The Complete Stories (Page 172)

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". . . He’s in jail now.

". . . Yes, I mean it.

"… Resisting an officer; assault and battery; malicious mischief. That’s three counts.

"… I don’t care who he is.

". . . All right. I’ll hold on."

He looked up at Officer Brown and put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. It was a ham of a hand that nearly swallowed up the phone altogether. His blunt-featured face was ruddy and steaming under a thatch of pale-yellow hair.

He said, "Trouble! Nothing but trouble at a precinct station. I’d rather be pounding a beat any day."

"Who’s on the phone?" asked Brown. He had just come in and didn’t really care. He thought Mankiewicz would look better on a suburban beat, too.

"Oak Ridge. Long Distance. A guy called Grant. Head of somethingo-logical division, and now he’s getting somebody else at seventy-five cents a min . . . Hello!"

Mankiewicz got a new grip on the phone and held himself down.

"Look," he said, "let me go through this from the beginning. I want you to get it straight and then if you don’t like it, you can send someone down here. The guy doesn’t want a lawyer. He claims he just wants to stay in jail and, brother, that’s all right with me.

"Well, will you listen? He came in yesterday, walked right up to me, and said, ‘Officer, I want you to put me in jail because I want to kill myself.’ So I said, ‘Mister, I’m sorry you want to kill yourself. Don’t do it, because if you do, you’ll regret it the rest of your life.’

"… I am serious. I’m just telling you what I said. I’m not saying it was a funny joke, but I’ve got my own troubles here, if you know what I mean. Do you think all I’ve got to do here is to listen to cranks who walk in and-

". . . Give me a chance, will you?" I said, ‘I can’t put you in jail for wanting to kill yourself. That’s no crime.’ And he said, ‘But I don’t want to die.’ So I said, ‘Look, bud, get out of here.’ I mean if a guy wants to commit suicide, all right, and if he doesn’t want to, all right, but I don’t want him weeping on my shoulder.

". . . I’m getting on with it. So he said to me. ‘If I commit a crime, will you put me in jail?" I said, ‘If you’re caught and if someone files a charge and you can’t put up bail, we will. Now beat it.’ So he picked up the inkwell on my desk and, before I could stop him, he turned it upside down on the open police blotter.

". . . That’s right! Why do you think we have ‘malicious mischief tabbed on him? The ink ran down all over my pants.

". . . Yes, assault and battery, too! I came hopping down to shake a little sense into him, and he kicked me in the shins and handed me one in the eye.

". . . I’m not making this up. You want to come down here and look at my face?

". . . He’ll be up in court one of these days. About Thursday, maybe.

". . . Ninety days is the least he’ll get, unless the psychoes say otherwise. I think he belongs in the loony-bin myself.

". . . Officially, he’s John Smith. That’s the only name he’ll give.

". . . No, sir, he doesn’t get released without the proper legal steps.

", . . O.K., you do that, if you want to, bud! I just do my job here."

He banged the phone into its cradle, glowered at it, then picked it up and

began dialing. He said "Gianetti?", got the proper answer and began talking.

"What’s the A.E.C.? I’ve been talking to some Joe on the phone and he says-

". . . No, I’m not kidding, lunk-head. If I were kidding, I’d put up a sign. What’s the alphabet soup?"

He listened, said, "Thanks" in a small voice and hung up again.

He had lost some of his color. "That second guy was the head of the Atomic Energy Commission," he said to Brown. "They must have switched me from Oak Ridge to Washington."

Brown lounged to his feet, "Maybe the F.B.I, is after this John Smith guy. Maybe he’s one of these here scientists." He felt moved to philosophy. "They ought to keep atomic secrets away from those guys. Things were O.K. as long as General Groves was the only fella who knew about the atom bomb. Once they cut in these here scientists on it, though-"

"Ah, shut up," snarled Mankiewicz.

Dr. Oswald Grant kept his eyes fixed on the white line that marked the highway and handled the car as though it were an enemy of his. He always did. He was tall and knobby with a withdrawn expression stamped on his face. His knees crowded the wheel, and his knuckles whitened whenever he made a turn.

Inspector Darrity sat beside him with his legs crossed so that the sole of his left shoe came up hard against the door. It would leave a sandy mark when he took it away. He tossed a nut-brown penknife from hand to hand. Earlier, he had unsheathed its wicked, gleaming blade and scraped casually at his nails as they drove, but a sudden swerve had nearly cost him a finger and he desisted.

He said, "What do you know about this Ralson?"

Dr. Grant took his eyes from the road momentarily, then returned them. He said, uneasily, "I’ve known him since he took his doctorate at Princeton. He’s a very brilliant man."

"Yes? Brilliant, huh? Why is it that all you scientific men describe one another as ‘brilliant’? Aren’t there any mediocre ones?"

"Many. I’m one of them. But Ralson isn’t. You ask anyone. Ask Oppen-heimer. Ask Bush. He was the youngest observer at Alamogordo."

"O.K. He was brilliant. What about his private life?"

Grant waited. "I wouldn’t know."

"You know him since Princeton. How many years is that?"

They had been scouring north along the highway from Washington for two hours with scarcely a word between them. Now Grant felt the atmosphere change and the grip of the law on his coat collar.

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