by William Tenn
When he first came to scrutinize Wednesday Gresham with his rimless spectacles and watery blue eyes, Fabian Balik knew nothing of the biological contradictions that were so incredibly a part of her essential body structure. He had not even noticed—as yet—that she was a remarkably pretty girl with eyes like rain-sparkling violets. His original preoccupation with her was solely and specifically as a problem in personnel administration.
All of which was not too surprising, because Fabian Balik was a thoroughly intent, thoroughly sincere young office manager, who had convinced his glands conclusively, in several bitter skirmishes, that their interests didn’t have a chance against the interests of Slaughter, Stark & Slingsby: Advertising & Public Relations.
Wednesday was one of the best stenographers in the secretarial pool that was under his immediate supervision. There were, however, small but highly unusual derelictions in her employment history. They consisted of peculiarities which a less dedicated and ambitious personnel man might have put aside as mere trifles, but which Fabian, after a careful study of her six-year record with the firm, felt he could not, in good conscience, ignore. On the other hand, they would obviously require an extended discussion and he had strong views about cutting into an employee’s working time.
Thus, much to the astonishment of the office and the confusion of Wednesday herself, he came up to her one day at noon, and informed her quite calmly that they were going to have lunch together.
“This is a nice place,” he announced, when they had been shown to a table. “It’s not too expensive, but I’ve discovered it serves the best food in the city for the price. And it’s a bit off the beaten track so that it never gets too crowded. Only people who know what they want manage to come here.”
Wednesday glanced around, and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I like it too. I eat here a lot with the girls.”
After a moment, Fabian picked up a menu. “I suppose you don’t mind if I order for both of us?” he inquired. “The chef is used to my tastes. He’ll treat us right.”
The girl frowned. “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Balik, but—”
“Yes?” he said encouragingly, though he was more than surprised. He hadn’t expected anything but compliance. After all, she was probably palpitating at being out with him.
“I’d like to order for myself,” she said. “I’m on a—a special diet.”
He raised his eyebrows and was pleased at the way she blushed. He nodded slowly, with dignity, letting his displeasure come through in the way he pronounced his words. “Very well, as you please.”
A few moments later, though, curiosity got too strong and broke through the ice. “What kind of diet is that? Fresh-fruit salad, a glass of tomato juice, raw cabbage, and a
Wednesday smiled timidly. “I’m not trying to reduce, Mr. Balik. Those are all foods rich in Vitamin C. I need a lot of Vitamin C.”
Fabian remembered her smile. There had been a few spots of more-than-natural whiteness in it. “Bad teeth?” he inquired.
“Bad teeth and—” Her tongue came out and paused for a thoughtful second between her lips. “Mostly bad teeth,” she said. “This is a nice place. There’s a restaurant almost like it near where I live. Of course it’s a lot cheaper—”
“Do you live with your parents, Miss Gresham?”
“No, I live alone. I’m an orphan.”
He waited until the waiter had deposited the first course, then speared a bit of the shrimp and returned to the attack. “Since when?”
She stared at him over her fresh-fruit salad. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Balik?”
“Since when? How long have you been an orphan?”
“Since I was a little baby. Someone left me on the doorstep of a foundling home.”
He noticed that while she was replying to his questions in an even tone of voice, she was staring at her food with a good deal of concentration and her blush had become more pronounced. Was she embarrassed at having to admit her probable lack of legitimacy? he wondered. Surely she had grown accustomed to it in—how old was she? —twenty-four years. Nonsense, of course she had.
“But on your original application form, Miss Gresham, you gave Thomas and Mary Gresham as the names of your parents.”
Wednesday had stopped eating and was playing with her water glass. “They were an old couple who adopted me,” she said in a very low voice. “They died when I was fifteen. I have no living relatives.”
“That you know of,” he pointed out, raising a cautionary finger.
Much to Fabian’s surprise she chuckled. It was a very odd chuckle and made him feel extremely uncomfortable. “That’s right, Mr. Balik. I have no living relatives—
Fabian felt irritably that the interview was somehow getting away from him. He raised his voice slightly. “Then who is Dr. Morris Lorington?”
She was attentive again. In fact, wary was more like it. “Dr. Morris Lorington?”
“Yes, the man you said should be notified in case of emergency. In case anything happened to you while you were working for us.”
She looked very wary now. Her eves were narrowed, she was watching him very closely; her breathing was a bit faster, too. “Dr. Lorington is an old friend. He—he was the doctor at the orphanage. After the Greshams adopted me, I kept going to him whenever—” Her voice trailed off.
“Whenever you needed medical attention?” Fabian suggested.
“Ye-es,” she said, brightening, as if he had come up with an entirely novel reason for consulting a physician. “I saw him whenever I needed medical attention.”
Fabian grunted. There was something very wrong but tantalizingly elusive about this whole business. But she was answering his questions. He couldn’t deny that: she was certainly answering.
“Do you expect to see him next October?” he inquired.
And now Wednesday was no longer wary. She was frightened. “Next October?” she quavered.
Fabian finished the last of his shrimp and wiped his lips. But he didn’t take his eyes off her. “Yes, next October, Miss Gresham. You’ve applied for a month’s leave of absence, beginning October fifteenth. Five years ago, after you had been working for Slaughter, Stark and Slingsby for thirteen months, you also applied for a leave of absence in October.”
He was amazed at how scared she looked. He felt triumphantly that he had been right in looking into this. The feeling he had about her had not been merely curiosity; it had been an instinct of good personnel management
“But I’m not getting paid for the time off. I’m not asking to be paid for it, Mr. Balik. And I didn’t get paid the —the other time.”
She was clutching her napkin up near her face, and she gave the impression of being ready to bolt through the back door of the restaurant. Her blushes had departed with such thoroughness as to leave her skin absolutely white.
“The fact that you’re not going to be paid for the time off, Miss Gresham—” Fabian began, only to be interrupted by the waiter with the entree. By the time the man had gone, he was annoyed to observe that Wednesday had used the respite to recover some of her poise. While she was still pale, she had a spot of red in each cheek and she was leaning back in her chair now instead of using the edge of it.
“The fact that you’re not going to be paid is of no consequence,” he continued nonetheless. “It’s merely logical. After all, you have two weeks of vacation with pay every year. Which brings me to the second point. You have every year made
“To take it in the early Spring,” she finished, her voice entirely under control. “Is there anything wrong with