* * * * *
"Now, officer," Blote said, "You're acting hastily. Actually, I'm working in the interest of this little world, as my associate Dan will gladly confirm. I have information which will be of considerable interest to you. Snithian has stated that he is in the employ of the Ivroy--"
"If the Ivroy's so powerful, why was it necessary to hire Snithian to steal pictures?" Dan interrupted.
"Perish the thought, Dan. Snithian's assignment was merely to duplicate works of art and transmit them to the Ivroy."
"Here," Snithian cut in. "Restrain that obscene mouth!"
Dzhackoon raised a hand. "Kindly remain silent, sir. Permit my prisoners their little chat."
"You may release them to my custody," Snithian snapped.
Dzhackoon shook his head. "Hardly, sir. A most improper suggestion--even from an agent of the Ivroy." He nodded at Dan. "You may continue."
"How do you duplicate works of art?" Dan demanded.
"With a matter duplicator. But, as I was saying, Snithian saw an opportunity to make extra profits by retaining the works for repeated duplications and sale to other customers--such as myself."
"You mean there are other--customers--around?"
"I have dozens of competitors, Dan, all busy exporting your artifacts. You are an industrious and talented race, you know."
"What do they buy?"
"A little of everything, Dan. It's had an influence on your designs already, I'm sorry to say. The work is losing its native purity."
Dan nodded. "I have had the feeling some of this modern furniture was designed for Martians."
"Ganymedans, mostly. The Martians are graphic arts fans, while your automobiles are designed for the Plutonian trade. They have a baroque sense of humor."
"What will the Ivroy do when he finds out Snithian's been double-crossing him?"
"He'll think of something, I daresay. I blame myself for his defection, in a way. You see, it was my carrier which made it possible for Snithian to carry out his thefts. Originally, he would simply enter a gallery, inconspicuously scan a picture, return home and process the recording through the duplicator. The carrier gave him the idea of removing works en masse, duplicating them and returning them the next day. Alas, I agreed to join forces with him. He grew greedy. He retained the paintings here and proceeded to produce vast numbers of copies--which he doubtless sold to my competitors, the crook!"
Dzhackoon had whipped out a notebook and was jotting rapidly.
"Now, let's have those names and addresses," he said. "This will be the biggest round-up in TDMS history."
"And the pinch will be yours, dear sir," Blote said. "I foresee early promotion for you." He held out his shackled wrists. "Would you mind?"
"Well...." Dzhackoon unlocked the cuffs. "I think I'm on firm ground. Just don't mention it to Inspector Spoghodo."
"You can't do that!" Snithian snapped. "These persons are dangerous!"
"That is my decision. Now--"
Snithian brought out the pistol with a sudden movement. "I'll brook no interference from meddlers--"