By the time I got to the office, I was jittery as a new bride. The day started out all wrong. I woke up weak and washed out. I was pathetic when I worked out with the weights--they felt as heavy as the Pyramids. And when I walked from the subway to the building where Mike Renner and I have our offices, an obvious telepath tailed me all the way.
I was ready for a scrap. St. Francis himself would have irritated the hell out of me, and I’d have gone speechless with rage at the mere sight of sweet Alice Ben Bolt. The guy sitting with Mike in our law library didn’t have a chance.
“What’s this?” I growled, seeing Mike seated silent and staring at our caller across the big table. There wasn’t a book or sheet of foolscap resting on the walnut. Work hadn’t started. They were lying in wait for me. Well, I was lying in wait for the first guy who opened his mouth.
“The Grievance Committee!” Mike said in a tone of stifled fury. “This is Horace Dunn.”
“Carpe Diem,” I snarled at Horace, a hammered-down heavyweight. “What’s Renner done now?”
“Me?” Renner demanded, letting his fat jowls quivver. He’s one of those burly types who looks like he should be playing pro ball and instead thrives on showing clients how to keep two sets of books while staying out of jail.
“Not Renner,” Horace said. “You, Maragon. The Bar Association gets upset when reputable attorneys successfully defend one of these Stigma cases.”
“Forgive me my hobbies,” I sneered, sitting down beside my partner. “But I try to win them all. You know I didn’t seek that business--Judge Passarelli appointed me Public Defender when that Psi, Crescas, bleated that he was destitute.”
Mike Renner apparently decided one of us had to be reasonable. “Coincidence, Dunn,” he said. “Pure coincidence. You can’t hold it against--”
“No coincidence,” I snapped. It wasn’t my day to agree with anybody. Renner’s fat little eyes opened wide.
“Judge Passarelli knew I’d be in his courtroom,” I said. “His Honor wanted to get my views on a point I’d made in that pleading the previous week.”
“Passarelli again!“ Horace breathed. “Well, well. What do you know? And two weeks ago he found a Stigma case named Mary Hall ‘Not Guilty’ of bunco game against the 99th National Bank. You know the case?”
Renner was too upset for speech. He shook his head, looking over at me. I didn’t give him the satisfaction. Mike hasn’t any patience with my interest in keeping abreast of Psi developments anyway.
“This Mary Hall is a hallucinator,” Horace said. He leaned forward and gave it to us in not much more than a whisper. “This witch used her HC to pass five dollar bills off as hundreds, getting change. But they caught her at it.” He laughed harshly. “And tried her for it,” he added. “Get the picture on that ‘Not Guilty’ verdict?”
“No,” Renner admitted. I slouched down, scowling.
“She used HC on Judge Passarelli, too. Foozled his vision, whatever you want to call it. When the ‘cutor handed him the evidence, the five dollar bill she had tried to pass for a hundred, all sealed up in plastic, Passarelli saw a hundred, thanks to her Psi powers.”
“Get out of here,” I told Horace, getting to my feet.
“Pete! For heaven’s sake!” Mike protested. You didn’t talk like that to the Grievance Committee. Did you ever see a guy wring his hands? Renner was pathetic.
“Can’t you quit pussy-footing around, Renner?” I growled. “This comic isn’t from the Grievance Committee!”
Horace Dunn paled on that one. “How do you know that?” he said. He sounded a lot more dangerous.
“Too polite,” I sneered. “And it ill becomes you. What’s going on?”
“So I level,” Horace conceded. “So I’m not from the Grievance Committee, and I’m not all hot that Maragon defended Keys Crescas.”
“Much better,” I said, sitting down again.
“This guy Passarelli is coming up for re-election shortly,” our caller said. A light began to dawn. “We’re making sure he doesn’t make it--and that our man does.”
My laugh was more a bark. “He can’t find Mary Hall,” I told Renner.
Horace’s lower jaw shot out at me. “I don’t like guys who know what I’m thinking!” he snapped.
I had to laugh in his face. “Who needs TP? You want to tar Passarelli with the brush of Psi--and this hallucinator would be Exhibit ‘A’.”
He subsided. “So I can’t find her. What then?”
I shook my head. “You say it,” I suggested. “Too early to have to wash my mouth with soap.”
Dunn made his big pitch to Renner. “Maragon has a connection with these Psis--it’s all over town that he got Keys Crescas off. This Crescas can find Mary Hall--you know how Psis stick together.” Renner nodded rapt agreement. “And,” Dunn added, finally sticking it in us, “it would be good politics for Maragon to do it--would kind of sweeten up the stench of his getting Crescas off, eh?”
Renner thought he had to sell me: “Pete,” he insisted, “You’ve got to! Defending Crescas was sure to hurt our reputation. That girl has it coming for--”
I waved a hand in his face, shutting him up. “Why should I care what happens to the girl?” I said, getting up. “Just make sure Horace pays us a fat fee. After all, it’s tax exempt.”
“Tax exempt?” he asked, frowning.
“Sure,” I said, walking out. “Religious contribution. Thirty pieces of silver.”
Keys Crescas is the kind of odd-ball you can’t find till after dark. Good looking in a romantic, off-beat sort of way. No visible means of support--a typical Psi. Renner made one white-jowled attempt to read me the riot act for failing to plead him guilty when Passarelli had tapped me as Public Defender. I came close to throwing the meat-ball out of my private office.
What could I have done? Sure, Crescas has the Stigma--he doesn’t try to hide it. It’s only TK, though, and I don’t suppose much of that. Just enough, the cops will tell you, to make him a good man at picking locks and earn his nickname--Keys.
People like Crescas run to a pattern. I left my number in about ten of the spots he might turn up, and around six o’clock one of them hit pay dirt.
I pressed the “Accept” key when the phone rang, and Keys Crescas’ olive face and curly black hair filled the screen. His black eyes had that lively watchfulness you associate with Psis. He had the gain way down and the aperture wide, so that he wasn’t in focus any farther back than his ears. And that scope setting hid from where he was calling as effectively as a veil. Did you ever know a Psi who didn’t seem to be harboring a secret?
“Hi, Mouthpiece,” he grinned, showing even white teeth. “How’d you know where to find me?”
“Best place for worms is under a manure pile,” I said. “I used parallel logic.”
That took that smug, Stigma grin off his puss. “What do you want?” he asked, sullen now.
“A lead to a Psi who’s gone into hiding.”
You know what he told me to do. “Mary Hall,” I added. “She’s got Stigma Troubles.”
“Not even counting you, eh?” Crescas sneered. He made the same suggestion again. I let it ride. “Go on,” he dared me. “Make your pitch. I’ll laugh later.”
“That ‘Not Guilty’ verdict doesn’t mean a thing, Crescas,” I told him. “That was a National Bank she tried to rob. There’s a Federal rap still to be settled. She has big Stigma troubles and needs counsel--and not one of those shysters who hang around the Criminal Courts building sniffing for Psi business.”
“She’s in no trouble till they find her,” he said accurately, and I could see his hand come up to cut the image. “For my dough they’ve given up trying to find her and are using you for a stalking horse,” he added with fiendish accuracy.
“So don’t trust me,” I snarled. “You can send her saw blades baked in a cake.” I reached up, too.
I stopped, trying to keep my glower going.
“Passarelli would have to be in on it, too,” he decided. “And I can’t figure him for a louse. O.K., Maragon. I’ll pick you up at your office at about eight o’clock.”
With nearly two hours to kill, I went out to eat. I still felt glum and lousy. Part of it was the knifelike penetration of Crescas’ intuition--his knowing that I was just a stalking horse so that the big guns could zero in on Mary Hall. And there was that little tremor of fear that comes from knowing that a Psi may think you’ve doublecrossed him. They have some powerful abilities when it comes to exacting vengeance. Well, if everything about the deal was as much screwed up as the part I had heard so far, I decided, I might get out with a whole skin at that.
That was my attempt at consolation--that and an order of sweet-breads, Financiere, which is a ridiculous dish for a sawed-off shyster tending toward overweight.
I was back in the law library by ten minutes of eight, trying to occupy my mind with the latest Harvard Law Review, when the ‘phone rang. Keys’ face, a little tight-lipped and bright-eyed, peered at me from the screen, which it completely filled. He must have darned near swallowed the ‘scope.
“Ready?” he asked softly.
“Sure. You picking me up?”
His lip curled in half a smile. “What do I look like?” he sneered. “Grab a cab. You know a bar called the Moldy Fig?” I nodded. “That’s where.” He cut the image.
Well, this was more like it. You can’t deal with Psis without the whole affair acting like something out of E. Phillips Oppenheim. I closed up the office, turned out the ceiling, and rode the elevator down to the street.
The night howled and shrieked with air-borne traffic. A hot-rodding kid gunned his fans up the street a way and ripped what silence might have remained to the night into shreds as he streaked past me. The jerk wasn’t forty feet off the ground, and was pouring the coal to his turbine. The whine of his impellers sounded a strong down-Doppler as his ripped past me, nose dropped a good thirty degrees and dragging every knot he could get out of his ‘copter.
I waved to a cab standing at the rank up the block a way and watched the skim-copter rise a couple inches off the ground as the hacker skimmed on the ground-cushion toward me. City grit cut at my ankles from the air blast before I could hop into the bubble and give him my destination. He looked the question at me hopefully, over his shoulder, his hand on the arm of his meter.
“Oh, what the hell,” I said, still sore at the world, and a little worried about what I was trying to do. “Let’s ‘copter!” He grinned and swung the arm over to the “fly” position with its four-times-higher rate. His turbine screamed to a keener pitch with wide throttle, and he climbed full-bore into the down-town slow lane.
The swift ride down to the Village was long enough to induce that odd motion-hypnosis so common in night flight over a metropolitan area. The dizzy blur of red and green running lights from air-borne traffic at levels above and below us, the shapes of ‘copters silhouetted beneath us against the lambent glow of the city’s well-lit streets, all wove into a numbing pattern.
“Here’s the Fig, Mac,” the hacker said as we grounded. I stuck my credit card in the meter and hopped out, not fast enough to duck the fan-driven pin-pricks of sand as he pulled away.
Crescas appeared as if by magic--Psis act like that--and had me by the arm. “Quick!” he said, pushing me back into the spot he had appeared from. It was a doorway beside the Moldy Fig, opening on a flight of steps running to an apartment above the bar. As we climbed the clean and well-lit stairs, I reminded myself that I was probably entering a den of Psis--and clamped down tight on my thoughts. There was plenty they had better not peep.
Keys didn’t have to knock on the door--there’s always a telepath hanging around these Stigma hideouts who knows who’s coming. A husky young man, quite blond and pink of face, opened the door. A soft rustle of music spilled out around his big shoulders. He wore a T-shirt, and his powerful forearms were bare.
“Hey!” he said to Keys, spotting himself as a Southerner as surely as if he’d had the Stars and Bars tattooed on his forehead. We followed him down a short hall into a room furnished, with a couple of couches, an easy-chair, several small but delightful tables, and a piano. Here was the music. A blond bombshell was drumming box chords on the ivories, and grouped around her on side chairs were four young men, playing with her. It was jazz, if that’s what you call the quiet racket that comes out of a wooden recorder, a very large pottery ocharina that hooted like a gallon jug, a steel guitar and a pair of bongo drums played discreetly with the fingertips.
My appearance stopped them right in the middle of a chorus of “Muskrat Ramble.” I’d have liked to hear more--it was Dixieland times two--what the Psis call Psixieland. That’s jazz played by a gang of telepaths. Each one knows what the others are about to play. The result is extemporaneous counterpoint, but without the clinkers we associate with jazz. Almost too perfect, yet untrammeled.
My eyes ran around the room as the four men who had been playing with the girl got up and prepared to leave. The place was spotless. Oh, the furnishings weren’t costly, but they were chosen with that sense of fitness, of refinement of color and decor that is curiously Psi. I suppose that’s one of the little things that annoys Normals so much. Stigma powers seem to go beyond telepathy, clairvoyance and telekinesis--they extend in some hard to define way into the aesthetic. A chaste kind of cleanliness is only part of it. Taste, I guess that’s the word. Their attire, their homes, everything about Psis, seems tasteful.
In moments only Keys, the blond Southerner and the still blonder bomb on the piano bench were left to face me. Keys poked a finger at the plow-jockey in the T-shirt. “Elmer,” he explained.
“Take off yo’ hat, Yankee,” Elmer grinned. I felt it tipped from my head by his TK.
I glowered at him. “Kid stuff!” I snorted. “So you can lift four ounces from six feet away. But you don’t have any idea what incorporeal hereditaments are. Which is better?”
The pink of his face got red. He could have broken me in two.
“Just making a point,” I said. “I’m stupid about TK. You’re stupid about the law. I figure that makes us even.”
He clamped his mouth shut. I turned back to Keys and the girl I was sure was Mary Hall. “What I came here for--”
“What we got you here for,” Keys interrupted, “was to set you straight on something.” I guess I looked as surprised as I felt. The impossibly blond girl giggled. “Over the phone, Maragon,” Keys went on, sitting down on the bench beside the girl, “you said there was a Federal rap hanging over Mary’s head on this 99th National Bank fracas.”
“The theory being,” he went on, “that the law doesn’t let anybody with the Stigma get away with a thing, right?”
“Then relax. Mary hasn’t got the Stigma. Have you, Mary?”
“No,” she said. I looked her over more carefully. She was closer to twenty than thirty, round-faced, with blue eyes that were about as impossibly bright as her hair was impossibly white. It could have been a corneal tattoo, but somehow I doubted it. Impossibly red lips made up the patriotic triad of colors--but that was lipstick, pure and simple.
“No Stigma?” I demanded. “I know Psixieland when I hear it, Miss Hall. Don’t tell me that wasn’t telepathic jazz.”
She tossed her short hair-do around. “My side-men were TP’s,” she conceded. “Why do you think I was playing box chords? They knew what I was playing--I didn’t know what they’d play.”
Well, some of it was adding up. Still, I had to be sure. “I see. Tell me, Mary, where were your parents on the 19th of April in ‘75?”
She sat up straight beside Keys on the bench, and her fair face flushed pinkly. “Drop dead!” she told me.
I stood up. “See you in jail,” I said, and started for the door.
Elmer had played tackle for Ol’ Miss--he sure stopped me in my tracks. “I reckon we ain’t through with you yet, Yankee,” he grinned. He hurt me with his hands, big as country hams. My stiffened fingers jabbed his T-shirt where it covered his solar plexus, and he dropped back, gasping.
“You could learn a little about fighting, too, Psi,” I growled. “And you’re through with me if that bottle blonde won’t answer my questions.”
“Hey!” Keys protested. “Come on, relax. Everybody!” he snapped, as Elmer got his breath back and came in for another tackle. I signaled for a fair catch, and he eased up.
I peered over my shoulder at the girl at the piano. “Well?” I asked her. “Where were your parents on the 19th of April in ‘75?”
Her eyes sought out Keys’. He nodded, dropping his gaze to the floor. “About fifty miles from Logan, Iowa,” she said.
“And you don’t have the Stigma?” I scoffed.
“Not everybody inside the Logan Ring was affected,” she reminded me. “Which is my tough luck. But I am being crucified because Mother and Dad were in the Ring the day the N-bomb went off, whether I have the Stigma or not.”
I came back to stand in front of her. “I’m an attorney,” I said. “I have an idea what can happen to you if the Courts get hold of you. Right now they can’t find you--which must mean you’ve been hiding.” She confirmed that with a nod, biting her red, red lips. “They are after you, and a Federal rap is just the start,” I said. “You have only one chance, Mary, and I’m glad you claimed it. The only way you can keep them from putting you over a barrel is to prove you don’t have the Stigma. I think I know a way to do it. Are you ready to let me help you?”
“Not that fast,” she said, looking worried. “Oh, I trust Keys’ judgment about you. Yes, I do,” she said earnestly, turning to Crescas. “Yes, I know he got you off, Keys. But it doesn’t sound right. Why should he take a chance helping a Psi--even if I really don’t have the Stigma? What’s his angle?”
“Fair enough,” Keys said. “How about it, Maragon?”
“I knew it was a bum rap they were trying to pin on Mary as soon as I heard about it,” I explained. “This business about Mary having HC. There just isn’t any such Psi power as hallucination, and every one of you knows it--it’s an old wives’ tale. I wouldn’t touch this little lady with a ten-foot pole if I really thought she had the Stigma. I have a living to make around this town--and you can’t handle Stigma business and get any decent trade, too.”
I looked back at Mary. “How did you work your swindle at the bank?” I asked quietly.
She sighed. “Sleight of hand,” she said. “A damned fool stunt. I figured to put the money back in a day or so. If somebody else hadn’t been working the same racket, they’d never have caught me. But they had set a trap--”
“I thought it was some light-finger stuff,” I grinned. “Well, it will take me a while to set up a real test of your Psi Powers. Where can I reach you--or are you spending the night here?”
“Certainly not!” she said, casting an annoyed glance at Elmer. She looked at her watch. “Would it be much longer than an hour? I might still be here, if Elmer--”
“Jes’ fine,” T-shirt said. “Unless yo’ mine watching Keys and me practice.” He grinned at me. “Keys is he’ping me build up mah TK,” he explained.
“That’ll make you popular,” I sneered, as I wrote down Elmer’s phone number. They let me out. It had been a pretty room, and in a way I hated to leave it. Still, by the time a cruising ‘copter had taken me halfway back to my office up-town, I could relax the shield over my thoughts--and that was worth getting out of that Stigma hideaway.
It was a little after nine when I walked into the lobby and rang for the elevator. A man lounging against the wall over near the building directory raised a wrist-phone to his mouth and spoke quietly into it as I waited for the car to come. He didn’t seem to be interested in me--but then, he wouldn’t want to show it if he were. Fool around with the Stigma, would I?
The building was mostly dark--in our circle we make too much dough to be interested in overtime. I keyed myself into our waiting room, turned on the ceiling, and went into my private office. There was enough light leaking in from our foyer, so I added none.
I found Lindstrom at home--after all, he should have been by nine o’clock. “Maragon!” he said. “Kill your focus. I have guests!”
I reached up to twist the ‘scope so that my image would be a blur on his screen. Nice beginning. I was as welcome as a thriving case of leprosy.
“I want you to make a test for me, Professor,” I said. “Tonight.”
He shook his head. “I told you I had guests. We’re entertaining. No thanks, Maragon.”
“A Normal is being crucified,” I said quietly. “They’ve got her pegged as a Psi. I’ve got to get her off the hook.”
“How could this happen?” he demanded.
“She hangs with a bunch of Stigma cases, for one thing,” I said.
“Nobody forced her to associate with a gang of Psis,” he said. “Serves her right.”
“Nobody forced you to, either, Prof,” I snarled. “But you have a steady stream of Stigma cases going through your laboratory.”
“That’s different!” he protested.
“Nuts. Now name a time when I can see you there.”
“I don’t want any part of it. If you’re along, it will just mean trouble, Maragon. You got too much publicity on defending that TK locksmith. I’ve got a professional standing to maintain.”
“You’d sure look silly if all the Psis in town blackballed you,” I snarled at him. “Let me pass the word around--and you darned well know I’ve got the contacts to do it--and you’ve tested your last Stigma case. Then let’s see what kind of a professional standing you’ve got.”
He knew some pretty dirty words. “What time?” I pressed him, knowing the profanity was a confession of defeat.
“Not before eleven,” he said glumly. “I won’t forget this, Maragon.”
“What the hell,” I said. “I’m on every S-list in town already. You hardly count beside the other enemies I’m making.” I cut the image.
As if at a signal, there was a tapping on the door to the corridor. I got out of my swivel, walked into the waiting room and opened up. The man who stood there was faintly familiar--but it was the gun in his fist that got most of my attention.
“Maragon?” he asked softly.
I spread my feet a little. “I knew I was making enemies pretty fast,” I said to him. “But I didn’t know how strongly. Listen,” I snapped, “I’ll bet one thing never occurred to you.”
He was taken back. You’re not supposed to snarl at a guy who pokes a gun at you. In theory it gives him the edge of any conversation. “Huh?” he said.
“The only thing that lousy pop-gun of yours is good for is shooting people. I don’t think you came here to shoot me. Now what can you do?”
“Clown,” he growled. “Where’s Renner?”
“In bed, if he has any sense,” I decided. “Make up your mind. Whom do you want?”
“For Pete’s sake,” he said. “Grammar at a time like this!” He looked down at his gun, decided I was right, and stuck it in a shoulder holster. Then his wrist came up in front of his mouth and I recognized him. It was the man who had lounged near the building directory when I had come in. “Come ahead,” he said into the mike.
I turned my back on him and stomped into my office. Let them follow me.
But only one man came in, a minute or so later. “Does it have to be so dark?” he asked politely.
“Rheostat’s by your elbow,” I said. He reached for it and turned on the ceiling, closing the door that cut us off from the waiting room.
“Good evening, Counselor,” he said, taking the seat across my desk from me. He looked different without his judicial robes, not quite as much my senior as I had thought. He wasn’t any taller than I was, perhaps five feet nine, and thirty pounds lighter. Between us we had about an average forehead--his went up to the top of his head--my hairline starts about where my eyebrows leave off. Robes or no robes, there was something judicial about him, as though he’d been born with a gavel in his hand.
“Good evening, Your Honor,” I said to Judge Passarelli. “You have a pretty active pipeline into Stigma circles, don’t you?”
It didn’t bother him. “As long as judgeships are elective offices, Maragon,” he said. “Judges will play politics. Fill me in on this Mary Hall thing.”
“Without violating professional ethics?” I asked.
“You’ll try cases again, in front of judges,” he snapped not very judicial. “Don’t get me angry with you, Maragon.”
I countered: “The shoe is on the other foot--I’m darned sore at you.” He tried to find his receding hairline with his thin eyebrows. “Don’t look so amazed--do you think I haven’t figured out my defending that TK Crescas was no accident? You set me up for it.”
“Set you up for a resoundingly successful defense,” he observed.
“And a resoundingly bad press!” I said. “I have a living to make in this town--”
“Psis are still citizens,” he said. “I’m tired of seeing them thrown to the wolves by the jackals who practice law from a phone booth. Psis deserve a decent defense. Without you, Crescas would be in prison.”
“And without you,” I growled at him, “I might still have a law practice.”
“So you’re helping them find Mary Hall--to embarrass me?”
“I’ve already found her,” I said. “Feel embarrassed?”
“Not yet,” he conceded. “What are you planning to do?”
“We’ve accepted a fee to turn her over to a client,” I revealed. “I guess that’s not unethical to tell you.”
“And you’ll do that?”
“After one more step.”
“And that is?”
“Prove that she hasn’t got the Stigma.”
“Hasn’t got it!” He hopped out of his chair and pressed his knuckles on my desk.
“You’d better do a little more research, if you’re going to let your black heart bleed over these Stigma cases, Judge,” I grinned at him. “All this talk about Mary Hall using HC on your vision. That will never embarrass you. There isn’t such a thing as HC--hallucination is an old wives’ tale. It was sleight of hand, in the bank and in your courtroom. Don’t stand still for that noise about HC.”
“I’ll be switched,” he said. “You’re serious?”
He frowned at me. “She’s still in trouble,” he reminded me. “The Federal Grand Jury--”
“Restitution ought to cure that,” I said. “Especially if we threaten a lawsuit for slander--I think it’s libelous to claim a Normal has the Stigma. Mutual release all around.”
“You’ll represent her?” he asked.
“Would you consider it ethical? I don’t see how my assignment to turn Mary Hall over to your political opponents will stop me from representing her in a lawsuit, do you?”
He shook his head, straightening up. “I don’t see how,” he agreed. “I hope you do defend her, Maragon. The Courts have had to be pretty tough on these pathetic people. If they had reputable representatives, I for one would be a lot more ready to suspend sentences and find other ways to help them out of the jams their weird powers get them into.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said. “In the meantime--stay away from me.”
“We’re both poison right now,” he agreed. “And thanks.”
Mary Hall was still at T-shirted Elmer’s when I dialed his phone, and she agreed to meet me on the street in front of the Moldy Fig. My ‘copter had barely settled to the pavement when she came running from the doorway to the stairs and hopped into the bubble with me.
“Columbia University,” I told the hacker. “Rhine Building.”
Professor Lindstrom was waiting for us in his laboratory, in carpet slippers and without his tie. “Laboratory” is a perfectly silly term. The “apparatus” in any Psi lab is no more complicated than a folding screen, some playing cards, perhaps a deck of Rhine ESP cards and a slide rule. This place went so far as to sport a laboratory bench and a number of lab stools, on which Lindstrom, Mary Hall and I perched. My egghead Psi expert was barely able to restrain himself--he had some bitter things to tell me.
I beat him to it. “Take that injured glower off your puss,” I snapped. “Your business is testing people for their Psi powers. Why shouldn’t I call on you for help? What are friends for?”
“For a friend I might,” Lindstrom said. “You don’t rate that well with me any more.”
“I’ll try to bear up under it,” I told him. “In the meantime, this is Mary Hall, a reputed Psi. Her power is HC.”
He was interested in spite of himself. “Hallucination?” he said. “We don’t see much of that, Miss Hall. And you claim you can demonstrate this power under controlled conditions?” These eggheads all talk alike.
Mary shook her head. “No, I certainly do not. I’m as Normal as you are, Professor.” He sagged slightly in disappointment.
“Well,” Lindstrom said. “This is going to be difficult to prove, Miss Hall. Merely by withholding your HC ability, you can act Normal--but what would that prove?”
She turned to me. “I thought you said you had a way to get me off the hook,” she protested. “How are we--?”
“Quiet,” I told her. “I didn’t come up here for a lecture in logic. Especially from a dumb blonde.” She started to bristle, but thought better of it.
“It goes like this, Prof,” I said. “This innocent looking piece of fluff was caught slipping a five-dollar bill to a teller at a bank down town, and asking for change for a hundred dollar bill. She says it was nothing more than sleight of hand. You are an experienced observer. I want you to watch her work her little trick. If she can fool us, and not use Psi, the legal position is that she didn’t need Psi to fool the teller.” I turned to her. “And the logical principle, Miss Aristotle,” I told her, “is equally simple: Occam’s Razor. Prefer the simpler explanation. Can you show us how you palmed the hundred and slipped the teller a five?”
“You’ll be watching for it,” Mary protested, letting those ripe lips pout.
“I suppose the teller wasn’t? It’s his business to watch the bills when he’s making change.” I took out my wallet and handed her a one and a five. “Hand me the one and make me think it’s the five,” I said.
Lindstrom leaned his elbows on the black composition top of the lab bench, watching her narrowly. Mary got down off her stool and came over closer to me, smoothing the two bills in her fingers. The five was on top.
“I’d like change for a five,” she said, handing it to me. She worked it three times while we watched.
“Utterly smooth,” Lindstrom said. “I didn’t see her make the switch.”
“Me, too,” I agreed. I could see the tension drain from Mary’s face. She was prettier when she wasn’t worried. She was pretty all the time, when you got right down to it. No wonder she could fool a teller. He probably hadn’t taken his eyes off that dazzling smile.
“Is that all?” Lindstrom asked.
“Would you certify that you saw her make these switches, and that Psi was not involved?” I asked him.
“Of course. I don’t want to, but, if you call me as a witness, I’ll testify to what I saw,” he said glumly.
“It may not be necessary,” I said. “I really ought to call you, just to teach you some manners, Prof. But then, we all have a right to be a little yellow.”
Mary would have preferred to remain in silence as we rode a cab back to the Moldy Fig, and huddled over in her corner of the bubble. There wasn’t enough light, that high over the city, to read her expression.
“Here’s the strategy,” I said, about midtown. “If we can get the Bank to agree to restitution, and to sign an admission that you did not use HC or any other Psi powers to work your theft, I think you’ll be off the hook. I doubt the Federal Jury will listen to an information.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“This is my business,” I growled. “Do you want me to represent you?”
She didn’t answer that until the ‘copter had grounded in front of the Fig. “All right,” she said. “I don’t know what you’re so mad at all the time, but it doesn’t seem to be me. I’d like you to represent me.”
I watched her scoot across the sidewalk and run up the stairs to Elmer’s place. For some screwy reason I hoped she had another place to hole up for the night. I was getting as bad as Renner--looking lecherously at the raffish display of shapely leg as the blond bombshell beat it.
I directed my hacker to my apartment, and grabbed the phone in the bubble. The Mobile Operator got me Vito Passarelli at his home. He sounded as if he had already retired.
“This is you know who,” I said. “It’s late, I know, but we’d better talk before morning. My apartment is the safest spot I can think of. I’m in the Directory.”
I beat His Honor to my apartment by long enough to hang up my jacket, turn the ceiling on to a dim but friendly glow and get out a bottle of Scotch. Judges don’t drink bourbon.
I let Passarelli in when the buzzer sounded. “I’m reasonably sure there are no microphones in this place,” I said. “This Mary Hall thing is getting hot--we’d better start taking precautions.”
“Always,” he said, running a hand over his balding head. His eyes saw the bottle and asked me a question. I threw some of the Pinch Bottle over ice and handed it to him, taking mine neat.
“Here’s to crime,” he said, sipping the liquor. “What happened?”
I poked a finger at my favorite easy-chair, which Passarelli took. I stood in front of him, still holding my drink. “I got myself in a jam.”
“You’re talking to the wrong man,” he said coldly. “Get yourself a lawyer--a good Lawyer.”
“You’re in it with me, Passarelli.”
“Never met you,” he said, getting up. “Thanks for the drink.” He started for the door.
“That witch has the Stigma after all,” I said to his back. That stopped him. He came back and poked his angry face into mine.
“You had her tested?”
“Professor Lindstrom, at Columbia,” I told him. “She is slick as a whistle. Lindstrom fell for her yarn that it was sleight of hand--but it was HC. I’d have sworn it didn’t exist.”
“Well,” he said. “Well, well. All right, Maragon. What’s the jam you’re in?”
“You suggested I should represent her, and I’m going to. But with the Stigma? That’s more than I bargained for. You know no reputable attorney can afford to represent a Psi. Not if he wants any Normal business. Too much feeling.”
“Going to duck out on her?”
“Damned if I’ll welch!” I said, more hotly than I had meant to. “You sure don’t seem very shaken up by the news.”
“It’s not any news to me,” Passarelli said tightly. “You forget that I’ve had first-hand experience with that little lady. She gave me the business right in my courtroom. I’m no credulous egghead like Lindstrom. I know the difference between sleight of hand and an hallucination. She made me see just what she wanted me to see.”
“Now you know why I think you’re in the same jam, Judge,” I said. “You’ll look great running for office, with your opposition telling the public how a Psi foozled your vision. They’ll stomp on the loud pedal about how you let her get away with it and wangle a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict when she was guilty as sin.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “It’s a hot potato, all right.”
“There’s just one out,” I insisted. “That girl would have made restitution long ago if the Bank would have permitted it. And I’ve been asking myself how come--why should the Bank get sniffy and not want its money back?” That was the right question. He went back to the easy-chair and sat down. His eyes came up to meet mine, and then he held out his glass. I splashed some more Pinch in it.
“Politics, politics,” he mourned. “The social workers are after me on this thing. They want that girl to be in a jam. They’ve asked me to work on the Bank, asked that I make sure restitution can’t be made. They want the threat of a Federal indictment to hang over her head.”
“So she’ll agree to my committing her to their care. You know what they try to do--it’s the doctrine of sterilization. Remove young Psis from the Psi society--cut them loose from their natural contacts, force them to quit using their powers. It’s the same technique they use on narcotic violators, if they aren’t too deeply committed to drugs.”
“And you are really resisting that?”
“Wouldn’t you? Of course I had to tell the Bank to refuse restitution. But do you think Psi is a sickness, like narcotic addiction? Nonsense. Telepathy is no more sickness than the ability to discriminate colors, or hear the tones of a scale. This is equivalent to the color-blind and tone-deaf asking that the rest of us stop perceiving color or hearing the pitch of sound. Ridiculous.”
“What is the cure?”
“We could argue all night,” he said wearily. Then my buzzer sounded. “Expecting anybody else?” he said, alarmed in an instant.
“I can’t think of anybody I’d like to find out that you were here,” I said. “Get out of sight.” He carried his drink into my bedroom.