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The Last Straw   By:

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This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction September 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

THE LAST STRAW

Some hypotheses are rational if not logical but, by their nature, aren't exactly open to controlled experiment!

by WILLIAM J. SMITH

ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE SCHELLING

"There's absolutely nothing we can pin it down to with any real certainty," Kessler said. "No mechanical defects that we're sure of, no sabotage we can put our finger on, no murder or suicide schemes, nothing! We've put that plane back together so perfectly that it could almost fly again! We've got dossiers an inch thick on practically everybody who was aboard, crew and passengers. We've done six months' work and we don't have one single positive answer. The newspapers were yelling about the number of insurance policies issued for the flight but none of them looks really phony."

He stood at the huge window of Senator Brogan's office, looking out at the shimmering sunlight on one of Washington's green malls. Over the treetops he could catch a glimpse of the Capitol dome.

Brogan sat comfortably in the big chair behind his desk. "But weren't there an unusually large number of policies issued?" he asked. His big hands toyed with a little silver airplane propeller, a souvenir of his long standing interest in the problems of commercial aviation. "You know," he went on, leaning forward on his elbows and replacing the propeller neatly on the base of his fountain pen stand, "this is a matter of interest to me in more than an official sense. Eileen Bennett was one of my wife's best friends. She was on her way to Washington to visit us after a stopover in New York."

Kessler nodded. "I know that's one of the reasons you wanted to compare notes." He stood with his back to the window now, a stocky man with a jaw to match and short cropped graying hair. "The newspapers were quite right, of course. There were an unusually large number of insurance policies issued for the flight but nearly all were for the minimum amount."

"What about Pearlow?"

Kessler frowned. "Pearlow had reason to be nervous. You know he survived a crash just three years ago. But anyway, the fact remains that we've looked into the backgrounds of every one of those people. None of them was facing any real financial difficulties!"

"That sounds odd in itself," George Brogan said, smiling slightly.

Kessler ran his hand over his hair and returned to sit in a leather chair beside the senator's desk. He smiled in response. "I know it sounds odd but it's true. Their troubles were all run of the mill getting taxes paid, the mortgage, a new car, a long overdue raise in salary that sort of thing. Nothing that anybody in his right mind would kill or commit suicide over."

Brogan lifted a bushy eyebrow in question. "Maybe you've put your finger on it there?"

Kessler ticked off his reply, holding up one hand. "One former mental patient, pronounced cured ten years ago and apparently perfectly normal; a well established businessman; a used car dealer; three currently under psychoanalysis; a college girl twenty one; a housewife with four children; an injured veteran just out of service. None showed any violent tendencies according to their doctors."

"Any criminals?"

Kessler regarded him wryly from beneath his eyebrows. "Don't kid me, senator. I know you've done your own investigation on this. But to answer your question: Evan Prewitt's your man only one who could qualify. Tried on a manslaughter charge for killing his brother in law while they were out hunting. He said it was an accident and the jury agreed. He was acquitted. True, he had one of the large insurance policies, but then I'm sure you know Miss Bennett had one, too... Continue reading book >>




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