Talk:XV: Breaking and Entering
XV: Breaking & Entering
Are two people healthier than one person? Are two wiser? Then why believe they have more rights? Why believe the rights of one are less important? History’s sadness is that sanity, wisdom, justice—the very qualities that make us human—are not additive, while one’s brute animal ability to do another injury, is. Two people are, tragically, stronger than one. Stripped to naked truth, that is the basis for all government, dictatorial or democratic. Can we not do better?
MONDAY, JULY 20, 1987
“Manfred von Richthofen?” Somewhere a little voice was singing, “It’s only a paper moon, hanging over a cardboard sea …”
“The Red Knight of Prussia himself,” Lucy declared. “‘Twas his Flying Circus put me afoot back in thirty-eight. Never forget it—there we were: The Pensacola an’ the Boise flankin’ my Fresno Lady, bearin’ northeast outa Cologne. They—”
“But that’d make him at least—”
“Ninety-six,” Ed said. “Probably turned up here for a—”
“Something else, Lucy. What’s all this ‘Your Honor’ jazz he was handing out? You never told me—”
“Semiretired, sonny. What else would I do for a living? A little late t’ try sellin’ my body, don’t y’think? Don’t answer that, a girl hasta keep some illusions. Yeah, I still hear an argument now an’ again. Catfood money.”
We were in Lucy’s parlor, surrounded by Victorian furniture and felines, both overstuffed. I’d counted eight cats so far, one sleeping in Lucy’s bony lap, another making his way up the difficult north face of Ed’s shoulder. I was trying to keep a kitten from perching on my head.
“Pay attention,” Ed warned, “she’s being modest. Lucy’s a highly respected adjudicator and member of the Continental Congress.” He pulled the cat off and placed it on the floor, where it stuck its nose in his highball glass.
“A distinction,” Lucy intoned, “utterly without distinction. Congress hasn’t met in thirty years, and I’m hopin’ like crazy it won’t ever have to again. Depends on what you boys find Friday night.”
We’d granted Deejay’s second wish in a small way, asking her to attend Madison’s next lecture, to keep the questions and answers going as long as she and a few well-chosen comrades could manage.
“Speaking of which, Your Honorship, how do you feel—in your official capacity—about busting into Madison’s place? I thought privacy was sacred in this country?”
“Sure—along with your life, your property, and your rights,” Ed offered.
“In that order?”
“No order to it,” Lucy answered. “Just three ways of sayin’ the same thing. And, Winnie, I got no official capacity. Nobody does, not even the president of the Confederacy. She only rides herd on the Continental Congress, if and when … What you and Ed are planning is unethical, immoral, and—”
“I was about to say, illegal—if we were the legislatin’ kind, which we ain’t. You two get shot up in there, nobody’s gonna say a thing. Madison’ll be within his rights. Or, he could sue you right down to your bellybutton lint.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do while he’s taking over the planet?”
“Son, we gave up preventive law enforcement long before we gave up law.”
“We do have one chance,” Ed suggested. “Find something Madison won’t want made public in a lawsuit—”
Ed plowed onward. “If we catch him in the act, prove he’s planning a massive initiation of force, then we can countersue, and it might be Madison who winds up on some asteroid.”
“The end justifies the means,” I grunted. “A retroactive search warrant.”
“Oh, no!” Lucy exclaimed. “Regardless of what happens to Madison, you’d still have to make restitution to him for burglary, breaking and entering, theft—”
I put my head in my hands and groaned.
“Better’n gettin’ shot full of holes, ain’t it?” Lucy asked. “Still don’t get it, do you? Well, take that kitty cat off your pate—Lysander, get down!—and I’ll explain again. See, we make restitution to Madison, but he’s making restitution to us, for—what, attempted world conquest? He winds up owing us a lot more money than …”
FRIDAY, JULY 24, 1987
Stakeouts aren’t remarkably different anywhere. I’d just finished my fifth cigarette in the last hour, and it didn’t help that Lucy’s old Thorneycroft only gave coffee—a Confederate dollop of chicory made it even worse.
We sat, biting our nails between puffs, watching the Hamiltonian mansion, doing what cops have done since they staked out the pyramids in horse-powered two-wheelers: we swapped war stories. He told me about hanging on the outside of a sports dirigible while a triple murderer did everything to shake him loose into fifteen thousand feet of empty space. I told him about the wonderful things you find in plastic garbage bags.
Madison was off to a late start. We hunched down in our cloaks, trying to keep warm—another thing that doesn’t change: you’re deaf with the windows up and the heater roaring away, so you freeze your ass off, consoled only by the knowledge that being able to hear has saved the lives of countless cops.
“Look out!” Ed whispered. We slumped farther down as a pair of enormous black hovercars—the Frontenac, lately repaired, and its twin brother—came around a corner and pulled up in front of the house.
Ed offered me a set of goggles with half-inch slabs for lenses. I started to strap them on, thought better of it, and simply held them before my eyes. “Infrared?” I asked. The images were in color, the hues wildly distorted. The Frontenacs were still black, but the landscaping was sickly shades of red-violet.
“Paratronic. Convert almost anything to visible wavelengths, with pretty strange results sometimes, depending on the—quiet!”
People emerged from the building, gathering briefly on the porch. Kleingunther, I could tell by his size, and Madison, bundled up against the evening chill. Two others were unrecognizable. I squinted over the edge of my goggles and gasped, “Bealls!”
“I thought so,” Ed whispered. “Who’s the other one?”
“Gotta be from back home.” The fourth character, ludicrous in American slouch hat, poncho, and baggy Confederate trousers, lit a cigarette. The sudden flare illuminated a harsh, narrow, pockmarked face: “Oscar Burgess!”
“Are you sure, Win?” They walked down to the curb and boarded.
“Is a bear Catholic? I’d recognize that face over the radio!” As I watched the cars pull away, I shivered, but not from the cold.
“I’ll take your word. So Madison’s a charming liar, but a liar nevertheless.”
“You expected different?” The gears in my head were grinding. I wasn’t surprised that SecPol had been on my trail, but Burgess himself? Unless they had their own Broach working, he must have followed me to Fort Collins, into the lab, and out through Meiss’s machine. How many others had made it through before the one we’d found got buried in the collapsed excavation?
“Come on, partner,” I said, like a hundred times before, “we got work to do.” The thought of entering without a warrant didn’t make me feel any worse than I ever have on late-night searches. Maybe some judge’s piece of paper isn’t the blank check I’d always believed—we were still invading someone’s castle, and maybe we deserved to be shot.
We parked in the nearest alley and headed for an underground crossing. Traffic wasn’t any lighter at this hour, but speed was the main consideration: on a thoroughfare like this, a car could be on top of you before you’d noticed. At the other side, we approached the darkened mansion from behind. Ed produced a device, slid out an antenna, and unfolded a sharp-pointed ground stake.
“This is my defeater—like the one our burglar used.”
“I hope it works better than his did.”
“Different principle: it’s in contact with my Telecom at home. We mightn’t prevent the alarms from tripping, but if they do, my computer will start arguing with theirs, delaying the lights and sirens for a while.”
“Depending on their unit, maybe ten minutes. We’ll have longer if we’re careful going in.” He shoved the defeater into the ground.
My hands shook as I accepted another gadget. “S-sorry. I’m used to working the other side of the burglary game!”
“Calm down! You don’t hear my teeth chattering, and I’m not used to it, either.”
“Now he tells me. Another amateur cracksman! It’s been a swell evening, Ed. Think I’ll go downtown and see what’s playing at the Rialto.”
“Shut up and strap that on your wrist! As long as its face is green, we’re clear. If it turns orange, we’ve tripped something and the computers are discussing it. When it turns red, drop everything and run—we’ve lost the argument and the house defenses are working again. I’ll check upstairs, Madison’s office and so on. You do the basement. Get a good look at that closed-off room—Deejay’ll want every detail. Almost forgot—take this little pickup, and we’ll crank it through the ’com when we get back.”
“If we get back. Anything else before the massacre, mon capitaine?”
“We may have to do the upper floors, too. We need to know how many of your people are here.”
“They’re SecPol’s people, and they’ve all got guns! Great big—”
“Okay, okay! Give it ten minutes, unless your telltale turns orange. Meet me in the office. If it turns red, it’s every being for himself.”
“Right. Hope I remember my way around this pile of bricks.” The back porch wasn’t locked, but the floorboards were real groaners. By the time Ed was doing things to the back door with tiny tools, I was surprised my pants were still dry. He taped the latch to keep it from springing shut. We slipped past the kitchen and reached the cross-hall to Madison’s office. I took the other branch, to the basement, adjusting the goggles on my nose. The place was eerie with shadows, and the weird colors didn’t help.
With a couple of false turns, I found the hobby room. Through paratronic lenses, most of the light seemed to be coming from a closet door, the dull, ruddy glow of iron in a blacksmith’s forge. I opened the door to find a water heater, bright as neon. Peeking over the goggles I could see nothing, although I could feel heat on my face.
Lenses back on again, I walked to the bench. I’d left the furnace room door open, but my body cast a shadow on the tabletop. Then, with inspiration, I found a soldering iron and pulled the trigger—it worked as well as a flashlight. I examined the reloading area, carefully keeping away from powder and primers, found more .380 cases, a couple of 9mms that might belong to Burgess, and a matchbook from a Denver speakeasy.
Across the room was the latched door. Holding the iron in my left hand, I drew my revolver, lifted the hook with its muzzle, and opened the door carefully. Nobody home, but it seemed very familiar: same cabinets, same tangles of wire, a replica of Deejay’s cluttered lab, and of the infernal machinery that had propelled me here. I crossed the room, one eye on the door, another on my wrist, trying to keep a third on what I was doing. How would the telltale look through color-distorting goggles? Just now it was a pale pink. A quick glance sans eyepieces returned it to a nice safe green.
Bealls didn’t trust the Telecom. He was using very conventional computer equipment. Must have raided some museum. On the console was an untidy sheaf of papers. The sight, surrounded as I was with dormant Broach machinery, made me uneasy If I went through a hole in this world, where would I end up?
Print didn’t carry well through goggles, so I risked a match: circuit diagrams, mathematical notations, Vaughn Meiss’s name neatly typed in the corner of each sheet—the contents of that empty aluminum notebook, but with many marginal comments in a different hand.
I turned slowly, showing everything to the double lenses of Ed’s miniature Telecom pickup, hoping it was equipped with some sort of light-amplifier. As I climbed upstairs with a sigh of relief, and was threading my way toward Madison’s office, the telltale turned purple—orange to the naked eye.
Ed stood before the eye-and-pyramid plaque, now split down the middle to reveal a cabinet in the wall behind. “I’m afraid I’ve done it,” he whispered. “Notice your indicator?”
“Yeah. What have you got here?”
“Nothing I know anything about.” The cabinet was divided into dozens of small compartments, each holding a tiny silvery goblet no bigger than a thimble. “Ten rows of eight—eighty of these doohickeys in all.”
“Close it up, and let’s get out of here. Find anything else?”
“In the lecture-hall closet, carefully tucked into a pile of table linens—these …” Three canned reels of sixteen millimeter film lay on the desk, half concealed in a fancy napkin. I struck another match:
MOPPING UP IN THE ATOMIC AGE
POST-STRIKE TACTICAL DEPLOYMENT
PROPERTY OF U.S. GOVERNMENT
“Put that out! Didn’t I show you—” He twisted one of my eyepieces—a softly glowing light was visible through the lenses.
“Army indoctrination films,” I repeated. “What are the others?”
“Something about ‘anti-guerrilla counter-insurgency,’ and …”
“How hydrogen bombs work.”
“Saw that one myself, when they were trying to involve us in Civil Defense. Don’t let that classified crap fool you, they show this stuff to the troops—and on TV, Sunday afternoons. But they can’t have brought this with them the day I—”
“No, they couldn’t. We’d better get out of here, back to the kitchen!” Which is where we went, my nerves screaming every inch of the way. Ed wanted to stop off for sightseeing.
“Are you out of your mind? This thing’s been orange for—”
“Three minutes. Don’t panic. I just want to see what Madison wouldn’t show us.”
Admittedly, I’d thought it peculiar that we weren’t allowed into a room just off the small kitchen. I held my S & W, trying to keep the muzzle steady. He opened the door, we started in—
Ed went for his gun. “Hold it!” I whispered hoarsely. “He won’t do us any harm now.” Huddled on the floor between two hanging beef carcasses was a body, frozen stiff. Oddly, it didn’t seem cold in the tiny room. “What is this place?”
“Paratronic freezer. Something like a microwave oven, only the other way around. Shuts down when the door opens.” The body was propped in a sitting position, ice crystals glittered in the light from our goggles. “Here’s the sheath to your Rezin. Want it?” Ed rotated the body onto its face. Clothing and flesh were tattered at the back, as if blasted with a shotgun—nothing fatal, just messy and painful. Some of those gleaming particles wouldn’t be ice, but glass from my bedroom window. We’d found our intruder.
“Tricky Dick Milhous,” Ed said, “a third-rate second-story man. He’s no assassin, just a petty crook. Nice way they paid him off. Couldn’t have been pleasant, freezing in the dark.”
I shuddered. “Shouldn’t we get out of here, before the same thing happens to us?” Shelves full of foil-swathed packages glinted dully in the eerie half-light.
“Right. We’ll make an anonymous call. The CLA can—”
Our wristlights, through the goggles, had turned bright blue. I didn’t even peek—the freezer door was swinging shut. I plunged through, revolver in hand, figuring to nail whoever—“There’s no one here!”
“Doors close when the alarms go off!” Ed said, hurrying past me. “Old-fashioned, but effective.” Happily, someone had removed the one between kitchen and hall. Bells were clanging as we reached the back door. “This would be locked if we hadn’t taped it.” We did a fast sneak down the alley. “Can’t cross the underground now with all this racket. We’ll have to risk the Greenway.”
“Let’s do it!”
“Look out!” He yanked me behind a bush as a car full of uniforms whisked around the corner. We were trapped. There’d be security in all four undergrounds, a perimeter established before we could get across.
I rose, dusting off my knees. “Follow my lead and try not to look guilty.” I turned the corner, strode deliberately down the sidewalk, Ed dithering along behind me for once, and right up to the front door of the Alexander Hamilton Society. Guards were milling in and out.
“Bear Brothers, consulting detectives,” I rapped. “We’re staking out a burglar. Find him yet?”
The patrol boss looked us over with a grudging smile. “Ed! Might’ve known you’d show up. Didn’t know you had a brother. Who’re we supposed to find, the ghost of Alexander Hamilton?”
Ed opened his mouth, I barged ahead with “Win Bear, Captain, just in from, uh, Tlingit. It’s Tricky Dick Milhous we’re looking for. Busted into a place we’re … responsible for the other night, and damn near killed a resident.”
“Uh—right!” Ed added brightly. “We’ll probably find him here somewhere. This is an old bulkhead security system.”
The captain looked skeptical. “Well, you boys do your homework, anyway. If you’re right, we’ll all be collecting bonuses. Been after Dick for three weeks, after the job he pulled over at Wasserchranken’s. Hear about that?”
“We’ve been on another case.”
“Yeah. I heard about that. Some guys get all the publicity. Well, let’s take a look around.”
Ed was showing the strain. Not enough practice in deception. My own heart was pumping briskly against the film cans rolled up in their embroidered napkin and stashed inside my tunic. Hanging back a little, I whispered. “How long does it take a corpse to freeze clear through in that thing?”
“Only a few minutes—paratronics—ask Deejay about it.”
“Sometimes I wish they’d stuck with home appliances. Well, Stanley, how do we get out of this gracefully?”
“To my Oliver—and this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
Ed frowned. “I worry about you. Have to hang around until they find him. Then we’ll—what was the expression?”
“Slope? Vamoose? Make like a hockey team and—”
“Split,” he said, watching the men reopen doors. “What’ll they make of that empty sheath and the glass splinters?”
“Won’t see them for the ice, at first,” I answered. “Anyway, we’re not responsible for the peculiarities of some small-time crook, are we?”
“‘Not our department,’ right?”
I grinned. “We’ll make a bureaucrat out of you yet.”
It took forty-five minutes, but find that body they did, in one of the longest due courses of my life. At any moment Madison might be back, and that wouldn’t be any fun. Of course, he’d learn later that we’d been here, but by then, he’d have other things on his mind, such as the body in his freezer—And if it isn’t a burglar, Mr. Madison, what’s he doing here?—and three missing cans of film.
Finally congratulations were in order, cigars passed around, Tricky Dick sledded away to greener pastures, and we were off in a cloud of expelled breath. It was only midnight: if Deejay were on her toes, Madison might still be answering dopey questions.
“Tell me something, partner …” I’d found something better than coffee behind the driver’s seat. “What about the alarm defeater we left back there? Especially when they trace it to us—I mean you—and maybe I’d better scratch that ‘partner,’ too.”
He shook his head. “I hate losing valuable equipment, but considering the alternative … They’ll assume it’s Tricky Dick’s. No trademarks, no serial numbers, no problem, really.”
“Surely there are other ways—”
“Oh, I see what you mean. Win, you’re the only person in the entire Confederacy who knows about fingerprints, I promise!”
“Okay, since I’m playing Poor Dumb Nut, answer me another: we saw Madison, Kleingunther, Bealls, and Burgess leave tonight, the place was dark. But weren’t there supposed to be other Hamiltonians living in? How’d you figure—”
“Elementary, my dear Whatsit. Madison lied to keep us out of some of the rooms. We saw conservatories, a gymnasium, all kinds of lecture halls. But only one small kitchen, and no dining room large enough for more than half a dozen people. Ergo, nobody besides Madison, Kleingunther, and their two American guests!”
The hair started to rise on the back of my neck, and I wondered if I should let him live through the night. “Turn in your calabash, Sherlock! Didn’t it occur to you that the residents might cook in their rooms?” I pulled a corner of Madison’s napkin out of my tunic. Embroidered in satin, the Eye-in-the-Pyramid shone dully in the dashboard lights. “Or that they might simply redress their lecture halls for dinner? What in hell do you think that linen closet was for?”
He jammed on the brakes, slewed over to the roadside, and sat, staring blindly into space. “Great government! I never thought of that!”
“SQUAAWK!” The Telecom lit up, Lucy’s worried face crammed in the focus beside Forsyth’s. “Get back here quick, boys! While you were doin’ it to them, they’ve gone an’ done it to Clarissa!”