- Author: Henry Slesar
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This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January 1957. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
By HENRY SLESAR
Monk had three questions he lived by: Where can I find it? How much will it cost? When can you deliver? But now they said that what he needed wasn't for sale. "Want to bet?" He snorted.
ystole ... diastole ... the Cardiophone listened, hummed, and recorded; tracing a path of perilous peaks and precipices on the white paper.
"Relax!" Dr. Rostov pleaded. "Please relax, Mr. Monk!"
The eyes of Fletcher Monk replied. Rostov knew their language well enough to read the glaring messages they transmitted. Indignation ... "Don't use that commanding tone with me, Doctor!" Protest ... "I am relaxed; completely relaxed!" Warning.... "Get me out of this electric chair, Rostov!"
The physician sighed and clicked the apparatus off. Swiftly, but with knowing fingers, he disengaged his patient from the wire and rubber encumbrances of the reclining seat. Fletcher Monk sat up and rubbed his forearms, watching every movement the doctor made as he prepared to study the results of his examination.
"You're fussing, Rostov," he said coldly. "My shirt."
"In a moment."
"Now," said Monk impatiently.
The physician shook his head sadly. He handed Monk his shirt and waited until the big man had buttoned it half way down. Then he returned to the Cardiophone for a more critical study. A fine analysis was hardly necessary; the alarming story had been told with the first measurements of the heart machine.
"Cut it out," said Monk brusquely. "You've got that death's-head look again, Rostov. If you want to say something, say it."
"You were tight as a drum," said the doctor. "That's going to influence my findings, you know. If you hadn't refused the narcotic—"
Fletcher Monk barked: "I won't be drugged!"
"It would have relaxed you—"
"I was as relaxed as I ever am," the other man said candidly, and Rostov recognized the truth of his analysis. Monk lived in a world of taut muscles and nerves stretched out just below the breaking point. Tenseness was his trademark; there was no more elasticity in Monk's body than there was in the hard cash he accumulated so readily.
"Well?" the patient jeered. "What's the verdict, you damned sawbones? Going to throw away my cigars? Going to send me on a long sea voyage?"
"Don't look so smug!" Monk exploded. "I know you think there's something wrong with me. You can't wait to bury me!"
"You're sick, Mr. Monk," said the doctor. "You're very sick."
Monk glowered. "You're wrong," he said icily. "You've made a lousy diagnosis."
"What was that feeling you described?" asked Rostov. "Remember what you told me? Like a big, black bird, flapping its wings in your chest. Didn't that mean something to you, Mr. Monk?"
The industrialist paled. "All right. Get to the point," he said quietly. "What did that gadget tell you?"
"Bad news," said the doctor. "Your heart's been strained almost to bursting. It's working on will power, Mr. Monk; hardly anything else."
"Get to the point!" Monk shouted.
"That is the point," Rostov said stiffly. "You have a serious heart condition. A dangerous condition. You've ignored eight years of my advice, and now your heart is showing the effects."
"What can it do to me?"
"Kill you," said the doctor bluntly. "Frankly, I can't even promise that the usual precautions will do any good. But we have no other choice than to take them. The human body is a miraculous affair, and even the most desperate damages sometimes can't prevent it from going on living. But I won't mince words with you, Mr. Monk. You're a direct sort of person, so I'm telling you directly. Your chances are slim."
Monk sat down and put his black tie on distractedly. He sat deep in thought for a while, and then said:
"How much would it cost to fix it?"
"Money!" the big man cried. "How much money would it take to get me repaired?"
"But it's not a matter of money—"
"Don't give me that!" Monk put his jacket on with a violent motion. "I've learned better than that in my fifty years, Dr. Rostov. Money fixes everything. Everything! I could curdle your milk by telling you some of the things I've fixed with money!"
The physician shrugged. "Money doesn't buy health."
"Doesn't it?" The patient gave an abrupt laugh. "Money buys people, Dr. Rostov. It buys loyalty and disloyalty. It buys friends and sells enemies. All these are commodities, Doctor. I found that out—the hard way."
"Mr. Monk, you don't know what I'm telling you. Your heart action is unreliable, and no amount of dollars can bring it back to normal—"
The industrialist stood up. "You think the heart is incorruptible, eh?" He snorted. "Well, I think different. Someplace on earth there's a man or a method that can fix me up. It'll take money to find the answer, that's for sure. But I'll find it!"
Rostov put out his hand helplessly. "You're being unreasonable, Mr. Monk. There is nothing on earth—"
"All right!" Fletcher Monk shouted. "So maybe there's nothing on Earth!" His body trembled with his emotion. "Then I'll go to the stars, if I have to!"
Rostov started. "If you mean this gravity business—"
"What's that?" Monk froze. "What's that you said?"
"This gravity thing," the doctor said. "This silly story about the Mars Colony they've been spreading—"
"What silly story?" asked Monk, narrowing his eyes. "I haven't heard it. What do you mean?"
Rostov regretted his words. But he knew it was too late to stop the industrialist from extracting the details from him. He made a despairing gesture and went over to his desk. From the top drawer, he withdrew a folded sheet torn from the pages of a daily newspaper that specialized in lurid articles and wild imaginings.
Monk snatched it from the doctor's hand. "Let me see that!" he said. He turned the paper over in his hand until he found the red-pencilled article the doctor had referred to.
"MARS BOON TO HEART CASES, SAYS SPACE DOCTOR." Monk read the headline aloud, and then looked at Rostov.
"It's a misquotation," the physician said. "Dr. Feasley never made such a bald statement. They've taken something out of context to make a sensational story—"
"Let me see for myself," snapped Monk.
He began to read. "... 'Space Medicine Association ... Dr. Samuel Feasley, renowned' ... here it is!... 'the effects of Earth's gravitational pull on the body versus the relatively light gravitation encountered by the members of the Martian Colony ... two-fifths the pull of Earth ... interesting speculation on the heart action...!'" He crushed the paper in his hands. "By God!" he cried. "Here's my answer, you gloomy old fool!"
"No, no!" said Rostov hurriedly. "You don't know what you're saying—"
Fletcher Monk laughed loudly. "I always know what I'm saying, Doctor Rostov. Here it is in black and white! Why should I die on Earth—when I can live on Mars?"
"But it's impossible! There are so many problems—"
"Money solves problems!"
"Not this one!" said the doctor heatedly. "Not the problem of acceleration! You'll never reach Mars alive!"
Monk paused. "What do you mean?" he blinked.
"The acceleration will kill you!" Rostov said in a shaking voice. "Three G's are enough to burst that sick heart of yours. And the acceleration reaches a gravity of nine at one point. You'd never make it!"
"I'll never make it here," said Monk, biting out the words. "You told me that yourself."
"At least there's a chance," the doctor argued. "A slim one, surely. But you're talking about almost certain death!"
"How do you know?" said Monk contemptuously. "You've never had anything to do with space medicine. You're what they call a groundworm, Doc. Just like me."
"You'll never even get aboard a spaceship. There's a rigid physical examination required. You couldn't pass it in a million years! It's suicide to think of it."
Monk paced the floor. "But if I did pass it—"
"But if I did," Monk insisted. "Would my chances for living be better on Mars?"
"I suppose so. Your heart wouldn't have to work nearly so hard. You'd weigh less than ninety pounds...."
"Then it's worth a try, isn't it?" He grasped the physician by the shoulders and shook him. "Isn't it?" he shouted.
"Mr. Monk, I can't let you even consider it!"
"You can't?" Monk looked at him threateningly. "Are you dictating my affairs now, Doctor? Are you forgetting who I am?"
"The Mars Colony is a working organization," the doctor said, desperately. "The life there is hard, rugged—"
"Hard?" Monk roared. "Hardness and Monk are synonymous words, Doctor Rostov. Don't you read the papers? Don't you know what they call me? The Iron Millionaire!" He laughed. "And there's something else you're not aware of. I own a lot of this country. But I also own a good piece of the Mars Colony. Just let 'em try and stop me!"
Rostov threw his hands in the air. "You're completely off balance, Mr. Monk. What you're thinking about is impossible in a dozen different ways. But I'm not going to worry about it. You'll never get near a space vessel—"
"That remains to be seen," said Monk.
"The best thing for you," the doctor continued, "is to start slowing down—right now, today. And the first project we have to work on is the loss of some thirty or forty pounds. You're much too heavy for that heart of yours."
Monk didn't appear to be listening. Thoughtfully, he reached inside his coat and brought out a long black cigar. He bit off the end and spat it out onto the polished floor of the examining room.
"You'll have to lose those, too," the doctor cautioned. "Cigars are out."
Fletcher Monk jammed the cigar between his teeth. He looked at the doctor and smiled grimly.
"O.K., Doc," he said. "I'm going to follow your advice. And the first thing I'm going to arrange is the loss of some weight." He lit the cigar and puffed heavily. "About a hundred and thirty pounds," he said.
Monk put his hat on his head and walked out. He felt better already.
Monk found his informant in the person of a Spacelane employee named Horner. Garcia, the converted hood that now "assisted" Monk in his personal affairs, brought the Spacelane man into the industrialist's office and gestured him into a chair.
"All right," said Monk. "Garcia's told you what I want. Now let's go." He picked up a paper from his desk, and began to read off the list of typewritten names.
"Houston," he said.
"No good," said Horner. "He's the dispatch officer. Crusty old guy. Spent eleven years in space, and he's plenty mean."
"I don't care about his disposition," said Monk testily. "Can he be bought?"
Horner shook his head. "I doubt it."
"All right, then." Monk rattled the paper. "How about Roth?"
"Uh-uh. He's the Chief Medical Officer. Very Army. He helped draft the original physical standards for space flight."
"Davis!" said Monk.
"Well ..." Horner looked pensive. "He doesn't mind a fast buck now and then. But he's only a Supplies Officer. He couldn't do anything about smuggling you aboard."
"Don't know much about Christy. He's a pilot, and pretty close-mouthed. Spends most of his time between trips in the bosom of his family, so to speak. Which is maybe understandable, because he's got a wife that is absolutely—"
"Skip that junk," said Garcia toughly. "The boss wants facts."
"Keep out of this, you," said Monk. He smiled humorlessly at Horner. "What about Christy's wife?"
"Well, she's—I mean, she's a looker, understand? A real beauty. Only from what I heard around the base, she's a groundworm's delight, if you know what I mean—"
"I don't know what you mean," said Monk patiently.
"Well, with her husband away six months out of every year, and a swell-lookin' doll like that ... Figure it out for yourself."
Monk grunted. "I'll keep it in mind," he said. "Now how about this fellow Forsch?"
"Maybe there's something there," said Horner. "He's a doctor, too. Handles most of the routine physicals. But I heard a rumor about some pretty unethical practices he was mixed up in before he took this job. There may be nothing to it, but if you could look into it—"
"I will," said Monk abruptly. He handed the paper over to the Spacelane employee. "Anybody else here you want to tell me about?"
Horner looked over the list.
"That's about it, I guess," he said. "Nobody here can do you any good. But you look into this guy Forsch. He may be your boy."
Monk smiled tightly.
"Pay him," he said to Garcia.
When the detectives handed Fletcher Monk the completed report