Read PROLOGUE of Brain Twister , free online book, by Gordon Randall Garrett & Laurence Mark Janifer, on

In nineteen-fourteen, it was enemy aliens.

In nineteen-thirty, it was Wobblies.

In nineteen-fifty-seven, it was fellow-travelers.

And, in nineteen seventy-one, Kenneth J. Malone rolled wearily out of bed wondering what the hell it was going to be now.

One thing, he told himself, was absolutely certain: it was going to be terrible. It always was.

He managed to stand up, although he was swaying slightly when he walked across the room to the mirror for his usual morning look at himself. He didn’t much like staring at his own face, first thing in the morning, but then, he told himself, it was part of the toughening-up process every FBI agent had to go through. You had to learn to stand up and take it when things got rough, he reminded himself. He blinked and looked into the mirror.

His image blinked back.

He tried a smile. It looked pretty horrible, he thought but, then, the mirror had a slight ripple in it, and the ripple distorted everything. Malone’s face looked as if it had been gently patted with a waffle-iron.

And, of course, it was still early morning, and that meant he was having a little difficulty in focusing his eyes.

Vaguely, he tried to remember the night before. He was just ending his vacation, and he thought he recalled having a final farewell party for two or three lovely female types he had chanced to meet in what was still the world’s finest City of Opportunity, Washington, D.C. (latest female-to-male ratio, five-and-a-half to one). The party had been a classic of its kind, complete with hot and cold running ideas of all sorts, and lots and lots of nice powerful liquor.

Malone decided sadly that the ripple wasn’t in the mirror, but in his head. He stared at his unshaven face blearily.

Blink. Ripple.

Quite impossible, he told himself. Nobody could conceivably look as horrible as Kenneth J. Malone thought he did. Things just couldn’t be as bad as all that.

Ignoring a still, small voice which asked persistently: “Why not?” he turned away from the mirror and set about finding his clothes. He determined to take his time about getting ready for work: after all, nobody could really complain if he arrived late on his first day after vacation. Everybody knew how tired vacations made a person.

And, besides, there was probably nothing happening anyway. Things had, he recalled with faint pleasure, been pretty quiet lately. Ever since the counterfeiting gang he’d caught had been put away, crime seemed to have dropped to the nice, simple levels of the 1950’s and ’60’s. Maybe, he hoped suddenly, he’d be able to spend some time catching up on his scientific techniques, or his math, or pistol practice....

The thought of pistol practice made his head begin to throb with the authority of a true hangover. There were fifty or sixty small gnomes inside his skull, he realized, all of them with tiny little hammers. They were mining for lead.

“The lead,” Malone said aloud, “is farther down. Not in the skull.”

The gnomes paid him no attention. He shut his eyes and tried to relax. The gnomes went right ahead with their work, and microscopic regiments of Eagle Scouts began marching steadily along his nerves.

There were people, Malone had always understood, who bounced out of their beds and greeted each new day with a smile. It didn’t sound possible, but then again there were some pretty strange people. The head of that counterfeiting ring, for instance: where had he got the idea of picking an alias like Andre Gide?

Clutching at his whirling thoughts, Malone opened his eyes, winced, and began to get dressed. At least, he thought, it was going to be a peaceful day.

It was at this second that his private intercom buzzed.

Malone winced again. “To hell with you,” he called at the thing, but the buzz went on, ignoring the code shut-off. That meant, he knew, an emergency call, maybe from his Chief of Section. Maybe even from higher up.

“I’m not even late for work yet,” he complained. “I will be, but I’m not yet. What are they screaming about?”

There was, of course, only one way to find out. He shuffled painfully across the room, flipped the switch and said:

“Malone here.” Vaguely, he wondered if it were true. He certainly didn’t feel as if he were here. Or there. Or anywhere at all, in fact.

A familiar voice came tinnily out of the receiver. “Malone, get down here right away!”

The voice belonged to Andrew J. Burris. Malone sighed deeply and felt grateful, for the fiftieth time, that he had never had a TV pickup installed in the intercom. He didn’t want the FBI chief to see him looking as horrible as he did now, all rippled and everything. It wasn’t well, it wasn’t professional, that was all.

“I’ll get dressed right away,” he assured the intercom. “I should be there in ”

“Don’t bother to get dressed,” Burris snapped. “This is an emergency!”

“But, Chief ”

“And don’t call me Chief!”

“Okay,” Malone said. “Sure. You want me to come down in my pyjamas. Right?”

“I want you to ” Burris stopped. “All right, Malone. If you want to waste time while our country’s life is at stake, you go ahead. Get dressed. After all, Malone, when I say something is an emergency ”

“I won’t get dressed, then,” Malone said. “Whatever you say.”

“Just do something!” Burris told him desperately. “Your country needs you. Pyjamas and all. Malone, it’s a crisis!”

Conversations with Burris, Malone told himself, were bound to be a little confusing. “I’ll be right down,” he said.

“Fine,” Burris said, and hesitated. Then he added: “Malone, do you wear the tops or the bottoms?”

“The what?”

“Of your pyjamas,” Burris explained hurriedly. “The top part or the bottom part?”

“Oh,” Malone said. “As a matter of fact, I wear both.”

“Good,” Burris said with satisfaction. “I wouldn’t want an agent of mine arrested for indecent exposure.” He rang off.

Malone blinked at the intercom for a minute, shut it off and then, ignoring the trip-hammers in his skull and the Eagle Scouts on his nerves, began to get dressed. Somehow, in spite of Burris’ feelings of crisis, he couldn’t see himself trying to flag a taxi on the streets of Washington in his pyjamas. Anyhow, not while he was awake. I dreamed I was an FBI agent, he thought sadly, in my drafty BVDs.

Besides, it was probably nothing important. These things, he told himself severely, have a way of evaporating as soon as a clear, cold intelligence got hold of them.

Then he began wondering where in hell he was going to find a clear, cold intelligence. Or even, for that matter, what one was.