Read CHAPTER 2 of Brain Twister , free online book, by Gordon Randall Garrett & Laurence Mark Janifer, on

Early the next morning, Malone awoke on a plane, heading across the continent toward Nevada. He had gone home to sleep, and he’d had to wake up to get on the plane, and now here he was, waking up again. It seemed, somehow, like a vicious circle.

The engines hummed gently as they pushed the big ship through the middle stratosphere’s thinly distributed molecules. Malone looked out at the purple-dark sky and set himself to think out his problem again.

He was still mulling things over when the ship lowered its landing gear and rolled to a stop on the big field near Yucca Flats. Malone sighed and climbed slowly out of his seat. There was a car waiting for him at the airfield, though, and that seemed to presage a smooth time; Malone remembered calling Dr. O’Connor the night before, and congratulated himself on his foresight.

Unfortunately, when he reached the main gate of the high double fence that surrounded the more than ninety square miles of United States Laboratories, he found out that entrance into that sanctum sanctórum of Security wasn’t as easy as he’d imagined not even for an FBI man. His credentials were checked with the kind of minute care Malone had always thought people reserved for disputed art masterpieces, and it was with a great show of reluctance that the Special Security guards passed him inside as far as the office of the Chief Security Officer.

There, the Chief Security Officer himself, a man who could have doubled for Torquemada, eyed Malone with ill-concealed suspicion while he called Burris at FBI headquarters back in Washington.

Burris identified Malone on the video screen and the Chief Security Officer, looking faintly disappointed, stamped the agent’s pass and thanked the FBI chief. Malone had the run of the place.

Then he had to find a courier jeep. The Westinghouse division, it seemed, was a good two miles away.

As Malone knew perfectly well, the main portion of the entire Yucca Flats area was devoted solely to research on the new space drive which was expected to make the rocket as obsolete as the blunderbuss at least as far as space travel was concerned. Not, Malone thought uneasily, that the blunderbuss had ever been used for space travel, but

He got off the subject hurriedly. The jeep whizzed by buildings, most of them devoted to aspects of the non-rocket drive. The other projects based at Yucca Flats had to share what space was left and that included, of course, the Westinghouse research project.

It turned out to be a single, rather small white building with a fence around it. The fence bothered Malone a little, but there was no need to worry; this time he was introduced at once into Dr. O’Connor’s office. It was paneled in wallpaper manufactured to look like pine, and the telepathy expert sat behind a large black desk bigger than any Malone had ever seen in the FBI offices. There wasn’t a scrap of paper on the desk; its surface was smooth and shiny, and behind it the nearly transparent Dr. Thomas O’Connor was close to invisible.

He looked, in person, just about the same as he’d looked on the FBI tapes. Malone closed the door of the office behind him, looked for a chair and didn’t find one. In Dr. O’Connor’s office, it was perfectly obvious, Dr. O’Connor sat down. You stood, and were uncomfortable.

Malone took off his hat. He reached across the desk to shake hands with the telepathy expert, and Dr. O’Connor gave him a limp fragile paw. “Thanks for giving me a little time,” Malone said. “I really appreciate it.” He smiled across the desk. His feet were already beginning to hurt.

“Not at all,” Dr. O’Connor said, returning the smile with one of his own special quick-frozen brand. “I realize how important FBI work is to all of us, Mr. Malone. What can I do to help you?”

Malone shifted his feet. “I’m afraid I wasn’t very specific on the phone last night,” he said. “It wasn’t anything I wanted to discuss over a line that might have been tapped. You see, I’m on the telepathy case.”

Dr. O’Connor’s eyes widened the merest trifle. “I see,” he said. “Well, I’ll certainly do everything I can to help you.”

“Fine,” Malone said. “Let’s get right down to business, then. The first thing I want to ask you about is this detector of yours. I understand it’s too big to carry around but how about making a smaller model?”

“Smaller?” Dr. O’Connor permitted himself a ghostly chuckle. “I’m afraid that isn’t possible, Mr. Malone. I would be happy to let you have a small model of the machine if we had one available more than happy. I would like to see such a machine myself, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, Mr. Malone ”

“There just isn’t one, right?” Malone said.

“Correct,” Dr. O’Connor said. “And there are a few other factors. In the first place, the person being analyzed has to be in a specially shielded room, such as is used in encephalographic analysis. Otherwise, the mental activity of the other persons around him would interfere with the analysis.” He frowned a little. “I could wish that we knew a bit more about psionic machines. The trouble with the present device, frankly, is that it is partly psionic and partly electronic, and we can’t be entirely sure where one part leaves off and the other begins. Very trying. Very trying indeed.”

“I’ll bet it is,” Malone said sympathetically, wishing he understood what Dr. O’Connor was talking about.

The telepathy expert sighed. “However,” he said, “we keep working at it.” Then he looked at Malone expectantly.

Malone shrugged. “Well, if I can’t carry the thing around, I guess that’s that,” he said. “But here’s the next question: do you happen to know the maximum range of a telepath? I mean: how far away can he get from another person and still read his mind?”

Dr. O’Connor frowned again. “We don’t have definite information on that, I’m afraid,” he said. “Poor little Charlie was rather difficult to work with. He was mentally incapable of cooperating in any way, you see.”

“Little Charlie?”

“Charles O’Neill was the name of the telepath we worked with,” Dr. O’Connor explained.

“I remember,” Malone said. The name had been on one of the tapes, but he just hadn’t associated “Charles O’Neill” with “Little Charlie.” He felt as if he’d been caught with his homework undone. “How did you manage to find him, anyway?” he said. Maybe, if he knew how Westinghouse had found their imbecile-telepath, he’d have some kind of clue that would enable him to find one, too. Anyhow, it was worth a try.

“It wasn’t difficult in Charlie’s case,” Dr. O’Connor said. He smiled. “The child babbled all the time, you see.”

“You mean he talked about being a telepath?”

Dr. O’Connor shook his head impatiently. “No,” he said. “Not at all. I mean that he babbled. Literally. Here: I’ve got a sample recording in my files.” He got up from his chair and went to the tall gray filing cabinet that hid in a far corner of the pine-paneled room. From a drawer he extracted a spool of common audio tape, and returned to his desk.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get full video on this,” he said, “but we didn’t feel it was necessary.” He opened a panel in the upper surface of the desk, and slipped the spool in. “If you like, there are other tapes ”

“Maybe later,” Malone said.

Dr. O’Connor nodded and pressed the playback switch at the side of the great desk. For a second the room was silent.

Then there was the hiss of empty tape, and a brisk masculine voice that overrode it:

“Westinghouse Laboratories,” it said, “sixteen April nineteen-seventy. Dr. Walker speaking. The voice you are about to hear belongs to Charles O’Neill: chronological age fourteen years, three months; mental age, approximately five years. Further data on this case will be found in the file O’Neill.”

There was a slight pause, filled with more tape hiss.

Then the voice began.

“... push the switch for record ... in the park last Wednesday ... and perhaps a different set of ... poor kid never makes any sense in ... trees and leaves all sunny with the ... electronic components of the reducing stage might be ... not as predictable when others are around but ... to go with Sally some night in the....”

It was a childish, alto voice, gabbling in a monotone. A phrase would be spoken, the voice would hesitate for just an instant, and then another, totally disconnected phrase would come. The enunciation and pronunciation would vary from phrase to phrase, but the tone remained essentially the same, drained of all emotional content.

“... in receiving psychocerebral impulses there isn’t any ... nonsense and nothing but nonsense all the ... tomorrow or maybe Saturday with the girl ... tube might be replaceable only if . . . something ought to be done for the . . . Saturday would be a good time for ... work on the schematics tonight if....”

There was a click as the tape was turned off, and Dr. O’Connor looked up.

“It doesn’t make much sense,” Malone said. “But the kid sure has a hell of a vocabulary for an imbecile.”

“Vocabulary?” Dr. O’Connor said softly.

“That’s right,” Malone said. “Where’d an imbecile get words like ‘psychocerebral?’ I don’t think I know what that means, myself.”

“Ah,” Dr. O’Connor said. “But that’s not his vocabulary, you see. What Charlie is doing is simply repeating the thoughts of those around him. He jumps from mind to mind, simply repeating whatever he receives.” His face assumed the expression of a man remembering a bad taste in his mouth. “That’s how we found him out, Mr. Malone,” he said. “It’s rather startling to look at a blithering idiot and have him suddenly repeat the very thought that’s in your mind.”

Malone nodded unhappily. It didn’t seem as if O’Connor’s information was going to be a lot of help as far as catching a telepath was concerned. An imbecile, apparently, would give himself away if he were a telepath. But nobody else seemed to be likely to do that. And imbéciles didn’t look like very good material for catching spies with. Then he brightened. “Doctor, is it possible that the spy we’re looking for really isn’t a spy?”


“I mean, suppose he’s an imbecile, too? I doubt whether an imbecile would really be a spy, if you see what I mean.”

Dr. O’Connor appeared to consider the notion. After a little while he said: “It is, I suppose, possible. But the readings on the machine don’t give us the same timing as they did in Charlie’s case or even the same sort of timing.”

“I don’t quite follow you,” Malone said.

Truthfully, he felt about three miles behind. But perhaps everything would clear up soon. He hoped so. On top of everything else, his feet were now hurting a lot more.

“Perhaps if I describe one of the tests we ran,” Dr. O’Connor said, “things will be somewhat clearer.” He leaned back in his chair. Malone shifted his feet again and transferred his hat from his right to his left hand.

“We put one of our test subjects in the insulated room,” Dr. O’Connor said, “and connected him to the detector. He was to read from a book a book that was not too common. This was, of course, to obviate the chance that some other person nearby might be reading it, or might have read it in the past. We picked The Blood is the Death by Hieronymus Melanchthon, which, as you may know, is a very rare book indeed.”

“Sure,” Malone said. He had never heard of the book, but he was, after all, willing to take Dr. O’Connor’s word for it.

The telepathy expert went on: “Our test subject read it carefully, scanning rather than skimming. Cameras recorded the movements of his eyes in order for us to tell just what he was reading at any given moment, in order to correlate what was going on in his mind with the reactions of the machine’s indicators, if you follow me.”

Malone nodded helplessly.

“At the same time,” Dr. O’Connor continued blithely, “we had Charlie in a nearby room, recording his babblings. Every so often, he would come out with quotations from The Blood is the Death, and these quotations corresponded exactly with what our test subject was reading at the time, and also corresponded with the abnormal fluctuations of the detector.”

Dr. O’Connor paused. Something, Malone realized, was expected of him. He thought of several responses and chose one. “I see,” he said.

“But the important thing here,” Dr. O’Connor said, “is the timing. You see, Charlie was incapable of continued concentration. He could not keep his mind focused on another mind for very long, before he hopped to still another. The actual amount of time concentrated on any given mind at any single given period varied from a minimum of one point three seconds to a maximum of two point six. The timing samples, when plotted graphically over a period of several months, formed a skewed bell curve with a mode at two point oh seconds.”

“Ah,” Malone said, wondering if a skewed ball curve was the same thing as a belled skew curve, and if not, why not?

“It was, in fact,” Dr. O’Connor continued relentlessly, “a sudden variation in those timings which convinced us that there was another telepath somewhere in the vicinity. We were conducting a second set of reading experiments, in precisely the same manner as the first set, and, for the first part of the experiment, our figures were substantially the same. But ” He stopped.

“Yes?” Malone said, shifting his feet and trying to take some weight off his left foot by standing on his right leg. Then he stood on his left leg. It didn’t seem to do any good.

“I should explain,” Dr. O’Connor said, “that we were conducting this series with a new set of test subjects: some of the scientists here at Yucca Flats. We wanted to see if the intelligence quotients of the subjects affected the time of contact which Charlie was able to maintain. Naturally, we picked the men here with the highest IQ’s, the two men we have who are in the top echelon of the creative genius class.” He cleared his throat. “I did not include myself, of course, since I wished to remain an impartial observer, as much as possible.”

“Of course,” Malone said without surprise.

“The other two geniuses,” Dr. O’Connor said, “the other two geniuses both happen to be connected with the project known as Project Isle an operation whose function I neither know, nor care to know, anything at all about.”

Malone nodded. Project Isle was the non-rocket spaceship. Classified. Top Secret. Ultra Secret. And, he thought, just about anything else you could think of.

“At first,” Dr. O’Connor was saying, “our detector recorded the time periods of ah mental invasion as being the same as before. Then, one day, anomalies began to appear. The detector showed that the minds of our subjects were being held for as long as two or three minutes. But the phrases repeated by Charlie during these periods showed that his own contact time remained the same; that is, they fell within the same skewed bell curve as before, and the mode remained constant if nothing but the phrase length were recorded.”

“Hmm,” Malone said, feeling that he ought to be saying something.

Dr. O’Connor didn’t notice him. “At first we thought of errors in the detector machine,” he went on. “That worried us not somewhat, since our understanding of the detector is definitely limited at this time. We do feel that it would be possible to replace some of the electronic components with appropriate symbolization like that already used in the purely psionic sections, but we have, as yet, been unable to determine exactly which electronic components must be replaced by what symbolic components.”

Malone nodded, silently this time. He had the sudden feeling that Dr. O’Connor’s flow of words had broken itself up into a vast sea of alphabet soup, and that he, Malone, was occupied in drowning in it.

“However,” Dr. O’Connor said, breaking what was left of Malone’s train of thought, “young Charlie died soon thereafter, and we decided to go on checking the machine. It was during this period that we found someone else reading the minds of our test subjects sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for several minutes.”

“Aha,” Malone said. Things were beginning to make sense again. Someone else. That, of course, was the spy.

“I found,” Dr. O’Connor said, “on interrogating the subjects more closely, that they were, in effect, thinking on two levels. They were reading the book mechanically, noting the words and sense, but simply shuttling the material directly into their memories without actually thinking about it. The actual thinking portions of their minds were concentrating on aspects of Project Isle.”

There was a little silence.

“In other words,” Malone said, “someone was spying on them for information about Project Isle?”

“Precisely,” Dr. O’Connor said with a frosty, teacher-to-student smile. “And whoever it was had a much higher concentration time than Charlie had ever attained. He seems to be able to retain contact as long as he can find useful information flowing in the mind being read.”

“Wait a minute,” Malone said. “Wait a minute. If this spy is so clever, how come he didn’t read your mind?”

“It is very likely that he has,” O’Connor said. “What does that have to do with it?”

“Well,” Malone said, “if he knows you and your group are working on telepathy and can detect what he’s doing, why didn’t he just hold off on the minds of those geniuses when they were being tested in your machine?”

Dr. O’Connor frowned. “I’m afraid that I can’t be sure,” he said, and it was clear from his tone that, if Dr. Thomas O’Connor wasn’t sure, no one in the entire world was, had been, or ever would be. “I do have a theory, however,” he said, brightening up a trifle.

Malone waited patiently.

“He must know our limitations,” Dr. O’Connor said at last. “He must be perfectly well aware that there’s not a single thing we can do about him. He must know that we can neither find nor stop him. Why should he worry? He can afford to ignore us or even bait us. We’re helpless, and he knows it.”

That, Malone thought, was about the most cheerless thought he had heard in sometime.

“You mentioned that you had an insulated room,” the FBI agent said after a while. “Couldn’t you let your men think in there?”

Dr. O’Connor sighed. “The room is shielded against magnetic fields and electro-magnetic radiation. It is perfectly transparent to psionic phenomena, just as it is to gravitational fields.”

“Oh,” Malone said. He realized rapidly that his question had been a little silly to begin with, since the insulated room had been the place where all the tests had been conducted in the first place. “I don’t want to take up too much of your time, Doctor,” he said after a pause, “but there are a couple of other questions.”

“Go right ahead,” Dr. O’Connor said. “I’m sure I’ll be able to help you.”

Malone thought of mentioning how little help the Doctor had been to date, but decided against it. Why antagonize a perfectly good scientist without any reason? Instead, he selected his first question, and asked it. “Have you got any idea how we might lay our hands on another telepath? Preferably one that’s not an imbecile, of course.”

Dr. O’Connor’s expression changed from patient wisdom to irritation. “I wish we could, Mr. Malone. I wish we could. We certainly need one here to help us here with our work and I’m sure that your work is important, too. But I’m afraid we have no ideas at all about finding another telepath. Finding little Charlie was purely fortuitous purely, Mr. Malone, fortuitous.”

“Ah,” Malone said. “Sure. Of course.” He thought rapidly and discovered that he couldn’t come up with one more question. As a matter of fact, he’d asked a couple of questions already, and he could barely remember the answers. “Well,” he said, “I guess that’s about it, then, Doctor. If you come across anything else, be sure and let me know.”

He leaned across the desk, extending a hand. “And thanks for your time,” he added.

Dr. O’Connor stood up and shook his hand. “No trouble, I assure you,” he said. “And I’ll certainly give you all the information I can.”

Malone turned and walked out. Surprisingly, he discovered that his feet and legs still worked. He had thought they’d turned to stone in the office long before.

It was on the plane back to Washington that Malone got his first inkling of an idea.

The only telepath that the Westinghouse boys had been able to turn up was Charles O’Neill, the youthful imbecile.

All right, then. Suppose there were another like him. Imbéciles weren’t very difficult to locate. Most of them would be in institutions, and the others would certainly be on record. It might be possible to find someone, anyway, who could be handled and used as a tool to find a telepathic spy.

And happy thought! maybe one of them would turn out to be a high-grade imbecile, or even a moron.

Even if they only turned up another imbecile, he thought wearily, at least Dr. O’Connor would have something to work with.

He reported back to Burris when he arrived in Washington, told him about the interview with Dr. O’Connor, and explained what had come to seem a rather feeble brainstorm.

“It doesn’t seem too productive,” Burris said, with a shade of disappointment in his voice, “but we’ll try it.”

At that, it was a better verdict than Malone had tried for. Though, of course, it meant extra work for him.

Orders went out to field agents all over the United States, and, quietly but efficiently, the FBI went to work. Agents began to probe and pry and poke their noses into the files and data sheets of every mental institution in the fifty states as far, at any rate, as they were able.

And Kenneth J. Malone was in the lead.

There had been some talk of his staying in Washington to collate the reports as they came in, but that had sounded even worse than having to visit hospitals. “You don’t need me to do a job like that,” he’d told Burris. “Let’s face it, Chief: if we find a telepath the agent who finds him will say so. If we don’t, he’ll say that, too. You could get a chimpanzee to collate reports like that.”

Burris looked at him speculatively, and for one horrible second Malone could almost hear him sending out an order to find, and hire, a chimpanzee (after Security clearance, of course, for whatever organizations a chimpanzee could join). But all he said, in what was almost a mild voice, was: “All right, Malone. And don’t call me Chief.”

The very mildness of his tone showed how worried the man was, Malone realized, and he set out for the first hospital on his own list with grim determination written all over his face and a heartbeat that seemed to hammer at him that his country expected every man to do his duty.

“I find my duty hard to do today,” he murmured under his breath. It was all right to tell himself that he had to find a telepath. But how did you go about it? Did you just knock on hospital doors and ask them if they had anybody who could read minds?

“You know,” Malone told himself in a surprised tone, “that isn’t such a bad idea.” It would, at any rate, let him know whether the hospital had any patients who thought they could read minds. From them on, it would probably be simple to apply a test, and separate the telepathic sheep from the psychotic goats.

The image that created in his mind was so odd that Malone, in self-defense, stopped thinking altogether until he’d reached the first hospital, a small place situated in the shrinking countryside West of Washington.

It was called, he knew, the Rice Pavilion.

The place was small, and white. It bore a faint resemblance to Monticello, but then that was true, Malone reflected, of eight out of ten public buildings of all sorts. The front door was large and opaque, and Malone went up the winding driveway, climbed a short flight of marble steps, and rapped sharply.

The door opened instantly. “Yes?” said the man inside, a tall, balding fellow wearing doctor’s whites and a sad, bloodhound-like expression.

“Yes,” Malone said automatically. “I mean my name is Kenneth J. Malone.”

“Mine,” said the bloodhound, “is Blake. Doctor Andrew Blake.” There was a brief pause. “Is there anything we can do for you?” the doctor went on.

“Well,” Malone said, “I’m looking for people who can read minds.”

Blake didn’t seem at all surprised. He nodded quietly. “Of course,” he said. “I understand perfectly.”

“Good,” Malone told him. “You see, I thought I’d have a little trouble finding ”

“Oh, no trouble at all, I assure you,” Blake went on, just as mournfully as ever. “You’ve come to the right place, believe me, Mr. ah ”

“Malone,” Malone said. “Kenneth J. Frankly, I didn’t think I’d hit the jackpot this early I mean, you were the first on my list ”

The doctor seemed suddenly to realize that the two of them were standing out on the portico. “Won’t you come inside?” he said, with a friendly gesture. He stepped aside and Malone walked through the doorway.

Just inside it, three men grabbed him.

Malone, surprised by this sudden reception, fought with every ounce of his FBI training. But the three men had his surprise on their side, and three against one was heavy odds for any man, trained or not.

His neck placed firmly between one upper and lower arm, his legs pinioned and his arms flailing wildly, Malone managed to shout: “What the hell is this? What’s going on?”

Dr. Blake was watching the entire operation from a standpoint a few feet away. He didn’t look as if his expression were ever going to change.

“It’s all for your own good, Mr. Malone,” he said calmly. “Please believe me.”

“My God!” Malone said. He caught somebody’s face with one hand and then somebody else grabbed the hand and folded it back with irresistible force. He had one arm free, and he tried to use it but not for long. “You think I’m nuts!” he shouted, as the three men produced a strait-jacket from somewhere and began to cram him into it. “Wait!” he cried, as the canvas began to cramp him. “You’re wrong! You’re making a terrible mistake!”

“Of course,” Dr. Blake said. “But if you’ll just relax we’ll soon be able to help you ”

The strait-jacket was on. Malone sagged inside it like a rather large and sweaty butterfly rewrapped in a cocoon. Dimly, he realized that he sounded like every other nut in the world. All of them would be sure to tell the doctor and the attendants that they were making a mistake. All of them would claim they were sane.

There was, of course, a slight difference. But how could Malone manage to prove it? The three men held him up.

“Now, now,” Dr. Blake said. “You can walk, Mr. Malone. Suppose you just follow me to your room ”

“My room?” Malone said. “Now, you listen to me, Doctor. If you don’t take this stuff off me at once I promise you the President will hear of it. And I don’t know how he’ll take interference in a vital mission ”

“The President?” Blake asked quietly. “What President, Mr. Malone?”

“The President of the United States, damn it!” Malone shouted.

“Hmm,” Blake said.

That was no good, either, Malone realized. Every nut would have some sort of direct pipeline to the President, or God, or somebody high up. Nuts were like that.

But he was an FBI Agent. A special agent on a vital mission.

He said so.

“Now, now, Mr. Malone,” Blake told him. “Let’s get to your room, shall we, and then we can talk things over.”

“I can prove it!” Malone told him. The three men picked him up. “My identification is in my pocket ”

“Really?” Blake said.

They started moving down the long front hall.

“All you have to do is take this thing off so I can get at my pockets ”

Malone began.

But even he could see that this new plan wasn’t going to work, either.

“Take it off?” Blake said. “Oh, certainly, Mr. Malone. Certainly. Just as soon as we have you comfortably settled.”

It was ridiculous, Malone told himself as the men carried him away. It couldn’t happen: an FBI agent mistaken for a nut, wrapped in a strait-jacket and carried to a padded cell.

Unfortunately, ridiculous or not, it was happening.

And there was absolutely nothing to do about it.

Malone thought with real longing of his nice, safe desk in Washington. Suddenly he discovered in himself a great desire to sit around and collate reports. But no he had to be a hero. He had to go and get himself involved.

This, he thought, will teach me a great lesson. The next time I get offered a job a chimpanzee can do, I’ll start eating bananas.

It was at this point in his reflections that he reached a small door. Dr. Blake opened it and the three men carried Malone inside. He was dumped carefully on the floor. Then the door clanged shut.

Alone, Malone told himself bitterly, at last.

After a minute or so had gone by he began to think about getting out. He could, it occurred to him, scream for help. But that would only bring more attendants, and very possibly Dr. Blake again, and somehow Malone felt that further conversation with Dr. Blake was not likely to lead to any very rational end.

Sooner or later, he knew, they would have to let him loose.

After all, he was an FBI agent, wasn’t he?

Alone, in a single cheerless cell, caught up in the toils of a strait-jacket, he began to doubt the fact. Maybe Blake was right; maybe they were all right. Maybe he, Kenneth J. Malone, was totally mad.

He told himself firmly that the idea was ridiculous.

But, then, what wasn’t?

The minutes ticked slowly by. After a while the three guards came back, opening the door and filing into the room carefully. Malone, feeling more than ever like something in a cocoon, watched them with interest. They shut the door carefully behind them and stood before him.

“Now, then,” one of them said. “We’re going to take the jacket off, if you promise to be a good boy.”

“Sure,” Malone said. “And when you take my clothing, look in the pockets.”

“The pockets?”

“To find my FBI identification,” Malone said wearily. He only half-believed the idea himself, but half a belief, he told himself confusedly, was better than no mind at all. The attendants nodded solemnly.

“Sure we will,” one of them said, “if you’re a good boy and don’t act up rough on us now. Okay?”

Malone nodded. Carefully, two of the attendants began to unbuckle him while the third stood by for reinforcements. Malone made no fuss.

In five minutes he was naked as he told himself a jay-bird. What was so completely nude about those particular birds escaped him for the moment, but it wasn’t important. The three men were all holding various parts of the strait-jacket or of his clothing.

They were still watching him warily.

“Look in the pockets,” Malone said.

“Sure,” one said. The man holding the jacket reached into it and dropped it as if it were hot.

“Hey,” he announced in a sick voice, “the guy’s carrying a gun.”

“A gun?” the second one asked.

The first one gestured toward the crumpled jacket on the floor. “Look for yourself,” he said. “A real honest-to-God gun. I could feel it.”

Malone leaned against one wall, looking as nonchalant as it was possible for him to look in the nude. The room being cool, he felt he was succeeding reasonably well. “Try the other pocket,” he suggested.

The first attendant gave him a long stare. “What’ve you got in there, buddy?” he asked. “A howitzer?”

“Jesus,” the second attendant said, without moving toward the jacket. “An armed nut. What a world.”

“Try the pocket,” Malone said.

A second went by. The first attendant bent down slowly, picked up the jacket and slipped his hand into the other inside pocket. He came out with a wallet and flipped it open.

The others looked over his shoulder.

There was a long minute of silence.

“Jesus,” the second attendant said, as if it were the only word left in the language.

Malone sighed. “There, now,” he said. “You see? Suppose you give me back my clothes and let’s get down to brass tacks.”

It wasn’t that simple, of course.

First the attendants had to go and get Dr. Blake, and everybody had to explain everything three or four times, until Malone was just as sick of being an FBI agent as he had ever been of being a padded-cell case. But, at last, he stood before Dr. Blake in the corridor outside, once again fully dressed. Slightly rumpled, of course, but fully dressed. It did, Malone thought, make a difference, and if clothes didn’t exactly make the man they were a long way from a hindrance.

“Mr. Malone,” Blake was saying, “I want to offer my apologies ”

“Perfectly okay,” Malone said agreeably. “But I would like to know something. Do you treat all your visitors like this? I mean the milkman, the mailman, relatives of patients ”

“It’s not often we get someone here who claims to be from the FBI,” Blake said. “And naturally our first thought was that well, sometimes a patient will come in, just give himself up, so to speak. His unconscious mind knows that he needs help, and so he comes to us. We try to help him.”

Privately, Malone told himself that it was a hell of a way to run a hospital. Aloud, all he said was: “Sure. I understand perfectly, Doctor.”

Dr. Blake nodded. “And now,” he said, “what did you want to talk to me about?”

“Just a minute.” Malone closed his eyes. He’d told Burris he would check in, and he was late. “Have you got a phone I can use?”

“Certainly,” Blake said, and led him down the corridor to a small office. Malone went to the phone at one end and began dialing even before Blake shut the door and left him alone.

The screen lit up instantly with Burris’ face. “Malone, where the hell have you been?” the head of the FBI roared. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you ”

“Sorry,” Malone said. “I was tied up.”

“What do you mean, tied up?” Burris said. “Do you know I was just about to send out a general search order? I thought they’d got you.”

“They?” Malone said, interested. “Who?”

“How the hell would I know who?” Burris roared.

“Well, nobody got me,” Malone said. “I’ve been investigating Rice Pavilion, just like I’m supposed to do.”

“Then why didn’t you check in?” Burris asked.

Malone sighed. “Because I got myself locked up,” he said, and explained. Burris listened with patience.

When Malone was finished, Burris said: “You’re coming right on back.”

“But ”

“No arguments,” Burris told him. “If you’re going to let things like that happen to you you’re better off here. Besides, there are plenty of men doing the actual searching. There’s no need ”

Secretly, Malone felt relief. “Well, all right,” he said. “But let me check out this place first, will you?”

“Go ahead,” Burris said. “But get right on back here.”

Malone agreed and snapped the phone off. Then he turned back to find Dr. Blake.

Examining hospital records was not an easy job. The inalienable right of a physician to refuse to disclose confidences respecting a patient applied even to idiots, imbecile and moróns. But Malone had a slight edge, due to Dr. Blake’s embarrassment, and he put it mercilessly to work.

For all the good it did him he might as well have stayed in his cell. There wasn’t even the slightest suspicion in any record that any of the Rice Pavilion patients were telepathic.

“Are you sure that’s what you’re looking for?” Blake asked him, some hours later.

“I’m sure,” Malone said. “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“Oh,” Blake said. After a second he added: “What does that mean?”

Malone shrugged. “It’s an old saying,” he told the doctor. “It doesn’t have to mean anything. It just sounds good.”

“Oh,” Blake said again.

After a while, Malone said farewell to good old Rice Pavilion, and headed back to Washington. There, he told himself, everything would be peaceful.

And so it was. Peaceful and dispiriting.

Every agent had problems getting reports from hospitals and not even the FBI could open the private files of a licensed and registered psychiatrist.

But the field agents did the best they could and, considering the circumstances, their best was pretty good.

Malone, meanwhile, put in two weeks sitting glumly at his Washington desk and checking reports as they arrived. They were uniformly depressing. The United States of America contained more sub-normal minds than Malone cared to think about. There seemed to be enough of them to explain the results of any election you were unhappy over. Unfortunately, subnormal was all you could call them. Like the patients at Rice Pavilion, not one of them appeared to possess any abnormal psionic abilities whatever.

There were a couple who were reputed to be poltergeists but in neither case was there a single shred of evidence to substantiate the claim.

At the end of the second week, Malone was just about convinced that his idea had been a total washout. He himself had been locked up in a padded cell, and other agents had spent a full fortnight digging up imbéciles, while the spy at Yucca Flats had been going right on his merry way, scooping information out of the men at Project Isle as though he were scooping beans out of a pot. And, very likely, laughing himself silly at the feeble efforts of the FBI.

Who could he be?

Anyone, Malone told himself unhappily. Anyone at all. He could be the janitor who swept out the buildings, one of the guards at the gate, one of the minor technicians on another project, or even some old prospector wandering around the desert with a scintillation counter.

Is there any limit to telepathic range?

The spy could even be sitting quietly in an armchair in the Kremlin, probing through several thousand miles of solid earth to peep into the brains of the men on Project Isle.

That was, to say the very least, a depressing idea.

Malone found he had to assume that the spy was in the United States that, in other words, there was some effective range to telepathic communication. Otherwise, there was no point in bothering to continue the search.

Therefore, he found one other thing to do. He alerted every agent to the job of discovering how the spy was getting his information out of the country.

He doubted that it would turn up anything, but it was a chance. And Malone hoped desperately for it, because he was beginning to be sure that the field agents were never going to turn up any telepathic imbéciles.

He was right. They never did.