Лекция: Марк Леви 7 страница
«I'll get another.» He started to hang up, then asked: «Has Mrs. Frost been around?»
«She phoned several times.»
«That sounded ominous. „What'd you tell her? That my mind gave out and I fled to the Resort?“
»I said you were winding up your aflairs [sic] and couldn't be disturbed." Janet breathed huskily into the phone, deafening him. «Allen, I'm so glad you're back. I was so worried.»
«How many pills did you swallow?»
«Well, quite a few. I—couldn't sleep.»
He hung up, dug out another quarter, and dialed Sue Frost's personal number. After a time she answered... the familiar calm, dignified voice.
«This is Allen,» he said. «Allen Purcell. I just wanted to check with you. Things coming along all right at your end?»
«Mr. Purcell,» she said harshly, «be at my apartment in ten minutes. This an order is!»
He stared at the dead phone. Then he left the phone booth and started walking.
The Frost apartment directly overlooked the Spire, as did the apartments of all Committee Secretaries. Allen took a reassuring breath and then climbed the stairs. A clean shirt, a bath, and a long rest would have helped, but there was no time for luxuries. And he could, of course, pass his appearance off as the effects of a week or so spent closing down business; he had been slaving night and day at the Agency, trying to get all the loose ends to come out. With that in mind he rang Mrs. Frost's doorbell.
«Come in.» She stood aside and he entered. In the single room sat Myron Mavis looking weary, and Ida Pease Hoyt looking grim and formal.
«Hello,» Allen said, with a strong sense of doom.
«Now,» Mrs. Frost said, coming around in front of him. «Where have you been? You weren't at your Agency; we checked there a number of times. We even sent a bonded representative to sit in with your staff. A Mr. Priar is operating Allen Purcell, Inc. during your absence.»
Allen wondered if he should lie or tell the truth. He decided to lie. The Morec society couldn't bear the truth; it would punish him and keep on going. And somebody else would be named Director of T-M, a creature of Blake-Moffet.
«Harry Priar is acting administrator,» he said. «As Myron here is acting Director of T-M until I take over. Are you trying to say I've been on salary the last week?» That certainly wasn't so. «The understanding was clear enough: I go to work next Monday, tomorrow. This past week has been my own. T-M has no more claim over me this past week than it had last year.»
«The point—» Mrs. Frost began, and then the doorbell sounded. «Excuse me. This should be them now.»
When the door opened Tony Blake from Blake-Moffet entered. Behind him was Fred Luddy, a briefcase under his arm. «Good evening, Sue,» Tony Blake said agreeably. He was a portly, well-dressed man in his late fifties, with snow-white hair and rimless glasses. «Evening, Myron. This is an honor, Mrs. Hoyt. Evening, Allen. Glad to see you back.»
Luddy said nothing. They all seated themselves, facing one another, swapping tension and hauteur. Allen was acutely aware of his baggy suit and unstarched shirt; by the minute he looked less like an overworked businessman and more like a college radical from the Age of Waste.
«To continue,» Mrs. Frost said. «Mr. Purcell, you were not at your Agency as your wife told us. At first we were puzzled, because we believed there was going to be mutual confidence between us. It seemed odd that a situation of this sort, with you dropping mysteriously out of sight, and these vague evasions and denials by your—»
«Now look here,» Allen said. «You're not addressing a metazoon and a mammal; you're addressing a human being who's a citizen of the Morec society. Either you speak to me civilly or I leave now. I'm tired and I'd like to get some sleep. I'll leave it up to you.»
Curtly, Mrs. Hoyt said: «He's quite right, Sue. Stop playing boss, and for heaven's sake get that righteous look off your face. Leave that to God.»
«Perhaps you don't have confidence in me,» Mrs. Frost answered, turning. «Should we settle that first?»
Sprawled out in his chair, Myron Mavis snickered. «Yes, I'd like this one better. Do settle it first, Sue.»
Mrs. Frost became flustered. «Really, this whole thing is getting out of hand. Why don't I fix coffee?» She arose. «And there's a little brandy, if nobody feels it's contrary to public interest.»
«We're sinking,» Mavis said, grinning across at Allen. «Glub, glub. Under the waves of sin.»
The tension ebbed and both Blake and Luddy began shuffling, conferring, murmuring. Luddy put on his hornrimmed glasses and two serious heads were bent over the contents of his briefcase. Mrs. Frost went to the hotplate and put on the coffee-maker. Still seated, Mrs. Hoyt regarded a spot on the floor and spoke to no one. As always, she wore heavy furs, dark stockings, and low-heeled shoes. Allen had a great deal of respect for her; he knew her for an adroit manipulator.
«You're related to Major Streiter,» he said. «Isn't that what I've heard?»
Mrs. Hoyt favored him with a look. «Yes, Mr. Purcell. The Major was a progenitor on my father's side.»
«Terrible about the statue,» Blake put in. «Imagine an outbreak like that. It defies description.»
Allen had forgotten about the statue. And the head. It was still in the closet, unless Janet had done something with it. No wonder she had gulped down bottles of pills: the head had been there with her, all during the week.
«They'll catch him,» Luddy said, with vigor. «Or them. Personally it's my conviction that an organized gang is involved.»
«There's something almost satanic in it,» Sue Frost said. «Stealing the head, that way. Coming back a few days later and—right in front of the police—stealing it and taking it heaven knows where. I wonder if it'll ever turn up.» She located cups and saucers.
When the coffee had been served, the discussion took up where it had left off. But moderation prevailed. Cooler heads were at work.
«Certainly there's no reason to quarrel,» Mrs. Frost said. «I suppose I was upset. Honestly, Allen, look at the spot you put us in. Last Sunday—a week ago—I picked up the
phone and called your apartment; I wanted to catch you with your wife so we could decide on our Juggle evening.»
«I'm sorry,» Allen murmured, scrutinizing the wall and mentally twiddling his thumbs. In some ways this was the worst part, the rhetoric of apology.
«Would you like to tell us what happened?» Mrs. Frost continued. Her savoir-faire had returned, and she smiled with her usual grace and charm. «Consider this a friendly inquiry. We're all your friends, even Mr. Luddy.»
«What's the Blake-Moffet team doing here?» he asked. «I can't see how this concerns them. Maybe I'm being overly blunt, but this seems to be a matter between you and me and Mrs. Hoyt.»
A pained exchange of glances informed him that there was more to it. As if the presence of Blake and Luddy hadn't said that already.
«Come on, Sue,» Mrs. Hoyt rumbled in her gravelly voice. «When we couldn't get in touch with you,» Mrs. Frost went on, «we had a conference and we decided to sit on it. After all, you're a grown man. But then Mr. Blake called us. T-M has done a great deal of business with Blake-Moffet over the years, and we all know one another. Mr. Blake showed us some disturbing material, and we—»
«What material?» Allen demanded. «Let's have a look at it.» Blake answered. «It's here, Purcell. Don't get upset; all in due time.» He tossed some papers over, and Allen caught them. While he examined them Mrs. Frost said:
«I'd like to ask you, Allen. As a personal friend. Never mind those papers; I'll tell you what it is. You haven't separated from your wife, have you? You haven't had a quarrel you'd rather keep quiet, something that's come up between you that means a more or less permanent altercation?»
«Is that what this is about?» He felt as if he had been dipped in sheer cold. It was one of those eternal blind alleys that Morec worriers got themselves into. Divorce, scandal,
sex, other women—the whole confused gamut of marital difficulty.
«Naturally,» Mrs. Hoyt said, «it would be incumbent on you to refuse the directorship under such circumstances. A man in such a high position of trust—well, you're familiar with the rest.»
The papers in his hands danced in a jumble of words, phrases, dates and locations. He gave up and tossed them aside. «And Blake's got documentation on this?» They were after him, but they had got themselves onto a false lead. Luckily for him. «Let's hear it.»
Blake cleared his throat and said: «Two weeks ago you worked alone at your Agency. At eight-thirty you locked up and left. You walked at random, entered a commissary, then returned to the Agency and took a ship.»
«What then?» He wondered how far they had gone.
«Then you eluded pursuit. We, ah, weren't equipped to follow.»
«I went to Hokkaido. Ask my block warden. I drank three glasses of wine, came home, fell on the front steps. It's all a matter of record; I was brought up and exonerated.»
«So.» Blake nodded. «Well, then. It's our contention that you met a woman; that you had met her before; that you have willingly and knowingly committed adultery with this woman.»
«Thus collapses the juvenile system,» Allen said bitterly. «Here ends empirical evidence. Back comes witch-burning. Hysterics and innuendo.»
«You left your Agency,» Blake continued, «on Tuesday of that week, to make a phone call from a public booth. It was a call you couldn't make in your office, for fear of being overheard.»
«To this girl?» They were ingenious, at least. And they probably believed it. «What's the girl's name?'
»Grace Maldini," Blake said. «About twenty-four years
old, standing five-foot-five, weighing about one twenty-five. Dark hair, dark skin, presumably of Italian extraction.»
It was Gretchen, of course. Now he was really perplexed.
«On Thursday morning you were two hours late to work. You walked off and were lost along the commute lanes. You deliberately chose routes through the thickest traffic.»
«Conjecture,» Allen said. But it had been true; he was on his way to the Health Resort. Grace Maldini? What on earth was that about?"
«On Saturday morning of that week,» Blake continued, «you did the same thing. You shook off anybody who might have been following you and met this girl at an unknown point. You did not return to your apartment that day. That night, a week ago yesterday, you boarded an inter-S ship in the company of the girl, who registered herself as Miss Grace Maldini. You registered under the name John Coates.» When the ship reached Centaurus, you and the girl transferred to a second ship, and again you shook monitoring. You did not return to Earth during the entire week. It was within that period that your wife described you as 'completing work at your Agency.' This evening, about thirty minutes ago, you stepped off an inter-S ship, dressed as you are now, entered a phone booth, and then came here."
They were all looking at him, waiting with interest. This was an ultimate block meeting: avid curiosity, the need to hear every lurid detail. And, with that, the solemn Morec of duty.
At least he knew how he had been gotten from Earth to Other World. Malparto's therapeutic drugs had kept him docile, while Gretchen thought up names and made the arrangements. Four days in her company: the first emergence of John Coates.
«Produce the girl,» Allen said.
«Where is she?» They could look forever for Grace Maldini. And without her it was so much hearsay. «Let's see her.
Where does she live? What's her lease? Where does she work? Where is she right now?»
Blake produced a photograph, and Allen examined it. A blurred print: he and Gretchen seated side by side in large chairs. Gretchen was reading a magazine and he was asleep. Taken on the ship, no doubt, from the other end of the lounge.
«Incredible,» he mocked. «There I am, and a woman's sitting next to me.»
Myron Mavis took the picture, studied it, and sneered. «Not worth a cent. Not worth the merest particle of a rusty Mexican cent. Take it back.»
Mrs. Hoyt said thoughtfully: «Myron's right. This isn't proof of anything.»
«Why did you assume the name Coates?» Luddy spoke up. «If you're so innocent—»
«Prove that, too,» Mavis said. «This is ridiculous. I'm going home; I'm tired, and Purcell looks tired. Tomorrow is Monday and you know what that means for all of us.»
Mrs. Frost, arose, folded her arms, and said to Allen: «We all agree it isn't remotely possible to call this material proof. But it's disturbing. Evidently you did make these phone calls; you did go somewhere out of the ordinary; you have been gone the last week. What you tell me I'll believe. So will Mrs. Hoyt.»
Mrs. Hoyt inclined her head.
«Have you left your wife?» Mrs. Frost asked. «One simple question. Yes or no.»
«No,» he said, and it was really, actually true. There was no lie involved. He looked her straight in the eye. «No adultery, no affair, no secret love. I went to Hokkaido and got material. I phoned a male friend.» Some friend. «I visited the same friend. This last week has been an unfortunate involvement in circumstances beyond my control, growing out of my retiring from my Agency and accepting the director-
ship. My motives and actions have been in the public interest, and my conscience is totally clear.»
Mrs. Hoyt said: «Let the boy go. So he can take a bath and get some sleep.»
Her hand out, Sue Frost approached Allen. «I'm sorry. I am. You know that.»
They shook, and Allen said: «Tomorrow morning, at eight?»
«Fine.» She smiled sheepishly. «But we had to check. A charge of this sort—you understand.»
He did. Turning to Blake and Luddy, who were stuffing their material back in its briefcase, Allen said: «Packet number 355-B. Faithful husband the victim of old women living in the housing unit who cook up a kettle of filth and then get it tossed in their faces.»
Hurriedly, glancing down, Blake murmured good nights and departed. Luddy followed after him. Allen wondered how long the false lead would keep him alive.
his new office at Telemedia had been cleaned, swept, repainted, and his desk had been moved from the Agency as a gesture of continuity. By ten o'clock Monday morning, Allen had got the feel of things. He had sat in the big swivel chair, used the pencil sharpener, stood before the one-way viewing wall covertly surveyed his building-sized staff.
While he was stabilizing himself, Myron Mavis, looking as if he hadn't gone to bed, appeared to wish him luck.
«Not a bad layout,» Mavis said. «Gets plenty of sunlight, good air. Very healthy; look at me.»
«I hope you're not selling your hoofs for glue,» Allen said, feeling humble.
«Not for awhile. Come on.» Mavis guided him out of the office. «I'll introduce you to the staff.»
They squeezed past the bundles of congratulatory «flowers» along the corridor. The reek of crypto-flora assailed them,' and Allen halted to examine cards. «Like a hot house,» he said. «Here's one from Mrs. Hoyt.»
There was a bundle from Sue Frost, from Harry Priar, and from Janet. There were gaudy bundles from the four giant Agencies, including Blake-Moffet. All bore formal greetings. Their representatives would be in shortly. And there were unmarked bundles with no cards. He wondered who had sent them. Persons in the housing unit; perhaps little Mr. Wales who had stuck up for him during the block meeting. Others, from anonymous individuals who wished him luck. There was a dingy bunch, very small, which he picked up; some sort of blue growth.
«Those are real,» Mavis said. «Smell them. Bluebells, I think they were called. Somebody must have dredged them up from the past.»
Probably Gates and Sugermann. And one of the anonymous bundles could represent the Mental Health Resort. In the back of his mind was the conviction that Malparto would be seeking to recover his investment.
The staff quit work and lined up for his inspection. He shook hands, made random inquiries, spoke sage comments, greeted personnel he remembered. It was almost noon by the time he and Mavis had made the circuit of the building.
«That was kind of a bad scrape, last night,» Mavis said, as they returned to the office. «Blake-Moffet has been after the directorship for years. It must hurt like h--l to see you in.»
Allen opened the file he had brought and rummaged for a packet. «Remember this?» He passed it to Mavis. «Everything started with this.»
«Oh yes.» Mavis nodded. «The tree that died. The anti-colonization Morec.»
«You know better than that,» Allen said.
Mavis looked bland. «Symbol of spiritual starvation, then. Severed from the folk-soul. You're going to put that through? The new Renaissance in propaganda. What Dante did for the afterworld, you're going to do for this.»
«This particular packet,» Allen said, «is long overdue. It should have come out months ago. I suppose I could start out cautiously, process only what's already been bought. Interfere with the staff as little as possible. Let them go the way they've been going—the low-risk approach.» He opened the packet. «But.»
«Not but.» Mavis leaned close, put the side of his hand to his lips, and whispered hoarsely: «The watchword is Excelsior.»
He shook hands with Allen, wished him luck, hung lonelily around the building for an hour or so, and then was gone.
Watching Mavis shuffle off, Allen was conscious of his own burden. But the sense of weight made him cheerful.
«Seven with one blow,» he said.
«Yes, Mr. Purcell,» a battery of intercoms responded, as secretaries came to life.
«My father can lick your father,» Allen said. «I'm just testing the equipment. You can go back to sleep, or whatever it is you're doing.»
Removing his coat he settled himself at his desk and began dividing up the packet. There was still nothing in it he cared to alter, so he marked it «satisfactory» and tossed it in the basket. The basket whisked it off, and, somewhere down the long chain of command, the packet was received and put into process.
He picked up the phone and called his wife.
«Where are you?» she said, as if she was afraid to believe it. Are you.. ."
«I'm there,» he said.
«H-how's the job?»
She seemed to relax. «You want to celebrate tonight?»
The idea sounded good. «Sure. This is our big triumph; we should enjoy it.» He tried to think what would be appropriate. «I could bring home a quart of ice cream.»
Janet said: «I'd feel better if you told me what happened last night with Mrs. Frost.»
There was no point in giving her grounds for her anxiety. «You worry too much. It came out all right, and that's what matters. This morning I put through the tree packet. Remember that? Now they can't bury it in dust. I'm going to transfer my best men from the Agency, men like Harry Priar. I'll trim down the staff here until I have something manageable.»
«You won't make the projections too hard to understand, will you? I mean, don't put together things over people's heads.»
«Nobody can say what's 'over people's heads,' » Allen said. «The aged-in-the-stalk formula material is on its way out, and all sorts of new stuff is coming in. We'll try a little of everything.»
Wistfully, Janet said: «Remember how much fun it was when we started? Forming the Agency, hitting T-M with our new ideas, our new kind of packets.»
He remembered. «Just keep thinking about that. I'll see you tonight. Everything's coming out fine, so don't worry.» He added goodbye, and then hung up.
«Mr. Purcell,» his desk intercom said, «there are a number of people waiting to see you.»
«Okay, Doris,» he said.
«Vivian, Mr. Purcell.» What sounded like a giggle. «Shall I send the first one in?»
«Send him, her, or it in,» Allen said. He folded his hands in front of him and scrutinized the door.
The first person was a woman, and she was Gretchen Malparto.
gretchen wore a tight blue suit, carried a beaded purse, was pale and drawn, dark-eyed with tension. She smelled of fresh flowers and looked beautiful and expensive. Closing the door, she said:
«I got your note.»
«The baby was a boy. Six pounds.» The office seemed filled with tiny drifting particles; he rested his palms against the desk and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes the particles were gone but Gretchen was still there; she had seated herself, crossed her legs, and was fingering the edge of her skirt.
«When did you arrive back here?» she asked.
«I got in this morning.» Her eyebrows wavered and across her face flitted a blind, crumpled pain. «You certainly walked right out.»
«Well,» he said, «I figured out where I was.»
«Was it so bad?»
Allen said: «I can call people in here and have you tossed out. I can have you barred; I can have all kinds of things done to you. I can even have you arrested and prosecuted for a felony, you and your brother and that demented outfit you run. But that puts an end to me. Even Vivian walking in to take dictation is the end, with you sitting there.»
«One of my new secretaries. She comes along with the job.»
Color had returned to Gretchen's features. «You're exaggerating.»
Allen went over and examined the door. It had a lock, so he locked it. He then went to the intercom, pressed the button, and said: «I don't want to be disturbed.»
«Yes, Mr. Purcell,» Vivian's voice sounded.
Picking up the phone, Allen called his Agency. Harry Priar answered. «Harry,» Allen said, «get over here to T-M in something, a sliver or a Getabout. Park as close as you can and then come upstairs to my office.»
«What's going on?»
«When you're here, phone me from my secretary's desk. Don't use the intercom.» He hung up, bent over, and ripped the intercom loose. «These things are natural taps,» he explained to Gretchen.
«You're really serious.»
«Bet you I am [sic].» He folded his arms, leaned against the side of the desk. «Is your brother crazy?»
She gulped. «He—is, in a sense. A mania, collecting. But they all have it. This Psi mysticism. There was such a blob on your -gram; it tipped him across.»
«How about you?»
«I suppose I'm not so clever either.» Her voice was thin, brittle. «I've had four days travelling in to think about it. As soon as I saw you were gone, I followed. I—really thought you'd come back to the house. Wishful thinking... it was so damn nice and cozy.» Suddenly she lashed out furiously. «You stupid bastard!»
Allen looked at his watch and saw that Harry Priar would, be another ten minutes. Probably he was just now backing the sliver onto the roof field of the Agency.
«What are you going to do with me?» Gretchen said.
«Drive you out somewhere and dump you.» He wondered if Gates could help. Maybe she could be detained at Hok-
kaido. But that was their gimmick. «Didn't it seem a little unfair to me?» he said. «I went to you for help; I acted in good faith.»
Staring at the floor, Gretchen said: «My brother's responsible. I didn't know in advance; you were starting out the door to leave, and then you keeled over. He gas-pelleted you. Somebody was detailed to get you to Other World; they were going to ship you there by freight, in a cataleptic state. I—was afraid you might die. It's risky. So I accompanied you.» She raised her head. «I wanted to. It was a terrible thing to do, but it was going to happen anyhow.»
He felt less hostility, since it was probably true. «You're an opportunist,» he murmured. «The whole affair was ingenious. Especially that bit when the house dissolved. What's this blob on my -gram?»
«My brother puzzled over it from the time he got it. He never figured it out, and neither did the Dickson. Some psionic talent. Precognition, he thinks. You japed the statue to prevent your own murder at the hands of the Cohorts. He thinks the Cohorts kill people who rise too high.»
«Do you agree?»
«No,» she said, «because I know what the blob means. You do have something in your mind nobody else has. But it's not precognition.»
«What is it?»
Gretchen said: «You have a sense of humor.»
The office was quiet as Allen considered and Gretchen sat smoothing her skirt.
«Maybe so,» Allen said finally.
«And a sense of humor doesn't fit in with Morec. Or with us. You're not a 'mutant'; you're just a balanced human being.» Her voice gained strength. «The japery, everything you've done. You're just trying to re-establish a balance in an unbalanced world. And it's something you can't even admit to
yourself. On the top you believe in Morec. Underneath there's that blob, that irreducible core, that grins and laughs and plays pranks.»
«Childish,» he said.
«Not at all.»
«Thanks.» He smiled down at her.
«This is such a goddamn mess.» From her purse she got her handkerchief; she wiped her eyes and then stuffed the handkerchief into her coat pocket. «You've got this job, Director of Telemedia, the high post of morality. Guardian of public ethics. You create the ethics. What a screwy, mixed-up situation.»
«But I want this job.»
«Yes, your ethics are very high. But they're not the ethics of this society. The block meetings—you loathe them. The faceless accusers. The juveniles—the busybody prying. This senseless struggle for leases. The anxiety. The tension and strain; look at Myron Mavis. And the overtones of guilt and suspicion. Everything becomes—tainted. The fear of contamination; fear of committing an indecent act. Sex is morbid; people hounded for natural acts. This whole structure is like a giant torture chamber, with everybody staring at one another, trying to find fault, trying to break one another down. Witchhunts and star chambers. Dread and censorship, Mr. Bluenose banning books. Children kept from hearing evil. Morec was invented by sick minds, and it creates more sick minds.»
«All right,» Allen said, listening. «But I'm not going to lie around watching girls sun-bathe. Like a salseman on vacation.»
«That's all you see in the Resort?»
«That's all I see in Other World. And the Resort is a machine to process people there.»
«It does more than that. It provides them with a place they can escape to. When their resentment and anxiety starts destroying them—» She gestured. «Then they go over.»
«Then they don't smash store windows. Or jape statues. I'd rather jape statues.»
«You came to us once.»
«As I see it,» Allen said, «the Resort acts as part of the system. Morec is one half and you're the other. Two sides of the coin: Morec is all work and you're the badminton and checkers set. Together you form a society; you uphold and support each other. I can't be in both parts, and of the two I prefer this.»