"Damned fool!" said Anderson. "Getting us into a riot." But a moment later Lindsay saw the senator swinging hard at an angry customer with a fist in which his wallet was still clenched. The man made a grab for it as someone else hit Anderson over the head with a plastic bottle. He dropped across a contour-chair, letting his wallet fall from unconscious fingers.
UW police formed a protective wall around them and Pat O'Ryan, recognizing Lindsay, said, "Thanks, Ambassador. I guess I owe you a couple. If my eyes hadn't gone bad on me...."
Lindsay was tempted to admit his guilt in that matter but decided against it. He had no desire to be caught in another riot. He picked up Anderson's wallet, put it back in the still unconscious senator's breast pocket. A white-clad interne was brought through the police cordon, knelt beside Anderson and began to make repairs.
"You'd better leave now, Ambassador," said one of the boss policeman respectfully to Lindsay when the senator had been carted away on a stretcher. Lindsay nodded. Then he noticed a slip of paper lying beneath the chair across which Anderson had fallen. It read: rec. 10,000 cdt. 1 em. & di. neck. It was from Zoffany, the jeweler.
"What the hell!" Lindsay discovered he was speaking aloud. He stuffed the paper in his pocket and followed the officer through a maze of underground passages out of the Colosseum. He still thought, What the hell! What could Nina have reported about him that was worth that sort of money to the senator?
Spy, slattern or not, Nina was efficient, as he realised when a bowing motley-clad waiter captain smilingly ushered him to a secluded table for two in a banquet niche of the Pelican. It was Lindsay's first visit to an Earthly after-dark cafe and he instinctively compared it with certain of its imitations in the comparatively small cities of his native planet.
It was sleeker, better run, far more beautiful. Its general color scheme was darkly opalescent, subtly glowing, flattering to its clients. And, of course, most of them needed flattering, at least to Lindsay's alien eyes. He noted here a pair of scimitar-shaped spectacles whose turquoise-studded rims caught the light like a pair of small lemon pies, there a harmopan-covered female face that glowed pale green in the darkness.
But even more numerous and decorative than at the stadium, the gladiators and courtesans were present, reinforced by a larding of vidar stars visiting or entertaining in the capital. And these, Lindsay admitted to himself with awed reluctance, outshone in sheer beauty and handsomeness any group of Martian humans.
They ought to, he thought. Direct descendants, figuratively if not actually, of the advertising-Hollywood beauty fetish of the previous century, they were selected almost from birth for their callings and trained rigorously from childhood on, the males to become athletes or actors, the females courtesans or actresses.
There was no race among them, for their only standards were beauty and physical fitness, no creed but achievement in their lines of individual entertainment. He caught sight of a lissome Euro-African, the classic exoticism of her flower-petal face illumined by joyous laughter beneath a glossy neo-Watusi hairdo, as she glided gracefully over the dance-floor in the arms of a hunch-harnessed and bespectacled partner.
The gladiators and courtesans alone seemed to find joy in living. Lindsay, who had seldom been unhappy in his active existence, felt his sympathies and heart go out to them. He followed the progress of a tiny Oriental model whose face was alive with good-humor as she swept past his table, her exquisite figure stressed by a glittering jeweled sheathe.
"You really should wear glasses--or else learn not to stare," said Maria, appearing from nowhere and sitting down at the table. She made amends by extending a warm soft hand to grip one of his. Though she wore her glasses and her hair was severely pulled back, he had no difficulty in recalling the fact that, unclothed, she was lovely.
"Why don't you get in on the act?" he suggested, nodding toward a pair of models emerging from the harmopan room. "All you'd have to do would be to remove your specs and harness and let your hair down."
"You're sweet, Zale," she said, pleased. Then, with a sigh, "But there's a lot more to it than that."
"You do all right that way too," he told her boldly.
She slapped the back of his hand and then, growing quickly serious, said, "Zale, I didn't ask you to meet me for that. I've got so much to ask you--so much to tell. Did you really find an assassin waiting for you when you got home last night? And did you kill him?"
"Yes and no," said Lindsay. "I did find one and I didn't kill him. In fact we parted good friends."
"You Martians...." She sighed, then said, "And I understand you have already broken two computers--this afternoon at the psychiatrist's and this evening at the Colosseum. It's the most marvelous news, darling. I've got to know how you did it."
"I'm damned if I know how I fouled up Dr. Craven's computer," he told her, "I'm still trying to figure it out."
Her face fell. She said, "I was hoping you had something.... But never mind." Then, brightening, "But you're driving them crazy. They ran Dr. Craven's results through Elsac late this afternoon and got the same answer. The records checked that you didn't kill your mother and I know you're not an invert." She laughed softly.
Spurred by the erotic atmosphere, plus the dizzying speed of recent events and Maria's nearness, he said, "Let's get out of here and go to my place."
Her hand covered his again atop the table. "I wish we could," she said wistfully. "I like you very much, Zale darling. But this is too important. We haven't time. But what about the tennis tonight? There's going to be an investigation, of course. Won't you tell me how you did it?"
"Not until I've figured out both," he said. "I may be on the track of something or it may be sheer chance. Until I understand what happened at Dr. Craven's I'm simply not sure of my facts."
"But there simply isn't time, darling," Maria told him. "This is really what I must talk to you about. We got word today that President Giovannini is going to unveil Giac any day now."
"Decided against your sabotage plan?" he asked her.
She wrinkled her pert little nose. "What's the use? They'd simply repair it. Besides, it's much too well guarded. Zale, you're our only hope now."
He said "If I'm right, and I'm beginning to hope I am, it won't matter whether Giac is unveiled or not. In fact, it might be more effective if it were."
Maria drummed on the table with nervous knuckles. "But you don't understand, Zale. You don't think for a minute that the Ministry of Computation is taking this lying down. I got word less than half an hour ago that they are preparing to force your recall as an unsuitable plenipotentiary."
"They can try." Lindsay spoke grimly. This was a move he had failed to foresee, though he supposed he should have. Inadvertently he was becoming a major threat to the crockery in the china shop that was Earth.
"They can do it," Maria said simply. "Zale, these people have become absolutely dependent upon their computers. They aren't going to let their entire creed be wrecked by one Martian."
"What do you want me to do?" he asked simply.
"Come with me--now," she said, once more gripping his hand. "A group of us want to talk to you, to find out how you have done it."
He looked at her, found her adorable in her earnestness. He said, "And if I play guinea pig with your friends, then you and I...?"
"Of course--as soon as there's time," she told him.
"You are a little bundle of fanaticism, as well as of sex," he told her. "I should think at least, since you seem to have such an inside track, you could manage to get my recall deferred."
"That's just it!" she exclaimed bitterly. "I see everything, I hear everything--yet I can do nothing. Papa thinks I'm merely a foolish female creature and his attitude blocks me at every turn." Lindsay realized again how fundamentally frustrated she was, wondered if she would ever find a completely satisfactory release.
Lindsay decided to play along. "All right," he said. "Shall we go?"
"Thanks, darling," she promised. "We'd better go separately. There will be a blue copter-cab waiting outside when you leave." She leaned across the table to brush his lips briefly with hers, squeezed his hand and glided off.
He wondered, while he waited for the check, just how foolhardly he was being, allowing himself to be summoned to a meeting of palace conspirators. It could very easily be a trap, whether Maria knew it or not. It could be a ruse to add fuel to the fire being lit under him for his recall as a legate persona non grata on Earth.
"You haven't forgotten our date, have you darling?" The voice was throatily reproachful above him and he looked up in surprise at a glittering female figure, who seemed to be clad entirely in blazing brilliants.
She was tall and blonde, her hair an ocean helmet of gold, sprinkled with gems. Her face was beautifully boned, with broad cheeks and forehead pierced by a decided widow's peak. Light green eyes slanted upward beneath brows like the wings of some tiny graceful bird. Nose, lips and chin gained fascination from the perfection they skirted but just escaped. Face, arms, upper bosom and shoulders wore the even tawny golden tan that only some blondes can achieve.
Her figure, ashimmer with gems, was lithe of waist, firmly full of breast and pelvis, moved with the enticing grace of an Indonesian temple dancer as she slipped into the seat Maria had so recently vacated.
"Sorry, your highness," he said with a look of honest admiration. "I didn't know we had a date."
"We have now," she stated. She laid a handbag solidly encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and rubies on the table, said to the dwarf waiter, "Bring me the usual, Joe--and give Ambassador Lindsay another of whatever he's drinking."
At any other time, Lindsay thought. He said, "I regret this more than you'll ever know, my dear, but I've got a copter-cab waiting for me outside."
"It will keep." The girl pouted prettily, then leaned toward him and said huskily, "We'll have just one here. Then we can go to my place. It's just outside of Biloxi, almost on the Gulf. We can watch the dawn come up over the water. We can--"
"Stop twisting my arm," said Lindsay, trying to keep his thoughts in focus. Who had sent this girl and why? And what, he wondered, awaited him in Biloxi.
He got up, tossed a twenty-credit note on the table. "This will pay the check," he informed her.
"Not so fast," said the houri, rising with him. Trying to ignore her, he headed toward the door as fast as he could.
She kept after him and his ears burned as he plunged out into the night, saw the blue copter-cab waiting with its door open at the curb. But when he tried to plunge toward it he was halted by an arm whose sharp-faceted jeweled adornments cut his adam's apple. He gasped but the girl got in front of him, waving her bag.
There was a faint popping noise as the door closed and the copter-cab swiftly and silently darted away. Stunned by the swiftness of events, Lindsay was utterly incapable of resistance when his decorative tormentor thrust him into another vehicle. As they took off he said, "I suppose this is the prelude to another assassination try."
"Night soil!" said a familiar voice. "What the hell do you think I just saved you from, boss?"
Lindsay uttered one word--a word which, he thought later, was singularly revealing as to his native flair for diplomacy. He said, briefly and succinctly, "Huh?"
"Listen, my fine unfeathered Martian friend." She sounded like a primary school teacher addressing an overgrown and somewhat backward pupil. "Somebody fired a glass bullet at you from that cab."
"How do you...?" he began helplessly.
For answer she turned on the copter-cab light, revealing the back of a uniformed chauffeur, and showed him her handbag. There was a slight tear in one side of its begemmed surface and, when she shook it, bits of glass fell to the floor. "Careful," she warned when he reached for the bag. "It was probably packed with poison." Then, "Can you think of a better shield than diamonds?"
He said, "Ulp!" Unquestionably, now that she had revealed herself, this glittering creature was his slovenly office Nina. Seeking desperately to recover what had at best been a shaky boss-secretary relationship, he said, "Where are you taking me?"
"Out of the city, boss," she informed him. "We really are going to my place in Biloxi. You're much too hot a property to be allowed to wander around loose. Two tries in less than twenty-four hours."
"Then Maria..." he said, wonderingly.
Nina picked his thought up crisply. "We don't know whether your little playmate put the finger on you consciously or not. But she did it. Some of that sweet little crew she pals around with are desperate. They don't believe they can lick the computers and their only hope is to foment incidents that will lead to an interplanetary war. Nice kids!"
"But why pick on me?" he asked. "From what Maria said tonight I'm their one hope of beating the machines."
Nina shook her head at him sadly. "And you're the best brain our Martian cousins could send us. Here it is in words of one syllable. Maria's mob wants war. They believe they can light the powder train by arranging the assassination of a Martian Plenipotentiary.
"Meanwhile your speech yesterday and your fouling up Doc Craven's computer this afternoon, and whatever you did at the tennis tonight, have the Computer crowd screaming for your recall before you upset their little red wagon." She paused, added, "Naturally Maria's crowd wants to have you killed before you become a mere private citizen of Mars. Once you're removed from office you aren't important enough to cause a war."
"Good God!" said Lindsay as the double pattern became apparent. Then, curiously, "And just whom do you represent, Nina?"
She eyed him steadily, mockingly for a moment. Then she said, "Let's just say for now that I represent the Model's Union. We don't want any wartime austerity wrecking our pitch. Will that do?"
"I guess it will have to," he said. Then, plucking a diamond-and-emerald necklace from among the half-dozen about her throat, "You certainly didn't give poor Anderson much for his money."
"Stop it!" she snapped. "Do you want my eyes to swell up again? In a way what happened tonight was all your fault. Fernando and I were going to keep close tabs on you but you fouled me up with your beastly remark about my business at Doc Craven's and then put poor Fernando out of commission by getting mixed up in that riot at the Colosseum. I barely made the Pelican in time."
He thought of giving Nina the receipt from Zoffany's in his pocket, decided not to take the chance. So he said, "Is Fernando working for the Model's Union too?"
"Stop trying to be funny," she told him. "Night soil! You make me so damned mad. Letting that little tramp Maria nail you."
"At the time there wasn't much alternative," he said. Then, eyeing her closely, "How come you're mixed up in UW politics? I thought models were strictly for fun and games."
Nina said matter-of-factly, "I won top model rating when I was seventeen. I still hold it and I'm twenty-six now. A girl can get tired of being and doing the same thing--even in my profession. Besides, I've got brains. So I try to use them."
"How come you decided to be my secretary?"
"We drew lots and I lost," she informed him.
The copter dropped by searchlight to a flagged terrace in front of a dark cottage just off the beach. "Thanks, Bob," said Nina. "Tell the boys to stand by with their guard beams up." Then, to Lindsay, "Come on, boss, let's get out of this heap."
She walked swiftly toward the cottage, pressed something. Soft lights came on, revealing a charming simulated wood dwelling in the fine antique Frank Lloyd Wright tradition. She ushered him into a delightfully gay bathroom looking out on the water, said, "Wait here while I get this armor off."
Lindsay felt a slight qualm as he considered what being a top model at seventeen must mean. And then he thought, Why not? Certainly he had no claim on Nina's morals. He doubted if anyone had a claim of any kind on her.
She emerged, looking unexpectedly like a young girl in simple clout and cup-bra, which exposed most of her gorgeously tanned body. Her hair, innocent of jewels like the rest of her, was clubbed back simply with some sort of clip. She lit a cigarette and said, "Now--how the hell are you fouling up the computers?"
"I'm not," he told her promptly. "At least not in the case of the tennis match. I just happened to know something about Pat O'Ryan the people who fed facts to the computer didn't."
"That goon Pat!" she said. "He's so damned dumb."
"You know him well?" he asked with a trace of jealousy.
"I know him." She dismissed it with a flick of her cigarette. "It's a good thing you knew judo too, boss. But what did you do to him that fouled up the match?"
"While he was out cold I gave him a shot of whiskey to bring him 'round," Lindsay told her. "He didn't know about it and I didn't tell him when he informed me about his grain-alcohol allergy. So for once the computer didn't get full facts. And I had them."
For the first time Lindsay basked in a smile of approval from Nina. She said, "And then you had to mess me up at Doc Craven's so I couldn't sit in on the match."
"I'm sorry about that," he said sincerely. "You might brief me so I don't do it again."
"Well...." She hesitated. "I don't want to set myself off. It's not uncommon among us--models. You see, we're proud of our careers, not like the two-credit whores who wear glasses and harnesses. And it hurts us when someone refers to our work as business. You see, there's nothing really commercial about it. So when you--"
"But how the devil was I to know you were a model?" he asked her.
"I know," she said illogically. "But it still made me mad." Then, frowning, "But if the computer was wrong because of incomplete knowledge at the Colosseum, what was wrong at Doc Craven's?"
Lindsay said, "I'm damned if I know."
"We've got to know, with the president ready to put Giac to work."
"I meant to tell you about that," said Lindsay.
"Don't worry," Nina informed him. "Your table at the Pelican was wired."
"Why are you against computers?" Lindsay asked her.
She dropped her smoke in a disposal-tray, said, "Never mind why--let's just accept the fact that I am. And not for Fernando Anderson's reason either. He just wants power."
"And what do you want?"
"Me?" Her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Why, I just want to have fun!" She extended her arms and flapped her hands like birds. Then, again reverting to seriousness, "I wish you'd tell me everything that went on at Doc Craven's yesterday. Dammit, his office wasn't wired."