"In my head," said Noel Constant.
"There is one more advantage I have yet to point out," said Fern. "Some day your luck is going to run out. And then you're going to need the shrewdest, most thorough manager you can hire- or you'll crash all the way back to pots and pans."
"You're hired," said Noel Constant, father of Malachi.
"Now, where should we erect the building?" said Fern.
"I own this hotel, and this hotel owns the lot across the street," said Noel Constant. "Build it on the lot across the street." He held up an index finger as crooked as a crankshaft. "There's just one thing-"
"Yes, sir?" said Fern.
"I'm not moving into it," said Noel Constant. "I'm staying right here."
Those who want more detailed histories of Magnum Opus, Inc., can go to their public libraries and ask for either Lavina Waters' romantic Too Wild a Dream? Too Wild a Dream? or Crowther Gomburg's harsh or Crowther Gomburg's harsh Primordial Scales Primordial Scales.
Miss Waters' volume, while fuddled as to business details, contains the better account of the chambermaid Florence Whitehill's discovery that she was pregnant by Noel Constant, and her discovery that Noel Constant was a multi-multi-millionaire.
Noel Constant married the chambermaid, gave her a mansion and a checking account with a million dollars in it. He told her to name the child Malachi if it was boy, and Prudence if it was a girl. He asked her to please keepcoming to see him once every ten days in Room 223 of the Wilburhampton Hotel, but not to bring the baby.
Gomburg's book, while first-rate on business details, suffers from Gomburg's central thesis, to the effect that Magnum Opus was a product of a complex of inabilities to love. Reading between the lines of Gomburg's book, it is increasingly clear that Gomburg is himself unloved and unable to love.
Neither Miss Waters nor Gomburg, incidentally, discovered Noel Constant's investment method. Ransom K. Fern never discovered it either, though he tried hard enough.
The only person Noel Constant ever told was his son, Malachi, on Malachi's twenty-first birthday. That birthday party of two took place in Room 223 of the Wilburhampton. It was the first time father and son had ever met.
Malachi had come to see Noel by invitation.
Human emotions being what they are, young Malachi Constant paid more attention to a detail in the room's furnishings than he did to the secret of how to make millions or even billions of dollars.
The money-making secret was so simple-minded to begin with, that it didn't require much attention. The most complicated part of it had to do with the manner in which young Malachi was to pick up the torch of Magnum Opus when Noel had, at long last, laid it down. Young Malachi was to ask Ransom K. Fern for a chronological list of the investments of Magnum Opus, and, reading down the margin, young Malachi would learn just how far old Noel had gone in the Bible, and where young Malachi should begin.
The detail in the furnishings of Room 223 that interested young Malachi so was a photograph of himself. It was a photograph of himself at the age of three- a photograph of a sweet, pleasant, game little boy on an ocean beach.
It was thumbtacked to the wall.
It was the only picture in the room.
Old Noel saw young Malachi looking at the picture, and was confused and embarra.s.sed by the whole thing about fathers and sons. He ransacked his mind for something good to say, and found almost nothing.
"My father gave me only two pieces of advice," he said, "and only one of them has stood the test of time. They were: 'Don't touch your princ.i.p.al,' and 'Keep the liquor bottle out of the bedroom.'" His embarra.s.sment and confusion were now too great to be borne. "Good-by," he said abruptly.
"Good-by?" said young Malachi, startled. He moved toward the door.
"Keep the liquor bottle out of the bedroom," said the old man, and he turned his back.
"Yes, sir, I will," said young Malachi. "Good-by, sir," he said, and he left.
That was the first and last time that Malachi Constant ever saw his father.
His father lived for five more years, and the Bible never played him false.
Noel Constant died just as he reached the end of this sentence: "And G.o.d made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also."
His last investment was in Sonnyboy Oil at 17.
The son took over where the father had left off, though Malachi Constant did not move into Room 223 in the Wilburhampton.
And, for five years, the luck of the son was as sensational as the luck of the father had been.
And now, suddenly, Magnum Opus lay in ruins.
There in his office, with the floating furniture and the gra.s.s carpet, Malachi Constant still could not believe that his luck had run out.
"Nothing left?" he said faintly. He managed to smile at Ransom K. Fern. "Come on, guy- I mean there's got to be something left."
"I thought so, too, at ten o'clock this morning," said Fern. "I was congratulating myself on having b.u.t.tressed Magnum Opus against any conceivable blow. We were weathering the depression quite nicely- yes, and your mistakes, too.
"And then, at ten-fifteen, I was visited by a lawyer who was apparently at your party last night. You, apparently, were giving away oil wells last night, and the lawyer was thoughtful enough to draw up doc.u.ments which, if signed by you, would be binding. They were signed by you. You gave away five hundred and thirty-one producing oil wells last night, which wiped out Fandango Petroleum.
"At eleven," said Fern, "the President of the United States announced that Galactic s.p.a.cecraft, which we had sold, was receiving a three-billion contract for the New Age of s.p.a.ce.
"At eleven-thirty," said Fern, "I was given a copy of The Journal of the American Medical a.s.sociation, The Journal of the American Medical a.s.sociation, whichwas marked by our public relations director, 'FYI.' These three letters, as you would know if you had ever spent any time in your office, mean 'for your information.' I turned to the page referred to, and learned, for my information, that MoonMist Cigarettes were not whichwas marked by our public relations director, 'FYI.' These three letters, as you would know if you had ever spent any time in your office, mean 'for your information.' I turned to the page referred to, and learned, for my information, that MoonMist Cigarettes were not a a cause but the cause but the princ.i.p.al princ.i.p.al cause of sterility in both s.e.xes wherever MoonMist cigarettes were sold. This fact was discovered not by human beings but by a computing machine. Whenever data about cigarette smoking was fed into it, the machine grew tremendously excited, and no one could figure out why. The machine was obviously trying to tell its operators something. It did everything it could to express itself, and finally managed to get its operators to ask it the right questions. cause of sterility in both s.e.xes wherever MoonMist cigarettes were sold. This fact was discovered not by human beings but by a computing machine. Whenever data about cigarette smoking was fed into it, the machine grew tremendously excited, and no one could figure out why. The machine was obviously trying to tell its operators something. It did everything it could to express itself, and finally managed to get its operators to ask it the right questions.
"The right questions had to do with the relationship of MoonMist Cigarettes to human reproduction. The relationship was this: "People who smoked MoonMist Cigarettes couldn't have children, even if they wanted them," said Fern.
"Doubtless," said Fern, "there are gigolos and party girls and New Yorkers who are grateful for this relief from biology. In the opinion of the Legal Department of Magnum Opus, before that department was liquidated, however, there are several million persons who can sue successfully- on the grounds that Moon-Mist Cigarettes did them out of something rather valuable. Pleasure in depth, indeed.
"There are approximately ten million ex-smokers of MoonMist in this country," said Fern, "all sterile. If one in ten sues you for damages beyond price, sues you forthe modest sum of five thousand dollars- the bill will be five billion dollars, excluding legal fees. And you haven't got five billion dollars. Since the stock-market crash and your acquisition of such properties as American Levitation, you aren't worth even five hundred million.
"MoonMist Tobacco," said Fern, "that's you. Magnum Opus," said Fern, "that's you, too. All the things you are are going to be sued and sued successfully. And, while the litigants may not be able to get blood from turnips, they can certainly ruin the turnips in the process of trying."
Fern bowed again. "I now perform my last official duty, which is to inform you that your father wrote you a letter which was to be given to you only if your luck turned for the worse. My instructions were to place that letter under the pillow in Room 223 in the Wilburhampton, if your luck ever really turned sour. I placed the letter under the pillow an hour ago.
"And I will now, as an humble and loyal corporate servant, ask you for one small favor," said Fern. "If the letter seems to cast the vaguest light on what life might be about, I would appreciate your telephoning me at home."
Ransom K. Fern saluted by touching the shaft of his cane to his Homburg hat. "Good-by, Mr. Magnum Opus, Jr. Good-by."
The Wilburhampton Hotel was a frumpish, three-story Tudor structure across the street from the Magnum Opus Building, standing in relation to that building like anunmade bed at the feet of the Archangel Gabriel. Pine slats were tacked to the stucco exterior of the hotel, simulating half-timbered construction. The backbone of the roof had been broken intentionally, simulating great age. The eaves were plump and low, tucked under, simulated thatch. The windows were tiny, with diamond-shaped panes.
The hotel's small c.o.c.ktail lounge was known as the Hear Ye Room.
In the Hear Ye Room were three people- a bartender and two customers. The two customers were a thin woman and a fat man- both seemingly old. n.o.body in the Wilburhampton had ever seen them before, but it already seemed as though they had been sitting in the Hear Ye Room for years. Their protective coloration was perfect, for they looked half-timbered and broken-backed and thatched and little-windowed, too.
They claimed to be pensioned-off teachers from the same high school in the Middle West. The fat man introduced himself as George M. Helmholtz, a former bandmaster. The thin woman introduced herself as Roberta Wiley, a former teacher of algebra.
They had obviously discovered the consolations of alcohol and cynicism late in life. They never ordered the same drink twice, were avid to know what was in this bottle and what was in that one- to know what a golden dawn punch was, and a Helen Twelvetrees, and a plui d'or, plui d'or, and a merry widow fizz. and a merry widow fizz.
The bartender knew they weren't alcoholics. He was familiar with the type, and loved the type: they weresimply two Sat.u.r.day Evening Post Sat.u.r.day Evening Post characters at the end of the road. characters at the end of the road.
When they weren't asking questions about the different things to drink, they were indistinguishable from millions of other American barflies on the first day of the New Age of s.p.a.ce. They sat, solidly on their barstools, staring straight ahead at the ranks of bottles. Their lips moved constantly- experimenting dismayingly with irrelevant grins and grimaces and sneers.
Evangelist Bobby Denton's image of Earth as G.o.d's s.p.a.ce ship was an apt one- particularly with reference to barflies. Helmholtz and Miss Wiley were behaving like pilot and co-pilot of an enormously pointless voyage through s.p.a.ce that was expected to take forever. It was easy to believe that they had begun the voyage nattily, flushed with youth and technical training, and that the bottles before them were the instruments they had been watching for years and years and years.
It was easy to believe that each day had found the s.p.a.ce boy and the s.p.a.ce girl microscopically more slovenly than the day before, until now, when they were the shame of the Pan-Galactic s.p.a.ce Service.
Two b.u.t.tons on Helmholtz's fly were open. There was shaving cream in his left ear. His socks did not match.
Miss Wiley was a crazy-looking little old lady with a lantern jaw. She wore a frizzy black wig that looked as though it had been nailed to a farmer's barn door for years.
"I see where the President has ordered a whole brand-new Age of s.p.a.ce to begin, to see if that won't help the unemployment picture some," said the bartender.
"Uh, huh," said Helmholtz and Miss Wiley simultaneously.
Only an observant and suspicious person would have noticed a false note in the behavior of the two: Helmholtz and Miss Wiley were too interested in time too interested in time. For people who had nothing much to do and nowhere much to go, they were extraordinarily interested in their watches- Miss Wiley in her mannish wrist watch, Mr. Helmholtz in his gold pocket watch.
The truth of the matter was that Helmholtz and Miss Wiley weren't retired school teachers at all. They were both males, both masters of disguise. They were crack agents for the Army of Mars, the eyes and ears for a Martian press gang that hovered in a flying saucer two hundred miles overhead.
Malachi Constant didn't know it, but they were waiting for him.
Helmholtz and Wiley did not accost Malachi Constant when he crossed the street to the Wilburhampton. They gave no sign that he mattered to them. They let him cross the lobby and board the elevator without giving him a glance.
They did, however, glance at their watches again- and an observant and suspicious person would have noticed that Miss Wiley pressed a b.u.t.ton on her watch, starting a stopwatch hand on its twitching rounds.
Helmholtz and Miss Wiley were not about to use violence on Malachi Constant. They had never used violence on anyone, and had still recruited fourteen thousand persons for Mars.
Their usual technique was to dress like civil engineers and offer not-quite-bright men and women nine dollars an hour, tax free, plus food and shelter and transportation, to work on a secret Government project in a remote part of the world for three years. It was a joke between Helmholtz and Miss Wiley that they had never specified what what government was organizing the project, and that no recruit had ever thought to ask. government was organizing the project, and that no recruit had ever thought to ask.
Ninety-nine per cent of the recruits were given amnesia upon arriving on Mars. Their memories were cleaned out by mental-health experts, and Martian surgeons installed radio antennas in their skulls in order that the recruits might be radio-controlled.
And then the recruits were given new names in the most haphazard fashion, and were a.s.signed to the factories, the construction gangs, the administrative staff, or to the Army of Mars.
The few recruits who were not treated in this way were those who demonstrated ardently that they would serve Mars heroically without being doctored at all. Those lucky few were welcomed into the secret circle of those in command.
Secret agents Helmholtz and Wiley belonged to this circle. They were in full possession of their memories, and they were not radio-controlled. They adored their work, just as they were.
"What's that there Slivovitz like?" Helmholtz asked the bartender, squinting at a dusty bottle on the bottom row. He had just finished a sloe gin rickey.
"I didn't even know we had it," said the bartender. He put the bottle on the bar, tilting it away from himself so he could read the label. "Prune brandy," he said.
"Believe I'll try that next," said Helmholtz.
Ever since the death of Noel Constant, Room 223 in the Wilburhampton had been left empty- as a memorial.
Malachi Constant now let himself into Room 223. He had not been in the room since the death of his father. He closed the door behind him, and found the letter under the pillow.
Nothing in the room had been changed but the linen. The picture of Malachi as a little boy on the beach was still the only picture on the wall.
The letter said: Dear Son: Something big and bad has happened to you or you wouldn't be reading this letter. I am writing this letter to tell you to calm down about the bad things and kind of look around and see if something good or something important anyway happened on account of we got so rich and then lost the boodle again. What I want you to try and find out is, is there anything special going on or is it all just as crazy as it looked to me?
If I wasn't a very good father or a very good anything that was because I was as good as dead for a long timebefore I died. n.o.body loved me and I wasn't very good at anything and I couldn't find any hobbies I liked and I was sick and tired of selling pots and pans and watching television so I was as good as dead and I was too far gone to ever come back.
That is when I started the business with the Bible and you know what happened after that. It looked as though somebody or something wanted me to own the whole planet even though I was as good as dead. I kept my eyes open for some kind of signal that would tell me what it was all about but there wasn't any signal. I just went on getting richer and richer.
And then your mother sent me that picture of you on the beach and the way you looked at me out of that picture made me think maybe you were what all the big money buildup was for. I decided I would die without ever seeing any sense to it and maybe you would be the one who would all of a sudden see everything clear as a bell. I tell you even a half-dead man hates to be alive and not be able to see any sense to it.
The reason I told Ransom K. Fern to give you this letter only if your luck turned bad is that n.o.body thinks or notices anything as long as his luck is good. Why should he?
So have a look around for me, boy. And if you go broke and somebody comes along with a crazy proposition my advice is to take it. You might just learn something when you're in a mood to learn something.The only thing I ever learned was that some people are lucky and other people aren't and not even a graduate of the Harvard Business School can say why.
Yours truly- your Pa There was a knock on the door of Room 223.
The door opened before Constant could reply to the knock.
Helmholtz and Miss Wiley let themselves in. They entered at precisely the right instant, having been advised by their superiors as to when, to the second, Malachi Constant would finish the letter. They had been told, too, precisely what to say to him.
Miss Wiley removed her wig, revealing herself to be a scrawny man, and Helmholtz composed his features to reveal that he was fearless and used to command.
"Mr. Constant," said Helmholtz, "I am here to inform you that the planet Mars is not only populated, but populated by a large and efficient and military and industrial society. It has been recruited from Earth, with the recruits being transferred to Mars by flying saucer. We are now prepared to offer you a direct lieutenant-colonelcy in the Army of Mars.
"Your situation on Earth is hopeless. Your wife is a beast. Moreover, our intelligence informs us that here on Earth you will not only be made penniless by civil suits, but that you will be imprisoned for criminal negligence as well.
"In addition to a pay scale and privileges well above those accorded lieutenant-colonels in Earthling armies,we can offer you immunity from all Earthling legal hara.s.sment, and an opportunity to see a new and interesting planet, and an opportunity to think about your native planet from a fresh and beautifully detached viewpoint"
"If you accept the commission," said Miss Wiley, "raise your left hand and repeat after me-"
On the following day, Malachi Constant's helicopter was found empty in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The footprints of a man led away from it for a distance of forty feet, then stopped.
It was as though Malachi Constant had walked forty feet, and had then dissolved into thin air.
On the following Tuesday, the s.p.a.ce ship known as The Whale The Whale was rechristened was rechristened The Rumfoord The Rumfoord and was readied for firing. and was readied for firing.
Beatrice Rumfoord smugly watched the ceremonies on a television set two thousand miles away. She was still in Newport. The Rumfoord The Rumfoord was going to be fired in exactly one minute. If destiny was going to get Beatrice Rumfoord on board, it was going to have to do it in one h.e.l.l of a hurry. was going to be fired in exactly one minute. If destiny was going to get Beatrice Rumfoord on board, it was going to have to do it in one h.e.l.l of a hurry.
Beatrice was feeling marvelous. She had proved so many good things. She had proved that she was mistress of her own fate, could say no no whenever she pleased- and make it stick. She had proved that her husband's omniscient bullying was all a bluff- that he wasn't much better at forecasts than the United States Weather Bureau. whenever she pleased- and make it stick. She had proved that her husband's omniscient bullying was all a bluff- that he wasn't much better at forecasts than the United States Weather Bureau.
She had, moreover, worked out a plan that would enable her to live in modest comfort for the rest of her days, and would, at the same time, give her husband the treatment he deserved. The next time he materialized, he would find the estate teeming with gawkers. Beatrice was going to charge them five dollars a head to come in through the Alice-in-Wonderland door.
This was no pipe dream. She had discussed it with two supposed representatives of the mortgage-holders on the estate- and they were enthusiastic.
They were with her now, watching the preparations for the firing of The Rumfoord The Rumfoord on television. The television set was in the same room with the huge painting of Beatrice as an immaculate little girl in white, with a white pony all her own. Beatrice smiled up at the painting. The little girl had yet to get the least bit soiled. on television. The television set was in the same room with the huge painting of Beatrice as an immaculate little girl in white, with a white pony all her own. Beatrice smiled up at the painting. The little girl had yet to get the least bit soiled.
The television announcer now began the last minute's countdown for the firing of The Rumfoord The Rumfoord.
During the countdown, Beatrice's mood was birdlike. She could not sit still and she could not keep quiet. Her restlessness was a result of happiness, not of suspense. It was a matter of indifference to her whether The Rumfoord The Rumfoord was a fizzle or not. was a fizzle or not.
Her two visitors, on the other hand, seemed to take the firing very seriously- seemed to be praying for the success of the shot. They were a man and a woman, a Mr. George M. Helmholtz and his secretary, a Miss Roberta Wiley. Miss Wiley was a funny-looking little old thing, but very alert and witty.
The rocket went up with a roar.
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