THE BODY of Louis Sarapis, in a transparent plastic shatterproof case, had lain on display for one week, exciting a continual response from the public. Distended lines filed past with the customary sniffling, pinched faces, distraught elderly ladies in black cloth coats.
In a corner of the large auditorium in which the casket reposed, Johnny Barefoot impatiently waited for his chance at Sarapis's body. But he did not intend merely to view it; his job, detailed in Sarapis's will, lay in another direction entirely. As Sarapis's public relations manager, his job was -- simply -- to bring Louis Sarapis back to life.
"Keerum," Barefoot murmured to himself, examining his wristwatch and discovering that two more hours had to pass before the auditorium doors could be finally closed. He felt hungry. And the chill, issuing from the quick-pack envelope surrounding the casket, had increased his discomfort minute by minute.
His wife Sarah Belle approached him, then, with a thermos of hot coffee. "Here, Johnny." She reached up and brushed the black, shiny Chiricahua hair back from his forehead. "You don't look so good."
"No," he agreed. "This is too much for me. I didn't care for him much when he was alive -- I certainly don't like him any better this way." He jerked his head at the casket and the double line of mourners.
Sarah Belle said softly, "Nil nisi bonum."
He glowered at her, not sure of what she had said. Some foreign language, no doubt. Sarah Belle had a college degree.
"To quote Thumper Rabbit," Sarah Belle said, smiling gently, " 'if you can't say nothing good, don't say nothing at all.' " She added, "From Bambi, an old film classic. If you attended the lectures at the Museum of Modern Art with me every Monday night --"
"Listen," Johnny Barefoot said desperately, "I don't want to bring the old crook back to life, Sarah Belle; how'd I get myself into this? I thought sure when the embolism dropped him like a cement block it meant I could kiss the whole business goodbye forever." But it hadn't quite worked out that way.
"Unplug him," Sarah Belle said.
She laughed. "Are you afraid to? Unplug the quick-pack power source and he'll warm up. And no resurrection, right?" Her blue-gray eyes danced with amusement. "Scared of him, I guess. Poor Johnny." She patted him on the arm. "I should divorce you, but I won't; you need a mama to take care of you."
"It's wrong," he said. "Louis is completely helpless, lying there in the casket. It would be -- unmanly to unplug him."
Sarah Belle said quietly, "But someday, sooner or later, you'll have to confront him, Johnny. And when he's in half-life you'll have the advantage. So it will be a good time; you might come out of it intact." Turning, she trotted off, hands thrust deep in her coat pockets because of the chill.
Gloomily, Johnny lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall behind him. His wife was right, of course. A half-lifer was no match, in direct physical tete-a-tete, for a living person. And yet -- he still shrank from it, because ever since childhood he had been in awe of Louis, who had dominated 3-4 shipping, the Earth to Mars commercial routes, as if he were a model rocket-ship enthusiast pushing miniatures over a paper-mache board in his basement. And now, at his death, at seventy years of age, the old man through Wilhelmina Securities controlled a hundred related -- and non-related -- industries on both planets. His net worth could not be calculated, even for tax purposes; it was not wise, in fact, to try, even for Government tax experts.
It's my kids, Johnny thought; I'm thinking about them, in school back in Oklahoma. To tangle with old Louis would be okay if he wasn't a family man. . . nothing meant more to him than the two little girls and of course Sarah Belle, too. I got to think of them, not myself, he told himself now as he waited for the opportunity to remove the body from the casket in accordance with the old man's detailed instructions. Let's see. He's probably got about a year in total half-life time, and he'll want it divided up strategically, like at the end of each fiscal year. He'll probably proportion it out over two decades, a month here and there, then towards the end as he runs out, maybe just a week. And then -- days.
And finally old Louis would be down to a couple of hours; the signal would be weak, the dim spark of electrical activity hovering in the frozen brain cells. . . it would flicker, the words from the amplifying equipment would fade, grow indistinct. And then -- silence, at last the grave. But that might be twenty-five years from now; it would be the year 2100 before the old man's cephalic processes ceased entirely.
Johnny Barefoot, smoking his cigarette rapidly, thought back to the day he had slouched anxiously about the personnel office of Archimedean Enterprises, mumbling to the girl at the desk that he wanted a job; he had some brilliant ideas that were for sale, ideas that would help untangle the knot of strikes, the spaceport violence growing out of jurisdictional overlapping by rival unions -- ideas that would, in essence, free Sarapis of having to rely on union labor at all. It was a dirty scheme, and he had known it then, but he had been right; it was worth money. The girl had sent him on to Mr. Pershing, the Personnel Manager, and Pershing had sent him to Louis Sarapis.
"You mean," Sarapis had said, "I launch from the ocean? From the Atlantic, out past the three mile limit?"
"A union is a national organization," Johnny had said. "Neither outfit has a jurisdiction on the high seas. But a business organization is international."
"I'd need men out there; I'd need the same number, even more. Where'll I get them?"
"Go to Burma or India or the Malay States," Johnny had said. "Get young unskilled laborers and bring them over. Train them yourself on an indentured servant basis. In other words, charge the cost of their passage against their earnings." It was peonage, he knew. And it appealed to Louis Sarapis. A little empire on the high seas, worked by men who had no legal rights. Ideal.
Sarapis had done just that and hired Johnny for his public relations department; that was the best place for a man who had brilliant ideas of a non-technical nature. In other words, an uneducated man: a noncol. A useless misfit, an outsider. A loner lacking college degrees.
"Hey Johnny," Sarapis had said once. "How come since you're so bright you never went to school? Everyone knows that's fatal, nowadays. Self-destructive impulse, maybe?" He had grinned, showing his stainless-steel teeth.
Moodily, he had replied, "You've got it, Louis. I want to die. I hate myself." At that point he had recalled his peonage idea. But that had come after he had dropped out of school, so it couldn't have been that. "Maybe I should see an analyst," he had said.
"Fakes," Louis had told him. "All of them -- I know because I've had six on my staff, working for me exclusively at one time or another. What's wrong with you is you're an envious type; if you can't have it big you don't want it, you don't want the climb, the long struggle."
But I've got it big, Johnny Barefoot realized, had realized even then. This is big, working for you. Everyone wants to work for Louis Sarapis; he gives all sorts of people jobs.
The double lines of mourners that filed past the casket. . . he wondered if all these people could be employees of Sarapis or relatives of employees. Either that or people who had benefited from the public dole that Sarapis had pushed through Congress and into law during the depression three years ago. Sarapis, in his old age the great daddy for the poor, the hungry, the out of work. Soup kitchens, with lines there, too. Just as now.
Perhaps the same people had been in those lines who were here today.
Startling Johnny, an auditorium guard nudged him. "Say, aren't you Mr. Barefoot, the P.R. man for old Louis?"
"Yes," Johnny said. He put out his cigarette and then began to unscrew the lid of the thermos of coffee which Sarah Belle had brought him. "Have some," he said. "Or maybe you're used to the cold in these civic halls." The City of Chicago had lent this spot for Louis to lie in state; it was gratitude for what he had done here in this area. The factories he had opened, the men he had put on the payroll.
"I'm not used," the guard said, accepting a cup of coffee. "You know, Mr. Barefoot, I've always admired you because you're a noncol, and look how you rose to a top job and lots of salary, not to mention fame. It's an inspiration to us other noncols."
Grunting, Johnny sipped his own coffee.
"Of course," the guard said, "I guess it's really Sarapis we ought to thank; he gave you the job. My brother-in-law worked for him; that was back five years ago when nobody in the world was hiring except Sarapis. You hear what an old skinflint he was -- wouldn't permit the unions to come in, and all. But he gave so many old folks pensions. . . my father was living on a Sarapis pension-plan until the day he died. And all those bills he got through Congress; they wouldn't have passed any of the welfare for the needy bills without pressure from Sarapis."
"No wonder there're so many people here today," the guard said. "I can see why. Who's going to help the little fellow, the noncols like you and me, now that he's gone?"
Johnny had no answer, for himself or for the guard.
As owner of the Beloved Brethren Mortuary, Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang found himself required by law to consult with the late Mr. Sarapis's legal counsel, the well-known Mr. Claude St. Cyr. In this connection it was essential for him to know precisely how the half-life periods were to be proportioned out; it was his job to execute the technical arrangements.
The matter should have been routine, and yet a snag developed almost at once. He was unable to get in touch with Mr. St. Cyr, trustee for the estate.
Drat, Schoenheit von Vogelsang thought to himself as he hung up the unresponsive phone. Something must be wrong; this is unheard of in connection with a man so important.
He had phoned from the bin -- the storage vaults in which the half-lifers were kept in perpetual quick-pack. At this moment, a worried-looking clerical sort of individual waited at the desk with a claim check stub in his hand. Obviously he had shown up to collect a relative. Resurrection Day -- the holiday on which the half-lifers were publicly honored -- was just around the corner; the rush would soon be beginning.
"Yes sir," Herb said to him, with an affable smile. "I'll take your stub personally."
"It's an elderly lady," the customer said. "About eighty, very small and wizened. I didn't want just to talk to her; I wanted to take her out for a while." He explained, "My grandmother."
"Only a moment," Herb said, and went back into the bin to search out number 3054039-B.
When he located the correct party he scrutinized the lading report attached; it gave but fifteen days of half-life remaining. Automatically, he pressed a portable amplifier into the hull of the glass casket, tuned it, listened at the proper frequency for indication of cephalic activity.
Faintly from the speaker came, ". . .and then Tillie sprained her ankle and we never thought it'd heal; she was so foolish about it, wanting to start walking immediately. . ."
Satisfied, he unplugged the amplifier and located a union man to perform the actual task of carting 3054039-B to the loading platform, where the customer could place her in his 'copter or car.
"You checked her out?" the customer asked as he paid the money due.
"Personally," Herb answered. "Functioning perfectly." He smiled at the customer. "Happy Resurrection Day, Mr. Ford."
"Thank you," the customer said, starting off for the loading platform. When I pass, Herb said to himself, I think I'll will my heirs to revive me one day a century. That way I can observe the fate of all mankind. But that meant a rather high maintenance cost to the heirs, and no doubt sooner or later they would kick over the traces, have the body taken out of quick-pack and -- God forbid -- buried.
"Burial is barbaric," Herb murmured aloud. "Remnant of the primitive origins of our culture."
"Yes sir," his secretary Miss Beasman agreed, at her typewriter. In the bin, several customers communed with their half-lifer relations, in rapt quiet, distributed at intervals along the aisles which separated the caskets. It was a tranquil sight, these faithfuls, coming as they did so regularly, to pay homage. They brought messages, news of what took place in the outside world; they cheered the gloomy half-lifers in these intervals of cerebral activity. And -- they paid Herb Schoenheit von Vogelsang; it was a profitable business, operating a mortuary.
"My dad seems a little frail," a young man said, catching Herb's attention. "I wonder if you could take a moment to check him over. I'd really appreciate
'Certainly," Herb said, accompanying the customer down the aisle to his deceased relative. The lading report showed only a few days remaining; that explained the vitiated quality of cerebration. But still -- he turned up the gain, and the voice from the half-lifer became a trifle stronger. He's almost at an end, Herb thought. It was obvious that the son did not want to see the lading, did not actually care to know that contact with his dad was diminishing, finally. So Herb said nothing; he merely walked off, leaving the son to commune. Why tell him? Why break the bad news?
A truck had now appeared at the loading platform, and two men hopped down from it, wearing familiar pale blue uniforms. Atlas Interplan Van and Storage, Herb realized. Delivering another half-lifer, or here to pick up one which had expired. He strolled toward them. "Yes, gentlemen," he said.
The driver of the truck leaned out and said, "We're here to deliver Mr. Louis Sarapis. Got room all ready?"
"Absolutely," Herb said at once. "But I can't get hold of Mr. St. Cyr to make arrangements for the schedule. When's he to be brought back?"
Another man, dark-haired, with shiny-button black eyes, emerged from the truck. "I'm John Barefoot. According to the terms of the will I'm in charge of Mr. Sarapis. He's to be brought back to life immediately; that's the instructions I'm charged with."
"I see," Herb said, nodding. "Well, that's fine. Bring him in and we'll plug him right in."
"It's cold, here," Barefoot said. "Worse than the auditorium."
"Well of course," Herb answered.
The crew from the van began wheeling the casket. Herb caught a glimpse of the dead man, the massive, gray face resembling something cast from a break-mold. Impressive old pirate, he thought. Good thing for us all he's dead finally, in spite of his charity work. Because who wants charity? Especially his. Of course, Herb did not say that to Barefoot; he contented himself with guiding the crew to the prearranged spot.
"I'll have him talking in fifteen minutes," he promised Barefoot, who looked tense. "Don't worry; we've had almost no failures at this stage; the initial residual charge is generally quite vital."
I suppose it's later," Barefoot said, "as it dims. . . then you have the technical problems."
"Why does he want to be brought back so soon?" Herb asked.
Barefoot scowled and did not answer.
"Sorry," Herb said, and continued tinkering with the wires which had to be seated perfectly to the cathode terminals of the casket. "At low temperatures," he murmured, "the flow of current is virtually unimpeded. There's no measurable resistance at minus 150. So --" He fitted the anode cap in place. "The signal should bounce out clear and strong." In conclusion, he clicked the amplifier on.
A hum. Nothing more.
"Well?" Barefoot said.
"I'll recheck," Herb said, wondering what had gone afoul.
"Listen," Barefoot said quietly, "if you slip up here and let the spark flicker out --" It was not necessary for him to finish; Herb knew.
"Is it the Democratic-Republican National Convention that he wants to participate in?" Herb asked. The Convention would be held later in the month, in Cleveland. In the past, Sarapis had been quite active in the behind-the-scenes activities at both the Democratic-Republican and the Liberal Party nominating conventions. It was said, in fact, that he had personally chosen the last Democratic-Republican Presidential candidate, Alfonse Gam. Tidy, handsome Gam had lost, but not by very much.
"Are you still getting nothing?" Barefoot asked.
"Um, it seems --" Herb said.
"Nothing. Obviously." Now Barefoot looked grim. "If you can't rouse him in another ten minutes I'll get hold of Claude St. Cyr and we'll take Louis out of your mortuary and lodge charges of negligence against you."
"I'm doing what I can," Herb said, perspiring as he fiddled with the leads to the casket. "We didn't perform the quick-pack installation, remember; there may have been a slip-up at that point."
Now static supervened over the steady hum.
"Is that him coming in?" Barefoot demanded.
"No," Herb admitted, thoroughly upset by now. It was, in fact, a bad sign.
"Keep trying," Barefoot said. But it was unnecessary to tell Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang that; he was struggling desperately, with all he had, with all his years of professional competence in this field. And still he achieved nothing; Louis Sarapis remained silent.
I'm not going to be successful, Herb realized in fear. I don't understand why, either. WHAT'S WRONG? A big client like this, and it has to get fouled up. He toiled on, not looking at Barefoot, not daring to.
At the radio telescope at Kennedy Slough, on the dark side of Luna, Chief Technician Owen Angress discovered that he had picked up a signal emanating from a region one light-week beyond the solar system in the direction of Proxima. Ordinarily such a region of space would have held little of interest for the U.N. Commission on Deep-Space Communications, but this, Owen Angress realized, was unique.
What reached him, thoroughly amplified by the great antennae of the radio telescope, was, faintly but clearly, a human voice.
". . .probably let it slide by," the voice was declaring. "If I know them, and I believe I do. That Johnny; he'd revert without my keeping my eye on him, but at least he's not a crook like St. Cyr. I did right to fire St. Cyr. Assuming I can make it stick. . ." The voice faded momentarily.
What's out there? Angress wondered, dazedly. "At one fifty-second of a light-year," he murmured, making a quick mark on the deep-space map which he had been recharting. "Nothing. That's just empty dust-clouds." He could not understand what the signal implied; was it being bounced back to Luna from some nearby transmitter? Was this, in other words, merely an echo?
Or was he reading his computation incorrectly?
Surely this couldn't be correct. Some individual ruminating at a transmitter out beyond the solar system. . . a man not in a hurry, thinking aloud in a kind of half-slumbering attitude, as if free-associating. . . it made no sense.
I'd better report this to Wycoff at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, he said to himself. Wycoff was his current supervisor; next month it would be Jamison of MIT. Maybe it's a long-haul ship that --
The voice filtered in clearly once again. ". . .that Gam is a fool; did wrong to select him. Know better now but too late. Hello?" The thoughts became sharp, the words more distinct. "Am I coming back? -- for god's sake, it's about time. Hey! Johnny! Is that you?"
Angress picked up the telephone and dialed the code for the line to the Soviet Union.
"Speak up, Johnny!" the voice from the speaker demanded plaintively. "Come on, son; I've got so damn much on my mind. So much to do. Convention's started yet, has it? Got no sense of time stuck in here, can't see or hear; wait'll you get here and you'll find out. . ." Again the voice faded.
This is exactly what Wycoff likes to call a "phenomenon," Angress realized.
And I can understand why.
On the evening television news, Claude St. Cyr heard the announcer babbling about a discovery made by the radio telescope on Luna, but he paid little attention: he was busy mixing martinis for his guests.
"Yes," he said to Gertrude Harvey, "ironic as it is, I drew up the will myself, including the clause that automatically dismissed me, canceled my services out of existence the moment he died. And I'll tell you why Louis did that; he had paranoid suspicions of me, so he figured that with such a clause he'd insure himself against being --" He paused as he measured out the iota of dry wine which accompanied the gin. "Being prematurely dispatched." He grinned, and Gertrude, arranged decoratively on the couch beside her husband, smiled back.
"A lot of good it did him," Phil Harvey said.
"Hell," St. Cyr protested. "I had nothing to do with his death; it was an embolus, a great fat clot stuck like a cork in a bottleneck." He laughed at the image. "Nature's own remedy."
Gertrude said, "Listen. The TV; it's saying something strange." She rose, walked over to it and bent down, her "ar close to the speaker.
"It's probably that oaf Kent Margrave," St. Cyr said. "Making another political speech." Margrave had been their President now for four years; a Liberal, he had managed to defeat Alfonse Gam, who had been Louis Sarapis' hand-picked choice for the office. Actually Margrave, for all his faults, was quite a politician; he had managed to convince large blocs of voters that having a puppet of Sarapis' for their President was not such a good idea.
"No," Gertrude said, carefully arranging her skirt over her bare knees. "This is -- the space agency, I think. Science."
"Science!" St. Cyr laughed. "Well, then let's listen; I admire science. Turn it up." I suppose they've found another planet in the Orionus System, he said to himself. Something more for us to make the goal of our collective existence.
"A voice," the TV announcer was saying, "emanating from outer space, tonight has scientists both in the United States and the Soviet Union completely baffled."
"Oh no," St. Cyr choked. "A voice from outer space -- please, no more." Doubled up with laughter, he moved off, away from the TV set; he could not bear to listen any more. "That's what we need," he said to Phil. "A voice that turns out to be -- you know Who it is."
"Who?" Phil asked.
"God, of course. The radio telescope at Kennedy Slough has picked up the voice of God and now we're going to receive another set of divine commandments or at least a few scrolls." Removing his glasses he wiped his eyes with his Irish linen handkerchief.
Dourly, Phil Harvey said, "Personally I agree with my wife; I find it fascinating."
"Listen, my friend," St. Cyr said, "you know it'll turn out to be a transistor radio that some Jap student lost on a trip between Earth and Callisto. And the radio just drifted on out of the solar system entirely and now the telescope has picked it up and it's a huge mystery to all the scientists." He became more sober. "Shut it off, Gert; we've got serious things to consider."
Obediently but reluctantly she did so. "Is it true, Claude," she asked, rising to her feet, "that the mortuary wasn't able to revive old Louis? That he's not in half-life as he's supposed to be by now?"
"Nobody tells me anything from the organization, now," St. Cyr answered. "But I did hear a rumor to that effect." He knew, in fact, that it was so; he had many friends within Wilhelmina, but he did not like to talk about these surviving links. "Yes, I suppose that's so," he said.
Gertrude shivered. "Imagine not coming back. How dreadful."
"But that was the old natural condition," her husband pointed out as he drank his martini. "Nobody had half-life before the turn of the century."
"But we're used to it," she said stubbornly.
To Phil Harvey, St. Cyr said, "Let's continue our discussion."
Shrugging, Harvey said, "All right. If you really feel there's something to discuss." He eyed St. Cyr critically. "I could put you on my legal staff, yes. If that's what you're sure you want. But I can't give you the kind of business that Louis could. It wouldn't be fair to the legal men I have in there now."
"Oh, I recognize that," St. Cyr said. After all, Harvey's drayage firm was small in comparison with the Sarapis outfits; Harvey was in fact a minor figure in the 3-4 shipping business.
But that was precisely what St. Cyr wanted. Because he believed that within a year with the experience and contacts he had gained working for Louis Sarapis he could depose Harvey and take over Elektra Enterprises.
Harvey's first wife had been named Elektra. St. Cyr had known her, and after she and Harvey had split up St. Cyr had continued to see her, now in a more personal -- and more spirited -- way. It had always seemed to him that Elektra Harvey had obtained a rather bad deal; Harvey had employed legal talent of sufficient caliber to outwit Elektra's attorney. . . who had been, as a matter of fact, St. Cyr's junior law partner, Harold Faine. Ever since her defeat in the courts, St. Cyr had blamed himself; why hadn't he taken the case personally? But he had been so tied up with Sarapis business . . . it had simply not been possible.
Now, with Sarapis gone and his job with Atlas, Wilhelmina and Archimedean over, he could take some time to rectify the imbalance; he could come to the aid of the woman (he admitted it) whom he loved.
But that was a long step from this situation; first he had to get into Harvey's legal staff -- at any cost. Evidently, he was succeeding.
"Shall we shake on it, then?" he asked Harvey, holding out his hand.
"Okay," Harvey said, not very much stirred by the event. He held out his hand, however, and they shook. "By the way," he said, then, "I have some knowledge -- fragmentary but evidently accurate -- as to why Sarapis cut you off in his will. And it isn't what you said at all."
"Oh?" St. Cyr said, trying to sound casual.
"My understanding is that he suspected someone, possibly you, of desiring to prevent him from returning to half-life. That you were going to select a particular mortuary which certain contacts of yours operate . . . and they'd somehow fail to revive the old man." He eyed St. Cyr. "And oddly, that seems to be exactly what has happened."
There was silence.
Gertrude said, at last, "Why would Claude not want Louis Sarapis to be resurrected?"
"I have no idea," Harvey said. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I don't even fully understand half-life itself. Isn't it true that the half-lifer often finds himself in possession of a sort of insight, of a new frame of reference, a perspective, that he lacked while alive?"
"I've heard psychologists say that," Gertrude agreed. "It's what the old theologists called conversion."
"Maybe Claude was afraid of some insight that Louis might show up with," Harvey said. "But that's just conjecture."
"Conjecture," Claude St. Cyr agreed, "in its entirety, including that as to any such plan as you describe; in actual fact I know absolutely no one in the mortuary business." His voice was steady, too; he made it come out that way. But this all was very sticky, he said to himself. Quite awkward.
The maid appeared, then, to tell them that dinner was ready. Both Phil and Gertrude rose, and Claude joined them as they entered the dining room together.
"Tell me," Phil Harvey said to Claude. "Who is Sarapis' heir?" St. Cyr said, "A granddaughter who lives on Callisto; her name is Kathy Egmont and she's an odd one . . . she's about twenty years old and already she's been in jail five times, mostly for narcotics addiction. Lately, I understand, she's managed to cure herself of the drug habit and now she's a religious convert of some kind. I've never met her but I've handled volumes of correspondence passing between her and old Louis."
"And she gets the entire estate, when it's out of probate? With all the political power inherent in it?"
"Haw," St. Cyr said. "Political power can't be willed, can't be passed on. All Kathy gets is the economic syndrome. It functions, as you know, through the parent holding company licensed under the laws of the state of Delaware, Wilhelmina Securities, and that's hers, if she cares to make use of it -- if she can understand what it is she's inheriting."
Phil Harvey said, "You don't sound very optimistic."
"All the correspondence from her indicates -- to me at least -- that she's a sick, criminal type, very eccentric and unstable. The very last sort I'd like to see inherit Louis's holdings."
On that note, they seated themselves at the dinner table.
In the night, Johnny Barefoot heard the phone, drew himself to a sitting position and fumbled until his hands touched the receiver. Beside him in the bed Sarah Belle stirred as he said gratingly, "Hello. Who the hell is it?"
A fragile female voice said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Barefoot. . . I didn't mean to wake you up. But I was told by my attorney to call you as soon as I arrived on Earth." She added, "This is Kathy Egmont, although actually my real name is Mrs. Kathy Sharp. Do you know who I am?"
"Yes," Johnny said, rubbing his eyes and yawning. He shivered from the cold of the room; beside him, Sarah Belle drew the covers back up over her shoulders and turned the other way. "Want me to come and pick you up? Do you have a place to stay?"
"I have no friends here on Terra," Kathy said. "But the spaceport people told me that the Severely is a good hotel, so I'm going there. I started from Callisto as soon as I heard that my grandfather had died,"
"You made good time," he said. He hadn't expected her for another twenty-four hours.
"Is there any chance --" The girl sounded timid. "Could I possibly stay with you, Mr. Barefoot? It scares me, the idea of a big hotel where no one knows me."
"I'm sorry," he said at once. "I'm married." And then he realized that such a retort was not only inappropriate . . . it was actually abusive. "What I mean is," he explained, "I have no spare room. You stay at the Severely tonight and tomorrow we'll find you a more acceptable apartment."
"All right," Kathy said. She sounded resigned but still anxious. "Tell me, Mr. Barefoot, what luck have you had with my grandfather's resurrection? Is he in half-life, now?"
"No," Johnny said. "It's failed, so far. They're working on it."
When he had left the mortuary, five technicians had been busy at work, trying to discover what was wrong.
Kathy said, "I thought it might work out that way."
"Well, my grandfather -- he was so different from everyone else. I realize you know that, perhaps even better than I. . . after all, you were with him daily. But -- I just couldn't imagine him inert, the way the half-lifers are. Passive and helpless, you know. Can you imagine him like that, after all he's done?"
Johnny said, "Let's talk tomorrow; I'll come by the hotel about nine. Okay?"
"Yes, that's fine. I'm glad to have met you, Mr. Barefoot. I hope you'll stay on with Archimedean, working for me. Goodbye." The phone clicked; she had rung off.
My new boss, Johnny said to himself. Wow.
"Who was that?" Sarah Belle murmured. "At this hour?"
"The owner of Archimedean," Johnny said. "My employer."
"Louis Sarapis?" His wife sat up at once. "Oh. . . you mean his granddaughter; she's here already. What's she sound like?"
"I can't tell," he said meditatively. "Frightened, mostly. It's a finite, small world she comes from, compared with Terra, here." He did not tell his wife the things he knew about Kathy, her drug addiction, her terms in jail.
"Can she take over now?" Sarah Belle asked. "Doesn't she have to wait until Louis's half-life is over?"
"Legally, he's dead. His will has come into force." And, he thought acidly, he's not in half-life anyhow; he's silent and dead in his plastic casket, in his quick-pack, which evidently wasn't quite quick enough.
"How do you think you'll get along with her?"
"I don't know," he said candidly. "I'm not even sure I'm going to try." He did not like the idea of working for a woman, especially one younger than himself. And one who was -- at least according to hearsay -- virtually psychopathic. But on the phone she had certainly not sounded psychopathic. He mulled that over in his mind, wide-awake now.
"She's probably very pretty," Sarah Belle said. "You'll probably fall in love with her and desert me."
"Oh no," he said. "Nothing as startling as that. I'll probably try to work for her, drag out a few miserable months, and then give up and look elsewhere." And meanwhile, he thought, WHAT ABOUT LOUIS? Are we, or are we not, going to be able to revive him? That was the really big unknown.
If the old man could be revived, he could direct his granddaughter; even though legally and physically dead, he could continue to manage his complex economic and political sphere, to some extent. But right now this was simply not working out, and the old man had planned on being revived at once, certainly before the Democratic-Republican Convention. Louis certainly knew -- or rather had known -- what sort of person he was willing his holdings to. Without help she surely could not function. And, Johnny thought, there's little I can do for her. Claude St. Cyr could have, but by the terms of the will he's out of the picture entirely. So what is left? We must keep trying to revive old Louis, even if we have to visit every mortuary in the United States, Cuba and Russia.
"You're thinking confused thoughts," Sarah Belle said. "I can tell by your expression." She turned on the small lamp by the bed, and was now reaching for her robe. "Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night."
This must be how half-life feels, he thought groggily. He shook his head, trying to clear it, to wake up fully.
The next morning he parked his car in the underground garage of the Beverely and ascended by elevator to the lobby and the front desk where he was greeted by the smiling day clerk. It was not much of a hotel, Johnny decided. Clean, however; a respectable family hotel which probably rented many of its units by the month, some no doubt to elderly retired people. Evidently Kathy was accustomed to living modestly.
In answer to his query, the clerk pointed to the adjoining coffee shop. "You'll find her in there, eating breakfast. She said you might be calling, Mr. Barefoot."
In the coffee shop he found a good number of people having breakfast; he stopped short, wondering which was Kathy. The dark-haired girl with the stilted, frozen features, over in the far corner out of the way? He walked toward her. Her hair, he decided, was dyed. Without makeup she looked unnaturally pale; her skin had a stark quality, as if she had known a good deal of suffering, and not the sort that taught or informed one, made one into a "better" person. It had been pure pain, with no redemptive aspects, he decided as he studied her.
"Kathy?" he asked.
The girl turned her head. Her eyes, empty; her expression totally flattened. In a little voice she said, "Yes. Are you John Barefoot?" As he came up to the booth and seated himself opposite her she watched as if she imagined he would spring at her, hurl himself on her and -- God forbid -- sexually assault her. It's as if she's nothing more than a lone, small animal, he thought. Backed into a corner to face the entire world.
The color, or rather lack of it, could stem from the drug addiction, he decided. But that did not explain the flatness of her tone, and her utter lack of facial expression. And yet -- she was pretty. She had delicate, regular features. . . animated, they would have been interesting. And perhaps they had been, once. Years ago.
"I have only five dollars left," Kathy said. "After I paid for my one-way ticket and my hotel and my breakfast. Could you --" She hesitated. "I'm not sure exactly what to do. Could you tell me. . . do I own anything yet? Anything that was my grandfather's? That I could borrow against?"
Johnny said, "I'll write you a personal check for one hundred dollars and you can pay me back sometime." He got out his checkbook.
"Really?" She looked stunned, and now, faintly, she smiled. "How trusting of you. Or are you trying to impress me? You were my grandfather's public relations man, weren't you? How were you dealt with in the will? I can't remember; it's all happened so fast, it's been so blurred."
"Well," he said, "I wasn't fired, as was Claude St. Cyr."
"Then you're staying on." That seemed to relieve her mind. "I wonder. . . would it be correct to say you're now working for me?"
"You could say that," Johnny said. "Assuming you feel you need a P.R. man. Maybe you don't. Louis wasn't sure, half the time."
"Tell me what efforts have been made to resurrect him."
He explained to her, briefly, what he had done.
"And this is not generally known?" she asked.
"Definitely not. I know it, a mortuary owner with the unnatural name of Herb Schoenheit von Vogelsang knows it, and possibly news has trickled to a few high people in the drayage business, such as Phil Harvey. Even Claude St. Cyr may know it, by now. Of course, as time goes on and Louis has nothing to say, no political pronouncements for the press --"
"We'll have to make them up," Kathy said. "And pretend they're from him. That will be your job, Mr. Funnyfoot." She smiled once more. "Press-releases by my grandfather, until he's finally revived or we give up. Do you think we'll have to give up?" After a pause she said softly, "I'd like to see him. If I may. If you think it's all right."
"I'll take you there, to the Blessed Brethren Mortuary. I have to go there within the hour anyhow."
Nodding, Kathy resumed eating her breakfast.
As Johnny Barefoot stood beside the girl, who gazed intently at the transparent casket, he thought bizarrely, Maybe she'll rap on the glass and say, "Grandfather, you wake up." And, he thought, maybe that will accomplish it. Certainly nothing else has.
Wringing his hands, Herb Schoenheit von Vogelsang burbled miserably, "I just don't understand it, Mr. Barefoot. We worked all night, in relays, and we just aren't getting a single spark. And yet we ran an electrocephalograph and the 'gram shows faint but unmistakable cerebral activity. So the after-life is there, but we can't seem to contact it. We've got probes at every part of the skull, now, as you can see." He pointed to the maze of hair-wires connecting the dead man's head to the amplifying equipment surrounding the casket. "I don't know what else we can do, sir."
"Is there measurable brain metabolism?" Johnny asked.
"Yes sir. We called in outside experts and they detected it; it's a normal amount, too, just what you'd expect, immediately after death."
Kathy said calmly, "I know it's hopeless. He's too big a man for this. This is for aged relatives. For grandmothers, to be trotted out once a year on Resurrection Day." She turned away from the casket. "Let's go," she said to Johnny.
Together, he and the girl walked along the sidewalk from the mortuary, neither speaking. It was a mild spring day, and the trees here and there at the curb had small pink flowers. Cherry trees, Johnny decided.
"Death," Kathy murmured, at last. "And rebirth. A technological miracle. Maybe when Louis saw what it was like on the other side he changed his mind about coming back. . . maybe he just doesn't want to return."
"Well," Johnny said, "the electrical spark is there; he's inside there, thinking something." He let Kathy take his arm as they crossed the street. "Someone told me," he said quietly, "that you're interested in religion."
"Yes, I am," Kathy said quietly. "You see, when I was a narcotics addict I took an overdose -- never mind of what -- and as a result my heart action ceased. I was officially, medically, dead for several minutes; they brought me back by open-chest heart massage and electroshock. . . you know. During that time I had an experience, probably much like what those who go into half-life have experienced."
"Was it better than here?"
"No," she said. "But it was different. It was -- dreamlike. I don't mean vague or unreal. I mean the logic, the weightlessness; you see, that's the main difference. You're free of gravity. It's hard to realize how important that is, but just think how many of the characteristics of the dream derive from that one fact."
Johnny said, "And it changed you."
"I managed to overcome the oral addictive aspects of my personality, if that's what you mean. I learned to control my appetites. My greed." At a newspaper stand Kathy halted to read the headlines. "Look," she said.
VOICE FROM OUTER SPACE BAFFLES SCIENTISTS
"Interesting," Johnny said.
Kathy, picking up the newspaper, read the article which accompanied the headline. "How strange," she said. "They've picked up a sentient, living entity. . . here, you can read it, too." She passed the newspaper to him. "I did that, when I died. . . I drifted out, free of the solar system, first planetary gravity then the sun's. I wonder who it is." Taking the newspaper back she reread the article.
"Ten cents, sir or madam," the robot vender said, suddenly.
Johnny tossed it the dime.
"Do you think it's my grandfather?" Kathy asked.
"Hardly," Johnny said.
"I think it is," Kathy said, staring past him, deep in thought. "I know it is; look, it began one week after his death, and it's one light-week out. The time fits, and here's the transcript of what it's saying." She pointed to the column. "All about you, Johnny, and about me and about Claude St. Cyr, that lawyer he fired, and the Convention; it's all there, but garbled. That's the way your thoughts run, when you're dead; all compressed, instead of in sequence." She smiled up at Johnny. "So we've got a terrible problem. We can hear him, by use of the radio telescope at Kennedy Slough. But he can't hear us."
"You don't actually --"
"Oh, I do," she said matter-of-factly. "I knew he wouldn't settle for half-life; this is a whole, entire life he's leading now, out in space, there, beyond the last planet of our system. And there isn't going to be any way we can interfere with him; whatever it is he's doing --" She began to walk on, once more; Johnny followed. "Whatever it is, it's going to be at least as much as he did when he was alive here on Terra. You can be sure of that. Are you afraid?"
"Hell," Johnny protested, "I'm not even convinced, let alone afraid." And yet -- perhaps she was right. She seemed so certain about it. He could not help being a little impressed, a little convinced.
"You should be afraid," Kathy said. "He may be very strong, out there. He may be able to do a lot. Affect a lot. . . affect us, what we do and say and believe. Even without the radio telescope -- he may be reaching us, even now. Subliminally."
"I don't believe it," Johnny said. But he did, in spite of himself. She was right; it was just what Louis Sarapis would do.
Kathy said, "We'll know more when the Convention begins, because that's what he cares about. He failed to get Gam elected last time, and that was one of the few times in his life that he was beaten."
"Gam!" Johnny echoed, amazed. "That has-been? Is he even still in existence? Why, he completely disappeared, four years ago --"
"My grandfather won't give up with him," Kathy said meditatively. "And he is alive; he's a turkey farmer or some such thing, on Io. Perhaps it's ducks. Anyhow, he's there. Waiting."
"Waiting for what?"
Kathy said, "For my grandfather to contact him again. As he did before, four years ago, at the Convention then."
"No one would vote for Gam again!" Repelled, he gazed at her.
Smiling, Kathy said nothing. But she squeezed his arm, hugging him. As if, he thought, she were afraid again, as she had been in the night, when he had talked to her. Perhaps even more so.
The handsome, dapper, middle-aged man wearing vest and narrow, old-fashioned necktie, rose to his feet as Claude St. Cyr entered the outer office of St. Cyr and Faine, on his way to court. "Mr. St. Cyr --"
Glancing at him, St. Cyr murmured, "I'm in a rush; you'll have to make an appointment with my secretary." And then he recognized the man. He was talking to Alfonse Gam.
"I have a telegram," Gam said. "From Louis Sarapis." He reached into his coat pocket.
"Sorry," St. Cyr said stiffly. "I'm associated with Mr. Phil Harvey now; my business relationship with Mr. Sarapis was terminated several weeks ago." But he paused, curious. He had met Gam before; at the time of the national campaign, four years ago, he had seen a good deal of the man -- in fact, he had represented Gam in several libel suits, one with Gam as the plaintiff, the other as defendant. He did not like the man.
Gam said, "This wire arrived the day before yesterday."
"But Sarapis has been --" Claude St. Cyr broke off. "Let me see it." He held out his hand, and Gam passed him the wire.
It was a statement from Louis Sarapis to Gam, assuring Gam of Louis's utter and absolute support in the forthcoming struggle at the Convention. And Gam was correct; the wire was dated only three days before. It did not make sense.
"I can't explain it, Mr. St. Cyr," Gam said dryly. "But it sounds like Louis. He wants me to run again. As you can see. It never occurred to me; as far as I'm concerned I'm out of politics and in the guinea-fowl business. I thought you might know something about this, who sent it and why." He added, "Assuming that old Louis didn't."
St. Cyr said, "How could Louis have sent it?"
"I mean, written it before his death and had someone send it just the other day. Yourself, perhaps." Gam shrugged. "Evidently it wasn't you. Perhaps Mr. Barefoot, then." He reached out for his wire.
"Do you actually intend to run again?" St. Cyr asked.
"If Louis wants me to."
"And lose again? Drag the party to defeat again, just because of one stubborn, vindictive old man --" St. Cyr broke off. "Go back to raising guinea fowl. Forget politics. You're a loser, Gam. Everyone in the party knows it. Everyone in America, in fact."
"How can I contact Mr. Barefoot?"
St. Cyr said, "I have no idea." He started on.
"I'll need legal help," Gam said.
"For what? Who's suing you now? You don't need legal help, Mr. Gam; you need medical help, a psychiatrist to explain why you want to run again. Listen --" He leaned toward Gam. "If Louis alive couldn't get you into office, Louis dead certainly can't." He went on, then, leaving Gam standing there.
"Wait," Gam said.
Reluctantly, Claude St. Cyr turned around.
"This time I'm going to win," Gam said. He sounded as if he meant it; his voice, instead of its usual reedy flutter, was firm.
Uneasy, St. Cyr said, "Well, good luck. To both you and Louis."
"Then he is alive." Gam's eyes flickered.
"I didn't say that; I was being ironic."
Gam said thoughtfully, "But he is alive; I'm sure of it. I'd like to find him. I went to some of the mortuaries, but none of them had him, or if they did they wouldn't admit it. I'll keep looking; I want to confer with him." He added, "That's why I came here from Io."
At that point, St. Cyr managed to break away and depart. What a nonentity, he said to himself. A cypher, nothing but a puppet of Louis's. He shuddered. God protect us from such a fate: that man as our President.
Imagine us all becoming like Gam!
It was not a pleasant thought; it did not inspire him for the day ahead. And he had a good deal of work on his shoulders.
This was the day that he, as attorney for Phil Harvey, would make Mrs. Kathy Sharp -- the former Kathy Egmont -- an offer for Wilhelmina Securities. An exchange of stock would be involved; voting stock, redistributed in such a fashion that Harvey gained control of Wilhelmina. The worth of the corporation being almost impossible to calculate, Harvey was offering not money but real estate in exchange; he had enormous tracts of land on Ganymede, deeded to him by the Soviet Government a decade ago in exchange for technical assistance he had rendered it and its colonies.
The chance of Kathy accepting was nil.
And yet, the offer had to be made. The next step -- he shrank from even thinking about it -- involved a fracas to the death in the area of direct economic competition, between Harvey's drayage firm and hers. And hers, he knew, was now in a state of decay; there had been union trouble since the old man's death. The thing that Louis hated the most had started to take place: union organizers had begun to move in on Archimedean.
He himself sympathized with the unions; it was about time they came onto the scene. Only the old man's dirty tactics and his boundless energy, not to speak of his ruthless, eternal imagination, had kept them out. Kathy had none of these. And Johnny Barefoot --
What can you ask of a noncol? St. Cyr asked himself caustically. Brilliant strategy-purse out of the sow's ear of mediocrity?
And Barefoot had his hands full building up Kathy's image before the public; he had barely begun to succeed in that when the union squabbles broke out. An ex-narcotics addict and religious nut, a woman who had a criminal record. . . Johnny had his work cut out for him.
Where he had been productive lay in the area of the woman's physical appearance. She looked sweet, even gentle and pure; almost saintly. And Johnny had seized on this. Instead of quoting her in the press he had photographed her, a thousand wholesome poses: with dogs, children, at county fairs, at hospitals, involved in charity drives -- the whole business.
But unfortunately Kathy had spoiled the image he had created, spoiled it in a rather unusual way.
Kathy maintained -- simply -- that she was in communication with her grandfather. That it was he who lay a light-week out in space, picked up by Kennedy Slough. She heard him, as the rest of the world did. . . and by some miracle he heard her, too.
St. Cyr, riding the self-service elevator up to the 'copter port on the roof, laughed aloud. Her religious crankery couldn't be kept from the gossip columnists. . . Kathy had said too much in public places, in restaurants and small, famous bars. And even with Johnny beside her. Even he couldn't keep her quiet.
Also, there had been that incident at that party in which she had taken off her clothes, declaring the hour of purification to be momentarily arriving; she had daubed herself in certain spots with crimson nail polish, as well, a sort of ritual ceremony. . . of course she had been drinking.
And this is the woman, St. Cyr thought, who operates Archimedean. The woman we must oust, for our good and the public's. It was, to him, practically a mandate in the name of the people. Virtually a public service to be performed, and the only one who did not see it that way was Johnny.
St. Cyr thought, Johnny LIKES her. There's the motive.
I wonder, he mused, what Sarah Belle thinks of that.
Feeling cheerful, St. Cyr entered his 'copter, closed the hatch and inserted his key in the ignition. And then he thought once again of Alfonse Gam. And his good humor vanished at once; again he felt glum.
There are two people, he realized, who are acting on the assumption that old Louis Sarapis is alive; Kathy Egmont Sharp and Alfonse Gam.
Two most unsavory people, too. And, in spite of himself, he was being forced to associate with both of them. It seemed to be his fate.
He thought, I'm no better off than I was with old Louis. In some respects, I'm even worse off.
The 'copter rose into the sky, on its way to Phil Harvey's building in downtown Denver.
Being late, he snapped on the little transmitter, picked up the microphone and put in a call to Harvey. "Phil," he said, "Can you hear me? This is St. Cyr and I'm on my way west." He listened, then.
Listened, and heard from the speaker a far-off weird babble, a murmur as if many words were being blended into a confusion. He recognized it; he had come onto it several times now, on the TV news programs.
"... spite of personal attacks, much superior to Chambers, who couldn't win an election for house of ill repute janitor. You keep up faith in yourself, Alfonse. People know a good man, value him; you wait. Faith moves mountains. I ought to know, look what I've accomplished in my life. . ."
It was, St. Cyr realized, the entity a light-week out, now emitting an even more powerful signal; like sunspots, it beclouded normal transmission channels. He cursed, scowled, then snapped off the receiver.
Fouling up communications, he said to himself. Must be against the law; I ought to consult the FCC.
Shaken, he piloted his 'copter on, across open farm land.
My God, he thought, it did sound like old Louis!
Could Kathy Egmont Sharp possibly be right?
At the Michigan plant of Archimedean, Johnny Barefoot appeared for his appointment with Kathy and found her in a state of gloom.
"Don't you see what's happening?" she demanded, facing him across the office which had once been Louis's. "I'm not managing things right at all; everybody knows that. Don't you know that?" Wild-eyed, she stared at him.
"I don't know that," Johnny said. But inside he did know it; she was correct. "Take it easy and sit down," he said. "Harvey and St. Cyr will be here any minute now, and you want to be in command of yourself when you meet with them." It was a meeting which he had hoped to avoid. But, he had realized, sooner or later it would take place, and so he had let Kathy agree to it.
Kathy said, "I have something terrible to tell you."
"What is it? It can't be so terrible." He set himself, waiting in dread to hear.
"I'm back on drugs, Johnny. All this responsibility and pressure; it's too much for me. I'm sorry." She gazed down at the floor sadly.
"What is the drug?"
"I'd rather not say. It's one of the amphetamines. I've read the literature; I know it can cause a psychosis, in the amounts I'm taking. But I don't care." Panting, she turned away, her back to him. He saw, now, how thin she had gotten. And her face was gaunt, hollow-eyed; he now understood why. The overdosage of amphetamines wasted the body away, turned matter into energy. Her metabolism was altered so that she became, as the addiction returned, a pseudo-hyperthyroid, with all the somatic processes speeded up.
Johnny said, "I'm sorry to hear it." He had been afraid of this. And yet when it had come he had not understood; he had had to wait until she told him. "I think," he said, "you should be under a doctor's care." He wondered where she got the drug. But probably for her, with her years of experience, it was not difficult.
"It makes a person very unstable emotionally," Kathy said. "Given to sudden rages and also crying jags. I want you to know that, so you won't blame me. So you'll understand that it's the drug." She tried to smile; he saw her making the effort.
Going over to her he put his hand on her shoulder. "Listen," he said, "when Harvey and St. Cyr get here, I think you better accept their offer."
"Oh," she said, nodding. "Well."
"And then," he said, "I want you to go voluntarily into a hospital."
"The cookie factory," Kathy said bitterly.
"You'd be better off," he said, "without the responsibility you have, here at Archimedean. What you need is deep, protracted rest. You're in a state of mental and physical fatigue, but as long as you're taking that amphetamine --"
"Then it doesn't catch up with me," Kathy finished. "Johnny, I can't sell out to Harvey and St. Cyr."
"Louis wouldn't want me to. He --" She was silent a moment. "He says no."
Johnny said, "Your health, maybe your life --"
"My sanity, you mean, Johnny."
"You have too much personally at stake," he said. "The hell with Louis. The hell with Archimedean; you want to find yourself in a mortuary, too, in half-life? It's not worth it; it's just property, and you're a living creature."
She smiled. And then, on the desk, a light came on and a buzzer sounded. The receptionist outside said, "Mrs. Sharp, Mr. Harvey and Mr. St. Cyr are here, now. Shall I send them in?"
"Yes," she answered.
The door opened, and Claude St. Cyr and Phil Harvey came swiftly in. "Hey, Johnny," St. Cyr said. He seemed to be in a confident mood; beside him, Harvey looked confident, too.
Kathy said, "I'll let Johnny do most of the talking."
He glanced at her. Did that mean she had agreed to sell? He said, "What kind of deal is this? What do you have to offer in exchange for a controlling interest in Wilhelmina Securities of Delaware? I can't imagine what it could be."
"Ganymede," St. Cyr said. "An entire moon." He added, "Virtually."
"Oh yes," Johnny said. "The USSR land deed. Has it been tested in the international courts?"
"Yes," St. Cyr said, "and found totally valid. Its worth is beyond estimate. And each year it will increase, perhaps double, in value. My client will put that up. It's a good offer, Johnny; you and I know each other, and you know when I say it that it's true."
Probably it was, Johnny decided. It was in many respects a generous offer; Harvey was not trying to bilk Kathy.
"Speaking for Mrs. Sharp," Johnny began. But Kathy cut him off.
"No," she said in a quick, brisk voice. "I can't sell. He says not to."
Johnny said, "You've already given me authority to negotiate, Kathy."
"Well," she said in a hard voice, "I'm taking it back."
"If I'm to work with you and for you at all," Johnny said, "you must go on my advice. We've already talked it over and agreed --"
The phone in the office rang.
"Listen to him yourself," Kathy said. She picked up the phone and held it out to Johnny. "He'll tell you."
Johnny accepted the phone and put it to his ear. "Who is this?" he demanded. And then he heard the drumming. The far-off uncanny drumming noise, as if something were scratching at a long metal wire.
". . . imperative to retain control. Your advice absurd. She can pull herself together; she's got the stuff. Panic reaction; you're scared because she's ill. A good doctor can fix her up. Get a doctor for her; get medical help. Get an attorney and be sure she stays out of the hands of the law. Make sure her supply of drugs is cut. Insist on . . ." Johnny yanked the receiver away from his ear, refusing to hear more. Trembling, he hung the phone back up.
"You heard him," Kathy said. "Didn't you? That was Louis."
"Yes," Johnny said.
"He's grown," Kathy said. "Now we can hear him direct; it's not just the radio telescope at Kennedy Slough. I heard him last night, clearly, for the first time, as I lay down to go to sleep."
To St. Cyr and Harvey, Johnny said, "We'll have to think your proposition over, evidently. We'll have to get an appraisal of the worth of the unimproved real estate you're offering and no doubt you want an audit of Wilhelmina. That will take time." He heard his voice shake; he had not gotten over the shock of picking up the telephone and hearing the living voice of Louis Sarapis.
After making an appointment with St. Cyr and Harvey to meet with them once more later in the day, Johnny took Kathy out to a late breakfast; she had admitted, reluctantly, that she had eaten nothing since the night before.
"I'm just not hungry," she explained, as she sat picking listlessly at her plate of bacon and eggs, toast with jam.
"Even if that was Louis Sarapis," Johnny said, "you don't --"
"It was. Don't say 'even'; you know it's him. He's gaining power all the time, out there. Perhaps from the sun."
"So it's Louis," he said doggedly. "Nonetheless, you have to act in your own interest, not in his."
"His interests and mine are the same," Kathy said. "They involve maintaining Archimedean."
"Can he give you the help you need? Can he supply what's missing? He doesn't take your drug-addiction seriously; that's obvious. All he did was preach at me." He felt anger. "That's damn little help, for you or for me, in this situation."
"Johnny," she said, "I feel him near me all the time; I don't need the TV or the phone -- I sense him. It's my mystical bent, I think. My religious intuition; it's helping me maintain contact with him." She sipped a little orange juice.
Bluntly, Johnny said, "It's your amphetamine psychosis, you mean."
"I won't go into the hospital, Johnny. I won't sign myself in; I'm sick but not that sick. I can get over this bout on my own, because I'm not alone. I have my grandfather. And --" She smiled at him. "I have you. In spite of Sarah Belle."
"You won't have me, Kathy," he said quietly, "unless you sell to Harvey. Unless you accept the Ganymede real estate."
"Yes," he said.
After a pause, Kathy said, "My grandfather says go ahead and quit." Her eyes were dark, enlarged, and utterly cold.
"I don't believe he'd say that."
"Then talk to him."
Kathy pointed to the TV set in the corner of the restaurant. "Turn it on and listen."
Rising to his feet, Johnny said, "I don't have to; I've already given my decision. I'll be at my hotel, if you should change your mind." He walked away from the table, leaving her sitting there. Would she call after him? He listened as he walked. She did not call.
A moment later he was out of the restaurant, standing on the sidewalk. She had called his bluff, and so it ceased to be a bluff; it became the real thing. He actually had quit.
Stunned, he walked aimlessly on. And yet -- he had been right. He knew that. It was just that. . . damn her, he thought. Why didn't she give in? Because of Louis, he realized. Without the old man she would have gone ahead and done it, traded her controlling, voting stock for the Ganymede property. Damn Louis Sarapis, not her, he thought furiously.
What now? he asked himself. Go back to New York? Look for a new job? For instance approach Alfonse Gam? There was money in that, if he could land it. Or should he stay here in Michigan, hoping that Kathy would change her mind?
She can't keep on, he decided. No matter what Sarapis tells her. Or rather, what she believes he's telling her. Whichever it is.
Hailing a cab, he gave the driver the address of his hotel room. A few moments later he was entering the lobby of the Antler Hotel, back where he had started early in the morning. Back to the forbidding empty room, this time merely to sit and wait. To hope that Kathy would change her mind and call him. This time he had no appointment to go to; the appointment was over.
When he reached his hotel room he heard his phone ringing.
For a moment Johnny stood at the door, key in hand, listening to the phone on the other side of the door, the shrill noise reaching him as he stood in the hall. Is it Kathy? he wondered. Or is it him?
He put the key in the lock, turned it and entered the room; sweeping the receiver off its hook he said, "Hello."
Drumming and far-off, the voice, in the middle of its monotonous monologue, its recitation to itself, was murmuring, ". . . no good at all, Barefoot, to leave her. Betrayal of your job; thought you understood your responsibilities. Same to her as it was to me, and you never would have walked off in a fit of pique and left me. I deliberately left the disposition of my body to you so you'd stay on. You can't. . ." At that point Johnny hung up, chilled.
The phone rang again, at once.
This time he did not take it off the hook. The hell with you, he said to himself. He walked to the window and stood looking down at the street below, thinking to himself of the conversation he had held with old Louis years ago, the one that had made such an impression in his mind. The conversation in which it had come out that he had failed to go to college because he wanted to die. Looking down at the street below, he thought, Maybe I ought to jump. At least there'd be no more phones. . . no more of it.
The worse part, he thought, is its senility. Its thoughts are not clear, not distinct; they're dream-like; irrational. The old man is not genuinely alive. He is not even in half-life. This is a dwindling away of consciousness toward a nocturnal state. And we are forced to listen to it as it unwinds, as it develops step by step, to final, total death.
But even in this degenerative state, it had desires. It wanted, and strongly. It wanted him to do something; it wanted Kathy to do something; the remnants of Louis Sarapis were vital and active, and clever enough to find ways of pursuing him, of getting what was wanted. It was a travesty of Louis's wishes during his lifetime, and yet it could not be ignored; it could not be escaped.
The phone continued to ring.
Maybe it isn't Louis, he thought then. Maybe it's Kathy. Going to it he lifted the receiver. And put it back down at once. The drumming once more, the fragments of Louis Sarapis's personality. . . he shuddered. And is it just here, is it selective?
He had a terrible feeling that it was not selective.
Going to the TV set at the far end of the room he snapped the switch. The screen grew into lighted animation, and yet, he saw, it was strangely blurred. The dim outlines of -- it seemed to be a face.
And everyone, he realized, is seeing this. He turned to another channel. Again the dully-formed features, the old man half-materialized here on the television screen. And from the set's speaker the murmur of indistinct words. ". . .told you time and again your primary responsibility is to. . ." Johnny shut the set off; the ill-formed face and words sank out of existence, and all that remained, once more, was the ringing phone.
He picked up the phone and said, "Louis, can you hear me?"
". . . when election time comes they'll see. A man with the spirit to campaign a second time, take the financial responsibility, after all it's only for the wealthy men, now, the cost of running. . ." The voice droned on. No, the old man could not hear him. It was not a conversation; it was a monologue. It was not authentic communication.
And yet the old man knew what was occurring on Earth; he seemed to understand, to somehow see, that Johnny had quit his job.
Hanging up the phone he seated himself and lit a cigarette.
I can't go back to Kathy, he realized, unless I'm willing to change my mind and advise her not to sell. And that's impossible; I can't do that. So that's out. What is there left for me?
How long can Sarapis hound me? Is there any place I can go?
Going to the window once more he stood looking down at the street below.
At a newsstand, Claude St. Cyr tossed down coins, picked up the newspaper.
"Thank you, sir or madam," the robot vender said.
The lead article. . . St. Cyr blinked and wondered if he had lost his mind. He could not grasp what he was reading -- or rather unable to read. It made no sense; the homeostatic news-printing system, the fully automated micro-relay newspaper, had evidently broken down. All he found was a procession of words, randomly strung together. It was worse than Finnegans Wake.
Or was it random? One paragraph caught his eye.
St. Cyr said rapidly to Harvey, who stood beside him, "Johnny Barefoot's in a room at the Antler Hotel about to jump, and this is old Sarapis telling us, warning us. We better get over there."
Glancing at him, Harvey said, "Barefoot's on our side; we can't afford to have him take his life. But why would Sarapis --"
"Let's just get over there," St. Cyr said, starting toward his parked 'copter. Harvey followed on the run.
All at once the telephone stopped ringing. Johnny turned from the window -- and saw Kathy Sharp standing by it, the receiver in her hand. "He called me," she said. "And he told me, Johnny, where you were and what you were going to do."
"Nuts," he said, "I'm not going to do anything." He moved back from the window.
"He thought you were," Kathy said.
"Yes, and that proves he can be wrong." His cigarette, he saw, had burned down to the filter; he dropped it into the ashtray on the dresser and stubbed it out.
"My grandfather was always fond of you," Kathy said. "He wouldn't like anything to happen to you."
Shrugging, Johnny said, "As far as I'm concerned I have nothing to do with Louis Sarapis any more."
Kathy had put the receiver to her ear; she paid no attention to Johnny -- she was listening to her grandfather, he saw, and so he ceased talking. It was futile.
"He says," Kathy said, "that Claude St. Cyr and Phil Harvey are on their way up here. He told them to come, too."
"Nice of him," he said shortly.
Kathy said, "I'm fond of you, too, Johnny. I can see what my grandfather found about you to like and admire. You genuinely take my welfare seriously, don't you? Maybe I could go into the hospital voluntarily, for a short period anyhow, a week or a few days."
"Would that be enough?" he asked.
"It might." She held the phone out to him. "He wants to talk to you. I think you'd better listen; he'll find a way to reach you, in any case. And you know that."
Reluctantly, Johnny accepted the phone.
". . . trouble is you're out of a job and that depresses you. If you're not working you feel you don't amount to anything; that's the kind of person you are. I like that. The same way myself. Listen, I've got a job for you. At the Convention. Doing publicity to make sure Alfonse Gam is nominated; you'd do a swell job. Call Gam. Call Alfonse Gam. Johnny, call Gam. Call --"
Johnny hung up the phone.
I've got a job," he told Kathy. "Representing Gam. At least Louis says so."
Would you do that?" Kathy asked. "Be his P.R. man at the nominating convention?"
He shrugged. Why not? Gam had the money; he could and would pay well. And certainly he was no worse than the President, Kent Margrave. And I must get a job, Johnny realized. I have to live. I've got a wife and two children; this is no joke.
"Do you think Gam has a chance this time?" Kathy asked.
"No, not really. But miracles in politics do happen; look at Richard Nixon's incredible comeback in 1968."
"What is the best route for Gam to follow?"
He eyed her. "I'll talk that over with him. Not with you."
"You're still angry," Kathy said quietly. "Because I won't sell. Listen, Johnny. Suppose I turned Archimedean over to you."
After a moment he said, "What does Louis say to that?"
"I haven't asked him."
"You know he'd say no. I'm too inexperienced. I know the operation, of course; I've been with it from the start. But --"
"Don't sell yourself short," Kathy said softly.
"Please," Johnny said. "Don't lecture me. Let's try to stay friends; cool, distant friends." And if there's one thing I can't stand, he said to himself, it's being lectured by a woman. And for my own good.
The door of the room burst open. Claude St. Cyr and Phil Harvey leaped inside, then saw Kathy, saw him with her, and sagged. "So he got you to come here, too," St. Cyr said to her, panting for breath.
"Yes," she said. "He was very concerned about Johnny." She patted him on the arm. "See how many friends you have? Both warm and cool?"
"Yes," he said. But for some reason felt deeply, miserably sad.
That afternoon Claude St. Cyr found time to drop by the house of Elektra Harvey, his present employer's ex-wife.
"Listen, doll," St. Cyr said, "I'm trying to do good for you in this present deal. If I'm successful --" He put his arms around her and gave her a bear hug. "You'll recover a little of what you lost. Not all, but enough to make you a trifle happier about life in general." He kissed her and, as usual, she responded; she squirmed effectively, drew him down to her, pressed close in a manner almost uncannily satisfying. It was very pleasant, and in addition it lasted a long time. And that was not usual.
Stirring, moving away from him finally, Elektra said, "By the way, can you tell me what ails the phone and the TV? I can't call -- there always seems to be someone on the line. And the picture on the TV screen; it's all fuzzy and distorted, and it's always the same, just a sort of face."
"Don't worry about it," Claude said. "We're working on that right now; we've got a crew of men out scouting." His men were going from mortuary to mortuary; eventually they'd find Louis's body. And then this nonsense would come to an end. . . to everyone's relief.
Going to the sideboard to fix drinks, Elektra Harvey said, "Does Phil know about us?" She measured out bitters into the whiskey glasses, three drops to each.
"No," St. Cyr said, "and it's none of his business anyhow."
"But Phil has a strong prejudice about ex-wives. He wouldn't like it. He'd get ideas about you being disloyal; since he dislikes me, you're supposed to, too. That's what Phil calls 'integrity'."
"I'm glad to know that," St. Cyr said, "but there's damn little I can do about it. Anyhow, he isn't going to find out."
"I can't help being worried, though," Elektra said, bringing him his drink. "I was tuning the TV, you see, and -- I know this sounds crazy, but it actually seemed to me --" She broke off. "Well, I actually thought I heard the TV announcer mention us. But he was sort of mumbling, or the reception was bad. But anyhow I did hear that, your name and mine." She looked soberly up at him, while absent-mindedly rearranging the strap of her dress.
Chilled, he said, "Dear, it's ridiculous." Going over to the TV set he clicked it on.
Good Lord, he thought. Is Louis Sarapis everywhere? Does he see everything we do from that locus of his out there in deep space?
It was not exactly a comforting thought, especially since he was trying to involve Louis's granddaughter in a business deal which the old man disapproved of.
He's getting back at me, St. Cyr realized as he reflexively tuned the television set with numbed fingers.
Alfonse Gam said, "As a matter of fact, Mr. Barefoot, I intended to call you. I have a wire from Mr. Sarapis advising me to employ you. I do think, however, we'll have to come up with something entirely new. Margrave has a considerable advantage over us."
"True," Johnny admitted. "But let's be realistic; we're going to get help this time. Help from Louis Sarapis."
"Louis helped last time," Gam pointed out, "and it wasn't sufficient."
"But his help now will be on a different order." After all, Johnny thought, the old man controls all the communication media, the newspapers, radio and TV, even the telephones, God forbid. With such power Louis could do almost anything he chose.
He hardly needs me, he thought caustically. But he did not say that to Alfonse Gam; apparently Gam did not understand about Louis and what Louis could do. And after all, a job was a job.
"Have you turned on a TV set lately?" Gam asked. "Or tried to use the phone, or even bought a newspaper? There's nothing but a sort of decaying gibberish coming out. If that's Louis, he's not going to be much help at the Convention. He's -- disjointed. Just rambles."
"I know," Johnny said guardedly.
"I'm afraid whatever scheme Louis had for his half-life period has gone wrong," Gam said. He looked morose; he did not look like a man who expected to win an election. "Your admiration for Louis is certainly greater than mine, at this stage," Gam said. "Frankly, Mr. Barefoot, I had a long talk with Mr. St. Cyr, and his concepts were totally discouraging. I'm determined to press on, but frankly --" He gestured. "Claude St. Cyr told me to my face I'm a loser."
"You're going to believe St. Cyr? He's on the other side, now, with Phil Harvey." Johnny was astonished to find the man so naive, so pliable.
"I told him I was going to win," Gam murmured. "But honest to God, this drivel from every TV set and phone -- it's awful. It discourages me; I want to get as far away from it as possible."
Presently Johnny said, "I understand."
"Louis didn't use to be like that," Gam said plaintively. "He just drones on, now. Even if he can swing the nomination to me. . . do I want it? I'm tired, Mr. Barefoot. Very tired." He was silent, then.
"If you're asking me to give you pep," Johnny said, "you've got the wrong man." The voice from the phone and the TV affected him much the same way. Much too much for him to say anything encouraging to Gam.
"You're in P.R.," Gam said. "Can't you generate enthusiasm where there is none? Convince me, Barefoot, and then I'll convince the world." From his pocket he brought a folded-up telegram. "This is what came from Louis, the other day. Evidently he can interfere with the telegraph lines as well as the other media." He passed it over and Johnny read it.
"Louis was more coherent then," Johnny said. "When he wrote this."
"That's what I mean! He's deteriorating rapidly. When the Convention begins -- and it's only one more day, now -- what'll he be like? I sense something dreadful, here. And I don't care to get mixed up in it." He added, "And yet I want to run. So Barefoot -- you deal with Louis for me; you can be the go-between." He added, "The psychopomp."
"What's that mean?"
"The go-between God and man," Gam said.
Johnny said, "If you use words like that you won't get the nomination; I can promise you that."
Smiling wryly, Gam said, "How about a drink?" He started from his living room, toward the kitchen. "Scotch? Bourbon?"
"Bourbon," Johnny said.
"What do you think of the girl, Louis's granddaughter?"
"I like her," he said. And that was true; he certainly did.
"Even though she's a psychotic, a drug addict, been in jail and on top of that a religious nut?"
"Yes," Johnny said tightly.
"I think you're crazy," Gam said, returning with the drinks. "But I agree with you. She's a good person. I've known her for some time, as a matter of fact. Frankly, I don't know why she took the bent that she has. I'm not a psychologist. . . probably though it has something to do with Louis. She has a peculiar sort of devotion to him, a kind of loyalty that's both infantile and fanatic. And, to me, touchingly sweet."
Sipping his drink, Johnny said, "This is terrible bourbon."
"Old Sir Muskrat," Gam said, grimacing. "I agree."
"You better serve a better drink," Johnny said, "or you really are through in politics."
"That's why I need you," Gam said. "You see?"
"I see," Johnny said, carrying his drink into the kitchen to pour it back in the bottle -- and to take a look at the Scotch instead.
"How are you going about getting me elected?" Alfonse Gam asked.
Johnny said, "I think our best approach, our only approach, is to make use of the sentimentality people feel about Louis's death. I saw the lines of mourners; it was impressive, Alfonse. Day after day they came. When he was alive, many persons feared him, feared his power. But now they can breathe easier; he's gone, and the frightening aspects of --"
Gam interrupted. "But Johnny, he's not gone; that's the whole point. You know that gibbering thing on the phones and on TV -- that's him!"
"But they don't know it," Johnny said. "The public is baffled -- just as the first person to pick it up was baffled. That technician at Kennedy Slough." Emphatically, he said, "Why should they connect an electrical emanation one light-week away from Earth with Louis Sarapis?"
After a moment Gam said, "I think you're making an error, Johnny. But Louis said to hire you, and I'm going to. And you have a free hand; I'll depend on your expertise."
"Thanks," Johnny said. "You can depend on me." But inside, he was not so sure. Maybe the public is smarter than I realize, he thought. Maybe I'm making a mistake. But what other approach was there? None that he could dream up; either they made use of Gam's tie with Louis or they had absolutely nothing by which to recommend him.
A slender thread on which to base the campaign for nomination -- and only a day before the Convention convened. He did not like it.
The telephone in Gam's living room rang.
"That's probably him," Gam said. "You want to talk to him? To be truthful, I'm afraid to take it off the hook."
"Let it ring," Johnny said. He agreed with Gam; it was just too damn unpleasant.
"But we can't evade him," Gam pointed out. "If he wants to get in touch with us; if it isn't the phone it's the newspaper. And yesterday I tried to use my electric typewriter. . . instead of the letter I intended to compose I got the same mishmash -- I got a text from him."
Neither of them moved to take the phone, however. They let it ring on.
"Do you want an advance?" Gam asked. "Some cash?"
"I'd appreciate it," Johnny said. "Since today I quit my job with Archimedean."
Reaching into his coat for his wallet, Gam said, "I'll give you a check." He eyed Johnny. "You like her but you can't work with her; is that it?"
"That's it," Johnny said. He did not elaborate, and Gam did not press him any further. Gam was, if nothing else, gentlemanly. And Johnny appreciated it.
As the check changed hands the phone stopped ringing.
Was there a link between the two? Johnny wondered. Or was it just chance? No way to tell. Louis seemed to know everything. . . anyhow, this was what Louis had wanted; he had told both of them that.
"I guess we did the right thing," Gam said tartly. "Listen, Johnny. I hope you can get back on good terms with Kathy Egmont Sharp. For her sake; she needs help. Lots of it."
"Now that you're not working for her, make one more try," Gam said. "Okay?"
"I'll think about it," Johnny said.
"She's a very sick girl, and she's got a lot of responsibility now. You know that, too. Whatever caused the rift between you -- try to come to some kind of understanding before it's too late. That's the only proper way."
Johnny said nothing. But he knew, inside him, that Gam was right.
And yet -- how did he do it? He didn't know how. How to you approach a psychotic person? he wondered. How do you repair such a deep rift? It was hard enough in regular situations. . . and this had so many overtones.
If nothing else, this had Louis mixed in it. And Kathy's feelings about Louis. Those would have to change. The blind adoration -- that would have to cease.
"What does your wife think of her?" Gam asked.
Startled, he said, "Sarah Belle? She's never met Kathy." He added, "Why do you ask?"
Gam eyed him and said nothing.
"Damn odd question," Johnny said.
"Damn odd girl, that Kathy," Gam said. "Odder than you think, my friend. There's a lot you don't know." He did not elaborate.
To Claude St. Cyr, Phil Harvey said, "There's something I want to know. Something we must have the answer to, or we'll never get control of the voting stock of Wilhelmina. Where's the body?"
"We're looking," St. Cyr said patiently. "We're trying all of the mortuaries, one by one. But money's involved; undoubtedly someone's paying them to keep quiet, and if we want them to talk --"
"That girl," Harvey said, "is going on instructions from beyond the grave. Despite the fact that Louis is devolving. . . she still pays attention to him. It's -- unnatural." He shook his head, repelled.
"I agree," St. Cyr said. "In fact, you expressed it perfectly. This morning when I was shaving I picked him up on the TV." He shuddered visibly. "I mean, it's coming at us from every side, now."
"Today," Harvey said, "is the first day of the Convention." He looked out of the window, at the cars and people. "Louis's attention will be tied up there, trying to swing the vote onto Alfonse Gam. That's where Johnny is, working for Gam -- that was Louis's idea. Now perhaps we can operate with more success. Do you see? Maybe he's forgotten about Kathy; my God, he can't watch everything at once."
St. Cyr said quietly, "But Kathy is not at Archimedean now."
"Where is she, then? In Delaware? At Wilhelmina Securities? It ought to be easy to find her."
"She's sick," St. Cyr said. "In a hospital, Phil. She was admitted during the late evening, last night. For her drug addiction, I presume."
There was silence.
"You know a lot," Harvey said finally. "Where'd you learn this, anyhow?"
"From listening to the phone and the TV. But I don't know where the hospital is. It could even be off Earth, on Luna or on Mars, even back where she came from. I got the impression she's extremely ill. Johnny's abandoning her set her back greatly." He gazed at his employer somberly. "That's all I know, Phil."
"Do you think Johnny Barefoot knows where she is?"
"I doubt it."
Pondering, Harvey said, "I'll bet she tries to call him. I'll bet he either knows or will know, soon. If we only could manage to put a snoop-circuit on his phone. . . get his calls routed through here."
"But the phones," St. Cyr said wearily. "All it is now -- just the gibberish. The interference from Louis." He wondered what became of Archimedean Enterprises if Kathy was declared unable to manage her affairs, if she was forcibly committed. Very complicated, depending on whether Earth law or --
Harvey was saying, "We can't find her and we can't find the body. And meanwhile the Convention's on, and they'll nominate that wretched Gam, that creature of Louis's. And next we know, he'll be President." He eyed St. Cyr with antagonism. "So far you haven't done me much good, Claude."
"We'll try all the hospitals. But there's tens of thousands of them. And if it isn't in this area it could be anywhere." He felt helpless. Around and around we go, he thought, and we get nowhere.
Well, we can keep monitoring the TV, he decided. That's some help.
"I'm going to the Convention," Harvey announced. "I'll see you later. If you should come up with something -- which I doubt -- you can get in touch with me there." He strode to the door, and a moment later St. Cyr found himself alone.
Doggone it, St. Cyr said to himself. What'll I do now? Maybe I ought to go to the Convention, too. But there was one more mortuary he wanted to check; his men had been there, but he also wanted to give it a try personally. It was just the sort that Louis would have liked, run by an unctuous individual named, revoltingly, Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang, which meant, in German, Herbert Beauty of the Bird's Song -- a fitting name for a man who ran the Beloved Brethren Mortuary in downtown Los Angeles, with branches in Chicago and New York and Cleveland.
When he reached the mortuary, Claude St. Cyr demanded to see Schoenheit von Vogelsang personally. The place was doing a rush business; Resurrection Day was just around the corner and the petite bourgeoisie, who flocked in great numbers to just such ceremonies, were lined up waiting to retrieve their half-lifer relatives.
"Yes sir," Schoenheit von Vogelsang said, when at last he appeared at the counter in the mortuary's business office. "You asked to speak to me."
St. Cyr laid his business card down on the counter; the card still described him as legal consultant for Archimedean Enterprises. "I am Claude St. Cyr," he declared. "You may have heard of me."
Glancing at the card, Schoenheit von Vogelsang blanched and mumbled, "I give you my word, Mr. St. Cyr, we're trying, we're really trying. We've spent out of our own funds over a thousand dollars in trying to make contact with him; we've had high-gain equipment flown in from Japan where it was developed and made. And still no results." Tremulously, he backed away from the counter. "You can come and see for yourself. Frankly, I believe someone's doing it on purpose; a complete failure like this can't occur naturally, if you see what I mean."
St. Cyr said, "Let me see him."
"Certainly." The mortuary owner, pale and agitated, led the way through the building into the chill bin, until, at last, St. Cyr saw ahead the casket which had lain in state, the casket of Louis Sarapis. "Are you planning any sort of litigation?" the mortuary owner asked fearfully. "I assure you, we --"
"I'm here," St. Cyr stated, "merely to take the body. Have your men load it onto a truck for me."
"Yes, Mr. St. Cyr," Herb Schoenheit von Vogelsang said in meek obedience; he waved two mortuary employees over and began giving them instructions. "Do you have a truck with you, Mr. St. Cyr?" he asked.
"You may provide it," St. Cyr said, in a forbidding voice.
Shortly, the body in its casket was loaded onto a mortuary truck, and the driver turned to St. Cyr for instructions.
St. Cyr gave him Phil Harvey's address.
"And the litigation," Herb Schoenheit von Vogelsang was murmuring, as St. Cyr boarded the truck to sit beside the driver. "You don't infer malpractice on our part, do you, Mr. St. Cyr? Because if you do --"
"The affair is closed as far as we're concerned," St. Cyr said to him laconically, and signaled the driver to drive off.
As soon as they left the mortuary, St. Cyr began to laugh.
"What strikes you so funny?" the mortuary driver asked.
"Nothing," St. Cyr said, still chuckling.
When the body in its casket, still deep in its original quick-pack, had been left off at Harvey's home and the driver had departed, St. Cyr picked up the telephone and dialed. But he found himself unable to get through to the Convention Hall. All he heard, for his trouble, was the weird distant drumming, the monotonous litany of Louis Sarapis -- he hung up, disgusted but at the same time grimly determined.
We've had enough of that, St. Cyr said to himself. / won't wait for Harvey's approval; I don't need it.
Searching the living room he found, in a desk drawer, a heat gun. Pointing it at the casket of Louis Sarapis he pressed the trigger.
The envelope of quick-pack steamed up, the casket itself fizzed as the plastic melted. Within, the body blackened, shriveled, charred away at last into a baked, coal-like clinker, small and nondescript.
Satisfied, St. Cyr returned the heat gun to the desk drawer.
Once more he picked up the phone and dialed.
In his ear the monotonous voice intoned, "... no one but Gam can do it; Gam's the man what am -- good slogan for you, Johnny. Gam's the man what am; remember that. I'll do the talking. Give me the mike and I'll tell them; Gam's the man what am. Gam's --"
Claude St. Cyr slammed down the phone, turned to the blackened deposit that had been Louis Sarapis; he gaped mutely at what he could not comprehend. The voice, when St. Cyr turned on the television set, emanated from that, too, just as it had been doing; nothing had changed.
The voice of Louis Sarapis was not originating in the body. Because the body was gone. There simply was no connection between them.
Seating himself in a chair, Claude St. Cyr got out his cigarettes and shakily lit up, trying to understand what this meant. It seemed almost as if he had it, almost had the explanation.
But not quite.
By monorail -- he had left his 'copter at the Beloved Brethren Mortuary -- Claude St. Cyr numbly made his way to Convention Hall. The place, of course, was packed; the noise was terrible. But he managed to obtain the services of a robot page; over the public address system, Phil Harvey's presence was requested in one of the side rooms used as meeting places by delegations wishing to caucus in secret.
Harvey appeared, disheveled from shoving through the dense pack of spectators and delegates. "What is it, Claude?" he asked, and then he saw his attorney's face. "You better tell me," he said quietly.
St. Cyr blurted, "The voice we hear. It isn't Louis! It's someone else trying to sound like Louis!"
"How do you know?"
He told him.
Nodding, Harvey said, "And it definitely was Louis's body you destroyed; there was no deceit there at the mortuary -- you're positive of that."
"I'm not positive," St. Cyr said. "But I think it was; I believe it now and I believed it at the time." It was too late to find out now, in any case, not enough remained of the body for such an analysis to be successfully made.
"But who could it be, then?" Harvey said. "My God, it's coming to us from beyond the solar system -- could it be nonterrestrials of some kind? Some sort of echo or mockery, a non-living reaction unfamiliar to us? An inert process without intent?"
St. Cyr laughed. "You're babbling, Phil. Cut it out."
Nodding, Harvey said, "Whatever you say, Claude. If you think it's someone here --"
"I don't know," St. Cyr said candidly. "But I'd guess it's someone right on this planet, someone who knew Louis well enough to have introjected his characteristics sufficiently thoroughly to imitate them." He was silent, then. That was as far as he could carry his logical processes. . . beyond that he saw nothing. It was a blank, and a frightening one at that.
There is, he thought, an element of the deranged in it. What we took to be decay -- it's more a form of madness than degeneration. Or is madness itself degeneration? He did not know; he wasn't trained in the field of psychiatry, except regarding its legal aspects. And the legal aspects had no application, here.
"Has anyone nominated Gam yet?" he asked Harvey.
"Not yet. It's expected to come sometime today, though. There's a delegate from Montana who'll do it, the rumor is."
"Johnny Barefoot is here?"
"Yes." Harvey nodded. "Busy as can be, lining up delegates. In and out of the different delegations, very much in evidence. No sign of Gam, of course. He won't come in until the end of the nominating speech and then of course all hell will break loose. Cheering and parading and waving banners. . . the Gam supporters are all prepared."
"Any indication of --" St. Cyr hesitated. "What we've assumed to be Louis? His presence?" Or its presence, he thought. Whatever it is.
"None as yet," Harvey said.
"I think we'll hear from it," St. Cyr said. "Before the day is over."
Harvey nodded; he thought so, too.
"Are you afraid of it?" St. Cyr asked.
"Sure," Harvey said. "A thousand times more so than ever, now that we don't even know who or what it is."
"You're right to take that attitude," St. Cyr said. He felt the same way.
"Perhaps we should tell Johnny," Harvey said.
St. Cyr said, "Let him find out on his own."
"All right, Claude," Harvey said. "Anything you say. After all, it was you who finally found Louis's body; I have complete faith in you."
In a way, St. Cyr thought, I wish I hadn't found it. I wish I didn 't know what I know now; we were better off believing it was old Louis talking to us from every phone, newspaper and TV set.
That was bad -- but this is far worse. Although, he thought, it seems to me that the answer is there, somewhere, just waiting.
I must try, he told himself. Try to get it. TRY!
Off by himself in a side room, Johnny Barefoot tensely watched the events of the Convention on closed-circuit TV. The distortion, the invading presence from one light-week away, had cleared for a time, and he could see and hear the delegate from Montana delivering the nominating speech for Alfonse Gam.
He felt tired. The whole process of the Convention, its speeches and parades, its tautness, grated on his nerves, ran contrary to his disposition. So damn much show, he thought. Display for what? If Gam wanted to gain the nomination he could get it, and all the rest of this was purposeless. His own thoughts were on Kathy Egmont Sharp.
He had not seen her since her departure for U.C. Hospital in San Francisco. At this point he had no idea of her condition, whether she had responded to therapy or not.
The deep intuition could not be evaded that she had not. How sick really was Kathy? Probably very sick, with or without drugs; he felt that strongly. Perhaps she would never be discharged from U.C. Hospital; he could imagine that.
On the other hand -- if she wanted out, he decided, she would find a way to get out. That he intuited, too, even more strongly.
So it was up to her. She had committed herself, gone into the hospital voluntarily. And she would come out -- if she ever did -- the same way. No one could compel Kathy. . . she was simply not that sort of person. And that, he realized, could well be a symptom of the illness-process.
The door to the room opened. He glanced up from the TV screen. And saw Claude St. Cyr standing in the entrance. St. Cyr held a heat gun in his hand, pointed at Johnny. He said, "Where's Kathy?"
"I don't know," Johnny said. He got slowly, warily, to his feet.
"You do. I'll kill you if you don't tell me."
"Why?" he said, wondering what had brought St. Cyr to this point, this extreme behavior.
St. Cyr said, "Is it on Earth?" Still holding the gun pointed at Johnny he came toward him.
"Yes," Johnny said, with reluctance.
"Give me the name of the city."
"What are you going to do?" Johnny said. "This isn't like you, Claude; you used to always work within the law."
St. Cyr said, "I think the voice is Kathy. I know it's not Louis, now; we have that to go on but beyond that it's just a guess. Kathy is the only one I know deranged enough, deteriorated enough. Give me the name of the hospital."
"The only way you could know it isn't Louis," Johnny said, "would be to destroy the body."
"That's right," St. Cyr said, nodding.
Then you have, Johnny realized. You found the correct mortuary; you got to Herb Schoenheit van Vogehang. So that was that.
The door to the room burst open again; a group of cheering delegates, Gam supporters, marched in, blowing horns and hurling streamers, carrying huge hand-painted placards. St. Cyr turned toward them, waving his gun at them -- and Johnny Barefoot sprinted past the delegates, to the door and out into the corridor.
He ran down the corridor and a moment later emerged at the great central hall in which Gam's demonstration was in full swing. From the loudspeakers mounted at the ceiling a voice boomed over and over.
"Vote for Gam, the man what am. Gam, Gam, vote for Gam, vote for Gam, the one fine man; vote for Gam who really am. Gam, Gam, Gam, he really am --"
Kathy, he thought. It can't be you; it just can't. He ran on, out of the hall, squeezing past the dancing, delirious delegates, past the glazed-eyed men and women in their funny hats, their banners wiggling. . . he reached the street, the parked 'copters and cars, throngs of people clustered about, trying to push inside.
If it is you, he thought, then you're too sick ever to come back. Even if you want to, will yourself to. Had you been waiting for Louis to die, is that it? Do you hate us? Or are you afraid of us? What explains what it is you're doing. . . what's the reason for it?
He hailed a 'copter marked TAXI. "To San Francisco," he instructed the driver.
Maybe you're not conscious that you're doing it, he thought. Maybe it's an autonomous process, rising out of your unconscious mind. Your mind split into two portions, one on the surface which we see, the other one --
The one we hear.
Should we feel sorry for you? he wondered. Or should we hate you, fear you? HOW MUCH HARM CAN YOU DO? I guess that's the real issue. I love you, he thought. In some fashion, at least. I care about you, and that's a form of love, not such as I feel toward my wife or my children, but it is a concern. Damn it, he thought, this is dreadful. Maybe St. Cyr is wrong; maybe it isn't you.
The 'copter swept upward into the sky, cleared the buildings and turned west, its blade spinning at peak velocity.
On the ground, standing in front of the convention hall, St. Cyr and Phil Harvey watched the 'copter go.
"Well, so it worked," St. Cyr said. "I got him started moving. I'd guess he's on his way either to Los Angeles or to San Francisco."
A second 'copter slid up before them, hailed by Phil Harvey; the two men entered it and Harvey said, "You see the taxi that just took off? Stay behind it, just within sight. But don't let it catch a glimpse of you if you can help it."
"Heck," the driver said, "If I can see it, it can see me." But he clicked on his meter and began to ascend. Grumpily, he said to Harvey and St. Cyr, "I don't like this kind of stuff; it can be dangerous."
"Turn on your radio," St. Cyr told him. "If you want to hear something that's dangerous."
"Aw hell," the driver said, disgusted. "The radio don't work; some kind of interference, like sun spots or maybe some amateur operator -- I lost a lot of fares because the dispatcher can't get hold of me. I think the police ought to do something about it, don't you?"
St. Cyr said nothing. Beside him, Harvey peered at the 'copter ahead.
When he reached U.C. Hospital at San Francisco, and had landed at the field on the main building's roof, Johnny saw the second ship circling, not passing on, and he knew that he was right; he had been followed all the way. But he did not care. It didn't matter.
Descending by means of the stairs, he came out on the third floor and approached a nurse. "Mrs. Sharp," he said. "Where is she?"
"You'll have to ask at the desk," the nurse said. "And visiting hours aren't until --"
He rushed on until he found the desk.
"Mrs. Sharp's room is 309," the bespectacled, elderly nurse at the desk said. "But you must have Doctor Gross's permission to visit her. And I believe Doctor Gross is having lunch right now and probably won't be back until two o'clock, if you'd care to wait." She pointed to a waiting room.
"Thanks," he said. "I'll wait." He passed through the waiting room and out the door at the far end, down the corridor, watching the numbers on the doors until he saw room number 309. Opening the door he entered the room, shut the door after him and looked around for her.
There was the bed, but it was empty.
"Kathy," he said.
At the window, in her robe, she turned, her face sly, bound up by hatred; her lips moved and, staring at him, she said with loathing, "I want Gam because he am." Spitting at him, she crept toward him, her hands raised, her fingers writhing. "Gam's a man, a real man," she whispered, and he saw, in her eyes, the dissolved remnants of her personality expire even as he stood there. "Gam, gam, gam," she whispered, and slapped him.
He retreated. "It's you," he said. "Claude St. Cyr was right. Okay. I'll go." He fumbled for the door behind him, trying to get it open. Panic passed through him, like a wind, then; he wanted nothing but to get away. "Kathy," he said, "let go." Her nails had dug into him, into his shoulder, and she hung onto him, peering sideways into his face, smiling at him.
"You're dead," she said. "Go away. I smell you, the dead inside you."
"I'll go," he said, and managed to find the handle of the door. She let go of him, then; he saw her right hand flash up, the nails directed at his face, possibly his eyes -- he ducked, and her blow missed him. "I want to get away," he said, covering his face with his arms.
Kathy whispered, "I am Gam, I am. I'm the only one who am. Am alive. Gam, alive." She laughed. "Yes, I will," she said, mimicking his voice perfectly. "Claude St. Cyr was right; okay, I'll go. I'll go. I'll go." She was now between him and the door. "The window," she said. "Do it now, what you wanted to do when I stopped you." She hurried toward him, and he retreated, backward, step by step, until he felt the wall behind him.
"It's all in your mind," he said, "this hate. Everyone is fond of you; I am, Gam is, St. Cyr and Harvey are. What's the point of this?"
"The point," Kathy said, "is that I show you what you're really like. Don't you know yet? You're even worse than me. I'm just being honest."
"Why did you pretend to be Louis?" he said.
"I am Louis," Kathy said. "When he died he didn't go into half-life because I ate him; he became me. I was waiting for that. Alfonse and I had it all worked out, the transmitter out there with the recorded tape ready -- we frightened you, didn't we? You're all scared, too scared to stand in his way. He'll be nominated; he's been nominated already, I feel it, I know it."
"Not yet," Johnny said.
"But it won't be long," Kathy said. "And I'll be his wife." She smiled at him. "And you'll be dead, you and the others." Coming at him she chanted, "I am Gam, I am Louis and when you're dead I'll be you, Johnny Barefoot, and all the rest; I'll eat you all." She opened her mouth wide and he saw the sharp, jagged, pale-as-death teeth.
"And rule over the dead," Johnny said, and hit her with all his strength, on the side of her face, near the jaw. She spun backward, fell, and then at once was up and rushing at him. Before she could catch him he sprinted away, to one side, caught then a glimpse of her distorted, shredded features, ruined by the force of his blow -- and then the door to the room opened, and St. Cyr and Phil Harvey, with two nurses, stood there. Kathy stopped. He stopped, too. "Come on, Barefoot," St. Cyr said, jerking his head. Johnny crossed the room and joined them.
Tying the sash of her robe, Kathy said matter-of-factly, "So it was planned; he was to kill me, Johnny was to. And the rest of you would all stand and watch and enjoy it."
"They have an immense transmitter out there," Johnny said. "They placed it a long time ago, possibly years back. All this time they've been waiting for Louis to die; maybe they even killed him, finally. The idea's to get Gam nominated and elected, while keeping everyone terrorized with that transmission. She's sick, much sicker than we realized, even sicker than you realized. Most of all it was under the surface where it didn't show."
St. Cyr shrugged. "Well, she'll have to be certified." He was calm but unusually slow-spoken. "The will named me as trustee; I can represent the estate against her, file the commitment papers and then come forth at the sanity hearing."
"I'll demand a jury trial," Kathy said. "I can convince a jury of my sanity; it's actually quite easy and I've been through it before."
"Possibly," St. Cyr said. "But anyhow the transmitter will be gone; by that time the authorities will be out there."
"It'll take months to reach it," Kathy said. "Even by the fastest ship. And by then the election will be over; Alfonse will be President."
St. Cyr glanced at Johnny Barefoot. "Maybe so," he murmured.
"That's why we put it out so far," Kathy said. "It was Alfonse's money and my ability; I inherited Louis's ability, you see. I can do anything. Nothing is impossible for me if I want it; all I have to do is want it enough."
"You wanted me to jump," Johnny said. "And I didn't."
"You would have," Kathy said, "in another minute. If they hadn't come in." She seemed quite poised, now. "You will, eventually; I'll keep after you. And there's no place you can hide; you know I'll follow you and find you. All three of you." Her gaze swept from one of them to the next, taking them all in.
Harvey said, "I've got a little power and wealth, too. I think we can defeat Gam, even if he's nominated."
"You have power," Kathy said, "but not imagination. What you have isn't enough. Not against me." She spoke quietly, with complete confidence.
"Let's go," Johnny said, and started down the hall, away from room 309 and Kathy Egmont Sharp.
Up and down San Francisco's hilly streets Johnny walked, hands in his pockets, ignoring the buildings and people, seeing nothing, merely walking on and on. Afternoon faded, became evening; the lights of the city came on and he ignored that, too. He walked block after block until his feet ached, burned, until he became aware that he was very hungry -- that it was now ten o'clock at night and he had not eaten anything since morning. He stopped, then, and looked around him.
Where were Claude St. Cyr and Phil Harvey? He could not remember having parted from them; he did not even remember leaving the hospital. But Kathy; he remembered that. He could not forget it even if he wanted to. And he did not want to. It was too important ever to be forgotten, by any of them who had witnessed it, understood it.
At a newsstand he saw the massive, thick-black headlines.
GAM WINS NOMINATION, PROMISES BATTLING CAMPAIGN
FOR NOVEMBER ELECTION
So she did get that, Johnny thought. They did, the two of them; they got what they're after exactly. And now -- all they have to do is defeat Kent Margrave. And that thing out there, a light-week away; it's still yammering. And will be for months.
They'll win, he realized.
At a drugstore he found a phone booth; entering it he put money into the slot and dialed Sarah Belle, his own home phone number.
The phone clicked in his ear. And then the familiar monotonous voice chanted, "Gam in November, Gam in November; win with Gam, President Alfonse Gam, our man -- I am for Gam. I am for Gam. For GAM!" He rang off, then, and left the phone booth. It was hopeless.
At the counter of the drugstore he ordered a sandwich and coffee; he sat eating mechanically, filling the requirements of his body without pleasure or desire, eating by reflex until the food was gone and it was time to pay the bill. What can I do? he asked himself. What can anyone do? All the means of communication are gone; the media have been taken over. They have the radio, TV, newspapers, phone, wire services. . . everything that depends on microwave transmission or open-gap electric circuitry. They've captured it all, left nothing for us, the opposition, by which to fight back.
Defeat, he thought. That's the dreary reality that lies ahead for us. And then, when they enter office, it'll be our-death.
"That'll be a dollar ten," the counter girl said.
He paid for his meal and left the drugstore.
When a 'copter marked TAXI came spiralingby, he hailed it.
"Take me home," he said.
"Okay," the driver said amiably. "Where is home, buddy?"
He gave him the address in Chicago and then settled back for the long ride. He was giving up; he was quitting, going back to Sarah Belle, to his wife and children. The fight -- for him -- apparently was over.
When she saw him standing in the doorway, Sarah Belle said, "Good God, Johnny -- you look terrible." She kissed him, led him inside, into the warm, familiar living room. "I thought you'd be out celebrating."
"Celebrating?" he said hoarsely.
"Your man won the nomination." She went to put the coffee pot on for him.
"Oh yeah," he said, nodding. "That's right. I was his P.R. man; I forgot."
"Better lie down," Sarah Belle said. "Johnny, I've never seen you look so beaten; I can't understand it. What happened to you?"
He sat down on the couch and lit a cigarette.
"What can I do for you?" she asked, with anxiety.
"Nothing," he said.
"Is that Louis Sarapis on all the TV and phones? It sounds like him. I was talking with the Nelsons and they said it's Louis's exact voice."
"No," he said. "It's not Louis. Louis is dead."
"But his period of half-life --"
"No," he said. "He's dead. Forget about it."
"You know who the Nelsons are, don't you? They're the new people who moved into the apartment that --"
"I don't want to talk," he said. "Or be talked at."
Sarah Belle was silent, for a minute. And then she said, "One thing they said -- you won't like to hear it, I guess. The Nelsons are plain, quite commonplace people. . . they said even if Alfonse Gam got the nomination they wouldn't vote for him. They just don't like him."
"Does that made you feel bad?" Sarah Belle asked. "I think they're reacting to the pressure, Louis's pressure on the TV and phones; they just don't care for it. I think you've been excessive in your campaign, Johnny." She glanced at him hesitantly. "That's the truth; I have to say it."
Rising to his feet, he said, "I'm going to visit Phil Harvey. I'll be back later on."
She watched him go out the door, her eyes darkened with concern.
When he was admitted to Phil Harvey's house he found Phil and Gertrude Harvey and Claude St. Cyr sitting together in the living room, each with a glass in hand, but no one speaking. Harvey glanced up briefly, saw him, and then looked away.
"Are we going to give up?" he asked Harvey.
Harvey said, "I'm in touch with Kent Margrave. We're going to try to knock out the transmitter. But it's a million to one shot, at that distance. And with even the fastest missile it'll take a month."
"But that's at least something," Johnny said. It would at least be before the election; it would give them several weeks in which to campaign. "Does Margrave understand the situation?"
"Yes," Claude St. Cyr said. "We told him virtually everything."
"But that's not enough," Phil Harvey said. "There's one more thing we must do. You want to be in on it? Draw for the shortest match?" He pointed to the coffee table; on it Johnny saw three matches, one of them broken in half. Now Phil Harvey added a fourth match, a whole one.
St. Cyr said, "Her first. Her right away, as soon as possible. And then later on if necessary, Alfonse Gam."
Weary, cold fright filled Johnny Barefoot.
"Take a match," Harvey said, picking up the four matches, arranging and rearranging them in his hand and then holding out the four even tops to the people in the room. "Go ahead, Johnny. You got here last so I'll have you go first."
"Not me," he said.
"Then we'll draw without you," Gertrude Harvey said, and picked a match. Phil held the remaining ones out to St. Cyr and he drew one also. Two remained in Phil Harvey's hand.
"I was in love with her," Johnny said. "I still am."
Nodding, Phil Harvey said, "Yes, I know."
His heart leaden, Johnny said, "Okay. I'll draw." Reaching, he selected one of the two matches.
It was the broken one.
"I got it," he said. "It's me."
"Can you do it?" Claude St. Cyr asked him.
He was silent for a time. And then he shrugged and said, "Sure. I can do it. Why not?" Why not indeed? he asked himself. A woman that I was falling in love with; certainly I can murder her. Because it has to be done. There is no other way out for us.
"It may not be as difficult as we think," St. Cyr said. "We've consulted some of Phil's technicians and we picked up some interesting advice. Most of their transmissions are coming from nearby, not a light-week away by any means. I'll tell you how we know. Their transmissions have kept up with changing events. For example, your suicide-attempt at the Antler Hotel. There was no time-lapse there or anywhere else!'
"And they're not supernatural, Johnny," Gertrude Harvey said.
"So the first thing to do," St. Cyr continued, "is to find their base here on Earth or at least here in the solar system. It could be Gam's guinea fowl ranch on Io. Try there, if you find she's left the hospital."
"Okay," Johnny said, nodding slightly.
"How about a drink?" Phil Harvey said to him.
The four of them, seated in a circle, drank, slowly and in silence.
"Do you have a gun?" St. Cyr asked.
"Yes." Rising to his feet he set his glass down.
"Good luck," Gertrude said, after him.
Johnny opened the front door and stepped outside alone, out into the dark, cold evening.