Twenty-four hours later I wasn't so enthusiastic about the Bureau's efficiency, because they had spent those hours very efficiently questioning me. They did it in relays, three or four of them at a time, and they questioned me hard. They didn't give up a thing in return, either, no matter how much I begged to be told what was happening here on Earth. Or what they were doing with Beert and Pirraghiz or the sub. Or anything.
It took me right back to those good old days with the Christmas trees and the helmet. This time my interrogators weren't causing me any actual physical pain, true. But, you know, interrogation is interrogation whoever does it. If the interrogators are really serious about it, it's no fun at all for the party being interrogated.
The place I was in was what we called "the Pit of Pain," one of the Bureau's interrogation chambers. They had me and the interrogators down in the bare little working space where the action took place: a table and a few straight-backed chairs and nothing else. I knew there were people observing us in the gallery seats that surrounded the pit, but I couldn't see them. They were hidden behind the one-way mirror walls.
The first question the Bureau's goons asked me was, "What's that thing on your neck?" They didn't like the look of it, and they didn't like my answer, either. When I said it was just so I could understand Horch, not a bit like those Beloved Leader spy bugs, they weren't believing a word of it. They suspended questioning for a moment, just left me with the interrogators glowering at me in silence until someone came back with a couple of strips of coppery mesh which they wound around my head and neck. Then they wanted to know everything, and I mean everything, starting with when the Dopey and I popped out of the transit machine.
The questioning was pretty much nonstop. They did let me pee a couple of times-not giving me any decent privacy while I did it, of course; a Bureau goon stood alertly behind me every minute, in case I had some kind of evil trick to play with the urinal. They even let me eat once or twice, dry ham sandwiches that looked as though they'd been salvaged from somebody's lunch meeting and black coffee out of the same urn the interrogators used. It was not the homecoming meal I had been dreaming about. What they wouldn't let me do at all was sleep. When I began getting woozy they handed me a glass of tepid water and a couple of those Bureau-issue wake-up pills. The things woke me right up, but I would rather have got horizontal. Even the Christmas trees had been kinder than that.
I thought I'd seen the woman who handed me the wake-up pills around the headquarters before. I pressed my luck. While I was still swallowing, I asked her, "What about my friends in the sub, are they all right?"
She might have answered. She opened her mouth as though she intended to, but one of the other interrogators shouldered her aside. He took the glass from my hand and said, "Don't worry about your buddies, we're taking care of them. Now, tell us about these Horch that you say are good guys." So I told them about the Two Eights and their nest, and why they were different from the cousin Horch.
It kept going until, along about the third or fourth wake-up pill, there was a change. My interrogators all stopped talking at once, turning toward the mirror wall. I knew why: they'd all heard something on their little earphones. At once a little door in the wall opened. Someone I knew walked in, looking both irritated and grim. It was the way Deputy Director Marcus Pell usually looked.
I stood up and offered him a hand to shake. "I'm Agent Dannerman," I told him.
The deputy director didn't answer at first. He ignored the hand and took one of the straight-backed chairs-its previous occupant getting up and out of the way fast-and regarded me for a moment. "That remains to be seen," he said. "How do we know you're who you say you are?"
I guessed, "Fingerprints? Retinal scan?" I think I was getting a little light-headed by then, regardless of the pills.
"Not good enough," he said judiciously. "I understand the Scarecrows can make an exact copy of anybody or anything they like. You could be a Scarecrow brain wearing a human body, for all I know."
"I'm not," I said wearily, and couldn't help adding, "For that matter, so could you."
He didn't take offense. He just nodded and said, "I think we need confirmation of your identity. Brigadier Morrisey! Come in, please."
The door that opened this time wasn't to the auditorium seats; it was the one that allowed suspects and interrogators to get in and out from the corridors outside. In a moment a clumsy-looking thing like a white-enameled kitchen refrigerator on wheels rolled in. I frowned at it, puzzled about what the deputy director was bringing this big metal thing in for, annoyed because it was blocking my view; I couldn't see my old boss, Hilda Morrisey, at all. Even when the thing rolled up close to me and I could see the door behind it closing again, there was no sign of Hilda.
Then a voice that I knew came out of the box. "Tell me, Danno, what was the name of the Kraut broad from the Mad King Ludwigs you were shacking up with?"
"Oh, my God," I said. "Hilda! They told me you were dead! What the hell are you doing in that thing?"
It-she-came to a full stop right across the table from me. There was nothing that looked human about the box. It had no face, only a rectangle of mirror glass at head height; I could not see what was behind it. But the voice was Hilda's, all right-a little fainter than I was used to, a little breathier, but definitely Hilda. "I'm not quite dead, Danno. I got shot up a little, is all, and the reason I'm still alive is that I've got this box to keep me going. Answer the question."
Evidently we wouldn't be catching up on each other's news for a while. "You mean Use?" I asked.
"Last name too," she ordered.
I cudgeled my memory. "Keinwasser? Something like that. I never heard her real name until somebody, I think it was you, told me about it after she was arrested, and I wasn't paying a lot of attention. If you remember, I was in Intensive Care at the time."
She didn't comment, just rapped out: "The name of my sergeant when you were working on the dope ring in New York."
"Uh. McEvoy? He was a master sergeant, but I don't know his first name."
"Your mother's birthday?" And when I told her that, she wanted the names of all my fellow lodgers in Rita Gummidge's rooming house, and the date of my promotion to senior agent, and the address of the little theater in Coney Island where my then girlfriend, Anita Berman, worked as ticket clerk when she didn't have a part in whatever play they were doing at the time. Hilda was thorough-maybe a little more thorough than the deputy director enjoyed, because he was drumming his fingers on the table before she was through.
Then she turned the big box to face him. "Looks all right as far as I can tell, Marcus," she said cautiously. "We'll get a better fix when the other witness gets here. I suggest we let him get some sleep."
She caught the deputy director in the middle of a yawn of his own. He suppressed it and said, "Very well. Put him in a cell."
That didn't sound good to me. Or to Hilda. "We can do better than that, Marcus," she said. "If he's him, he's entitled to a little something. I've reserved one of the VIP suites downstairs for him."
I think because he was too sleepy to object, Pell only shrugged. "Put a double guard on it. Now take him away."
The VIP suites were what they sounded like, plush little accommodations for high-ranking or otherwise important visitors who might need to be put up temporarily by the Bureau. They had comfortable beds and private baths and all the fixings. I didn't pay much attention to the niceties, though. I fell into the sack and, wake-up pills or none, in two minutes I was gone.
When I woke up there was an orderly standing by my bed, a coffee tray in his hand. "They want you to be ready to leave for another destination shortly, Agent Dannerman. There are clean clothes hanging behind the bathroom door."
Of course I asked him what this other destination I was supposed to be leaving for was, but the door was already closing behind him by the time I got the question out. I swallowed one whole cup of the coffee, scalding as it was, and headed for the shower. While I was dressing I got my first good look at myself in a human mirror. I looked skinny, and the beard I'd grown in captivity needed either trimming or shaving off entirely, I wasn't sure which. I was a good many months behind a haircut, too. I came out of the bathroom, wondering absently if the Bureau was going to have a barber wherever I was going…
A woman was standing by my unmade bed. Not just any woman; this one had the face and form of the one I had been dreaming about. I gaped at her unbelievingly. "Pat?" I croaked.
That seemed to annoy her. "Actually I'm Patrice," she said. "The Pat you're talking about is over at Camp Smolley, and by the way, you might be interested to know that she's married now. Married to you, as a matter of fact." She didn't give me time to absorb that, but went right on. "Listen, I'm starved. Put your babushka back on and let's get some breakfast while we talk."