“I heard you,” Telzey said some seconds later. “You have Hishee Selk here in the agency, don’t you?”
Wergard looked startled. Dasinger said, “Yes, we do.”
“It was her voice mainly,” Telzey said. “I picked her up on that.” She looked at Wergard. “Wergard can’t really believe this kind of thing is real.”
“I’m trying to suspend my doubts,” Wergard said. “Bringing in a mind-reader wasn’t my idea. But we could use one only too well here.”
Dasinger said, “All right to go on now, Telzey?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I was gone for only a moment. Now I’m making contact, and Hishee looks wide open. She’s very easy!” She straightened up in her chair. “Just what do you want your mind-reader to do?”
Dasinger said to Wergard, “What Telzey means is that, having seen what Hishee Selk looks like, and having heard her voice, she gained an impression of Hishee’s personality. She then sensed a similar impression around here, found a connection to the personality associated with it, and is now feeling her way into Hishee’s mind. Approximately correct, Telzey?”
“Very close.” For a nonpsi, Dasinger did, in fact, have a good understanding of psi processes.
“Now as to your question,” he went on. “When Larien Selk bought the place in Joca Village, he had it equipped with security devices, installed by Banance Protective Systems, a very good outfit. During the past week, Banance added a few touches—mainly a Brisell pack and its handler. At the same time, the Colmer Detective Agency in Great Alzar was employed to provide round-the-clock guards, five to a shift, stationed directly at the house, behind the pack. However, we’ve obtained copies of the Banance security diagrams which show the setup on the grounds. And, of course, there are various ways of handling guards.”
“You mean you can get into Joca Village and into the house?”
“Very likely. One of the residents is an agency client and has supplied us with Village passes. Getting in the Selk estate and into the house without alerting security presents problems, but shouldn’t be too difficult. Everything is set up to do it now, two or three hours after nightfall at Joca Village. It’s after we’re inside the house that the matter becomes really ticklish.”
Wergard said, “It’s a one-shot operation. If we start it, it has to come off. We can’t back away, and try again. Either Noal will be safe before his brother realizes somebody is trying to rescue him, or he’ll have disappeared for good.”
Telzey considered. It was easy enough to dispose of a human being instantly and tracelessly. “And you don’t know Noal’s in the house?” she said.
“No,” Dasinger said. “There’s a strong probability he’s there. If we can’t do better, we’ll have to act on that probability tonight, because every hour of delay puts his life—if he’s still alive—in greater danger. If he isn’t there, Larien is the one person in the house who’s sure to know where he is. But picking up Larien isn’t likely to do Noal any good. He’s bound to have taken precautions against that, and again Noal, wherever he is, will simply vanish, along with any evidence pointing to him. So we come back to the mind-reader—somebody who can tell us from Larien’s mind exactly where Noal is and what we can do about it, before Larien knows we’re in the house.”
“Yes; I see,” Telzey said. “But there’re a number of things I don’t understand here. Why does Larien—” She broke off, looked reflective a moment, nodded. “I can get that faster from Hishee now! It’s all she’s thinking about.”
Larien Selk, legally and biologically Noal’s junior by twenty-five years, was, in the actual chronology of events, the older brother. He’d been conceived first by three years. The parents were engaged in building up a business and didn’t want to be burdened with progeny taxes. The Larien-to-be went to an embryonic suspense vault. When Noal was conceived, the family could more readily afford a child, and the mother decided she preferred giving natural birth to one.
So Noal was born. His parents had no real wish for a second child. They kept postponing a decision about the nameless embryo they’d stored away, and in the end seemed almost to have forgotten it. It wasn’t until they’d died that Noal, going through old records, found a reference to his abandoned sibling. Somewhat shocked by his parents’ indifference, he had Larien brought to term. When his brother grew old enough to understand the situation, Noal explained how he’d come to take his place.
Larien never forgave him. Noal, a shrewd enough man in other respects, remained unaware of the fact. He saw to it that Larien had the best of everything—very nearly whatever Larien wanted. When he came of age, Noal made him a partner in the company he’d founded and developed. Which put Larien in a position to begin moving against his brother.
Hishee was his first move. Hishee was to have married Noal. She was very young, but she was fond of him and a formal agreement wasn’t far away. Then Larien turned his attention on Hishee, and the formal agreement was never reached. Hishee fell violently in love.
Noal accepted it. He loved them both; they were near the same age. But he found it necessary to detach himself from them. He waited until they married, then turned the effective management of the company over to Larien, and began traveling.
Larien set out casually to break Hishee. He did an unhurried thorough job of it, gradually, over the months, eroding her self-esteem and courage in a considered variety of ways. He brought her to heel, continued to reduce her. By the time Noal Selk came back to Cobril, Hishee was too afraid of Larien, too shaken in herself, to give her brother-in-law any indication of what had happened.
But Noal saw it. Larien had wanted him to see it, which was a mistake. Larien wasn’t quite as well covered in his manipulation of the company’s assets as he’d believed.
Noal, alerted to Larien’s qualities, became also aware of that. He made a quiet investigation. It led him presently to the Kyth detective agency.
Then he disappeared.
* * *
Dasinger said dryly, “We’d put you on the Kyth payroll any time, Telzey! It took us some hours to extract half that information from Hishee. The rest of it checks. If Larien thinks it’s safe, he’ll see Noal broken completely before he dies. No doubt he’s made ingenious arrangements for that. He’s an ingenious young man. But the time we have for action remains narrowly limited.”
“He doesn’t know Hishee’s gone?” Telzey asked.
“Not yet. We have that well covered. We had to take her out of the situation; she’d be in immediate danger now. But it’s an additional reason for avoiding delay. If Larien begins to suspect she had courage enough left to try to save Noal, he’ll destroy the evidence. He should be able to get away with it legally, and he knows it.”
Telzey was silent a moment. There were some obscure old laws against witchcraft, left deliberately unchanged, very rarely applied. Aside from that, the Federation was officially unaware of the existence of psis; a psi’s testimony was meaningless. Legally then, it was probable enough that Larien Selk could get away with the murder of his brother. She doubted he’d survive Noal long; the private agencies had their own cold rules. But, as Dasinger had said, that wasn’t what they were after.
She said, “Why do you want to plant the telepath in the house? If he’s good enough, he should be able to tap Larien’s mind from somewhere outside Joca Village, though it probably would take a little longer.”
Wergard said, “One of the Banance security devices is what’s known technically as a psi-block. It covers the outer walls of the house. Larien shares some of the public superstitions about the prevalence of efficient mind-reading instruments. Presumably the block would also stop a human telepath.”
She nodded. “Yes, they do.”
“When he’s outside one of his psi-blocked structures, he wears a mind shield,” Wergard said. “A detachable type. If we’d known about this a little earlier, we might have had an opportunity to pick him up and relieve him of it. But it’s too late now.”
“Definitely too late,” Dasinger agreed. “If you think you can find us a telepath who’s more than a hit-and-miss operator, we’d take a chance on waiting another day, if necessary, to bring him in on it. But it would be taking a chance. If you can’t get one, we’ll select a different approach and move tonight.”
Telzey said, “A telepath wouldn’t be much good to you if Larien happens to be probe-immune. About one in eight people are.”
“Seven to one are good odds in the circumstances,” Dasinger said. “Very good odds. We’ll risk that.”
“They’re better than seven to one,” Telzey told him. “Probe-immunes usually don’t know that’s what they are, but they usually don’t worry about having their minds read either. They feel safe.” She rubbed her nose, frowning. “A Psychology Service psi could do the job for you, and I can try getting one. But I don’t think they’ll help. They won’t lift a finger in ordinary crime cases.”