Загрузка...

Larry Niven

The Fourth Profession

The doorbell rang around noon on Wednesday.

I sat up in bed and—it was the oddest of hangovers. My head didn’t spin. My sense of balance was quiveringly alert. At the same time my mind was clogged with the things I knew: facts that wouldn’t relate, churning in my head.

It was like walking the high wire while simultaneously trying to solve an Agatha Christie mystery. Yet I was doing neither. I was just sitting up in bed, blinking.

I remembered the Monk, and the pills. How many pills?

The bell rang again.

Walking to the door was an eerie sensation. Most people pay no attention to their somesthetic senses. Mine were clamoring for attention, begging to be tested—by a backflip, for instance. I resisted. I don’t have the muscles for doing backflips.

I couldn’t remember taking any acrobatics pills.

The man outside my door was big and blond and blocky. He was holding an unfamiliar badge up to the lens of my spy-eye, in a wide hand with short, thick fingers. He had candid blue eyes, a square, honest face—a face I recognized. He’d been in the Long Spoon last night, at a single table in a corner.

Last night he had looked morose, introspective, like a man whose girl has left him for Mr. Wrong. A face guaranteed to get him left alone. I’d noticed him only because he wasn’t drinking enough to match the face.

Today he looked patient, endlessly patient, with the patience of a dead man.

And he had a badge. I let him in.

“William Morris,” he said, identifying himself. “Secret Service. Are you Edward Harley Frazer, owner of the Long Spoon Bar?”

“Part-owner.”

“Yes, that’s right. Sorry to bother you, Mr. Frazer. I see you keep bartender’s hours.” He was looking at the wrinkled pair of underpants I had on.

“Sit down,” I said, waving at the chair. I badly needed to sit down myself. Standing, I couldn’t think about anything but standing. My balance was all conscious. My heels would not rest solidly on the floor. They barely touched. My weight was all on my toes; my body insisted on standing that way.

So I dropped onto the edge of the bed, but it felt like I was giving a trampoline performance. The poise, the grace, the polished ease! Hell. “What do you want from me, Mr. Morris? Doesn’t the Secret Service guard the President?”

His answer sounded like rote-memory. “Among other concerns, such as counterfeiting, we do guard the President and his immediate family and the President-elect, and the Vice President if he asks us to.” He paused. “We used to guard foreign dignitaries too.”

That connected. “You’re here about the Monk.”

“Right.” Morris looked down at his hands. He should have had an air of professional self-assurance to go with the badge. It wasn’t there. “This is an odd case, Frazer. We took it because it used to be our job to protect foreign visitors, and because nobody else would touch it.”

“So last night you were in the Long Spoon guarding a visitor from outer space.”

“Just so.”

“Where were you night before last?”

“Was that when he first appeared?”

“Yah,” I said, remembering. “Monday night…”

* * *

He came in an hour after opening time. He seemed to glide, with the hem of his robe just brushing the floor. By his gait he might have been moving on wheels. His shape was wrong, in a way that made your eyes want to twist around to straighten it out.

There is something queer about the garment that gives a Monk his name. The hood is open in front, as if eyes might hide within its shadow, and the front of the robe is open too. But the loose cloth hides more than it ought to. There is too much shadow.

Once I thought the robe parted as he walked toward me. But there seemed to be nothing inside.

In the Long Spoon was utter silence. Every eye was on the Monk as he took a stool at one end of the bar, and ordered.

He looked alien, and was. But he seemed_ supernatural.

He used the oddest of drinking systems. I keep my house brands on three long shelves, more or less in order of type. The Monk moved down the top row of bottles, right to left, ordering a shot from each bottle. He took his liquor straight, at room temperature. He drank quietly, steadily, and with what seemed to be total concentration.

He spoke only to order.

He showed nothing of himself but one hand. That hand looked like a chicken’s foot, but bigger, with lumpy- looking, very flexible joints, and with five toes instead of four.

At closing time the Monk was four bottles from the end of the row. He paid me in one-dollar bills, and left, moving steadily, the hem of his robe just brushing the floor. I testify as an expert: he was sober. The alcohol had not affected him at all.

“Monday night,” I said. “He shocked the hell out of us. Morris, what was a Monk doing in a bar in Hollywood? I thought all the Monks were in New York.”

“So did we.”

“Oh?”

“We didn’t know he was on the West Coast until it hit the newspapers yesterday morning. That’s why you didn’t see more reporters yesterday. We kept them off your back. I came in last night to question you, Frazer. I changed my mind when I saw that the Monk was already here.”

“Question me. Why? All I did was serve him drinks.”

“Okay, let’s start there. Weren’t you afraid the alcohol might kill a Monk?”

“It occurred to me.”

“Well?”

“I served him what he asked for. It’s the Monks’ own doing that nobody knows anything about Monks. We don’t even know what shape they are, let alone how they’re put together. If liquor does things to a Monk, it’s his own look-out. Let him check the chemistry.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“Thanks.”

“It’s also the reason I’m here,” said Morris. “We know too little about the Monks. We didn’t even know they existed until something over two years ago.”

“Oh?” I’d only started reading about them a month ago.

“It wouldn’t be that long, except that all the astronomers were looking in that direction already, studying a recent nova in Sagittarius. So they caught the Monk starship a little sooner; but it was already inside Pluto’s orbit.

“They’ve been communicating with us for over a year. Two weeks ago they took up orbit around the Moon. There’s only one Monk starship, and only one ground-to-orbit craft, as far as we know. The ground-to-orbit craft has been sitting in the ocean off Manhattan Island, convenient to the United Nations Building, for those same two weeks. Its crew are supposed to be all the Monks there are in the world.

“Mr. Frazer, we don’t even know how your Monk got out here to the West Coast! Almost anything you could tell us would help. Did you notice anything odd about him, these last two nights?”

“Odd?” I grinned. “About a Monk?”

Вы читаете The Fourth Profession
Добавить отзыв
ВСЕ ОТЗЫВЫ О КНИГЕ В ИЗБРАННОЕ

0

Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату