The large man took the girl out of the back seat of the Cadillac and carried her into the cabin, which wasn’t a cabin at all, but a plush vacation home, designed for luxury and supreme comfort, within the American tradition of pretentious rural architecture. There was a fireplace and much wood paneling and visible rafters, walls of glass giving views of the landscaped outdoors and the spring-fed lake.
The big man took her across the thickly carpeted fire-front area and into the master bedroom. He laid her on the bed and went swiftly from the room, closing the door behind him. The little man had a key; he used it to lock the bedroom door and then put the key on the coffee table nearest him. There had been no need to shut windows: they had prepared for this by nailing the bedroom windows shut and shuttering them from the outside. The bedroom doors had been covered with cardboard on the outside so that no light showed through the cracks. The room had a thoroughly adequate bathroom; there was also a small refrigerator running. It had been stocked with milk, bread, cheese, cold cuts, a few other foods, all in plastic containers. They had no intention of seeing or speaking to their hostage. Their orders had been simply to bring her here and wait for further instructions.
Which they had done, and would now do. And so they settled into the comfortable furniture of the living room. But they did not settle with much conviction. They stared at each other, one a big man, powerfully built, with a weather-beaten and experienced face; the other thin for his very small frame but very hard looking, with a face dominated by an oversized, beak-like nose which was unredeemed by any chin that admitted more than a ripple in the retreat of the face from nose to chest.
The little one spoke through his nose. “Come on, Marv, let’s get out of here, right now. We could prop some furniture against the door, and unlock it, and we’d be miles away before she even wakes up, much less gets the door open. This is the only cabin on the lake that’s got anybody in it, this time of the year, and the nearest town, even if she should go that way, is an hour’s walk easy.”
The big man sighed. “You just can’t get decent help these days. You’ve been griping about this job ever since we took it.”
“Well, I ain’t never had nothing to do with no kidnapping before.”
“Look. We contracted for this job. Now, if you’re ever going to get ahead in this world, you’ve got to be smart. If we pull through with the package, it’s going to be money in our pockets. We got the girl, and as long as we got her, we’re going to get a nice little bundle.”
“I know, I know,” said the small man nasally. “But what about the police? What if Padeyevsky saw us? The police would get onto us for sure then.”
“In the first place,” said the big man, “Padeyevsky couldn’t possibly have seen us. But even if he had-wait a minute. Let me think.” He sat laboring at the mental task. “In that case,” he said with flair, “we simply dump the girl and take off, because then it’d be too late anyway. Let’s just sit tight here for a while. We’re safe enough here.”
The big man got up, went over to the light switch for the living room, and turned off all the house lights except the ones in the master bedroom. Then he rotated a picture on the wall which joined the living room with the bedroom; behind the picture was a small hole. Through it, he could see the girl they had kidnapped, sleeping peacefully, just as they had left her. He watched her for a minute or two before he gulped audibly. “We don’t have the Sweetwater girl.”
“Jesus,” said the little man. “What do you mean, we don’t have the Sweetwater girl?”
“I mean we don’t have the Sweetwater girl.” The big man put the picture back into place and turned on the lights. “Here,” he said, finding and handing the little man a snapshot. “This is a picture of the Sweetwater girl. Look at her hair. Bangs, right. Well, the girl we got ain’t got no bangs. And nobody ever grew three feet of hair in one day. Besides, look at her face. It’s not the same girl. See for yourself.”
They turned off lights and the little man looked through the small hole. Somberly, he looked. Slowly, they turned on lights again and sat. The similarity between the two girls was remarkable, but the differences between them were no less obvious. They did not have the Sweetwater girl.
“Jesus,” offered the little man. “We are fouled up, Marv. Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait a minute and let me think. I’ll call the boss.”
He walked to the phone and dialed long distance. There was an immediate answer. He spoke into the instrument. “We picked up the package. But we goofed. We have the wrong package.”
“What?” said the voice at the other end.
“That’s right,” said the big man. “Very similar, but the wrong package.”
There was a four-minute pause. The voice then returned, speaking quickly. “You got her at Padeyevsky’s house?”
“Then hold the package. It may be just as good.” The connection closed.
“Jesus,” said the little man. “We’ve got to get out of here, Marv.” He watched as the big man put the phone back on its hook. “I don’t care what the boss says. I don’t like any of this.” He wandered into to kitchen and came back with two glasses of tap water. “Listen. You take my part. I’m leaving. I never did no kidnapping before. I don’t want no part of this kidnapping. I mean, Jesus, Marv. It’s out of my line, this kidnapping. I don’t want to get involved in no kidnapping.”
“You’re already involved. Now shut up.” The big man looked at the half-empty glass of water in his hand and grimaced. “Now you’ve got me drinking water!”
Elmo meekly carried the glasses back to the kitchen.
“I think we’re doing OK,” shouted the big man after the small retreating figure. “The boss sounded excited over the phone.”
“Jesus,” said the little man. “All I need, is more excitement.”
“Elmo,” came a female voice from the other side of the door. The little man jumped, clattering the glasses on the sink’s porcelain as he set them down. “Jesus,” he said. “What’s that?”
It was in fact the girl from space, who had awakened and remained quiet for a few minutes before deciding that it was time to communicate with her present companions. She was puzzled over her change in environment. She had gone to sleep at her new friend’s house, and had no notion of how she had come here, or who these entities were. Further, she had discovered, upon brief exploration, that this new dwelling place of hers had windows which did not open, and doors which were closed to her; this she found quite impossible to understand. And the minds of the two in the next room .were totally unfamiliar to her, and she had had no luck at all in establishing any rapport in thought. She had now concluded that, although she was very poor at using verbal communication, she would have to try it.
But how was she to initiate such communication? In order to obtain their attention, she decided that it would be appropriate to use the odd planetary custom that separated entities from each other, that of greeting by names. She found that, as was the case with each inhabitant of this surface that she had met, the name was so deeply ingrained upon the individual consciousness that she was able, even from these men’s garbled thoughts, to extract their names. Having come into possession of strong thought forms, which she assumed to be names from each of them, she verbalized to the shorter man first, quite loudly.
The little man tried to collect himself as the big man said, “How did she know your name?”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand at all. Jesus, Marv, we didn’t use our real names on the job; we used aliases, and I never even said my alias, either.”
“Well, there’s only one thing to do,” the big man said sententiously. “Let’s find out what’s going on. Answer her. No, wait a minute. Let me think. I’ve got a better idea. I’ll answer her.”
He turned to the bedroom door. “Yeah, what do you want?”
“Oh,” said the space girl. “I spoke to Elmo, but I am pleased to speak with you.”
The two men sat congealing inside their skins for a few seconds. They stared at each other through the fog of their mutual confusion. “Jesus,” finally offered the smaller of the two. “What are we gonna do? We got to find out how she knows my name. Because, Jesus, Marv, we don’t know what she knows, if she knows my name. I mean, she might know all about us. We got to find out where she got her information.” He was running words closer and closer together in his panic. “I mean, Jesus, Marv, whatarewegonnado?”
“Simmer down,” said the big man. “That’s how come you never got ahead in this business. You get panicky. Wait a minute. I’ll find out how much she knows.” He walked over to the bedroom door. “Hey you,” he shouted. “How come you know Shorty’s name?”
“It is evident,” she replied.
“Come on, come on. How did you know his name? What’s coming off here?”
The girl stood next to her side of the bedroom door, trying to understand what the man had asked her. She had tried to answer his first question, but she had apparently failed, for he had asked it again. She could not understand the second question. After thinking carefully, she decided to verbalize her desire to join their company. “My present environment is limiting,” she shouted through the door.
“Jesus,” said the little man. “She talks like a book.”
“Stupid. She’s just one of them high class dames that uses high class language.”
“Jesus,” said the little man. “If she knows my name, she might know what we look like.”
“Wait a minute,” said Marv. “Let me think. I’ll just see what she does know.” He talked through the door. “What do we look like?” The space girl could not understand this question, and did not reply.
“There, see?” said the big man. “She didn’t see us.” He turned again to the door. “What color hair have ! got?” he yelled. “Brown,” she said, picking up the man’s mentally projected answer.
“How about my eyes?” he asked, after some thought. “Brown,” she said.
He was extremely perplexed at two right answers. He walked over to another chair and sat down very close to the little man. “She must be working for somebody,” he whispered. “I think maybe we’ve been set up for something.”
“You know I never had nothing to do with no kidnapping,” said the little man.
“Well, it ain’t exactly kidnapping,” said the big man. “We ain’t asking no ransom.”
“It carries the same penalty,” said the little man.
The big man sat and thought, visibly, his face red and furrowed. After a long pause, he said to the smaller man, “No wonder you never got nowhere in this business. You ain’t got no initiative.” He walked over to the bedroom door, having imbued himself with a new sense of purpose and direction. “OK,” he shouted through the door, “What’s my name?”
“Marion Percival Bartman,” said the girl.
“Jesus,” said the little man with relief, “she didn’t get that right.” The big man spun around to face Elmo. He looked murderous. “Don’t you ever tell anyone that, do you hear me?” he bellowed. “Jesus,” said the little man. “You mean that’s your real name?”
“YOU EVER TELL ANYBODY THAT AND YOU’RE A DEAD MAN,” he shouted, apoplectic now.
The beaked nose wagged up and down hastily and fervently to show understanding.
“Well,” said the big man, somewhat more dispassionately, “she’s got us cold. I don’t know where she got her information, but something’s fishy here. We’re going to have to do something. But wait. Let me think. Let me think. Don’t jump the gun. That’s why you never got nowhere in this business, Elmo. You always jump the gun. Wait a minute. Nobody knows my real name, not anybody. Because nobody’s called me that since I got big enough to clobber anybody that tried it. Nobody’s even heard that name for twenty-five years, except my mother.”
“I didn’t know your mother was alive,” said the little man. “Shut up. Let me think. She’s got to have somebody high-powered behind her. We may be in serious trouble, Shorty.”
“Don’t call me that,” said the little man, “or I’ll call you Percival.” A roundhouse blow very nearly connected with the beaked nose of the small man, and he screamed, “Jesus, Marv, you almost hit me. You’d kill me if you hit me.” He tripped over the couch. “Listen,” said Marv, climbing over the coffee table after him. “If you ever call me that again, I’ll wring your shriveled up neck until ...”
“Marion,” came the girl’s voice.
“Jesus,” said the little man, “there she goes again. What’re we gonna do? What’re we gonna do?”
“Wait a minute. I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” The strain lines around the big man’s mouth and forehead set and reddened.
“I got it,” said the little man. “Let’s get out of here while the going’s good. You can’t tell what’s up here.”
“Look,” said the big man. “That’s why you never got no place in this business. You’re a quitter. You don’t know how to use your brains. Now shut up and let me think.” There was a strained silence, from which the big man surfaced with the look of renewed strength that thinking always gave him. “I’m going to let her out of the room. And we’re going to find out just how much she knows, and how she knows what she knows.”
“Jesus, she’ll see us,” said the little man.
“Stupid. She already knows what we look like, and our real names. She probably even knows where I live.”
“Twenty twelve South Park Drive,” came the well-projected tones of the space girl from behind the door, as she picked up the automatically transmitted thought.
The big man picked up an ashtray from the coffee table and hurled it against the inner wall of the living room, where it made a very loud business of its demise. He glared at the rubble. There was a filter tip which had fallen onto his shoe. He kicked it off. The little man backed further into the cushions of the couch.
“Jesus, Marv. Let’s get out of here.”
There was a car coming up the driveway: they both became aware of its engine sound, of the crunch of its tires on the gravel. Marv looked double-take at the little man, but he obviously didn’t know who it was; he was almost dissolving into the couch, abject and useless with apprehension at the rapidly crumbling situation. “Come on, Elmo, maybe it’s someone from the organization.” Marv went over to the front curtains and pulled at them just enough to make a place for his eye to see. The car was new, a light blue, four-door Ford, with a rent-a-car sticker on its bumper. The man getting out of it was no one Marv knew. He looked to be in his early forties. He came up on the porch, and his knock sounded lightly on the door.
“Jesus,” said the beaknosed man. “What’re we gonna do?”
“Stupid, we’ll just let him in. He’s probably in the organization. Who else would know about the place? Besides there’s only one of him, and there’s two of us, and we got guns. Tell the girl to shut up.” Elmo went over to the bedroom door. “Shut up in there,” he said in a half-whisper.
She did not answer. Marv opened the door to the man, who confidently strode in. Looks like he owns the place, thought the big man.
“Trostrick’s my name, Marv. J.E. Trostrick. I guess you and Elmo have things pretty well under control here?”
He held out his hand for a handshake.
Marv looked at the hand. His own right hand was in the coat pocket, closed snugly around the butt of his Colt. He didn’t plan on letting go of the pistol just to be pals with this one. But he might be OK. On the other hand, if he had been scheduled to meet them all along, why couldn’t they have been told? Marv had been given the impression that all their instructions were going to be by phone.
The intruder’s black hair was perfectly in place, lacquered smooth, gleaming subtly. Trostrick smiled easily at the two men. “Relax, boys.” He paid no attention to Marv’s refusal to shake hands, nor did he appear to notice the bulge in the big man’s pocket. He walked easily over to the couch and sat down beside Elmo, who quivered.
“Your job is done, boys. I’ll pick her up, and be on my way.” Marv didn’t like the sound of that. “Hold it. Where’s the payoff?”
“That will be taken care of. It has to go through normal channels.”
“Yeah?” The big man had never heard of such trust. He and Elmo were only doing this on contract; they didn’t work out of D.C., normally. And they’d get their money in the sweet bye and bye? Not a chance.
“No dice, Trostrick. The organization doesn’t work that way. Now who the hell are you?”
“You weren’t told?” Trostrick’s voice held polite surprise.
“No. And one, I get paid, or two, I get direct orders from the boss. Or else the girl stays with us.”
“I assure you, Marv, that all this is in order. The plan simply didn’t work out quite as predicted, and the boss is afraid that this location is not suitable for a longer stay.” He got up and found the bar, under a counter. “Drink? Scotch?”
Marv shook his head. “No.”
Elmo was happy to get a drink. He had overlooked the bar, earlier.
“I am to get the girl out of this area entirely. Don’t worry. You’ll be paid for your work. But I had to move too fast to be given your money.
“No dice.” Marv began to look menacing, his free hand began clenching as though he couldn’t quite control it. “We contracted for this job, and we’re going to see it through. I never worked here before this week, and I ain’t never seen you. Now put the money in my hand, and you get the girl. Otherwise, get the hell out of here.”
Trostrick’s eyes dropped, with exaggerated alarm, to the lumpy pocket of Marv’s coat. He looked back up at Marv’s face, eyes wide open now, surprise exaggerated in the stare. He kept on looking at Marv’s eyes.
His eyes are very, very black, thought Marv.
“Jesus,” said the little man. “Give him the girl, Marv, and let’s get outta here. They’ll pay us. I know they will. Here is the key, Mister.” He flipped the key to the bedroom door to the man, who caught it in the air, hardly glancing away from Marv’s eyes.
Marv broke the glance with difficulty. “All right. Both of you just hold it. Nobody goes anywhere until I get my money, or hear from the boss.” His gun was out of his pocket now. “Elmo, frisk Trostrick.”
Elmo did so.
“He’s clean, Marv. But, Jesus, can’t we …”
“No. Sit down.”
“Can I have that drink?”
“Yeah. Go ahead.”
Elmo did. Then he sat, on the edge of the couch, his trembling hands lifting the glass to his lips.
Marv looked back at Trostrick. There were those black eyes again. He gazed at them in spite of himself, and began to feel stranger and stranger sensations. He couldn’t look away. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t control his mind. Then he could think; he couldn’t stop thinking. He was thinking thoughts he had thought, often before, in the night. He didn’t want to think these thoughts. They were beginning to take over the room. The big man stood staring into Trostrick’s eyes, and for the first time in his life, he began to explore the sensation of fear.