Read CHAPTER I - The Million-Dollar Gimmick of The Electronic Mind Reader , free online book, by John Blaine, on ReadCentral.com.

Rick Brant stretched luxuriously and slid down to a half-reclining, half-sitting position in his dad’s favorite library armchair. He called, “Barby! Hurry up!”

Don Scott looked up from his adjustment of the television picture. “What’s the rush? The show hasn’t started yet.”

Rick explained, “She likes the commercials.”

A moment later Barbara Brant appeared in the doorway, hastily finishing a doughnut. Rick cocked an eyebrow at her. “If you’re going to eat, you might at least bring a plateful, so we can have some, too.”

Barby gulped. “Sorry. I didn’t intend to have a doughnut. I went to the kitchen to see if Mom and Dad wanted to watch the show, and they were having doughnuts and milk.”

“Never mind,” Scotty said. “We forgive you. We’ll get ours later. Are Mom and Dad coming?”

“Maybe later. Now be quiet, please, so I can hear the commercial.”

Dismal, the Brant pup, wandered in and paused at Rick’s chair to have his ears scratched before taking up his favorite position, under the TV table. Rick obliged and the shaggy pup groaned with pleasure.

“Why all the interest in a breakfast-food commercial?” Scotty asked.

“The announcer is cute,” Barby stated.

This made no sense to Scotty. He stretched out on the rug in front of the set, then rolled over on his back and looked up at the girl. “I don’t get it. Then why do you eat Crummies for breakfast instead of the hay this guy sells?”

“The Crummies announcer is cuter,” Barby explained patiently.

The boys grinned and fell silent as the cereal salesman went into his spiel. Barby perched on the edge of a chair and listened attentively.

Rick watched his sister’s expressive face, chuckling to himself. Barby always listened to the commercials. It was only fair, she insisted, and the boys went along with her wishes. Come right down to it, Rick thought, listening to commercials was the price that had to be paid for entertainment. Not listening meant not paying the price. He didn’t think that the point was particularly important, but there was a small element of justice in Barby’s view.

Their Sunday evenings on Spindrift, the private island off the New Jersey coast, usually ended with this particular program. The members of the Spindrift staff were not TV enthusiasts at best, and they cared little about the program. Mr. and Mrs. Brant sometimes watched, more for the sake of being companionable than for the sake of the program. But usually the three young people watched alone.

The program was a typical quiz. Contestants who were expert on a particular category returned week after week on their build-up to a grand prize, which was a quarter of a million dollars. This quiz, however, had elements that the younger Brants liked. In the first place, the contestants were ordinary people. The producer didn’t seem to go in for odd characters as other programs did.

For the past few weeks the hero-contestant had been an eighteen-year-old coal miner from Pennsylvania. There was nothing unusual about him, except for one thing: he had become interested in the mining of precious stones, and from there he had studied their history. He was an expert on historical gems.

Now, as the master of ceremonies greeted the miner, Barby said with admiration, “He has a wonderful personality. And imagine him knowing so much about gems!”

Rick draped a leg over the chair arm. “See, Scotty? The perfect reaction.”

“What do you mean?” Barby demanded indignantly. “He absolutely does have a wonderful personality, and I think it’s amazing that a coal miner should know so much about gems.”

Scotty grinned up at her. “Rick means people can’t get on quiz shows unless they have good TV personalities. And how much appeal would the show have if a gem expert answered questions on gems?”

“I see what you mean,” Barby agreed.

“That’s it,” Rick nodded. “Anyway, I agree that the miner has a swell personality, and he certainly knows his gems.”

The three fell quiet as the quiz began. The questions were really tough, filled with the kind of detail no one could be expected to remember, but which good contestants always did. Then, at a crucial moment, the miner hesitated over identification of a date in the long and bloody history of the Koh-i-noor diamond.

“If only we could help him,” Barby wailed.

“We don’t know, either,” Scotty reminded.

But Rick suddenly realized that they did know or, at least, had the answer available. He was certain it could be found in one of his father’s books, if not in the encyclopedia. But even if they had time to look it up, which they didn’t, the contestant couldn’t hear them in a soundproof booth. Or could they get a message to him if they were part of the studio audience? Or was there some other way? It was typical of Rick, when faced with an apparently insoluble problem, to look for an answer.

The miner finally remembered, and the three breathed a mutual sigh of relief. But the ordeal was not yet over, because the questioning had several parts. Next came a quiz on the Star of Africa.

The questions asked, the camera began switching from the contestant’s face to the tense faces in the audience. A woman, probably the miner’s mother ... a man with a beard ... a man with a hearing aid ...

Rick suddenly sat up straight. He had it! He knew how the information could be handed to the contestant! At least he knew in theory. He sat back and started to work out the details.

The miner made it. Limp and happy, he came out of the booth, shook hands with the Mc, and staggered off with an armload of books containing answers to next week’s series of questions. The announcer went into the final commercial, with Barby and Scotty listening attentively. Rick didn’t listen. He had a wonderful idea on which he was putting the finishing touches.

As programs shifted, Scotty reached up and turned off the set. Dismal left his place under the table and trotted off to the kitchen.

“Me for a doughnut,” Scotty announced.

Barby was still spellbound by the miner’s success. “It’s just fantastic, utterly, how much he knows.” She shook her smooth blond head. “I wish I knew that much about something.”

“Want to win a million?” Rick asked.

“Who doesn’t?” Barby returned dreamily. Suddenly she stared. “You have a Look on your face,” she stated. “Rick Brant, you’re cooking up something!”

Rick grinned. “I can win the quiz,” he said casually. “It’s easy. Let me know if either of you want to win. Of course you might end up in jail if you’re not real careful, but I think it’ll work.”

Scotty looked his disbelief. “Easy, huh? What are you expert on?”

“Nothing,” Rick said airily. “And anything. Of course we all know you’re an expert on eating, but that’s not a category, it’s a capacity.”

Barby gave what might be described as a lady-like sneer.

Rick shook his head. “It’s terrible the way people in this house have no faith in genius. Just terrible.” He sighed heavily.

Scotty watched him suspiciously. “All right, Doctor Brant. Give with the great idea.”

“Okay.” Rick waved at the encircling shelves of books. “Pick a subject. Any subject, so long as it is contained in a very few references. Like the life of the bee, or the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, or the Life of Dickens.”

Barby said obligingly, “All right. I pick Ben Franklin. Now what?”

“We get the major books on old Ben, plus the copy of the encyclopedia we need. Then we set up an index, and we put principal categories of information on file cards. For Ben, we’d need the Sayings of Poor Richard, and the dates they appeared, and where. And we’d need a list of his inventions, plus dates. And so on. Generally, we fix things so we can find any answer in a few seconds.”

Barby shook her head. “That would be awfully hard. It would take weeks, and whoever operated the file would have to know it nearly by heart.”

Rick agreed. “But isn’t a million bucks worth a few weeks of effort?”

Rick’s famous father, Hartson Brant, walked into the library in time to hear the last comment. His eyebrows went up. “What’s all this megabuck talk?”

That was a new word to Barby. “What talk?”

“In the metric system, ‘meg’ means million. So a megabuck is a million bucks, if you’ll pardon the slang.”

“Oh well Rick is going to win a megabuck.”

Rick explained rapidly about choosing a subject that could be cross-indexed for ease of reference, then went on. “After we get the subject all set, we choose the contestant. It has to be a real person. We’d need several contestants, because the gimmick could be worked on every big money quiz. Maybe more than once on each. Of course the contestants would have to be members of the Megabuck Mob, as we’ll call it.”

“I like that,” Barby said enthusiastically. “That would make me a Megabuck Moll, wouldn’t it?”

“Yep,” Scotty agreed. “And Rick can be the Megabuck Mole.”

“And you can be the Megabuck Moose, you big ox,” Rick finished. He was warming up to his subject now. There had to be a hole in it somewhere, but he hadn’t found it yet. “Anyway, we have Ben Franklin on file cards and Barby has studied carefully to be the first contestant. Then what?”

“Someone asks who Ben Franklin was, and I say that he started a chain of department stores,” Barby said helpfully.

“Not you,” Rick denied. “You know all the right answers. And why? Because the Megabuck Mob is behind you. The Megabuck Moose is going through the cards, and the Megabuck Mole is feeding the answers into the Megabuck Memory Machine, and the Megabuck Moll in maidenly modesty mumbles madly ”

“Help him,” Scotty interrupted. “His lips are stuck together. He can’t say anything but mmmmm.”

But Barby was interested now. “And how does the Memory Machine madly machinate and murmur the answers?”

“Mmm,” Rick murmured. “That is the secret!”

Hartson Brant threatened his son with a handy volume of the Physics Handbook. “Out with it, young man. This is no time to keep secrets, now that we’re all partners in the deal.”

Rick sighed. He waved at Barby. “Look at her. So young, so smart, so pretty. But the poor girl has a very slight handicap. She has to wear a hearing aid....”

Scotty got it then. “Hey! Rick, that’s great! The hearing aid would be a radio receiver!”

Barby got it, too. She finished in a rush, “And the Megabuck Mob would be watching on TV, and digging out the answers, and the Memory Machine would be a radio transmitter ...”

“It wouldn’t matter about the soundproof booth,” Scotty chimed in, “because radio will go right through the walls!”

Hartson Brant held both hands to his head in mock horror. “To think that my only son should turn out to be a halfway criminal genius!”

Rick glanced up at his father suspiciously. “Halfway?” He knew from the word that the scientist had immediately spotted some reason why his gimmick wouldn’t work.

“Never mind, son.” Hartson Brant put a hand on Rick’s shoulder. “The Megabuck Moll can bake you a cake with a file in it, so you can break out of jail. I’m sure you won’t mind being a fugitive from justice.”

A harsh growl from the doorway caused them all to whirl around, startled. “He’ll never get a chance. The Megabuck Mob is pinched as of right now. The federal government is taking over this island!”

Crouched in the doorway, submachine gun cradled in his arms, was an officer of the United States Coast Guard!