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The chief of protocol said, "Mr. Hudson of--ah--Mastodonia."
The secretary of state held out his hand. "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Hudson. I understand you've been here several times."
"That's right," said Hudson. "I had a hard time making your people believe I was in earnest."
"And are you, Mr. Hudson?"
"Believe me, sir, I would not try to fool you."
"And this Mastodonia," said the secretary, reaching down to tap the document upon the desk. "You will pardon me, but I've never heard of it."
"It's a new nation," Hudson explained, "but quite legitimate. We have a constitution, a democratic form of government, duly elected officials, and a code of laws. We are a free, peace-loving people, and we are possessed of a vast amount of natural resources and--"
"Please tell me, sir," interrupted the secretary, "just where are you located?"
"Technically, you are our nearest neighbors."
"But that is ridiculous!" exploded Protocol.
"Not at all," insisted Hudson. "If you will give me a moment, Mr. Secretary, I have considerable evidence."
He brushed the fingers of Protocol off his sleeve and stepped forward to the desk, laying down the portfolio he carried.
"Go ahead, Mr. Hudson," said the secretary. "Why don't we all sit down and be comfortable while we talk this over?"
"You have my credentials, I see. Now here is a propos--"
"I have a document signed by a certain Wesley Adams."
"He's our first president," said Hudson. "Our George Washington, you might say."
"What is the purpose of this visit, Mr. Hudson?"
"We'd like to establish diplomatic relations. We think it would be to our mutual benefit. After all, weare a sister republic in perfect sympathy with your policies and aims. We'd like to negotiate trade agreements and we'd be grateful for some Point Four aid."
The secretary smiled. "Naturally. Who doesn't?"
"We're prepared to offer something in return," Hudson told him stiffly. "For one thing, we could offer sanctuary."
"I understand," said Hudson, "that in the present state of international tensions, a foolproof sanctuary is not something to be sneezed at."
The secretary turned stone cold. "I'm an extremely busy man."
Protocol took Hudson firmly by the arm. "Out you go."
General Leslie Bowers put in a call to State and got the secretary.
"I don't like to bother you, Herb," he said, "but there's something I want to check. Maybe you can help me."
"Glad to help you if I can."
"There's a fellow hanging around out here at the Pentagon, trying to get in to see me. Said I was the only one he'd talk to, but you know how it is."
"I certainly do."
"Name of Huston or Hudson or something like that."
"He was here just an hour or so ago," said the secretary. "Crackpot sort of fellow."
"He's gone now?"
"Yes. I don't think he'll be back."
"Did he say where you could reach him?"
"No, I don't believe he did."
"How did he strike you? I mean, what kind of impression did you get of him?"
"I told you. A crackpot."
"I suppose he is. He said something to one of the colonels that got me worrying. Can't pass up anything, you know--not in the Dirty Tricks Department. Even if it's crackpot, these days you got to have a look at it."
"He offered sanctuary," said the secretary indignantly. "Can you imagine that!"
"He's been making the rounds, I guess," the general said. "He was over at AEC. Told them some sort of tale about knowing where there were vast uranium deposits. It was the AEC that told me he was heading your way."
"We get them all the time. Usually we can ease them out. This Hudson was just a little better than the most of them. He got in to see me."
"He told the colonel something about having a plan that would enable us to establish secret bases anywhere we wished, even in the territory of potential enemies. I know it sounds crazy...."
"Forget it, Les."
"You're probably right," said the general, "but this idea sends me. Can you imagine the look on their Iron Curtain faces?"
The scared little government clerk, darting conspiratorial glances all about him, brought the portfolio to the FBI.
"I found it in a bar down the street," he told the man who took him in tow. "Been going there for years. And I found this portfolio laying in the booth. I saw the man who must have left it there and I tried to find him later, but I couldn't."
"How do you know he left it there?"
"I just figured he did. He left the booth just as I came in, and it was sort of dark in there, and it took a minute to see this thing laying there. You see, I always take the same booth every day, and Joe sees me come in, and he brings me the usual, and--"
"You saw this man leave the booth you usually sit in?"
"Then you saw the portfolio."
"You tried to find the man, thinking it must have been his."
"That's exactly what I did."
"But by the time you went to look for him, he had disappeared."
"That's the way it was."
"Now tell me--why did you bring it here? Why didn't you turn it in to the management so the man could come back and claim it?"
"Well, sir, it was like this. I had a drink or two and I was wondering all the time what was in that portfolio. So finally I took a peek and--"
"And what you saw decided you to bring it here to us."
"That's right. I saw--"
"Don't tell me what you saw. Give me your name and address and don't say anything about this. You understand that we're grateful to you for thinking of us, but we'd rather you said nothing."
"Mum's the word," the little clerk assured him, full of vast importance.
The FBI phoned Dr. Ambrose Amberly, Smithsonian expert on paleontology.
"We've got something, Doctor, that we'd like you to have a look at. A lot of movie film."
"I'll be most happy to. I'll come down as soon as I get clear. End of the week, perhaps?"
"This is very urgent, Doctor. Damnedest thing you ever saw. Big, shaggy elephants and tigers with teeth down to their necks. There's a beaver the size of a bear."
"Fakes," said Amberly, disgusted. "Clever gadgets. Camera angles."
"That's what we thought first, but there are no gadgets, no camera angles. This is the real McCoy."
"I'm on my way," the paleontologist said, hanging up.
Snide item in smug, smartaleck gossip column: Saucers are passé at the Pentagon. There's another mystery that's got the high brass very high.