Friday, страница 29
but, if not, you must work on it. I think that you are immune to the temptations of religion. If you are not, I cannot help you, any more than I could keep you from acquiring a drug habit. A religion is sometimes a source of happiness and I would not deprive anyone of happiness. But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak, not for the strong—and you are strong. The great trouble with religion—any religion—is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak uncertainty of reason—but one cannot have both.
I have one last thing to tell you—for my own satisfaction, for my own pride. I am one of your “ancestors”—not a major one but some of my genetic pattern lives on in you. You are not only my foster daughter but also in part my natural daughter as well. To my great pride.
So let me close this with a word I could not say while I was alive—
Hartley M. Baldwin
I put the letter back into its envelope and curled up and indulged in that worst of vices, self-pity, doing it thoroughly, with plenty of tears. I don’t see anything wrong with crying; it lubricates the psyche.
Having gotten it out of my system I got up and washed my face and decided that I was all through grieving over Boss. I was pleased and flattered that he had adopted me and it warmed me all through to know that a bit of him was used in designing me—but he was still Boss. I thought that he would allow me one cathartic session of grief but if I kept it up, he would be annoyed with me.
My chums were still sawing wood, exhausted, so I closed the door that shut them off, was pleased to note that it was a sound-silencer door, and I sat down at the terminal, stuck my card into the slot, and coded Fong, Tomosawa, and so forth, having routed through exchange service to get the code, then coding directly; it’s cheaper that way.
I recognized the woman who answered. Low gee certainly is better than a bra; if I lived in Luna City, I would wear only a monikini, too. Oh, stilts, maybe. An emerald in my bellybutton. “Excuse me,” I said. “Somehow I’ve managed to code Ceres and South Africa when I intended to punch for Fong, Tomosawa, Rothschild, Fong, and Finnegan. My subconscious is playing tricks. Sorry to have bothered you and thanks for the help you gave me a few months ago.”
“Wups!” she answered. “You didn’t punch wrong. I’m Gloria Tomosawa, senior partner in Fong, Tomosawa, et al., now that Grandpa Fong has retired. But that doesn’t interfere with my being a vice-president of Ceres and South Africa Acceptances; we are also the legal department of the bank. And I’m the chief trust officer, too, which means that I’m going to have business with you. Everybody here is sorry as can be at the news of Dr. Baldwin’s death and I hope that it did not distress you too much—Miss Baldwin.”
“Hey, back up and start over!”
“Sorry. Usually when people call the Moon they want to make it as brief as possible because of the cost. Do you want me to repeat all that, a sentence at a time?”
“No. I think I’ve assimilated it. Dr. Baldwin left a note telling me to be at the reading of his will or to be represented. I can’t be there. When will it be read and can you advise me as to how I can get someone in Luna City to represent me?”
“It will be read as soon as we get official notification of death from the California Confederacy, which should be any time now as our San Jose representative has already paid the squeeze. Someone to represent you—will I do? Perhaps I should say that Grandpa Fong was your father’s Luna City attorney for many years…so I inherited him and now that your father has died, I inherit you. Unless you tell me otherwise.”
“Oh, would you?—Miss—Mrs. Tomosawa—is it Miss or Mrs.?”
“I could and I would and it’s Mrs. It had better be; I have a son as old as you are.”
“Impossible!” (This beauty-contest winner twice my age?)
“Most possible. Here in Luna City we are all old-fashioned cubes, not like California. We get married and we have babies and always in that order. I wouldn’t dare be a Miss with a son your age; nobody would retain me.”
“I mean the idea that you have a son my age. You can’t have a baby at the age of five. Four.”
She chuckled. “You say the nicest things. Why don’t you come here and marry my son? He’s always wanted an heiress.”
“Am I an heiress?”
She sobered. “Um. I can’t break the seal on that will until your father is officially dead, which he is not, in Luna City, not yet. But he will be shortly and there is no sense in making you call back. I drafted that will. I checked it for changes when I got it back. Then I sealed it and put it into my safe. So I know what’s in it. What I’m about to tell you, you don’t know until later today. You’re an heiress but fortune-hunters won’t be chasing you. You are not getting a gram in cash. Instead the bank is instructed—that’s me—to subsidize you in migrating off Earth. If you pick Luna, we pay your fare. If you picked a bounty planet, we would give you a Scout knife and pray for you. If you pick a high-priced place like Kaui or Halcyon, the trust pays your fare and your contribution and assists you with starting capital. If you never do migrate off Terra, on your death funds earmarked to assist you revert to the other purposes of the trust. But your migration needs have first call. Exception: If you migrate to Olympia, you pay for it yourself. Nothing from the trust.”
“Dr. Baldwin said something about that. What’s so poisonous about Olympia? I don’t recall a colony world named that.”
“You don’t? No, I guess you’re too young. That’s where those self-styled supermen went. No real point in warning you against it, however; the corporation doesn’t run ships there. Dear, you are running up a fancy comm bill.”
“I guess so. But it would cost me more if I had to call back. All I mind is having to pay for the speed-of-light dead time. Can you switch hats and be Ceres and South Africa for a moment? Or maybe not; I may need legal advice.”
“I’m wearing both hats, so fire away. Ask anything; today there’s no fee. My advertising loss leader.”
“No, I pay for what I get.”
“You sound like your late father. I think he invented tanstaafl.”
“He’s not really my father, you know, and I never thought of him as such.”
“I know the score, dear; I drew up some of the papers about you. He thought of you as his daughter. He was inordinately proud of you. I was most interested when you first called me—having to keep quiet about things I knew but looking you over. What is on your mind?”
I explained the trouble I had had with Wainwright over credit cards. “Certainly MasterCard of California has given me a credit ceiling far beyond my needs or assets. But is that any of her business? I haven’t even used up my predeposit and I’m about to back it up with my closing pay. Two hundred and ninety-seven and three-tenths grams, fine.”
“Rhoda Wainwright never was worth a hoot as a lawyer; when Mr. Esposito died, your father should have changed representation. Of course it’s none of her business what credit MasterCard extends to you, and she has no authority over this bank. Miss Baldwin—”
“Call me Friday.”
“Friday, your late father was a director of this bank and is, or was, a major stockholder. Although you do not receive any of his wealth directly, you would have to run up an enormous unsecured debt and neglect to reduce it for quite some time and refuse to answer queries about it before your account would be red-flagged. So forget it. But, now that Pajaro Sands is closing down, I do need another address for you.”
“Uh, right now, you are the only address I have.”
“I see. Well, get me one as soon as you have one. There are others with that same problem, a problem unnecessarily made worse by Rhoda Wainwright. There are others who should be represented at the reading of the will. She should have notified them, did not, and now they have left Pajaro Sands. Do you know where I can find Anna Johansen? Or Sylvia Havenisle?”
“She must be the right Anna; I have her listed as ‘confidential clerk.’ Havenisle is a trained nurse.”
“Oh! Both of them are just beyond a door I’m looking at. Sleeping. Up all night. Dr. Baldwin’s death.”
“My lucky day. Please tell them—when they wake up—that they should be represented at the reading of the will. But don’t wake them; I can fix it afterwards. We aren’t all that fussy here.”
“Could you represent them?”
“On your say-so, yes. But have them call me. I’ll need new mailing addresses for them, too. Where are you now?”
I told her, we said good-bye and switched off. Then I held very still and let my head catch up with events. But Gloria Tomosawa had made it easy. I suspect that there are just two sorts of lawyers: those who spend their efforts making life easy for other people—and parasites.
A little jingle and a red light caused me to go to the terminal again. It was Burton McNye. I told him to come on up but be mouse-quiet. I kissed him without stopping to think about it, then remembered that he was not a kissing friend. Or was he? I did not know whether he had helped rescue me from “the Major” or not—must ask.
“No trouble,” he told me. “Bank of America accepted it for deposit subject to collection but advanced me a few hundred bruins for overnight money. They tell me that a gold draft can be cleared through Luna City in about twenty-four hours. That, combined with our late employer’s sound financial reputation, got me out of the bind. So you don’t have to let me sleep here tonight.”
“I’m supposed to cheer? Burt, now that you are solvent again, you can take me out to dinner. Out. Because my roommates are zombies. Dead, maybe. The poor dears were up all night.”
“It’s too early for dinner.”
It wasn’t too early for what we did next. I hadn’t planned on it but Burt claimed that he had, in the APV; and I didn’t believe him. I asked him about that night on the farm and, sure enough, he was part of the combat team. He claimed that he had been held in reserve and thus was merely along for the ride, but nobody yet has admitted doing anything dangerous that night—but I recall Boss telling me that anybody at all was taken because bodies were so scarce—even Terence, who doesn’t really have to shave yet.
He didn’t protest when I started taking his clothes off.
Burt was just what I needed. Too much had happened and I felt emotionally battered. Sex is a better tranquilizer than any of those drugs and much better for your metabolism. I don’t see why human people make such a heavy trip out of sex. It isn’t anything complex; it is simply the best thing in life, even better than food.
The bath in that suite could be reached without going through the bedroom, laid out that way, probably, because the living room could double as a second bedroom. So we each tidied up a bit and I put on that Superskin jump suit with the wet look that had been the bait with which I had hooked Ian last spring—and learned that I had put it on through thinking sentimentally about Ian but that I was no longer worried about Ian and Jan—and Georges. I would find them, I was now serenely sure. Even if they never went home, I would at worst track them down through Betty and Freddie.
Burt made appropriate animal noises over how I looked in the Superskin job, and I let him look and wiggled some and told him that was exactly why I had bought it, because I was a slitch who wasn’t even mildly ashamed of being female, and I wanted to thank him for what he had done for me; my nerves had been twanging like a harp and now they were so relaxed they dragged on the ground and I had decided to pay for dinner to show my appreciation.
He offered to wrestle me for it. I didn’t tell him that I had to be very careful in moments of passion not to break male bones; I just giggled. I guess giggling looks silly on a woman my age but there it is—when I’m happy, I giggle.
I was careful to leave a note for my chums.
When we got back, latish, they were gone, so Burt and I went to bed, this time stopping to open out that folding double bed. I woke up when Anna and Goldie tiptoed through, returning from supper. But I pretended not to wake, figuring that morning was soon enough.
Sometime the next morning I became aware that Anna was standing over us and not looking happy—and, truthfully, that was the very first time that it occurred to me that Anna might be displeased at finding me in bed with a man. Certainly I had realized which way she leaned a long time ago; certainly I knew that she leaned in my direction. But she herself had cooled it and I had stopped thinking of her as unfinished business I would have to cope with someday; she and Goldie were simply my chums, hair-down friends who trusted each other.
Burt said plaintively, “Don’t scowl at me, lady; I just came in to get out of the rain.”
“I wasn’t scowling,” she answered too soberly. “I was simply trying to figure out how to get around the end of the bed to the terminal without waking you two. I want to order breakfast.”
“Order for all of us?” I asked.
“Certainly. What do you want?”
“Some of everything and fried potatoes on the side. Anna hon, you know me—if it’s not dead, I’ll kill it and eat it raw, bones and all.”
“And the same for me,” agreed Burt.
“Noisy neighbors.” Goldie was standing in the doorway, yawning. “Chatterboxes. Go back to bed.” I looked at her and realized two things: I had never really looked at her before, even at the beach. And, second, if Anna was annoyed with me for sleeping with Burt, she didn’t have any excuse for such feelings; Goldie looked almost indecently satiated.
“It means ‘harbor island,’” Goldie was saying, “and it really ought to have a hyphen in it because nobody can ever spell it or pronounce it. So I just go as Goldie—easy to do in the Master’s outfit where last names were always discouraged. But it’s not as hard a name as Mrs. Tomosawa’s—after I mispronounced hers about the fourth time, she asked me to call her Gloria.”
We were finishing off a big breakfast and both of my chums had talked to Gloria and the will had been read and both of them (and Burt, too, to my surprise and his) were now a bit richer and we were all getting ready to leave for Las Vegas, three of us to shop for jobs, Anna simply to stay with us and visit until we shipped out, or whatever.
Anna was then going to Alabama. “Maybe I’ll get tired of loafing. But I promised my daughter that I would retire and this is the right time. I’ll get reacquainted with my grandchildren before they get too big.”
Anna a grandmother? Does anyone ever know anyone else?
Las Vegas is a three-ring circus with a hangover.
I enjoy the place for a while. But after I’ve seen all the shows I reach a point where the lights and the music and the noise and the frenetic activity are too much. Four days is a-plenty.
We reached Vegas about ten, after a late start because each of us had business to do—everybody but me with arrangements to make for the collection of moneys from Boss’s will and me to deposit my closing draft with MasterCard. That is, I started to. I stopped abruptly when Mr. Chambers said, “Do you want to execute an order to us to pay your income tax on this?”
Income tax? What a filthy suggestion! I could not believe my ears. “What was that, Mr. Chambers?”
“Your Confederacy income tax. If you ask us to handle it—here’s the form—our experts prepare it and we pay it and deduct it from your account and you aren’t bothered. We charge only a nominal fee. Otherwise you have to calculate it yourself and make out all the forms and then stand in line to pay it.”
“You didn’t say anything about any such tax when I made the deposit the day I opened this account.”
“But that was a national lottery prize! That’s yours, utterly free—that’s the Democratic Way! Besides, the government gets its cut off the top in running the lottery.”
“I see. How much cut does the government take?”
“In a moment. How much is this ‘nominal fee’? And how much is the tax?”
I left without depositing my draft and again poor Mr. Chambers was vexed with me. Even though bruins are so inflated that you have to line up quite a few of them to buy a Big Mac, I do not consider a thousand bruins “nominal”—it’s more than a gram of gold, $37 BritCan. With their 8 percent surcharge on top, MasterCard would be getting a fat fee for acting as stooge for the Confederacy’s Eternal Revenue Service.
I wasn’t sure that I owed income tax even under California’s weird laws—most of that money had not been earned in California and I couldn’t see what claim California had on my salary anyway. I wanted to consult a good shyster.
I went back to Cabaña Hyatt. Goldie and Anna were still out but Burt was there. I told him about it, knowing that he had been in logistics and accounting.
“It’s a moot point,” he said. “Personal-service contracts with the Chairman were all written ‘free of tax’ and in the Imperium the bribe was negotiated each year. Here an umbrella bribe should have been paid through Mr. Esposito—that is to say, through Ms. Wainwright. You can ask her.”
“In a pig’s eye!”
“Precisely. She should have notified Eternal Revenue and paid any taxes due—after negotiation, if you understand me. But she may be skimming; I don’t know. However—You do have a spare passport, do you not?”
“Oh, certainly! Always.”
“Then use it. That’s what I’ll be doing. Then I’ll transfer my money after I know where I’ll be. Meanwhile I’ll leave it safe on the Moon.”
“Uh, Burt, I’m pretty sure Wainwright has every spare passport listed. You seem to be saying that they’ll be checking us at exit?”
“What if Wainwright has listed them? She won’t turn over the list to the Confederates without arranging her cut, and I doubt that she’s had time to dicker it. So pay only the regular squeeze and stick your nose in the air and walk on through the barrier.”