By G. L. VANDENBURG
You can't be too suspicious when
security is at stake. When everybody
who is after a key military
job wears a toupee, it is obviously
a bald case of espionage.
A job as laboratory technician
with the Army Weapons
Development Center carried
about as much prestige as a bat
boy in a World Series.
George Fisher was a laboratory
He was a shy but likeable fellow,
a diligent worker and
trustworthy. He didn't talk. He
was rarely talked to. He had no
burning ambition to push himself
ahead in the world. Being
an assistant to the brains was
good enough for him. He had a
commendable talent for minding
his own business.
In a security job these qualities
counted ahead of scientific
One day George Fisher turned
up dead. The initial shock and
concern experienced by his superiors
was soon overcome by
the coroner's finding. Suicide.
Harry Payne was the Civilian
Personnel Director of Fort
Dickson. It was his job to find
a replacement for George Fisher.
"Miss Conway!" Harry's voice
lashed into the intercom.
There was an interminable
pause. He cursed under his
Then, "Yes, Mr. Payne?"
"Where the hell were you?
Never mind. Bring me the file
on George Fisher."
"George Fisher?" Miss Conway
was in her favorite state of
mind ... confusion. "But he's
dead, isn't he?"
Harry let out a deep anguished
groan. "Yes, Miss Conway,
he's dead. That's why I want his
file. That answer your question?"
"Yes, sir. Be there in a jiffy!"
Harry could tell she was bubbling
over with smiles as she
spoke. A few more centuries
would pass, he thought, before
they manufactured another
broad as dumb as Miss Conway.
He stuffed his hands in his
pockets and looked out the window.
Across the parade ground
he could see the Army Weapons
Development Center. He had no
idea what new bomb they might
be working on behind those
heavily guarded fences. He
He was only concerned with
the people who worked there.
The rest of Fort Dickson used
mostly Civil Service Personnel.
But the barricaded security
jungle across the parade grounds
was more particular about its
hired help. A person's record had
to be spotless almost from the
day of his conception ... or a
person could not even gain entrance.
Harry had never been inside
Weapons Development. He had
once been to traffic court as a
roaring juvenile eighteen years
before. That was enough to bar
him from even visiting. He realized,
though, that the army
couldn't afford to take chances.
Hiring new technicians required
an arduous screening
process. Harry loathed it. He was
thankful that the personnel at
Weapons Development were
highly paid and usually permanent.
He never had to hire more
than one person a year.
Miss Conway swept into the
office and handed Harry the
"Thanks," he muttered.
"Don't mention it, boss."
Harry called after her as she
went back toward the reception
"Stay by your desk, will you?
The government may need you."
A muffled giggle was her only
Miss Conway was a civil service
employee. She had been
Harry's secretary for six
months. Like most other civil
service personnel, according to
Harry's way of thinking she was
a tower of inefficiency. His chief
annoyance stemmed from the
fact that the army had arbitrarily
placed her in his office. He
had been given no choice in the
matter. It was one hell of a way
to treat a personnel director, he
He sat at his desk gloomily
aware of the headaches he'd have
to face in his quest for George
Fisher's replacement. He opened
the folder and glanced at the vital
Fisher, George—Age: 40—Weight:
Employment: 10/7/58—Date of
Suicide—etc., etc. Harry yawned.
Statistics bored him.
He turned to a page marked
"Qualifications" and started
reading. The phrase "Education
and experience in nuclear physics
required," caught his eye.
The requirement was no surprise
to him. But whenever he saw it
he took a few minutes off to indulge
his curiosity. What was
the big project at Weapons Development?
He'd love to know.
He wouldn't find out, of course.
And the inability to find out naturally
gave his imagination the
widest latitude. His most persistent
theory involved an atomic
powered rocket capable of knocking
the Russians' manned satellites
out of space. The Russians
were still ahead of everyone and
their latest satellites were
heavily armed. As usual they
were lording it over the rest of
the world. And the rest of the
world had not come up with an
effective answer to this challenge.
Harry closed the folder. He
glanced at a list of technical
schools. He would call each of
them and ask them to submit a
list of lab technicians. He would
also look over the field of technicians
still left in private enterprise.
The intercom buzzed.
"What is it, Miss Conway?"
"Miss Ralston is here."
"Who is Miss Ralston?"
"She has an appointment with
"An appointment!" Harry was
baffled. "Who made it?"
"I did. I guess I forgot to tell
Harry closed his eyes and
counted to ten. "Thank you,
Miss Conway. Will you step into
my office for a moment?" He
tried to control his mounting anger.
She breezed into the office.
"Now, Miss Conway, will you
please tell me who is this Miss
"She operates 'Ralston Personnel
Consultants'. I think she
wants to talk to you about the
replacement for George Fisher.
You know, the one who died."
"Yes, yes, I know. And you
know, Miss Conway, we don't do
business through agencies."
"Oh, Miss Ralston doesn't run
an agency. She told me. Her business
is much more exclusive than
that. She handles very highly
specialized people. That's the
reason why ..."
"I know. That's why you gave
her an appointment with me,"
said the exasperated personnel
director. "Well, you can go right
back out and tell her I've canceled
the appointment. This
is a security job we're filling
Before Harry could utter another
syllable his attention was
drawn to the doorway. The view
to the outer office was blocked
by a bundle of curves. The most
alluring female bombshell his
eyes had ever beheld put everything
important out of his mind.
"I didn't realize you were being
so inconvenienced, Mr.
Payne. I'm terribly sorry." Her
eyes drooped. "I can take my
business elsewhere." Miss Ralston's
voice was just above a half
whisper. The words came out
warm and intoxicating.
"No, wait! Wait a minute,
Miss Ralston." Harry was out
of his chair and at the door. He
took her arm. "Who said anything
about inconvenience? Come
in. Come in. That'll be all, Miss
The secretary giggled and
left. Miss Ralston sat down and
lit a cigarette. Harry noticed she
was wearing a beige knit suit
with a neckline that spoke volumes.
Every curve was in the
right place. Every movement had
another movement all its own.
Harry knew she was bound to
talk business and he knew there
wasn't much he could do for her
in that direction. But at thirty-five,
and eligible, he just couldn't
let this woman leave his office.
Harry Payne was a sucker
for a gorgeous face. He knew it
and he knew the gorgeous face
"Tell me, Miss Ralston, when
did my secretary arrange this
appointment for you?"
"I called yesterday."
Harry arched his eyebrows
and smiled. "Yesterday? What
prompted you to call me?"
"You're looking for a laboratory
technician, aren't you?"
"What gave you that idea?"
he asked, not caring in the
slightest what gave it to her.
"I make it my business to
comb the papers every day, Mr.
Payne. I came across the news
of George Fisher's suicide and
called you. Simple as that."
"You don't waste any time."
She smiled and pursed her
lips. "Do you?"
"I try not to."
"I have seven clients who
would qualify for the job. I'd
appreciate it if you'd see them."
"Well, as a matter of fact,
Miss Ralston ..."
She leaned forward with an
Harry cleared his throat. "As
a matter of fact I'm not supposed
to do business with civilian
"Mr. Payne," she smiled demurely,
"do I look like an
agency? Or do I look like a Personnel
Now there was an opening,
Harry thought, but it might be
best to avoid it. "You're working
to get someone a job. It
amounts to the same thing."
"I see. Then how do you go
about hiring your new personnel?"
"I do the soliciting myself.
Sorry, Miss Ralston, but I don't
make the rules and regulations."
But the lady was undeterred.
She crossed her legs and sank
further into the easy chair. Her
eyes sparkled at Harry.
"These clients of mine are all
top men, Mr. Payne. Why couldn't
I just leave you their
names? You can still do the soliciting.
I'd be happy to forego
my regular commission on this
job. Call it the value of prestige."
Harry recognized another
opening and this time plunged
in. "Suppose we talk it over
later. There's a place at Fourth
Avenue and Woodward called
'Maria's.' Best Italian food in
captivity. I'm through at five.
What about you?"
She didn't have to say anything.
Her eyes told him he
would be having an Italian dinner
that night. And not alone.
She rose and walked in front of
"I'm so glad we have something
in common, Mr. Payne. I
can't think well on an empty
After walking her to the outer
office he came back to his
desk. He took a deep breath and
loosened his tie. Dreams like
Miss Ralston didn't materialize
every day. For a first meeting
he figured he hadn't fared too
badly at all. And if this first
date went well he was sure he'd
be seeing a lot of this girl.
It did not escape Harry's
mind that here was a girl who
was in the habit of getting what
she wanted. But why not? Her
powers of persuasion were
Grade-A. They were so good
they presented him with one big
problem. He had regulations.
Army regulations. He couldn't
violate them. Miss Ralston, it
was obvious, was going to meet
him solely for the purpose of
getting a client a job. Would
he be able to see her again after
she knew he had no intention of
hiring that client?
The following morning Harry
entered the office to find his secretary
unusually busy. She was
pecking away furiously at the
He handed her a sheet of
paper and said, "Miss Conway,
copy these names and addresses
and when they ..."
"When they come in you'll see
them at half-hour intervals." She
smiled benignly. "Miss Ralston
just called and told me. Pretty
smart chick, huh, boss?"
Harry did a slow burn and
ambled into his office. Miss Conway
was right, of course, and
that's what annoyed him. It had
been quite a night. He wined
and dined her. They did all the
bright spots. And, wonder of
wonders, on the first date they
wound up at Paula Ralston's
apartment. She was a captivating
hostess, an exquisite dancer and
something of a sorceress. After
one kiss, an unforgettable one,
Harry had agreed to interview
her seven clients.
But all this was last night,
Harry reminded himself. Today
was a different matter. He was
in the sanctity of his office now
and capable of clearer thinking.
Paula Ralston had accomplished
the first phase of her mission.
The next move was his. Seeing
the clients, he rationalized, was
not violating the regulations.
And for the moment it satisfied
She certainly was a determined
girl. Anyone would think,
watching her operate, that a lab
technician was a job of world-shaking
importance. What the
hell, he shrugged, if the girl
didn't look out for her own interests,
she wouldn't have a successful
business. There's only
one way to keep clients happy
and that's to keep them busy.
Besides, her maneuvering
wasn't going to work anyway. He
just couldn't hire any of them.
His problem now was to stall her
for a couple of days so he could
keep seeing her. In the end he
might possibly tell her the army
had refused to accept any of
He glanced out the window
and saw the Weapons Development
Center across the parade
ground. Business appeared to be
going on as usual. Routine.
Quiet. Cautious. High time I
start thinking seriously about
that replacement, he thought.
There was a knock at the
Miss Conway bounced in.
"They've started to arrive. The
first one is a Mister Thompson."
"Okay, let's get started. Send
Thompson was a small, roundish
man in his mid-forties. He
remained quite at ease during
the interview. Harry began the
session in the usual dull manner,
formulating his questions from
the several sheets of information
Mr. Thompson had brought
It wasn't long before Harry
detected something unusual
about the man. But he couldn't
determine what it was. He became
more alert, more interested
as the interview progressed.
"Where are you from originally,
"Oh, yes." He glanced at the
written information. "I see you
went to the University."
"Yes, sir. My practical experience
is documented on the second
What was it about this guy?
He was overly polite but that
could hardly be considered
strange. His answers were brief,
to the point, even curt. That was
just a personality trait, Harry
supposed. Couldn't condemn a
man for that.
"How long did you live in
"Twenty-one years, sir."
"Are you married?"
He had noted before that Mr.
Thompson had a distracting habit
of patting his hair. Now he
knew why. He was wearing a
toupee. Harry wondered if the
poor guy was sensitive about it.
If he was that conscious of it, it
might account for his strange
"Thank you for coming in,
Mr. Thompson. I'll submit your
papers to Colonel Waters. If he
has any further interest in you,
don't be surprised if you receive
a visit from a couple of Intelligence
agents. That's routine for
this job. I just tell you in advance
so you won't worry."
"I understand," he said, rising
and checking his toupee once
more. "Many thanks to you, sir."
He shook Harry's hand and left
Harry glanced at the papers
again. Mr. Thompson's background
was impressive indeed.
There didn't seem to be much
question as to his ability. But
what a queer duck he was!
The second applicant was a
short, wiry man named Chase.
Like his predecessor, he was
brief and to the point with his
answers. He let his qualification
papers speak for themselves. He
was formal and polite.
Midway through the interview
Harry noticed that he too was
wearing a toupee. If that wasn't
the damnedest coincidence! Fortunately
Mr. Chase didn't have
the annoying habit of patting
his head every thirty seconds.
Harry guessed he either had a
more expensive one or was just
endowed with more confidence
that it would not slip off.
The interview over, Mr. Chase
offered his thanks and strolled
Harry had a few moments to
himself before Paula's third
client arrived. He thought
about the first two men. Funny
thing about toupees ... even the
most expensive ones could always
be detected. He couldn't quite
understand why the two men
wore them. They were often used
by playboys, actors, self-styled
over-age Romeos, people whose
niche in society depends upon
their looks. But not scientists or
technicians. In fact Harry couldn't
remember ever having known
one such person who shunned his
baldness in this manner. That
didn't mean they had no right.
But it did seem peculiar as hell.
By the time the third interview
was over Harry Payne's
curiosity was ablaze. Applicant
number three, Mr. Boles, was
not only wearing a toupee but
had gone one step further. Just
north of his mouth there was a
mustache! A good-looking mustache,
well groomed and shaped,
but phoney as a wax banana.
For a moment he thought
Paula Ralston might be perpetrating
a joke of elaborate
proportions. He rejected the
idea as fast as it came to him.
He didn't know the girl very well
yet, but he knew her well
enough to know she was strictly
business. She wanted one of
these men to get that job.
He flipped the intercom button
for Miss Conway. She might
be able to tell him ... indirectly.
"You wanted me, Mr. Payne?"
"Yes, Miss Conway. The three
men who've already been in
here ... have you noticed anything
strange about them?"
Her eyebrows merged and
spelled perplexity. She pursed
her lips and gave the matter the
gravest consideration. Then she
concluded, "Yes, something very
Harry was hopeful. "What was
"None of them did very much
talking. Strictly anti-social
Harry groaned, realizing he
should have known better.
"Thank you, Miss Conway.
"The fourth guy is waiting
"Let him sit for a couple of
minutes, then send him in."
He decided to put the whole
matter out of his mind and get
the interviews over as fast as
possible. There were other, more
serious duties to attend to. The
toupee episode was probably
nothing more than a crazy coincidence
anyway. Strictly an item
By two o'clock that afternoon
the four remaining candidates
had come and gone. And Harry
Payne sat at his desk in the immediate
his sanity. All seven men wore
toupees! It was incredible but
true. And now the matter was
one of deep and abiding concern
to him. There was nothing
funny about it. There was a
touch of the macabre in it that
rendered his flesh cold and
He lit a cigarette and tried to
pull his thoughts together. Seven
men applying for the same job;
seven men with one thing in
common; seven men as bald as
Doctor Cyclops. Harry had to
abandon the notion that sheer
coincidence brought these men
together. That was too fantastic.
They were brought together by
Their backgrounds varied in
that they had all worked and
come from different parts of the
country. But those facts were
only on paper. It was an odds-on
bet they all knew each other.
There was even something about
the order in which they arrived
at the office that indicated a pattern
or an over-all plan. Numbers
three, five and six had worn
If it was true the seven men
were well acquainted then Paula
Ralston could undoubtedly give
him some answers. Harry had
another dinner engagement with
her at five o'clock. But this date,
he told himself, would be different.
He was going to be all business
until he learned exactly
what she was involved in.
He picked up the phone, got
an outside line and dialed. Frank
Barnes was a private detective.
A good one. Harry was sure he
could rely on him for a small
A subdued, resonant voice answered
on the other end.
"Frank, Harry Payne here."
"Harry! Where you been hiding?"
"I need a favor."
"Only time you ever call me,
"There's a dame called Paula
Ralston. Runs a business called
Ralston Personnel Consultants.
How soon can you get anything
"How soon do you need it?"
"Today, if possible. You can
call me at home. Any hour."
After promising Frank to meet
him for lunch one day Harry
sank into an easy chair and tried
to shake the unnerving effect the
seven men had had on him.
Maybe he shouldn't have called
Frank. This might be something
he should have informed the
army about. No. They'd want to
know what business he had seeing
the seven men in the first
place. He didn't have much of an
answer for that one.
Driving along Woodward
Street toward Fourth Avenue,
Harry was beset with one nagging
question. Why had Paula
Ralston never brought any of
her clients to see him before? He
was the dispenser of over a hundred
good jobs that offered high
salaries. The answer was just as
persistent as the question. Lab
Technician was the only security
job he handled. She was determined
that one of her men get
that job at any cost.
It wasn't a very pleasant
thought. Harry didn't want to
believe it. He didn't want to believe
that Paula Ralston was going
to mean trouble for him. And
yet he knew that's exactly what
She was waiting for him at
Maria's. She kissed him as he
slipped into the booth beside her.
Through four drinks and a six-course
dinner he watched her
smile. That smile could melt
down the door on a bank vault.
He noticed how she laughed at
all of his wisecracks. When it
was her turn to talk she talked
about him. She offered a toast to
their closer friendship, with special
emphasis on the word
But she did not mention the
seven men. That was the smart
approach, Harry ventured. She'd
save that until she got home and
slipped into something more comfortable.
He stood alone in Paula's living
room nursing a scotch on the
rocks. The night before he had
been too concerned about his
progress with this latter-day
Aphrodite to give a damn about
the place she lived in. He glanced
around the room. Every inch
reeked of success. The furniture
was sleek, modern, exquisitely
contoured ... like its owner.
There wasn't much question
about it, Paula Ralston made a
lot more dough than he did. But
how? That was the question.
She came out of the bedroom
and mixed herself a drink. She
was a living dream in a black
lace negligee. Transparent. It figured.
A lot of things were beginning
"Shall I tell you a secret?" she
"I didn't think you had any
left." He couldn't take his eyes
from the negligee.
"I think Mr. Chase and Mr.
Boles are the best of the seven.
I think they come closest to what
you're looking for." She lifted
her glass and clinked it against
Harry smiled. He wasn't looking
at her anymore. It was more
of an education to look through
her. She was good. Damn good.
She could lull you into believing
the Grand Canyon was brimming
over with silver dollars, all yours
for the taking. It was next to
impossible to doubt the sincerity
in her face.
"I liked all seven of them," he
said. "But since you know them
better than I do I'll take your
recommendation that Chase and
Boles are the best."
She moved closer to him. He
could feel the warmth of her
"We're making some progress,
Harry. We've narrowed the field
down to two candidates."
Harry kept her maneuvering.
"Paula, I'm still faced with the
problem of finding a way around
the regulations. I can't hire
either one of them until I solve
Nothing stopped this girl.
Nothing even slowed her down.
She moved still closer to him.
"There's a way around anything
if a man has the right incentive
to look for it."
He knew what the right incentive
was. He didn't have to go
looking for that. He laid his
drink down, put his arms around
her and kissed her. They walked
to the sofa. Paula stayed close to
him, the ever thoughtful, loving
female companion. She rubbed
his back and neck and sprinkled
him with soft moist kisses. She
never mentioned her clients
again. And Harry promised to
hire one of them the following
He was anxious to get back to
his apartment to find out if
Frank Barnes had called. As he
drove back along Woodward
Street he couldn't put Paula out
of his mind. He already had her
character pegged. But what was
she up to? What was her goal?
She wasn't doing all this for a
lousy commission. The stakes
were bigger than that.
In a way it was too bad she
was going to have to settle for
less than she bargained for. If
her seven clients hadn't been so
phoney she might have gotten
away with it. But why was it
necessary for them to be phoney?
Why should a girl as shrewd as
Paula send seven men in disguise
to see ...
Disguise! Somehow that word
threw a different light on the
matter. The men had all been disguised
in places where hair
should grow. They were not bald.
There was something abnormal
about them. And Harry was
ninety percent certain what it
was. The answer was incredible.
There was still a ten-percent
margin for error. For Miss Paula
Ralston's sake he hoped he was
Frank Barnes' message was
waiting for him at the switchboard
in the lobby. The word
"urgent" was written on it.
He raced upstairs and picked
up the phone. Frank answered on
the first ring. He sounded like a
man with a gun at his back.
"Harry, what the hell kind of a
mess have you gotten yourself
"Why? Something go wrong?"
"You bet your sweet life. An
hour after you called me to check
on that Ralston dame a guy came
into the office and told me to lay
Harry was silent. And scared.
His answer looked better all the
"What did the guy look like?"
"He looked important, Harry.
And he meant business. He had
a big bulge in his pocket and he
made it very clear I'd be up to
my funny bone in hot lead if I
relayed any information about
this girl to you."
"Frank, was the guy wearing
"A toupee, a hair piece!"
"How the hell should I know.
I wasn't interested in his coiffure.
He was wearing a black
overcoat, he kept his hand on
that bulge and he didn't care
much for smiling. Harry, you in
trouble with this dame?"
"What did you find out about
"Between the time you called
and the time the guy strolled into
the office I found out she's
only had this Personnel Consultant
racket for about three
"You didn't learn anything
"After I got warned I decided
to wait'll I talked with you."
Harry was silent again. His
mind was working.
"Frank, what causes baldness?"
"Baldness! Geez, Harry,
you're in a fat mess of trouble
and you're worrying about losing
"It's important, Frank. I
must find out what causes total
loss of all hair."
The detective grunted. "Well,
let's see, there are three or four
diseases I know of. Some people
claim it's hereditary. Sometimes
a deficiency in the genes ..."
"Okay, Frank, that's enough."
"What do you want me to do
about the girl?"
"Just as the man told you. Lay
off. I'll call you tomorrow and
let you know what this thing is
He hung up the phone and
paced in front of his sofa for
several minutes. It was inconceivable
that the seven men all
had the same disease, the same
gene deficiency or the same
hereditary shortcomings. So his
own answer must be much closer
to the truth. He'd have to wait
until morning to put it to a test.
If he was right he would call
Colonel Waters and dump the
whole bizarre set-up right into
the army's lap where it belonged.
Again he found himself hoping
he was not right, and, more
important, that Paula Ralston
wasn't what he was beginning
to think she was.
Miss Conway was already in
when Harry arrived at the office.
He managed a half smile for her.
"Miss Conway, two of the seven
men are coming back this
morning and ..."
"And Mr. Boles is the one
who's getting the job."
"Who called you this time?"
he asked with exasperation.
Harry's stomach muscles contracted.
"That's right. When you were
gone yesterday the colonel dropped
in to see you. He asked me
if you were working on the replacement
for George Fisher ...
I told him you were right on the
job. And I showed him the information
sheets you had on all
"You did what!!"
"And Colonel Waters liked the
man named Boles best of all. So
I guess when Mr. Boles comes
in you can tell him the job is
"You nitwit!" he bellowed.
"You brainless, knuckleheaded ..."
He stomped into his office,
and slammed the door.
It was difficult for him to
think clearly. He knew he had
to make a move. And fast.
He stood by the window and
gazed at the Weapons Development
Center across the parade
ground. The low gray buildings
had a quiet peaceful aura about
them. If it weren't for the
guards marching in front of the
great wire fences anyone might
think the place was used for
manufacturing can-openers, automobile
parts, any one of a
thousand harmless products.
But it wasn't. Weapons Development
represented a vital
link in the country's defense program.
He no longer figured they
were developing a weapon to
counteract Soviet aggression.
They were working on something
far more important. He was just
ninety percent sure of that.
Mr. Boles was the first to arrive.
He sat in an easy chair
which Harry had moved close to
his desk in order to better observe
"Mr. Boles, my secretary tells
me Colonel Waters was looking
at your qualifications yesterday
and was very impressed. I gather
from that that the job is
"Thank you, sir."
Harry shoved his chair closer
to him. The toupee was intact.
So was the mustache.
"Now it'll take the government
about two weeks to complete
a security check-up."
He could see plainly now that
the man was also wearing false
eyebrows and had no beard. That
"I understand, sir," Boles replied.
"So all I can tell you at the
moment is that you'll be hearing
from us as soon as possible."
Harry got up thinking the interview
Mr. Boles remained seated.
"Miss Ralston would like to see
you, Mr. Payne."
"Oh, yes," Harry chuckled,
"I'm going to see her this evening."
"She wants to see you now."
"Afraid I can't make it right
now. I have a pile of work to do.
Besides I'm expecting another
client of hers. Have to let him
know he didn't get the job."
"Mr. Chase is waiting for us
downstairs in the car. You will
come with me, Mr. Payne." The
order was clear and firm.
Harry didn't like it. "I don't
get it. What's so important that
Miss Ralston has to see me ..."
He stopped at the sight of the
gun leveled at his chest.
"When we pass your secretary's
desk, you will tell her you
are taking an early lunch. I will
return you in an hour if you cooperate."
Harry Payne knew better than
Mr. Chase was seated behind
the wheel of a blue sedan. Boles
and Harry climbed into the back
seat. They drove away from Fort
Dickson toward the city.
The two men remained silent
during the trip. Harry had plenty
of time to think. Why this
sudden move of Paula's? He
must have done something to
motivate it. But what?
The only person he had talked
to was Frank Barnes and he
hadn't divulged anything to
him. She couldn't be sore because
he had asked Frank to
check on her. Routine investigation
was part of his job. She
knew that. He failed to come up
with an answer. He was worried.
He knew who the seven
men were but he didn't know
where they came from. It could
have been any one of a million
different places. Heaven only
knew what kind of people they
The shades were drawn in
Paula's apartment. There was no
sign of her. But as soon as Harry
entered the room he forgot about
her anyway. His gaze rested upon
the small, roundish man sitting
in the contour chair, the
bald man with no eyebrows and
"Please be seated, Mr. Payne."
The man's tone was soft and
"Which one are you?" Harry
The man was amused. "I am
"Oh, yeah," said Harry,
"you're the one who kept patting
your skull. Couldn't you
find one that fit you?"
Nobody was amused. Boles
and Chase took positions on
either side of Thompson. Their
faces were drawn and sober.
They resembled two bankrupt
"Where is the body beautiful?"
Harry asked. "Or is she
no longer the body beautiful?"
"Take a look for yourself." It
was Paula's voice. The familiar
sultriness was missing.
Harry swung around to see her
emerge from the bedroom. "Well,
well, well! If it isn't Miss Lonelyhearts.
Mind if I ask why I'm
here? I mean the gun and all?"
He had to be flippant. It was
the only way he knew to conceal
the terror he felt in their presence.
She sat beside him on the sofa.
"Harry, you've disappointed me.
You haven't been playing the
game fair and square."
"If you're referring to the
private eye I put on you ..."
"I'm not, Harry. You put him
on, we took him off. Those
things even themselves out."
Harry shrugged. "Okay, I give
up. What did I do wrong?"
"Show him, Mr. Thompson."
She lit a cigarette and folded her
legs under her.
Mr. Thompson reached into his
pocket and produced a small object.
He tossed it into Harry's
lap. Harry examined it.
"Do you recognize it?" Mr.
"It's a microphone," Harry replied.
"That's just what it is." Paula
savagely flung her cigarette to
the floor. Her own disguise, the
one concealing her true, ruthless
self, was gone. Her voice was
cold and harsh. "How much do
you know, Harry? How much?"
Harry folded his hands, rested
his full weight on the arm of the
sofa and crossed his legs. "How
much is it worth to you?"
Paula's hand struck with fury
across his face. His cheek went
numb. Blood ran from an uneven
gash left by the diamond in her
ring. He took out his handkerchief
and dabbed at the wound.
"You're real high class, aren't
you, Paula? They don't make
traitors as high class as you anymore."
She raised her hand and aimed
for the other cheek. Thompson
bolted out of his chair and
"I suggest you have a drink,
Miss Ralston. Let us handle the
Paula was furious. "He's not
going to tell you anymore ..."
"We'll handle the rest!!"
Thompson didn't raise his
voice. But there was a firmness,
a deadly conviction in his inflection.
Paula went for a drink.
Harry didn't like that. Paula
had a temper. He could deal with
her. But the others ... they displayed
very little emotion. He
had no idea how to handle them.
Thompson sat down again
"The fact is," he began gracefully,
"we discovered this microphone
and four others like it here
in Miss Ralston's apartment. One
in each room. Now we are very
cautious people, Mr. Payne. We
are quite certain no one knows
our whereabouts. It is logical
then that the microphones have
not been here long. Miss Ralston's
only visitors are ourselves
and you. You have known her
two days. So you are the only
person who knows this apartment
well enough to have planted
these tell-tale devices in a
"Why should I want to plant
"You took the trouble to have
Miss Ralston investigated. But
more than one means of investigation
produces better results.
The microphones were wired to
a small radio which we located
in the basement of this building.
We have assumed that everything
spoken into them was
transmitted over the radio and
recorded at your end. That
makes sense, doesn't it?"
Harry was confused. "So far,
"We want those recordings,
They seemed to be convinced
the microphones were his. Only
Harry knew it wasn't true. But
to admit it might mean he
wouldn't leave Paula's place
alive. He derived no comfort
from the knowledge that someone
else was interested in
Paula's activities. That wasn't
helping him with his problem of
the moment. He could see no
clear way out. He had to keep
stalling. And as long as they
were so sure of themselves it
might even be to his advantage
to maintain a certain arrogance.
"I might as well tell you,
Thompson, I have no intention
of cooperating until I know a
few facts about you and your
friends. Like who you are,
where you're from, what you're
"It is not necessary, in order
to tell us where the recordings
are," smiled Mr. Thompson,
"that you know anything more
"It isn't necessary," said
Harry, "but I want to know."
Chase started to voice an objection
but Harry broke in.
"And don't tell me you have
more persuasive ways of making
me talk. You can use force but
it'll take time. Your time is valuable
or you wouldn't have
hustled me over here as fast as
you did. So let's not waste your
time. You tell me, then I'll tell
Thompson glanced at his two
compatriots. Their faces registered
dissatisfaction. Their silence
said that Harry was right.
Time was valuable. They would
follow the path of least resistance.
"Our point of origin," Mr.
Thompson began, "is Correylla,
roughly seven-eighths the size of
Earth, in the Syrybic Galaxy. It
is approximately ... in your figures
... seventy-five trillion
"Must be quite a trip." Harry
tried to be placid.
Mr. Thompson was momentarily
amused. "Travel through
Time and Space is something we
take for granted. The farthest
corners of the Universe are ours
for the reaching. That is the
foremost reason for our visit to
your Earth. You might call us
Galactic Observers. You see, we
already control the twelve inhabited
planets in our own Galaxy.
And at this time we have no desire
to take on any more responsibility
than that. But neither
do we want interference from
another Galaxy ... such as this
Harry was surprised. "You're
giving this world a lot of credit.
We've barely moved off the
Earth. What makes you think we
could cause your people any trouble?"
"By merely projecting yourselves
into space you have eliminated
the major obstacle to
space travel. Remember it took
thousands of years for someone
on your Earth to discover electricity.
But observe the wonders
you have accomplished with it
in the relatively few years since
it was discovered. The same
principle applies to your conquest
of space. We are not here
to do you harm, Mr. Payne. It
is merely our intention to warn
you, when the time comes, of the
dangers you face should you decide
to venture too far."
"For people who intend no
harm I'd say you and your
friends are putting on quite an
"I assure you, Mr. Payne, our
visit to Earth was intended purely
for observational purposes!"
"What do you mean, was?"
Thompson's face was grim.
The easy chair that had accommodated
his small, roundish
frame so perfectly now appeared
to be uncomfortable for him. A
redness crept into his cheeks and
spread over his smooth, tight
"The fact is that your government
has known about us for
six months. Our exact whereabouts
has been a well guarded
secret ... but they were informed
of our presence here on
"Informed! But who could
tell them ..."
Chase broke in impatiently.
"We are wasting time! We must
get those recordings!"
The interruption was dismissed
with a wave of Thompson's
"Your government was informed
by George Fisher."
"George Fisher!" Harry gulped.
"You see, Mr. Fisher ... that
wasn't really his name, you understand
... was one of us ... a
member of our observation team.
After we arrived here ... well,
you might say he defected, gave
your government the benefit of
his somewhat limited knowledge."
Harry whistled. "And because
of him your mission is no longer
"That remains to be seen."
Harry leaned forward on the
sofa. "You have any ideas, Mr.
Thompson, about why he defected?
I'm curious to know why a
man is unhappy enough with his
own lot to run away and put
himself in the hands of a civilization
that is in every way alien
Thompson's answer was brief
and deliberately ambiguous.
"Mr. Fisher was a traitor. What
more can be said of him?"
"So he didn't commit suicide,"
"That's right, Mr. Payne."
"I take it you're not sure of
how much Fisher told the government
before you got to him."
"Mr. Fisher's limitations were
familiar to us. It is the potential
of your own scientists now that
they have his information that
we are most concerned with."
Keep stalling, Harry reminded
himself ... keep speculating,
guessing, theorizing, anything
"So you know the project that
Weapons Development is working
on but you don't know how
much progress has been made.
And you want to place one of
your own people in there to find
"Thanks to you, we have succeeded
in doing just that."
Thompson smiled with satisfaction,
having kept his part of a
bargain. "Now about those recordings...."
"I'm not through asking questions."
"But I'm through answering
them, Mr. Payne. Tell us where
the recordings are."
Harry studied the clean,
smooth surface of Thompson's
face. There was a gentleness in
his large, round eyes. There was
also an unfriendliness. Harry
had to keep stalling. He knew
any answer he gave them would
shorten his life expectancy by
about thirty-five years.
"You've gotten me into a mess
of trouble, Mr. Thompson. I
think you owe me a little more.
My memory might prove clearer
if I knew what was going on at
Thompson glanced at his two
companions. They showed no
sign of dissent.
"Very well, Mr. Payne. For
some years now our people have
been working on a method of
reversing the polarity of the
atom. We have tried to create an
electro-magnetic field which
would repel rather than attract.
Once we are able to accomplish
this we can develop an instrument
capable of disturbing the
molecular structure of any object
in the universe."
"In other words ..." Harry
frowned at him, "a weapon capable
Harry sat there, stunned. A
few moments seemed hardly
enough to digest the knowledge
that Weapons Development was
working on the most incredibly
advanced weapon of all time.
And Mr. Thompson and company
were out to sabotage it.
Their people could not afford to
allow another world to beat
them to the punch. Who controlled
this weapon controlled the
universe. Stalling the aliens was
more important than ever now.
He couldn't heighten the danger
to his own life. It wasn't worth
a lead nickel anyway. If it had
been, Thompson wouldn't have
consented to tell him this much.
Someone else had wired
Paula's apartment. It was reasonable
to assume it was someone
on his side.
"The recordings, please!!"
Boles was becoming very impatient.
Harry looked up and found a
gun at his head. "The recordings
are at my office," he lied.
Thompson walked to the telephone
table and brought the instrument
to him. "You will call
your secretary," he said, "and
tell her you have been detained at
lunch. You are sending Mr.
Chase to pick up the recordings."
Harry glanced around the
room. Paula was sulking at the
bar near the door. Drowning
her conscience, he thought. They
must have paid her a fortune to
sell out her own people. Boles
and Chase both had their guns
poised. Thompson picked up the
receiver and extended it to him.
There was no way out, no stalling
them any longer. To make a
break for it would be suicidal. In
the state of confusion his mind
was in, he could think of only one
thing to do. When he reached
Miss Conway, he would have to
warn her somehow—a few desperate
words and pray that she
would be alert enough to realize
he was in trouble and get the information
to the authorities.
He took the phone and dialed.
He gave the Fort Dickson operator
his office extension. He waited.
The phone rang. It rang
again. Then three more times.
Damn that girl! Her coffee
breaks were extended vacations!
Finally the phone was picked
up. But the voice that answered
"Who is this?" Harry demanded.
The voice replied, "Colonel
"This is Harry. I'm at Paula
Ralston's apartment ... emergency...!"
The three men were on top of
him. Chase smashed the butt of
his gun across Harry's knuckles.
The receiver fell to the floor.
Harry let out a pained groan as
Boles' gun butt struck him on
the temple. Thompson replaced
the receiver. Harry was on the
floor. He put his hands to his
head for protection as Chase savagely
kicked at him. His vision
blurred but he managed to see
that Paula was still at the bar
sipping a drink, sadistically enjoying
the whole show.
"He's no longer any use to
us," Thompson declared. "You
may do your job!"
Harry shook his head, fighting
to stay conscious. His vision
cleared long enough to see Chase
and Boles standing over him,
their guns pointed at either side
of his head.
There was a volley of deafening
shots. There was smoke,
voices, people running in every
direction. More gunfire. Glass
shattering. Furniture knocked
But Harry felt no pain.
When he looked again Chase
and Boles were no longer to be
seen. He caught a glimpse of
Thompson running for another
position of cover. A final gunshot
brought him to the floor.
Harry struggled to a sitting
position. Then he saw Chase and
Boles dead on the floor beyond
the sofa. Half a dozen soldiers
were in the process of subduing
a swearing, clawing Paula Ralston.
And in the doorway he saw
She looked incongruous as
hell with a smouldering revolver
in her hand. She crossed the
room and knelt beside him. She
pulled him around to let his head
rest on the sofa.
"Harry! Harry," she whispered,
brushing his hair back, "are
you hurt badly? What did they
do to you?"
He tried to get up.
"You stay right where you are,
honey." Her voice was soothing
and gentle. There was a soft,
compassionate light in her eyes.
No longer that dumb stare. She
leaned over and kissed him.
"There. You're going to be all
"What the hell are you doing
here?" Harry bellowed.
"Now you just sit back and
relax. I'm just doing my job."
"Your jo ..." A low steady
wail rolled off his lips. "Oh, no!
Say it isn't so. Tell me I'm really
dead. I know I deserve to be."
"I may be the world's lousiest
secretary, but I'm considered not
bad in the counter-intelligence
Harry repeated the wail.
"We were afraid from the
time George Fisher turned himself
over to the government," she
continued, "that his days were
numbered. But the longer he remained
alive the more apprehensive
his people would become. We
figured one day they'd make a
wrong move. And that would be
their big mistake. Well, their
move was to kill George Fisher
and try to get one of their own
agents into Weapons Development.
That meant exposing
themselves. It also meant you
had to be watched ... among
others. That's where I came in."
"And playing it about as
dumb as I've ever seen."
She laughed. "Sounds like I
played the part a little too convincingly."
She stood up and helped him
to his feet. "You're coming with
"Where to? Hey, what are you
"There's something about this
place that I don't like. I'm no sultry
brunette, but I'm not a dumb
blonde either." She kissed him,
then took a last look at Paula's
place and led him out the door.
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories November 1959. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.