotating wheels, each moving a long-handled scrub brush that cleaned the dog on the top and sides. Green and black rubber tubing snaked around the contraption, joined to multiple valves fixed into holes drilled in the tub.

"Everything is controlled from the motor in the back," Charles explained. "This is just the prototype; that's why it's still hooked up to the sink. The finished version will be hard-plumbed, and the soap and water lines will be integrated into a double-walled steel tub. Modern, streamlined design," he noted, proudly. "Water and soap dispense through the valves," he pointed them out. "The brushes lather him up and give him a good scrub. Gelly likes that part. Don't you?" he patted the dog. "He's not keen on the rinse, though. I've had to increase the water pressure to get all the soap off, and it can get messy. In fact," he had walked over to the workbench while he was talking and taken down a canvas apron from a hook on the wall, "you might want to put this on." He tossed her the apron and she scrambled into it as Charles turned on the water from the sink. Magellan glanced around and whined at the sound, and Charles pulled the dog biscuit from his pocket. Instead of offering it to the dog, he chucked it at Dorothy, who caught it in both hands. "Here, put that in your apron. See if you can keep him distracted. He likes you."

"He likes the dog biscuit," she corrected, as Magellan sniffed at her.

Charles was flipping switches on the mechanism, and in a few seconds, the flow of water reached the tub and came surging through the valves. Magellan turned to give his master a baleful look as he was hosed down, and got a spurt of water up his nose.

"Poor Gelly, you're all right," Dorothy soothed him, as he spluttered and shook water on her apron. "He really doesn't like this, does he?"

"He's just not used to it," said Charles, catching more of the spray as it bounced off the dog.

"So, what was the issue with the shower head?" Dorothy asked, still rubbing Magellan between the ears.

"Shower head?" Charles looked at her, perplexed.

"Running the rinse cycle from above, through a shower head," she clarified. "What was the problem?"

To her surprise, he abruptly shut off the bath. The water jets died and Gelly shook himself off in relief. Without a word, Charles walked to the workbench, grabbed a fresh towel, and began drying the dog. "I wouldn't say there was a problem," he ventured at last. "But… well, modern streamlined design, you know. That was the whole point of the integrated valves. They can alternate between soap and water; it's all controlled from the power source. It took me weeks to work that out."

Dorothy stepped back out of his way as he circled the tub, giving Magellan an increasingly vigorous rubdown.

"He can have that biscuit now," Charles informed her, as the dog climbed out of the tub, and she handed over the treat she'd been saving. "A shower head… Seems a bit primitive, don't you think?" He flashed her a grin, but his eyes weren't in on it.

"You're the inventor," she conceded.

"That's right." He made a futile attempt to dry his hands on the dripping towel before hurling it into the sink. "In fact – sit." The word came out as half invitation, half command.

"I really shouldn't." Dorothy was untangling herself from the apron. "It's getting awfully late."

"Phah, the night is young," Charles dismissed this, finding a fresh towel for himself. "I have something else to show you. Please, I insist," he took a more courteous approach this time, motioning toward the Morris chair.
Magellan was still nudging her affectionately, and she rubbed his neck in return. Maybe it wasn't all that late.

"Got any more dog biscuits?"

"Help yourself." This time, the Kid's smile was genuine. "Here, I'll take that." He relieved her of the wet apron, and she took a few biscuits from the box in the cupboard. Magellan had followed her, tail wagging all the way, and when Dorothy handed over a treat, he carried it off and flopped down beside the chair, munching contentedly. Charles had been in the refrigerator, and now popped open a glass bottle, which he handed to her. "Have a Dr. Pepper. Don't worry, it's legal," he added, when she sniffed at the drink. "It's from Texas."

"I know what it is, I've just never had one." The unexpected flavor made her mouth pucker, and Charles laughed.

"Different, isn't it? You'll get to like it, though. What do you know about airships?"

"You mean like a Zeppelin? Not a lot," Dorothy admitted, carrying her drink and dog biscuits to the chair.

Far from being dismayed by her answer, the Kid lit up with enthusiasm. "Well, just wait till you get a look at this!" Shuffling through the papers on his drafting table, he noted, "I've got a long way to go on it yet. Still getting the Big Picture, as Grandpa would say. 'Keep your eye on the Big Picture, Charlie! Too easy to get bogged down in details, you lose sight of the Big Picture.'" Gathering up what he wanted, Charles came to sit on the edge of the bed, opposite her chair. Handing Dorothy the first sheet, he beamed. "There she is. The Spirit of Adventure."

What she held was a free-hand illustration, tinted in watercolors and signed "C. F. Muntz," depicting a grand dirigible soaring through the clouds. Taking a swig from his soda bottle, he set it beside hers on the table. "I'm designing her from stem to stern, then I'm going to fly her all around the globe. Twenty-four gas cells," he passed her a more detailed diagram of the structure, "unless I decide it needs more disposable lift."

"What's disposable lift?" asked Dorothy, reaching for another sip of her drink. She was more prepared for the flavor of it this time.

Charles appeared gratified by her question. "Disposable lift is the difference between the available lift of your gas, and the weight of what you're trying to lift – not just the structure, but passengers, cargo... That's the last elephant I leave behind in Africa, I can promise you that," he nodded in the direction of the photo on his desk. "It's tricky to calculate, because you have to allow for variable atmospheric conditions: temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, I think Gelly wants another biscuit."

Dorothy was surprised by the sudden change of topic, but realized he was right. The dog was looking up at her and whining softly. "I'm sorry, Gelly; here you go." She laid the rest of the biscuits in front of him, and patted his head.

Leaning toward her, Charles pointed out another area on the diagram. "I'm also incorporating an internal hangar that can hold up to three planes."

"Carrying planes inside the airship?" she marveled.

"Of course. I'm not the first one to think of that," he admitted. "But it is a good idea. Might as well be prepared for anything, don't you think?"

"Mm," she nodded, resorting to her soda bottle again. "So, where are you going first in your airship?"

"Fenton's." He tossed off this answer, then burst out with a self-satisfied laugh.

Dorothy didn't get the joke. "Where's that?"

"Fenton's Ice Cream." When it was obvious that she had no idea what he was talking about, he elaborated: "In Oakland. Best ice cream in the world. First stop, Fenton's. Then maybe China. I haven't been to China yet."

"Then where did that come from?" she pointed at the silk throw he was sitting on.

"Oh, this?" he picked up the edge of it. "Chinatown. San Francisco. Here," he found another diagram for her. "I'm basing the engines off the old Muntz A95. They'll be much larger, of course, and I'm making some modifications. Maybe I'll use your propeller hubs," he considered.

"Assuming they work," she reminded him.

"I told you, they'll work." Charles took a long drink while she looked over the engine, then said, "Gus asked for you, you know."

"What?" Taken by surprise, she looked up at him.

"Took your test scores to Grandpa, and told him he wanted you on his team. I understand you scored very well on the tests."

Dorothy felt herself turning pink. "I didn't know that."

"Of course not. They're not supposed to tell you how you did. That's for them to know and you to find out from me." Again, he said this with a straight face, then barked out that laugh. It was infectious, and Dorothy had to chuckle along with him. Still grinning, Charles asked, "So, where do lady engineers come from?"

Dorothy couldn't decide if this was a genuine question, or the set up for a joke, but she answered, "I can't speak for anyone else, but this one's from Iowa."

"Of course, the farm girl with the windmill," he realized.

"Well, I'm not really a farm girl," she confessed, a bit ruefully. "I'm from Des Moines. But I spent a lot of time on my grandparents' farm growing up. My Grandpa always let me help him fix things. He was the one who talked my parents into sending me to Iowa State. I don't know where I'd be without him; he's stood by me through some pretty rough times." Dorothy hadn't meant to get quite so serious, or say quite so much, but Charles didn't push for more.

He simply agreed, "Grandpas are good for that. These are some of my ideas for the cockpit." He produced a sheet covered in sketches. "I want to set it up so one man can operate everything."

"Oh, so you're going around the world by yourself?"

"Well, I suppose I'll take Uncle Bart along, if he's game. And Magellan, of course; he's my co-pilot. Aren't you, boy?" he addressed the dog, who replied with a bark in the affirmative.

Dorothy laughed at this and gave Gelly another pat. "I'm sure you'll make an excellent co-pilot, Magellan."

"Uncle Bart and I are going to the Yucatan in a couple of weeks," Charles noted. "Tromp around the old Mayan ruins. Too bad we won't have the airship for that."

"Mmm," she acknowledged this while taking another drink. Looking at the bottle, she said, "You know, you're right about this, Charlie, it does grow on you."

It wasn't until she set the bottle on the table again that she noticed the way he was looking at her, mouth drawn into a pensive frown, eyes glinting from beneath a lowered brow, as he said, in an ominously quiet voice, "Did you just call me Charlie?"

"Isn't that what people-?"

"Only Grandpa calls me Charlie," he interrupted her. "No one else."

Dorothy hadn't been on the receiving end of a glower that sulky since her little brother was five years old. She retorted, with a merry smile, "No need to get your feathers ruffled, Mr. Muntz. It wasn't meant as an insult." She rose from the chair and handed over his sketches, as he scrambled to his feet. "Thank you for inviting me down to your Lair, but I really should get going. I never meant to stay so late."

"Dorothy-?" He looked almost contrite as he tossed the sketches onto the bed.

"I've heard so much about you, I'm glad we finally met," she informed him, still with the smile, then she knelt to give Magellan a farewell pat, and graciously accepted a slurp on the cheek. "And I'm very glad I got to meet you, Magellan," she beamed. "I'll try to keep a few dog biscuits in my pocket, in case we run into each other again, how does that sound?"

"Dorothy," Charles was hovering behind her, "do you need a ride home?"

"Oh, no thanks," she stood up. "I've got my car."

"At least let me walk you out," he appealed to her. "You shouldn't be roaming around by yourself after dark."

"Thank you, Charles," she turned to face him and confessed, "I'd appreciate that."

Perking up as if he were Magellan being offered a treat, he said, "Let me shut off a couple of things, and we'll go. I'd better head for the old homestead, myself," he admitted, easing back into a grin again. "Come on, Gelly." The dog got up. "Oh, and Dorothy?"

"Yes?"

"You can call me Charlie, if you like. I don't mind." He tried to sound careless about it. The glint came back into his eyes, however, as he said, more sharply, "Don't do it in front of anyone else, though. I don't want everyone thinking they can get away with that."

"Don't worry," she assured him. "That'll stay just between us."

He shut off the lights and ushered her out the door. As they started up the stairs, the Kid asked a question she somehow found not at all surprising: "So, what, exactly, have you heard about me?"

THE END