Read book online «Out Like a Light by Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer (best ereader for epub .txt) 📕». Author - Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction April, May and June 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.]
Kenneth Malone—sometimes known as Sir Kenneth of The Queen's Own FBI—had had problems with telepathic spies, and more than somewhat nutty telepathic counterspies. But the case of the Vanishing Delinquents was at least as bad....Illustrated by Freas
he sidewalk was as soft as a good bed. Malone lay curled on it thinking about nothing at all. He was drifting off into a wonderful dream and he didn't want to interrupt it. There was this girl, a beautiful girl, more wonderful than anything he had ever imagined, with big blue eyes and long blond hair and a figure that made the average pin-up girl look like a man. And she had her soft white hand on his arm, and she was looking up at him with trust and devotion and even adoration in her eyes, and her voice was the softest possible whisper of innocence and promise.
"I'd love to go up to your apartment with you, Mr. Malone," she said.
Malone smiled back at her, gently but with complete confidence. "Call me Ken," he said, noticing that he was seven feet tall and superbly muscled. He put his free hand on the girl's warm, soft shoulder and she wriggled with delight.
"All right—Ken," she said. "You know, I've never met anyone like you before. I mean, you're so wonderful and everything."
Malone chuckled modestly, realizing, in passing, how full and rich his voice had become. He felt a weight pressing over his heart, and knew that it was his wallet, stuffed to bursting with thousand-dollar bills.
But was this a time to think of money?
No, Malone told himself. This was the time for adventure, for romance, for love. He looked down at the girl and put his arm around her waist. She snuggled closer.
He led her easily down the long wide street to his car at the end of the block. It stood in godlike solitude, a beautiful red Cadillac capable of going a hundred and ten miles an hour in any gear, equipped with fully automatic steering and braking, and with stereophonic radio, a hi-fi and a 3-D set installed in both front and back seats. It was a 1972 job, but he meant to trade it in on something even better when the 1973 models came out. In the meantime, he decided, it would do.
He handed the girl in, went round to the other side and slid in under the wheel. There was soft music playing, somewhere, and a magnificent sunset appeared ahead of them as Malone pushed a button on the dashboard and the red Cadillac started off down the wide, empty, wonderfully paved street into the sunset while he—
The red Cadillac?
The sidewalk became a little harder, and Malone suddenly realized that he was lying on it. Something terrible had happened; he knew that right away. He opened his eyes to look for the girl, but the sunset had become much brighter; his head began to pound with the slow regularity of a dead-march and he closed his eyes again in a hurry.
The sidewalk swayed a little but he managed to keep his balance on it somehow, and after a couple of min[Pg 4]utes it was quiet again. His head hurt. Maybe that was the terrible thing that had happened, but Malone wasn't quite sure. As a matter of fact, he wasn't very sure about anything, and he started to ask himself questions to make certain he was all there.
He didn't feel all there. He felt as if several of his parts had been replaced with second-or even third-hand experimental models, and something had happened to the experiment. It was even hard to think of any questions, but after a while he managed to come up with a few.
What is your name?
Where do you live?
Washington, D. C.
What is your work?
I work for the FBI.
Then what are you doing on a sidewalk in New York in broad daylight?
He tried to find an answer to that, but there didn't seem to be any, no matter where he looked. The only thing he could think of was the red Cadillac.
And if the red Cadillac had anything to do with anything, Malone didn't know about it.
Very slowly and carefully, he opened his eyes again, one at a time. He discovered that the light was not coming from the gorgeous Hollywood sunset he had dreamed up. As a matter of fact, sunset was several hours in the past, and it never looked very pretty in New York anyhow. It was the middle of the night, and Malone was lying under a convenient street lamp.
He closed his eyes again and waited patiently for his head to go away.
A few minutes passed. It was obvious that his head had settled down for a long stay, and no matter how bad it felt, Malone told himself, it was his head, after all. He felt a certain responsibility for it. And he couldn't just leave it lying around somewhere with its eyes closed.
He opened the head's eyes once more, and this time he kept them open. For a long time he stared at the post of the street lamp, considering it, and he finally decided that it looked sturdy enough to support a hundred and sixty-five pounds of FBI man, even with the head added in. He grabbed for the post with both hands and started to pull himself upright, noticing vaguely that his legs had somehow managed to get underneath him.
As soon as he was standing, he wished he'd stayed on the nice horizontal sidewalk. His head was spinning dizzily and his mind was being sucked down into the whirlpool. He held on to the post grimly and tried to stay conscious.
A long time, possibly two or three seconds, passed. Malone hadn't moved at all when the two cops came along.
One of them was a big man with a brassy voice and a face that looked as if it had been overbaked in a waffle-iron. He came up behind[Pg 5] Malone and tapped him on the shoulder, but Malone barely felt the touch. Then the cop bellowed into Malone's ear.
"What's the matter, buddy?"
Malone appreciated the man's sympathy. It was good to know that you had friends. But he wished, remotely, that the cop and his friend, a shorter and thinner version of the beat patrolman, would go away and leave him in peace. Maybe he could lie down on the sidewalk again and get a couple of hundred years' rest.
Who could tell?
"Mallri," he said.
"You're all right?" the big cop said. "That's fine. That's great. So why don't you go home and sleep it off?"
"Sleep?" Malone said. "Home?"
"Wherever you live, buddy," the big cop said. "Come on. Can't stand around on the sidewalk all night."
Malone shook his head, and decided at once never to do it again. He had some kind of rare disease, he realized. His brain was loose, and the inside of his skull was covered with sandpaper. Every time his head moved, the brain jounced against some of the sandpaper.
But the policeman thought he was drunk. That wasn't right. He couldn't let the police get the wrong impression of FBI agents. Now the man would go around telling people that the FBI was always drunk and disorderly.
"Not drunk," he said clearly.
"Sure," the big cop said. "You're fine. Maybe just one too many, huh?"
"No," Malone said. The effort exhausted him and he had to catch his breath before he could say anything else. But the cops waited patiently. At last he said: "Somebody slugged me."
"Slugged?" the big cop said.
"Right." Malone remembered just in time not to nod his head.
"How about a description, buddy?" the big cop said.
"Didn't see him," Malone said. He let go of the post with one hand, keeping a precarious grip with the other. He stared at his watch. The hands danced back and forth, but he focused on them after a while. It was 1:05. "Happened just—a few minutes ago," he said. "Maybe you can catch him."
The big cop said: "Nobody around here. The place is deserted—except for you, buddy." He paused and then added: "Let's see some identification, huh? Or did he take your wallet?"
Malone thought about getting the wallet, and decided against it. The motions required would be a little tricky, and he wasn't sure he could manage them without letting go of the post entirely. At last he decided to let the cop get his wallet. "Inside coat pocket," he said.
The other policeman blinked and looked up. His face was a studied blank. "Hey, buddy," he said. "You know you got blood on your head?"
The big cop said: "Sam's right. You're bleeding, mister."
"Good," Malone said.
The big cop said: "Huh?"[Pg 6]
"I thought maybe my skull was going to explode from high blood pressure," Malone said. It was beginning to be a little easier to talk. "But as long as there's a slow leak, I guess I'm out of danger."
"Get his wallet," the smaller cop—Sam—said. "I'll watch him."
A hand went into Malone's jacket pocket. It tickled a little bit, but Malone didn't think of objecting. Naturally enough, the hand and Malone's wallet did not make an instant connection. When the hand touched the bulky object strapped near Malone's armpit it stopped, frozen, and then cautiously snaked the object out.
"What's that, Bill?" Sam said.
Bill looked up with the object in his hand. He seemed a little dazed. "It's a gun," he said.
"The guy's heeled!" Sam said. "Watch him! Don't let him get away!"
Malone considered getting away, and decided that he couldn't move. "It's O.K.," he said.
"O.K., hell," Sam said. "It's a .44 Magnum. What are you doing with a gun, Mac?" He was no longer polite and friendly. "Why you carrying a gun?" he said.
"I'm not carrying it," Malone said tiredly. "Bill is. Your pal."
Bill backed away from Malone, putting the Magnum in his pocket and keeping the FBI agent covered with his own Police Positive. At the same time, he fished out the personal radio every patrolman carried in his uniform, and began calling for a prowl car in a low, somewhat nervous voice.
Sam said: "A gun. He could of shot everybody."
"Get his wallet," Bill said. "He can't hurt you now. I disarmed him."
Malone began to feel slightly dangerous. Maybe he was a famous gangster. He wasn't sure. Maybe all this about being an FBI agent was just a figment of his imagination. Blows on the head did funny things. "I'll drill everybody full of holes," he said in a harsh, underworld sort of voice, but it didn't sound very convincing. Sam approached him gently and fished out his wallet with great care, as if Malone were a ticking bomb ready to go off any second.
There was a little silence. Then Sam said: "Give him his gun back, Bill," in a hushed and respectful tone.
"Give him back his gun?" the big cop said. "You gone nuts, Sam?"
Sam shook his head slowly. "Nope," he said. "But we made a terrible mistake. Know who this guy is?"
"He's heeled," Bill said. "That's all I want to know." He put the radio away and gave all his attention to Malone.
"He's FBI," Sam said. "The wallet says so. Badge and everything. And not only that, Bill. He's Kenneth J. Malone."
Well, Malone thought with relief, that settled that. He wasn't a gangster after all. He was just the FBI agent he had always known and[Pg 7] loved. Maybe now the cops would do something about his head and take him away for burial.
"Malone?" Bill said. "You mean the guy who's here about all those red Cadillacs?"
"Sure," Sam said. "So give him his gun back." He looked at Malone. "Listen, Mr. Malone," he said. "We're sorry. We're sorry as hell."
"That's all right," Malone said absently. He moved his head slowly and looked around. His suspicions were confirmed. There wasn't a