[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction April, May and June 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.]
OUT LIKE A LIGHT
By MARK PHILLIPS
Kenneth Malone—sometimes known as Sir Kenneth of The Queen's Own FBI—had had problems with telepathic spies, and more than somewhat nutty telepathic counterspies. But the case of the Vanishing Delinquents was at least as bad....
Illustrated by Freas
The sidewalk was as soft as a good bed. Malone lay curled on it thinking about nothing at all. He was drifting off into a wonderful dream and he didn't want to interrupt it. There was this girl, a beautiful girl, more wonderful than anything he had ever imagined, with big blue eyes and long blond hair and a figure that made the average pin-up girl look like a man. And she had her soft white hand on his arm, and she was looking up at him with trust and devotion and even adoration in her eyes, and her voice was the softest possible whisper of innocence and promise.
"I'd love to go up to your apartment with you, Mr. Malone," she said.
Malone smiled back at her, gently but with complete confidence. "Call me Ken," he said, noticing that he was seven feet tall and superbly muscled. He put his free hand on the girl's warm, soft shoulder and she wriggled with delight.
"All right—Ken," she said. "You know, I've never met anyone like you before. I mean, you're so wonderful and everything."
Malone chuckled modestly, realizing, in passing, how full and rich his voice had become. He felt a weight pressing over his heart, and knew that it was his wallet, stuffed to bursting with thousand-dollar bills.
But was this a time to think of money?
No, Malone told himself. This was the time for adventure, for romance, for love. He looked down at the girl and put his arm around her waist. She snuggled closer.
He led her easily down the long wide street to his car at the end of the block. It stood in godlike solitude, a beautiful red Cadillac capable of going a hundred and ten miles an hour in any gear, equipped with fully automatic steering and braking, and with stereophonic radio, a hi-fi and a 3-D set installed in both front and back seats. It was a 1972 job, but he meant to trade it in on something even better when the 1973 models came out. In the meantime, he decided, it would do.
He handed the girl in, went round to the other side and slid in under the wheel. There was soft music playing, somewhere, and a magnificent sunset appeared ahead of them as Malone pushed a button on the dashboard and the red Cadillac started off down the wide, empty, wonderfully paved street into the sunset while he—
The red Cadillac?
The sidewalk became a little harder, and Malone suddenly realized that he was lying on it. Something terrible had happened; he knew that right away. He opened his eyes to look for the girl, but the sunset had become much brighter; his head began to pound with the slow regularity of a dead-march and he closed his eyes again in a hurry.
The sidewalk swayed a little but he managed to keep his balance on it somehow, and after a couple of minutes it was quiet again. His head hurt. Maybe that was the terrible thing that had happened, but Malone wasn't quite sure. As a matter of fact, he wasn't very sure about anything, and he started to ask himself questions to make certain he was all there.
He didn't feel all there. He felt as if several of his parts had been replaced with second-or even third-hand experimental models, and something had happened to the experiment. It was even hard to think of any questions, but after a while he managed to come up with a few.
What is your name?
Where do you live?
Washington, D. C.
What is your work?
I work for the FBI.
Then what are you doing on a sidewalk in New York in broad daylight?
He tried to find an answer to that, but there didn't seem to be any, no matter where he looked. The only thing he could think of was the red Cadillac.
And if the red Cadillac had anything to do with anything, Malone didn't know about it.
Very slowly and carefully, he opened his eyes again, one at a time. He discovered that the light was not coming from the gorgeous Hollywood sunset he had dreamed up. As a matter of fact, sunset was several hours in the past, and it never looked very pretty in New York anyhow. It was the middle of the night, and Malone was lying under a convenient street lamp.
He closed his eyes again and waited patiently for his head to go away.
A few minutes passed. It was obvious that his head had settled down for a long stay, and no matter how bad it felt, Malone told himself, it was his head, after all. He felt a certain responsibility for it. And he couldn't just leave it lying around somewhere with its eyes closed.
He opened the head's eyes once more, and this time he kept them open. For a long time he stared at the post of the street lamp, considering it, and he finally decided that it looked sturdy enough to support a hundred and sixty-five pounds of FBI man, even with the head added in. He grabbed for the post with both hands and started to pull himself upright, noticing vaguely that his legs had somehow managed to get underneath him.
As soon as he was standing, he wished he'd stayed on the nice horizontal sidewalk. His head was spinning dizzily and his mind was being sucked down into the whirlpool. He held on to the post grimly and tried to stay conscious.
* * * * *
A long time, possibly two or three seconds, passed. Malone hadn't moved at all when the two cops came along.
One of them was a big man with a brassy voice and a face that looked as if it had been overbaked in a waffle-iron. He came up behind Malone and tapped him on the shoulder, but Malone barely felt the touch. Then the cop bellowed into Malone's ear.
"What's the matter, buddy?"
Malone appreciated the man's sympathy. It was good to know that you had friends. But he wished, remotely, that the cop and his friend, a shorter and thinner version of the beat patrolman, would go away and leave him in peace. Maybe he could lie down on the sidewalk again and get a couple of hundred years' rest.
Who could tell?
"Mallri," he said.
"You're all right?" the big cop said. "That's fine. That's great. So why don't you go home and sleep it off?"
"Sleep?" Malone said. "Home?"
"Wherever you live, buddy," the big cop said. "Come on. Can't stand around on the sidewalk all night."
Malone shook his head, and decided at once never to do it again. He had some kind of rare disease, he realized. His brain was loose, and the inside of his skull was covered with sandpaper. Every time his head moved, the brain jounced against some of the sandpaper.
But the policeman thought he was drunk. That wasn't right. He couldn't let the police get the wrong impression of FBI agents. Now the man would go around telling people that the FBI was always drunk and disorderly.
"Not drunk," he said clearly.
"Sure," the big cop said. "You're fine. Maybe just one too many, huh?"
"No," Malone said. The effort exhausted him and he had to catch his breath before he could say anything else. But the cops waited patiently. At last he said: "Somebody slugged me."
"Slugged?" the big cop said.
"Right." Malone remembered just in time not to nod his head.
"How about a description, buddy?" the big cop said.
"Didn't see him," Malone said. He let go of the post with one hand, keeping a precarious grip with the other. He stared at his watch. The hands danced back and forth, but he focused on them after a while. It was 1:05. "Happened just—a few minutes ago," he said. "Maybe you can catch him."
The big cop said: "Nobody around here. The place is deserted—except for you, buddy." He paused and then added: "Let's see some identification, huh? Or did he take your wallet?"
Malone thought about getting the wallet, and decided against it. The motions required would be a little tricky, and he wasn't sure he could manage them without letting go of the post entirely. At last he decided to let the cop get his wallet. "Inside coat pocket," he said.
The other policeman blinked and looked up. His face was a studied blank. "Hey, buddy," he said. "You know you got blood on your head?"
The big cop said: "Sam's right. You're bleeding, mister."
"Good," Malone said.
The big cop said: "Huh?"
"I thought maybe my skull was going to explode from high blood pressure," Malone said. It was beginning to be a little easier to talk. "But as long as there's a slow leak, I guess I'm out of danger."
"Get his wallet," the smaller cop—Sam—said. "I'll watch him."
A hand went into Malone's jacket pocket. It tickled a little bit, but Malone didn't think of objecting. Naturally enough, the hand and Malone's wallet did not make an instant connection. When the hand touched the bulky object strapped near Malone's armpit it stopped, frozen, and then cautiously snaked the object out.
"What's that, Bill?" Sam said.
Bill looked up with the object in his hand. He seemed a little dazed. "It's a gun," he said.
"The guy's heeled!" Sam said. "Watch him! Don't let him get away!"
Malone considered getting away, and decided that he couldn't move. "It's O.K.," he said.
"O.K., hell," Sam said. "It's a .44 Magnum. What are you doing with a gun, Mac?" He was no longer polite and friendly. "Why you carrying a gun?" he said.
"I'm not carrying it," Malone said tiredly. "Bill is. Your pal."
Bill backed away from Malone, putting the Magnum in his pocket and keeping the FBI agent covered with his own Police Positive. At the same time, he fished out the personal radio every patrolman carried in his uniform, and began calling for a prowl car in a low, somewhat nervous voice.
Sam said: "A gun. He could of shot everybody."
"Get his wallet," Bill said. "He can't hurt you now. I disarmed him."
Malone began to feel slightly dangerous. Maybe he was a famous gangster. He wasn't sure. Maybe all this about being an FBI agent was just a figment of his imagination. Blows on the head did funny things. "I'll drill everybody full of holes," he said in a harsh, underworld sort of voice, but it didn't sound very convincing. Sam approached him gently and fished out his wallet with great care, as if Malone were a ticking bomb ready to go off any second.
There was a little silence. Then Sam said: "Give him his gun back, Bill," in a hushed and respectful tone.
"Give him back his gun?" the big cop said. "You gone nuts, Sam?"
Sam shook his head slowly. "Nope," he said. "But we made a terrible mistake. Know who this guy is?"
"He's heeled," Bill said. "That's all I want to know." He put the radio away and gave all his attention to Malone.
"He's FBI," Sam said. "The wallet says so. Badge and everything. And not only that, Bill. He's Kenneth J. Malone."
* * * * *
Well, Malone thought with relief, that settled that. He wasn't a gangster after all. He was just the FBI agent he had always known and loved. Maybe now the cops would do something about his head and take him away for burial.
"Malone?" Bill said. "You mean the guy who's here about all those red Cadillacs?"
"Sure," Sam said. "So give him his gun back." He looked at Malone. "Listen, Mr. Malone," he said. "We're sorry. We're sorry as hell."
"That's all right," Malone said absently. He moved his head slowly and looked around. His suspicions were confirmed. There wasn't a red Cadillac anywhere in sight, and from the looks of the street there never had been. "It's gone," he said, but the cops weren't listening.
"We better get you to a hospital," Bill said. "As soon as the prowl car gets here we'll take you right on down to St. Vincent's. Can you tell us what happened? Or is it—classified?"
Malone wondered what could be classified about a blow on the head, and decided not to think about it. "I can tell you," he said, "if you'll answer one question for me."
"Sure, Mr. Malone," Bill said. "We'll be glad to help."
"Anything at all," Sam said.
Malone gave them what he hoped was a gracious and condescending smile. "All right, then," he said. "Where the hell am I?"
"In New York," Sam said.
"I know that," Malone said tiredly. "Anywhere in particular, or just sort of all over New York?"
"Ninth Street," Bill said hurriedly. "Near the Village. Is that where you were when they slugged you?"
"I guess so," Malone said. "Sure." He nodded, and immediately remembered that he shouldn't have. He closed his eyes until the pain had softened to agony, and then opened them again. "I was getting pretty tired of sitting around waiting for something to break on this case," he said, "and I couldn't sleep, so I went out for a walk. I ended up in Greenwich Village—which is no place for a self-respecting man to end up."
"I know just what you mean," Sam said sympathetically. "Bohemians, they call themselves. Crazy people."
"Not the people," Malone said. "The streets. I got sort of lost." Chicago, he reflected, was a long way from the easiest city in the world to get around in. And he supposed you could even get confused in Washington if you tried hard enough. But he knew those cities. He could find his way around in them. Greenwich Village was different.
It was harder to navigate in than the trackless forests of the Amazon. The Village had tracks, all right—thousands of tracks. Only none of them led anywhere in particular.
"Anyhow," Malone said, "I saw this red Cadillac."
The cops looked around hurriedly and then looked back at Malone. Bill started to say: "But there isn't any—"
"I know," Malone said. "It's gone now. That's the trouble."
"You mean somebody got in and drove it away?" Sam said.
"For all I know," Malone said, "it sprouted wings and flew away." He paused. "When I saw it I decided to go over and have a look. Just in case."
"Sure," Bill said. "Makes sense." He stared at his partner as if defying him to prove it didn't make sense. Malone didn't really care.
"There wasn't anybody else on the street," he said, "so I walked over and tried the door. That's all. I didn't even open the car or anything. And I'll swear there was nobody behind me."
"Well," Sam said, "the street was empty when we got here."
"But a guy could have driven off in that red Cadillac before we got here," Bill said.
"Sure," Malone said. "But where did he come from? I figured maybe somebody dropped something by mistake—a safe or something. Because there wasn't anybody behind me."
"There had to be," Bill said.
"Well," Malone said, "there wasn't."
There was a little silence.
"What happened then?" Sam said. "After you tried the door handle, I mean."
"Then?" Malone said. "Then, I went out like a light."
A pair of headlights rounded the nearby corner. Bill looked up. "That's the prowl car," he announced, and went over to meet it.
The driver was a solidly-built little man with the face of a Pekingese. His partner, a tall man who looked as if he'd have been much more comfortable in a ten-gallon Stetson instead of the regulation blue cap, leaned out at Bill, Sam and Malone.
"What's the trouble here?" he said in a harsh, high voice.
"No trouble," Bill said, and went over to the car. He began talking to the two cops inside in a low, urgent voice. Meanwhile, Sam got his arm around Malone and began pulling him away from the lamp post.
Malone was a little unwilling to let go, at first. But Sam was stronger than he looked. He convoyed the FBI agent carefully to the rear door of the prowl car, opened it and levered Malone gently to a seat inside, just as Bill said: "So with the cut and all, we figured he ought to go over to St. Vincent's. You people were already on the way, so we didn't bother with ambulances."
The driver snorted. "Next time you want taxi service," he said, "you just call us up. What do you think, a prowl car's an easy life?"
"Easier than doing a beat," Bill said mournfully. "And anyway," he added in a low, penetrating whisper, "the guy's FBI."
"So the FBI's got all kinds of equipment," the driver said. "The latest. Why don't he whistle up a helicopter or a jet?" Then, apparently deciding that further invective would get him nowhere, he settled back in his seat, said: "Aah, forget it," and started the car with a small but perceptible jerk.
Malone decided not to get into the argument. He was tired, and it was late. He rested his head on the back seat and tried to relax, but all he could do was think about red Cadillacs.
He wished he had never even heard of red Cadillacs.
And it had all started so simply, too. Malone remembered very clearly the first time he had had any indication that red Cadillacs were anything unusual, or special. Before that, he'd viewed them all with slightly wistful eyes: red, blue, green, gray, white or even black Cadillacs were all the same to him. They spelled luxury and wealth and display and a lot of other nice things.
Now, he wasn't at all sure what they spelled. Except that it was definitely uncomfortable, and highly baffling.
He'd walked into the offices of Andrew J. Burris, Director of the FBI, just one week ago. It was a beautiful office, pine paneled and spacious, and it boasted an enormous polished desk. And behind the desk Burris himself sat, looking both tired and somehow a little kindly.
"You sent for me, chief?" Malone said.
"That's right." Burris nodded. "Malone, you've been working too hard lately."
Now, Malone thought, it was coming. The dismissal he'd always feared. At least Burris had found out that he wasn't the bright, intelligent, fearless and alert FBI agent he was supposed to be. Burris had discovered that he was nothing more or less than lucky, and that all the "fine jobs" he was supposed to have done were only the result of luck.
Oh, well, Malone thought. Not being an FBI agent wouldn't be so bad. He could always find another job.
Only at the moment he couldn't think of one he liked.
He decided to make one last plea.
"I haven't been working so hard, chief," he said. "Not too hard, anyhow. I'm in great shape. I—"
"I've taken advantage of you, Malone, that's what I've done," Burris said, just as if Malone hadn't spoken at all. "Just because you're the best agent I've got, that's no reason for me to hand you all the tough ones."
"Just because I'm what?" Malone said, feeling slightly faint.
"I've given you the tough ones because you could handle them," Burris said. "But that's no reason to keep loading jobs on you. After that job you did on the Gorelik kidnapping, and the way you wrapped up the Transom counterfeit ring ... well, Malone, I think you need a little relaxation."
"Relaxation?" Malone said, feeling just a little bit pleased. Of course, he didn't deserve any of the praise he was getting, he knew. He'd just happened to walk in on the Gorelik kidnappers because his telephone had been out of order. And the Transom ring hadn't been just his job. After all, if other agents hadn't managed to trace the counterfeit bills back to a common area in Cincinnati, he'd never have been able to complete his part of the assignment. But it was nice to be praised, anyhow. Malone felt a twinge of guilt, and told himself sternly to relax and enjoy himself.
"That's what I said," Burris told him. "Relaxation."
"Well," Malone said, "I certainly would like a vacation, that's for sure. I'd like to snooze for a couple of weeks—or maybe go up to Cape Cod for a while. There's a lot of nice scenery up around there. It's restful, sort of, and I could just—"
He stopped. Burris was frowning, and when Andrew J. Burris frowned it was a good idea to look attentive, interested and alert. "Now, Malone," Burris said sadly, "I wasn't thinking about a vacation. You're not scheduled for one until August, you know—"
"Oh, I know, chief," Malone said. "But I thought—"
"Much as I'd like to," Burris said, "I just can't make an exception; you know that, Malone. I've got to go pretty much by the schedule."
"Yes, sir," Malone said, feeling just a shade disappointed.
"But I do think you deserve a rest," Burris said.
"Well, if I—"
"Here's what I'm going to do," Burris said, and paused. Malone felt a little unsure as to exactly what his chief was talking about, but by now he knew better than to ask a lot of questions. Sooner or later, Burris would probably explain himself. And if he didn't, then there was no use worrying about it. That was just the way Burris acted.
"Suppose I gave you a chance to take it easy for a while," Burris said. "You could catch up on your sleep, see some shows, have a couple of drinks during the evening, take girls out for dinner—you know. Something like that. How would you like it?"
"Well—" Malone said cautiously.
"Good," Burris said. "I knew you would."
* * * * *
Malone opened his mouth, thought briefly and closed it again. After all, it did sound sort of promising, and if there was a catch in it he'd find out about it soon enough.
"It's really just a routine case," Burris said in an offhand tone. "Nothing to it."
"Oh," Malone said.
"There's this red Cadillac," Burris said. "It was stolen from a party in Connecticut, out near Danbury, and it showed up in New York City. Now, the car's crossed a state line."
"That puts it in our jurisdiction," Malone said, feeling obvious.
"Right," Burris said. "Right on the nose."
"But the New York office—"
"Naturally, they're in charge of everything," Burris said. "But I'm sending you out as sort of a special observer. Just keep your eyes open and nose around and let me know what's happening."
"Keep my eyes and nose what?" Malone said.
"Open," Burris said. "And let me know about it."
Malone tried to picture himself with his eyes and nose open, and decided he didn't look very attractive that way. Well, it was only a figure of speech or something. He didn't have to think about it.
It really made a very ugly picture.
"But why a special observer?" he said after a second. Burris could read the reports from the New York office, and probably get more facts than any single agent could find out just wandering around a strange city. It sounded as if there were something, Malone told himself, just a tiny shade rotten in Denmark. It sounded as if there were going to be something in the nice, easy assignment he was getting that would make him wish he'd gone lion-hunting in Darkest Africa instead.
And then again, maybe he was wrong. He stood at ease and waited to find out.
"Well," Burris said, "it is just a routine case. Just like I said. But there seems to be something a little bit odd about it."
"I see," Malone said with a sinking feeling.
"Here's what happened," Burris said hurriedly, as if he were afraid Malone was going to change his mind and refuse the assignment. "This red Cadillac I told you about was reported stolen from Danbury. Three days later, it turned up in New York City—parked smack across the street from a precinct police station. Of course it took them a while to wake up, but one of the officers happened to notice the routine report on stolen cars in the area, and he decided to go across the street and check the license number on the car. Then something funny happened."
"Something funny?" Malone asked. He doubted that, whatever it was, it was going to make him laugh. But he kept his face a careful, receptive blank.
"That's right," Burris said. "Now, if you're going to understand what happened, you've got to get the whole picture."
"Sure," Malone said.
"Only that isn't what I mean," Burris added suddenly.
Malone blinked. "What isn't what you mean?" he said.
"Understanding what happened," Burris said. "That's the trouble. You won't understand what happened. I don't understand it and neither does anybody else. So what do you think about it?"
"Think about what?" Malone said.
"About what I've been telling you," Burris snapped. "This car."
Malone took a deep breath. "Well," he said, "this officer went over to check the license plate. It seems like the right thing to do. It's just what I'd have done myself."
"Sure you would," Burris said. "Anybody would. But listen to me."
"All right, chief," Malone said.
"It was just after dawn—early in the morning." Malone wondered briefly if there were parts of the world where dawn came, say, late in the afternoon or during the evening some time, but he said nothing. "The street was deserted," Burris went on. "But it was pretty light out, and the witnesses are willing to swear that there was nobody on that street for a block in either direction. Except them, of course."
"Except who?" Malone said.
"Except the witnesses," Burris said patiently. "Four cops, police officers who were standing on the front steps of the precinct station, talking. They were waiting to go on duty, or anyhow that's what the report said. It's lucky they were there, for whatever reason; they're the only witnesses we've got."
Burris stopped. Malone waited a few seconds and then said, as calmly as he could: "Witnesses to what?"
"To this whole business with Sergeant Jukovsky," Burris said.
* * * * *
The sudden introduction of a completely new name confused Malone for an instant, but he recovered gamely. "Sergeant Jukovsky was the man who investigated the car," he said.
"That's right," Burris said. "Except that he didn't."
"Those four officers—the witnesses—they weren't paying much attention to what looked like the routine investigation of a parked car," Burris said. "But here's their testimony. They were standing around talking when this Sergeant Jukovsky came out of the station, spoke to them in passing, and went on across the street. He didn't seem very worried or alarmed about anything."
"Good," Malone said involuntarily. "I mean, go on, chief," he added.
"Ah," Burris said. "All right. Well. According to Jukovsky, he took a look at the plate and found the numbers checked the listing he had for a stolen Connecticut car. Then he walked around to take a look inside the car. It was empty. Get that, Malone. The car was empty."
"Well," Malone said, "it was parked. I suppose parked cars are usually empty. What's special about this one?"
"Wait and see," Burris said ominously. "Jukovsky swears the car was empty. He tried the doors, and they were all locked but one, the front door on the curb side, the driver's door. So he opened it, and leaned over to have a look at the odometer to check the mileage. And something clobbered him on the back of the head."
"One of the other cops," Malone said.
"One of the ... who?" Burris said. "No. Not the cops. Not at all."
"Then something fell on him," Malone said. "O.K. Then whatever fell on him ought to be—"
"Malone," Burris said.
"Jukovsky woke up on the sidewalk with the other cops all around him. There was nothing on that sidewalk but Jukovsky. Nothing could have fallen on him; it hadn't landed anywhere, if you see what I mean."
"Sure," Malone said. "But—"
"Whatever it was," Burris said, "they didn't find it. But that isn't the peculiar thing."
"No," Burris said slowly. "Now—"
"Wait a minute," Malone said. "They looked on the sidewalk and around there. But did they think to search the car?"
"They didn't get a chance," Burris said. "Anyhow, not just then. Not until they got around to picking up the pieces of the car uptown, at 125th Street."
Malone closed his eyes. "Where was this precinct?" he said.
"Midtown," Burris said. "In the Forties."
"And the pieces of the car were eighty blocks away when they searched it?" Malone said.
"All right," Malone said pleasantly. "I give up."
"Well, that's what I'm trying to tell you," Burris said. "According to the witnesses—not Jukovsky, who didn't wake up for a couple of minutes and so didn't see what happened next—after he fell out of the car, the motor started and the car drove off uptown."
"Oh," Malone said. He thought about that for a minute and decided at last to hazard one little question. It sounded silly—but then, what didn't? "The car just drove off all by itself?" he said.
Burris seemed abashed. "Well, Malone," he said carefully, "that's where the conflicting stories of the eyewitnesses don't agree. You see, two of the cops say there was nobody in the car. Nobody at all. Of any kind. Small or large."
"And the other two?" Malone said.
"The other two swear they saw somebody at the wheel," Burris said, "but they won't say whether it was a man, a woman, a small child or an anthropoid ape—and they haven't the faintest idea where he, she or it came from."
"Great," Malone said. He felt a little tired. This trip was beginning to sound less and less like a vacation.
"Those two cops swear there was something—or somebody—driving the car," Burris said. "And that isn't all."
"It isn't?" Malone said.
Burris shook his head. "A couple of the cops jumped into a squad car and started following the red Cadillac. One of these cops saw somebody in the car when it left the curb. The other one didn't. Got that?"
"I've got it," Malone said, "but I don't exactly know what to do with it."
"Just hold on to it," Burris said, "and listen to this: the cops were about two blocks behind at the start, and they couldn't close the gap right away. The Cadillac headed west and climbed up the ramp of the West Side Highway, heading north, out toward Westchester. I'd give a lot to know where they were going, too."
"But they crashed," Malone said, remembering that the pieces were at 125th Street. "So—"
"They didn't crash right away," Burris said. "The prowl car started gaining on the Cadillac slowly. And—now, get this, Malone—both the cops swear there was somebody in the driver's seat now."
"Wait a minute," Malone said. "One of these cops didn't see anybody at all in the driver's seat when the car started off."
"Right," Burris said.
"But on the West Side Highway, he did see a driver," Malone said. He thought for a minute. "It could happen. The start happened so fast he could have been confused, or something."
"There's another explanation," Burris said.
"Sure," Malone said cheerfully. "We're all crazy. The whole world is crazy."
* * * * *
"Not that one," Burris said. "I'll tell you when I finish with this thing about the car itself. There isn't much description of whoever or whatever was driving that car on the West Side Highway, by the way. In case you were thinking of asking."
Malone, who hadn't been thinking of asking anything, tried to look clever. Burris regarded him owlishly for a second, and then went on:
"The car was hitting it up at about a hundred and ten by this time, and accelerating all the time. But the souped-up squad car was coming on fast, too, and it was quite a chase. Luckily, there weren't many cars on the road. Somebody could have been killed, Malone."
"Like the driver of the Cadillac," Malone ventured.
Burris looked pained. "Not exactly," he said. "Because the car hit the 125th Street exit like a bomb. It swerved right, just as though it were going to take the exit and head off somewhere, but it was going much too fast by that time. There just wasn't any way to maneuver. The Cadillac hit the embankment, flipped over the edge, and smashed. It caught fire almost at once—of course the prowl car braked fast and went down the exit, after it. But there wasn't anything to do."
"That's what I said," Malone said. "The driver of the Cadillac was killed. In a fire like that—"
"Don't jump to conclusions, Malone," Burris said. "Wait. When the prowl car boys got to the scene, there was no sign of anybody in the car. Nobody at all."
"In the heat of those flames—" Malone began.
"Not enough heat, and not enough time," Burris said. "A human body couldn't have been destroyed in just a few minutes, not that completely. Some of the car's metal was melted, sure—but there would have been traces of anybody who'd been in the car. Nice, big, easily-seen traces. And there weren't any. No corpse, no remains, no nothing."
Malone let that stew in his mind for a few seconds. "But the cops said—"
"Whatever the cops said," Burris snapped, "there was nobody at all in that Cadillac when it went off the embankment."
"Now, wait a minute," Malone said. "Here's a car with a driver who appears and disappears practically at will. Sometimes he's there and sometimes he's not there. It's not possible."
"Ah," Burris said. "That's why I have another explanation."
Malone shifted his feet. Maybe there was another explanation. But, he told himself, it would have to be a good one.
"Nobody expects a car to drive itself down a highway," Burris said.
"That's right," Malone said. "That's why it's all impossible."
"So," Burris said, "it would be a natural hallucination—or illusion, anyhow—for somebody to imagine he did see a driver, when there wasn't any."
"O.K.," Malone said. "There wasn't any driver. So the car couldn't have gone anywhere. So the New York police force is lying to us. It's a good explanation, but it—"
"They aren't lying," Burris said. "Why should they? I'm thinking of something else." He stopped, his eyes bright as he leaned across the desk toward Malone.
"Do I get three guesses?" Malone said.
Burris ignored him. "Frankly," he said, "I've got a hunch that the whole thing was done with remote control. Somewhere in that car was a very cleverly concealed device that was capable of running the Cadillac from a distance."
It did sound plausible, Malone thought. "Did the prowl car boys find any traces of it when they examined the wreckage?" he said.
"Not a thing," Burris said. "But, after all, it could have been melted. The fire did destroy a lot of the Cadillac, and there's just no telling. But I'd give long odds that there must have been some kind of robot device in that car. It's the only answer, isn't it?"
"I suppose so," Malone said.
"Malone," Burris said, his voice filled with Devotion To One's Country In The Face Of Great Obstacles, "Malone, I want you to find that device!"
"In the wreck?" Malone said.
Burris sighed and leaned back. "No," he said. "Of course not. Not in the wreck. But the other red Cadillacs—some of them, anyhow—ought to have—"
"What red Cadillacs?" Malone said.
"The other ones that have been stolen. From Connecticut, mostly. One from New Jersey, out near Passaic."
"Have any of the others been moving around without drivers?" Malone said.
"Well," Burris said, "there's been no report of it. But who can tell?" He gestured with both arms. "Anything is possible, Malone."
"Sure," Malone said.
"Now," Burris said, "all of the stolen cars are red 1972 Cadillacs. There's got to be some reason for that—and I think they're covering up another car like the one that got smashed: a remote—controlled Cadillac. Or even a self-guiding, automatic, robot-controlled Cadillac."
"They?" Malone said. "Who?"
"Whoever is stealing the cars," Burris said patiently.
"Oh," Malone said. "Sure. But—"
"So get up to New York," Burris said, "keep your eyes open, and nose around. Got it?"
"I have now," Malone said.
"And when that Cadillac is found, Malone, we want to take a look at it. O.K.?"
"Yes, sir," Malone said.
Of course, there were written reports, too. Burris had handed Malone a sheaf of them—copies of the New York police reports to Burris himself—and Malone, wanting some time to look through them, had taken a train to New York instead of a plane. Besides, the new planes still made him slightly nervous, though he could ride one when he had to. If jet engines had been good enough for the last generation, he thought, they were certainly good enough for him.
But avoidance of the new planes was all the good the train trip did him. The reports contained thousands of words, none of which was either new or, apparently, significant to Malone. Burris, he considered, had given him everything necessary for the job.
Except, of course, a way to make sense out of the whole thing. He considered robot-controlled Cadillacs. What good were they? They might make it easier for the average driver, of course but that was no reason to cover up for them, hitting policemen over the head and smashing cars and driving a hundred and ten miles an hour on the West Side Highway.
All the same, it was the only explanation Malone had, and he cherished it deeply. He put the papers back in his brief case when the train pulled into Penn Station, handed his suitcases to a redcap and punched the 'cap's buttons for the waiting room. Now, he thought as he strolled slowly along behind the robot, there was an invention that made sense. And nobody had to get killed for it, or hit over the head or smashed up, had they?
So what was all this nonsense about red robot-controlled Cadillacs?
Driving these unwelcome reflections from his mind, he paused to light a cigarette. He had barely taken the first puff when a familiar voice said: "Hey, buddy—hold the light, will you?"
Malone looked up, blinked and grinned happily. "Boyd!" he said. "What are you doing here? I haven't seen you since—"
"Sure haven't," Boyd said. "I've been out west on a couple of cases. Must be a year since we worked together."
"Just about," Malone said. "But what are you doing in New York? Vacationing?"
"Not exactly," Boyd said. "The chief called it sort of a vacation, but—"
"Oh," Malone said. "You're working with me."
Boyd nodded. "The chief sent me up. When I got back from the west, he suddenly decided you might need a good assistant, so I took the plane down, and got here ahead of you."
"Great," Malone said. "But I want to warn you about the vacation—"
"Never mind," Boyd said, just a shade sadly. "I know. It isn't." He seemed deep in thought, as if he were deciding whether or not to get rid of Anne Boleyn. It was, Malone thought, an unusually apt simile. Boyd, six feet tall and weighing about two hundred and twenty-five pounds, had a large square face and a broad-beamed figure that might have made him a dead ringer for Henry VIII of England even without his Henry-like fringe of beard and his mustache. With them—thanks to the recent FBI rule that agents could wear "facial hair, at the discretion of the director or such board as he may appoint"—the resemblance to the Tudor monarch was uncanny.
But—like his famous double—Boyd didn't stay sad for long. "I thought I'd meet you at the station," he said, cheering up, "and maybe talk over old times for a while, on the way to the hotel, anyhow. So long as there wasn't anything else to do."
"Sure," Malone said. "It's good to see you again. And when did you get pulled out of the Frisco office?"
Boyd grimaced. "You know," he said, "I had a good thing going for me out there. Agent-in-Charge of the entire office. But right after that job we did together—the Queen Elizabeth affair—Burris decided I was too good a man to waste my fragrance on the desert air. Or whatever it is. So he recalled me, assigned me from the home office, and I've been on one case after another ever since."
"You're a home office agent now?" Malone said.
"I'm a Roving Reporter," Boyd said, and struck a pose. "I'm a General Trouble-shooter and a Mr. Fix-It. Just like you, Hero."
"Thanks," Malone said. "How about the local office here? Seen the boys yet?"
Boyd shook his head. "Not yet," he said. "I was waiting for you to show up. But I did manage hotel rooms with a connecting bath over at the Statler-Hilton Hotel. Nice place. You'll like it, Ken."
"I'll love it," Malone said. "Especially that connecting bath. It would have been terrible to have an unconnecting bath. Sort of distracting."
"O.K.," Boyd said. "O.K. You know what I mean." He stared down at Malone's hand. "You know you've still got your lighter on?" he added.
Malone looked down at it and shut it off. "You asked me to hold it," he said.
"I didn't mean indefinitely," Boyd said. "Anyhow, how about grabbing a cab and heading on down to the hotel to get your stuff away, before we check in at Sixty-ninth Street?"
"Good idea," Malone said. "And besides, I could do with a clean shirt. Not to mention a bath."
"Trains get worse and worse," Boyd said, absently.
* * * * *
Malone punched the redcap's buttons again, and he and Boyd followed it through the crowded station to the taxi stand. The robot piled the suitcases into the cab, and somehow Malone and Boyd found room for themselves.
"Statler-Hilton Hotel," Boyd said grandly.
The driver swung around to stare at them, blinked, and finally said: "O.K., Mac. You said it." He started with a terrific grinding of gears, drove out of the Penn Station arch and went two blocks.
"Here you are, Mac," he said, stopping the cab.
Malone stared at Boyd with a reproachful expression.
"So how was I to know?" Boyd said. "I didn't know. If I'd known it was so close, we could've walked."
"And saved half a buck," Malone said. "But don't let it bother you—this is expense account money."
"That's right," Boyd said. He beamed and tipped the driver heavily. The cab drove off and Malone hailed the doorman, who equipped them with a robot bellhop and sent them upstairs to their rooms.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Boyd and Malone were in the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on East Sixty-ninth Street. There, they picked up a lot of nice, new, shiny facts. It was unfortunate, if not particularly surprising, that the facts did not seem to make any sense.
In the first place, only red 1972 Cadillacs seemed to be involved. Anybody who owned such a car was likely to find it missing at any time; there had been a lot of thefts reported, including some that hadn't had time to get into Burris' reports. New Jersey now claimed two victims, and New York had three of its own.
And all the cars weren't turning up in New York, by any means. Some of the New York cars had turned up in New Jersey. Some had turned up in Connecticut—including one of the New Jersey cars. So far, there had been neither thefts nor discoveries from Pennsylvania, but Malone couldn't see why.
There was absolutely no pattern that he, Boyd, or anyone else could find. The list of thefts and recoveries had been fed into an electronic calculator, which had neatly regurgitated them without being in the least helpful. It had remarked that the square of seven was forty-nine, but this was traced to a defect in the mechanism.
Whoever was borrowing the red Caddies exhibited a peculiar combination of burglarious genius and what looked to Malone like outright idiocy. This was plainly impossible.
Unfortunately, it had happened.
Locking the car doors didn't do a bit of good. The thief or thieves got in without so much as scratching the lock. This, obviously, proved that the criminal was either an extremely good lock-pick or knew where to get duplicate keys.
However, the ignition was invariably shorted across.
This proved neatly that the criminal was not a very good lock-pick, and did not know where to get duplicate keys.
Query: why work so hard on the doors, and not work at all on the ignition?
That was the first place. The second place was just what had been bothering Malone all along. There didn't seem to be any purpose to the car thefts. They hadn't been sold, or used as getaway cars. True, teenage delinquents sometimes stole cars just to use them joyriding, or as some sort of prank.
But a car or two every night? How many joyrides can one gang take? Malone thought. And how long does it take to get tired of the same prank?
And why, Malone asked himself wearily for what was beginning to feel like the ten thousandth time, why only red Cadillacs?
Burris, he told himself, must have been right all along. The red Cadillacs were only a smoke screen for something else. Perhaps it was the robot car, perhaps not—but whatever it was, Burris' general answer was the only one that made any sense at all.
That should have been a comforting thought, Malone reflected. Somehow, though it wasn't.
After they'd finished with the files and personnel at Sixty-ninth Street, Malone and Boyd started downtown on what turned out to be a sort of unguided tour of the New York Police Department. They spoke to some of the eyewitnesses, and ended up in Centre Street asking a lot of reasonably useless questions in the Motor Vehicle Bureau. In general, they spent nearly six hours on the Affair of the Self-Propelled Cadillac, picking up a whole bundle of facts. Some of the facts they had already known. Some were new, but unhelpful.
Somehow, nobody felt much like going out for a night on the town. Instead, both agents climbed wearily into bed thinking morose and disillusioned thoughts.
And, after that, a week passed. It was filled with ennui.
Only one thing became clear. In spite of the almost identical modus operandi, used in all the car thefts, they were obviously the work of a gang rather than a single person. This required the assumption that there was not one insane man at work, but a crew of them, all identically unbalanced.
"But the jobs are just too scattered to be the work of one man," Malone said. "To steal a car in Connecticut and drive it to the Bronx, and then steal another car in Westfield, New Jersey fifteen minutes later takes more than talent. It takes an outright for-sure magician."
This conclusion, while interesting, was not really helpful. The fact was that Malone needed more clues—or, anyhow, more facts—before he could do anything at all. And there just weren't any new facts around. He spent the week wandering morosely from one place to another, sometimes accompanied by Thomas Boyd and sometimes all alone. Time, he knew, was ticking by at its usual rate. But there wasn't a thing he could do about it.
He did try to relax and have some fun, as Burris had suggested. But he didn't seem to be able to get his mind off the case.
Boyd, after the first little while, had no such trouble. He entered the social life of the city with a whoop of joy and disappeared from sight. That was fine for Boyd, Malone reflected, but it did leave Malone himself just a little bit at loose ends.
Not that he begrudged Boyd his fun. It was nice that one of them was enjoying himself, anyway.
It was just that Malone was beginning to get fidgety. He needed to be doing something—even if it were only taking a walk.
So he took a walk, and ended up, to his own surprise, downtown near Greenwich Village.
And then he'd been bopped on the head.
The patrol car pulled up in front of St. Vincent's Hospital and one of the cops helped Malone into the Emergency Receiving Room. He didn't feel as bad as he had a few minutes before. The motion of the car hadn't helped any, but his head seemed to be knitting a little, and his legs were a little steadier. True, he didn't feel one hundred per cent healthy, but he was beginning to think he might live, after all. And while the doctor was bandaging his head a spirit of new life began to fill the FBI agent.
He was no longer morose and undirected. He had a purpose in life, and that purpose filled him with cold determination. He was going to find the robot-operated car—or whatever it turned out to be.
The doctor, Malone noticed, was whistling "Greensleaves" under his breath as he worked. That, he supposed, was the influence of the bohemian folk singers of Greenwich Village. But he put the noise resolutely out of his mind and concentrated on the red Cadillac.
It was one thing to think about a robot car, miles away, doing something or other to somebody you'd never heard of before. That was just theoretical, a case for solution, nothing but an ordinary job.
But when the car stepped up and bopped Malone himself on the head, it became a personal matter. Now Malone had more than a job to contend with. Now he was thinking about revenge.
He told himself: No car in the world—not even a Cadillac—can get away with beaning Kenneth J. Malone!
Malone was not quite certain that he agreed with Burris' idea of a self-operating car, but at least it was something to work on. A car that could reach out, crown an investigator and then drive off humming something innocent under its breath was certainly a unique and dangerous machine within the meaning of the act. Of course, there were problems attendant on this view of things; for one thing, Malone couldn't quite see how the car could have beaned him when he was ten feet away from it. But that was, he told himself uncomfortably, a minor point. He could deal with it when he felt a little better.
The important thing was the car itself. Malone jerked a little under the doctors calm hands, and swore subvocally.
"Hold still," the doctor said. "Don't go wiggling your head around that way. Just wait quietly until the demijel sets."
Obediently, Malone froze. There was a crick in his neck, but he decided he could stand it. "My head still hurts," he said accusingly.
"Sure it still hurts," the doctor agreed.
"What did you expect?" the doctor said. "Even an FBI agent isn't immune to blackjacks, you know." He resumed his work on Malone's skull.
"Blackjacks?" Malone said. "What blackjacks?"
"The ones that hit you," the doctor said. "Or the one, anyhow."
Malone blinked. Somehow, though he could manage a fuzzy picture of a car reaching out to hit him, the introduction of a blackjack into this imaginative effort confused things a little. But he resolutely ignored it.
"The bruise is just the right size and shape," the doctor said. "And that cut on your head comes from the seams on the leather casing."
"You're sure?" Malone said doubtfully. It did seem as if a car had a lot more dangerous weapons around, without resorting to blackjacks. If it had really wanted to damage him, why hadn't it hit him with the engine block?
"I'm sure," the doctor said. "I've worked in Emergency in this hospital long enough to recognize a blackjack wound."
That was a disturbing idea, in a way. It gave a new color to Malone's reflection on Greenwich Villagers. Maybe things had changed since he'd heard about them. Maybe the blackjack had supplanted the guitar. But that wasn't the important thing.
The fact that it had been a blackjack that had hit him was important. It was vital, as a matter of fact. Malone knew that perfectly well. It was a key fact in the case he was investigating.
The only trouble was that he didn't see what, if anything, it meant.
The doctor stepped back and regarded Malone's head with something like pride. "There," he said. "You'll be all right now."
"When?" Malone said.
"You're not badly hurt," the doctor said reprovingly. "You've got a slight concussion, that's all."
"Sure," the doctor said. "But it isn't serious. Just take these pills—one every two hours until they're gone—and you'll be rid of any effects within twenty-four hours." He went to a cabinet, fiddled around for a minute and came back with a small bottle containing six orange pills. They looked very large and threatening.
"Fine," Malone said doubtfully.
"You'll be all right," the doctor said, giving Malone a cheerful, confident grin. "Nothing at all to worry about." He loaded a hypojet and blasted something through the skin of Malone's upper arm. Malone swallowed hard. He knew perfectly well that he hadn't felt a thing, but he couldn't quite make himself believe it.
"That'll take care of you for tonight," the doctor said. "Get some sleep and start in on the pills when you wake up, O.K.?"
"O.K.," Malone said. It was going to make waking up something less than a pleasure, but he wanted to get well, didn't he?
Of course he did. If that Cadillac thought it was going to beat him....
"You can stand up now," the doctor said.
"O.K.," Malone said, trying it. "Thanks, doctor. I—"
* * * * *
There was a knock at the door. The doctor jerked his head around.
"Who's that?" he said.
"Me," a bass voice said, unhelpfully.
The Emergency Room door opened a crack and a face peered in. It took Malone a second to recognize Bill, the waffle-faced cop who had picked him up next to the lamp post three years or so before. "Long time no see," Malone said at random.
"What?" Bill said, and opened the door wider. He came in and closed it behind him. "It's O.K., Doc," he said to the attendant. "I'm a cop."
"Been hurt?" the doctor said.
Bill shook his head. "Not recently," he said. "I came to see this guy." He looked at Malone. "They told me you were still here," he said.
"Who's they?" Malone said.
"Outside," Bill said. "The attendants out there. They said you were still getting stitched up."
"And quite right, too," Malone said solemnly.
"Oh," Bill said. "Sure." He fished in his pockets. "You dropped your notebook, though, and I came to give it back to you." He located the object he was hunting for and brought it out with the triumphant gesture of a man displaying the head of a dragon he has slain. "Here," he said, waving the book.
"Notebook?" Malone said. He stared at it. It was a small looseleaf book bound in cheap black plastic.
"We found it in the gutter," Bill said.
Malone took a tentative step forward and managed not to fall. He stepped back again and looked at Bill scornfully. "I wasn't even in the gutter," he said. "There are limits."
"Sure," Bill said. "But the notebook was, so I brought it along to you. I thought you might need it or something." He handed it over to Malone with a flourish.
It wasn't Malone's notebook. In the first place, he had never owned a notebook that looked anything like that, and in the second place he hadn't had any notebooks on him when he went for his walk. Mine not to question why, Malone told himself with a shrug, and flipped the book open.
At once he knew why the cop had mistaken it for his.
There, right on the first page, was a carefully detailed drawing of a 1972 Cadillac. It had been painstakingly colored in with a red pencil.
Malone stared at it for a second, and then went on to page two. This page carried a list of names running down the left margin.
Alvarez la B.
Juan de los S.
Ray del E._
That made sense, of a kind. It was a list of names. Whose names they were, Malone didn't know; but at least he could see the list and understand it. What puzzled him were the decorations.
Following each name was a queer-looking squiggle. Each was slightly different, and each bore some resemblance to a stick-figure, a geometrical figure or just a childish scrawl. The whole parade reminded Malone of pictures he had seen of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
But the names didn't look Egyptian, and, anyhow, nobody used hieroglyphics any more—did they?
Malone found himself thinking: Now what does that mean? He looked across at the facing page.
It contained a set of figures, all marked off in dollars and cents and all added up neatly. One of the additions ended with the eye-popping sum of $52,710.09, and Malone found that the sum made him slightly nervous. This was high-powered figuring.
* * * * *
On to page three, he told himself. Drawings again, both on that page and on the one facing it. Malone recognized an outboard motor, a store-front, a suit of clothing hanging neatly on a hanger, a motor scooter, a shotgun and an IBM Electrotyper. Whoever had done the work was a reasonably accurate artist, if untrained; the various items were easily recognizable and Malone could see a great deal of detail.
That, of course, was fine. Only it made no more sense than the rest of the notebook.
Malone riffled through a few more pages, trying to make sense of the contents. One page seemed to be a shopping list, with nothing more revealing on it than bread, bacon, eggs (1/2 doz.), peaches (frz.), cigs., & ltr., fluid.
There was another list, farther on. This one said: Hist. 2, Eng. 4, Math. 3, Span. 2. What for Elec.?
That cast the first glow of light. Whoever owned the notebook was a student. Or a teacher, Malone thought; then, looking back at the handwriting, he decided that the owner of the notebook had to be in high school, certainly no farther along.
He went on flipping pages. One of them said, in large black capitals: HE'S BLUFFING!
A note passed in class? There was not any way of making sure.
Malone thought about the hypothetical student for a minute. Then something in the riffling pages caught his eye.
There were two names on the page he'd stopped at.
The first was: Lt. Peter Lynch, NYPD. It was followed by two little squiggles.
The second was: Mr. Kenneth J. Malone, FBI.
There were no squiggles after his own name, and Malone felt oddly thankful for that, without knowing exactly why. But what did the names mean? And who had—
"Uh ... Mr. Malone—" Bill said tentatively. "That is your notebook, isn't it?"
"Oh," Malone said. He looked up at the cop and put on his most ingratiating smile. "Sure," he said. "It's mine. Sure it is. Just checking to see if I'd lost any pages. Not good. Losing pages out of a notebook. Never. Have to check, you know. Procedure. Very secret."
"Sure," Bill said uncertainly.
Malone took a deep breath. "Thought I'd lost the notebook," he said. "I appreciate your returning it."
"Oh," Bill said, "that's O.K., Mr. Malone. Glad to do it."
"You don't know what this means to me," Malone said truthfully.
"No trouble at all," Bill said. "Any time." He gave Malone a big smile and turned back to the door. "But I got to get back to my beat," he said. "Listen, I'll see you. And if I can be any help—"
"Sure," Malone said. "I'll let you know. And thanks again."
"Welcome," Bill said, and opened the door. He strode out with the air of a man who has just been decorated with the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Malone tried a few more steps and discovered that he could walk without falling down. He thanked the doctor again.
"Perfectly all right," the doctor said. "Nothing to it. Why, you ought to see some of the cases we get here. There was a guy here the other night with both his legs all mashed up by a—"
"I'll bet," Malone said hurriedly. "Well, I've got to be on my way. Just send the bill to FBI Headquarters on Sixty-ninth Street." He closed the door on the doctor's enthusiastic: "Yes, sir!" and went on down the hallway and out into the street. At Seventh Avenue and Greenwich Avenue he flagged a cab.
What a place to be, Malone thought as the cab drove away. Where but in Greenwich Village did avenues intersect each other without so much as a by-your-leave?
"Statler-Hilton Hotel," he said, giving the whole thing up as a bad job. He put his hat on his head and adjusted it painfully to the proper angle.
And that, he thought, made another little problem. The car had not only hit him on the head; it had removed his hat before doing so, and then replaced it. It had only fallen off when he'd started to get up against the lamp post.
A nice quiet vacation, Malone thought bitterly.
He fumed in silence all the way to the hotel, through the lobby, up in the elevator and to the door of his room. Then he remembered the notebook.
That was important evidence. He decided to tell Boyd about it right away.
He went into the bathroom and tapped gently on the door to Boyd's connecting room. The door swung open.
Boyd, apparently, was still out painting the town—Malone considered the word red and dropped the whole phrase with a sigh. At any rate, his partner was nowhere in the room. He went back into his own room, closed the door and got wearily ready for bed.
* * * * *
Dawn came, and then daylight, and then a lot more daylight. It was streaming in through the windows with careless abandon, filling the room with a lot of bright sunshine and the muggy heat of the city. From the street below, the cheerful noises of traffic and pedestrians floated up and filled Malone's ears.
He turned over in bed, and tried to go back to sleep.
But sleep wouldn't come. After a long time he gave up, and swung himself over the edge of the bed. Standing up was a delicate job, but he managed it, feeling rather proud of himself in a dim, semiconscious sort of way.
He went into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and then opened the connecting door to Boyd's room softly.
Boyd was home. He lay in a great tangle of bedclothes, snoring hideously and making little motions with his hands and arms like a beached whale. Malone padded over to him and dug him fiercely in the ribs.
"Come on," he said. "Wake up, Tommy-boy."
Boyd's eyes did not open. In a voice as hollow as a zombie's, he said: "My head. Hurts."
"Can't feel any worse than mine," Malone said cheerily. This, he reflected, was not quite true. Considering everything it had been through recently, his head felt remarkably like its old, carefree self. "You'll feel better once you're awake."
"No, I won't," Boyd said simply. He jammed his head under a pillow and began to snore again. It was an awesome sound, like a man strangling to death in chicken-fat. Malone sighed and poked at random among the bedclothes.
Boyd swore distantly, and Malone poked him again.
"The sun is up," Malone said, "and all the little pedestrians are chirping. It is time to rise."
Boyd said: "Gah," and withdrew his head from the pillow. Gently, as if he were afraid he were going to fall apart, he rose to a sitting position. When he had arrived at it, he opened his eyes.
"Now," Malone said, "isn't that better?"
Boyd closed his eyes again. "No," he said.
"Come on," Malone said. "We've got to be up and moving."
"I'm up," Boyd said. His eyes flickered open. "But I can't move," he added. "We had quite a time last night."
"We?" Malone said.
"Me, and a couple of girls, and another guy. Just people I met." Boyd started to stand up and thought better of it. "Just having a good time, that's all."
Malone thought of reading his partner a lecture on the Evils of Drink, and decided against it. Boyd might remember it, and use it against him some time. Then he realized what had to be done. He went back into his own room, dialed for room service, and ordered a couple of pots of strong black coffee.
By the time a good deal of that was awash in Boyd's intestinal system, he was almost capable of rational, connected conversation. He filled himself to the eyebrows with aspirins and other remedies, and actually succeeded in getting dressed. He seemed quite proud of this feat.
"O.K.," Malone said. "Now we have to go downstairs."
"You mean outside?" Boyd said. "Into all that noise?" He winced.
"Bite the bullet," Malone said cheerfully. "Keep a stiff upper lip."
"Nonsense," Boyd said, hunting for his coat with a doleful air. "Have you ever seen anybody with a loose upper lip?"
Malone, busy with his own coat, didn't bother with a reply. He managed somehow to get Boyd downstairs and bundled into a cab. They headed for Sixty-ninth Street.
* * * * *
There, he made several phone calls. The first, of course, was to Burris in Washington. After that he got the New York Police Commissioner on the wire and, finding that he needed still more authority, he called the Mayor and then, by long-distance to Albany, the Governor.
But by noon he had everything straightened out. He had a plan fully worked out in his mind, and he had the authority to go ahead with it. Now, he could make his final call.
"They're completely trustworthy," Burris had told him. "Not only that, but they have a clearance for this kind of special work—we've needed them before."
"Good," Malone said.
"Not only that," Burris told him. "They're good men. Maybe among the best in their field."
So Malone made his last call, to the firm of Leibowitz & Hardin, Electronic Engineers.
Then he beckoned to Boyd.
"I don't see what I've been sitting around here for, all this time," his partner complained. "I could have been home sleeping until you needed me. And—"
"I need you now," Malone said. "I want you to take over part of this plan."
Boyd nodded sourly. "Oh, all right," he said.
"Here's what I want," Malone said. "Every red 1972 Cadillac in the area is to be picked up for inspection. I don't care why—make up a reason. A general traffic check. Anything you please. You can work that end of it out with the Commissioner; he knows about it and he's willing to go along."
"Great," Boyd said. "Do you have any idea how many cars there are in a city this size?"
"Well, we don't want all of them," Malone said. "Only red 1972 Cadillacs."
"It's still a lot," Boyd said.
"If there were only three," Malone said, "we wouldn't have any problems."
"And wouldn't that be nice?" Boyd said.
"Sure," Malone said, "but it isn't true. Anyhow: I want every one of those cars checked for any oddity, no matter how small. If there's an inch-long scratch on one fender, I want to know about it. If you've got to take the cars apart, then do that."
"Me?" Boyd said. "All by myself?"
"No," Malone said. "Use your head. There'll be a team working with you. Let me explain it. Every nut, every bolt, every inch of those cars has to be examined thoroughly—got it?"
"I've got it," Boyd said, "but I don't like it. After all, Malone—"
Malone ignored him. "The Governor of New York promised his co-operation," he said, "and he said he'd get in touch with the Governors of New Jersey and Connecticut and get co-operation from that angle. So we'll have state and local police working with us."
"That's a help," Boyd said. "We'll make such a happy team of workmen. Singing as we pull the cars apart through the long day and night and ... listen, Malone, when do you want reports on this?"
"Yesterday," Malone said.
Boyd's eyebrows raised, then lowered. "Great," he said dully.
"I don't care how you get the cars," Malone said. "If you've got to, condemn 'em. But get every last one of them. And bring them over to Leibowitz & Hardin for a complete checkup. I'll give you the address."
"Thanks," Boyd said.
"Not at all," Malone said. "Glad to be of help. And don't worry; I'll have other work to do." He paused, and then went on: "I talked to Dr. Isaac Leibowitz, he's the head of the firm out there—and he says...."
"Wait a minute," Boyd said.
"You mean I don't have to take the cars apart myself? You mean this Leibowitz & Hardin, or whatever it is, will do it for me?"
"Of course," Malone said wearily. "You re not an auto technician or an electronics man. You're an agent of the FBI."
"I was beginning to wonder," Boyd said. "After all."
"Anyhow," Malone said doggedly, "I talked to Leibowitz, and he says he can give a car a complete check in about six hours, normally."
"Six hours?" Boyd stared. "That's going to take forever," he said.
"Well, he can set up a kind of assembly-line process and turn out a car every fifteen minutes. Any better?"
"Good," Malone said. "There can't be so many 1972 red Cadillacs in the area that we can't get through them all at that speed." He thought a minute and then added: "By the way, you might check with the Cadillac dealers around town, and find out just how many there are, sold to people living in the area."
"And while I'm doing all that," Boyd said, "what are you going to be doing?"
Malone looked at him and sighed. "I'll worry about that," he said. "Just get started."
"Suppose Leibowitz can't find anything?" Boyd said.
"If Leibowitz can't find it, it's not there," Malone said. "He can find electronic devices anywhere in any car made, he says—even if they're printed circuits hidden under the paint job."
"Pretty good," Boyd said. "But suppose he doesn't?"
"Then they aren't there," Malone said, "and we'll have to think of something else." He considered that. It sounded fine. Only he wished he knew what else there was to think of.
Well, that was just pessimism. Leibowitz would find something, and the case would be over, and he could go back to Washington and rest. In August he was going to have his vacation, anyway, and August wasn't very far away.
Malone put a smile carefully on his face and told Boyd: "Get going." He slammed his hat on his head.
Wincing, he took it off and replaced it gently. The bottle of pills was still in his pocket, but he wasn't due for another one just yet.
He had time to go over to the precinct station in the West Eighties first.
He headed outside to get another taxi.
The door didn't say anything at all except "Lt. P. Lynch." Malone looked at it for a couple of seconds. He'd asked the Desk Sergeant for Lynch, shown his credentials and been directed up a set of stairs and around a hall. But he still didn't know what Lynch did, who he was, or what his name was doing in the little black notebook.
Well, he told himself, there was only one way to find out.
He opened the door.
The room was small and dark. It had a single desk in it, and three chairs, and a hatrack. There wasn't any coat or hat on the hatrack, and there was nobody in the chairs. In a fourth chair, behind the desk, a huskily-built man sat. He had steel-gray hair, a hard jaw and, Malone noticed with surprise, a faint twinkle in his eye.
"Lieutenant Lynch?" Malone said.
"Right," Lynch said. "What's the trouble?"
"I'm Kenneth J. Malone," Malone said. "FBI." He reached for his wallet and found it. He flipped it open for Lynch, who stared at it for what seemed a long, long time and then burst into laughter.
"What's so funny?" Malone asked.
Lynch laughed some more.
"Oh, come on," Malone said bitterly. "After all, there's no reason to treat an FBI agent like some kind of a—"
"FBI agent?" Lynch said. "Listen, buster, this is the funniest gag I've seen since I came on the Force. Who told you to pull it? Jablonski downstairs? Or one of the boys on the beat? I know those beat patrolmen, always on the lookout for a new joke. But this tops 'em all. This is the—"
"You're a disgrace to the Irish," Malone said tartly.
"A what?" Lynch said. "I'm not Irish."
"You talk like an Irishman," Malone said.
"I know it," Lynch said, and shrugged. "Around some precincts, you sort of pick it up. When all the other cops are ... hey, listen. How'd we get to talking about me?"
"I said you were a disgrace to the Irish," Malone said.
"I was a—what?"
"Disgrace." Malone looked carefully at Lynch. In a fight, he considered, he might get in a lucky punch that would kill Malone. Otherwise, Malone didn't have a thing to worry about except a few months of hospitalization.
Lynch looked as if he were about to get mad, and then he looked down at Malone's wallet again and started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Malone demanded.
He grabbed the wallet and turned it toward him. At once, of course, he realized what had happened. He had not flipped it open to his badge at all. He'd flipped it open, instead, to a card in the card-case:
KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS THAT Sir Kenneth Malone, Knight, is hereby formally installed with the title of KNIGHT OF THE BATH and this card shall signify his right to that title and his high and respected position as officer in and of THE QUEENS OWN F.B.I.
In a very small voice, Malone said: "There's been a terrible mistake."
"Mistake?" Lynch said.
Malone flipped the wallet open to his FBI shield. Lynch gave it a good long examination, peering at it from every angle and holding it up to the light two or three times. He even wet his thumb and rubbed at the badge with it. At last he looked up.
"I guess you are the FBI," he said. "But what was with the gag?"
"It wasn't a gag," Malone said. "It's just—" He thought of the little old lady in Yucca Flats, the little old lady who had been the prime mover in the last case he and Boyd had worked on together. Without the little old lady, the case might never have been solved—she was an authentic telepath, about the best that had ever been found.
But with her, Boyd and Malone had had enough troubles. Besides being a telepath, she was quite thoroughly insane. She had one fixed delusion: she believed she was Queen Elizabeth I.
She was still at Yucca Flats, along with the other telepaths Malone's investigation had turned up. And she still believed, quite calmly, that she was Good Queen Bess. Malone had been knighted by her during the course of the investigation. This new honor had come to him through the mail; apparently she had decided to ennoble some of her friends still further.
Malone made a note mentally to ask Boyd if he'd received one. After all, there couldn't be too many Knights of the Bath. There was no sense in letting everybody in.
Then he realized that he was beginning to believe everything again. There had been times, when he'd been working with the little old lady, when he had been firmly convinced that he was, in fact, the swaggering, ruthless swordsman, Sir Kenneth Malone. And even now....
* * * * *
"Well?" Lynch said.
"It's too long a story," Malone said. "And besides, it's not what I came here about."
Lynch shrugged again. "O.K.," he said. "Tell it your way."
"First," Malone said, "what's your job?"
"Me? Precinct Lieutenant."
"Of this precinct?"
Lynch stared. "What else?" he said.
"Who knows?" Malone said. He found the black notebook and passed it across to Lynch. "I'm on this red Cadillac business, you know," he said by way of introduction.
"I've been hearing about it," Lynch said. He picked up the notebook without opening it and held it like a ticking bomb. "And I mean hearing about it," he said. "We haven't had any trouble at all in this precinct."
"I know," Malone said. "I've read the reports."
"Listen, not a single red Cadillac has been stolen from here, or been reported found here. We run a tight precinct here, and let me tell you—"
"I'm sure you do a fine job," Malone said hastily. "But I want you to look at the notebook." He opened it to the page with Lynch's name on it.
Lynch opened his mouth, closed it and then took the notebook. He stared at the page for a few seconds. "What's this?" he said at last. "Another gag?"
"No gag, lieutenant," Malone said.
"It's your name and mine," Lynch said. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Malone shrugged. "Search me," he said. "The notebook was found only a couple of feet away from another car theft, last night." That was the simplest way he could think of to put it. "So I asked the Commissioner who Peter Lynch was, and he told me it was you."
"And it is," Lynch said, staring at the notebook. He seemed to be expecting it to rise and strike him.
Malone said: "Have you got any idea who'd be writing about you and me?"
Lynch shook his head. "If I had any ideas I'd feel a lot better," he said. He wet his finger and turned the notebook pages carefully. When he saw the list of names on the second page he stopped again, and stared. This time he whistled under his breath.
Very cautiously, Malone said: "Something?"
"I'll be damned," Lynch said feelingly.
"What's wrong?" Malone said.
The police lieutenant looked up. "I don't know if it's wrong or what," he said. "It gives me sort of the willies. I know every one of these kids."
Malone took out a pill and swallowed it in a hurry. He felt exactly as if he had been given another concussion, absolutely free and without any obligation. His mouth opened but nothing came out for a long time. At last he managed to say: "Kids?"
"That's right," Lynch said. "What did you think?"
Malone shrugged helplessly.
"Every single one of them," Lynch said. "Right from around here."
There was a little silence.
"Who are they?" Malone said carefully.
"They're some kind of kid gang, social club, something like that," Lynch said. "They call themselves the Silent Spooks."
"The what?" It seemed to Malone that the name was just a little fancy, even for a kid gang.
"The Silent Spooks," Lynch said. "I can't help it. But here they are: Ramon Otravez, Mario Grito, Silvo Envoz, Felipe Altapor, Alvarez la Barba, Juan de los Santos and Ray del Este. Right down the line." He looked up from the notebook with a blank expression on his face. "There's only one name missing, as a matter of fact. Funny it isn't there."
Malone tried to look as if he knew what was going on. "Oh?" he said.
"Yeah," Lynch said. "The Fueyo kid—Miguel Fueyo. Everybody calls him Mike."
While interesting, this did not provide much food for thought. "Why should his name be on it especially?" Malone said.
"Because he's the leader of the gang," Lynch said. "The boss. The big shot." He pointed to the list of names. "Except for him, that's all of them—the Silent Spooks."
Malone considered the missing Mike Fueyo.
He knew perfectly well, now, why Fueyo's name was not in the book.
Who puts his own name on a list?
The notebook was Fueyo's. It had to be.
* * * * *
Lynch was looking at him expectantly. Malone thought of a question and asked it. "They know you?" he said.
"Sure they do," Lynch said. "They all know me. But do they know you?"
Malone thought. "They could have heard of me," he said at last, trying to be as modest as possible.
"I guess," Lynch said grudgingly.
"How old are they?" Malone said.
"Fourteen to seventeen," Lynch said. "Somewhere in there. You know how these kid things run."
"The Silent Spooks," Malone said meditatively. It was a nice name, in a way; you just had to get used to it for a while. When he had been a kid, he'd belonged to a group that called itself the East Division Street Kids. There just wasn't much romance in a name like that. Now, the Silent Spooks—
With a wrench, he brought his mind back to the subject at hand. "Do they get into much trouble?" he said.
"Well, no," Lynch said reluctantly. "As a matter of fact, they don't. For a bunch like that, around here, they're pretty well-behaved, as far as that goes."
"What do you mean?" Malone said.
Lynch's face took on a delicately unconcerned appearance. "I don't know," he said. "They just don't get into neighborhood trouble. Maybe a scrap now and then—nothing big, though. Or maybe one of them cuts a class at school or argues with his teacher. But there's nothing unusual, and little of anything." He frowned.
Malone said: "Something's got to be wrong. What is it?"
"Well," Lynch said, "they do seem to have a lot of money to spend."
Malone sat down in a chair across the desk, and leaned eagerly toward Lynch. "Money?" he said.
"Money," Lynch said. "New clothes. Cigarettes. Malone, three of them are even supporting their parents. Old Jose Otravez—Ramon's old man—quit his job a couple of months ago, and hasn't worked since. Spends all his time in bars, and never runs out of dough—and don't tell me you can do that on Unemployment Insurance. Or Social Security payments."
"O.K.," Malone said. "I won't tell you."
"And there's others. All the others, in fact. Mike Fueyo's sister—dresses fit to kill, like a high-fashion model. And the Grito kid—"
"Wait a minute," Malone said. "From what you tell me, this isn't just a little extra money. These kids must be rolling in the stuff. Up to their ears in dough."
"Listen," Lynch said sadly. "Those kids spend more than I do. They do better than that—they spend more than I earn." He looked remotely sorry for himself, but not for long. "Every one of those kids spends like a drunken sailor, tossing his money away on all sorts of things."
"Like an expense account," Malone said idly. Lynch looked up. "Sorry," Malone said. "I was thinking about something else."
"I'll bet you were," Lynch said with unconcealed envy.
"No," Malone said. "Really. Listen, I'll check with Internal Revenue on that money. But have you got a list of the kids' addresses?"
"I can get one," Lynch said, and went to the door.
It closed behind him. Malone sat waiting alone for a few minutes, and then Lynch came back. "List'll be here in a minute," he said. He sat down behind his desk and reached for the notebook again. When he turned to the third page his expression changed to one of surprise.
"Be damned," said. "There does seem to be a connection, doesn't there?" He held up the picture of the red Cadillac for Malone to see.
"Sure does," Malone said. "That's why I want those addresses. If there is a connection, I sure want to find out about it."
Ten minutes later, Malone was walking out of the precinct station with the list of addresses in his pocket. He was heading for his Great Adventure, but he didn't know it. All he was thinking about was the red Cadillacs, and the eight teen-agers. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this if it takes me all summer," he said, muttering to himself.
"That's the spirit," he told himself. "Never say die."
Then, realizing he had just said it, he frowned. Perhaps it hadn't really counted. But, then again....
* * * * *
He was on his way down the steps when he hit the girl.
The mutual collision was not catastrophic. On the other hand, it was not exactly minor. It fell somewhere between the two, as an unclassifiable phenomenon of undoubted potency. Malone said: "Oog," with some fervor as the girl collided with his chest and rebounded like a handball striking a wall. Something was happening to her, but Malone had no time to spare to notice just what. He was falling through space, touching a concrete step once in a while, but not long enough to make any real acquaintance with it. It seemed to take him a long time to touch bottom, and when he had, he wondered if touch was quite the word.
Bottom certainly was. He had fallen backward and landed directly on his glutei maximi, obeying the law regarding equal and opposite reaction and several other laws involving falling bodies.
His first thought was that he was now neatly balanced. His tail had received the same treatment as his head. He wondered if a person could get concussion of the tail bones, and had reached no definite conclusion when, unexpectedly, his eyes focused again.
He was looking at a girl. That was all he saw at first. She had apparently fallen just as he had, bounced once and sat down rather hard. She was now lying flat on her back, making a sound like "rrr" between her teeth.
Malone discovered that he was sitting undignifiedly on the steps. He opened his mouth to say something objectionable, took another look at the girl, and shut it with a snap. This was no ordinary girl.
He smiled at her. She shook her head and sat up, still going "rrr." Then she stopped and said, instead: "What do you think—"
"I'm sorry," Malone said in what he hoped was a charming, debonair and apologetic voice. It was quite a lot to get into one voice, but he tried his very hardest. "I just didn't see—"
"You didn't?" the girl said. "If you didn't, you must be completely blind."
Malone noticed with hope that there was no anger in her voice. The last thing in the world he wanted was to get this girl angry at him.
"Oh, no," Malone said. "I'm not blind. Not blind at all." He smiled at her and stood up. His face was beginning to get a little tired, but he retained the smile as he went over to her, extended a hand and pulled her to her feet.
She was something special. Her hair was long and dark, and fell in soft waves to her shoulders. The shoulders were something all by themselves, but Malone postponed consideration of them for a minute to take a look at her face.
It was heart-shaped and rather thin. She had large brown liquid eyes that could look, Malone imagined, appealing, loving, worshiping—or, like a minute ago, downright furious. Below these features, she had a straight lovely nose and a pair of lips which Malone immediately classified as Kissable.
Her figure, including the shoulders, was on the slim side, but she was very definitely all there. Malone could not think of any parts the Creator had left out, and if there were any he didn't want to hear about them. In an instant, Malone knew that he had met the only great love of his life.
His mind was whirling and for a second he didn't know what to do. And then he remembered the Queen's Own FBI. Phrases flowered forth in his mind as if it were a garden packed corner to corner with the most exquisite varieties of blooming idiots.
"My deepest apologies, my dear," Sir Kenneth Malone said gallantly, even managing a small display bow for the occasion. "May I be of any assistance?"
The girl smiled up at him as she came to her feet. The smile was radiant and beautiful and almost loving. Malone felt as if he couldn't stand it. Tingles of the most wonderful kind ran through him, reached his toes and then ran back the other way, meeting a whole new set going forward.
"You're very nice," the girl said, and the tingles became positive waves of sensation. "Actually, it was all my fault. Please don't apologize, Mr.—" She paused, expectantly.
"Me?" Malone said, his gallantry deserting him for the second. But it returned full force before he expected it. "I'm Malone," he said. "Kenneth Joseph Malone." He had always liked the middle name he had inherited from his father, but he never had much opportunity to use it. He made the most of it now, rolling it out with all sorts of subsidiary flourishes. As a matter of fact, he barely restrained himself from putting a "Sir" before his name.
The girl's brown eyes widened just a trifle. Malone felt as if he could have fallen into them and drowned. "Oh, my," she said. "You must be a detective." And then, like the merest afterthought: "My name's Dorothy."
Dorothy. It was a beautiful name. It made Malone feel all choked up, inside. He blinked at the girl and tried to look manly and wonderful. It was an effort, but he nearly carried it off.
* * * * *
After a second or two he realized that she had asked him a question. He didn't want to disillusion her in any way, and, after all, an FBI agent was a kind of detective, but he thought it was only fair that she should know the whole truth about him right from the start.
"Not exactly a detective," he said.
"Not exactly?" she said, looking puzzled. She looked positively glorious when puzzled, Malone decided at once.
"That is," he said carefully, "I do detect, but not for the city of New York."
"Oh," she said. "A private eye. Is that right?"
"Well," Malone said, "no."
She looked even more puzzled. Malone hastened to explain before he got to the point where conversation was impossible.
"Federal Bureau of Investigation," he said. After a second he thought of a clarification and added: "FBI."
"Oh," the girl said. "Oh."
"But you can call me Ken," Malone said.
"All right—Ken," she said. "And you call me Dorothy."
"Sure," he said. He tried it out. "Dorothy." It felt swell.
"Well—" she said after a second.
"Oh," Malone said. "Were you looking for a detective? Because if I can help in any way—"
"Not exactly," Dorothy said. "Just a little routine business. I'll go on in and—"
Malone suddenly found himself talking without having any idea why he'd started, or what he was going to say. At first he said: "Urr," as if the machine were warming up, and this stopped Dorothy and caused her to give him a rather sharp, baffled stare. Then he found some words and used them hurriedly, before they got away.
"Dorothy," he said, "would you like to take in a show this evening? I think I can get tickets to ... well, I guess I could get tickets to almost anything, if I really tried." His expression attempted to leave no doubt that he would really try.
Dorothy appeared to consider for a moment. "Well," she said at last, "how about 'The Hot Seat'?"
Malone felt just the way he had several years before when he had bluffed his way into a gigantic pot during a Washington poker game, with only a pair of fours to work with. At the last moment, his bluff had been called.
It had, he realized, been called again. "The Hot Seat" had set some sort of record, not only for Broadway longevity, but for audience frenzy. Getting tickets for it was about the same kind of proposition as buying grass on the Moon, and getting them with absolutely no prior notice would require all the wire-pulling Malone could manage. He thought about "The Hot Seat" and wished Dorothy had picked something easy, like arranging for her to meet the Senate.
But he swallowed bravely. "I'll do my best," he said. "Got any second choice?"
"Sure," she said, and laughed. "Pick any one you want. I haven't seen them all, and the ones I have seen are worth seeing again."
"Oh," Malone said.
"I really didn't expect you to get tickets for 'The Hot Seat,'" she said.
"Nothing," Malone said, "is impossible." He grinned at her. "Meanwhile, where can I pick you up? Your home?"
Dorothy frowned and shook her head. "No," she said. "You see, I'm living with an aunt, and I ... well, never mind." She thought for a minute. "I know," she said. "Topp's."
"What?" Malone said.
"Topp's," Dorothy said. "On Forty-second Street, just East of Broadway? It's a restaurant."
"I don't exactly know where it is," Malone said, "but if it's there, I'll find it." He looked gallant and determined. "We can get something to eat there before the show—whatever the show turns out to be."
"Fine," Dorothy said.
"How about making it at six?" Malone said.
She nodded. "Six it is," she said. "Now bye-bye." She touched her forefinger to her lips, and brushed Malone's cheek with the kissed finger.
By the time the new set of tingles had begun to evaporate, she had gone into the police station. Malone heaved a great sigh of passion, and held down a strong impulse to follow her and protect her. He wasn't quite sure what he was going to protect her from, but he felt certain that that would come to him when the time arrived.
Nevertheless, he had work to do, unpleasant as the idea had suddenly begun to seem. He pulled the list of addresses out of his pocket and looked at the first one.
Mike was the leader of the Silent Spooks, according to Lieutenant Lynch. Logically, therefore, he would be the first one to talk to. Malone tried to think of some good questions, but the best one he could come up with was: "Well, what about all those red Cadillacs?"
Somehow he doubted that this would provide a satisfactory reply. He checked the address again and started firmly down the street, trying to think of some better questions along the way.
The building was just off Amsterdam, in the Eighties. It had been a shining new development once, but it was beginning to slide downhill now. The metal on the windowframes was beginning to look worn, and the brickwork hadn't been cleaned in a long time. Where chain fences had once protected lonely blades of grass, children, mothers and baby carriages held sway now, and the grass was gone. Instead, the building was pretty well surrounded by a moat of sick-looking brown dirt.
Malone went into the first building and checked the name against the mailboxes there, trying to ignore the combined smells of sour milk, red pepper and here and there a whiff of unwashed humanity.
It was on the tenth floor: Fueyo, J. That, he supposed, would be Mike's widowed mother; Lynch had told him that much about the boy and his family. He found the elevator, which was covered with scribbles ranging from JANEY LOVES MIGUEL to startling obscenities, and rode it upstairs.
Apartment 1004 looked like every other apartment in the building, at least from the outside. Malone pressed the button and waited a second to hear the faint buzzing at the other side of the door. After a minute, he pressed it again.
The door swung open very suddenly and Malone stepped back.
A short, wrinkled, dark-eyed woman in a print housedress was eying him with deep suspicion. "My daughter is not home," she announced at once.
"I'm not looking for your daughter," Malone said. "I'd like to talk to Mike."
"Mike?" Her expression grew even more suspicious. "You want to talk to Mike?"
"That's right," Malone said.
"Ah," the woman said. "You one of those hoodlum friends he has. I'm right? You can talk to Mike when I am dead and have no control over him. For now, you can just—"
"Wait a minute," Malone said. He pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to show his badge, being very careful that he made the right flip this time. He didn't know exactly how this woman would react to The Queen's Own FBI, but he didn't especially want to find out.
She looked down at the badge without taking the wallet from him. "Hah," she said. "You're cop, eh?" Her eyes left the wallet and examined Malone from head to foot. It was perfectly plain that they didn't like what they saw. "Cop," she said again, as if to herself. It sounded like a curse.
Malone said: "Well, I—"
"You want to ask me stupid questions," she said. "That is what you want to do. I'm right?"
"I know nothing," she said. "Nothing of any kind." She closed her mouth and stood regarding him as if he were a particularly repulsive statue. Malone looked past her into the living room beyond the door.
It was faded, now, but it had once been bright and colorful. There was an old rug on the floor, and tables were everywhere. The one bright thing about the room was the assortment of flowers; there were flowers everywhere, in vases, in pots and even in windowboxes. There was also a lot of crockery statuary, mostly faded, chipped or worn in some way. The room looked to Malone as if its last inhabitant had died ten years before; only the flowers had been renewed. Everything else had not only the appearance of age, but the look of having been cast up as a high-water mark by the sea, which had receded and left only the tangled wreckage.
The woman cleared her throat and Malone's gaze came back to her. "I can tell you nothing," she said.
"I don't want to talk to you," Malone said again. "I want to talk to Mike."
Her eyes were very cold. "You from the police, and you want to talk to Mike. You make a joke. Only I don't think the joke is very funny."
"Joke?" Malone said. "You mean Mike's not here?"
Her gaze never wavered. "You know he is not," she said. "Ten minutes ago the policemen were taking him away to the police station. How then could he be here?"
"Ten minutes ago?" Malone blinked. Ten minutes ago he had been looking for this apartment. Probably it hadn't taken Lynch's men ten minutes to find it; they weren't strangers in New York. "He was arrested?" Malone said.
"I said so, didn't I?" the woman said. "You must be crazy or else something." Her eyes were still cold points, but Malone saw a glow of tears behind them. Mike was her son. She did not seem surprised that the police had taken him away, but she was determined to protect him.
Malone's voice was very gentle. "Why did they arrest him?" he said.
The woman shrugged, a single sharp gesture. "You ask me this?"
"I'm not a cop," Malone said. "I'm from the FBI."
"FBI?" the woman said.
"It's all right," Malone said, with all the assurance he could muster. "I only want to talk to him."
"Ah," the woman said. Tears were plain in her eyes now, glittering on the surface. "Why they take him away, I do not know. My Mike do nothing. Nothing."
"But didn't they say anything about—"
"They say?" the woman cried. "They say only they have orders from this Lieutenant Lynch. He is lieutenant at police station."
"I know," Malone said gently.
"Lieutenant Lynch wants to ask Mike questions, so police come, take him away." Her English was beginning to lose ground as tears came.
"Lynch asked for him?" Malone said. He frowned. Whatever that meant, he wanted to be there himself. And perhaps he could help the old woman in some way. Anyhow, he would try. She stared up at him Stonily. "Look, Mrs. Fueyo," he said. "I'm going down there to talk to Mike right now. And if he hasn't done anything, I'll see that he goes home to you. Right away."
Her expression changed a trifle. She did not actually soften, but Malone could feel the gratitude lurking behind her eyes as if it were afraid to come out. She nodded gravely and said nothing at all. He stepped away, and she closed the door without a sound.