"You mean bugs have families and all, too?" Willy asked.
"Beetle 'families' are groupings of similar species of insects," Freddy explained. "Not actually kinfolk. For instance, this beetle is related to the Lytta vesicatoria of southern Europe, more commonly known as the--" Freddy glanced out of the corner of his eye at Oscar, hoping to shield the next bit of information from his perverted brain, and whispered the name.
Willy's eyes widened. "Hey, Oscar," he hollered, jumping up. "You hear what Freddy said? That bug I almost swatted's practically a Spanish Fly!"
"Which way'd he go?" Oscar squeaked, allowing his collection of stubs to scatter as he hopped around, looking on and under and behind the bench for the escaping insect.
"Hold it, hold it," Freddy commanded, trying to restore order. "I said it's like it, not IS it. It doesn't have what it takes, so skip it, huh?"
Willy and Oscar sat down again. "Freddy," Willy sighed with adoration, "how'd ya ever get so smart? I mean, bein' a bum and all?"
"I keep telling you guys; I went to nothing but the finest universities. Well, except toward the end, when I was getting desperate, I guess I wasn't so choosy."
"Aw, g'wan now, Freddy. Collitches cost money, and you're as poor as the rest of us. Bummin' for a cuppa coffee, and all the time talking about Yale, and Oxford, and Hah-vad."
"What would you say, Willy, if I told you that once I belonged to the richest family in Mississippi?"
"I'd say Mississippi was a pretty poor state," Willy said, and Oscar giggled.
"I once was Frederik Van Smelt, spoiled son of the wealthy shrimp and oyster scion. And there's nothing as bad, my father said, as spoiled Smelt. He disowned me, of course. I owned six Cadillacs--one right after the other, I wrecked them all. I traveled all over the world and probably counteracted a billion dollars' worth of foreign aid. I was kicked out of the best schools in the world."
"How come if you're so smart you flunked out of all them schools?" Oscar asked.
"Me? Flunked out? I never made less than an A in any course I took during my eight years at war with college. I was expelled from nine schools and barely escaped the highway patrol when I was bootlegging at Oklahoma University!"
"Freddy," Willy said, "you're lyin' like a dog, butcha make it sound s' real!"
Jones squirmed uncomfortably in his seat in the briefing room, phrasing and rephrasing his thoughts. It seemed that no matter which arrangement of words he chose, it still was going to be obvious that he'd flopped. He re-examined his fingernails and selected one which was still long enough to chew.
General Marcher concluded his current appraisal of the situation and began calling on the various individuals with whom certain phases of OPERATION SPACE CASE had been entrusted. Jones groaned as each arose and gave favorable progress reports.
"The pod is completed and has been tested, sir. It will by no means be plush, but it will be sufficiently comfortable even for the long voyage to Ganymede."
"The guidance system is perfected to the extent that we need."
"There are no further deceleration problems to be solved."
"The crash program has been approved for the two-way rocket; it is on the drawing board and current estimates are that the envoy can be brought back in three years."
"Ganymede has replied to our last message; a suitable artificial environment will be available for the envoy."
"Personnel Specialist Jones?"
Carlton gave his chin a final sweaty rub and slowly rose to his feet. "General Marcher, sir," he choked, "I'm ... we're ... experiencing a little difficulty finding a volunteer, so far--"
"Negative perspiration on that count, Jones," the Project Officer interrupted. "The draft has never been abolished; we can grab anyone you put your finger on! Now, who will it be?"
"Sir, it doesn't seem to be that so much as ... well ... sir, has any consideration been given to perhaps sending a delegation rather than a single envoy?"
The general smiled broadly. "Now, that is more like it! I take it you mean you have a number of equally-qualified persons who have expressed an intense desire to go to Ganymede, and there is no way to impartially select one of these men over the others? This is commendable. However, our space limitation clearly precludes sending more than one person. I'm afraid you will just have to make your choice from a hat."
Jones turned a trifle redder. "That's not exactly the problem, either, sir."
The general's smile wilted and became a frozen frown. "Just exactly what are you trying to say, Jones?"
"There's no one who can meet the qualifications, sir," Jones said, feeling sick at his stomach.
"Are you telling me that in the entire United States, there is not one person who has a basic understanding of the twenty-four major fields?"
"I'm afraid that's right, sir."
"See me after the briefing, Jones. I'm certain that the Foremost Personnel Specialist in the United States must have some further ideas on this matter."
Jones sank slowly back into his seat and covered his face with his hands. "I'm a goner," he whispered to himself. "Jones, you can be replaced."
Dwindle, sitting on his left, suddenly punched him vigorously in the ribs. "Say, Mr. Jones," he rattled, "I just thought of a great idea."
"Tell it to the general," Jones moaned. "Maybe then he'll realize what a handicap I've been working under."
"Hi ya, Freddy," Willy said, sitting down on the bench and helping himself to some peanuts. "Workin' a crossword puzzle?"
Freddy pocketed his pencil stub and laid aside the newspaper. "Naw, not this time. Just playing around with one of those 'We're looking for bright young men' ads."
"Freddy! Y'ain't thinkin' a gettin' a JOB?"
"Nothing like that," Freddy laughed. "Just, exercising my mind. Filling out one of those little tests they always have. Helps keep a fella sharp, you know."
"Yeh, I seen the kind. Like what has pictures and you're supposed to find things wrong in the picture like dames with beards and dogs with six feet?"
"Kinda like that, only this one's all written and is a little tougher. You're supposed to send the answers in and whoever has good answers gets to take a tougher test and whoever does good on that test gets the job. Probably selling neckties on the corner or something."
"No kiddin'. That what it says?"
"Just says 'handsome rewards,' but that's probably close to it."
"You gonna send it in?" Willy asked.
"Naw, I just fill 'em out for fun, like I said. Can you imagine me peddling neckties on the corner?"
"Then how d'ya know if you got the right answers?"
"Hell, I know the answers," Freddy bragged. "Like I said, this is just exercise. Mental gymnastics. Like this last one; it was pretty tough compared to most of them. Had some questions about things I hadn't even thought about since college, things I'd forgotten I knew. What good's an education if you forget what things you know?"
"That's why I never bothered," Willy agreed. "'Cause I never could remember things so good."
"No, Willy. You've got it all wrong. I still know it, I just didn't know I know it."
"Aw, Freddy," Willy said unhappily. "You're pullin' my leg again!"
"Suit yourself," Freddy smiled. "Hold down the bench for me, O.K.? I'll be right back."
Willy watched Freddy until he went into the little brick building in the center of the park, and then grabbed Freddy's newspaper and scampered over to Oscar's bench.
"Hey, you know how Freddy's always talkin' big about how much he knows," Willy said breathlessly. "I got an idea how to call his bluff. He filled out one of these tests and says he knows all the answers. Let's send it in and see if he's as smart as he says!"
"Yeh! That's great, Willy!" Then Oscar's face darkened. "Wonder where we can steal a stamp?"
"That was a pretty good idea of mine, about advertising in the paper, wasn't it, Mr. Jones?" Dwindle, America's Number One Personnel Specialist, asked his surly assistant.
Jones stared gloomily out the fourteenth story window into the park, where the local bums were loafing and sleeping and feeding peanuts to the pigeons. He was nauseated with the prospect of having to address his new boss as "Mr. Dwindle," and was toying with the idea of abandoning his specialty completely to join the ranks of the happy, carefree unemployed. He watched as two uniformed policemen approached one of the less wholesome-appearing characters.
"No, I don't suppose I could tolerate being in and out of jail every week on a vagrancy charge," he told himself. But then he smiled bitterly as he thought of the strange parallel between the policemen arresting the bum and other officials, elsewhere in the United States, tapping respectable citizens on the shoulder at this very moment.
"Dwindle, do you really think it was wise to issue warrants to arrest all those persons who scored perfect on the first test? How many did you say there were?"
"Only a hundred or so," Dwindle smiled sweetly. "And besides, they're not being arrested. General Marcher explained to you that they are being drafted into the service of the government. Honestly, sometimes I think you worry too much."
Jones turned back to the window, brooding over Dwindle's transformation. "Maybe so," he sighed, watching the newly-arrested vagrant pointing an accusing finger toward one of the other bums.
Willy strained and twisted, trying to reclaim his arm from the policeman's grip.
"Honest, you guys. I didn't know it was against the law. Aw, I figgered it was against the rules mebbe to send in somebody else's answers, but we wuz only makin' a joke, Oscar 'n' me. Oscar's the one who actual put it in the mailbox and stole the stamp! I bet he's the one you're after!"
"Now calm down, Willy," the beefy policeman coaxed. "No one's broken any law. Nobody's under arrest. We just want to chat a minute with whoever it was filled out that test."
"Yeh, Willy," the second policeman broke in, "if you didn't do it, and I believe you when you say you didn't, then who did?"
"What's it to ya?" Willy asked, his mouth twitching nervously.
The first policeman glanced at the second and then back at Willy. "Well, it's like this, Willy," he said. "Whoever filled out those answers got every one of them right. The people who run the contest want to meet the guy, see? And they asked us to help find him because we know you people better than anyone else does. See? That's all!"
"Yeh," said the second. "That's all. Now who did it?"
Willy stood with his jaw drooping for a moment. "You mean he got ever' last one of 'em right?" he asked. "Freddy was always braggin' about his brains, but me 'n' Oscar figgered he was makin' most of it up."
"Freddy who? Freddy the Fish you mean?"
"Yeh, Freddy." Willy perked up and turned toward Freddy's bench. "Hey, Freddy! Hey, you know that test you took in the newspaper that you didn't know I sent in? You won the contest or sumpin'! Hey, that's great!"
Jones and Dwindle watched the draftees file into the examination room.
"I still don't see how this is going to solve the problem," Jones frowned.
"I believe it will," Dwindle contradicted him. "Specialists in each of the major fields have been consulted, and each provided fifty questions."
"The hardest questions they could think up, I imagine."
"No, not at all. The purpose is to provide comprehensive coverage of each field. And each question is of the type that, if the examinee knows the answer, it can be reasonably assumed that he knows quite a bit in that particular phase of the field. For instance, if he knows what enzyme is associated with the stomach, he probably knows what enzyme is associated with the liver."
"I know one big problem you're going to run into," Jones sulked. "Just like the IBM cards. You're going to find one guy who clobbers the Electronics part of the test but completely busts out in History and everything else."
"I don't think so," Dwindle said. "The preliminary test will have taken care of that. It was designed so that, in order to answer every question right, a person would have to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of all twenty-four major fields."
As Jones was considering whether it would be better to slit his own throat or Dwindle's, General Marcher entered the room and approached.
"Excellent. Excellent," the general declared. "A very distinguished-looking group you've assembled here, Dwindle. Hello, Jones."
"Yes, sir," Dwindle said, "with the possible exception of the seedy chap in the rear."
Jones looked to the rear of the room, and his eyes bugged.
Freddy the Fish, clean-shaven but tattered, was alternately wetting the pencil lead in his mouth and eating peanuts.
"That's the bum who feeds sparrows in the park!" Jones gasped. "How did he get out of jail so quick? I saw a couple of policemen haul him off just a day or so ago."
"This is where they hauled him to," General Marcher said. "It just so happens that he answered every question right on the preliminary examination. He says his name's Freddy Smith, although I doubt that he could prove it."
"He says he never had a father," Dwindle added. "Says his family was too poor."
Jones stared at General Marcher, then stared at Dwindle, then turned and stared at Freddy the Fish, who had just left his seat and was ambling toward the trio.
"Looks like he's throwing in the towel," Jones, said happily. "He's bringing his paper with him."
"Maybe he just wants clarification on a question," Dwindle said.
"I'm all done," Freddy said. "Who gets this?"
"Go ahead, Dwindle," Carlton Jones smirked. "Grade the man's paper. He's all done."
Dwindle smiled uncertainly. "You're allowed all the time you need, Mr. Smith."
"Oh, that's O.K. I'm done."
Dwindle produced his red pencil and the answer sheet which had 1,200 small circles punched in it. He sat down, placed the key over the test paper, and began searching for white spaces showing through.