CHAPTER FOUR (H4-type)
At dinner that evening, Frokinil introduced two fellow guests to Blondel.
One was a small, round- shouldered youth with untrimmed hair and fingernails, who ate his soup with sound effects and didn’t talk. His name was Pleech.
The other was a tall, ruddy-faced, hearty fellow, introduced as Aunderson, who wore three lodge buttons on his lapel. An expanse of expensive wrist watch and cuff showed when he peeled his cigar.
As soon as the last of the Monitors had trailed Frokinil from the room, Aunderson leaned toward Blondel. “What do you think of the layout?” He shot the question from the side of his mouth.
“They feed OK,” he replied cautiously. Aunderson hitched his chair closer.
“They’re careless,” he hissed. “Overconfident. They leave doors open.”
He shot Blondel a sharp look, like a man listening to criticism of mother’s cooking. “Brother, don’t you want to get away from here?”
“I hadn’t thought much about it.”
Aunderson drew on the cigar and looked at Blondel sideways.
“By God, now I’ve heard everything,” he stated.
“They don’t leave doors open by accident, man,” Pleech said in a breathy tone. “They’re eyeballing every move.”
The big fellow hitched his chair away from Blondel, flicked his eyes at the corners of the room.
“Place is probably bugged,” he muttered. He patted his pockets, brought out a ball- point and a business card; he cupped the card in his hand and jotted on it, passed it to Blondel below table-top level.
“THE KID’S A FINK. DROP BY MY ROOM AFTER DARK.”
Blondel sighed and tucked the card away. The trio finished the meal in silence.
Back in his room, Blondel sat in the big soft chair and listened to the small sounds going on elsewhere in the house, remembering the previous afternoon: the big gold blimps floating down; the crack troops in their yellow suits, and the blaring voices coming on over every loud- speaker in the city, announcing that the invaders had arrived.
He got up and took a turn up and down the room. So far, the pattern had failed to fit Blondel’s preconceived notions of how an invasion should be managed.
Where were the dive bombers and the big guns and the paratroopers and the tanks rumbling in through the rubble? What were the Air Force and the Army doing against the enemy?
How much territory had been taken over? Had the Pentagon hit back with the nuclear strike force or the Polaris fleet? His right hand twitched in a reflex urge to turn on a television set and get the Word.
There was a soft footfall outside and Aunderson poked his face around the door, frowned at all four corners of the room, then slid inside.
“Well, what do you think?” he whispered.
“Slim was right,” Blondel said. “They leave the doors open on purpose.”
“Yes.” Aunderson tipped his head toward the one he had just come through.
“Jammed open. They’re watching, all right.”
The visitor clamped his jaw shut, prowled the room looking under things, then sat on the edge of the bed and jiggled a foot. Blondel waited. Outside a light wind made a sighing sound in the branches of a tree.
“What do you think of their story?” Aunderson muttered suddenly.
He gave the appearance of trying to talk without moving his lips.
“Sounds good,” Blondel said. Aunderson’s head jerked. “Too good,” Blondel added. Aunderson relaxed.
“You … ah … have any plans?” Aunderson watched the toe of his shoe.
“I plan to rub GI soap in my armpit,” Blondel said from the side of his mouth. “I’ll run a fever; when they take me away to the hospital I’ll steal a jug of medicinal brandy and shack up in a broom closet with a redheaded nurse until they go away.”
Aunders on’s head jerked again. “This is no time for boffs, fellow,” he said sternly. “What kind of American are you?”
“I tear up traffic tickets and chisel on my income tax right along with the rest of you,” Blondel reassured him. “I’m no scab.”
“Just after dinner would be the best time,” Aunderson said. “They overeat. Makes ’em
“Tonight would be better.” Blondel was not moving his lips either.
“While they’re asleep.”
Aunderson hitched a little closer, listening intently for the details. “Go on, fellow.”
“That’s all,” Blondel said. “Don’t play dumb. Go back to your room and stand by. I’ll let you know.”
Aunderson stood up. “Any, ah, preparations I ought to make?”
“Naturally. Tear all your sheets into two- inch strips. Better go into the john to do it. If they see you they might catch wise. Work quietly and keep your lips buttoned.”
“The door won’t close.” Aunderson blushed a little.
“Get behind it.”
“And knot them together?”
“Not unless your lips are a lot looser than mine.”
“I mean the sheets.”
“Naturally. Don’t waste my time with routine questions. I assume your inoculations are in order?”
“What’s that? You mean cholera, typhoid, and so on?”
“I don’t mean hiccups.”
“As it happens, Myrtle and I took a South American cruise just last fall. I think I’ve got them all.”
“That’s it, then. And check all suspicious sounds, odors, and moving lights.”
“Right.” He stood. Halfway through the door he turned, back. “Who are you with? FBI? CIA?
“That’s a radio station.”
“Sure — do I have to spell it out for you?”
“Sorry. They, ah, in touch with you?”
“You didn’t think all those pigeons outside were wild, did you?”
“What pigeons? I didn’t see any pigeons.”
“That’s the idea; deny everything. Better get going now. A lot to do before midnight.”
He nodded and went away. Blondel stretched out on the bed and wondered about some of the people on Our Side.
Ten minutes later a board creaked. Blondel sat up, expecting to see Frokinil appear, full of optimism and statistics. Nothing happened. Blondel rose and went to the door, put his head out.
Aunderson was just disappearing down the stairs, carrying a pair of highly- polished Scotch grain brogans under his arm. Blondel stepped out and went along to the head of the stairs, saw Aunderson go through an archway down below. He listened for a few seconds, then went down after him. The arch led into a small dark room; Blondel picked his way over mops and brooms, came out in a papered hall. He could hear voices off to the left. The door they were coming from
was open an inch or so.
” … tearing sheets into strips,” Aunderson was saying. “And – – ”
“But, my dear sir, it’s not at all necessary for you to barter for special consideration!” The Tersh Jetterax sounded upset. “I assure you, after your testing is complete, you’ll each be recommended for appropriate training – – ”
“Look here, I’m not some kind of farmer or manual laborer.” Aunderson sounded indignant. “I can face facts; I know which way the wind’s blowing. I saw those big yellow airships and — ”
“Please, sir! I appreciate your advising me of poor Mr. Blondel’s misguided plans, but there is nothing I could promise you that you will not receive freely, as a gift due you as a member of the human race!”
“Now, look! I may be a prisoner of war – – well, hell yes, your boys nailed me fair and square, I concede that — but a man like me can be a big help to you — ”
“Mr. Aunderson, it is you I wish to help! Of course, in the case of Mr. Blondel, I see that it will be necessary to use more, ah, direct measures to establish a true personality- rapport; but this is only in his own interest, of Course.”
“Uh – – you’re not figuring on messing around with my personality?” Aunderson sounded worried now.
“I do hope that won’t be necessary … ”
Blondel faded back along the hall, inspired by a sudden urge to put distance between the kindly Tersh’s personality alterers and himself. While his ego wasn’t much, he conceded, it was the one he had come in with and he had a lively desire to keep it the way it was, flaws and all.
Around the first corner, light shone from a half- open door. Blondel peeked inside. The bearded youth from the dinner table was standing by a bookcase with a foliosize volume in his hands. He looked up and saw Blondel.
“The wildest, man.” He hefted the book. “Like it’s the stripiest.”
“You bet,” Blondel agreed. “Lots of pretty pictures, hey?” He went across and scanned the view from the windows: the usual expanse of spot – lit grass stretching across to a fieldstone wall, dotted with well- tended trees and shrubs. There were Monitors standing here and there, apparently admiring the view of the night sky.
“It’s Chillsville, pop. Like a joint direct from the hand of the Big Pusher in the Sky!” Pleech enthused.
“Listen,” Blondel said, “we’ve got to get out of here.” He went past him and looked along the side of the house toward the rear. Maybe it was a little darker back there and maybe not.
“You’re not bagging it, gramps! I’m all for these kids! They’re swingers, square threads and all!
Like their word is: a pad for every cat, and a chick in every pad!”
“I thought the chicken went in the pot,” Blondel corrected, “and two cars in every garage.”
Pleech looked dubious. “I heard of cutting it with a little chicory and shredded Sunday funnies, but feathers are a new kick.” He frowned. “What was that line about getting out of here?”
“I was pulling your leg. Go on with your reading. I was just looking for the root cellar.”
“Cool it, dad.” Pleech dropped the book and slouched over to stand between Blondel and the door. “You think these cubies are lining us? Like maybe it’s just a ride on the dreamy?”
“I’ll let you know after I cast my horoscope. Meanwhile don’t go into any business deals without first checking them closely, and beware of smooth- talking Capricorns.” Blondel started past Pleech, who put his back against the wall by the door. One hand dipped inside his black shirt and came out with a three-inch spring blade. He pointed it at Blondel and curved his mouth in a cat-smile.
“Don’t go making no waves, pops,” he said. His tone was a lot more businesslike now. “What’s with the snoop routine? You not splitting without saying hang loose?”
“How’d they happen to pick you up?” Blondel stalled.
“Some flattie in yellow threads like bugs me, man. I bugged him back. But that was when I didn’t dig the scene. Now I can see its Groovesville all the way. Like, we’re in, dad. So don’t go breaking the scene with no like reactionary hang- ups.”
“I hear they plan to remove our brains and install monkey glands. That might boost your I.Q. a little, but would it be the real you?”
“Hand me back my leg, man. Me and old Jitters are making it good; we’re like pals. And lay off the cracks about my intellect, which is of the highest.” He poked the knife out just far enough;
Blondel brought a hard chop down on the pressure point just below the elbow. Pleech yipped and the knife dropped; when he ducked for it, Blondel gave him a sharp knee under the ear. Pleech went backward and sat up holding his jaw.
“You knocked my tooth out,” he reported.
“Put it under your pillow for the good fairy to find,” Blondel suggested. “Now you’d better move over to that closet.” He indicated a door across the room. Pleech rolled his eyes and hunched his way back to it. Inside, there were shelves stacked with paper and office supplies, including two- inch paper tape. Blondel bound Pleech’s wrists and ankles with the latter, then strapped his hands behind him.
“Open up,” he ordered. Pleech gave him a startled look and dropped his jaw. “Hey – – ”
“Thanks.” Blondel jammed an art- gum inside, then taped his mouth, not neglecting a couple of loops over the mop of hair and under the chin.
“You may have to shave the beard to get rid of that,” he advised, “but try to think of it as being better than a cut throat.” Blondel shoved the trussed collaborator in among the duplicator fluid cans on the floor and went softly back out into the silent hall.
Blondel followed the corridor back past the dining room, took a right turn, and found himself in the kitchen. A fat man with apple cheeks and a white chef’s cap beamed at him and went on kneading a table full of dough. Blondel backed out, soft- footed on along the hall, through a dark room full of potted rubber plants and marble – topped tables, emerged in a room with fancy chandeliers, and a set of curtained French doors that opened silently onto a terrace. A pair of red coleus plants in wooden tubs provided a patch of dense shadow in which to stand.
Out on the lawn, Monitors strolled in leisurely fashion, taking the evening air. Beyond them, the high, dark barrier of the hedge loomed, fifty yards away.
Blondel waited for a moment when the coast was relatively clear, then hitched up his pants, swallowed hard, stepped out and headed across the lawn at a brisk walk. He had covered about half the distance before somebody called – – yelled would be too strong a word. Blondel put his head down and sprinted.
He zigged and zagged to confuse any tacklers, made the bushes with the kind of spurt that wins gold medals under more favorable circumstances, and was slamming through tough thorny stuff that ripped at him like fine- gauge barbed wire.
He ploughed on, bounced off a denser mass of rubbery branches and leaves, clawed his way through a barrier like the fence around the nurses’ quarters at a hardship post.
Twice he went down hard, but came up still digging, finally burst through into the clear and was back on the lawn, six feet from where he had first dived into the hedge, watching no more than fifty stalwart young athletes in gold suits converging from three sides.
He backed a step, took a gouge in the hip pocket from the thorns, tried a dash to the right. A Monitor loomed before him, friendly smile in place, one hand upraised.
Blondel ducked under it, pelted for the front of the house.
At that moment, with an ominous rumble, something large and dim in the gloom burst through the hedge directly in his path. He shied, saw light glint on an armored prow above rubber- shod tracks. There was a dull woof! and a white mist jetted from orifices low on the tank’s sides.
Blondel caught a whiff of fresh-cut hollyhocks, turned to run in a new direction, felt himself keeling over slowly like a wax figure left too long in the sun. On all fours he saw the heavy machine lumber forward, halt beside him.
A hatch popped up and a dark figure jumped down, bent over him. He tried to gather his strength for a swing, fell on his face instead. Hands gripped his arms, pulled him to his feet. His eyes focused on a pair of boots, sole- up on the lawn, connected to a set of yellow-clad legs.
There was another supine Monitor beyond the first, two more in sight beyond him, …
Then the hands dragged him back, lifted him, thrust him through a narrow opening into dim light, dumped him on cold metal and webbing. There was a deep-throated roar, a surge of motion as the canopy thumped down, cutting off the flow of cold air.
“About time,” someone was saying over the rumble of engines. “We’ve been hovering in the underbrush for six hours, waiting for you to show yourself.”
Blondel got a firm grip on his head, swung it around far enough to see a curly head of dark hair and a set of horn- rims.
“Hey,” he said weakly. “This is … I was … you were … ”
“Take it easy,” Maxwell said. “You didn’t think we’d run out on you, did you?”