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´╗┐Title: Direct Wire
Author: Garson, Clee
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Direct Wire" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January 1943. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed.


                             DIRECT WIRE


                            by CLEE GARSON


     Mort and Mike got strange calls on this phone; they didn't
     come through Central!

       *       *       *       *       *



[Illustration: He had a strange husky voice that made queer chills go
up and down your spine]

There is an empty cigar store on the first floor of the loop building
in which I keep my office. Formerly it was managed by two of the
slickest small time gambling operators who ever booked a bang-tail or
banked a game of Hooligan.

There is a small, neatly lettered sign on the door of that unoccupied
store now, however, which has caused no end of comment from the former
customers of the "cigar store" who had always been all too cheerfully
happy to lose their daily dollars there.

The sign reads:

              "CLOSED FOR THE DURATION
                  Due to our having
                  Entered The Armed
                  Forces of the U. S.
                  GOD BLESS AMERICA
                     Mort & Mike"

If you haven't guessed as much by now, the signatures at the bottom of
that sign are those of the two former proprietors of the
establishment, Mort Robbins and Mike Harrigan.

Now since both Mort and Mike were of military age, and since this
nation is at war, it should hardly seem unusual that their former
customers and all who knew them would consider their summons to the
colors something worthy of great comment. It should hardly seem
unusual, that is, unless you happened to know the two, and realized
further that they were not drafted, but _voluntarily_ enlisted.

Neither was what you could call deeply patriotic, you see. Nor were
they the sort to be influenced by such emotional appeals as the
beating of drums, the waving of flags, or the playing of brass bands
marching along Jackson Boulevard.

"We gotta lick them lice!" Mike constantly proclaimed in regard to
Adolf and the Axis, when war discussions came up around the "cigar
store." But aside from those loud and perhaps sincere pronouncements,
Mike's only contribution to the cause of Victory was the purchase of
war bonds which he looked on merely with the cold eye of one seeking a
smart investment. And as for his attitude toward the army, Mike best
expressed himself with a small embryo ulcer which he kept always on
the verge of eruption within twenty-four hours notice to report for a
draft board examination. It was rumored that, through a swift,
sufficient amount of whisky, Mike could make his embryo ulcer dance
angrily for the draft medicos at any time. This none too admirable
accomplishment with an ailment not actually serious had kept Mike
Harrigan in Class 4 F ever since the last draft registration.

As for Mike's partner, Mort Robbins, the patriotic picture was pretty
much the same. Mort was loudly belligerent toward our enemies in all
the "cigar store" discussions, wisely put much of his funds into war
bonds, but kept one of the most extensive libraries of medical
statements from doctors in existence. All these statements concerned
the tragic asthma and hay-fever of one Mort Robbins and went on to
declare that he might possibly stop breathing completely should he be
placed in the army. The fact that Mort had connived to get these
statements and was not really seriously troubled by those two maladies
didn't alter the fact that they had resulted so far in keeping him out
of khaki.

Consequently, since more than one of their customers knew or suspected
their lack of practical patriotism, the appearance of that sign on the
door of what had once been their establishment caused quite a
considerable flurry of comment for a time.

Naturally, no one could understand what had caused it all. For that,
they can't be blamed. I'd never have understood it, if I hadn't
accidentally been the one person in the world, outside of Mort and
Mike, who knew the true story....

       *       *       *       *       *

On the morning that it all began, I was down in the "cigar store,"
killing time and having a coke and some conversation before going
upstairs to the grimly reproachful surroundings of my too neglected
office.

Mike Harrigan was the only one behind the counter, and I was the only
one on the customer side.

Mike was red headed and freckle necked, a massive chap with a blarney
smile and a baby face. He's been in the "cigar store" bookie racket
ever since repeal had closed a speakeasy he'd had on Grand Avenue.
This morning, however, he was glaring glumly down at a newspaper
spread before him atop the glass cigar counter, and scarcely nodded to
half my conversational sallies.

"What's eating you, Mike?" I finally demanded. "That ulcer getting
well in spite of you?"

Mike ignored the crack. But he looked up from his reading and jabbed a
big red freckled thumb down on a column of print in the paper before
him.

"That State's Attorney!" Mike snorted indignantly. "He's gonna go too
far pretty damn soon!"

"What now?" I grinned. Mike was always indignant over the efforts of
the State's Attorney to "ruin an honest man's business" with his
crack-downs on small-time handbooks throughout the city. "What's his
latest move in the battle against Mike Harrigan?"

"This here story in the paper," Mike declared, "says how the State's
Attorney's office is starting to investigate the lists of the
telephone company in order to track down any phones used by us
bookmakers in our business. It's illegal!" He concluded with the
virtuous snort of an indignant taxpayer shocked by the violation of
law, smacking his big red-knuckled hand on the counter top to
emphasize his disturbance.

"Aha!" I said. "In other words the State's Attorney's office is going
to find their way into this handbook of yours by the direct approach,
eh? It'll take time for them, won't it, to go over the entire
telephone lists?"

"You never can tell," Mike predicted gloomily. "They might nail us
all," he snapped his big fingers, "like that."

I glanced over at the telephone booth in the corner of the store. Its
folding door was open, and the ever-present "Out Of Order" sign was
suspended from a cord around the mouthpiece. Over that phone Mike and
Mort conducted the bulk of their horse booking business. Through it
they kept in touch with a central gambling syndicate service which
provided day-long racing results, odds and other essential data to
numerous other such small establishments around the city. Through it,
also, they took in a nice business of telephone bets from wagerers too
busy to get in to make them in person. The never-missing "Out of
Order" sign was to prevent customers from using the telephone for
out-going calls which might interfere with business. The telephone
was, of course, not at all out of order.

"Maybe," I suggested cheerfully, taking my eyes from the telephone
booth, "they'll snatch out your phone on you. Then where'll you be?"

Mike smacked his open palm against his broad brow.

"My God," he exclaimed, "don't say no such things!"

I gulped the rest of my coke, lit another cigarette, shrugged
cheerfully, and started for the door. I turned before leaving.

"Cheer up," I said. "This will probably blow over. And if it doesn't,
there's always the army."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mike glared and started to answer. And at that moment the telephone in
the booth began to ring. He started for it, and I started out the door
again, running headlong into Mort Robbins.

"Good morning, good morning, chumly!" Mort exclaimed cheerfully when
we had untangled ourselves. "What's new with you?"

Mort is short, slightly on the plump side, with straight, dark hair, a
round, beaming face, and a penchant for flamboyantly colored sport
shirts.

"Nothing's new with me," I told him, "but plenty seems to be new with
Mike. He's cursing the State's Attorney's office again."

Mort frowned.

"Whatcha mean? What's on the fire now? I didn't read the morning rags
yet."

Briefly, I told him about the news story which had excited his
partner. He nodded, thought a moment, then grinned.

"They can't do that," he said. "It's illegal."

"Tell Mike, if that's so," I said. "He's working himself into a boil."

Mort hadn't heard me. He was frowning thoughtfully again.

"Or can they?" he wondered aloud. "Where's that news story?"

I pointed to the paper on the counter and he stepped over to it. I
started to leave again, but at that moment the telephone booth in the
corner shook from side to side and Mike stepped out, face red with
wrath.

"I'd like to get my hands on that guy, the wisenheimer!" he growled.
"Hah! Practical jokes, eh?"

Again I stopped at the door.

"What's wrong this time?" I demanded. "Or is it still the State's
Attorney you're frothing about?"

"Some guy," Mike thundered explosively, "just called to say he wanted
to talk to Hitler and Mussolini. Wise guy, hah, the louse!"

"Hitler and Mussolini?" I demanded. "Who was it?"

"Wouldn't I like to know," Mike exclaimed redly. "Wouldn't I just like
to know!" He made a grasping gesture with his two big fists,
indicating what he would do to the party if he did know.

Mort had put down the newspaper and had been listening to Mike's
explosion.

"Don't bust your buttons, Mike," Mort advised. "It's probably just one
of our customers having a gag."

"Bum gag, I say. If they wanta gag whyn't they gag funny?" Mike
snorted angrily. "Talk to Hitler and Mussolini, eh? Huh!"

And at that juncture, the telephone rang again. Mort looked up, then
looked at me and winked. He turned to Mike, who'd started wrathfully
for the booth.

"Hold it, chumly," Mort said. "I'll answer this one. If it's the joker
again I can handle him better than you can."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mort walked nonchalantly over to the booth, took down the receiver,
and turned to wink again at me.

"Hello," Mort said.

Obviously the voice on the other end of the wire said something. Mort
grinned.

"They ain't here," Mort said, grinning more widely. "No. Not either of
'em. Adolf sleeps late and don't get down until noon. Benito is out
having himself a milkshake. Who'll I tell 'em called? Huh? What's
that? You call back? But who'll I tell 'em called? Huh? Gab--Gabby?
What?"

Mort put the receiver back on the hook and turned back to us, stepping
out of the booth.

"The joker said to tell Adolf and Benito he'd call back later. I
didn't get his name, but it sounded like Gabby. Smart joe, this
Gabby."

Mike was glaring. "Gabby, eh? Gabby, Gabby, Gabby," he scratched his
red head frowningly. "Who do I know named Gabby?"

"Skip it," Mort advised smilingly. "It wouldn't be the right monicker,
anyway."

Mike muttered dourly, moving back behind the counter. Suddenly he
stopped.

"You see the morning paper?" he asked his partner in sudden
recollection. "You see about that louse State's Att--"

"Yeah, I read it," Mort cut him off. "It'll blow over, even if they
get away with it. But they might not even get away with it. It's
illegal."

Mike beamed for the first time since I'd seen him that morning.
Obviously he was pleased to have his own legal judgment upheld by his
partner.

"You think so? That's what I thought." He turned to me. "Isn't that
what I thought?" he demanded.

"Did you call for the morning line check on the tracks yet?" Mort
asked, changing the subject.

Mike shook his head. "I was waiting for a few phone bets to come in,
first," he said.

"How many come in so far?" Mort asked.

Mike suddenly looked at his wrist watch and swore. "None!" he
exclaimed. "None and it's already after ten!"

Mort looked alarmed. "You mean the phone ain't rang with a bet since
you been down?"

"Only time the phone rung was with that practical joker, twicet. You
heard 'em," Mike declared.

"But by this time we generally have a couple dozen bets in from the
phones!" Mort exclaimed. "This is bad. Whatcha think goes?"

"Goes?" Mike exclaimed indignantly. "How should I know what goes?"

Mort suddenly clapped his palm to his brow. "Maybe it's got somethin'
to do with that news story!"

"About the State's Attorney gonna check the phone lists?" Mike
demanded.

"Yeah."

Mike thought this over. "No," he decided. "Couldn't be. Not so soon,
yet. Tomorrow, maybe, but not so soon."

Mort calmed down a little. "You're right there," he said. "It wouldn't
be so soon."

"Maybe this is a bad day," I broke in. "Maybe your customers just
aren't betting this morning."

Mort and Mike looked at me as if I were crazy, which possibly I was.
Two dozen steady horse players don't all stop at once, if ever.

Mike was as sorely troubled as Mort.

"We got at least couple dozen bets acrosst the counter already this
morning," he said. "But no phone bets."

"Maybe the damn thing is _actually_ out of order," Mort groaned,
glancing at the telephone.

"Then how did we get them two calls from the joker?" Mike demanded.
"No. That phone ain't no more outta order than I am."

"You're right. I forgot those calls," Mort acknowledged.

       *       *       *       *       *

And at that moment the telephone rang again. Mort looked at Mike. Mike
looked at Mort. Both wet their lips.

"Ordinary days that joker might be funny," Mort said. "But now I'm
thinking this isn't an ordinary day. I'm thinking it's not as funny as
I first thought."

He crossed to the telephone booth, jerked the receiver from the hook,
and bellowed into the mouthpiece.

"Hello!"

There was a brief pause in which someone said something to him from
the other end of the wire.

"Listen!" Mort suddenly exploded. "Nothing is funny three times, wise
guy. I wish you would take your Hitler-Mussolini gag and--" at which
point he described what he wanted the caller to do with the gag. Then,
slamming the receiver back into the hook, Mort stormed out of the
booth.

"Same guy?" Mike demanded, his veins bulging in his thick, freckled
neck.

"Same guy," Mort said grimly. His lips were tight. "He asked if we
could get Hitler and Musso to the phone in a hurry. He said the
connection was getting weaker and weaker, and he was afraid it
wouldn't hold out much longer."

"The connection?" I broke in, puzzled.

Mort looked on the verge of apoplexy. "The connection from where he
was calling to earth, the wise guy said!" he exploded. "If we could
only trace that call I'd break that no-good's neck!"

Mike and Mort evidently took turns acting as sobering influence on
each other.

"Now we don't wanta get too riled," Mike pointed out with surprising
sense. "The gag artist prob'ly wants we should get mad like this.
We'll forget 'em. I'll call for the morning line and the odd changes
for the first races."

Mort drummed his fingers on the cigar showcase, cooling himself off.
Mike marched over to the telephone booth and wedged himself inside.
With one big red finger, he dialed a number rapidly after he took the
telephone from the hook. But he only half completed his dialing. It
broke off as he uttered a choking curse.

"Listen you!" Mike suddenly bellowed, the echoes in the booth almost
knocking it over. "Get the hell offa this line! Howdja get on in the
first place?"

Mort stopped drumming his fingers and glanced startledly at the booth.
Crimson began to return to his face.

"What's up?" he shouted. He started toward the booth. I followed him.
We could hear Mike spluttering incoherently inside. Then there was an
ear-splitting racket as the big bookie smashed the receiver back into
the hook and turned purple faced toward us.

"The gag artist!" he raged. "The same damn wise guy. The
Hitler-Mussolini smart aleck. He was waitin' on the line. He hadn't
hung up. He told me he hadda wait on the line, cause he didn't dare
break off the connection. He said it was too hard to make inna first
place. He said he hoped we didn't mind if he waited until we got Adolf
and Benito on the wire fer him!"

       *       *       *       *       *

By now Mort was spluttering, and this time neither partner seemed to
have a calming effect on the other. They were both raging, boiling
mad.

"I'll call the cops!" Mike bellowed. "That's what I'll do!" He began
to pace up and down. "I'll have that guy electrocuted!"

"I'm going out," Mort stormed, "and get the operator onna 'nother
phone. I'll report that so-and-so, and they'll trace him down through
the telephone company!"

He started for the door. Mike grabbed his arm.

"Waita minute!" he exclaimed. "We can't do that!"

Mort tore his arm from his partner's grasp. "What's stopping us?" he
demanded.

"The State's Attorney's office!" Mike groaned. "Maybe it's a trap set
by them skunks from the State's Attorney's office. Maybe it's the
start of their telephone tracing of bookmakers!"

Sickly, Mort turned back. His face was still flushed, but three
fourths of his steam was gone.

"Maybe you're right," he admitted. "And if so, what a helluva note
this is!"

I couldn't hold back my curiosity any longer.

"Look," I said. "I have an idea. If it's a joker, perhaps I can talk
him out of it better than you boys. You'll need that wire today, and
the joker might just be drunk and obstinate enough to hang on all day
long to spite you. Maybe he knows you won't dare report it. I'm not
steamed up; maybe I'll reason with him better because I'm not. You
want me to?"

Mort and Mike gave me grateful glances.

"You get ridda that wise guy," Mike said, "and we'll never ferget it!"

"Go to it, chumly," Mort said, "and if you lose that louse, we'll make
it up to you!"

I went over to the booth and, stepping inside, took the receiver from
the hook. I had a jovial, let's-be-friends opener all ready.

"Hello, pal," I said amiably.

The voice that came to my ears was distinctly unlike what I'd
expected. I don't quite know _how_ or _why_ it sounded so strange and
eerie, but it did. It was a man's voice, coming over the wire the way
long distance calls used to sound before they got transmission
technique down pat.

"Hello there," said the voice. "Have they arrived yet?"

It wasn't the voice of a drunk. And if it were that of a practical
joker, the poker-faced quality of it was perfect acting. It sounded
earnestly, eagerly serious.

"You mean Adolf and Benito?" I asked. I was willing to play ball for a
few minutes if it brought results. Besides, I was curious.

"Yes."

"Why do you want to talk to them?" I asked.

"_I_ don't want to talk to them. My boss does," the voice answered.

"Then put your boss on," I said. "I'll talk to him."

"You are neither Hitler nor Mussolini," the voice replied. "He wishes
to speak only to them. He's very busy. Too busy to waste time in idle
conversation. Please fetch Hitler and Mussolini to the wire."

"Who are you?" I demanded.

"I have already covered that ground with the other parties I spoke to
before you," the voice said. "Please hurry and bring Adolf and Benito
to the phone. This connection is getting progressively worse. It can't
last much longer. We spent several years getting it through, you
know."

"Did you now?" I asked politely.

"Yes we did," the voice answered stiffly. Then, annoyed: "_Must_ you
waste this precious time? Please bring Hitler and Mussolini to the
telephone as quickly as possible."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a fuzzy crackling over the wire. Like a ship-to-shore
connection.

"Listen, pal," I said. "This joke is costing a couple of guys some
lucrative trade. You are tying up a telephone they need badly in their
business, or didn't you know that?"

"That can't be helped," the voice said stiffly.

"Be a good sport and get off the wire," I said.

"I have no intention of doing that until my boss has talked to Hitler
and Mussolini," the voice said coldly. I knew a positive statement
when I heard one. I hung up, clambered out of the booth, spread my
hands expressively to Mike and Mort who stood there eagerly waiting
for some good word.

"No soap," I said. "I don't think you got a joker on there, and I'd
swear you haven't got a drunk."

"What have we got, then," Mike demanded. "A smart copper waiting to
trap us?"

I shook my head. "I think you got a loony," I said. "But don't quote
me." I started toward the door. "I got work to do, gents, but I'll
look in again a little later. Hope you get rid of your pest."

"We'd better," Mike moaned dismally.

"Brother," Mort declared, pulling his hair and making a sincerely
distraught face, "you're not kidding!"

I looked at the telephone booth and shook my head. "Somebody is," I
told them....

       *       *       *       *       *

For perhaps three hours I was able to concentrate on my work, with the
telephone booth distraction cropping up only about every fifteen
minutes or so to give me the fidgets.

At the end of that time, a little before two o'clock, I finally
covered up my reproachful typewriter and, on the excuse that I wanted
a coke, left the office to go down and see how the boys were doing
with the determined loony on their telephone.

The "cigar store" was crowded with the usual early-afternoon
hang-arounders when I walked in. Mort and Mike, each behind a dice
board, were accommodating trusting suckers who had somehow gotten the
mistaken idea that Hooligan was a game you beat every other time.

Mike, looking up, noticed my entrance first. He signaled to me,
muttered an excuse to the dice roller at his board, and came quickly
around the counter. He took me by the arm and steered me out into the
building lobby.

"Listen, pal," he half-whispered, "fer gawdsakes don't say anything
about the jerk on the telephone. Mort and me ain't told anyone, fer
fear of the ribbing we'd get, plus the kick in the pants it would give
our regular betting business over the counter."

"You mean the guy's still on the telephone?" I demanded.

Mike nodded a little sickly. "We can't get him off. And since we ain't
letting on to no one about the phone being fritzed that way, every
time he rings, we pretend we're getting an odd change, or some
scratches or result. Mort an' me have been running our legs off, using
a telephone next door to get our prices and results and such dope from
the syndicate. But don't let on. We ain't told no one!"

"Okay," I promised. "I'll keep mum. But who in the hell do you suppose
it is?"

Mike lowered his voice even more, looking furtively around the
building lobby.

"Confidentially, although we don't dare draw attention to our joint
since the State's Attorney is telephone prowling, Mort and me decided
you was right. It must be a loony. All we can do is wait until he gets
tired and gets off."

I nodded. "That's about all you can do," I agreed. "Does he still want
to talk to Hitler and Mussolini?"

Mike nodded disgustedly. "Worse than ever. Calling every twenty
minutes now. Mort and me is going crazy answering them calls and
pretending they ain't nothing but syndicate results."

"I don't blame you," I said. "I would, too." Mike went back into the
store and behind the dice board. I took a coke out of the cooler and
uncapped it on the side of the machine.

Mort sent me a message in his glance, and I nodded reassuringly to
him.

"I don't know anything," I said.

Mort grinned a sick, grateful sort of grin, and went back to the task
of taking quarters from his customers. Taking my time with my
cigarette, I finished my coke. Then the telephone rang, as I'd been
waiting for it to do.

Mort dashed to the booth, closed the door as he entered, and for
several flushed minutes appeared to be talking into the phone and
writing something on a scratch pad. But I knew it was an act from the
pained expression on his face. I knew that the loony was babbling away
again and that Mort was having to listen for the sake of the pose.

When at last he hung up, he emerged mopping his face with a gaily
colored handkerchief. The look he shot me was confirmation enough that
the loony was still on the wire.

       *       *       *       *       *

Unable to feel too sorry for the boys, I concealed a grin behind a
yawn, nodded to them both, and left the place. Upstairs once more in
my office I got back into a rather muggy stream of work on which I
found difficulty concentrating.

For some reason I couldn't at first explain to myself, I kept thinking
about the telephone loony of Mike and Mort's. Not because of the
ironically ridiculous turmoil it threw them into, but for some other
reason far more subtle, but which I was unable to put my finger on.

The thing amused me, puzzled me, and yet, somehow was beginning to
trouble me. Not through any great sympathy for Mike or Mort, of
course. It will be a cold day when my heart bleeds for bookmakers. But
something or other _was_ growing more and more bothersome. I thought
about it a while, then shoved it out of my mind and got back to work.

I was able to grind along for a couple of hours without having it come
back into my mind. And when it popped up again, I shoved it away once
more just as quickly. I had to get that work out, and I knew I
wouldn't if I stewed any longer over the telephone loony who was quite
probably still playing hob with Mike and Mort at that moment.

It was a little after five o'clock, five-fifteen, to be exact,
when--work or no work--the thing hit me. Bang! Like that I knew what'd
been in the back of my mind.

How in the name of blazes had the telephone loony been able to stay on
that wire so indefinitely? Why hadn't the operator broken in to end
the connection each time Mort or Mike hung up? It seemed logical that
she would have done so. The loony couldn't have just held onto the
telephone and been right on tap the moment Mort or Mike picked up the
hook. The loony could have called them, of course, but it would have
been impossible for him to be on hand every time they picked up the
telephone when it hadn't been ringing!

I left my typewriter, not even bothering to remove the page in it, and
hurried out of the office. Downstairs I found the "cigar store"
completely deserted except for Mike and Mort. The day's races were
over, and dice customers who were willing enough to roll cubes in
office time, had headed homeward.

"Brother," Mort greeted me, "you were right and how!"

"About the loony--" I began.

"That's right," Mort said. "He was as loony a loony as I've ever heard
of. We finally got rid of him."

"Got rid of him?" I blurted the question.

"Yeah," Mort nodded. "And I hope for good. He just faded off, about
half an hour after his voice began to get dimmer and dimmer, and that
was that."

"But--" I began.

"And wait'll you hear who that bug thought he was."

"Gabby who?" I asked.

"Gabby, nuts. I messed it up the first time. He thought he was
Gabriel, the _Angel_ Gabriel, no less!" Mort exclaimed, tapping the
side of his head.

"The Angel Gabriel?" I echoed.

Mort nodded. "And guess who he was calling for?"

"Don't tell me," I said.

"That's right," Mort declared. "He said he was God's secretary,
Gabriel, calling from Heaven for his boss. He said his boss wanted to
talk to Hitler and Mussolini!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I blinked. "And what was God going to tell those lice?"

"To take it on the lam, or else!" Mike broke in.

"No fooling?"

"So help me!" Mort swore. "What a loony. He went on to say--this fake
Angel Gabriel--that his boss just wanted to tell those two jerks,
Adolf and Benito, that enough was enough and they were dead ducks for
sure."

"What made this Gabriel from the nut house get so confidential all of
a sudden?" I demanded. "He wouldn't tell his business at all at
first."

"This'll kill you," Mort said. "The connection, like I say, kept
getting fainter and fainter, and our goofy Gabriel said it was fading
off and that we'd have to hand the message on to Hitler and Mussolini
for his boss, if we couldn't bring the two jerks to the phone to hear
it in person."

"Did he bother to explain," I asked, "why he didn't call Adolf and
Benito directly, if his boss wanted to tell them off?"

"So help me," Mort declared, "he did. He said that with the war all
over our globe like it is, there was a lot of space interference
everywhere preventin' communication. He said he couldn't be choosy,
and had to use any wire he could get through to. It happened to be
ours. Can you beat it?"

I shook my head slowly. "No," I said, "I can't. But what trick could
he have used to stay on the phone indefinitely, connected right to
your wire, even after you hung up on him each time?" And then,
briefly, I explained the rest of my puzzle over that little item.

"If you can figure that out," I concluded, "we'll have to admit that,
loony or not, he was nothing less than a mad genius."

Mort shrugged. "I'm no telephone man," he said, "but there must be
some explana--" His sentence stopped abruptly, and he and Mike seemed
to be looking over my shoulder.

I turned, to see an overall clad chap carrying a canvas toolbag just
stepping through the door. He smiled cheerfully at the three of us.

"I'm the man from the telephone company," he said amiably. "I got here
a little earlier today, missed you last night. Had to have the night
elevator operator let me into your store. Hope you weren't too
inconvenienced today."

"What's it all about?" Mort demanded. "What do you mean? You know
about the loony?"

The telephone man had stopped by the booth. He was opening his tool
bag. He looked up.

"Loony? No, I'm sorry, I don't know anything about any loony."

"Who called himself the Angel Gabriel?" Mike broke in.

The telephone man smiled up at us in genial bewilderment.

"I'm sorry, gentlemen," he said, "I don't quite get the drift of all
this. All I know is that I was in here last night to disconnect your
telephone temporarily, and I'm back again tonight to return it to
service. I saw your "Out of Order" sign there, so I thought you'd
expected me and knew all about it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mort stepped forward. His face a curious picture of bewilderment and
disbelief, he asked:

"Wait a minute! You mean to say this telephone hasn't been connected
all day today?"

The telephone man nodded. "That's right. But I'm putting it back in
order now."

"We got calls over that phone today!" Mike asserted vigorously. "It
couldn't have been disconnected."

The telephone man chuckled. "Good joke. You couldn't have received a
call over this telephone. It would have been utterly impossible. It
was completely disconnected." He went on tool sorting.

Mike was looking at Mort. Mort was looking at the telephone man. I was
looking at all three, and the telephone man was unconcernedly taking
out wires from his bag.

"You--you aren't kidding?" Mort's voice came choked. "This was really
disconnected?"

The telephone man shoved the booth a little to one side, grabbed some
wires then visible beneath the booth, and pulled them forth. They were
all neatly severed, with the ends taped.

Mike and Mort were staring at the severed ends of the wires, then at
one another.

"Mike," said Mort, "I think it is a good idea we should get drunk."

"My old lady," said Mike, "used to believe in this sort of stuff.
Maybe she wasn't such a dope."

Mort nodded. "My old man, too."

Neither said a word to me. Neither spoke to the telephone man. They
just walked out, arm in arm, never looking back once, even at the cash
register.

I understand they got drunk that night. But I understand Mike kept his
ulcer carefully under the explosive line, so that he passed the
enlistment exams the following morning. Mort left his medical
statements home, and of course a direct exam showed him nicely suited
for the army. They were inducted by noon that day, and on their way to
camp by dinner time.

They left that sign on the door. The sign that puzzled so very many
people, even to the "God Bless America" on it. For Mike and Mort were
as little known for their religious leanings as they'd been for their
patriotic urgings.

Relatives of the two, I am told, disposed of the store's stock and
equipment. Mort didn't discuss any of that in the short note he left
for me before leaving with Mike.

     "Dear Chum:

     Of course when you get a message like we got, and are told
     to pass it along personally to the two jerks it was intended
     for, there's nothing else you can do. We'll see that it gets
     to Adolf and Benito--for Gabriel's boss.

                                                 Mort & Mike."

       *       *       *       *       *





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