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Twelve Times Zero   By: (1908-1999)

Twelve Times Zero by Howard Browne

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By Howard Browne

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction March 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: It was a love triangle murder that made today's headlines but the answer lay hundreds of thousands of light years away! ]

[Illustration: Police grilled him mercilessly, while eyes from a hundred worlds looked on. ]

Chapter I

They brought him into one of the basement rooms. He moved slowly and with a kind of painful dignity, as a man moves on his way to the firing squad. A rumpled shock of black hair pointed up the extreme pallor of a gaunt face, empty at the moment of all expression. Harsh light from an overhead fixture winked back from tiny beads of perspiration dotting the waxen skin of his forehead.

The three men with him watched him out of faces as expressionless as his own. They were ordinary men who wore ordinary clothing in an ordinary way, yet in the way they moved and in the way they stood you knew they were hard men who were in a hard and largely unpleasant business.

One of them motioned casually toward a straight backed chair almost exactly in the center of the room. "Sit there, Cordell," he said.

A quiet voice, not especially deep, yet it seemed to bounce off the painted concrete walls.

Wordless, the young man obeyed. Sitting, he seemed as stiff and uncompromising as before. The man who had spoken made a vague gesture and the overhead light went out, replaced simultaneously by strong rays from a spotlight aimed full at the eyes of the seated figure. Involuntarily the young man's head turned aside to avoid the searing brilliance, but a hand came out of the wall of darkness and jerked it back again.

"Just to remind you," the quiet voice continued conversationally, "I'm Detective Lieutenant Kirk, Homicide Bureau." A pair of hands thrust a second chair toward the circle of light. Kirk swung it around and dropped onto the seat, resting his arms along the back, facing the man across a distance of hardly more than inches.

In the pitiless glare of the spotlight Cordell's cheekbones stood out sharply, and under his deepset eyes were dark smudges of exhaustion. His rigid posture, his blank expression, his silence these seemed not so much indications of defiance as they did the result of some terrible and deep seated shock.

"Let's go over it again, Cordell," Kirk said.

The young man swallowed audibly against the silence. One of his hands twitched, came up almost to his face as though to shield his eyes, then dropped limply back, "That light " he mumbled.

" stays on," Kirk said briskly. "The quicker you tell us the answers, the quicker we all relax. Okay?"

Cordell shook his head numbly, not so much in negation as an effort to clear the fog from his tortured mind. "I told you," he cried hoarsely. "What more do you want? Yesterday I told you the whole thing." His voice began to border on hysteria. "What good's my trying to tell you if you won't listen? How's a guy supposed "

"Then try telling it straight!" Kirk snapped. "You think you're fooling around with half wits? Sure; you told us. A crazy pack of goof ball dreams about a blonde babe clubbing two grown people to death, then disappearing in a ball of blue light! You figure on copping a plea on insanity?"

"It's the truth!" Cordell shouted. "As God hears me, it's true!" Suddenly he buried his face in his hands and long tearing sobs shook his slender frame.

One of the other men reached out as though to drag the young man's face back into the withering rays of the spotlight, but Kirk motioned him away. Without haste the Lieutenant fished a cigar from the breast pocket of his coat and began almost leisurely to strip away its cellophane wrapper... Continue reading book >>

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