"Horace is dead," Mrs. Pilsen said.
"He had pneumonitis," Isidore said. "He died on the trip to the hospital. Our senior staff physician, Dr. Hannibal Sloat, expressed the belief that nothing at this point could have saved him. But isn't it fortunate, Mrs. Pilsen, that we're going to replace him. Am I correct?"
Mrs. Pilsen, tears appearing in her eyes, said, "There is only one cat like Horace. He used to - when he was just a kitten - stand and stare up at us as if asking a question. We never understood what the question was. Maybe now he knows the answer." Fresh tears appeared. "I guess we all will eventually."
An inspiration came to Isidore. "What about an exact electric duplicate of your cat? We can have a superb handcrafted job by Wheelright & Carpenter in which every detail of the old animal is faithfully repeated in permanent - "
"Oh that's dreadful!" Mrs. Pilsen protested. "What are you saying? Don't tell my husband that; don't suggest that to Ed or he'll go mad. He loved Horace more than any cat he ever had, and he's had a cat since he was a child."
Taking the vidphone receiver from Isidore, Milt said to the woman, "We can give you a check in the amount of Sidney's list, or as Mr. Isidore suggested we can pick out a new cat for you. We're very sorry that your cat died, but as Mr. Isidore pointed out, the cat had pneumonitis, which is almost always fatal." His tone rolled out professionally; of the three of them at the Van Ness Pet Hospital, Milt performed the best in the matter of business phone calls.
"I can't tell my husband," Mrs. Pilsen said.
"All right, ma'am," Milt said, and grimaced slightly. "We'll call him. Would you give me his number at his place of employment?" He groped for a pen and pad of paper; Mr. Sloat handed them to him.
"Listen," Mrs. Pilsen said; she seemed now to rally. "Maybe the other gentleman is right. Maybe I ought to commission an electric replacement of Horace but without Ed ever knowing; could it be so faithful a reproduction that my husband wouldn't be able to tell?"
Dubiously, Milt said, "If that's what you want. But it's been our experience that the owner of the animal is never fooled. It's only casual observers such as neighbors. You see, once you get real close to a false animal - "
"Ed never got physically close to Horace, even though he loved him; I was the one who took care of all Horace's personal needs such as his sandbox. I think I would like to try a false animal, and if it didn't work then you could find us a real cat to replace Horace. I just don't want my husband to know; I don't think he could live through it. That's why he never got close to Horace; he was afraid to. And when Horace got sick - with pneumonitis, as you tell me - Ed got panic-stricken and just wouldn't face it. That's why we waited so long to call you. Too long . . . as I knew before you called. I knew." She nodded, her tears under control, now. "How long will it take?"
Milt essayed, "We can have it ready in ten days. "We'll deliver it during the day while your husband is at work." He wound up the call, said good-by, and hung up. "He'll know," he said to Mr. Sloat. "In five seconds. But that's what she wants."
"Owners who get to love their animals," Sloat said somberly, "go to pieces. I'm glad we're not usually involved with real animals. You realize that actual animal vets have to make calls like that all the time?" He contemplated John Isidore. "In some ways you're not so stupid after all, Isidore. You handled that reasonably well. Even though Milt had to come in and take over."
"He was doing fine," Milt said. "God, that was tough." He picked up the dead Horace. "I'll take this down to the shop; Han, you phone Wheelright & Carpenter and get their builder over to measure and photograph it. I'm not going to let them take it to their shop; I want to compare the replica myself."
"I think I'll have Isidore talk to them," Mr. Sloat decided. "He got this started; he ought to be able to deal with Wheelright & Carpenter after handling Mrs. Pilsen."
Milt said to Isidore, "Just don't let them take the original." He held up Horace. "They'll want to because it makes their work a hell of a lot easier. Be firm."
"Um," Isidore said, blinking. "Okay. Maybe I ought to call them now before it starts to decay. Don't dead bodies decay or something?" He felt elated.
After parking the departments speedy beefed-up hovercar on the roof of the San Francisco Hall of Justice on Lombard Street, bounty hunter Rick Deckard, briefcase in hand, descended to Harry Bryant's office.
"You're back awfully soon," his superior said, leaning back in his chair and taking a pinch of Specific No. 1 snuff.
"I got what you sent me for." Rick seated himself facing the desk. He set his briefcase down. I'm tired, he realized. It had begun to hit him, now that he had gotten back; he wondered if he would be able to recoup enough for the job ahead. "How's Dave?" he asked. "Well enough for me to go talk to him? I want to before I tackle the first of the andys."
Bryant said, "You'll be trying for Polokov first. The one that lasered Dave. Best to get him right out of it, since he knows we've got him listed."
"Before I talk to Dave?"
Bryant reached for a sheet of onionskin paper, a blurred third or fourth carbon. "Polokov has taken a job with the city as a trash collector, a scavenger."
"Don't only specials do that kind of work?"
"Polokov is mimicking a special, an anthead. Very deteriorated - or so he pretends to be. That's what suckered Dave; Polokov apparently looks and acts so much like an anthead that Dave forgot. Are you sure about the Voigt-Kampff scale now? You're absolutely certain, from what happened up in Seattle, that - "