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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOut Like A Light - Chapter 9
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Out Like A Light - Chapter 9 Post by :PlayersGolf Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :2410

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Out Like A Light - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

It started a million years ago.

In that distant past, a handful of photons deep in the interior of Sol began their random journey to the photosphere. They had been born as ultrahard gamma radiation, and they were positively bursting with energy, attempting to push their respective ways through the dense nucleonic gas that had been their womb. Within millimicroseconds, they had been swallowed up by the various particles surrounding them--swallowed, and emitted again, as the particles met in violent collision.

And then the process was repeated. After a thousand thousand years, and billions on billions of such repetitions, the handful of photons reached the relatively cool photosphere of the sun. But the long battle had taken some of the drive out of them; over the past million years, even the strongest had become only hard ultraviolet, and the weakest just sputtered out in the form of long radio waves.

But now, at last, they were free! And in the first flush of this newfound freedom, they flung themselves over ninety-three million miles of space, traveling at one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second and making the entire trip in less than eight and one-half minutes.

They struck the Earth's ionosphere, and their numbers diminished. The hard ultraviolet was gobbled up by ozone; much of the blue was scattered through the atmosphere. The remainder bore steadily onward.

Down through the air they came, only slightly weakened this time. They hit the glass of a window in the Hotel New Yorker, losing more of their members in the plunge.

And, a few feet from the glass, they ended their million-year epic by illuminating a face.

The face responded to them with something less than pleasure. It was clear that the face did not like being illuminated. It was very bright, much too bright. It seemed to be searing its way through the face's closed eyelids, right past the optic nerves into the brain-pan itself. The face twisted in a sudden spasm, as if its brain were shriveling with heat. Its owner thoughtfully turned over, and the face sought the seclusion and comparative darkness of a pillow.

Unfortunately, the motion brought the face's owner to complete wakefulness. He did not want to be awake, but he had very little choice in the matter. Even though his face was no longer being illuminated, he could feel other rays of sunlight eating at the back of his head. He put the pillow over his head and felt more comfortable for a space, but this slight relief passed, too.

He thought about mausoleums. Mausoleums were nice, cool, dark places where there was never any sun or heat, and never any reason to wake up. Maybe, he told himself, cunningly, if he went to sleep again he would wake up dead, in a mausoleum. That, he thought, would be nice.

Death was nice and pleasant. Unfortunately, he realized, he was not dead. And there was absolutely no chance of his ever getting back to sleep. He finally rolled over again, being very careful to avoid any more poisonous sunlight. Getting up was an even more difficult process, but Malone knew it had to be managed. Somehow he got his feet firmly planted on the floor and sat up.

It had been a remarkable feat, he told himself. He deserved a medal.

That reminded him of the night before. He had been thinking quite a lot about the medals he deserved for various feats. He had even awarded some of them to himself, in the shape of liquid decoctions.

He remembered all that quite well. There were a lot of cloudy things in his mind, but from all the testimony he could gather, he imagined that he'd had quite a time the night before. Quite a wonderful time, as a matter of fact.

Not that that reflection did anything for him now. As he opened his eyes, one at a time, he thought of Boyd. Once, long ago, ages and ages ago, he had had to wake Boyd up, and he recalled how rough he had been about it. That had been unforgivable.

He made a mental note to apologize to Boyd the next time he saw him--if he could ever see again. Now, he knew how Boyd had felt. And it was terrible.

Still sitting on the bed, he told himself that, in spite of everything, he was lucky. To judge by his vague memories, he'd had quite a time the night before, and if the hangover was payment for it, then he was willing to accept the payment. Almost. Because it had really been a terrific time. The only nagging thought in his mind was that there had been something vital he'd forgotten.

"Tickets," he said, aloud, and was surprised that his voice was audible. As a matter of fact, it was too audible; the noise made him wince slightly. He shifted his position very quietly.

And he hadn't forgotten the tickets. No. He distinctly remembered going to see "The Hot Seat," and finding seats, and actually sitting through the show with Dorothy at his side. He couldn't honestly say that he remembered much of the show itself, but that couldn't be the important thing he'd forgotten. By no means.

He had heard that it was a good show, though. Some time, he reminded himself, he would have to get tickets and actually see it.

He checked through the evening. Drinks. Dinner ... he had had dinner, hadn't he? Yes, he had. He recalled a broiled sea bass looking up at him with mournful eyes. He couldn't have dreamed anything like that.

And then the theater, and after that some more drinks ... and so on, and so on, and so on, right to his arrival back in his hotel room, at four-thirty in the morning, on a bright, boiled cloud.

He even remembered arguing with Dorothy about taking her home. She'd won that round by ducking into a subway entrance, and he had turned around after she'd left him and headed for home. Had he taken a taxi?

Yes, Malone decided, he had. He even remembered that.

Then what had he forgotten?

He had met Dorothy--he told himself, starting all over again in an effort to locate the gaps--at six o'clock, right after phoning ...

He looked at his watch. It was ten o'clock in the morning. He had completely forgotten to call Fernack and Lynch.

Hangover or no hangover, Malone told himself grimly, there was work to be done. Somehow, he managed to get to his feet and start moving.

He checked Boyd's room after a while. But his partner wasn't home. _Probably at work already_, Malone thought, _while I lie here useless and helpless_. He thought of a sermon on the Evils of Alcohol, and decided he'd better read it to himself instead of delivering it to Boyd.

But he didn't waste any time with it. By ten-fifteen he was showered and shaved, his teeth were brushed, and he was dressed. He felt, he estimated, about fifteen hundred per cent better. That was still lousy, but it wasn't quite as bad as it had been. He could move around and talk and even think a little, if he were careful about it. Before he left, he took a look at himself in the mirror.

Well, he told himself, that was nice.

It hardly showed at all. He looked tired, to be sure, but that was almost normal. The eyes weren't bloodshot red, and didn't seem to bug out at all although Malone would have sworn that they were bleeding all over his face. His head was its normal size, as near as he remembered; it was not swollen visibly, or pulsing like a jellyfish at every move.

He looked even better than he felt.

He started for the door, and then stopped himself. There was no need to go out so early; he could start work right in his own hotel room and not even have to worry about the streets of New York, the cars or the pedestrians for a while.

He thought wistfully about a hair of the hound, decided against it with great firmness, and sat down to phone.

He dialed a number, and the face of Commissioner Fernack appeared almost at once. Malone forced himself to smile cheerfully, reasonably sure that he was going to crack something as he did it. "Hello, John Henry," he said in what he hoped was a good imitation of a happy, carefree voice. "And how are you this lovely morning?"

"Me?" Fernack said sourly. "I'm in great shape. Tiptop. Malone, how did you--"

"Any news for me?" Malone said.

Fernack waited a long time before he answered, and when he did his voice was dangerously soft and calm. "Malone," he said, "when you asked for this survey, just what kind of news did you expect to get anyway?"

"An awful lot of impossible crimes," Malone said frankly. "How did I do, John Henry?"

"You did very well," Fernack said. "Too well. Listen, Malone, how could you know about anything like this?"

Malone blinked. "Well," he said, "we have our sources. Confidential. Top secret. I'm sure you understand, commissioner." Hurriedly, he added: "What does the breakdown look like?"

"It looks like hell," Fernack said. "About eight months ago, according to the computer, there was a terrific upswing in certain kinds of crime. And since then it's been pretty steady, right at the top of the swing. Hasn't moved down hardly at all."

"Great," Malone said.

Fernack stared. "What?" he said.

"I mean--" Malone stopped, thought of an answer and tried it: "I mean, that checks out my guess. My information. Sources."

Fernack seemed to weigh risks in his mind. "Malone, I know you're FBI," he said at last. "But this sounds pretty fishy to me. Pretty strange."

"You have no idea how strange," Malone said truthfully.

"I'm beginning to," Fernack said. "And if I ever find out that you had anything to do with this--"

"Me?"

"And don't look innocent," Fernack said. "It doesn't succeed in looking anything but horrible. You remind me of a convicted murderer trying to steal thirty cents from the prison chaplain."

"What would I have to do with all these crimes?" Malone said. "And what kind of crimes were they, anyway?"

"What you'd have to do with them," Fernack said, "is an unanswered question. And so long as it remains unanswered, Malone, you're safe. But when I come up with enough facts to answer it--"

"Don't be silly, commissioner," Malone said. "How about these crimes? What kind were they?"

* * * * *

"Burglaries," Fernack said. "And I have a hunch you know that well enough. Most of them were just burglaries--locked barrooms, for instance, early in the morning. There's never any sign of tampering with the locks, no sign of breaking and entering, no sign of any alarms being tampered with in any way. But the money's gone from the cash register, and all of the liquor is gone, too."

Malone stared. "_All the liquor?" he said in a dazed voice.

"Well," Fernack said, "all of it that's in plain sight, anyway. Except for the open bottles. Disappeared. Gone. Without a trace. And most of the time the extra stock's gone, too, from the basement or wherever they happen to keep it."

"That's a lot of liquor," Malone said.

"Quite a lot," Fernack said. "Some of the bars have gone broke, not being insured against the losses."

The thought of thousands of bottles of liquor--millions of bottles--went through Malone's mind like an icepick. He could almost see them, handle them, taste them. "Hair of the dog," he muttered. "What hair. What a dog."

"What did you say, Malone?"

"Nothing," Malone said hastily. "Nothing at all." After a second another query occurred to him. "You mean to tell me that only bars were robbed? Nothing else?"

"Oh, no," Fernack said. "Bars are only part of it. Malone, why are you asking me to tell you this?"

"Because I want to know," Malone said patiently.

"I still think--" Fernack began, and then said: "Never mind. But it hasn't been only bars. Supermarkets. Homes. Cleaning and tailoring shops. Jewelers. Malone, you name it, and it's been hit."

Malone tried valiantly to resist temptation, but he was not at his best, and he lost. "All right," he said. "I will name it. Here's a list of places that haven't even been touched by the rising crime wave: Banks, for one."

"Malone!"

"Safes that have been locked, for another," Malone went on. "Homes with wall safes--though that's not quite accurate. The homes may have been robbed, but the safes won't have been touched."

"Malone, how much do you know?" Fernack said.

"I'll make a general rule for you," Malone said. "Any place that fits the following description is safe: It's got a secure lock on it, and it's too small for a human being to get into."

Fernack opened his mouth, shut it and stared downward, obviously scanning some papers lying on the desk in front of him. Malone waited patiently for the explosion--but it never came.

Instead, Fernack said: "You know, Malone, you remind me of an old friend of mine."

"Really?" Malone said pleasantly.

"You certainly do," Fernack said. "There's just one small difference. You're an FBI man, and he's a crook. If that's a difference."

"It is," Malone said. "And on behalf of the FBI, I resent the allegation. And, as a matter of fact, defy the allegator. But that's neither here nor there," he continued. "If that's the difference, what are the similarities?"

Fernack drew in a deep, hissing breath, and when he spoke his voice was as calm and quiet as a coiled cobra. "The both of you come up with the damnedest answers to things. Things I never knew about or even cared about before. Things I wish I'd never heard of. Things that don't have any explanations. And--" He stopped, his face dark in the screen. Malone wondered what color it was going to turn, and decided on purple as a good choice.

"Well?" Malone said at last.

"And you're always so right it makes me sick," Fernack finished flatly. He rubbed a hand through his hair and stared into the screen at Malone. "How did you know all this stuff?" he said.

Malone waited one full second, while Fernack got darker and darker on the screen. When he judged that the color was right, he said quietly: "I'm prescient. And thanks a lot, John Henry; just send the reports to me personally, at Sixty-ninth Street. By messenger. So long."

He cut the circuit just as Fernack started: "Now, Malone--"

* * * * *

With a satisfied, somewhat sheepish smile, Malone dialed another number. This time a desk sergeant told him politely that Lynch wasn't at the precinct, and wouldn't arrive until noon.

Malone had Lynch's home number. He dialed it.

It was a long wait before the lieutenant answered, and he didn't look much like a police officer when his face finally showed up on the screen. His hair was uncombed and he was unshaven. His eyes were slightly bleary, but he was definitely awake.

"Oh," Malone said. "Hello."

"Hi, there," Lynch said with enormous cheerfulness. "Old buddy-boy. Old pal. Old friend."

"What's wrong?" Malone said.

"Wrong?" Lynch said. "Nothing. Nothing. Nothing at all. I just wanted to thank you for not waking me up last night. I only waited for your call until midnight. Then I decided I just wasn't very important to you. You obviously had much bigger things on your mind."

"As a matter of fact," Malone said, eying Lynch's figure, dressed in a pair of trousers and a T-shirt, speculatively, "you're right."

"That's what I thought," Lynch said. "And I decided that, since you were so terribly busy, it could wait until I woke up. Or even until I got down to the station. How about it--buddy-boy?"

"Listen, Lynch," Malone said, "we made a bet. Ten to one. I just want to know if I can come down to collect or not."

There was a second of silence.

"All right," Lynch said at last, looking crestfallen. "I owe you a buck. Every last one of those kids has skipped out on us."

"Good," Malone said. He wondered briefly just what was good about it, and decided he'd rather have lost the money to Lynch. But facts, he reflected, were facts. Thoroughly nasty facts.

"I spent all night tracing them," Lynch said. "Got nowhere. Nowhere at all. Tell me, Malone, how did you know--"

"Classified," Malone said. "Very classified. But you're sure they're all gone? Vanished?"

Lynch's face reddened. "Sure I'm sure," he said. "Every last one of them is gone. And what more do you want me to do about it?" He paused, then added: "What do you expect, Malone? Miracles?"

Malone shook his head gently. "No," he said. "I--"

"Oh, never mind," Lynch said.

"But I--"

"Look, Malone," Lynch said, "there's a guy who wants to talk to you."

"One of the Silent Spooks?" Malone said hopefully.

Lynch shook his head and made a growling noise. "Don't be silly," he said. "It's just that this guy might have some information--but he won't say anything to me about it. He's a social worker or something like that."

"Social worker?" Malone said. "He works with the kids, right?"

"I guess," Lynch said. "His name's Kettleman. Albert Kettleman."

Malone nodded. "O.K.," he said. "I'll be right over."

"Hey," Lynch said, "hold on. He's not here now. What do you think this is--my house or a reception center?"

"Sorry," Malone said wearily. "Where and when?"

"How about three o'clock at the precinct station?" Lynch said, "I can have him there by then, and you can get together and talk." He paused. "Nobody likes the cops," he said. "People hear the FBI's mixed up in this, and they figure the cops are all second-stringers or something."

"Sorry to hear it," Malone said.

"I'll bet you are," Lynch told him bitterly.

Malone shrugged. "Anyway," he said, "I'll see you at three, right?"

"Right," Lynch said, and Malone flipped off.

He sat there for a few seconds grinning quietly. His brain throbbed like an overheated motor, but he didn't really mind any more. His theory had been justified, and that was the most important thing.

The Silent Spooks were all teleports.

Eight of them--eight kids on the loose, stealing everything they could lay their hands on, and completely safe. How could you catch a boy who just disappeared when you started for him? No wonder their names hadn't appeared on the police blotter, Malone thought.

The Spooks didn't get into trouble.

They didn't have to.

They could get into any place big enough to hold them, take what they wanted and just disappear. They'd been doing it for about eight months, according to the figures Malone had received from Fernack; maybe teleportative ability didn't develop until you were around fourteen or fifteen.

But it had developed in these kids--and they were using it in the most obvious way. They had a sure method of getting away from the cops, and a sure method of taking anything they wanted. No wonder they had so much money.

Malone got up, feeling slightly dazed, and left the hotel.

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