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IF WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION, AUGUST 1955

BLEEDBACK

BY WINSTON MARKS

It was just a harmless, though amazing, kid's toy that sold for
less than a dollar. Yet it plunged the entire nation
into a nightmare of mystery and chaos
...

THE THING is over now, but I can't see a Teddy bear or a set of blocks in a department store window without shuddering. I'm thankful I'm a bachelor and have no children around to remind me of the utterly insane nightmare that a child's toy plunged our country into—the millions of people who died in agony—the total disruption and near dissolution of our nation.

And yet, as the United States tottered on the verge of complete chaos, it was, ironically, another child's toy that saved us. A simple, ordinary, every-day toy for tots stopped the "fever", halted the carnage that was tearing our flesh and eyes and viscera into shreds. With most the scientists in the world working for an emergency solution, they could come up with no better answer than a toy that'd been around for generations before the "Mystery i-Gun" was even conceived.

Being a plain-clothesman, I have seen greed and impatience ruin many individual lives. If I could have guessed at the chain of events that would stem from my first contact with the younger Baxter brother, I would have put a bullet through his head in cold blood and cheerfully faced the gas chamber.

Instead I took off my hat and followed him through the substantial old house to a moderately large room in the rear where, I'd been told, we would find a body.

Leo Baxter was a little guy about five-foot six, like me but with a better build. His size was important for a couple of reasons, one being that it was startling to say the least, when he pointed to the giant on the floor and said, "My brother."

He caught my look and shrugged impatiently. "I know, I know, but this is no time for Mutt and Jeff gags. Calvin has been murdered. Now get with it, Lieutenant!" If Calvin was his brother, Leo's agitation was understandable, but his voice had a flat note of practicality in it that I didn't like.

As I looked down at the sprawled length of the big man on the tiled floor, the Mutt and Jeff angle didn't fit at all. David and Goliath was a better bet. This Goliath seemed also to have met his fate from a hole in the forehead. I say, "seemed," because it developed that Calvin Baxter was not yet quite dead.

"There's no pulse or breath," his brother said when I mentioned this error in his assumption.

"You're no doctor. Now call that ambulance like I told you. Jump!" I said.

He jumped. I made a quick examination, meanwhile, and when Leo came back from the phone I pointed. "See, the blood. It's still coming out."

"Corpses bleed, don't they?"

"Not in spurts," I said. "The hole's tiny, but whatever's in there touched an artery. See that?"

He looked and seemed convinced. "The ambulance will be here. Anything else I should do?"

"Yes. Nothing. Don't touch a thing in this room... or did you already?"

"Just Calvin. I heard him fall, and when I came in he was on his face."

"Why did you ask for homicide when you called the police? Or let's put it this way: What makes you think it wasn't an accident?"

"Two reasons. First, because I couldn't see any cause of the accident. When I turned him over the floor was smooth and clean under his forehead except for the smear of blood. Reason number two: Because Calvin just doesn't have accidents. All his life he's moved in slow motion. I've never known him to stumble, or cut himself, or drop anything or even bump into anyone."

I was checking around the room myself, and I had to admit that both reasons might be valid. A man the size of Calvin wasn't likely to be the skittish type. And by the time the ambulance arrived I was ready to admit that if the injury were an accident, Calvin Baxter had contrived to conceal its source.

It took several of us to load the unconscious man onto the stretcher. I told his cocky little brother to stay on ice, while I rode downtown in the ambulance.

Dr. Thorsen called me into the emergency ward. "How did this happen?" he wanted to know. Thorsen is a lean, learned old chap who normally gives more answers than he asks.

I said, "Don't know, Doc. I found him in a sort of home workshop. No power tools, nothing dangerous in sight. The bench at one end had a couple of little gadgets on it—looked sort of electrical. Some wire, soldering iron, books, a few rough circuit drawings."

"The gadgets. What did they look like?"

I thought back and realized that what I had to describe would sound a little peculiar. "Sort of like flashlights with a pistol grip... and no lens where the light should come out. Just blunt, flat ends.

Thorsen shrugged. "Then I don't know. I expected you to report some kind of a blast or explosion."

"No sign of one."

"All right, then what else but a flying particle could drill a hole in a man's forehead the diameter of a piece of 16-gauge wire?"

"What do the x-rays show?"

"We'll know in a minute. What about the murder-attempt angle?"

I said that I had nothing to go on yet. That was the whole truth and the final truth!

When Doc's x-rays revealed nothing but a blood clot deep in the brain at the end of the tiny tunnel piercing the skull, I was left without even a "modus operandi", let alone a substantial suspect.

FOR TWO DAYS I investigated brother Leo, and when I wasn't investigating him I was questioning him. The small town in Minnesota where he claimed he and his brother were born had been the county seat, and the whole shivaree had burned up in a prairie fire years ago, courthouse, birth records and all. With no other living relatives, I had to depend on people who had known both men. From those whom I questioned, I ascertained that they had been passing for brothers, at least, for some time.

On the third day Leo's patience began to crack. "You keep asking me the same, stupid questions over and over. I tell you, I'm a mechanical engineer. My brother was a mathematician. We're both single. I make enough money in the construction game to support both of us. What's so suspicious about humoring my brother's research?"

"Among other things," I said, "is your ignorance of what he was doing."

"For the fiftieth t...

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