Little Fuzzy – Day 60 of 77

“Gerd, if you were a Fuzzy, where would you go up there?” he asked.

Gerd looked up the stream that came rushing down from among the wooded foothills.

“There are a couple more houses farther up,” he said. “I’d get above them. Then I’d go up one of those side ravines, and get up among the rocks, where the damnthings couldn’t get me. Of course, there are no damnthings this close to town, but they wouldn’t know that.”

“We’ll need a few more cars. I’ll call Colonel Ferguson and see what he can do for me. Max is going to have his hands full with this investigation Gus started.”

Piet Dumont, the Mallorysport chief of police, might have been a good cop once, but for as long as Gus Brannhard had known him, he had been what he was now—an empty shell of unsupported arrogance, with a sagging waistline and a puffy face that tried to look tough and only succeeded in looking unpleasant. He was sitting in a seat that looked like an old fashioned electric chair, or like one of those instruments of torture to which beauty-shop customers submit themselves. There was a bright conical helmet on his head, and electrodes had been clamped to various portions of his anatomy. On the wall behind him was a circular screen which ought to have been a calm turquoise blue, but which was flickering from dark blue through violet to mauve. That was simple nervous tension and guilt and anger at the humiliation of being subjected to veridicated interrogation. Now and then there would be a stabbing flicker of bright red as he toyed mentally with some deliberate misstatement of fact.

“You know, yourself, that the Fuzzies didn’t hurt that girl,” Brannhard told him.

“I don’t know anything of the kind,” the police chief retorted. “All I know’s what was reported to me.”

That had started out a bright red; gradually it faded into purple. Evidently Piet Dumont was adopting a rules-of-evidence definition of truth.

“Who told you about it?”

“Luther Woller. Detective lieutenant on duty at the time.”

The veridicator agreed that that was the truth and not much of anything but the truth.

“But you know that what really happened was that Lurkin beat the girl himself, and Woller persuaded them both to say the Fuzzies did it,” Max Fane said.

“I don’t know anything of the kind!” Dumont almost yelled. The screen blazed red. “All I know’s what they told me; nobody said anything else.” Red and blue, juggling in a typical quibbling pattern. “As far as I know, it was the Fuzzies done it.”

“Now, Piet,” Fane told him patiently. “You’ve used this same veridicator here often enough to know you can’t get away with lying on it. Woller’s making you the patsy for this, and you know that, too. Isn’t it true, now, that to the best of your knowledge and belief those Fuzzies never touched that girl, and it wasn’t till Woller talked to Lurkin and his daughter at headquarters that anybody even mentioned Fuzzies?”

The screen darkened to midnight blue, and then, slowly, it lightened.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Dumont admitted. He avoided their eyes, and his voice was surly. “I thought that was how it was, and I asked Woller. He just laughed at me and told me to forget it.” The screen seethed momentarily with anger. “That son of a Khooghra thinks he’s chief, not me. One word from me and he does just what he damn pleases!”

“Now you’re being smart, Piet,” Fane said. “Let’s start all over….”

A constabulary corporal was at the controls of the car Jack had rented from the hotel: Gerd had taken his place in one of the two constabulary cars. The third car shuttled between them, and all three talked back and forth by radio.

“Mr. Holloway.” It was the trooper in the car Gerd had been piloting. “Your partner’s down on the ground; he just called me with his portable. He’s found a cracked prawn-shell.”

“Keep talking; give me direction,” the corporal at the controls said, lifting up.

In a moment, they sighted the other car, hovering over a narrow ravine on the left bank of the stream. The third car was coming in from the north. Gerd was still squatting on the ground when they let down beside him. He looked up as they jumped out.

“This is it, Jack” he said. “Regular Fuzzy job.”

So it was. Whatever they had used, it hadn’t been anything sharp; the head was smashed instead of being cleanly severed. The shell, however, had been broken from underneath in the standard manner, and all four mandibles had been broken off for picks. They must have all eaten at the prawn, share alike. It had been done quite recently.

They sent the car up, and while all three of them circled about, they went up the ravine on foot, calling: “Little Fuzzy! Little Fuzzy!” They found a footprint, and then another, where seepage water had moistened the ground. Gerd was talking excitedly into the portable radio he carried slung on his chest.

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