The Complete Stories (Page 100)

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"Send to Earth, then. They stack agents like micro-pile units at Headquarters."

"This has got to be done before 11 p.m. What’s the matter? You haven’t got three hours?"

I grabbed my head. The boy just didn’t know. I said, "Let me make a call, will you?"

I stepped back into the booth, glared at him, and said, "Private!"

Flora shone on the screen again, like a mirage on an asteroid. She said, "Something wrong, Max? Don’t say something’s wrong. I canceled my other engagement."

I said, "Flora, baby, I’ll be there. I’ll be there. But something’s come up."

She asked the natural question in a hurt tone of voice and I said, "No. Not another girl. With you in the same town they don’t make any other girls. Females, maybe. Not girls. Baby! Honey!" (I had a wild impulse but hugging ‘vision screen is no pastime for a grown man.) "It’s business. Just hold on. It won’t take long."

She said, "All right," but she said it kind of like it was just enough not all right so that I got the shivers.

I stepped out of the booth and said, "All right, Rog, what kind of mess have you cooked up for me?"

We went into the spaceport bar and got us an insulated booth. He said, "The Antares Giant is coming in from Sirius in exactly half an hour; at 8 p.m. local time."

"Okay."

"Three men will get out, among others, and will wait for the Space Eater coming in from Earth at 11 p.m. and leaving for Capella some time thereafter. The three men will get on the Space Eater and will then be out of our jurisdiction."

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"So."

"So between 8:00 and 11:00, they will be in a special waiting room and you will be with them. I have a trimensional image of each for you so you’ll know which they are and which is which. You have between 8:00 and 11:00 to decide which one of the three is carrying contraband."

"What kind of contraband?"

"The worst kind. Altered Spaceoline."

"Altered Spaceoline?"

He had thrown me. I knew what Spaceoline was. If you’ve been on a space-hop you know, too. And in case you’re Earth-bound yourself the bare fact is that everyone needs it on the first space-trip; almost everybody needs it for the first dozen trips; lots need it every trip. Without it, there is vertigo associated with free fall, screaming terrors, semi-permanent psychoses. With it, there is nothing; no one minds a thing. And it isn’t habit-forming; it has no adverse side-effects. Spaceoline is ideal, essential, unsubstitutable. When in doubt, take Spaceoline.

Rog said, "That’s right, altered Spaceoline. It can be changed chemically by a very simple reaction that can be conducted in anyone’s basement into a drug that will give one giant-size charge and become your baby-blue habit the first time. It is on a par with the most dangerous alkaloids we know."

"And we just found out about it?"

"No. The Service has known about it for years, and we’ve kept others from knowing by squashing every discovery flat. Only now the discovery has gone too far."

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"In what way?"

"One of the men who will be stopping over at this spaceport is carrying some of the altered Spaceoline on his person. Chemists in the Capellan system, which is outside the Federation, will analyze it and set up ways of synthesizing more. After that, it’s either fight the worst drug menace we’ve ever seen or suppress the matter by suppressing the source."

"You mean Spaceoline."

"Right. And if we suppress Spaceoline, we suppress space travel."

I decided to put my finger on the point. "Which one of the three has it?"

Rog smiled nastily, "If we knew, would we need you? You’re to find out which of the three."

"You’re calling on me for a lousy frisk job."

"Touch the wrong one at the risk of a haircut down to the larynx. Every one of the three is a big man on his own planet. One is Edward Harponaster; one is Joaquin Lipsky; and one is Andiamo Ferrucci. Well?"

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He was right. I’d heard of every one of them. Chances are you have, too; and not one was touchable without proof in advance, as you know. I said, "Would one of them touch a dirty deal like-"

"There are trillions involved," said Rog, "which means any one of the three would. And one of them is, because Jack Hawk got that far before he was killed-"

"Jack Hawk’s dead?" For a minute, I forgot about the Galactic drug menace. For a minute, I nearly forgot about Flora.

"Right, and one of those guys arranged the killing. Now you find out which. You put the finger on the right one before 11:00 and there’s a promotion, a raise in pay, a pay-back for poor Jack Hawk, and a rescue of the Galaxy. You put the finger on the wrong one and there’ll be a nasty interstel-

lar situation and you’ll be out on your ear and also on every black list from here to Antares and back."

I said, "Suppose I don’t finger anybody?"

"That would be like fingering the wrong one as far as the Service is concerned."

"I’ve got to finger someone but only the right one or my head’s handed to me."

"In thin slices. You’re beginning to understand me, Max."

In a long lifetime of looking ugly, Rog Crinton had never looked uglier. The only comfort I got out of staring at him was the realization that he was married, too, and that he lived with his wife at Marsport all year round. And does he deserve that. Maybe I’m hard on him, but he deserves it.

I put in a quick call to Flora, as soon as Rog was out of sight.

She said, "Well?"

I said, "Baby, honey, it’s something I can’t talk about, but I’ve got to do it, see? Now you hang on, I’ll get it over with if I have to swim the Grand Canal to the icecap in my underwear, see? If I have to claw Phobos out of the sky. If I have to cut myself in pieces and mail myself parcel post."

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