By Randall Garrett (1927-87).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, July 1959.
Reprinted in Science Fiction Greats, Summer 1969.
Novelette (21 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"The featureless round ball hovered in the air—and only one man knew the secret of its mask of innocence."
and Sergeant Hurst, a pal with the police, were serving a subpoena when they discovered Thursday, killed with a coagulator pistol, a nasty way to die:
"The corpse had the all-over blue look and the odd, bloated stiffness that indicated the protein change within the cells and the nearly instantaneous clotting of the blood that resulted when a coagulator was used."
The D.A. is satisfied enough with the circumstantial evidence to press charges against Ross, who hasn't helped his case any by using a gamma projector and leaving it covered with his fingerprints in Thursday's office the day of the murder—bad enough, but the real killer certainly wouldn't mind if Ross were to take the fall for not only Thursday's death but also those eight other murders-by-coagulator he's helped to commit in the past two months.
If there's one thing Ross Underhill needs more than anything else right now, it's a good lawyer . . .
a lot like a Perry Mason episode with futuristic dialogue—also, despite the title, this isn't a comedy.
- Another of the great pulp writers, Randall Garrett is gone but definitely not forgotten; there's more about him at Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the International Review of Science Fiction (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and Noah Stewart's weblog (HERE); at the moment 46 of his shorter works are online (see HERE for links).
The bottom line: "The world of the future will be an even more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to
be waited upon by our robot slaves."
— Norbert Wiener