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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOut Like A Light - Chapter 3
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Out Like A Light - Chapter 3 Post by :PlayersGolf Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :3125

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Out Like A Light - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

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.

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