"Oh, that!" He smiled. "You're quite right, there aren't many unattached men over twenty-one any more, what with the barrage of government propaganda and their special tax deduction incentives. I assure you that it's nothing personal, however. My tastes are simply too rich."
"Your tastes?" It was her turn to arch an eyebrow.
"That's right. A lovely woman is a work of art, but like any other masterpiece, she is a luxury I can't afford. Anyway, this mug of mine rather put me out of the running in the only leagues I've wanted to play in. Incidentally, you introduced yourself as Miss Julie Stone, didn't you?"
"No, but it happens to be correct."
"What's your excuse?"
"For being single? I'm a career girl. I have my own modeling agency. Too busy for one thing. And I guess a woman gets bored looking at beautiful men in my business. Not a brain in a barnful. Just beautiful brawn and wavy hair. Ugh! Animals! Everyone of them."
"Young woman, that's sedition. Don't you believe the government propaganda?"
"If I did do you think I'd be here? No. Dr. Long, I find your arguments quite valid. America is in the hands of the feminists, all right, and it's the fault of several generations of mama's boys. I just can't get--"
She broke off as a heavy truck rolled by out front, back-firing heavily. They were both silhouetted in the open door. She glanced out, and suddenly she threw herself upon him, pulling him to the floor. He caught her in his arms as they cascaded into a tangle of limbs and nylon.
The racket faded off down the street, but Dr. Long's mind was not on the noise. The touch of this beautiful woman's flesh under his hands dominated his whole being. How different, how soft, incredibly soft!
Now she was clinging to him, trembling slightly and breathing deeply. Even at this range her pale hair looked natural. "Are you all right?" she asked at last.
"Of course," he said sitting up reluctantly. "It was only a truck back-firing."
"Look!" She pointed behind him at the wall opposite the door. A wavery line of small, deep holes cut across about heart-high. "I saw the gun-barrel stick out as the truck came up," she explained, untangling herself. "It appears your temporary immunity is over. They're getting active."
Long stared half-unbelieving at the mean, business-like little holes. With the reactions of a trained semanticist he relaxed instead of tensing up with fear. He had made his decision days ago, and he knew full well the risks he incurred.
"Thanks for nothing!" he said coldly.
Julie Stone looked up from straightening her dress and studied his lined face. "So you really were expecting an attack?" She shook her head in disgust. "I finally meet a man with some semblance of guts, and the only way he can think of to win his point is to let a goon squad spill them in the headlines!"
She threw herself into an armchair and crossed her knees. Long stood in the middle of the floor staring down at the woman he had held in his arms minutes ago, and his temples began throbbing. "What--what else is there to do?" he asked hoarsely. "This was my best chance to draw attention to the reality of our police state. I have much more to die for than to live for. This has been my life's work--gathering the facts and contriving to present them dramatically enough to attract national attention. My only fear was that they wouldn't come after me, and I might be written off as a crackpot."
"I regret," she intoned, "that I have but one life to give to my country!" Then her lip curled. "Very well, brainy, if that's the best you can think up. Let's make it better yet. How about this for a headline: Dr. Long and Lovely Model Murdered by Federal Hoods!"
"Are you insane?"
She shook her head. "I'm dead serious. I'm sticking right in the line of fire until you figure out a way to stay alive at a profit."
He argued, pleaded and even lost his temper, pulling her to her feet and trying to force her out the door. He didn't make it. Somehow his arms slipped too far around her, and she clamped herself to him in a defiant embrace. The soft warmth of her body, her sweet breath in his nostrils, the faint essence of her perfume enveloped him in a befuddling weakness.
Live at a profit? How could a man want to die with Julie Stone in his arms?
He knew it was supremely idiotic, but the thought of her fabulous form crumpled and riddled with bullets slashed at the tendons of his resolve, and he clutched her lips to his with the hunger of the condemned man he was.
"Julie, Julie! Why did you have to--"
"One bullet, a single bullet will do it now." Her lips peeled back from her white teeth. "Let's stay this way, darling. That's the way you want it."
Her low, black sedan nibbled at the 100-mile-per-hour limit on the Freeway as they crossed the state line. In the back seat, reclining out of sight, his head pillowed on his brief case full of his documented case against the Humanist Party, was a very thoughtful Dr. Hubert Long, recently of Mentioch University.
He had driven until dawn while Julie Stone slept, and now, after a brief nap, he was waking to some of the realities of the morning.
This flight was utterly absurd. When the federal people discovered he was not dead they would come after him again and again. All he had done was involve this lovely woman. Long since he had controlled fear for his own life, but now he knew the exquisite torment of fearing for the woman he loved.
The emotion was genuine and no less raging for its swift eruption in the space of a single evening. Dr. Hubert Long was hopelessly and deeply in love with Julie Stone.
"Quit worrying," she called back to him. "They couldn't have spotted my car. I parked it a block from your house, remember?"
"I hope you have a plan," Long muttered. "I certainly don't. Where are we heading?"
"Florida. To my brother's winter place. You know, I just had a thought. Tom and I are both on the board of regents of Toppinhout College down there, and there'll be an opening next quarter in the faculty. A professorship, in fact."
Long grunted. "No dice. They'll have every political scientist in the country under scrutiny for years."
"This is the chair of anthropology," she said. "We can change your name, and after this first excitement of your disappearance dies down--"
"But I don't want it to die down!" he objected.
"I thought we settled that. You've got to stay alive to talk to important people. Tom and I will round them up secretly, and you can present your case to them. My brother is the senior Senator, you know, and he's been itching to bolt the Humanist Party for the last two terms."
"What can I accomplish in secret conferences? The people are the ones who must be aroused."
"I know, I know, from a soapbox in Times Square, I suppose. Darling, you can't accomplish this alone. They've proved they are willing to take the chance of killing you, so they must be stronger than you think. Your facts must come to the attention of the right people. Over a period of time we can organize a truly effective underground."
"Toppinhout is a girls' college."
"I've never taught anthropology before."
"You've never been married before, either," she pointed out, "but I predict you'll be a success at both."
"Married?" Long popped his head up.
She smiled at him in the rear-view mirror. "Get your head down before you get it blown off. Yes, I said married. I'm not trusting that pug-ugly, beautiful mug of yours out of my sight from now on. And I'm afraid Tom will shoot you himself if you don't make it conventional. Tom's old-fashioned."
"But--I couldn't support you on--"
"A full professor's salary? Don't be foolish. Besides, I'm retiring from my agency. Selling out. That'll set us up housekeeping."
That such a prosaic term as "set us up housekeeping" should send molten lava racing through his veins, did not seem strange to Dr. Hubert Long. How could a man successfully keep his mind on dying when at last a work of art like Julie seemed within his reach? He knew that his plans were irrevocably changed.
Emily Bogarth turned to the phone speaker as her assistant made the circuit and signalled to her.
"On the Hubert Long mission--" the speaker said. "Mission accomplished from this end. I trust you have a likely story for the press?"
"Never mind that. Did it come off as planned?"
"Precisely. Your marksmen were quite effective."
Emily Bogarth sighed. "Sorry to sacrifice you, honey, but the other way is just too messy."
"Don't mention it. This chap has a very interesting mind. He's a challenge--in more ways than one. By the way, get word to Senator Stone, will you? Have him fly down to his winter home at once. He'll be needed. Some Party members, too."
"Of course. That's all set up. Good luck!"
"Thanks, but you can put your mind at rest. Dr. Hubert Long is positively liquidated."
Julie stepped from the phone booth and paid the service attendant for the gasoline. He looked at her as he dropped the change into her hand and wondered who the lucky chap in the back seat might be. A man would sell his soul for the right kind of a look from those green eyes.
By J. Francis McComas
Somebody was going to have to be left behind ... and who it would be was perfectly obvious....
Warden Halloran smiled slightly. "You expect to have criminals on Mars, then?" he asked. "Is that why you want me?"
"Of course we don't, sir!" snapped the lieutenant general. His name was Knox. "We need men of your administrative ability--"
"Pardon me, general," Lansing interposed smoothly, "I rather think we'd better give the warden a ... a more detailed picture, shall we say? We have been rather abrupt, you know."
"I'd be grateful if you would," Halloran said.
He watched the lanky civilian as Lansing puffed jerkily on his cigar. A long man, with a shock of black hair tumbling over a high, narrow forehead, Lansing had introduced himself as chairman of the project's coordinating committee ... whatever that was.
"Go ahead," grunted Knox. "But make it fast, doctor."
Lansing smiled at the warden, carefully placed his cigar in the ash tray before him and said, "We've been working on the ships night and day. Both the dust itself and its secondary effects are getter closer to us all the time. We've been so intent on the job--it's really been a race against time!--that only yesterday one of my young men remembered the Mountain State Penitentiary was well within our sphere of control."
"The country--what's left of it--has been split up into regions," the general said. "So many ships to each region."
"So," Lansing went on, "learning about you meant there was another batch of passengers to round up. And when I was told the warden was yourself--I know something of your career, Mr. Halloran--I was delighted. Frankly," he grinned at Knox, "we're long on military and scientific brass and short on people who can manage other people."
"I see." Halloran pressed a buzzer on his desk. "I think some of my associates ought to be in on this discussion."
"Discussion?" barked Knox. "Is there anything to discuss? We simply want you out of here in an hour--"
"Please, general!" the warden said quietly.
If the gray-clad man who entered the office at that moment heard the general's outburst, he gave no sign. He stood stiffly in front of the warden's big desk, a little to one side of the two visitors, and said, "Yes sir, Mr. Halloran?"
"Hello, Joe. Know where the captain is?"
"First afternoon inspection, sir." He cocked an eye at the clock on the wall behind Halloran. "Ought to be in the laundry about now."
The warden scribbled a few words on a small square of paper. "Ask him to come here at once, please. On your way, please stop in at the hospital and ask Dr. Slade to come along, too." He pushed the paper across the desk to the inmate. "There's your pass."
"Yes sir. Anything else, warden?" He stood, a small, square figure in neat gray shirt and pants, seemingly oblivious to the ill-concealed stares of the two visitors.
Halloran thought a moment, then said, "Yes ... I'd like to see Father Nelson and Rabbi Goldsmid, too."
"Uh, Father Nelson's up on the Row, sir. With Bert Doyle."
"Then we'll not bother him, of course. Just the others."
"Yes, sir. On the double."
Lansing slouched around in his chair and openly watched Joe Mario walk out. Then he turned back to Halloran and said, "That chap a ... a trusty, warden?"
"To a degree. Although we no longer use the term. We classify the inmates according to the amount of responsibility they can handle."
"I see. Ah--" he laughed embarrassedly, "this is the first time I've been in a prison. Mind telling me what his crime was?"
Halloran smiled gently. "We try to remember the man, Dr. Lansing, and not his crime." Then he relented. "Joe Mario was just a small-time crook who got mixed up in a bad murder."
"Aren't we wasting time?" growled the general. "Seems to me, warden, you could be ordering your people to pack up without any conference. You're in charge here, aren't you?"
Halloran raised his eyebrows. "In charge? Why, yes ... in the sense that I shape the final decisions. But all of my assistants contribute to such decisions. Further, we have an inmate's council that voices its opinion on certain of our problems here. And we--my associates and I--listen to them. Always."