the work for us." Marty chuckled a little. "That's what I call a really secret agent. Brock has no idea that he's an agent for a service he doesn't even know exists."
"Harrington Brock is a good man, Marty. Don't underestimate him."
"I don't. It's a shame he just doesn't have quite what it takes to be good PSD material."
"I hate to be referred to as 'material', good or bad. Do you have any idea how Baedecker or Thurston might be going to pull the grand-stand play?"
"Not a one, so far. How about that robotics team, or the engineers who are working on the ship? Think any of them could be in the pay of a rival?"
"It's possible," I said, "but I don't know which one or ones it might be. I've been watching them for three days, and they all seem on the up-and-up to me. And that worries me."
"You'd think that at least one of them would behave suspiciously by accident once in a while. You know—nerves or jumpiness from purely personal reasons. Hang-over, maybe, or woman trouble. But, no."
"The clue of the dog in the night, huh? Does that mean you suspect all of them?" he asked dryly.
"Sure. Isn't that what a good detective is supposed to do?"
"I wouldn't know; I'm just an information post. I will say this, though: If any of that bunch is connected with either Baedecker or Thurston, he isn't a professional. He's someone who's been contacted secretly and offered a heavy bribe. We're checking back on all of them now, to see if there's anything in their pasts which might indicate that their ethics are not what they should be. Or any unusual circumstance that might indicate blackmail or financial pressure."
"Nothing so far, though?"
I thought for a second, then said: "Is there any known rival agent in any position to sabotage McGuire on Phobos, Mars, or Luna?"
"Several, in each place. But we'll have agents there to keep an eye on them. To be honest with you, Oak, I don't think there's much to worry about. I don't mean you shouldn't keep your eyes open, but—"
"I know what you mean," I said. "Do my own worrying, and don't worry you with it. All right. Meanwhile, if you get anything I can use, call me. And I'll let you know at this end."
"Fair enough. Good luck."
I wished him the same, and cut off.
I had time for one drag off my cigarette and one swallow of beer before the phone chimed. I put my beer down and pushed the switch for the audio only.
"Yes?" I said.
The face that came on the screen was one I'd never seen before. A man about my age, I thought, or maybe a few years older. His skin was tanned—whether by heredity or sunlight was hard to tell; his features were not distinctive enough to be sure. His hair was medium brown and cut rather longer than the crew cut which is common in the Belt.
"I'm calling for Mr. Daniel Oak," he said in a low tenor voice.
I touched the "vision" button and let the pick-up transmit my image to him. No point in playing cagy just at that time. "Speaking," I said.
"You're Mr. Daniel Oak, of New York?" he asked.
"The confidential expediter?" He seemed to want to make very certain of his quarry.
"That's right," I repeated.
His smile was a little stiff. "My name is Venuccio, Mr. Oak; André Venuccio. I'd like to speak to you about a matter of employment."
"You mean you want a job?" This is a conversational gimmick known as The Deliberate Misunderstanding, or The Innocent Needle.
He twitched his head a little, which might have been a negative shake. "No, no. I wish to employ you, Mr. Oak."
"Well, I'm pretty busy right now, and I—"
He cut me off with: "Mr. Oak, I have come all the way from Earth to speak to you. I assure you that this is most important. I would like very much to discuss it with you."
"Well, all right. Go ahead."
"Not over the phone. There is a possibility of its being tapped. I would like to meet you personally."
I took a couple of seconds out for thought. There are a lot of places on Earth where a phone line can be tapped with fairly cheap equipment simply because, for economic reasons, the phone company hasn't installed new equipment. But on Ceres, everything goes through a synchronized random scrambler circuit, just as it does in the more modern cities on Earth. Nobody's been able to crack it yet without a good-sized computer and a lot of luck. Still—
"Very well, Mr. Venuccio; if you could be here in half an hour—"
"No, no," he said quickly. "Your apartment might be bugged."
He had a point there. He couldn't know that I'd already made sure that my apartment was bug-proof. A self-contained broadcaster isn't much use inside Ceres; the metal walls stop almost any radiation before it can get very far. If my place was bugged, conductors of some kind would have to be used, and I'd gone over the place thoroughly to make sure there was no such thing.
In addition, I'd used one of my favorite gadgets: a non-random noise generator. Because a conversation is patterned, it is possible to pick it out of a "white," purely random background noise, even if the background is louder than the conversation. But my little sweetheart was a multiple recording of ten thousand different conversations, all meaningless, plus a lot of "white" noise. After the gadget is connected up, the walls vibrate with jabber that can't be analyzed even by the best of differential analyzers. Only in the hush area away from the walls is it quiet.