"And do you know why? Because sometimes I see a thing like this--" the boss's hand reached into the desk and came out with a thick bundle of pink cards--"and I wonder if there's an honest man left in the world."
He put the cards in front of Colihan.
"Now, sir," said Moss. "Let's talk a little business. These cards are all pink. That means dismissal, right? That's twenty-four people fired in the last month, is that correct?"
"Yes, sir," said Colihan unhappily.
"And how many cards went through the Personnelovac this month?"
"So that's twenty-four out of forty. A batting average of--" The boss's brow puckered. "Well. Never mind. But that's quite an unusual record, wouldn't you say so?"
"Yes, sir, but--"
"So unusual that it would call for immediate ACTION, wouldn't it?" The President's face was now stormy.
"Yes, sir. But I checked the Brain--"
"Did you, Ralph?"
"Yes, sir. And the Maintainovac said it was perfect. There's nothing wrong with it."
"Nothing wrong? You call twenty-four firings out of forty nothing?" The old man stood up, still holding the core of his apple.
"Well, I don't understand it either, Mr. Moss." Colihan felt dew on his forehead. "Nothing seems to satisfy the Brain anymore. It seems to develop higher and higher standards, or something. Why, I'm not sure it wouldn't even fire--"
"WHO?" said Moss thunderously. "WHO wouldn't it even fire?"
The thunder hit Colihan squarely. He swallowed hard, and then managed to say: "Anybody, sir. Me, for instance."
The President's face suddenly relaxed.
"I'm no tyrant, my boy. You know that. I'm just doing a job, that's all."
"Of course, sir--"
"Well, all I want you to do is keep your eye on things. It could be a coincidence of course. That's the logical explanation." He narrowed his eyes. "What do you think, Ralph?"
"Me, sir?" said Ralph, wide-eyed. "I don't think, sir. I ACT, sir!"
"Good boy!" The boss chuckled and clapped his hand on Colihan's shoulder. Moss was momentarily satisfied.
The Personnelovac burped.
Colihan picked up the card with a groan. It was pink.
He walked over to the Action Chute and dropped it inside. As it fluttered down below, Colihan shook his head sadly. "Thirty-one," he said.
He placed the next personnel record into the Information chamber. He flipped the lever, and the Personnelovac, now hot with usage, winked, chittered, chortled, and chuckled with amazing speed. The burp was almost joyful as the card popped out. But Colihan's face was far from joyful as he picked it up.
"Thirty-two," he said.
The next card was from Grimswitch's department. It was Subject #52098. The number was familiar. Colihan decided to check the file.
"Sam Gilchrist," he said. "Couldn't be anything wrong with Sam. Why, he's a blinkin' genius!"
Flip. Wink. Chitter. Chortle. Chuckle. BURP!
"Poor Sam!" said Colihan.
He fed the other records through quickly.
At the end of the day, Colihan worked laboriously with a blunt-pointed pencil. It took him fifteen minutes for the simple calculation.
"Sixty-seven tests. Twenty-three okay. Forty-four--"
Colihan put his hands to his head. "What am I going to do?"
Grimswitch followed Colihan down the hall as he came out of the boss's office for the third time that week.
"Well!" he said fatuously. "Quite the teacher's pet, these days. Eh, Colihan?"
"Go away, Grimswitch."
"On the carpet, eh? Temper a little short? Don't worry." Grimswitch's beefy hand made unpleasant contact with the Personnel man's shoulder. "Your old friends won't let you down."
"Grimswitch, will you please let me alone?"
"Better watch that think-machine of yours," Grimswitch chuckled. "Might fire you next, old boy."
Colihan was glad when Morgan, the production operator, hailed Grimswitch away. But as he entered his own office, Grimswitch's words still troubled him. Grimswitch, he thought. That fat piece of garbage. That big blow-hard. That know-it-all.
Almost savagely, he picked up the day's personnel cards and flipped through them carelessly.
Grimswitch, that louse, he thought.
Then he had the Idea.
If Grimswitch was still chewing the fat with Morgan, then his secretary would be alone-- If he called her and asked for Grimswitch's record--no, better yet, got Miss Blanche to call-- Why not? he thought. After all, I am the Personnel Manager. Sure, it's a little irregular. He IS a department head. But it's my job, isn't it?
Colihan flipped the inter-com and proceeded to call Miss Blanche.
His hand shook as he placed Grimswitch's card into the Personnelovac.
The machine, though still heated by the day's activity, seemed to take longer than usual for its chittering, chuckling examination of the pin-holed facts on the record.
Finally, it gave a satisfied burp and proffered the result to Colihan's eager hand.
"Aha!" cried the personnel man gleefully.
He walked over to his desk, wrote a quick note on his memo pad, and placed both note and card into an envelope. He addressed it to: OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT. Then he dropped it into the Action Chute. When it was out of sight, he rubbed his hands together in happy anticipation.
When Miss Blanche announced that President Moss himself was in Colihan's outer lobby, the Personnel Manager spent a hasty minute in straightening up the paper debris on his desk.
The old man came striding into the room, exhibiting plenty of p-e-p, and he seated himself briskly on Colihan's sofa.
"Sharp eyes, Ralph," he said. "Sharp eyes and a quick wit. This business demands it. That was a sharp notion you had, doing a run-through on Grimswitch. Never trusted that back-slapping fellow."
Colihan looked pleased. "Trying to do a job, sir."
"Put your finger on it," said Moss. "Hit the nail on the head. It's just like my father said: 'Trees go dead on the top.' Colihan--" The boss leaned forward confidentially. "I've got an assignment for you. Big assignment."
"Yes, sir!" said Colihan eagerly.
"If Grimswitch is a sour apple, maybe other department heads are, too. And who knows? IT knows."
Moss pointed a finger at the Personnelovac.
"I'm rounding up all the aptitude records of the department heads. They'll be in your hands in the next couple of days. Feed 'em in! Root 'em out! Spot the deadwood, Colihan! ACT!"
"ACT!" echoed Colihan, his face flushed.
The old man got up and went over to the Brain.
"Marvelous machine," he said. "Honest. That's what I like about it."
As Moss went out the door, Colihan could have sworn he saw the Personnelovac wink. He walked over to it and fingered the lever. It was turned off, all right.
It was an interesting week for Colihan.
Morgan, the production man, was fired.
Grimswitch came up to see the Personnel man and tried to punch him in the nose. Fortunately, he was a little too drunk, and the blow went wild.
Seegrum, the Shipovac operator, was fired.
Douglas, the Treasurer, was permitted to keep his job, but the Personnelovac issued a dire threat if improvement wasn't rapidly forthcoming.
Wilson, the firm's oldest employee, was fired.
In fact, seven out of General Product's twelve department heads were greeted by the ominous pink card.
Colihan, no longer plagued by doubt, felt that life was definitely worth living. He smiled all the time. His memos were snappier than ever. His heels clicked merrily down the office hallways. He had p-e-p.
Then, the most obvious thing in the world happened--and Colihan just hadn't foreseen it.
His record card came up.
"Have you run through the stack yet?" Miss Blanche asked.
"Er--just about." Colihan looked at her guiltily. He pushed his glasses back on the bridge of his nose. "Couple more here," he said.
"Well, we might as well finish up. Mr. Moss would like to have the schedule completed this afternoon."
"It will be. That's all, Miss Blanche."
His secretary shrugged and left. Colihan went to the Personnelovac with the record in his hand. The file number was 630.
"Don't let me down," he told the Brain.
He placed the pin-holed card into the machine and flipped the lever. It winked, chittered, chortled, and chuckled with almost sinister softness. When the card was burped out at the other end, Colihan took it out with his eyes firmly shut.
He walked over to the Action Chute mechanically. His hand hesitated before he dropped it inside. Then he changed his mind, walked back to the desk, and tore the pink card into the smallest possible shreds.
The inter-com beeped.
"Mr. Moss wants you," said his secretary.