Little Fuzzy – Day 50 of 77

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.”

“Good idea. Piet, tell our re-enforcements to stop at the Mallory on the way and pick him up.” Fane turned to Jimenez. “Come along; show us where you had these Fuzzies and how they got away.”

“You say one of them broke out of his cage and then released the others,” Jack said to Jimenez as they were going down on the escalator. “Do you know which one it was?”

Jimenez shook his head. “We just took them out of the bags and put them into the cages.”

That would be Little Fuzzy; he’d always been the brains of the family. With his leadership, they might have a chance. The trouble was that this place was full of dangers Fuzzies knew nothing about—radiation and poisons and electric wiring and things like that. If they really had escaped. That was a possibility that began worrying Jack.

On each floor they passed going down, he could glimpse parties of Company employees in the halls, armed with nets and blankets and other catching equipment. When they got off Jimenez led them through a big room of glass cases—mounted specimens and articulated skeletons of Zarathustran mammals. More people were there, looking around and behind and even into the cases. He began to think that the escape was genuine, and not just a cover-up for the murder of the Fuzzies.

Jimenez took them down a narrow hall beyond to an open door at the end. Inside, the permanent night light made a blue-white glow; a swivel chair stood just inside the door. Jimenez pointed to it.

“They must have gotten up on that to work the latch and open the door,” he said.

It was like the doors at the camp, spring latch, with a handle instead of a knob. They’d have learned how to work it from watching him. Fane was trying the latch.

“Not too stiff,” he said. “Your little fellows strong enough to work it?”

He tried it and agreed. “Sure. And they’d be smart enough to do it, too. Even Baby Fuzzy, the one your men didn’t get, would be able to figure that out.”

“And look what they did to my office,” Jimenez said, putting on the lights.

They’d made quite a mess of it. They hadn’t delayed long to do it, just thrown things around. Everything was thrown off the top of the desk. They had dumped the wastebasket, and left it dumped. He saw that and chuckled. The escape had been genuine all right.

“Probably hunting for things they could use as weapons, and doing as much damage as they could in the process.” There was evidently a pretty wide streak of vindictiveness in Fuzzy character. “I don’t think they like you, Juan.”

“Wouldn’t blame them,” Fane said. “Let’s see what kind of a houdini they did on these cages now.”

The cages were in a room—file room, storeroom, junk room—behind Jimenez’s office. It had a spring lock, too, and the Fuzzies had dragged one of the cages over and stood on it to open the door. The cages themselves were about three feet wide and five feet long, with plywood bottoms, wooden frames and quarter-inch netting on the sides and tops. The tops were hinged, and fastened with hasps, and bolts slipped through the staples with nuts screwed on them. The nuts had been unscrewed from five and the bolts slipped out; the sixth cage had been broken open from the inside, the netting cut away from the frame at one corner and bent back in a triangle big enough for a Fuzzy to crawl through.

“I can’t understand that,” Jimenez was saying. “Why that wire looks as though it had been cut.”

“It was cut. Marshal, I’d pull somebody’s belt about this, if I were you. Your men aren’t very careful about searching prisoners. One of the Fuzzies hid a knife out on them.” He remembered how Little Fuzzy and Ko-Ko had burrowed into the bedding in apparently unreasoning panic, and explained about the little spring-steel knives he had made. “I suppose he palmed it and hugged himself into a ball, as though he was scared witless, when they put him in the bag.”

“Waited till he was sure he wouldn’t get caught before he used it, too,” the marshal said. “That wire’s soft enough to cut easily.” He turned to Jimenez. “You people ought to be glad I’m ineligible for jury duty. Why don’t you just throw it in and let Kellogg cop a plea?”

Gerd van Riebeek stopped for a moment in the doorway and looked into what had been Leonard Kellogg’s office. The last time he’d been here, Kellogg had had him on the carpet about that land-prawn business. Now Ernst Mallin was sitting in Kellogg’s chair, trying to look unconcerned and not making a very good job of it. Gus Brannhard sprawled in an armchair, smoking a cigar and looking at Mallin as he would look at a river pig when he doubted whether it was worth shooting it or not. A uniformed deputy turned quickly, then went back to studying an elaborate wall chart showing the interrelation of Zarathustran mammals—he’d made the original of that chart himself. And Ruth Ortheris sat apart from the desk and the three men, smoking. She looked up and then, when she saw that he was looking past and away from her, she lowered her eyes.

“You haven’t found them?” he asked Brannhard.

The fluffy-bearded lawyer shook his head. “Jack has a gang down in the cellar, working up. Max is in the psychology lab, putting the Company cops who were on duty last night under veridication. They all claim, and the veridicator backs them up, that it was impossible for the Fuzzies to get out of the building.”

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