The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century (6 page)

BOOK: The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century
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Vanning sighed again and let himself out into the coolness of the night. Stars blazed in the sky, except toward the south, where the aurora of Lower Manhattan dimmed them. The glowing white towers of skyscrapers rose in a jagged pattern. A sky-ad announced the virtues of Vambulin
It Peps You Up.

His speeder was at the curb. Vanning edged the locker into the trunk compartment and drove toward the Hudson Floatway, the quickest route downtown. He was thinking about Poe.

The Purloined Letter, which had been hidden in plain sight, but refolded and readdressed, so that its superficial appearance was changed. Holy Hecate! What a perfect safe the locker would make! No thief could crack it, for the obvious reason that it wouldn’t be locked. No thief would
want
to clean it out. Vanning could fill the locker with credit coupons and instantly they’d become unrecognizable. It was the ideal cache.

How the devil did it work?

There was little use in asking Gallegher. He played by ear. A primrose by the river’s rim a simple primrose was to him—not
Primula vulgaris.
Syllogisms were unknown to him. He reached the conclusion without the aid of either major or minor premises.

Vanning pondered. Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

Ergo, there was a different sort of space in the locker—

But Vanning was jumping at conclusions. There was another answer—the right one.

He hadn’t guessed it yet.

Instead, he tooled the speeder downtown to the office building where he maintained a floor, and brought the locker upstairs in the freight lift. He didn’t put it in his private office; that would have been too obvious. He placed the metal cabinet in one of the storerooms, sliding a file cabinet in front of it for partial concealment. It wouldn’t do to have the clerks using this particular locker.

Vanning stepped back and considered. Perhaps—

A bell rang softly. Preoccupied, Vanning didn’t hear it at first. When he did, he went back to his own office and pressed the acknowledgment button on the Winchell. The gray, harsh, bearded face of Counsel Hatton appeared, filling the screen.

“Hello,” Vanning said.

Hatton nodded. “I’ve been trying to reach you at your home. Thought I’d try the office—”

“I didn’t expect you to call now. The trial’s tomorrow. It’s a bit late for discussion, isn’t it?”

“Dugan & Sons wanted me to speak to you. I advised against it.”

“Oh?”

Hatton’s thick gray brows drew together. “I’m prosecuting, you know. There’s plenty of evidence against MacIlson.”

“So you say. But speculation’s a difficult charge to prove.”

“Did you get an injunction against scop?”

“Naturally,” Vanning said. “You’re not using truth serum on my client!”

“That’ll prejudice the jury.”

“Not on medical grounds. Scop affects MacIlson harmfully. I’ve got a covering prognosis.”

“Harmfully is right!” Hatton’s voice was sharp. “Your client embezzled those bonds, and I can prove it.”

“Twenty-five thousand in credits, it comes to, eh? That’s a lot for Dugan & Sons to lose. What about that hypothetical case I posed? Suppose twenty thousand were recovered—” 

“Is this a private beam? No recordings?”

“Naturally. Here’s the cut-off.” Vanning held up a metal-tipped cord. “This is strictly sub rosa.”

“Good,” Counsel Hatton said. “Then I can call you a lousy shyster.”

“Tch!”

“Your gag’s too old. It’s moth-eaten. MacIlson swiped five grand in bonds, negotiable into credits. The auditors start checking up. MacIlson comes to you. You tell him to take twenty grand more, and offer to return that twenty if Dugan & Sons refuse to prosecute.

MacIlson splits with you on the five thousand, and on the plat standard, that ain’t hay.”

“I don’t admit to anything like that.”

“Naturally you don’t, not even on a closed beam. But it’s tacit. However, the gag’s moth-eaten, and my clients won’t play ball with you. They’re going to prosecute.”

“You called me up just to tell me that?”

“No, I want to settle the jury question. Will you agree to let ’em use scop on the panel?”

“O.K.,” Vanning said. He wasn’t depending on a fixed jury tomorrow. His battle would be based on legal technicalities. With scop-tested talesmen, the odds would be even. And such an arrangement would save days or weeks of argument and challenge.

“Good,” Hatton grunted. “You’re going to get your pants licked off.”

Vanning replied with a mild obscenity and broke the connection. Reminded of the pending court fight, he forced the matter of the fourth-dimensional locker out of his mind and left the office. Later—

Later would be time enough to investigate the possibilities of the remarkable cabinet more thoroughly. Just now; he didn’t want his brain cluttered with nonessentials. He went to his apartment, had the servant mix him a short highball, and dropped into bed.

And, the next day, Vanning won the case. He based it on complicated technicalities and obscure legal precedents. The crux of the matter was that the bonds had not been converted into government credits. Abstruse economic charts proved that point for Vanning. Conversion of even five thousand credits would have caused a fluctuation in the graph line, and no such break existed. Vanning’s experts went into monstrous detail.

In order to prove guilt, it would have been necessary to show, either actually or by inference, that the bonds had been in existence since last December 20th, the date of their most recent check-and-recording. The case of Donovan vs. Jones stood as a precedent.

Hatton jumped to his feet. “Jones later confessed to his defalcation, your honor!”

“Which does not affect the original decision,” Vanning said smoothly. “Retroaction is not admissible here. The verdict was not proven.”

“Counsel for the defense will continue.”

Counsel for the defense continued, building up a beautifully intricate edifice of casuistic logic.

Hattan writhed. “Your honor! I—”

“If my learned opponent can produce one bond—just one of the bonds in question—I will concede the case.”

The presiding judge looked sardonic. “Indeed! If such a piece of evidence could be produced, the defendant would be jailed as fast as I could pronounce sentence. You know that very well, Mr. Vanning. Proceed.”

“Very well. My contention, then, is that the bonds never existed. They were the result of a clerical error in notation.”

“A clerical error in a Pederson Calculator?”

“Such errors have occurred as I shall prove. If I may call my next witness—”

Unchallenged, the witness, a math technician, explained how a Pederson Calculator can go haywire. He cited cases.

Hatton caught him up on one point. “I protest this proof. Rhodesia, as everyone knows, is the location of a certain important experimental industry. Witness has refrained from stating the nature of the work performed in this particular Rhodesian factory. Is it not a fact that the Henderson United Company deals largely in radioactive ores?” 

“Witness will answer.”

“I can’t. My records don’t include that information.”

“A significant omission,” Hatton snapped. “Radioactivity damages the intricate mechanism of a Pederson Calculator. There is no radium nor radium by-product in the offices of Dugan & Sons.”

Vanning stood up. “May I ask if those offices have been fumigated lately?”

“They have. It is legally required.”

“A type of chlorine gas was used?”

“Yes.”

“I wish to call my next witness.”

The next witness, a physicist and official in the Ultra Radium Institute, explained that gamma radiations affect chlorine strongly, causing ionization. Living organisms could assimilate by-products of radium and transmit them in turn. Certain clients of Dugan & Sons had been in contact with radioactivity—

“This is ridiculous, your honor! Pure theorization—”

Vanning looked hurt. “I cite the case of Dangerfield vs. Austro Products, California, 1963. Ruling states that the uncertainty factor is prime admissible evidence. My point is simply that the Pederson Calculator which recorded the bonds could have been in error.

If this be true, there were no bonds, and my client is guiltless.”

“Counsel will continue,” said the judge, wishing he were Jeffreys so he could send the whole damned bunch to the scaffold. Jurisprudence should be founded on justice, and not be a three-dimensional chess game. But, of course, it was the natural development of the complicated political and economic factors of modern civilization. It was already evident that Vanning would win his case.

And he did. The jury was directed to find for the defendant. On a last, desperate hope, Hatton raised a point of order and demanded scop, but his petition was denied. Vanning winked at his opponent and closed his briefcase.

That was that.

 

Vanning returned to his office. At four-thirty that afternoon trouble started to break. The secretary announced a Mr. MacIlson, and was pushed aside by a thin, dark, middle-aged man lugging a gigantic suedette suitcase.

“Vanning! I’ve got to see you—”

The attorney’s eyes hooded. He rose from behind his desk, dismissing the secretary with a jerk of his head. As the door closed, Vanning said brusquely, “What are you doing here? I told you to stay away from me. What’s in that bag?”

“The bonds,” MacIlson explained, his voice unsteady. “Something’s gone wrong—”

“You crazy fool! Bringing the bonds here—” With a leap Vanning was at the door, locking it. “Don’t you realize that if Hatton gets his hands on that paper, you’ll be yanked back to jail? And I’ll be disbarred! Get ’em out of here.”

“Listen a minute, will you? I took the bonds to Finance Unity, as you told me, but...

but there was an officer there, waiting for me. I saw him just in time. If he’d caught me

—”

Vanning took a deep breath. “You were supposed to leave the bonds in that subway locker for two months.”

MacIlson pulled a news sheet from his pocket. “But the government’s declared a freeze on ore stocks and bonds. It’ll go into effect in a week. I couldn’t wait—the money would have been tied up indefinitely.”

“Let’s see that paper.” Vanning examined it and cursed softly. “Where’d you get this?”

“Bought it from a boy outside the jail. I wanted to check the current ore quotations.”

“Uh-huh. I see. Did it occur to you that this sheet might be faked?”

MacIlson’s jaw dropped. “Fake?”

“Exactly. Hatton figured I might spring you, and had this paper ready. You bit. You led the police right to the evidence, and a swell spot you’ve put me in.”

“B-but—”

Vanning grimaced. “Why do you suppose you saw that cop at Finance Unity? They could have nabbed you any time. But they wanted to scare you into heading for my office, so they could catch both of us on the same hook. Prison for you, disbarment for me. Oh, hell!”

MacIlson licked his lips. “Can’t I get out a back door?”

“Through the cordon that’s undoubtedly waiting? Orbs! Don’t be more of a sap than you can help.”

“Can’t you—hide the stuff?”

“Where? They’ll ransack this office with X-rays. No, I’ll just—” Vanning stopped.

“Oh. Hide it, you said.
Hide it—

He whirled to the dictograph. “Miss Horton? I’m in conference. Don’t disturb me for anything. If anybody hands you a search warrant, insist on verifying it through headquarters. Got me? O.K.”

Hope had returned to MacIlson’s face. “Is it all right?”

“Oh, shut up!” Vanning snapped. “Wait here for me. Be back directly.” He headed for a side door and vanished. In a surprisingly short time he returned, awkwardly lugging a metal cabinet.

“Help me...
uh!...
here. In this corner. Now get out.”

“But—”

“Flash,” Vanning ordered. “Everything’s under control. Don’t talk. You’ll be arrested, but they can’t hold you without evidence. Come back as soon as you’re sprung.” He urged MacIlson to the door, unlocked it, and thrust the man through. After that, he returned to the cabinet, swung open the door, and peered in. Empty. Sure.

The suedette suitcase—

Vanning worked it into the locker, breathing hard. It took a little time, since the valise was larger than the metal cabinet. But at last he relaxed, watching the brown case shrink and alter its outline till it was tiny and distorted, the shape of an elongated egg, the color of a copper cent piece.

“Whew!”
Vanning said.

Then he leaned closer, staring. Inside the locker, something was moving. A grotesque little creature less than four inches tall was visible. It was a shocking object, all cubes and angles, a bright green in tint, and it was obviously alive.

Someone knocked on the door.

The tiny—thing—was busy with the copper-colored egg. Like an ant, it was lifting the egg and trying to pull it away. Vanning gasped and reached into the locker. The fourth-dimensional creature dodged. It wasn’t quick enough. Vanning’s hand descended, and he felt wriggling movement against his palm.

He squeezed.

The movement stopped. He let go of the dead thing and pulled his hand back swiftly.

The door shook under the impact of fists.

Vanning closed the locker and called, “Just a minute.”

“Break it down,” somebody ordered.

But that wasn’t necessary. Vanning put a painful smile on his face and turned the key.

Counsel Hatton came in, accompanied by bulky policemen. “We’ve got MacIlson,” he said.

“Oh? Why?”

For answer Hatton jerked his hand. The officers began to search the room. Vanning shrugged.

“You’ve jumped the gun,” he said. “Breaking and entering—”

“We’ve got a warrant.”

“Charge?”

“The bonds, of course.” Hatton’s voice was weary. “I don’t know where you’ve hid that suitcase, but we’ll find it.”

“What suitcase?” Vanning wanted to know.

“The one MacIlson had when he came in. The one he didn’t have when he came out.”

“The game,” Vanning said sadly, “is up. You win.”

“Eh?” 

“If I tell you what I did with the suitcase, will you put in a good word for me?”

BOOK: The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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