"Maybe he wanted to see you hang yourself."
"But I can only hang myself on facts, not on the paranoid ramblings of a sick old man. The horrible thing is that he probably believes it--he almost had me believing it, for a while. But it isn't true. He's wrong--good lord, he's got to be wrong." Dan broke off, staring across at Carl. He gulped the last of the coffee. "If he isn't wrong, then that's all, kiddies. The mountain sinks into the sea, with us just ten feet from the top of it."
"Well, would you walk into the Center for a Retread now without being sure he's wrong?"
"Of course I wouldn't," said Dan peevishly. "Paul has taken the game right out from under our noses. We've got to stop everything and find out now, before we do another damned thing." The Senator dragged a sheaf of yellow paper out of his breast pocket and spread it out on the table. "I worked it out on the way back. We've got a nasty job on our hands. More than we can possibly squeeze in before the Hearing come up on December 15th. So number one job is to shift the Hearings back again. I'll take care of that as soon as I can get McKenzie on the wire."
"What's your excuse going to be?" Jean wanted to know.
"Anything but the truth. McKenzie thinks I'm going to win the fight at the Hearings, and he wants to be on the right side of the toast when it's buttered. He'll shift the date back to February 15th. Okay, next step: we need a crew. A crowd that can do fast, accurate, hard work and not squeal if they don't sleep for a month or so. Tommy Sandborn should be in Washington--he can handle statistics for us. In addition, we need a couple of good sharp detectives. Jean?"
The girl nodded. "I can handle that end. It'll take some time getting them together, though."
"How much time?"
"Couple of days."
"Fine, we can have lots of work for them in a couple of days." The Senator turned back to Carl. "I want you to hit Starship Project first thing."
Carl shook his head. "I've got a better man for that job. Saw him last night, and he's dying for something to do. You don't know him--Terry Fisher. He'll know how to dig out what we want. He was doing it for five years on Mars."
"The alky?" Dan didn't like it. "We can't risk a slip to the teevies. We just don't dare."
"There won't be any slip. Terry jumped in the bottle to get away from Mars, that's all. He'll stay cold when it counts."
"Okay, if you say so. I want to see the setup there, too, but I want it ready for a quick scan. Get him down there this morning to soften things up and get it all out on the table for me. You'd better tackle the ad-men, then. Let's see--Tenner's Agency in Philly is a good place to start. Then hit Metro Insurance. Don't waste time with underlings, go to the top and wave my name around like an orange flag. They won't like it a damned bit, but they know I have the finger on Kornwall in Communications. We'll take his scalp if they don't play ball. All you'll have to do is convince them of that."
"What's on Kornwall?"
"Kornwall has been fronting for 'Moses' Tyndall for years. That's why Tyndall never bothered me too much, because we could get him through Kornwall any time we wanted to. And the ad-men and Metro have everything they own sunk into Tyndall's plans." Carl's frown still lingered. "Don't worry about it, son. It's okay."
"I think maybe you're underestimating John Tyndall."
"I worked for him once, remember? He doesn't like you. He knows it's going to be you or him, in the long haul, with nobody else involved. And you realize what happens if 'Moses' gets wind of this mess? Finds out what your brother told you, or even finds out that you're worried about something?"
Dan chewed his lip. "He could be a pain, couldn't he?"
"He sure could. More than a pain, and Kornwall wouldn't be much help after the news got out."
"Well, we'll have to take the risk, that's all. We'll have to be fast and quiet." He pushed aside his coffee cup as the phone blinker started in. "I think that gets us started. Jean, you'll keep somebody on the switchboard, and keep track of us all. When I get through with McKenzie, I may be leaving the country for a while. You'll have to be my ears, and cover for me. Yes, yes. I was calling Dwight McKenzie--"
The phonebox squawked for a moment or two.
"Hello, Dwight?--What? Oh, thunder! Well, where is he? Timagami--Ontario? An island!" He covered the speaker and growled, "He's gone moose-hunting." Then: "Okay, get me Eastern Sea-Jet Charter Service."
Five minutes later they walked out onto the street and split up in three different directions.
A long series of grey, flickering pictures, then, for Dan Fowler. A fast meal in the car to the Charter Service landing field. Morning sun swallowed up, sky gray, then almost black, temperature dropping, a grey drizzling rain. Cold. Wind carrying it across the open field in waves, slashing his cheeks with icy blades of water. Grey shape of the ski-plane ("Eight feet of snow up there, according to the IWB reports. Lake's frozen three feet thick. Going to be a rough ride, Senator"). Jean's quick kiss before he climbed up, the sharp worry in her eyes ("Got your pills, Dad? Try to sleep. Take it easy. Give me a call about anything--") (But there aren't any phones, the operator said. Better not tell her that. Why scare her any more? Damned heart, anyway). A wobbly takeoff that almost dumped his stomach in his lap, sent the briefcase flying across the cabin. Then rain, and grey-black nothing out through the mid-day view ports, heading north. Faster, faster, why can't you get this crate to move? Sorry, Senator. Nasty currents up here. Maybe we can try going higher-- Time! Paul had called it more precious than life, and now time flew screaming by in great deadly sweeps, like a black-winged buzzard. And through it all, weariness, tiredness that he had never felt before. Not years, not work. Weary body, yes--and time was running out, he should have rejuvenated years ago. But now--what if Paul were right?
Can't do it now. Not until Paul is wrong, a thousand times wrong. That was it, of course, that was the weariness that wasn't time-weariness or body-weariness. Just mind-weariness. Weariness at the thought of wasted work, the wasted years--a wasted life. Unless Paul is very wrong.
A snarl of disgust, a toggle switch snapped, a flickering teevie screen. Wonderful pickup these days. News of the World brought to you by Atomics International, the fuel to power the Starship--the President returned to Washington today after three-week vacation conference in Calcutta with Chinese and Indian dignitaries--full accord and a cordial ending to the meeting--American medical supplies to be made available--and on the home front, appropriations renewed for Antarctica Project, to bring solar energy into every home, Aviado was quoted as saying--huge Abolitionist rally last night in New Chicago as John 'Moses' Tyndall returned to that city to celebrate the fifteenth birthday of the movement that started there back in 2119--no violence reported as Tyndall lashed out at Senator Daniel Fowler's universal rejuvenation program--twenty-five hour work week hailed by Senator Rinehart of Alaska as a great progressive step for the American people--Senator Rinehart, chairman of the policy-making Criterion Committee held forth hope last night that rejuvenation techniques may increase the number of candidates to six hundred a year within five years--and now, news from the entertainment world-- Going down, then, into flurries of Northern snow, peering out at the whiter gloom below, a long stretch of white with blobs of black on either side, resolving into snow-laden black pines, a long flat lake-top of ice and snow. Taxi-ing down, engines roaring, sucking up snow into steam in the orange afterblast. And ahead, up from the lake, a black blot of a house, with orange window lights reflecting warmth and cheer against the wilderness outside-- Then Dwight McKenzie, peering out into the gloom, eyes widening in recognition, little mean eyes with streaks of fear through them, widening and then smiling, pumping his hand. "Dan! My god, I couldn't imagine--hardly ever see anybody up here, you know. Come in, come in, you must be half frozen. What's happened? Something torn loose down in Washington?" And more questions, fast, tumbling over each other, no answers wanted, talky-talk questions to cover surprise and fear and the one large question of why Dan Fowler should be dropping down out of the sky on him, which question he didn't think he wanted answered just yet-- * * * * *
A huge, rugged room, blazing fire in a mammoth fireplace at the end, moose heads, a rug of thick black bear hide. "Like to come up here a day or two ahead of the party, you know," McKenzie was saying. "Does a man good to commune with his soul once in a while. Do you like to hunt? You should join us, Dan. Libby and Donaldson will be up tomorrow with a couple of guides. We could find you an extra gun. They say hunting should be good this year--"
One chair against the fireplace, a book hastily thrown down beside it, SEXTRA SPECIAL, Cartoons by Kulp. Great book for soul-searching Senators. Things were all out of focus after the sudden change from the cold, but now Dan was beginning to see. One book, one chair, but two half-filled sherry glasses at the sideboard-- "Can't wait, Dwight, I have to get back to the city, but I couldn't find you down there, and they didn't know when you were coming back. I just wanted to let you know that I put you to all that trouble for nothing--we don't need the Hearing date in December, after all."
Wariness suddenly in McKenzie's eyes. "Well! Nice of you to think of it, Dan--but it wasn't really any trouble. No trouble at all. December 15th is fine, as a matter of fact, better than the February date would have been. Give the Committee a chance to collect itself during the Holidays, ha, ha."
"Well, it now seems that it wouldn't be so good for me, Dwight. I'd much prefer it to be changed back to the February date."
"Well, now." Pause. "Dan, we have to settle these things sooner or later, you know. I don't know whether we can do that now--"
"Don't know! Why not?"
The moose-hunter licked both lips, couldn't keep his eyes on Dan's eyes, focused on his nose instead,--as if the nose were really the important part of the conversation. "It isn't just me that makes these decisions, Dan. Other people have to be consulted. It's pretty late to catch them now, you know. It might be pretty hard to do that--"
No more smiles from Dan. "Now look--you make the calendar, and you can change it." Face getting red, getting angry--careful, Dan, those two sherry glasses, watch what you say--"I want it changed back. And I've got to know right now."
"But you told me you'd be all ready to roll by December 15th--"
To hell with caution--he had to have time. "Look, there's no reason you can't do it if you want to, Dwight. I'd consider it a personal favor--I repeat, a very large personal favor--if you'd make the arrangements. I won't forget it--" What did the swine want, an arm off at the roots?
"Sorry," said a voice from the rear door of the room. Walter Rinehart walked across to the sideboard. "You don't mind if I finish this, Dwight?"
A deep breath from McKenzie, like a sigh of relief. "Go right ahead, Walt. Sherry, Dan?"
"No, I don't think so." It was Walter, all right. Tall, upright, dignified Walter, fine shock of wavy hair that was white as the snow outside. Young-old lines on his face. Some men looked finer after rejuvenation, much finer than before. There had been a chilly look about Walter Rinehart's eyes before his first Retread. Not now. A fine man, like somebody's dear old grandfather. Just give him a chunk of wood to whittle and a jack-blade to whittle it with-- But inside, the mind was the same. Inside, no changes. Author of the Rinehart Criteria, the royal road to a self-perpetuating "immortal elite."
Dan turned his back on Rinehart and said to McKenzie: "I want the date changed."
"I--I can't do it, Dan." An inquiring glance at Rinehart, a faint smiling nod in return.
He knew he'd blundered then, blundered badly. McKenzie was afraid. McKenzie wanted another lifetime, one of these days. He'd decided that Rinehart would be the one who could give it to him. But worse, far worse: Rinehart knew now that something had happened, something was wrong. "What's the matter, Dan?" he said smoothly. "You need more time? Why? You had it before, and you were pretty eager to toss it up. Well, what's happened, Dan?"
That was all. Back against the wall. The thought of bluffing it through, swallowing the December 15th date and telling them to shove it flashed through his mind. He threw it out violently, his heart sinking. That was only a few more days. They had weeks of work ahead of them. They needed more time, they had to have it-- Rinehart was grinning confidently. "Of course I'd like to cooperate, Dan. Only I have some plans for the Hearings, too. You've been getting on people's nerves, down in the city. There's even been talk of reconsidering your rejuvenation permit--"
Your move, Dan. God, what a blunder! Why did you ever come up here? And every minute you stand there with your jaw sagging just tells Rinehart how tight he's got you--do something, anything-- There was a way. Would Carl understand it? Carl had begged him never to use it, ever, under any circumstances. And Carl had trusted him when he had said he wouldn't--but if Carl were standing here now, he'd say yes, go ahead, use it, wouldn't he? He'd have to-- "I want the Hearings on February 15th," Dan said to Rinehart.
"Sorry, Dan. We can't be tossing dates around like that. Unless you'd care to tell me why."
"Okay." Dan grabbed his hat angrily. "I'll make a formal request for the change tomorrow morning, and read it on the teevies. Then I'll also announce a feature attraction that the people can look forward to when the Hearing date comes. We weren't planning to use it, but I guess you'd like to have both barrels right in the face, so that's what we'll give you."
Walter Rinehart roared with laughter. "Another feature attraction? You do dig them up, don't you? Ken Armstrong's dead, you know."
"Peter Golden's widow isn't."
The smile faded on Rinehart's face. He looked suddenly like a man carved out of grey stone. Dan trembled, let the words sink in. "You didn't think anybody knew about that, did you, Walt? Sorry. We've got the story on Peter Golden. Took us quite a while to piece it together, but we did with the help of his son. Carl remembers his father before the accident, you see, quite well. His widow remembers him even before that. And we have some fascinating recordings that Peter Golden made when he applied for rejuvenation, and when he appealed the Committee's decisions. Some of the private interviews, too, Walter."
"I gave Peter Golden forty more years of life," Rinehart said.
"You crucified him," said Dan, bluntly.
There was silence, long silence. Then: "Are you selling?"
"I'm selling." Cut out my tongue, Carl, but I'm selling.
"How do I know you won't break it anyway?"
"You don't know. Except that I'm telling you I won't."
Rinehart soaked that in with the last gulp of sherry. Then he smashed the glass on the stone floor. "Change the date," he said to McKenzie. "Then throw this vermin out of here."
Back in the snow and darkness Dan tried to breathe again, and couldn't quite make it. He had to stop and rest twice going down to the plane. Then he was sick all the way back.
Early evening, as the plane dropped him off in New York Crater, and picked up another charter. Two cold eggs and some scalding coffee, eaten standing up at the airport counter. Great for the stomach, but there wasn't time to stop. Anyway, Dan's stomach wasn't in the mood for dim lights and pale wine, not just this minute. Questions howling through his mind. The knowledge that he had made the one Class A colossal blunder of his thirty years in politics, this last half-day. A miscalculation of a man! He should have known about McKenzie--at least suspected. McKenzie was getting old, he wanted a Retread, and wanted it badly. Before, he had planned to get it through Dan. Then something changed his mind, and he decided Rinehart would end up on top.
Armstrong's suicide, of course. Pretty good proof that even Rinehart hadn't known it was a suicide. If Carl had brought back evidence of murder, Dan would win, McKenzie thought. But evidence of suicide--it was shaky. Walt Rinehart has his hooks in too deep.
They piped down the fifteen minute warning for the Washington Jet. Dan gulped the last of his coffee, and found a visi-phone booth with a scrambler in working order. Two calls. The first one to Jean, to line up round-the-clock guards for Peter Golden's widow on Long Island. Jean couldn't keep surprise out of her voice. Dan grunted and didn't elaborate--just get them out there.
Then a call to locate Carl. He chewed his cigar nervously.
Two minutes of waiting while they called Carl from wherever he was. Then: "I just saw McKenzie. I found him hiding in Rhinehart's hip pocket."
"Jesus, Dan. We've got to have time."
"We've got it--but the price was very steep, son."
Silence then as Carl peered at him. Finally: "I see."
"If I hadn't been in such a hurry, if I'd only thought it out," Dan said miserably. "It was an awful error--and all mine, too."
"Well, don't go out and shoot yourself. I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. What about Mother?"
"She'll be perfectly safe. They won't get within a mile of her. Look, son--is Fisher doing all right?"
Carl nodded. "I talked to him an hour ago. He'll be ready for you by tomorrow night, he thinks."
"Sober. And mad. He's the right guy for the job." Worried lines deepened on Golden's forehead. "Everything's O.K.? Rinehart won't dare--"
"I scared him. He'd almost forgotten. Everything's fine." Dan rang off, scowling. He wished he was as sure as he sounded. Rinehart's back was to the wall, now. Dan wasn't too sure he liked it that way.
An hour later he was in Washington, and Jean was dragging him into the Volta. "If you don't sleep now, I'll have you put to sleep. Now shut up while I drive you home."
A soft bed, darkness, escape. When had he slept last? It was heaven.
He slept the clock around, which he had not intended, and caught the next night-jet to Las Vegas, which he had intended. There was some delay with the passenger list after he had gone aboard, a fight of some sort, and the jet took off four minutes late. Dan slept again, fitfully.
Somebody slid into the adjoining seat. "Well! Good old Dan Fowler!"
A gaunt, frantic-looking man, with skin like cracked parchment across his high cheekbones, and a pair of Carradine eyes looking down at Dan. If Death should walk in human flesh, Dan thought, it would look like John Tyndall.
"What do you want, 'Moses'?"
"Just dropped by to chat," said Tyndall. "You're heading for Las Vegas, eh? Why?"
Dan jerked, fumbled for the upright-button. "I like the climate out there. If you want to talk, talk and get it over with."
Tyndall lifted a narrow foot and gave the recline-button a sharp jab, dumping the Senator back against the seat. "You're onto something. I can smell it cooking, and I want my share, right now."
Dan stared into the gaunt face, and burst out laughing. He had never actually been so close to John Tyndall before, and he did not like the smell, which had brought on the laugh, but he knew all about Tyndall. More than Tyndall himself knew, probably. He could even remember the early rallies Tyndall had led, feeding on the fears and suspicions and nasty rumors grown up in the early days. It was evil, they had said. This was not God's way, this was Man's way, as evil as Man was evil. If God had wanted Man to live a thousand years, he would have given him such a body-- Or: They'll use it for a tool! Political football. They'll buy and sell with it. They'll make a cult of it, they're doing it right now! Look at Walter Rinehart. Did you hear about his scheme? To keep it down to five hundred a year? They'll make themselves a ruling class, an immortal elite, with Rinehart for their Black Pope. Better that nobody should have it-- Or: Immortality, huh? But what kind? You hear what happened to Harvey Tatum? That's right, the jet-car man, big business. He was one of their 'Noble Ten' they're always bragging about. But they say he had to have special drugs every night, that he had changed. That's right, if he didn't get these drugs, see, he'd go mad and try to suck blood and butcher up children--oh, they didn't dare publish it, had to put him out of the way quietly, but my brother-in-law was down in Lancaster one night when-- * * * * *
All it really needed was the man, and one day there was 'Moses' Tyndall. Leader of the New Crusade for God. Small, at first. But the ad-men began supporting him, broadcasting his rallies, playing him up big. Abolish rejuvenation, it's a blot against Man's immortal soul. Amen. Then the insurance people came along, with money. (The ad-men and the insurance people weren't too concerned about Man's immortal soul--they'd take their share now, thanks--but this didn't bother Tyndall too much. Misguided, but they were on God's side. He prayed for them.) So they gave Tyndall the first Abolitionist seat in the Senate, in 2124, just nine years ago, and the fight between Rinehart and Dan Fowler that was brewing even then had turned into a three-cornered fight-- * * * * *
Dan grinned up at Tyndall and said, "Go away, John. Don't bother me."
"You've got something," Tyndall snarled. "What is that damn shadow of yours nosing around Tenner's for? Why the sudden leaping interest in Nevada? Two trips in three days--what are you trying to track down?"
"Why on Earth should I tell you anything, Holy Man?"
The parchment face wrinkled unpleasantly. "Because it would be very smart, that's why. Rinehart's out of it, now. Washed up, finished, thanks to you. Now it's just you or me, one or the other. You're in the way, and you're going to be gotten out of the way when you've finished up Rinehart, because I'm going to start rolling them. Go along with me now and you won't get smashed, Dan."
"Get out of here," Dan snarled, sitting bolt upright. "You gave it to Carl Golden, a long time ago when he was with you, remember? Carl's my boy now--do you think I'll swallow the same bait?"
"You'd be smart if you did." The man leaned forward. "I'll let you in on a secret. I've just recently had a--vision, you might say. There are going to be riots and fires and shouting, around the time of the Hearings. People will be killed. Lots of people--spontaneous outbursts of passion, of course, the great voice of the people rising against the Abomination. And against you, Dan. A few Repeaters may be taken out and hanged, and then when you have won against Rinehart, you'll find people thinking that you're really a traitor--"
"Nobody will swallow that," Dan snapped.
"Just watch and see. I can still call it off, if you say so." He stood up quickly as Dan's face went purple. "New Chicago," he said smoothly. "Have to see a man here, and then get back to the Capitol. Happy hunting, Dan. You know where to reach me."