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автора "Stephen Goldin"

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The Height of Intrigue

by Stephen Goldin

Illustration by Jonathan and Lisa Hunt

Rabinowitz didn’t even open her eyes when the phone chimed. “Someone is damned impolite,” she muttered, then said more loudly, “Phone: sound only. Hello?”

An unfamiliar male voice said, “Is this Ms. Debra Rabinowitz?”

“De-bor’-ah,” she said instinctively. “The late Deborah Rabinowitz. Is there something the matter, Inspector?”

There was a pause. “How did you know… oh, because I sliced through your p-code. Very sly, ma’am.”

“Compliments to be delivered only at the servants’ entrance. I hope this call is worth overriding an ordinary taxpayer’s privacy code.”

“Well, I believe it is, ma’am. Would you mind if I dropped by your house?”

“Physically?”

“In person, yes, that’s what I was thinking.”

“Call back in twelve hours. I’m sure the corpse will have risen by then.”

“I had in mind more like five minutes. I’m just now crossing the Bay.”

“Five minutes? Do you have a warrant?”

“Well, you see, I was hoping to avoid an adversarial relationship at this stage of the process.” He paused. “Will I need a warrant?”

“Five minutes,” Rabinowitz sighed. “Phone: off.”

She rubbed her eyes to force them open, then turned her head to look at the clock: 2:14 P.M. Not an unreasonable time for people who kept to local Earth hours. “The zombie stirs,” she said with another sigh as she rolled her protesting body out of the water bed.

She staggered naked to the bathroom, peed, then ran a brush through her mercifully short brown hair. She looked at the makeup case and cringed. “No makeup. Zombies don’t wear makeup; against union rules.”

More staggering back to the bedroom. She opened the closet door. She stared blankly into the closet for three minutes without moving. The doorbell rang.

“Punctuality. The hobgoblin of little minds. No, that’s consistency. Intercom: sound only, front door. Just a minute. I’ll be right with you. Intercom: off.”

She grabbed a demure yellow-and-white sun frock and slipped it over her otherwise naked body. Almost nude, she descended the staircase leaning heavily on the banister and muttering. “Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell gate, he should have old turning the key.” By the time she reached the bottom she presented a fair imitation of consciousness.

She opened the door to confront an excessively neat man in an expensively tailored suit. He might have been in his early thirties, but it was hard to tell with Orientals. Despite the afternoon breeze, not a hair on his head was out of place.

“Ms. Rabinowitz?” he asked, looking her over with a very appreciative glance.

“Yes. That establishes one of our identities.”

“Sorry ma’am. I’m Detective William Hoy. May I come in?”

“Would it be déclassé to insist on some formal identification first?”

“Not at all. It was bad manners for me not to offer it in the first place.” His hand slipped with one natural motion into his jacket’s inner pocket and emerged with an ID card and badge. Rabinowitz had to squint to read it in the bright afternoon sun.

“Interpol?” She raised an eyebow in curiosity.

“That’s right, ma’am. May I come in?”

“Only if you promise not to call me ‘ma’am’ anymore. I feel ancient enough this mor… afternoon.”

“Fair game.” Detective Hoy stepped inside. “I would very much like to thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

“You gave the subtle impression I had little choice. Follow me, please. I hope you’ll excuse the state of things. People seldom visit me in person.”

“I’m not from House Glamorous. Though your house is pretty trumpy from the outside.”

“Thank you. It’s well over two hundred years old. The elite of Victorian San Francisco liked to build their summer homes here on Alameda.”

She led him into the parlor and offered him a seat. He sat in the left easy chair while she took her position behind the broad antique desk. The desktop, at least, was not too badly cluttered.

He stared appreciatively at the shelves around him. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many printed books together in one place.”

“Call it an affectation. Listen, ordinarily I’m great at small talk, but fatigue makes me uncharacteristically impatient. I’ve had just two hours’ sleep after veering all over the Galaxy for the previous thirty-six. You didn’t come here to discuss my house or my library. Neither one is Interpol’s business. Please tell me what you’re here for.”

Hoy smiled. “And they said you’d be difficult. ‘She’s a diplomat’s daughter, full of evasions and half-truths.’ I like a person who speaks her mind.”

“I’ll speak a lot more of it if you don’t get to the point.”

“According to the phone company, you’ve done a lot of veering to the planet Jenithar in the past four months. Particularly to the office of Path-Reynik Levexitor.” He shook his head. “Boy, that sure is a mouthful.”

He looked at Rabinowitz. “Well, that is true, isn’t it?”

“Statesman, yet friend to truth. Far be it for me to dispute the veracity of the phone company. Levexitor and I have been negotiating a multi-party deal for book rights on Jenithar. All perfectly legitimate, I might add. Levexitor is a high-ranking citizen of his world.”

“High-ranking citizens have slipped before,” Hoy pointed out.

“That is as may be,” Rabinowitz said. “My dealings with him have been honest ones.”

“You only sell works under copyright?”

“Primarily. I enjoy being my own boss, not a UN employee. I’ve occasionally mediated some deals for the WLO—”

“Your patriotic duty, of course.”

“For a commission—but Earth benefited from each of the deals.”

“Then you don’t like literary pirates?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Please humor me, Ms. Rabi-nowitz.”

“The answer is no. Art and ideas are our only currency in interstellar markets. I’d be cutting my own throat to undermine that.”

“That sounds like a highly practical form of patriotism.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, you must have been looking for Deborah Rabinowitz the Idealist. She lives about twelve hours’ sleep from here. I’ll let her know you stopped by.”

Hoy laughed. It was a good laugh, without guile. “You’re fun, you know that? I’m glad I made the trip out here.”

“Then that makes one of us. My ‘practical patriotism’ is wearing a little thin and I’m not having any fun at all.”

“I’ll get right to the point then. I have reason to believe your friend Levexitor is trying to buy some world domain material through the black market.”

Rabinowitz leaned forward. “Wouldn’t that put the matter in IPC’s jurisdiction rather than Interpol’s?”

“Well, after the fact, yes. We’re trying to keep it from getting that far.”

“Keep it all in the UN family,” Rabinowitz suggested.

“Something like that,” Hoy agreed cheerfully. “Have you ever had to deal with the IPC?”

Rabinowitz grimaced. “A couple of times.”

“Then you know.” He got up from his chair and started perusing the bookshelves. “Say, I think I had to read some of these in school.”

“Am I officially considered a suspect, detective?”

He turned around and looked at her. “Oh, I hate to use the word ‘suspect’ this early in the case. It gives people the wrong idea.” He looked back at the bookcase thoughtfully, then took one book from its spot and replaced it two titles to the right. “Sorry, that one was out of order. Knocks the hell out of me. You are arranging these alphabetically, aren’t you?”

“Thank you. Feel free to come dust them sometime. If I’m not a suspect—”

“Let’s just say you’re someone I really wanted to meet and talk to. I’m not disappointed, either. You’re as beautiful as you are charming. More beautiful than your file picture, even.”

“My day is complete. Now if you’ll—”

“Some people can be such a letdown, you know? You think they should be fascinating and they bore you to tears. But not you. You—”

Rabinowitz stood up behind her desk. “If you have no further questions—”

Hoy refused to take the hint. “Well, one or two. Was anyone else from Earth involved in your deal with Levexitor?”

Rabinowitz sat down again. “No. I was brokering on behalf of the Adler Agency, but I was the only one representing human interests on this deal.”

Hoy nodded. “Did Levexitor mention any other names, human contacts?”

“Not that I recall.”

“Any other deals he was working on?”

“No, why should he? I’m not his partner. I didn’t tell him about any other deals I’m working on, either.”

“I understand. Well, that’s about all I had for now.” Hoy stood up and smiled at her. “It was great meeting you, Ms. Rabinowitz. A distinct pleasure. If you remember anything else, you can reach me through the local office, just across the Bay.”

Rabinowitz rose from her chair to show him out. “Of course, if you turn out to be involved in the black market sale,” Hoy continued, “rest assured I’ll put you inside for a long time. But if you’re not the one I’m looking for, would you have dinner with me sometime? After the case is solved, of course.”

“Sorry, I never eat,” she said as she closed the door behind him.

As the door closed she turned around, slumped against it, closed her eyes and sighed, “So pestered with a popinjay.” The next thing s ...