patterns drew attention to the colors themselves, and away from the base the colors were laid over. The observer, he said, tends to see the color and pattern of the suit, rather than the body it clings to so closely. Maybe he's right; I wouldn't know, not being a psychologist. I have spent summers in nudist resorts, though, and I never noticed anyone painting themselves with lavender and chartreuse checks. On the other hand, the people who go to nudist resorts are a self-screened group. So are the people who go to the Belt, for that matter, but the type of screening is different.
I'll just leave that problem in the hands of the psychologists, and go on wearing my immodestly quiet solid-color union suits.
Brock pushed open the inch-thick metal door beneath a sign that said "O'Banion's Bar," and I followed him in. We sat down at a table and ordered drinks when the waiter bustled over. A cop in uniform isn't supposed to drink, but Brock figures that the head of the Security Guard ought to be able to get away with a breach of his own rules.
We had our drinks in front of us and our cigarettes lit before Brock opened up with his troubles.
"Oak," he said, "I wanted to intercept you before you went to the plant because I want you to know that there may be trouble."
"Yeah? What kind?" Sometimes it's a pain to play ignorant.
"Thurston's outfit is trying to oust Ravenhurst from the managership of Viking and take over the job. Baedecker Metals & Mining Corporation, which is managed by Baedecker himself, wants to force Viking out of business so that BM&M can take over Ceres for large-scale processing of precious metals.
"Between the two of 'em, they're raising all sorts of minor hell around here, and it's liable to become major hell at any time. And we can't stand any hell—or sabotage—around this planetoid just now!"
"Now wait a minute," I said, still playing ignorant, "I thought we'd pretty well established that the 'sabotage' of the McGuire series was Jack Ravenhurst's fault. She was the one who was driving them nuts, not Thurston's agents."
"Perfectly true," he said agreeably. "We managed to block any attempts of sabotage by other company agents, even though it looked as though we hadn't for a while." He chuckled wryly. "We went all out to keep the McGuires safe, and all the time the boss' daughter was giving them the works." Then he looked sharply at me. "I covered that, of course. No one in the Security Guard but me knows that Jack was responsible."
"Good. But what about the Thurston and Baedecker agents, then?"
He took a hefty slug of his drink. "They're around, all right. We have our eyes on the ones we know, but those outfits are as sharp as we are, and they may have a few agents here on Ceres that we know nothing about."
"So? What does this have to do with me?"
He put his drink on the table. "Oak, I want you to help me." His onyx-brown eyes, only a shade darker than his skin, looked directly into my own. "I know it isn't part of your assignment, and you know I can't afford to pay you anything near what you're worth. It will have to come out of my pocket because I couldn't possibly justify it from operating funds. Ravenhurst specifically told me that he doesn't want you messing around with the espionage and sabotage problem because he doesn't like your methods of operation."
"And you're going to go against his orders?"
"I am. Ravenhurst is sore at you personally because you showed him that Jack was responsible for the McGuire sabotage. It's an irrational dislike, and I am not going to let it interfere with my job. I'm going to protect Ravenhurst's interests to the best of my ability, and that means that I'll use the best of other people's abilities if I can."
I grinned at him. "The last I heard, you were sore at me for blatting it all over Ceres that Jaqueline Ravenhurst was missing, when she sneaked aboard McGuire."
He nodded perfunctorily. "I was. I still think you should have told me what you were up to. But you did it, and you got results that I'd been unable to get. I'm not going to let a momentary pique hang on as an irrational dislike. I like to think I have more sense than that."
"Thanks." There wasn't much else I could say.
"Now, I've got a little dough put away; it's not much, but I could offer you—"
I shook my head, cutting him off. "Nope. Sorry, Brock. For two reasons. In the first place, there would be a conflict of interest. I'm working for Ravenhurst, and if he doesn't want me to work for you, then it would be unethical for me to take the job.
"In the second place, my fees are standardized. Oh, I can allow a certain amount of fluctuation, but I'm not a physician or a lawyer; my services are not necessary to the survival of the individual, except in very rare cases, and those cases are generally arranged through a lawyer when it's a charity case.
"No, colonel, I'm afraid I couldn't possibly work for you."
He thought that over for a long time. Finally, he nodded his head very slowly. "I see. Yeah, I get your point." He scowled down at his drink.
"But," I said, "it would be a pleasure to work with you."
He looked up quickly. "How's that?"
"Well, let's look at it this way: You can't hire me because I'm already working for Ravenhurst; I can't hire you because you're working for Ravenhurst. But since we may need each other, and since we're both working for Ravenhurst, there would be no conflict of interest if we co-operate.
"Or, to put it another way, I can't take money for any service I may render you, but you can pay off in services. Am I coming through?"
His broad smile made the scars on his face fold in and deepen. "Loud and clear. It's a deal."
I held up a hand, palm toward him. "Ah, ah, ah! There's no 'deal' involved. We're just old buddies helping each other. This is for friendship, not business. I scratch your back; you scratch mine. Fair?"
"Fair. Come on down to my office; I want to give you a headful of facts and figures."
"Will do. Let me finish my guzzle."
Seven and a half hours later, the phone in the bedroom of the company apartment that Brock had arranged for me made loud musical sounds, and I rolled over in bed and slapped at the "audio only" switch.
"Yeah?" I said sleepily.
"You asked to be called at oh eight hundred, sir." said a pleasant feminine voice.
"Yah. O.K., thanks. I'm awake."
"You're welcome, sir."
I cut off and blinked the sleep out of my eyes. I'd spent an hour and a half in Brock's office, soaking up all the information he gave me and giving him all the information I could. I hoped that he had been more honest and straightforward with me than I had been with him. The trouble with being a double agent is that you frequently have to play dirty with someone you like, respect, and trust.
I looked at the watch on my wrist. Oh eight oh six, Greenwich Standard Time. The girl had been a little late in calling, but it didn't matter that much.
All over the Solar System, except on Earth itself, the clocks read the same as they do in Greenwich, England. Time zones don't mean anything anywhere except on Earth, where the natives feel that the sun should be at the zenith when the clock says twelve. An