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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOut Like A Light - Chapter 4
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Out Like A Light - Chapter 4 Post by :PlayersGolf Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :945

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Out Like A Light - Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

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.

"But you--"

"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."

"A concussion?"

"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.

_Ramon O.

Mario G.

Silvo E.

Felipe A.

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.

"What?"

"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?"

Boyd nodded.

"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.

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