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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOut Like A Light - Chapter 8
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Out Like A Light - Chapter 8 Post by :PlayersGolf Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :1001

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Out Like A Light - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

He walked along Sixty-ninth Street to Park Avenue without noticing where he was going. Luckily, the streets weren't really crowded, and Malone only had to apologize twice, once for stepping on a man's toe and once for absently toeing a woman's dog. When he reached the corner he headed downtown, humming "Kathleen Mavourneen" under his breath and trying to figure out his next move.

He needed more than one move. He needed a whole series of moves. This was not the usual kind of case. Burris had called it a vacation and, in one way, Malone supposed, Burris was perfectly right. For once there was no question about who had committed the crimes. It was obvious by now that Mike Fueyo and his Silent Spooks had been stealing the Cadillacs.

It was even obvious that Mike--or someone with Mike's talent--had bopped him on the head, and taken the red Cadillac he had been examining. And the same gang probably accounted for the Sergeant Jukovsky affair, too.

Or at least it was reasonable to assume that they did, Malone thought. He could see how it had worked: one of the Silent Spooks was a lot smaller than a grown man, and the two cops who hadn't seen anyone in the parked car just hadn't been able to catch sight of the undersized driver. Of course, there _had been someone in the car when it had been driving along the West Side Highway. Someone who had teleported himself right out of the car when it had gone over the embankment.

That, of course, meant that there would be no secret machines found in the red Cadillacs Leibowitz & Hardin were examining now. But Malone had already decided to let that phase of things go on. First of all, it was always possible that he was wrong, and that some such machine really did exist. Second, even if they didn't find a machine, they might find something else. Almost anything, he thought, might turn up.

And, third, it kept Boyd decently busy, and out of Malone's hair.

That had been an easy solution. And, Malone thought, the problem of who had been taking the red Cadillacs looked just as easy now, if his answers were right. And he was reasonably sure of that.

Unfortunately, he was now left with a new and unusual question:

_How do you catch a teleport?

Malone looked up, jarred to a stop by a man built like a brown bear, with a chunky body and an oval, slightly sloping head and face. He had very short brown hair shot through with gray, and he gave Malone a small, inquisitive stare and looked away without a word.

Malone mumbled: "Sorry," and looked up at the street sign. He was at Forty-seventh Street and Park Avenue. He jerked a hand up to his face, and managed to hook the chunky man by the suit. It fell away, exposing the initials SM carefully worked into his shirt. Second Mistake, Malone thought wildly, muttered: "Sorry," again and turned west, feeling fairly grateful to the unfortunate bystander.

He had reminded Malone of one thing. If he wanted to get even a part of his plan past the drawing-board stage, he had to make a phone call in a hurry.

He found a phone booth in a bar called the Ad Lib, at Madison Avenue. Sternly telling himself that he was stopping there to make a phone call, a business phone call, and not to have a drink, he marched right past the friendly bartender and went into the phone booth, where he made a call to New York Police Commissioner John Henry Fernack.

Fernack's face was that of an old man, but there was no telling how old. The early seventies was one guess, Malone imagined; the late fifties might be another. He looked tough, as if he had spent all of his life trying to persuade other people that he was young enough for the handball tournament. When he saw Malone, his eyebrows lifted slightly, but he didn't say anything.

"Commissioner," Malone said, "I called to ask you to do me a favor."

There was caution hidden in the calm and quiet voice. "Well," Fernack said, "what is it, Malone?"

"Can you have all the robberies for a given period run through the computer?" Malone said. "I need some dope."

"Depends on the given period," Fernack said. "I can't do it for 1774."

"What would I need data on robberies in 1774 for?" Malone said, honestly interested.

"I never question the FBI," Fernack said soberly. "But what dates do you want?"

"The past year, maybe the past year and a half."

"And what data?"

"I want every reported crime that hasn't been solved," Malone said, "which also seems to have been committed by some impossible means. A safe that was robbed without being opened, for instance--that's the kind of thing I mean."

"Every unsolved crime?" Fernack said. "Now, hold your horses, Malone. I'm not at all sure that--"

"Don't worry about a thing, commissioner," Malone said. "This is confidential."

"You know how I'd feel about this if word ever got out to--"

"I said confidential, John Henry," Malone said, trying to sound friendly and trustworthy. "After all, every place has unsolved crimes. Even the FBI isn't absolutely perfect."

"Oh," Fernack said. "Sure. But confidential, Malone."

"You have my word," Malone said sincerely.

Fernack said: "Well--"

"How fast can you get the dope?" Malone said.

"I don't exactly know," Fernack said. "The last time anything even remotely like this was run through--departmental survey, but you wouldn't be interested--it took something like eight hours."

"Fine," Malone said. "Eight hours then. I'll look everything over and if we need a second run-through it won't take too long. I'll let you know as soon as I can about that." He grinned into the phone.

Fernack cleared his throat and asked delicately: "Mind telling me what all this is for?"

Malone offered up a little prayer before answering, and when he did answer it was in his softest and most friendly tones: "I'd rather not say just now, John Henry."

"But Malone--" Fernack's voice sounded a little strained, and his jaw set just a trifle. "If you--"

Malone knew perfectly well how Fernack reacted when he didn't get a bit of information he wanted. And this was no time to set off any fireworks in the commissioner's office. "Look, John Henry," he said gently, "I'll tell you as soon as I can. Honest. But this is classified information--it's not my fault."

Fernack said: "But--" and apparently realized that argument was not going to do him any good. "All right, Malone," he said at last. "I'll have it for you as soon as possible."

"Great," Malone said. "Then I'll see you later."

"Sure," Fernack said. He paused, as if he were about to open the controversy just once more. But all he said was: "So long, Malone."

* * * * *

Malone breathed a great sigh of relief and flipped the phone off. He stepped out of the booth feeling so proud of himself that he could barely walk. Not only had he managed to calm down Commissioner Fernack, he had also walked right past a bar on the way to the phone. He had performed several acts, he felt, above and beyond the call of duty, and he told himself that he deserved a reward.

Happily, the reward was convenient to hand. He went to the bar and beckoned the bartender over to him. "Bourbon and soda," he said. "And a medal, if possible."

"What?" the bartender said.

"A medal," Malone said. "For conduct beyond reproach."

The bartender nodded sadly. "Maybe you just ought to go home, Mac," he said. "Sleep it off."

New Yorkers, Malone decided as the bartender went off to get his drink, had no sense of humor. Back in Chicago--where he'd been more or less weaned on gin, and discovered that, unlike his father, he didn't much care for the stuff--and even in Washington, people didn't go around accusing you of drunkenness just because you made some harmless little pleasantry.

Oh, well. Malone drank his drink and went out into the afternoon sunlight.

He considered the itinerary of the Magical Miguel Fueyo. He had gone straight home from the police station, apparently, and had then told his mother that he was going to leave home. But he had promised to send her money.

Of course, money was easy for Mike to get. With a shudder, Malone thought he was beginning to realize just _how easy. Houdini had once boasted that no bank vault could hold him. In Mike Fueyo's case, that was just doubly true. The vault could neither hold him out or keep him in.

But he was going to leave home.

Malone said: "Hm-m-m," to himself, cleared his throat and tried it again. By now he was at the corner of the block, where he nearly collided with a workman who was busily stowing away a gigantic ladder, a pot of paint and a brush. Malone looked up at the street sign, where the words: "Avenue of the Americas" had been painted out, and "Sixth Avenue" hand-lettered in.

"They finally gave in," the painter told him. "But do you think they'll buy new signs? Nah. Cheap. That's all they are. Cheap as pretzels." He gave Malone a friendly push with one end of the ladder and disappeared into the crowd.

Malone didn't have the faintest idea of what he was talking about. And how cheap could a pretzel be, anyway? Malone didn't remember ever having seen an especially tight-fisted one.

New York, he decided for the fifteenth time, was a strange place.

He walked downtown for a block, still thinking about Mike Fueyo, and absently turned west again. Between Sixth and Seventh, he had another attack of brilliance and began looking for another phone booth.

He found one in a Mexican bar named the Xochitl, across the street from the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. It was just a coincidence that he had landed in another bar, he told himself hopefully, but he didn't quite believe it. To prove it to himself, he headed straight for the phone booths again and put in his call, ignoring the blandishments of several rows of sparkling bottles which he passed on the way.

He dialed the number for Lieutenant Lynch's precinct, and then found himself connected with a new desk sergeant.

"I'm Malone," he said. "I want to talk to Lynch."

"Glad to know you, Malone," the desk sergeant said pleasantly. "Only _Lieutenant Lynch doesn't want to subscribe to the Irish _Echo_."

"I'm the FBI." He showed his badge.

The desk sergeant took a good long look at it. "Maybe you are, and maybe you aren't," he said at last. "Does the lieutenant know you?"

"We were kids together," Malone said. "We're brothers. Siamese twins. Put him on the phone."

"Wait a minute," said the desk sergeant. "I'll check."

The screen went blank for two agonizing minutes before it cleared again to show Lynch's face.

"Hello, Mr. Malone," Lynch said formally. "Have you found some new little trick to show us poor, stupid policemen? Like, say, making yourself vanish?"

"I'll make the whole police force vanish," Malone said, "in a couple of minutes. I called to ask a favor."

"Anything," Lynch said. "Anything within my poor power. Whatever I have is yours. Whither thou goest--"

"Knock it off," Malone said, and then grinned. After all, there was no sense in making an enemy out of Lynch.

Lynch blinked, took a deep breath, and said in an entirely different voice: "O.K., Malone. What's the favor?"

"Do you still have that list of Silent Spooks?" Malone said.

"Sure I do," Lynch said. "Why? I gave you a copy of it."

"I can't do this job," Malone said "You'll have to."

"Yes, sir," Lynch said, and saluted.

"Just listen," Malone said. "I want you to check up on every kid on that list."

"And what are we supposed to do when we find them?" Lynch said.

"That's the trouble," Malone said. "You won't."

"And why not?"

"I'll lay you ten to one," Malone said, "that every one of them has skipped out. Left home. Without giving a forwarding address."

Lynch nodded slowly. "Ten to one?" he said. "Want to make that a money bet? Or does the FBI frown on gambling?"

"Ten dollars to your one," Malone said. "O.K.?"

"Made," Lynch said. "You've got the bet ... just for the hell of it, understand."

"Oh, sure," Malone said.

"And where can I call you to collect?"

Malone shook his head. "You can't," he said. "I'll call you."

"I will wait with anxiety," Lynch said. "But it had better be before eight. I get off then."

"If I can make it," Malone said.

"If you can't," Lynch said, "call me at home." He gave Malone the number, and then added: "Whatever information I get, I can keep for my own use this time, can't I?"

"You've already got all the information you're going to get. I just gave it to you."

"That," Lynch said, "we'll see."

"I'll call to collect my money," Malone said.

"We'll talk about it later," Lynch said. "Farewell, old pal."

"Flights of angels," Malone said, "sing thee to thy rest."


* * * * *

Malone replaced the microphone and headed for the door. Halfway there, however, he stopped. He hadn't had a _tequila in a long time, and he thought he owed it to himself. He felt he had come out ahead in his exchange with Lynch, and another medal was in order.

Only a small one, though. He told himself that he would order one _tequila and quit. Besides, he had to meet Dorothy.

He sat down on one of the tall bar stools. The bartender bustled over and eyed him speculatively.

"_Tequila con limon_" he said negligently.

"Ah," the bartender said. "_Si, senor_."

Malone waited with ill-concealed impatience. At last it arrived.

Malone took the small glass of _tequila in his right hand, with the slice of lemon held firmly between the index and middle fingers of the same hand, the rind facing in toward the glass. On the web between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand he had sprinkled a little salt. Moving adroitly and with dispatch, he downed the _tequila_, licked off the salt and bit his teeth into the lemon slice.

It felt better than good; it felt wonderful. He hadn't had such a good time in years.

He had three more before he left the Xochitl.

Then, noticing the time, he moved in a hurry and got out of the bar before temptation overcame him and he started ordering still more. It was nearly six o'clock, and he had to meet Dorothy at Topp's.

He hoped he could find it.

He headed downtown toward Forty-second Street, turned left and--sure enough--there was a big red sign. It said Topp's. Malone beamed his approval at it. It was just where it ought to be, and he was grateful.

He pushed open the glass door of the place and went in.

The _maitre d'hotel was a chunky man with a pleasant face, a receding hairline and some distance back on his head, dark, curly hair. He beamed at Malone as if the FBI agent were a long-lost brother. "Table for one, sir?" he said.

"No," Malone said, peering into the place. It was much bigger than he had expected. "No," he said again. "I guess I'll just have a drink at the bar."

The _maitre d' smiled and bowed him to a bar stool. Malone sat down and looked the place over again. His first glance had shown him that Dorothy wasn't there yet, but he saw no harm in making sure. _Always be careful of your facts_, he admonished himself a little fuzzily.

There were a lot of women in the place, but they were all with escorts. Some of them had two escorts, and Malone wondered about them. Were they drunk, or was he? It was obvious that someone was seeing double, but Malone wasn't quite sure who.

He stared at his face in the bar mirror for a few seconds, and ordered a bourbon and soda when a bartender came over and occluded the image. The bartender went away and Malone went on studying himself.

He wasn't bad-looking for an FBI agent. He was taller than his father, anyway, and less heavily built. That was one good thing. As a matter of fact, Malone told himself, he was really a pretty good-looking guy.

So why did women keep him waiting?

He heard her voice before he saw her, behind him. But she wasn't talking to him.

"Hello, Milty," she said. "How's everything?"

Malone turned around to get a look at Milty. He turned out to be the _maitre d'_. What did he have that Malone didn't have? the agent asked himself sourly. Obviously Dorothy was captivated by his charm. Well, that showed him what city girls were like. Butterflies. Social butterflies. Flitting hither and yon with the wind, now attracted to this man, now to that. Once, Malone told himself sadly, he had known this beautiful woman. Now she belonged to someone else.

He felt a little bit sad about it, but he told himself to buck up and learn to live with his tragedy. He drank some more of his bourbon and soda, and then she noticed him.

He heard her say: "Oh. Excuse me, Milty. There's my man." She came over and sat down next to him.

He wanted to ignore her, just to teach her a lesson. But he had already turned around and smiled at her, and she smiled back.

"Hi," she said. "Did you get the tickets?"

_Tickets!

Malone knew there had been something he'd forgotten, and now he knew what it was. "Oh," he said. "Sure. Just a second. I've got to check up."

"Check up?"

"Friend of mine," Malone improvised hurriedly. "Bringing them." He gave Dorothy a big smile and climbed down off the bar stool. He managed to find a phone booth, and dialed FBI headquarters on Sixty-ninth Street and blessed several saints when he found that A-in-C was still there.

"Tickets," Malone said.

The Agent-in-Charge blinked at him. "What tickets?" he said.

"The 'Hot Seat' tickets," Malone said. "Did you get 'em?"

"I got 'em," the Agent-in-Charge said sourly. "Had to chase all over town and pull more wires than there are on a grand piano. But they turned up, brother. Two seats. Do you know what a job like that entails?"

"I'm grateful," Malone said. "I'm hysterical with gratitude."

"I'd rather track down a gang of fingerless second-story men than go through that again," the Agent-in-Charge said. He looked as if his stomach trouble had suddenly gotten a great deal worse. Malone thought that the A-in-C was considering calling a doctor, and would probably decide to make it the undertaker instead, and save the price of a call.

"I can't express my gratitude," Malone told him. "Where are they? Where do I pick them up?"

"Box office," the A-in-C said sourly. "I tell you, everybody in Washington must be nuts. The things I have to go through--"

"Thanks," Malone said. "Thanks a lot. Thanks a million. If there's ever anything I can do for you, let me know and I'll do it." He hung up and went back to the bar.

"Well?" Dorothy said. "Where do we go tonight? Joe's Hot Dog stand? Or a revival of 'The Wild Duck' in a loft on Bleecker Street?"

There was pride in Malone's manner as he stood there on his feet. There was just a touch of hauteur as he said: "We'll see 'Hot Seat'."

And he was repaid for all of the Agent-in-Charge's efforts. Dorothy's eyes went wide with appreciation and awe. "My goodness," she said. "A man of his word--and what a tough word, too! Mr. Malone, I congratulate you."

"Nothing," Malone said. "A mere absolute nothing."

"Nothing, the man says," Dorothy muttered. "My goodness. And modest, too. Tell me: how do you do, Mr. Malone?"

"Me?" Malone said. "Very well, so far." He finished his drink. "And you?"

"I work at it," she said cryptically. "May I have another drink?"

Malone gave her a grin. "Another?" he said. "Have two. Have a dozen."

"And what," she said, "would I do with half a dozen drinks? Don't answer. I think I can guess. But let's just take them one at a time--O.K.?" She signaled to the bartender. "Wally, I'll have a Martini. And Mr. Malone will have whatever it is he has, I imagine."

"Bourbon and soda," Malone said, and gave the bartender a grin, too, just to make sure he didn't feel left out. The sun was shining--although it was evening outside--and the birds were singing--although, Malone reflected, catching a bird on Forty-second Street and Broadway might take a bit of doing--and all was well with the world.

There was only a tiny, nagging disturbing thought in his mind. It had to do with Mike Fueyo and the Silent Spooks, and a lot of red Cadillacs. But he pushed it resolutely away. It had nothing to do with the evening he was about to spend. Nothing at all.

After all, this _was supposed to be a vacation, wasn't it?

"Well, Mr. Malone," Dorothy said, when the drinks had arrived.

"Very well indeed," Malone said, raising his. "And just call me Ken. Didn't I tell you that once before?"

"You did," she said. "And I asked you to call me Dorothy. Not Dotty. Try and remember that."

"I will remember it," Malone said, "just as long as ever I live. You don't look the least bit dotty, anyhow. Which is probably more than anybody could say for me." He started to look at himself in the bar mirror again, and decided not to. "By the way," he added, as a sudden thought struck him. "Dotty what?"

"Now," she said. "There you go doing it."

"Doing what?"

"Calling me that name."

"Oh," Malone said. "Make it Dorothy. Dorothy what?" He blinked. "I mean, I know you've got a last name. Dorothy Something. Only it probably isn't Something. What is it?"

"Francis," she said obligingly. "Dorothy Francis. My middle name is Something, in case you ever want to call me by my middle name. Just yell: 'Hey, Something,' and I'll come a-running. Unless I have something else to do. In which case everything will be very simple: I won't come."

"Ah," Malone said doubtfully. "And what do--"

"What do I do?" she said. "A standard question. Number two of a series. I do modeling. Photographic modeling. And that's not all--I also do commercials on 3-D. If I look familiar to you, it's probably because you've seen me on 3-D. Do I look familiar to you?"

"I never watch 3-D," Malone said, crestfallen.

"Fine," Dorothy said unexpectedly. "You have excellent taste."

"Well," Malone said, "it's just that I never seem to get the time--"

"Don't apologize for it," Dorothy said. "I have to appear on it, but I don't have to like it. And, now that I've answered your questions, how about answering some of mine?"

"Gladly," Malone said. "The inmost secrets of the FBI are yours for the asking."

"Hm-m-m," Dorothy said slowly. "What do you do as an FBI agent, anyhow? Dig up spies?"

"Oh, no," Malone said. "We've got enough trouble with the live ones. We don't go around digging anybody up. Believe me." He paused, feeling dimly that the conversation was beginning to get out of control. "Have I told you that you are the most beautiful woman I've ever met?" he said at last.

"No," Dorothy said. "Not yet, anyway. But I was expecting it."

"You were?" Malone said, disappointed.

"Certainly," Dorothy said. "You've been drinking. As a matter of fact, you've managed to get quite a head start."

Malone hung his head guiltily. "True," he said in a low voice. "Too true. Much too true."

Dorothy nodded, downed her drink and waved to the bartender. "Wally, bring me a double this time."

"A double?"

"Sure," Dorothy said. "I've got to do some fast catching-up on Mr. Malone here."

"Call me Ken," Malone muttered.

"Don't be silly," Dorothy told him. "Wally hardly knows you. He'll call you Mr. Malone, and like it."

The bartender went away and Malone sat on his stool and thought busily for a minute. At last he said: "If you really want to catch up with me--"

"Yes?" Dorothy said.

"Better have a triple," Malone muttered.

Dorothy's eyebrows rose slightly.

"Because I intend to have another one," Malone added.

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