"Oh, I'm a whiz," Morgan agreed. "But I thought the Welfare World took care of its poor, misled criminals better than this."
Again the chuckle. "You shoulda robbed a bank or killed somebody. Then theyda given you a nice rehabilitation sentence. Regular prison. Room of your own. Something real nice. Like a hotel. But this's different."
"Yeah," Morgan agreed. This was a political prison. This was the place where they put you when they didn't care what happened to you after the door was locked because there would be no going out.
Morgan knew where he was. It was a big, fortresslike building on top of one of the highest hills at the northern end of Manhattan Island--an old building that had once been a museum and was built like a medieval castle.
"What happens if you die in here?" he asked conversationally.
"Every Wednesday and Saturday," the voice repeated.
"Um," said Harry Morgan.
"'Cept once in a while," the voice whispered. "Like a couple days ago. When was it? Yeah. Monday that'd be. Guy they had in here for a week or so. Don't remember how long. Lose tracka time here. Yeah. Sure lose tracka time here."
There was a long pause, and Morgan, controlling the tenseness in his voice, said: "What about the guy Monday?"
"Oh. Him. Yeah, well, they took him out Monday."
Morgan waited again, got nothing further, and asked: "Dead?"
"'Course he was dead. They was tryin' to get somethin' out of him. Somethin' about a cable. He jumped one of the guards, and they blackjacked him. Hit 'im too hard, I guess. Guard sure got hell for that, too. Me, I'm lucky. They don't ask me no questions."
"What are you in for?" Morgan asked.
"Don't know. They never told me. I don't ask for fear they'll remember. They might start askin' questions."
Morgan considered. This could be a plant, but he didn't think so. The voice was too authentic, and there would be no purpose in his information. That meant that Jack Latrobe really was dead. They had killed him. An ice cold hardness surged along his nerves.
The door at the far end of the corridor clanged, and a brace of heavy footsteps clomped along the floor. Two men came abreast of the steel-barred door and stopped.
One of them, a well-dressed, husky-looking man in his middle forties, said: "O.K., Morgan. How did you do it?"
"I put on blue lipstick and kissed my elbows--both of 'em. Going widdershins, of course."
"What are you talking about?"
"What are you talking about?"
"The guy in your hotel suite. You killed him. You cut off both feet, one hand, and his head. How'd you do it?"
Morgan looked at the man. "Police?"
"Nunna your business. Answer the question."
"I use a cobweb I happened to have with me. Who was he?"
The cop's face was whitish. "You chop a guy up like that and then don't know who he is?"
"I can guess. I can guess that he was an agent for PMC 873 who was trespassing illegally. But I didn't kill him. I was in ... er ... custody when it happened."
"Not gonna talk, huh?" the cop said in a hard voice. "O.K., you've had your chance. We'll be back."
"I don't think I'll wait," said Morgan.
"You'll wait. We got you on a murder charge now. You'll wait. Wise guy." He turned and walked away. The other man followed like a trained hound.
After the door clanged, the man in the next cell whispered: "Well, you're for it. They're gonna ask you questions."
Morgan said one obscene word and stood up. It was time to leave.
He had been searched thoroughly. They had left him only his clothes, nothing else. They had checked to make sure that there were no microminiaturized circuits on him. He was clean.
So they thought.
Carefully, he caught a thread in the lapel of his jacked and pulled it free. Except for a certain springiness, it looked like an ordinary silon thread. He looped it around one of the bars of his cell, high up. The ends he fastened to a couple of little decorative hooks in his belt--hooks covered with a shell of synthetic ruby.
Then he leaned back, putting his weight on the thread.
Slowly, like a knife moving through cold peanut butter, the thread sank into the steel bar, cutting through its one-inch thickness with increasing difficulty until it was half-way through. Then it seemed to slip the rest of the way through.
He repeated the procedure thrice more, making two cuts in each of two bars. Then he carefully removed the sections he had cut out. He put one of them on the floor of his cell and carried the other in his hand--three feet of one-inch steel makes a nice weapon if it becomes necessary.
Then he stepped through the hole he had made.
The man in the next cell widened his eyes as Harry Morgan walked by. But Morgan could tell that he saw nothing. He had only heard. His eyes had been removed long before. It was the condition of the man that convinced Morgan with utter finality that he had told the truth.
Mr. Edway Tarnhorst felt fear, but no real surprise when the shadow in the window of his suite in the Grand Central Hotel materialized into a human being. But he couldn't help asking one question.
"How did you get there?" His voice was husky. "We're eighty floors above the street."
"Try climbing asteroids for a while," said Commodore Sir Harry Morgan. "You'll get used to it. That's why I knew Jack hadn't died 'accidentally'--he was murdered."
"You ... you're not carrying a gun," Tarnhorst said.
"Do I need one?"
Tarnhorst swallowed. "Yes. Fergus will be back in a moment."
"He's the man who controls PMC 873."
Harry Morgan shoved his hand into his jacket pocket "Then I have a gun. You saw it, didn't you?"
"Yes. Yes ... I saw it when you came in."
"Good. Call him."
When Sam Fergus came in, he looked as though he had had about three or four too many slugs of whiskey. There was an odd fear an his face.
"Whats matter, Edway? I--" The fear increased when he saw Morgan. "Whadda you here for?"
"I'm here to make a speech Fergus. Sit down." When Fergus still stood, Morgan repeated what he had said with only a trace more emphasis. "Sit down."
Fergus sat. So did Tarnhorst.
"Both of you pay special attention," Morgan said, a piratical gleam in his eyes. "You killed a friend of mine. My best friend. But I'm not going to kill either of you. Yet. Just listen and listen carefully."
Even Tarnhorst looked frightened. "Don't move, Sam. He's got a gun. I saw it when he came in."
"What ... what do you want?" Fergus asked.
"I want to give you the information you want. The information that you killed Jack for." There was cold hatred in his voice. "I am going to tell you something that you have thought you wanted, but which you really will wish you had never heard. I'm going to tell you about that cable."
Neither Fergus nor Tarnhorst said a word.
"You want a cable. You've heard that we use a cable that has a tensile strength of better than a hundred million pounds per square inch, and you want to know how it's made. You tried to get the secret out of Jack because he was sent here as a commercial dealer. And he wouldn't talk, so one of your goons blackjacked him too hard and then you had to drop him off a bridge to make it look like an accident.
"Then you got your hands on me. You were going to wring it out of me. Well, there is no necessity of that." His grin became wolfish. "I'll give you everything." He paused. "If you want it."
Fergus found his voice. "I want it. I'll pay a million--"
"You'll pay nothing," Morgan said flatly. "You'll listen."
Fergus nodded wordlessly.
"The composition is simple. Basically, it is a two-phase material-like fiberglass. It consists of a strong, hard material imbedded in a matrix of softer material. The difference is that, in this case, the stronger fibers are borazon--boron nitride formed under tremendous pressure--while the softer matrix is composed of tungsten carbide. If the fibers are only a thousandth or two thousandths of an inch in diameter--the thickness of a human hair or less--then the cable from which they are made has tremendous strength and flexibility.
"Do you want the details of the process now?" His teeth were showing in his wolfish grin.
Fergus swallowed. "Yes, of course. But ... but why do you--"
"Why do I give it to you? Because it will kill you. You have seen what the stuff will do. A strand a thousandth of an inch thick, encased in silon for lubrication purposes, got me out of that filthy hole you call a prison. You've heard about that?"
Fergus blinked. "You cut yourself out of there with the cable you're talking about?"
"Not with the cable. With a thin fiber. With one of the hairlike fibers that makes up the cable. Did you ever cut cheese with a wire? In effect, that wire is a knife--a knife that consists only of an edge.
"Or, another experiment you may have heard of. Take a block of ice. Connect a couple of ten-pound weights together with a few feet of piano wire and loop it across the ice block to that the weights hang free on either side, with the wire over the top of the block. The wire will cut right through the ice in a short time. The trouble is that the ice block remains whole--because the ice melts under the pressure of the wire and then flows around it and freezes again on the other side. But if you lubricate the wire with ordinary glycerine, it prevents the re-freezing and the ice block will be cut in two."
Tarnhorst nodded. "I remember. In school. They--" He let his voice trail off.
"Yeah. Exactly. It's a common experiment in basic science. Borazon fiber works the same way. Because it is so fine and has such tremendous tensile strength, it is possible to apply a pressure of hundreds of millions of pounds per square inch over a very small area. Under pressures like that, steel cuts easily. With silon covering to lubricate the cut, there's nothing to it. As you have heard from the guards in your little hell-hole.
"Hell-hole?" Tarnhorst's eyes narrowed and he flicked a quick glance at Fergus. Morgan realized that Tarnhorst had known nothing of the extent of Fergus' machinations.
"That lovely little political prison up in Fort Tryon Park that the World Welfare State, with its usual solicitousness for the common man, keeps for its favorite guests," Morgan said. His wolfish smile returned. "I'd've cut the whole thing down if I'd had had the time. Not the stone--just the steel. In order to apply that kind of pressure you have to have the filament fastened to something considerably harder than the stuff you're trying to cut, you see. Don't try it with your fingers or you'll lose fingers."
Fergus' eyes widened again and he looked both ill and frightened. "The man we sent ... uh ... who was found in your room. You--" He stopped and seemed to have trouble swallowing.
"Me? I didn't do anything." Morgan did a good imitation of a shark trying to look innocent. "I'll admit that I looped a very fine filament of the stuff across the doorway a few times, so that if anyone tried to enter my room illegally I would be warned." He didn't bother to add that a pressure-sensitive device had released and reeled in the filament after it had done its work. "It doesn't need to be nearly as tough and heavy to cut through soft stuff like ... er ... say, a beefsteak, as it does to cut through steel. It's as fine as cobweb almost invisible. Won't the World Welfare State have fun when that stuff gets into the hands of its happy, crime-free populace?"
Edway Tarnhorst became suddenly alert. "What?"
"Yes. Think of the fun they'll have, all those lovely slobs who get their basic subsistence and their dignity and their honor as a free gift from the State. The kids, especially. They'll love it. It's so fine it can be hidden inside an ordinary thread--or woven into the hair--or...." He spread his hands. "A million places."
Fergus was gaping. Tarnhorst was concentrating on Morgan's words.
"And there's no possible way to leave fingerprints on anything that fine," Morgan continued. "You just hook it around a couple of nails or screws, across an open doorway or an alleyway--and wait."
"We wouldn't let it get into the people's hands," Tarnhorst said.
"You couldn't stop it," Morgan said flatly. "Manufacture the stuff and eventually one of the workers in the plant will figure out a way to steal some of it."
"Guards--" Fergus said faintly.
"Pfui. But even you had a perfect guard system, I think I can guarantee that some of it would get into the hands of the--common people. Unless you want to cut off all imports from the Belt."
Tarnhorst's voice hardened. "You mean you'd deliberately--"
"I mean exactly what I said," Morgan cut in sharply. "Make of it what you want."
"I suppose you have that kind of trouble out in the Belt?" Tarnhorst asked.
"No. We don't have your kind of people out in the Belt, Mr. Tarnhorst. We have men who kill, yes. But we don't have the kind of juvenile and grown-up delinquents who will kill senselessly, just for kicks. That kind is too stupid to live long out there. We are in no danger from borazon-tungsten filaments. You are." He paused just for a moment, then said: "I'm ready to give you the details of the process now, Mr. Fergus."
"I don't think I--" Fergus began with a sickly sound in his voice. But Tarnhorst interrupted him.
"We don't want it, commodore. Forget it."
"Forget it?" Morgan's voice was as cutting as the filament he had been discussing. "Forget that Jack Latrobe was murdered?"
"We will pay indemnities, of course," Tarnhorst said, feeling that it was futile.
"Fergus will pay indemnities," Morgan said. "In money, the indemnities will come to the precise amount he was willing to pay for the cable secret. I suggest that your Government confiscate that amount from him and send it to us. That may be necessary in view of the second indemnity."
"Mr. Fergus' life."