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We also walk dogs, p.3
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       We Also Walk Dogs, p.3

           Robert A. Heinlein
 
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  “He doesn’t mind—it’s business. But to get down to cases, Chief, there isn’t much to report. This will have to be a lefthanded job. In the ordinary way, it would take an earthquake to get anything out of that tomb.”

  “Don’t do anything that can’t be fixed!”

  “You know me, Chief. I won’t get you in trouble. But it will be expensive.”

  “Of course.”

  “That’s all for now. I’ll screen tomorrow.”

  She was a brunette again the next day. “What is this?” asked Clare. “A masquerade?”

  “I wasn’t the blonde he was weak for,” she explained, “but I found the one he was interested in.”

  “Did it work out?”

  “I think it will. Sance is having a facsimile integrated now. With luck, we’ll see you tomorrow.”

  They showed up the next day, apparently empty handed. “Well?” said Clare, “well?”

  “Seal the place up, Jay,” suggested Francis. “Then we’ll talk.” Clare flipped a switch controlling an interference shield which rendered his office somewhat more private than a coffin. “How about it?” he demanded. “Did you get it?”

  “Show it to him, Grace.”

  Grace turned her back, fumbled at her clothing for a moment, then turned around and placed it gently on the Chief’s desk.

  It was not that it was beautiful—it was beauty. Its subtle simple curve had no ornamentation, decoration would have sullied it. One spoke softly in its presence, for fear a sudden noise would shatter it.

  Clare reached out to touch it, then thought better of it and drew his hand back. But he bent his head over it and stared down into it. It was strangely hard to focus—to allocate—the bottom of the bowl. It seemed as if his sight sank deeper and ever deeper into it, as if he were drowning in a pool of light.

  He jerked up his head and blinked. “God,” he whispered, “God—I didn’t know such things existed.”

  He looked at Grace and looked away to Francis. Francis had tears in his eyes, or perhaps his own were blurred.

  “Look, Chief,’ said Francis. “Look—couldn’t we just keep it and call the whole thing off?”

  “There’s no use talking about it any longer,” said Francis wearily. “We can’t keep it, Chief. I shouldn’t have suggested it and you shouldn’t have listened to me. Let’s screen O’Neil.”

  “We might just wait another day before we do anything about it,” Clare ventured. His eyes returned yet again to the ‘Flower of Forgetfulness’.

  Grace shook her head. “No good. It will just be harder tomorrow. I know.” She walked decisively over to the stereo and manipulated the controls.

  O’Neil was annoyed at being disturbed and twice annoyed that they had used the emergency signal to call him to his disconnected screen.

  “What is this?’ he demanded. “What do you mean by disturbing a private citizen when he has disconnected? Speak up—and it had better be good, or, so help me, I’ll sue you!”

  “We want you to do a little job of work for us, Doctor,” Clare began evenly.

  “What!” O’Neil seemed almost too surprised to be angry. “Do you mean to stand there, sir, and tell me that you have invaded the privacy of my home to ask me to work for you?”

  “The pay will be satisfactory to you.”

  O’Neil seemed to be counting up to ten before answering. “Sir,” he said carefully, “there are men in the world who seem to think they can buy anything, or anybody. I grant you that they have much to go on in that belief. But I am not for sale. Since you seem to be one of those persons, I will do my best to make this interview expensive for you. You will hear from my attorneys. Good night!”

  “Wait a moment,” Clare said urgently. “I believe that you are interested in china—“

  “What if I am?”

  “Show it to him, Grace.” Grace brought the “Flower of Forgetfulness” up near the screen, handling it carefully, reverently. O’Neil said nothing. He leaned forward and stared. He seemed to be about to climb through the screen. “Where did you get it?” he said at last.

  “That doesn’t matter.”

  “I’ll buy it from you - at your own price.”

  “It’s not for sale. But you may have it—if we can reach an agreement.”

  O’Neil eyed him. “It’s stolen property.”

  “You’re mistaken. Nor will you find anyone to take an interest in such a charge. Now about this job—“

  O’Neil pulled his eyes away from the bowl. “What is it you wish me to do?”

  Clare explained the problem to him. When he had concluded O’Neil shook his head. “That’s ridiculous,” he said.

  “We have reason to feel that is theoretically possible.”

  “Oh, certainly! It’s theoretically possible to live forever, too. But no one has ever managed it.”

  “We think you can do it.”

  “Thank you for nothing. Say!” O’Neil stabbed a finger at him out of the screen. “You set that young pup Carson on me!”

  “He was acting under my orders.”

  “Then, sir, I do not like your manners.”

  “How about the job? And this?” Clare indicated the bowl. O’Neil gazed at it and chewed his whiskers. “Suppose,” he said, at last, “I make an honest attempt, to the full extent of my ability, to supply what you want—and I fail.”

  Clare shook his head. “We pay only for results. Oh, your salary, of course, but not this. This is a bonus in addition to your salary, if you are successful.”

  O’Neil seemed about to agree, then said suddenly, “You may be fooling me with a colorgraph. I can’t tell through this damned screen.”

  Clare shrugged. “Come and see for yourself.”

  “I shall. I will. Stay where you are. Where are you? Damn it, sir, what’s your name?”

  He came storming in two hours later. “You’ve tricked me! The ‘Flower’ is still in England. I’ve investigated. I’ll . . . I’ll punish you, sir, with my own two hands.”

  “See for yourself,” answered Clare. He stepped aside, so that his body no longer obscured O’Neil’s view of Clare’s desk top.

  They let him look. They respected his need for quiet and let him look. After a long time he turned to them, but did not speak.

  “Well?” asked Clare.

  “I’ll build your damned gadget,” he said huskily. “I figured out an approach on the way here.”

  Beaumont came in person to call the day before the first session of the conference. “Just a social call, Mr Clare,” he stated. “I simply wanted to express to you my personal appreciation for the work you have done. And to deliver this.” “This” turned out to be a draft on the Bank Central for the agreed fee. Clare accepted it, glanced at it, nodded, and placed it on his desk.

  “I take it, then,” he remarked, “that the Government is satisfied with the service rendered.”

  “That is putting it conservatively,” Beaumont assured him. “To be perfectly truthful, I did not think you could do so much. You seem to have thought of everything. The Callistan delegation is out now, riding around and seeing the sights in one of the little tanks you had prepared. They are delighted. Confidentially, I think we can depend on their vote in the coming sessions.”

  “Gravity shields working all right, eh?”

  “Perfectly. I stepped into their sightseeing tank before we turned it over to them. I was as light as the proverbial feather. Too light - I was very nearly spacesick.” He smiled in wry amusement. “I entered the Jovian apartments, too. That was quite another matter.”

  “Yes, it would be,” Clare agreed. “Two and a half times normal weight is oppressive to say the least.”

  “It’s a happy ending to a difficult task. I must be going. Oh, yes, one other little matter - I’ve discussed with Doctor O’Neil the possibility that the Administration may be interested in other uses for his new development. In order to simplify the matter it seems desirable that you provide me with a quitclaim to the O’Neil e
ffect from General Services.”

  Clare gazed thoughtfully at the “Weeping Buddha” and chewed his thumb. “No,” he said slowly, “no. I’m afraid that would be difficult.”

  “Why not?” asked Beaumont. “It avoids the necessity of adjudication and attendant waste of time. We are prepared to recognize your service and recompense you.”

  “Hmmm. I don’t believe you fully understand the situation, Mr Beaumont. There is a certain amount of open territory between our contract with Doctor O’Neil and your contract with us. You asked of us certain services and certain chattels with which to achieve that service. We provided them - for a fee. All done. But our contract with Doctor O’Neil made him a full-time employee for the period of his employment. His research results and the patents embodying them are the property of General Services.”

  “Really?” said Beaumont. “Doctor O’Neil has a different impression.”

  “Doctor O’Neil is mistaken. Seriously, Mr Beaumont - you asked us to develop a siege gun, figuratively speaking, to shoot a gnat. Did you expect us, as businessmen, to throw away the siege gun after one shot?”

  “No, I suppose not. What do you propose to do?”

  “We expect to exploit the gravity modulator commercially. I fancy we could get quite a good price for certain adaptations of it on Mars.”

  “Yes. Yes, I suppose you could. But to be brutally frank, Mr Clare, I am afraid that is impossible. it is a matter of imperative public policy that this development be limited to terrestrials. In fact, the administration would find it necessary to intervene and make it government monopoly.”

  “Have you considered how to keep O’Neil quiet?”

  “In view of the change in circumstances, no. What is your thought?”

  “A corporation, in which he would hold a block of stock and be president. One of our bright young men would be chairman of the board.” Clare thought of Carson. “There would be stock enough to go around,” he added, and watched Beaumont’s face.

  Beaumont ignored the bait. “I suppose that this corporation would be under contract to the Government - its sole customer?”

  “That is the idea.”

  “Mmmm . . . yes, it seems feasible. Perhaps I had better speak with Doctor O’Neil.”

  “Help yourself.”

  Beaumont got O’Neil on the screen and talked with him in low tones. Or, more properly, Beaumont’s tones were low. O’Neil displayed a tendency to blast the microphone. Clare sent for Francis and Grace and explained to them what had taken place.

  Beaumont turned away from the screen. “The Doctor wishes to speak with you, Mr Clare.”

  O’Neil looked at him frigidly. “What is this claptrap I’ve had to listen to, sir? What’s this about the O’Neil effect being your property?”

  “It was in your contract, Doctor. Don’t you recall?”

  “Contract! I never read the damned thing. But I can tell you this: I’ll take you to court. I’ll tie you in knots before I’ll let you make a fool of me that way.”

  “Just a moment, Doctor, please!” Clare soothed. “We have no desire to take advantage of a mere legal technicality, and no one disputes your interest. Let me outline what I had in mind - “ He ran rapidly over the plan. O’Neil listened, but his expression was still unmollified at the conclusion.

  “I’m not interested,” he said gruffly. “So far as I am concerned the Government can have the whole thing. And I’ll see to it.”

  “I had not mentioned one other condition,” added Clare.

  “Don’t bother.”

  “I must. This will be just a matter of agreement between gentlemen, but it is essential. You have custody of the ‘Flower of Forgetfulness’.”

  O’Neil was at once on guard. “What do you mean, ‘custody’. I own it. Understand me - own it.”

  “’Own it,’” repeated Clare. “Nevertheless, in return for the concessions we are making you with respect to your contract, we want something in return.”

  “What?” asked O’Neil. The mention of the bowl had upset his confidence.

  “You own it and you retain possession of it. But I want your word that I, or Mr Francis, or Miss Cormet, may come look at it from time to time - frequently.”

  O’Neil looked unbelieving. “You mean that you simply want to come to look at it?”

  “That’s all.”

  “Simply to enjoy it?”

  “That’s right.”

  O’Neil looked at him with new respect. “I did not understand you before, Mr Clare. I apologize. As for the corporation nonsense - do as you like. I don’t care. You and Mr Francis and Miss Cormet may come to see the ‘Flower’ whenever you like. You have my word.”

  “Thank you, Doctor O’Neil - for all of us.” He switched off as quickly as could be managed gracefully.

  Beaumont was looking at Clare with added respect, too. “I think,” he said, “that the next time I shall not interfere with your handling of the details. I’ll take my leave, Adieu, gentlemen - and Miss Cormet.”

  When the door had rolled down behind him Grace remarked, “That seems to polish it off.”

  “Yes,” said Clare. “We’ve ‘walked his dog’ for him; O’Neil has what he wants; Beaumont got what he wanted, and more besides.”

  “Just what is he after?”

  “I don’t know, but I suspect that he would like to be first president of the Solar System Federation, if and when there is such a thing. With the aces we have dumped in his lap, he might make it. Do you realize the potentialities of the O’Neil effect?”

  “Vaguely,” said Francis.

  “Have you thought about what it will do to space navigation? Or the possibilities it adds in the way of colonization? Or its recreational uses? There’s a fortune in that alone.”

  “What do we get out of it?”

  “What do we get out of it? Money, old son. Gobs and gobs of money. There’s always money in giving people what they want.” He glanced up at the Scottie dog trademark.

  “Money,” repeated Francis. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

  “Anyhow,” added Grace, “we can always go look at the ‘Flower’.”

 


 

  Robert A. Heinlein, We Also Walk Dogs

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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