Part VII.

23 Feb

As they made arrangements for a floral delivery truck to transport the load of goldenrod to the Hoz ferrotrain terminal, Phot and Ostra were unaware that an underworld personality from Rubber City was watching them from a confectionary specializing in syrups and electuaries directly across the street.

He watched as they came out and headed toward the ferrorail depot.

Following at a safe distance, he entered the waiting room to discover his two subjects buying tickets at the purchase counter. They then sat down on a long quercine bench and waited for the next scheduled train to the east.

The intelligence agent, having a roundtrip ticket in his coat pocket, sat down where he could watch the two from behind. Neither one said much to the other. Each traveler seemed busy with his own personal thoughts.

When the ferrotrain back to Rubber City arrived, the spy waited till the pair climbed aboard, then rushed onto the last car just seconds before the engine started its forward locomotion back home.

After seeing to it that the crate was on its way by truck to the Meun Rubber factory on the south side of Rubber City, Phot took the scientist by street taxi to the company office to give a description and explanation of the new substance to Kimon Meun, who was still there working on current production matters.

The three sat at a table while Ostra related his tale of search and discovery.

All at once, the president of the firm sprang to his feet, shaking with excitement and anticipation. His face turned livid.

“This could be the solution we need. I foresee a possible way to win primacy in the industry. Our company can cut prices to a fraction of what they are today. And we could develop goldenrod farms around this city, reducing transportation costs to almost nothing. The prospect is a thrilling one. But there will be a need for a process of refining and making the latex into a solid material. Are you willing, Dr. Ostra, to come to our factory laboratory and supervise the needed research? It may turn out to be difficult to accomplish.”

“Yes,” answered the discoverer. “I would be most happy to do so.”

Phot, all of a sudden, thought of something important.

“The solidago grows in nature, so no patent can apply to a substance available to all. What if our rivals follow us in making exactly the same kind of new rubber?”

“The refinement process can be considered exclusive property, can’t it?” said Kimon, furrowing his brow. “We will need a proprietary method of turning the raw material into useable product. Can you give us that?”

“I shall certainly try,” pledged the scientist with a broad grin. “It is only a matter of time, hopefully a short one.”

The pieces of the puzzle now began to fit together for Stilio Lavron. Something of extraordinary importance had occurred out on the desert. A development that threatened to bring revolutionary change to the rubber industry. Its exact nature was still unclear to him. But his spy had reported that the two men working for Meun had spent a considerable time in a floral shop. A new source of latex, that must be what it was. Nothing else could have caused such excitement and commotion.

What was the specific name of the newly discovered substance? It would not be difficult to learn that secret. A simple break-in and copying of notes should suffice. Nothing could be easier than that.

Junior Terion will be willing to pay much for the information, realized the underworld boss. It is something very valuable to him. He can exploit such knowledge once he has it.

But first the secret must be purloined in order to become saleable.

Lavron reviewed in his conscious mind the names of the best burglars he knew. Which one should be chosen for the job? It had to be someone never directly connected to him and his mob. An expendable person was needed. Someone he could disown if caught in the act.

The one picked by Stilio went by the name of Yeggo.

Taking a notepad, he wrote down an order to his staff.

“Find me Yeggo, the famed burglar. I must speak with him.”

The search did not last long. Lavron found a notice on his desk the next morning. “Yeggo will be here at noon.”

He smiled, thinking of what he would soon be able to offer Junior Terion.

Yeggo was a midget of a man of bantam weight. Morello red hair and eyes of glaucous green distinguished the little burglar. There was no one else who looked like him in the Rubber City underworld.

It took Stilio half an hour in a College Street gin dive to explain to him what he wanted stolen.

“If there is no other way, bring a snippet of the plant back to be analyzed. Do you now understand what I want?”

“Yes, I think so,” said the burglar. “It should be easy. The Meun company is not expecting anything like this. They cannot be prepared for what I am about to do.”

“As far as anyone knows, the plant is kept in the testing laboratory. It should be closed and unlighted at night. When can you make your way in, Yeggo?”

“I think tonight will be perfect,” the thieve evilly grinned.

That evening witnessed the only public debate between the two candidates for mayor.

Kimon invited his daughter and son-in-law to accompany him. Katina answered she would go with him, but Phot begged off.

“I want to go to the lab and see how the work is coming along,” he told the two others. “He works day and night on the problems of making good rubber out of solidago. I will have an opportunity to discuss what he is doing with him at length. Please excuse my absence, but I have to go there tonight. It is very important at this point in time to keep up with developments in our lab.”

Both Kimon and Katina told him they understood his concern for the project. “We will talk about what you learn when all of us get home later,” said the father.

Mayor Tisane was first to address the audience at Community Hall. He spoke of the achievements of Rubber City during his term of office, boasting of construction and expansion everywhere. “I have never acted out of any selfish motive,” he concluded to strong applause.

Jilolo Terion then spoke with sharp criticism of the ruling regime. He had been well drilled by his brother for this performance. His tactic was to ask rhetorical questions that assumed the worst about his opponent.

“Crime is running rampant in our lawless city,” shouted Terion. “And what does the present government do about it? At this very moment, who can say what offenses are being committed against the peace and security of Rubber City?”

There was no better skilled picklock in all the land than Yeggo. His tools were few, but surprisingly effective in opening locked doors. This proved to be the case this particular night as well. His fingers were ready for action. They worked with speedy success.

The testing laboratory, which was the goal of the excursion, seemed dark and deserted at this late hour. Its silence spread out in all directions. There was an aura of emptiness about the whole building.

Why wait to go in? the burglar asked himself. There was no reason to delay entrance. The sooner the job was finished, the better.

His approach was slow and careful. Yeggo stopped to listen after every several steps. No human noise was audible. It was safe for him to proceed and get the job finished and over with.

When he attained the outer door, he reached under his coat and took out three picks. He tried one on the lock, then a second. Like child’s play, the tumblers moved and the lock sprang open. The door needed only a small push. Black emptiness stretched out ahead. He could advance at will and he did so.

Yeggo sneaked gingerly as far as he could, then reached into his pants pocket and took out a tiny light pencil. He switched it on and scanned the room. A desk, a table, and several cupboards grew visible. But the intruder saw no signs of what he was interested in.

It was only when he spotted a large crate in the rear of the room that he felt satisfaction. He moved toward it when the unexpected happened without any warning.

A burst of brilliant illumination flooded the room with blinding surprise. Yeggo, shaken and astounded, almost dropped his light pencil as he turned around toward the door.

A tall, muscular figure in a gray suit stepped forward warily. His sharp sapphire eyes blazed with emotion, most of it anger.

“Who are you, and what are you doing in this room?” demanded Phot Aiton, vice-president and secretary of the firm.

Yeggo said nothing, but made a rapid move toward the door. But at the same moment a second, larger man moved into the criminal’s path, blocking his escape.

“Halt right where you are,” shouted Phot with force.

The little man did exactly that, but his right hand went into his pants pocket and felt for what he carried there.

A burglar must not carry a lethal weapon in Rubber City, for that multiplied any punishment many times over. Yeggo had no firing weapon, but carried an object that could either wound if used or frighten if displayed.

What Yeggo held in his right hand was a tiny stylet with a sharp edge to it. He held it in front of his chest, challenging anyone to attack him.

Did the burglar intend to draw blood, or was what happened a result of mutual misunderstanding?

Phot moved only two inches forward, but misinterpretation occurred in a fraction of a second.

There was no time for any defensive action. Phot watched the stylet plunge into his abdomen. Passivity flooded over him as he absorbed this stab.

Could his life end so vulgarly, so meaninglessly?

The stabber pulled his stylet from the middle of his victim.

Phot stared at the red fluid spurting out of him. He did not watch Yeggo rush to escape through the door.

It became impossible for the lawyer to keep conscious.

He collapsed onto the floor, not seeing or knowing how his assailant was stopped and overpowered by the bull-necked giant, Professor Nuss Ostra.

The police summoned an emergency van to transport the bleeding victim to City Spital for urgent care and surgery.

Dr. Ostra explained to the investigators as much as he knew of the events, the part he had witnessed. One of the uniformed officers recognized Yeggo at once.

“He’s a professional picklock. Take him downtown for immediate booking. It is evident what he was up to in here.”

“What was the objective of the break-in?” asked a colleague.

“We can determine that later in the grilling of this hoodlum. For now, we must see to it that no homicide results. The victim must survive so he can talk to us.”

Nuss Ostra insisted on riding along to the spital in the van. He identified the unconscious victim and asked the police to inform his immediate family.

With wailing siren, the vehicle sped through the city to the centrally located medical facility. Everyone in the van realized how critical the condition of Phot Aiton was. Time was of the essence for him now. His very life was in the balance.

As soon as they reached City Spital, a wheeled litter with the victim on it was rolled into emergency surgery.

All night long, Katina and Kimon sat waiting in the hallway near the operation room. The surgery was lasting a long time. Kimon unconsciously mumbled to himself. That revealed how serious had been the wound and injuries.

“The burglar was after our secret plant. Nothing else of such value was there. The question is who sponsored him. I see only one possibility. It had to be our mortal foe. There could be no one else behind such a sneaky crime.

“Somehow, Junior Terion learned what we had and sent in a thief to get hold of it.”

Katina spoke in an expressionless tone, but with inner dread.

“Perhaps the police can make the prisoner talk,” she suggested, in nearly a whisper.

“I don’t need proof. Logic indicates only one possibility.”

Interrogators were grilling Yeggo in a police chamber with a blinding spotlight focused on his eyes.

“What were you looking for? There was no money or valuables there. What was your specific target? You must confess to us what it was.”

The burglar made a face but said nothing.

“Who ordered you to break in, Yeggo? There had to be someone behind you, paying you to get them something. What were you after in there?”

No reply came from the diminutive one.

“It will be hard on you in court unless you talk now. The man you attacked is in a critical condition. If he goes under, the charges against you will be the maximum. You will get no mercy whatsoever.”

Yeggo scowled and tightened his teeth together.

A second detective, silent till then, intervened. “A deal can be made with you, but only in time. A few more hours, and it will be too late. You will have to face the music on your own. We will all be hard on you down here at headquarters.”

After a long pause, the first interrogator spoke again.

“If the victim dies, it will mean curtains for you too. Tell us now who was in this with you. That is the only way for you to save yourself.”

The stony face of Yeggo was emotionless and impassive.

Before the night ended, the police knew their efforts were futile. The little man had nerves of steel. His tongue was locked.

Incision, resection, and excision were followed with careful anaplastic tissue restoration. All the knowledge and experience of several surgeons was called on. The work done was long and complex, done with sharp, precise tools of steel.

Close to dawn, the head chirurgic went out to inform the family of the results of their difficult labors in surgery.

“I can promise complete recovery,” said the doctor in yellow. “But it will take time till he is back to normal. I can tell you that the crisis is over and the patient needs peace and rest now.”

Feeling ecstatic, Katina turned to her father and kissed his cheek.

“When can we see and talk with him?” inquired Kimon.

“He is heavily sedated and should awaken by noon tomorrow. The two of you should go home and get some rest. That is my advice.”

Katina rose, then so did her father. The latter knew that he could not rest. There was urgent business he had to see to as quickly as possible. He took his daughter to their waiting limousine. He ordered the driver to take them to the Portage Path residence.

Katina went up to bed at once, but Kimon repaired to his personal sanctum where he kept his personal records in a safe. Sitting at his tectonic desk, he considered what moves to make in the intricate game that was going on.

The red rays of dawn were breaking through when a decision was finally reached.

He must face Junior Terion immediately. That was who had incited this crime. And he now had a weapon with which to defeat that conscienceless foe, the industrialist believed.

The message was placed on Junior’s office desk. It was the first thing he saw upon entering that morning.

Kimon Meun wishes to meet with me today on urgent matters. What could that mean? wondered Terion.

What could he expect his enemy to say to him? thought Junior as he paced about his office in confusion.

This uncertainty was interrupted by the chime of the telephone on the desk. He went over and picked it up.

“Hello, Mr. Terion? This is Stilio Lavron. Something terrible has happened. The man I sent to get the secret substance was caught. Even worse, he attacked the son-in-law of Meun, who for some reason came back. He suffered serious injury and is now in City Spital. His wounds were serious and he had to undergo surgery.

“My picklock is in police custody and he may be made to talk. What do you think we should do?”

Junior gulped and then spoke. “I see only one option for us. Kimon Meun must be confronted with what we know about his illegal campaign contributions. If he proceeds against the burglar, our information about him will be made public. Only if he keeps silent, will we do the same. Isn’t that the best course for us?”

“You want me to present that deal to him?” asked Stilio.

“No, it has to come from me. He called here to set up an appointment. Perhaps he believes that he can squeeze me over the break-in and his son-in-law. But I think that I hold a higher card. I can even attempt to get the secret plant from him. Either he surrender it or goes to jail for election fraud. I don’t think he wishes to risk that.”

“That makes sense,” said the gangster. “Will you tell me how your talk with Meum comes out, sir?”

Junior agreed to do so and hung up his receiver. Then he told his secretary to arrange for a private room that afternoon at the Rubber City Club.

The moment of awakening was like a second birth for Phot.

I am not dead, but obviously among those alive. My life did not end in the testing lab. I did not expire. My living course now continues forward.

Katina and her father were peering down on him. Both of them had sad smiles on their tired faces.

“Darling, how do you feel?” murmured his wife.

“I can’t say, because I do not definitely know,” he replied. “It is as if this were someone else’s body and I only imagined that I occupied it. This is an odd state to be in.”

Kimon now spoke. “The police have the assailant in custody. They want to get to the bottom of this. You must help them, Phot. We have to prove who is behind the crime.”

“Yes, I intend to do so,” promised the one lying in the bed.

The visitors soon left. Kimon had an appointment to go to at once.

Junior Terion had the power to obtain the most secret sanctum of the Club for his meeting with his enemy. Kimon was surprised when the head garcon led him into a rear area he had never been in before.

Terion, sitting at the end of a long piceus table, did not rise or offer a hand. This was to be a frigid occasion with no hypocrisy or politeness.

Kimon took a seat at the opposite end of the table.

Junior was the first to open his mouth. “It is you who wish to present something. Am I correct?”

“A lot happened last night,” muttered Meun. “Our positions are completely altered and we both must deal with these rapid changes. We have to decide on our individual courses.”

Terion grew visibly angry. “What are you talking about? Unless you become more explicit, I intend to walk out of here. Do you understand? We have to get to the point.

“Now, let me have my say. I know everything about your secret contributions to Tisone. Do you know how many election laws you have broken? Can you imagine how much trouble I can make for you with what I found out? Do you want a long spell in prison?” He glared at his foe with fury in his dark almond eyes.

It was a short while before Kimon could react to this.

“Do not threaten what you dare not carry out. The police are going to have something of greater interest to look into. They are holding your burglar and turning up the heat on him. The trail will lead to Stilio Lavron and then to you. Can you trust that gangster not to reveal your name?

“How would you like to spend many years incarcerated, Junior?”

The latter boiled over with rage, losing control.

“You rotten Gefir! You think that empty threats can turn me from what has to be done? I’ll see you beaten and penniless. There is nothing you can do against me. I have the connections, not you. No judge dares to convict me of anything. The law will punish a crooked Gefir who tries to buy an election.”

Kimon then gave his inner thoughts to his enemy.

“So, the two of us have a stalemate. If I expose you, your threat is to do the same to me. And if you go to the police with your story, I promise to take you down with me. I call that an impasse, a deadlock.

“But there is one factor that you overlook, Junior. I am a Gefir, a person with no fear of imprisonment. My ancestors suffered far greater pain than you can throw at me. We are a hardened people, able to withstand anything.

“You have underestimated me and overestimated yourself. Tell me this: what if I call the police right now to come and arrest me on election charges? Do you dare do the same on burglary and assault? I doubt that. You cannot injury me as I can you.”

Something seemed to click in the brain of Terion.

“What do you want, then?” he mumbled.

“Neither of us unmasks the other. But the burglar and Stilio Lavron have to take falls for their crimes. You are left untainted, the same as I am.”

“But Stilio will surely expose my part,” argued Junior.

“Even the Phryxian underworld has its code. I do not think that the racketeer will become a snitcher at this date in his career.”

Terion became thoughtful, considering his alternatives.

At last, he realized that the inevitable had to be accepted.

“Very well, neither of us has to suffer loss of our freedom. But tell me this: how is my company going to compete against you if you alone have a new source of latex?”

Kimon grinned triumphantly. “I am not going to monopolize any new process developed. My discoveries will be shared with the entire industry, including you. There shall be no exclusive secrets. I foresee an era of sharing, of amicable cooperation.”

Junior seemed to be having difficulty breathing.

“You can’t expect me to believe such words. What kind of fool do you take me for?”

“Think what you want,” said Kimon, “that is the absolute truth.”

With that, he rose and made for the door. He was gone before Terion could make any reply.

Late that afternoon, Phot and Katina learned of the resolution of immediate difficulties reached at the Rubber City Club earlier that day.

“Was it wise to give up our exclusive monopoly?” questioned Katina. “No one can predict what the long-term results of that might be. It could one day make us regret our generosity.”

Her father gave a deep sigh. “This was something for all rubber-makers, not just Terion. No one can foresee where future breakthroughs will come from. This will encourage future competitors to be open, not secretive. Some day, our survival may depend on our ability to share. There can be no monopoly of any kind in our industry.

“This is an example that costs us little. The secret of the goldenrod cannot be kept for long. What if others turn to sunflowers or dandelions and perfect the rubber derived from them? We will want to know how they did it.”

“Your father is right, Katina,” chimed in Phot, sitting upright in bed. “It will take foresight to keep our progress steaming ahead. We need a wide horizon of ideas. It makes no sense merely to repeat the past.”

Kimon changed the subject. “When will the doctors allow you to come home?” he asked Phot.

“I want to return to normal life as soon as possible,” smiled the latter. “I am calculating in days, not weeks or months.”

Indeed, within ten days the patient was transported home in a hired van. In his own bed, in his own room, he recovered with speed.

And his wife soon announced that she had become pregnant.

Before nine months passed, both Yeggo and Stilio Lavron were convicted of conspiring to burgle industrial secrets.

Dr. Ostra succeeded in finding a practical method of making rubber from solidago roots. He was permitted by his employer to publish all of his scientific findings. None of his research was to be secret.

Junior Terion discovered that Kimon was a man of his word. No charges were ever made public against him. He escaped all punishment and public disclosure. His connection to the burglary disappeared. No one ever learned of it at all.

Mayor Tisane was re-elected to an unprecedented fifth term in office. He went on to another successful period. His defeated opponent, Jelolo, migrated to the desert and opened a ranch farm growing goldenrod, sunflower, and dandelion for industry. He had become disgusted with politics and sought a new, different life for himself.

Phot Aiton took on increasingly greater responsibility at Meun Rubber. He headed the program to produce solidago rubber, overseeing the construction of the new facility where the innovative latex was to be compounded.

The future of the whole industry was in his hands, he sensed. This venture had to succeed, since the destiny of Rubber City was involved, as well as that of the family he had entered through marriage.

Kimon Meun concentrated his attention on the coming grandchild. He believed with all his mind it was to be a boy. The mother-to-be realized that her father was thinking of a future male heir who would in his own day take over the company.

An industrial dynasty was being founded in his mind, and it was going to be a Gefir one.

Every morning Kimon visited Katina and asked about her condition.

The finale came suddenly, when least expected. It turned out to be a premature birth.

An emergency van was summoned to take Katina to City Spital.

After an anxious five hours, Phot and Kimon learned that a healthy male child had just entered their family, one who could carry on the heritage that would become his some day.

Phot turned to his father-in-law with a proposal.

“The name should be Kimon, to remind him of his own tradition. That is my choice on what to call the boy.”

The new grandfather beamed with happiness. How could he deny the new father this name for his son? It was such a natural decision to make.

Such an inherited name seemed to be a good omen for the future. The continuation of his own Gefir genetic line was secure in the years to come, Kimon told himself with joy and confidence.

Part VIII

Kimon Meum lived a vigorous old age, dying at 94. He outlived his daughter Katina by several years. His son-in-law took over the presidency of the tire and rubber corporation. He had lived to see his grandson, Kimon Atton graduate from Rubber City University with a degree in molecular chemistry, an area of growing promise with the development of a new nano-technology as a means of changing old materials and substances into new ones with a variety of new uses.

Young Kimon resembled his grandfather with his boundless optimism about the future of their industry based on pioneering science. He found it easy to join the family company as a chemist in the department of product development. He was soon known as a young scientist with fresh vision, to an degree that many veterans in the department saw him to be a visionary.

The scientist beginning his career told his father one day that he had made a crucial decision. “I believe that I should relocate into the center of Rubber City, close to the research laboratory of Meum where I spend most of my waking, working hours. It doesn’t make sense for me to stay in El Magnifico any longer. What do you think of that, father?”

What could Phot reply to him? He merely smiled and spoke in pleasantries. “If that is what you want, my son, I will never stand in your way. I wish you the best of fortune in your new environment, Kimon.”

The latter moved out of the family mansion and soon became a townsman in the central region of the manufacturing center.

The chemist became deeply involved in the professional activities of the city, offering to give a talk on the latest developments in the molecular department of forward, inventive research. He presented a formal paper written by himself on the newest achievements in nanotechnology.

The meeting occurred in the evening in a University lecture hall and was attended by nearly forty visitors.

Kimon first described the history of polymer science within Rubber City industry, showing how chemists had developed the substance named polyisoprene from the isoprene produced in natural solidago plants.

“Growing knowledge of trans-polymerization has resulted in what we label buna, Thiokol, and nitrile rubber, giving us new products and uses today,” said the speaker. He went on to talk about his current research in polymer molecular chemistry.

Once it ended, the listeners and the speaker congregated along a long table holding several different types of snacks. Kimon prepared himself a cup of spicetea, noticing a large bear of a man approach him and begin to ask him questions.

“It was a most interesting research paper that you gave, sir. I enjoyed what you said because so much of it was totally new material that you covered. It is amazing how much you have mastered and understand. I am very happy to have come here tonight and heard what you presented in your paper.

“It would satisfy me immensely if I could ask you for information and service. Could we set a time and a place when we could meet again somewhere?”

Kimon smiled benignly at the stranger. “Certainly, that would be a good thing to do, I think.”

The pair agreed to come in the early evening in three days to the Central Public Library of Rubber City.

The man who identified himself as Kispo Hehy said good-bye and departed, grinning with delight at what he had achieved with the scientist.

The two strangers quickly became acquainted with each other and were soon exchanging private thoughts as if close friends for many years.

“For several years now, I have been developing a clientele here in Rubber City for my retail sales of expensive sportscars,” revealed the man identified as Kispo Hehy. “I have learned a lot about what the public likes and wants in its motor vehicles, and there is no doubt in my mind that I can predict what will sell and what will not.”

“I find that amazing,” commented Kimon, sipping from his summer tea.

Kispo lowered his voice, speaking as if presenting a dark secret of some sort.

“That is the reason that I wish to talk to you about an elastomer car, one whose frame, motor, and overall body is composed of a synthesized polymer. It will be totally unlike anything that now exists on the road.”

Kimon perked up with intense attention. “Polymer? What kind of polymer?” he asked the sportscar merchant.

The latter gave a mysterious grin. “That is why I need the advice of a professional chemist like you, my friend. Someone able to distinguish and choose between the many alternatives available in the field of rubberlike substances available today here in Rubber City. Who knows more about the options available on the level of nano-molecules? Who is a greater pioneer in synthesizing new varieties of rubber materials?

“I certainly have a need for your knowledge and experience with elastomers, Kimon,” said Kispo to the younger man.

The two talked a little longer, then agreed to meet again in a couple of days.

“You have presented me a very interesting question,” said Kimon as he left for his apartment near the University of Rubber City.

The large house of the car dealer on Delia Boulevard was built in the centuries-old tudorwood manner. Crossing the large front lawn, Kimon rang the door chimes and was surprised by who it was that answered his signaling.

“Hello,” said the petite young woman in a pink summer dress. “You must be Mr. Aiton, because my father told me that he expects you to come here today,” she chirped with a warm smile. Her face and her body were equally attractive and magnetic.

As she led the visitor into the structure, she introduced herself. “My name is Yula and I live with my father,” she said. “I have no brothers or sisters. I am an only child.”

“So am I,” noted Kimon as he stepped into the front parlor. “I have no brothers or sisters.”

Kispo’s large form appeared from the interior hallway. “My friend! It is so nice to see you here. Come back with me into our rumpus room. You will find it highly comfortable there. We can talk at ease, without being disturbed at all.”

Yula did not follow the two males into the restful, quiet room where they sat down on sofa chairs facing each other.

It was Kispo who at once began discussing recent advances in molecular chemistry that had been featured in the popular press of Rubber City.

“I notice in the news that I try to keep up with that there have occurred some important advances and breakthroughs in inserting nanocarbon networks within synthetic compounds of rubber. That particularly attracted my attention. I wondered whether industrial laboratories such as the one that you work at is involved with such activity as well.” He looked at Kimon with a focused stare, waiting for a reply from the younger man.

“I myself attempt to devote major effort toward the stiffening and hardening of our taraxacum materials. My special attention, at the present time, is on the development of enhanced stability in butadienic elastomers. I have great hope in making special fabric-structures out of nitrile and similar compounds.”

Kimon began to delve into the specific details of the nanotechnology he was involved with at Meum, when Yula suddenly appeared at the entrance to the room, a tray with glasses on it in her hands.

“I thought that the two of you might be getting thirsty, so I defrosted some of the tangerine juice we have in our ice locker,” she said in a singing tone as she approached the pair looking at her.

“Just what we need, my dear,” said her father. “Just what we need, and you must join us in the enjoyment that I foresee coming.”

Kimon and Kispo began to meet and associate on a regular basis. They sometimes went to various restaurants to dine together, but when they spent their time at the Hehy residence, Yula tended to be present as part of their group.

Kispo described what his dream in the field of automobiles consisted of.

“I envision our city becoming a center of auto manufacture, but concentrating upon a new type of material for the body. I ask myself: why can’t we apply our rubber-polymer technology to constructing a new kind of road vehicle? I imagine a future where our city’s nano-chemical laboratories and their scientists focus on creating hard, solid elastomers that will give us better, more economical cars of all types.

“Why not? I say to myself. Certainly we can find and manufacture the right compound for such a purpose. It is a possibility for the very near future, I believe. We must devote our time, resources, and brains to making this dream real. It can be done and must be given priority in our rubber industry.”

Kimon seemed to be abstracted, looking far at some distant place. “It will not at all be easy to accomplish something so different and radical,” he said in heavy, thoughtful words. “I can try to win the support of my father, but I am not certain whether he will agree with my own perspective on the future of automotive vehicles. I must find out whether I can gain his support or not.”

It was on a Saturday afternoon that his one son visited Phot Aiton at the Magnifico mansion where Kimon himself was raised and grew up.

The two sat on a back veranda facing the extensive pine forest. The son decided to present his plan for a polymer car directly, as well as he could.

“I have worked out a design for a new direction in lab research,” he began after some small talk with his parent. “It seems a possible and plausible next step. We have developed our nano-science far enough to be able to design and built cars built out of elastomer polymer. We need to do a lot of testing in order to determine the optimal substance to be used for auto frames and bodies.

“It should be an area of great interest for Meum and the other rubber manufacturers. I can see our company becoming the leader in developing the right elastomer for building autos.” He gazed fixedly at Phot, waiting for a response from him.

The father took time before starting to give his answer.

“It is a most delicate and sensitive area you are proposing that we enter, my son. Automobile manufacture, from the time of its inception, has been centered on the oceanic coast, at Metaltown. That is where the first vehicles made out of steel were assembled. Every advancement and new development has come forth in that same industrial complex, because it possesses all the advantages of knowledge and experience in making motorized carriers. No one, down to today, has been able to compete successfully with Metaltown, the motor city on the coast.

“Just as Rubber City has specialized in rubber, polymers, and tires, so has the auto capital focused its research and factories on the making of cars and trucks. That is what they do better than any other industrial city. It would be nearly impossible for anyone, including us, to rival them. There would be no profit in attempting any risky, speculative venture in the field that they have made their own and kept exclusively theirs. The gamble for us would contain enormous risks.

“Do you see the point I am attempting to make, Kimon?”

The latter looked disappointed and crestfallen.

“I shall think over what you have told me, father,” said the young nano-chemist.

He knew that he would have to make several hard decisions in the next several days. Did he dare act against the advice of his parent, though? That would not be easy for him to resolve in his own mind.

Kimon did not quit his job at the Meum laboratory, but instead took a leave of absence for an undefined period. He would be free to return whenever he chose to exercise his right to do so. In the meantime, he would be free to invest all his time and energy in his new project.

Kipso had drawn up detailed plans of how they were to set up their new enterprise. A group of six new-car dealers formed a research company dedicated to creating exactly the right elastomer that could be the basis of a completely innovative auto frame and body. The engine to be used as the power source of this vehicle was a question temporarily in abeyance. They would have to pose and answer it at a later date, when the elastomer polymer was available and in use for actual automobile manufacturing and an engine to run the vehicle became necessary.

The sportscar dealer, on his own, took charge of selecting and leasing a vacant factory building on the outskirts of Rubber City. Kipso drove Kimon out on Granger Road to see the location of the new polymer laboratory set to be established there.

“You and your scientific staff will have a lot of space in which to carry out your work,” said the businessman once they had returned to his roadster. “Tell me, what do you think of the building, Kimon? I trust it should meet all of the technical needs for what lies ahead for us. Does it suit you? What do you think?”

The young chemist decided not to express any dissatisfaction with the arbitrary decision his partner had taken onto himself.

“I guess it will do,” he quietly admitted. There was no mention by Kimon of his wish to have been consulted before a contract had been signed with the owner of the industrial property.

“Let’s go home then,” smiled Kipso. “Yula told me she plans to cook a celebration meal for us. We are starting to accomplish our first steps forward, aren’t we?”

Kimon hired a research team made up of retired veterans attracted into working on an exciting new project and recent University graduates taking on their first job in a laboratory. As soon as equipment could be bought, production and testing of newly created polymers started. No possible candidate material was excluded before a long series of important tests was completed to the satisfaction of the nano-scientist in charge of the enterprise, the adventurous explorer, Kimon himself.

From the first day of operations in the lab, Kipso began a hunt for future investment in manufacturing cars. He met with immediate failure among all the major banks and financial brokers of Rubber City. It did not take long for these centers of capital to decide that the elastomer auto was too risky a proposition to become involved with.

Kipso went on to solicit funds from private capitalists and entrepreneurs, again to no avail. A rubber car was too much for even the bravest of money-men to get themselves entangled with. Not a single investor could be found anywhere in the business economy of the city or beyond it.

At the same time, powerful enemies to the entire idea of a new automobile industry located in Rubber City arose in the press and mass media of the city. Resembling an organized campaign, articles with critical judgments on the concept of polymer cars appeared with increasing frequency. “Fantastic” and “utopian” were the words commonly used to indict the enterprise as a hopeless folly of unreasoning crackpots and fanatics. No mercy or understanding was shown by the unfriendly, unsympathetic writers and editors of print, radio, or television. It was predicted in the city newspapers that nothing but bankruptcy and market failure would result from any efforts to make the new type of vehicle.

Patient testing of scores of newly synthesized elastomer compounds went forward at the project’s facility. Kimon was untiring, spending days and nights supervising the production and testing of potential candidates in the realm of nano-chemistry.

Kimon was encouraged by the positive testing results coming from an elastomer centered upon a copolymer consisting of a combination of styrene and butadiene that was referred to as special trans-buna. He began to concentrate work and attention upon this promising material alternative. But when he conferred with Kipso, he found the auto-dealer deeper in despair than ever before. The problem of finding adequate financing for actual manufacturing seemed insuperable to him.

“What am I going to do, Kimon?” he pleaded. “I’ve tried to find support everywhere, but without the slightest success. Won’t anyone in this city give us any help or support? How can we ever realize our goal if all we get are endless refusals?”

His partner was unable to suggest any way out of the dead end they had reached in the search for money backing. That appeared to be the governing factor that would bring about the collapse of all their hopes. Kimon fell into deep despair over the matter.

The elastomer copolymer model was ready for road testing after nearly a year of intense laboratory fashioning and construction. An advanced nano-battery array structure built into the frame was to function as the electrical engine of the new experimental vehicle.

Kimon volunteered to be the initial driver to take the trans-buna car through the streets of Rubber City. “I have put a lot of effort and many hours of time into this auto of ours,” argued the chemist. “I think I have earned the right to take her out for a spin around the city. She is my baby.”

Kipso, accompanying his partner as the sole passenger, made a proposal.

“I think it would be good to drive over to the house and pick up Yula for a surprise trip in this car,” he said with a laugh. “After all, she has been as much a part of our team as any of the men involved here at the lab. The girl has earned a ride along with us.”

The daughter eagerly climbed into the back seat of the new elastomer car and went on a ride into all the sections and quarters of the large city.

Kimon proposed that Yula and her father accompany him to a Gefir restaurant near the University. “This is a place where I ate almost every day when I was taking classes and working on my degree,” he told the pair. “Let’s go in and celebrate what has been achieved with the car today.”

They took a table and ordered plates of stuffed grape leaves. Kipso did not appear as enthused as his daughter and his partner were.

“What’s the matter, my friend?” inquired Kimon. “Why do you seem so glum on such a momentous day? Are you worried about our financial problems, perhaps?”

Kipso did not reply for a time, but finally addressed the question from his partner.

“Early tomorrow morning I have an appointment to see someone who might be willing to join with us. I’ll report to you on how our meeting comes out.”

Mebod Levra was often a subject of popular gossip. Was he a businessman or a racketeer? asked some who were unfamiliar with him. He is both, whispered those who had some knowledge of this figure shrouded in secrecy and mystery.

Kipso phoned and made an appointment to see the fabled stranger at the insurance office he maintained on Exchange St.

The auto dealer found him a surprisingly short and small figure with nothing notable or imposing about his outward, physical appearance. Levra wore a cheap cotton suit of light gray that he might have bought at a thrift shop down in one of the slum neighborhoods of Rubber City.

“How can I be of help to you, Mr. Hehy?” asked the little man once the two were seated around a plain pinewood table.

Kipso commanded a large, broad smile for the stranger, then explained why he was there.

“I understand, sir, that you are a man who likes to venture into new, unfilled areas of business with your investment resources.” He stopped grinning. “That is the reason for my asking to see you. I am engaged in an innovative enterprise that promises to revolutionize all of industry here in Rubber City, but I am unable to obtain any capital at all from our city banks or traditional sources of investment resources. They are, all of them, extremely afraid of even the slightest degree of risk.

“My associates and I are ready to begin operations in terms of producing automobile bodies unlike any that exist on the streets today. But we lack sufficient money to begin manufacturing what we know there will be a gigantic, expanding market demand for.

“I can already tell that you are becoming interested in what I am about to describe for you as our new product.

“Shall I proceed to draw some of the details of what we have?”

“Please, go on,” muttered the business man often labelled a racketeer with gang connections.

Kipso went forward with a brief description of the co-polymer elastomer car made of trans-buna.

He saw with his own eyes that Mebod was entranced and fascinated by what he was saying about the nano-material involved.

When he was finished, the small man asked a question that shook and excited Kipso.

“How much money do you think you will need to begin making this car?” he asked with a grin.

Kimon arrived at the residence for supper but found that Yula was there alone.

“Father called me late this afternoon and told me he would be coming home late because he was completing some kind of business deal,” she reported. “He recommended that you and I not wait for him but proceed directly to our meal without having to delay eating too long. Let’s eat back in the kitchen, Kimon. That is just as comfortable and convenient as anywhere else.”

“It’s quite okay with me, Yula,” he informed her with a warm smile.

“He must be finishing up something very important,” she muttered. “That is the impression I got from what he told me.”

The two went into the kitchen and sat down, Yula having prepared a lamb stew with rutabagas that she served for herself and Kimon.

Just as the two were finishing eating, Kipso came into the kitchen from the front of the house.

“I have some very good news to announce,” said the car dealer, his face red with nervous excitement. “We have the investor who is going to provide us the means of going soon into full manufacturing. We signed the initial agreement this evening, and tomorrow our two sets of lawyers and accountants will get together to work out all the details.

“We have won what he need,” he smiled. “Our victory is going to become a complete one now.”

The two sitting at the kitchen table gazed at Kipso with astonishment and wonder.

It was Yula who thought to ask the important question. “Who will be the one financing the new car, father.”

“Mr. Mebod Levra. He is an independent capital investor with a highly successful record in the minimizing of risk.”

Neither Yula nor Kimon recognized the name of the operator on the fringe of the Rubber City underworld.

“You must be hungry, father,” said his daughter. “Let me get you some of the lamb stew I cooked today.”

Rumors flowed through the circles and strata of Rubber City society for days on end. A gambling figure with underworld connections had decided to act as the financial angel behind a new manufacturing enterprise organized to produce co-polymer autos. The frames and bodies of the new cars were to be formed of an elastomer similar to both synthetic and natural rubber. Within a few months, the new trans-buna vehicle was to be rolling through the streets of the industrial center.

Word reached Phot Aiton, who was alarmed enough to phone his son and arrange a lunch appointment with him at a restaurant near the Meum Corp.headquarters.

“You wish to talk with me about our new source of investment, father?”

Precisely,” replied Phot. “That is exactly what I wish to take up with you.”

Kimon looked forward with trepidation. He foresaw quarreling with his father on the horizon. How was their relationship to be changed, if at all? the son wondered.

The two men did not get down to the topic of the financing of new car manufacture until they were both finished with their meals. It was the father who asked a personal question of his son.

“Tell me something, Kimon. Do you trust the personal judgment of the person you are associated with in this co-polymer venture of yours? What I am getting at is whether he made a terrible mistake both in business and in ethics by bringing this personality, Mr. Levka, into the picture.

“From what I have heard from friends whom I believe tell me the truth, this man is a kind of adventurer who makes his fortune by taking chances that no one else dares to. He is heavily involved in the business of gambling and betting, one of the leaders of that shady field here in Rubber City.

“I fear what this fellow, Mebod Levka, might do to your future and reputation, my son. Do you and your partner see the possible mishaps and losses of all kinds that have become more likely with this character being involved in your project?”

Kimon stared into the face and eyes of his father as if searching for a clue to how he should response to what his parent had just said.

“I don’t know what I should say about this man with the money that can save what we are doing,” the older man managed to mutter. “Can any great harm arise from association with this so-called gambler, this risk-taker? What other source of capital has become available to Kipso and me, father?”

The latter seemed suddenly at a loss for words. “All I can say is that you will have to be careful how you carry on whatever manufacturing this person helps pay for. He may come to have his own personal interest beyond that of others like you, Kimon. It is difficult to foresee what hazards may be lying in the future. One must at all times be prepared to face the worst that can happen. That is especially true when dealing with someone with the reputation of this person, Mebod Levra.”

“What are you getting at?” asserted the son. “What is there that is a warning sign in the man’s past?”

Phot gave an understanding smile. “As you perhaps have figured out, Levra is one of us, a Gefir on both his mother’s and father’s side. But he and his family have always been seen as part of the underside of the Gefir migrants who settled in Rubber City. His people were the small number who went into gambling and racketeering pursuits of various kinds. All groups contain such undesirable individuals.

“Mebod Levra and his ilk have always been the bad example of what a Gefir should aim for in life.

“Some of the enemies of our people will certainly use his association with the co-polymer car to discredit the whole enterprise. I have no doubt about that. Old prejudices will be reborn and brought back up once more, as in the past.”

The pair fell silent, until Kimon thanked his father for his warning and advice. He said good-bye and slipped away with a new burden in his mind. What was he going to do?

The new auto-manufacturing works received all the advanced technical equipment that would be needed to turn out the luxury, high-priced cars that were meant to introduce the public to the co-polymer variety made of trans-buna.

Kipso drew up the plans for this elite type of vehicle. “Popular, low-priced models will follow in good time,” he told his early partner, Kimon. “These will have to come first.”

To the primary provider of investment, Mebod, he drew a picture of the enormous profits that would follow as the new elastomer car developed into a popular fad, into a craze item among the rich and important inhabitants of Rubber City and other large cities that depended upon the automobile for transportation.

“We have to start somewhere,” said the auto-dealer later to his partner, “so let us begin with the top sector of the car market. In time, when we have mastered the manufacturing process and ironed out the problems, we can turn to making a popular, low-priced model for the masses. That can only come later.”

Kimon appeared troubled by this. “I thought we were going to begin with the simple, economical general model car as our main emphasis from the very start,” he responded with a note of irritation in his voice.

Kipso forced himself to give an intentional smile. “We have to satisfy our new main investor, don’t we? And Mr. Levka insists he will only go along with plans for luxury and sports models. That is the surest way to make earnings and profits at once, he believes. It will prove the bright future of such vehicles. Everything must give way to a priority for expensive autos, at least at first. That is his firm opinion.”

Kimon made no rebuttal, nor any reply to this.

Several of the new luxury sports cars found instant, ready buyers among the moneyed elite of Rubber City. But the news media and sources of the rubber city began a bitter, merciless campaign against the group manufacturing the high-priced vehicle. “It is an expensive white-elephant that brings no gain to anyone but a small circle of gamblers and social idlers,” editorialized one daily gazette. “This is no place to fabricate any kind of motor car,” said a weekly financial magazine. “The speculative wager made by the owners of this initial small operation is doomed to eventual bankruptcy by the laws of simple economics. These so-called rubber cars made of co-polymer compounds will end up bringing ruin to everyone in any way connected with their construction,” held the most respected journalist in the largest circulation tabloid.

The hue and cry warning about the negative future of the venture rose ever higher in pitch. The negative campaign grew in momentum. It was merciless.

Surprisingly, the individual most affected by the criticism and clambering against the new car and its makers happened to be Mebod Levra. He phoned Kipso and arranged for a meeting that same day with him and Kimon. The three would get together at the small planning and design office attached to the assembly line of the factory that had been put together in the rented old warehouse.

Mebod was explicit in how he interpreted the public campaign against the elastomer car in almost all the periodicals and daily publications of the city.

“I can see through this attack upon us in most of the press and the electric media,” said the gambling figure with an angry strain in his voice. “It is perfectly plain to me that the Phrixians who own the newspapers and the stations are aiming at us for one simple reason: our Gefir background. If that were lacking, wouldn’t the treatment given to us be completely different?

“Behind this whole business in the press is anti-Gefir prejudice and hatred. That is the reason for all the trouble they are making for us. There is no limit to how far those bigots will go against people like us. Their aim is to bring failure and destruction to our automobile business. They nurse bitter hatred against every single one of us.”

Mebod looked at Kipso, then at Kimon. Neither of them said a word to him because they could think of nothing to add to what had just been said.

After midnight, only a small amount of industrial work went forward at the co-polymer facility that was so busy during the hours of daylight.

The streets around the car factory were silent and empty. Only infrequently did traffic pass anywhere in the region. There appeared to be nothing noticeable on any side, in any direction. There were no actors and no audience around the industrial site. It stood empty and silent.

The mighty blast came and disappeared swiftly. An explosion has its physical effect whether a large number or none at all experience it directly. For most of Rubber City, the sound was dull and flat, not loudly overwhelming at all.

The warehouse became engulfed in fire and smoke at once, within seconds.

The four workers engaged within the nighttime precincts of the factory succeeded in fleeing and rescuing themselves. They were stunned, unable to determine what had happened or why they were in such threatening danger. Confusion reigned in their minds.

No one thought of communicating with Kipso or Kimion.

A Fire Department engine from a station about a half mile away did not arrive until most of the facility was engulfed in horrible flames.

Only after two hours had passed in hopeless combat with the fire did someone think to call the home of Kipso in order to inform him that most of the factory no longer survived.

Several more water wagons arrived but could not stop or stem what was leveling the old building that had been converted into a factory of never-before seen polymer cars.

The police detective placed in charge of the arson investigation was a lieutenant named Doto Vlek. This small, middle-aged plainclothesman had a reputation for dogged persistence that never gave up even on the most difficult case of fires set intentionally.

Both Kipso and Kimion revealed the same suspicion to the prober in separate interviews he had with the two partners.

“What do you think may have inspired such a destructive act of criminality, Mr. Hehy? Who had the strongest motive for it? What desperation might have resulted in this use of fire? Does your car project have enemies who are so fierce and heartless?”

Kipso frowned as if seriously hurt and injured. “I don’t understand anything clearly,” he admitted. “Was this a result of wild, uncontrolled emotion? I know that feelings against our co-polymer auto were fired up by a lot of the papers and electric media. Did someone go from inner hatred to acting through explosion and fire?

“It’s hard to say, but there could be such motivation behind what has happened. I cannot make any other sense out of it.”

In a separate interview at police headquarters, Kimion was more explicit.

“There is no question in my mind but that fear, hatred, and prejudice against my own ethnic group, the Gefirs in Rubber City, has been stirred up by the popular press and the media stations. Whether purposely or not, old dislike for my people has resurfaced over the question of the new elastomeric car. It is a sad story, but the result of the campaign against our invention may have been the tragedy that we have witnessed. That could have been the real cause of the crime.

“I am only happy that no lives have been lost by fire, that is all.”

Detective Vlek scratched his chin in perplexity. He had never faced such a difficult, enigmatic case of arson before in all his years of police work.

The gambling lord who had served as the outside financier of the enterprise met with Kipso and Kimion at a downtown restaurant to discuss the situation resulting from the arson fire. What were they going to do in the new situation that faced them?

After a small, quick meal of fried mushrooms, they went on to serious business.

“We do have our property insurance,” said Mebod in a slow, careful voice. “That should enable us to pay our bills and meet all of our obligations in full. Then, the business can legally be discontinued an abolished.”

Kipso made an immediate response to this.

“What if we put whatever remains into a small, second co-polymer vehicle?” he asked. “Perhaps this time we can choose to make a small, cheap car for which there will be a popular mass market. We should have done that on our first try, I think.”

“If we do not decide to liquidate completely, there may be enough left to start somewhere else in Rubber City. And we can look for additional external investment, can’t we?” He looked inquiringly at Mebod.

The latter looked away from the other two, speaking as if he were there alone.

“I deserve to receive all that I provided to the project from the beginning. It is not possible for me to become the second major investor coming in with outside money. Someone else must become the silent backer of such a project in the future. That role cannot fall to me a second time, I have to announce.

“I hope that there are no unfriendly feelings toward me for doing this, but it has become necessary. A popular auto made from trans-buna will not enjoy my backing, I am sorry to say.”

Mebod looked at Kipso, then at Kimion, for any sign of how they might respond.

Neither of the two partners had anything to relate to him, so the gambling tycoon said good-bye and departed.

Kimion and Kipso exchanged looks, but neither one dared speak.

Detective Vlek was untiring in his hunt for evidence as to the identity of the arsonist or arsonists. His attention began to focus upon Mebod Levka and his connection to the co-polymer project, as well as other aspects of his personal business that could be uncovered.

It was time to have a detailed interview with the man with so many fingers in so many different pots and kettles, the investigator decided. He made an appointment and went to the small private office of the silent investor.

How should he approach this center of interest? Doto asked himself. He decided to conceal most of what he had already learned and act as if he was ignorant of the nature of Levka’s operations and activities.

“Do you know about the insurance arrangements for the industrial facility that was set up in the new factory that had to be assembled to manufacture the so-called rubber car, the elastomer?” he asked Mebod after some general inquiries.

The businessman looked stunned for a brief moment.

“It was I who arranged for adequate coverage with certain companies I am familiar with from prior experience,” answered Mebod with self-control restored. “I think that I was able to obtain very favorable terms because of my connections in the field of property insurance. There shall be full and adequate terms that will restore most of the destroyed value.

“Some might conclude that I succeeded in over-ensuring the premises where the fire occurred, but no one will be critical of the final results, I assure you.”

The gambler gave a placid, confident grin.

Doto Vlek decided to go no further, excusing himself and leaving.

Kipso appeared at the door to Kimon’s apartment at an hour past midnight, awakening his partner from sleep. The chemist showed him into his parlor, turned on the lighting, and sat down opposite his surprise visitor.

“What is it, Kipso?” moaned Kimion. “What brings you at such a ghastly time?”

The car dealer looked down at the polymeric floor carpet. “I finally made sense of it all.” He lifted his head and looked directly at his partner. “I looked over all the insurance forms and documents and figured out what his game is and how he is going to get more than we are.”

“What are you talking about?” demanded Kimion with force in his voice. “Who is the person you are talking about?”

“Our investor, Mebod. He is the one who arranged all this complicated insurance with a multitude of policies with a dozen different companies and underwriters.

“He is going to receive more than we are. That’s that way all the policies are worded. His company, Levra Investments, is equal beneficiary with our partnership corporation. For every mazumon given to us, an equal amount will be handed over to his outfit as well.

“Mebod saw to it that he and his company were included along with the two of us. It is the cleverest business trickery that I have ever seen or heard of.

“The man is a master of the smart subterfuge and invisible arrangement. But I was able, with a lot of digging, to unearth the scheme he put into operation.

“I can now see why he was so insistent that we get full insurance as soon as possible, and why he was so eager to make all the arrangement with all the different agents and agencies by himself. I understand how he went directly to each one of the insurers in order to get his own outfit included.

“The fellow is an ingenious manipulator and deal-maker. No doubt of that.”

“What can we do about any of this, assuming it is true, Kipso?” asked Kimion.

After a momentary pause, a reply came. “The first thing tomorrow morning, I aim to see Detective Vlek. Will you come along with me?”

“Certainly,” agreed the shaken scientist.

Police Headquarters in downtown Rubber City was a large, modernistic fortress of oil-based polymer sheets.

Kipso and Kimion had no problem locating the tiny office of Liutenant Vlek. It was their luck that he happened to be present finishing up the previous days’ reports on his probe of the co-polymer car factory’s explosion.

The investigator invited the visitors into his room as soon as he caught sight of them looking into his open door.

Once the two were seated across the metal desk from him, Doto asked them why they were there in person.

“We think that we know who is behind the bombing and fire,” replied Kipso in a strong, confident voice. “And also the reason why it was done.”

The dark eyes of the police officer seemed to pop. “What is it that you think you have discovered?” he managed to ask.

“The one behind it is Mr. Mebod Levra, and his motive was to take advantage of the tricky, underhanded insurance provisions that he succeeded in deceiving us with. The man is a hidden swindler whom we never recognized for his true nature. He outwitted both of us through how he set up the insurance policies on the factory property.”

Doto Vlek began to shake and then tremble. “That cannot be true,” he said in a dry whisper. “I cannot accept your suspicion and accusation, because I have all but arrested the real culprits who were involved.

“I am certain that I have identified them, and plan to bring them in for questioning later today, in the late afternoon.

“There is no question in my mind that Mr. Levra was one of the victims, that he was not involved in organizing the crime.”

“Who made it happen, then?” said an angry Kipso, his face suddenly turning red. “Who beyond Levra had a motive to do the deed?”

Detective Velk bolted up on his feet behind the metal desk.

“The businessman operates on the very edge of the law, that I know. That is evident to the entire police force of Rubber City. But Levra has underworld enemies among the organized criminal gangs of our town. The main syndicate within the gambling rackets has become very hostile to this individual. They became anxious to strike at him and his economic interests.

“Their reasoning was that the explosion would draw the attention of Levra to the need to cooperate rather than oppose the demands and the aims of the main syndicate of Rubber City. These are tough characters who do things like setting bombs in order to make others take them seriously.

“Your pointing at your financier as guilty is inaccurate and misplaced. Yes, he is part of the greater underworld. But in this case, he is victim rather than perpetrator.

“You two just happened to be caught in the crossfire, I have to tell you. Your silent partner was not a traitor who betrayed you.”

He frowned at Kipso, then at Kimion.

The latter rose to his feet. “Let’s go,” he murmured to his business partner.

Mebod Levra was a man at a crossroads.

He was going to win a multiple of his original investment in the co-polymer car, because the insurance scheme he had devised and set up had been brought into action by the bombing attack. But he was certain he knew who were the forces behind the explosion and fire. It had to be his mob enemies, his primary competitors within his own gambling rackets. What might they do in order to force him to surrender to their will? Would he finally have to recognize that he was only a secondary factor in Rubber City, that a Gefir like him had to stay in a modest position to the Phrixians, the true dominants even in the precincts of organized crime?

What was he to do to prevent further action by his foes? It was obvious that the syndicate was unaware of his fire insurance scheme and The way he was going to profit from their own assault on the factory.

What could he expect from out of the criminal darkness next?

Kimion stayed as close to his partner as seemed reasonable, out of fear what the enraged businessman might do on his own against the trickster they had brought into the copolymer initiative, Merod Levka. He tried, to no avail, to take in stride what had been done against their own interest by the gambler.

But Kipso would not change his conclusion that he had been betrayed deceitfully.

“I brought that swine into the picture, I was the one who invited him to become our main investor,” argued the car dealer. “I feel I must take revenge on that miscreant, even though he was not the one who set or ordered the arson on our plant. He will certainly profit from the explosion.

“I have to make him pay for his part in all the evil he has helped to come about. I must see him suffering along with you and me.”

Kimion tried to make him change his mind. “We do not yet know the entire story. Is it wise for us to leap into retribution? What will be the advantage, if any, to us if we rush ahead? We still will receive the same insurance benefit. That should be enough for us to start over again.”

“It is not adequate,” shouted Kipso. “Not for me. I need to see that man bleed. Do you understand what I am saying? I mean to drive over to his office at once and have it out with the scoundrel who made a profit from our ruin.”

“Let me go along with you, please,” pleaded Kimion in desperation. “We must control our emotions and not go to extremes. Think about the long-term consequences of taking any precipitate action now.”

Kipso reached into his office desk, pulling out a small automatic gat. He placed the tiny weapon in his suitcoat pocket.

“Let’s go and have it out with Mebod,” announced the angered one.

The office building was a shambles. It had obviously been bombed.

Kipso parked his auto at a distance and the two walked forward to the fire control trucks around the destroyed site.

Detective Vlek stood with a group of fire-fighters. Catching sight of the pair, he approached them with rapid steps. Without any greeting, he informed them with what he knew or calculated about the scene.

“The syndicate did this to Levra. They now have their final revenge on him. The man was killed by the bomb explosion in a second, an instant.”

“You are certain who made this happen?” demanded Kipso, his mind spinning.

“I think the Phrixian mob gave him what many would think he earned from them. What are you two going to do with your co-polymer car project now?”

It was Kimion who gave a reply to this. “We are going to rebuild the trans-buna facility as soon as possible,” he asserted with determination in his voice. “I am confident that we are on the right track. It will be difficult and make take us a longer time that we at first anticipated, but we intend to do it the right way this time.” He gave a hope-filled smile.

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