Лекция: Марк Леви 8 страница
«At least something's being done, here. People are working. You tell them to go out and fish.»
«So you won't go back with me,» she said reasonably. «I didn't really think you would.»
«Then what did you show up here for?»
«To explain. So you'd understand how that whole damn foolish business happened, and what my part was. Why I got involved. And so you'd understand about yourself. I wanted you to be aware of your feelings... the hostility you feel toward Morec. The deep outrage you have for its cruelties. You're moving in the direction of integration. But I wanted to help. Maybe it'll pay you back for what we took. You did ask us for help. I'm sorry.»
«Being sorry is a good idea,» he said. «A step in the right direction.»
Gretchen got up and put her hand on the doorknob. «I'll take the next step. Goodbye.»
«Just sit down.» He propelled her back to the chair but she disengaged her arm. «What now?» he demanded. «More speeches?»
«No.» She faced him. «I give up. I won't cause you any more trouble. Go back to your little worrying wife; that's where you belong.»
«She's younger than you,» Allen said. «As well as smaller.»
«How wonderful,» Gretchen said lightly. «But—does she
understand about you? This core you have that makes you different and keeps you out of the system? Can she help bring that out as it should be? Because that's important, more important than anything else. Even this heroic position, this new job, isn't really—»
«Still the welfare worker,» he said. He was only partly listening to her; he was watching for Harry Priar.
«You do believe what I say, don't you? About you; about what's inside you.»
«Okay,» he said. «I'm taken in by your story.»
«It's true. I—really care about you, Allen. You're a lot like Donna's father. Equivocating about the system, leaving it and then going back. The same doubts and mistrusts. Now he's back here for good. I said goodbye to him. I'm saying goodbye to you, the same way.»
«One last thing,» Allen said. «For the record. Do you honestly suppose I'm going to pay that bill?»
«It does seem stupid. There's a routine procedure, and it was marked 'for services rendered,' so nobody would identify it. I'll have the account voided.» She was suddenly shy. «I'd like to ask for something. Possibly you'll laugh.»
«Let's hear it.»
«Why don't you kiss me goodbye?»
«I hadn't thought about it.» He made no move.
Stripping off her gloves, Gretchen laid them with her purse and raised her bare, slim fingers to his face. «There really isn't anybody named Molly, is there? You just made her up.» She dug her nails into his neck, tugging him down against her. Her breath, as she kissed him, was faintly sweet with peppermint, and her lips were moist. «You're so good.» she said, turning her face away.
On the floor of the office was a metal earwig-shaped creature, its receptor stalks high and whirring. The juvenile scuttled closer, then retreated in a dash of motion.
Allen grabbed up a paper weight from the desk and threw
it at the juvenile. He missed, and the thing kept on going. It was trying to get back out the window, through which it had come. As it scooted up the wall he lifted his foot and smashed it; the juvenile fell broken to the floor and crawled in a half-circle. Allen found a typewriter and dropped it on the crippled juvenile. Then he began searching for its reservoir of tape.
While he was searching, the office door fell open and a second juvenile spurted in. Behind it was Fred Luddy, snapping pictures with a flash camera. With him were Blake-Moffet technicians, trailing wires and earphones and lenses and mikes and batteries. After the Blake-Moffet people came a horde of T-M employees, screeching and fluttering.
«Sue us for the lock!» Luddy shouted, tripping on a mike cable. «Somebody get the tape from that busted juve—»
Two technicians jumped past Gretchen and swept up the remains of the demolished juvenile. «Looks intact, Fred.»
As Luddy snapped pictures, tape transports revolved and the surviving juvenile whirred exultantly. The office was jammed with people and equipment; Gretchen stood huddled in a corner, and somewhere far off burglar alarms were ringing.
«We reamed out the lock!» Luddy shouted, rushing up to Allen with his camera. «You didn't hear it; you were killing that juve we sent in through the window. Up six flights—those things climb!»
«Run,» Allen said to Gretchen, pushing people out of her way. «Get downstairs and out of here.»
She broke from her paralysis and started toward the open door. Luddy saw and yelped with dismay; he shoved his camera into a subordinate's arm and hurried after. As he caught hold of her arm, Allen reached him and socked him on the jaw. Luddy collapsed, and Gretchen, with a wail of despair, disappeared down the corridor.
«Oh boy,» one of Blake-Moffet's men chortled, helping Luddy up. «Have we got pictures.»
There were now three juveniles, and more were on the way. Allen seated himself on an air conditioner and rested. Turmoil surged everywhere; the Blake-Moffet people were still taking pictures and his own T--M [sic] people were trying to restore order.
«Mr. Purcell,» one of his secretaries—probably Vivian—was shrilling in his ear. «What'll we do? Call the police?»
«Get them out,» Allen grunted. «Bring up people from the other departments and throw them out. They're trespassing.»
«Yes sir,» the secretary said, and darted off.
Luddy, propped up by two of his compatriots, approached. He was fingering his chin and he had got back his camera. «The first tape's intact. You and that gal clinching; it's all down. And the rest, too; you busting the juve up and hitting me, and sending her off. And the door locked, the intercom ripped out—the whole works.»
From the confusion Harry Priar emerged. «What happened, Allen?» He saw Luddy and the juveniles. «Oh no,» he said. «No.»
«You didn't last long,» Luddy said to Allen. «You—» He ducked off as Priar started at him.
«I guess,» Priar said, «I didn't get here in time.»
«How'd you come? On your hands?» Some of the chaos was dying down. The Blake-Moffet people, and their equipment, were being forcibly ushered out. They were all smiles. His own staff was gathering in gloomy bunches, glancing at him and exchanging mutters. A T-M repairman was inspecting the hole in the office door where the lock had been. Blake-Moffet had carried the lock off with them, probably as a trophy.
«Invasion,» Priar said. «I never would have thought Luddy had the guts.»
«Blake's idea,» Allen said. «And Luddy's vendetta. So now it comes full cycle. I got Luddy, now he gets me.»
«Did they—I mean, they got what they wanted, didn't they?»
«Drums of it,» Allen said. «I did the ultimate; I stamped on a juvenile.»
«Who was the girl?»
Allen grimaced. «Just a friend. A niece visiting from the country. My daughter. Why do you ask?»
late that night he sat with Janet in the darkness, listening to the noises filtering through the walls from other apartments. The murmur of voices, faint music, rattle of dishes and pans, and indiscriminate globs of sound that could be anything. «Want to go for a walk?» he asked. «No.» Janet stirred a little beside him. «Want to go to bed?» «No. Just sit.»
Presently Allen said: «I ran into Mrs. Birmingham on my way to the bathroom. They brought the reports in a convoy of Getabouts. Six men guarding it. Now she's got it all hidden somewhere, probably in an old stocking.» «You're going into the block meeting?» «I'll be there, and I'm going to fight with everything I've got.»
«Will it do any good?» He reflected. «No.»
«Then,» Janet said, «we're washed up.» «We'll lose our lease, if that's what you mean. But that's all Mrs. Birmingham can do. Her authority ends when we leave here.»
«You've resigned yourself to that,» Janet said.
«I might as well.» He searched for his cigarettes, then gave up. «Haven't you?»
«Your family worked decades for this lease. All those years your mother was with the Sutton Agency before it merged. And your father in T-M's art department.»
«Pooled status,» he said. «You don't have to remind me. But I'm still Director of Telemedia. Maybe I can wangle a lease out of Sue Frost. Technically I'm entitled to one. We should be living in Myron Mavis' apartment, within walking distance of my work.»
«Would she give you a lease now? After this business today?»
He tried to imagine Sue Frost and the expression on her face. The sound of her voice. The rest of the day he had hung around his office at T-M expecting her to call, but she hadn't. No word had arrived from above; the powers had remained mum.
«She'll be disappointed,» he said. «Sue had the kind of hopes for me only a mother could invent.»
Up the ladder generation by generation. The schemings of old women, the secret ambitions and activity of parents boosting their children one more notch. Exhaustion, sweat, the grave.
«We can assume Blake-Moffet briefed her,» he said. «I guess it's time to tell you what happened last night at her apartment.»
He told Janet, and she had nothing to say. There wasn't enough light in the apartment to see her face, and he wondered if she had passed out with wretchedness. Or if some primordial storm were going to burst over him. But, when he finally nudged her, she simply said: «I was afraid it was something like that.»
«Why the h--l why?»
«I just had a feeling. Maybe I'm clairvoyant.» He had
told her about Doctor Malparto's Psionic-testing. «And it was the same girl?»
«The girl who got me to the Health Resort; the girl who helped kidnap me; the girl who leaned her bosom in my face and said I was the father of her child. A very pretty black-haired girl with a big lovely house. But I did come back. Nobody seems to care about that part.»
«I care,» Janet said. «Do you think she was in on the frame-up?»
«The idea entered my mind. But she wasn't. There was nothing to be gained, except by Blake-Moffet. And the Resort isn't part of Blake-Moffet. Gretchen was just witless and irresponsible and full of feminine vigor. Young love, they call it. And the idealism of her calling. Her brother's the same way: idealism, for the benefi [sic], of the patient.»
«It's so sort of crazy,» Janet protested. «All she did was walk into your office, and all you did was kiss her when she left. And you're completely ruined.»
«The word is 'vile enterprise,' » Allen said. «It'll be showing up Wednesday, about nine a.m. I wonder what Mr. Wales can do in my defense. It should pose quite a challenge to him.»
But the block meeting wasn't really important. The unknown was Sue Frost, and her reaction might not be in for days. After all, she had to confer with Ida Pease Hoyt: the reaction needed the stamp of absolute finality.
«Didn't you say something about bringing home a quart of ice cream?» Janet asked wanly.
«Seems sort of silly,» Allen said. «Everything considered.»
on wednesday morning the first-floor chamber of the housing unit was crammed to bursting. The gossip relay had carried the news to everybody, mostly through the wives. Stale cigarette smoke hung in its cloud and the air conditioning system was making no progress. At the far end was the platform on which the wardens sat, and they were all present.
In a freshly-starched dress, Janet entered slightly ahead of him. She went directly to a vacant table and placed herself before the microphone. The table, by an unverbalized protocol, was purposely untaken; in times of real crisis the wife was expected to aid her husband. To deprive her of that right would have been an affront to Morec.
Last time, no table had been left vacant. Last time had not been a crisis.
«This serious is,» Allen said to his wife, stationing himself behind her. «And this long is; this vindictive is; and this going to lose is. So don't get too involved. Don't try to save me, because I can't be saved. As we said last night.»
She nodded sightlessly.
«When they start burying their teeth in me,» he continued softly, as if humming a tune, «don't spring up and take them all on. This is so rigged it's ready to burst. For example, where's little Mr. Wales?»
The man who had faith in Allen Purcell was not present. And the doors were being closed: he was not coming.
«They probably discovered a loophole in his lease,» Allen said. Now Mrs. Birmingham was rising to her feet and ac-
cepting the agenda. «Or it turned out that he's the owner of a chain of w--e [sic] houses stretching from Newer York to Orionus.»
Janet still continued to face front, with a rigidity he had never before seen. She seemed to have created an exoskeleton for herself, a containing envelope through which nothing entered and nothing escaped. He wondered if she were saving herself for one grand slam. Perhaps it would appear when the ladies read their decision.
«It's dusty in here,» Allen said, as the room dwindled into silence. A few persons glanced at him, then looked away. Since he was coasting downhill it was a poor idea to associate themselves with him.
At the end of the room the juveniles were surrendering their tapes. Seven tapes in all. Six, he conjectured, were for him. And one for everybody else.
«We will first undertake the case of Mr. A. P.,» Mrs. Birmingham announced.
«Fine,» Allen said, relieved. Again heads turned, then swiveled back. A murmur drifted up and joined the haze of cigarette smoke.
In a sardonic way he was amused. The rows of solemn, righteous faces... this was a church, and these were the members of the congregation in pious session. With long strides he made his way to the defendant's stage, hands in his pockets. In the rear, at her table, Janet sat wooden-faced, as stiff and unyielding as a carved stick. He nodded to her, and the session began.
«Mr. A. P.,» Mrs. Birmingham said, in her noisy, authoritative voice, «did willingly and knowingly on the afternoon of October 22, 2114, in his place of business and during the working hours of the day, engage in a vile enterprise with a young woman. Further, Mr. A. P. did willingly and knowingly destroy an official monitoring instrument to avoid detection, and to further avoid detection he did strike the
face of a Morec citizen, damage private property, and in every possible fashion seek to conceal his actions.»
A series of clicks bounced from the loudspeaker, as the voice warmed up. The interconnecting network was in operation: the speaker hummed, buzzed and then spoke.
«Definition. Be specific. Vile enterprise.»
Mrs. Birmingham adjusted her glasses and read on. «Mr. A. P. did welcome the young woman—not his lawful wife—into his office at the Committee Telemedia Trust, and there he did lock himself in with her, did take precautions to guarantee that he not be discovered, and, when discovered, was in the act of petting and embracing and sexually fondling the young woman about the shoulder and face, and had so placed his body that it was in contact with that of hers.»
«Is this the same Mr. A. P. who was up before us the week before last?» the voice asked.
«It is,» Mrs. Birmingham said, without reluctance.
«And this last week he was not present at the meeting?» The voice then declared: «Mr. A. P. is not being judged for his absence last week, and his lapse of the previous week has already been dealt with by this gathering.»
The mood of the gathering was now varied. As always, many of the members were curious; some were bored and not particularly concerned. A few appeared unusually interested, and it was those to whom Allen paid attention.
«Mr. A. P.,» the voice said. «Was this the first time you had met the young woman?»
«No,» he said. «I'd seen her before.» It was a trap, practiced as a matter of routine: if his reply was that yes, this was the first time, he was open for the charge of promiscuity. Sexual misconduct was better understood if it was confined to one partner; Miss J. E. had been cleared by that point, and he intended to use it, too.
«Often?» the voice asked, infinitely toneless.
«Not in excess. We were good friends. We still are. I
think a great deal of Miss G. M. I have the highest respect for her, and so does my wife.»
«Your wife knows her?» the voice asked. It answered its own question: «He just said so.»
Allen said: «Let me make this clear. Miss G. M. is a responsible woman, and I have absolute faith in her moral integrity. Otherwise I wouldn't have admitted her to my office.» His job was a matter of public knowledge, so he took the plunge. «In my position as Director of Telemedia, I must be highly careful of my choice of friends. Therefore—»
«How long have you been director?»
He hesitated. «Monday was my first day.»
«And that was the day this young woman appeared?»
«People streamed in and out all day. Bundles of 'flowers' arrived; you're familiar with the protocol of congratulation. I was besieged by well-wishers. Miss G.M. was one of them. She dropped by to wish me luck.»
The voice said: «A great deal of luck.» Several persons smirked knowingly. «You locked the door, did you? You ripped out the intercom? You phoned for a Getabout to pick the two of you up as soon as possible?»
To his knowledge this information wasn't available on the official report. He felt uneasy. «I locked the door because people had been barging in all day. I was nervous and irritable. Frankly, I was a little overwhelmed by the job, and I didn't care to see anybody. As to the intercom—» He lied shamelessly, without conscience. Under the system there was no choice. «Being unfamiliar with my new office I inadvertently tripped over the wires. The wires broke. Anybody in business is aware that such things happen frequently—and at exactly such times.»
«Indeed,» the voice said.
«Miss G.M.,, [sic]» Allen went on, «stayed about ten minutes. When the monitoring device entered, I was saying goodbye to her. As she left she asked if she could kiss me, as a token of congratulation. Before I could say no, she had
done so. That was what happened, and that was what the monitor saw.»
«You tried to destroy the monitor.»
«Miss G.M. screamed; she was taken unawares. It had entered by the window and neither of us noticed it. To be honest, we both imagined it was some sort of menace. I'm not clear now as to exactly what I thought it was. I heard Miss G.M. scream; I saw a blur of motion. Instinctively I kicked out, and my foot connected with it.»
«This man you hit.»
«At Miss G.M.'s scream the door was forced and a number of hysterical people burst in. There was bedlam for a time, which is reported. A man ran up and started to grab at Miss G.M. I thought it was an attack aimed at Miss G.M., and I had no choice but to defend her. As a gentleman it was incumbent on me.»
«Does the record bear that out?» the voice asked.
Mrs. Birmingham consulted. «The individual who was struck was attempting physically to apprehend the young woman.» She turned a page. «However, it is stated that Mr A.P. had instructed the woman to flee the scene.»
«Naturally,» Allen said. «Since I feared an attack on her I wanted her to escape to safety. Consider the situation. Miss G.M. enters my office to wish me—»
«This is the same Miss G.M.,» the voice interrupted, «with whom you spent four days and nights on an inter-S ship? The same Miss G.M. who registered under a phony name in order to conceal her identity? Is this not the same Miss G.M. with whom you have committed adultery at a number of times, in a number of places? Is it not true that all this has been concealed from your wife and that in reality your wife has never met this woman and could not possibly have any opinion of her except the normal opinion of a wife toward her husband's mistress?»
Allen waited for the noise to die down. «I have never
committed adultery with anybody. I have no romantic relationship with Miss G.M. I have never—»
«You fondled her; you kissed her; don't you call that romantic?»
«Any man,» Allen said, «who is capable of sexual activity during his first day at a new job is an unusual man.»
Appreciative laughter. And a scatter of applause.
«Is Miss G.M. pretty?» This, in all probability, was a wife. The planted questioner, with extra information at his disposal, had temporarily retired.
«I suppose,» Allen said. «Now that I think of it. Yes, she was attractive. Some men would think so.»
«When did you first meet her?»
«Oh, about—» And then he broke off. He had almost fallen on that one. Two weeks was the wrong answer. No friendship of two weeks included a hug and kiss, in the Morec world. «I'll have to think back,» he said, as if it were decades. «Let's see, when I first met her I was working for.. .» He let his voice trail off, until the questioner became impatient and asked:
«How did you meet her?»
In the back of his mind Allen sensed that the enemy was closing in. There were many questions he couldn't answer, questions for which no evasion would work. This was one of them.
«I don't remember,» he said, and saw the floor open to receive him. «Some mutual friends, maybe.»
«Where does she work?»
«I don't know.»
«Why did you take a four-day trip with her?»
«Prove that I did.» He had the way out of that, at least. «Is that in the report?»
Mrs. Birmingham searched, and shook her head no.
«Mr. A.P.,» the voice said, «I'd like to ask you this.» He couldn't tell if this were the same accuser; warily, he
assumed it was. «Two weeks ago, when you arrived home drunk. Had you been with this woman?»
«No,» he said, which was true.
«Are you positive? You had been alone at your office; you took a sliver to Hokkaido; you showed up several hours later clearly having had—»
«I didn't even know her then,» he said. And realized his utter and final mistake. But now, alas, it was too late.
«You met her less than two weeks ago?»
«I had seen her before.» His voice came out insect-frail, weak with awareness of defeat. «But I didn't know her well.»
«What happened between you and her during the last two weeks? Was that when the relationship grew?»
Allen reflected at length. No matter how he answered, the situation was hopeless. But it was bound to end this way. «I'm not aware,» he said at last, half-idly, «that it ever grew, then or any other time.»
«To you a relationship with a young woman not your wife that involves petting and fondling and the juxtaposition of bodies—»
«To a diseased mind any relationship is foul,» Allen said. He got to his feet and faced the people below him. «I'd like to see who I'm talking to. Come on out from under your rock; let's see what you look like.»
The impersonal voice went on: «Are you in the habit of putting your hands on the bodies of young women with whom you happen, during the course of the day, to come in contact? Do you use your job as a means by which—»
«I tell you what,» Allen said. «If you'll identify yourself I'll knock the living Jesus out of you. I'm fed-up with this faceless accusation. Obscene, sadistic minds are using these meetings to pry out all the sordid details, tainting every harmless act by pawing over it, reading filth and guilt into every normal human relationship. Before I step off this stage I have one general, theoretical statement to make. The world would be a lot better place if there was no morbid in-
quisition like this. More harm is done in one of these sessions than in all the copulation between man and woman since the creation of the world.»
He reseated himself. No sound was audible anywhere. The room was totally silent. Presently Mrs. Birmingham said: «Unless anybody wishes to make any further statements, the Council will prepare its decision.»
There was no response from the impersonal voice of «justice.» Allen, hunched over, realized that it had said not one word in his defense. Janet still sat like a stick of wood. Possibly she agreed with the accusations. At the moment it didn't really matter to him.
The council of ladies conferred for a period that seemed to him unnecessarily long. After all, the decision was foregone. He plucked at a thread on his sleeve, coughed, twisted restlessly on the chair. At last Mrs. Birmingham stood.
«The block-neighbors of Mr. A.P.,» she stated, «regret that they are required to find Mr. A.P. to be an undesirable tenant. This exceptionally unfortunate is, since Mr. A.P. has been an exemplary tenant in this housing unit for many years, and his family before him. Mr. A.P., in point of fact, was born in the apartment he now holds. Therefore it is with deep reluctance that the Council, speaking for Mr. A.P.'s block-neighbors, declares his lease to be void as of the sixth day of November, 2114, and with even deeper reluctance petitions Mr. A.P. to remove his person, family, and possessions from these premises by that date.» Mrs. Birmingham was silent a moment and then concluded: «It is also hoped that Mr. A.P. will understand that given the circumstances the Council and his block-neighbors had no choice in the matter, and that they wish him the best of personal luck. In addition, the Council wishes to make clear its conviction that Mr. A.P. is a man of greatest fortitude and perseverance, and it is the Council's belief that Mr. A.P. will surmount this temporary difficulty.» Allen laughed out loud.
Mrs. Birmingham glanced at him quizzically, then folded up her statement and stepped back. Allen walked from the stage, down the steps and across the crowded room to the table at which his wife sat.
«Come on,» he said to her. «We might as, well leave.»
As the two of them pushed outside they heard Mrs. Birmingham droning into the next indictment.
«We will now undertake the case of R.P., a boy, age nine, who did willingly and knowingly on the morning of October 21, 2114, scrawl certain pornographic words on the wall of the community bathroom of the second floor of this housing unit.»
«Well,» Allen said to his wife, as the door was locked after them, «that's that.»
«How do you feel?» he asked.
«It seems so unreal.»
«It's real. We have two weeks to get out. Temporary difficulty.» He shook his head. «What a travesty.»
Loitering in the corridor was Mr. Wales, a folded newspaper under his arm. As soon as he saw Allen and Janet he walked hesitantly forward. «Mr. Purcell.»
Allen halted. «Hello, Mr. Wales. We missed you.»
«I wasn't in there.» Mr. Wales seemed both apologetic and animated. «Mr. Purcell, my new lease came through. That's why I wasn't there; I'm not part of this unit any more.»
«Oh,» Allen said. So they hadn't eased him out; they had bought up a superior lease and presented it to him. Presumably Mr. Wales was ignorant of the purpose of his good fortune; after all, he had his own problems.