When there was no longer any movement, he sat up and pried open the man's jaws, thrusting his fingers into the mouth and jerking out the artificial larynx. The next time he would hear Putsyn's real voice, and maybe that would trigger his memory.
He crawled to the door and pulled himself up, leaning against the wall. By the time Putsyn moved, he had regained partial use of his leg.
"Now we'll see," he said. He didn't try to put anger in his voice; it was there. "I don't have to tell you that I can beat answers out of you."
"You don't know?" Putsyn laughed and there was relief in the sound. "You can kick me around, but you won't get your answers!"
The man had physical courage, or thought he did, and sometimes that amounted to the same thing. Luis shifted uneasily. It was the first time he'd heard Putsyn's actual voice; it was disturbing, but it didn't arouse concrete memories.
He stepped on the outstretched hand. "Think so?" he said. He could hear the fingers crackle.
Putsyn paled, but didn't cry out. "Don't think you can kill me and get away with it," he said.
He didn't sound too certain.
Slightly sick, Luis stepped off the hand. He couldn't kill the man--and not just because of the police. He just couldn't do it. He felt for the other gun in his pocket.
"This isn't a freezer," he said. "It's been changed over. I think I'll give you a sample."
Putsyn blinked. "And lose all chance of finding out? Go ahead."
Luis had thought of that; but he hadn't expected Putsyn to.
"You see, there's nothing you can do," said Putsyn. "A man has a right to protect his property, and I've got plenty of evidence that you broke in."
"I don't think you'll go to the police," Luis said.
"You think not? My memory system isn't a fraud. Admittedly, I didn't use it properly on Luise, but in a public demonstration I can prove that it does work."
Luis nodded wearily to himself. He'd half suspected that it did work. Here he was, with the solution so close--this man knew his identity and that of Luise, and where Dorn Starret came into the tangle--and he couldn't force Putsyn to tell.
He couldn't go to the police. They would ignore his charges, because they were based on unprovable suspicions ... ignore him or arrest him for breaking and entering.
"Everything's in your favor," he said, raising the gun. "But there's one way to make you leave us alone."
"Wait," cried Putsyn, covering his face with his uninjured hand, as if that would shield him. "Maybe we can work out an agreement."
Luis didn't lower the gun. "I mean it," he said.
"I know you mean it--I can't let you take away my life's work."
"Talk fast," Luis said, "and don't lie."
He stood close and listened while Putsyn told his story.
This is what had happened, he thought. This is what he'd tried so hard to learn.
"I had to do it that way," Putsyn finished. "But if you're willing to listen to reason, I can cut you in--more money than you've dreamed of--and the girl too, if you want her."
Luis was silent. He wanted her--but now the thought was foolish. Hopeless. This must be the way people felt who stood in the blast area of a rocket--but for them the sensation lasted only an instant, while for him the feeling would last the rest of his life.
"Get up," he said.
"Then it's all right?" asked Putsyn nervously. "We'll share it?"
Putsyn got to his feet, and Luis hit him. He could have used the freezer, but that wasn't personal enough.
He let the body fall to the floor.
He dragged the inert form into the waiting room and turned on the screen and talked to the police. Then he turned off the screen and kicked open the door to the hall. He shouldered Putsyn and carried him up to the roof and put him in the aircar.
Luise was there, puzzled and sleepy. For reasons of his own, Borgenese had sent a squad to bring her in. Might as well have her here and get it over with, Luis thought. She smiled at him, and he knew that Putsyn hadn't lied about that part. She remembered him and therefore Putsyn hadn't had time to do much damage.
Borgenese was at the desk as he walked in. Luis swung Putsyn off his shoulder and dropped him into a chair. The man was still unconscious, but wouldn't be for long.
"I see you brought a visitor," remarked Borgenese pleasantly.
"A customer," he said.
"Customers are welcome too," said the police counselor. "Of course, it's up to us to decide whether he is a customer."
Luise started to cross the room, but Borgenese motioned her back. "Let him alone. I think he's going to have a rough time."
"Yeah," said Luis.
It was nice to know that Luise liked him now--because she wouldn't after this was over.
He wiped the sweat off his forehead; all of it hadn't come from physical exertion.
"Putsyn here is a scientist," he said. "He worked out a machine that reverses the effects of the retro gun. He intended to go to everyone who'd been retrogressed, and in return for giving them back their memory, they'd sign over most of their property to him.
"Naturally, they'd agree. They all want to return to their former lives that bad, and, of course, they aren't aware of how much money they had. He had it all his way. He could use the machine to investigate them, and take only those who were really wealthy. He'd give them a partial recovery in the machine, and when he found out who they were, give them a quick shot of a built-in retro gun, taking them back to the time they'd just entered his office. They wouldn't suspect a thing.
"Those who measured up he'd sign an agreement with, and to the other poor devils he'd say that he was sorry but he couldn't help them."
Putsyn was conscious now. "It's not so," he said sullenly. "He can't prove it."
"I don't think he's trying to prove that," said Borgenese, still calm. "Let him talk."
Luis took a deep breath. "He might have gotten away with it, but he'd hired a laboratory assistant to help him perfect the machine. She didn't like his ideas; she thought a discovery like that should be given to the public. He didn't particularly care what she thought, but now the trouble was that she could build it too, and since he couldn't patent it and still keep it secret, she was a threat to his plans." He paused. "Her name was Luise Obispo."
He didn't have to turn his head. From the corner of his eye, he could see startlement flash across her face. She'd got her name right; and it was he who had erred in choosing a name.
"Putsyn hired a criminal, Dorn Starret, to get rid of her for him," he said harshly. "That was the way Starret made his living. He was an expert at it.
"Starret slugged her one night on Mars. He didn't retro her at once. He loaded her on a spaceship and brought her to Earth. During the passage, he talked to her and got to like her a lot. She wasn't as developed as she is now, kind of mousy maybe, but you know how those things are--he liked her. He made love to her, but didn't get very far.
"He landed in another city on Earth and left his spaceship there; he drugged her and brought her to the Shelter here and retroed her. That's what he'd been paid to do.
"Then he decided to stick around. Maybe she'd change her mind after retrogression. He stayed in a Shelter just across from the one she was in. And he made a mistake. He hid the retro gun behind the screen.
"Putsyn came around to check up. He didn't like Starret staying there--a key word or a familiar face sometimes triggers the memory. He retroed Starret, who didn't have a gun he could get to in a hurry. Maybe Putsyn had planned to do it all along. He'd built up an airtight alibi when Luise disappeared, so that nobody would connect him with that--and who'd miss a criminal like Starret?
"Anyway, that was only part of it. He knew that people who've been retroed try to find out who they are, and that some of them succeed. He didn't want that to happen. So he put an advertisement in the paper that she'd see and answer. When she did, he began to use his machine on her, intending to take her from the present to the past and back again so often that her mind would refuse to accept anything, past or present.
"But he'd just started when Starret showed up, and he knew he had to get him too. So he pulled what looked like a deliberate slip and got Starret interested, intending to take care of both of them in the same way at the same time."
He leaned against the wall. It was over now and he knew what he could expect.
"That's all, but it didn't work out the way Putsyn wanted it. Starret was a guy who knew how to look after his own interests."
Except the biggest and most important one; there he'd failed.
Borgenese was tapping on the desk, but it wasn't really tapping--he was pushing buttons. A policeman came in and the counselor motioned to Putsyn: "Put him in the pre-trial cells."
"You can't prove it," said Putsyn. His face was sunken and frightened.
"I think we can," said the counselor indifferently. "You don't know the efficiency of our laboratories. You'll talk."
When Putsyn had been removed, Borgenese turned. "Very good work, Luis. I'm pleased with you. I think in time you'd make an excellent policeman. Retro detail, of course."
Luis stared at him.
"Didn't you listen?" he said. "I'm Dorn Starret, a cheap crook."
In that mental picture of Starret he'd had, he should have seen it at once. Left-handed? Not at all--that was the way a man normally saw himself in a mirror. And in mirror images, the right hand becomes the left.
The counselor sat up straight, not gentle and easygoing any longer. "I'm afraid you can't prove that," he said. "Fingerprints? Will any of Starret's past associates identify you? There's Putsyn, but he won't be around to testify." He smiled. "As final evidence let me ask you this: when he offered you a share in his crooked scheme, did you accept? You did not. Instead, you brought him in, though you thought you were heading into certain retrogression."
Luis blinked dazedly. "But--"
"There are no exceptions, Luis. For certain crimes there is a prescribed penalty, retrogression. The law makes no distinction as to how the penalty is applied, and for a good reason. If there was such a person, Dorn Starret ceased to exist when Putsyn retroed him--and not only legally."
Counselor Borgenese stood up. "You see, retroing a person wipes him clean of almost everything he ever knew--right and wrong. It leaves him with an adult body, and we fill his mind with adult facts. Given half a chance, he acts like an adult."
Borgenese walked slowly to stand in front of his desk. "We protect life. Everybody's life. Including those who are not yet victims. We don't have the death penalty and don't want it. The most we can do to anyone is give him a new chance, via retrogression. We have the same penalty for those who deprive another of his memory as we do for those who kill--with this difference: the man who retrogresses another knows he has a good chance to get away with it. The murderer is certain that he won't.
"That's an administrative rule, not a law--that we don't try to trace retrogression victims. It channels anger and greed into non-destructive acts. There are a lot of unruly emotions floating around, and as long as there are, we have to have a safety valve for them. Retrogression is the perfect instrument for that."
Luise tried to speak, but he waved her into silence.
"Do you know how many were killed last year?" he asked.
Luis shook his head.
"Four," said the counselor. "Four murders in a population of sixteen billion. That's quite a record, as anyone knows who reads Twentieth Century mystery novels." He glanced humorously at Luis. "You did, didn't you?"
Luis nodded mutely.
Borgenese grinned. "I thought so. There are only three types of people who know about fingerprints today, historians and policemen being two. And I didn't think you were either."
Luise finally broke in. "Won't Putsyn's machine change things?"
"Will it?" The counselor pretended to frown. "Do you remember how to build it?"
"I've forgotten," she confessed.
"So you have," said Borgenese. "And I assure you Putsyn is going to forget too. As a convicted criminal, and he will be, we'll provide him with a false memory that will prevent his prying into the past.
"That's one machine we don't want until humans are fully and completely civilized. It's been invented a dozen times in the last century, and it always gets lost."
He closed his eyes momentarily, and when he opened them, Luise was looking at Luis, who was staring at the floor.
"You two can go now," he said. "When you get ready, there are jobs for both of you in my department. No hurry, though; we'll keep them open."
Luis left, went out through the long corridors and into the night.
She caught up with him when he was getting off the belt that had taken him back to the Shelters.
"There's not much you can say, I suppose," she murmured. "What can you tell a girl when she learns you've stopped just short of killing her?"
He didn't know the answer either.
They walked in silence.
She stopped at her dwelling, but didn't go in. "Still, it's an indication of how you felt--that you forgot your own name and took mine." She was smiling now. "I don't see how I can do less for you."
Hope stirred and he moved closer. But he didn't speak. She might not mean what he thought she did.
"Luis and Luise Obispo," she said softly. "Very little change for me--just add Mrs. to it." She was gazing at him with familiar intensity. "Do you want to come in?"
She opened the door.
Crime was sometimes the road to opportunity, and retrogression could be kind.