He stood staring at the door for a few seconds. Then he turned and punched the elevator button savagely.
There wasn't any time to lose.
He walked back to the precinct station. Knowing the way, it took him about five minutes instead of the fifteen it had taken him to find the Fueyo residence. But he still felt as if time were passing much too fast. He ran up the steps and passed right by the desk sergeant, who apparently recognized him, and said nothing as Malone charged up the stairs to Lynch's office.
It was empty.
Malone stared at it and started down the hall again without knowing where he was heading. Halfway to the stairs he met a patrolman. "Where's Lynch?" he asked.
Malone fumed. "Who else?" he said. "Where is he?"
"Got some kid back in the tank, or somewhere," the patrolman said. "Asking him a couple of questions, that's all." He added: "Hey, listen, buddy, why do you want to see the lieutenant? You can't just go charging in to—"
Malone was down the stairs before he'd finished. He went up to the desk.
The desk sergeant looked down. "What's it this time?" he said.
"I'm in a hurry," Malone said. "Where are the cells? I want to see Lieutenant Lynch."
The desk sergeant nodded. "O.K.," he said. "But the lieutenant ain't in any of the cells. He's back in Interrogation with some kid."
"Take me there," Malone said.
"I'll show you," the sergeant said. "On duty. Can't leave the desk." He cleared his throat and gave Malone a set of directions.
* * * * *
There was a door at the end of a corridor at the back of the station. It was a plain wooden door with the numeral 1 stenciled on it. Malone opened it and looked inside.
He was staring into a rather small, rather plain little room. There were absolutely no bright beam lights burning, and there didn't seem to be any rubber hoses around anywhere. There were only four chairs.
Seated in three of the chairs were Lieutenant Lynch and two other police officers. In the fourth chair, facing them, was a young boy.
He didn't look like a tough kid. He had wavy black hair, brown eyes and what Malone thought looked like a generally friendly appearance. He was slight and wiry, not over five feet five or six. And he wore an expression that was neither too eager nor hostile. It wasn't just blank, either; Malone finally pinned it down as Receptive.
He had the strangest impression that he had seen the boy somewhere before. But he couldn't remember when or where.
Lieutenant Lynch was talking.
"... All we want, Mike, is a little information. We thought you'd be able to help us, if you wanted to. Now, how about it?"
"Sure," Mike Fueyo said. His voice was a little high, but it was well controlled and responsive. "Sure, lieutenant. I'll help if I can—but I just don't dig what you're giving me. It doesn't make sense."
Lynch stirred a little impatiently, and his voice began to carry a new bite. "I'm talking about Cadillacs," he said. "1972 Red Cadillacs."
"It's a nice car," Mike said.
"What do you know about them?" Lynch said.
"Know about them?" Mike said. "I know they're nice cars. That's about it. What else am I going to know, lieutenant? Maybe you think I own one of these big red 1972 Caddies. Maybe you think I got that kind of money. Well, listen, lieutenant, I'd like to help you out, but I'm just not—"
"The Cadillacs," Lynch said, "were—"
"Just a minute, lieutenant," Malone said. Dead silence fell with great suddenness. Lynch and all the others looked around at Malone, who smiled apologetically. "I don't want to disturb anything," he said. "But I would like to talk to Mike here for a little while."
"Oh," Lynch said sourly. "Sure. Sure."
"I'd like to ask him a couple of questions," Malone said. "Alone."
"Alone." Lynch said. "Oh." But there was nothing for him to do, Malone knew, except bow to the inevitable. "Of course," he said. "Go right ahead."
"You can stand outside the door," Malone said. "He won't get away. And you'd better hold this." Malone, knowing perfectly well that staying armed and alone in a room with a suspect was something you just did not do—for very good reasons—unstrapped his .44 Magnum and handed it to the lieutenant.
He left reluctantly, with his men.
Malone could understand Lynch's attitude. If Malone solved the case, Lynch would not get any credit. Otherwise, it might go down in his personal record. And, of course, the NYPD would rather wrap the case up themselves; the FBI was treated as a necessary interference. Unfortunately, Malone thought, Lynch had had absolutely no choice. He sighed gently, and turned his attention to Mike Fueyo, who was still sitting in his chair.
"Now, Mike—" he began, and was interrupted.
The door opened. Lieutenant Lynch said: "If you need us, Malone, just yell."
"You'll hear me," Malone promised. The door shut.
He turned back to the boy. "Now, Mike," he began again, "my name is Malone, and I'm with the FBI. I'd like to ask you a few—"
"Gee, Mr. Malone," Mike broke in eagerly. "I'm glad you're here."
Malone said: "Well, I—"
"These cops here have been giving me a pretty rough deal, you know?" Mike said.
"I'm sure they—" Malone began.
"But I've been looking for you," Mike went on. "See, I wanted to say something to you. Something real important."
Malone leaned forward expectantly. At last he was going to get some information—perhaps the information that would break the whole case wide open. He said: "Yes?"
"Well—" Mike began, and stopped.
"You don't have to be afraid of me, Mike," Malone said. "Just tell me whatever's on your mind."
"Sure," Mike said. "It's this."
He took a deep breath. Malone clenched his fists. Now it was coming. Now he would hear the all-important fact. He waited.
Mike stuck out his tongue and blew the longest, loudest, brassiest and juiciest Bronx cheer that Malone had ever heard.
Then, almost instantly, the room was empty except for Malone himself.
Mike was gone.
There wasn't any place to hide, and there hadn't been any time to hide in. Malone looked around wildly, but he had no doubts at all.
Mike Fueyo had vanished, utterly and instantaneously. He'd gone out like a light.
Thirty seconds passed. During that time, Malone did nothing at all. He just sat there, while a confused montage of pictures tumbled through his head. Sometimes he saw double exposures, and sometimes a couple of pictures overlapped, but it didn't seem to make any difference, because none of the pictures meant anything anyhow.
The reason for that was obvious. He was no longer sane. He had cracked up. At a crucial moment, his brain had failed him, and now people would have to come in and cart him away and put him in a straitjacket. It was perfectly obvious to Malone that he was no longer capable of dealing with everyday life. The blow on the head had probably taken final effect, and it had been more serious than the doctor had imagined.
He had always distrusted doctors anyhow.
And now he was suffering from a delayed reaction. He wasn't living in the real world any more. He had gone off to dreamland, where people disappeared when you looked at them. There was no hope for him.
It was a nice theory, and it was even comforting, in a way. There was only one thing wrong with it.
The room around him didn't look dreamlike at all. It was perfectly solid and real, and it looked just the way it had looked before Mike Fueyo had ... well, Malone amended, before whatever had happened had happened. It was a perfectly complete little room, and it had four chairs in it. Malone was sitting in one of the chairs and all the others were empty.
There was absolutely nothing else in the room.
With some regret, Malone abandoned the theory that he had gone mad. This left him with no ideas at all. Because if he hadn't become insane, then what had happened?
After another second or two, some ideas began to filter through the daze. Perhaps he'd just blacked out for a minute and the kid had gone out the door. That was possible, wasn't it?
Sure it was. And maybe he had just not seen the kid go. His eyes had failed for a second or two. That could certainly happen, after a blow on the head. Malone tried to remember where the sight centers of the brain were. Maybe whoever had hit him had disturbed them, and he'd had a sudden blackout.
Come to think of it, that made pretty good sense. If he had blacked out, then Mike would have seen it as he went groggy, and Mike had just walked out the door. It had to be the door, of course—the windows were out of the question, since there weren't any windows. And six-inch-wide air-conditioner ducts do not provide reasonable space for an exit, not if you happen to be a human being.
That, Malone told himself, was settled—and a good thing, too. He had begun to worry about it. But now he knew just what had happened, and he felt relieved. He got up from his chair, walked over to the door and opened it.
Lieutenant Lynch nearly fell into the room. He'd obviously had his ear pressed tightly to the door and hadn't expected it to open. The other two cops stood behind him, just about filling the hallway with their broad shoulders.
"Well, well," Malone said.
Lynch recovered his balance and glared at the FBI agent. He said nothing.
"Where is he?" Malone said.
"Where is he?" Lynch repeated, and blinked. "Where's who?"
Malone shook his head impatiently. "Fueyo," he said.
Lynch's expression was the same as that on the faces of the other two cops: complete and utter bafflement. Malone stopped and stared. It was suddenly very obvious that the lovely theory he had worked out for Mike's disappearance wasn't true in the least. If Mike Fueyo had come out the door, then these cops would know about it. But they obviously knew nothing at all about it.
Therefore, he hadn't come out through the door.
Malone took a deep breath.
"What are you talking about?" Lynch said. "Isn't the kid in there with you? What's happened?"
There was only one thing to do and, straight-faced, Malone went ahead and did it. "Of course not," he snapped, trying to sound impatient and official. "I released him."
"Released him," Malone said. He stepped out into the hall and closed the door of the interrogation room firmly behind him. "I got all the information I needed, so I let him go."
"Thanks," Lynch said bitterly. "After all, I was the one who—"
"You called him in for questioning, didn't you, lieutenant?" Malone said.
"Yes, I did, and I—"
"Well," Malone said, "I questioned him."
There was a little silence. Then Lynch asked, in a strangled voice: "What did he say?"
"Sorry," Malone said at once. "That's classified information." He pushed his way into the corridor, trying to look as if he had fifteen other jobs to accomplish within the next hour. Being an FBI agent was going to help a little, but he still had to look good in order to really carry it off.
"Thanks for your co-operation, lieutenant," Malone said. "You've all been very helpful." He smiled at them in what he hoped was a superior manner. "So long," he said, and started walking.
"Wait!" Lynch said. He flung open the door of the interrogation room. There was no doubt that it was empty. "Wait! Malone!"
Malone turned slowly, trying to look calm and in control of the situation. "Yes?" he said.
Lynch looked at him with puzzled, pleading eyes. "Malone, how did you release him? We were right here. He didn't come through the door. There isn't any other exit. So how did you get him out?"
There was only one answer to that, and Malone gave it with a quiet, assured air. "I'm terribly sorry, lieutenant," he said, "but that's classified information, too." He gave the cops a little wave and walked slowly down the corridor. When he reached the stairs he began to speed up, and he was out of the precinct station and into a taxicab before any of the cops could have realized what had happened.
He took a deep breath, feeling as if it were the first he'd had in several days. "Breathe air," he told himself. "It's good for you." Not that New York had any real air in it. It was mostly carbon fumes and the like. But it was the nearest thing to air that Malone could find at the moment, and he determined to go right on breathing it until something better and cleaner showed up.
But that wasn't important now. As the cab tooled along down Broadway toward Sixty-ninth Street, Malone closed his eyes and began going over the whole thing in his mind.
Mike Fueyo had vanished.
Of that, Malone told himself, there was no shadow of doubt. No probable, possible shadow of doubt.
No possible doubt—as a matter of fact—whatever.
Dismissing the Grand Inquisitor with a negligent wave of his hand, he concentrated on the main question. It was a good question. Malone could have sat and looked at it admiringly for a long time.
As a matter of fact, that was all he could think of to do, as the cab turned up Seventieth Street and headed east. He certainly didn't have any answers for it.
But it was a lovely question:
Where does that leave Kenneth J. Malone?
And, possibly even more important:
Where was Miguel Fueyo?
It was obvious that he'd vanished on purpose. And it hadn't just been something he'd recently discovered. He had known all along that he could pull the trick; if he hadn't known that, he wouldn't have done what he had done beforehand. No seventeen-year-old boy, no matter what he was, would give the FBI the raspberry unless he were pretty sure he could get away with it.
Malone remembered the raspberry and winced slightly. The cab driver called back: "Anything wrong, buddy?"
"Everything," Malone said. "But don't worry about it."
The cab driver shrugged and turned back to the wheel. Malone went back to Mike Fueyo.
The kid could make himself vanish at will.
Malone thought about that for a while. The fact that it was impossible didn't decide him against it. Everything was impossible; that much was clear. But he didn't think Mike Fueyo had just become invisible. No. There had been the sense of a presence actually leaving the room. If Mike had become invisible and stayed, Malone was sure he wouldn't have felt the boy leave.
Mike had not just become invisible. (And what do I mean, "just"? Malone asked himself unhappily.) He had gone—elsewhere.
This brought him back full circle to his original question: where was the boy now? But he ignored it for a minute or two as another, even more difficult query presented itself.
Never mind where, Malone told himself. How?
Something was bothering him. Malone realized that it had been bothering him for a long time. At last he managed to locate it and hold it up to the light for inspection.
Dr. O'Connor, the psionics expert at Westinghouse, had mentioned something during Malone's last conversation with him. Dr. O'Connor, who'd invented a telepathy detector, had been discussing further reaches in his field.
"After all," he'd said, "if thoughts can bridge any distance whatever, regardless of other barriers, there is no reason why matter could not do likewise."
"How do you know?" Malone had asked him, "it doesn't. Or, anyhow, it hasn't so far."
"There's no way to be sure of that." Dr. O'Connor had said sternly. "After all, we have no reports of it—but that means little. Our search has only begun."
"Oh," Malone said. "Sure."
"Matter, controlled by thought, might bridge distances instantaneously," Dr. O'Connor had said.
And he'd referred to something, some word....
That was it. Malone sat back. All you had to do, he reflected, was to think yourself somewhere else, and—bing!—you were there. If Malone had been able to do it, it would not only save him a lot of time and trouble, but also such things as cab fare and train fare and ... oh, a lot of different things.
But he couldn't. And Dr. O'Connor hadn't found anyone else who could, either. As far as Malone knew, nobody could teleport.
Except Mike Fueyo.
The cab stopped in front of FBI Headquarters. "You some kind of secret agent?" the cabbie said.
"Of course not," Malone said pleasantly. "I'm a foreign spy."
"Oh," the cabbie said. "Sure." He took his money with a somewhat puzzled air, while Malone crossed the sidewalk and went into the building.
* * * * *
Everyone was active. Malone pushed his way through arguing knots of men until he reached the small office which he and Boyd had been assigned. He had already decided not to tell Boyd about the disappearing boy. That would only confuse him—and matters were confused enough as they stood. Malone had no proof; he had only his word and the word of a few baffled policemen, all of whom were probably thoroughly confused by now.
Boyd had a job to do, and Malone had decided to let him go on doing it. That, as a matter of fact, was what he was doing when Malone entered the room.
He was sitting at his desk, talking on the telephone. Malone couldn't see the face on the screen, but Boyd was scowling at it fiercely. "Sure," he said. "So some guy makes a fuss. That's what you're for."
"But he wants to sue the city," a voice said tinnily. "Or somebody."
"Let him sue," Boyd said. "We've got authority. Just get that car."
"Look," the voice said. "I—"
"I don't care how," Boyd snapped. "Get it. Then hand it over to the pickup-squad and say: 'Mr. Malone wants this car—immediately.' They'll know what to do. Got that?"
"Sure, Mr. Boyd," the voice said. "But I don't—"
"Never mind," Boyd said. "Go ahead and get the job done. The United States of America is depending on you." With one last scowl, he hung up and swung around to face Malone. "You gave me a great job," he said. "I really love it, you know that?"
"It's got to be done," Malone said in a noncommittal voice. "How's it going so far?"
Boyd closed his eyes for a second. "Twenty-three red 1972 Cadillacs to date—which isn't bad, I suppose," he said. "And six calls like the one you just heard. All from agents with problems. What am I supposed to do when a guy catches a couple necking in a 1972 red Cadillac?"
"At this time of day?" Malone said.
"New York," Boyd said, and shrugged. "Things are funny here."
Malone nodded. "What did you do about them?" he said.
"Told the agent to take the car and give 'em a pass to a movie," Boyd said.
"Good," Malone said. "Keep that sort of thing in the dark where it belongs." For some reason, this reminded him of Dorothy. He still had to get tickets for a show. But that could wait. "How about the assembly line?" he said.
"Disassembly," Boyd said. "Leibowitz has started it going. He borrowed the use of a big auto repair shop over in Jersey City, and they'll be doing a faster job than we thought." He paused. "But it's been a wonderful day," he said. "One to remember as long as I live. Possibly even until tomorrow. And how have you been doing?"
"Well," Malone said, "I'm not absolutely sure yet."
"That's a nice, helpful answer," Boyd said. "In the best traditions of the FBI."
"I can't help it," Malone said. "It's true."
"Well, what have you been doing?" Boyd said. "Drinking? Living it up while I sit here and talk to people about Cadillacs?"
"Not exactly," Malone said. "I've been ... well, doing more or less what Burris told me to do. Nosing around. Keeping my eyes open."
* * * * *
The phone chimed. Boyd flipped up the mike and eyed the screen balefully. "Federal Bureau of Investigation," he said crisply. "Who are you?"
A voice on the other end said: "What?" before the image on the screen cleared.
"Oh," a voice said. It was a very calm, quiet voice. "Hello, Boyd."
The image cleared. Boyd was facing the picture of a man in his middle thirties, a brown-haired man with large, gentle brown eyes and an expression that somehow managed to look both sad and confident. "Hello, Dr. Leibowitz," Boyd said.
"Is Mr. Malone in?" Leibowitz said. "I really wanted to talk to him."
"Sure," Boyd said. "Just a second."
He motioned to Malone, who came around and sat at Boyd's desk as Boyd got up. He nodded to Leibowitz, and the electronics engineer nodded back.
"How's everything coming, Dr. Leibowitz?" Malone said.
Leibowitz shrugged meaningfully. "All right," he said. "I called you to tell you about that, by the way. We've managed to cut the per-car time down somewhat."
"That's wonderful," Malone said.
"It's now down to about four hours per car—and that means we may be able to do even better than running one off the line every fifteen minutes. At the moment, fifteen minutes is about standard, though, with sixteen cars in the line."
"Sure," Malone said. "But anything you can do to speed it up—"
"I understand," Leibowitz said. "Of course, I'll do anything that I can for you. I have got a small preliminary report, by the way."
"The first car has just been turned off the assembly line," Leibowitz said. "And I'm afraid, Mr. Malone, that there's nothing odd about it at all."
"Well," Malone said, "we can't expect to hit the jackpot with our first try."
"Certainly not," Leibowitz said. "But the second should be off soon. And then the rest. I'm keeping my eye on every one, of course."
"Fine," Malone said, and meant it. Leibowitz was the kind of man who inspired instant, and complete trust. Malone was perfectly sure he'd do the job he had started to do. Then an idea struck him. "Has the first car been reassembled yet?" he asked.
"Of course," Leibowitz said. "We took that step into account in our timing. What would you like done with it—and with the other ones, as they come off?"
"Unless you can find something odd about a car, just return it to its owner," Malone said. "Or pass the problem on to the squad men—they'll take care of it." He paused. "If you do find something odd—"
"I'll call you at once, of course," Leibowitz said.
"Good," Malone said. "Incidentally, I did want to ask you something. I don't want you to think I'm doubting your work, or anything like that. Believe me."
"I'm sure you're not," Leibowitz said.
"But," Malone said, "why does it take so long? I'd think it would be fairly easy to spot a robotic or a semirobotic brain capable of controlling a car."
"It might have been, once." Leibowitz said. "But these days the problems are rather special. Oh, I don't mean we can't do it—we can and we will. But with subminiaturization, Mr. Malone, and semipsionic circuits, a pretty good brain can be hidden beneath a coat of paint."
For no reason at all, Malone suddenly thought of Dorothy again. "A coat of paint?" he said in a disturbed tone.
"Certainly," Leibowitz said, and smiled at him. It was a warm smile that had little or nothing to do with the problem they were talking about. But Malone liked it. It made him feel as if Leibowitz liked him, and approved of him. He grinned back.
"But a coat of paint isn't very much," Malone said.
"It doesn't have to be very much," Leibowitz said. "Not these days. I've often told Emily—that's my wife, Mr. Malone—that I could hide a TV circuit under her lipstick. Not that there would be any use in it—but the techniques are there, Mr. Malone. And if your conjecture is correct, someone is using them."
"Oh," Malone said. "Sure. But you can find the circuits, if they're there?"
Leibowitz nodded slowly. "We can, Mr. Malone," he said. "They betray themselves. A microcircuit need not be more than a few microns thick, you see—as far as the conductors and insulators are concerned, at any rate. But the regulators—transistors and such—have to be as big as a pinhead."
"Enormous, huh?" Malone said.
"Well," Leibowitz said, and chuckled, "quite large enough to locate without trouble, at any rate. They're very hard to conceal. And the leads from the brain to the power controls are even easier to find—comparatively speaking, of course."
"Of course," Malone said.
"All the brain does, you see," Leibowitz said, "is control the mechanism that steers the car. But it takes real power to steer—a great deal more than it does to compute the steering."
"I see," Malone, who didn't, said desperately. "In other words, unless something radically new has been developed, you can find the circuits."
"Right," Leibowitz said, grinning. "It would have to be something very new indeed, Mr. Malone. We're up on most of the latest developments here; we've got to be. But I don't want the credit for this."
"No?" Malone said.
"Oh, no," Leibowitz said. "All I do is work out the general application to theory, as far as actual detection is concerned. It's my partner, Mr. Hardin, who takes care of all the engineering details."
Malone said: "Well, so long as one of you—"
"Sal's a real crackerjack," Leibowitz said enthusiastically. "He has an intuitive feel about these things. It's really amazing to watch him go to work."
"It must be," Malone said politely.
"Oh, it really is," Leibowitz said. "And it's because of Sal that I can make the guarantee I do make: that if there are any unusual circuits in those cars, we can find them."
"Thanks," Malone said. "I'm sure you'll do the job. And we need that information. Don't bother to send along a detailed report, though, unless you find something out of the ordinary."
"Of course, Mr. Malone," Leibowitz said. "I wouldn't have bothered you except for the production speed-up here."
"I understand," Malone said. "It's perfectly all right. I'll be hearing from you, then?"
"Certainly, Mr. Malone," Leibowitz said.
* * * * *
Malone cut the circuit at once and started to turn away, but he never got the chance. It started to chime again at once.
"Federal Bureau of Investigation," Malone said as he flipped up the receiver. He wanted badly to copy Boyd's salutation, but he found that he just didn't have the gall to do it, and said sadly instead: "Malone speaking."
There was no immediate answer from the other party. Instead, the screen slowly cleared, showing Malone the picture of a woman he recognized instantly.
It was Juanita Fueyo—Mike's mother.
Malone stared at her. It seemed to him as if a couple of hours passed while he tried to find his voice. Of course, she'd looked up the FBI number in the phone book, and found him that way. But she was about the last person on Earth from whom he'd expected a call.
"Oh, Mr. Malone," she said, "thank you so much! You got my Mike back from the police!"
Malone gulped. "I did?" he said. "Well, I—"
"But Mr. Malone—you must help me again! Because now my Mike says he must not stay at home! He is leaving, he is leaving right away!"
"Leaving?" Malone said.
He thought of a thousand things to do. He could send a squad of men to arrest Mike. And Mike could disappear while they were trying to get hold of him. He could go down himself—and be greeted, if he knew Mike Fueyo, with another giant economy-size raspberry. He could try to plead with Mike on the phone.
And what good would that do?
So, instead, he just sat and stared while Mrs. Fueyo went right on.
"He says he will send me money, but money is nothing compared to my own boy, my own Mike. He says he must go away, Mr. Malone—but I know you can stop him! I know it!"
"Sure," Malone said. "But I—"
"Oh, I knew that you would!" Mrs. Fueyo shrieked. She almost came through the screen at him. "You are a great man, Mr. Malone! I will say many prayers for you! I will never stop from praying for you because you help me!" Her voice and face changed abruptly. "Excuse me now," she said. "I must go back to work."
"Well," Malone said, "if I—"
Then she turned back and beamed at him again. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Malone! Thank you with the thanks of a mother! Bring my boy back to me!"
And the image faded and died.
Boyd tapped Malone on the shoulder. "I didn't know you were involved in an advice column for the lovelorn," he said.
"I'm not," Malone said sourly.
Boyd sighed. "I'll bite," he said. "Who was that?"
Malone thought of several possible answers and finally chose one. "That," he said, "was my mother-in-law. She worries about me every time I go out on a job with you."
"Very funny," Boyd said. "I am screaming with laughter."
"Just get back to work, Tommy-boy," Malone said, "and leave everything to me."
He hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. Lighting a cigarette—and wishing he were alone in his own room, so that he could smoke a cigar and not have to worry about looking dashing and alert—Malone strolled out of the office with a final wave to Boyd. He was thinking about Mike Fueyo, and he stopped his chain of reasoning just long enough to look in at the office of the Agent-in-Charge and ask him to pry loose two tickets for "The Hot Seat" that night.
The agent, a tall, thin man, who looked as if he suffered from chronic stomach trouble, said, "You must be crazy. Are they all like that in Washington?"
"No," Malone said cheerfully. "Some of them are pretty normal. There's this one man—Napoleon, we call him—who keeps insisting that he should have won the battle of Waterloo. But otherwise he's perfectly fine."
He flicked his cigarette in the air and left, grinning. Five steps away the grin disappeared and a frown took its place.
He walked along Sixty-ninth Street to Park Avenue without noticing where he was going. Luckily, the streets weren't really crowded, and Malone only had to apologize twice, once for stepping on a man's toe and once for absently toeing a woman's dog. When he reached the corner he headed downtown, humming "Kathleen Mavourneen" under his breath and trying to figure out his next move.
He needed more than one move. He needed a whole series of moves. This was not the usual kind of case. Burris had called it a vacation and, in one way, Malone supposed, Burris was perfectly right. For once there was no question about who had committed the crimes. It was obvious by now that Mike Fueyo and his Silent Spooks had been stealing the Cadillacs.
It was even obvious that Mike—or someone with Mike's talent—had bopped him on the head, and taken the red Cadillac he had been examining. And the same gang probably accounted for the Sergeant Jukovsky affair, too.
Or at least it was reasonable to assume that they did, Malone thought. He could see how it had worked: one of the Silent Spooks was a lot smaller than a grown man, and the two cops who hadn't seen anyone in the parked car just hadn't been able to catch sight of the undersized driver. Of course, there had been someone in the car when it had been driving along the West Side Highway. Someone who had teleported himself right out of the car when it had gone over the embankment.
That, of course, meant that there would be no secret machines found in the red Cadillacs Leibowitz & Hardin were examining now. But Malone had already decided to let that phase of things go on. First of all, it was always possible that he was wrong, and that some such machine really did exist. Second, even if they didn't find a machine, they might find something else. Almost anything, he thought, might turn up.
And, third, it kept Boyd decently busy, and out of Malone's hair.
That had been an easy solution. And, Malone thought, the problem of who had been taking the red Cadillacs looked just as easy now, if his answers were right. And he was reasonably sure of that.
Unfortunately, he was now left with a new and unusual question:
How do you catch a teleport?
Malone looked up, jarred to a stop by a man built like a brown bear, with a chunky body and an oval, slightly sloping head and face. He had very short brown hair shot through with gray, and he gave Malone a small, inquisitive stare and looked away without a word.
Malone mumbled: "Sorry," and looked up at the street sign. He was at Forty-seventh Street and Park Avenue. He jerked a hand up to his face, and managed to hook the chunky man by the suit. It fell away, exposing the initials SM carefully worked into his shirt. Second Mistake, Malone thought wildly, muttered: "Sorry," again and turned west, feeling fairly grateful to the unfortunate bystander.
He had reminded Malone of one thing. If he wanted to get even a part of his plan past the drawing-board stage, he had to make a phone call in a hurry.
He found a phone booth in a bar called the Ad Lib, at Madison Avenue. Sternly telling himself that he was stopping there to make a phone call, a business phone call, and not to have a drink, he marched right past the friendly bartender and went into the phone booth, where he made a call to New York Police Commissioner John Henry Fernack.
Fernack's face was that of an old man, but there was no telling how old. The early seventies was one guess, Malone imagined; the late fifties might be another. He looked tough, as if he had spent all of his life trying to persuade other people that he was young enough for the handball tournament. When he saw Malone, his eyebrows lifted slightly, but he didn't say anything.
"Commissioner," Malone said, "I called to ask you to do me a favor."
There was caution hidden in the calm and quiet voice. "Well," Fernack said, "what is it, Malone?"
"Can you have all the robberies for a given period run through the computer?" Malone said. "I need some dope."
"Depends on the given period," Fernack said. "I can't do it for 1774."
"What would I need data on robberies in 1774 for?" Malone said, honestly interested.
"I never question the FBI," Fernack said soberly. "But what dates do you want?"
"The past year, maybe the past year and a half."
"And what data?"
"I want every reported crime that hasn't been solved," Malone said, "which also seems to have been committed by some impossible means. A safe that was robbed without being opened, for instance—that's the kind of thing I mean."
"Every unsolved crime?" Fernack said. "Now, hold your horses, Malone. I'm not at all sure that—"
"Don't worry about a thing, commissioner," Malone said. "This is confidential."
"You know how I'd feel about this if word ever got out to—"
"I said confidential, John Henry," Malone said, trying to sound friendly and trustworthy. "After all, every place has unsolved crimes. Even the FBI isn't absolutely perfect."
"Oh," Fernack said. "Sure. But confidential, Malone."
"You have my word," Malone said sincerely.
Fernack said: "Well—"
"How fast can you get the dope?" Malone said.
"I don't exactly know," Fernack said. "The last time anything even remotely like this was run through—departmental survey, but you wouldn't be interested—it took something like eight hours."
"Fine," Malone said. "Eight hours then. I'll look everything over and if we need a second run-through it won't take too long. I'll let you know as soon as I can about that." He grinned into the phone.
Fernack cleared his throat and asked delicately: "Mind telling me what all this is for?"
Malone offered up a little prayer before answering, and when he did answer it was in his softest and most friendly tones: "I'd rather not say just now, John Henry."
"But Malone—" Fernack's voice sounded a little strained, and his jaw set just a trifle. "If you—"
Malone knew perfectly well how Fernack reacted when he didn't get a bit of information he wanted. And this was no time to set off any fireworks in the commissioner's office. "Look, John Henry," he said gently, "I'll tell you as soon as I can. Honest. But this is classified information—it's not my fault."
Fernack said: "But—" and apparently realized that argument was not going to do him any good. "All right, Malone," he said at last. "I'll have it for you as soon as possible."
"Great," Malone said. "Then I'll see you later."
"Sure," Fernack said. He paused, as if he were about to open the controversy just once more. But all he said was: "So long, Malone."
* * * * *
Malone breathed a great sigh of relief and flipped the phone off. He stepped out of the booth feeling so proud of himself that he could barely walk. Not only had he managed to calm down Commissioner Fernack, he had also walked right past a bar on the way to the phone. He had performed several acts, he felt, above and beyond the call of duty, and he told himself that he deserved a reward.
Happily, the reward was convenient to hand. He went to the bar and beckoned the bartender over to him. "Bourbon and soda," he said. "And a medal, if possible."
"What?" the bartender said.
"A medal," Malone said. "For conduct beyond reproach."
The bartender nodded sadly. "Maybe you just ought to go home, Mac," he said. "Sleep it off."
New Yorkers, Malone decided as the bartender went off to get his drink, had no sense of humor. Back in Chicago—where he'd been more or less weaned on gin, and discovered that, unlike his father, he didn't much care for the stuff—and even in Washington, people didn't go around accusing you of drunkenness just because you made some harmless little pleasantry.
Oh, well. Malone drank his drink and went out into the afternoon sunlight.
He considered the itinerary of the Magical Miguel Fueyo. He had gone straight home from the police station, apparently, and had then told his mother that he was going to leave home. But he had promised to send her money.
Of course, money was easy for Mike to get. With a shudder, Malone thought he was beginning to realize just how easy. Houdini had once boasted that no bank vault could hold him. In Mike Fueyo's case, that was just doubly true. The vault could neither hold him out or keep him in.
But he was going to leave home.
Malone said: "Hm-m-m," to himself, cleared his throat and tried it again. By now he was at the corner of the block, where he nearly collided with a workman who was busily stowing away a gigantic ladder, a pot of paint and a brush. Malone looked up at the street sign, where the words: "Avenue of the Americas" had been painted out, and "Sixth Avenue" hand-lettered in.
"They finally gave in," the painter told him. "But do you think they'll buy new signs? Nah. Cheap. That's all they are. Cheap as pretzels." He gave Malone a friendly push with one end of the ladder and disappeared into the crowd.
Malone didn't have the faintest idea of what he was talking about. And how cheap could a pretzel be, anyway? Malone didn't remember ever having seen an especially tight-fisted one.
New York, he decided for the fifteenth time, was a strange place.
He walked downtown for a block, still thinking about Mike Fueyo, and absently turned west again. Between Sixth and Seventh, he had another attack of brilliance and began looking for another phone booth.
He found one in a Mexican bar named the Xochitl, across the street from the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. It was just a coincidence that he had landed in another bar, he told himself hopefully, but he didn't quite believe it. To prove it to himself, he headed straight for the phone booths again and put in his call, ignoring the blandishments of several rows of sparkling bottles which he passed on the way.
He dialed the number for Lieutenant Lynch's precinct, and then found himself connected with a new desk sergeant.
"I'm Malone," he said. "I want to talk to Lynch."
"Glad to know you, Malone," the desk sergeant said pleasantly. "Only Lieutenant Lynch doesn't want to subscribe to the Irish Echo."
"I'm the FBI." He showed his badge.
The desk sergeant took a good long look at it. "Maybe you are, and maybe you aren't," he said at last. "Does the lieutenant know you?"
"We were kids together," Malone said. "We're brothers. Siamese twins. Put him on the phone."
"Wait a minute," said the desk sergeant. "I'll check."
The screen went blank for two agonizing minutes before it cleared again to show Lynch's face.
"Hello, Mr. Malone," Lynch said formally. "Have you found some new little trick to show us poor, stupid policemen? Like, say, making yourself vanish?"
"I'll make the whole police force vanish," Malone said, "in a couple of minutes. I called to ask a favor."
"Anything," Lynch said. "Anything within my poor power. Whatever I have is yours. Whither thou goest—"
"Knock it off," Malone said, and then grinned. After all, there was no sense in making an enemy out of Lynch.
Lynch blinked, took a deep breath, and said in an entirely different voice: "O.K., Malone. What's the favor?"
"Do you still have that list of Silent Spooks?" Malone said.
"Sure I do," Lynch said. "Why? I gave you a copy of it."
"I can't do this job," Malone said "You'll have to."
"Yes, sir," Lynch said, and saluted.
"Just listen," Malone said. "I want you to check up on every kid on that list."
"And what are we supposed to do when we find them?" Lynch said.
"That's the trouble," Malone said. "You won't."
"And why not?"
"I'll lay you ten to one," Malone said, "that every one of them has skipped out. Left home. Without giving a forwarding address."
Lynch nodded slowly. "Ten to one?" he said. "Want to make that a money bet? Or does the FBI frown on gambling?"
"Ten dollars to your one," Malone said. "O.K.?"
"Made," Lynch said. "You've got the bet ... just for the hell of it, understand."
"Oh, sure," Malone said.
"And where can I call you to collect?"
Malone shook his head. "You can't," he said. "I'll call you."
"I will wait with anxiety," Lynch said. "But it had better be before eight. I get off then."
"If I can make it," Malone said.
"If you can't," Lynch said, "call me at home." He gave Malone the number, and then added: "Whatever information I get, I can keep for my own use this time, can't I?"
"You've already got all the information you're going to get. I just gave it to you."
"That," Lynch said, "we'll see."
"I'll call to collect my money," Malone said.
"We'll talk about it later," Lynch said. "Farewell, old pal."
"Flights of angels," Malone said, "sing thee to thy rest."
* * * * *
Malone replaced the microphone and headed for the door. Halfway there, however, he stopped. He hadn't had a tequila in a long time, and he thought he owed it to himself. He felt he had come out ahead in his exchange with Lynch, and another medal was in order.
Only a small one, though. He told himself that he would order one tequila and quit. Besides, he had to meet Dorothy.
He sat down on one of the tall bar stools. The bartender bustled over and eyed him speculatively.
"Tequila con limon" he said negligently.
"Ah," the bartender said. "Si, senor."
Malone waited with ill-concealed impatience. At last it arrived.
Malone took the small glass of tequila in his right hand, with the slice of lemon held firmly between the index and middle fingers of the same hand, the rind facing in toward the glass. On the web between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand he had sprinkled a little salt. Moving adroitly and with dispatch, he downed the tequila, licked off the salt and bit his teeth into the lemon slice.
It felt better than good; it felt wonderful. He hadn't had such a good time in years.
He had three more before he left the Xochitl.
Then, noticing the time, he moved in a hurry and got out of the bar before temptation overcame him and he started ordering still more. It was nearly six o'clock, and he had to meet Dorothy at Topp's.
He hoped he could find it.
He headed downtown toward Forty-second Street, turned left and—sure enough—there was a big red sign. It said Topp's. Malone beamed his approval at it. It was just where it ought to be, and he was grateful.
He pushed open the glass door of the place and went in.
The maitre d'hotel was a chunky man with a pleasant face, a receding hairline and some distance back on his head, dark, curly hair. He beamed at Malone as if the FBI agent were a long-lost brother. "Table for one, sir?" he said.
"No," Malone said, peering into the place. It was much bigger than he had expected. "No," he said again. "I guess I'll just have a drink at the bar."
The maitre d' smiled and bowed him to a bar stool. Malone sat down and looked the place over again. His first glance had shown him that Dorothy wasn't there yet, but he saw no harm in making sure. Always be careful of your facts, he admonished himself a little fuzzily.
There were a lot of women in the place, but they were all with escorts. Some of them had two escorts, and Malone wondered about them. Were they drunk, or was he? It was obvious that someone was seeing double, but Malone wasn't quite sure who.
He stared at his face in the bar mirror for a few seconds, and ordered a bourbon and soda when a bartender came over and occluded the image. The bartender went away and Malone went on studying himself.
He wasn't bad-looking for an FBI agent. He was taller than his father, anyway, and less heavily built. That was one good thing. As a matter of fact, Malone told himself, he was really a pretty good-looking guy.
So why did women keep him waiting?
He heard her voice before he saw her, behind him. But she wasn't talking to him.
"Hello, Milty," she said. "How's everything?"
Malone turned around to get a look at Milty. He turned out to be the maitre d'. What did he have that Malone didn't have? the agent asked himself sourly. Obviously Dorothy was captivated by his charm. Well, that showed him what city girls were like. Butterflies. Social butterflies. Flitting hither and yon with the wind, now attracted to this man, now to that. Once, Malone told himself sadly, he had known this beautiful woman. Now she belonged to someone else.
He felt a little bit sad about it, but he told himself to buck up and learn to live with his tragedy. He drank some more of his bourbon and soda, and then she noticed him.
He heard her say: "Oh. Excuse me, Milty. There's my man." She came over and sat down next to him.
He wanted to ignore her, just to teach her a lesson. But he had already turned around and smiled at her, and she smiled back.
"Hi," she said. "Did you get the tickets?"
Malone knew there had been something he'd forgotten, and now he knew what it was. "Oh," he said. "Sure. Just a second. I've got to check up."
"Friend of mine," Malone improvised hurriedly. "Bringing them." He gave Dorothy a big smile and climbed down off the bar stool. He managed to find a phone booth, and dialed FBI headquarters on Sixty-ninth Street and blessed several saints when he found that A-in-C was still there.
"Tickets," Malone said.
The Agent-in-Charge blinked at him. "What tickets?" he said.
"The 'Hot Seat' tickets," Malone said. "Did you get 'em?"
"I got 'em," the Agent-in-Charge said sourly. "Had to chase all over town and pull more wires than there are on a grand piano. But they turned up, brother. Two seats. Do you know what a job like that entails?"
"I'm grateful," Malone said. "I'm hysterical with gratitude."
"I'd rather track down a gang of fingerless second-story men than go through that again," the Agent-in-Charge said. He looked as if his stomach trouble had suddenly gotten a great deal worse. Malone thought that the A-in-C was considering calling a doctor, and would probably decide to make it the undertaker instead, and save the price of a call.
"I can't express my gratitude," Malone told him. "Where are they? Where do I pick them up?"
"Box office," the A-in-C said sourly. "I tell you, everybody in Washington must be nuts. The things I have to go through—"
"Thanks," Malone said. "Thanks a lot. Thanks a million. If there's ever anything I can do for you, let me know and I'll do it." He hung up and went back to the bar.
"Well?" Dorothy said. "Where do we go tonight? Joe's Hot Dog stand? Or a revival of 'The Wild Duck' in a loft on Bleecker Street?"
There was pride in Malone's manner as he stood there on his feet. There was just a touch of hauteur as he said: "We'll see 'Hot Seat'."
And he was repaid for all of the Agent-in-Charge's efforts. Dorothy's eyes went wide with appreciation and awe. "My goodness," she said. "A man of his word—and what a tough word, too! Mr. Malone, I congratulate you."
"Nothing," Malone said. "A mere absolute nothing."
"Nothing, the man says," Dorothy muttered. "My goodness. And modest, too. Tell me: how do you do, Mr. Malone?"
"Me?" Malone said. "Very well, so far." He finished his drink. "And you?"
"I work at it," she said cryptically. "May I have another drink?"
Malone gave her a grin. "Another?" he said. "Have two. Have a dozen."
"And what," she said, "would I do with half a dozen drinks? Don't answer. I think I can guess. But let's just take them one at a time—O.K.?" She signaled to the bartender. "Wally, I'll have a Martini. And Mr. Malone will have whatever it is he has, I imagine."
"Bourbon and soda," Malone said, and gave the bartender a grin, too, just to make sure he didn't feel left out. The sun was shining—although it was evening outside—and the birds were singing—although, Malone reflected, catching a bird on Forty-second Street and Broadway might take a bit of doing—and all was well with the world.
There was only a tiny, nagging disturbing thought in his mind. It had to do with Mike Fueyo and the Silent Spooks, and a lot of red Cadillacs. But he pushed it resolutely away. It had nothing to do with the evening he was about to spend. Nothing at all.
After all, this was supposed to be a vacation, wasn't it?
"Well, Mr. Malone," Dorothy said, when the drinks had arrived.
"Very well indeed," Malone said, raising his. "And just call me Ken. Didn't I tell you that once before?"
"You did," she said. "And I asked you to call me Dorothy. Not Dotty. Try and remember that."
"I will remember it," Malone said, "just as long as ever I live. You don't look the least bit dotty, anyhow. Which is probably more than anybody could say for me." He started to look at himself in the bar mirror again, and decided not to. "By the way," he added, as a sudden thought struck him. "Dotty what?"
"Now," she said. "There you go doing it."
"Calling me that name."
"Oh," Malone said. "Make it Dorothy. Dorothy what?" He blinked. "I mean, I know you've got a last name. Dorothy Something. Only it probably isn't Something. What is it?"
"Francis," she said obligingly. "Dorothy Francis. My middle name is Something, in case you ever want to call me by my middle name. Just yell: 'Hey, Something,' and I'll come a-running. Unless I have something else to do. In which case everything will be very simple: I won't come."
"Ah," Malone said doubtfully. "And what do—"
"What do I do?" she said. "A standard question. Number two of a series. I do modeling. Photographic modeling. And that's not all—I also do commercials on 3-D. If I look familiar to you, it's probably because you've seen me on 3-D. Do I look familiar to you?"
"I never watch 3-D," Malone said, crestfallen.
"Fine," Dorothy said unexpectedly. "You have excellent taste."
"Well," Malone said, "it's just that I never seem to get the time—"
"Don't apologize for it," Dorothy said. "I have to appear on it, but I don't have to like it. And, now that I've answered your questions, how about answering some of mine?"
"Gladly," Malone said. "The inmost secrets of the FBI are yours for the asking."
"Hm-m-m," Dorothy said slowly. "What do you do as an FBI agent, anyhow? Dig up spies?"
"Oh, no," Malone said. "We've got enough trouble with the live ones. We don't go around digging anybody up. Believe me." He paused, feeling dimly that the conversation was beginning to get out of control. "Have I told you that you are the most beautiful woman I've ever met?" he said at last.
"No," Dorothy said. "Not yet, anyway. But I was expecting it."
"You were?" Malone said, disappointed.
"Certainly," Dorothy said. "You've been drinking. As a matter of fact, you've managed to get quite a head start."
Malone hung his head guiltily. "True," he said in a low voice. "Too true. Much too true."
Dorothy nodded, downed her drink and waved to the bartender. "Wally, bring me a double this time."
"Sure," Dorothy said. "I've got to do some fast catching-up on Mr. Malone here."
"Call me Ken," Malone muttered.
"Don't be silly," Dorothy told him. "Wally hardly knows you. He'll call you Mr. Malone, and like it."
The bartender went away and Malone sat on his stool and thought busily for a minute. At last he said: "If you really want to catch up with me—"
"Yes?" Dorothy said.
"Better have a triple," Malone muttered.
Dorothy's eyebrows rose slightly.
"Because I intend to have another one," Malone added.
It started a million years ago.
In that distant past, a handful of photons deep in the interior of Sol began their random journey to the photosphere. They had been born as ultrahard gamma radiation, and they were positively bursting with energy, attempting to push their respective ways through the dense nucleonic gas that had been their womb. Within millimicroseconds, they had been swallowed up by the various particles surrounding them—swallowed, and emitted again, as the particles met in violent collision.
And then the process was repeated. After a thousand thousand years, and billions on billions of such repetitions, the handful of photons reached the relatively cool photosphere of the sun. But the long battle had taken some of the drive out of them; over the past million years, even the strongest had become only hard ultraviolet, and the weakest just sputtered out in the form of long radio waves.
But now, at last, they were free! And in the first flush of this newfound freedom, they flung themselves over ninety-three million miles of space, traveling at one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second and making the entire trip in less than eight and one-half minutes.
They struck the Earth's ionosphere, and their numbers diminished. The hard ultraviolet was gobbled up by ozone; much of the blue was scattered through the atmosphere. The remainder bore steadily onward.
Down through the air they came, only slightly weakened this time. They hit the glass of a window in the Hotel New Yorker, losing more of their members in the plunge.
And, a few feet from the glass, they ended their million-year epic by illuminating a face.
The face responded to them with something less than pleasure. It was clear that the face did not like being illuminated. It was very bright, much too bright. It seemed to be searing its way through the face's closed eyelids, right past the optic nerves into the brain-pan itself. The face twisted in a sudden spasm, as if its brain were shriveling with heat. Its owner thoughtfully turned over, and the face sought the seclusion and comparative darkness of a pillow.
Unfortunately, the motion brought the face's owner to complete wakefulness. He did not want to be awake, but he had very little choice in the matter. Even though his face was no longer being illuminated, he could feel other rays of sunlight eating at the back of his head. He put the pillow over his head and felt more comfortable for a space, but this slight relief passed, too.
He thought about mausoleums. Mausoleums were nice, cool, dark places where there was never any sun or heat, and never any reason to wake up. Maybe, he told himself, cunningly, if he went to sleep again he would wake up dead, in a mausoleum. That, he thought, would be nice.
Death was nice and pleasant. Unfortunately, he realized, he was not dead. And there was absolutely no chance of his ever getting back to sleep. He finally rolled over again, being very careful to avoid any more poisonous sunlight. Getting up was an even more difficult process, but Malone knew it had to be managed. Somehow he got his feet firmly planted on the floor and sat up.
It had been a remarkable feat, he told himself. He deserved a medal.
That reminded him of the night before. He had been thinking quite a lot about the medals he deserved for various feats. He had even awarded some of them to himself, in the shape of liquid decoctions.
He remembered all that quite well. There were a lot of cloudy things in his mind, but from all the testimony he could gather, he imagined that he'd had quite a time the night before. Quite a wonderful time, as a matter of fact.
Not that that reflection did anything for him now. As he opened his eyes, one at a time, he thought of Boyd. Once, long ago, ages and ages ago, he had had to wake Boyd up, and he recalled how rough he had been about it. That had been unforgivable.
He made a mental note to apologize to Boyd the next time he saw him—if he could ever see again. Now, he knew how Boyd had felt. And it was terrible.
Still sitting on the bed, he told himself that, in spite of everything, he was lucky. To judge by his vague memories, he'd had quite a time the night before, and if the hangover was payment for it, then he was willing to accept the payment. Almost. Because it had really been a terrific time. The only nagging thought in his mind was that there had been something vital he'd forgotten.
"Tickets," he said, aloud, and was surprised that his voice was audible. As a matter of fact, it was too audible; the noise made him wince slightly. He shifted his position very quietly.
And he hadn't forgotten the tickets. No. He distinctly remembered going to see "The Hot Seat," and finding seats, and actually sitting through the show with Dorothy at his side. He couldn't honestly say that he remembered much of the show itself, but that couldn't be the important thing he'd forgotten. By no means.
He had heard that it was a good show, though. Some time, he reminded himself, he would have to get tickets and actually see it.
He checked through the evening. Drinks. Dinner ... he had had dinner, hadn't he? Yes, he had. He recalled a broiled sea bass looking up at him with mournful eyes. He couldn't have dreamed anything like that.
And then the theater, and after that some more drinks ... and so on, and so on, and so on, right to his arrival back in his hotel room, at four-thirty in the morning, on a bright, boiled cloud.
He even remembered arguing with Dorothy about taking her home. She'd won that round by ducking into a subway entrance, and he had turned around after she'd left him and headed for home. Had he taken a taxi?
Yes, Malone decided, he had. He even remembered that.
Then what had he forgotten?
He had met Dorothy—he told himself, starting all over again in an effort to locate the gaps—at six o'clock, right after phoning ...
He looked at his watch. It was ten o'clock in the morning. He had completely forgotten to call Fernack and Lynch.
Hangover or no hangover, Malone told himself grimly, there was work to be done. Somehow, he managed to get to his feet and start moving.
He checked Boyd's room after a while. But his partner wasn't home. Probably at work already, Malone thought, while I lie here useless and helpless. He thought of a sermon on the Evils of Alcohol, and decided he'd better read it to himself instead of delivering it to Boyd.
But he didn't waste any time with it. By ten-fifteen he was showered and shaved, his teeth were brushed, and he was dressed. He felt, he estimated, about fifteen hundred per cent better. That was still lousy, but it wasn't quite as bad as it had been. He could move around and talk and even think a little, if he were careful about it. Before he left, he took a look at himself in the mirror.
Well, he told himself, that was nice.
It hardly showed at all. He looked tired, to be sure, but that was almost normal. The eyes weren't bloodshot red, and didn't seem to bug out at all although Malone would have sworn that they were bleeding all over his face. His head was its normal size, as near as he remembered; it was not swollen visibly, or pulsing like a jellyfish at every move.
He looked even better than he felt.
He started for the door, and then stopped himself. There was no need to go out so early; he could start work right in his own hotel room and not even have to worry about the streets of New York, the cars or the pedestrians for a while.
He thought wistfully about a hair of the hound, decided against it with great firmness, and sat down to phone.
He dialed a number, and the face of Commissioner Fernack appeared almost at once. Malone forced himself to smile cheerfully, reasonably sure that he was going to crack something as he did it. "Hello, John Henry," he said in what he hoped was a good imitation of a happy, carefree voice. "And how are you this lovely morning?"
"Me?" Fernack said sourly. "I'm in great shape. Tiptop. Malone, how did you—"
"Any news for me?" Malone said.
Fernack waited a long time before he answered, and when he did his voice was dangerously soft and calm. "Malone," he said, "when you asked for this survey, just what kind of news did you expect to get anyway?"
"An awful lot of impossible crimes," Malone said frankly. "How did I do, John Henry?"
"You did very well," Fernack said. "Too well. Listen, Malone, how could you know about anything like this?"
Malone blinked. "Well," he said, "we have our sources. Confidential. Top secret. I'm sure you understand, commissioner." Hurriedly, he added: "What does the breakdown look like?"
"It looks like hell," Fernack said. "About eight months ago, according to the computer, there was a terrific upswing in certain kinds of crime. And since then it's been pretty steady, right at the top of the swing. Hasn't moved down hardly at all."
"Great," Malone said.
Fernack stared. "What?" he said.
"I mean—" Malone stopped, thought of an answer and tried it: "I mean, that checks out my guess. My information. Sources."
Fernack seemed to weigh risks in his mind. "Malone, I know you're FBI," he said at last. "But this sounds pretty fishy to me. Pretty strange."
"You have no idea how strange," Malone said truthfully.
"I'm beginning to," Fernack said. "And if I ever find out that you had anything to do with this—"
"And don't look innocent," Fernack said. "It doesn't succeed in looking anything but horrible. You remind me of a convicted murderer trying to steal thirty cents from the prison chaplain."
"What would I have to do with all these crimes?" Malone said. "And what kind of crimes were they, anyway?"
"What you'd have to do with them," Fernack said, "is an unanswered question. And so long as it remains unanswered, Malone, you're safe. But when I come up with enough facts to answer it—"
"Don't be silly, commissioner," Malone said. "How about these crimes? What kind were they?"
* * * * *
"Burglaries," Fernack said. "And I have a hunch you know that well enough. Most of them were just burglaries—locked barrooms, for instance, early in the morning. There's never any sign of tampering with the locks, no sign of breaking and entering, no sign of any alarms being tampered with in any way. But the money's gone from the cash register, and all of the liquor is gone, too."
Malone stared. "All the liquor?" he said in a dazed voice.
"Well," Fernack said, "all of it that's in plain sight, anyway. Except for the open bottles. Disappeared. Gone. Without a trace. And most of the time the extra stock's gone, too, from the basement or wherever they happen to keep it."
"That's a lot of liquor," Malone said.
"Quite a lot," Fernack said. "Some of the bars have gone broke, not being insured against the losses."
The thought of thousands of bottles of liquor—millions of bottles—went through Malone's mind like an icepick. He could almost see them, handle them, taste them. "Hair of the dog," he muttered. "What hair. What a dog."
"What did you say, Malone?"
"Nothing," Malone said hastily. "Nothing at all." After a second another query occurred to him. "You mean to tell me that only bars were robbed? Nothing else?"
"Oh, no," Fernack said. "Bars are only part of it. Malone, why are you asking me to tell you this?"
"Because I want to know," Malone said patiently.
"I still think—" Fernack began, and then said: "Never mind. But it hasn't been only bars. Supermarkets. Homes. Cleaning and tailoring shops. Jewelers. Malone, you name it, and it's been hit."
Malone tried valiantly to resist temptation, but he was not at his best, and he lost. "All right," he said. "I will name it. Here's a list of places that haven't even been touched by the rising crime wave: Banks, for one."
"Safes that have been locked, for another," Malone went on. "Homes with wall safes—though that's not quite accurate. The homes may have been robbed, but the safes won't have been touched."
"Malone, how much do you know?" Fernack said.
"I'll make a general rule for you," Malone said. "Any place that fits the following description is safe: It's got a secure lock on it, and it's too small for a human being to get into."
Fernack opened his mouth, shut it and stared downward, obviously scanning some papers lying on the desk in front of him. Malone waited patiently for the explosion—but it never came.
Instead, Fernack said: "You know, Malone, you remind me of an old friend of mine."
"Really?" Malone said pleasantly.
"You certainly do," Fernack said. "There's just one small difference. You're an FBI man, and he's a crook. If that's a difference."
"It is," Malone said. "And on behalf of the FBI, I resent the allegation. And, as a matter of fact, defy the allegator. But that's neither here nor there," he continued. "If that's the difference, what are the similarities?"
Fernack drew in a deep, hissing breath, and when he spoke his voice was as calm and quiet as a coiled cobra. "The both of you come up with the damnedest answers to things. Things I never knew about or even cared about before. Things I wish I'd never heard of. Things that don't have any explanations. And—" He stopped, his face dark in the screen. Malone wondered what color it was going to turn, and decided on purple as a good choice.
"Well?" Malone said at last.
"And you're always so right it makes me sick," Fernack finished flatly. He rubbed a hand through his hair and stared into the screen at Malone. "How did you know all this stuff?" he said.
Malone waited one full second, while Fernack got darker and darker on the screen. When he judged that the color was right, he said quietly: "I'm prescient. And thanks a lot, John Henry; just send the reports to me personally, at Sixty-ninth Street. By messenger. So long."
He cut the circuit just as Fernack started: "Now, Malone—"
* * * * *
With a satisfied, somewhat sheepish smile, Malone dialed another number. This time a desk sergeant told him politely that Lynch wasn't at the precinct, and wouldn't arrive until noon.
Malone had Lynch's home number. He dialed it.
It was a long wait before the lieutenant answered, and he didn't look much like a police officer when his face finally showed up on the screen. His hair was uncombed and he was unshaven. His eyes were slightly bleary, but he was definitely awake.
"Oh," Malone said. "Hello."
"Hi, there," Lynch said with enormous cheerfulness. "Old buddy-boy. Old pal. Old friend."
"What's wrong?" Malone said.
"Wrong?" Lynch said. "Nothing. Nothing. Nothing at all. I just wanted to thank you for not waking me up last night. I only waited for your call until midnight. Then I decided I just wasn't very important to you. You obviously had much bigger things on your mind."
"As a matter of fact," Malone said, eying Lynch's figure, dressed in a pair of trousers and a T-shirt, speculatively, "you're right."
"That's what I thought," Lynch said. "And I decided that, since you were so terribly busy, it could wait until I woke up. Or even until I got down to the station. How about it—buddy-boy?"
"Listen, Lynch," Malone said, "we made a bet. Ten to one. I just want to know if I can come down to collect or not."
There was a second of silence.
"All right," Lynch said at last, looking crestfallen. "I owe you a buck. Every last one of those kids has skipped out on us."
"Good," Malone said. He wondered briefly just what was good about it, and decided he'd rather have lost the money to Lynch. But facts, he reflected, were facts. Thoroughly nasty facts.
"I spent all night tracing them," Lynch said. "Got nowhere. Nowhere at all. Tell me, Malone, how did you know—"
"Classified," Malone said. "Very classified. But you're sure they're all gone? Vanished?"
Lynch's face reddened. "Sure I'm sure," he said. "Every last one of them is gone. And what more do you want me to do about it?" He paused, then added: "What do you expect, Malone? Miracles?"
Malone shook his head gently. "No," he said. "I—"
"Oh, never mind," Lynch said.
"Look, Malone," Lynch said, "there's a guy who wants to talk to you."
"One of the Silent Spooks?" Malone said hopefully.
Lynch shook his head and made a growling noise. "Don't be silly," he said. "It's just that this guy might have some information—but he won't say anything to me about it. He's a social worker or something like that."
"Social worker?" Malone said. "He works with the kids, right?"
"I guess," Lynch said. "His name's Kettleman. Albert Kettleman."
Malone nodded. "O.K.," he said. "I'll be right over."
"Hey," Lynch said, "hold on. He's not here now. What do you think this is—my house or a reception center?"
"Sorry," Malone said wearily. "Where and when?"
"How about three o'clock at the precinct station?" Lynch said, "I can have him there by then, and you can get together and talk." He paused. "Nobody likes the cops," he said. "People hear the FBI's mixed up in this, and they figure the cops are all second-stringers or something."
"Sorry to hear it," Malone said.
"I'll bet you are," Lynch told him bitterly.
Malone shrugged. "Anyway," he said, "I'll see you at three, right?"
"Right," Lynch said, and Malone flipped off.
He sat there for a few seconds grinning quietly. His brain throbbed like an overheated motor, but he didn't really mind any more. His theory had been justified, and that was the most important thing.
The Silent Spooks were all teleports.
Eight of them—eight kids on the loose, stealing everything they could lay their hands on, and completely safe. How could you catch a boy who just disappeared when you started for him? No wonder their names hadn't appeared on the police blotter, Malone thought.
The Spooks didn't get into trouble.
They didn't have to.
They could get into any place big enough to hold them, take what they wanted and just disappear. They'd been doing it for about eight months, according to the figures Malone had received from Fernack; maybe teleportative ability didn't develop until you were around fourteen or fifteen.
But it had developed in these kids—and they were using it in the most obvious way. They had a sure method of getting away from the cops, and a sure method of taking anything they wanted. No wonder they had so much money.
Malone got up, feeling slightly dazed, and left the hotel.
By three o'clock, he was again among the living. Maybe his occupations had had something to do with it; he'd spent about four hours supervising Operation Dismemberment, and then listening to the reports on the dismantled Cadillacs. It was nice, peaceful, unimportant work, but there just wasn't anything else to do. FBI work was ninety-five per cent marking time, anyway; Malone felt grateful that there was any action at all in what he was doing.
Dr. Leibowitz had found all sorts of things in the commandeered Caddies—everything from guns and narcotics to pornographic pictures in lots of three hundred, for shipment into New York City from the suburbs where the processing plants probably were. Of course, there had been personal effects, too—maps and lucky dolls and, just once, a single crutch.
Malone wondered about that for quite a while. Who'd just walk off and leave one crutch in a car? But people did things like that all the time, he finally told himself heavily. There wasn't any explanation for it, and there probably never would be.
But in spite of the majestic assortment of valuables found in the cars, there was no sign of anything remotely resembling an electro-psionic brain. Dr. Leibowitz had found just about everything—except what he was looking for.
At a quarter of three, Malone gave up. The search wasn't quite finished, but he'd heard enough to last him for a long time. He grabbed a cab downstairs and went over to Lynch's office to meet Kettleman.
The "social worker or something" was a large, balding man about six feet tall. Malone estimated his weight as close to two hundred and fifty pounds, and he looked every pound of it; his face was round without being chubby, and his body was stocky and hard. He wore black-rimmed glasses, and he was going bald in front. His face was like a mask: it was held in a gentle, almost eager expression that Malone would have sworn had nothing to do with the way Kettleman felt underneath.
Lynch performed the introductions, escorted the two of them to one of the interrogation rooms at the rear of the station, and left them there, with: "If either of you guys comes up with anything, let me know," for a parting shot.
Kettleman blinked slowly behind his glasses. "Mr. Malone," he said, "I understand that the FBI is interested in one of the ... ah ... adolescent social groups with which I work."
"Well, the Silent Spooks," Malone said. "That's right."
"The Spooks," Kettleman said. His voice was rather higher than Malone would have expected, oddly breathy without much depth to it. "My, yes. I did want to talk to somebody about it, and I thought you might be the man."
"I'll be interested in anything you have to say," Malone said diplomatically. He was beginning to doubt whether he'd get any real information out of Kettleman. But it was impossible to tell. He sat back in a hard wooden chair and tried to look fascinated.
"Well," Kettleman said tentatively, "the boys themselves have sort of a word for it. They'd say that there was something ... ah ... 'oddball' about the Spooks. Do you understand? Not just the fact that they never drink liquor, you understand, but—"
"Something strange," Malone said. "Is that what you mean."
"Ah," Kettleman said. "Strange. Of course." He acted, Malone thought, as if he had never heard the word before, and was both pleased and startled by its sound. "Perhaps I had better explain my position a little more clearly," he said. "That will give you an idea of just where I ... ah ... 'fit in' to this picture."
"Whatever you think best," Malone said, resigning himself to a very dull hour. He tried to picture Kettleman in the midst of a gang of juvenile delinquents. It was very hard to do.
"I'm a social worker," Kettleman said, "working on an individual basis with these—social groups that the adolescents have formed. It's my job to make friends with them, become accepted by them, and try to turn their hostile impulses toward society into more useful, more acceptable channels."
"I see," Malone said, feeling that something was expected of him. "That's fine."
"Oh, we don't expect praise, we social workers," Kettleman said instantly. "The worth of a good job well done, that's enough for us." He smiled. The effect was a little unsettling, as if a hippopotamus had begun to laugh like a hyena. "But to continue, Mr. Malone," he said.
"Of course," Malone said. "Certainly."
"I've worked with many of the organizations in this neighborhood," Kettleman said. "And I've been quite successful in getting to know them, and in being accepted by them. Of course, the major part of my job is more difficult, but ... well, I'm sure that's enough about my own background. That isn't what you're interested in, now, is it?"
He looked penitent. Malone said: "It's all right. I don't mind." He shifted positions on the hard chair.
"Well, then," Kettleman said, with the air of a man suddenly getting down to business. He leaned forward eagerly, his eyes big and bright behind the lenses. "There's something very peculiar about those boys," he said in a whisper.
"Really?" Malone said.
"Very peculiar indeed," Kettleman said. "My, yes. All of the other ... ah ... social groups are afraid of them."
"Big, huh?" Malone said. "Big, strong boys who—"
"Oh, my no," Kettleman said. "My goodness, no. All of the Spooks are rather slight, as a matter of fact. They've got something, but it isn't strength."
"My goodness," Malone said tiredly.
"I doubt if—in the language of my own groups—any one of the Spooks could punch his way out of a paper bag," Kettleman said. "It's more than that."
"Frankly," Malone said, "I'm inclined to agree with you. But what is this something that frightens everyone else?"
Kettleman leaned even closer. "I'm not sure," he said softly. "I can't say for certain, Mr. Malone. I've only heard rumors."
"Well," Malone said, "rumors might—"
"Rumors are a very powerful force among my groups, Mr. Malone," Kettleman said. "I've learned, over the years, to keep my ear to the ground, as it were, and pay very close attention to rumors."
"I'm sure," Malone said patiently. "But what did this particular rumor say?"
"Well," Kettleman said, and stopped. "Well," he said again. And at last he gulped and got it out: "Magicians, Mr. Malone. They say the Spooks are magicians—that they can come and go at will. Make themselves invisible. All sorts of things. Of course, I don't believe that, but—"
"Oh, it's quite true," Malone said, solemn-faced.
"It's ... what?"
"Perfectly true," Malone said. "We've known all that."
"Oh, my," Kettleman said. His face took on a whitish cast. "Oh, my goodness," he said. "Isn't that ... isn't that amazing?" He swallowed hard. "True all the time," he said. "Magicians. I—"
"You see, this information isn't new to us," Malone said.
"Oh," Kettleman said. "No. Of course not. My. It's ... rather disconcerting to think about, isn't it?"
"There," Malone said, "I agree with you."
* * * * *
Kettleman fell silent. Malone offered him a cigarette, but the social worker refused with a pale smile, and Malone lit one for himself. He took a couple of puffs in the silence, and then Kettleman said: "Well, Mr. Malone, Lieutenant Lynch did say that I was to tell you everything I could about these boys."
"I'm sure we all appreciate that," Malone said at random, wondering exactly what he meant.
"There is ... well, there is one more thing," Kettleman said. "Ordinarily, of course, I wouldn't say anything about this to anyone. In my line of work, Mr. Malone, you learn the need for confidence. For being able to keep one's word."
"Certainly," Malone said, wondering what startling new fact was on its way now.
"And we certainly try to keep the confidence of the boys," Kettleman said maddeningly. "We wouldn't betray them to the police in any way unless it were absolutely necessary."
"Betray them—? Mr. Kettleman," Malone said, "just what are you trying to tell me?"
"It's about their meeting place," Kettleman said. "Oh, my. I'm not at all sure I ought to tell you this." He wrung his pale fat hands together and looked at Malone appealingly.
"Now, now," Malone said, feeling foolish. "It's perfectly all right. We don't want to hurt the Spooks. Not any more than we have to. You can tell me, Mr. Kettleman."
"Oh," Kettleman said. "Well. I—The Spooks do have a sort of secret meeting place, you know. And they meet there."
He stopped. Malone said: "Where is it?"
"Oh, it's a big empty warehouse," Kettleman said. "I really feel terrible about this. They're meeting there tonight some time, or that's what the rumors say. I shouldn't be telling you—"
"Of course you should," Malone said, trying to sound reassuring. "Don't worry about a thing, Mr. Kettleman. Tonight?"
"That's right," Kettleman said eagerly. He grinned and then looked morosely down at his hands.
"Do you know where this warehouse is?" Malone said. "If any of the other little social groups use it—"
"Oh, no, they don't," Kettleman said. "That's what makes it so funny. You see, the warehouse is deserted, but it's kept in good repair; there are bars on the windows, and it's protected by all sorts of alarm systems and things like that. So none of the others can use it. Only the Spooks. You can't get in without a key, not at all."
"But do the Spooks—" Malone began.
"Oh, no," Kettleman moaned. "They don't have a key. At least, that's what the other ... social groups say. The Spooks just ... just melt through the walls, or something like that."
"Mr. Kettleman," Malone said, "where is this warehouse?"
"I shouldn't be telling you this," Kettleman said.
Malone sighed. "Please. Mr. Kettleman. You know we're working for the good of those boys, don't you?"
"Sure we are," Malone said. "So you can tell me."
Kettleman blinked behind his glasses, and moaned a little. Malone waited with his hands tense in his lap. At last Kettleman said: "It's on West Street, near Chambers. That's downtown." He gave Malone an address. "That's where it is," he said. "But you won't ... do anything to the boys, will you? They're basically good boys. No matter what. And they—"
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Kettleman," Malone said. "We'll take care of the Spooks."
"Oh," Kettleman said. "Yes. Sure."
He got up. Malone said: "There's just one more thing, Mr. Kettleman."
"Yes?" The big man's voice had reached the high, breathy pitch of a fife.
"Do you have any idea what time the Spooks usually meet?"
"Well, now," Kettleman said, "I don't really know. You see, the reason I wanted to tell you all this was because Lieutenant Lynch was checking up on all those boys yesterday, and I thought—" He stopped and cleared his throat, and when he began again his voice had dropped almost to a whisper: "Well, Mr. Malone, I thought, after all, that since he was asking me questions ... you know, questions about where they were, the Spooks I mean, and all of that ... since he was asking me questions—"
"Yes?" Malone said.
"I thought perhaps I ought to tell you about them," Kettleman said. "Where they were, and all of that."
Malone stood up. "Mr. Kettleman," he said in his most official voice, "I want you to know that the FBI appreciates what you've done. Your information will probably be very helpful to us, and the FBI certainly commends you for being public-spirited enough to come to us and tell us what you know." He thought for a second, and then added: "In the name of the FBI, Mr. Kettleman—well done!"
Kettleman stared, smiled and gulped. "My goodness," he said "Well." He smiled again, a little more broadly. "One has one's duty, you know. My, yes. Duty." He nodded to Malone.
"Of course," Malone said, going to the door and opening it. "Thanks again, Mr. Kettleman."
Kettleman saw the open door and headed for it blindly. As he left he flashed one last smile after Malone, who sighed, shut the door and leaned against it for a second.
The things an FBI agent had to go through!
* * * * *
When he had recovered, he opened the door again and peered carefully down the hallway to make sure Kettleman had gone. Then he left the interrogation room and went down the hall, past the desk sergeant, and up the stairs to Lieutenant Lynch's office. He was still breathing a little hard when he opened Lynch's door, and Lynch didn't seem to be expecting him at all. He was very busy with a veritable snow flurry of papers, and he looked as if he had been involved with them steadily ever since he had left Malone and Kettleman alone downstairs.
"Well," Malone said. "Hello there, lieutenant."
Lynch looked up, his face a mask of surprise. "Oh," he said. "It's you. Through with Kettleman?"
"I'm through," Malone said. "As if you didn't know." He looked at Lynch for a long minute, and then said: "Lieutenant—"
Lynch had gone right back to his papers. He looked up again with a bland expression. "Yes?"
"Lieutenant, how reliable is Kettleman?" Malone said.
Lynch shrugged. "He's always been pretty good with the kids, if that's what you mean. You know these social workers—I've never got much information out of him. He feels it's his duty to the kids ... I don't know. Some such thing. Why do you ask?"