At the top of the incline, the driveway curved over the face of the cliff and became an asphalt strip running beside a thick, clipped, dark green lawn. Automatic sprinklers kept the grass sparkling with moisture. Cactus and palmetto grew in immaculate beds, shaded by towering cypress. A low, cedar-planked house faced the wide lawn, its nearer wall of glass looking out over the cliff at the long blue ocean. A breeze stirred the cypress.
There was a swimming pool in the middle of the lawn. A thin blonde woman with extremely long legs, who was deeply suntanned and wearing a yellow two-piece suit, was lying face-down on a beach towel, listening to music from a portable radio. An empty glass with an ice cube melting in its bottom sat on the grass beside a thermos jug. The woman raised her head, looked at the car, and drooped forward again.
Connington lowered a hand half raised in greeting. “Claire Pack,” he said to Hawks, guiding the car around to the side of the house and stopping on a concrete apron in front of the double doors of a sunken garage.
“She lives here?” Hawks asked.
Connington’s face had lost all trace of pleasure. “Yeah… Come on.”
They walked up a flight of flagstone steps to the lawn, and across the lawn toward the swimming pool. There was a man swimming under the blue-green water, raising his head to take an occasional quick breath and immediately pushing it under again. Beneath the rippling, sun-dappled surface, he was a vaguely man-shaped, flesh-colored creature thrashing from one end of the pool to the other. An artificial leg, wrapped in transparent plastic sheeting, lay between Claire Pack and the pool, near a chrome-plated ladder going down into the water. The radio played Glenn Miller.
“Claire?” Connington asked tentatively.
She hadn’t moved in response to the approaching footsteps. She had been humming to the music, and tapping softly on the towel with the red-lacquered tips of two long fingers. She turned over slowly and looked at Connington upside down.
“Oh,” she said flatly. Her eyes shifted to Hawks’ face. They were clear green, flecked with yellow-brown, and the pupils were contracted in the sunlight.
“This is Dr. Hawks, Claire,” Connington told her patiently. “He’s vice president in charge of the Research Division, out at the main plant. I called and told you. What’s the good of the act? We’d like to talk to Al.”
She waved a hand,. “Sit down. He’ll be out of the pool in a little while.”
Connington lowered himself awkwardly down onto the grass. Hawks, after a moment, dropped precisely into a tailor-fashion seat on the edge of the towel. Claire Pack sat up, drew her knees under her chin, and looked at Hawks. “What kind of a job have you got for Al?”
Connington said shortly, “The kind he likes.” As Claire smiled, he looked at Hawks and said, “You know, I forget. Every time. I look forward to coming here, and then when I see her I remember how she is.”
Claire Pack paid him no attention. She was looking at Hawks, her mouth quirked up in an expression of intrigued curiosity. “The kind of work Al likes? You don’t look like a man involved with violence, Doctor. What’s your first name?” She threw a glance over her shoulder at Connington. “Give me a cigarette.”
“Edward,” Hawks said softly. He was watching Connington fumble in an inside breast pocket, take out a new package of cigarettes, open it, tap one loose, and extend it to her. Without looking at Connington, she said softly, “Light it.” A dark, arched eyebrow went up at Hawks. Her wide mouth smiled. “I’ll call you Ed.” Her eyes remained flat, calm.
Connington, behind her, wiped his lips with the back of his hand, closed them tightly on the filtered tip, and lit the cigarette with his ruby-studded lighter. The tip of the cigarette was bound in red-glazed paper, to conceal lipstick marks. He puffed on it, put it between her two upraised fingers, and returned the remainder of the pack to his inside breast pocket.
“You may,” Hawks said to Claire Pack wtih a faint upward lift of his lips. “I’ll call you Claire.”
She raised one eyebrow again, puffing on the cigarette. “All right.”
Connington looked over Claire’s shoulder. His eyes were almost tearfully bitter. But there was something else in them as well. There was something almost like amusement in the way he said, “Nothing but movers today, Doctor. And all going in different directions. Fast company. Keep your dukes up.”
Hawks said, “I’ll do my best.”
“I don’t think Ed looks like a very soft touch, Connie,” Claire said, watching Hawks.
Hawks said nothing. The man in the pool bad stopped swimming and was treading water with his hands. Only his head was above the surface, with short sandy hair streaming down from the top of his small, round skull. His cheekbones were prominent. His nose was thin-bladed and he had a clipped mustache. His eyes were unreadable at the distance, with the reflected sunlight rippling over his face.
“That’s the way his life’s arranged,” Connington was now mumbling to Claire Pack spitefully, not seeing Barker watching them. “Nice and scientific. Everything balances. Nothing gets wasted. Nobody steals a march on Dr. Hawks.”
Hawks said, “Mr. Connington met me personally for the first time this afternoon.”
Claire Pack laughed with a bright metallic ripple. “Do people offer you drinks, Ed?”
“I don’t think that’ll work either, Claire,” Connington growled.
“Shut up,” she said. “Well, Ed?” She lightly held up the thermos jug, which seemed to be nearly empty. “Scotch and water?”
“Thank you, yes. Would Mr. Barker feel more comfortable about getting out of the pool, if I were to turn my back while he was fastening his leg?”
Connington said, “She’s never this blatant after she’s made her first impression. Watch out for her.”
She laughed again, throwing her head back. “He’ll come out when he’s good and ready. He might even like it if I sold tickets to the performance. Don’t you worry about Al, Ed.” She unscrewed the top of the jug, pulled the cork, and poured a drink into the plastic top. “No spare glasses or ice out here, Ed. It’s pretty cold, anyhow. All right?”
“Perfectly, Claire,” Hawks said. He took the cup and sipped at it. “Very good.” He held the cup in his hands and waited for her to fill her glass.
“How about me?” Connington said. He was watching the hair stir at the nape of Claire Pack’s neck, and his eyes were shadowed.
“Go get a glass from the house,” she said. Leaning forward, she touched the side of her glass to Hawks’ cup. “Here’s to a well-balanced life.”
Hawks smiled fleetingly and drank. She reached out and put her hand on his ankle. “Do you live near here, Ed?”
Connington said, “She’ll tease you and dig at you, and then she’ll chew you up and spit you out, Hawks. Give her half a chance, and she will. She’s the biggest bitch on two continents. But you’ve got to figure Barker would have somebody like her around.”
Claire turned her head and shoulders and looked squarely at Connington for the first time. “Are you trying to egg me on to something, Connie?” she asked in a mild voice.
Something flickered in Connington’s face. But then he said, “Dr. Hawks is here on business, Claire.”
Hawks looked up at Connington curiously over the rim of his cup. His black eyes were intent for a moment, then shifted to Claire Pack, brooding.
Claire said to Connington, “Everybody’s everywhere on some kind of business. Everybody who’s worth a damn. Everybody has something he wants. Something more important than anything else. Isn’t that right, Connie? Now, tend to your business, and I’ll manage mine.” Her look came back to Hawks, catching him off guard. Her eyes held his momentarily. “I’m sure Ed can take care of his own,” she said.
Connington flushed, twisted his mouth to say something, turned sharply, and marched away across the grass. In a flash of brief expression, Claire Pack smiled enigmatically to herself.
Hawks sipped his drink. “He’s not watching any longer. You can take your hand away from my ankle.”
She smiled sleepily. “Connie? I torment him to oblige him. He’s forever coming up here, since he met Al and myself. The thing is — he can’t come up alone, you understand? Because of the bend in the driveway. He could do it if he gave up driving those big cars, or he could bring a woman along to help him make it. But he never brings a woman, and he won’t give up either that car or those boots. He brings a new man almost every time.” She smiled. “He asks for it, don’t you see? He wants it.”
“These men he brings up,” Hawks asked. “Do you chew them up and spit them out?”
Claire threw her head back and laughed. “There are all kinds of men. The only kind that’re worth anyone’s time are the ones I can’t mangle the first time out.”
“But there are other times after the first time? It never stops? And I didn’t mean Connington was watching us. I meant Barker. He’s pulling himself out of the pool. Did you deliberately place his artificial leg so he’d have to strain to reach it? Simply because you knew another new man was coming and would need to be shown how fierce you were? Or is it to provoke Barker?”
For moment, the skin around her lips seemed crumpled and spongy. Then she said, “Are you curious to find out how much of it is bluff?” She was in complete control of herself again.
“I don’t think any of it is bluff. But I don’t know you well enough to be sure,” Hawks answered mildly.
“And I don’t know you well enough yet, either, Ed.”
Hawks said nothing to this for a moment. “Are you a long-time friend of Mr. Barker’s?” he asked at last.
Claire Pack nodded. She smiled challengingly.
Hawks nodded, checking off the point. “Connington was right.”
Barker had long arms and a flat, hairy stomach, and was wearing knitted navy-blue, European-style swimming trunks without an athletic supporter. He was a spare, wiry man with a tight, clipped voice, saying “How d’you do?” as he strode briskly across the grass. He snatched up the thermos and drank from it, throwing his head back and holding the jug upraised. He gasped with great pleasure, thumped the jug down beside Claire, wiped his mouth, and sat down. “Now, then!” he exclaimed “What’s all this?”
“Al, this is Dr. Hawks,” Claire said evenly. “Not an M.D. He’s from Continental Electronics. He wants to talk to you. Connie brought him.”
“Delighted to meet you,” Barker said, heartily extending a hand. There were burn scars on the mottled flesh. One side of his face had the subtle evenness of plastic surgery. “I’ve heard of your reputation. I’m impressed.”
Hawks took the hand and shook it. “I’ve never met an Englishman who’d call himself Al.”
Barker laughed in a brittle voice. His face changed subtly. “Matter of fact, I’m nearly as English as Paddy’s pig. Amerind’s the nationality.”
“Al’s grandparents were Mimbreno Apaches,” Claire said, with some sort of special intonation. “His grandfather was the most dangerous man alive on the North American continent. His father found a silver lode that assayed as high as any deposit ever known. Does it still hold that record, darling?” She drawled the question. Without waiting for an answer, she said, “And Al has an Ivy League education.”
Barker’s face was tightening, the small, prominent cheekbones turning pale. He reached abruptly for the thermos. Claire smiled at Hawks. “Al’s fortunate he isn’t on the reservation. It’s against federal law to sell an Indian liquor.”
Hawks waited for a moment. He watched Barker finish the jug. “I’m curious, Mr. Barker,” he said then. “Is that your only reason for exploiting a resemblance to something you’re not?”
Barker stopped with the jug half lowered. “How would you like shaving your head to a Lenape scalp lock, painting your face and body with aniline dyes, and performing a naked war dance on the main street of a New England town?”
“I wouldn’t join the fraternity.”
“That would never occur to Al,” Claire said, leaning back on her elbows. “Because, you see, at the end of the initiation he was a full-fledged fraternity brother. At the price of a lifelong remembrance, he gained a certain status during his last three undergraduate years. And a perpetual flood of begging letters from the fund committee.” She ran one palm up the glossy side of Barker’s jaw and let the fingers trail down his shoulder and arm. “But where is Delta Omicron today? Where are the snows of yesteryear? Where is the Mimbre~no boy?” She laughed and hilled back against Barker’s good thigh.
Barker looked down at her in twisted amusement. He ran the fingers of one hand into her hair. “You mustn’t let Claire put you off, Doctor,” he said. “It’s only her little way.” He seemed unaware that his fingers were clenched around the sun-bleached strands of hair, and that they were twisting slightly and remorselessly. “Claire likes to test people. Sometimes she does it by throwing herself at them. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Yes,” Hawks said. “But I came here to see you.”
Barker seemed not to have heard. He looked at Hawks with a level deadliness. “It’s interesting how Claire and I met. Seven years ago, I was on a mountain in the Alps. I rounded a sheer face — it had taken a courte 'echelle from another man’s shoulders, and a piton traverse, to negotiate it — and she was there.” Now his hand was toying tenderly. “She was sitting with one leg over a spur, staring down into the valley and dreaming to herself. Like that. I had no warning. It was as if she’d been there since the mountain was made.”
Claire laughed softly, lying back against Barker and looking up at Hawks. “Actually,” she said, “I’d come ’round by an easier route with a couple of French officers. I’d wanted to go down the way Al had come up, but they’d said it was too dangerous, and refused.” She shrugged. “So I went back down the mountain with Al. I’m really not very complicated, Ed.”
“Before she went, I had to knock the Frenchmen about a little bit,” Barker said, and now his meaning was clear. “I believe one of them had to be taken off by helicopter. And I’ve never forgotten how one goes about keeping one’s hold on her.”
Claire smiled. “I’m a warrior’s woman, Ed.” Suddenly she moved her body, and Barker let his hand fall. “Or at least we like to think so.” Her nails ran down Barker’s torso. “It’s been seven years, and nobody’s taken me away yet.” She smiled fondly up at Barker for an instant, and then her expression became challenging again. “Why don’t you tell Al about this new job, Ed?”
“New job?” Barker smiled in a practiced way. “You mean Connie actually came up here on business?”
Hawks studied Claire and Barker for a moment. Then he made up his mind. “All right. I understand you have clearance, Mr. Barker?”
Barker nodded. “I do.” He smiled reminiscently. “I’ve worked for the government off and on before this.”
“I’d like to speak to you privately, in that case.”
Claire stood up lazily, smoothing her swim suit over her hips. “I’ll go stretch out on the diving board for a while. Of course, if I were an efficient Soviet spy, I’d have microphones buried all over the lawn.”
Hawks shook his head. “No. If you were a really efficient spy, you’d have one directional microphone-perhaps on the diving board. You wouldn’t need anything better. I’d be glad to show you how to set one up, sometime, if you’re interested.”
Claire laughed. “Nobody ever steals a march on Dr. Hawks. I’ll have to remember that.” She walked slowly away, her hips swaying.
Barker turned to follow her with his eyes until she had reached the far end of the pool and arranged herself on the board. Then he turned back to Hawks. “’She walks in beauty, like the night’ — even in blaze of day, Doctor.”
“I assume that’s to your taste,” Hawks said.
Barker nodded. “Oh, yes, Doctor — I meant what I said earlier. Don’t let anything she does or says let you forget. She’s mine. And not because I have money, or good manners, or charm. I do have money, but she’s mine by right of conquest.”
Hawks sighed. “Mr. Barker, I need you to do something very few men in the world seem to be qualified to do. That is, if there are any at all besides yourself. I have very little time in which to look for others. So would you mind just looking at these photographs?”
Hawks reached into his inside breast pocket and brought out the small manila envelope. He undid the clasp, turned back the flap, and pulled out a thin sheaf of photographs. He looked at them carefully, on edge so that only he could see what they showed, selected one, and passed it to Barker.
Barker looked at it curiously, frowned, and, after a moment, handed it back to Hawks. Hawks put it behind the other pictures. It showed a landscape that at first seemed to be heaped up of black obsidian blocks and clouds of silver. In the background there were other clouds of dust, and looming asymmetric shadows. New complexities continued to catch the eye, until the eye could not follow them all and had to begin again.
“What is it?” Barker asked. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s a place,” Hawks answered. “Or perhaps not. Perhaps it’s an artifact — or else a living thing. But it’s in a definite location, readily accessible. As for beauty, please bear in mind that this is a still photograph, taken at one five-hundredth of a second, and, furthermore, eight days ago.” He began handing more photographs to Barker. “I’d like you to look at these others. These are of men who have been there.”
Barker was looking oddly at his face. Hawks went on. “That first one is the first man who went in. At the time, we were taking no more precautions than any hazardous expedition would require. That is, he had the best special equipment we could provide.”
Barker looked in fascination at the photograph, now. His fingers jerked, and he almost dropped it. He tightened his grip until the edge of the paper was bent, and when he handed it back the damp imprint of his fingers was on it.
Hawks handed Barker the next. “Those are two men,” he said remorselessly. “We thought that perhaps a team might survive.” He took the picture back and handed over another. “Those are four.” He took it back and paused. “We changed our methods thereafter. We devised a piece of special equipment, and after that we didn’t lose a man. Here’s the most recent one.” He passed Barker the remaining photograph. “That’s a man named Rogan.” He waited.
Barker looked up from the photograph. His eyes were intent. “Have you a suicide guard over this man?”
Hawks shook his head. He watched Barker. “He’d rather do anything than die again.” He gathered up the photographs and put them back into his pocket. “I’m here to offer you the job he had.”
Barker nodded. “Of course.” He frowned. “I don’t know. Or, rather, I don’t know enough. Where is this place?”
Hawks stopped to think. “I can tell you that much, before you agree to take the assignment. But nothing further. It’s on the Moon.”
“Moon? So we do have man-carrying rockets, and all this Sputnik panic is a blind?”
Hawks said nothing, and after a moment Barker shrugged and said, “How long do I have to reach a decision?”
“As long as you like. But I’ll be asking Connington to put me in touch with any other prospects tomorrow.”
“So I have until tomorrow.”
Hawks shook his head. “I dn’t think he’ll be able to deliver. He wants it to be you. I don’t know why.”
Barker smiled. “Connie’s always making plans for people.”
“You don’t take him very seriously.”
“Do you? There are the people in this world who act, and the people who scheme. The ones who act get things done, and the ones who scheme try to take credit for it. You must know that as well as I do. A man doesn’t arrive at your position without delivering results.” He looked knowingly and, for a moment, warmly, at Hawks. “Does he?”
“Connington is also a vice president of Continental Electronics.”
Barker spat on the grass. “Personnel recruiting. An expert at bribing engineers away from your competitors. Something any other skulker could do.”
“What is he?” Barker demanded. “A sort of legitimate confidence man? A mumbo-jumbo spouter with a wad of psychological tests in his back pocket? I’ve been mumbled at by experts, Doctor, and they’re all the same. What they can’t do themselves, they label abnormal. What they’re ashamed of wanting to do, they condemn others for. They cover themselves with one of those fancy social science diplomas, and talk in educated phrases, and pretend they’re actually doing something of value. Well, I’ve got an education too, and I know what the world is like, and I can give Connington cards and spades, Doctor — cards and spades — and still beat him out. Where has he been? What has he seen? What has he done? He’s nothing, Hawks — nothing, compared to a real man.”
Barker’s lips were pulled back from his glistening teeth. The skin of his face was stretched by the taut muscles at the hinges of his jaws. “He thinks he’s entitled to make plans for me. He thinks to himself: ‘There’s another clod I can use wherever I need him, and get rid of when I’m done with him.’ But that’s not the way it is. Would you care to discuss art with me, Doctor? Western or Oriental. Or music? Pick your slice of civilized culture. I know ’em all. I’m a whole man, Hawks—” Barker got clumsily up to his feet. “A better man than anybody else I know. Now let’s go join the lady.”
He began walking away across the lawn, and Hawks slowly got to his feet and followed him.
Claire looked up from where she lay flat on the diving board, and leisurely turned her body until she was sitting upright. She extended her anns behind her, bracing her back, and said, “How did it work out?”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Barker answered her. “You’ll be the first to know.”
Claire smiled. “Then you haven’t made up your mind yet? Isn’t the job attractive enough?”
Hawks watched Barker frown in annoyance.
The kitchen door of the house sighed shut on its air spring, and Connington broke into a chuckle behind them. None of them had heard him come across the strip of grass between the house and this end of the pool.
He dangled a used glass from one hand, and held a partially emptied bottle in the other. His face was flushed, and his eyes were wide with the impact of a great deal of liquor consumed over a short period of time. “Gonna do it, Al?”
Instantly, Barker’s mouth flashed into a bare-toothed, fighting grimace. “Of course!” he exclaimed in a startlingly desperate voice. “I couldn’t let it pass — not for the world!”
Claire smiled faintly to herself.
Hawks watched all three of them.
Connington chuckled again. “What else could you’ve said?” he laughed at Barker. His arm swept out in irony. “Here’s a man famous for split-second decisions. Always the same ones.” The secret was out. The joke was being delivered. “You don’t understand, do you?” he said to the three at the edge of the pool. “Don’t see things the way I do. Let me explain.
“A technician — like you, Hawks — sees the whole world as cause an’ effect. And the world’s consistent, explained that way, so why look for any further? Man like you, Barker, sees the world moved by deeds of strong men. And your way of lookin’ at it works out, too.
“But the world’s big. Complicated. Part-answer can look like the whole answer and act like the whole answer for a long time. For instance, Hawks can think of himself as manipulating causes an’ producing effects he wants. ’N you, Barker, you can think of Hawks and you as s’perior, Overman types. Hawks can think of you as specified factor t’ be inserted in new environment, so Hawks can solve new ’vironment. You can think of yourself as indomitable figure slugging it out with th’ unknown. And so it goes, roun’ and roun’, an’ who’s right? Both of you? Maybe. Maybe. But can you stan’ to be on the same job together?”
Connington laughed again, his high heels planted in the lawn. “Me, I’m personnel man. I don’t look cause and effect. I don’t look heroes. Explain the world in a different way. People — that’s all I know. ’S enough. I feel ’em. I know ’em. Like a chemist knows valences. Like a physicist knows particle charges. Positive, negative. Atomic weight, ’tomic number. Attract, repel. I mix ’em. I compound ’em. I take people, an’ I find a job for them, the co-workers for ’em. I take a raw handful of people, and I mutate it, and make isotopes out of it — I make solvents, reagents — an’ I can make ’splosives, too, when I want. That’s my world!
“Sometimes I save people up — save ’em for the right job to make ’em react the right way. Save ’em up for the right people.
“Barker, Hawks — you’re gonna be my masterpiece. ’Cause sure as God made little green apples, he made you two to meet An’ me, me, I found you, an’ I’ve done it, I’ve rammed you two together an’ now it’s done, an’ nothing’ll ever take the critical mass apart, and sooner, later, it’s got to ’splode, and who’re you gonna run to then, Claire?”