Beardsley saw Arnold leap to the master-switch, where he became entangled with a tech who was screaming at him, "My God, sir, hurry! It's BREAKDOWN!"
Cursing, Arnold shoved the man aside and pulled the controls.
But now that it was roused, ECAIAC didn't want to give up so easily. There came a staccato series of minor explosions--defiant gesture, thought Beardsley!--before silence engulfed the room together with a drift of acrid smoke.
It was acrid and angry smoke. From a safe distance Beardsley adjusted his glasses and observed the frantic, scurrying techs, many of them nursing burned hands. Aside from a pounding heart he was amazed at his own calm; nevertheless, he tread with caution as he approached Arnold, who was on his haunches dolefully surveying the area of major damage.
"Uh--is it something serious?"
Arnold glared up at him. "Overload on the feed-backs. If that's all it is, we can pull out the unit and replace it in a few hours."
"Never happened before, eh?"
"Not like this," Arnold groaned. "Lord--it just seemed to go berserk!"
Beardsley glanced around nervously. "You see? You see? I didn't think our beautiful friendship could last...."
Arnold snarled, "Get out, Beardsley! What the hell you doing here anyway? Go somewhere and read a book!"
"Yes. Yes, I--" Beardsley swallowed hastily. He then straightened, took a last look around and pulled himself together. Without a word, he turned and strode resolutely into Jeff Arnold's office; he closed the door carefully, then hurried over to the stat and pushed the button for priority.
"Hello," he said. "Mandleco's office? ... this is Mechanical Division ... no, I want Mandleco ... I don't care, get him I said! This is emergency! Put him on at once!"
Mandleco arrived twenty minutes later. The Minister of Justice was tall and raw-boned with a long hook-nose, a shock of whitening hair, and more than a suggestion of military arrogance. He paused for precisely one second in the doorway, then strode straight over to Jeff Arnold. Before saying a word he bent slightly and peered into the maze of mechanism.
Beardsley wanted to say, "Do you find the cause of the trouble, sir?" But he held his tongue.
Mandleco straightened up, glaring. "Arnold, what is the meaning of this?"
"I can see that! The cause, man, the cause!"
"I--it's only the feed-back, sir." Arnold struggled with the terminals, most of which were a fused and tangled mess. "Not as bad as it looks, I assure you. I've already contacted Maintenance; they're sending up a new unit."
"What precisely does that mean? Can you complete the run or not! This has got to go through today!"
Arnold touched a hot terminal, jerked back his hand and swore. "It will, sir. Give us a few hours. We had seven total rejects, so I doubt the tapes are at fault. More like a synaptic overload. Transferrals are okay, so I want to try it with a stepped-up synaptic check; that'll alleviate any overload without drain on the minor selective, which is better than setting up complete new correlation-grams."
It was too much for Mandleco. Grinding a fist in his palm, he stared into the matrix and muttered, "Unprecedented. Absolutely unprecedented! Arnold, I just can't understand why--"
"Happened pretty suddenly," Beardsley intruded. His voice was low and laden with meaning. "Almost as if it had gone berserk! And little wonder, if you ask me...."
Mandleco turned quickly. "Eh? What do you mean?"
"Well ... how would you feel if you had just been handed the news, out of the blue, that someone you loved had been brutally murdered? ECAIAC reacted, is all. She must have regarded Carmack as a father--"
Arnold looked up in amazement. "Beardsley, will you stop that crazy nonsense!"
"Nonsense?" Beardsley appeared hurt. "Why--you said yourself that you wanted me and ECAIAC to become great friends!" He appealed to Mandleco. "That's what he said, sir, and he even took pains to introduce me and all, and--"
"It was in the nature of a joke, sir!" Arnold's voice rose an octave. "A private little joke, and he's trying to make it appear--"
"Stop it, stop it!" Mandleco thundered. "Arnold--you get that new unit installed on the double! Put your best men on it. That's an order! Beardsley, I'm glad you had the presence of mind to contact me. Commendable, most commendable."
Arnold scowled, hit Beardsley with an accusing look.
"Above all," said Mandleco, "not a word of this must leak! Damn it, why should this have to happen now? Public confidence will be undermined if they think ECAIAC is--is--"
"Not infallible?" suggested Beardsley.
"Exactly. You hear me, Arnold? Not a word of this must get out!"
"I'm sure it won't," Arnold glared venomously at Beardsley, "if you'll just keep him away from the tele-stats."
The Minister of Justice walked away, still muttering something about public confidence and political repercussions. Beardsley kept pace beside him until they were across the room. Then he spoke, timidly at first.
"Pardon me, sir, but--I'd like to ask you something." His voice was low and confidential. "If you'll just look around you...."
"Eh?" Mandleco followed Beardsley's gesture, and for the first time he seemed to see the room in total. Shards of glass lay everywhere. A great tangle of wire was strewn half the length of ECAIAC, and a bank of transistors reposed against the far wall in pitiful ruin. The techs had already started a strip-down, their tools and units across the floor adding to the general confusion.
Mandleco said, "Well? What is it you--" His words stopped as if sliced in two by his teeth. "Yes. Yes, by God, I see what you mean!"
"Can you really conceive of operation in two hours? Two hours," Arnold said. "Two days, maybe. More likely in two weeks!"
Mandleco groaned as if in pain, staring around.
Beardsley pressed his point. "You'll pardon my saying it, sir, but I do realize what the Carmack Case means--to you personally. So much build-up and publicity, and the people demanding a verdict ... why, if the case were to snag now--"
"Unthinkable!" A shudder touched Mandleco's long, lean frame. "Out with it, man! What are you trying to say?"
Beardsley was suddenly sweating. He felt as if a long tube were inside of him, hot and throbbing, reaching up with a surge of pulse to his temples. It had to be now. He had to say it.
"Well," he gulped. "Just this, sir. I think the case can be cracked right now. Today. Without ECAIAC."
"Nonsense! Without ECAIAC? Why, that's--"
"Sure. You think it's crazy. But I tell you I can do it!" Beardsley's words came fast and urgent. "I've followed this case from the beginning, I processed it, I'm familiar with every angle. I tell you, I can deliver the killer. Give me permission to try!"
Mandleco stared at Beardsley as if he were some queer specimen under a microscope; his mouth opened to speak, then he clamped his teeth tightly and strode away.
He turned back abruptly. "So you think you have the solution. You actually--do--think it!" His eyes narrowed down, no longer amused, as he fixed the little serologist with a peculiar gaze. "Go on, Beardsley. Your suggestion at least has the novelty of imagination!"
"The novelty of experience," Beardsley said bitterly. "With your permission and co-operation I can solve this case, together with positive evidence that will hold up in any court! What's more, I'll do it today. A guarantee," Beardsley said pointedly, "which I dare say you no longer have from ECAIAC."
Mandleco stood quite motionless, trying to recall something. "Now I remember! You were with New York Homicide, weren't you, before promotion to Coordinates in '60? I recall passing on your record. Top record, too, for those days."
Beardsley gestured impatiently. "How about it, sir? I know every pertinent fact of this case, plus a few of my own which haven't been tested in a dozen years. Not indexes and tubes and tapes--just facts! Fact and method! Let me apply them!"
"I'm afraid it's not as simple as that, Beardsley. There is ECAIAC, and public confidence must not be allowed--"
"The public be damned," Beardsley caught himself. "All right--for appearance sake you can say the solution came from ECAIAC. Let ECAIAC verify me later if you wish. I'm not after headlines and glory ... by heaven, sir, I'm offering you an out!"
Mandleco pondered that. He glanced again at the confusion across the room, and realization seemed to hit him. Quite suddenly, then, he threw back his head and roared with laughter.
"An out. And by heaven, Beardsley, I'm offering you a try! The idea appeals to me! Beardsley versus ECAIAC ... socio-archaism opposed to the machina-ratiocinatrix. Why, it's delicious!" He subsided to a rumble of mirth and wiped tears from his eyes. "So! Just what do you propose?"
Beardsley saw nothing amusing. "I propose first, sir, that we reach an understanding. I'm to conduct the investigation my own way, without interference?"
"You have my word! I never violate it."
"Good. Then start using your word right now. There are three persons I want placed in temporary custody; they are to be brought over here at once for questioning."
Mandleco looked appalled. "Questioning? Here?"
"Yes, right here. Immediately! The three I want are Mrs. Carmack--I happen to know she's still in the city. And Brook Pederson--you should reach him easily at Central News Bureau. The third--"
"Would that be Professor Losch?" Mandleco smugly asked. "Sorry, but Losch happens to be in Bermuda right now."
Beardsley said sharply: "How did you know that?"
"Why, I--I'm acquainted with Losch, you know. He was planning a vacation, and he mentioned Bermuda--"
"No. I don't mean that. How did you know Losch was my third person?"
Mandleco bristled a little, his face reddening as he groped for an answer. "Never mind," Beardsley waved it aside. "If Losch is in Bermuda at present we'll reach him by tele-stat right now!" He was suddenly crisp as he propelled the Minister of Justice toward Jeff Arnold's office.
Mandleco stared at this little man, wondering if it were the same person he had been talking to just minutes before. "Now see here, Beardsley--" But he was interrupted.
"I thought we had an understanding! Of course, if you'd prefer to count on ECAIAC--"
"Very well," Mandleco nodded grimly, "I gave you my word. But the instant Arnold repairs the breakdown, your little experiment is over! Do you understand that?"
Beardsley nodded. He understood very well.
"In the meantime, Beardsley, I warn you. I'll have no brow-beating of these citizens, no--what was it called--third-degreeing tactics! I understand that sort of thing used to be pretty prevalent."
Beardsley snorted, as if that were beneath comment, and closed the office door behind them. Mandleco hit him with a cagey glance. "The Logicals and the Primes, eh? I suppose you know that I happen to be one of those Primes."
Beardsley looked straight at him. "Yes, I'm aware of it. My own approach will be individualistic, of course, but I promise you won't be over-looked!"
It might have been fatal--but Beardsley had judged his man well. Mandleco took it as a challenge. He was silent as he approached the tele-stat, and he no longer seemed amused.
He put through the directive to have Mrs. Sheila Carmack and Mr. Brook Pederson brought in. "As my guests, that is," Mandleco told his operative. "Be sure they understand that. They are to be brought to Crime-Central, Mechanical Division, at once ... yes, I said Mechanical Division! At once means now."
Beardsley nodded approval. "And now Professor Losch, please?"
Without a waste of motion, Mandleco put through to Bermuda on priority beam. While they waited he gave Beardsley a look of puzzlement and new respect. "Ah--I'm not implying that it's against protocol, of course, but I assume you've already made some investigation along lines of your own?"
"Superficial only," Beardsley said.
"I see. Well then, would you mind giving me some ... you know, just an idea of how you plan to proceed?"
Beardsley said bluntly: "Yes, I would mind."
"Oh." Mandleco frowned and persisted. "Psychologic deduction. Wasn't that your forte? I seem to recall--"
Beardsley grunted. "I'll tell you this much, there are implications about this case that fascinate me!"
"Oh?" Mandleco found himself a chair, sat upon it and edged forward. "I don't just quite--"
"Look. To begin with, the case is unique; so much so that your entire structure of approach is wrong. I mean top-heavy! Top-heavy with gadgetry and assumption."
"Assumption?" Mandleco bristled a little. "You of all people should know better. Not once in the past dozen years has ECAIAC failed to arrive at a conclusive and pin-point solution based on correlative factors!"
Beardsley smiled thinly. "Ah, yes. But we were speaking of the Carmack case. I repeat, it's not only unique but untenable; it became untenable the moment you assigned ECAIAC the task of solving the murder of its own creator! That," he said grimly, "is a mistake we wouldn't have made even in '60...."
Mandleco thought that over, shook his head and frowned. It was obvious he missed the connotation. "So?" he urged.
"So look at the murder itself. The pattern. You'll admit it does seem odd and misplaced for these times--or hadn't you noticed?" Beardsley leaned forward sharply. "But it strikes a familiar note with me! Absolutely nothing in the way of material clues; not even the weapon; and the modus operandi is one I haven't seen employed in years, the old idea of the most direct and simple murder being the safest!"
"I--I guess I just don't follow you."
"I mean the way Carmack was struck down. Nothing cute and fancy, no frills or improvisation--just the proverbial blunt instrument, after which the killer simply walked out of there. Believe me, I know about these things. The very simplicity is the killer's protection. You can bet no trace will ever be found of that blunt instrument, and naturally he left no evidence coming or going. But then," Beardsley said obliquely, "your so-called 'Survey' men made a horrible botch of the scene. In '60 we'd have sent them back to patrolling the freeways!"
Mandleco started to protest, then closed his mouth quickly. "I see, I see."
"I can understand," Beardsley murmured, "how emphasis on basic groundwork has become minimized. So much reliance on Indexes and thalamic-imbalance and chart-sifts! It was only a matter of time until a criminal, a really clever one, saw through the system--and reverted." His fingers drummed the chair arm, then he looked up sharply. "And yet of all places, I'd say that Carmack's estate was least ideally situated for this type of murder; you know what I mean? You've been there?"
"Well, I--there have been occasions. Yes."
Beardsley nodded. "I refer to Carmack's elaborate system against invasion of his privacy. To put it bluntly, he had enemies, and his estate was designed as a refuge against those enemies; electronic barriers pitched at ultra-frequency to respond only to certain neural vibrations. Must have taken years of research to come up with that!"
Mandleco shifted impatiently. "Of course, but look here, Beardsley--"