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"I'd like to question Karal under fast-penta," said
Miles morosely. "He displays every sign of being a man who knows where the
body's buried."
"Why don't you, then?" asked Pym logically.
"I may come to that. There is, however, a certain unavoidable degradation in a
fast-penta interrogation. If the man's loyal it may not be in our best
long-range interest to shame him publicly."
"It wouldn't be in public."
"No, but he would remember being turned into a drooling idiot. I need . . .
more information."
Pym glanced back over his shoulder. "I thought you had all the information, by
now."
"I have facts. Physical facts. A great big pile of --
meaningless, useless facts." Miles brooded. "If I
have to fast-penta every backbeyonder in Silvy Vale to get to the bottom of
this, I will. But it's not an elegant solution."
"It's not an elegant problem, m'lord," said Pym dryly.
They returned to find Speaker Karal's wife back and in full possession of her
home. She was running in frantic circles, chopping, beating, kneading,
stoking, and flying upstairs to change the bedding on the three pallets,
driving her three sons before her to fetch and run and carry. Dr. Dea,
bemused, was following her about trying to slow her down, explaining that they
had brought their own tent and food, thank you, and that her hospitality was
not required. This produced a most indignant response from Ma Karal.
"My lord's own son come to my house, and I to turn him out in the fields like
his horse! I'd be ashamed!" And she returned to her work.
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"She seems rather distraught," said Dea, looking over his shoulder.
Miles took him by the elbow and propelled him out onto the porch. "Just get
out of her way, Doctor.
We're doomed to be Entertained. It's an obligation on both sides. The polite
thing to do is sort of pretend we're not here till she's ready for us."
Dea lowered his voice. "It might be better, in light of the circumstances, if
we were to eat only our packaged food."
The chatter of a chopping knife, and a scent of herbs and onions, wafted
enticingly through the open window. "Oh, I would imagine anything out of the
common pot would be all right, wouldn't you?" said
Miles. "If anything really worries you, you can wisk it off and check it, I
suppose, but -- discreetly, eh? We don't want to insult anyone."
They settled themselves in the homemade wooden chairs, and were promptly
served tea again by a boy draftee of ten, Karal's youngest. He had apparently
already received private instructions in manners from one or the other of his
parents, for his response to
Miles's deformities was the same flickering covert not-noticing as the adults,
not quite as smoothly carried off.
"Will you be sleeping in my bed, m'lord?" he asked.
"Ma says we got to sleep on the porch."
"Well, whatever your Ma says, goes," said Miles. "Ah
... do you like sleeping on the porch?"
"Naw. Last time, Zed kicked me and I rolled off in the dark."
"Oh. Well, perhaps, if we're to displace you, you would care to sleep in our
tent by way of trade."
The boy's eyes widened. "Really?"
"Certainly. Why not?"
"Wait'll I tell Zed!" He danced down the steps and shot away around the side
of the house. "Zed, hey, Zed . . . !"
"I suppose," said Dea, "we can fumigate it, later. .
. ."
Miles's lips twitched. "They're no grubbier than you were at the same age,
surely. Or than I was. When I
was permitted." The late afternoon was warm. Miles took off his green tunic
and hung it on the back of his chair, and unbuttoned the round collar of his
cream shirt.
Dea's brows rose. "Are we keeping shopman's hours, then, m'lord, on this
investigation? Calling it quits for the day?"
"Not exactly." Miles sipped tea thoughtfully, gazing out across the yard. The
trees and treetops fell away down to the bottom of this feeder valley. Mixed
scrub climbed the other side of the slope. A crested fold, then the long
flanks of a backbone mountain, beyond, rose high and harsh to a summit still
flecked with dwindling dirty patches of snow.
"There's still a murderer loose out there somewhere,"
Dea pointed out helpfully.
"You sound like Pym." Pym, Miles noted, had finished with their horses and was
taking his scanner for another walk. "I'm waiting."
"What for?"
"Not sure. The piece of information that will make sense of all this. Look,
there's only two possibilities. Csurik's either innocent or he's guilty. If
he's guilty, he's not going to turn himself in. He'll certainly involve his
relations, hiding and helping him. I can call in reinforcements by comm link
from Imperial Civil Security in
Hassadar, if I want to. Any time. Twenty men, plus equipment, here by aircar
in a couple of hours.
Create a circus. Brutal, ugly, disruptive, exciting
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-- could be quite popular. A manhunt, with blood at the end.
"Of course, there's also the possibility that
Csurik's innocent, but scared. In which case . . ."
"Yes?"
"In which case, there's still a murderer out there."
Miles drank more tea. "I merely note, if you want to catch something, running
after it isn't always the best way."
Dea cleared his throat, and drank his tea too.
"In the meantime, I have another duty to carry out.
I'm here to be seen. If your scientific spirit is yearning for something to do
to wile away the hours, try keeping count of the number of Vor-watchers that
turn up tonight."
Miles's predicted parade began almost immediately. It was mainly women, at
first, bearing gifts as to a funeral. In the absence of a comm link system
Miles wasn't sure by what telepathy they managed to communicate with each
other, but they brought covered dishes of food, flowers, extra bedding, and
offers of assistance. They were all introduced to Miles with nervous curtseys,
but seldom lingered to chat;
apparently a look was all their curiosity desired. Ma
Karal was polite, but made it clear that she had the situation well in hand,
and set their culinary offerings well back of her own.
Some of the women had children in tow. Most of these
were sent to play in the woods in back, but a small party of whispering boys
sneaked back around the cabin to peek up over the rim of the porch at Miles.
Miles had obligingly remained on the porch with Dea, remarking that it was a
better view, without saying for whom. For a few moments Miles pretended not to
notice his audience, restraining Pym with a hand signal from running them off.
Yes, look well, look your fill, thought Miles. What you see is what you
're going to get, for the rest of your lives or at any rate mine. Get used to
it. . . .Then he caught
Zed Karal's whisper, as self-appointed tour guide to his cohort -- "That big
one's the one that's come to kill Lem Csurik!"
"Zed," said Miles.
There was an abrupt frozen silence from under the edge of the porch. Even the
animal rustlings stopped.
"Come here," said Miles.
To a muted background of dismayed whispers and nervous giggles, Karal's middle
boy slouched warily up on to the porch.
"You three -- " Miles's pointing finger caught them in mid-flight, "wait [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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