The Gulf Between
Editor's note: The backdrop to all of Godwin's stories is a universe which is cold and pitiless. More so than any demon, because it is a lack of mercy which stems from the fact that the universe simply does not care. Technical advances, whatever their benefits, do not fundamentally change that bleak reality. In different ways, that theme stands at the center of the last two stories in this anthology.
He was dying!
The fear flooded over him again, dark and smothering and made worse by his inability to move. His doctor was standing near him, watching over him with dark, patient eyes, knowing that he was dying. When a man is dying, there should be comfort in the presence of a doctor who knows how to save his life. His doctor knew he was dying and had already done the thing that should have saved him from death; the doctor had informed the pilot of his condition by means of the letters on the pilot's communications panel. They had leered at him for an endless eternity: OBSERVER DYING OF EFFECTS OF FULL ACCELERATION. IMMEDIATE REDUCTION OF ACCELERATION IS SUGGESTED.
His doctor watched him die with dark, brooding eyes and suggested to the pilot that the acceleration be reduced.
But the pilot's seat was empty.
He was the pilot, and the doctor knew it . . .
Lieutenant Knight flattened himself behind the outcropping on the windswept ridge and raised his head to stare across the small basin at Hill 23, looming red-scarred and forbidding in the Korean rain; deceptively, ominously quiet, as though daring Company C to resume its vain battering at it.
"Don't look dangerous, does it?" Sergeant Wenden asked, his bush of black and gray beard close to the ground as he crawled up beside Knight. "Real calm and peaceful. Good old Hill Twenty-three—all we gotta do is take it."
The blue of the Pacific gleamed beyond Hill 23; if they could take the hill it would destroy one of the last remnants of one of the last enemy beachheads on the Korean coast. It would not be difficult—if Cullin would only wait another day until Company B came up.
"I have an idea they won't want to give that hill up," the sergeant went on. "It's their last one; their backs are to the sea and they're goin' to argue about givin' it up."
Knight did not answer, studying the terrain of the hill and the basin that lay between; planning the best route for the Fourth Platoon, the best way to give them a fighting chance.
"Yep, real calm and peaceful," the loquacious sergeant repeated. "I wonder if their snipers know we're lookin' over the ridge at 'em?"
His answer came a half second later; a spurt of rock dust as a bullet struck between them, and a shrill scream as it ricocheted away.
"Reckon they do," he grunted, dropping his whiskers low and scuttling backward from the crest of the ridge. Knight followed, and they slid to the bottom of the small gulch that ran behind the ridge.
"Of course," the talkative sergeant remarked philosophically, biting off a chew of tobacco, "bullets'll be snappin' all around us in another hour, but there ain't no reason to invite one of 'em to hit us any sooner than it has to."
Knight started back down the muddy gulch and the sergeant tramped beside him, paying no attention to his silence. "The other guys are about ready to call this war a draw, I hear. Except for Korea, here, neither us nor them is makin' any headway and they say the chances of an armistice is real good. I hope so; I've had all the war I want and I've already got it figgered out how I'm gonna settle down in Florida and raise chickens—or somethin'. Wish they'd declare the armistice right now—they're dug in on that hill and the Fourth is goin' to have one hell of a time tryin' to be the decoy and draw their fire and not all of us get killed." He scowled at Knight, his philosophical attitude turning to wrath. "A lot of men are goin' to die real soon, and for no reason. Company B will be up tonight—why can't we wait until tomorrow?"
Knight shrugged. "Orders."
"Yeah—orders!" The sergeant snorted disgustedly. "Our Captain Cullin wants his company to take that hill today, then he can tell battalion headquarters to not bother about sendin' up any support, that he done took the hill all by himself. Then, he figgers, regimental headquarters will be so impressed by his ability to do so much with so few men that they'll recommend he be raised to major. And then"—the sergeant spat viciously—"he'll have a whole battalion to give orders to, 'stead of only a company!"
Knight half heard the sergeant as they walked along, his thoughts occupied with the suicidal role his men would have to play. They would be the decoy, as the sergeant had said, deliberately and perhaps fatally drawing the concentration of enemy fire upon themselves.
" . . . I'm a Regular Army man," the sergeant was saying. "I've been in this game for thirty years, but I ain't never seen an officer like Cullin. All he thinks about is himself and his own glory. He made it plain to us what he was when he took over this company. 'A soldier is only as good as his ability to obey orders,' he says. 'You men are going to be soldiers,' he says, 'and there will be no questioning of any order given you. I want, and I shall have, absolute obedience and discipline,' he says—"
It would be senseless, needless slaughter of the Fourth Platoon. It would enable the rest of the company to take the hill but the premature attack was not necessary; the enemy had their backs to the Pacific and they could retreat no farther. They could retreat no farther and they certainly would not dare attack.
Why had Cullin chosen the Fourth Platoon as the decoy? Was it because of the hatred between himself and Cullin? The Fourth was his platoon; by sending it on a suicide mission Cullin could add the savor of revenge to the sweet taste of glory.
The Fourth was his platoon, and between himself and the men of the Fourth was the bond that months of common danger had welded; the bond of brothers-in-arms that is sometimes greater than that of brothers-by-blood. They did not give his gold second-lieutenant's bars any parade-ground respectful salutes; instead, they respected him as a man, as Blacky who slogged through the mud and rain beside them, who ate the rations they ate, who knew their names and moods, who was one with the hard veterans of combat and the nervous young replacements. Not Lieutenant Knight; just Blacky, to whom someone would sometimes come on the eve of battle and say: "This address here—it's Mary's. If I'm not so lucky this time, I wish you would write her a few words. Just tell her I wanted to see her again but that I . . . well, just say that I said . . . that I said—Aw, hell, Blacky—you'll know what to say."
He would sit by the light of a gasoline lantern in the nights following the battle and write the letters; not alone for the one who had asked him to but for all who had been "not so lucky." They were hard to write, those letters. Soon, now, if he, himself, were not among those not so lucky, he would have more of them to write—far more than ever before.
" . . . What would you say caused it, Blacky?" the sergeant was asking.
"What?" Knight brought his mind back to the present. "How was that?"
"I say, you take a man like Cullin—what do you reckon makes him act that way? You oughta know—you knowed him when you was both kids, didn't you?"
"I've known him most of my life, from the time we were each six years old," Knight answered. "He was always a lot like he is now—even as a kid he wanted to boss the other kids and make them do things for him. I don't know why he hasn't matured emotionally as well as physically. A psychiatrist might be able to trace it back to something—I'm a computer engineer, misplaced in the infantry, and not a psychiatrist."
"Well, if I was one of these psychiatrists, I'd sure ask him if he didn't once have a set of wooden soldiers he liked to play with better than anything else. That's the kind of soldiers he wants us all to be—wooden dummies that don't dare move unless he says to."
They came to the mouth of the gulch and Knight stopped beside a splintered tree. "I have to go over to where he has his headquarters for a last-minute briefing," he told the sergeant. "It's a little over an hour, yet, so everybody might as well take it easy till then. I'll be along in a few minutes."
The sergeant craned his neck to stare past Knight with sudden and baleful interest. "Here he comes now, down from the Second. Guess he's makin' the rounds personally this time." He scowled at the approaching captain then hurried away, his course such that only his long, fast steps prevented a face-to-face meeting.
* * *
Knight waited beside the tree and Captain Cullin strode up to him; a big man, heavier than Knight and almost as tall, with an arrogant impatience to the arch of his nose and a relentless drive in the set of this thick jaw and the iciness of his eyes.
He stopped before Knight, with a glance after the rapidly disappearing sergeant, and said acidly: "If the men in my company could be relied upon to display as much determination when sent on a mission as your sergeant just now displayed to avoid saluting me, I would think I had a first-class combat unit."
"He's a good man—none better," Knight said. "He just didn't happen to feel like going in for any such melodrama as: 'We, who are about to die, salute you!' "
"Very witty," Cullin said coldly. "Although your wit, in its implications, is rather melodramatic, itself. But suppose we talk of something a little more important—the action of your platoon in taking that hill. I've moved the attack up half an hour. The other platoons are already taking up positions as advanced as possible until your own platoon draws the enemy fire."
"I just came down from off the ridge," Knight said. "I know the lay of the land and I have your orders as given to me by Lieutenant Nayland; to attack as best we can along the southwestern floor of the hill and keep the enemy occupied while the other three platoons close in on their flanks. But the strategy is your own, so I'm listening if you have anything to add. From you, I get the dope straight from the horse's mouth."
Cullin stared at Knight, hard lines running along his jaw and the hatred burning deep back in his eyes.
"I want to remind you, Knight," he said at last, "that you are my subordinate officer. An officer's promotions are usually in direct ratio to his ability, and we received our second-lieutenant's bars at the same time—remember? I'm a captain, now, in command of a company; you're still a second lieutenant in charge of a platoon. I'm your commanding officer and you keep that fact in mind at all times. You will restrain your wit, confine yourself to obeying orders and extend me the same courtesy I demand of my other platoon leaders. Is that clear?"
"Very clear," Knight replied. "Your orders have been, and will be, obeyed. When in the presence of others I'll continue to observe every rule of military courtesy, as I have in the past. But I've known you too long and too well to have any desire to go through those antics when you and I are alone."
"Discipline is not an antic," Knight. "The purpose of discipline is to condition the soldier into efficient obedience. You will obey me with full military courtesy and you will not presume an equality with me because of our past friendship."
"Our past friendship is a long way past, and I'm sure neither of us has any desire to ever renew it. I would like to ask you a question, though—why do we attack today when Company B will be up tonight?"
"For a very good reason—because I've ordered it," Cullin said flatly.
"That's all?" Knight asked.
"That's sufficient. It isn't required of you to seek any other reason."
" 'Theirs not to reason why—' . . . that's what you want, isn't it?"
"That's what I intend to have."
"By waiting for B's support you might not win any major's oak leaves but you could save a lot of lives. There's no hurry about taking that hill—the enemy isn't going anywhere."
"Keep your advice to yourself, Knight. Casualties are to be expected in any combat unit and this company will remain a combat unit as long as I am in command of it."
"Then give your orders," Knight said with brittle resignation. "I'll see that they're followed, regardless of what I think of them."
"See that you do. This is what I want out of your platoon, and I won't tolerate any deviation from these orders—"
How long had he been a living brain in a dying husk of a body? Had it been weeks or months or years, and how much longer could it continue? If only he could forget the end that was drawing irresistibly closer; if only his mind could lose its clear perception and go into the comforting solace of unknowing insanity!
But the doctor would not let it; the doctor watched him and injected the antihysteria drug into his bloodstream whenever madness threatened to relieve his mind of its cold and terrible knowledge. Sanity was a torture in which his body sat helpless and immobile while his mind perceived with clear and awful detail and recoiled and whimpered in futile, desperate fear from what it perceived.
Yet, the doctor didn't want to torture him; the doctor didn't want him to die. The doctor was using every means known to medical science to prolong his life. But why did the doctor merely prolong his life when his life could be saved entirely with less effort? There was still time—the doctor had only to do as he had suggested the phantom pilot do; reduce the acceleration. The deceleration button was visible on the control board in front of the vacant pilot's chair. The doctor didn't really want him to die, and the doctor could save his life by one quick flick of the deceleration button.
WHY DIDN'T THE DOCTOR DO IT?
Four years of peace, with all their changing of the ways of his life, were to pass from the time Knight stood beside a splintered tree in Korea and heard his last orders until he met Cullin again.
First, there had been the bullet-swept hell of the attack on Hill 23 and then a long time in the hospitals—field hospital, base hospital, State-side hospital. There had been the irony of the cease-fire order two days after the slaughter of the Fourth Platoon. There had been the letters to write, so many of them and so many lies to tell. The folks at home always wanted the comfort of knowing that their Tommy or Bill or Dave had found death to be not cruel and merciless but something that had come quickly and painlessly, for all its grim finality.
There had been the day of his discharge from service and the strange feel of civilian clothes. There had been a period of restlessness, a period during which the peacetime world seemed a shallow and insignificant thing and the memory of the Fourth was strong within him as something irretrievably lost; a comradeship forged by war and never to be found again in the gentle fires of peace.
Then he had received the letter from Computer Research Center, and the invitation to come to Arizona and work with Dr. Clarke, himself. Clarke had written: " . . . The theory you set forth in your thesis can, I think, be worked out here at Computer Research Center and an experimental model of such a 'brain' constructed. I asked for your assistance eighteen months ago, but our little semi-military Center lacked the influence to have a combat officer recalled from active duty—"
His theory had been valid, and Computer Research Center was no longer small and unimportant. The Knight-Clarke Master Computer was a reality and Center had become the most powerful factor in the western hemisphere. The restlessness had faded away as he adjusted himself to taking up his old way of life and he forgot the war in the fascination of creating something from metal and plastic that was, in a way, alive.
In four years he had found his place in life again and the ghosts of the Fourth lay dormant in his mind; splendid and glorious in the way they had fought and died but no longer stirring the restlessness and the sense of something lost.
Then he met Cullin again.
* * *
Punta Azul was a cluster of adobes drowsing on the northeastern shore of the Gulf of California, away from the tourist routes and accessible only by a long and rough desert road. Nothing ever happened in Punta Azul; it was a good place for a man to rest, to fish, to sit in the cool adobe cantina and exchange bits of philosophy with its proprietor, Carlos Hernandez.
And it was a good place to do a little amateur-detective checking on a suspicion.
It was siesta time and everyone in Punta Azul was observing that tradition but Knight and Carlos—and even their own conversation had dwindled off into silence. Knight was nursing a glass of beer, putting off the time when he would have to leave the cool cantina and drive the long, hot miles back to the border, while Carlos was at the other end of the bar, idly polishing his cerveza glasses and singing in a soft voice:
"Yo soy la paloma errante—"
He was a big man, with a fierce black mustache that made him resemble Pancho Villa of old. He sang softly, in a clear, sweet tenor. Why, Knight wondered, do so many big men sing tenor and so many small men sing baritone?
"El nido triste donde naci—" Knight listened, unconsciously making a mental translation of the words into English:
I am the wandering dove that seeks
The sad nest where I was born—
How old was "La Paloma?" Music, like men, had to possess more than a superficial worth to be remembered. Novelty tunes, like the little Caesars and Napoleons, lived their brief span and were forgotten while the music that appealed to the hearts of men never died. People had a habit of remembering the things that appealed to them and finally forgetting the others.
Once there had been a man named Benedict Arnold. No living person had ever seen him; they knew him only from the books of history. At one time he had been hated but no one bothered, any more, to hate him. He was no longer of interest or importance to anyone.
And once there had been another man that no living person had ever seen. Like Benedict Arnold, he was known to them only through the books of history. But he had appealed to something in other men, so they had built a monument in his honor and there he sat carved in stone, tall and gaunt. The sculptor had been a master, and the things about the figure that appealed to other men were in his face; the understanding and the gentle compassion. People came to look at him, the loud of mouth suddenly still and the hard of face softening. They looked up at him with their heads bared and spoke in quiet voices as though they stood before something greater than they.
Yet, Lincoln had been only a man—
His musing was broken by the sound of a car in the street outside, stopping before the cantina. Its door slammed and a man stepped through the open doorway of the cantina; through it and then quickly to one side so that he would not be outlined against the light as he took his first look at the interior. He was, Knight noticed, wearing a white sports coat and his right hand was in the pocket of it. His identity registered on Knight's mind almost simultaneously and he tensed as a cat might tense at the sight of a dog.
It was Cullin.
Then he relaxed, and waited. Once there had been a time when he might have killed Cullin, when the memory of the vain sacrifice of the Fourth might have brought the hate surging red and unreasoning to his mind. But four years had altered his emotions. The hatred had settled into something cold and deep and not to be satisfied with brief physical violence. It was cold and deep and patient, and there are better ways than physical violence of finding vengeance if one is patient.
Cullin's eyes flashed over Carlos, still polishing his cerveza glasses, and up the length of the bar. He stiffened at the sight of Knight and there was a slight movement of his right hand inside his coat pocket. For perhaps ten seconds neither spoke nor moved; Knight sitting on the high stool, half turned away from the bar with his glass still in his hand and Cullin looming white-coated just within the doorway, alert and waiting for Knight to make a hostile move.
* * *
Knight broke the silence. "Going somewhere, Cullin?"
Cullin walked toward him, warily. "So we meet again?" He seated himself on a stool near Knight, facing him with his hand never leaving his pocket.
Carlos started toward them, looking questioningly at Cullin, and Cullin motioned him back with a wave of his left hand and a curt, "Nada!"
Carlos returned to his glass polishing and Cullin looked curiously at Knight. "It's a small world, Knight—sometimes too small. What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I could ask the same of you."
Cullin made no answer and Knight went on: "I see you're a civilian again. The last time I saw you, you were flicking the dust off your handkerchief in anticipation of polishing a pair of gold oak leaves."
"Peacetime armies and ambitious officers aren't compatible," Cullin said, his jaw tightening at the words. "This is especially true if you aren't a Regular Army officer."
"I heard that you never did get those oak leaves; that you got a bawling-out, instead, and a demotion back to second lieutenant. It seems they had something to say to you about 'stupid and unnecessary sacrifice of men.' "
Cullin's face flushed a dull red. "A bunch of sentimental old women. My strategy was sound; I took the hill."
"Yes, you did—didn't we?" Knight agreed, smiling without humor.
"As commanding officer, I would have been stupid to have done anything as vainglorious as to actively engage in the fighting. You should know that. Leaders are not dispensable, while the led are."
"Anyway, you've now forsaken the military career?"
"I've found myself a new field where my abilities are duly appreciated and rewarded."
Cullin volunteered no further information and Knight decided it would gain him nothing to ask. Nor would needling Cullin cause him to reveal the reasons for his presence in Punta Azul; a roundabout and non-hostile approach would be better.
"I ran across an item in the paper three years ago," he remarked to Cullin. "According to it, you had missed a curve and plunged off into the Feather River canyon."
"My car went over the cliff and into the river. The papers erroneously assumed I had been in it when it left the road. I never did correct them."
"Why didn't you?"
"Why should I?"
"No particular reason to do, I suppose," Knight agreed.
Cullin studied Knight with a calculating look in his eyes, then said in a tone almost friendly, "Obscurity hasn't been your own lot, Knight. The papers are full of the things being done by the Knight-Clarke Computer. They claim it can outthink a thousand men."
Knight kept his face expressionless. He, Knight, wasn't the only one who wanted information; there was something about the Computer that Cullin wanted to know.
"Its knowledge is greater than that of a thousand men," Knight replied, adopting Cullin's own attitude of pseudo-friendliness. "Of course, among a thousand men much of the knowledge they possessed would be common to all of them. The Computer is valuable in that it can combine and correlate the specific knowledge of men in all the different fields of learning."
"I was especially interested in one article. As the Knight of the Knight-Clarke Computer, perhaps you can give me the true facts."
"Which article was that?" Knight asked, then failed to resist the impulse to add, "From me, you get the dope straight from the horse's mouth."
* * *
Cullin's face flushed again and the knots of muscle stood out along his jaw. It was with an obvious effort that he forced his voice to retain its conversational tone. "This article came up with the proposition that the Master Computer, with all its knowledge and its ability to devise weapons, could rule the world if it only had a means for manual operations, such as tentacles or hands, and if it had a means of locomotion instead of being bolted to a concrete floor."
"Why should it want to rule the world?" Knight asked.
"The article claimed that it would have absorbed men's motivations along with their knowledge, and it further claimed that no one thousand men can be found who are utterly free of the desire for power over others."
"I read the same article," Knight said, smiling a little. "The writer, as is true of all writers for that particular 'news' weekly, was following the editorial injunction to make it interesting, and never mind the facts. I'm surprised that you were gullible enough to believe it."
"I wasn't gullible enough to believe it. I just wondered if there was any truth at all to it and, if so, why couldn't that characteristic be utilized. You might, say, build such a brain into a tank and use a perfect soldier as its source of knowledge; a soldier who knew tank warfare from A to Z and who fanatically desired to kill as many of the enemy as possible."
"No." Knight shook his head. "The robotic brains don't absorb emotions along with the knowledge. Emotions aren't facts, you know; they're the creation of a sensory body and the nerves and glands that affect the body. We haven't worried about the Computer's lack of emotions—it doesn't need them to accept the data we give it, correlate that data and give us the answer we want.
"But so far as tanks controlled by robotic brains go," he added, "we have one in the experimental stage at Center, now."
"Oh?" Cullin's surprise seemed simulated. "I thought you just inferred they weren't possible?"
"Possible, but not too practical at the present stage. For best results, the robotic brain has to be in close communication with an ordinary flesh-and-blood soldier."
Cullin's surprise became genuine. "You mean your robotic brains aren't thinking units at all, but just a conglomeration of television and radar, operated by remote control?"
"No—the brains can comprehend and obey the most complex orders."
"Then why do you say they aren't practical?" Cullin demanded. "So long as they comprehend and obey, nothing more is needed. What more could you want?"
"The human element—initiative and curiosity."
Cullin's lip curled. " 'The human element!' You were never able to understand the military, Knight. The 'human element' is precisely the thing a good commander tries to weed out among his men. Initiative contrary to given orders cannot be tolerated, neither can questioning of those orders be tolerated. In your robotic brain you have the brain of a perfect solider. It would need only one more thing, and I suppose it has that—an utter lack of fear."
"It has no conception of any such emotion as fear."
"A complete lack of fear, an intelligence great enough to understand the orders given it, and unquestioning obedience in following those orders—those are the three characteristics of the perfect soldier, Knight."
Knight shrugged. "A matter of opinion. You're presuming a machine's actions would be the same as a man's actions."
"They are the same. I've found that humans serve in exactly the same manner as machines. There is no difference, once the human has been conditioned into obedience."
* * *
Knight switched the subject abruptly, feeling that the talk of Center was not going far enough toward causing Cullin to reveal his business in Punta Azul. "I see that Premier Dovorski is doing a good job of applying that philosophy to the Russo-Asians," he remarked. "He's really making robots out of the people."
"So I've heard," Cullin said, making no other comment but his eyes suddenly more watchful.
"I suppose there will be war again within ten years." Knight idly swirled the beer in his glass. "We'll be outnumbered four to one, but maybe we can have the Computer give us something that will even the odds."
Cullin hesitated, then said: "I hear rumors that you have both a spaceship and a disintegrator ray on the drawing board. The disintegrator ray should even the odds, if it's as good as the rumors say. Of course, I suppose these rumors usually exaggerate the true facts?"
"I suppose." Knight ignored the question. "Sometimes we deliberately create rumors to throw Dovorski's spies off on false leads, too. One was caught in Center yesterday. He made the mistake of trying to shoot it out with the Center police, but he lived long enough to talk a little."
Suspicion blazed in Cullin's eyes, and there was menace in the way he silently waited for Knight to continue.
"We didn't think he would know the identity of the head of the Russo-Asian spy ring, but we asked him, anyway," Knight said, still swirling his beer.
Cullin stared at him and waited, as a rattlesnake might wait, poised to strike. The bulge of his hand in his coat pocket showed that his finger was on the trigger and Knight could hear the sound of his own breathing in the silence. A fly droned loudly across the room and out the door, while Carlos' low humming made an incongruously melodious background to the deadly tension.
He ceased swirling the beer in his glass and looked Cullin full in the eyes, grinning mockingly at him.
"He gave us a name, Cullin."
"So you were leading me on?" Cullin hissed. "You've just written out your own death warrant—fool! You're going with me!"
"And espionage is the new field where your abilities are appreciated and rewarded?" Knight shook his head with feigned sympathy. "You really had no reason to give yourself away. I came down here on a suspicion of 'fishermen' who hire boats from the Mexicans at regular intervals. I wouldn't have connected you with it if you hadn't been so curious about the Computer, and then naïve enough to fall into my crude little trap. I told you the spy gave us a name—he did. He told us his own name, then he died."
"I'm afraid your cleverness has backfired on you, Knight, but enjoy it while you can. You can go to the beach with me and prolong your life for a little while, or you can take it here and now—which?"
"I'm not too fond of the idea of taking it either place, but I wouldn't want to mess up Carlos' floor." Knight swirled the warm beer again and held it up to the light. "Flat. The Greeks had an expression for everything, didn't they?" he asked, smiling, then said something swiftly in a foreign tongue.
Cullin reacted as quickly as a cat, the pistol out of his pocket and hard against Knight's stomach, his head jerking around to watch Carlos.
Carlos was still polishing his cerveza glasses, his back turned to them and his humming continuing unbroken.
Cullin turned back to Knight. "That didn't sound like Greek to me. If your friend tries anything, you know where you'll get it."
"You would prefer to not arouse the village by doing any shooting in here, wouldn't you?" Knight asked. "These Mexicans might not like the idea of a stranger shooting up their town."
"I'm not worried about these sleepy Mexicans. And I've changed my mind about killing you—if you co-operate with me. Tell me all the things I want to know, and I'll let you go free."
"Under such circumstances, the gun in your hand is no threat," Knight pointed out. "Dead, I can't answer your questions. Alive, why should I?"
"Alive and not answering my questions, you are of no value to me," Cullin said grimly. "I came here to hire a boat to take me to a certain place several miles down the beach where a submarine will pick me up. This was both my first and last trip down here. I can get by without hiring a boat—I have a truck with a four-wheel drive and oversize tires for sand. I can kill you and be in it and gone before these Mexicans wake up, and they could never follow me through that sand in your own pickup.
"So—you can go with me and be released after you answer our questions on the submarine or you can refuse and I'll let you have it now, with nothing to lose."
"I'm pretty sure that my release from the submarine would be over the side of it with my hands tied behind my back and a weight tied to my neck, Cullin. That's why I quoted the pseudo-Greek phrase. I have a Papago boy working in my department at Center, and Carlos' mother was a Papago. Have you noticed him lately?"
Cullin turned his head quickly, but the muzzle of his pistol remained shoved hard against Knight's stomach.
* * *
Carlos was still humming, but he was no longer polishing glasses. One elbow was leaning on the bar and in the hand of that arm he held an ancient .45 revolver. The muzzle gaped blackly at Cullin's back and the big spiked hammer was reared back. Carlos was peering down the sights of it with a malevolently glittering black eye and there was satanic anticipation in the arch of his heavy black brows.
Cullin turned slowly back to Knight. "I should have had sense enough to cover you both. And now what? I'm not going to take my gun out of your stomach until your friend takes his gun off my back. It seems to be a stalemate, Knight."
"Looks like it, doesn't it?"
"Stalemate," Cullin repeated. "So we'll just have to settle for me letting you live and your friend letting me live. It doesn't matter much—I've built up an espionage system that consistently gives satisfactory results. I've liquidated the weak and the incompetent and my work here is done; this was to be my last trip, as I said. I'm changing sides, Knight—I'm going across to where the ability to achieve results is rewarded; where a leader is expected to use his men, not pamper them."
"You ought to enjoy that."
"I will. Over there I'll have a free hand—no more hiding or secrecy. Before I'm through I'll be head of Dovorski's State Police, and the man who controls a state's police can control the state in the end. I'll use them to make every man, woman and child in Russo-Asia a cog in my machine."
"You sound rather vainglorious—but go on."
"Is there anything vainglorious about what I've done so far? When you say I'm vainglorious, you're engaging in some wishful thinking. I used my company in Korea to get what I wanted—until the very last when the old women in regimental headquarters decided sentiment was more important than competence. I've used the spy organization in this country—I used it, I didn't pet it. That's what convinced Dovorski he needed me over there. I've done everything I claim to have done and I'll do everything I claim I'm going to do. You know that, don't you?"
Knight had the unpleasant feeling that he did, but he only said, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."
"In a few years you'll be eating it and you'll find it a bitter dish. And now—we've chatted long enough." Cullin got to his feet, slowly, so as to not excite the trigger finger of Carlos, keeping his own pistol trained on Knight. He spoke to Carlos in Spanish. "I'm leaving. If you try anything, I'll kill your friend."
Carlos looked questioningly at Knight and Cullin smiled thinly. "Do you want to be a hero and die to have him stop me, Knight? You can, you know."
Knight's answer was to Carlos. "Keep your gun on him. If he goes out peacefully, don't shoot him. If he makes any suspicious move, kill him."
Carlos nodded, then laughed, but the revolver in his hand remained as steady as a rock.
"What's he laughing about?" Cullin demanded.
"I think it amuses him to think of the results, should he pull the trigger."
"You wouldn't be around long enough to join in his merriment, Knight—remember that."
Knight smiled without answering and Cullin backed to the door, keeping his pistol leveled on him. Carlos remained at the bar, following Cullin with the sights of his revolver. Cullin reached the door and paused a moment in it to say, "You'll be hearing about me—more and more every year and you won't like what you hear."
Then he was gone and the roar of his truck came seconds later. Knight listened to the sound of it as it took the almost-impassable road along the shore line. There would be no use trying to follow over such a road in his own pickup.
"You saved my life, Carlos," he said. "I don't intend to forget it."
Carlos laughed and slapped the revolver down on the bar. "It's a fortunate thing, my friend, that my mild nature is belied by a fierce and mustachioed countenance. Otherwise, he might have killed us both."
"It is," Knight agreed, "but I wish we could have stopped him some way."
He sighed morosely and frowned at the revolver on the bar.
"The next time I come down this way, I'm going to bring you some cartridges and a firing spring for that thing."