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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOut Like A Light - Chapter 7
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Out Like A Light - Chapter 7 Post by :PlayersGolf Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :2111

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Out Like A Light - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

Thirty seconds passed. During that time, Malone did nothing at all. He just sat there, while a confused montage of pictures tumbled through his head. Sometimes he saw double exposures, and sometimes a couple of pictures overlapped, but it didn't seem to make any difference, because none of the pictures meant anything anyhow.

The reason for that was obvious. He was no longer sane. He had cracked up. At a crucial moment, his brain had failed him, and now people would have to come in and cart him away and put him in a straitjacket. It was perfectly obvious to Malone that he was no longer capable of dealing with everyday life. The blow on the head had probably taken final effect, and it had been more serious than the doctor had imagined.

He had always distrusted doctors anyhow.

And now he was suffering from a delayed reaction. He wasn't living in the real world any more. He had gone off to dreamland, where people disappeared when you looked at them. There was no hope for him.

It was a nice theory, and it was even comforting, in a way. There was only one thing wrong with it.

The room around him didn't look dreamlike at all. It was perfectly solid and real, and it looked just the way it had looked before Mike Fueyo had ... well, Malone amended, before whatever had happened had happened. It was a perfectly complete little room, and it had four chairs in it. Malone was sitting in one of the chairs and all the others were empty.

There was absolutely nothing else in the room.

With some regret, Malone abandoned the theory that he had gone mad. This left him with no ideas at all. Because if he hadn't become insane, then what _had happened?

After another second or two, some ideas began to filter through the daze. Perhaps he'd just blacked out for a minute and the kid had gone out the door. That was possible, wasn't it?

Sure it was. And maybe he had just not seen the kid go. His eyes had failed for a second or two. That could certainly happen, after a blow on the head. Malone tried to remember where the sight centers of the brain were. Maybe whoever had hit him had disturbed them, and he'd had a sudden blackout.

Come to think of it, that made pretty good sense. If he had blacked out, then Mike would have seen it as he went groggy, and Mike had just walked out the door. It had to be the door, of course--the windows were out of the question, since there weren't any windows. And six-inch-wide air-conditioner ducts do not provide reasonable space for an exit, not if you happen to be a human being.

That, Malone told himself, was settled--and a good thing, too. He had begun to worry about it. But now he knew just what had happened, and he felt relieved. He got up from his chair, walked over to the door and opened it.

Lieutenant Lynch nearly fell into the room. He'd obviously had his ear pressed tightly to the door and hadn't expected it to open. The other two cops stood behind him, just about filling the hallway with their broad shoulders.

"Well, well," Malone said.

Lynch recovered his balance and glared at the FBI agent. He said nothing.

"Where is he?" Malone said.

"Where is he?" Lynch repeated, and blinked. "Where's _who_?"

Malone shook his head impatiently. "Fueyo," he said.

Lynch's expression was the same as that on the faces of the other two cops: complete and utter bafflement. Malone stopped and stared. It was suddenly very obvious that the lovely theory he had worked out for Mike's disappearance wasn't true in the least. If Mike Fueyo had come out the door, then these cops would know about it. But they obviously knew nothing at all about it.

Therefore, he hadn't come out through the door.

Malone took a deep breath.

"What are you talking about?" Lynch said. "Isn't the kid in there with you? What's happened?"

There was only one thing to do and, straight-faced, Malone went ahead and did it. "Of course not," he snapped, trying to sound impatient and official. "I released him."

"You _what_?"

"Released him," Malone said. He stepped out into the hall and closed the door of the interrogation room firmly behind him. "I got all the information I needed, so I let him go."

"Thanks," Lynch said bitterly. "After all, I was the one who--"

"You called him in for questioning, didn't you, lieutenant?" Malone said.

"Yes, I did, and I--"

"Well," Malone said, "I questioned him."

There was a little silence. Then Lynch asked, in a strangled voice: "What did he say?"

"Sorry," Malone said at once. "That's classified information." He pushed his way into the corridor, trying to look as if he had fifteen other jobs to accomplish within the next hour. Being an FBI agent was going to help a little, but he still had to look good in order to really carry it off.

"But--"

"Thanks for your co-operation, lieutenant," Malone said. "You've all been very helpful." He smiled at them in what he hoped was a superior manner. "So long," he said, and started walking.

"Wait!" Lynch said. He flung open the door of the interrogation room. There was no doubt that it was empty. "Wait! Malone!"

Malone turned slowly, trying to look calm and in control of the situation. "Yes?" he said.

Lynch looked at him with puzzled, pleading eyes. "Malone, _how did you release him? We were right here. He didn't come through the door. There isn't any other exit. So how did you get him out?"

There was only one answer to that, and Malone gave it with a quiet, assured air. "I'm terribly sorry, lieutenant," he said, "but that's classified information, too." He gave the cops a little wave and walked slowly down the corridor. When he reached the stairs he began to speed up, and he was out of the precinct station and into a taxicab before any of the cops could have realized what had happened.

He took a deep breath, feeling as if it were the first he'd had in several days. "Breathe air," he told himself. "It's _good for you." Not that New York had any real air in it. It was mostly carbon fumes and the like. But it was the nearest thing to air that Malone could find at the moment, and he determined to go right on breathing it until something better and cleaner showed up.

But that wasn't important now. As the cab tooled along down Broadway toward Sixty-ninth Street, Malone closed his eyes and began going over the whole thing in his mind.

Mike Fueyo had vanished.

Of that, Malone told himself, there was no shadow of doubt. No probable, possible shadow of doubt.

No possible doubt--as a matter of fact--whatever.

Dismissing the Grand Inquisitor with a negligent wave of his hand, he concentrated on the main question. It was a good question. Malone could have sat and looked at it admiringly for a long time.

As a matter of fact, that was all he could think of to do, as the cab turned up Seventieth Street and headed east. He certainly didn't have any answers for it.

But it was a lovely question:

_Where does that leave Kenneth J. Malone?

And, possibly even more important:

_Where was Miguel Fueyo?

It was obvious that he'd vanished on purpose. And it hadn't just been something he'd recently discovered. He had known all along that he could pull the trick; if he hadn't known that, he wouldn't have done what he had done beforehand. No seventeen-year-old boy, no matter what he was, would give the FBI the raspberry unless he were pretty sure he could get away with it.

Malone remembered the raspberry and winced slightly. The cab driver called back: "Anything wrong, buddy?"

"Everything," Malone said. "But don't worry about it."

The cab driver shrugged and turned back to the wheel. Malone went back to Mike Fueyo.

The kid could make himself vanish at will.

Invisibility?

Malone thought about that for a while. The fact that it was impossible didn't decide him against it. Everything was impossible; that much was clear. But he didn't think Mike Fueyo had just become invisible. No. There had been the sense of a presence actually leaving the room. If Mike had become invisible and stayed, Malone was sure he wouldn't have felt the boy leave.

Mike had not just become invisible. (And what do I mean, "just"? Malone asked himself unhappily.) He had gone--elsewhere.

This brought him back full circle to his original question: where was the boy now? But he ignored it for a minute or two as another, even more difficult query presented itself.

Never mind where, Malone told himself. _How?

Something was bothering him. Malone realized that it had been bothering him for a long time. At last he managed to locate it and hold it up to the light for inspection.

Dr. O'Connor, the psionics expert at Westinghouse, had mentioned something during Malone's last conversation with him. Dr. O'Connor, who'd invented a telepathy detector, had been discussing further reaches in his field.

"After all," he'd said, "if thoughts can bridge any distance whatever, regardless of other barriers, there is no reason why matter could not do likewise."

"How do you know?" Malone had asked him, "it doesn't. Or, anyhow, it hasn't so far."

"There's no way to be sure of that." Dr. O'Connor had said sternly. "After all, we have no reports of it--but that means little. Our search has only begun."

"Oh," Malone said. "Sure."

"Matter, controlled by thought, might bridge distances instantaneously," Dr. O'Connor had said.

And he'd referred to something, some word....

_Teleportation.

That was it. Malone sat back. All you had to do, he reflected, was to think yourself somewhere else, and--_bing!_--you were there. If Malone had been able to do it, it would not only save him a lot of time and trouble, but also such things as cab fare and train fare and ... oh, a lot of different things.

But he couldn't. And Dr. O'Connor hadn't found anyone else who could, either. As far as Malone knew, nobody could teleport.

Except Mike Fueyo.

The cab stopped in front of FBI Headquarters. "You some kind of secret agent?" the cabbie said.

"Of course not," Malone said pleasantly. "I'm a foreign spy."

"Oh," the cabbie said. "Sure." He took his money with a somewhat puzzled air, while Malone crossed the sidewalk and went into the building.

* * * * *

Everyone was active. Malone pushed his way through arguing knots of men until he reached the small office which he and Boyd had been assigned. He had already decided not to tell Boyd about the disappearing boy. That would only confuse him--and matters were confused enough as they stood. Malone had no proof; he had only his word and the word of a few baffled policemen, all of whom were probably thoroughly confused by now.

Boyd had a job to do, and Malone had decided to let him go on doing it. That, as a matter of fact, was what he was doing when Malone entered the room.

He was sitting at his desk, talking on the telephone. Malone couldn't see the face on the screen, but Boyd was scowling at it fiercely. "Sure," he said. "So some guy makes a fuss. That's what you're for."

"But he wants to sue the city," a voice said tinnily. "Or somebody."

"Let him sue," Boyd said. "We've got authority. Just get that car."

"Look," the voice said. "I--"

"I don't care how," Boyd snapped. "Get it. Then hand it over to the pickup-squad and say: 'Mr. Malone wants this car--immediately.' They'll know what to do. Got that?"

"Sure, Mr. Boyd," the voice said. "But I don't--"

"Never mind," Boyd said. "Go ahead and get the job done. The United States of America is depending on you." With one last scowl, he hung up and swung around to face Malone. "You gave me a great job," he said. "I really love it, you know that?"

"It's got to be done," Malone said in a noncommittal voice. "How's it going so far?"

Boyd closed his eyes for a second. "Twenty-three red 1972 Cadillacs to date--which isn't bad, I suppose," he said. "And six calls like the one you just heard. All from agents with problems. What am I supposed to do when a guy catches a couple necking in a 1972 red Cadillac?"

"At this time of day?" Malone said.

"New York," Boyd said, and shrugged. "Things are funny here."

Malone nodded. "What did you do about them?" he said.

"Told the agent to take the car and give 'em a pass to a movie," Boyd said.

"Good," Malone said. "Keep that sort of thing in the dark where it belongs." For some reason, this reminded him of Dorothy. He still had to get tickets for a show. But that could wait. "How about the assembly line?" he said.

"Disassembly," Boyd said. "Leibowitz has started it going. He borrowed the use of a big auto repair shop over in Jersey City, and they'll be doing a faster job than we thought." He paused. "But it's been a wonderful day," he said. "One to remember as long as I live. Possibly even until tomorrow. And how have you been doing?"

"Well," Malone said, "I'm not absolutely sure yet."

"That's a nice, helpful answer," Boyd said. "In the best traditions of the FBI."

"I can't help it," Malone said. "It's true."

"Well, what have you been doing?" Boyd said. "Drinking? Living it up while I sit here and talk to people about Cadillacs?"

"Not exactly," Malone said. "I've been ... well, doing more or less what Burris told me to do. Nosing around. Keeping my eyes open."

* * * * *

The phone chimed. Boyd flipped up the mike and eyed the screen balefully. "Federal Bureau of Investigation," he said crisply. "Who are you?"

A voice on the other end said: "What?" before the image on the screen cleared.

"Oh," a voice said. It was a very calm, quiet voice. "Hello, Boyd."

The image cleared. Boyd was facing the picture of a man in his middle thirties, a brown-haired man with large, gentle brown eyes and an expression that somehow managed to look both sad and confident. "Hello, Dr. Leibowitz," Boyd said.

"Is Mr. Malone in?" Leibowitz said. "I really wanted to talk to him."

"Sure," Boyd said. "Just a second."

He motioned to Malone, who came around and sat at Boyd's desk as Boyd got up. He nodded to Leibowitz, and the electronics engineer nodded back.

"How's everything coming, Dr. Leibowitz?" Malone said.

Leibowitz shrugged meaningfully. "All right," he said. "I called you to tell you about that, by the way. We've managed to cut the per-car time down somewhat."

"That's wonderful," Malone said.

"It's now down to about four hours per car--and that means we may be able to do even better than running one off the line every fifteen minutes. At the moment, fifteen minutes is about standard, though, with sixteen cars in the line."

"Sure," Malone said. "But anything you can do to speed it up--"

"I understand," Leibowitz said. "Of course, I'll do anything that I can for you. I have got a small preliminary report, by the way."

"Yes?"

"The first car has just been turned off the assembly line," Leibowitz said. "And I'm afraid, Mr. Malone, that there's nothing odd about it at all."

"Well," Malone said, "we can't expect to hit the jackpot with our first try."

"Certainly not," Leibowitz said. "But the second should be off soon. And then the rest. I'm keeping my eye on every one, of course."

"Fine," Malone said, and meant it. Leibowitz was the kind of man who inspired instant, and complete trust. Malone was perfectly sure he'd do the job he had started to do. Then an idea struck him. "Has the first car been reassembled yet?" he asked.

"Of course," Leibowitz said. "We took that step into account in our timing. What would you like done with it--and with the other ones, as they come off?"

"Unless you can find something odd about a car, just return it to its owner," Malone said. "Or pass the problem on to the squad men--they'll take care of it." He paused. "If you do find something odd--"

"I'll call you at once, of course," Leibowitz said.

"Good," Malone said. "Incidentally, I did want to ask you something. I don't want you to think I'm doubting your work, or anything like that. Believe me."

"I'm sure you're not," Leibowitz said.

"But," Malone said, "why does it take so long? I'd think it would be fairly easy to spot a robotic or a semirobotic brain capable of controlling a car."

"It might have been, once." Leibowitz said. "But these days the problems are rather special. Oh, I don't mean we can't do it--we can and we will. But with subminiaturization, Mr. Malone, and semipsionic circuits, a pretty good brain can be hidden beneath a coat of paint."

For no reason at all, Malone suddenly thought of Dorothy again. "A coat of paint?" he said in a disturbed tone.

"Certainly," Leibowitz said, and smiled at him. It was a warm smile that had little or nothing to do with the problem they were talking about. But Malone liked it. It made him feel as if Leibowitz liked him, and approved of him. He grinned back.

"But a coat of paint isn't very much," Malone said.

"It doesn't have to be very much," Leibowitz said. "Not these days. I've often told Emily--that's my wife, Mr. Malone--that I could hide a TV circuit under her lipstick. Not that there would be any use in it--but the techniques are there, Mr. Malone. And if your conjecture is correct, someone is using them."

"Oh," Malone said. "Sure. But you _can find the circuits, if they're there?"

Leibowitz nodded slowly. "We can, Mr. Malone," he said. "They betray themselves. A microcircuit need not be more than a few microns thick, you see--as far as the conductors and insulators are concerned, at any rate. But the regulators--transistors and such--have to be as big as a pinhead."

"Enormous, huh?" Malone said.

"Well," Leibowitz said, and chuckled, "quite large enough to locate without trouble, at any rate. They're very hard to conceal. And the leads from the brain to the power controls are even easier to find--comparatively speaking, of course."

"Of course," Malone said.

"All the brain does, you see," Leibowitz said, "is control the mechanism that steers the car. But it takes real power to steer--a great deal more than it does to compute the steering."

"I see," Malone, who didn't, said desperately. "In other words, unless something radically new has been developed, you can find the circuits."

"Right," Leibowitz said, grinning. "It would have to be something very new indeed, Mr. Malone. We're up on most of the latest developments here; we've got to be. But I don't want the credit for this."

"No?" Malone said.

"Oh, no," Leibowitz said. "All I do is work out the general application to theory, as far as actual detection is concerned. It's my partner, Mr. Hardin, who takes care of all the engineering details."

Malone said: "Well, so long as one of you--"

"Sal's a real crackerjack," Leibowitz said enthusiastically. "He has an intuitive feel about these things. It's really amazing to watch him go to work."

"It must be," Malone said politely.

"Oh, it really is," Leibowitz said. "And it's because of Sal that I can make the guarantee I do make: that if there are any unusual circuits in those cars, we can find them."

"Thanks," Malone said. "I'm sure you'll do the job. And we need that information. Don't bother to send along a detailed report, though, unless you find something out of the ordinary."

"Of course, Mr. Malone," Leibowitz said. "I wouldn't have bothered you except for the production speed-up here."

"I understand," Malone said. "It's perfectly all right. I'll be hearing from you, then?"

"Certainly, Mr. Malone," Leibowitz said.

* * * * *

Malone cut the circuit at once and started to turn away, but he never got the chance. It started to chime again at once.

"Federal Bureau of Investigation," Malone said as he flipped up the receiver. He wanted badly to copy Boyd's salutation, but he found that he just didn't have the gall to do it, and said sadly instead: "Malone speaking."

There was no immediate answer from the other party. Instead, the screen slowly cleared, showing Malone the picture of a woman he recognized instantly.

It was Juanita Fueyo--Mike's mother.

Malone stared at her. It seemed to him as if a couple of hours passed while he tried to find his voice. Of course, she'd looked up the FBI number in the phone book, and found him that way. But she was about the last person on Earth from whom he'd expected a call.

"Oh, Mr. Malone," she said, "thank you so much! You got my Mike back from the police!"

Malone gulped. "I did?" he said. "Well, I--"

"But Mr. Malone--you must help me again! Because now my Mike says he must not stay at home! He is leaving, he is leaving right away!"

"Leaving?" Malone said.

He thought of a thousand things to do. He could send a squad of men to arrest Mike. And Mike could disappear while they were trying to get hold of him. He could go down himself--and be greeted, if he knew Mike Fueyo, with another giant economy-size raspberry. He could try to plead with Mike on the phone.

And what good would that do?

So, instead, he just sat and stared while Mrs. Fueyo went right on.

"He says he will send me money, but money is nothing compared to my own boy, my own Mike. He says he must go away, Mr. Malone--but I know you can stop him! I know it!"

"Sure," Malone said. "But I--"

"Oh, I knew that you would!" Mrs. Fueyo shrieked. She almost came through the screen at him. "You are a great man, Mr. Malone! I will say many prayers for you! I will never stop from praying for you because you help me!" Her voice and face changed abruptly. "Excuse me now," she said. "I must go back to work."

"Well," Malone said, "if I--"

Then she turned back and beamed at him again. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Malone! Thank you with the thanks of a mother! Bring my boy back to me!"

And the image faded and died.

Boyd tapped Malone on the shoulder. "I didn't know you were involved in an advice column for the lovelorn," he said.

"I'm not," Malone said sourly.

Boyd sighed. "I'll bite," he said. "Who was that?"

Malone thought of several possible answers and finally chose one. "That," he said, "was my mother-in-law. She worries about me every time I go out on a job with you."

"Very funny," Boyd said. "I am screaming with laughter."

"Just get back to work, Tommy-boy," Malone said, "and leave everything to me."

He hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. Lighting a cigarette--and wishing he were alone in his own room, so that he could smoke a cigar and not have to worry about looking dashing and alert--Malone strolled out of the office with a final wave to Boyd. He was thinking about Mike Fueyo, and he stopped his chain of reasoning just long enough to look in at the office of the Agent-in-Charge and ask him to pry loose two tickets for "The Hot Seat" that night.

The agent, a tall, thin man, who looked as if he suffered from chronic stomach trouble, said, "You must be crazy. Are they all like that in Washington?"

"No," Malone said cheerfully. "Some of them are pretty normal. There's this one man--Napoleon, we call him--who keeps insisting that he should have won the battle of Waterloo. But otherwise he's perfectly fine."

He flicked his cigarette in the air and left, grinning. Five steps away the grin disappeared and a frown took its place.

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