The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun

THE BOY WHO
INVENTED
THE BUBBLE GUN

The author of the great best seller T
HE
P
OSEIDON
A
DVENTURE
has written a new tale that is both suspenseful and beguiling. It involves international intrigue, a nationwide search for a runaway nine-year-old boy, and a psychopath who holds the lives of a busload of people in his grenade-filled hand.

The boy, Julian West, is a headstrong but endearing prodigy who decides to travel from San Diego to Washington, D.C., in order to patent his invention—a seemingly innocuous toy gun that shoots beautiful, luminous soap bubbles. Armed with the makings of tuna fish sandwiches, two changes of underwear and socks, a clean shirt, and a toothbrush but no toothpaste, Julian embarks on an adventure that will have repercussions in the Kremlin and the Pentagon and that will make him the nation's most unlikely hero.

En route, Julian encounters a high school couple masquerading as honeymooners, a murderer on the lam, a cynical but congenial Vietnam veteran, a bungling Russian spy, a frustrated American counterspy, a passel of police, and two elderly British gun-toting sisters. And throughout this fast-moving story is interwoven a wise and heartwarming theme on the inviolability of innocence.

Books by PAUL GALLICO

Novels

ADVENTURES OF HIRAM HOLLIDAY
THE SECRET FRONT
THE SNOW GOOSE
THE LONELY
THE ABANDONED
TRIAL BY TERROR
THE SMALL MIRACLE
THE FOOLISH IMMORTALS
SNOWFLAKE
LOVE OF SEVEN DOLLS
THOMASINA
MRS. ’ARRIS GOES TO PARIS
LUDMILA
TOO MANY GHOSTS
MRS. ’ARRIS GOES TO NEW YORK
SCRUFFY
CORONATION
LOVE, LET ME NOT HUNGER
THE HAND OF MARY CONSTABLE
MRS. ’ARRIS GOES TO PARLIAMENT
THE MAN WHO WAS MAGIC
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE
THE ZOO GANG
MATILDA
THE BOY WHO INVENTED THE BUBBLE GUN

General

FAREWELL TO SPORTS
GOLF IS A FRIENDLY GAME
LOU GEHRIG, PRIDE OF THE “YANKEES”
CONFESSIONS OF A STORY WRITER
THE HURRICANE STORY
THE SILENT MIAOW
FURTHER CONFESSIONS OF A STORY WRITER
THE GOLDEN PEOPLE
THE STORY OF “SILENT NIGHT”
THE REVEALING EYE, PERSONALITIES OF THE 1920’s
HONORABLE CAT
THE STEADFAST MAN

For Children

THE DAY THE GUINEA-PIG TALKED
THE DAY JEAN-PIERRE WAS PIGNAPPED
THE DAY JEAN-PIERRE WENT ROUND THE WORLD
MANXMOUSE

Copyright © 1974 by Paul Gallico and Mathemata Ansalt

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in connection with reviews written specifically for inclusion in a magazine or newspaper.

Manufactured in the United States of America

First printing

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Gallico, Paul, 1897-

The boy who invented the bubble gun.

I. Title.

Pz3.G13586B0   [PS3513.A413]   813'.5'2 73-20287

ISBN: 0-440-01789-0

To Cassian, Damien and Cary

T H E  B O Y  W H O
I N V E N T E D
THE
B U B B L E  G U N

C H A P T E R
1

T
he miracles of the moon walk had remained, in a sense, remote to Julian as something taking place inside the box of the big colour television set and reflected on the glass screen. The visible, workable magic of the electric eye that operated the entrance doors to the San Diego Bus Terminal, however, was something so differently enthralling that it almost drove from Julian’s head the enormity of the expedition on which he had embarked and which had brought him to the terminal at half past two in the morning.

Aged nine and a half and a scientist himself, Julian was not unfamiliar with the principle of the electric eye, but encountering this phenomenon for the first time in his life coupled wonderfully the mixture of the practical and the dreamworld that animated him.

He was carrying a small cardboard suitcase containing two changes of underwear and socks, a clean shirt, a toothbrush but no toothpaste, a hairbrush but no comb and, sealed in plastic containers or cellophane wrappings, the makings of tuna-fish salad sandwiches.

The beauty of the functioning of the doors was that they turned Julian into a magician with powers over inert objects. He was startled and utterly enchanted the first time the portals swung open for him as he approached them. He passed through in a kind of daze and wonderment and they closed behind him. Even before the shock of noise from the busy bus station assailed him, he turned about, advanced, the doors immediately made way for him and he found himself on the outside once more, the possessor of a new and captivating magical power.

Julian chose now to exercise it and changed himself from a small carroty-haired boy peering through steel-rimmed spectacles, clad in jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt and a leather jacket, to a wizard in a tall conical hat and a blue robe spangled with silver stars. With the imaginary wand clutched in his fingers he gestured towards the doors which obediently flew open.

Julian entered once more, but now the scientific investigator, eternally in search of the truth, or whatever it was that made things go, came uppermost, and by discovering the source of the beam and edging gently backwards and forwards, he determined the exact spot where the doors could be kept open. This spot being rather central to the passage, people coming and going had to make their way around Julian which certain parties in a hurry did rather testily to the point where a slight disarrangement in the normal procedure of entrance and exit to the waiting-room caught the eye of a huge guardian armoured in light blue, with the silver badge of a special policeman who strolled over casually to inspect what was holding up the works. His shadow, or rather the aura of his leisurely and ponderous approach fell upon Julian in sufficient time before his actual arrival to make the scientist-wizard realize that he was not there to explore the mysteries of the electric eye or the joys of supernatural powers. Instead he was on his way to Washington, DC to patent an invention, having stolen away from his home in the well-to-do Floral Heights section of San Diego, and from the sleeping household, with one hundred and fifty dollars in crisp bills in his pocket, constituting his grandmother’s birthday present to him. He had no wish to be interrogated by any arm of the law. He was not frightened by the enormity of what he was doing; he was not in any sense running away from home. He was simply carrying out, or bringing to life, a dream that had become imperative. He had no desire to handicap himself. He therefore picked up his suitcase and trotted further inside the bus terminal where, having crossed its threshold, he immediately and irrevocably made an alteration in the lives of a number of people gathered there, some watching the electronic bulletin board of arrivals and departures. Moreover, Julian’s crossing of this line of demarcation was to have repercussions affecting the two most powerful nations on the face of the globe.

But of this Julian was both too young and innocent to be aware. He could not know that every human action, literally almost every move made by people, acts upon the principle of the stone thrown into the still pond and originating the ever-widening circles that reach the shore.

He had never before been inside a bus station and the sounds and sights and the smells would ordinarily have terrified him had he not been armoured by the importance of his mission. He had been a tinkerer ever since he could remember; every toy bestowed upon him he had taken apart and put together again. He had been a manufacturer of grandiose imaginings of wealth conferred upon him to reward his benefaction of mankind. Mechanically inclined, he had made things, but now for the first time he had invented something, an adaptation it was true, but nevertheless something which had never existed before. He had planned it, drawn it, machined some of the parts in the school shop, put them together, and it worked—well, except for one minor defect not essentially important. His school mates had seen it and coveted it. And his father had laughed at him.

The bus station is the crossroads of the masses too poor to travel by more luxurious means. It smells of them and the orange peels and banana skins and sticky candy wrappers with which they litter the floor and the fumes of the exhausts drifting in through the entrance and exit gates. They made their own music with the shuffling of their feet across stone floors, the shouts of children, the crying of babies against the antiphonal thunder from without of the engines of the big transcontinental vehicles and the overall metallic voices of the loudspeakers bawling information, directions and warnings to them unseen from on high like the voice of God.

Julian thus moved into this world where the neon tube turned night into day, where there appeared to be only a kind of shattering chaos of coming and going until as one moved into the midst of it one saw that it resolved itself, too, into long benches on which sat men and women with resigned, expressionless faces or nodding with half-closed eyes; and there was an information booth and a number of ticket offices and that there were shops on the periphery—drugstores, news-stands, souvenir and candy stores.

Julian also saw people of his own age travelling, accompanied by grown-ups it was true, but nevertheless reassuring. On one bench, he noted, there was even a mother with a brood of seven, four boys and three girls ranging in age from about six to fourteen. They were surrounded by piles of luggage which the mother kept checking by counting on her fingers. She kept track of her family in the same manner as one always seemed to be toddling or running off, to be called back shrilly and slapped. They fascinated Julian who had never seen anything like this before.

Julian moved through this now more ordered confusion to consult the electronic bulletin board which listed the Washington, DC departure for 3.10 a.m., but he wanted more verification and so he went to the information booth where two girls in uniform wearing caps with gold badges were looking bored and tired. One of them was manicuring her fingernail the other was handing out a folder of some kind to a passenger.

Julian said, “I want to go to Washington.”

The girl without looking up, asked, “DC?”

“Yes, please.”

The girl now looked up from her manicuring but saw nothing to interest her very greatly and said, “3.10 from Gate Nine. It’ll be announced. The ticket office will open in about ten minutes. Over there.” And she nodded with her head in the direction of a window that was unoccupied by a ticket seller. Thereupon she returned to her cuticle.

Julian noted the location of the window, spotted an empty space on a bench where he could keep it in view and went and sat down.

Sam Wilks was keeping a low profile. He sat off in a corner where he could watch the closed ticket window for the east-bound bus. He was unprepossessing looking and knew it. He had not shaved or washed or slept in a bed ever since he had fled from Carlsbad two days before. He doubted whether his description or what he had done had yet been broadcast or he would surely have been picked up. He was clad in worn Levis, a soiled shirt, leather jacket and a ten-gallon hat, sufficient of a uniform for that part of the country not to attract too much attention. And yet he had the kind of dark, surly and sour visage that the public had been educated to connect with the baddie and which led policemen almost automatically to stop him for interrogation. He knew what he wanted to do, must do, to break out of the trap into which he had got himself by killing a gas station attendant. He was aware of the blue-uniformed special policeman on duty in the terminal and, without seeming to be watching, always knew of the policeman’s whereabouts. He was relieved that the officer did not seem to be looking for anyone and that there were no city cops about. Once on the bus, with a certain two articles concealed about his person, he would be all right, but in the meantime he did not want to be jostled by anyone. He sat chewing a toothpick, his pale eyes never still, planning and thinking hard about exactly what he would do.

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