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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnwise Child - Chapter 3
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Unwise Child - Chapter 3 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :1236

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Unwise Child - Chapter 3

Sergeant Cowder looked the room over and took a drag from his cigarette. "Well, that's that. Now--what happened?" He looked from Mike the Angel to Harry MacDougal and back again. Both of them appeared to be thinking.

"All right," he said quietly, "let me guess, then."

Old Harry waved a hand. "Oh no, Sergeant; 'twon't be necessary. I think Mr. Gabriel was just waiting for me to start, because he wasn't here when the two rapscallions came in, and I was just tryin' to figure out where to begin. We're not bein' unco-operative. Let's see now--" He gazed at the ceiling as though trying to collect his thoughts. He knew perfectly well that the police sergeant was recording everything he said.

The sergeant sighed. "Look, Harry, you're not on trial. I know perfectly well that you've got this place bugged to a fare-thee-well. So does every shop operator on Radio Row. If you didn't, the JD gangs would have cleaned you all out long ago."

Harry kept looking at the ceiling, and Mike the Angel smiled quietly at his fingernails.

The detective sergeant sighed again. "Sure, we'd like to have some of the gadgets that you and the other operators on the Row have worked out, Harry. But I'm in no position to take 'em away from you. Besides, we have some stuff that you'd like to have, too, so that makes us pretty much even. If we started confiscating illegal equipment from you, the JD's would swoop in here, take your legitimate equipment, bug it up, and they'd be driving us all nuts within a week. So long as you don't use illegal equipment illegally, the department will leave you alone."

Old Harry grinned. "Well, now, that's very nice of you, Sergeant. But I don't have anything illegal--no robotics stuff or anything like that. Oh, I'll admit I've a couple of eyes here and there to watch my shop, but eyes aren't illegal."

The detective glanced around the room with a practiced eye and then looked blandly back at the little Scotsman. Harry MacDougal was lying, and the sergeant knew it. And Harry knew the sergeant knew it.

Sergeant Cowder sighed for a third time and looked at the Scot. "Okay. So what happened?"

Harry's face became serious. "They came in about six-thirty. First I knew of it, one of the kids--the boy--stepped out of that closet over there and put a vibroblade at my back. I'd come back here to get a small resistor, and all of a sudden there he was."

Mike the Angel frowned, but he didn't say anything.

"None of your equipment registered anything?" asked the detective.

"Not a thing, Sergeant," said Harry. "They've got something new, all right. The kid must ha' come in through the back door, there. And I'd ha' been willin' to bet ma life that no human bein' could ha' walked in here without ma knowin' it before he got within ten feet o' that door. Look."

He got up, walked over to the back door, and opened it. It opened into what looked at first to be a totally dark room. Then the sergeant saw that there was a dead-black wall a few feet from the open door.

"That's a light trap," said Harry. "Same as they have in photographic darkrooms. To get from this door to the outer door that leads into the alley, you got to turn two corners and walk about thirty feet. Even I, masel', couldn't walk through it without settin' off half a dozen alarms. Any kind of light would set off the bugs; so would the heat radiation from the human body."

"How about the front?" Sergeant Cowder asked. "Anyone could get in from the front."

Harry's grin became grim. "Not unless I go with 'em. And not even then if I don't want 'em to."

"It was kind of you to let us in," said the detective mildly.

"A pleasure," said Harry. "But I wish I knew how that kid got in."

"Well, he did--somehow," Cowder said. "What happened after he came out of the closet?"

"He made me let the girl in. They were goin' to open up the rear completely and take my stuff out that way. They'd ha' done it, too, if Mr. Gabriel hadn't come along."

Detective Sergeant Cowder looked at Mike the Angel. "About what time was that, Mr. Gabriel?"

"About six thirty-five," Mike told him. "The kids probably hadn't been here more than a few minutes."

Harry MacDougal nodded in silent corroboration.

"Then what happened?" asked the detective.

Mike told him a carefully edited version of what had occurred, leaving out the existence of the little gadget he was carrying in his pocket. The sergeant listened patiently and unbelievingly through the whole recital. Mike the Angel grinned to himself; he knew what part of the story seemed queer to the cop.

He was right. Cowder said: "Now, wait a minute. What caused those vibroblades to burn up that way?"

"Must have been faulty," Mike the Angel said innocently.

"Both of them?" Sergeant Cowder asked skeptically. "At the same time?"

"Oh no. Thirty seconds apart, I'd guess."

"Very interesting. Very." He started to say something else, but a uniformed officer stuck his head in through the doorway that led to the front of the shop.

"We combed the whole area, Sergeant. Not a soul around. But from the looks of the alley, there must have been a small truck parked in there not too long ago."

Cowder nodded. "Makes sense. Those JD's wouldn't have tried this unless they intended to take everything they could put their hands on, and they certainly couldn't have put all this in their pockets." He rubbed one big finger over the tip of his nose. "Okay, Barton, that's all. Take those two kids to the hospital and book 'em in the detention ward. I want to talk to them when they wake up."

The cop nodded and left.

Sergeant Cowder looked back at Harry. "Your alarm to the precinct station went off at six thirty-six. I figure that whoever was on the outside, in that truck, knew something had gone wrong as soon as the fight started in here. He--or they--shut off whatever they were using to suppress the alarm system and took off before we got here. They sure must have moved fast."

"Must have," agreed Harry. "Is there anything else, Sergeant?"

Cowder shook his head. "Not right now. I'll get in touch with you later, if I need you."

Harry and Mike the Angel followed him through the front of the shop to the front door. At the door, Cowder turned.

"Well, good night. Thanks for your assistance, Mr. Gabriel. I wish some of our cops had had your luck."

"How so?" asked Mike the Angel.

"If more vibroblades would blow up at opportune moments, we'd have fewer butchered policemen."

Mike the Angel shook his head. "Not really. If their vibros started burning out every time they came near a cop, the JD's would just start using something else. You can't win in this game."

Cowder nodded glumly. "It's a losing proposition any way you look at it.... Well, good night again." He stepped out, and Old Harry closed and locked the door behind him.

Mike the Angel said: "Come on, Harry; I want to find something." He began walking back down the long, narrow shop toward the rear again. Harry followed, looking mystified.

Mike the Angel stopped, sniffing. "Smell that?"

Harry sniffed. "Aye. Burnt insulation. So?"

"You know which one of these bins is nearest to your main control cable. Start looking. See if you find anything queer."

Old Harry walked over to a nearby bin, pulled it open, and looked inside. He closed it, pulled open another. He found the gadget on the third try. It was a plastic case, six by six by eight, and it still smelled of hot insulation, although the case itself was barely warm.

"What is it?" Harry asked in wonder.

"It's the gizmo that turned your equipment off. When I passed by it, my own gadget must have blown it. I knew the police couldn't have made it here between the time of the fight and the time they showed up. They must have had at least an extra minute. Besides, I didn't think anyone could build an instrument that would blank out everything at long range. It had to be something near your main cable. I think you'll find a metallic oscillator in there. Analyze it. Might be useful."

Harry turned the box over in his hands. "Probably has a timer in it to start it.... Well.... That helps."

"What do you mean?"

"I've got a pretty good idea who put it here. Older kid. Nineteen--maybe twenty. Seemed like a nice lad, too. Didn't take him for a JD. Can't trust anyone these days. Thanks, Mike. If I find anything new in here, I'll let you know."

"Do that," said Mike the Angel. "And, as a personal favor, I'll show you how to build my own super-duper, extra-special, anti-vibroblade defense unit."

Old Harry grinned, crinkling up his wizened face in a mass of fine wrinkles. "You'd better think up a shorter name than that for it, laddie; I could probably build one in less time than it takes you to say it."

"Want to bet?"

"I'll bet you twenty I can do it in twenty-four hours."

"Twenty it is, Harry. I'll sell you mine this time tomorrow for twenty bucks."

Harry shook his head. "I'll trade you mine for yours, plus twenty." Then his eyes twinkled. "And speaking of money, didn't you come down here to buy something?"

Mike the Angel laughed. "You're not going to like it. I came down to get a dozen plastic-core resistors."

"What size?"

Mike told him, and Old Harry went over to the proper bin, pulled them out, all properly boxed, and handed them to him.

"That'll be four dollars," he said.

Mike the Angel paid up with a smile. "You don't happen to have a hundred-thousand-unit microcryotron stack, do you?"

"Ain't s'posed to," said Harry MacDougal. "If I did, I wouldn't sell it to you. But, as a matter of cold fact, I do happen to have one. Use it for a paperweight. I'll give it to you for nothing, because it don't work, anyhow."

"Maybe I can fix it," said Mike the Angel, "as long as you're giving it to me. How come it doesn't work?"

"Just a second, laddie," said Harry. He scuttled to the rear of the shop and came back with a ready-wrapped package measuring five by five by four. He handed it to Mike the Angel and said: "It's a present. Thanks for helping me out of a tight spot."

Mike said something deprecative of his own efforts and took the package. If it were in working order it would have been worth close to three hundred dollars--more than that on the black market. If it was broken, though, it was no good to Mike. A microcryotron unit is almost impossible to fix if it breaks down. But Mike took it because he didn't want to hurt Old Harry's feelings by refusing a present.

"Thanks, Harry," he said. "Happen to know why it doesn't work?"

Harry's face crinkled again in his all-over smile. "Sure, Mike. It ain't plugged in."

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Mike the Angel did not believe in commuting. Being a bachelor, he could afford to indulge in that belief. In his suite of offices on 112th Street, there was one door marked "M. R. Gabriel." Behind that door was his private secretary's office, which acted as an effective barrier between himself and the various employees of the firm. Behind the secretary's office was his own office. There was still another door in his inner office, a plain, unmarked door that looked as though it might conceal a closet. It didn't. It was the door to a veddy, veddy expensive apartment with
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Mike the Angel kept his hand in his pocket, his thumb on a little plate that was set in the side of the small mechanism that was concealed therein. As he neared the door, the little plate began to vibrate, making a buzz which could only be felt, not heard. Mike sighed to himself. Vibroblades were all the rage this season. He pushed open the rear door rapidly and stepped inside. It was just what he'd expected. His eyes saw and his brain recorded the whole scene in the fraction of a second before he moved. In that fraction of a
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