Damned If You Don't

      by Randall Garrett / Science Fiction

Damned If You Dont Produced by Greg Weeks, Bruce Albrecht, Mary Meehan andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team athttp://www.pgdp.net



DAMNED IF YOU DON'T

By RANDALL GARRETT

Illustrated by van Dongen

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding ScienceFiction May 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence thatthe U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

_You can and you can't; You will and you won't. You'll be damn'd if you do; You'll be damn'd if you don't._

--LORENZO DOW; ”Definition of Calvinism”

_We've all heard of the wonderful invention that the Big Corporation orthe Utilities suppressed...? Usually, that Wonderful Invention won'twork, actually. But there's another possibility, too...._

The workshop-laboratory was a mess.

Sam Bending looked it over silently; his jaw muscles were hard andtense, and his eyes were the same.

To repeat what Sam Bending thought when he saw the junk that had beenmade of thousands of dollars worth of equipment would not beinadmissible in a family magazine, because Bending was not particularlyaddicted to four-letter vulgarities. But he _was_ a religious man--in alax sort of way--so repeating what ran through his mind that gray Mondayin February of 1981 would be unfair to the memory of Samson FrancisBending.

Sam Bending folded his hands over his chest. It was not an attitude ofprayer; it was an attempt to keep those big, gorillalike hands fromsmashing something. The fingers intertwined, and the hands tried tocrush each other, which was a good way to keep them from actuallycrushing anything else.

He stood there at the door for a full minute--just looking.

The lab--as has been said--was a mess. It would have looked better ifsomeone had simply tossed a grenade in it and had done with it. At leastthe results would have been random and more evenly dispersed.

But whoever had gone about the wrecking of the lab had gone about it ina workmanlike way. Whoever had done the job was no amateur. The vandalhad known his way about in a laboratory, that was obvious. Leads hadbeen cut carefully; equipment had been shoved aside without care as towhat happened to it, but with great care that the shover should not bedamaged by the shoving; the invader had known exactly what he was after,and exactly how to get to it.

And he--whoever he was--had gotten his hands on what he wanted.

The Converter was gone.

* * * * *

Sam Bending took his time in regaining his temper. He had to. A man whostands six feet three, weighs three hundred pounds, and wears aforty-eight size jacket can't afford to lose his temper very often orhe'll end up on the wrong end of a homicide charge. That three hundredpounds was composed of too much muscle and too little fat for SamBending to allow it to run amok.

At last, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let his tensenerves, muscles, and tendons sag--he pretended someone had struck himwith a dose of curare. He let his breath out slowly and opened his eyesagain.

The lab still looked the same, but it no longer irritated him. It wassomething to be accepted as done. It was something to investigate,and--if possible--avenge. But it was no longer something to worry aboutor lose his temper over.

_I should have expected it_, he thought wryly. _They'd have to dosomething about it, wouldn't they?_

But the funny thing was that he _hadn't_ expected it--not in modern,law-abiding America.

He reached over to the wall switch to turn on the lights, but before hishand touched it, he stopped the motion and grinned to himself. No pointin turning on the switch when he knew perfectly well that there was nopower behind it. Still--

His fingers touched the switch anyway. And nothing happened.

He shrugged and went over to the phone.

He let his eyes wander over the wreckage as his right index finger spunthe dial. Actually, the room wasn't as much of a shambles as it hadlooked on first sight. The--burglar?--hadn't tried to get at anythingbut the Converter. He hadn't known exactly where it was, but he'd beenable to follow the leads to its hiding place. That meant that he knewhis beans about power lines, anyway.

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

On the other hand, if he had--

”Police Department,” said a laconic voice from the speaker. At the sametime, the blue-clad image of a police officer appeared on the screen. Helooked polite, but he also looked as though he expected nothing morethan a routine call.

Bending gave the cop's sleeve a quick glance and said: ”Sergeant, myname is Samson Bending. Bending Consultants, 3991 Marden--you'll find itin the phone book. Someone broke into my place over the weekend, andI'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. Ihaven'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 automaticallyadjusted 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 TechnicalSquad around in any case.” He paused, and Sam could see that he'dpressed 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 wellthat it wasn't a JD gang that had invaded his lab. He grinnedingratiatingly. ”I figure you guys can tell me more about that than Icould tell you.”

The sergeant nodded. ”Sure. O.K., Mr. Bending; you just hold on. Don'ttouch 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'tafford to--not at this stage of the game. He looked over everything--thesmashed oscilloscopes, the overturned computer, the ripped-outmeters--everything. He lifted a couple of instruments that had beentoppled to the floor, raising them carefully with a big screwdriver,used as a lever. When he was through, he was convinced that he knewexactly who the culprit was.

Oh, he didn't know the name of the man, or men, who had actuallycommitted the crime. Those things were, for the moment, relativelyunimportant. The police might find them, but that could wait. The thingthat _was_ important was that Bending was certain within his own mindwho had paid to have the lab robbed.

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

He left the lab itself and went into the outer rooms, the three roomsthat constituted the clients' waiting room, his own office, and thesmaller office of Nita Walder, the girl who took care of his files andcorrespondence.

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

_Much good it may do them_, he thought pleasantly. _The Converter won'tbe 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 fivehours. Then he grinned and looked at his wrist watch. Of course the wallclock was Off. It had stopped when the power had been cut off. When theburglars had cut the leads to the Converter, everything in the lab hadstopped.

It was eight seventeen. Sam Bending lit a cigarette and leaned back towait for the cops. United States Power Utilities, Monopolated, hadoverstepped themselves this time.

* * * * *

_Bending Consultants_, as a title for a business, was a littlemisleading because of the plural ending of the last word. There was onlyone consultant, and that was Samson Francis Bending. His speciality wasthe engineering design of atomic power plants--both the old fashionedheavy-metal kind and the newer, more elegant, stellarators, whichproduced power by hydrogen-to-helium conversion.

Bending made good money at it. He wasn't a millionaire by any means, buthe had enough money to live comfortably on
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