IN HIS DEMESNE near the logging town of John Day, Oregon, Sebastian Hada thoughtfully ate a grape as he watched the TV screen. The grapes, flown to Oregon by illegal jet transport, came from one of his farms in the Sonoma Valley of California. He spat the seeds into the fireplace across from him, half-listening to his CULTURE announcer delivering a lecture on the portrait busts of twentieth-century sculptors.
If only I could get Jim Briskin on my network, Hada thought gloomily. The ranking TV news clown, so popular, with his flaming scarlet wig and genial, informal patter. . . CULTURE needs that, Hada realized. But --
But their society, at the moment, was being run by the idiotic -- but peculiarly able -- President Maximilian Fischer, who had locked horns with Jim-Jam Briskin; who had, in fact, clapped the famous news clown in jail. So, as a result, Jim-Jam was available neither for the commercial network which linked the three habitable planets nor for CULTURE. And meanwhile, Max Fischer ruled on.
If I could get Jim-Jam out of prison, Hada thought, perhaps due to gratitude he'd move over to my network, leave his sponsors Reinlander Beer and Calbest Electronics; after all, they have not been able to free him despite their intricate court maneuvers. They don't have the power or the know-how. . . and I have.
One of Hada's wives, Thelma, had entered the living room of the demesne and now stood watching the TV screen from behind him. "Don't place yourself there, please," Hada said. "It gives me a panic reaction; I like to see people's faces." He twisted around in his deep chair.
"The fox is back," Thelma said. "I saw him; he glared at me." She laughed with delight. "He looked so feral and independent -- a bit like you, Seb. I wish I could have gotten a film clip of him."
"I must spring Jim-Jam Briskin," Hada said aloud; he had decided.
Picking up the phone, he dialed CULTURE'S production chief, Nat Kaminsky, at the transmitting Earth satellite Culone.
"In exactly one hour," Hada told his employee, "I want all our outlets to begin crying for Jim-Jam Briskin's release from jail. He's not a traitor, as President Fischer declares. In fact, his political rights, his freedom of speech, have been taken away from him -- illegally. Got it? Show clips of Briskin, build him up. . . you understand." Hada hung up then, and dialed his attorney, Art Heaviside.
Thelma said, "I'm going back outdoors and feed the animals."
"Do that," Hada said, lighting an Abdulla, a British-made Turkish cigarette which he was most fond of. "Art?" he said into the phone. "Get started on Jim-Jam Briskin's case; find a way to free him."
His lawyer's voice came protestingly, "But, Seb, if we mix into that, we'll have President Fischer after us with the FBI; it's too risky."
Hada said, "I need Briskin. CULTURE has become pompous -- look at the screen right this minute. Education and art -- we need a personality, a good news clown; we need Jim-Jam." Telscan's surveys, of late, had shown an ominous dropping-off of viewers, but he did not tell Art Heaviside that; it was confidential.
Sighing, the attorney said, "Will do, Seb. But the charge against Briskin is sedition in time of war."
"Time of war? With whom?"
"Those alien ships -- you know. That entered the Sol System last February. Darn it, Seb; you know we're at war -- you can't be so lofty as to deny that; it's a legal fact."
"In my opinion," Hada said, "the aliens are not hostile." He put the receiver down, feeling angry. It's Max Fischer's way of holding onto supreme power, he said to himself. Thumping the war-scare drum. I ask you, What actual damage have the aliens done lately? After all, we don't own the Sol System. We just like to think we do.
In any case, CULTURE -- educational TV itself -- was withering, and as the owner of the network, Sebastian Hada had to act. Am I personally declining in vigor? he asked himself.
Once more picking up the phone, he dialed his analyst, Dr. Ito Yasumi, at his demesne outside of Tokyo. I need help, he said to himself. CULTURE'S creator and financial backer needs help. And Dr. Yasumi can give it to me.
Facing him from across his desk, Dr. Yasumi said, "Hada, maybe problem stems from you having eight wives. That's about five too many." He waved Hada back to the couch. "Be calm, Hada. Pretty sad that big-time operator like Mr. S. Hada falling apart under stress. You afraid President Fischer's FBI get you like they got Jim Briskin?" He smiled.
"No," Hada said. "I'm fearless." He lay semisupine, arms behind his head, gazing at a Paul Klee print on the wall. . . or perhaps it was an original; good analysts did make a god-awful amount of money: Yasumi's charge to him was one thousand dollars a half hour.
Yasumi said contemplatively, "Maybe you should seize power, Hada, in bold coup against Max Fischer. Make successful power play of your own; become President and then release Mr. Jim-Jam -- no problem then."
"Fischer has the Armed Forces behind him," Hada said gloomily. "As Commander-in-Chief. Because of General Tompkins, who likes Fischer, they're absolutely loyal." He had already thought of this. "Maybe I ought to flee to my demesne on Callisto," he murmured. It was a superb one, and Fischer, after all, had no authority there; it was not U.S. but Dutch territory. "Anyhow, I don't want to fight; I'm not a fighter, a street brawler; I'm a cultured man."
"You are biophysical organism with built-in responses; you are alive. All that lives strives to survive. You will fight if necessary, Hada."
Looking at his watch, Hada said, "I have to go, Ito. At three I've an appointment in Havana to interview a new folksinger, a ballad-and-banjo man who's sweeping Latin America. Ragland Park is his name; he can bring life back into CULTURE."
"I know of him," Ito Yasumi said. "Saw him on commercial TV; very good performer. Part Southern U.S., part Dane, very young, with huge black mustache and blue eyes. Magnetic, this Rags, as is called."
"But is folksinging cultural?" Hada murmured.
"I tell you something," Dr. Yasumi said. "There strangeness about Rags Park; I noted even over TV. Not like other people."
"That's why he's such a sensation."
"More than that. I diagnose." Yasumi reflected. "You know, mental illness and psionic powers closely related, as in poltergeist effect. Many schizophrenics of paranoid variety are telepaths, picking up hate thoughts in subconscious of persons around them."
"I know," Hada sighed, thinking that this was costing him hundreds of dollars, this spouting of psychiatric theory.
"Go careful with Rags Park," Dr. Yasumi cautioned. "You volatile type, Hada; jump too quick. First, idea of springing Jim-Jam Briskin -- risking FBI wrath -- and now this Rags Park. You like hat designer or human flea. Best bet, as I say, is to openly face President Fischer, not deviousness as I foresee you doing."
"Devious?" Hada murmured. "I'm not devious."
"You most devious patient I got," Dr. Yasumi told him bluntly. "You got nothing but tricky bones in your body, Hada. Watch out or you scheme yourself out of existence." He nodded with great soberness.
"I'll go carefully," Hada said, his mind on Rags Park; he barely heard what Dr. Yasumi was telling him.
"A favor," Dr. Yasumi said. "When you can arrange, let me examine Mr. Park; I would enjoy, okay? For your good, Hada, as well as professional interest. Psi talent may be of new kind; one never knows."
"Okay," Hada agreed. "I'll give you a call." But, he thought, I'm not going to pay for it; your examination of Rags Park will be on your own time.
There was an opportunity before his appointment with the ballad singer Rags Park to drop by the federal prison in New York at which Jim-Jam Briskin was being held on the sedition in time of war charge.
Hada had never met the news clown face-to-face, and he was surprised to discover how much older the man looked than on the TV. But perhaps Briskin's arrest, his troubles with President Fischer, had temporarily overwhelmed him. It would be enough to overwhelm anyone, Hada reflected as the deputy unlocked the cell and admitted him.
"How did you happen to tangle with President Fischer?" Hada asked.
The news clown shrugged and said, "You lived through that period in history as much as I did." He lit a cigarette and stared woodenly past Hada.
He was referring, Hada realized, to the demise of the great problem-solving computer at Washington, D.C., Unicephalon 40-D; it had ruled as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces until a missile, delivered by the alien ships, had put it out of action. During that period, the standby President, Max Fischer, had taken power, a clod appointed by the union, a primitive man with an unnatural bucolic cunning. When at last Unicephalon 40-D had been repaired and had resumed functioning, it had ordered Fischer to depart his office and Jim Briskin to cease political activity. Neither man had complied. Briskin had gone on campaigning against Max Fischer, and Fischer had managed, by some method still unknown, to disable the computer, thereby again becoming President of the United States.
And his initial act had been to clap Jim-Jam in jail.
"Has Art Heaviside, my attorney, seen you?" Hada asked.
"No," Briskin said shortly.
"Listen, my friend," Hada said, "without my help you'll be in prison forever, or at least until Max Fischer dies. This time he isn't making the mistake of allowing Unicephalon 40-D to be repaired; it's out of action for good."
Briskin said, "And you want me on your network in exchange for getting me out of here." He smoked rapidly at his cigarette.
"I need you, Jim-Jam," Hada said. "It took courage for you to expose President Fischer for the power-hungry buffoon he is; we've got a terrible menace hanging over us in Max Fischer, and if we don't join together and work fast it'll be too late; we'll both be dead. You know -- in fact you said it on TV -- that Fischer would gladly stoop to assassination to get what he wants."
Briskin said, "Can I say what I want over your facilities?"
"I give you absolute freedom. Attack anyone you want, including me."
After a pause, Briskin said, "I'd take your offer, Hada. . . but I doubt if even Art Heaviside can get me out of here. Leon Lait, Fischer's Attorney General, is conducting the prosecution against me personally."
"Don't resign yourself," Hada said. "Billions of your viewers are waiting to see you emerge from this cell. At this moment all my outlets are clamoring for your release. Public pressure is building up. Even Max will have to listen to that."
"What I'm afraid of is that an 'accident' will happen to me," Briskin said. "Just like the 'accident' that befell Unicephalon 40-D a week after it resumed functioning. If it couldn't save itself, how can --"
"You afraid?" Hada inquired, incredulous. "Jim-Jam Briskin, the ranking news clown -- I don't believe it."
There was silence.
Briskin said, "The reason my sponsors, Reinlander Beer and Calbest Electronics, haven't been able to get me out is" -- he paused -- "pressure put on them by President Fischer. Their attorneys as much as admitted that to me. When Fischer learns you're trying to help me, he'll bring all the pressure he has to bear directly on you." He glanced up acutely at Hada. "Do you have the stamina to endure it? I wonder."
"Certainly I have," Hada said. "As I told Dr. Yasumi --"
"And he'll put pressure on your wives," Jim-Jam Briskin said.
"I'll divorce all eight of them," Hada said hotly.
Briskin held out his hand and they shook. "It's a deal then," Jim-Jam said. "I'll go to work for CULTURE as soon as I'm out of here." He smiled in a weary but hopeful way.
Elated, Hada said, "Have you ever heard of Rags Park, the folk and ballad singer? At three today I'm signing him, too."
"There's a TV set here and now and then I catch one of Park's numbers," Briskin said. "He sounds good. But do you want that on CULTURE? It's hardly educational."
"CULTURE is changing. We're going to sugarcoat our didacticisms from now on. We've been losing our audience. I don't intend to see CULTURE wither away. The very concept of it --"
The word "CULTURE" stood for Committee Utilizing Learning Techniques for Urban Renewal Efforts. A major part of Hada's real estate holdings consisted of the city of Portland, Oregon, which he had acquired -- intact -- ten years ago. It was not worth much; typical of the semiabandoned slum constellations which had become not only repellent but obsolete, Portland had a certain sentimental value to him because he had been born there.
However, one notion lingered in his mind. If for any reason the colonies on the other planets and moons had to be abandoned, if the settlers came streaming back to Earth, the cities would be repopulated once more. And with the alien ships flitting about the farther planets, this was not as implausible as it sounded. In fact, a few families had emigrated back to Earth already. . .
So, underneath, CULTURE was not quite the disinterested public service nonprofit agency that it appeared. Mixed in with the education, Hada's outlets drummed away at the seductive idea of the city, how much it could offer, how little there was to be had in the colonies. Give up the difficult, crude life of the frontier, CULTURE declared night and day. Return to your own planet; repair the decaying cities. They're your real home.
Did Briskin know this? Hada wondered. Did the news clown understand the actual purpose of his organization?
Hada would find that out -- if and when he managed to get Briskin out of jail and before a CULTURE microphone.
At three o'clock Sebastian Hada met the folksinger Ragland Park at the Havana office of CULTURE.
"I'm glad to make your acquaintance," Rags Park said shyly. Tall, skinny, with his huge black mustache hiding most of his mouth, he shuffled about self-consciously, his blue eyes gentle with authentic friendliness. He had an unusual sweetness about him, Hada noted. Almost a saintly quality. Hada found himself impressed.
"And you play both the guitar and five-string banjo?" Hada said. "Not at once, of course."
Rags Park mumbled, "No, sir. I alternate. Want me to play something right now for you?"
"Where were you born?" Nat Kaminsky asked. Hada had brought his production chief along; in matters such as this, Kaminsky's opinion was valuable.
"In Arkansas," Rags answered. "My family raises hogs." He had his banjo with him and now, nervously, he twanged a few notes. "I know a real sad song that'll break your heart. It's called 'Poor Old Hoss.' Want me to sing it for you?"
"We've heard you," Hada said. "We know you're good." He tried to imagine this awkward young man twanging away over CULTURE in between lectures on twentieth-century portrait sculptors. Hard to imagine. . .
Rags said, "I bet there's one thing you don't know about me, Mr. Hada. I make up a lot of my own ballads."
"Creative," Kaminsky said to Hada straight-faced. "That's good."
"For instance," Rags continued, "I once made up a ballad about a man named Tom McPhail who ran ten miles with a bucket of water to put out the fire in his little daughter's crib."
"Did he make it?" Hada asked.
"Sure did. Just in time. Tom McPhail ran faster and faster with that bucket of water." Chanting, Rags twanged in accompaniment.
"Here comes Tom McPhail
Holdin' on tight to that great little pail.
Holdin' on tight, boys, here he come.
Heart full of fear, faculties numb."
Twang, twang, sounded the banjo, mournfully and urgently.
Kaminsky said acutely, "I've been following your shows and I've never heard you sing that number."
"Aw," Rags said, "I had bad luck with that, Mr. Kaminsky. Turned out there really is a Tom McPhail. Lives in Pocatello, Idaho. I sang about ol' Tom McPhail on my January fourteenth TV show and right away he got sore -- he was listenin' -- and got a lawyer to write me."
"Wasn't it just a coincidence in names?" Hada said.
"Well," Rags said, twisting about self-consciously, "it seems there really had been a fire in his home there in Pocatello, and McPhail, he got panicky and ran with a bucket to the creek, and it was ten miles off, like I said in the song."
"Did he get back with the water in time?"
"Amazingly, he did," Rags said.
Kaminsky said to Hada, "It would be better, on CULTURE, if this man stuck to authentic Old English ballads such as 'Greensleeves.' That would seem more what we want."
Thoughtfully, Hada said to Rags, "Bad luck to pick a name for a ballad and have it turn out that such a man really exists. . . Have you had that sort of bad luck since?"
"Yes, I have," Rags admitted. "I made up a ballad last week. . . it was about a lady, Miss Marsha Dobbs. Listen.
"All day, all night, Marsha Dobbs.
Loves a married man whose wife she robs.
Robs that wife and hearth of Jack Cooks's heart.
Steals the husband, makes that marriage fall apart.
"That's the first verse," Rags explained. "It goes on for seventeen verses; tells how Marsha comes to work at Jack Cooks's office as a secretary, goes to lunch with him, then later they meet late at --"
"Is there a moral at the end?" Kaminsky inquired.
"Oh sure," Rags said. "Don't take no one else's man because if you do, heaven avenges the dishonored wife. In this case:
"Virus flu lay 'round the corner just for Jack.
For Marsha Dobbs 'twas to be worse, a heart attack.
Miz Cooks, the hand of heaven sought to spare.
Surrounded her, became a garment strong to wear.
Miz Cooks --"
Hada broke in over the twanging and singing. "That's fine, Rags. That's enough." He glanced at Kaminsky and winced.
"And I bet it turned out," Kaminsky said, "that there's a real Marsha Dobbs who had an affair with her boss, Jack Cooks."
"Right," Rags said, nodding "No lawyer called me, but I read it in the homeopape, the New York Times. Marsha, she died of a heart attack, and it was actually during --" He hesitated modestly. "You know. While she and Jack Cooks were at a motel satellite, lovemaking."
"Have you deleted that number from your repertoire?" Kaminsky asked.
"Well," Rags said, "I can't make up my mind. Nobody's suing me. . . and I like the ballad. I think I'll leave it in."
To himself, Hada thought, What was it Dr. Yasumi said? That he scented psi powers of some unusual kind in Ragland Park. . . perhaps it's the parapsychological power of having the bad luck to make up ballads about people who really exist. Not much of a talent, that.
On the other hand, he realized, it could be a variant on the telepathic talent... and with a little tinkering it might be quite valuable.
"How long does it take you to make up a ballad?" he asked Rags.
"I can do it on the spot," Rags Park answered. "I could do it now; give me a theme and I'll compose right here in this office of yours."
Hada pondered and then said, "My wife Thelma has been feeding a gray fox that I know -- or I believe -- killed and ate our best Rouen duck."
After a moment of considering, Rags Park twanged:
"Miz Thelma Hada talked to the fox.
Built it a home from an old pine box.
Sebastian Hada heard a sad cluck:
Wicked gray fox had eaten his duck"
"But ducks don't cluck, they quack," Nat Kaminsky said critically.
"That's a fact," Rags admitted. He pondered and then sang:
"Hada's production chief changed my luck.
I got no job, and ducks don't cluck."
Grinning, Kaminsky said, "Okay, Rags; you win." To Hada he said, "I advise you to hire him."
"Let me ask you this," Hada said to Rags. "Do you think the fox got my Rouen?"
"Gosh," Rags said, "I don't know anything about that."
"But in your ballad you said so," Hada pointed out.
"Let me think," Rags said. Presently he twanged once more and said:
"Interesting problem Hada's stated.
Perhaps my ability's underrated.
Perhaps I'm not no ordinary guy.
Do I get my ballads through the use of psi?"
"How did you know I meant psi?" Hada asked. "You can read interior thoughts, can't you? Yasumi was right."
Rags said, "Mister, I'm just singing and twanging; I'm just an entertainer, same as Jim-Jam Briskin, that news clown President Fischer clapped in jail."
"Are you afraid of jail?" Hada asked him bluntly.
"President Fischer doesn't have nothing against me," Rags said. "I don't do political ballads."
"If you work for me," Hada said, "maybe you will. I'm trying to get Jim-Jam out of jail; today all my outlets began their campaign."
"Yes, he ought to be out," Rags agreed, nodding. "That was a bad thing, President Fischer using the FBI for that. . . those aliens aren't that much of a menace."
Kaminsky, rubbing his chin meditatively, said, "Do one on Jim-Jam Briskin, Max Fischer, the aliens - on the whole political situation. Sum it up."
"That's asking a lot," Rags said, with a wry smile.
"Try," Kaminsky said. "See how well you can epitomize."
"Whooee," Rags said. " 'Epitomize.' Now I know I'm talking to CULTURE. Okay, Mr. Kaminsky. How's this?" He said:
"Fat little President by name of Max.
Used his power, gave Jim the ax.
Sebastian Hada's got eyes like a vulture.
Sees his opening, steps in with CULTURE."
"You're hired," Hada said to the folksinger, and reached into his pocket for a contract form.
Kaminsky said, "Will we be successful, Mr. Park? Tell us about the outcome."
"I'd, uh, rather not," Rags said. "At least not this minute. You think I can also read the future, too? That I'm a precog as well as a telepath?" He laughed gently. "I've got plenty of talent, according to you; I'm flattered." He bowed mockingly.
"I'll assume that you're coming to work for us," Hada said. "And your willingness to be an employee of CULTURE -- is it a sign that you feel President Fischer is not going to be able to get us?"
"Oh, we could be in jail, too, along with Jim-Jam," Rags murmured. "That wouldn't surprise me." Seating himself, his banjo in hand, he prepared to sign the contract.
In his bedroom at the White House, President Max Fischer had listened for almost an hour now to the TV set, to CULTURE hammering away on the same topic, again and again. Jim Briskin must be released, the voice said; it was a smooth, professional announcer's voice, but behind it, unheard, Max knew, was Sebastian Hada.
"Attorney General," Max said to his cousin Leon Lait, "get me dossiers on all of Hada's wives, all seven or eight, whatever it is. I guess I got to take a drastic course."
When, later in the day, the eight dossiers had been put before him, he began to read carefully, chewing on his El Producto alta cigar and frowning, his lips moving with the effort of comprehending the intricate, detailed material.
Jeez, what a mess some of these dames must be, he realized. Ought to be getting chemical psychotherapy, have their brain metabolisms straightened out. But he was not displeased; it had been his hunch that a man like Sebastian Hada would attract an unstable sort of woman.
One in particular, Hada's fourth wife, interested him. Zoe Martin Hada, thirty-one years old, now living on Io with her ten-year-old son.
Zoe Hada had definite psychotic traits.
"Attorney General," he said to his cousin, "this dame is living on a pension supplied by the U.S. Department of Mental Health. Hada isn't contributing a dime to her support. You get her here to the White House, you understand? I got a job for her."
The following morning Zoe Martin Hada was brought to his office.
He saw, between the two FBI men, a scrawny woman, attractive, but with wild, animosity-filled eyes. "Hello, Mrs. Zoe Hada," Max said. "Listen, I know sumpthin' about you; you're the only genuine Mrs. Hada -- the others are imposters, right? And Sebastian's done you dirt." He waited, and saw the expression on her face change.
"Yes," Zoe said. "I've been in courts for six years trying to prove what you just said. I can hardly believe it; are you really going to help me?"
"Sure," Max said. "But you got to do it my way; I mean, if you're waiting for that skunk Hada to change, you're wasting your time. About all you can do" -- he paused -- "is even up the score."
The violence which had left her face crept back as she understood, gradually, what he meant.
Frowning, Dr. Ito Yasumi said, "I have now made my examination, Hada." He began putting away his battery of cards. "This Rags Park is neither telepath or precog; he neither reads my mind nor cognates what is to be and, frankly, Hada, although I still sense psi power about him, I have no idea what it might be."
Hada listened in silence. Now Rags Park, this time with a guitar over his shoulder, wandered in from the other room. It seemed to amuse him that Dr. Yasumi could make nothing of him; he grinned at both of them and then seated himself. "I'm a puzzle," he said to Hada. "Either you got too much when you hired me or not enough. . . but you don't know which and neither does Dr. Yasumi or me."
"I want you to start at once over CULTURE," Hada told him impatiently. "Make up and sing folk ballads that depict the unfair imprisonment and harassment of Jim-Jam Briskin by Leon Lait and his FBI. Make Lait appear a monster; make Fischer appear a scheming, greedy boob. Understand?"
"Sure," Rags Park said, nodding. "We got to get public opinion aroused. I knew that when I signed; I ain't just entertaining no more."
Dr. Yasumi said to Rags, "Listen, I have favor to ask. Make up folk-style ballad telling how Jim-Jam Briskin get out of jail."
Both Hada and Rags Park glanced at him.
"Not about what is," Yasumi explained, "but about that which we want to be."
Shrugging, Park said, "Okay."
The door to Hada's office burst open and the chief of his bodyguards, Dieter Saxton, put his head excitedly in. "Mr. Hada, we just gunned down a woman who was trying to get through to you with a homemade bomb. Do you have a moment to identify her? We think maybe it's -- I mean it was -- one of your wives."
"God in heaven," Hada said, and hurried along with Saxton from the office and down the corridor.
There on the floor, near the front entrance of the demesne, lay a woman he knew. Zoe, he thought. He knelt down, touched her.
"Sorry," Saxton mumbled. "We had to, Mr. Hada."
"All right," he said. "I believe you if you say so." He greatly trusted Saxton; after all, he had to.
Saxton said, "I think from now on you better have one of us close by you at all times. I don't mean outside your office; I mean within physical touch."
"I wonder if Max Fischer sent her here," Hada said.
"The chances are good," Saxton said. "I'd make book on it."
"Just because I'm trying to get Jim-Jam Briskin released." Hada was thoroughly shaken. "It really amazes me." He rose to his feet unsteadily.
"Let me go after Fischer," Saxton urged in a low voice. "For your protection. He has no right to be President; Unicephalon 40-D is our only legal President and we all know Fischer put it out of commission."
"No," Hada murmured. "I don't like murder."
"It's not murder," Saxton said. "It's protection for you and your wives and children."
"Maybe so," Hada said, "but I still can't do it. At least not yet." He left Saxton and made his way with difficulty back to his office, where Rags Park and Dr. Yasumi waited.
"We heard," Yasumi said to him. "Bear up, Hada. The woman was a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of persecution; without psychotherapy it was inevitable that she would meet a violent death. Do not blame yourself or Mr. Saxton."
Hada said, "And at one time I loved that woman."
Dolefully strumming on his guitar, Rags Park sang to himself; the words were not audible. Perhaps he was practicing on his ballad of Jim Briskin's escape from jail.
"Take Mr. Saxton's advice," Dr. Yasumi said. "Protect yourself at all times." He patted Hada on the shoulder.
Rags spoke up, "Mr. Hada, I think I've got my ballad now. About --"
"I don't want to hear it," Hada said harshly. "Not now." He wished the two of them would leave; he wanted to be by himself.
Maybe I should fight back, he thought. Dr. Yasumi recommends it; now Dieter Saxton recommends it. What would Jim-Jam recommend? He has a sound mind. . . he would say, Don't employ murder. I know that would be his answer; I know him.
And if he says not to, I won't.
Dr. Yasumi was instructing Rags Park, "A ballad, please, about that vase of gladioli over there on the bookcase. Tell how it rise up straight in the air and hover; all right?"
"What kind of ballad is that?" Rags said. "Anyhow, I got my work cut out for me; you heard what Mr. Hada said."
"But I'm still testing you," Dr. Yasumi grumbled.
To his cousin the Attorney General, Max Fischer said disgustedly, "Well, we didn't get him."
"No, Max," Leon Lait agreed. "He's got good men in his employ; he's not an individual like Briskin, he's a whole corporation."
Moodily, Max said, "I read a book once that said if three people are competing, eventually two of them will join together and gang up on the third one. It's inevitable. That's exactly what's happened; Hada and Briskin are buddies, and I'm alone. We have to split them apart, Leon, and get one of them on our side against the other. Once Briskin liked me. Only he disapproved of my methods."
Leon said, "Wait'll he hears about Zoe Hada trying to kill her ex-husband; then Briskin'll really disapprove of you."
"You think it's impossible to win him over now?"
"I sure do, Max. You're in a worse position than ever, regarding him. Forget about winning him over."
"There's some idea in my mind, though," Max said. "I can't quite make out what it is yet, but it has to do with freeing Jim-Jam in the hopes that he'll feel gratitude."
"You're out of your mind," Leon said. "How come you ever thought of an idea like that? It isn't like you."
"I don't know," Max groaned. "But there it is."
To Sebastian Hada, Rags Park said, "Uh, I think maybe I got me a ballad now, Mr. Hada. Like Dr. Yasumi suggested. It has to do with telling how Jim-Jam Briskin gets out of jail. You want to hear it?"
Dully, Hada nodded. "Go ahead." After all, he was paying the folksinger; he might as well get something for his money.
Twanging away, Rags sang:
"Jim-Jam Briskin languished in jail,
Couldn't find no one to put up his bail.
Blame Max Fischer! Blame Max Fischer!"
Rags explained, "That's the chorus, 'Blame Max Fischer!' Okay?"
"All right," Hada said, nodding.
"The Lord came along, said, Max, I'm mad.
Casting that man in jail, that was bad.
Blame Max Fischer! the good Lord cried.
Poor Jim Briskin, his rights denied.
Blame Max Fischer! I'm here to tell;
Good Lord say, Him go straight to hell.
Repent, Max Fischer! There's only one route:
Get on my good side; let Jim-Jam out."
Rags explained to Hada, "Now here's what's going to happen." He cleared his throat:
"Bad Max Fischer, he saw the light,
Told Leon Lait, We got to do right.
Sent a message down to turn that key,
Open that door and let Jim-Jam free.
Old Jim Briskin saw an end to his plight;
Jail door open now, lets in the light.
"That's all," Rags informed Hada. "It's a sort of holler type of folk song, a spiritual where you tap your foot. Do you like it?"
Hada managed to nod. "Oh sure. Anything's fine."
"Shall I tell Mr. Kaminsky you want me to air it over CULTURE?"
"Air away," Hada said. He did not care; the death of Zoe still weighed on his mind -- he felt responsible, because after all it had been his bodyguards who had done it, and the fact that Zoe had been insane, had been trying to destroy him, did not seem to matter. It was still a human life; it was still murder. "Listen," he said to Rags on impulse, "I want you to make up another song, now."
With sympathy, Rags said, "I know, Mr. Hada. A ballad about the sad death of your former wife Zoe. I been thinking about that and I have a ballad all ready. Listen:
"There once was a lady fair to see and hear;
Wander, spirit, over field and star,
Sorrowful, but forgiving from afar.
That spirit knows who did her in.
It was a stranger, not her kin.
It was Max Fischer who knew her not --"
Hada interrupted, "Don't whitewash me, Rags; I'm to blame. Don't put everything on Max as if he's a whipping boy."
Seated in the corner of the office, listening quietly, Dr. Yasumi now spoke up. "And also too much credit to President Fischer in your ballads, Rags. In ballad of Jim-Jam's release from jail, you specifically give credit to Max Fischer for ethical change of heart. This will not do. The credit for Jim-Jam's release must go to Hada. Listen, Rags; I have composed a poem for this occasion."
Dr. Yasumi chanted:
"News clown nestles not in jail.
A friend, Sebastian Hada, got him free.
He loves that friend, regards him well.
Knows whom to honor, and to seek."
"Exactly thirty-two syllables," Dr. Yasumi explained modestly. "Old-style Japanese-type haiku poetry does not have to rhyme as do U.S.-English ballads, however must get right to the point, which in this matter is all-important." To Rags he said, "You make my haiku into ballad, okay? In your typical fashion, in rhythmic, rhyming couplets, et cetera, and so on."
"I counted thirty-three syllables," Rags said. "Anyhow, I'm a creative artist; I'm not used to being told what to compose." He turned to Hada. "Who'm I working for, you or him? Not him, as far as I know."
"Do as he says," Hada told Rags. "He's a brilliant man."
Sullenly, Rags murmured, "Okay, but I didn't expect this sort of job when I signed the contract." He retired to a far corner of the office to brood, think, and compose.
"What are you involved with, here, Doctor?" Hada asked.
"We'll see," Dr. Yasumi said mysteriously. "Theory about psi power of this balladeer, here. May pay off, may not."
"You seem to feel that the exact wording of Rags's ballads is very important," Hada said.
"That's right," Dr. Yasumi agreed. "As in legal document. You wait, Hada; you find out -- if I right -- eventually. If I wrong, doesn't matter anyhow." He smiled encouragingly at Hada.
The phone in President Max Fischer's office rang. It was the Attorney General, his cousin, calling in agitation. "Max, I went over to the federal pen where Jim-Jam is, to see about quashing the charges against him like you were talking about --" Leon hesitated. "He's gone, Max. He's not in there anymore." Leon sounded wildly nervous.
"How'd he get out?" Max said, more baffled than angry.
"Art Heaviside, Hada's attorney, found a way; I don't know yet what it is -- I have to see Circuit Court Judge Dale Winthrop, about it; he signed the release order an hour or so ago. I have an appointment with Winthrop. . . as soon as I've seen him, I'll call you back."
"I'll be darned," Max said slowly. "Well, we were too late." He hung up the phone reflexively and then stood deep in thought. What has Hada got going for him? he asked himself. Something I don't understand.
And now the thing to watch for, he realized, is Jim Briskin showing up on TV. On CULTURE'S network.
With relief he saw on the screen -- not Jim Briskin but a folksinger plucking away on a banjo.
And then he realized that the folksinger was singing about him.
"Bad Max Fischer, he saw the light,
Told Leon Lait, We got to do right.
Sent a message down to turn that key."
Listening, Max Fischer said aloud, "My God, that's exactly what happened! That's exactly what I did!" Eerie, he thought. What's it mean, this ballad singer on CULTURE who sings about what I'm doing -- secret matters that he couldn't possibly know about!
Telepathic maybe, Max thought. That must be it.
Now the folksinger was narrating and plucking about Sebastian Hada, how Hada had been personally responsible for getting Jim-Jam Briskin out of jail. And it's true, Max said to himself. When Leon Lait got there to the federal pen, he found Briskin gone because of Art Heaviside's activity. . . I better listen pretty carefully to this singer, because for some reason he seems to know more than I do.
But the singer now had finished.
The CULTURE announcer was saying, "That was a brief interlude of political ballads by the world-renowned Ragland Park. Mr. Park, you'll be pleased to hear, will appear on this channel every hour for five minutes of new ballads, composed here in CULTURE'S studios for the occasion. Mr. Park will be watching the teletypers and will compose his ballads to --"
Max switched the set off then.
Like calypso, Max realized. New ballads. God, he thought dismally. Suppose Parks sings about Unicephalon 40-D coming back.
I have a feeling, he thought, that what Ragland Park sings turns out to be true. It's one of those psionic talents.
And they, the opposition, are making use of this.
On the other hand, he thought, I might have a few psionic talents of my own. Because if I didn't, I wouldn't have gotten as far as I have.
Seated before the TV set, he switched it on once again and waited, chewing his lower lip and pondering what he should do. As yet he could come up with nothing. But I will, sooner or later, he said to himself. And before they come up with the idea of bringing Unicephalon 40-D back. . .
Dr. Yasumi said, "I have solved what Ragland Park's psi talent is, Hada. You care to know?"
"I'm more interested in the fact that Jim-Jam is out of jail," Hada answered. He put down the receiver of the telephone, almost unable to believe the news. "He'll be here right away," he said to Dr. Yasumi. "He's on his way direct, by monorail. We'll see that he gets to Callisto, where Max has no jurisdiction, so they can't possibly rearrest him." His mind swirled with plans. Rubbing his hands together, he said rapidly, "Jim-Jam can broadcast from our transmitter on Callisto. And he can live at my demesne there -- that'll be beer and skittles for him -- I know he'll agree."
"He is out," Dr. Yasumi said dryly, "because of Rags's psi talent, so you had better listen. Because this psi talent is not understood even by Rags and, honestly to God, it could rebound on you any time."
Reluctantly, Hada said, "Okay, give me your opinion."
"Relationship between Rags's made-up ballads and reality is one of cause and effect. What Rags describes then takes place. The ballad precedes the event and not by much. You see? This could be dangerous, if Rags understood it and made use of it for own advantage."
"If this is true," Hada said, "then we want him to compose a ballad about Unicephalon 40-D returning to action." That was obvious to him instantly. Max Fischer would be merely the standby President once more, as he had originally been. Without authority of any kind.
"Correct," Dr. Yasumi said. "But problem is, now that he is making up these political-type ballads, Ragland Park is apt to discover this fact, too. For if he makes up song about Unicephalon and then it actually --"
"You're right," Hada said. "Even Park couldn't miss that." He was silent then, deep in thought. Ragland Park was potentially even more dangerous than Max Fischer. On the other hand, Ragland seemed like a good egg; there was no reason to assume that he would misuse his power, as Max Fischer had his.
But it was a great deal of power for one human being to have. Much too much.
Dr. Yasumi said, "Care must be taken as to exactly what sort of ballads Ragland makes up. Contents must be edited in advance, maybe by you."
"I want as little as possible --" Hada began, and then ceased. The receptionist had buzzed him; he switched on the intercom.
"Mr. James Briskin is here."
"Send him right in," Hada said, delighted. "He's here already, Ito." Hada opened the door to the office -- and there stood Jim-Jam, his face lined and sober.
"Mr. Hada got you out," Dr Yasumi informed Jim-Jam.
"I know. I appreciate it, Hada." Briskin entered the office and Hada at once closed and locked the door.
"Listen, Jim-Jam," Hada said without preamble, "we've got greater problems than ever. Max Fischer as a threat is nothing. Now we have to deal with an ultimate form of power, an absolute rather than a relative form. I wish I had never gotten into this; whose idea was it to hire Rags Park?"
Dr. Yasumi said, "Yours, Hada, and I warned you at the time."
"I'd better instruct Rags not to make up any more new ballads," Hada decided. "That's the first step to take. I'll call the studio. My God, he might make up one about us all going to the bottom of the Atlantic, or twenty AUs out into deep space."
"Avoid panic," Dr. Yasumi told him firmly. "There you go ahead with panic, Hada. Volatile as ever. Be calm and think first."
"How can I be calm," Hada said, "when that rustic has the power to move us around like toys? Why, he can command the entire universe."
"Not necessarily," Dr. Yasumi disagreed. "There may be limit. Psi power not well understood, even yet. Hard to test out in laboratory condition; hard to
subject to rigorous, repeatable scrutiny." He pondered.
Jim Briskin said, "As I understand what you're saying --"
"You were sprung by a made-up ballad," Hada told him. "Done at my command. It worked, but now we're stuck with the ballad singer." He paced back and forth, hands in his pockets.
What'll we do with Ragland Park? he asked himself desperately.
At the main studios of CULTURE in the Earth satellite Culone, Ragland Park sat with his banjo and guitar, examining the news dispatches coming in over the teletype and preparing ballads for his next appearance.
Jim-Jam Briskin, he saw, had been released from jail by order of a federal judge. Pleased, Ragland considered a ballad on that topic, then remembered that he had already composed -- and sung -- several. What he needed was a new topic entirely. He had done that one to death.
From the control booth, Nat Kaminsky's voice boomed over the loudspeaker, "You about ready to go on again, Mr. Park?"
"Oh sure," Ragland replied, nodding. Actually he was not, but he would be in a moment or two.
What about a ballad, he thought, concerning a man named Pete Robinson of Chicago, Illinois, whose springer spaniel was attacked one fine day in broad daylight on a city street by an enraged eagle?
No, that's not political enough, he decided.
What about one dealing with the end of the world? A comet hitting Earth, or maybe the aliens swarming in and taking over. . . a real scary ballad with people getting blown up and cut in half by ray guns?
But that was too unintellectual for CULTURE; that wouldn't do either.
Well, he thought, then a song about the FBI. I've never done one on the subject; Leon Lait's men in gray business suits with fat red necks. . . college graduates carrying briefcases. . .
To himself, he sang, while strumming his guitar:
"Our department chief says, Hark;
Go and bring back Ragland Park.
He's a menace to conformity;
His crimes are an enormity."
Chuckling, Ragland pondered how to go on with the ballad. A ballad about himself; interesting idea. . . how had he happened to think of that?
He was so busy concocting the ballad, in fact, that he did not notice the three men in gray business suits with fat red necks who had entered the studio and were coming toward him, each man carrying a briefcase in a way that made it clear he was a college graduate and used to carrying it.
I really have a good ballad going, Ragland said to himself. The best one of my career. Strumming, he went on:
"Yes, they sneaked up in the dark
Aimed their guns and shot poor Park.
Stilled freedom's clarion cry
When they doomed this man to die;
But a crime not soon forgotten
Even in a culture rotten."
That was as far as Ragland got in his ballad. The leader of the group of FBI men lowered his smoking pistol, nodded to his companions, and then spoke into his wrist transmitter. "Inform Mr. Lait that we have been successful."
The tinny voice from his wrist answered, "Good. Return to headquarters at once. He orders it."
He, of course, was Maximilian Fischer. The FBI men knew that, knew who had sent them on their mission.
In his office at the White House, Maximilian Fischer breathed a sigh of relief when informed that Ragland Park was dead. A close call, he said to himself. That man might have finished me off -- me and everybody else in the world.
Amazing, he thought, that we were able to get him. The breaks certainly went our way. I wonder why.
Could be one of my psionic talents has to do with putting an end to folk-singers, he said to himself, and grinned with sleek satisfaction.
Specifically, he thought, a psi talent for getting folksingers to compose ballads on the theme of their own destruction. . .
And now, he realized, the real problem. Of getting Jim Briskin back into jail. And it will be hard; Hada is probably smart enough to think of transporting him immediately to an outlying moon where I have no authority. It will be a long struggle, me against those two. . . and they could well beat me in the end.
He sighed. A lot of hard work, he said to himself. But I guess I got to do it. Picking up the phone, he dialed Leon Lait. . .