Little Fuzzy – Day 54 of 77

“All right, your Honor,” Coombes capitulated. “But I hope you know what you’re doing. You’re turning a couple of cases of the People of the Colony into a common civil lawsuit.”

Gus Brannhard laughed. “What else is it?” he demanded. “Friends of Little Fuzzy versus The chartered Zarathustra Company; I’m bringing action as friend of incompetent aborigines for recognition of sapience, and Mr. Coombes, on behalf of the Zarathustra Company, is contesting to preserve the Company’s charter, and that’s all there is or ever was to this case.”

That was impolite of Gus. Leslie Coombes had wanted to go on to the end pretending that the Company charter had absolutely nothing to do with it.

There was an unending stream of reports of Fuzzies seen here and there, often simultaneously in impossibly distant parts of the city. Some were from publicity seekers and pathological liars and crackpots; some were the result of honest mistakes or overimaginativeness. There was some reason to suspect that not a few had originated with the Company, to confuse the search. One thing did come to light which heartened Jack Holloway. An intensive if concealed search was being made by the Company police, and by the Mallorysport police department, which the Company controlled.

Max Fane was giving every available moment to the hunt. This wasn’t because of ill will for the Company, though that was present, nor because the Chief Justice was riding him. The Colonial Marshal was pro-Fuzzy. So were the Colonial Constabulary, over whom Nick Emmert’s administration seemed to have little if any authority. Colonel Ian Ferguson, the commandant, had his appointment direct from the Colonial Office on Terra. He had called by screen to offer his help, and George Lunt, over on Beta, screened daily to learn what progress was being made.

Living at the Hotel Mallory was expensive, and Jack had to sell some sunstones. The Company gem buyers were barely civil to him; he didn’t try to be civil at all. There was also a noticeable coolness toward him at the bank. On the other hand, on several occasions, Space Navy officers and ratings down from Xerxes Base went out of their way to accost him, introduce themselves, shake hands with him and give him their best wishes.

Once, in one of the weather-domed business centers, an elderly man with white hair showing under his black beret greeted him.

“Mr. Holloway I want to tell you how grieved I am to learn about the disappearance of those little people of yours,” he said. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do to help you, but I hope they turn up safely.”

“Why, thank you, Mr. Stenson.” He shook hands with the old master instrument maker. “If you could make me a pocket veridicator, to use on some of these people who claim they saw them, it would be a big help.”

“Well, I do make rather small portable veridicators for the constabulary, but I think what you need is an instrument for detection of psychopaths, and that’s slightly beyond science at present. But if you’re still prospecting for sunstones, I have an improved micro-ray scanner I just developed, and….”

He walked with Stenson to his shop, had a cup of tea and looked at the scanner. From Stenson’s screen, he called Max Fane. Six more people had claimed to have seen the Fuzzies.

Within a week, the films taken at the camp had been shown so frequently on telecast as to wear out their interest value. Baby, however, was still available for new pictures, and in a few days a girl had to be hired to take care of his fan mail. Once, entering a bar, Jack thought he saw Baby sitting on a woman’s head. A second look showed that it was only a life-sized doll, held on with an elastic band. Within a week, he was seeing Baby Fuzzy hats all over town, and shop windows were full of life-sized Fuzzy dolls.

In the late afternoon, two weeks after the Fuzzies had vanished, Marshal Fane dropped him at the hotel. They sat in the car for a moment, and Fane said:

“I think this is the end of it. We’re all out of cranks and exhibitionists now.”

He nodded. “That woman we were talking to. She’s crazy as a bedbug.”

“Yeah. In the past ten years she’s confessed to every unsolved crime on the planet. It shows you how hard up we are that I waste your time and mine listening to her.”

“Max, nobody’s seen them. You think they just aren’t, any more, don’t you?”

The fat man looked troubled. “Well, Jack, it isn’t so much that nobody’s seen them. Nobody’s seen any trace of them. There are land-prawns all around, but nobody’s found a cracked shell. And six active, playful, inquisitive Fuzzies ought to be getting into things. They ought to be raiding food markets, and fruit stands, getting into places and ransacking. But there hasn’t been a thing. The Company police have stopped looking for them now.”

“Well, I won’t. They must be around somewhere.” He shook Fane’s hand, and got out of the car. “You’ve been awfully helpful, Max. I want you to know how much I thank you.”

He watched the car lift away, and then looked out over the city—a vista of treetop green, with roofs and the domes of shopping centers and business centers and amusement centers showing through, and the angular buttes of tall buildings rising above. The streetless contragravity city of a new planet that had never known ground traffic. The Fuzzies could be hiding anywhere among those trees—or they could all be dead in some man-made trap. He thought of all the deadly places into which they could have wandered. Machinery, dormant and quiet, until somebody threw a switch. Conduits, which could be flooded without warning, or filled with scalding steam or choking gas. Poor little Fuzzies, they’d think a city was as safe as the woods of home, where there was nothing worse than harpies and damnthings.

Gus Brannhard was out when he went down to the suite; Ben Rainsford was at a reading screen, studying a psychology text, and Gerd was working at a desk that had been brought in. Baby was playing on the floor with the bright new toys they had gotten for him. When Pappy Jack came in, he dropped them and ran to be picked up and held.

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