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PAGE 2

Damned If You Don’t
by [?]

It also meant that he hadn’t been an ordinary burglar. There were plenty of other things around for a burglar to make money out of. Unless he knew what it was, he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of stealing the Converter.

On the other hand, if he had–

“Police Department,” said a laconic voice from the speaker. At the same time, the blue-clad image of a police officer appeared on the screen. He looked polite, but he also looked as though he expected nothing more than a routine call.

Bending gave the cop’s sleeve a quick glance and said: “Sergeant, my name is Samson Bending. Bending Consultants, 3991 Marden–you’ll find it in the phone book. Someone broke into my place over the weekend, and I’d appreciate it if you’d send someone around.”

The sergeant’s face showed that he still thought it was routine. “Anything missing, sir?”

“I’m not sure,” said Bending carefully. “I’ll have to make a check. I haven’t touched anything. I thought I’d leave that for the detectives. But you can see for yourself what’s happened.”

He stepped back from the screen and the Leinster cameras automatically adjusted for the greater distance to the background.

“Looks like you had a visitor, all right,” said the police officer. “What is that? A lab of some kind you’ve got there?”

“That’s right,” Bending said. “You can check it with the Register.”

“Will do, Mr. Bending,” agreed the sergeant. “We’ll send the Technical Squad around in any case.” He paused, and Sam could see that he’d pressed an alarm button. There was more interest in his manner, too. “Any signs that it might be kids?” he asked.

Sam shrugged. “Hard to tell. Might be. Might not.” He knew good and well that it wasn’t a JD gang that had invaded his lab. He grinned ingratiatingly. “I figure you guys can tell me more about that than I could tell you.”

The sergeant nodded. “Sure. O.K., Mr. Bending; you just hold on. Don’t touch anything; we’ll have a copter out there as soon as we can. O.K.?”

“O.K.,” Sam agreed. He cut off as the cop’s image began to collapse.

* * * * *

Sam Bending didn’t obey the cop’s order to touch nothing. He couldn’t afford to–not at this stage of the game. He looked over everything–the smashed oscilloscopes, the overturned computer, the ripped-out meters–everything. He lifted a couple of instruments that had been toppled to the floor, raising them carefully with a big screwdriver, used as a lever. When he was through, he was convinced that he knew exactly who the culprit was.

Oh, he didn’t know the name of the man, or men, who had actually committed the crime. Those things were, for the moment, relatively unimportant. The police might find them, but that could wait. The thing that was important was that Bending was certain within his own mind who had paid to have the lab robbed.

Not that he could make any accusations to the police, of course. That wouldn’t do at all. But he knew. He was quite certain.

He left the lab itself and went into the outer rooms, the three rooms that constituted the clients’ waiting room, his own office, and the smaller office of Nita Walder, the girl who took care of his files and correspondence.

A quick look told him that nothing in the offices had been disturbed. He shrugged his huge shoulders and sat down on the long couch in the waiting room.

Much good it may do them, he thought pleasantly. The Converter won’t be worth the stuff it’s made of if they try to open it.

He looked at the clock on the wall and frowned. It was off by five hours. Then he grinned and looked at his wrist watch. Of course the wall clock was Off. It had stopped when the power had been cut off. When the burglars had cut the leads to the Converter, everything in the lab had stopped.