Authors: Philip K. Dick
“An EEG,” Luckman said, as he made out the Crofts-Harrison machine. An unusual, twisting grimace touched his features. “Why not?” He glanced at his wife. “We don’t mind, do we?” He held out his arm, and Calumine strapped the anode belt tightly in place. “You won’t find any Psi-power in me,” Luckman said as the cathode terminal was fixed to his temple. He continued to smile.
Presently the Crofts-Harrison machine excreted its short spool of printed tape. Bill Calumine, as official group spinner, examined it, then passed it to Pete. Together, they read the tape, silently conferring.
No Psionic cephalic activity, Pete decided, at least not at the moment. It might come and go; that’s common, certainly. So anyhow, dammit, we can’t legitimately bar Luckman on this count. Too bad, he thought, and returned the tape to Calumine, who then passed it to Stu Marks and Silvanus Angst.
“Am I clean?” Luckman asked, genially. He seemed utterly confident, and why not? It was they who should worry, not he. Obviously, Luckman knew it.
Walt Remington said hoarsely, “Mr. Luckman, I’m personally responsible for your having this opportunity to invade Pretty Blue Fox.”
“Oh, Remington,” Luckman said. He extended his hand, but Walt ignored it. “Say, don’t blame yourself; I would have gotten in eventually anyhow.”
Dotty Luckman spoke up. “That’s so, Mr. Remington. Don’t feel bad; my husband can get into any group he likes.” Her eyes shone proudly.
“What am I,” Luckman growled, “some sort of monster? I play fair; nobody ever accused me of cheating. I play the same as you do, to win.” He looked from one of them to the next, waiting for an answer. He did not seem much perturbed, however; it was evidently a merely formal question. Luckman did not expect to change their feelings, and perhaps he did not even want to.
Pete said, “We feel, Mr. Luckman, that you already have more than your share. The Game wasn’t contrived as an excuse to achieve economic monopoly and you know it.” He was silent, then, because that fairly well expressed it. The others in the group were nodding in agreement.
“I tell you what,” Luckman said. “I like to see everyone happy about things; I don’t see any reason for this suspicion and gloom. Maybe you’re not very confident in your own abilities; maybe that’s it. Anyhow, how about this? For every California title deed I win—” He paused, enjoying their tension. “I’ll contribute to the group a title deed for a town in some other state. So no matter what happens, you’ll all still wind up Bindmen … maybe not here on the Coast, but somewhere.” He grinned, showing teeth so regular that—to Pete Garden, anyhow—they seemed palpably false.
“Thanks,” Freya said frigidly.
No one else spoke.
Is it meant to be an insult? Pete wondered. Maybe Luck
man sincerely intends it; maybe he’s that primitive, that naive about human feelings.
The door opened and a vug came in.
It was, Pete saw, the District Commissioner, U.S. Cummings. What did it want? he wondered. Had the Titanians heard about Luckman’s move to the West Coast? Now the vug, after its fashion, greeted the members of the group.
“What do you want?” Bill Calumine asked it sourly. “We’re just about to sit down to play.”
The vug’s thoughts came to them. “Sorry for this intrusion. Mr. Luckman, what is the meaning of your presence here? Produce your document of validation that entitles you to enter this group.”
“Oh, come on,” Luckman said. “You know I’ve got the deed.” He reached into his coat, brought out a large envelope. “What is this, a gag?”
Extending pseudopodia, the vug inspected the deed, then returned it to Luckman. “You neglected to notify us of your entry into this group.”
“I don’t have to,” Luckman said. “It’s not mandatory.”
“Nevertheless,” U.S. Cummings declared, “it’s protocol. What is your intention here at Pretty Blue Fox?”
Luckman said, “I intend to win.”
The vug seemed to contemplate him; it was silent for a time.
“That’s my legal right,” Luckman added. He seemed a little nervous. “You don’t have any power to intercede in this. You’re not our masters; let me refer you to the Concordat of 2095 signed between your military and the U.N. All you can do is make recommendations and give assistance to us when it’s requested. I didn’t hear anybody request your presence here in this room tonight.” He looked around at the group for agreement.
Bill Calumine said to the vug, “We can handle this.”
“That’s right,” Stuart Marks said. “So beat it, vuggy. Go on.” He went to get the vug-stick; it was propped up in the corner of the room.
U.S. Cummings, with no further thoughts in their direction, departed.
As soon as it had gone, Jack Blau said, “Let’s begin playing.”
“Right,” Bill Calumine agreed. Producing his key, he went to the locked closet; a moment later he was laying out the large Game-board on the table in the center of the room. The others began drawing up their chairs, making themselves comfortable, deciding whom they wanted to sit beside.
Coming up to Pete, Carol Holt said, “We probably won’t do too well at first, Mr. Garden. Since we’re not used to each other’s styles.”
It was time, Pete judged, to tell her about Joe Schilling. “Listen,” he said. “I hate to say this but you and I may not be partners very long.”
“Oh?” Carol said. “Why not?” She eyed him.
Pete said, “I’m frankly more interested in winning Berkeley back than I am in anything else—than in
, as the popular phrase has it. In the biological sense.” Despite the fact, he thought, that both the Terran and Titanian authorities who set up The Game considered it primarily a means to that end, rather than to the economic end.
“You’ve never seen me play,” Carol said. She walked swiftly over to the corner of the room and stood with her hands behind her back, regarding him. “I’m quite good.”
“Perhaps good,” Pete agreed, “but hardly good enough to beat Luckman. And that’s the issue. I’ll play with you tonight, but tomorrow I want to bring in someone else. No offense meant.”
“But I am offended,” Carol said.
He shrugged. “Then you’ll have to be offended.”
“Who is this person you want to bring in?”
“The rare-record man?” The girl’s honey-colored eyes widened with amazement. “But—”
“I know Luckman beat him,” Pete said. “But I don’t think
he can do it again. Schilling is a good friend of mine; I have confidence in him.”
“Which is more,” Carol Holt said, “than you can say about me, right? You’re not even interested in seeing how I play. You’ve already decided. I wonder why you bothered to go through with the marriage ceremony.”
Pete said, “For tonight—”
“I suggest,” Carol said, “that we not even bother about tonight.” Her cheeks had flushed dark red now; she was quite angry.
“Now listen,” Pete said, uneasy now, wanting to mollify her. “I didn’t intend to—”
“You don’t want to hurt me,” Carol Holt said, “but you have, very much. At Straw Man Special my friends had all the respect in the world for me. I’m not used to this.” She blinked rapidly.
“For god’s sake,” Pete said, horrified. He took her by the hand, propelled her from the room and outside, into the night darkness. “Listen. I just wanted to prepare you in case I brought Joe Schilling in; Berkeley was my place of bind and I’m just not going to give up on it, don’t you understand? It has nothing to do with you. You may be the best Bluff-player on Earth, for all I know.” He took hold of her by the shoulders, gripping her. “Now let’s stop this bickering and go back in; they’re starting to play.”
Carol sniffed. “Just a minute.” She found a handkerchief in her skirt pocket and blew her nose.
“Come on, you fellows,” Bill Calumine called, from within the apartment.
Silvanus Angst appeared in the doorway. “We’re starting.” He giggled, seeing them. “The economic part right now, Mr. Garden, if you please.”
Together, Pete and Carol returned to the lighted living room and The Game. “We were discussing our strategy,” Pete said to Calumine.
“But as regards to what?” Janice Remington said, and winked.
Freya glanced first at Pete and then at Carol; she said nothing however. The others were already involved in carefully watching Luckman; they did not care about anything else. Title deeds were starting to appear. Reluctantly, one by one they were put into the pot basket.
“Mr. Luckman,” Yule Marks said bluntly, “you have to put up the Berkeley deed; it’s the only California real estate you own.” She and the rest of the group watched intently as Luckman deposited the large envelope in the basket. “I hope,” Yule said, “that you lose it and never show up here again.”
“You’re an outspoken woman,” Luckman said, with a wry smile. His expression, then, seemed to harden; it became rigid, fixed in place.
Pete thought, He intends to beat us. He’s made up his mind; he has no more liking for us then we have for him.
It’s going to be a dirty, hard business.
“I withdraw my offer,” Luckman said. “Of giving you title deeds to towns outside California.” He picked up the stack of numbered cards and began to shuffle them magnificently. “In view of your hostility. It’s clear that we can’t have even the semblance of cordiality.”
“That’s right,” Walt Remington said in answer.
No one else spoke, but it was as evident to Luckman as it was to Pete Garden that each person in the room felt the same way.
“Draw for first play,” Bill Calumine said, and took a card from the shuffled deck.
To himself Jerome Luckman thought, These people are going to pay for their attitude. I came here legally and decently; I did my part and they wouldn’t have that.
His turn to draw a card came; he drew, and it was a seventeen. My luck’s showing up already, he said to himself. He lit a delicado cigarette, leaned back in his chair and watched as the others drew.
It’s a good thing Dave Mutreaux refused to come here, Luckman realized. The pre-cog was right; they did have the
EEG machine to try out as a ploy; they would have had him dead to rights.
“Evidently you go first, Luckman,” Calumine said. “With your seventeen you’re high man.” He seemed resigned, as did the others.
“The Luckman luck,” Luckman said to them as he reached for the round metal spinner.
Watching Pete out of the corner of her eye, Freya Gaines thought, He and she had a fight outside there; Carol, when she came back in, looked as if she had been crying. Too bad, Freya said to herself with relish.
They won’t be able to play as partners, she knew. Carol won’t be able to put up with Pete’s melancholy, his hypochondria. And in her he’s simply not going to find a woman who’ll put up with him. I know he’ll turn back to me in a relationship outside The Game. He’ll have to, or crack up emotionally.
It was her turn to play. This initial round was played without the element of bluff; the visible spinner was used, not the cards. Freya spun, obtained a four. Damn, she thought as she moved her piece four spaces ahead on the board. That brought her to a sadly-familiar square:
Excise tax. Pay
She paid, silently; Janice Remington, the banker, accepted the bills. How tense I am, Freya thought. Everyone here is, including Luckman himself.
Which of us, she wondered, will be the first to call Luckman on a bluff? Who’ll have the courage? And if they challenge him, will they succeed? Will they be right? She herself shrank from it. Not me, she said to herself.
Pete would, she decided. He’ll be the first; he really hates the man.
It was Pete’s turn, now; he spun a seven and began moving his piece. His face was expressionless.
Being somewhat poor, Joe Schilling owned an ancient, cantankerous, moody auto-auto which he called Max. Unfortunately, he could not afford a newer one.
As usual, today Max balked at the instructions given it. “No,” it said. “I’m not going to fly out to the Coast. You can walk.”
“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you,” Joe Schilling told it.
“What business do you have out on the Coast anyhow?” Max demanded in its surly fashion. Its motor had started, however. “I need repair-work done,” it complained, “before I undertake such a long trip. Why can’t you maintain me properly? Everybody else keeps up their cars.”
“You’re not worth keeping up,” Joe Schilling said, and got into the auto-auto, seated himself at the tiller, then remembered that he had forgotten his parrot, Eeore. “Damn it,” he said, “don’t leave without me; I have to go back for something.” He got out of the car and strode back to the record shop, key in hand.
The car made no comment as he returned with the parrot;
it seemed resigned, now, or perhaps the articulation circuit had collapsed.
“Are you still there?” Schilling asked the car.
“Of course I am. Can’t you see me?”
“Take me to San Rafael, California,” Schilling said. The time was early morning; he would probably be able to catch Pete Garden at his pro-tem apartment.
Pete had called late last night to report on the first encounter with Lucky Luckman. The moment he heard Pete’s gloomy tone of voice Joe Schilling had known the result of The Game; Luckman had won.
“The problem now,” Pete said, “is that he’s got two California title deeds, so he doesn’t have to risk Berkeley anymore. He can put up the other one.”
“You should have had me right from the start,” Schilling said.
After a pause Pete said, “Well, I’ve got a little problem. Carol Holt Garden, my new wife, she rates herself a fine Bluff-player.”
“She’s good,” Pete said. “But—”
“But you still lost. I’ll start out for the Coast tomorrow morning.” And now here he was, as promised, starting out with two suitcases of personal articles and his parrot Eeore, ready to play against Luckman.
Wives, Schilling thought. More of a problem than an asset. The economic aspects of our lives should never have been melded hopelessly with the sexual; it makes things too complex. Blame that on the Titanians and their desire to solve our difficulties with one neat solution covering all. What they’ve actually done is gotten us entangled even more thoroughly.