"He lives here with you sometimes, doesn't he?"
"He stays over once in a while."
"Why doesn't he stay over all the time?"
"Because we're not married."
"What do you do when he stays over?"
"Is that all?"
"We make love."
"How do you do that?"
Rhoda hesitated for the first time. "We—haven't you ever made love?"
His words came a little sharper. "How do you make love?"
"We lie in each other's arms. We show affection for each other."
"You lie in the same bed together?"
"Yes. Of course."
"If you were married, what would you do?"
"I said—we would live together."
"Would you make love?"
"Would you lie in the same bed together?"
"Is there anything you would do if you were married that you don't do now?"
"Of course. We would live together. We would be man and wife. It would be—well, legal."
"It is not legal to make love and lie in the same bed together now?"
"No—well, yes—you see—"
He was joking, of course. Rhoda was sure of this. She wanted to explain it all to him but he suddenly lost interest.
"Frank Corson knew nothing else about William Matson?"
"The man with two hearts?"
"It was all he told me."
"I think he knows more. I want you to ask him. Then I will come and ask you."
"I'll ask him if he knows anything more than what he told me."
"Ask him if he knows of any other men with two hearts. I want to know where they are and what happened to them."
"I'll try to find out."
"You must find out."
"Will you come back soon?"
"I will come back. You must do as I tell you."
"I will do as you tell me."
John Dennis had been sitting by the window so that Rhoda had to stare into the light. He got up and approached her. She stood up and waited for him, motionless. He came close and looked at her curiously. His eyes went up and down her body. He laid a hand on her left breast and pressed gently. She did not move.
"I will come back. You will not tell anyone I have been here or that we talked." He left without saying good-bye.
After he was gone, Rhoda stood where she was, motionless, for several minutes. Her mind was on the place he had touched her. She had never before experienced such a reaction. Never before had a man's hand, even on her bare flesh, produced such thrill and excitement. Desperately, her common sense struggled with this new thing. She dismissed with annoyance the callow, schoolgirl thought that this was the way love finally came—in the door, unannounced, to take over a woman's heart and soul and body. Ridiculous.
The intellectual Rhoda agreed, but the emotional Rhoda continued to toy with the idea, finding it a fascination, a joy. But there was something more than the intellectual and the emotional; a deeper, frightening numbness; a strange paralysis of mind she could not come to grips with; it kept eluding her even as she reached out for it.
Fear? She wondered.
But mainly she thought of John Dennis, the strange man who had walked in her door and to whom she had surrendered without a struggle.
My God. What happened to me? What happened to Rhoda Kane?
Abruptly she dropped the thought—it did not seem important.
* * * * *
Senator Crane sat in the dining room of the Mayflower Hotel. His guest was Matthew Porter, a mystery man, also, of the Brent Taber type, but a little more clearly defined in that he had a title and a department of government. But far more important to Crane, he outranked Taber.
One other point of importance: Matthew Porter was, in the terms even Senator Crane used, "something of a fathead."
"Maybe I am a Senator," Crane said jovially, "and maybe we boys up there think we have a hand in directing you fellows—still I'm flattered that you could find time to lunch with me."
Porter had a thin, aristocratic face, delicate features. His expression was usually benign, but there was steel behind it. He could scowl and hurl righteous invective, for instance, when a policeman questioned his right to park by a fireplug in spite of his official license plates.
But mainly he was a shy person who nursed his inferiority complex in secret.
"That's very flattering, Senator. But the truth is quite the opposite. It's we fellows who are honored to put ourselves at your beck and call. After all, you're the ones the people elect to office."
The flattery boomeranged nicely and put Porter one up on Crane.
"The people must be served, of course," Crane said, "and that's one of the things I want to talk to you about. The people's interests."
Matthew Porter cocked an alarmed eye as he bit into a roll. "Have their interests been violated?"
Crane glanced around and lowered his voice. "There's been too much loose talk going around about that project you've got Brent Taber on."
Porter laid the roll down very carefully, as though he feared it might go off. "I'm not sure I know what you're referring to, Senator."
"Your reticence is quite understandable. That I bring it up at all must shock you, but—" Crane hesitated, a touch of sadness brushing across his face.
"But what, Senator?"
"You understand, certainly, that I hold the greatest respect for Brent Taber. That's why I hesitated to come to you."
"It seems to me Halliday said something about calling Taber in. It had to do with a mild reprimand over Taber's attitude on legislative-executive relations."
"Halliday?" Senator Crane asked innocently. "He's another of the really good men you picked for government service."
"I trust Halliday implicitly, but he's carrying a big load so I'm glad you came directly to me, Senator. Exactly what is the trouble?"
"In plain words, there have been some bad leaks out of Taber's office. There is in existence a taped recording of a meeting."
Porter was aghast. He tried to hide it, which made his greenish expression all the more ludicrous—as though he'd swallowed a worm out of his salad.
"You'd think so, with all the top-secret precautions that have been taken."
"How did you discover this?"
Crane held up a restraining hand. "I'd be happy to tell you if it would serve any purpose, but believe me, it wouldn't. I would only tend to eliminate a contact who is extremely loyal to me and—I might add—to good government."
"I understand. But I certainly can't imagine what has happened to Taber. I would have backed him with my last dime."
"I actually don't think it was Taber's fault. A man can't personally see to every detail in his department."
"That's the responsibility of whoever is in charge."
Crane sighed. "Yes, I guess that's a cold, hard fact of life in this time of danger. But don't be too hard on him. Perhaps there's an explanation."
"He'll have his chance to explain," Porter said grimly.
"I'm sure you understand how it pains me to have to—well, put this black mark on the record of a good man. I debated many hours and searched my soul before I came to you. With a man's career at stake—"
"Men are expendable," Porter snapped. "The nation's safety is not."
Again Crane glanced around. "Are the Russians really that far ahead?"
Porter's eyes narrowed just a shade. "The Russians? Did you listen to the tape you mentioned?"
"Only sketchily. I assumed—"
"The danger is far greater. A Senatorial committee was briefed on the thing. I honestly think you should have been on that committee, Senator. By coming to me you've done far more toward protecting the nation's safety—and that of the world—than have any of your colleagues."
"Let's just say I had more opportunity."
"Your modesty is becoming."
"And now," Crane said wryly, "now that I've done all I can, I wish I could forget the whole thing. But with the gravity of the situation—"
"I'll see that you get a complete briefing."
"Thank you. And I promise I'll be most discreet."
A little while later, on the way back to his office, Crane smiled. Now maybe that self-important little son-of-a-bitch, Taber, would find out what it meant to insult a United States Senator.
From there, his mind went to another insult. So they'd passed him up in forming the committee to hear about the damned androids, had they? Well, by God, he'd show them the people of his state wouldn't tolerate that, either.
The people back home were going to hear about their Senator.
It probably wouldn't even be necessary to campaign next year.
"If you've changed your mind about anything—about us, maybe—just say so. I'll understand." Frank Corson felt he had to make this point—at this particular time. There was something inevitable in the need to do so.
"You're being ridiculous. The old thing about money again," Rhoda parried.
"There's nothing old about money. The problem is ever new. It's always with us."
Rhoda Kane wanted to cry. She sat on the floor beside the sofa on which Frank Corson lay, his hands behind his head, his eyes staring up at the ceiling. She wanted to say, Darling, what's happened to me? What is this thing inside me that keeps blocking me away from you? Why can't I tell you about it?
But she could not say this. She could only push the tears back and lay her head seductively on his chest. "You're just tired, dear. You've been working too hard."
He ran his hand petulantly through her hair. "It isn't me. It's you, Rhoda. Half the time you don't even realize I'm talking to you. You're getting such a faraway look in your eyes I'm beginning to think there's another man."
"That's silly," she said lightly. "Let me make you a drink."
"I don't want a drink."
The way he responded to her kiss indicated he didn't want to make love, either. Rhoda settled back to the floor and said, "Darling—"
Suddenly she couldn't go on. Somewhere inside, a dam broke; the strange, bewildering block tottered and began to fall. "Darling—there's something I want to tell you—"
Frank Corson indicated with a jerk of his head. "The phone's ringing."
"Let it ring. Darling, I—"
"For heaven's sake, answer it, Rhoda. It might be important."
She got up, went to the phone and picked it up. "Hello."
"This is John Dennis."
She felt that frightening excitement again—that feeling of dangerous delight at something forbidden. "Yes?"
"Do you remember what I told you to do?"
"Has it been done?"
"Why have you not done it?"
"I haven't had a chance."
"You have a chance now. Frank Corson is in your home."
"Yes. I have a chance now."
The phone clicked. Rhoda put it down and went back to the sofa. As she sank to the floor, Frank Corson looked at her questioningly.
"That was certainly a cryptic conversation."
When Rhoda didn't answer, he scowled and snapped, "There you go again. Into the brown study."
"Oh, I'm sorry, dear."
"What was the phone call about?"
"My hairdresser. It was nothing."
"Weird conversation to have with a hairdresser."
"He's a weird hairdresser."
"What had you started to say when the phone rang?"
"It just occurred to me—you never told me what happened when that government man talked to you."
Frank wished she hadn't brought that up. He'd been ordered to keep the incident in his room strictly to himself. That hadn't been too difficult. It had been hard not to look on the thing as a murder. The blood had looked real and so had the body.
But if that was the way Brent Taber wanted it, all right. Frank was amazed at how smoothly everything had been handled. There hadn't even been a police car at the door—just an unmarked delivery truck and two men carrying out what might have been a rolled-up rug.
And that had been that.
"He didn't say much. Actually, there was no point in mentioning it to you."
"What ever happened to the man with two hearts?"
"I was wrong. He just had a peculiar heartbeat. As a matter of fact, everybody's heart beats all over their body. Nothing strange about that."
"But there's something strange about a doctor not being able to tell the difference between one heart and two. Frank, you are keeping something from me."
"Rhoda! For heaven's sake! The government man told me to keep my mouth shut about it."
"Does that mean you can't tell even me?"
He turned his head and looked into her eyes. "This isn't like you, Rhoda. Not like you at all."
"That's silly. I haven't changed."
"Yes, you have."
"It's hard to say. You don't seem to have the same sense of values any more. You've—"
"Just how have they changed?"
If he sensed any inner fright in her question he said nothing about it. "For instance, when I told you I'd given up all ideas of going into research, when I said I'd decided to finish out my internship and establish a practice, you hardly twitched an eyebrow. I thought that would make you happy."
"It did, darling. I was delighted. But I'm still a woman and that gives me a right to be curious. What did the government man say?"
He sighed and drew her cajoling hand out of his hair. "They've got some wild idea the man who broke his leg wasn't a man at all. They think he was a synthetic of some kind. An android."
"Why, that's ridiculous. You saw him. You certainly know a man when you see one."
"According to Brent Taber, these androids are men, to all intents and purposes, but they're manufactured."
"That's just utterly insane. Are we paying taxes just to keep a lot of people in Washington who don't know the difference between a human being and a—"
"Rhoda! Please! I'm sick of the whole thing and I'd rather not talk about it."
"But he must have told you more than that. Where do these—these androids come from?"
"He didn't tell us any more than he had to, but I got the idea they think they're from outer space."
Rhoda laughed. "I never heard such foolishness in my life." She stopped laughing abruptly. "Who's us?"
"You said, 'He didn't tell us any more than he had to ...' Who was with you?"
"Oh. Les King. You don't know him."
She seemed satisfied with the information and probed no farther.
He drew her close and looked very seriously into her eyes. "You have changed, Rhoda. What's got into you?"
She put her lips to his and whispered, "Is this changed?" She ran one hand softly and seductively down his body. "Or that?"
He took her in his arms. "No, baby, that hasn't changed. I guess I was wrong."
And as she kissed him, she saw the oddly expressionless face, the cold empty eyes—of John Dennis.
And she was afraid.
* * * * *
Something in the mind that had been given him—the synthetic duplicate of what had once been a part of Sam Baker—told the tenth android that women were attractive. For just what reason, he could not tell. There was nothing in his practical working structure that had any need of women. Still, the attraction was there in the memory patterns that had been transferred.
There were other attractions just as puzzling to him. He had vague memories of people with whom he felt no affinity except as vaguely nostalgic memories—Sam Baker's mother, his father, the blurred faces of friends he had known. And, at times, there were faint tinges of the terror Sam had known that night when a quick light flashed down from nowhere and he was abducted into a world too strange and terrible to be real. Yet it had been real.
There were no birth memories in the android, but there were the vestiges of Sam's death memories: the endless torture under a machine so sensitive that, while it had no definition of a woman, it was able to discern—in the names thefted from Sam's memory and used as names for the ten androids—those which applied to males and those that did not.
But of all these traces of memories, those concerning women nagged the android most. And now, as it turned his empty gaze on Rhoda Kane, it was with a little more personal interest than before.
"What did Frank Corson tell you?"
"He said the man in the hospital with a broken leg was not a man. He was an android."
The term, grotesquely enough, meant nothing to the creature who called himself John Dennis. In the strange pattern of his consciousness there were no patterns of definitive difference. Though in many respects more able than the humans against whom he was pitted, he was no more aware of himself as different than a dog is aware of its differences from a man. The concept didn't take shape in the android's synthetic mind.
"Did he tell you where the man with the broken leg came from?"
"He said they thought it came from somewhere in outer space."
"There were others. Did he know of them?"
"No. He only told me about a man named Les King."
"What did he say about Les King?"
"King was there when the government man talked to Frank. That was all. The government wanted them to say nothing."
"But Frank Corson told you."
"He would not tell anyone else, though. He is not interested in the androids. He wants to forget them."
"But Les King does not want to forget them?"
"I don't know."
"Will he talk about them?"
"I don't know that, either. I have never seen Les King."
"Can the government man keep Les King from talking about the man with the broken leg?"
"I doubt if he can force him to."
John Dennis again left the window and approached Rhoda Kane. She was wearing a housecoat, a brassiere and panties underneath.
"Take off your clothes."
Rhoda unbuttoned the housecoat and slipped it off. That strange excitement showed in her eyes now.
The android pointed. "Take those off."
As she unhooked her brassiere, Rhoda said, "My head aches."
"Your head does not ache."
"You are right, my head does not ache."
She slipped out of the panties and stood naked. The android regarded her. "You are different."
"Of course. I am a woman."
"I want to make love." As Rhoda stood motionless, helpless, he spoke very positively. "You make love on the bed. We will go into the bedroom ..."
Later, she was never able to recall any details of that next half-hour. In defense of her own sanity, she was able to block the incident from her mind. But as she lay naked on the bed, looking up at the man she knew as John Dennis, she thought of her mind as being in two sections. One section, the part of her consciousness that clung to reality, kept saying, I want to cry. If I could cry, everything would be all right. Why can't I cry?
The other part was a pool of quivering excitement. She lay motionless, watching John Dennis undress, garment by garment, until he, too, was naked.
His body was not perfect, yet it had an individual perfection of its own in Rhoda's eyes. The skin was smooth and white, the legs and hips firm and masculine. The chest was broad and Rhoda wanted to put her hands on it and feel John Dennis' hands on her own body.
He stood looking at her, a little like a child, she thought tenderly; a child waiting to be told what to do. She did not account this as strange—only as a shyness in him. She held out her arms.
He lowered himself onto the bed beside her. She put her arms around him and pressed her lips to his. She waited. Nothing happened.
He was neither cold nor passionate. He was neither hostile nor friendly. He was nothing.
"You wanted to make love," Rhoda whispered. "Here I am. Take me. Take me."
Instead, he disengaged himself, raised himself up on his elbows and looked down at her. "You are quite different."
She did not know whether to be complimented or offended. "I'm about the same as every other woman."
"You are different than I am."
"Of course I'm different." Was he joking? He didn't seem to be. He was deadly serious as he began examining her breasts.
This is mad. This is insane. Why can't I cry?
But the other part of her mind quivered with her body as John Dennis went over it, inch by inch. He appeared to be trying to memorize it. She moved and turned as his hands directed, a new kind of fire rising within her. She waited. He touched her and waited for a response. There was none; nor any feeling within her at that moment except the strange fire inside and the ache of her taut groin tendons.
John Dennis touched her again and noted the sudden jerk and quiver of her response. He became grotesquely, academically interested. He touched the same nerve surface again and studied her face for the response.
Her eyes were closed and her lower lip was gripped in her teeth. "No," she gasped. "Not that way. Not that way—please."
She could have been pleading with a brick wall. John Dennis continued—her natural reactions interested him. He frowned and seemed puzzled by the excitement he generated within her.
Then she cried out and rolled away from him and lay sobbing, her face buried in the pillow. But they were dry sobs; strange, tense sounds filling a questionable and dubious ecstasy.
"You are cruel," she whimpered.
"You make love so brutally."
He considered this and then got off the bed. "I do not like making love."
He began putting on his clothes. She watched him, completely defeated. "Where do you come from?" she demanded. "Who are you? Why did you want to know about the man with the broken leg?"
He turned from putting on his shirt and stood motionless, looking down into her eyes and after a moment or two it did not matter to Rhoda again. It mattered no more than it had in the beginning. The strange fire had not been quenched by what had occurred. It was still there, in her mind more than in her body, but finding its boundaries was not important either.
"Are you going?"
"Will you come back?"
"I will come back. I want you to find out from Frank Corson what happened to the androids."
"He doesn't know."
"Have him find out for you."
"I can't do that."
"Then I will not come back."
Somehow, in the part of Rhoda Kane's mind that was beyond her control, the thought that John Dennis might not return took on the proportions of a disaster. Her feeling was akin to panic as she said, "I will make him find out."
"Then I will come back."
"Please. I will wait for you."
* * * * *
Les King answered the knock on the door and broke into a smile. "Well, talk about luck! I've been looking all over hell for you. Come in. Come in."
The tenth android was already in. He walked across the room and turned to look back at Les King with the outside light behind him.
King returned the gaze and wondered if he was afraid. It was an odd thing to wonder about. A man should know his own emotions. But King could not quite analyze the ones that struck him at that moment. For one thing, he'd discounted most of what Taber had said. There was something going on here, true—something big. When the government could cover up a murder in Greenwich Village, there had to be a big score at stake. And there had been a murder—but no cops, no police cars, nothing. Only a couple of guys in an unmarked truck walking out with what could have been a rolled-up carpet. They'd swiped his pictures and told him to keep his mouth shut.
This last was what made Les King mad. He'd found the story. It was his by every right. But when they were ready to break it they'd do it through some privileged Washington newspaperman who'd get it on a silver platter. The hell with that stuff. It would take more than a shadowy character like Brent Taber to scare him off.
He looked at the man in the blue suit and said, "You've been lucky. They're after you."
"Who is they?"
"Taber. The government crowd. The police, too, maybe. You killed that guy in the Village, didn't you?" Les King had decided a bold approach was the best way. But he was no fool. He kept his hand on the doorknob and watched the man carefully. "By the way, you haven't told me your name."
"You look like a man named Sam Baker. He disappeared about ten years ago—from a little town upstate."
"I am John Dennis."
King shrugged. "Okay, you're John Dennis. All I want to do is stay on top of this thing and have the inside track when it breaks."
"Brent Taber told you to forget about it."
King did not like the odd feeling of helplessness that seemed to have a grip on him. He was not alarmed, though. Over and above this was a sense of excitement. There was money here—he knew damned well there was money here.
"You want money, don't you?"
The question startled King. Could the guy read his mind? "Who the hell doesn't?" he retorted defensively. "If you're heeled you've got it made."
Somehow King felt that the pressure, the odd excitement, lessened in intensity. His nerves, he conceded, were sure playing tricks.
"There are some things I want. I will tell you where they are. I will give you money for them."
An espionage approach? King wondered. In a way, he hoped it was. He could always get clear. When the time was right, when he had the story locked, he'd go to the FBI with it. He had a quick vision of a spread in Life, a title: "I Broke the Russian Spy Ring." His own by-line.
"That sounds touchy," he said.
"I will tell you where to go and what to do."
"I'll have to know more than that."
"I will tell you what to do."
John Dennis left without saying good-bye.
Les King stared at the inner side of the closed door. "Jesus!" he muttered.
But the excitement was creeping back.
Brent Taber stood in front of the desk of Authority and said, "Mr. Porter, I don't think you people realize the gravity of this situation."
Porter's eyes were frosty. "And just what gives you that idea?"
"The fact that I'm being hamstrung at every turn. Men I assigned to search out the last android have been taken off the job, transferred away from me without notice."
"You speak of being hamstrung." Porter pronounced the term with an inflection of disgust, as though it were a vulgarism no gentleman would use. "You say we do not realize the gravity of the situation. Perhaps we realize it far more than you do. It may be that your activities have been indirectly curtailed because you have not recognized the vital need of harmony in government."
"Are you telling me Crane's ego is still smarting?"
"Senator Crane did, in the spirit of co-operation, mention certain leaks in your department."
"What in hell are you talking about?"
"I'd watch my tone if I were you, Taber. You aren't talking to one of your legmen now!"
Taber's teeth came tight together. "I'm sorry. Let me repeat the question. Exactly what was the nature of the leak to which the Senator referred?"
"A tape—transcribed at one of your top-secret meetings."
Taber's fist closed and opened. "I guess maybe I have been lax," he said softly.
Porter, grimly happy to have made his point, went on. "As to policy up above, I'll be quite frank. We have not necessarily gone along with your theory that the so-called androids were from outer space."
"Then where do you think they originated?"
"We have put data into the calculators on that point. So far, the results have been inconclusive."
"That's too bad."
"Your sarcasm is uncalled for. I am quite willing to tell you, however, that we have been proceeding in the matter. You are aware, no doubt, of the recent space shot that ended disastrously?"
Still insistent upon treating Taber like a backward child, Porter said, "The missile was safely launched and made five orbits and then suffered destruction."
"There was a lot of newspaper copy written on the failure; a lot of questions asked as to the cause."
"The releases were entirely true," Porter said with prim severity. "There was malfunction of crucial units under stress. But another phase was not made public. The astronaut's mission—one of them, at least—was to hunt outer space for foreign bodies of any description."
"What did he report?"
"I recall a story printed by some Washington columnist that some of the code picked up from the missile was not translated for the press. This, he stated, in view of the Administration's current 'Open End' policy on such matters, was strange."
"If you're implying that we censored certain information, that's quite true. In the public interest."
"To keep scientific information out of Russian hands?"
"In this case, no. The astronaut fell victim to a psychological stress that was unforeseen. What he sent made no sense whatever. We blame the medical men for not finding the flaw in his psyche."
"And I would be entirely out of line in assuming he did discover hostile foreign bodies and was destroyed by them?"
"Entirely," Porter snapped.
Brent Taber's eyes were stony. "But I am to assume that you're asking for my resignation."
Now Porter shrugged. "If that is the way you see it, I can, of course, only tender my regrets."
"Well, you won't have to. I'm not resigning."
The sharp declaration made Porter blink. "It's rather unusual that a man, after a vote of no confidence—"
"To hell with that. If a tape got out of my office, it's my fault. I'll grant that. But there's more to this. I'm willing to bet the man who told you was the same one who engineered the steal."
"That's ridiculous! Are you accusing Senator Crane of—?"
"I'm accusing an opportunist-demagogue of playing fast and loose with national safety to further his own ends and salve his ego. I'm accusing the men above me of being too weak-kneed to back their own against outside interference."
"I'll stand for no insults from you, Taber!"
"You'll take it and like it," Brent Taber said savagely. "You'll take it because you can't knock me out of my office overnight. It will take time. You've got to go up through the command and you'll have to go pretty high before you'll find anyone who'll do it with the stroke of a pen. Nobody wants to stick their neck out."
"Of course," Porter replied icily, "if you care to keep functioning as a discredited person—"
"I can. And I will. I'd be a coward if I didn't."
Porter was obviously disappointed but he shrugged. "That's your privilege. You, of course, will not be taken off the payroll."
"The payroll be damned. Send my checks to the Red Cross!"
And Brent Taber strode out of Porter's office, a man who stood alone in the Washington jungle of clashing ambitions, of purposes and cross-purposes—but a man who had no thought of quitting.
After Brent left, Porter put through a call to Senator Crane's office.
" ... so, while severing Brent Taber from official activity would be rather difficult, Senator, I have, in the interests of efficiency, withdrawn most of his facilities."
"A wise move, Porter. A very wise move."
"By the way, Senator, that hydroelectric project on the Panamint River your Conservation people have in the works. I'm quite interested in it."
"Is that so?" Crane asked guardedly.
"Yes. Perhaps because of my experience along those lines in South America. I consider it a great opportunity to serve and I understand the administrator's post is still open."
Porter's tone was vague. "Yes. I believe it is."
"Of course, I'm quite happy where I am, you understand. I'm not looking for a change. However, the challenge does intrigue me."
"I'll give you a ring, Porter. Just sit tight until you hear from me."
After hanging up, Porter sat back and wondered. He tried to analyze the tone in which Crane had made the promise to call. It had been falsely cordial, beyond a doubt. Maybe Crane figured Taber's scalp was too small a price to pay for the hydroelectric plum. Well, in that case, Porter philosophized, he hadn't lost a great deal. It was all in the game.
* * * * *
Frank Corson was confused and troubled by the changes that continued to come over Rhoda Kane. He could not quite put his finger on the start of it, but as he saw her now, a scant two weeks after the incident of the man with two hearts, he could clearly see the changes. Where she had been a beautiful, poised, self-controlled woman, she was now more nervous and quick of movement, brighter of eye, full of a new restless energy he could not account for.
Also, the dominance in their affair had shifted. He had always, it seemed, been the dominant factor, in that Rhoda had continually catered to his moods and bent to the winds of his own unrest and dissatisfaction.
But one evening when he was free of duty at Park Hill, Rhoda came home and entered the apartment without glancing toward the double-width sofa by the window. Frank, stretched out with a drink in his hand, watched her as she took her key out of the lock and put it back in her purse. He was struck by the fact that with this new "personality" that had become a part of her, she was even more attractive than before. A glow had been added. The quiet, dignified, statuesque beauty of before had been mysteriously vitalized by a new kind of inner life.
She turned from the door and, looking into the bright glare of the eight-foot windows, she saw him on the sofa and took a quick step forward.
"Oh," she cried. "It's you!"
"Of course, it's me."
Rhoda stopped dead and Frank was sure that the look of eagerness died as suddenly as it had been born.
"Well, good lord! Whom were you expecting?"
Rhoda laughed. "You just surprised me, that's all."
"Well, you gave me the keys to your apartment. Wasn't I supposed to use them?"
"Of course, silly." She came across the room and sat down on the sofa beside him. She bent down and kissed him.
"Golly," he said, sarcastically enthusiastic, "that was about as stimulating as a meeting between two dead fish."
"Frank! For heaven's sake! What's got into you lately?"
"I think that question should be reversed. 'What's got into you?"
"I think you're being unreasonable."
"Am I? Is it unreasonable to wonder why you did a complete about-face?"
"I don't understand."
"You understand. I've brought it up before. You spent weeks convincing me I ought to carry through with my internship and establish a practice. You said the time element didn't make any difference to you. You talked me out of the silly idea I had about cashing in on the man with two hearts. I admitted it was a silly idea. I turned away from it completely. Then you did the world's fastest about-face and began asking questions. You began pushing me in the direction you'd been arguing against."
Rhoda refused to match his serious mood. She ran a playful hand through his hair. "A woman has a right to change her mind, hasn't she?"
"Oh, stop it, Rhoda. You're avoiding the issue."
"All right. I still maintain I have a right to change my mind, but in making it all seem completely unnatural you neglected to mention why you changed yours. Because a man named Brent Taber slapped your wrist like a little boy and scared you. It wasn't my influence that turned you around and started you walking the other way. It was a big man from Washington who said naughty, naughty and suddenly you were a nice little intern again, afraid to ask questions."
"It was more dangerous than you know, Rhoda."
"Oh, I'm sure it was. Do you want another drink?"
"No." Frank looked out the window and scowled. "Rhoda, there was something I didn't tell you about that affair."
"Was there? I'll bet you told Brent Taber, though."
"It was what brought Brent Taber into it. There was a murder in my room."
"And when Brent Taber came on the scene—" Rhoda stopped and stared down at him. "What did you say?"
"A man was killed in my room. The man with the broken leg. He didn't just go on his way, as I told you; he got his throat cut in my room."
Rhoda continued to stare. "And you didn't tell me about it."
"Brent Taber told me to keep my mouth shut."
"I suppose if Brent Taber had said, 'I don't want you to see that woman again,' you wouldn't even have dropped around to say good-bye."
"Rhoda—you're being unreasonable."
"Unreasonable to expect the man who says he loves me to confide in me?"
"All right. I was wrong. What happened is this: When William Matson was ready to leave Park Hill, he had no place to go, so I took him down to my room. I went back to the hospital and Les King contacted me. He said William Matson was really a man named Sam Baker who'd disappeared from his home in upstate New York ten years ago. We went down to see him and found him sitting in a chair with his throat cut."
"You've been involved in a murder and you didn't say a single, solitary word—"
"Rhoda! I said I was sorry."
"I didn't see anything about it in the papers. I'm sure it wasn't on any of the newscasts."
"Of course, it wasn't. The police didn't even question me. I called the police and they came—two prowl-car men. Then they told Les and me to wait. We waited, and after a while this Brent Taber came in. He told us to go home and keep our mouths shut. Later, we were called downtown and Taber talked to us."
"He told you to go home," Rhoda said sarcastically. "You also said the man was killed in your room. Just where is your home, Mr. Corson?"
"I came here, Rhoda. I spent that night here."
"With a possible murder charge hanging over your head, you came here and didn't say a word!"
Frank sprang up from the couch and turned, scowling. "Goddamn it! Don't you believe me? Do you think I'm lying?"
"I don't know what to believe. I just feel—betrayed. But something else is more important."
"You acted like a child. Just because some man appeared out of nowhere, you said Yes, sir and No, sir and Sorry, sir and walked away. Frank! I'm ashamed of you!"
In quick anger, his hand came back as though to slap her. But he dropped it to his side and strode across the room and picked up his jacket.
"And so now you're walking out again. You just can't face up to anything, can you, Doctor Corson."
He turned on her, his eyes blazing. "All right. Maybe everything you say is true. Maybe I've seesawed and acted like a kid. If I have, it's because of you. The thing in the Village had nothing to do with me changing my mind about going into research. I did it because I thought you wanted me to."
Now Rhoda was on her feet, too, her patrician nostrils flaring. "Well, don't do me any favors."
"From now on, I wouldn't dream of it."
As he pulled on his jacket, Rhoda sat down on the sofa and lit a cigarette. "I'm convinced that if you'd gone along with Les King you would have been on the right road. King wasn't frightened off by a man who said he represented the government. He saw a chance to make some money and is probably going ahead with it right now."
"I don't give a damn what Les King is doing!"
"Of course not. But there's another little thing you overlooked. Don't you suppose this Brent Taber will toss that murder right back into your lap if it suits his purpose? The body was in your room. You're probably the chief suspect. So you sit back and let Brent Taber play whatever game he's got in mind. And if it goes wrong, Frank Corson gets picked up for murder."
"It can't possibly happen that way."
"Why not? Who is Brent Taber, really?"
"I told you—a government man."
"What government? Where can you get in touch with him?"
"I don't know. He gave me a phone number in case I ever saw a certain man again."
"Rhoda! They aren't men at all. They're androids!"
Rhoda froze and stared at him in consternation. "You actually believe that fairy tale? Frank, I just don't understand you."
"I told you about it before."
"But for the life of me I didn't think you took it seriously."
"I just didn't care. I'd had it. I wanted out."
"But you're involved in it, up to your neck, and if you had any guts you'd face Taber and make him tell you all the facts—and what's behind them."
"I have no intention of calling him."
"I guess that's the rock we split on then," Rhoda said coldly. She couldn't understand herself, even while she knew, deep down, that she wanted more information for him—John Dennis. Any other reason or excuse she used was a sham, a self-delusion.
If she expected a protest, she didn't get it. Rhoda took a long, calm drag on her cigarette. She ground it into the ash tray. She raised her eyes and looked levelly at Frank.
"Very well," he said, finally, "It was nice knowing you."
"Shut the door quietly on the way out," she retorted.
He stared at her, his face revealing nothing. He turned, went to the door, and opened it. He looked back. She had not moved. He left without a word.
Rhoda Kane lit another cigarette. She stared out across the East River at the expensive view that went with her high-rent apartment. She got up and went to the liquor cabinet and made herself a drink.
She was back on the sofa when a key turned in the lock. The door opened. Frank Corson came in, walked to her and stood looking down at her. There was misery in his face, a beaten look in his eyes.
"You knew I couldn't do it."
"Couldn't do what, sweet?"
"Walk out on you. I'm in love with you, goddamn it. If I stayed away tonight, I'd be back tomorrow."
Rhoda set her glass down and held out her arms. "Darling," she whispered. "You wouldn't have had to. I'd have been down in the Village after you."
He kissed her hungrily and she pressed her hand against the back of his head, holding his mouth tight to hers. His hand slipped inside her blouse. She laid her own hand on it and held it firm.
"It's for your own good, darling, that I want you to contact this Taber and demand what you're entitled to. You have a right to know. If you don't find out, there might be a policeman at your door, any minute of the day or night."
"I'll call him."
"And if he tells you it's none of your business, stand up to him."
She allowed his hand to go on with its exploring now. His finger touched her nipple, played with it. She closed her eyes as his mouth again sought hers. "Darling ..." she murmured.
But she was speaking to a man who had come from nowhere and had identified himself only as John Dennis. She had no number at which to call him. She could only wait until he returned again, if he ever did.
She thought: Oh, God, John Dennis. Why do you turn away from me? Why did you strip me naked and look at me as though I were a statue? Will you come back again? Please come back and make love to me.
She felt Frank Corson unsnapping her brassiere. She closed her eyes and lay back and waited, and for all the effect he had on her, Frank Corson could have been a statue.
At the last moment she insisted, "Remember, Frank, you've got to find out everything!"
The man had sallow skin; the look of a consumptive. He sat in a chair beside Crane's desk and dropped the ash from his cigar on Crane's wall-to-wall carpeting. Crane scowled, but let it pass.
"All right. Dorfman, what have you got to show for the money I've paid you?"
Dorfman, an old hand at confidential snooping, refused to quail before the much-publicized senatorial scowl. "It's tough putting on a hunt when you're not quite sure what you're after."
"I told you what I wanted. I wanted you to watch for any New York contacts Brent Taber might be using at the present time. That's simple enough, isn't it?"
"Taber contacts a lot of people. And he's a dangerous man to tail. He knows all the tricks."
"Are you telling me he caught you following him? If he did, you're no longer of any value to me."
"He didn't spot me," Dorfman said. "I followed him to New York and kept tabs on a Manhattan office, one he uses as his headquarters there."
"A directory check would tell me that."
"Take it easy. I staked out the place all day yesterday. Five men entered and left. Four were his own men."
Crane made a notation on a pad. He knew about those men. They'd been pulled off Taber's staff without notice. No doubt they'd made their last report to Taber and had headed back to Washington for reassignment. Dorfman would not know this, of course.
Or so Crane thought. Dorfman smiled as though he'd read Crane's mind and said, "I think Taber's losing his staff. They were government men—four of them—reporting in or out. My guess was out." He peered keenly at Crane for a moment. "Who's slicing away at Taber behind his back?"
"That's none of your—look here, Dorfman, I can get a better man than you at half the price!"
"No, you can't," Dorfman said easily. "Like I told you, there were five. The other one turned out to be a Doctor Frank Corson, an intern at Park Hill Hospital in Manhattan."
Crane made another quick notation. A Manhattan doctor. One of the androids had been found in the East River with its throat slit and a broken leg. Now a doctor had contacted Taber. Was there a connection? Somehow, Crane had to get on the track of the tenth android Taber was hunting. Cutting the ground out from under Taber had been a satisfying victory but it wasn't enough. To be of service to his electorate, Senator Crane realized, he had to have something tangible in the way of evidence. The only way to get this was to ferret out Taber's contacts and locate the tenth android himself, or at least be there when Taber located the creature.
A man of supreme confidence in his destiny, Crane had been working on the speech he would make when he was ready for the I accuse scene from the Senate floor. He had even gone so far as to alert a fashionable Washington hotel to be ready with a suite at a moment's notice. Crane felt his office would be far too small to handle the traffic that would result from his revelation.
It did not occur to Crane to compliment Dorfman on his skill as an operative, for getting the book so completely and swiftly on a casual visitor to Taber's office. He said, "You've got this doctor's address?"
Dorfman put a folded slip of paper on the desk. "Another little item I'll throw in as a bonus. Taber had another tail—here in Washington."
This disturbed Crane. Did he have competition in the matter of the android? Was someone else trying to get into the act?
"A New York free-lance photographer named King. I didn't have to check on him. I recognized him. He's been around Manhattan for years."
"A photographer. What do you suppose he's up to?"
"No way of telling, at the moment. Want me to switch to him?"
"No. Stay on Taber. There's more chance there."
Dorfman got up from his chair, stepping on the ashes as he did so and ground them into the rug. "Okay, I'll report tomorrow."
After Dorfman left, Crane pondered the situation. Were the Russians behind this? Somehow, he was beginning to doubt it. And this dismayed him somewhat. He was enough of a realist to know that even a possible invasion from outer space—if that talk hadn't been a cover-up—would not carry the power of a Russian plot.
A space invasion? Too science-fictional. It had been done by H. G. Wells and God knew how many other writers. Break a yarn like that and nobody would believe it. Still, if he could get his hands on the evidence.
He scowled as he contemplated the one stone wall he hadn't been able to penetrate. No connection he had, no contact, would reveal the secret laboratory where the dissection of the androids had taken place, or the specialist who'd done the job. Porter might give it to him in exchange for a guarantee of the hydroelectric post. But Crane suspected that even Porter did not have this information. The higher you went in these top-secret projects, the more silence and stubbornness you found. The men up above, it seemed, were never as open to discussion as were the lower-echelon eager beavers. They indulged in horse-trading and played politics to a certain extent, but the lines of demarcation were sharper. That was why he could get Taber discredited, even crippled. But knocking a man of his proven ability completely out was another matter. The men on the top floor measured a lot of evidence before they acted.
But the body of one of the androids—there should be a way—there had to be a way.
Suddenly Crane smiled. Then he chuckled. Then he took an address book out of his desk drawer and thumbed through the pages.
* * * * *
Frank Corson stared dejectedly at the carpet in Rhoda Kane's apartment. "I tried," he said. "I tried damned hard. But it just didn't do any good."
Rhoda sat beautifully poised, a picture of sophisticated perfection. She wore an obviously expensive costume featured by lounging slacks that could have been molded to her body. The afternoon sun glinted on a hairdo right out of Vogue or Harper's Bazaar. Her expression was distant; a look of impersonal pity showed on her face as she regarded Frank.
"Tell me about it, sweetie."
Frank cringed inwardly at the appellation. In Manhattan, everyone called everyone else sweetie.
"There wasn't much to it. I called Taber and then went down to see him. I told him exactly how I felt about things and demanded more information."
Rhoda frowned. "You demanded? Frank! I'm disappointed in you. The indignant citizen bit, I suppose. Don't you know how to talk to people? Your bedside manner must be tremendous."
"Rhoda! For God's sake!"
She brushed his anger away with a graceful, deprecating wave of her hand. "What did you say to him?"
"I was just telling you. I said that with a man killed in my room I had a right to some protection. I—"
"Protection! What did you do? Ask the man to hide you? Why didn't you get down on your knees and beg his pardon for living?"
Frustrated anger made Corson's lips tremble. "I did the best I could! I told him that if I couldn't find out from him what was going on, I'd go to the New York police. I told him I had a right to know about these androids."
"And he told you the only right you had was to drop dead, I suppose."
Frank Corson got to his feet. His face was stiff. His eyes were tortured. He ran a helpless hand along his jaw.
"All right, Rhoda. All right. If this is the way you want it, there's nothing I can do."
"What do you mean—the way I want it? All I've been trying to do is put a little courage into you? Didn't Taber tell you a thing about the androids?"
"He wasn't as brutal as I made it sound. In fact, he's a rather nice guy in a tough spot."
"I'm sure of that, but we couldn't care less. What did he say about the androids?"
A new, desperate wariness had been born in Frank Corson. He could take only so much and now he regarded Rhoda with a hostility of his own. "A short time ago you hooted the android idea. What changed you?"
"I use it as a term of identification! Good heavens! You act like a child. All I'm trying to do is get a little information—"
"For whom, Rhoda?"
He threw the question so suddenly it put Rhoda off balance. Quick fear flashed into her eyes. Then it vanished behind a wall of defiance.
"Are you out of your mind? Why would I have any interest in this mess except by way of protecting your interests?"
"My interests. I can remember not long ago when you'd have called them our interests."
"There you go again. Talking like a child!"
Frank crossed the room and stood close to Rhoda's chair. He looked down at her, and when he spoke there was a change in his manner. Now there was a finality in his tone that had ice in it.
"I don't know what this is all about, Rhoda, but I'm not as much of a child as you seem to think. Subjectiveness does make a person sound and act that way at times. This is a reflection of inner confusion and bewilderment. I'll admit I'm confused and bewildered. But I'm getting your message, too. I think you're telling me that whatever has happened to you is none of my business. Very well. You know where to find me if you need me."
He was walking toward the door, his back turned, so he did not see the mute appeal in Rhoda's face. "Frank—!"
He had opened the door and turned. "I'm sorry, Rhoda. I thought we had something. I'll admit I didn't handle it very well but I did my best."
He went out and closed the door softly behind him and was gone.
Pure tragedy ripped across Rhoda's eyes as she sprang to her feet, took several steps toward the door, and stopped. A wordless cry rose within her and came out as a miserable little kitten whimper.
But then she stiffened. The moment of panic passed. She straightened and touched a displaced lock of hair. The warmth of the new excitement she lived with gushed anew, and the bright, nervous smile touched her lips.
She went over, made herself a drink and went to the window. She looked down. He was out there somewhere, going about his mysterious business. The smile she thought of as soft and tender was really brittle and quite hard. She downed her drink thirstily as though it helped quench the fever in her throat.
She put the glass down and heard a whisper: "John, John, why don't you come to me? I'll help you. I'll understand. I'll teach you to make love. Let me help you, darling."
The whisper was her own and it ended in a sob.
* * * * *
Brent Taber was studying some reports on his desk. They were not sources of satisfaction in any sense. Most of them were memos noting changes in the departmental assignments of staff men: Due to unforeseen emergencies and the reassessment of current workloads it has become necessary to transfer from your subdepartment three ... two ... four ...
And so it went.
He sat back and closed his eyes. He was tired and he conceded it, which was a stark admission for Brent Taber. And he wondered: Was it worth it? Banging your head against a stone wall. It would be so easy to say, Okay, it's your world, too. If you aren't worried why should I bother? Maybe it's not worth it. Why not assume that if there is a superior race standing off somewhere in space, they're only a bunch of paper tigers and to hell with it. Or maybe they wish us only the best. Maybe—
The door opened. Marcia Holly pushed her head in. "Have you eaten anything today?"
"Get lost, sweetheart," Brent said absently.
"Maybe you look on eating as a bad habit, like sleeping, but it would be nice to avoid a breakdown and stay out of the hospital, too."
"You're such a pleasant person to have around, except when you get up off your chair and start making noises like a woman."
"Just to accommodate you, I'll change my sex. But right now, there's a man to see you."
"Tell him to go to hell but don't offend him."
"I think you ought to see him. He's got an official paper of some kind. You didn't steal a car or anything, did you?"
"I parked in the middle of an intersection, but I didn't think they'd mind." Brent Taber sighed. "All right. Send him in."
The man was small, ingrown and, as Brent Taber learned, somewhat stubborn.
"My name is Charles Blackwell," he said. "My brother has been lost for over two months now."
"I'm sorry," Brent said politely.
"My brother was a source of concern to us—"
"Who is us?"
"Why, the family. Who else? We all worried about Charlie. He had fits of depression. Kind of a maniac-depressive."
"Manic-depressive," Taber corrected gently.
"Yeah, that kind, ah—kind of. Well anyhow, he hides from us sometimes and we worry."
"Who sent you to me?"
Charles Blackwell waved a vague hand, "Oh, they told me you were the man to see."
"Tell me their names," Brent said politely. "I'd like to thank them personally."
"Oh that won't be necessary—not necessary at all. You see the thing is, my brother Jack has accidents sometimes and so we figured he might have broken a leg or something, maybe, and it seems you—well, you kind of turned out to be the man to see about it." Charles Blackwell waved the paper. "With this."
Good lord, Taber groaned inwardly. This thing is turning into a comic opera—plain slapstick.
"And why am I the man to see?"
"Because they said you knew about a man with a broken leg who got killed or something."
"They said that?"
"Uh-huh, and if you'd just let me see the man, I could tell in a jiffy whether he's Jack or not."
It had been a pretty long speech and Charles Blackwell seemed happy to get it off his chest. He felt he'd earned a cigarette so he lit one.
Brent Taber watched the match go out and then said, "You're the Goddamnedest phony I've met this week."
"They said you'd say that, but all I want is to see the man and then I'll know. I'll tell you in a jiffy if he's my brother."
Charles Blackwell gulped a throatful of smoke in disbelief. Evidently they'd told him it wouldn't be as easy as this. They must have told him it would be as hard as hell, because he stared at Brent as though the latter hadn't played fair.
Brent reached into a drawer and took out a glossy photo. He pushed it across the desk. Charles Blackwell craned his neck, looked, and saw what appeared to be a man lying naked on a marble slab with his throat cut.
Blackwell swallowed hard and nodded and said, "Yeah, that's Jack, all right."
"How do you know?"
"I can tell."
Charles Blackwell got a little indignant. "Of course, I can. Don't you think a man knows his own brother?"
"That depends on which man and what brother."
"I want the body of my relative," Charles Blackwell said.
"I'll see you in hell first," Brent Taber replied pleasantly. "Now get out of my office before I send for the man who uses the broom around here."
Charles Blackwell was more comfortable now—more confident. "That's what they told me you'd say, so they gave me this to bring. It's a court order signed by a judge who sits in a court and listens to people's beefs about getting pushed around and does something about it."
Brent Taber took the paper and peered at the signature. "It figures," he said softly. "It figures right down the line."
"He's a fine judge," Charles Blackwell said virtuously.
"He's a skunk. He'll sign anything there's a buck in, and sometimes he'll do it for fifty cents. He'd be a disgrace even to a park bench, and why they haven't caught up with him I'll never know."
"A fine man," Charles Blackwell said, "and the paper is as legal as—"
"Oh, it's legal all right."
Brent Taber lapsed into silence and Charles Blackwell seemed happy to allow him this privilege. All I need, Brent thought, is a court-defiance rap charged against me. Is that what Crane is trying to get? Did he expect me to throw this creep out of my office and leave myself wide open? Maybe, maybe not. If not, what is Crane after? He's certainly achieved his purpose in getting even with an upstart government appointee.
"Okay," Brent Taber said decisively. "You can have the body. Come with me."
He got up, put on his hat, and strode out through the reception room and into the corridor. Charles Blackwell came scuttling along behind. Brent ignored the elevators and went through a door marked Stairway and started down at a fast clip. Charles Blackwell came clopping along behind.
Six flights lower down, Blackwell gasped, "Why don't we use the el—elevator?"
Brent ignored him and went down seventeen more flights. Charles Blackwell was livid when they reached the bottom.
"For Christ sake—!"
Taber walked to the curb and dived out into traffic. Blackwell plunged out after him, horns snarling and general indignation ruling above the chaos.
They reached the opposite curb through some obscure miracle, with Blackwell hanging on grimly until Taber pushed a door open and plunged into a thick odor of formaldehyde.
"Have you still got that court order?" Taber asked as though hopeful of a negative answer.
Blackwell held it up triumphantly. A few minutes later, he was gaping down at a hasty reassembly of what had once been the ninth android.
He swallowed hard and said, "Nope. It ain't Jack."
"You're sure?" Taber said sarcastically. "It looks just like the picture.
"Not quite. Anyhow, it ain't Jack."
The mystified Dr. Entman eyed Taber quizzically. "What's this all about?"
Taber jerked a thumb in the direction of Blackwell. "The eleventh android," he said tersely, and strode out of the laboratory.
Dr. Entman shook his head sadly, certain that Taber had slipped a cog.
* * * * *
Charles Blackwell, a trifle ill from the smell of formaldehyde, stood on the corner, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes a man in a blue suit was standing beside him.
"I would like you to answer some questions for me," the man said.
Blackwell gulped and blinked. "Sorry, mister, I'm kind of a stranger here myself."
"That man you entered this building with—what business did you have with him?"
It should have occurred to Charles Blackwell that this was none of the stranger's business, but it didn't. That thought came later but, at the moment, as he looked into the man's oddly empty eyes, his question seemed entirely justified.
"Well, you see, my brother Jack bothers us, kind of. He gets manic-depressive spells."
"What did that have to do with Brent Taber?"
"We thought maybe my brother broke his leg and then dropped dead or—or something. Anyhow, I got this here court order—they gave it to me—and I showed it to Taber—"
"Who are they?"
Blackwell felt strangely excited. He felt as though this man were a friend, although he didn't know quite why.
"Well, you see I've been around a long time. I run errands and things for Senator Crane. I'm confidential to him, you understand, because I never talk. I always keep my mouth shut. So he trusts me and he gave me this here court order—"
"Who is Senator Crane?"
"You don't know Senator Crane? You new in this country maybe?"
"He is a government official?"
"He's elected to office. He's a United States Senator. Anyhow, Brent Taber showed me this here guy all cut up and I said it wasn't Jack and—well, that was that."
"What room did Brent Taber take you to?"
"The damn place smelled like a skunk factory."
"What room number?"
"Ten twenty-six—I think. Yeah, ten twenty-six it was, and I'm telling you, if you go in there, for Christ sake wear a gas mask. I damn near—"
But Charles Blackwell was talking to himself. The man had turned away abruptly and was now disappearing around the corner.
"I wonder what the hell he wanted?" Blackwell asked plaintively. Then he hailed a cab and went to report to Senator Crane.
* * * * *
The tenth android stood with his back to the window in Les King's room in Manhattan and said, "There is something I want you to do. If you are very careful, you will succeed. If you succeed, there is a great deal of money in it for you."
The fear that grew in Les King when they were apart, the uneasy feeling that maybe money wasn't the most important thing in the world, died automatically as John Dennis stared at him through those strangely empty eyes.
"Is it something I can handle?"
"Yes." Dennis handed King a folded slip of paper. "I have written down an address there. It is in Washington, D.C. I want you to enter those premises—that room—and find some reports that should be there."
"Reports on what?"
"It is a dissecting place of some kind. That's where the bodies of the androids are. The man who is doing it must have reports. There must be records that tell what was wrong with the androids. It must be put down somewhere why they died."
"Does it matter?"
"It is a matter of vital importance. There will be much money for you if you get those reports and give them to me."
"Who pays the money?"
"I will pay it to you if you get the reports."
The prospect was exciting to King. Later, there could be a story about how he got vital pictures of the project. His thinking had changed, but this did not seem odd to him. All thought of functioning in counterespionage against the Russians had moved into the back of his mind. He was in the game now for the money. Oh was it that? Maybe he was in it for the excitement. There was something in the man who called himself John Dennis that generated excitement. It was like living a melodrama. It tingled in the blood and took a man out of the drab world where every day was like the one before it.
"I'll try," Les King said.
"You will succeed."
"I will succeed."
Jesus! This man had a thing about him. He inspired you. When he looked at you with those weird eyes, you just knew you couldn't fail.
The doorbell rang. Rhoda Kane sprang up from the sofa and almost spilled her drink. She was halfway across the room before she realized she was almost running. She stopped. The hand that held the cocktail glass shook.
Resolutely, she steadied, crossed to the liquor cabinet, put down the glass, and went calmly to the door.
He stood there looking at her through those oddly empty eyes which, through some contradiction of all probability, warmed her.
He came in and closed the door, saying nothing. A touch of panic rippled through her. He was so silent, so unbending, so impersonal. Was this a reflection of her inability to communicate with him? Could their relationship fail because of this shortcoming on her part? What good was love if you couldn't communicate it to the loved one?
She moved into his arms and raised her lips. His arms went around her, but there was no pressure or affection in them. Their lips were an inch apart. Her urge was to give full rein to the heady happiness and excitement within her—to show her love in a kiss.
But she held off and, after a few moments, he drew, back, raised one hand and passed it through her hair. Not with affection, she thought, but rather with curiosity; almost as though he were preoccupied with its composition. He rolled a strand of hair between thumb and finger, testing it.
"It needs cutting," Rhoda said.
"Do you cut it?"
She laughed nervously. "You don't know much about women, do you."
"I know nothing about woman."
Trying to inject a gay note into her voice, she said, "We eat, we sleep, we—we're very functional, really."
He rubbed a finger down her cheek. He pressed the flesh on her neck and watched the muscle spring back as he withdrew his finger.
"Do that to me," he said.
Mystified, Rhoda pressed her finger against his neck until she could feel a pulse in his throat. She withdrew the finger. "Like that?"
"Did it leave a mark?"
"No. Is there something wrong? Do you have a sore throat?"
"My throat is not sore."
Rhoda's frustration was a pitiful thing. How could she get to him? How could she break through his shyness?
"I think you're afraid of me," she said lightly.
He did not answer. He took a backward step and regarded her for a moment with a frown. Then he began to unbutton her blouse.
Rhoda wanted to object. An instinctive protest caused her to draw back. His only reaction to this was to step forward and continue to unbutton her blouse. She wanted to resist but the fear of driving him away held her mute; that and something in his eyes that told of excitement, an unformed phantom of delight that had never materialized but still held sway over her through promise.
He stripped the blouse off. She wore no brassiere underneath, and he regarded her breasts somberly. He pressed a nipple with the tip of one finger and watched it spring back into place.
He ignored her. He pressed the nipple again and then found the zipper on the side of her slacks. He pulled it down and pushed the slacks down over her hips. She lifted each foot obediently.
He was on his knees now, running his fingers gently down her thighs. Rhoda trembled at the touch. Then she realized it was not love-making on his part—not in any sense. He was preoccupied with the fine hair on her skin. He studied it closely.
"I should have shaved my legs," Rhoda said uncertainly. He raised his head, the cold eyes trained into hers. "This hair grows, too?"
Rhoda caught her lower lip between her teeth. Tears were close to the surface.
This is crazy. This is utterly insane. I'm mad or he's mad. I don't know. I just don't know ...
The last garment was removed and she was naked there in the middle of the living room. He studied her body again, that passionless, preoccupied frown on his face. He drew her down onto the floor and, for a moment, the room spun around Rhoda, her emotional entrapment now the focal point, the eye of the storm that raged in her being. He went on with his minute inspection of her person.
No—no. Please don't. Please don't treat me like this. I'm a woman. Don't be contemptuous of me. Oh, no—please. Don't degrade and humiliate me like this.
There was sudden pain. Rhoda's body wrenched and heaved upward. With a sob, she sank back to the floor.
I must fight. I must not allow this. I must not let him do these cruel, degrading things to me. I must fight but I am afraid to. I am afraid he'll go away and never come back—and if he did that, there would be nothing left for me.
John Dennis seemed to become aware for the first time that certain manipulations caused reaction—the jerking of Rhoda's body and her involuntary cry of pain. He repeated the manipulation with his eyes on her face.
I cannot allow this. I must fight. I must resist. Oh, Rhoda Kane, what has happened to you? Frank, please help, help me. Frank—
But something seemed to flow out of John Dennis and into her mind and soul and spirit; something that made the flesh and what was done to the flesh unimportant.
The touch of John Dennis' hand brought fright as it foretold further pain and degradation. Rhoda sobbed inwardly and braced herself to withstand whatever was to come.
But it meant nothing.
* * * * *
The building was not for tourists. It wasn't like the Pentagon or the White House or any of the other historical or glamour symbols in Washington, D.C. It was on a side street, and while no one associated it with governmental activity, it was of a size and importance that justified a uniformed attendant in the lobby.
He was a hard-bitten old Irishman named Callahan, and nobody got past him without justification. Also, he was a man of robust hates and great loyalties; a man whom Brent Taber was honored to call friend.
He was also a man Brent Taber was waiting to hear from.
The call came late in the afternoon of the day following Charles Blackwell's search for his would-be brother. Taber picked up the phone.
"It's me—Callahan. He's here, Mr. Taber."
"Thanks. I'll be right over."
"And be hurrying right along if you want to get here in time. He's not one to be restrained indefinitely."
"Tell him the elevator's busted."
Brent Taber slammed the phone down and left. He used an elevator this time and went across town in a cab. Even then, he was almost too late. As he arrived at his destination, Senator Crane was protesting loudly.
"It's just plain stupidity. Elevators don't quit running for no reason. Find a burnt-out fuse. Do something! And do it quick or I'll phone somebody who will!"
"Well, I'll be blessed," Callahan said, completely crest-fallen. "It was the switch, Senator. The blessed switch was off."
"Well, turn it on and get me up to ten."
"Good afternoon, Senator."
Crane whirled. "Brent Taber!" He threw a quick scowl at Callahan and was on the verge of accusing the Irishman of high treason, but he said, "All right. I'm glad you're here, Taber. We might as well get this thing into the open. Are you going to take me to room ten twenty-six or do I have to take steps to force your co-operation?"
Taber stared morosely at Crane's nose. "Why, Senator, where did you get the idea my department wouldn't help a member of Congress to the utmost?"
"None of your sarcasm. Let's go upstairs."
"All right, Callahan. Let's go upstairs."
They got off on ten and walked down the corridor. "Ten twenty-eight, you said?"
"You know damned well what I said."
Taber opened the door. He stood aside. Crane walked in and stopped dead. He again whirled on Crane.
"That's right. I could have told you downstairs but you wouldn't have believed me. What were you looking for? New quarters?"
"Taber, I'll break you for this! If you think you can thwart the will of the United States Senate—"
"You've been doing a pretty good job of breaking already."
"I haven't even begun!"
"That still doesn't tell me what you thought you'd find."
"Quit being cute. This time yesterday there were cadavers in here. This was a laboratory!"
Brent looked wearily at his watch. "You're wrong, Senator. This place was vacated exactly an hour and fifteen minutes after your stooge used his court order to locate the cadavers."
"Then you admit you defied a court order—"
"Oh, come off of it. The court order said nothing about leaving things as they were. But that's not important. The important thing is that you give me some understanding and sympathy."
This obviously astounded Crane. "From you? That from the cocky, self-sufficient Brent Taber? That's a little different tune from the one you sang in your office, not too long ago."
"All right. I'll concede that. Let's say you've got me licked. I'll admit I should have reacted a little less arrogantly. My nerves were shot. I'd been up late too often. Now I'm ready to be reasonable."
Crane was scowling. "This isn't like you, Taber—not like you at all. I'm suspicious. Why are you suddenly so agreeable?"
"Because I believe the nation—the world—is in great danger. I think we should all realize that danger and work together."
"Then why have you been fighting me?"
"Because I honestly felt it was the best thing to do. I've changed my mind. I'm willing to tell you the whole story."
"I've heard the whole story. I—"
"Then it was you who had my office taped."
"Exactly. I'm not ashamed of it. When I'm fighting for my constituents I use every weapon at my command."
Brent Taber regarded Crane narrowly. "I underestimated your abilities, Senator. That was fast work. Twenty minutes after I refused you permission to attend that meeting, you had your man briefed and in action. It was the waiter who brought in the coffee, wasn't it?"
Before Crane could answer, Taber gestured and said, "Never mind. That's not important. You've heard the tape, so tell me—what do you want from me? How can I earn your co-operation?"
"Quite simply, Taber. By recognizing my authority as a United States Senator. By keeping me briefed on your progress against this terrible thing that menaces our people. By accepting my active co-operation in destroying it."
"What exactly do you mean by active?"
"Just what the word implies. Have the men on the senatorial committee you briefed been at all active in helping you?"
"Then what right have they to expect any rewards—shall we say?—for their efforts?"
"You may have a point."
"I believe in rewards where rewards are due."
"And you want—?"
"In plain terms, the right to association in the public mind with the effort to protect the nation."
"You want favorable publicity if and when this matter makes headlines?"
"Is that too much to ask?"
Brent Taber suddenly seemed lost and, in truth, he was wondering why in hell he'd approached Crane in this way. He felt ashamed for even considering the possibility of bending to the will of a windbag like Crane. Good Lord, he thought, I must be tired. I was on the point of playing the jellyfish.
Abruptly his voice sharpened. "I'm sorry, I can't promise you that."
"Taber, you're a fool! I'll get it anyhow. I told you I'd break you if you got in my way, and you've been almost discredited already. Don't you know when to quit?"
"Maybe that's my trouble, Senator. Maybe I'm bull-headed. Anyhow, right or wrong, I'll play out this string to the end. Good day—and I hope you enjoy your new offices."
* * * * *
An hour later, back at his own phone, Taber got a second call from Callahan. "There's another one."
"Another one? I don't follow you."
"A photographer from New York City. He's being real cagey, this one, but I know the breed. The kind that's so stupid-clever he outsmarts himself."
"What's he after?"
"Sounds to me like he wants the same thing as the Senator."
"Hmmm," Taber mused. "Those are mighty popular cadavers, aren't they, Callahan?"
"I'm blessed if they aren't."
"All right. You tell Mr. King—that is his name, isn't it?"
"You've got good eyesight—reading a blasted press card from clear across town."
"I'm clairvoyant, Callahan. Tell you what you do—give me fifteen minutes to make a phone call and then send him after the bodies."
"To the right place?"
"To the right place. And hold out for a good price. Get what the traffic will bear. I'd say maybe fifty dollars. Allow yourself to be bribed real good."
"I'll do that."
As with Rhoda Kane's mind, Les King's seemed to be divided into two sections. One of these kept him in a state of perpetual uneasiness at what the other was forcing him to do. He realized that venting your frustrations against bureaucrats was one thing, but actively engaging in dangerous snooping was quite another.
In the moments of uncertainty after John Dennis sent him to Washington, D.C. with orders to get his hands on certain data, Les King bolstered his courage by telling himself that, what the hell, he'd planned all along to go right ahead and dig out the complete android through whatever means possible. Therefore, meeting and teaming up with Dennis had been a big break.
The rationalization wasn't too comforting, though, because he knew he could never have gone ahead on his own. Also, he realized he and Dennis weren't a team at all. Dennis ordered; he obeyed. Still, the sense of excitement Dennis generated in him had its effect on the other part of his mind, and this was the stronger; this held sway. Somehow, there was the certainty that Dennis did not make mistakes; that everything would work out.
This conviction was jarred a little when he got past the lobby man in the Washington building—a feat easily accomplished—climbed ten flights of stairs, and found room ten twenty-eight empty. Obviously, Dennis had goofed.
King's first instinct was to retreat as quietly as he'd advanced; to get away from the place and report failure to Dennis. But as he went back downstairs, the thought of Dennis' disapproval began weighing more heavily. Maybe something unforeseen had happened. Maybe he could still pull this one out of the fire.
With this hope foremost in his mind, he went into the lobby, assumed a bold front, and demanded: "Where in the hell did the people in ten twenty-eight go?"
And the front worked. The lobby man, a big Irishman, was so impressed he didn't even ask King how he'd gotten into the building. He blinked politely and said, "Blessed if I'm not new here myself. This is my first day. What room was it?"
Then the big Irishman went to a phone to check, and came back with a Georgetown address written out on a slip of paper. Georgetown seemed like an unlikely place to find cadavers and, under normal conditions, King would have been highly suspicious of the whole thing. But what the hell? Nothing was normal about this project, so why not follow through?
King, you're crazy. You're out of your stupid mind.
He raised his hand and a cab cut in toward the curb.
When he arrived at the address, he found himself standing on the walk in front of a large, imposing house. The place still seemed unlikely but you never could tell. The way things were these days, any house in whatever neighborhood was a potential location for almost anything. The way this one was laid out, there could possibly have been a laboratory in the back. A narrow walk led in that direction and, instead of climbing the front steps, King followed it around the corner and found a basement door at the foot of a flight of steps.
He hesitated before ringing the bell. What kind of an approach would he use? The idea was to get inside and see the layout—spot the office, the file cabinets. The feature-story bit? It might work, but who the hell lived here? He'd checked the mailbox beside the front porch but there'd been no name.
Deciding he could only play it by ear, he pulled in his diaphragm and rang the bell.
The door opened quickly—too quickly, it seemed—and King realized he'd struck a pay lode in the myopic-looking little jerk who stood peering out at him. The guy wore a white laboratory coat with two bloodstains on it and was holding a scalpel in his hand.
"I'm Doctor Entman. Can I help you?"
Entman—Entman—for Christ sake. Oh, sure, a neurologist. Had to be the same guy. International authority. The Times once did a feature on his arrival at Idlewild. UN stuff.
"I'm King of the Herald Tribune," Les said, lying easily. "We're shaping up a feature on the more advanced neurological techniques—Sunday supplement material. They sent me down to see if you'd give us some of your views."
"I'd be delighted. Come in. Come in."
"I'm not imposing on your time, I hope."
"Not at all!"
The guy was almost too cordial, but what the hell? All their noses twitched at the smell of publicity.
Entman led him down a cement-floored corridor, the smell of formaldehyde thickening as they went, then into a small office with an open door, on the far side through which Les King was confronted with a frankly gruesome sight—a dissecting room with parts of cadavers lying around like orders in a meat packer's shipping room.
"Won't you sit down, please? There by the desk."
As Entman gestured, he noted King's reaction to the sight and the smell of the dissecting room.
"Just a moment. I'll close that door."
"No, don't bother, Doctor. I'd better get the authentic atmosphere. It makes a better story."
"I admire your courage, young man."
King pointed toward the room. "Something important?"
Then, to Les King's practiced eye, Entman proved it wasn't routine at all by entering the laboratory and gathering up a loose pile of notes lying there on a table. He seemed to momentarily forget King's presence as he went through the notes, sorted them carefully, and brought them back into the office.
King watched as Entman then deposited them in a small safe. He closed the safe but didn't lock it. Then he turned, beamed myopically at his visitor, and said, "Now I'm at your service, young man."
"Fine, Doctor. Now, this series we're planning will highlight modern techniques with an eye to illustrating ..."
While King asked questions and Entman answered, another part of King's mind was busy with the real problem at hand. Entman would, no doubt, lock the safe before he left the office. Burglary—a risk King was willing to take—would get him back into the office when no one was around, but how could he open the safe? Walking straight to the thing he was after had been fine. Having been put in a position to get to know what the notes looked like was another astounding piece of good fortune. All this, however, could turn out to mean nothing because he didn't know how to crack a safe.
He would have to report failure after being so close.
"As I said," Entman prattled on happily, "when I was at Johns Hopkins I—"
The desk phone rang. Entman picked it up, answered it and then hung up. "Would I impose if I asked you for a fifteen-minute break? Some people are calling that I must see—an appointment I forgot."
"Not at all," Les King assured him. "I'd like to do a little work on these notes to see if I left out anything."
"So good of you. Boring people, really. I'll get rid of them as soon as possible."
Entman left through an inner door and King was stunned by his good luck. He called it that even while experience and judgment shrieked warnings. This was too pat—too easy. Something was phony in the setup.
But he didn't even have to fight what common sense was telling him. He was too busy opening the safe, spreading the data out on the desktop, and using a small camera he carried in the side pocket of his jacket.
Then, he put the data back in the safe and felt the hot, excitement surge up through his body.
* * * * *
"I'm afraid I owe you a drink," Entman said ruefully.
"You were right. When I got back to the office, he was gone."
Brent Taber grinned, but only with his mouth—his eyes remained somber and weary. "The data was back in the safe?"
"Right where I put it. I'll swear it hadn't been moved."
"He was photographing it thirty seconds after you left."
"But how can you be sure?"
Brent Taber pulled at his ear and stared at a Renoir on the wall of Entman's drawing room without seeing it. "I can't, of course. We can't be sure of anything. It's all based on an idea you gave me."
"You told me the results of your research on the androids would be valuable to whoever built them—as a guide to perfecting androids that wouldn't die under earth conditions."
"That was obvious logic."
"And it ties in with another thought. A race of beings as advanced as these could take us over without trouble, it would seem."
"Quite true. Except—"
"Except that they themselves may not be able to exist on earth, either; no more so than we could exist on the moon without creating conditions favorable to our physical capabilities."
"So I'm betting that the ten androids were sent here on a trial-and-error basis, with the objective of perfecting them and creating an android army to move in and take us over."
"It's a thought, but with their power they could achieve the same result with less effort by pulverizing us. Or so it would seem to me."
"True, but maybe they don't want us pulverized; maybe they'd rather take over a working planet than a lot of rubble."
"All that follows logically," Entman admitted, "provided the original hypothesis is true—that they cannot invade us in person."
"Right. But I've got to start somewhere and hope I'm on the right track."
"One thing occurs to me. Eight of the androids died and one was killed. What if all ten had succumbed? How did they plan to get their data?"
"Who knows? I'm not saying the idea is foolproof. But a certain amount of risk had to be involved. If the ten died, they would have missed. Maybe they'd try again in that case. But they were lucky—one survived."
Entman was peering thoughtfully at nothing. "Your idea is bolstered by the fact that the androids were found all over the country. They could have been testing various climates."
"But it's weakened by the creatures being found in cities—the least likely places to escape detection. Why didn't they stay in isolated sections?"
Entman smiled. "I like the way you reach out for arguments against your own theory, but you reached too far for that one. If they'd done that, who would find the androids and do the research work?"
Brent Taber brightened. "You comfort me, Doctor. That little thread got lost in my maze. They wanted the creatures to be found. They didn't expect to fool us. Why else would the one in Chicago go brazenly into a tavern, start to drink and then get into an argument?"
"That's right. The argument must have been started deliberately." Entman beamed on Taber. "I think we deserve another Scotch."
Entman poured the drink. He looked kindly at Taber as he handed it to him, and made what seemed an abrupt change in subject. "They're giving you a very hard time, aren't they, son?"
Taber considered the question as he downed a healthy belt from the glass. "I guess you could call it that. I'm getting pretty unpopular in some places. As a matter of fact, I've wondered why you stick by me."
Entman poured himself a drink. "That hurts me a little, son."
"I'm sorry. It's getting so I don't even know how to treat a friend."
Entman raised his glass in salute. "I'm afraid this sentimental chit-chat doesn't become either of us. Let's go back to our friend from the Herald Tribune. You're sure he photographed the data?"
"I think we can depend on it."
"When I got your call, I acted as fast as I could. The data looks authentic, I'm sure, but it was a quick job of fiction. Now I'd like to know the rest—whatever you didn't have time to tell me."
"It's still a logic-chain, with some pretty flimsy strands in some places, but I'm afraid I'm stuck with it. King was greedy and hungry when I first talked to him, but I think I scared him off. I think, left to himself, he would have let the thing alone.
"So I was surprised when he showed up at the old location. My first thought was that Crane had sent him. It would have been logical—Crane sending a man to try and find out where we'd taken the cadavers he obviously wants to get his hands on.
"But I couldn't connect Crane with King. I couldn't figure how Crane could have known of King's existence." Taber paused to drink and grin his humorless grin. "So I made a daring leap. If it had to be someone else, why not the tenth android himself?"
Entman frowned as he toyed with the idea. "Why, good lord—!"
"You said yourself that the androids probably possessed extraordinary powers."
"All right. If we accept the need-of-data theory, which we have to, what would the tenth android be doing? Trying to get his hands on it. He could conceivably have made contact with King. King took a picture of the ninth android. Our still able and functioning number ten found his way to Doctor Corson's room in Greenwich Village and demolished number nine, for reasons of his own, so he could have made contact with King, put him under domination, and sent him after the data."
"How could he know where the data was?"
Taber shrugged. "I said there were some pretty weak strings in my logic. But it so shaped, as I saw it, where it would stand or smash on one point. If King had waited in your office for your return, I would have been forced to assume he was there on his own. But he left, so I'm going to figure he took what he came for—the bait you dangled under his nose."
"That brings up a question in my mind. If you're right, King will now make contact with the android, will he not?"
"I assume he will."
"And that will give you a chance to capture him and have the whole ten accounted for?"
"I don't want him until he sends the data back to whoever is waiting for it."
"You'd like to have them build their synthetic army on the specifications I made out?"
"I'd dearly love that."
"Do you know where to contact King again?"
"He's being tailed. They stripped me, but I still have two men left."
"You're being treated miserably!" Entman scowled. "I'm going to talk to some people about this. I refuse to allow—"
"Thanks, but not for a while. I've shaped my operation on a one-man basis. I'd be embarrassed if they relented. I wouldn't know what to do with all the men."
Entman's little eyes shone with affection. "I can only wish you good luck."
"Thanks. I'll need it."
"And one more thing I was wondering."
"Why do you suppose the tenth android killed the one in the Village?"
"Another case of taking one reason for want of a better one. I think it was his way of delivering the creature to us for research. He couldn't know for sure that we already had his 'brothers.'"
"You're right—you must be," Entman agreed.
"Small consolation. I'd like a few facts to go on for a change instead of having to depend on logic all the time," Taber growled.
"What are you referring to?"
"The data. I'm assuming, if that's what's important, that the tenth creature has a way of getting the stuff back up there."
"I can help a little on that," Entman said. "I can assure you that from what I've found in those brains, the data could, most likely, be sent mentally."
"You're sure of that?"
"I've found a certain part of those brains developed in a peculiar way—"
Taber smiled. "You're sure of that?"
"Well ... that's my theory. It would appear logical that—"
Taber leaned forward suddenly and extended his glass, the grin on his face showing some genuine humor. "Let's have another drink, Doctor. Then I'll go. I love the factual way this Scotch of yours hits my stomach."
Frank Corson entered the office of Wilson Maynard, Superintendent of Park Hill Hospital. Maynard looked out over the tops of his old-fashioned pince-nez glasses and said, "Oh, Doctor Corson. You phoned for a chat."
It was the rather pompous superintendent's way of saying he was happy to give Frank Corson a little time. He considered all the doctors and nurses at Park Hill his "boys and girls," and he did the "father" bit very well.
Maynard peered even harder. "You don't look well, Frank. Pale. You've been working too hard."
"Nothing important, Doctor Maynard."
"Sit down. Will you have a cigarette?"
"No, thank you. I just wanted to ask you about a transfer."
"A transfer!" This was amazing. "Aren't you happy at Park Hill?"
"I've been very happy."
Maynard went swiftly through a card file on his desk. "You have—let's see—five more months of internship. Then—"
"Then I'd planned to enter private practice. But something personal has come up and I think a change is for the best."
"I'm certainly sorry to hear that."
"One of the men I graduated with went to a hospital in a small Minnesota town. We've corresponded and he's given me a pretty clear picture—a nice town, a need for doctors and physicians—"
"But we need them here in the East, too."
"I realize that, and I'm making the move with some regret. But, frankly, New York City no longer appeals to me. I think perhaps a small hospital is more suited to my temperament."
"I'm certainly sorry to hear this, Corson. But I won't try to dissuade you. Normally, I might bring a little more personal pressure to bear, but I sense that your mind is made up. We're sorry to see you go, but the best of luck to you."
"Thank you, sir."
After Frank Corson left, Superintendent Maynard sorted a memo out of the pile on his desk. The memo concerned Frank Corson. Superintendent Maynard reread it and thought how well things usually worked out. Now it wouldn't be necessary to have that talk with Corson about sloppy work. Obviously there had been something on the young intern's mind for weeks now. Too bad. But let the Minnesota hospital, wherever it was, worry about the trouble and perhaps put Corson on the right track again.
He was their baby now.
Maynard took Corson's card from the files and wrote across it: Transfer approved with regret.
* * * * *
Brent Taber stood in the shelter of a doorway on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and watched an entrance across the street. He had been there for over an hour.
Another hour passed and Taber shifted from one aching foot to the other as a man in a blue suit emerged from the entrance and moved off down the street.
When the man had turned a corner, Taber crossed over and looked up at the brownstone. It was a perfect place to hide—one of the many rooming houses in the city where, if you paid your rent and kept your peace, no one cared who you were or where you came from.
Not even, Taber reflected, if you had been born in a laboratory and had come from someplace among the stars.
He climbed the steps of the brownstone and tried the knob. The door opened. He went inside and found himself in a drab, dark hall furnished with an umbrella stand, a worn carpet, and a table spread with mail.
There was a bell on the table. He tapped it and, after a lazy length of time, a shapeless woman came through a door on the right and regarded him with no great show of cordiality.
"Nothing vacant, mister. Everything I've got is rented."
"I wasn't looking for a room. I'm just doing a little checking."
"My license is okay," the woman said belligerently. "The place is clean and orderly."
"That's not what I'm checking about. There's been some counterfeit money passed in this neighborhood and we're trying to trace it down."
The woman had a pronounced mustache that quivered at this news. "Counterfeit! My roomers are honest."
"I'm sure they are. But some people carry counterfeit money without knowing it. Do they all pay in cash?"
"Only two of them."
"Men or women?"
"One girl—Katy Wynn."
"Where does she work?"
"Down in Wall Street."
"Not much chance we're interested. This money has been turning up around Times Square."
"The other's a man—quiet, no trouble, pays his rent right on the dot every week. John Dennis his name is and he doesn't look like no counterfeiter."