Little Fuzzy – Day 58 of 77

“Oh-Oh! Some squatter’s milk supply finished.” The commentator laughed. “Not the first one tonight either. Attorney General—former Chief Prosecutor—O’Brien’s going to have quite a few suits against the administration to defend as a result of this business.”

“He’s going to have a goddamn thundering big one from Jack Holloway!”

The communication screen buzzed; Gerd snapped it on.

“I just talked to Judge Pendarvis,” Gus Brannhard reported out of it. “He’s issuing an order restraining Emmert from paying any reward except for Fuzzies turned over alive and uninjured to Marshal Fane. And he’s issuing a warning that until the status of the Fuzzies is determined, anybody killing one will face charges of murder.”

“That’s fine, Gus! Have you seen the girl or her father yet?”

Brannhard snarled angrily. “The girl’s in the Company hospital, in a private room. The doctors won’t let anybody see her. I think Emmert’s hiding the father in the Residency. And I haven’t seen the two cops who brought them in, or the desk sergeant who booked the complaint, or the detective lieutenant who was on duty here. They’ve all lammed out. Max has a couple of men over in Junktown, trying to find out who called the cops in the first place. We may get something out of that.”

The Chief Justice’s action was announced a few minutes later; it got to the hunters a few minutes after that and the Fuzzy hunt began falling apart. The City and Company police dropped out immediately. Most of the civilians, hoping to grab five thousand sols’ worth of live Fuzzy, stayed on for twenty minutes, and so, apparently to control them, did the constabulary. Then the reward was cancelled, the airborne floodlights went off and the whole thing broke up.

Gus Brannhard came in shortly afterward, starting to undress as soon as he heeled the door shut after him. When he had his jacket and neckcloth off, he dropped into a chair, filled a water tumbler with whisky, gulped half of it and then began pulling off his boots.

“If that drink has a kid sister, I’ll take it,” Gerd muttered. “What happened, Gus?”

Brannhard began to curse. “The whole thing’s a fake; it stinks from here to Nifflheim. It would stink on Nifflheim.” He picked up a cigar butt he had laid aside when Fane’s call had come in and relighted it. “We found the woman who called the police. Neighbor; she says she saw Lurkin come home drunk, and a little later she heard the girl screaming. She says he beats her up every time he gets drunk, which is about five times a week, and she’d made up her mind to stop it the next chance she got. She denied having seen anything that even looked like a Fuzzy anywhere around.”

The excitement of the night before had incubated a new brood of Fuzzy reports; Jack went to the marshal’s office to interview the people making them. The first dozen were of a piece with the ones that had come in originally. Then he talked to a young man who had something of different quality.

“I saw them as plain as I’m seeing you, not more than fifty feet away,” he said. “I had an autocarbine, and I pulled up on them, but gosh, I couldn’t shoot them. They were just like little people, Mr. Holloway, and they looked so scared and helpless. So I held over their heads and let off a two-second burst to scare them away before anybody else saw them and shot them.”

“Well, son, I’d like to shake your hand for that. You know, you thought you were throwing away a lot of money there. How many did you see?”

“Well, only four. I’d heard that there were six, but the other two could have been back in the brush where I didn’t see them.”

He pointed out on the map where it had happened. There were three other people who had actually seen Fuzzies; none were sure how many, but they were all positive about locations and times. Plotting the reports on the map, it was apparent that the Fuzzies were moving north and west across the outskirts of the city.

Brannhard showed up for lunch at the hotel, still swearing, but half amusedly.

“They’ve exhumed Ham O’Brien, and they’ve put him to work harassing us,” he said. “Whole flock of civil suits and dangerous-nuisance complaints and that sort of thing; idea’s to keep me amused with them while Leslie Coombes is working up his case for the trial. Even tried to get the manager here to evict Baby; I threatened him with a racial-discrimination suit, and that stopped that. And I just filed suit against the Company for seven million sols on behalf of the Fuzzies—million apiece for them and a million for their lawyer.”

“This evening,” Jack said, “I’m going out in a car with a couple of Max’s deputies. We’re going to take Baby, and we’ll have a loud-speaker on the car.” He unfolded the city map. “They seem to be traveling this way; they ought to be about here, and with Baby at the speaker, we ought to attract their attention.”

They didn’t see anything, though they kept at it till dusk. Baby had a wonderful time with the loud-speaker; when he yeeked into it, he produced an ear-splitting noise, until the three humans in the car flinched every time he opened his mouth. It affected dogs too; as the car moved back and forth, it was followed by a chorus of howling and baying on the ground.

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