by Ian Watson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780575114630
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group, Limited
Publication date: 09/29/2011
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 340 KB

About the Author

Ian Watson (1943 - )Ian Watson was born in England in 1943 and graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, with a first class Honours degree in English Literature. He lectured in English in Tanzania (1965-1967) and Tokyo (1967-1970) before beginning to publish SF with "Roof Garden Under Saturn" for the influential New Worlds magazine in 1969. He became a full-time writer in 1976, following the success of his debut novel The Embedding. His work has been frequently shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula Awards and he has won the BSFA Award twice. From 1990 to 1991 he worked full-time with Stanley Kubrick on story development for the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, directed after Kubrick's death by Steven Spielberg; for which he is acknowledged in the credits for Screen Story. Ian Watson lives in Spain.

Read an Excerpt


'Jean Sandwich?'

Frank Caldero struck a casual pose in front of the surveillance camera. Mounted over the elevator door, this was the only camera in the whole lobby. Nor was this the only shortcoming about the security system of Paradise Apartments. A big black mark must equally be awarded to the tangle of Swiss Cheese plants choking one wall. Doubtless, these plants helped to maintain the pretence of Paradise; but any human snake could lurk in ambush there.

These minor observations merely served to confirm what Frank already knew in some detail about the economic status of the woman he was visiting. She was on the borderline, between Eden and the jungle.

'Jean Sandwich? Jean Sandra Norwich?'

'Yes, who is that?'

The intercom box made the woman's voice blurred and crackly: defect number three.

'My name's Frank Caldero, Miz Sandwich.' He produced the bundle of money from his inside pocket and flourished the banknotes at the camera, fanning them. 'As you can see, I don't intend to burgle you. Far from it! I have a proposition of a rather private nature for you.'

Realizing the lewd possibilities of what he had just said, Frank burst out laughing.

'Oh hell, that sounds completely wrong! What I want, Miz Sandwich, is to pay you -- and handsomely, too: five thousand, to be exact -- just to listen to me for half an hour, then neither to say nor write nor otherwise publicize nor even confide to a friend what I shall propose during the course of that half hour. The money's yours, whether you say yes or no to my subsequent proposals.'

'You sound like a walking legal contract, Mr Caldero . . . Hey, domy ears deceive me? Five thousand, just for listening?'

'That's the general idea. I'm approaching you on behalf of someone whom we shall refer to between us as the Sponsor. Though I'd better point out right away that he doesn't sponsor chat shows or anything like that.'

'Why didn't you phone and tell me you were coming?'

'Random phone-taps. Key word sampling by our friendly Government computers. This is a very private affair.'

'Aren't you just a little bit scared, standing there in a public place waving all that money about?' She was playing him along now, studying him.

'It is rather public, isn't it? There are much more private places than this. Agree to my proposal, and you'll have the run of the best of them. But I already checked those Swiss Cheeses for any worms hiding in the holes -- and I left a couple of friends sitting outside in an armoured limo.'

Maccoby and McKinnon were . . . friends?

Actually, the security chief and his bodyguard buddy were very civil fellows, usually. It was just that Frank never felt particularly comfortable in their presence. Who knew what the Terrible Two had got up to before Bruno King hired them?

Frank corrected himself: before the Sponsor hired them . . .

'Are you a plant lover, Mr Caldero?'

'Oh, I'm quite versatile. I can recognize a Monstera Deliciosa when I see one.'

'Speaking of private places, I hear the grave's fine and private. You might want to murder me.'

'A fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace.'

'Hey, you're a poetry freak, too! I think I like you.'

'If I wanted to kill you, I'd just hide behind those leaves and wait.'

'You might want to torture me a while, first. You can't do that so easily in a lobby.'

'And thus avenge the ungodly words you write? To redeem, by pain, from Hell's pains? Per agony ad astra ? That might be typical of some rabid God Nut. But frankly -- and I'm always Frank -- what I shall be proposing on the Sponsor's behalf is distinctly blasphemous in the eyes of the God Nuts. Still, if you're worried, I'll lay a bet you have a gun tucked away up there. We all have to protect our Paradise, don't we? So why don't you just fetch your gun and keep it pointed at me all the time I'm up there talking to you? If my silver eloquence won't sway you, I deserve no better than lead.' Frank pulled what he hoped was a tragicomic face, recollecting too late that if the camera was equipped with a fish-eye lens this might well distort his expression into a horrid leer.

'I'm offering you five G, just to listen. And if you go through with what I'll propose, whether it's successful or not, there's one million for you, to be banked in Zürich in your own name or whichever name you like. I can't say any more down here.'

'did I just hear you --?'

'One million.'

'This Sponsor of yours . . .'

'Must be rich. He is.'

'It sounds crazy.'

'No, he just happens to want something very special from you.'

'How can a lady refuse? I'll send the elevator down.'

Within the elevator there was no surveillance camera: defect number four. Had there been a camera, it would have spied a chunky man of middle height with short crinkly black hair, like lamb's wool. He wore horn-rimmed glasses to correct a mild myopia.

Frank sometimes liked to imagine himself as Superman in Clark Kent guise -- admittedly a reduced version. For though he lacked the necessary height and physique, even of Clark Kent, he did dispense some of the power of Superman, courtesy of the Sponsor. (Whilst Bruno King looked even less like either Superman or Clark Kent; but he meant to do something about this. Soon, too.)

However, Frank knew perfectly well that he would never launch himself into the sky, and fly. At heart he was too earth-bound. As solidly rooted as a tree.

Frank's nose twitched in a rabbity fashion as he reseated his glasses. As the elevator rose laboriously up the shaft, he dismissed his own fantasies and concentrated on Jean instead.

Copyright © 1984 by Ian Watson

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