Лекция: Марк Леви 3 страница
«They haven't caught anybody,» he said, still feeling some of the unnatural detachment. But it was departing.
«Surprising how easily a person can do this and get away. Why not? Nobody guards the Park; nobody actually saw him.»
«What's your theory?»
«Well,» she said, kicking a bit of rock ahead of her. «Somebody was bitter about losing his lease. Or somebody was expressing a subconscious resentment of Morec. Fighting back against the burden the system imposes.»
«Exactly what was done to the statue?»
«The paper didn't print the details. It's probably safer to play a thing like this down. You've seen the statue;
you're familiar with the Buetello conception of Streiter. The traditional militant stance: one hand extended, one leg forward as if he were going into battle. Head up nobly. Deeply thoughtful expression.»
«Looking into the future,» Allen murmured.
«That's right.» The girl slowed down, spun on her heel and peered at the dark pavement. «The criminal, or japer, or whatever he is, painted the statue red. You know that; you saw the drops. He sloshed it with stripes, painted the hair red, too. And—» She smiled brightly. «Well, frankly, he severed the head, somehow. With a power cutting tool, evidently. Removed the head and placed it in the outstretched hand.»
«I see,» Allen said, listening intently.
«Then,» the girl continued, in a quiet monotone, «the individual applied a high-temperature pack to the forward leg—the right leg. The statue is a poured thermoplastic. When the leg became flexible, the culprit reshaped its position. Major Streiter now appears to be holding his head in his hand, ready to kick it far into the park. Quite original, and quite embarrassing.»
After an interval Allen said: «Under the circumstances you can't blame them for nailing a box around it.»
«They had to. But a number of people saw it before they put the box up. The first thing they did was get the Cohorts of Major Streiter over; they must have thought something else was going to happen. When I went by, there were all those sullen-looking young men in their brown uniforms, a ring of them around the statue. But you could see anyhow. Then, sometime during the day, they put up the box.» She added: «You see, people laughed. Even the Cohorts. They couldn't help it. They snickered, and then it got away from them. I was so sorry for those young men... they hated to laugh so.»
Now the two of them had reached a lighted intersection. The girl halted. On her face was an expression of concern. She gazed up at him intently, studying him, her eyes large.
«You're in a terrible state,» she said. «And it's my fault.»
«No,» he answered. «My own fault.»
Her hand pressed against his arm. «What's wrong?»
With irony he said: «Job worries.»
«Oh.» She nodded. But she still held onto his arm with her tight fingers. «Well, do you have a wife?»
«A very sweet one.»
«Does she help you?»
«She worries even more than I. Right now she's home taking pills. She has a fabulous collection.»
The girl said: «Do you want help?»
«I do,» he answered, and was not surprised at his own candor. «Very much.»
«That's what I thought.» The girl began to walk on, and he went along. She seemed to be weighing various possibilities. «These days,» she said, «it's hard to get help. You're not supposed to want help. I can give you an address. If I do, will you use it?»
«That's impossible to say.»
«Will you try to use it?»
«I've never asked for help in my life,» Allen said. «I can't say what I'd do.»
«Here it is,» the girl said. She handed him a slip of folded paper. «Put it away in your wallet. Don't look at it—just put it away until you want to use it. Then get it out.»
He put it away, and she watched fixedly.
«All right,» she said, satisfied. «Good night.»
«You're leaving?» He wasn't surprised; it seemed perfectly natural.
«I'll see you again. I've seen you before.» She dwindled in the darkness of the side lane. «Good night, Mr. Purcell. Take care of yourself.»
Sometime later, after the girl was completely gone, he realized that she had been standing there in the Park waiting for him. Waiting, because she knew he would show up.
the next day Allen had still not given Mrs. Frost an answer. The directorship of T-M was empty, with Mavis out and nobody in. The huge trust rolled along on momentum; and, he supposed, minor bureaucrats along the line continued to stamp forms and fill out papers. The monster lived, but not as it should.
Wondering how long he had to decide he phoned the Committee building and asked for Mrs. Frost.
«Yes sir,» a recorded voice answered. «Secretary Frost is in conference. You may state a thirty-second message which will be transcribed for her attention. Thank you. Zeeeeeeeeeeeee!»
«Mrs. Frost,» Allen said, «there are a number of considerations involved, as I mentioned to you yesterday. Heading an Agency gives me a certain independence. You pointed out that my only customer is Telemedia, so that for all practical purposes I'm working for Telemedia. You also pointed out that as Director of Telemedia I would have more, not less, independence.»
He paused, wondering how to go on.
«On the other hand,» he said, and then the thirty seconds was up. He waited as the mechanism at the other end repeated its rigamarole, and then continued. «My Agency,
after all, was built up by my own hands. I'm free to alter it. I have complete control. T-M, on the other hand, is impersonal. Nobody can really dictate to it. T-M is like a glacier.»
That sounded terrible to him, but once on the tape it couldn't be unspoken. He finished up:
«Mrs. Frost, I'm afraid I'll have to have time to think it over. I'm sorry, because I realize this puts you in an unpleasant position. But I'm afraid the delay unavoidable is. I'll try to have my answer within a week, and please don't think I'm stalling. I'm sincerely floundering. This is Allen Purcell.»
Ringing off, he sat back and brooded.
Here, in his office, the statue of Major Streiter seemed distant and unconvincing. He had one problem only: the job problem. Either he stayed with his Agency or he went upstairs to T-M. Put that way his dilemma sounded simple. He got out a coin and rolled it across the surface of his desk. If necessary he could leave the decision to chance.
The door opened and Doris, his secretary, entered. «Good morning,» she said brightly. «Fred Luddy wants a letter of recommendation from you. We made out his check. Two weeks, plus what was owed.» She seated herself across from him, pad and pencil ready. «Do you want to dictate a letter?»
«That's hard to say.» He wanted to, because he liked Luddy and he hoped to see him get a halfway decent job. But at the same time he felt silly writing a letter of recommendation for a man he had fired as disloyal and dishonest, Morecly speaking. «Maybe I'll have to think about that, too.»
Doris arose. «I'll tell him you're too busy. You'll have to see about it later.»
Relieved, he let her go with that story. No decision seemed possible right now, on any topic. Small or large, his problems
revolved on an olympian level; they couldn't be hauled down to earth.
At least the police hadn't traced him. He was reasonably sure that Mrs. Birmingham's juvenile lacked information on the Park episode. Tomorrow, at nine a.m., he'd find out. But he wasn't worried. The idea of police barging in to arrest and deport him was absurd. His real worry was the job—and himself.
He had told the girl he needed help, and he did. Not because he had japed the statue, but because he had japed it without understanding why. Odd that the brain could function on its own, without acquainting him with its purposes, its reasons. But the brain was an organ, like the spleen, heart, kidneys. And they went about their private activities. So why not the brain? Reasoned out that way, the bizarre quality evaporated.
But he still had to find out what was happening.
Reaching into his wallet he got out the slip of paper. On it, in a woman's neat hand, were four words.
So the girl's name was Gretchen. And, as he had inferred, she was roaming around in the night soliciting for the Mental Health Resort, in violation of law.
The Health Resort, the last refuge for deserters and misfits, had reached out and put its hand on his shoulder.
He felt weak. He felt very morbid and shaky, as if he were running a fever: a low current of somewhat moist energy that could not be shaken off.
«Mr. Purcell,» Doris' voice came through the open door. «There's a return call in for you. The phone is taking it right now.»
«Okay, Doris,» he said. With effort he roused himself from his thoughts and reached to snap on the phone. The tape
obligingly skipped back and restarted itself, spewing the recorded call.
«Ten-o-five. Click. Zeeeeeeeeeeeee! Mr. Purcell.» Now a smooth, urbane female voice appeared. With further pessimism he recognized it. «This is Mrs. Sue Frost, answering your call of earlier this morning. I'm sorry I was not in when you called, Mr. Purcell.» A pause. «I am fully sympathetic with your situation. I can easily understand the position you're in.» Another pause, this one somewhat longer. «Of course, Mr. Purcell, you surely must realize that the offer of the directorship was predicated on the assumption that you were available for the job.»
The mechanism jumped to its next thirty-second segment.
«Ten-o-six. Click. Zeeeeeeeeeeeee! To go on.» Mrs. Frost cleared her throat. «It strikes us that a week is rather a long time, in view of the difficult status of Telemedia. There is no acting Director, since, as you're aware, Mr. Mavis has already resigned. We hesitate to request a postponement of that resignation, but perhaps it will be necessary. Our suggestion is that you take until Saturday at the latest to decide. Understand, we're fully sympathetic with your situation, and we don't wish to rush you. But Telemedia is a vital trust, and it would be in the public interest that your decision come as quickly as possible. I'll expect to hear from you, then.»
Click, the mechanism went. The rest of the tape was blank.
From the tone of Mrs. Frost's message Allen inferred that he had got an official statement of the Committee's position. He could imagine the tape being played back at an inquiry. It was for the record, and then some. Four point five days, he thought. Four point five days to decide what he was and what he ought to be.
Picking up the phone, he started to dial, then changed his mind. Calling from the Agency was too risky. Instead, he left the office.
«Going out again, Mr. Purcell?» Doris asked, at her own desk.
«I'll be back shortly. Going over to the commissary for some supplies.» He tapped his coat pocket. «Things Janet asked me to pick up.»
As soon as he was out of the Mogentlock Building he stepped into a public phone booth. Staring vacantly, he dialed.
«Mental Health Resort,» a bureaucratic, but friendly voice answered in his ear.
«Is there a Gretchen Malparto there?»
Time passed. «Miss Malparto has left the Resort temporarily. Would you like to speak to Doctor Malparto?»
Obscurely nettled, Allen said: «Her husband?»
«Doctor Malparto is Miss Malparto's brother. Who is calling, please?»
«I want an appointment,» Allen said. «Business problems.»
«Yes sir.» The rustle of papers. «Your name, sir?»
He hesitated and then invented. «I'll be in under the name Coates.»
«Yes sir, Mr. Coates.» There was no further questioning on that point. «Would tomorrow at nine a.m. be satisfactory?»
He started to agree, and then remembered the block meeting. «Better make it Thursday.»
«Thursday at nine,» the girl said briskly. «With Doctor Malparto. Thank you very much for calling.»
Feeling a little better, Allen returned to the Agency.
in the highly moral society of 2114 A.D., the weekly block meetings operated on the stagger system. Wardens from surrounding housing units were able to sit at each, forming a board of which the indigenous warden was chairman. Since Mrs. Birmingham was the warden in the Purcells' block, she, of the assembled middle-aged ladies, occupied the raised seat. Her compatriots, in flowered silk dresses, filled chairs on each side of her across the platform.
«I hate this room,» Janet said, pausing at the door.
Allen did, too. Down here on the first level of the housing unit, in this one large chamber, all the local Leagues, Committees, Clubs, Boards, Associations, and Orders met. The room smelled of stale sunlight, dust, and the infinite layers of paperwork that had piled up over the years. Here, official nosing and snooping originated. In this room a man's business was everybody's business. Centuries of Christian, confessional culminated when the block asembled [sic] to explore its members' souls.
As always, there were more people than space. Many had to stand, and they filled the corners and aisles. The air conditioning system moaned and reshuffled the cloud of smoke. Allen was always puzzled by the smoke, since nobody seemed to have a cigarette and smoking was forbidden. But there it was. Perhaps it, like the shadow of purifying fire, was an accumulation from the past.
His attention fixed itself on the pack of juveniles. They were here, the earwig-like sleuths. Each juvenile was a foot
and a half long. The species scuttled close to the ground—or up vertical surfaces—at ferocious speed, and they noticed everything. These juveniles were inactive. The wardens had unlocked the metal hulls and dug out the report tapes. The juveniles remained inert during the meeting, and then they were put back into service.
There was something sinister in these metal informers, but there was also something heartening. The juveniles did not accuse; they only reported what they heard and saw. They couldn't color their information and they couldn't make it up. Since the victim was indicted mechanically he was safe from hysterical hearsay, from malice and paranoia. But there could be no question of guilt; the evidence was already in. The issue to be settled here was merely the severity of moral lapse. The victim couldn't protest that he had been unjustly accused; all he could protest was his bad luck at having been overheard.
On the platform Mrs. Birmingham held the agenda and looked to see if everybody had arrived. Failure to arrive was in itself a lapse. Apparently he and Janet completed the group; Mrs. Birmingham signalled, and the meeting began.
«I guess we don't get to sit,» Janet murmured, as the door closed after them. Her face was pinched with anxiety; for her the weekly block meeting was a catastrophe which she met with hopelessness and despair. Each week she anticipated denouncement and downfall, but it never came. Years had gone by, and she had still not officially erred. But that only convinced her that doom was saving itself up for one grand spree.
«When they call me,» Allen said softly, «you keep your mouth shut. Don't get in on either side. The less said the better chance I have.»
She glared at him with suffering. «They'll tear you apart. Look at them.» She swept in the whole room. «They're just waiting to get at somebody.»
«Most of them are bored and wish they were out.» As
a matter of fact, several men were reading their morning newspapers. «So take it easy. If nobody leaps to defend me it'll die down and maybe I'll get off with a verbal reprimand.» Assuming, of course, that nothing was in about the statue.
«We will first undertake the case of Miss J.E.,» Mrs Birmingham stated. Miss J.E. was Julie Ebberley, and everybody in the room knew her. Julie had been up time and again, but somehow she managed to hang onto the lease willed her by her family. Scared and wide-eyed, she now mounted the defendant's stage, a young blonde-haired girl with long legs and an intriguing bosom. Today she wore a modest print dress and low-heeled slippers. Her hair was tied back in a girlish knot.
«Miss J.E.,» Mrs. Birmingham declared, «did willingly and knowingly on the night of October 6, 2114, engage with a man in a vile enterprise.»
In most cases a «vile enterprise» was sex. Allen half-closed his eyes and prepared to endure the session. A shuffling murmur ran through the room; the newspapers were put aside. Apathy dwindled. To Allen this was the offensive part: the leering need to hear a confession down to the last detail—a need which masqueraded as righteousness.
The first question came instantly. «Was this the same man as the other times?»
Miss J.E. colored. «Y-Yes,» she admitted.
«Weren't you warned? Hadn't you been told in this very room to get yourself home at a decent hour and act like a good girl?»
In all probability this was now a different questioner. The voice was synthetic, issuing from a wall speaker. To preserve the aura of justice, questions were piped through a common channel, broken down and reassembled without characteristic timbre. The result was an impersonal accuser, who, when a sympathetic questioner appeared, became suddenly and a little oddly a defender.
«Let's hear what this 'vile enterprise' was,» Allen said,
and, as always, was revolted to hear his voice boom out dead and characterless. «This may be a furor about nothing.»
On the platform Mrs. Birmingham peered distastefully down, seeking to identify the questioner. Then she read from the summary. «Miss J.E. did willingly in the bathtub of the community bathroom of her housing unit—this unit—copulate.»
«I'd call that something,» the voice said, and then the dogs were loose. The accusations fell thick and fast, a blur of lascivious racket.
Beside Allen his wife huddled against him. He could feel her dread and he put his arm around her. In awhile the voice would be tearing at him.
At nine-fifteen the faction vaguely defending Miss J.E. seemed to have gained an edge. After a conference the council of block wardens released the girl with an oral reprimand, and she slipped gratefully from the room. Mrs. Birmingham again arose with the agenda.
With relief Allen heard his own initials. He walked forward, listening to the charges, glad to get it over with. The juvenile—thank God—had reported about as expected.
«Mr. A.P.,» Mrs. Birmingham declared, «did on the night of October 7, 2114, at 11:30 p.m., arrive home in a drunken state and did fall on the front steps of the housing unit and in so doing utter a morally objectionable word.»
Allen climbed the stage, and the session began.
There was always the danger that somewhere in the room a citizen waited with a deeply-buried quirk, a deposit of hate nourished and hoarded for just such an occasion as this. During the years that he had leased in this housing unit Allen might easily have slighted some nameless soul; the human mind being what it was, he might have set off a tireless vengeance by stepping ahead in line, failing to nod, treading on foot [sic], or the like.
But as he looked around he saw no special emotion. No-
body glowered demonically, and nobody, except for his stricken wife, even appeared interested.
Considering the shallowness of the charge he had good reason to feel optimistic. All in all, he was well off. Realizing this, he faced his composite accuser cheerfully.
«Mr. Purcell,» it said, «you haven't been up before us in quite a spell.» It corrected: «Mr. A.P., I meant.»
«Not for several years,» he answered.
«How much had you had to drink?»
«Three glasses of wine.»
«And you were drunk on that?» The voice answered itself: «That's the indictment.» It haggled, and then a clear question emerged. «Where did you get drunk?»
Not wishing to volunteer material, Allen kept his answer brief. «At Hokkaido.» Mrs. Birmingham was aware of that, so evidently it didn't matter.
«What were you doing there?» the voice asked, and then it said: «That's not relevant. That has nothing to do with it. Stick to the facts. What he did before he was drunk doesn't matter.»
To Allen it sounded like Janet. He let it battle on.
«Of course it matters. The importance of the act depends on the motives behind it. Did he mean to get drunk? Nobody means to get drunk. I'm sure I wouldn't know.»
Allen said: «It was on an empty stomach, and I'm not used to liquor in any form.»
«What about the word he used? Yes, what about it? Well, we don't even know what it was. I think we're just as well off. Why, are you convinced he's the sort of man who would use words 'like that'? All I mean is that knowing the particular word doesn't affect the situation.»
«And I was tired,» Allen added. Years of work with media had taught him the shortest routes to the Morec mind. «Although it was Sunday I had spent the day at the office. I suppose I did more than was good for my health, but I like to have my desk clear on Monday.»
«A regular little gentleman,» the voice said. It retorted at once: «With manners enough to keep personalities out of this. Bravo,» it said. «That's telling him. Probably her.» And then, from the chaos of minds, a sharp sentiment took shape. As nearly as Allen could tell, it was one person. «This a mockery is. Mr. Purcell is one of our most distinguished members. As most of us know, Mr. Purcell's Agency supplies a good deal of the material used by Telemedia. Are we supposed to believe that a man involved in the maintenance of society's ethical standards is, himself, morally defective? What does that say about our society in general? This a paradox is. It is just such high-minded men, devoted to public service, who set by their own examples our standards of conduct.»
Surprised, Allen peered across the room at his wife. Janet seemed bewildered. And the choice of words was not characteristic of her. Evidently it was somebody else.
«Mr. Purcell's family leased here several decades,» the voice continued. «Mr. Purcell was born here. During his lifetime many persons have come and gone. Few of us have maintained a lease as long as he has. How many of us were here in this room before Mr. Purcell? Think that over. The purpose of these sessions is not the humbling of the mighty. Mr. Purcell isn't up there so we can deride and ridicule him. Some of us seem to imagine the more respectable a person is the more reason to attack him. When we attack Mr. Purcell we attack our better selves. And there's no percentage in that.»
Allen felt embarrassed.
«These meetings,» the voice went on, «operate on the idea that a man is morally responsible to his community. That's a good idea. But his community is also morally responsible to him. If it's going to ask him to come up and confess his sins, it's got to give him something in return. It's got to give him its respect and support. It should realize that having a citizen like Mr. Purcell up here is a privilege.
Mr. Purcell's life is devoted to our welfare and the improvement of our society. If he wants to drink three glasses of wine once in his life and say one morally objectionable word, I think he should be allowed to. It's okay by me.»
There was silence. The roomful of people was cowed by piety. Nobody dared speak.
On the stage, Allen sat wishing somebody would attack. His embarrassment had become shame. The eulogizer was making a mistake; he didn't have the full picture.
«Wait a minute,» Allen protested. «Let's get one thing straight. What I did was wrong. I haven't got any more right to get drunk and blaspheme than anybody else.»
The voice said: «Let's pass on to the next case. There doesn't seem to be anything here.»
On the platform the middle-aged ladies conferred, and presently composed their verdict. Mrs. Birmingham arose.
«The block-neighbors of Mr. A.P. take this opportunity to reprimand him for his conduct of the night of October 7, but feel that in view of his excellent prior record no disciplinary action is indicated. You may step down, Mr. A.P.»
Allen stepped down and rejoined his wife. Janet squeezed against him, wildly happy. «Bless him, whoever he was.»
«I don't deserve it,» Allen said, disturbed.
«You do. Of course you do.» Her eyes shone recklessly. «You're a wonderful person.»
Not far off, at one of the tables, was a mild little elderly fellow with thinning gray hair and a formal, set smile. Mr. Wales glanced at Allen, then turned immediately away.
«That's the guy,» Allen decided. «Wales.»
«Are you sure?»
The next accused was up on the stage, and Mrs. Birmingham began reading the indictment. «Mrs. R.M. did knowingly and willing on the afternoon of October 9, 2114, in a public place and in the presence of both men and women, take the name of the Lord in vain.»
«The voice said: „What a waste of time.“ And the controversy was on.
After the meeting Allen approached Wales. The man had lingered outside the door, as if expecting him. Allen had noticed him in the hall a few times, but he didn't recall ever having said more than good morning to him.
»That was you," Allen said.
They shook hands. «I'm glad I could help you out, Mr. Purcell.» Wales' voice was drab, perfectly ordinary. «I saw you speak up for that girl. You always look out for the people up there. I said, if he ever gets up I'll do the same for him. We all like and respect you, Mr. Purcell.»
«Thanks,» Allen said awkwardly.
As he and Janet walked back upstairs, Janet said: «What's the matter?» She was in a delirium at having escaped from the meeting. «Why do you look so glum?»
«I feel glum,» he said.
doctor malparto said: «Good morning, Mr. Coates. Please take off your coat and sit down. I want you to be comfortable.»
And then he felt strange and ill, because the man facing him was not «Mr. Coates» but Allen Purcell. Hurriedly getting to his feet Malparto excused himself and went out into the corridor. He was shaking with excitement. Behind him, Purcell looked vaguely puzzled, a tall, good-looking, rather overly-serious man in his late twenties, wearing a heavy overcoat. Here he was, the man Malparto had been expecting. But he hadn't expected him so soon.
With his key he unlocked his file and brought out Purcell's dossier. He glanced over the contents as he returned to his office. The report was as cryptic as before. Here was his prized-gram, and the irriducible [sic] syndrome remained. Malparto sighed with delight.
«I beg your pardon, Mr. Purcell,» he said, closing the door after him. «Sorry to keep you waiting.»
His patient frowned and said: «Let's keep it 'Coates.' Or has that old wheeze about professional confidence gone by the boards?»
«Mr. Coates, then.» Malparto reseated himself and put on his glasses. «Mr. Coates, I'll be frank. I've been expecting you. Your encephalogram came into my hands a week or so ago, and I had a Dickson report drawn on it. The profile is unique. I'm very much interested in you, and it's a matter of deep personal satisfaction to be permitted to handle your—» He coughed. «Problem.» He had started to say case.
In the comfortable leather-covered chair, Mr. Coates shifted restlessly. He lit a cigarette, scowled, rubbed at the crease of his trousers. «I need help. It's one of the drawbacks of Morec that nobody gets help; they get cast out as defective.»