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Unknown to the deputy, the pair were now blocks away, sitting in the wide bench front seat of Barney’s car. “If only we could have deciphered the rest of that code,” Thelma Lou said. “I felt we almost had it before Deputy Dum-dum broke in.”
“Not to worry, Thelma Lou,” Barney said, tapping his head just under the turned-up brim of his fedora. “I’ve got the entire sequence committed to memory. And I have near-photographic recall. All your greatest sleuths have it. Your Sherlock Holmes, your Nero Wolfes…”
“Barney!” Thelma Lou interrupted. “Floyd’s message?”
“Right,” Barney said. “Here, breathe on the windshield and I’ll recreate it as best I can.”
When this had been accomplished, Barney squinted at it. “So it’s a rhythmic pattern, in groups of syllables,” he said, refreshing his memory by repeating what he and Thelma Lou had already reasoned out.
“And the letters stand for words,” Thelma Lou added.
“Dum da da dum dada dum¬da,” Barney said. Then he froze. “I know where I’ve heard that pattern before,” he said. He slowly turned to Thelma Lou. “So do you.”
She looked at him, puzzled.
“How do you do, Mrs. Wylie?” Barney said, the horror creeping into his voice. Thelma Lou blanched in shock.
It had been an experiment, to help a hopelessly unrefined and backwards man “fit in” with Mayberry’s high society, in order to impress his beloved. The details had faded through the years, but Barney still remembered the high, nasal voice repeating the mantra, the key phrase that would convince everyone that he was a real gentleman, and not just crazy old…
Ernest T. Bass.
“But Barney, he’s harmless,” Thelma Lou said. “All he ever did was throw rocks.”
“He’s a nut,” Barney said. They both jumped as a heavy weight thumped on the car hood. A grinning face leered through the windshield, distorted by the coded message Barney had traced on its interior surface.
“It’s me, it’s me, it’s Ernest T!” he sang, leaping from the hood to the street. “And I gots me a see-cret that I won’t tell, and I gots me another see-cret that I will tell!” He held up his gun. “I done reloaded my pis-tole and I’ve got a bullet ready to shoot!”
Barney reacted without thinking. He knew they had to get away from the maniacal mountain man, and even though Ernest T. was likely to miss, the way he waved his gun around, Barney couldn’t take that chance. So he floored the accelerator and the car leaped forward, breezing past Ernest T. Barney knew that every second he drew further and further away from the madman, and he prayed he would have enough before the pis-tole spoke and he had to take his chances with a bullet. Even as he thought, the gun roared in the night, and Barney waited an awful second before realizng the bullet had missed both he and Thelma Lou. He turned the corner, heading for the only place he knew he could find help in puzzling through the riddle, before the deputy tracked him down.