Friday, p.33
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       Friday, p.33
 

           Robert A. Heinlein
All right, we go to Nairobi tomorrow. Today we write up the Black Death report for Gloria and for the Mortensons. Then get a full night’s sleep and leave. Uh, eleven hours time difference; try to get an early start. Then don’t worry about Janet and Co. until you get back from the Beanstalk with your mind made up about where to colonize. Then you can afford to spend your last gram in a flat-out attempt to find them…because Gloria Tomosawa will handle things once you tell her what planet you have picked.

  I actually did get a long night’s sleep.

  The next morning I had packed—same old jumpbag, nothing much in it—and was puttering around the kitchen, dumping some items and saving others with a note to my landlord, the leaseholder, when the terminal buzzed.

  It was the nice gal with the six-year-old boy at HyperSpace. “Glad I caught you,” she said. “My boss has a job for you.”

  (Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.) I waited.

  Fawcett’s silly face showed. “You claim to be a courier.”

  “I’m the best.”

  “In this case, you had better be. This is an off-planet job. Okay?”

  “Certainly.”

  “Take this down. Franklin Mosby, Finders, Inc., suite six hundred, Shipstone Building, Beverly Hills. Now hurry; he wants to interview you before noon.”

  I didn’t write down the address. “Mr. Fawcett, that costs you one kilobuck, plus round-trip tube fare. In advance.”

  “Huh? Ridiculous!”

  “Mr. Fawcett, I suspect that you may hold a grudge. It might strike you as funny to send me on a wild-goose chase and cause me to waste a day and the price of a round-trip fare to Los Angeles.”

  “Funny girl. Look, you can pick up your fare here at the office—after the interview; you’ve got to leave now. As for that kilobuck, shall I tell you what to do with it?”

  “Don’t bother. For master-at-arms I would expect only master-at-arms wages. But as courier… I am the best and if this man really does want the best, he will pay my interview fee without a second thought.” I added, “You’re not serious, Mr. Fawcett. Good-bye.” I cleared.

  He called back seven minutes later. He talked as if it hurt him. “Your round trip and the kilobuck will be at the station. But that kilobuck is against your salary and you pay it back if you don’t get the job. Either way, I get my commission.”

  “It will not be paid back under any circumstances, and you get no commission from me because I have not appointed you my agent. Perhaps you can collect something from Mosby but, if so, it does not come out of my salary or my interview fee. And I’m not going down to the station to wait around like a boy playing snipe hunt. If you mean business, you’ll send the money here.”

  “You’re impossible!” His face left the screen but he did not clear it. His assistant came on. “Look,” she said, “this job really does have heat behind it. Will you meet me at the station under the New Cortez? I’ll get there as fast as I can make it and I’ll have your fare and your fee.”

  “Certainly, dear. A pleasure.”

  I called my landlord, told him I was leaving the key in the refrigerator and be sure to salvage the food.

  What Fawcett did not know was that nothing could have induced me not to keep this appointment. The name and address was that which Boss had caused me to memorize just before he died. I had never done anything about it because he had not told me why he wanted me to memorize it. Now I would see.

  XXVIII

  All the sign on the door said was FINDERS, INC. and SPECIALISTS IN OFF-PLANET PROBLEMS. I went in and a live receptionist said to me, “They filled the job, dearie; I got it.”

  “I wonder how long you will keep it. I’m here by appointment to see Mr. Mosby.”

  She looked me over carefully, in no hurry. “Call girl?”

  “Thank you. Where do you get your hair dyed? Look, I’m sent here by HyperSpace Lines, Las Vegas office. Every second is costing your boss bruins. I’m Friday Jones. Announce me.”

  “You’re kidding.” She touched her console, spoke into a hushphone. I stretched my ears. “Frankie, there’s a floozie out here says she has an appointment with you. Claims to be from Hypo in Vegas.”

  “God damn it, I’ve told you not to call me that at work. Send her in.”

  “I don’t think she’s from Fawcett. Are you two-timing me?”

  “Shut up and send her in.”

  She pushed aside the hushphone. “Sit down over there. Mr. Mosby is in conference. I’ll let you know as soon as he is free.”

  “That isn’t what he told you.”

  “Huh? Since when do you know so much?”

  “He told you not to call him Frankie at work, and to send me in. You gave him some backtalk and he told you to shut up and to send me in. So I’m going in. Better announce me.”

  Mosby appeared to be about fifty trying to look thirty-five. He had an expensive tan, expensive clothes, a big, toothy smile, and cold eyes. He motioned me toward a visitor’s chair. “What took you so long? I told Fawcett I wanted to see you before noon.”

  I glanced at my finger, then at his desk clock. Twelve-oh-four. “I’ve come four hundred and fifty kilometers plus a crosstown shuttle since eleven o’clock. Shall I go back to Vegas and see if I can beat that time? Or shall we get down to business?”

  “I told Fawcett to see to it that you caught the ten o’clock. Oh, well. I understand you need a job.”

  “I’m not hungry. I was told that you needed a courier for an off-planet job.” I took out a copy of my brag sheet, handed it to him. “Here are my qualifications. Look it over and, if I am what you want, tell me about the job. I’ll listen and tell you whether or not I’m interested.”

  He glanced at the sheet. “The reports I have tell me that you are hungry.”

  “Only in that it is getting on toward lunchtime. My fee schedule is on that sheet. It is subject to negotiation—upwards.”

  “You’re pretty sure of yourself.” He looked again at my brag sheet. “How’s Kettle Belly these days?”

  “Who?”

  “It says here that you worked for System Enterprises. I asked you, ‘How is Kettle Belly?’ Kettle Belly Baldwin.”

  (Was this a test? Had everything since breakfast been carefully calculated to cause me to lose my temper? If so, the proper response would be not to lose my temper no matter what.) “The Chairman of System Enterprises was Dr. Hartley Baldwin. I’ve never heard him called Kettle Belly.”

  “I believe he does have some sort of a doctor’s degree. But everybody in the trade calls him Kettle Belly. I asked you how he is.”

  (Watch it, Friday!) “He’s dead.”

  “Yeah, I know. I wondered if you knew. In this business you get a lot of ringers. All right, let’s see this marsupial pouch of yours.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Look, I’m in a hurry. Show me your bellybutton.”

  (Just where did the leak occur? Uh—No, we killed that gang. All of them—or so Boss thought. Doesn’t mean it couldn’t have leaked from there before we killed them. No matter—it did leak…as Boss said it would.) “Frankie boy, if you want to play bellybuttons with me, I must warn you that the bleached blonde in your outer office is listening and almost certainly recording.”

  “Oh, she doesn’t listen. She has her instructions about that.”

  “Instructions she carries out the way she carries out your injunction not to call you Frankie during working hours. Look, Mr. Mosby, you started discussing classified matters under not-secure conditions. If you want her to be part of this conference, bring her in. If not, get her out of the circuit. But let’s have no more breaches of security.”

  He drummed on his desk, then got up very suddenly, went into his outer office. The door was not totally soundproof; I heard angry voices, muffled. He came back in, looking annoyed. “She’s gone to lunch. Now don’t give me any more guff. If you are who you say you are, Friday Jones, also known as Marjorie Baldwin, formerly a courier for Kettle—for Dr. Baldwin, managing director of Syst
em Enterprises, you have a pouch created by surgery back of your navel. Show it to me. Prove your identity.”

  I thought about it. A requirement that I prove my identity was not unreasonable. Fingerprint identification is a joke, at least inside the profession. Clearly the existence of my courier’s pouch was now a broached secret. It would never be useful again—except that right now it could be used to prove that I was me. I was I? It sounds silly either way. “Mr. Mosby, you paid a kilobuck to interview me.”

  “I certainly did! So far I’ve had nothing from you but static.”

  “I’m sorry. I’ve never been asked to show my trick bellybutton before, because up to recently it has been a closely held secret. Or so I thought. Evidently it is no longer a secret, since you know of it. That tells me that I can no longer use it for classified work. If the job you have for me requires the use of it, perhaps you had better reconsider. A secret just a little bit broached is like a girl just a little bit pregnant.”

  “Well…yes and no. Show me.”

  I showed him. I keep a smooth nylon sphere one centimeter in diameter in my pouch so that the pouch won’t shrink between jobs. I popped out the sphere, letting him watch, and then replaced it—then let him see that it was not possible to tell my navel from a normal navel. He studied it carefully. “It doesn’t hold very much.”

  “Maybe you would rather hire a kangaroo.”

  “It’s big enough for the purpose—barely. You’ll be carrying the most valuable cargo in the galaxy, but it won’t occupy much space. Zip up and adjust your clothing; we’re going to lunch and we mustn’t—must not—be late.”

  “What is all this?”

  “Tell you on the way. Hurry up.”

  A carriage was already waiting for us. Back of Beverly Hills, in the hills that name that town, is a very old hotel that is also very swank. It has the stink of money, an odor I don’t despise. Between fires and the Big Quake it has been rebuilt several times, always to look just as it did but (so I hear) the last time it was rebuilt to be totally fire- and earthquakeproof.

  It took about twenty minutes to drive, at a spanking trot, from the Shipstone Building to the hotel; Mosby used it to fill me in. “During this ride is about the only time that both of us can be sure that we don’t have an Ear planted on us—”

  (I wondered if he believed that. I could think of three obvious places for an Ear: my jumpbag, his pockets, and the cushions of the carriage. And there were always endless unobvious places. But it was his problem. I had no secrets. None, now that my bellybutton was a window to the world.)

  “—so let me talk fast. I’m meeting your price. Furthermore there will be a bonus on completed performance. The trip is from Earth to The Realm. That’s what you’re paid for; the trip back is deadhead but, since the round trip is four months, you’ll be paid for four months. You collect your bonus at the far end at the imperial capital. Salary—one month in advance, the rest as you go. Okay?”

  “Okay.” I had to avoid sounding too enthusiastic. A round trip to The Realm? My dear man, only yesterday I was anxious to make this trip at petty officer’s wages. “What about my expenses?”

  “You won’t have much in the way of expenses. Those luxury liners are all-expense deals.”

  “Gratuities, squeeze, groundside excursions, walking-around money, Bingo and such aboard ship—at a minimum such expenses are never less than twenty-five percent of the price of the ticket. If I’m going to pretend to be a rich tourist, I must behave like one. Is that my cover?”

  “Uh… Well, yes. All right, all right—nobody’s going to fuss if you spend a few thousand pretending to be Miss Rich Bitch. Keep track and bill us at the end.”

  “No. Advance the money, twenty-five percent of the ticket cost. I won’t keep records as it would not be in character; Miss Rich Bitch would not keep track of such trivia.”

  “All right already! Shut up and let me talk; we’ll soon be there. You’re a living artifact.”

  I had not felt that cold chill in quite a while. Then I braced up and resolved to make him pay heavily for that one crude, rude remark. “Are you being intentionally offensive?”

  “No, I’m not. Don’t get in a flutter. You and I know that an artificial person can’t be told, offhand, from a natural person. You’ll be carrying, in stasis, a modified human ovum. You will carry it in your navel pouch, where the constant temperature and the cushioning will protect the stasis. When you reach The Realm, you will catch a flu bug or some such and go to hospital. While you are in this hospital, what you are carrying will be transferred to where it will do the most good. You’ll be paid the bonus and will leave the hospital…with the happy knowledge that you have enabled a young couple to have a perfect baby when they were dead-certain, almost, to have a defective one. Christmas disease.”

  I decided that the story was mostly true. “The Dauphiness.”

  “What? Don’t be silly!”

  “And it is considerably more than Christmas disease, which, by itself, might be ignored in a royal person. The First Citizen himself is concerned with this since this time succession is passing through his daughter rather than through a son. This job is much more important and much more hazardous than you told me…so the price goes up.”

  That pair of beautiful bays went clopping on up Rodeo Drive another hundred meters before Mosby answered. “All right. God help you if you talk. You wouldn’t live long. We’ll increase the bonus. And—”

  “You’ll damn well double the bonus and deposit it to my account before we warp. This is the kind of a job where people grow forgetful after it’s over.”

  “Well—I’ll do what I can. We are about to have lunch with Mr. Sikmaa—and you are expected not to spot the fact that he is personal representative of The First Citizen with an interworld rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. Now straighten up and mind your table manners.”

  Four days later I was again minding my table manners at the right of the Captain of H. S. Forward. My name was now Miss Marjorie Friday and I was so offensively rich that I had been fetched up from groundside to Stationary Station in Mr. Sikmaa’s own antigrav yacht and whisked through into the Forward without having to bother with anything so plebeian as passport control, health, and so forth. My luggage had come aboard at the same time—box after box of expensive, stylish clothing, appropriate jewelry—but others took care of it; I did not have to bother with anything.

  Three of those days I had spent in Florida in what felt like a hospital but was (I knew!) a superbly equipped genetic engineering laboratory. I could infer which one it was but I kept my guesses to myself as speculation about anything was not encouraged. While I was there I was given the most thorough physical examination I have ever heard of. I did not know why they were checking my health in a style ordinarily reserved for heads of state and chairmen of multinationals but I presumed that they were jumpy about entrusting to anyone not in perfect health the protecting and delivering of an ovum that would become, in the course of years, First Citizen of the fabulously wealthy Realm. It was a good time to keep my mouth shut.

  Mr. Sikmaa used none of the sharpshooting that both Fawcett and Mosby had tried. Once he decided that I would do, he sent Mosby home and catered to me so lavishly that I had no need to dicker. Twenty-five percent for casual money?—not enough; make that fifty percent. Here it is; take it—in gold and in Luna City gold certificates—and, if you need more, just tell the purser and sign for it, a draft on me. No, we won’t use a written contract; this is not that sort of a mission—just tell me what you want and you shall have it. And here is a little booklet that tells you who you are and where you went to school and all the rest. You will have plenty of time in the next three days to memorize it and if you forget to burn it, don’t fret; the fibers are impregnated so that it self-destroys in the next three days—don’t be surprised if the pages are yellow and somewhat brittle on the fourth day.

  Mr. Sikmaa had thought of everything. Before we left Beverly H
ills, he brought a photographer in; she shot me from several angles, me dressed in a smile, in high heels, in low heels, in bare feet. When my luggage showed up in the Forward, every item fitted me perfectly, all the styles and colors suited me, and the clothes carried a spread of famous designer’s names from Italy, from Paris, from Bei-Jing, et al.

  I’m not used to haute couture and don’t know how to handle it, but Mr. Sikmaa had that covered, too. I was met at the airlock by a pretty little Oriental creature named Shizuko who told me that she was my personal maid. Since I had been bathing and dressing myself since I was five, I felt no need for a maid, but again it was time to roll with the blow.

  Shizuko conducted me to cabin BB (not quite big enough for a volley-ball court). Once there, it appeared that (in Shizuko’s opinion) there was just barely time enough to get me ready for dinner.

  With dinner three hours away this struck me as excessive. But she was firm and I was going along with whatever was suggested—I did not need a diagram to tell me that Mr. Sikmaa had planted her there.

  She bathed me. While this was going on, there was a sudden surge in the grav control as the ship warped away. Shizuko steadied me and kept it from being a wet disaster and did it so skillfully that she convinced me that she was used to warp ships. She didn’t look old enough.

  She spent a full hour on my hair and my face. In the past I had washed my face when it seemed to need it and styled my hair mostly by whacking it off enough to keep it out of way. I learned what a bumpkin I was. While Shizuko was reincarnating me as the Goddess of Love and Beauty the cabin’s little terminal chimed. Letters appeared on the screen while the same message extruded from the printout, an impudent tongue:

  The Master of HyperSpace Ship Forward

  Requests the Pleasure of the Company

  of Miss Marjorie Friday

  for Sherry and Bonhomie

  in the Captain’s Lounge

  at nineteen hundred hours

  regrets only

  I was surprised. Shizuko was not. She had already hung out and touched up a cocktail dress. It covered me completely and I have never been so indecently dressed.

 
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