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Authors: Edward D. Hoch

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BOOK: City of Brass
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Baine Brass and Baine University, linked together by the network of streets that was Baine City. I wondered about this man whose name they bore, this man Baine who had carved his city in the heart of New York State and put his stamp on everything in it.

I called Mahon from the hotel. “I was sorry to hear about Cathy,” I told him. “It was a shock.”

“Believe me, it was a shock for us too. Jean is in bad shape.”

“Can I come out?”

He hesitated a bit. “What for?”

“Well, you asked for help once. About Professor Wilber, out at the University.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t think you could do anything now. That’s all blown over.”

“But Cathy is dead,” I insisted.

“I know, but that had nothing to do with Wilber. It—it was a wild crowd she was running around with.”

“Mighty wild, to pump six bullets into her.”

He sounded somehow different to me, troubled, unsure of himself. He cleared his throat and went on. “Well, there’s nothing that can be done about it now. I appreciate your calling.”

“Look, Hank, I flew up here last night just to see you. I’m trying to locate Simon Ark and get him up here too. If you don’t want any help, just say so.”

“I thought I’d said it, fella. The police will catch Cathy’s killer. There’s nothing for us to do.”

“What about Professor Wilber’s experiments?”

“I told you—there’s nothing to it. My imagination got the better of me.”

“Cathy saw me in New York. She was upset about Wilber too.”

“Oh for God’s sake! There’s nothing to it, forget it, can’t you?”

Another thought struck me. “Your fund raising drive—is it on now?”

“Yeah, all this month. And I don’t want you and Ark stirring up a storm. Not this month. I’m getting one percent of everything I bring in, and it’s tough enough as it is. You wouldn’t believe there could be so much resentment against old Baine in this city.”

“So the fund raising goes on, and Cathy Clark goes unmourned.”

“What can I do? What can
you
do?”

“Maybe nothing,” I admitted. “I’ll be seeing you, Hank.”

And I hung up.

Henry Mahon was a damned spoiled fool who loved nobody but himself and never had. This much I knew, but of course I’d known it for a long time really. The only problem now was my own course of action. I could catch the next plane back to New York and forget all about Mahon and Jean and Cathy and the mysterious professor, or I could stay and putter around on my own.

On my own, there was no real choice. I reached for the phone to call the airport, but it jumped into life as my hand touched it. “Hello?” I questioned softly, half expecting it to be Mahon calling back to say he was sorry.

“This is Simon,” the familiar voice answered. “I’m downstairs. Shelly told me about the trouble …”

We ate breakfast downstairs, and over coffee I told him about my phone conversation with Henry Mahon. He settled back in the chair to think about it for a moment.

“What do you say? Should we retreat under fire, or should we look into the doings at Baine University?”

“Do you think we’d really find something, Simon? Do you think we’ll find Professor Wilber crouched over a rack of bubbling test tubes, changing himself into a Mr. Hyde?”

Simon Ark smiled. “I hardly think a true mad scientist would find it necessary to resort to bullets for his murders. Perhaps Mahon was correct about this wild crowd.”

“Well, let’s take a run out there anyway,” I suggested. “Out to the University. We can at least look around.”

Simon shrugged in agreement and we finished our coffee. Outside the hotel we found a single taxi with a sleepy driver who was happy to find a fare on a Sunday morning. “Nobody at the University, you know,” he volunteered. “Summer courses don’t start till the fifth. That’s Tuesday.”

“We know.”

“Just don’t want to steal your money. Here we are. Want me to wait?”

It was only a half-mile walk back to the hotel, so I paid him and sent him on his way. Then Simon and I set off on foot across the rolling green of the campus, toward the distant stone buildings where familiar ivy was beginning to creep up the walls.

“What do you think of it, Simon?”

“They are all alike, your American colleges. Space and air and the feeling of youth and age somehow combined. Places for fun, perhaps for too much fun.”

“There’s a lot of knowledge mixed in with the fun, though,” I said, pausing a moment to study a sign that directed us left for the science building. “Our colleges today are the backbone of a vast educational system that promotes knowledge in every possible field. You’re no doubt aware that much of the work on the atomic and hydrogen bombs had its beginnings in our universities, in science buildings not too much different from this one.”

But Simon only sighed. “Education for destruction. You would certainly not argue that the world is a good place for all of that.”

“I wouldn’t argue anything with you, Simon. You’ll probably still be around when I’m long dead.”

“No doubt.”

“Come on—this door is open. It must lead somewhere.”

He followed me into the science building, down a whitewashed hallway that seemed to take us only deeper into the bowels of the place. And as we walked a queer chattering sound reached our ears—the sound of many creatures, animals, birds, something.

“What do you make of that, Simon?”

“We shall know in another moment, my friend.”

We turned the final corner and found ourselves before a pair of open glass doors. Beyond was a laboratory, with rows of cages lining the walls. Monkeys, mostly, with occasional rabbits and birds—and at the far end great cages that held four good-sized apes. And in the midst of it all was a little man wearing a white coat and thick, horn-rimmed glasses.

“Professor Wilber?” I asked, a bit uncertainly.

“Yes, I am Professor Wilber.” His voice was like the rest of him—small and withdrawn, with only a bare hint of power and authority behind it.

“You work even on Sundays?”

He waved his arms vaguely. “My work is never done here. Just what can I do for you gentlemen?”

We introduced ourselves and I made some bumbling comments about the possibility of doing a book on Baine City and the University. “We heard you were engaged in basic research on the subjects of birth and heredity, with funds from Baine Brass.”

“Oh, correct, correct, but hardly complete.” He bustled about as he spoke, giving more the impression of being absentminded than mad. Behind him a monkey screeched in its cage. “Yes see, I am looking into the very nature of life itself, looking into the mysteries of all creation. I plan to publish a paper on my findings.”

I remembered some experiments carried out in Mexico some years back. “Are you trying to create life?”

“No, no, nothing like that. I do not picture myself as God, gentlemen. Not yet. Tell me, how is the weather outside?”

“Warm.”

“Summer.” He opened one of the rabbit cages and seemed to inject the beast with a small hypodermic needle. “Summer is the best time of all. Perchance next summer I will be out of this filthy clean room and into the warmth of the sun. And tomorrow is a holiday too!”

Simon Ark had been standing in the very center of the room, well away from any of the cages. But now he moved a bit toward the apes at the end of the wall. “You even work tomorrow?” he asked, contributing to the conversation.

“Every day, every day, because I never know which day the thing might go wrong. All a lifetime’s work could go in a moment’s time.”

My thoughts went back to Cathy Clark. “Tell me, Professor, do you ever have some of the science coeds assist you here?”

The idea seemed to shock him. “No, no, no such thing. You see these large apes? This baboon is of the species that Burton once saw attempt to rape a girl in Cairo.”

He was over my head but I stuck with it. “What?”

Simon interrupted. “Richard Burton—I believe in his writings he mentions an attack on a woman, in Cairo—1856. The beast was killed before he could do any damage.

“And because of that you don’t have women assisting you? What about a girl named Cathy Clark?”

If he knew the name his face did not show it. “Clark? Clark?”

“She was killed yesterday,” Simon said.

“Oh, I read something in the newspaper. Too bad, too bad.”

“We have reason to believe she was connected with you in some manner, Professor Wilber.”

“With me? With me? Impossible! I may have seen her about the campus, but nothing further. I spend sometimes sixteen to twenty hours a day in this room, and as I have said no women work here.”

“But your researches are supported by Baine Brass?”

He bowed his head to one side in a gesture of assent. “The entire science program here is financed by the worthy donations of Foster Baine.”

I pressed on, certain there was something to uncover here. “This Foster Baine is the president of Baine Brass?”

“Correct, correct. Grandson of the founder. Carrying on in a great tradition,”

“But I understand he contributes nothing to the Arts College. Isn’t that strange?”

Professor Wilber tossed his head. “Why strange? The Baine family stands for technological and scientific advancement. Thus that is the field of their endowments.”

“One more question, Professor …”

He gave me a queer look. “Are you people detectives or what? So many questions!”

“I was just wondering if you knew a young fellow named Henry Mahon. He’s a public relations man who’s handling the current fund-raising drive.”

“Don’t know him,” Wilber answered shortly. He was convinced now that we were investigators of some sort, and he was clamming up.

There was nothing more to gain there so we left him, returning outside to the summer warmth. “Well, Simon, what do you think?”

“A strange man, but hardly a sinister one. More dedicated than anything else, I think. Your friend must have been imagining things.”

“So where does that leave us?” I watched a flight of pigeons lazily circling the campus bell tower.

“It leaves us only with the murder of Cathy Clark,” he said. “That much is real.”

“Too real. Let’s find the funeral parlor where she’s laid out. If nothing else we can at least pay our last respects …”

It looked like a great marble tomb, set suddenly in the very midst of the city to remind one of the immediacy of death—and perhaps that wasn’t such a bad idea for an undertaker after all. We knew it was the right place because a police car was parked in front, its silent red light flashing meaningfully.

And inside all was thickly carpeted silence, respectful of the waiting dead. A black felt signboard carried only the white lettered name of
Catherine Clark,
with an equally white arrow directing us through a low alcove.

And there she was, strangely beautiful in death, her hands meeting across her chest, her hair magnificently blonde and young. Only twenty-two.

I looked down at her and felt I’d known her for many years. There was a subtle difference about her in death, but if anything it was a glorious difference. She seemed older, more worldly-wise, more ready for what life held. I only hoped she had been ready for what death held. I turned away, thankful now only that none of the bullets had ruined the simple beauty of her face as they were taking her life.

“Hello,” someone said behind me, and I turned to see Jean Mahon standing there, all in black, a veil covering her forehead and eyes.

“I was awfully sorry to hear about your sister.”

“Thank you.”

“This … this is a friend, Simon Ark.” They shook hands with solemn silence and brief nods. “Is your husband here?”

“No. Henry is home. It’s hard on him—she was so much like me.”

“You have no other relatives?”

Jean Mahon shook her head. “Our parents were killed in an auto accident three years ago. There was just Cathy and me, and now …” The tears were very close and she broke off with a cracking voice.

“Do they have any idea who could have done it?”

She motioned toward a tall slim man holding an unlit pipe in his left hand. “That man’s from the police. He’s been questioning me about it.”

The tall man had already started toward us, and my first impression was that surely he was not the type of detective to leave his car outside with the red light flashing. He was young and handsome and might have stepped out of
Esquire.

“I’m George Quinn,” he said, and the voice went with the rest of him. “Baine City Police. Were you friends of the deceased?”

“Not really,” I answered. “I’d met her just once, briefly, about a month ago.”

“An odd case,” he said.

Simon had moved near enough to hear his quiet comment. “Odd how?” he asked. “Isn’t all murder odd?”

Quinn obviously did not want to strike up a lengthy conversation in the presence of the victim. He motioned us into an adjoining room, and I noticed Jean give him a curious glance. When he had us alone he closed a sliding door and offered a cigarette. I took one but Simon declined.

“She was a strange girl, really,” he began. “Not that I knew her personally, but I’d heard stories. There was some money—thirty or forty thousand dollars according to the rumors—and it all went to Jean with the stipulation that she provide for Cathy’s education.”

“So Mahon married money,” I mused. “Interesting, interesting.”

“The part about Mahon and Jean Clark was a little bit surprising,” Quinn continued, being unusually talkative for a detective on a case. “She was always the quiet one of the pair—the older sister in every sense. Cathy on the other hand was as wild as they come, running with the hotrodders when she wasn’t busy at fraternity beer parties.”

“Strange,” I said, “she didn’t impress me that way at all.”

“She was a girl of many moods. That’s what makes this case so difficult right from the beginning. It might have been one of the college crowd that shot her, or one of this hotrod gang, or somebody else entirely.”

“It said in the paper that she hadn’t been raped.”

He shook his head. “Not even touched. But for all of that she was no virgin.”

“Pregnant?”

“No, but no virgin. Not a surprising bit of news, really.”

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