The Complete Stories (Page 101)
"Gee," she said, "if I thought I was going to have to wait-"
I winced. She just wasn’t the type to respond to poetry. Actually, she was a simple creature of action- But after all, if I was going to be drifting through low-gravity in a sea of jasmine perfume with Flora, poetry-response is not the type of qualification I would consider most indispensable.
I said urgently, "Just hold on, Flora. I won’t be any time at all. I’ll make it up to you."
I was annoyed, sure, but I wasn’t worried as yet. Rog hadn’t more than left me when I figured out exactly how I was going to tell the guilty man from the others.
It was easy. I should have called Rog back and told him, but there’s no law against wanting egg in your beer and oxygen in your air. It would take me five minutes and then off I would go to Flora; a little late, maybe, but with a promotion, a raise, and a slobbering kiss from the Service on each cheek.
You see, it’s like this. Big industrialists don’t go space-hopping much; they use trans-video reception. When they do go to some ultra-high interstellar conference, as these three were probably going, they take Spaceoline. For one thing, they don’t have enough hops under their belt to risk doing without. For another, Spaceoline is the expensive way of doing it and industrialists do things the expensive way. I know their psychology.
Now that would hold for two of them. The one who carried contraband, however, couldn’t risk Spaceoline-even to prevent space-sickness. Under Spaceoline influence, he could throw the drug away; or give it away; or talk gibberish about it. He would have to stay in control of himself.
It was as simple as that, so I waited.
The Antares Giant was on time and I waited with my leg muscles tense for a quick take-off as soon as I collared the murdering drug-toting rat and sped the two eminent captains of industry on their way.
They brought in Lipsky first. He had thick, ruddy lips, rounded jowls, very dark eyebrows, and graying hair. He just looked at me and sat down. Nothing. He was under Spaceoline.
I said, "Good evening, sir."
He said, in a dreamy voice, "Surrealismus of Panamy hearts in three-quarter time for a cup of coffeedom of speech."
That was Spaceoline all the way. The buttons in the human mind were set free-swing. Each syllable suggests the next in free association.
Andiamo Ferrucci came in next. Bkck mustache, long and waxed, olive complexion, pock-marked face. He took a seat in another chair, facing us.
I said, "Nice trip?"
He said, "Trip the light fantastic tock the clock is Growings on the bird."
Lipsky said, "Bird to the wise guyed book to all places every body."
I grinned. That left Harponaster. I had my needle gun neatly palmed out of sight and the magnetic coil ready to grip him.
And then Harponaster came in. He was thin, leathery, near-bald and rather younger than he seemed in his trimensional image. And he was Spaceolined to the gills.
I said, "Damn!"
Harponaster said, "Damyankee note speech to his last time I saw wood you say so."
Ferrucci said, "Sow the seed the territory under dispute do well to come along long road to a nightingale."
Lipsky said, "Gay lords hopping pong balls."
I stared from one to the other as the nonsense ran down in shorter and shorter spurts and then silence.
I got the picture, all right. One of them was faking. He had thought ahead and realized that omitting the Spaceoline would be a giveaway. He might have bribed an official into injecting saline or dodged it some other way.
One of them must be faking. It wasn’t hard to fake the thing. Comedians on sub-etheric had a Spaceoline skit regularly. You’ve heard them.
I stared at them and got the first prickle at the base of my skull that said: What if you don’t finger the right one?
It was 8:30 and there was my job, my reputation, my head growing rickety upon my neck to be considered. I saved it all for later and thought of Flora. She wasn’t going to wait for me forever. For that matter, chances were she wouldn’t wait for half an hour.
I wondered. Could the faker keep up free association if nudged gently onto dangerous territory?
I said, "The floor’s covered with a nice solid rug" and ran the last two words together to make it "soli drug."
Lipsky said, "Drug from underneath the dough re mi fa sol to be saved."
Ferrucci said, "Saved and a haircut above the common herd something about younicorny as a harmonican the cheek by razor and shine."
Harponaster said, "Shiner wind nor snow use trying to by four ever and effervescence and sensibilityter totter."
Lipsky said, "Totters and rags."
Ferrucci said, "Ragsactly."
Harponaster said, "Acth/mation."
A few grunts and they ran down.
I tried again and I didn’t forget to be careful. They would remember everything I said afterward and what I said had to be harmless. I said, "This is a darned good space-line."
Ferrucci said, "Lines and tigers through the prairie dogs do bark of the bough-wough-"
1 interrupted, looking at Harponaster, "A darned good space-line."
"Line the bed and rest a little black sheepishion of wrong the clothes of a perfect day."
I interrupted again, glaring at Lipsky, "Good space-line."
"Liron is hot chocolate ain’t gonna be the same on you vee and double the stakes and potatoes and heel."
Some one else said, "Heel the sicknecessaryd and write will wincetance."
"Tance with mealtime."
"I’m comingle." ‘ "Inglish."
I tried a few more times and got nowhere. The faker, whichever he was, had practiced or had natural talents at talking free association. He was disconnecting his brain and letting the words come out any old way. And he must be inspired by knowing exactly what I was after. If "drug" hadn’t given it away, "space-line" three times repeated must have. I was safe with the other two, but he would know.