Continental Electronics’ Director of Personnel was a broad-faced man named Vincent Connington. He came briskly into Hawks’ office and pumped his hand enthusiastically. He was wearing a light blue shantung suit and russet cowboy boots, and as he sat down in the visitors’ chair, puckering the corners of his eyes in the mid-afternoon sunshine streaming through the venetian blinds, he looked around and remarked, “Got the same office layout myself, upstairs. But it sure looks a lot different with some carpeting on the floor and some good paintin’s on the walls.” He turned back to Hawks, smiling. “I’m glad to get down here and talk to you, Doctor. I’ve always had a lot of admiration for you. Here you are, running a department and still getting in there and working right with your crew. All I do all day is sit behind a desk and make sure my clerks handle the routine without foulin’ up.”
“They seem to do rather well,” Hawks said in a neutral voice. He was beginning to draw himself up unconsciously in his chair and to slip a mask of expressionlessness over his face. His glance touched Connington’s boots once and then stayed away. “At least, your department’s been sending me some excellent technicians.”
Connington grinned. “Nobody’s got any better.” He leaned forward. “But that’s routine stuff.” He took Hawks’ interoffice memo out of his breast pocket. “This, now — This request, I’m going to fill personally.”
Hawks said carefully, “I certainly hope you can. I expect it may take some time to find a man fitting the outlined specifications. I hope you understand that, unfortunately, we don’t have much time. I—”
Connington waved a hand. “Oh, I’ve got him already. Had him in mind for a long time.”
Hawks’ eyebrows rose. “Really?”
Connington grinned shrewdly across the plain steel desk. “Hard to believe?” He lounged back in his chair. “Doctor, suppose somebody came to you and asked you to do a particular job for him — design a circuit to do a particular job. Now, suppose you reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper and said, ‘Here it is.’ What about that? And then when he was all through shaking his head and saying how it was hard to believe you’d have it right there, you could explain to him about how electronics was what you did all the time. About how when you’re not thinking about some specific project, you’re still thinking about electronics in general. And how, being interested in electronics, you kept up on it, and you knew pretty much where the whole field was going. And how you thought about some of the problems they were likely to run into, and sometimes answers would just come into your head so easily it couldn’t even be called work. And how you filed these things away until it was time for them to be brought out. See? That way, there’s no magic. Just a man with a talent, doing his work.”
Connington grinned again. “Now I’ve got a man who was made to work on this machine project of yours. I know him inside out. And I know a little bit about you. I’ve got a lot to learn about you, yet, but I don’t think any of it’s goin’ to surprise me. And I’ve got your man. He’s healthy, he’s available, and I’ve had security clearances run on him every six months for the last two years. He’s all yours, Doctor. No foolin’.
“You see, Doctor—” Connington folded his hands in his lap and bent them backward, cracking his knuckles, “you’re not the only mover in the world.”
Hawks frowned slightly. “Mover?” Now his face betrayed nothing.
Connington chuckled softly to himself over some private joke that was burgeoning within him. “There’re all kinds of people in this world. But they break down into two main groups, one big and one smaller. There’s the people who get moved out of the way or into line, and then there’s the people who do the moving. It’s safer and a lot more comfortable to go where you’re pushed. You don’t take any of the responsibility, and if you do what you’re told, every once in a while you get thrown a fish.
“Being a mover isn’t safe, because you may be heading for a hole, and it isn’t comfortable because you do a lot of jostling back and forth, and what’s more, it’s up to you to get your own fish. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun.” He looked into Hawks’ eyes. “Isn’t it?”
Hawks said, “Mr. Connington—” He looked directly back at the man. “I’m not convinced. This individual I requested would have to be a very rare type. Are you sure you can instantly give him to me? Do you mean to say your having him ready, as you say, isn’t a piece of conspicuous forethought? I think perhaps you may have had some other motive, and that you’re seizing on a lucky coincidence.”
Connington lolled back, chuckled, and unwrapped a greenleaved cigar from the tooled leather case in his breast pocket. He snipped open the end with a pair of gold nippers attached to the case by a golden chain, and used a gold-cased lighter set with a ruby. He puffed, and let the smoke writhe out between his large, well-spaced teeth. His eyes glinted behind the drift of smoke that hung in the air in front of his face.
“Let’s keep polite, Dr. Hawks,” he said. “Let’s look at it in the light of reason. Continental Electronics pays you to head up Research, and you’re the best there is.” Connington leaned forward just a little, shifted the cigar just a little in his fingers, and changed the curve of his smile. “Continental Electronics pays me to run Personnel.”
Hawks thought for a minute and then said, “Very well. How soon can I see this man?”
Connington lolled back and took a satisfied puff on the cigar. “Right now. He lives right nearby, on the coast — up on the cliffs there?”
“I know the general location.”
“Good enough. If you’ve got an hour or so, what say we run on down there now?”
“I have nothing else to do if he turns out not to be the right man.”
Connington stretched and stood up. His belt slipped below the bulge of his stomach, and he stopped to hitch up his trousers. “Use your phone,” he muttered perfunctorily around the cigar, reaching across Hawks’ desk. He called an outside number and spoke to someone briefly — and, for a moment, sourly — saying they were coming out. Then he called the company garage and ordered his car brought around to the building’s main entrance. When he hung up the phone, he was chuckling again. “Well, time we get downstairs, the car’ll be there.”
Hawks nodded and stood up.
Connington grinned at him. “I like it when somebody gives me enough rope. I like people who stay suspicious when I’m offerin’ them what they want.” He was still laughing over the secret joke. “The more rope I get, the more operating room it gives me. You don’t figure that way. You see someone who may give you trouble, and you close up. You get into a shell, and you stay there, because you’re afraid it may be trouble you can’t handle. Most people do that. That’s why, one of these days, I’m goin’ to be president of this corporation, and you’ll still be head of the Research Division.”
Hawks smiled. “How will you like it, then, going to the Board of Directors, telling them my salary has to be higher than yours?”
“Yeah,” Connington said reflectively. “Yeah, there’d be that.” He cocked an eye at Hawks. “You mean it, too.”
He tapped his cigar ash off into the middle of Hawks’ desk blotter. “Get hot, sometimes, inside your insulated suit, does it?”
Hawks looked expressionlessly down at the ash and up at Connington’s face. He reached into a desk drawer, took out a small manila envelope, and put it in his jacket. He dosed the drawer. “I think your car is waiting for us,” he said quietly.
They drove along the coastal highway in Connlngton’s new Cadillac, until the highway veered inland away from the cliffs facing onto the ocean. Then, at a spot where a small general store with two gasoline pumps stood alone, Connington turned the car into a narrow sand road that ran along between palmetto scrub and pine stands toward the water. From there the car swayed down to a narrow gravel strip of road that ran along the foot of the rock cliffs only a few feet above the high-water mark.
The cliffs were sheer and composed of some rough, crumbling stone that had fissured vertically, leaving narrow guts whose bottoms were filled with the same detritus that had been used to form the road. The car murmured forward with one fender overhanging the water side and the other perhaps a foot from the cliffs. They moved along in this manner for a few minutes, Connington humming to himself in a tenor drone and Hawks sitting erect with his hands on his knees.
The road changed into an incline blasted out of the cliff face, with the insecure rock overhanging it in most places, and crossed a narrow, weatherworn timber bridge three car-lengths long across the face of a wider gut than most. The wedge-shaped split in the cliff was about a hundred feet deep. The ocean reached directly into it with no intervening beach, and even now at low tide solid water came pouring into the base of the cleft and broke up into fountaining spray. It wet the car’s windshield. The timber bridge angled up from fifty feet above water level, about a third of the way up the face of the cliffs, and its bottom dripped.
The road went on past the bridge, but Connington stopped the car with the wheels turned toward a galvanized iron mailbox set on a post. It stood beside an even narrower driveway that climbed steeply up into the side of the cleft and went out of sight around a sharp break in its wall.
“That’s him,” Connington grunted, pointing toward the mailbox with his cigars “Barker. Al Barker.” He peered slyly sideward. “Ever hear the name?”
Hawks frowned and then said, “No.”
“Don’t read the sports pages? No — I guess not.” Connington backed the car a few inches until he could aim the wheels up the driveway, put the transmission selector in Low, and hunched forward over the wheel, cautiously depressing the accelerator. The car began forging slowly up the sharp slope, its inside fender barely clearing the dynamited rock, its left side flecked with fresh spray from the upsurge in the cleft.
“Barker’s quite a fellow,” Connington muttered with the soggy butt of his cigar clenched between his teeth. “Parachutist in World War Two. Transferred to the OSS in 1944. Specialized in assassination. Used to be an Olympic skijumper. Bobsled crewman. National Small Arms Champion, 1950. Holds a skin-diving depth record. Used to mountain climb. Cracked an outboard hydroplane into the shore at Lake Mead, couple of years ago. ’S where I met him, thne I was out there on vacation. Right now, he’s built a car and entered it in Grand Prix competition. Plans to do his own drivin’.”
Hawks’ eyebrows drew together and then relaxed.
Connington grinned crookedly without taking his eyes completely off the road. “Begin to sound like I knew what I was doin’?”
Before Hawks could answer, Connington stopped the car. They were at the break in the cleft wall. A second, shallower notch turned into the cliff here, forming a dogleg that was invisible from the road over the bridge below. The driveway angled around it so acutely that Connington’s car could not make the turn. The point of the angle had been blasted out to make the driveway perhaps eighty inches wide at the bend of the dogleg, but there were no guard rails; the road dropped off directly into the cleft, and either leg was a chute pointing to the water a hundred feet below.
“You’re gonna have to help me here,” Connington said. “Get out and tell me when my wheels look like they’re gonna go over.”
Hawks looked at him, pursed his lips, and got out of the car. He squeezed out between it and the cliff, and walked to the point of the dogleg. Standing with the tips of his black oxfords projecting a little way over the edge, he looked down. The spray veiled the bottom of the gut. Hanging from two of the projections in the rough walls were a small automobile fender and a ragged strip of fabric from a convertible top. The fabric was bleached and raveled. The paint on the aluminum fender was rotten with corrosion. Hawks looked at them with intent curiosity.
Connington let down his window with a quick whirr. “Barker’s,” he said loudly over the sound of the surf in the cleft. “He put it in there last month. Almost went with it.”
Hawks ran the tip of his tongue over his front teeth, under his lip. He turned back to the road.
“O.K., now,” Connington said, “I’m gonna have to saw around this turn. You tell me how much room I’ve got.”
Hawks nodded. Connington swung the car as far around the dogleg as he could, backed, stopped at Hawks’ signal and moved forward again. He continued to repeat the maneuver, grinding his front tires from side to side over the road, until the car was pointed up the other leg of the driveway. Then he waited while Hawks got back in.
“We should have parked at the bottom and walked up,” Hawks said.
Connington started up the remaining incline and pointed to his feet. “Not in these boots,” he grunted. He paused, then said, “Barker takes that turn at fifty miles an hour.” He looked sidelong at Hawks.
Hawks looked back at him. “Sometimes.”
“Every time but one. He hasn’t slowed down since then.” Connington chuckled. “You see, Doc? I rub you the wrong way. I know I do. But, even so, you’ve got to learn to trust me, even if you don’t like or understand me. I do my job. I’ve got your man for you. That’s what counts.” And his eyes sparkled with the hidden joke, the secret knowledge that he still kept to himself.