AFTERNOON OF A PLAIN-CLOTHES MAN
The squad car veered to one side, halted against the impersonal concrete wall of the motorway. With the humming of its motor stopped, the silence was dead and thick.
Baley looked at the robot next to him and said in an incongruously quiet voice, “What?”
Time stretched while Baley waited for an answer. A small and lonesome vibration rose and reached a minor peak, then faded. It was the sound of another squad car, boring its way past them on some unknown errand, perhaps a mile away. Or else it was a fire car hurrying along toward its own appointment with combustion.
A detached portion of Baley’s mind wondered if any one man any longer knew all the motorways that twisted about in New York City’s bowels. At no time in the day or night could the entire motorway system be completely empty, and yet there must be individual passages that no man had entered in years. With sudden, devastating clarity, he remembered a short story he had viewed as a youngster.
It concerned the motorways of London and began, quietly enough, with a murder. The murderer fled toward a prearranged hideout in the corner of a motorway in whose dust his own shoeprints had been the only disturbance for a century. In that abandoned hole, he could wait in complete safety till the search died.
But he took a wrong turning and in the silence and loneness of those twisting corridors he swore a mad and blaspheming oath that, in spite of the Trinity and all the saints, he would yet reach his haven. From that time on, no turning was right. He wandered through an unending maze from the Brighton Sector on the Channel to Norwich and from Coventry to Canterbury. He burrowed endlessly beneath the great City of London from end to end of its sprawl across the southeastern corner of Medieval England. His clothes were rags and his shoes ribbons, his strength wore down but never left him. He was tired, tired, but unable to stop. He could only go on and on with only wrong turnings ahead of him.
Sometimes he heard the sound of passing cars, but they were always in the next corridor, and however fast he rushed (for he would gladly have given himself up by then) the corridors he reached were always empty. Sometimes he saw an exit far ahead that would lead to the City’s life and breath, but it always glimmered further away as he approached until he would turn-and it would be gone.
Occasionally, Londoners on official business through the underground would see a misty figure limping silently toward them, a semitransparent arm lifted in pleading, a mouth open and moving, but soundless. As it approached, it would waver and vanish.
It was a story that hid lost the attributes of ordinary fiction and had entered the realm of folklore. The “Wandering Londoner” had become a familiar phrase to all the world.
In the depths of New York City, Baley remembered the story and stirred uneasily.
R. Daneel spoke and there was a small echo to his voice. He said, “We may be overheard.”
“Down here? Not a chance. Now what about the Commissioner?”
“He was on the scene, Elijah. He is a City dweller. He was inevitably a suspect.”
“Was! Is he still a suspect?”
“No. His innocence was quickly established. For one thing, there was no blaster in his possession. There could not very well be one. He had entered Spacetown in the usual fashion; that was quite certain; and, as you know, blasters are removed as a matter of course.”
“Was the murder weapon found at all, by the way?”
“No, Elijah. Every blaster in Spacetown was checked and none had been fired for weeks. A check of the radiation chambers was quite conclusive.”
“Then whoever had committed the murder had either hidden the weapon so well—”
“It could not have been hidden anywhere in Spacetown. We were quite thorough.”
Baley said impatiently, “I’m trying to consider all possibilities. It was either hidden or it was carried away by the murderer when he left.”
“And if you admit only the second possibility, then the Commissioner is cleared.”
“Yes. As a precaution, of course, he was cerebroanalyzed.”
“By cerebroanalysis, I mean the interpretation of the electromagnetic fields of the living brain cells.”
“Oh,” said Baley, unenlightened. “And what does that tell you?”
“It gives us information concerning the temperamental and emotional makeup of an individual. In the case of Commissioner Enderby, it told us that he was incapable of killing Dr. Sarton. Quite incapable.”
“No,” agreed Baley. “He isn’t the type. I could have told you that.”
“It is better to have objective information. Naturally, all our people in Spacetown allowed themselves to be cerebroanalyzed as well.”
“All incapable, I suppose.”
“No question. It is why we know that the murderer must be a City dweller.”
“Well, then, all we have to do is pass the whole City under your cute little process.”
“It would not be very practical, Elijah. There might be millions temperamentally capable of the deed.”
“Millions,” grunted Baley, thinking of the crowds of that long ago day who had screamed at the dirty Spacers, and of the threatening and slobbering crowds outside the shoe store the night before.
He thought: Poor Julius. A suspect!
He could hear the Commissioner’s voice describing the period after the discovery of the body: “It was brutal, brutal.” No wonder he broke his glasses in shock and dismay. No wonder he did not want to return to Spacetown. “I hate them,” he had ground out between his teeth..
Poor Julius. The man who could handle Spacers. The man whose greatest value to the City lay in his ability to get along with them. How much did that contribute to his rapid promotions?
No wonder the Commissioner had wanted Baley to take over. Good old loyal, close-mouthed Baley. College chum! He would keep quiet if he found out about that little incident. Baley wondered how cerebroanalysis was carried out. He imagined huge electrodes, busy pantographs skidding inklines across graphed paper, self-adjusting gears clicking into place now and then.
Poor Julius. If his state of mind were as appalled as it almost had a right to be, he might already be seeing himself at the end of his career with a forced letter of resignation in the hands of the Mayor.
The squad car slanted up into the sublevels of City Hall.
It was 14:30 when Baley arrived back at his desk. The Commissioner was out. R. Sammy, grinning, did not know where the Commissioner was.
Baley spent some time thinking. The fact that he was hungry didn’t register.
At 15:20 R. Sammy came to his desk and said, “The Commissioner is in now, Lije.”
Baley said, “Thanks.”
For once he listened to R. Sammy without being annoyed. R. Sammy, after all, was a kind of relation to R. Daneel, and R. Daneel obviously wasn’t a person—or thing, rather—to get annoyed with. Baley wondered how it would be on a new planet with men and robots starting even in a City culture. He considered the situation quite dispassionately.
The Commissioner was going through some documents as Baley entered, stopping occasionally to make notations.
He said, “That was a fairly giant-size blooper you pulled out in Spacetown.”
It flooded back strongly. The verbal duel with Fastolfe.
His long face took on a lugubrious expression of chagrin. “I’ll admit I did, Commissioner. I’m sorry.”
Enderby looked up. His expression was keen through his glasses. He seemed more himself than at any time these thirty hours. He said, “No real matter. Fastolfe didn’t seem to mind, so we’ll forget it. Unpredictable, these Spacers. You don’t deserve your luck, Lije. Next time you talk it over with me before you make like a one-man subether hero,”
Baley nodded. The whole thing rolled off his shoulders. He had tried a grandstand stunt and it hadn’t worked. Okay. He was a little surprised that he could be so casual about it, but there it was.
He said, “Look, Commissioner. I want to have a two-man apartment assigned to Daneel and myself. I’m not taking him home tonight.”
“What’s all this?”
“The news is out that he’s a robot. Remember? Maybe nothing will happen, but if there is a riot, I don’t want my family in the middle of it.”
“Nonsense, Lije. I’ve had the thing checked. There’s no such rumor in the City.”
“Jessie got the story somewhere, Commissioner.”
“Well, there’s no organized rumor. Nothing dangerous. I’ve been checking this ever since I got off the trimensic at Fastolfe’s dome. It was why I left. I had to track it down, naturally, and fast. Anyway, here are the reports. See for yourself. There’s Doris Gillid’s report. She went through a dozen Women’s Personals in different parts of the City. You know Doris. She’s a competent girl. Well, nothing showed. Nothing showed anywhere.”
“Then how did Jessie get the rumor, Commissioner?”
“It can be explained. R. Daneel made a show of himself in the shoe store. Did he really pull a blaster, Lije, or were you stretching it a little?”
“He really pulled one. Pointed it, too.”
Commissioner Enderby shook his head. “All right. Someone recognized him. As a robot, I mean.”
“Hold on,” said Baley, indignantly. “You can’t tell him for a robot.”
“Could you? I couldn’t.”
“What does that prove? We’re no experts. Suppose there was a technician out of the Westchester robot factories in the crowd. A professional. A man who has spent his life building and designing robots. He notices something queer about R. Daneel. Maybe in the way he talks or holds himself. He speculates about it. Maybe he tells his wife. She tells a few friends. Then it dies. It’s too improbable. People don’t believe it. Only it got to Jessie before it died.”
“Maybe,” said Baley, doubtfully. “But how about an assignment to a bachelor room for two, anyway?”
The Commissioner shrugged, lifted the intercom. After a while, he said, “Section Q-27 is all they can do. It’s not a very good neighborhood.”
“It’ll do,” said Baley.
“Where’s R. Daneel now, by the way?”
“He’s at our record files. He’s trying to collect information on Medievalist agitators.”
“Good Lord, there are millions.”
“I know, but it keeps him happy.”
Baley was nearly at the door, when he turned, half on impulse, and said, “Commissioner, did Dr. Sarton ever talk to you about Spacetown’s program? I mean, about introducing the C/Fe culture?”
“Occasionally.” The Commissioner’s tone was not one of any particular interest.
“Did he ever explain what Spacetown’s point was?”
“Oh, improve health, raise the standard of living. The usual talk; it didn’t impress me. Oh, I agreed with him. I nodded my head and all that. What could I do? It’s just a matter of humoring them and hoping they’ll keep within reason in their notions. Maybe some day…”
Baley waited but he didn’t say what maybe—some—day might bring.
Baley said, “Did he ever mention anything about emigration?”
“Emigration! Never. Letting an Earthman into an Outer World is like finding a diamond asteroid in the rings of Saturn.”
“I mean emigration to new worlds.”
But the Commissioner answered that one with a simple stare of incredulousness.
Baley chewed that for a moment, then said with sudden bluntness, “What’s cerebroanalysis, Commissioner? Ever hear of it?”
The Commissioner’s round face didn’t pucker; his eyes didn’t blink. He said evenly, “No, what’s it supposed to be?”
“Nothing. Just picked it up.”
He left the office and at his desk continued thinking. Certainly, the Commissioner wasn’t that good an actor. Well, then.
At 16:05 Baley called Jessie and told her he wouldn’t be home that night nor probably any night for a while. It took a while after that to disengage her.
“Lije, is there trouble? Are you in danger?”
A policeman is always in a certain amount of danger, he explained lightly. It didn’t satisfy her. “Where will you be staying?”
He didn’t tell her. “If you’re going to be lonely tonight,” he said, “stay at your mother’s.” He broke connections abruptly, which was probably just as well.
At 16:20 he made a call to Washington. It took a certain length of time to reach the man he wanted and an almost equally long time to convince him he ought to make an air trip to New York the next day. By 16:40, he had succeeded.
At 16:55 the Commissioner left, passing him with an uncertain smile. The day shift left en masse. The sparser population that filled the offices in the evening and through the night made its way in and greeted him in varied tones of surprise.
R. Daneel came to his desk with a sheaf of papers.
“And those are?” asked Baley.
“A list of men and women who might belong to a Medievalist organization.”
“How many does the list include?”
“Over a million,” said R. Daneel. “These are just part of them.”
“Do you expect to check them all, Daneel?”
“Obviously that would be impractical, Elijah.”
“You see, Daneel, almost all Earthmen are Medievalists in one way or another. The Commissioner, Jessie, myself. Look at the Commissioner’s—” (He almost said, “spectacles,” then remembered that Earthmen must stick together and that the Commissioner’s face must be protected in the figurative as well as the literal sense.) He concluded, lamely, “eye ornaments.”
“Yes,” said R. Daneel, “I had noticed them, but thought it indelicate, perhaps, to refer to them. I have not seen such ornaments on other City dwellers.”
“It is a very old-fashioned sort of thing.”
“Does it serve a purpose of any sort?”
Baley said, abruptly, “How did you get your list?”
“It was a machine that did it for me. Apparently, one sets it for a particular type of offense and it does the rest. I let it scan all disorderly conduct cases involving robots over the past twenty-five years. Another machine scanned all City newspapers over an equal period for the names of those involved in unfavorable statements concerning robots or men of the Outer Worlds. It is amazing what can be done in three hours. The machine even eliminated the names of non-survivors from the lists.”
“You are amazed? Surely you’ve got computers on the Outer Worlds?”
“Of many sorts, certainly. Very advanced ones. Still, none are as massive and complex as the ones here. You must remember, of course, that even the largest Outer World scarcely has the population of one of your Cities and extreme complexity is not necessary.”
Baley said, “Have you ever been on Aurora?”
“No,” said R. Daneel, “I was assembled here on Earth.”
“Then how do you know about Outer World computers?”
“But surely that is obvious, partner Elijah. My data store is drawn from that of the late Dr. Sarton. You may take it for granted that it is rich in factual material concerning the Outer Worlds.”
“I see. Can you eat, Daneel?”
“I am nuclear-powered. I had thought you were aware of that.”
“I’m perfectly aware of it. I didn’t ask if you needed to eat. I asked if you could eat. If you could put food in your mouth, chew it, and swallow it. I should think that would be an important item in seeming to be a man.”
“I see your point. Yes, I can perform the mechanical operations of chewing and swallowing. My capacity is, of course, quite limited, and I would have to remove the ingested material from what you might call my stomach sooner or later.”
“All right. You can regurgitate, or whatever you do, in the quiet of our room tonight. The point is that I’m hungry. I’ve missed lunch, damn it, and I want you with me when I eat. And you can’t sit there and not eat without attracting attention. So if you can eat, that’s what I want to hear. Let’s go!”
Section kitchens were the same all over the City. What’s more, Baley had been in Washington, Toronto, Los Angeles, London, and Budapest in the way of business, and they had been the same there, too. Perhaps it had been different in Medieval times when languages had varied and dietaries as well. Nowadays, yeast products were just the same from Shanghai to Tashkent and from Winnipeg to Buenos Aires; and English might not be the “English” of Shakespeare or Churchill, but it was the final potpourri that was current over all the continents and, with some modification, on the Outer Worlds as well.
But language and dietary aside, there were the deeper similarities. There was always that particular odor, undefinable but completely characteristic of “kitchen.” There was the waiting triple line moving slowly in, converging at the door and splitting up again, right, left, center. There was the rumble of humanity, speaking and moving, and the sharper clatter of plastic on plastic. There was the gleam of simulated wood, highly polished, highlights on glass, long tables, the touch of steam in the air.
Baley inched slowly forward as the line moved (with all possible staggering of meal hours, a wait of at least ten minutes was almost unavoidable) and said to R. Daneel in sudden curiosity, “Can you smile?”
R. Daneel, who had been gazing at the interior of the kitchen with cool absorption, said, “I beg your pardon, Elijah.”
“I’m just wondering, Daneel. Can you smile?” He spoke in a casual whisper.
R. Daneel smiled. The gesture was sudden and surprising. His lips curled back and the skin about either end folded. Only the mouth smiled, however. The rest of the robot’s face was untouched.
Baley shook his head. “Don’t bother, R. Daneel. It doesn’t do a thing for you.”
They were at the entrance. Person after person thrust his metal food tag through the appropriate slot and had it scanned. Click—click—click—Someone once calculated that a smoothly running kitchen could allow the entrance of two hundred persons a minute, the tags of each one being fully scanned to prevent kitchen-jumping, meal-jumping, and ration-stretching. They had also calculated how long a waiting line was necessary for maximum efficiency and how much time was lost when any one person required special treatment.
It was therefore always a calamity to interrupt that smooth click-click by stepping to the manual window, as Baley and R. Daneel did, in order to thrust a special-permit pass at the official in charge.
Jessie, filled with the knowledge of an assistant dietitian, had explained it once to Baley.
“It upsets things completely,” she had said. “It throws off consumption figures and inventory estimates. It means special checks. You have to match slips with all the different Section kitchens to make sure the balance isn’t too unbalanced, if you know what I mean. There’s a separate balance sheet to be made out each week. Then if anything goes wrong and you’re overdrawn, it’s always your fault. It’s never the fault of the City Government for passing out special tickets to everybody and his kid sister. Oh, no. And when we have to say that free choice is suspended for the meal, don’t the people in line make a fuss. It’s always the fault of the people behind the counter…”
Baley had the story in the fullest detail and so he quite understood the dry and poisonous look he received from the woman behind the window. She made a few hurried notes. Home Section, occupation, reason for meal displacement (“official business,” a very irritating reason indeed, but quite irrefutable). Then she folded the slip with firm motions of her fingers and pushed it into a slot. A computer seized it, devoured the contents, and digested the information.
She turned to R. Daneel.
Baley let her have the worst. He said, “My friend is out-of-City.”
The woman looked finally and completely outraged. She said, “Home City, please.”
Baley intercepted the ball for Daneel once again. “All records are to be credited to the Police Department. No details necessary. Official business.”
The woman brought down a pad of slips with a jerk of her arm and filled in the necessary matter in dark-light code with practiced pressings of the first two fingers of her right hand.
She said, “How long will you be eating here?”
“Till further notice,” said Baley.
“Press fingers here,” she said, inverting the information blank.
Baley had a short qualm as R. Daneel’s even fingers with their glistening nails pressed downward. Surely, they wouldn’t have forgotten to supply him with fingerprints.
The woman took the blank away and fed it into the all-consuming machine at her elbow. It belched nothing back and Baley breathed more easily.
She gave them little metal tags that were in the bright red that meant “temporary.”
She said, “No free choices. We’re short this week. Take table DF.”
They made their way toward DF.
R. Daneel said, “I am under the impression that most of your people eat in kitchens such as these regularly.”
“Yes. Of course, it’s rather gruesome eating in a strange kitchen. There’s no one about whom you know. In your own kitchen, it’s quite different. You have your own seat which you occupy all the time. You’re with your family, your friends. Especially when you’re young, mealtimes are the bright spot of the day.” Baley smiled in brief reminiscence.
Table DF was apparently among those reserved for transients. Those already seated watched their plates uneasily and did not talk with one another. They looked with sneaking envy at the laughing crowds at the other tables.
There is no one so uncomfortable, thought Baley, as the man eating out-of-Section. Be it ever so humble, the old saying went, there’s no place like home-kitchen. Even the food tastes better, no matter how many chemists are ready to swear it to be no different from the food in Johannesburg.
He sat down on a stool and R. Daneel sat down next to him.
“No free choice,” said Baley, with a wave of his fingers, “so just close the switch there and wait.”
It took two minutes. A disc slid back in the table top and a dish lifted.
“Mashed potatoes, zymoveal sauce, and stewed apricots. Oh, well,” said Baley.
A fork and two slices of whole yeast bread appeared in a recess just in front of the low railing that went down the long center of the table.
R. Daneel said in a low voice, “You may help yourself to my serving, if you wish.”
For a moment, Baley was scandalized. Then he remembered and mumbled, “That’s bad manners. Go on. Eat.”
Baley ate industriously but without the relaxation that allows complete enjoyment. Carefully, he flicked an occasional glance at R. Daneel. The robot ate with precise motions of his jaws. Too precise. It didn’t look quite natural.
Strange! Now that Baley knew for a fact that R. Daneel was in truth a robot, all sorts of little items showed up clearly. For instance, there was no movement of an Adam’s apple when R. Daneel swallowed.
Yet he didn’t mind so much. Was he getting used to the creature? Suppose people started afresh on a new world (how that ran through his mind ever since Dr. Fastolfe had put it there); suppose Bentley, for instance, were to leave Earth; could he get so he didn’t mind working and living alongside robots? Why not? The Spacers themselves did it.
R. Daneel said, “Elijah, is it bad manners to watch another man while he is eating?”
“If you mean stare directly at him, of course. That’s only common sense, isn’t it? A man has a right to his privacy. Ordinary conversation is entirely in order, but you don’t peer at a man while he’s swallowing.”
“I see. Why is it then that I count eight people watching us closely, very closely?”
Baley put down his fork. He looked about as though he were searching for the salt-pinch dispenser. “I see nothing out of the ordinary.”
But he said it without conviction. The mob of diners was only a vast conglomeration of chaos to him. And when R. Daneel turned his impersonal brown eyes upon him, Baley suspected uncomfortably that those were not eyes he saw, but scanners capable of noting, with photographic accuracy and in split seconds of time, the entire panorama.
“I am quite certain,” said R. Daneel, calmly.
“Well, then, what of it? It’s crude behavior, but what does it prove?”
“I cannot say, Elijah, but is it coincidence that six of the watchers were in the crowd outside the shoe store last night?”