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Unwise Child - Chapter 5 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :968

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Unwise Child - Chapter 5

Mike the Angel was sitting behind his desk in his private office when the announcer chimed. Mike narrowed his eyes and turned on his door screen, which connected with an eye in the outer door of the suite. Who could it be this time?

It was Sergeant Cowder.

"You got here fast," said Mike, thumbing the unlocker. "Come on back to my office."

The sergeant came through the outer office while Mike watched him on the screen. Not until the officer finally pushed open the door to Mike's own office did Mike the Angel look up from the screen.

"I repeat," said Mike, "you got here fast."

"I wasn't far away," said Cowder. "Where's the damage?"

Mike jerked a thumb toward the door to his apartment, still sealed with tape. "In there."

"Have you been back in there yet?"

"Nope," said Mike. "I didn't want to disturb anything. I figured maybe your lab boys could tell where the rocket came from."

"What happened?" the cop asked.

Mike told him, omitting nothing except the details of his conversation with Wallingford.

"The way I see it," he finished, "whoever it was phoned me to make sure I was in the room and then went out and fired a rocket at my window."

"What makes you think it was a JD?" Cowder asked.

"Well, Sergeant, if I were going to do the job, I'd put my launcher in some place where I could see that my victim was inside, without having to call him. But if I couldn't do that, I'd aim the launcher and set it to fire by remote control. Then I'd go to the phone, call him, and fire the rocket while he was on the phone. I'd be sure of getting him that way. The way it was done smacks of a kid's trick."

Cowder looked at the door. "Think we can go in there now? The HCN ought to have cleared out by now."

Mike stood up from behind his desk. "I imagine it's pretty clear. I checked the air conditioners; they're still working, and the filters are efficient enough to take care of an awful lot of hydrogen cyanide. Besides, the window is open. But--shouldn't we wait for the lab men?"

Cowder shook his head. "Not necessary. They'll be up in a few minutes, but they'll probably just confirm what we already know. Peel that tape off, will you?"

Mike took his ionizer from the top of the desk, walked over to the door, and began running it over the tape. It fell off and slithered to the floor. As he worked, he said:

"You think you know where the rocket was fired from?"

"Almost positive," said Cowder. "We got a call a few minutes back from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine."

The last of the tape fell off, and Mike opened the door. It didn't work easily, but it did open. The odor of bitter almonds was so faint that it might actually have been imagination.

Cowder pointed out the shattered window at the gray spire of the cathedral. "There's your launching site. We don't know how they got up there, but they managed."


"Two of them. When they tried to leave, a couple of priests and two officers of the Cathedral Police spotted them. The kids dropped their launcher and two unfired rockets, and then tried to run for it. Result: one dead kid, one getaway. One of the cops got a bad gash on his arm from a vibroblade, and one of the priests got it in the abdomen. He'll live, but he's in bad shape."

Mike said something under his breath that might have been an oath, except that it avoided all mention of the Deity. Then he added that Name, in a different tone of voice.

"I agree," said Cowder. "You think you know why they did it?"

Mike looked around at his apartment. At first glance it appeared to be a total loss, but closer inspection showed that most of the damage had been restricted to glass and ceramics. The furniture had been tumbled around but not badly damaged. The war head of the rocket had evidently been of the concussion-and-gas type, without much fragmentation.

"I think I know why, yes," Mike said, turning back to the sergeant. "I had a funny feeling all the way home from Harry's. Nothing I could lay my finger on, really. I tried to see if I was being followed, but I didn't spot anyone. There were plenty of kids on the subway.

"It's my guess that the kids knew who I was. If they cased Harry's as thoroughly as it seems they did, they must have seen me go in and out several times. They knew that it was my fault that two of their members got picked up, so they decided to teach me a lesson. One of them must have come up here, even before I left Harry's. The other followed me, just to make sure I was really coming home. Since he knew where I was going, he didn't have to stick too close, so I didn't spot him in the crowd. He might even have gone on up to 116th Street so that I wouldn't see him get off at 110th."

"Sounds reasonable," Cowder agreed. "We know who the kids are. The uniformed squads are rounding up the whole bunch for questioning. They call themselves--you'll get a laugh out of this!--they call themselves the Rocketeers."

"I'm fracturing my funny bone," said Mike the Angel. "The thing that gets me is this revenge business, though. Kids don't usually go that far out for fellow gang members."

"Not usually," the sergeant said, "but this is a little different. The girl you caught and the boy who got killed over at the cathedral are brother and sister."

"That explains it," Mike said. "Rough family, eh?"

Sergeant Cowder shook his head. "Not really. The parents are respectable and fairly well off. Larchmont's the name. The kids are Susan and Herbert--Sue and Bert to you. Bert's sixteen, Sue's seventeen. They were pretty thick, I gather: real brother and sister team."

"Good family, bad kids," Mike muttered. He had wandered over to the wall to look at his Dali. It had fallen to the floor, but it wasn't hurt. The Valois was bent, but it could be fixed up easily enough.

"I wonder," Mike said, picking up the head of a smashed figurine and looking at it. "I wonder if the so-called sociologists have any explanation for it?"

"Sure," Cowder said. "Same one they've been giving for more decades than I'd care to think of. The mother was married before. Divorced her husband, married Larchmont. But she had a boy by her first husband."

"Broken home and sibling rivalry? _Pfui! And if it wasn't that, the sociologists would find another excuse," Mike said angrily.

"Funny thing is that the older half brother was a perfectly respectable kid. Made good grades in school, joined the Space Service, has a perfectly clean record. And yet _he was the product of the broken home, not the two younger kids."

Mike laughed dryly. "_That ought to be food for high sociological thought."

The door announcer chimed again, and Cowder said: "That's probably the lab boys. I told them to come over here as soon as they could finish up at the cathedral."

Mike checked his screen and when Cowder identified the men at the door, Mike let them in.

The short, chubby man in the lead, who was introduced as Perkins, spoke to Sergeant Cowder first. "We checked one of those rockets. Almost a professional job. TNT war head, surrounded by a jacket filled with liquid HCN and a phosphate inhibitor to prevent polymerization. Nasty things." He swung round to Mike. "You're lucky you weren't in the room, or you'd just be part of the wreckage, Mr. Gabriel."

"I know," said Mike the Angel. "Well, the room's all yours. It probably won't tell you much."

"Probably not," said Perkins, "but we'll see. Come on, boys."

Mike the Angel tapped Cowder on the shoulder. "I'd like to talk to you for a minute."

Cowder nodded, and Mike led the way back into his private office. He opened his desk drawer and took out the little pack that housed the workings of the vibroblade shield.

"That accident you were talking about, Sergeant--the one that made those vibroblades blow, remember? I got to thinking that maybe this could have caused it. I think that with a little more power, it might even vaporize a high-speed bullet. But I'd advise you to wear asbestos clothing."

Cowder took the thing and looked at it. "Thanks, Mr. Gabriel," he said honestly. "Maybe the kids will go on to using something else if vibroblades don't work, but I think I'd prefer a rocket in the head to being carved by a vibro."

"To be honest," Mike said, "I think the vibro is just a fad among the JD's now, anyway. You know--if you're one of the real biggies, you carry a vibro. A year from now, it might be shock guns, but right now you're chicken if you carry anything but a vibroblade."

Cowder dropped the shield generator into his coat pocket. "Thanks again, Mr. Gabriel. We'll do you a favor sometime."

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The underground tubeway shot Mike the Angel across five miles of track at high speed. Mike left the car at Stage Twelve and headed up the stairway and down the corridor to a heavy double door marked _freight loading_. He put on his parka and went through the door. The foyer was empty, and, like the one at the rocket landing, protected from the Antarctic blast only by a curtain of hot air. Outside that curtain, the light seemed to lose itself in the darkness of the bleak, snow-filled Wastelands. Mike ignored the snowscape and headed across the empty foyer to

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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