When he was three years old, Isaac Asimov (born 1920) came to the United States from Russia with his parents. At seven he was already teaching his younger sister how to read. He soon began reading the science-fiction magazines in his father's candy store. He has been busy reading and writing ever since. Asimov writes a book every six weeks on average. He has published over four hundred works—more than any other author in America. "It's not my fault," he says. "I like to write and people seem willing to let me."
I saw the crowd about halfway down the block; and the police cars, too. I could hear the whine of an ambulance.
Icame out of the Museum of Natural History1 and was crossing the street on my way to the subway when I saw the crowd about halfway down the block; and the police cars, too. I could hear the whine of an ambulance.
For a minute, I hesitated, but then I walked on. The crowds of the curious just get in the way of officials trying to save lives. My Dad, who's a detective on the force, complains about that all the time.
I just kept my mind on the term paper I was going to have to write on air pollution for my 8th-grade class and mentally arranged the notes I had taken during the museum program on the subject.
Of course, I knew I would read about it in the afternoon papers. Besides, I would
1. Museum of Natural History:New York City museum housing one of the world's largest collections of natural science exhibits.
ask Dad about it after dinner. He sometimes talked about cases without telling too much of the real security details.
After I asked, Mom looked kind of funny and said, "He was in the museum at the very time."
I said, "I was working on my term paper. I was there first thing in the morning."
Mom looked very worried. "There might have been shooting in the museum."
"Well, there wasn't," said Dad soothingly. "This man tried to lose himself in there and he didn't succeed."
Dad doesn't like me bragging, so he frowned a little and said, "They didn't let him get away entirely—caught up with him outside, knifed him, and got away. We'll catch them, though. We know who they are."
He nodded his head. "They're what's left of the gang that broke into that jewelry
store two weeks ago. We managed to get the jewels back, but we didn't grab all the men. And not all the jewels either. One diamond was left. A big one—worth $30,000."
"Maybe that's what the killers were after," I said.
"Very likely. The dead man was probably trying to cross the other two and get away with that one stone for himself. They turned out his pockets, practically ripped off his clothes, after they knifed him."
"Did they get the diamond?" I asked.
"How can we tell? The woman who reported the killing came on him when he was just barely alive. She said he said three words to her, very slowly, 'Try—Sarah— Tops.' Then he died."
"Who is Sarah Tops?" asked Mom.
Dad shrugged. "I don't know. I don't even know if that's really what he said. The woman was pretty hysterical. If she's right and that's what he said then maybe the killers didn't get the diamond. Maybe the dead man left it with Sarah Tops, whoever she is. Maybe he knew he was dying and wanted to have it off his conscience."
"Is there a Sarah Tops in the phone book, Dad?" I asked.
Dad said, "Did you think we didn't look? No Sarah Tops, either one P or two P's. Nothing in the city directory. Nothing in our files. Nothing in the FBI files."
Mom said, "Maybe it's not a person. Maybe it's a firm. Sarah Tops Cakes or something."
"Could be," said Dad. "There's no Sarah Tops firm, but there are other kinds of Tops companies and they'll be checked for anyone working there named Sarah."
I got an idea suddenly and bubbled over. "Listen, Dad, maybe it isn't a firm either. Maybe it's a thing. Maybe the woman didn't hear 'Sarah Tops' but 'Sarah's top'; you know, a top that you spin. If the dead guy has a daughter named Sarah, maybe he gouged a bit out of her top and stashed the diamond inside and—"
Dad grinned. "Very good, Larry," he said. "But he doesn't have a daughter named Sarah. Or any relative by that name as far as we know. We've searched where he lived and there's nothing reported there that can be called a top."
"Well," I said, sort of let down and
disappointed, "I suppose that's not such a good idea anyway, because why should he say we ought to try it? He either hid it in Sarah's top or he didn't. He would know which. Why should he say we should try it?"
And then it hit me. What if—
I said, "Dad, can you get into the museum this late?"
"On police business? Sure."
"Dad," I said, kind of breathless, "I think we better go look. Now. Before the people start coming in again."
"I've got a silly idea. I—I—"
Dad didn't push me. He likes me to have my own ideas. He thinks maybe I'll be a detective too, someday. He said, "All right. Let's follow up your lead."
We got there just when the last purple bit of twilight was turning to black. We were let in by a guard.
I'd never been in the museum when it was dark. It looked like a huge, underground cave, with the guard's flashlight seeming to make things even darker and more mysterious.
We took the elevator up to the fourth floor, where the big shapes loomed in the bit of light that shone this way and that as the guard moved his flash. "Do you want me to put on the light in this room?" he asked.
"Yes, please," I said.
There they all were. Some in glass cases,
but the big ones in the middle of the large room. Bones and teeth and spines of giants that ruled the earth, millions of years ago. I said, "I want to look close at that one. Is it all right if I climb over the railing?"
"Go ahead," said the guard. He helped me.
I leaned against the platform, looking at the grayish plaster material the skeleton was standing on.
"What's this?" I said. It didn't look much different in color from the plaster.
"The guy was trying to get away and he saw his chance to throw this—hide it from the gang—"
Dad took the gum from me, squeezed it, and then pulled it apart. Inside, something caught the light and flashed. Dad put it in an envelope and said to me, "How did you know?"
I said, "Well, look at it."
It was a magnificent skeleton. It had a large skull with bone stretching back over the neck vertebrae.2 It had two horns over the eyes, and a third one, just a bump, on the snout. The nameplate said: Triceratops.3