- Author: Randall Garrett
Read book online «Dead Giveaway by Randall Garrett (best manga ereader .TXT) 📕». Author - Randall Garrett
[Transcriber's note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction August 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Logic's a wonderful thing; by logical analysis, one can determine the necessary reason for the existence of a dead city of a very high order on an utterly useless planet. Obviously a shipping transfer point! Necessarily...
"Mendez?" said the young man in the blue-and-green tartan jacket. "Why, yes ... sure I've heard of it. Why?"
The clerk behind the desk looked again at the information screen. "That's the destination we have on file for Scholar Duckworth, Mr. Turnbull. That was six months ago." He looked up from the screen, waiting to see if Turnbull had any more questions.
Turnbull tapped his teeth with a thumbnail for a couple of seconds, then shrugged slightly. "Any address given for him?"
"Yes, sir. The Hotel Byron, Landing City, Mendez."
Turnbull nodded. "How much is the fare to Mendez?"
The clerk thumbed a button which wiped the information screen clean, then replaced it with another list, which flowed upward for a few seconds, then stopped. "Seven hundred and eighty-five fifty, sir," said the clerk. "Shall I make you out a ticket?"
Turnbull hesitated. "What's the route?"
The clerk touched another control, and again the information on the screen changed. "You'll take the regular shuttle from here to Luna, then take either the Stellar Queen or the Oriona to Sirius VI. From there, you will have to pick up a ship to the Central Worlds—either to Vanderlin or BenAbram—and take a ship from there to Mendez. Not complicated, really. The whole trip won't take you more than three weeks, including stopovers."
"I see," said Turnbull. "I haven't made up my mind yet. I'll let you know."
"Very well, sir. The Stellar Queen leaves on Wednesdays and the Oriona on Saturdays. We'll need three days' notice."
Turnbull thanked the clerk and headed toward the big doors that led out of Long Island Terminal, threading his way through the little clumps of people that milled around inside the big waiting room.
He hadn't learned a hell of a lot, he thought. He'd known that Duckworth had gone to Mendez, and he already had the Hotel Byron address. There was, however, some negative information there. The last address they had was on Mendez, and yet Scholar Duckworth couldn't be found on Mendez. Obviously, he had not filed a change of address there; just as obviously, he had managed to leave the planet without a trace. There was always the possibility that he'd been killed, of course. On a thinly populated world like Mendez, murder could still be committed with little chance of being caught. Even here on Earth, a murderer with the right combination of skill and luck could remain unsuspected.
But who would want to kill Scholar Duckworth?
Turnbull pushed the thought out of his mind. It was possible that Duckworth was dead, but it was highly unlikely. It was vastly more probable that the old scholar had skipped off for reasons of his own and that something had happened to prevent him from contacting Turnbull.
After all, almost the same thing had happened in reverse a year ago.
Outside the Terminal Building, Turnbull walked over to a hackstand and pressed the signal button on the top of the control column. An empty cab slid out of the traffic pattern and pulled up beside the barrier which separated the vehicular traffic from the pedestrian walkway. The gate in the barrier slid open at the same time the cab door did, and Turnbull stepped inside and sat down. He dialed his own number, dropped in the indicated number of coins, and then relaxed as the cab pulled out and sped down the freeway towards Manhattan.
He'd been back on Earth now for three days, and the problem of Scholar James Duckworth was still bothering him. He hadn't known anything about it until he'd arrived at his apartment after a year's absence.
The apartment door sighed a little as Dave Turnbull broke the electronic seal with the double key. Half the key had been in his possession for a year, jealousy guarded against loss during all the time he had been on Lobon; the other half had been kept by the manager of the Excelsior Apartments.
As the door opened, Turnbull noticed the faint musty odor that told of long-unused and poorly circulated air. The conditioners had been turned down to low power for a year now.
He went inside and allowed the door to close silently behind him. The apartment was just the same—the broad expanse of pale blue rug, the matching furniture, including the long, comfortable couch and the fat overstuffed chair—all just as he'd left them.
He ran a finger experimentally over the top of the table near the door. There was a faint patina of dust covering the glossy surface, but it was very faint, indeed. He grinned to himself. In spite of the excitement of the explorations on Lobon, it was great to be home again.
He went into the small kitchen, slid open the wall panel that concealed the apartment's power controls, and flipped the switch from "maintenance" to "normal." The lights came on, and there was a faint sigh from the air conditioners as they began to move the air at a more normal rate through the rooms.
Then he walked over to the liquor cabinet, opened it, and surveyed the contents. There, in all their glory, sat the half dozen bottles of English sherry that he'd been dreaming about for twelve solid months. He took one out and broke the seal almost reverently.
Not that there had been nothing to drink for the men on Lobon: the University had not been so blue-nosed as all that. But the choice had been limited to bourbon and Scotch. Turnbull, who was not a whisky drinker by choice, had longed for the mellow smoothness of Bristol Cream Sherry instead of the smokiness of Scotch or the heavy-bodied strength of the bourbon.
He was just pouring his first glass when the announcer chimed. Frowning, Turnbull walked over to the viewscreen that was connected to the little eye in the door. It showed the face of—what was his name? Samson? Sanders. That was it, Sanders, the building superintendent.
Turnbull punched the opener and said: "Come in. I'll be right with you, Mr. Sanders."
Sanders was a round, pleasant-faced, soft-voiced man, a good ten years older than Turnbull himself. He was standing just inside the door as Turnbull entered the living room; there was a small brief case in his hand. He extended the other hand as Turnbull approached.
"Welcome home again, Dr. Turnbull," he said warmly. "We've missed you here at the Excelsior."
Turnbull took the hand and smiled as he shook it. "Glad to be back, Mr. Sanders; the place looks good after a year of roughing it."
The superintendent lifted the brief case. "I brought up the mail that accumulated while you were gone. There's not much, since we sent cards to each return address, notifying them that you were not available and that your mail was being held until your return."
He opened the brief case and took out seven standard pneumatic mailing tubes and handed them to Turnbull.
Turnbull glanced at them. Three of them were from various friends of his scattered over Earth; one was from Standard Recording Company; the remaining three carried the return address of James M. Duckworth, Ph. Sch., U.C.L.A., Great Los Angeles, California.
"Thanks, Mr. Sanders," said Turnbull. He was wondering why the man had brought them up so promptly after his own arrival. Surely, having waited a year, they would have waited until they were called for.
Sanders blinked apologetically. "Uh ... Dr. Turnbull, I wonder if ... if any of those contain money ... checks, cash, anything like that?"
"I don't know. Why?" Turnbull asked in surprise.
Sanders looked even more apologetic. "Well, there was an attempted robbery here about six months ago. Someone broke into your mailbox downstairs. There was nothing in it, of course; we've been putting everything into the vault as it came in. But the police thought it might be someone who knew you were getting money by mail. None of the other boxes were opened, you see, and—" He let his voice trail off as Turnbull began opening the tubes.
None of them contained anything but correspondence. There was no sign of anything valuable.
"Maybe they picked my box at random," Turnbull said. "They may have been frightened off after opening the one box."
"That's very likely it," said Sanders. "The police said it seemed to be a rather amateurish job, although whoever did it certainly succeeded in neutralizing the alarms."
Satisfied, the building superintendent exchanged a few more pleasantries with Turnbull and departed. Turnbull headed back toward the kitchen, picked up his glass of sherry, and sat down in the breakfast nook to read the letters.
The one from Standard Recording had come just a few days after he'd left, thanking him for notifying them that he wanted to suspend his membership for a year. The three letters from Cairo, London, and Luna City were simply chatty little social notes, nothing more.
The three from Scholar Duckworth were from a different breed of cat.
The first was postmarked 21 August 2187, three months after Turnbull had left for Lobon. It was neatly addressed to Dave F. Turnbull, Ph.D.
Dear Dave (it read):
I know I haven't been as consistent in keeping up with my old pupils as I ought to have been. For this, I can only beat my breast violently and mutter mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I can't even plead that I was so immersed in my own work that I hadn't the time to write, because I'm busier right now than I've been for years, and I've had to make time for this letter.
Of course, in another way, this is strictly a business letter, and it does pertain to my work, so the time isn't as hard to find as it might be.
But don't think I haven't been watching your work. I've read every one of your articles in the various journals, and I have copies of all four of your books nestled securely in my library. Columbia should be—and apparently is—proud to have a man of your ability on its staff. At the rate you've been going, it won't be long before you get an invitation from the Advanced Study Board to study for your Scholar's degree.
As a matter of fact, I'd like to make you an offer right now to do some original research with me. I may not be a top-flight genius like Metternick or Dahl, but my reputation does carry some weight with the Board. (That, Turnbull thought, was a bit of needless modesty; Duckworth wasn't the showman that Metternick was, or the prolific writer that Dahl was, but he had more intelligence and down-right wisdom than either.) So if you could manage to get a few months leave from Columbia, I'd be honored to have your assistance. (More modesty, thought Turnbull. The honor would be just the other way round.)
The problem, in case you're wondering, has to do with the Centaurus Mystery; I think I've uncovered a new approach that will literally kick the supports right out from under every theory that's been evolved for the existence of that city. Sound interesting?
I'm mailing this early, so it should reach you in the late afternoon mail. If you'll be at home between 1900 and 2000, I'll call you and give you the details. If you've got a pressing appointment, leave details with the operator.
Turnbull slid the letter back into its tube and picked up the second letter, dated 22 August 2187, one day later.
I called last night, and the operator said your phone has been temporarily disconnected. I presume these letters will be forwarded, so please let me know where you are. I'm usually at home between 1800 and 2300, so call me collect within the next three or four days.
The third letter was dated 10 November 2187. Turnbull wondered why it had been sent. Obviously, the manager of the Excelsior had sent Duckworth a notice that Dr. Turnbull was off-planet and could not be reached. He must have received the notice on the afternoon of 22 August. That would account for his having sent a second letter before he got the notice. Then why the third letter?
I know you won't be reading this letter for six months