The Knights of Arthur
I locked the door of the hotel room. Arthur was peeping out of the suitcase at me.
I said: “I’m back. I got your typewriter.” He waved his eye at me.
I took out the little kit of electricians’ tools I carried, tipped the typewriter on its back and began sorting out leads. I cut them free from the keyboard, soldered on a ground wire, and began taping the leads to the strands of a yard of forty-ply multiplex cable.
It was a slow and dull job. I didn’t have to worry about which solenoid lead went to which strand--Arthur could sort them out. But all the same it took an hour, pretty near, and I was getting hungry by the time I got the last connection taped. I shifted the typewriter so that both Arthur and I could see it, rolled in a sheet of paper and hooked the cable to Arthur’s receptors.
“Oh,” I said. “Excuse me, Arthur. I forgot to plug it in.”
I found a wall socket. The typewriter began to hum and then it started to rattle and type:
DURA AUK UKOO RQK MWS AQB
“Come on, Arthur,” I ordered impatiently. “Sort them out, will you?”
Laboriously it typed:
Then, for a time, there was a clacking and thumping as he typed random letters, peeping out of the suitcase to see what he had typed, until the sheet I had put in was used up.
I replaced it and waited, as patiently as I could, smoking one of the last of my cigarettes. After fifteen minutes or so, he had the hang of it pretty well. He typed:
YOU DAMQXXX DAMN FOOL WHUXXX WHY DID YOU LEAQNXXX LEAVE ME ALONE Q Q
“Aw, Arthur,” I said. “Use your head, will you? I couldn’t carry that old typewriter of yours all the way down through the Bronx. It was getting pretty beat-up. Anyway, I’ve only got two hands--”
YOU LOUSE, it rattled, ARE YOU TRYONXXX TRYING TO INSULT ME BECAUSE I DONT HAVE ANY Q Q
“Arthur!” I said, shocked. “You know better than that!”
The typewriter slammed its carriage back and forth ferociously a couple of times. Then he said: ALL RIGHT SAM YOU KNOW YOUVE GOT ME BY THE THROAT SO YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT TO WITH ME WHO CARES ABOUT MY FEELINGS ANYHOW
“Please don’t take that attitude,” I coaxed.
He capitulated. ALL RIGHT SAY HEARD ANYTHING FROM ENGDAHL Q Q
ISNT THAT JUST LIKE HIM Q Q CANT DEPEND ON THAT MAN HE WAS THE LOUSIEST ELECTRICIANS MATE ON THE SEA SPRITE AND HE ISNT MUCH BETTER NOW SAY SAM REMEMBER WHEN WE HAD TO GET HIM OUT OF THE JUG IN NEWPORT NEWS BECAUSE
I settled back and relaxed. I might as well. That was the trouble with getting Arthur a new typewriter after a couple of days without one--he had so much garrulity stored up in his little brain, and the only person to spill it on was me.
Apparently I fell asleep. Well, I mean I must have, because I woke up. I had been dreaming I was on guard post outside the Yard at Portsmouth, and it was night, and I looked up and there was something up there, all silvery and bad. It was a missile--and that was silly, because you never see a missile. But this was a dream.
And the thing burst, like a Roman candle flaring out, all sorts of comet-trails of light, and then the whole sky was full of bright and colored snow. Little tiny flakes of light coming down, a mist of light, radiation dropping like dew; and it was so pretty, and I took a deep breath. And my lungs burned out like slow fire, and I coughed myself to death with the explosions of the missile banging against my flaming ears...
Well, it was a dream. It probably wasn’t like that at all--and if it had been, I wasn’t there to see it, because I was tucked away safe under a hundred and twenty fathoms of Atlantic water. All of us were on the Sea Sprite.
But it was a bad dream and it bothered me, even when I woke up and found that the banging explosions of the missile were the noise of Arthur’s typewriter carriage crashing furiously back and forth.
He peeped out of the suitcase and saw that I was awake. He demanded: HOW CAN YOU FALL ASLEEP WHEN WERE IN A PLACE LIKE THIS Q Q ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN SAM I KNOW YOU DONT CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO ME BUT FOR YOUR OWN SAKE YOU SHOULDNT
“Oh, dry up,” I said.
Being awake, I remembered that I was hungry. There was still no sign of Engdahl or the others, but that wasn’t too surprising--they hadn’t known exactly when we would arrive. I wished I had thought to bring some food back to the room. It looked like long waiting and I wouldn’t want to leave Arthur alone again--after all, he was partly right.
I thought of the telephone.
On the off-chance that it might work, I picked it up. Amazing, a voice from the desk answered.
I crossed my fingers and said: “Room service?”
And the voice answered amiably enough: “Hold on, buddy. I’ll see if they answer.”
Clicking and a good long wait. Then a new voice said: “Whaddya want?”
There was no sense pressing my luck by asking for anything like a complete meal. I would be lucky if I got a sandwich.
I said: “Please, may I have a Spam sandwich on Rye Krisp and some coffee for Room Fifteen Forty-one?”
“Please, you go to hell!” the voice snarled. “What do you think this is, some damn delicatessen? You want liquor, we’ll get you liquor. That’s what room service is for!”
I hung up. What was the use of arguing? Arthur was clacking peevishly:
WHATS THE MATTER SAM YOU THINKING OF YOUR BELLY AGAIN Q Q
“You would be if you--” I started, and then I stopped. Arthur’s feelings were delicate enough already. I mean suppose that all you had left of what you were born with was a brain in a kind of sardine can, wouldn’t you be sensitive? Well, Arthur was more sensitive than you would be, believe me. Of course, it was his own foolish fault--I mean you don’t get a prosthetic tank unless you die by accident, or something like that, because if it’s disease they usually can’t save even the brain.
The phone rang again.
It was the desk clerk. “Say, did you get what you wanted?” he asked chummily.
“Oh. Too bad,” he said, but cheerfully. “Listen, buddy, I forgot to tell you before. That Miss Engdahl you were expecting, she’s on her way up.”
I dropped the phone onto the cradle.
“Arthur!” I yelled. “Keep quiet for a while--trouble!”
He clacked once, and the typewriter shut itself off. I jumped for the door of the bathroom, cursing the fact that I didn’t have cartridges for the gun. Still, empty or not, it would have to do.
I ducked behind the bathroom door, in the shadows, covering the hall door. Because there were two things wrong with what the desk clerk had told me. Vern Engdahl wasn’t a “miss,” to begin with; and whatever name he used when he came to call on me, it wouldn’t be Vern Engdahl.
There was a knock on the door. I called: “Come in!”
The door opened and the girl who called herself Vern Engdahl came in slowly, looking around. I stayed quiet and out of sight until she was all the way in. She didn’t seem to be armed; there wasn’t anyone with her.
I stepped out, holding the gun on her. Her eyes opened wide and she seemed about to turn.
“Hold it! Come on in, you. Close the door!”
She did. She looked as though she were expecting me. I looked her over--medium pretty, not very tall, not very plump, not very old. I’d have guessed twenty or so, but that’s not my line of work; she could have been almost any age from seventeen on.
The typewriter switched itself on and began to pound agitatedly. I crossed over toward her and paused to peer at what Arthur was yacking about: SEARCH HER YOU DAMN FOOL MAYBE SHES GOT A GUN
I ordered: “Shut up, Arthur. I’m going to search her. You! Turn around!”
She shrugged and turned around, her hands in the air. Over her shoulder, she said: “You’re taking this all wrong, Sam. I came here to make a deal with you.”
“Sure you did.”
But her knowing my name was a blow, too. I mean what was the use of all that sneaking around if people in New York were going to know we were here?