Lee Gorman looked at the intercom on his desk as though it had snapped at him. "Who?" he barked. But there had been no mistake. Gorman sat in puzzled silence for a few moments. Then he said, "All right, show him in."
Joshua Lake entered the office with his hat in one hand and a briefcase in the other. He paused halfway to Gorman's desk. "You haven't changed much, Lee."
"You have," Gorman answered. "You look like the devil."
"I've been working hard." Joshua Lake covered the intervening distance and stood before the desk. Gorman surveyed him coldly--up and down. Joshua looked around the office as Gorman sat silent, not inviting him to sit down.
"You've done very well, Lee. This is the first time I've seen your plant."
"I've expanded a little since my basement days. You remember my basement days, don't you Joshua?"
Joshua winced. "Yes, I remember."
"And now you might tell me the purpose of this visit."
"I came to you because I need money."
Gorman's eyes snapped open--wide. He opened his mouth to speak. He failed, tightened his throat and tried again. "You came here after what?"
"Money. I'm broke, Lee. I haven't enough to meet my payroll."
"You expect me to bail you out--clean up your debts--put you clear?"
"I came after more than that. Merely bailing me out wouldn't help a bit. I need three hundred thousand to put my rocket in the air."
Gorman collapsed gently back into his chair like a balloon mercifully relieved of some of its content. When he spoke, it was with a slow, controlled viciousness. "I've heard of guts, Joshua. I've heard of gall--plain unmitigated nerve. But this tops anything--why, man, you threw me out! You robbed me! You left me standing in the street with a bookful of names and addresses under my arm--nothing more. Now you come here and ask for money!"
"I'm glad you've done well, Lee. There was nothing personal in what I did. I'm glad you've gone on to even bigger things than we would have achieved together."
"You're glad I've done well! Why, you pious hypocrite! I ought to have you thrown through the window instead of merely ordering you out!"
"There is no reason why I should expect any better treatment, Lee. But I had to come here. You were my last hope. I had to ask."
Joshua turned slowly from the desk. He had taken but three steps when Lee Gorman said, "Wait a minute. I'm curious. Are you really still at it--beating your brains out against that stone wall?"
"It's my dream, Lee. I've got to be the first man to put a rocket on the moon."
"But now you're broke--washed up. What's with the dream now?"
"I guess it's finished." Joshua turned and took another step; but Gorman was loath to let him go.
"Tell me," Gorman said. "What have you got in that briefcase?"
"Progress reports. Plans. I wanted to show them to you."
Gorman grinned. "All right. I've got a few minutes. Come and do it."
Joshua Lake retraced his steps. He sat down in a chair next to Gorman's desk. He laid his hat on the desk and snapped open the case.
"No," Gorman said. "Stand here by my elbow. The chair is for people I meet on even terms."
Joshua got obediently to his feet and placed himself as directed.
"And your hat," Gorman added. "You'd better hold that. You might forget it when you leave."
"Of course, Lee."
It was a ludicrous, pitiful sight but, withal, a grim note ran through the scene. Joshua supporting the case against his thigh, got out a sheaf of papers. "These are the progress reports to date. These, the projected plans."
"And when these plans are carried out you expect success?"
"Yes. Great foresight has been used. They will carry us through."
"And you expect me to loan you money on the strength of this--this day-dreaming on paper?"
"It's far more than that, Lee. You'll find the plans sound."
Lee Gorman didn't give a tinker's hoot for the plans. He was only enjoying an interview--a vengeance--he was loath to terminate. "You haven't even begun to show me what I'd need before I even considered loaning you a dime."
"I'll bring you anything you want."
"Even if I promise to turn you down after I've gone over it."
"You're calling the dance, Lee."
"All right--I'll call it. Bring me your payroll records; your cost sheets; the background reports on the key men in your organization."
"As soon as I can get them. I need some money immediately to meet my payroll."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"I'll be back this afternoon." Joshua was halfway out the door when Lee Gorman called. "And bring the deeds to your plant--the bills of sale to your machinery and equipment."
Joshua left and Lee Gorman sat motionless staring at the surface of his desk. There was a Mona Lisa smile on his rugged face.
"It's not worth it, Joshua," Myra said, hotly. "You won't be able to take his brow-beating and badgering day after day. And that's his intention. That's what he's giving you the money for--for the pleasure of humiliating you day after day."
"Of course, my dear. I'm fortunate that Lee is that kind of a man. He wants his revenge and he's willing to pay for it. I was hoping it would be that way--praying for it. It was my last weapon. The last weapon I had with which to beat the Moon."
A man and his dream....
"I want you to sign these papers, Joshua." Lee Gorman held out a pen and pushed the papers across the desk.
Joshua pushed the papers back, looked at them and smiled.
"Do you know what you signed?"
"A power of attorney, I believe. And I've signed the plant over to you. There is a large mortgage against it, however."
Lee Gorman sat back, narrowed his eyes as he looked at the wizened little man with the giant obsession. "Joshua, I think you've worked beyond your time. You've slipped your gears completely. Do you realize that with these papers I can put you in the street? That all I have to do is raise my hand and you're done?"
"I realize that, Lee."
"Then why on earth did you sign them?"
"I had no alternative."
"But what kind of an alternative is this? Giving away everything you've got?"
Joshua sighed. "You haven't raised your hand yet, Lee. I can surmount my difficulties only as I come to them. I'll think about that one when it gets here."
"Well--I've got news for you. The time to think about it is--" Gorman stopped in mid-sentence. He studied Joshua Lake for a long minute. Then he took a checkbook from his desk and wrote rapidly. "There's money to meet your payroll. The exact amount. Take it to the bank. Then, I want you in this office every day at four-thirty with a complete report of what's gone on. Don't overlook a thing. And bring any bills with you that want paying, together with material orders and projected costs. Is that clear?"
"I understand, Lee." At the door, Joshua Lake turned for a moment. "And--thank you--thank you very much."
After Joshua had left, Lee Gorman pondered one of those last words. If they contained any bitterness, it was well hidden. "A strange man," Gorman muttered. "A very strange man."
If that constituted a weak moment on the part of Lee Gorman, his dikes were repaired well in time to present a hostile front....
"This twelve thousand to American Chemical--what are you doing--running an experimental laboratory on the side. I won't pay it."
"I've never questioned Coving's judgment in these matters, Lee. He's done brilliant work for us. The man has to have materials to work with."
"Well, you certainly should have questioned him. He's been satisfying every whim of curiosity that pops into his mind. Send the stuff back."
"But that would be fatal to the project. The fuel must be power-charged to safely handle the weight and time quotients. Coving can't work with salt and baking soda."
"I don't care what he works with. Cut three thousand off that bill."
"Very well, Lee."
A man and his dream....
"This payroll's out of all reason. Cut fifteen men off immediately."
"I'll see what I can do."
"Cut fifteen men off immediately."
"Here's a check for the interest on the last note. Take it over to the bank."
Joshua Lake came and went as directed. He stood with his hat in his hand, took orders, carried them out. His shoulders drooped a little more; his face became more pinched; he retreated deeper and deeper into himself.
But as the days went on, his eyes brightened and there was a breathlessness in his expression when he turned his face to the sky.
Some three months after the day Joshua walked into Lee's office, the latter said, "The four men who are going with the rocket. You've selected them?"
"Yes. They're waiting for the day. It was a long slow process, selecting the best equipped men."
"Bring them here tomorrow afternoon."
"I'll check with them. If they all can't make it, would a later date--?"
"I said tomorrow. See to it they can make it."
Joshua brought the four young men to Lee Gorman's office the following day. Lee had a buffet table set up. He was the smiling, genial, expansive host. "Sit down gentlemen. I'm glad of this opportunity to meet you."
There were five chairs in the room. Gorman had already seated himself. The young men hesitated.
"Sit down, sit down."
They dropped into the chairs, glancing uneasily at Joshua Lake. Joshua turned and started toward the door.
"Don't go, Lake. I'm sure the boys would like a drink. You'll find the fixings on the buffet. Why don't you take their orders?"
The crowning insult, Joshua wondered. The last, crude insult? Lee Gorman's wounds must have been deep indeed. Joshua served drinks, brought sandwiches. Lee Gorman's geniality kept the awkwardness of the situation from bringing it to a complete standstill. "Well, Thursday is the day, I understand. How do you feel about it? Rocketing off into space. Becoming a part of the big tomorrow." Gorman's eyes caught those of Joshua Lake as he spoke the last sentence. There was laughter behind them.
The crew of the Moon rocket left shortly afterward. Joshua was the last to walk from the room. Just as he was going through the door, Lee Gorman whispered into his ear. "You can't be sure there'll be a rocket flight. I might stop it the last minute. I haven't made up my mind yet."
Joshua turned and looked at his tormentor in silence. The others had gone on down the hall. Gorman laughed and said, "I suppose that's a problem you'll face when you come to it?"
"Yes--when I come to it."
Alone in his office, Lee Gorman strode angrily to the buffet. With a sweep of his arm, he knocked a liquor bottle across the room. The motivation of the act was hard to determine, however, from Gorman's outward appearance. It could have been bitter disappointment or a fierce joy.
Joshua Lake walked into Lee Gorman's office, removed his hat and said, "With your permission, this is the day."
"It translates into 4:07 and 30 seconds, Greenwich time."
Gorman scowled. "I suppose you've arranged quite a party."