Robert E. Gilbert
Early morning deliveries were part of the Honeychile Bakery Service. But on this particular morning the service was reversed!
At 2:34 a.m., Patrolman Louis Whedbee left the Zip Cab station. With arch supports squeaking and night stick swinging, Whedbee walked east to the call box at the corner of Sullivan and Cherokee. The traffic signal suspended above the intersection blinked a cautionary amber. Not a car moved on the silent streets.
Whedbee reached for the box. Then he swore softly and stepped off the curb. "Pardon me," he said, for he believed that a policeman should be courteous at all times, even when arresting a school zone speedster. This, however, was not a speedster. It seemed to be a huge man standing on top of a truck and cutting down the stop light. "What's going on here?" Whedbee asked.
HONEYCHILE BAKERY was advertised on the side of the truck. Instinctively, Whedbee jammed his whistle in his mouth when he realized that the man on the truck wore something like a suit of long underwear made of improbable black fur sprinkled with tiny red spots.
"What are you doing to the stop light?" Whedbee demanded.
The amber light quit blinking without the expected electrical display. Sinuous as beheaded snakes, the wires and cables supporting the traffic signal fell into the street. The unusual man pocketed his cutting tool—a long thin tube—and lowered the stop light to the truck. He looked at Whedbee. The corner street lamp reacted upon his eyes like a flashlight thrown on a tomcat in an alley. The eyes gleamed green.
Whedbee's whistle arced to the end of the chain and clanked against his metal buttons. A block away on Center Street, a heavy truck roared through the business section. The bell of a switch engine tolled near the freight depot, and a small dog barked suddenly at the obscured sky.
"I am promoting you to captain. You will replace Hanks, whom I am demoting," the figure on the truck announced.
"Chief Grindstaff?" Whedbee wondered.
The chief of police glared down at the patrolman. He hooked a bright metal globe to the stop light, lifted it in one hand, and jumped, landing lightly on the pavement. "Put this in the mobile unit," he said. "The truck, I evil."
"Huh? Sure, chief," Whedbee said. He tucked his night stick under his arm and prepared to accept a heavy load. Tensed muscles almost felled him when the signal proved to weigh not more than one pound.
Chief Grindstaff opened the doors in the rear of the truck, releasing a faint odor of stale bread. The truck was empty. Whedbee deposited the almost weightless burden. The chief looked him in the eye. "I am promoting you to captain," he repeated. "You will replace Hanks, whom I am demoting."
"Thanks, chief!" Whedbee exalted. "You know Hanks didn't treat me fair that time I—"
"Yes, I know all about that," the chief interposed. "Go bring the postage box and place it in the truck."
"The which? Oh, you mean the mailbox!" Whedbee walked across the street to the square green box with the rounded metal top. Another of the globes had been attached to the mailbox, and the legs had been burned loose from the concrete sidewalk. Confidently, Whedbee lifted the light object, carried it to the truck, and deposited it inside.
"Bleachers there," said Chief Grindstaff.
"What you say, chief?"
"Stands there. No, stand there."
Patrolman Whedbee stood by the back of the truck. Chief Grindstaff placed a device like an atomizer under Whedbee's nose and released the spray.
Miss Betsy Tapp awoke after not more than one hour of fitful sleep. The door to the garage apartment shook under the tattoo of a heavy fist. Miss Tapp's heart thudded somewhere inside her thirty-eight-inch