Little Fuzzy – Day 49 of 77

At that moment, the communication screen began making a fuss. Ruth Ortheris, in a light blue tailored costume, appeared in it.

“Dr. Mallin, what is going on here?” she wanted to know. “I just came in from lunch, and a gang of men are tearing my office up. Haven’t you found the Fuzzies yet?”

“What’s that?” Jack yelled. At the same time, Mallin was almost screaming: “Ruth! Shut up! Blank out and get out of the building!”

With surprising speed for a man of his girth, Fane whirled and was in front of the screen, holding his badge out.

“I’m Colonel Marshal Fane. Now, young woman; I want you up here right away. Don’t make me send anybody after you, because I won’t like that and neither will you.”

“Right away, Marshal.” She blanked the screen.

Fane turned to Mallin. “Now.” He wasn’t bothering with vocal tricks any more. “Are you going to tell me the truth, or am I going to run you in and put a veridicator on you? Where are those Fuzzies?”

“But I don’t know!” Mallin wailed. “Juan, you tell him; you took charge of them. I haven’t seen them since they were brought here.”

Jack managed to fight down the fright that was clutching at him and got control of his voice.

“If anything’s happened to those Fuzzies, you two are going to envy Kurt Borch before I’m through with you,” he said.

“All right, how about it?” Fane asked Jimenez. “Start with when you and Ham O’Brien picked up the Fuzzies at Central Courts Building last night.

“Well, we brought them here. I’d gotten some cages fixed up for them, and—”

Ruth Ortheris came in. She didn’t try to avoid Jack’s eyes, nor did she try to brazen it out with him. She merely nodded distantly, as though they’d met on a ship sometime, and sat down.

“What happened, Marshal?” she asked. “Why are you here with these gentlemen?”

“The court’s ordered the Fuzzies returned to Mr. Holloway.” Mallin was in a dither. “He has some kind a writ or something, and we don’t know where they are.”

“Oh, no!” Ruth’s face, for an instant, was dismay itself. “Not when—” Then she froze shut.

“I came in about o-seven-hundred,” Jimenez was saying, “to give them food and water, and they’d broken out of their cages. The netting was broken loose on one cage and the Fuzzy that had been in it had gotten out and let the others out. They got into my office—they made a perfect shambles of it—and got out the door into the hall, and now we don’t know where they are. And I don’t know how they did any of it.”

Cages built for something with no hands and almost no brains. Ever since Kellogg and Mallin had come to the camp, Mallin had been hypnotizing himself into the just-silly-little-animals doctrine. He must have succeeded; last night he’d acted accordingly.

“We want to see the cages,” Jack said.

“Yeah.” Fane went to the outer door. “Miguel.”

The deputy came in, herding the Company cop ahead of him.

“You heard what happened?” Fane asked.

“Yeah. Big Fuzzy jailbreak. What did they do, make little wooden pistols and bluff their way out?”

“By God, I wouldn’t put it past them. Come along. Bring Chummy along with you; he knows the inside of this place better than we do. Piet, call in. We want six more men. Tell Chang to borrow from the constabulary if he has to.”

“Wait a minute,” Jack said. He turned to Ruth. “What do you know about this?”

“Well, not much. I was with Dr. Mallin here when Mr. Grego—I mean, Mr. O’Brien—called to tell us that the Fuzzies were going to be kept here till the trial. We were going to fix up a room for them, but till that could be done, Juan got some cages to put them in. That was all I knew about it till o-nine-thirty, when I came in and found everything in an uproar and was told that the Fuzzies had gotten loose during the night. I knew they couldn’t get out of the building, so I went to my office and lab to start overhauling some equipment we were going to need with the Fuzzies. About ten-hundred, I found I couldn’t do anything with it, and my assistant and I loaded it on a pickup truck and took it to Henry Stenson’s instrument shop. By the time I was through there, I had lunch and then came back here.”

He wondered briefly how a polyencephalographic veridicator would react to some of those statements; might be a good idea if Max Fane found out.

“I’ll stay here,” Gus Brannhard was saying, “and see if I can get some more truth out of these people.”

“Why don’t you screen the hotel and tell Gerd and Ben what’s happened?” he asked. “Gerd used to work here; maybe he could help us hunt.”

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