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Mike Carstairs rose to shake hands with his latest client, a tall, expensively-dressed man with a streak of silver at his temples. The client reached into his coat pocket as he sat down, and handed Mike a small newspaper clipping.

"This is yours, Mr. Carstairs. Do you mean it seriously?"

Mike glanced at the clipping, which was a small ad reading:

"Law enforcement agencies punish crime. Criminal syndicates commit crime. We prevent crime. Call Carstairs Consultants . . ."

Mike nodded, and handed the clipping back. "That's the service we offer, Mr. Johnston."

Johnston said hesitantly, "I am in a very serious position, Mr. Carstairs. This is a matter of life and death."

"We'll do everything we can for you," said Mike.

Johnston glanced first around the office, which was furnished with expensive simplicity, then at a framed drawing on the wall, behind Mike's desk. The drawing was an artist's sketch of the Carstairs Building, and showed it rising impressively in a stretch of flat land well outside the city. Mike, who considered the building to be ugly but functional, had put the drawing where he wouldn't have to look at it, but where it would intimidate the type of client who otherwise might have a thousand questions as to Mike's ability to perform the service he offered.

Johnston said hesitantly, "I understand your principal interest, Mr. Carstairs, is in manufacturing electronic components."

Mike said, "Was that your purpose in coming here, Mr. Johnston?"

Johnston started to answer, hesitated, glanced again at the sketch of the building they were in, and shifted his position uneasily in the chair. He leaned forward, and said, "As a matter of fact Mr. Carstairs, I'm here because of a very ugly personal situation. Now, I hope you'll excuse me if I ask a little further as to the service you offer. You say you can prevent crime?"

"We can prevent certain crimes, including generally, the more serious crimes of passion."

Johnston said tensely, "Can you prevent murder?"


"Will the potential murderer, when he has been stopped, try again to commit murder?"

"No. Once we stop him, he has usually had enough for a long time."

"Will he be injured mentally?"

"He may suffer something similar to the dread, anguish, and remorse he might have felt after he had committed the crime."

"But this isn't anything similar to . . . say . . . prefrontal lobotomy?"


"I see." Johnston hesitated, then said tensely, "Mr. Carstairs, three years ago, my wife died. Some time after her death, my son and I had a serious disagreement, and I was forced to discharge him from my firm. There were some pretty harsh words spoken. Then last year, I remarried. My wife is considerably younger than I. Last night, I came home from the office somewhat earlier than usual, and overheard my wife crying, and being comforted by my son." Johnston hesitated.

Mike said, "Your son had a key to the house?"

Johnston shook his head. "I haven't got the picture across, Mr. Carstairs. My house is a very large one, really much larger than I need. When I discharged my son, for business reasons, I saw no reason to throw him out of his home. We don't get along. But the house, as I say, is a very large one. He has his room in another wing, and takes his meals in the kitchen. Our paths seldom cross. For some reason, it never entered my head that he and my young wife would do more than nod in passing if they chanced to meet. I realize now that this was extremely stupid."

"What did you do when you overheard them?"

"I stood stock-still for the moment, and listened. My wife's voice, between sobs, was very low. My son was saying, rather briskly, "Don't worry. I'll take care of him for you. There won't be anything left when I get through with him."

"Did you see them?"

"No. I just heard them. The conversation seemed rather out-of-focus to me. It was a great deal clearer to me this morning, when my brakes failed in heavy traffic, and I narrowly escaped a serious accident. The brake line had been cut."

"What did you do?"

"I'd seen your ad in the paper a week or two ago, and been curious about it. I immediately bought a paper and turned to the classified section. You see, I don't want the police or private detectives in this. There is too much possibility of scandal. I want you to find out what is going on, and if my son is behind this, stop him. It seems clear enough that the situation is very bad. But it may be possible to save something out of the wreckage."

Mike leaned back and carefully thought over what Johnston had told him. Then Mike said, "Would you mind repeating what you heard your son say?"

"He said, 'Don't worry. I'll take care of him for you. There won't be anything left when I get through with him.'"

"How did he say it?"

Johnston frowned. "He said it briskly, as if he were about to squash a spider."

"Then what?"

"My wife was crying, and saying 'Don't. You can't do it,' or words to that effect."

"What did you do?"

"Well, I was furious. To tell the truth, it didn't all add up to me until my brakes failed this morning. But I had a perfectly plain impression that something was going on behind my back. I was home early, you see, or I wouldn't have come across this. For just an instant, I considered walking in on them. Then, instead, I went back outside and closed the door heavily as I came in. Sure enough, my wife acted odd when I got there. My son had gotten away, and I didn't see him till this morning."

"How did he act?"

"Perfectly cool, as usual."

Mike thought for a few moments, then said, "How did you get here? Did you come in a taxi, or did you drive out yourself?"

"I drove myself."

"Did you, by any chance, notice a car that stayed behind you for some time?"

Johnston looked at Mike sharply. "How did you know that?"

"It seemed a reasonable inference, in the circumstances."

"Yes, there was a blue sedan about three years old, that I noticed several times in the rear-view mirror. Sometimes it was one car behind, and sometimes two. I was suspicious because of the accident. I slowed down, and the car slowed down with me. When I speeded up, it dropped several cars back. But when I pulled into the parking lot here, it went on past."

"Did you happen to notice this car when your brakes gave out?"

"Mr. Carstairs, I didn't notice anything."

Mike laughed, then said, "When did you plan to go home tonight?"

"Not till around eight. There's some work I have to finish up at the office."

"Good. We'll be on the job by then. I think we can protect you, but chance can always enter into the things, so be on your guard."

Johnston nodded. "It will be worth a great deal to me, if you can take care of this."

"We'll do our best."

The two men shook hands, and Johnston went out.

Mike leaned back in his chair, shut his eyes, and thought it over carefully. Then he snapped on the intercom.

A few minutes later, Sue Lathrop came in.

Mike took the sheet she handed him, glanced at the background information Johnston had filled in while waiting for his appointment, and noted the type of car Johnston drove and its license number. Mike picked up the phone, and asked his man on parking-lot duty if the car was there.

"It's right here, Mr. Carstairs, parked near the west wall of the building."

"Has anyone been near it since it was parked?"

There was a pause of about thirty seconds. "No, sir. Ten minutes ago, a man walked past the car . . . oh, about twelve feet away . . . and got into his own car. That's all."

"Have we a blue car in the lot? One about three years old?"

"N-No. We haven't. But one drove through the lot slowly about half-an-hour ago, and went out again."

"Drove in, didn't park, and drove out again?"

"That's right. As if it were looking for someone."

"Did it pass near the car we're interested in?"

"Yes, sir, it drove right past it."

"Good. Get the license number from the films, and see if you can find a decent shot of the driver. Have it blown up and sent up to me."

"Yes, sir. I'll get right at it."

"Fine." Mike hung up and glanced at Sue. "How much did Johnston give you as a retainer?"

"Five thousand. He said money was no object, and not to hesitate if we thought we needed more."

Mike nodded and picked up the phone again. Looking at the addresses on the data sheet Sue had given him he said, "Hello, Martin?"

"Right here, Chief."

"Send one of our special cars out by 1430 Ridgewood Drive, and another to 1112 Main Avenue." Mike read off Johnston's name, gave a description of him, of his car, and briefly described the trouble he was having. "You might put one of our own cars out to follow him when he leaves here, and have the driver keep his eye open for a blue car about three years old. You can get what is probably a good picture of that car from the lot."

"O.K., Chief. You'll want us to have a couple guys in the tank, too, won't you?"

"Yes, I don't think we can afford to waste any time."

"O.K. We'll get right to work. Good-by."


Mike hung up and glanced at Sue. "How did you know to send Johnston in to me, instead of one of our interviewers."

"I can usually tell when it's serious."

The phone rang, and Mike picked it up to hear the man on duty in the lot say, "Mr. Carstairs?"

"Right here."

"We've run into something a little peculiar."

"What's that?"

"The license plate on the front of the blue car we want to trace is splashed with mud, as if the car had gone through a puddle."

"Does that obscure the number?"

"Well, no. But there's a blob of mud that partially covers that last numeral in the date of the plate."

"This is in front?"

"Yes, sir. And, strange to say, there's a blob just about the same shape over the same numeral in back."

"You think the plates are old ones?"

"Yes, sir. It looks as if the plates are old, and probably the numerals of the date are retouched."

"What about the driver of the car?"

"He's got a hat on, and he's wearing a big set of dark glasses. Aside from that, we've got a good picture of him."

"Well, send it up, and send pictures of the man and the car to Mr. Martin, too."

"Yes, sir."

Mike set the phone back in its cradle, glanced at Sue, and said, "You heard me describe this to Martin. How does it seem to you?"

Sue frowned. "A little out-of-focus."

Mike smiled. "It could be. Or it could fit the pattern of a slightly careless murderer. He has a plan that strikes him as brilliant. It is brilliant. But he's afraid that if he waits, something about the situation will change. Therefore, he puts the plan into effect, right away, and drives it hard to finish things off fast before they get out of control. From the look of things, I think this might come to its conclusion pretty fast. How would you like to be in on the end of it?"

"I'd like to. I could have one of the other girls take over for me here."

He smiled. "Care to go in the tank?"

She shivered. "I'll watch at a screen if you don't mind."

Mike laughed, and glanced at his watch. "I don't think anything will happen till Johnston reaches either his home or his office. That gives us an hour, and probably a lot longer. It might be a good idea to have a light lunch first, then go on down to the tanks. We may be there for a while."

She nodded. "Good idea."

Sue and Mike had lunch in the dining room at the top of the Carstairs Building. Mike, having had the building constructed well out of town, had also provided a place to eat. The dining room he'd had built was quiet, modern, and pleasant, but the view from it was terrible. He looked out the window and groaned.

Sue followed his gaze, and laughed. Directly below was the blacktopped parking lot. Then came a tall wire mesh fence. Beyond that stretched the railroad track, a mathematically straight strip of cinders dividing the scrubby vegetation into two halves. In the distance, the city hunched on the horizon, its manufacturing district contributing a pall of smoke to the general desolation.

Sue said, "It's no worse now than when the Indians were here. It only seems bad by contrast."

"The taxes aren't bad," he growled. "And it gives us room for expansion. That's about all you can say."

The waitress brought their order, then moved quietly away.

Sue said, "Yet, five years ago, I wouldn't have thought this was possible. I was still your combined stenographer, receptionist, confidential secretary, and laboratory assistant. When the bills came, I'd divide then into three classes. Those without threats or pleading went into the wastebasket. Those that tried to appeal to our better nature and sense of fair play went into the wastebasket. The ones that threatened us with lawyers, I passed on to you."

He laughed, "Yes, and I could always reduce that bunch by three-quarters, at least."

"And we ate lunch in terrible places, or brought it in with us."

"True," he said, "and what is this leading up to?"

"We're here," she said.

A messenger threaded his way among the tables to Mike's place at the window, apologized for interrupting, and handed him a brown envelope about twelve inches by eight. Mike opened it up, and took out two large photographs, one of a blue sedan, and one of a pale man wearing dark glasses and a gray felt hat. Two smaller photos showed the mud-splashed license plates. Mike studied them carefully, then slid them across to Sue.

"Not much," he said. "That's a popular car, and those license plates are probably inside the car trunk by now."

"If we ever see this man," said Sue exasperatedly, "we can recognize him by the nondescript appearance of the lower half of his face. Plus that mole just to the left of his nose."

"I know. The mole is the only distinguishing feature. And it could possibly be a fake."

They ate in silence for a moment, then Mike said, "What did you mean when you said, 'We're here'?"

"I mean, we've arrived. You've done it, and we've reached the goal." She glanced at him with a trace of exasperation. "What I'm trying to say is, here you are, a success. We are now eating in a dining room that you own, rather than in a scrubby joint. But somehow, I don't think it really means anything to you."

He looked at her earnest expression and laughed suddenly.

"Why is it funny?" she said. "What I said is true. Not one man out of a hundred thousand has done what you've done in so short a time. And what do you do? You don't like the view." For an instant, she looked as if she might cry.

"The view," said Mike quietly, "stinks. Now let me tell you something. I am very grateful that things have worked out as they have, because it gives me a limited power to do things the way they ought to be done. There's nothing I know of that's much more painful, mentally, then to know what's the right thing to do, and to have to stand by powerlessly while some self-assured fool does things in exactly the wrong way. But you have to be careful, because the odds are good that this self-assured fool wasn't always a fool. He got there by a natural process. And one of the steps in that process can be what people call 'success'."

"What do you mean?"

"There are two ways to look at success. One is to look at the outward result, an accumulation of goods and power. The other is to consider the cause, the combination of work, thought, and good fortune that brings about the outer success. The outward things are subject to loss anytime. A war, a change in business conditions, or a natural disaster, can wipe them out, either in a flash or by slow stages. A new technological innovation could make this place, for instance, as obsolete as the four-horse chariot.

"Put your faith in outward signs of success, and you're in about the position of the owner of a sand dune. It may last quite a while, or it may blow away, and leave you with nothing but a gritty taste in your mouth. The man who achieves success is confronted with this problem. What will he do? If he doesn't see the problem at all, he is likely to get a rude shock. If he sees it and tries to ignore it, he has the mental strain this creates in his own thinking. If he sees it and recognizes it, he may fall into the trap of thinking, 'All things are impermanent. So what's the use?' Or, on the other hand, he may decide to not put his faith in outward signs of success, and then the whole problem vanishes. Instead of priding himself on something out of his control, he is free to concentrate on the attitudes of thought and work that he can largely control, and that helped bring success in the first place."

Another messenger was at Mike's elbow, and apologetically handed him a small envelope. Mike thanked him, opened it up, and pulled out a slip of paper. He read the message, wrote briefly on the margin, and sent it back.

"The license plates," he said, "are a blind alley." He glanced at Sue, who was looking at him with an unreadable expression. He decided that she thought she had been lectured. He said defensively, "Well, you brought up a philosophical point. I say outward success can be a trap, if you forget the part that inner attitudes and the Grace of God play in bringing it about. There are a lot of people with one foot in this trap wondering what it is that hurts."

Sue laughed. "I wasn't criticizing you. Do you remember what we used to talk about over day-old doughnuts and tap water?"

"Well," he said, "I guess a lot of things."

"Yes," she said, "and this very thing was one of them. I thought at the time that you had that idea because of circumstances. Certain ideas, you know, naturally go with day-old doughnuts out of a bag, and others with cake on a tray."

"True," he said, "but those ideas are moochers, not friends. When you need them, they're just on their way out. It's better to have ideas that stick with you when things got rough."

She looked thoughtfully out the window for a moment, and then said, "You know, as a matter of fact that view does stink."

"It sure does," said Mike, "and there's no escaping it. Well, suppose we go on down and take a look in at the tanks."

"You go ahead," she said. "I'll be down in a few minutes—if I don't lose my courage."

"Still uneasy about it?" he said. "Why?"

"I don't know," she said, as they stood up to leave. "Somehow, there seems to be something horribly fundamental about it. But I can't say what."

The "tanks" were located in the subbasement of the building, and even though Mike had planned the layout, he was always surprised when he saw it at close range. He had started out in three rooms, after a blowup with stubborn-minded superiors in a giant corporation. It now struck him as a sort of grim poetic justice that his own business had flourished and as a result was coming to take on some of the characteristics of the monster corporation he had detested. The only compensating features were that he owned this business, and he had such a long technical lead that there was comparatively little sense of the competition breathing down his neck. This might change overnight. But until it changed, he was able to run things as he thought they ought to be run.

He stepped around a raised, heavy glass tank about eight feet long by four wide, with a framework of rods and levers above it, and clusters of waterproof wires and hoses growing out of it like the roots and stems of some ominous jungle plant. He glanced up, to note where the wires and hoses were gathered into clusters, then spread out again to lead into massive white boxes in the ceiling overhead. On the floors above, he knew, were labyrinths of complex equipment, arranged by types in separate layers one above the other, with specialized technicians working at each level of the central core of the building. But down here was where it all added up. He glanced around at the blocks of tanks, with an intent technician seated at the head end of each tank in use and alternating his gaze between a monitor screen and a bank of gauges.

Sue Lathrop, wearing the white smock that was customary down here, threaded her way through a block of tanks, then walked swiftly down the aisle toward him. She looked a little pale, and shivered as she reached him.

"This place," she said, in a low voice, "gives me the creeps. Take my hand, will you?"

He took her hand, which felt very small in his, and looked at her quizzically.

She said, "I just want a little human contact. This place is so horribly impersonal."

"It's functional," said Mike smiling. "Or would you like us to paint everything pink, put murals on the walls, and pipe music in through loudspeakers?"

"No matter what you did, it would still be like having a morgue in the basement."

Mike laughed. Then he took another look around, and he wasn't so sure.

They were walking down the aisle toward a block of twelve tanks with a large placard suspended overhead, and numbered "1". This was the set of tanks Mike intended to use for Johnston's case, and he was glad to see that Martin, the chunky man in charge, was already well along with the work. Four of the tanks were horizontal, with the yellow lights lit that signaled that they were in use. Two other tanks were slowly lowering from vertical to horizontal, and two of the remaining tanks were hidden by the circular white screens that were put in place as the operators got into their suits.

Sue's hand tightened in Mike's. Then she took a deep breath and released her hand.

"Can't go walking around holding hands with the boss," she said. "It just isn't done."

They had reached the No. 1 block of tanks, and Martin looked up to nod to Mike and grin as he saw Sue. "Worked up your courage, again?"

"No," she said, "I just had the silly idea I wanted to see how this case worked out. Now I'm here, I know I'll have nightmare material for a month."

Martin said cheerfully, "There's nothing nightmarish here. Everything just looks like what it is."

"I think that's the trouble."

Mike said, "Maybe if we'd do the place over in Early American, and stick a few fireplaces around here and there—"

"Just the thing," said Martin. "We could have special workmen to trundle in the cherry logs, and we could hide the tanks here in secret passages."

"Just like the House of Seven Gables," said Sue, shivering. "Well, I don't mean to get in the way of business. After all, no one dragged me here."

Mike glanced at Martin. "Where's Johnston now?"

"In his office," said Martin.

"Any trouble on the way back?"

"No. The only unusual feature was that he slowed down well in advance for every stoplight. That brake failure must have made him uneasy."

"Any signs of that blue car?"

"None at all."

"How are things going out at his house?"

"Nothing unusual as yet. We're just getting started out there." He glanced around. "Here, it's just coming onto the big screen."

Mike glanced at the composite screen, that reproduced the scenes of each tank's monitor screen. A section of the composite screen showed a big white villa-type house, set in a broad lawn planted with many shrubs and trees. The screen showed it as from a slowly-moving camera about forty feet above the ground. There was noticeable fuzziness, particularly of distant objects, but aside from that the view was satisfactory. Mike was studying this scene, noting the drive that curved back past the house, and trees along the drive, when he overheard Martin saying to Sue, "Here's something pretty for you. How do you like this?"

Mike glanced around to see Martin holding out what appeared to be a hummingbird moth. Sue took it, and smiled. "It's awfully pretty. Is that a receptor?"

"One of the newest," said Martin. "Here's one that looks like a bumblebee."

Mike turned back to the view on the composite screen. The house was much closer now, and as Mike looked at it, he saw a man come around the side of the house carrying a set of electric hedge shears. The man's face had a slightly odd look, and after a moment, Mike realized what it was.

"Mart," said Mike.

Martin was saying, "Got them down to the size of large mosquitoes now, but below that, we're licked. There must be some way—" He stopped abruptly, "Yes, Chief?"

"Look at this man."

Martin came over. After a moment, he said, "I don't see anything."

Sue said suddenly, "I do. Look at the left side of his face."

Just before the man passed out of sight at the lower edge of the screen, it was possible to see that the left side of the man's face was a little pinker than his right. And the pinkness was in the form of an outline around a paler area that ringed his eye. There was a small mole just to the left of his nose.

Martin said, "I see it. He's been wearing sunglasses. And he's driven around long enough to get a little sunburn. The left side of his face, on the driver's side of the car, is more exposed to the sun than his right."

Mike said, "I'd like to get a closer look at that house."

"We've got a spare tank with a suit your size, if you'd like to use it."

"Yes, I think I would." He glanced at Sue. "Care to monitor for me?"

"Just like old times," she said with a smile. "Yes, I'll monitor. As long as I don't have to get in it."

Mike pulled a screen around an unused tank, stepped inside, stripped, put on a clear suit liner Martin handed in to him, and then stepped over to the black suit with its color-coded wires and hoses sprouting from it like limbs from an untrimmed tree. The suit hung inside the uptilted tank, and, as usual, Mike had great difficulty getting into it. When he had it on, he could neither see nor hear, and he still had the supreme awkwardness of making sure that it was properly fastened. The multiple cables that branched from the suit dragged at his every movement, and the sense of confinement brought on a claustrophobic sensation he had forgotten about. But he went through the necessary motions without help, because if trouble ever developed inside the suit, he wanted to be able to get out of it without waiting for help.

When he was satisfied, he said, "Sue?"

"Right here," came a voice at his ears.

"Tilt the tank up, check the fastening, and then we can start."

He felt himself slowly shifted backward, then his weight and the weight of the suit came to rest heavily on his back and shoulder blades. After a moment, Sue's voice said "Fastenings checked. I'm going to flood the tank and lower the control frame."


Gradually, the pressure on his shoulder blades eased. He heard a very faint rumble, groped with his hands and feet, slipped his hands into two sets of grips, one at each side, and raised his legs so that the slots in the bootheels of the suit slid down over the studs of the control levers.

"O.K." he said.

"Ready for test?"


A vague brightness appeared before his eyes, seemed to move closer like two separate movie screens approaching on trolleys, then merged, and after an instant of painful disorientation, formed into a faintly fuzzy view of the tank room. He could see Martin looking at the composite screen, and slipping on a headset. Sue was seated at a monitor screen, glancing from the screen to a set of gauges.

"Clear now," said Mike.

"Right," she said. Sue turned on her stool, and looked down into the tank, then looked up in the direction from which Mike was now watching.

Aware of a split in his sense of location, Mike pulled his left hand back slowly. The hand control moved back against a noticeable resistance, then the resistance gave way completely, only to reappear as Mike continued to draw back.

Sue said, "First detent. Wing covers open—Second. Wings spread."

Once more the resistance built up and gave way. Mike felt a throb at his shoulders, from the rhythmic pulsation in an hydraulic tube.

"Wings moving. Slow beat," said Sue.

Mike drew back farther, moved his heels by reflex action, and the scene around him shifted, began to fall way, and stabilized. He moved forward, till he was looking at Sue from less than a yard away.

She smiled. "It's the strangest thing to see you moving in that tank, and this little bug obeying your slightest move."

"You could appreciate it better if you tried it," he said. "There's a sense of identification I don't think you can appreciate without experiencing it." He was hanging now about a foot in front of her nose, moving the controls automatically, without conscious awareness.

She shook her head. "No. I'm content to remain ignorant. Incidentally, this receptor looks a lot like a big June bug, and I hope you won't want to come any closer with it."

"Test for hearing," he said. "I'm not sure how I'm getting this."

She swung the microphone away from her lips. "Hear me now?" The sound came from directly in front of him.

"Yes," he said, and swung back to land neatly on the narrow stand near the tank. "O.K. Switch over to a receptor near Johnston's house."

"Right," she said.

A minute or so later, the large white, villa-type house, was in front of him, and he was using one of the receptors from the specially-equipped car parked up the road by a big, over-spreading tree.

The first part of the check of the house went normally, with Mike and other operators switching control back and forth as they flew the receptors to trees around the house, and left them clamped in place, to give a view that covered the house, and the four-car garage behind it, from every angle.

Martin's voice cut in to say, "Composite screens II and III on. We now have complete coverage of the outside of the house and grounds. Better plant one or two inside the garage, Aldo, and bring in a sleeper."

"I got one, Mart. In the willow tree just outside."

"Not good enough. If they close those garage doors, you could be shut out in no time, and then all we could do would be to look."

"O.K. I'll fly one in, and clamp it overhead."

"Good boy. Now how about the inside? Terry?"

"Right here, Mart. I've checked the house pretty carefully. It's completely screened in, doors and windows. The chimney looks good, but there's a steel plate blocking the flues to each fireplace, and the only other flue winds up inside an oil burner. It's not very promising, if you see what I mean."

"Have to cut then," said Martin.

"I've got a cutter clamped to an oak tree outside an upstairs window. The tree screens the window from outside, and the room seems to be vacant."

"The window open?"

"Halfway. From the bottom. Third window at the side from the right front corner of the house."

"Oh, I see. Yes, cut the screen there. We have to get in somehow. O.K., get at it." He hesitated, then said, "Mike?"

"Right here," said Mike, aware that Mart, who had the whole picture on the composite screens, had to run this.

"Better fly up some gp's, sleepers, and grips, so we'll be ready to go in."

"How about the finalists. Do we want any inside?"

"Not yet. They're a little too bulky, and I don't want to commit them yet. Watch out when you bring up the others that you vary your route and cover yourself as much as possible. We don't want any hornet's nest effect around that car."

Mike grinned. "Right, Mart. I'll watch it."

A few minutes later, Aldo's voice said, "Garage's all set, Mart. Want me to scout around the outside of the house?"

"Good idea. I haven't seen any sign of life in that place yet. Buzz along near the windows, and see if you can see or hear anything."

Several minutes passed, with Terry slowly cutting the strands of the screen, and Mike bringing fresh receptors from the car to the oak by varied routes. Aldo said, "I've got something, Mart. I'm back of the kitchen. I think this is the servant's quarters. There's some kind of argument going on here. I don't know what because they're talking too low. Seems to be a man and a woman."

"What are you using?"

"A cutter."

"See if you can get through the screen, and up against the crack where the upper and lower halves of the window join."

"I'm in view through the trees from the next house. Is that all right?"

"It's about eighty feet away, isn't it?"


"It's worth the risk. We've got to find out what's going on in there."

Gradually, the afternoon wore on. Mike brought up more receptors, and Terry began flying them in.

"Unoccupied room, all right," said Terry. "Empty closet, no shoes under the bed, nothing on the dresser but a white cloth, a comb, and a hairbrush."

"Good start," said Martin, then asked, "You getting through, Aldo?"

"Gradually. It's slow work."

"They still talking?"

"Yeah. The man sounds as if he's trying to convince the woman of something. Better hook into the recorder."

"It's in. There's nothing much coming through with that cutter on."

"Can't get through without the cutter. Can't do too well with it, for that matter. We're going to have to step up the power of these things."

Martin growled, "What do you think we can fit in a bee-size receptor? If you guys had your way, they'd be giant condors and we'd be out of business."

"Then we need something small enough to slip through."

"We've got prototypes, but for now, you're just going to have to sweat it out with what you've got."

"You can believe it or not," said Aldo, "but I feel like I am sweating it out. How do you get tired using a receptor's energy?"

"Nerve strain. And you unconsciously tense your muscles."

Terry's voice cut in. "Something funny here. There's a corridor with—to the right—an empty room, a bath, another empty room and a staircase to the floor below. But to the left, there's a room with the door shut, and a key turned in the lock."

"That's to the left of the room you went into first?"


"On the composite, it looks like that's a corner room with three windows. All the windows are shut, and all the shades are drawn. Mike?"

"Right here."

"Better go in with a grab, and see if you can wrestle that key out of the lock."

Mike dropped in through the cut screen, went through the first room, and approached the door. As he came close, it loomed before him like the side of a thirty-story building. The key looked like an iron bar a third of a foot thick. Mike hovered to one side of the key, and maneuvered up and down to see how it was turned in the lock. He flew up to slide a light-alloy rod, actually thinner than a knitting needle, but that seemed to him the size of an overgrown crowbar, through the metal ring at the end of the key. Then he pulled with all the strength of the receptor's powerful wings. The key resisted, then turned with a scrape in the lock. Mike dropped to the floor, let go the bar, flew up, took hold of the key, drew it carefully out of the lock, and lowered it heavily to the floor.

There was a whir above him. "There's a guy on the bed here, Mart. I can see his chest, and his head. He's gagged, wrapped up in a strait jacket, and strapped by the neck to the bedpost. He's got his eyes open, but he's not moving."

"How old is he?"

"Early or middle twenties, I'd say."

"Mike, maybe you could take a look."

Mike hovered, and looked in. He studied the brow and eyes of the man on the bed. "I'd guess that was Johnston's son. There's a strong family resemblance."

"That knocks the old man's theory to pieces. Aldo, are you through yet?"

"Just. If I can bend this back. There."

"Get next to the crack. If we're lucky, we can get a line on this thing. Terry and Mike, get that key back, then start moving in. Sleepers first. This is getting tough faster than we expected."

Mike said, "You want finalists?"

"After you've got everything else in first. Right now we want power on tap. We want a receptor behind every drape and picture frame, and crouched on every molding in the house."

The next twenty minutes went by as they brought in one receptor after another. The only spoken comments from the three operators came from Aldo. "You getting all this?"

"Yeah," said Martin. "But it's a little sketchy. They seem to have settled everything that counts before we got there."

Another quarter hour went past. Mike said, "We've got enough stuff in here to knock out a platoon. Except for the cellar. You've got all this on the composites. Do you see any way down there?"

"There's a dumb-waiter shaft, but all the upstairs dumb-waiter doors are shut. You'll have to get in at the top from the attic."

"Is it worth it?"

"The way this is breaking, I don't think we can overlook it. It'll take a trip up and down through half the house, and the door of the shaft may be shut at the bottom. But we'll have to try it."


They found the door open, and moved into the cellar.

Finally, Terry said, "Now what? We're loaded for bear on all floors of the house."

Martin said, "Aldo's left his receptor clamped to the window, and he's getting the finalists in place. Let me just play back a strip of recording so you'll get the full picture. Listen:"

There was a faint hiss, then a woman's voice said tensely, "I don't like it, that's all. We didn't plan it this way."

A man's low voice said angrily, "It doesn't matter. Nobody will believe him. We set it up last night, and the old man fell for it. He's gone out to a private detective outfit outside the city. We know, because I followed him. He'll have told them everything. That will back us up when we hang it on the kid. But we've got to do it tonight, before they move in."

"One thing's already gone wrong. If Roger should find out—"

"He can't. The kid's laid out and can't tell him. The rest doesn't matter. When the neighbors hear the fight, rush in, see the old man lying there, and the kid, still on his feet, it will be open and shut. He won't have a chance."

The woman murmured, "Everybody does know how they fight."

The man said in a low voice, "It's now or never. All or nothing."

Martin said, as he cut off the recording. "That's the way it's been going. There are all variations on that."

Terry said, "Do we know who the guy tied up upstairs is? Is that Johnston's son?"

"Yes," said Martin. "That's the 'kid' they're talking about."

Aldo said, "How did he wind up strapped to the bed? I don't get that."

Mart said, "I've only heard it half a dozen times. Listen:"

The woman's low voice said venomously, "Yes, you've got it all figured out! How come it's gone sour already?"

The man's voice said tightly, "The kid came home early. So what? Is that going to do him any good?"

"He knows."

"He knows what we're going to do. But not how. That's all that counts."

Martin said, "The son apparently walked in unexpectedly, overheard them, and got laid out for his pains."

Aldo said, "Could you figure out for me who this man and woman are?"

"That's easy enough," said Martin. "She's Johnston's charming new wife. She speaks of him as 'Roger'. And you notice the man has to get her to go along with him or it's all off. Here and there, there are some sloppy scenes where he tells her how crazy he is about her. Naturally, when she's going to inherit all of Johnston's money."

"What about his son?"

"How's he going to get it? That's why they're hanging the murder on him. The law won't let a criminal profit by his crime. Johnston's wife will inherit the money, and his son will go to the deathhouse. That ties it all up neatly."

Mike said impatiently, "But how, Mart? How do they plan to do it?"

"I can't say. They're going to do it tonight. But how I don't know. They've apparently got the mechanics of the thing rehearsed so well they just take that for granted."

"Well, we better figure it out, or they're likely to get away with it right under our noses."

Aldo said, "Mart, what about this in the basement under the cellar window at the side of the house?"

"I see it," said Martin, "but it just looks like a cot with a portable phonograph on it to me."

"What's it doing there?"

Martin hesitated. "Well, why not? You know how people dump stuff in the cellar and the attic."

Mike switched his viewpoint to a receptor in the basement. The cot was like that he'd seen in army camps, with a steel head and foot, flat springs, and a bare mattress. What looked roughly like a portable phonograph sat at the center of the mattress, directly under the cellar window, with a coiled extension cord beside it. Several pillows were piled at the head of the cot, and at the foot. On the ceiling of the cellar, about ten feet from the windows, Mike noticed a bare electric bulb in a socket.

Mike swung the receptor over to look out the cellar window. Directly outside was a large evergreen with low spreading branches, and just beyond that was the graveled driveway, curving to the garage past more trees and shrubs. About thirty feet back from this window, and around a corner, was the rear door of the house, with a flight of steps leading down to the cellar.

Terry said, "This looks like some kind of a setup, to me."

"Yeah," said Aldo. "But what?"

Martin said, "We'll find out before long. The woman's let herself be persuaded. You guys better practice switching back and forth from one receptor to another. Get the finalist in the trees along the drive, and a get a couple in the garage. Something tells me we're only going to have one chance to do this right."

By eight o'clock, Mike, Aldo, and Terry, had rehearsed so many possible maneuvers that all three were worn out. Martin had relief operators on tap, but was afraid to bring them in for fear they wouldn't have time to understand the situation and would just get in the way. The evening began to reach that stage of dimness where nothing is distinct, and Mike was hoping that Johnston would delay a little longer so that they could use the receptors with more freedom in the gloom. But at that moment, his long shiny car swung into the drive, and rolled back toward the garage.

Terry, watching Johnston's wife, said, "Here she goes, like clockwork, out the front door and across the grass toward the neighbor's house."

Aldo, watching the man, said, "He's at the upstairs window. There, he clipped Johnston's son over the head—not too hard—and now he's getting him off the bed. He's rolled him onto the floor. The belt, strait jacket and gag go into a laundry bag. He straightens the bed up, and tears out into the hall and down the stairs to the first floor carrying the laundry bag. Now he's in the kitchen. He's rushing down the cellar steps. He opens the door of the dumb-waiter shaft, pulls the dumb-waiter up about six feet, leans into the shaft, and stuffs the sack under something at the bottom of the shaft. He looks in with a pocket flash to check it. Now he lowers the dumb-waiter to the bottom."

Mike, watching Johnston, said, "Johnston's car is approaching the garage. Two doors are up, with cars in them, and two down. Johnston apparently wants the left-hand garage door, which is down. He thumbs a button on the dash. The garage door starts up—evidently a radio-controlled electric door. Wait a minute, the door's going shut again. Johnston stops the car and thumbs the button. The door goes up, and comes down again. Johnston's getting out to look at it."

Terry said, "The wife's ringing the bell of the house next door. She glances at her watch, tries to look through the shrubs and trees that separate the two lawns. Now she's ringing the bell again."

Aldo said, "He's through at the elevator shaft now. He shuts the door, runs down to the cot, opens the cellar window, picks up the record player, takes off the cover, and shoves it out the window under the evergreen. Wait a minute, that's no record player. It's a tape recorder."

"What the hell," growled Martin.

Mike said, "Johnston's wrestling with the garage door. He isn't having much luck."

Terry said, "The wife's telling the neighbors how Johnston's son is in a rage at his father, and she's afraid there's going to be a terrible argument. Won't they come over? These arguments the father and son have are just awful and she doesn't know how this one will end. But she thinks if someone else is there, they'll stop, so please, please, they've got to help her."

Aldo said, "The man is putting some kind of thin rubber gloves in his pocket. He spreads the pillows on the cot under the window and puts a couple on the floor nearby. He unwinds the extension cord to the recorder, and plugs it in the light socket. Now he's going out the back door."

The man had now come into Mike's range of vision. "Johnston," said Mike, "is still wrestling with the door. The man comes out onto the drive. 'Let me help you with that, sir.' Johnston turns around. 'I'd appreciate it if you'd put the car away. And see about that door-opener. Nothing at all would be better than this.' 'Certainly, sir.' Johnston takes a brief case from the car, and starts up the drive. The man gets in and starts the motor."

Terry said, "The woman's leading half a dozen people from the next house. One of them starts to run ahead. She grabs him. 'Don't,' she says. 'I'm afraid he's dangerous. We must all get there together. He won't do anything with so many people around.'"

Martin said, "The son is just getting to his feet upstairs. He looks around wildly, yanks the door open and stumbles out into the corridor. He goes back into the room, pulls open the bottom drawer of his dresser, and yanks out a Marine belt. He staggers out into the corridor, puts one hand on the wall, and runs for the staircase."

Aldo said, "The man's started the car engine. Now he's backing the car. He stops and glances back at Johnston."

Mike said, "Johnston has his back to him, walking up the driveway."

Terry said, "The wife is leading the crowd of neighbors through the trees toward the drive near the front of the house—What's that?"

Mike heard it, too. A loud voice burst out from the direction of the evergreen beside the drive. "You can't treat me this way, Father!"

"You good-for-nothing!" shouted Johnston's voice. "If you can't do decent work, you don't deserve a decent wage!"

"You know that's not what I'm talking about!"

Johnston had stopped dead-still, looking around. For an instant, there was the faint whispering sound of a recorder's tape unwinding, then the son's voice came, very loud. "You can't treat me this way, Father!" There was a pause, and then an incoherent shout: "Take that!"

Aldo said, "He's out of the car! He's got a knife!"

There was the sound of scattering gravel, and Johnston whirled, off-balance.

Martin snapped: "Final it!"

Instantly Mike switched his attention. He rose, then dropped, feeling the spasmodic guiding pulsations of powerful wings as he dove for the figure springing forward in the shadows.

"Got him!" said Aldo. There was a faint glimpse of something small and solid that rebounded like a rubber ball to pass Mike with a whir.

From well up the driveway came a woman's scream. The voice of Johnston's wife carried down the drive, "Oh, I hope we're not too late!"

Johnston's assailant landed on his face in the drive as Mike swerved away. Johnston bent to look at him closely, glanced around, and stepped to one side of the drive, behind a tall shrub.

Terry said, "Don't hit her with the sleeper till she's committed herself, Al."

"Don't worry," said Aldo. "Mike, is he out?"

"Out good," said Mike. He'd landed his sleeper again, switched viewpoint to another receptor, a "finalist" this time, and now hovered behind a certain spot on Johnston's head. He triggered a weak signal on a particular frequency, and an instant later the response came, to be stored in the complex microminiaturized circuits of the receptor.

"Final it," growled Martin tensely. "Johnston's son is running for the side door of the house. There's no telling what will happen when he gets out."

Mike dropped the receptor, to hover over the fallen assailant. He again sent out the signal, but this time when the response came, he didn't store it, but instead transmitted the signal received from Johnston.

From up the driveway, there was a crunch of gravel, and Johnston's wife screamed, "Oh, we're too late."

She came running down the drive.

Johnston stepped further back behind the shrub, and watched.

Mike was now well overhead.

In the gloom, Johnston's wife bent briefly at the fallen figure, then screamed, "He's killed Roger! Oh he's killed Roger!" She ran back towards the little crowd, advancing none too eagerly down the driveway, with their flashlights swinging around over the numerous shadowy shrubs to either side.

Just then the side door of the house came open, and Johnston's son, the thick belt in his hand, came out. The crowd was by now opposite the side door.

Johnston's wife screamed, "You murderer! You killed him!"

Martin growled, "Aldo. Get that woman."

The son was looking around in the gloom. He said in a low furious voice, "Give me that light," and taking the flashlight from one of the unresisting crowd, started down the drive with it.

There was brief whir, and Mrs. Johnston was falling. While the crowd was still paralyzed by the sight of Johnston's son, Mike dropped his receptor by the wife, and repeated the process he'd used on the man who'd attacked Johnston.

Martin said, "Aldo. He's coming out of it. Just in case, get a sleeper ready."

The would-be assailant came to his feet, still holding the knife, and blinking in the glare from the son's flashlight.

In the darkness, there was only the steady crunch of gravel, and then the low voice of Johnston's son as he came forward with the belt:

"Now, we'll even things up a little."

"Aldo," snapped Martin. "Hit the son!"

"Not on your life," said Aldo.

"Mike," said Martin.

"I've got a malfunction," said Mike.

Terry said, "That one tried to kill the guy's father, and frame him into the deathhouse as a murderer. Don't ask me to interrupt."

Some moments later, the voice of Johnston shouted, "Don't kill him, Boy! Stop!"

The wail of a police siren traveled down the street and there was a crunch of gravel as the headlights swung in the drive.

Martin growled, "You fools. This muddies it up so the police won't know who to drag in."

Mike said, "Don't jump to conclusions. Watch."

The police, four of them, were springing out of the car, demanding to know what was going on. Johnston's voice rose over the clamor with the ring of authority.

"Officers! Down here!" Taking his son's flashlight, he flashed it around till he found what he wanted, then angrily pointed out the recorder, still unreeling its tape under the tree. "This thing," he said, "had recorded snatches of argument my son and I have had together. As my second wife here brought neighbors in to hear it, my handyman came at me from behind with a knife. They were going to hang this on my son, who was no doubt tied up inside, but he got free and came out just in time."

Martin growled, "That isn't exactly what happened."

"No," said Mike, "but don't worry. They'll work out an explanation."

One of the policeman growled, "Guy had a knife all right. Look here. And look at these rubber gloves he's wearing."

Another said, "You know how to run this recorder? I'm afraid I'll erase it."

"I'll show you," said Johnston. A few moments later the recorded argument was playing back.

At this point, Johnston's wife revived, and came down the drive weeping and crying, "Oh, I'm sorry, Roger. I shouldn't have done it!"

Martin grunted, "Well, that ties it up. Start working the receptors back to the car. Watch out as you bring them by the house lights, and hurry it up."

Mike was grateful it was over. He felt totally worn out. But there was the advantage that now the cellar door was open, apparently so that Johnston's assailant could get back through it quickly after murdering him. This would enable him to yank the recorder back in, quietly shut the window, erase the recording, and then rush out to join in accusing Johnston's son. As it was, the pillows were still spread out, to muffle the sound of a crash, if the recorder had to be shoved through the window hurriedly. But what was now of most interest to Mike was that the back door was still open, which made removal of the receptors from the cellar much easier.

Outside, Johnston's revived and bloody assailant was remorsefully telling his story to the police.

"All in a day's work," grunted Martin. "Next get the receptors out of that garage. We want to be sure they don't get locked in. Then it's home for a hot toddy and a good night's sleep."

A huge dim shape flashed toward and over Mike, swung back, came closer and darted away. Mike dove for the nearest shrubbery.

Aldo's voice growled, "The hell you say, Mart. There are bats cruising around here."

Terry said, "Now, what do we do?"

"Wait," said Martin disgustedly. "You'll have to go back in short sprints or we'll lose a hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment, and a lot of bats will have bellyaches tomorrow."

"Tough on the bats," snarled Terry. "It'll be black as pitch in another hour."

The job dragged on till about three in the morning when it was over, and Mike had never felt gladder to get out of the tank.

The next day, Sue brought the newspaper in to him, as he and Mart were discussing equipment modifications at No. 1 block of tanks in the subbasement. Sue held up the newspaper to show the big black headlines:




"You boys don't get much credit," she said.

Mike said, "Well, we have Johnston's five thousand advance to split with the government, and maybe we ought to bill him for more. I think we earned it."

"More headlines," said Sue, giggling, "CARSTAIRS CLOBBERS CLIENT!—WANTS CASH!"

Martin stared at her, then glanced with a smile at Mike. "I haven't seen her in this mood before, Chief. You think it's safe to let this girl monitor for us? It seems to hit her like drink."

"I think she needs some work in the bookkeeping department," said Mike. "Long columns of figures ought to quiet her down."

"You know you wouldn't trust me with long columns of figures," she said, grinning. "Besides, what did you get all those computers for?"

Martin said, "What gets me is, how does she get the courage to come down here? Yesterday, the place made her shiver."

Mike said dryly, "Women are changeable."

"No," she said. "I'm curious. You've made some changes in things, and I want to know about them. What's a 'finalist', for instance. I take it a 'sleeper' is a receptor fitted with a small hypodermic. But what's a 'finalist'? And exactly why did Johnston's wife and his handyman break down? According to this paper, they've told all and seem filled with remorse."

Mike nodded. "As I told Johnston, once we take care of the attempted murderer, he has had enough to last him for a while."

"But what's the process?"

"Well," said Mike, "the basis of our process is the biophysical method we use in constructing and improving these receptors. But once you have one basic technical advance, you're likely to stumble over others accidentally, and that happened with us. We know, you see, that in some way the brain stores impressions of past events. But these impressions aren't always available on demand. There is a scanning process by which the memory is obtained from the stored record of events."

"Yes, I understand that."

"Well, we've found purely by accident that a particular signal serves to trigger the remembrance of very recent events. This signal is apparently much stronger than that occurring naturally in the brain itself, as the memory is close to complete. It is possible to detect and amplify the complex signal that accompanies this vivid memory, provided you have sufficiently sensitive equipment."

"A sort of electronic telepathy?" she said.

"Not exactly," said Mike, "because no one else is aware of the thought as yet. The signal accompanying the thought has only been recorded. But it can be transferred provided a second person's recent memory is first triggered, and then while that small section of the brain is sensitized, the stored signal previously taken from another brain is transmitted to it. It's a clumsy procedure, but it works."

"But what happens?" asked Sue. "Does the second person seem to receive a thought from the first person?"

"Oh, no. The second person finds himself suddenly with two complete sets of memories. He has his own memories as he plans the other man's death. He has also the memories of the other man, as he approaches the spot, as he hears the footsteps behind him, as he turns, as he sees the knife, as suddenly he realizes he hasn't time to get out of the way—it's all there in full detail, just as clearly as if he lived it himself."

"Oh," said Sue, her eyes widening.

"You know," said Mike, "the impression a narrow escape will make. The man, for instance, who jams his car to a halt at the cliff-edge, to admire the view, and who suddenly feels the brake pedal go all the way to the floor. That man can get the parking brake on before the car starts to roll, but when he steps out of the car, looks at the pool of brake fluid underneath, then looks down over the edge of the cliff, something happens inside of him. His mind can't help putting that brake fluid and the cliff-edge together. He is likely to wake up in a sweat for some time afterward. It's much the same thing with the would-be killer, who also puts two and two together. The victim's memory is now his own, seen from within, and experienced just as the victim experienced it. When he thinks of the incident, the murderer can't help identifying with the victim."

Sue shivered, "I don't believe I want to try any murders."

"No," said Mike.

He glanced at the front page photographs in the newspaper she was holding, and pointed out the horror-struck face of Johnston's wife.

"It makes quite a difference," he said, "if the victim turns out to be yourself."


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