Automatic tiger

Kit Reed

Automatic tiger, © 1964 by Mercury Press Inc. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Marzo de 1964). Traducción de J. Costa-Segur Giralt en Ciencia Ficción Selección-11, Libro Amigo 274, Editorial Bruguera S.A., primera edición en Junio de 1974.

He got the toy for his second cousin Randolph, a knobby-kneed boy so rich he was still in short trousers at thirteen. Bom poor, Benedict had no hope of inheriting his Uncle James’s money but he spent too much for the toy anyway. He had shriveled under his uncle s watery diamond eyes on two other weekend visits, shrinking in oppressive, dark-paneled rooms, and he wasn’t going back to Syosset unarmed. The expensive gift for Randolph, the old man’s grandson, should assure him at least some measure of respect. But there was more to it than that. He had felt a strange, almost feted feeling growing in him from the moment he first spotted the box, solitary and proud, in the dim window of a toy store not far from the river. 

It came in a medium-sized box with an orange-and-black illustration and the words ROYAL BENGAL TIGER in orange lettering across the top. According to the description on the package, it responded to commands which the child barked into a small microphone. Benedict had seen robots and monsters something like it on television that year. Own It With Pride, the box commanded. Edward Benedict, removed from toys more by income than by inclination, had no idea that the tiger cost ten times as much as any of its mechanical counterparts. Had he known, he probably wouldn’t have cared. It would impress the boy, and something about the baleful eyes on the box attracted him. It cost him a month’s salary and seemed cheap at the price. After all, he told himself, it had real fur. 

He wanted more than anything to open the box and touch the fur but the clerk was watching him icily so he fell back and let the man attack it with brown paper and twine. The clerk pushed the box into his arms before he could ask to have it delivered and he took it without question, because he hated scenes. He thought about the tiger all the way home on the bus. Like any man with a toy, he knew he wouldn’t be able to resist opening it to try it out. 

His hands were trembling as he set it in a comer of his living room. 

'"Just to see if it works,” he muttered. 'Then I’ll wrap it for Randolph.” He removed the brown paper and turned the box so the picture of the tiger was on top. 

Not wanting to rush things, he fixed his dinner and ate it facing the box. After he had cleared the table he sat at a distance, studying the tiger. As shadows gathered in the room something about the drawing seemed to compel him, to draw him to the verge of something important and hold him there, suspended, and he couldn’t help feeling that he and this tiger were something more than man and toy, gift and giver, and as the pictured tiger regarded him its look grew more and more imperative, so that he got up finally and went over to the box and cut the string. 

As the sides fell away he dropped his hands, disappointed at first by the empty-looking heap of fur. The fur had a ruggy look and for a minute he wondered if the packers at the factor^ had made a mistake. Then, as he poked it with his toe he heard a click and the steel frame inside the fur sprang into place and he fell back, breathless, as the creature took shape. 

It was a full-sized tiger, made from a real tiger-skin skillfully fitted to a superstructure of tempered metal so carefully made that the beast looked no less real than the steely-limbed animals Benedict had seen at the city zoo. Its eyes were of amber, ingeniously lit from behind by small electric bulbs, and Benedict noted hysterically that its whiskers were made of stiflE nylon filament. It stood motionless in an aura of junglebottom and power, waiting for him to find the microphone and issue a command. An independent mechanism inside it lashed the long, gold-and-black striped tail. It filled half the room. 

Aw^d, Benedict retreated to his couch and sat watching the tiger. Shadows deepened and soon the only light in the room came from the creature s fierce amber eyes. It stood rooted in the corner of the room, tail lashing, looking at him yellowly. As he watched it his hands worked on the couch, flexing and relaxing, and he thought of himself on the couch, the microphone that would conduct his orders, the tiger in the comer waiting, the leashed potential that charged the room. He moved ever so slightly and his foot collided with something on the floor. He picked it up and inspected it. It was the microphone. Still he sat, watching the gorgeous beast in the light cast by its own golden eyes. At last, in the dead stillness of late night or early morning, strangely happy, he brought the microphone to his lips and breathed into it tremulously. 

The tiger stirred. 

Slowly, Edward Benedict got to his .feet. Then, calling on all his resources, he brought his voice into his throat. 

"Heel,” he said. 

And hugely, magnificently, the tiger moved into place. 

‘"Sit,” he said, leaning shakily against the door, not quite ready to believe. 

The tiger sat. Even sitting it was as tall as he, and even now, in repose, with glossy fur lying smooth and soft against the body, every line spoke of the coiled steel within. 

He breathed into the microphone again, marveling as the tiger hfted one paw. It held the paw to its chest, looking at him, and it was so immense, so strong, so responsive that Benedict, in a burst of confidence, said, “Let's go for a walk” and opened the door. Avoiding the elevator he opened the fire door at the end of the corridor and started down the stairs, exulting as the tiger followed him silently, flowing like water over the dingy steps. 

“Shhhhhh.” Benedict paused at the door to the street and behind him the tiger stopped. He peered out. The street was so still, so unreal that he knew it must be three or four in the morning. “Follow me,” he whispered to the tiger, and stepped out into the darkness. They walked the dark sides of the streets, with the tiger ranging behind Benedict, disappearing into the shadows when it looked as if a car might pass too close. Finally they came to the park, and onct they had traveled a few yards down one of the asphalt paths the tiger began to stretch its legs like 

a horse in slow motion, moving restlessly at Benedict’s heels. He looked at it and in a rush of sorrow realized that a part of it still belonged to the jungle, that it had been in its box too long and it wanted to run. 

“Go ahead,” he said congestedly, half-convinced he would never see it again. 

With a bound the cat was off, running so fast that it came upon the park’s small artificial lake before it realized it, spanned the water in a tremendous leap and disappeared into the bushes at the far side. 

Alone, Benedict slumped on a bench, fingering the flat metal microphone. It was useless now, he was sure. He thought about the coming weekend, when he would have to appear at his uncle’s door empty-handed (“I had a toy for Randolph, Uncle James, but it got away. . . .”), about the money he had wasted (then, reflecting on the tiger, the moments they had spent together in his apartment, the vitality that had surged in the room just once for a change, he knew the money hadn’t been wasted). The tiger . . .Already burning to see it again, he picked up the microphone. Why should it come back when it was free again, and it had the whole park, the whole world to roam? Even now, despairing, he couldn’t keep himself from whispering the command. 

'‘Come back," he said fervently. “Come back.” And then, “Please.” 

For a few seconds, there was nothing. Benedict strained at the darkness, trying to catch some rustle, some faint sound, but there was nothing until the great shadow was almost upon him, clearing the bench across the way in a low, flat leap and stopping, huge and silent, at his feet. 

Benedict's voice shook. ‘Tou came back,” he said, touched. 

And the . Royal Bengal Tiger, eyes glowing amber, white ruflF gleaming in the pale light, put one paw on his knee. 

‘Tou came,” Benedict said, and after a long pause he put a tentative hand on the tiger’s head. “I guess we’d better go home,” he muttered, noticing now that it was beginning to get hght. “Come on — ” he caught his breath at the familiarity “ — Ben.” 

And he started for his rooms, almost running, rejoicing as the tiger sprang behind him in long, silken leaps. 

“We must sleep now,” he said to the tiger w^hen they reached the apartment. Then, when he had Ben settled properly, curled nose to tail in a corner, he dialled his office and called in sick. Exhilarated, exhausted, he flung himself on the couch, not caring for once that his shoes were on the furniture, and slept. 

When he woke it was almost time to leave for Syosset. In the comer, the tiger lay as he had left him, inert now, but still mysteriously alive, eyes glowing, tail lashing from time to time. 

“Hi,” Benedict said softly. “Hi, Ben,” he said, and then grinned as the tiger raised his head and looked at him. He had been thinking about how to get the tiger packed and ready to go, but as the great head lifted and the amber eyes glowed at him Benedict knew he would have to get something else for Randolph. This was his tiger. Moving proudly in the amber light, he began getting ready for his trip, throwing clean shirts and draw^ers into a suitcase, wrapping his toothbrush and razor in toilet paper and slipping them into the shoe pockets. 

“I have to go away, Ben,” he said when he was finished. “Wait, and I’ll be back Sunday night.” 

The tiger watched him intently, face framed by a silvery ruff. Benedict imagined he had hurt Ben!s feelings. “Tell you what, Ben,” he said to make him feel better, “FIl take the microphone, and if I need you I’ll give you a call. Here’s what you do. First you go to Manhattan and take the Triboro Bridge »» 

The microphone fit flatly against his breast, and for reasons Benedict could not understand it changed his whole aspect. 

“Who needs a toy for Randolph?” He was already rehearsing several brave speeches he would make to Uncle James. have a tiger at home.” 

On the train, he beat out several people for a seat next to the window. Later, instead of taking a bus or cab to his uncle’s place, he found himself calling and asking that someone be sent to pick him up at the station. 

In his uncle’s dark-paneled study, he shook hands so briskly that he startled the old man. Randolph, knees roughened and burning pinkly, stood belligerently at one elbow. 

suppose you didn’t bring me anything,” he said, chin out. 

For a split second, Benedict faltered. Then the extra weight of the microphone in his pocket reminded him. have a tiger at home,” he murmured. 

"Huh? Wuzzat?” Randolph jabbed him in the ribs. "Come on, let’s have it.” 

With a subvocal growl, Benedict cuffed him on the ear. 

Randolph was the picture of respect from then on. It had been simple enough — Benedict just hadn’t thought of it before. 

Just before he left that Sunday night, his Uncle James pressed a sheaf of debentures into his hand. 

‘Tou’re a fine young man, Edward,” the old man said, shaking his head as if he still couldn’t believe it. "Fine young man.” 

Benedict grinned broadly, "Goodbye, Uncle James.” I have a tiger at home. 

Almost before his apartment door closed behind him he had taken out the microphone. He called the tiger to his feet and embraced the massive head. Then he stepped back. The tiger seemed bigger, glossier somehow, and every hair vibrated with a life of its own. Ben’s ruff was like snow. Benedict had begun to change too, and he spent a long, reflective moment in front of the mirror, studying hair that seemed to crackle with life, a jaw that jutted ever so slightly now. 

Later, when it was safe to go out, they went to the park. Benedict sat on a bench and watched his tiger run, delighting in the creature’s springy grace. Ben’s forays were shorter this time, and he kept returning to the bench to rest his chin on Benedict’s knee. 

In the first glimmer of the morning Ben raced away once more, taking the ground in flat, racing bounds. He veered suddenly and headed for the lake in full knowledge that it was there, a shadowed streak, clearing the water in a leap that made Benedict come to his feet with a shout of joy. 


The tiger made a second splendid leap and came back to him. When Ben touched his master’s knee this time Benedict threw away his coat, yelling, and wheeled and ran with him. Benedict sprinted beside the tiger, careering down flat walks, drinking in the night. They were coursing down the last straight walk to the gate when a slight, feminine figure appeared suddenly in the path in front of them, hands outflung in fear, and as they slowed she turned to run and threw something all in the same motion, mouth open in a scream that couldn't find voice. Something squashy hit Ben on the nose, and he shook his head and backed ofiF. Benedict picked it up. It was a pocketbook. 

"Hey, you forgot your . . He started after her, but as he remembered he'd have to explain the tiger, his voice trailed off and he stopped, shoulders drooping helplessly, until Ben nudged him. "Hey, Ben," he said, wondering. "We scared her." 

He straightened his shoulders, grinning. "How about that." Then, with a new bravado he opened the purse, counted out several bills. "Well make it look like a robbery. Then the copsll never believe her story about a tiger."^He placed the purse out in the open, where she would see it, and then absently pocketed the bills, making a mental note to pay the woman back some day. "Come Ben," he said softly, "Let's go home." 

Spent, Benedict slept the morning through, head resting on the tiger's silken shoulder. Ben kept watch, amber eyes unblinking, the whipping of his tail the only motion in the silent room. 

He woke well after noon, alarmed at first bcause he was four hours late for work. Then he caught the tiger's eye and laughed. I have a tiger. He stretched luxuriously, yawning, and ate a slow breakfast and took his time about getting dressed. He found the debentures his uncle had given him on the dresser, figured them up and found they would realize a sizeable sum. 

For some days he was content to be lazy, spending afternoons in movies and evenings in restaurants and bars, and twice he even went to the track. The rest of the time he sat and watched the tiger. As the days passed he went to better and better restaurants, surprised to find that headwaiters bowed deferentially and fashionable women watched him with interest — all, he was sure, because he had a tiger at home. There came a day when he was tired of commanding waiters alone, restless in his new assurance, compelled to find out how far it would take him. He had spent the last of the proceeds from the debentures and (with a guilty twinge) the money he'd taken from the woman in the park. He began reading the business section of The Times with purpose, and one day he copied down an address and picked up the microphone. 

‘Wish me luck, Ben," he whispered, and went out. 

He was back an hour later, still shaking his head, bemused. ""Ben, you should have seen me. He'd never even heard of me — but he begged me to take the job — I had him cornered — I was a tiger — " he flushed modestly — meet the second vice president of the Pettigrew Works.” 

The tiger’s eyes flickered and grew bright. 

That Friday, Benedict brought home his first paycheck, and early the next morning it was Benedict who led the way to the park. He ran with the tiger until his eyes were swimming from the wind, and he ran with the tiger the next morning and every morning after that, and as they ran he grew in assurance. ‘*I have a tiger at home,** he would tell himself in time of crisis, and then he would forge on to the next thing. He carried the microphone like a talisman, secure in the knowledge that he could whisper in it at any time, and call the tiger to his side. He was named a first vice president in a matter of days. 

Even as his career progressed and he became a busy, important man, he never forgot the morning run. There were times when he would excuse himself from a party in a crowded night club to take his tiger ranging in the park, sprinting beside him in his tuxedo, boiled shirt-front gleaming in the dark. Even as he became bolder, more powerful, he remained faithful. 

Until the day he made his big gest deal. His employer had sent him to lunch with Quincy, their biggest customer, with instructions to sell him sixteen gross. 

''Quincy,” Benedict said, “You need twenty gross.” They were sitting against a dger-striped banquette in an expensive restaurant. Quincy, a huge, choleric man would have terrified him a month before. 

“You’ve got your nerve,” Quincy blustered. “What makes you think I want twenty gross?” 

For a second Benedict retreated. Then the tiger striping touched a chord in him and he snapped forward. “Of course you don’t want twenty gross,” he rumbled. “You need them.” 

Quincy brought thirty gross. Benedict was promoted to general manager. 

New title resting lightly on his shoulders, he gave himself the rest of the afternoon off. He was springing toward the door on cat feet when he was interrupted in midflight by an unexpect^ silky sound. “Well, Madehne,” he said. 

The secretary, dark, silkskinned, unapproachable until now, had come up beside him. She seemed to be trying to tell him something — something inviting. 

On impulse, he said, Tou’re coming to dinner with me tonight, Madeline.” 

Her voice was like velvet. T have a date, Eddy — my rich unde from Cambridge is in town.” 

He snorted. ‘'The — uh — uncle who gave you that mink? IVe seen him. He’s too fat,” and he added in a growl that dissolved her, ‘Til be at your place at eight.” 

“Why, Eddy ... All right.” She looked up trough furred lashes. “But I should warn you — I am not an inexpensive girl.” 

“You’ll cook dinner of course — then we may do the town.” He patted his wallet pocket, and then nipped her ear. “Have steak.” 

As he rummaged in his sock drawer that night, his hand hit something hard, and he pulled it out with a crawly, sinking feeling. The microphone — somehow he’d forgotten it this morning. It must have fallen in among his socks while he was dressing, and he’d been without it all day. All day. He picked it up, shaky with relief, and started to slip it into his tuxedo. Then he paused, thinking. Carefully he set it back in the drawer and shut it. He didn’t need it any more. He was the tiger now. 

That night, still rosy with drink and the heady sounds of music and Madeline’s breath coming and going in his ear, he went to bed without undressing and slept until it got light. When he woke and padded into the living room in his socks he saw Ben in the corner, diminished somehow, watching him, He had forgotten their run. 

“Sorry, old fellow,” he said as he left for work, giving the tiger a regretful pat. 

And “Got to hustle,” the next day, with a cursory caress. ‘Tm taking Madeline shopping.” 

As the days went by and Benedict saw more and more of the girl, he forgot to apologize. And the tiger remained motionless in the corner as he came and went, reproaching him. 

Benedict bought Madeline an Oleg Cassini. 

In the comer of the living room, a fine dust began to settle on Ben’s fur. 

Benedict bought Madeline a diamond bracelet. 

In the comer, a colony of moths found its way into the heavy fur on Ben’s breast. 

Benedict and Madeline went to Nassau for a week. They stopped at an auto dealer’s on their way back and Benedict bought Madeline a Jaguar. 

The composition at the roots of Ben’s alert nylon whiskers had begun to give. They sagged, and one or two fell. 

It was in the cab, on his way home from Madeline’s apartment, that Benedict examined his checkbook carefully for the first time. The trip and the down payment on the car had brought his accounts to zero. And there was a payment due on the bracelet the next day. But what did it matter? He shrugged. He was a man of power. At the door to his apartment he wrote the cabbie a check, grandly adding an extra five dollars as tip. Then he went upstairs, pausing briefly to examine his tan in a mirror, and went to bed. 

He awoke at three o’clock in the morning, prey to the shadows and the time of day, uneasy for the first time, and in the cold light of his bed lamp, went through his accounts again. There was less money than he’d realized — he had to go to the bank to cover the check for the cabbie, or the down payment on the Jag would bounce. But he’d written a check for the last installment on the bracelet, and that would be coming in, and the rent was overdue. . . . 

He had to have money now. He sat in bed, knees drawn up, musing, and as he thought he remembered the woman he and Ben had frightened that first day, and the money in her purse, and it came to him that he would get the money in the park. He remembered rushing down on the woman, her scream, and in memory that first accidental escapade with the tiger became a daring daylight robbery — hadn’t he spent the money? And as he thought back on it he decided to try it again, beginning to forget that the tiger had been with him and in fact, forgetting as he slipped into a strii>ed sweatshirt and tied a kerchief at his throat that he was not the tiger, so that he went out without even seeing Ben in the corner, running in low, long strides, hurrying to the park. 

It was stiU dark In the park and he paced the walks, light-footed as a cat, expanding in a sense of power as he stalked. A dark figure came through the gates — his prey — nd he growled a little, chuckling as he recognized her — the same sad woman — frightened of a tiger — and he growled again, running toward her, thinking, as he bore down on her, I will frighten her again. 

''Hey!” she yelled, as he rushed at her and he broke stride because she hadn’t shrunk from him in terror; she was standing her ground, feet a little wide, swinging her handbag. 

Eyeing the pocketbook, he circled her and made another rush. 

"Hand it over,” he snarled. 

"I beg your pardon,” she said coldly, and when he rushed at her with another growl, "What’s the matter wdth you?” 

"The pocketbook,” he said menacingly, hair bristling. 

"Oh, the pocketbook.** Abruptly she lifted the purse and hit him on the head. 

Startled, he staggered back, and before he could collect himself for another lunge, she had turned with an indignant snort and started out of the park. 

It was too light now to look for another victim. He peeled off the sweatshirt and went out of the park in his shirtsleeves, walking slowly, puzzling over the aborted robbery. He wa« still brooding as he went into a nearby coflFee shop for breakfast, and he worried over it as he ate his Texas steak. The snarl hadn't been quite right, he decided finally, and he straightened his tie and went too early to work. 

*The Jaguar company called me," Madeline said when she came in an hour later. ‘'Your check bounced." 

"Oh?” Something in her eyes kept him from making anything of it. "Oh,” he said mildly. "I'll take care of it.” 

'Tou'd better,” she said. Her eyes were cold. 

Ordinarily he would take this opportunity — before anyone else came in — to bite her on the neck, but this morning she seemed so distant (probably because he hadn't shaved, he decided) and he went back to his ofi&ce instead, scowling over several columns of figures on a lined pad. 

"It looks bad,” he murmured. "I need a raise.” 

His employer’s name was John Gilfoyle — Mr. Gilfoyle, or Sir, to most of his employees. Benedict had learned early that the use of the initials rattled him, and he used them to put himself at an advantage. 

Perhaps because he was off his feed that morning, perhaps because Benedict had forgotten his coat, Gilfoyle didn't even blink. "I've no time for that today,” he snapped. 

"You don't seem to understand.” 

Benedict filled his chest and paced the rug in front of the conference desk softly, noting uneasily that his shoes were muddy from the fiasco in the park, but still the tiger. "I want more money.” 

"Not today, Benedict.” 

"I could get twice as much elsewhere,” Benedict said. He bored in as he always did, but there seemed to be a flaw in his attitude — perhaps he was a bit hoarse from running in the early morning air — because Gilfoyle, instead of rising with an offer, as he always did, said, "You don't look very snappy this morning, Benedict. Not like a company man.” 

". . . The Welchel Works offered me . . Benedict was saying. 

‘Then why don't you go to the Welchel Works.” Gilfoyle slapped his desk, annoyed. 

‘Tou need me,” Benedict said. He stuck out his jaw as always, but the failure in the park had left him more shaken than he realized, and he must have said it in the wrong way. 

"I don’t need you,” Gilfoyle barked. "Get out of here or I may decide I don't even want you.” 

"You . . ."Benedict began. 

"Get out!” 

"Y — yessir.” Completely unnerved, he backed out of the office. 

In the corridor, he bumped into Madeline. 

"About that down payment . . she said. 

m tend to it. If I can just come over . . 

*'Not tonight/' she sniflFed. She seemed to sense a change in him. “I'm going to be a little busy." 

He was too shattered to protest. 

Back at his desk, he mulled over and over the figures in his notebook. At lunch he stayed in his chair, absently stroking his paperweight — a tiger-striped lump he had bought in palmier days, and as he stroked it he thought of Ben. For the first time in several weeks he dwelled on the tiger, unexpectedly, overwhelmingly homesick for him. He sat out the rest of the afternoon in misery, too unsure of himself now to leave the office before the clock told him it was time. As soon as he could he left, taking a cab with a five-spot he had found in a lower drawer, thinking all the time that at least the tiger would never desert him, that it would be good to take Ben out again, comforting to run with his old friend in the park. 

Forgetting the elevator, he raced up the stairs and into his living room, stopping only to switch on a small lamp by the door. “Ben," he said, and threws his arms around the tiger s neck. Then he went into his bedroom and hunted up the microphone. He found it in his closet, under a pile of dirty drawers. 

“Ben," he said softly into the microphone. 

It took the tiger a long time to get to his feet. His right eye was so dim now that Benedict could hardly see him. The fight behind the left eye had gone out. When his master called him to the door he moved slowly, and as he came into the lamplight, Benedict saw why. 

Ben’s tail was lashing only feebly, and his eyes were dimmed with dust. His coat had lost its luster, and the mechanism that moved his response to Benedict’s commands had stiffened with disuse. The proud silver ruff was yellow, spotted here and there where the moths had eaten it too close. Moving rustily, the tiger pressed his head against Benedict. 

“Hey, fella," Benedict said with a lump in his throat. “Hey. Tell you what," he said, stroking the thinning fur, “soon as it gets late enough we’ll go out to the park. A little fresh air — " he said, voice breaking “fresh air’ll put the spring back in you.” With an empty feeling that belied his words, he settled himself on the couch to wait. As the tiger grew near he took one of his silver-backed brushes and began brushing tlie tiger’s lifeless coat. The fur came out in patches, adhering to the soft bristles and Benedict saddened, put the brush aside. “It’ll be OK fella,” he said, stroking the tiger’s head to reassure himself. For a moment Ben’s eyes picked up the glow from the lamp, and Benedict tried to tell himself they had already begun to grow brighter. 

"It’s time,” Benedict said. "Cmon, Ben.” He started out the door and down the hall, going slowly. The tiger followed him creakily, and they began the painful trip to the park. 

Several minutes later the park gates loomed reassuringly, and Benedict pushed on, sure, somehow, that once the tiger was within their shelter his strength would begin to return. And it seemed true, at first, because the darkness braced the tiger in some gentle way, and he started off springily when Benedict turned to him and said, "Let’s go.” 

Benedict ran a few long, mad steps, telling himself the tiger was right behind him and then slowed, pacing the tiger, because he realized now that if he ran at full strength Ben would never be able to keep up with him. He went at a respectable lope for some distance, and the tiger managed to keep up with him, but then he found himself going slower and slower as the tiger, trying gallantly, moved his soft feet in the travesty of a run. 

Finally Benedict went to a bench and called him back, head lowered so the tiger wouldn’t see that he was almost crying. 

"Ben,” he said, "forgive me.” 

The big head nudged him and as Benedict turned the faint light from the one good eye illuminated his face. Ben seemed to comprehend his expression, because he touched Benedict’s knee with one paw, looking at him soulfully with his brave blind eye. Then he flexed his body and drew it under him in a semblance of his old powerful grace and set off at a run, heading for the artificial lake. The tiger looked back once and made an extra little bound, as if to show Benedict that he was his old self now, that there was nothing to forgive, and launched himself in a leap across the lake. He started splendidly, but it was too late — the mechanism had been unused for too long now, and just as he was airborne it failed him and the proud body stiffened in midair and dropped, rigid, into the lake. 

When he could see well enough to make his way to the lake Benedict went forward, still grinding tears from his eyes with heavy knuckles. Dust — a few hairs — floated on the water, but that was all. Ben was gone. Thoughtfully, Benedict took the microphone from his pocket and dropped it in the lake. He stood, watching the lake until the first light of morning came raggedly through the trees, struggling to reach the water. He was in no hurry because he knew, without being told, that he was finished at the office. He would probably have to sell the new wardrobe, the silver brushes, to meet his debts, but he was not particularly concerned. It seemed appropriate, now, that he should be left with nothing. ◄