"The Elixir of Invisibility"
Richard Raleigh sensed trouble the moment he entered the laboratory. His employer, Dr. Caspar Meek, looked far too pleased with himself. Either somebody was dead or else Meek had been pulling the wings off flies again. That was the way he was. A nice guy who would have got along swell with Torquemada or maybe Nero.
Besides, Raleigh was worrying about his frogs. They had vanished without trace. His bronzed, good-looking face wore an expression of bitterness as he sat down in a protesting chair and tried to marshal the innumerable things he wanted to say to Meek. After a while, he asked,
"Ah," said the scientist, whirling like a Buddha on his desk chair. -His bland, fat face shone in the sunlight. His bald spot glowed with an unholy light.
"Ah," he repeated, with more emphasis. "There you are. Rick. I — uh — I have finally decided that the job you hold is unworthy of your talents."
"What do you mean, job?" Raleigh asked. "I'm assistant, cook, errand boy, bottle washer and general stooge. Five jobs at least."
Meek ignored the note of irony.
"I have at last decided to allow you to'aid me in niy experiments. You are promoted. We are' colleagues. Your salary is' still the same," he hastened to add, "but what is money compared to the glory of serving science?"
Raleigh choked back.the impulse to remark that money would mean he could marry Binnie, Meek's lovely but slightly bird-brained daughter. How a heel like the Doc could have fathered such an angel as Binnie was an insoluble problem. It created its own problems too. For Binnie was an old-fashioned girl and wouldn't marry without her father's permission.
"Get Daddy to say 'yes'," she had murmured into her lover's ear, "and everything will be swell ... "
"Did you speak?" Meek inquired, breaking into his thoughts.
"'Frogs' was all I said," Raleigh grunted. "Two months I've been raising giant frogs to make some extra money, and now I find the frog pond empty." His gaze searched the room.
For some reason Meek chuckled.
"Never mind that. Look here."
He indicated several small glass vials that stood on his desk, some with red and some with green labels.
"Let's get to business. I expect some visitors shortly, and I want you to stay here till they go. Don't say anything. Jtist listen." - .
Raleigh stared at the vials.
"Oh. Your invisibility elixir. Who are the visitors?"
"Uh?" The young man goggled. "After what happened? After the gags the papers have been running—"
A singularly nasty gleam came into Meek's blue eyes.
"Yes. They called me a faker, I believe—a publicity-hunter. Well, I think they've changed their minds.
"Ah—there's the bell."
Raleigh sighed, got up, went into the outer office, opened the door. and was brushed on a wave of excited reporters. A dozen of them at least, yelping for Doctor Meek and with blood in their eyes. Vaguely hoping that they'd tear the scientist limb from limb, Raleigh let them enter.
Meek greeted them happily.
"Good morning, gentlemen. Have chairs."
There were only two chairs, but it was a minor point, unnoticed in the babble. A burly legman leaned over the desk and extended his hands. Either he was reaching for Meek's throat, or else he was tightly gripping something invisible.
"Frogs!" the reporter said hoarsely. "Invisible frogs!,, And me with a hangover. My God!"
He shuddered slightly and opened his hands. There was a slight plop! on the desk blotter, a scrambling sound, and a splash from the goldfish bowl in the corner. One of the reporters, a round-faced individual, emitted a faint, faraway sound and drank hurriedly from a brown bottle.
"I can stand a lot," said the first speaker. "Maybe you had justification. But in the name of God, couldn't you have proved your point in some other way? Look. A parcel comes addressed to me. I open it and it's empty. Then an invisible frog comes up and hits me in the face."
"A dirty trick," said the short, squat man with jet-black hair and a drooping eyelid.
A cry came from the corner. Richard Raleigh was touched to the quick.
"My frogs —" he began in a heartfelt voice. "Be careful where you step, you men."
Meek coughed warnihgly. "Gentlemen," he said loudly. "I apologize, of course. 1 had to insure your coming here to watch my little demonstration. As I wrote you before, I have invented a fluid' that causes invisibility by creating complete transparency in material objects.
" I don't know exactly how it works myself. I think some radiation is induced in the cellular or atomic struc-
ture — at least, it makes clothing invisible as well as flesh and blood. "This" — he picked up one of "the red-labeled vials— "is the invisibility elixir. The green-labeled ones are the antidote."
"Invisible frogs," said the first reporter dully. "I'm not going to write this if I vanish*myself. It's the d. t.'s."
"I had expected skepticism," Meek continued, "and so I shall give you complete proof. I want you gentlemen to station yourselves at various points around this block. Yoii" — he pointed at one — "will find your handkerchief stolen. You—^will lose your hat. You—"
"Not my wallet," said that one, hastily buttoning his hip pocket. "Yesterday was payday."
"I shall visit you invisibly and give you complete proof. I'll leave my card with you all." Meek extended his leather cardcase. "Will that convince you?"
"Yeah," a sad voice said. "It'll do more than that, I'm afraid. Frogs . . ."
There was a confused, hopeliess mumbling.
"Good," Meek said briskly, rublaing his hands. He shooed the reporters out like chickens. There was a momentary confusion; then the room was empty save for the scientist and Raleigh.
'The latter stood in a corner, eyeing the desk. He had a brief impression that some of the vials had vanished. Perhaps —
"Now!" Meek whirled on his assistant. "Take this cardcase, quick."
"Me?" Raleigh stammered, trying to back through the wall. "Bub-bub—"
The doctor snatched up a red-labeled vial and advanced, blood in. his eye.
Raleigh ducked. "I will," he said, "like hell! I have stood for a lot, but when it comes to being a guinea pig—"
Meek rubbed one of his chins thoughtfully.
"Now listen," he said in a placating tone. "You heard me tell the reporters my plan. They're stationed around the block now, waiting for an invisible man."
"They're waiting for you," the other pointed out.
"Well, if you're invisible, they won't know the difference," Meek said with perfect logic.
"It's the last straw! You steal my frogs and then —" Raleigh choked.
Only the image of Binnie restrained him from picking up Meek and battering him around the room.
"Yes," the doctor said unctuously. "Binnie. I have been thinking I'd take a trip to Mexico with her. I've also been thinking of firing you."
Raleigh writhed. But Meek held all the cards. Reluctantly he let the vial be thrust into his hand . . .
The door opened, admitting Binnie and an extroverted dog. The girl was not noteworthy, despite her prettiness, and Raleigh was deceiving himself when he saw wings sprouting from her back.
The dog, however, was worthy of notice.
For one thing, Angel was an exhibitionist. He was large and nondescript, with a tinge of bloodhound in his sinister ancestry. Angel was also an arrant coward, but showed his adequate teeth at every opportunity. A dog of good taste, he heartily disliked Meek.
The sight of Binnie caused a violent reaction within Raleigh. Some might call it love. At any event, knowing that his future depended on Dr. Meek's good will, Raleigh swallowed the elixir and immediately discovered that the missing frogs had taken up residence in his stomach.
They did it gradually and by stealth.
Down his gullet they went slipping and scrambling, to land with a succession of dull thuds in the stomach itself. Then they joined hands and danced a bolero.
Desperately Raleigh seized his head and held it in place just as it began to float off.
"Gwlg — nwhnk!" he observed.
Binnie turned, startled. "Wh — what was that? Did I hear something, Dad?"
"Not at all," Meek denied, smiling.
"Just something I — uh — was going to eat. Did you want me?"
The girl turned a rather lovely pink.
"I was looking for Rick. He — oh!"
A peculiar reaction seemed to have overtaken Binnie. Her eyes were lambent.
The doctor looked startled.
The girl gulped and looked down.
"Nothing. It — felt like somebody kissed me. Isn't that silly?"
"Damned silly," Meek remarked grimly, glaring at empty air. "You must excuse me, Binnie. I have work to do I—"
He paused, his gaze riveted on the unusual antics of the extroverted dog.
Angel was in trouble. His nose was deceiving him. There was a ghost in the room — the ghost of a smell. It smelled like Raleigh, but that gentleman obviously wasn't present. Angel shook his ears away from his eyes and stared around in a baffled and hopeless manner. No Raleigh. But the smell remained.
Angel put his nose on the carpet and proceeded to drag himself after it, sniffing audibly. Abruptly he halted, with a muffled shriek. His nose had come in violent contact with an invisible shoe.
It was a toss-up whether or not Angel would collapse. The unfortunate beast began to tremble in every limb. Raleigh, taking pity on the creature, bent down and stroked Angel's head.
That was the last straw. With a loud cry of distress the dog fainted.
Meek cleared his throat. Significantly he turned toward the door and opened it, allowing room for the invisible Raleigh to pass through. Under his breath he muttered,
"Got it," came an almost inaudible whisper — and Raleigh was gone, leaving a slightly hysterical beast and a girl who, though puzzled, was rather pleased than otherwise.
Angel's recovery was swift. His bump of curiosity brought hirri back to consciousness. With canine instinct, he divined that the enigma had left the room, so Angel followed with frantic speed, almost upsetting Dr. Meek. There came the sound of a closing door, followed by quiet, vitriolic profanity spilling from the learned savant's lips.
He sent Binnie away and went back into his office, to. practice various positions before a full-length mirror. Some of the reporters had carried cameras.
Meanjvhile the invisible man was lying in the gutter outside the house, nursing a bruised knee. Trouble had been immediate. Raleigh's feet hadn't been where he imagined, and he had taken a nasty spill as a consequence. It was, in a way, like trying to walk with your eyes closed. Distances were too easily misgauged. Raleigh clambered erect, discovered that he had lost the card-case, and searched for it. It lay nearby, and vanished as he picked it up.
What now? He looked around, feeling oddly isolated and lonely. There were few passers-by. A street car rumbled past. One of the reporters was leaning against a lamp post not far away.
Reminded of his errand, Raleigh slowly began to walk toward the man.
He paused directly in front of him, waiting. The reporter made no sign.
Obviously he didn't see Raleigh.
The latter delicately reached out and snatched the handkerchief that protruded from the reporter's pocket. So swiftly did it vanish that its disappearance went unnoticed. The reporter yawned, found a cigarette, arid lit a match on his thumbnail.
Raleigh grinned. This was going to be easy. He extracted a card from the case and slipped it into his victim's pocket in lieu of the handkerchief.
As he turned away, there came a loud sniff from behind him. Angel was on the trail, his bloodhound instincts fully aroused. His hopeless whine seemed to say,
"What the hell is this, anyhow?"
Fearing complications, Raleigh hurried off, There was another reporter halfway down the block, and he accornplished his errand there before the dog caught up with him. A third reporter was leaning against the granite wall of the Fifth Security Bank on the corner, and Raleigh got his cigarette case unnoticed. He was beginning to enjoy the feeling of power his invisibility gave him. If only that damned dog would keep its distance!
But Angel was dogged, in more than one way. People paused to stare at the odd antics of the creature, who was indulging in some sort of acrobatic dance. He had again located Raleigh, and had decided to leap up and lick his friend's face. Since the man was invisible. Angel's antics looked decidedly peculiar.
A crowd gathered. "Hydrophoby," said a lean spinster wearing steel-rimmed glasses.
"Nuts," said a tall, cadaverous man with sad eyes. "The dog's drunk."
He paused, stared, and after brief consideration, added,
"No. I'm drunk. Or else mad. Look at that! Is that ghastly-looking dog actually floating in the air, or am I mad?"
The spinster did not answer, having collapsed in a faint. Cries of amazement rose from the gathering crowd.
There was reason.
As Angel sprang up, Raleigh automatically had seized the dog in order to prevent him from falling and hurting himself. To the onlookers it seemed as though Angel was hanging unsupported some four feet above the sidewalk, frantically scrambling and grunting as though trying to maintain the precarious position.
A policeman pushed his way through the group. His red face turned redder. "Break it up!" he commanded. "What's going on here, anyway?"
Nobody answered. It wasn't necessary. Patrolman Donovan compressed his lips firmly. A man of little imagination, he realized only that a dog was floating in the air and causing a disturbance. Ergo, the dog would have to come down.
Marching forward, Donovan placed his large hands on Angel's back and en; deavored to press the beast down to safer ground. Raleigh automatically pushed up. Compressed thus painfully, Angel gasped, cursed softly, and bit the policeman.
Donovan staggered back, gritting his teeth. He withdrew his nightstick and came on again, looking dangerous. Fearing complications, Raleigh acted.
The dog seemed to leap through the air, to come violently in contact with Donovan's face. The two, man and beast, collapsed on the sidewalk, but did not remain there. Angel seized the opportunity of biting his tormentor again, after which he fled, Donovan in hot pursuit. Seeing that the spectacle was ended, the crowd dispersed.
So did Raleigh. He glanced at his wrist-watch, discovered that he couldn't see it, and continued on his errand. It didn't take long.
Fifteen minutes later he stepped invisibly into Meek's outer office, using his key. Silently he went into the lab-
oratory, where the scientist still sat behind his desk.
"Okay," Raleigh said.
Meek had glanced up nervously.
"Oh, it's you. I was afraid — it wouldn't do for the reporters to come in yet. They mustn't know you were the invisible man instead of me. Everything all right?" He thrust a vial at Raleigh, who drank its contents.
A violent shock seized him and then let go. Meek's gaze, which had been wandering around the room, settled.
"Good. You're visible again. Well, what happened?"
"Everything went off fine." Raleigh put his loot on the desk. Then the bell rang.
"I'm relieved," Meek smiled. "I didn't know how the stuff would work on a human being. So far I used it only on frogs and lower animals."
Raleigh repressed an impulse to wring the scientist's neck. Instead, he . went to the door and admitted a horde of reporters. They emitted short, sharp cries and surrounded Meek's desk.
"You're jiist on time," said the latter. "Well? Are you satisfied?"
There were affirmative noises. A tall, cold-eyed man whom Raleigh did not recognize stepped forward.
"You made yourself invisible?" he asked.
"What a scoop!" chortled a reporter.
The cold-eyed man said, "Doctor Meek, you're under arrest."
In the stunned silence he exhibited a gleaming badge.
"Where's the money?"
Meek was a statue. But the reporters burst into a babble of excited questions. The detective quelled them.
"The Fifth Security Bank on the corner has just been robbed. So— "
"You're crazy!"Meek yelped. "I'll sue you for slander! I — I —"
"Listen," the detective said. "I saw the whole thing. Banknotes. Packages of them. Floating through the bank and out the door. Banknotes don't have wings. I wouldn't have guessed what happened if I hadn't got talking to the reporter who was waiting outside the bank. You didn't get away with it, Meek—and you'd better make it easy for yourself. Where's the dough?"
Raleigh turned green. He met Meek's accusing stare and winced. He knew what the scientist must be thinking.
Sure, Raleigh needed money to marry. It would have been easy for him to slip unobserved into the bank and —
"That's the man," Meek snarled, thrusting out a pudgy finger at his assistant. "I — I didn't make niyself invisible. He did it for me. I was here all the time."
"Can you prove that?" the detective asked. "I thought you couldn't. It won't work, pal. There's too much evidence against you. Every reporter in this room is a witness. You left your card with all of^'em. Where's the money?" r*
Meek snatched for a red-labeled vial on the desk before him. The detective forestalled him. Handcuffs clicked.
"If that's the way you want it, okay," the lawman grunted. "Come along."
"Raleigh!" screamed the trapped Meek. "I'll kill you for this!" '
The door burst open and Binnie appeared, dragging Angel after her.
In brief, cogent syllables Dr. Meek explained the situation.
"Your boy friend robbed a bank and threw the blame on me. I —"
"Come on" said the detective, and dragged his protesting captive away. The reporters followed. Alone in the office, Binnie, Raleigh and Angel looked at one another.
The girl sobbed faintly and buried herself in Raleigh's arms.
"Oh, Rick, what's happened?"
He explained. "It wasn't my fault. You know that, Binnie, don't you?"
She hesitated. "Are you—sure?"
"Binnie 1 You know I wouldn't—"
"But it does look funny. I believe you, dear, but you have to admit — oh, can't we do something? Can't you do something?"
"What?" Raleigh asked hopefully. •
Binnie's lips tightened. "You've got to save Dad. He can't prove his innocence. He may be sent to prison. Then — then I simply couldn't marry you. Rick."
Raleigh grunted. "But how could it have happened? Money floated out of the bank, but I was the only invisible man in existence."
There was a little silence. Raleigh said slowly,
"Uh-huh. I get it. Another invis-ible man—but how?"
He considered. "Somebody else might have invented an invisibility elixir, but that's too much of a coincidence. We'll take it for granted that those vials on the desk are the only ones in existence."
"No," Binnie said. "There's more in the safe." She nodded toward a large wall-safe in one comer.
"Okay, but that's locked. Only your father knows the combination. There's more of the elixir and the antidote in the safe — but we can forget about that just now. Those vials on the desk are important."
Raleigh's eyes widened. "Come tothink of it, I did have an idea that therewere less of them."
"After the reporters first arrived — Whoa! Listen to this, Binnie! Suppose one of that gang wasn't a reporter?"
"No, listen! It's a perfect setup for a crook. Suppose he heard, somehow, what was going to happen today. Suppose he pretended to be a reporter, came in with the others, and swiped a couple of vials when nobody was looking. After he left, he could simply make himself invisible and rob the bank — and the blame would be thrown on your father."
"You've got it, I bet," Binnie agreed.
"But what can we do?"
"Wait a minute." Raleigh was counting the vials. "Uh-huh. -Two missing, besides the ones I used. One of the elixir and one of the antidote."
He shook his head. "I can't tell the police a story like that."
"Then you'll just have to get proof,"
Binnie said decidedly. "No, keep away from me. You get Dad out of this mess. You got him into it."
Touched to the' quick by the unfair accusation, Raleigh gasped. Then his lips tightened.
"Okay," he nodded. "But if I do - will you marry me?"
"Yes," said Binnie, and Raleigh hurried out of the office.
Evidence.. That was the thing.
The whirlpool in Raleigh's brain gave little chance for coherent thought; but he knew, from the many detective stories he had read, that clues were vital. Where could he find them? At the bank, perhaps.
But it wasn't at the bank that Raleigh discovered a clue. It was across the street, near a vacant lot. And it consisted of small fragments of shat-tered glass, from which a subtle odor still rose.
Embedded in the glass was a soaked green label.
The antidote! Raleigh shut his eyes tightly, trying to visualize what had happened. Invisible, the crook had entered the bank and stolen the money. Then, fleeing, he had accidentally dropped the vial containing the antidote. That meant —
It meant that the culprit was still invisible. He'd have to remain invisible unless he could get more, of the antidote!
How to catch an unseen thief? Raleigh rubbed his aching head. Sight was useless. When he himself had been invisible, only Angel had detected his presence.
Angel . . . bloodhounds . . . that was it!, He'd set Angel on the trail. It was a long chance, but the only one.
It took Raleigh five seconds to get back to the house. Binnie was nowhere around. The office was emptyl
"Angel!" he called. "Here! Dinner!"
A violent blow caught Raleigh on the chest. He sat down painfully, while a limp, warm, wet object began to pass rapidly over his face. Angel, it seemed, was pleased by the prospect of dinner.
"Oh, my God," Raleigh groaned. "That damned dog's invisible too."
It was true. The floor was a shamb-les, consisting of objects which had once reposed on the desk. Glittering glass shards were everywhere. Pushing away the unseen dog, Raleigh began to scrabble among the wreckage. Finally he sat back, sighing deeply.
Only two vials remained unbroken. Both were red labeled — the invisibility elixir. No trace of. the antidote remained. But, Raleigh remembered, there was a good supply of it in the safe. He'd just get the combination from Meek and—
There was no time for that now. The scent might grow cold — perhaps was too cold already. He'd have to use an invisible bloodhound to track an invisible thief.
Raleigh secured Angel's collar and leash. By dint of much effort, he finally adjusted things to his satisfaction and stood up, holding the loop of the leash in his hand. His teeth began to chatter.
It wasn't a pleasant sight. The leash stood out rigidly from Raleigh's fingers, ending in a dog collar that hung unsupported in empty air, bouncing up and down slightly. It was impossible to believe that Angel was really there. Raleigh, on a mad impulse, tried to stick his hand through the nothingness inide the collar, and got nipped.
"Okay," Raleigh groaned. "Try and behave. Angel. Quiet. To heel."
He opened the door and departed, doing his best to ignore the collar and leash. It would have been easier to ignore an earthquake.
Luckily, the street was almost deserted. No one noticed anything amiss as Raleigh dragged the dog to his destination. There he pushed Angel's nose toward the broken vial on the sidewalk and muttered:
"Trail! Trail, stupid! Go get him!"
The bloodhound in the composite dog rose to the surface. With a deep bay Angel plunged away, snapping the leash out of Raleigh's hand. Then was seen an incredible sight which caused half a dozen people "to go mad and sent a curvaceous blonde screaming into a saloon with wild gestures.
"Double Scotch!" she gasped to the bartender. "Quick! I just saw a man chasing a snake down the street, and it was the damnedest snake I ever saw!"
The frantic collar and leash sped on.
Cursing softly, Raleigh pursued, his hand outstretched. Angel was on the trail. .. .
"A snake!" cried a uniformed policeman. He whipped out his service revolver and took steady aim, only to find the gun wrested from his hand by Raleigh. The cop tried to wrench free.
"Let go!" he shouted. "It'll bite somebody—"
"No, no!" Raleigh babbled. "It hasn't any teeth. It— it's an old snake. A pet. We've had it in the family for years. Don't shoot!"
There was a scuffle, terminated by Angel himself. A dog of honor, he had discovered that Raleigh was apparently in trouble. Giving up the trail momentarily, he returned and, waiting for an opportune moment, bit the policeman in the pants. This caused a distraction, and before the cop had recovered, Raleigh .was around the corner, the leash again safely in his hand.
"Ground glass," he promised the dog. "That's what you'll get for dinner. With arsenic on the side. I'll tear you apart with my bare hands — after you find the guy I'm looking for."
But Angel had stopped. He was sniffing at a closed door. Raleigh opened it, revealing a flight of stairs that led up into dimness. A cheap rooming house, from which odors of cooking drifted down not too enticingly.
Angel plunged madly up, dragging Raleigh. One flight. Two. Three. The top story — , ;
Before another door the dog halted.
He sniffed, glanced at Raleigh — something the man did not, of course, know — and barked shortly. Nothing happened.
Raleigh's stomach had turned into ice. Behind this door, he realized, washis quarry. So what?
Heartily he wished the policeman had followed him. Unarmed, he could do little against an invisible crook who no doubt packed a rod. Well — he'd have to get help. Cops. Lots of them. Hundreds of them, Raleigh hoped. He turned to tiptoe away. ^
Just then the door swung open. Angel, in a generous effort to help, had hurled his weight against the panel, and the ancient lock gave way with a grunt.
The door opened.
Raleigh's quick glance back showed him a cheaply furnished room, in the center of which stood a table set for one. A partially devoured steak lay on a platter. The room was empty.
Sweat burst out on Raleigh's fore-head. He tiptoed in. Then he stopped.
His stomach hurt. Something had jabbed him there.
"Don't move," said a low, deadly voice. "I mean, put up your hands. That's right."
"Ug — ug — I came to rent a room," Raleigh gasped.
"Yeah? You don't act surprised not to see me. I know you. Meek's sidekick. I saw you in his office. Now turn around and get into that room if you don't want a tunnel through you."
Raleigh obeyed. As he crossed the threshold, he dodged aside suddenly and cried,
"Angel! Get him!"
Nothing happened. From the table came a low grunt. The steak on the platter was vanishing in large bites. Angel wasn't interested in crooks at the moment. It wasn't often that he got a bone with such delectable meat on it.
"My dinner," said the crook bitterly, closing the door. "Oh, well. I was hav-ing a hell of a time. Kept putting the fork in my eye. This invisibility isn't all it's cracked up to be."
A key turned in the lock and flew away to disappear, apparently into the robber's pocket.
Raleigh sat down on a rickety couch. He felt unseen hands patting him.
"No gat. Okay. How'd you find me? Never mind. I can figure it out. Rudy Brant's no sucker."
"Rudy Brant, eh?"
"Yeah. What's your handle?"
Raleigh told him. Then, summoning his courage, he went on.
"You'd better come along quietly. I know you've lost the antidote. You've got to remain invisible —"
"I'm glad you dropped in," Brant interrupted. "I was going to pay you a call anyhow. This antidote — where can I get some more of it?"
A jolting blow rocked Raleigh's head.
He saw stars. There was a knife edge of hysteria in Brant's voice as he snarled,
"Don't get smart with me, wise guy! I — feel this." A sharp point dug painfully into Raleigh's stomach. "Feel that shiv? I can slice you up—"
"Don't," the other said faintly.
"Where's the cure?"
"Locked in Meek's safe. The rest of it got spilled."
"Yeah? That's what you say." The knife dug deeper.
"It's the truth," Raleigh gulped.
"Well—I guess so. That don't matter. You go open that safe. I'll be right behind you. I need the antidote — bad. I can't go on like this."
Raleigh found it difficult to speak.
"Sure, Brant. Glad to. Only — only I haven't got the combination. Wait a minute! Don't lose your head. Meek's the only man who knows how to open the safe."
Brant said slowly, "Where is he?"
"In jail — for bank robbery."
There was a low chuckle. "You're his stooge, huh? Well, get the combination from him and then open the safe. And don't get any funny ideas. I'll be right behind you." The knife wiggled a bit.
"Don't," Raleigh gurgled. "It tickles. I'll do it."
"Y — yes. Now."
"Well, what in hell are you waiting for?"
Raleigh got up and went to the door.
The key flashed into the lock and turned. He sighed and reached for the' handle...
A fine thing. At his heels was an invisible murderer. And one almost hysterical with fear, seemingly. Raleigh knew he was walking on quicksand. He dared not try to enlist aid. If he gave Brant the slightest reason for suspicion, it would be just too bad.
He'd have to wait his chance. Once he got inside the jail, to see Meek, things would be different. Surrounded by steel bars, the crook would be under a handicap.
Where was Angel? Raleigh whistled almost inaudibly, but there was no response. Probably the dog was still in the crook's room.
"Shut up," said a low voice.
"I was just — "
"Shut up and keep moving. Get a taxi."
Raleigh signalled for one. He got in, and the driver reached around and slammed the door. There was a muffled cry of pain, and Raleigh felt a body fall heavily against him. Profanity sizzled.
"Sorry, Mister," said the driver, turning a puzzled face. "Did I catch you in the door? I coulda sworn—"
"It's all right," Raleigh interrupted hastily. "The city jail. Hurry."
The desk sergeant said Raleigh couldn't see Dr. Meek. Not yet, anyway. Then he turned away to glare at a small, wizened safe-cracker with a pious expression.
"The angels told me to bust that box," said the little man, apparently continuing with a long and lying story.
"Preacher Ben's a good name for you," the sergeant growled. "Angels — ha! You'll have plenty of time to see angels in the big house."
He swung on the protesting Raleigh.
"I said'no!' Get the hell out! You can see Meek tomorrow, maybe. Now scram."
Raleigh felt an invisible hand nudge him away. He was thinking desperately.
He had to see the scientist — there was no time to waste. At any moment Brant's over-tense nerves might snap under the strain, and then murder would result. But how —
Suddenly Raleigh remembered the two vials of invisibility elixir he had slipped into his pocket before leaving Meek's home. Surreptitiously he felt for them. They were still there. His heart leaped exultantly.
A perfect hiding place from Brant!
He'd make hirnself invisible; and then, in safety, he could slip into the jail and see Meek. After that, some plan could be worked out. But first of all, he had to escape from the murderous bank robber.
How could he manage to swallow the elixir unobserved?
There was a water cooler in the corner. Gingerly Raleigh walked toward it. His hand, hidden in his coat pocket, uncapped one of the vials. Palming the tiny tube, he took a paper cup from the container and filled it with water. Deftly he let the elixir spill into the cup.
No sound came from Brant. Had he noticed the stratagem?
Raleigh swallowed the water at a gulp. The familiar burning sensation raced down his gullet. Simultaneously he jumped aside, whirling.
The little safe-cracker before the bench let out a shrill cry.
"That guy! He's an angel! Now he's gone!"
For a second the sergeant's face was blank as he followed the prisoner's gesture. Then it cleared.
"Nuts," he remarked.. "He just walked out. Now—"
"You dirty double-crossing rat!" said a high-pitched voice. "I'll cut off your ears and make you eat 'em!"
"Who said that?" the sergeant bellowed.
"Angels," the safe-cracker explained helpfully.
Raleigh ignored the invisible Brant's threat. The bank robber had realized the trick, but too late to do anything about it. Invisible, he couldn't find another invisible man. Unless, Raleigh thought with a shudder, he used Angel, who was still locked up in Brant's room.
Well, it was necessary to work fast. Raleigh waited till the inner door was opened, and then slipped through. Quietly he made his way to the cell block. It didn't take him long to find Meek, who was sitting on the edge of his bunk, methodically ripping newspapers into tiny fragments. The scientist didn't look well in prison garments. The gleam in his eye was reptilian.
"Dr. Meek," Raleigh called softly.
The prisoner looked up, frowned, and went back to his paper-tearing.
"Doc! It's me—Raleigh. I'm invisible."
That interested Meek.. His jaw dropped. He sprang up, went to the bars and stared through.
"Sh-h! If they hear us . : . Listen."
Swiftly he outlined what had happened.
"That's the set-up," Raleigh finished.
"Now, for God's sake, give me the combination of the safe so I can get the antidote."
But Meek hesitated. "Wait a minute. You've still got a vial of the elixir on you?"
"I've a better idea. Give it to me. If I'm invisible, I can get out of here."
Raleigh fumbled in his unseen pocket and brought out the vial. Held within his palm, it was invisible. He dropped it, as he thought, into Meek's out-stretched hand.
Cr-rack! Glass shattered on the ce-ment floor.
"You bungling idiot!" Meek howled. "You did that on purpose!"
Raleigh gurgled helplessly. He made futile groping motions.
The scientist calmed down — like a Gila monster.
"You think I'm safer in jail, eh? I never trusted you, Raleigh! Now —"
"There's more of the elixir in the safe," Raleigh suggested. "Give me the combination, quick. I'll bring you an-
Meek breathed audibly. "And meanwhile this crook — Brant — will be invisibly snatching some of the antidote over your shoulder. Uh-huh. Once he's visible again, he can escape for good and all — and I'll stay here and rot. And that'll be all right with you."
The scientist's voice rose to a scream of fury.
"Like hell! You'll stay invisible till you get me out of this!"
There was little point in remaining, especially since guards were appearing from all directions. Raleigh returned to the room where he had left Brant. The desk sergeant, and the safe-cracker were still arguing fruitlessly about angels. There was only one other person in the room, a uniformed patrolman — unless Brant was present.
"The angels told me to do it," the prisoner contended. "I can open any safe in the world if they—"
"What?" The exclamation was ripped involuntarily from Raleigh's lips.
"Who said that?" the sergeant roared.
"Angels," the prisoner remarked.
Raleigh sent a swift glance at the outer, swinging door. Beyond it was the street. If he could somehow inanage to abduct the prisoner — the safe might be opened!
But how could he kidnap a rnan from the stronghold of the law?
Raleigh stealthily neared the patrolman, who was sitting in a corner, blinking. A stolid individual, yet per-
haps with some imagination. It would help. Raleigh put his mouth close to the man's ear and whispered softly,
"You're going to die!"
Results were more than satisfactory. The officer turned yellow and shook in every limb. He swiveled around, saw nothing behind him and begain to gurgle.
Raleigh laughed nastily. "Down you come to hell with me," he whispered.
The invitation proved unacceptable. At any rate, the policeman fainted, slipping down noiselessly under the row of chairs. His absence went unnoticed.
That left the sergeant, a somewhat tougher egg. Raleigh slipped up behind the man's chair. Deftly he put his hands about the sergeant's throat and squeezed, not much. Nothing happened.
The officer remained perfectly motionless, except that he stopped talking. Dead silence fell over the room.
It grew strained. Raleigh withdrew his hands. The sergeant suddenly unbuttoned his collar. He looked fixedly at his prisoner and licked dry lips.
The invisible man began to pat the sergeant's cheeks with his palms. Under certain circumstances, this gesture may prove pleasant—even a caress. Always assuming that the hands are . . . visible.
Raleigh put his palms over the sergeant's eyes. Naturally, this didn't obscure the latter's vision in the least. But when a gloating voice whispered, "Guess who! "the officer's nerves crumbled with an almost audible crash.
Shrieking, the sergeant rose and fled.
"Angels," said the safe-cracker, with satisfaction.
Raleigh didn't care whether he was nuts or not, as long as he could open safes: With one bound he leaped over the desk, seized the prisoner by neck and pants and propelled him through the door. Before the startled crook could protest, he found himself in a taxi headed uptown. '
Then Raleigh settled himself for the hysterical outburst he expected. He'd have to calm the little outlaw— explain to him, somehow, the circumstances.
What had the sergeant called him?
"Preacher Ben," Raleigh said gently.
Ben's wrinkled face twisted in a smile.
"Hello, Gabriel," he beamed. "I expected you."
"But — hold on, pal. I'm not the angel Gabriel —",
At this moment a truck.rushed precariously past the front bumpers, and the driver pressed the horn button. A hoarse blast sounded.
This occurrence confirmed Ben's suspicion.
"Horn and all," he nodded. "Good old Gabriel. Where are we going?"
Raleigh almost swore with irritation, but somehow he felt that it would be a mistake to say "Hell!" at this particular moment. Instead, he murmured, "I want you to open a safe for me."
Ben didn't seem surprised. "All right, Gabe. Do you mind me calling you Gabe? I feel like we're old friends, somehow."
"That's fine," Raleigh said, swallowing convulsively. "But about this safe —"
"Oh, I'll need tools. The poljce took mine away. But I can get them."
"How long will it take?"
"I dunno. Couple of hours, maybe."
"Swell," said Raleigh. "Here's the angle. I want you to fake a robbery. I'll show you where. I want you to open the safe and leave it open. Don't take anything. There's no money in it anyway. Got that?"
"Sure," said Preacher Ben. "Anything you say, Gabe."
After that things happened fast — but not fast enough. It took a long time to get the necessary articles for Ben. For some reason the stethoscope was the most difficult to secure. The job was finished at last, by noon the next day.
Raleigh slipped unnoticed into the house and found Binnie, telling her of the plan.
"Brant's watching this place, I'm sure," he said. "He knows I'll need the antidote for myself, and he expects your father gave me the combination to the safe. After Ben leaves, Brant will see the safe's open. Be sure and don't draw the curtains in the office."
"Dad's in court today," Binnie said sadly. "A preliminary hearing or something. I've got to go down and see what happens."
Something brushed up against Raleigh's leg. He jumped before hearing a familiar whine.
"Angel!" he said.
"Oh, yes. She came back."
The dog must have got out of Brant's room, then. Well, that helped.
Binnie left. Raleigh went into the office and waited. He glanced occasionally at the window, but saw nothing. Yet he felt sure that Brant was watching the house, which contained the crook's only means of salvation.
Glass tinkled from a distance.
Raleigh flattened himself against the wall and waited. The door was swinging open .. .
Preacher Ben walked in, smiling. His eyes lighted as he saw the safe. Without wasting a moment he came forward, opening a black bag he held.
He knelt and extracted a stethoscope which he clamped in his ears. Ten minutes later the door of the safe swung outward.
Obediently Preacher Ben reached in and pretended to pick up various non-existent objects. That was for Brant's benefit, if the crook were watching. Actually, Ben touched none of the dozens of little vials that lay scattered on the floor of the safe—^which was otherwise empty.
"Wait a minute," Raleigh whispered, and was busy carrying out a certain plan he had worked out in detail previously. At last he stepped back and breathed,
"Now. Shut it."
Ben closed the door, but didn't lock the safe. He got up and left the room, and after that the house. He did not reappear, but it is presumed that his after-life was gladdened by his one encounter with the angel Gabriel.
Meanwhile Raleigh waited. Ben had left the door ajar, unfortunately, but the chance of closing it could not be taken now. Brant might already be invisibly in the room. If he got away now with the antidote .. .
Raleigh felt in his pocket for the handful of vials he had put there after the safe had been opened. That was okay. Well .. .
He wondered how Binnie was getting on. She was in court now, watching her father. Raleigh hoped the old coot was squirming.
He glanced sharply at the door. Had it moved, very slightly? Had Brant arrived? There was no way of telling. And Brant was—armed!
If the crook slipped from Raleigh's grasp, got out of the house with the antidote, it would be impossible to find him again.
Slowly the door of the safe opened.
Simultaneously Raleigh snapped,
"Sic him! Get him, Angel!"
He dived for the door as a guri blasted, ripping plaster from the wall, just behind where he had been standing.
Raleigh crouched on the threshold like a wrestler. There were noises coming from the safe, in the interior of which he had left Angel. Invisible man and invisible dog were having a dis-agreement. Suddenly a heavy weight cannoned into Raleigh, catching him by surprise despite himself.
There was an oath in Brant's high-pitched voice. Something exploded under Raleigh's chin, and he was flung back. A lucky blow—but it worked.
Brant tore free. His footsteps thudded across the carpet. The outer door was ripped open.
Sick with the realization of failure, Raleigh raced after the escaping crook. He burst out in the blazing sunlight of the street and stood looking around helplessly. Where was the invisible man?
Goiie! Gone without a trace, amid the throngs on the sidewalk. The street was crowded at this hour.
Raleigh's stomach took an elevator dive. Then it halted as a familiar sound came to his ears. Angel was barking.
Heads were turning as the disembodied barks raced past. The dog, using his nose rather than his eyes, was pursuing Brant!
Raleigh sprinted after the sound.
People went spinning as he tore into them. Cries of amazement and terror rose. A car swerved to the curb with a squealing of breaks.
"Something hit me!"
A voice shouted, "That's Dr. Meek's house! The invisible man!"
"The invisible man!"
Through the tumult shrilled Angel's frantic barks. Raleigh plunged desperately in pursuit. Ignoring the red light at the corner, he darted into a stream of traffic. Not a car slowed. Their drivers saw nothing!
"The invisible man!"
The barks were louder. Raleigh heard a scuffle, saw a man topple sideward, yelling. Angel's cries were suddenly muffled.
A knife materialized out of thin air, clattering on the cement. Raleigh dived, kicking the weapon aside as he smashed into a bulky, unseen body.
Brant screamed an oath. A gun barked, the bullet breaking a plate-glass window nearby.
Angel's teeth snapped. Raleigh tried to locate the gun amid a squirming mass of invisible arms and legs. Then he saw it, a few feet away, out of reach.
Angel saw it too. The misguided dog freed himself and rushed over to the weapon, seizing it in his jaws. He brought it back.
Both men snatched for the gun at the same moment. Angel, always ready to play, danced back out of reach. The legs of the surrounding mob swallowed her. Somebody fell over Raleigh and rolled away, yelling.
Brant's fingers were feeling for his attacker's eyes. Raleigh tried to get hold of Brant's throat. He grabbed the man's ears, instead. Since the crook was undeirneath, Raleigh began to bang Brant's head against the sidewalk.
After that, the fight was over.
Raleigh got up dazedly, keeping his hand on his captive's coat collar. The crowd was growing. If he drank the antidote now, it would mean long explanations . . .
Angel barked. Raleigh said, "Sic 'em. Angel! Go get 'em."
Frantic with valor, the dog obeyed.
The crowd broke up into a riot. Invisible teeth were everywhere, nipping sharply. Raleigh slung Brant over his shoulder and departed.
He found a taxi, but hesitated. The driver would balk at invisible passengers. But luckily the man was in a nearby doorway, conversing with friends. Raleigh slung Brant's unconscious form into the cab, clambered under the steering wheel and started the car, heedless of the driver's sudden out-cry.
Thus a "driverless" taxicab moved rapidly along the street, to the shocked alarm of many.
Sirens began to scream. Motorcycles pursued. As the cab halted outside the city hall, officers surrounded it.
"It's empty!" said one.
And it was. Raleigh was already inside the building, carrying Brant.
He tried several court rooms before finding the right one, which was packeddue to the sensational nature of the case. Meek was on the stand, his round face choleric with rage at the questioning he had been undergoing. The judge, a skinny, bald old vulture, was peering through thick-lensed glasses and toy-
ing with his gavel.
The guard at the door was sent staggering aside. Raleigh sprinted down the aisle, halting only when he stood before the bench.
"Your Honor—" he began.
"Silence in ,the court!" the judge snapped, using his gavel. But Meek's eyes were glistening.
He sprang to his feet. "Rick! Is that you?"
The scientist thrust out an imploring hand.
"Wait, your Honor. My assistant's here."
"He's invisible," said Meek.
The judge poured water from a pitcher and drank it hastily.
"This—this is most irregular—"
He stopped. Beneath him, on the floor, a man was betoming visible.
He was a short, squat fellow, with a drooping eyelid and a day's growth of black beard. He was unconscious.
"I poured the antidote down his throat," a voice from empty air explained. "Now I'll take some myself."
Richard Raleigh reappeared, slightly battered, but grinning.
The judge drank more water. He said,
"So. It's true. Not just publicity. I'll be damned—silence in the court!"
The gavel could not hush the rising tumult.
Brant was stirring. Officers sprang forward to seize him. Raleigh explained to the judge,
"That's the real bank robber, your Honor. He —"
"Money!" one of the policemen said. "His pockets are stuffed with it!"
The judge used his gavel again.
"Calm down, please. You —" He pointed at Raleigh. "Take the stand. I want to ask you some questions . . ."
The questions were answered, though Raleigh could not keep his eyes off Binnie, who sat in the front row, looking more than ever like an angel. He scarcely realized it when the judge had finished and he was requested to step down.
Reporters were fleeing excitedly.
"Meek's name cleared! And Brant's got a record! What a scoop!"
Amid the commotion, Raleigh seized Binnie's hand and found Dr. Meek. The scientist was beaming in triumph. He even smiled at his assistant.
"Well, well. Thank you, Raleigh."
Suddenly the blue eyes went reptilian.
"What d'you want?"
"I want to marry Binnie—" '
The chandelier rocked. Dr. Meek had said "no" that emphatically.
Raleigh looked swiftly at the girl, who nodded. Two hands lifted as one.
And — quite suddenly and unexpectedly — Binnie Meek and^ Richard Raleigh disappeared.
"Come back here!" the doctor yelled.
He turned toward the bench. "Your Honor, I appeal—"
The judge was lifting his water glass to his lips. He did not notice a small vial hanging in empty air, emptying its contents into the water. He drank long and thirstily .. .
"Gosh!" said an awed voice. "Now the judge is gone too!"
It was a scene long remembered in the annals of the law. Newspapers featured it that night. Riot was an underestimate. Through the confusion Meek ploughed like a spitting cobra, his wild gaze vainly searching for people who weren't there any more.
".Where are they?" he shouted. "Where's my daughter? Where's that double-crossing assistant of mine?"
"Where's the judge?" asked a baffled clerk.
There was a lull in the noisy confusion. And it was at this point that practically everybody in the court room heard, from a distant corner, a disembodied voice which said benignly:
".. . I now pronounce you man and wife."
It was due to Dr. Meek's unrestrained remarks at that moment that he was subsequently fined fifty dollars for contempt of court.
Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) was a highly-versatile science fiction writer, who was both the husband and main writing partner of C. L. Moore. From their marriage in 1940 to his death in 1958, they co-wrote and revised each others' work to the point that it is sometimes difficult to tell their work apart. Some of their collaborate efforts were published under the names Lewis Padgett, Lawrence O'Donnell and C. H. Liddell.
Moore was the more powerful writer; Kuttner the more versatile one. One type of tale Kuttner wrote but Moore almost never did was comedy. "The Elixir of Invisiblity" is almost pure comic science fiction, and in my opinion, it's a pretty funny story.
It is genuine science fiction. Kuttner postulates a technology (the elixir of invisibility), defines its parameters, and explores some of its second-order effects. In this case, the funny ones. Which are hilariously rendered, complete with slapstick and pratfalls.
The original exploration of the corrupting power of invisibility dates back to Plato's fable of the Ring of Gyges (told in the 4th century BC about something that supposedly happened in the 6th century BC). Kuttner would have however been inspired more by H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man (1897), in which the chemist Griffin goes mad under the influence of his formula and turns to crime. That novel was more recent to Kuttner in 1940 than the original Star Trek is to us today. Notably, in "The Elixir of Invisibility" there is an antidote, which is part of what changes the concept from tragic to comic; the other reason why this is comedy, of course, is the characterization.
Dr. Caspar Meek, the scientist who discovers the invisibility elixir, is an anti-hero. He is neither an evil mad scientist, nor a benign sage; he's not even an absent-minded professor. He's greedy, rather nasty, and even petty. His name is deliberately deceptive on the part of Kuttner; as the character is not "meek" but rather aggressive and unprincipled.
Richard Raleigh, the hero, is something of a parody of the normal hero of pulp tales. On the surface, he could be one: he's big, strong and fairly intelligent. However, he's neither naturally-adventurous nor particularly skilled at combat; he gets swept up in a series of events that put him in increasing difficulty and danger -- and he doesn't enjoy it at all. He is downright intimidated by Rudy Brant (at least at first), which makes sense: nothing in Richard's background implies that he is used to confronting armed and dangerous criminals. Richard is cunning and willing to use the Elixir of Invisibility to carry out some fairly cruel pranks, if necessary in pursuit of his goals.
He's in love with
Binnie Meek, who is the Scientist's Beautiful Daughter. This sort of situation was already cliche by 1940, and Kuttner has fun with it. Richard himself considers her "lovely but slightly bird-brained," an "old-fashioned girl," and wonders "how a heel like the Doc could have fathered such an angel as Binnie."
But we know from the narrator that Richard is to some extent deceiving himself. For, in one of the few instances where Kuttner pulls back from limited into omniscient 3rd person, Kuttner flat-out states:
The girl was not noteworthy, despite her prettiness, and Raleigh was deceiving himself when he saw wings sprouting from her back.
and, with regard to Richard's feelings for her
The sight of Binnie caused a violent reaction within Raleigh. Some might call it love.
It is perhaps relevant to this characterization that Kuttner was about to marry C. L. Moore at the time that he wrote this tale, and that while Moore may well have been "lovely" (her surviving photographs suggest this, and no doubt Kuttner saw her as such), she was in no way, shape or form "bird-brained," slightly or otherwise. Judging by her stories, she was a tough-minded and slightly cynical romantic of tremendous intelligence and imagination, and her most famous story, "Shambleau" (1933) is essentially about what seduction by mind-control feels like from the point of view of the victim.
Binnie is obviously not the Shambleau. But then of course C. L. Moore had never actually met an alien psychic vampire that had mimicked human form in its evolution: she probably got the idea for the Shambleau from actual human women she'd seen destroy men with a selfish and draining mockery of love (with a strong admixture of the effects of drug addiction).
Binnie seems to be manipulating both Raleigh and her father Dr. Meek, and in both cases with her air of sweet angelic innocence. She wants a husband, and has fixed upon Raleigh in this role; but she also wants her father to approve, both because she's "old-fashioned" and because her father is obviously more prosperous than is young Raleigh, and she wants to make sure that however things turn out, she winds up with someone taking care of her.
Dr. Caspar Meek himself drives a lot of the comedy precisely because he violates the expectations for an Interwar Era pulp scientist. Such personages usually came in two flavors: Good, in which case they were Kindly Scientists and wished to Benefit All Mankind; or Evil, in which case they were Mad Scientists and wished to dominate or destroy all Mankind. Kuttner teases the reader with these expectations the more so because he's otherwise set up the classic situation with Meek's Beautiful Daughter, who is supposed to either support the Kindly Scientist's benevolent goals or oppose the Mad Scientist's malevolent goals in the course of loving the hero.
But Dr. Meek has neither benevolent or malevolent goals. He just wants to make money (and, as things spiral out of control, stay out of prison). He's fairly ruthless -- among other things, perfectly willing to experiment on Raleigh -- but only in ways which he judges won't get him in trouble. He's unethical rather than maniacally evil, and thus he is a thoroughly-believable character. His relationship to Raleigh is that of employer, patron and (where Binnie is concerned) antagonist.
Meek's very name speaks of his being a character drawn against fictional expectations. "Caspar" in 1940 would have brought to mind Caspar Milquetoast, protagonist of the newspaper comic strip The Timid Soul; "Meek" of course describes Milquetoast's most memorable personality trait. His appearance (fat, bland-faced, balding) is meant to suggest a mild and kindly man ...
... which Dr. Meek isn't. He's an aggressive self-promoter with very little concern for the welfare of anybody else. He will happily ride roughshod over Raleigh's feelings, the happiness of his daughter Binnie, and every other consideration in his quest for fame and fortune. The main reason he's not an evil mad scientist is that he has no particular desire to hurt anyone -- he just wants to succeed, and doesn't much care if anyone else gets hurt in the process.
Raleigh really dislikes Dr. Meek (as we find out in the very first paragraph of the story), though Raleigh's description of Meek as sadistic is so far out of proportion to anything Meek actually does in the story (and remember, Meek is a cutting-edge scientist with access to a lot of potentially-destructive chemicals) that it calls into question Raleigh's narrative reliability. However, the fact that someone who knows Meek as well as does Raleigh dislikes him so much makes it clear that Meek is not a nice guy.
In fact it's Dr. Meek's lack of villainy which makes this story a comedy. Were Meek a hero or a villain, it would be either eucatastrophic or catastrophic drama or tragedy. A heroic Meek would have some high purpose for his elixir and be trying to achieve it against the resistance of the short-sighted fools; a villainous Meek would have some dark plan which the heroes must thwart. The Meek in the story is just trying to get rich off his discovery, which in the process attracts the real villain of the piece ...
Rudy Brant, an out-and-out bad guy. Brant is a ruthless robber who is in it for loot. He's not as smart as Dr. Meek, which is why he's pursuing a path (open criminality) which can only lead to prison or death. But his motives are similar -- he wants money. To Meek, the Elixir of Invisibility is something to market, and damn the consequences. Brant is one of the consequences -- an invisibility formula is of obvious value to a thief.
Brant clearly has no compunction against killing, though Raleigh's opinion of him as a "murderer" may be extreme: there's no evidence in-story that Brant has ever actually killed anyone. He does, however, repeatedly threaten to do so, and hes definitely not a nice guy by any means. One can tell he's not too bright when he unnecessarily tells Raleigh his true name at their very first encounter.
The plot in which a kindly scientist invents something which falls into the hands of a ruthless gangster, who uses it as a tool to commit crimes, was quite common in the pulp era -- this was almost the standard story arc of a Doc Savage novel, for instance, and Murray Leinster made frequent use of this story structure. Rudy Brant here fits directly into the stereotype of the ruthless gangster.
What makes Brant comic is that he is very clearly human, despite his nature as a professional criminal. He complains quite naturally when bad things happen to him, and suffers all the little indignities of being invisible just as does Raleigh. Everything bad that happens in the story, to anyone, is primarily his fault. But one can slightly sympathize with Brant, even though Kuttner never loses sight of his villainy.
And then there is ...
Angel, a part-bloodhound mutt who tries his best to be loyal to his friends and fearsome to their foes despite the fact that he's supposedly a coward. I say "supposedly," because Angel actually goes into some fairly dangerous situations, many of which would have been obviously dangerous even to his limited knowledge, and comes through rather heroically. Happily, he survives the stupidity of the humans around him.
This story is very much about facades, about roles which the characters are expected to play and attempt to despite their possible lack of qualifications. Each of the five main characters encounters situations which overwhelm them.
Richard Raleigh is supposed to be the hero, and he (mostly) has the courage, strength and wits for it, but several times in the story (such as when confronting the genuinely villainous Brant) he's clearly out of his depth. He signally lacks moral courage -- he starts the story as Dr. Meek's obviously-exploited assistant, and though he revolts against Meek by the end, it seems fairly obvious that he will wind up wrapped around Binnie's little finger as a future henpecked husband.
Binnie Meek is supposed to be the heroine, and the evidence is that she's a reasonably nice girl. But she's her father's daughter, and what she's mostly doing is gathering up the courage to make the transition from (outwardly) Good Daughter to (ourwardly) Good Wife. She's naturally a dependent sort of woman, and she will go from being dependent on Dr. Meek to being dependent on Richard Raleigh. Kuttner outright states that while she's "old-fashioned," she's not quite as nice as she seems.
Dr. Caspar Meek is supposed to be a Kindly Scientist, and such is the image he tries to project to the world. He has several nasty qualities, but he's neither ruthless nor crazy enough to be a Mad Scientist either. Really, he's just in it for himself, and while he's highly-intelligent, he does not always think things through -- due to his greed, he can be quite short-sighted. He may well now be financially successful -- he's certainly generated a lot of publicity now -- but he loses his daughter to Richard Raleigh.
Rudy Brant is supposed to be the villain -- and he goes through all the motions. But the portrayal of Brant as a ruthless gangster is unusually realistic in that he's not that smart -- which makes sense, as brilliant individuals do not normally turn to a life of crime through confrontational robbery. Brant succeeds in robbing the bank but he bungles the follow-up -- he didn't realize he'd need an antidote, he tells Raleigh his full and real name on first encounter, and he doesn't anticipate how Raleigh can use the formula against himself.
Finally, Angel is the Wonder Dog canine companion. And he's pretty competent for a dog. But he is just a dog, with a dog's limited understanding of what's going on around him. So though he tries to and sometimes succeeds in doing the right thing, often he just gets distracted -- for instance becoming distracted by Rudy Brant's steak and winding up trapped in Brant's apartment while Brant makes off with Raleigh.
All try to play their usual roles in this sort of story, but they're rather realistic characters caught in a pulp-adventure kind of story, and none of them are really up to the roles.
Conclusion: "The Elixir of Invisibility" is a very funny story precisely because it explores the mismatch between plausible real people and a very-pulpy science fiction plot. It deserves to be read, both for its insight into the fictional world of c. 1940, and for its own considerable comic merits.