a talent for the invisible (v1.1)

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A Talent
For The
Invisible

Ron Goulart

COPYRIGHT © 1973, BY RON GOULART

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

CHAPTER 1

Robots were chasing him.

It was a clean warm morning, about 6:30 AM, in the late spring of the year 2020 and Jake Conger was jogging along one of the high, wide, plastic ramps which connected the towers of Manhattan. Conger was a lean tan man of thirty one, wearing a one-piece running suit. The robots, a pair of them, were roughly humanoid, cocoa-colored, and about fifty yards behind him.

One of the brown robots had a pixphone screen mounted in his chest.

“Assignment,” he called to Conger, narrowing the distance between them to fifty feet.

Conger continued jogging along the lemon-yellow noryl plastic ramp.

He was over a thousand feet above the ground level of the city. The dozens of other pastel-tinted pedestrian ramps above and below him made bright cat’s cradles in the warming May morning.

“Assignment,” repeated the pixphone robot as he and his partner caught up.

“So tell me,” said Conger, still running.

The cocoa-brown robot gestured at a tufted airfloat bench they were passing. “Wouldn’t you like to stop by the side of the ramp while we confab.”

“No,” Conger told him. “I still have five miles to do.”

“How many miles do you run every day?”

“Ten.”

The brown robot nodded. “That sounds very good. Running is supposed to be splendid for your inner workings. Heart, lungs and similar mec …”

“What about the assignment?”

“Well, yes, all right.” The robot matched his stride to Conger’s. His partner dropped a few yards behind, being full of data he couldn’t run as fast. “The Wild Talent Division of the United States Remedial Functions Agency sent us to fetch you, Agent Conger. They have a highly secret and vastly important job for you.”

“This is supposed to be my layoff month.”

“The boss specifically requested you.”

“Why me?”

“You’re the only invisible agent RFA has free and unassigned at the moment.”

“I was planning to take a hopper tour of Connecticut today. There’s a new seaweed restaurant in Mystic I want to try.” He ran silently for a few seconds. “Okay. I’ll take the job. What’s the problem?”

“People are coming back to life.”

Conger slowed his jogging pace some. “Huh?”

“Be better if I let the boss explain.” He poked two cocoa fingers into the finger holes in his side and the plate-size phone screen in his chest came alive.

A little rumpled frazzled man of fifty showed on the picture screen. He was wrapped in a tacky synth-fur bathrobe, slumped in the breakfast nook of his Wild Talents Division office. He blinked at Conger with his faded little eyes. “Yark,” he said. “Why are you bouncing up and down, Jake?”

“I’m running,” answered Conger. “Why are you spinning around and around?”

Blinking again Geer, the WTD boss, replied, “I had my breakfast nook designed to rotate so I’d always be facing a sunny window, remember?” He made a yawning face, biting at air. “The dingus is a little out of whack and keeps mistaking any bright object for the sun. Right now it’s fascinated with the silver pendulum on my wall clock across the office.”

Nodding, Conger asked, “Who’s coming back to life?”

Geer ripped plyofilm off a self-heating waffleburger. “People who are supposed to be dead.”

“Speaking of that,” said Conger. “Didn’t you read the Surgeon General’s report on waffleburgers?”

“What’s that yoohoo computer know about what it takes to wake me up in the morning,” said the rumpled Geer as he bit into his breakfast sandwich. “Especially when I sleep in the office. I suppose I should give up soyjava, too?”

“It won’t kill you,” said Conger. “What dead people?”

Geer sipped his cup of soyjava with an exaggerated slurp. The rotation of his circular nook floor caused some of the grey-brown liquid to splash up against his sunken cheeks. “This is a spooky one, Jake.” He took another slurp of the imitation coffee. “Even for the Wild Talents Division, where everything tends to be spooky, this is extra odd. These dead people seem to be coming back to life.” He set aside his waffleburger to pick up a tri-op photo. “You know who this yoohoo is?”

“It’s hard to recognize him with syrup on his face.”

Geer squinted at the portrait, moistened his thumb and wiped at it. “I wish this was my layoff month. I’m tired of these business breakfasts. I’ve already had a go-round with Agent Katzman this morning. He’s the one with the ability to walk through walls. Now he’s developed a quirk.”

“A quirk?” The lemon-yellow ramp made a sharp turn around the side of a blue pseudoconcrete tower and Conger slowed a little.

“Lately he only gets halfway through the walls and then gets stuck,” said Geer. “He says it’s because he has domestic troubles.”

Conger leaned his head closer to the screen on the running robot’s chest. “That’s Colonel Macaco Cavala, isn’t it?”

“Who?”

“In the photo.”

Geer scowled at the tri-op picture he was holding up. “Yes. Colonel Macaco Cavala, the late Portuguese strongman.”

“He’s the guy who was going to overthrow the current dictator of Portugal,” said Conger.

“Yeah, that’s why they killed him last month,” said Geer, letting the photo drop. It landed in his soyjava saucer.

“I remember seeing it on the news. He was shot down on the streets of New Lisbon by an unidentified sniper.”

“Right,” replied the boss. “You’ll be talking to him.”

“The unidentified sniper?”

“We’ll give you his name and address,” said Geer. “The data robot has it. The yoohoo lives in New Lisbon someplace.”

Conger glanced sideways at the pixphone screen. “Wait now, boss. Did our Remedial Functions Agency have something to do with knocking off the colonel?”

“No.” Geer shook his frazzled head. “I checked with the yoohoos in the head office in Washington. RFA is clean, for a change, in this one. But it is not impossible that National Security Office knows something about it. They never confide in us, those NSO bastards.” The boss lifted the photo out of his saucer. “Jake, somebody has seen Colonel Macaco Cavala alive and walking around.”

“CBS-NBC, Inc. saw him flat on his back in his coffin.”

“It’s perplexing,” admitted the boss. “I want you to teleport to New Lisbon at 11 this morning, Jake. This Colonel Cavala thing fits in with some other rumors we’ve been hearing. Talk to this yoohoo that’s supposed to have sniped the damn colonel, then contact the guy who swears he saw him alive not three days ago.” Geer took another bite out of his waffleburger. “You realize how important this may be, Jake. Politically and, perhaps, to all mankind.”

The phone robot reminded the boss. “Tell him why we need an invisible agent, boss.”

“Oh, yeah.” Geer took one further bite, chewed, swallowed. “If this yoohoo in New Lisbon saw the late colonel where he thinks he saw him you may have to turn invisible to get yourself in there.” The boss waved a sheet of orange-colored fax paper. “We only have nineteen invisible agents now, Jake, since Agent Busino lost the ability to make the lower part of his body from the knees down invisible. It takes two long years to process an invisible agent, as you well know. If only Vincent X. Worth hadn’t had that fatal hopper accident and …”

“I know,” said Conger. Worth had been the quirky young scientist and researcher who’d developed many of the methods for manufacturing Wild Talent Division agents. He was only a couple years older than Conger and the two of them had been pretty good casual friends. Worth’s private aircruiser had exploded six months ago while he was enroute to a WTD conference in the Philippines. “Okay, where has the colonel been seen?”

“You’ll find out all about that when you get over to New Lisbon.”

Conger said, “What happened to the notion this was my layoff month?”

“Jake, we’ve got an emergency situation here,” explained the boss.

“Think of how important this may be to the future of United States foreign policy and the prospect of a better life for all humanity. Think of all the good men and true who’ve given their all for the Wild Talent Division. Think of that ghostly echelon of good guys, which includes Marcus Jerico, Donald E. Tannenbaum and the aforementioned Vincent X. Worth, cut down in the very prime of life while they were unselfishly defending the wonderful people and institutions of this, their own their native land. Think, if you will, of the lonely bald eagle soaring …”

“Okay, okay,” cut in Conger. “I’ll take the damn job.”

A single line of moisture zigzagged down the front of the pixphone oval.

The robot sniffled, rubbed at his vinyl eyeballs. “Excuse me, Agent Conger. I’m programmed to be sentimental over patriotic speeches.”

“That’s okay.” Conger took a plyochief from a slash pocket in his running suit to wipe off the phone screen. “Anything else, boss?”

Geer thought, his sunken face wrinkling. “No, that yoohoo data robot I sent will fill you in on the background, give you what names and addresses we have. The only other thing I can think of is a word of warning.”

“About what?”

“If the National Security Office sticks any of their agents on this same problem, give them a wide berth and avoid them like the plague, Jake.”

“I always do.”

Geer was eating his breakfast sandwich again. “Aren’t you winded yet?”

“Nope.”

“Yark.”

The aircab said, “Watch your step, sir.”

Conger grabbed his all-purpose valise off the seat, then glanced out the cab window. “You’re six feet above the passenger ramp.”

“Which is why I cautioned you to watch out, sir.”

“Better get a little closer.”

“Geeze,” muttered the cab’s control box. The hovering craft ratcheted, snarled and bumped down to within six inches of the ramp leading into the E65 St. teleport station. “A guy in good shape like you could jump a few feet.”

Near the entrance of the station a chunky partially bald man, who had most of his hair on the backside of his head, was hitting a book vending machine. “You only printed me out chapters XXXVIII through LXVII of
Moby Dick
,” he was complaining. “It says right on your front Two-Buck Klassics, Complete & Unexpurgated.” When the half-haired man noticed Conger he blushed, stopped whacking at the book machine.

Giving him a nod, Conger passed on into the medium-sized station. He crossed to the reservation desk and said to the girl there, “Reservation for Jake Conger.”

The girl behind the curving aluminum desk was blonde with upturned synthetic breasts. She smiled while she flicked the retrieval switches in front of her. “Yes, here we are. The 11 o’clock teleport for Lisbon. You’ve seventeen minutes before you have to hop onto the platform,” she said, smiling still. “Would you like to sleep with me?”

Conger took his teleport chit, pasted it on the lapel of his two-piece travel suit. “No, thanks,” he said, returning the smile.

“You probably aren’t in the mood,” the attractive blonde said. “Travel makes you nervous maybe.”

“Seventeen minutes isn’t nearly enough time,” replied Conger. “Besides which …”

“That’s exactly what I told Mr. Shellebarger,” said the blonde. “This is his idea. He’s, you know, the director of the Manhattan Office of Legalized Prostitution and he thinks OLP could take in even more revenue if he puts hookers into all the teleport stations on the island. OLP does so well at Grand Central Station that he figured …”

“Trains are more romantic,” said Conger. “There’s a kind of leisurely 20th Century feeling about trains and train depots.”

“Precisely what I told Mr. Shellebarger. I was a $200 girl on the Jersey Mono for six months. We did really well.”

Across the room six people left their tin benches to climb up onto one of the three teleport platforms. Conger looked from them to the tag on his lapel.

“Oh, you needn’t worry,” the blonde assured him. “I may be a hooker, but I know the teleport business. I gave you the right tag. Would you at least like me to kiss you goodbye. Only $1.”

“I’m not too sentimental about travel, but thanks.” Conger grinned and left the desk.

“10:50 teleport to Rio de Janeiro,” announced the speakers up under the ceiling. “Platform 2, last call.”

Another minute passed. A man bounded up the four steps to the middle platform. The other six people shuffled their feet, coughed, rubbed their elbows, scratched their noses.

A beeping came out of the mechanisms under the platform. There was a sizzling sound. The seven passengers were no longer there.

Conger took his suitcase, filled chiefly with vitamins and food supplements, and sat near the left-hand platform.

When the 11:00 teleport to New Lisbon was announced only Conger and the semi-bald man stepped onto Platform 1.

The man was stuffing fax book pages into his pullover overcoat. “Not only won’t I know how it ends, I won’t even know how it begins.”

The platform beeped. Thirty seconds later Conger was in New Lisbon.

CHAPTER 2

The begging machine rolled along the dim dirty alley after Conger. Mud and offal and bits of bone splashed up on both of them. “One donation takes care of it all, senhor,” the square chest-high mechanism said through its rusty voice grid. “Give me only a mere fifty escudos and I’ll hand over a lapel pin which is guaranteed to keep all the real live wretched beggars of Old Lisbon away from you.”

“Okay.” Conger had had some of his money changed into Portuguese currency at the New Lisbon teleport station. “Here, now stop sloshing crap on me.” He shoved a bill into the mechanism’s donation slot.

“Muito ‘brigado,”
said the wheeled machine as it ingested the money.

“Which means, much obliged or thank you very much.”

“I know,” said Conger.

“Here’s your lapel pin, senhor. Forgive the grease on it.” The machine bumped against one of the thousands of noryl plastic pillars which supported New Lisbon up above. Caked mud and bird droppings shook loose from the support struts, which were a hundred feet above them at this point, and sprinkled down on Conger’s two-piece travel suit.
“Sinto
muito,”
muttered the machine, reaching out an extendable hand to brush dove dung off Conger’s shoulder. “Which means, I am very sorry.”

“Why don’t you apologize to me also?” complained a derelict sprawled in the mucky passway. “You just ran over my prosthetic device.”

“Your what?” asked the machine, slowing to a stop.

The derelict clutched his ragged one-piece lounging suit to his frail body, then kicked the smudged machine in the side. “This,
tonto
, my false leg.”

Conger pulled away from the squabble, turned down a cobblestone street. The roof of Old Lisbon had a light vent here, letting thin late afternoon sunlight cut down through the murk. Conger stepped over a dead dog, scattering the fat grey rats that had been at it. Near the corner, next to the ruins of a 16th Century cathedral rose the new looking dome of a building. Its light strip signs pulsed, advertising Pugilismo Mecanico!

Roboxing! in two foot high script.

One of the rats had followed him to the box office of the prize fighting dome. Conger booted it toward a stuffed gutter with one of his synthleather tourist shoes.

Inside the tinted plastic ticket booth a humanoid robot who’d recently been repainted a bright flat pink was leaning far to the right. “How many, senhor?”

“One,” said Conger, “in the private box section.” He’d arrived in New Lisbon at 5 PM. The teleport trip from Manhattan took only a few seconds, but because of the time difference he’d jumped ahead six hours.

When he checked in at the Novo America Hotel he’d found one of his coded messages directed him to descend into Old Lisbon and contact the sniper who had shot and killed Colonel Cavala. The sniper was to meet him in his box at the robot fight arena.

The climb ramps weren’t functioning, so Conger had to walk up and around to the horseshoe row of hanging plastic boxes above the ring.

Inside Box #15 a plump man in parts of a military uniform was sitting back in a partially inflated cushion chair as he watched the robot bout below, munching on a thick link of black sausage wrapped in brown bread.

Conger crossed the catwalk to #15 and gave the prearranged knock on the door of the plastic box.

The plump man turned to blink at him, still chewing.
“Que deseja?”
he asked. “Which means …”

“What do I want, I know.” Conger’d taken a sleep course in Conversational Portuguese only six months ago. Putting one hand near the smeared see-through wall, he made the prearranged highsign.

“Que?” said the plump man. He took another bite of his rough hewn sandwich, then slowly began to smile. “Oh,
sim,
yes, of course, the American spy.
Entre,
which means …”

Conger came into the booth. “Let’s have the countersign,” he told the plump man.

The man waved his sausage at him. “I am Captain Conti Delgado,” he laughed. “Anyone here will assure you of that. I’m a well-known pugilism buff.”

Up from below came the clang of two ancient boxing robots going at each other.

“Even so,” said Conger.

Sighing, the plump man placed his sandwich on the lid of a realistic imitation wicker picnic basket which was sitting between his sneakered feet. He gave the countersign. “Now,
sente-se, por favor,
which means . . .”

Conger sat down on the hanging booth’s only other chair. The air-filled chair gave a mild hiss and commenced to very slowly deflate. “What can you tell me about Colonel Cavala?” he asked.

Delgado retrieved his snack, reached his other hand into the basket.

“Care for some blood sausage, senhor? Made from one of my own pigs.”

He cocked his head upward. “I have a pig farm up on the outskirts of New Lisbon.”

“No, thanks.” Conger took a vial of kelp pills from his pocket, shook four into his palm.

“These are the most healthy pigs you’ll come by, senhor. They eat only organically grown slop and I myself give each one a shot of antibiotic once a month. Did you ever inject several thousand pigs inthe …”

“About the colonel,” said Conger.

Giving a shrug, Delgado withdrew his hand from the picnic hamper. An immense clattering bang rose up from the ring. “Huh, the Masked Marvel fell down. That wasn’t supposed to happen.” He took a bite out of the sausage, turning to watch Conger. “Colonel Cavala is dead.”

“You’re certain?”

“I know who I shoot—after all, senhor.”

“And it was Cavala you killed?”

Delgado laughed. “I make my living now as a freelance assassin, senhor, and have since I left the service, after many happy years on the front lines in Angola. To survive as a freelance, and perhaps the same is true in your rather specialized line of work, you have to be good and dependable. Were I to shoot more than one or two of the wrong people I’d be finished.”

“You knew the colonel well?”

“At one time we were extremely close,” said Captain Delgado. “That was of course before he turned into a wild-eyed radical and soft-hearted liberal. He served together in the unfortunately unsuccessful campaign to regain Goa from those wretched Indians.”

“Then you can be sure it was him you shot.”

“Of course,” replied the plump man. “I did my job, I guarantee you. I don’t know why NSO is so worried.”

“I’m not with NSO.” Conger ate two kelp pills. “I’m with RFA.”

“Ah, you RFA people are not so … not so …” He made circles in the musty air with his sausage. “Not so daring and flamboyant as NSO. I rarely if ever get any work out of your organization.” He returned to eating for a moment. “Well, senhor, whoever you are working for you can rest assured Cavala is dead and gone. I put a hole through him right here … no, a little higher … right here. In through here and out the back with the best laser rifle you can get, a Russian-made job your NSO people bought me on my last saint’s day. Even the most gifted surgeons in the world can not patch up a man after that.”

“Where do you think his body is now?”

“Poor Cavala is buried in the family plot at the New Relocated Sacred Ground of Our Blessed Lady Cemetery,” said Delgado, jabbing a thumb toward the ceiling. “Up in New Lisbon.”

There’d been a coded message about that waiting at Conger’s hotel as well. “One of our RFA men in New Lisbon checked this morning,” Conger told the assassin. “The coffin is empty.”

“Merde!”
Captain Delgado dropped his sausage and bread.

“You didn’t know that?”

“Of course not, senhor. My work is more taken up with another phase of things,” said the plump man. “I don’t keep track of all of them after I finish with them. But in this case, due to my sentimental feelings over our once pleasant association in the military, I attended poor misguided Cavala’s funeral. I saw him in his coffin. With a chest wound like that, you can display them if you dress them just so. I know it was Colonel Macaco Cavala they put in the ground.”

“Somebody took him out again.”

“That’s one on me,” admitted the plump assassin.

CHAPTER 3

The gargoyle was horned and scaly, made of sandy-colored plastic nearstone, and weighed approximately four hundred and ten pounds. It came plummeting down from one of the towers of the New Relocated Church of Our Lady of Fatima and hit the walkway three feet to the left of Conger.

He had sensed the falling gargoyle a few seconds before it slammed into the twilight street of New Lisbon and thrown himself to the right. Conger lost his balance, kept himself from falling over completely by slapping a palm against the street. Tilted out like that, he glanced upward.

A large black man was still at the parapet where the gargoyle had been.

He gave a disappointed shrug, a darn-it swing of the fist before he went climbing away over the spires of the transplanted cathedral. “Big Mac,” said Conger, guessing who the statue pusher was. “So AEF is in on this, too.”

A cluster of tourists, all in multi-color one-piece touring suits, had gathered around the fallen gargoyle. “You usually don’t get to see one of these up so close,” remarked a pleasant-looking man from Holland. He let his small robot camera loose and it began clicking off pictures, circling the ugly sprawled plastic statue.

Conger uprighted himself, rubbed his strained wrist against his side. He back stepped away from the half dozen curious people, spun and walked quickly on.

The Ritz-Mechanix Hotel was only two blocks from there, but Conger carefully walked a circular eight blocks before easing into a rear entrance of the twenty story building. He was to meet his other Portuguese contact here.

The long green corridor he found himself in at street level was full of loitering cleanup androids. Here in New Lisbon they still favored the Negro mammy model, long since outlawed in the United States and most other English speaking countries.

Selecting an android-picking tool from the small kit he carried strapped to his side, Conger doctored a hefty bandana-wearing robot maid. Then he ordered her, “Take me up to floor 19A in one of the service elevators.”

“Oh, yassuh. I’se gwine ter be bodacious glad ter do dat little thing, suh,” replied the amiable android as she led him around a green bend.

“Dis yere’s our mostest nicest ely-vator, suh.”

When the elevator let him out on his contact’s floor Conger ungimmicked the android and headed for room 1926A. All the doors along this stretch of wall had freshly painted portraits of the current dictator of Portugal on them at eye level. Conger halted before 1926A, knocked his prearranged knock on the dictator’s broad nose.

On the other side of the door someone yelled,
“Voila!”
There was a good deal of metallic clacking, followed by a jittering crash.

Conger knocked again, this time on the triple chin.

Finally someone called,
“Momentito.”

There was more clattering, followed by another zestful shout of
“Voila!”

“Enough already,” said the other voice. “Where’s that nitwit turnoff switch? There.”

“Voila!”
was yelled once more, in a running down mechanical way.

“You’re pretty tall for a spy,” said a voice from immediately behind the door. “I’m giving you the once over through this nitwit spyhole. They didn’t put it in the right place and I have to stand on tiptoe. There.”

“How about the counter knock?” suggested Conger.

“Which?” asked the voice behind the door.

“When I knock like this,” said Conger, knocking again, “you’re supposed to knock a certain way in response.”

“Wait a second, I’ll try to remember. Is this it?”

“Nope.”

“You’re right. I can’t keep all these nitwit knocks straight. They put too many beats in them. Nobody can remember a knock that goes on forever. This is it. Am I right?”

“You’ve got it.”

“Okay, hold on and I’ll try to get this nitwit door to let you in. I wanted to stay at the Novo American but they tell me the RFA budget is tight this season and anyway the Ritz-Mechanix, being 90% automatic, will take better care of me. Is the door opening? No, it isn’t. Just stay right there while I give it a couple good taps with my shoe. Hold on and I’ll get my shoe off. Boy, the way they make shoes nowadays you can hardly remove the nitwit things. I don’t know about you, but when I was a boy shoes had laces instead of these little electric seams. Did you have shoes with laces as a kid?”

“I went barefoot a lot.”

“Oh, really? My parents would never sit still for barefeet. I was considered too fragile, being the runt of the family. There, now I’ll wap it.”

After a moment the door groaned, gave a chill sigh and slid aside.

Standing in the foyer, his electric-seam shoe still raised high, was a man not quite five feet tall. He had curly blond hair and a substantial curly blond moustache. He was thirty-nine years old, dressed in a one-piece white fencing suit with a red heart stitched to its chest. “How do you do, senhor. I’m Canguru, the master spy. Come in.”

Fallen, arms-wide, over the floating air column coffee table was a fencing master android. Though the teaching mechanism was turned off, it still made a low dry buzzing. “Taking up fencing?” asked Conger.

“No, ballroom dancing, but the nitwit room service sent up the wrong machine. Since they did, and included this outfit, I gave the fencing a try.”

Canguru guided Conger to a tin sofa, then sat opposite him on an imitation rubber divan. “Besides being a highly successful spy, senhor, I now and then do a little highjacking.” He leaned toward Conger, passing him a bowl of puffed potato balls. “Care for a snack?”

“No, thanks.” Conger got a pillbox of vitamin B-Complex out of a side pocket, swallowed two capsules. “You’re supposed to have seen Colonel Cavala up and around.”

“Exactly what I’m leading up to,” said the small spy. “A few days ago, while engaged in the highjacking facet of my career, I chanced to be behind the walls of the monastery of the San Joaquim Brothers.”

“Where is it?”

“Near the town of Vinda, some fifty miles from us, to the south,” replied Canguru. “It’s where they make Mizinga.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Have you never heard of Mizinga? It’s a world-famous liqueur. These nitwit brothers turn the stuff out. It contains over one hundred herbs and other ingradients. Only the San Joaquim Brothers, plus some six or seven robots, know the secret of Mizinga. Personally I don’t think they’re making it quite right, it could stand more anise, but you can’t argue with the public taste.”

“Can people from the outside walk right into the place?”

“No, senhor. The monastery is heavily guarded and well nigh impregnable. The thing is, being a religious order, the brothers don’t go in much for electronic guard stuff. Which is why I told RFA to get me an invisible man,” said Canguru. “In a while, when I find my nitwit electric pencil, I’ll draw you a map of all their fortifications.”

“How did you get in?”

“I had the assistance of a Mother Superior of my acquaintance,” said the curly headed little spy. “However, we can’t work the same dodge twice. Wait, I’m going to find that nitwit pencil right now.” He left the imitation rubber divan and began hobbling around the long wide suite. “Boy, fencing didn’t do me much good. Now I’ve developed a terrible limp.”

“Probably because you only have one shoe on,” suggested Conger. “Now what about the colonel, did you see him at the monastery?”

“You’re anticipating the punchline. Let me track down my shoe.”

“You set it on the aluminum table out in the foyer.”

“You’re very perceptive, senhor. Have you been an invisible man long?”

“What about the colonel?”

“It was there at the monastery of the San Joaquim Brothers that I saw him.” Canguru located his other shoe. “He was in the chapel, dressed as a brother himself and lighting a candle at the shrine of St. Norbert the Divine.”

“You certain?”

“Would I sell the RFA a false yarn for 1000 escudos? No. I’m absolutely sure I saw Cavala alive and well several days after his funeral.”

“Speaking of selling information,” said Conger. “Have you told anyone else about this?”

“You think I got my reputation as a master spy by double dealing?” He got his shoe back on his tiny foot, then stomped back toward Conger. “I told no one save your local RFA rep.”

“An AEF agent tried to drop a gargoyle on me on my way over here,” said Conger.

“A gargoyle?” Canguru blinked. “That’s very imaginative. Those Agrarian Espionage Force agents aren’t all nitwits.”

“If AEF wants to kill me,” said Conger, “it means China II must know something about why I’m here.”

“Sim, sim,”
muttered the little spy. “Yes. China II is cooling toward your country and they hate our dictator here. They supported Cavala, may even have been prepared to finance a coup. It would be to their advantage to have Cavala alive. Which gargoyle did they drop on you?”

“The one on the left hand parapet of the New Relocated Church of Our Lady of Fatima,” replied Conger. “It’s a homed scaly bastard with a face like this.” He made a brief gargoyle face.

Canguru chuckled. “I know which one you mean. It must weigh five hundred pounds.” He returned to the divan, bounced down on it. “You have a genuine gift for mimickry. A shame you have to spend so much of your time being invisible. How is that done exactly?”

“With a secret process.”

“Actually you don’t become truly invisible, do you?”

“It’s mostly an illusion, but it works. Within a range of a quarter mile or so,” said Conger. “Now you’d better draw me that floor plan of the Mizinga works.”

“If Cavala was really dead,” said Canguru, rising again to hunt for his pencil, “then it means we’re dealing with something fairly awesome. To raise the dead is no mean feat.”

“It’s a first rate stunt,” agreed Conger.

The black android bellhops were tap dancing in the lobby. One of them did a series of splits, while his associates clapped and chuckled. The android’s highly-polished right shoe pointed at a man Conger recognized.

It was the man with half a head of hair who’d teleported from New York to New Lisbon with him yesterday. The man was hunched in a yellow celluloid chair, pretending to read loose random pages of
Moby Dick
.

When he realized Conger had noticed him he blushed.

Conger had been striding toward the front exit. He was heading for the monastery of the San Joaquim Brothers this morning. “I wonder who this guy’s with,” Conger said to himself. “AEF, NSO or maybe even RFA.” He pivoted, walked into the hotel barbershop&gym.

Back in the lobby the bellhops were tap dancing up a stairway of piled luggage.

The robot head barber had been painted a glistening red and white. He looked like a fat barber pole. “
Bom dia,
senhor,” he said as he took hold of Conger by the arm. “Which means
dobry ráno
in your language.”

“That’s not my language.” Conger pulled free of the sweet-smelling machine.

“You’re not Czech? Then I’ll bet it’s Hungarian. Well,
jó reggel.

“And the same to you.” Conger walked on by a row of manicuring machines. “I’m in the mood for a steam bath.”

“Ah, yes,
fürdo
as you Hungarians say.”

“Exactly.” Conger kept moving toward the steamroom door.

“I pride myself, you see, on being able to spot a man’s native country at a glance,” continued the candy-striped robot. “New Lisbon is, as you may know, something of an international crossroads, senhor. So one has to . . .”

The half-bald man had cautiously crossed the barbershop threshold.

Pushing his fragments of
Moby Dick
down into the slash pockets of his tourist smock he sat down in front of the first manicure machine he came to. “Ouch,” he said after a few seconds.

The foyer of the steamroom was misty. A small android, speckled with beads of condensation, sat at a round rubber desk near the entrance doors to the dressing rooms. “
Bom dia,
senhor,” said the android. “Which means …”

“Jó reggel. I know.” He went by the seated android into the dressing rooms.

“Um momento,”
called the android. “There’s a fee of twenty escudos.”

Conger jogged down a row of unused lockers, stopped at a deserted spot, and became invisible. Unseen now, he went back the way he had come. The damp-skinned android, who’d left his desk to search for him, didn’t notice Conger at all.

Conger stopped just inside the foyer door. In about three minutes the door was opened by the chunky semi-bald man.

While the man was squinting into the blurred room Conger eased by him and went, invisibly, on his way.

CHAPTER 4

The squirrel stopped watching him. It eased out of the hole in the oak tree and skittered, head down, along the trunk to the leafy ground of the forest. In chasing a twig, the dust-colored squirrel hopped over Conger’s right foot.

Conger nodded to himself. He was invisible now. He could still see himself but no one else, including animals, could. It had taken him nineteen months, working in the Wild Talent Division’s New England training school to acquire the knack. It was partially a mental control trick, adapted from an ancient Tibetan ritual by the late Vincent X.

Worth. The rest of it depended on the careful use of a complex body lotion which, among other things, gave off highly pervasive mind-clouding fumes.

Prepared now to assault the monastery, Conger left the wooded hills above the home of the San Joaquim Brothers. The monastery resembled a walled town. Covering something like twenty acres, it was surrounded by a high many-turreted wall of yellowish brown stone.

The main entrance was equipped with electronic sensors, which would probably note his passing through. According to the map Canguru had penciled for him, the rear entrances to the monastery grounds relied entirely on armed brothers.

Conger strode clear of the woods, cutting down through ankle-high grass. He moved along through a flat field which skirted one wall of the place, headed for the back side of the monastery. A bell in the chapel inside bonged out eleven, white doves flickered up into the clear blue morning.

In the orchards beyond the monastery walls tan-colored robots, about a dozen of them, were spraying the peach and apricot trees with nozzle guns fitted to their wrists. A wooden wagon, pulled by a cyborg mare, came rolling across the orchard. A long-armed robot on the flatbed truck was snaking up the empty spray containers the robot tree dusters discarded.

The invisibility process worked on mechanical men, too. Conger, unseen and unnoticed, walked to the slow rolling wagon and boosted himself up.

He sat in a spot where he was clear of the container gatherer.

Over at the nearest wooden gate a San Joaquim brother in a rough earth-brown cassock was pacing in the dust. He had a gleaming snubnose blaster rifle resting on his hip. He halted now, raised his cowl far back and stared at the bright orchards while he wiped the back of his hand across his forehead.

“Full load, full load,” the long-armed robot told himself. He stretched an arm toward the partially mechanical horse, flicked the animal’s tin ear.

The horse headed for the rear gate.

The monk scuffled over and swung the heavy wooden gate out and open.

The wagon, with Conger sitting invisibly on it, entered the monastery grounds. As the gate slammed shut Conger dropped to the roadway. The road cut through formal gardens, leading to several concentric circles of buildings a thousand feet away.

Off to Conger’s right three San Joaquim brothers were seated round a raw wood table among blossoming scarlet and gold flowers. None of the three was Colonel Cavala.

The eldest monk poured something from a beaker into a thimble-size glass, handing it to the brother next to him. “Well, what do you think, Brother Guilherme?”

Brother Guilherme, who was about forty three, took a careful sip.

“Yum,” he said, after sloshing the dark brown liquid in his mouth. “Yessir, Brother Joao, that’s the old original incomparable Mizinga flavor sure enough.”

Brother Joao tapped a ladle against the younger monk’s temple. “
Tonto,
that’s Coca Cola.”

“You could have fooled me.”

The third brother, a chubby red haired man, said, “He’s never going to make it as a tester, Brother Joao. He’s a loser in the tastebud department.”

“What about you, Brother Jorge,” demanded Guilherme. “You thought the lemonade left over from Brother Pedro’s mop party was Mizinga. Don’t go casting the first stone.”

“Brothers, brothers,” cautioned the old monk. “You both must pray for guidance. You must ask St. Norbert, the patron saint of taste, to send you more ability. Especially you, Brother Guilherme, who can’t tell Mizinga from Coca Cola.”

Brother Guilherme finished off his thimble of Coke. “How can one light candles, to St. Norbert, with that spurious monk Cavala always hanging around in the chapel. He gives me the heebie jeebies.”

“Now, now, brother. We must all of us learn to relate to the newly risen. For does not our blessed Lord promise that on a day not too distant all the dead will rise up and walk again?”

Giving a shiver, Brother Guilherme said, “I’m going to have one gigantic case of heebie jeebies when that day comes. Ugh.”

“Hey,” suggested the red haired brother, “let’s have a shot of the real Mizinga, Brother Joao. All this spooky talk makes my stomach feel funny.”

Leaving the taste testing group, Conger walked toward the monastery buildings. They were all of the same brindly stone as the walls, tile roofed with wrought iron bars guarding all the windows.

The chapel lay in the second ring of buildings. A robot gardener was crouched in the flower beds in front of it, touching up the imitation roses with a small bottle of red enamel.

There seemed to be no one in the cool shadowy chapel. Up at the front was a wide altar with religious statues at each side. To the right of St.

Joseph Conger noticed a door with a plaque. When he was nearer he read: Shrine of St. Norbert, Patron Saint of Taste & Author of “Quick Cooking With Wine,” “The Fun With Liqueur Cook Book,”
etc.

The thick door stood inches open. Conger gave it a slow push.

Kneeling in the small alcove room before another altar was a husky man of fifty, wearing the rough brown San Joaquim robe. It was Colonel Macaco Cavala. “How about the new mattress I’ve been praying for?” he was asking the mansize statue of the saint. “A fellow who’s been dead has to take especial care of himself.”

Conger put a hand into the kit strapped to his side. He drew out what he thought was truth serum, then noticed he’d gotten vitamin A&D capsules instead. He swallowed a couple, before getting out the serum and a silver injection bug from his kit.

He made his way invisibly across the shrine, slapped the serum-loaded bug against the back of Cavala’s thick neck.

“What kind of shrine are you running anyway, you let insects nibble on . . .” The resurrected colonel stopped, stiffened.

“Give me your name,” ordered Conger. He rested his invisible buttocks against the rail guarding the statue of the patron saint of taste.

Cavala’s dark eyes grew cloudy. “I am Macaco Jose Cavala, former colonel in the People’s Army of Portugal, an unfortunate recent victim of . . .”

“You’re supposed to be dead.”

The husky Cavala gave a dazed grin. “I was, I was, unseen senhor. What an experience that was, let me tell you. I’m sure you, whoever you might be, have preconceptions as to what death will actually be like. I know I surely did. Well, in the first place you don’t …”

“Who brought you back to life?”

“The Agrarian Espionage Force financed it, bless them,” answered the truth-drugged colonel. “After which, they saw to it I was brought here to bide my time in safety, relative safety. We don’t want to attempt a coup yet, or at least AEF doesn’t. They feel this isn’t the proper season for it. In Portugal summer is a better time for a coup d’état. I have to admit the coup attempted in New Lisbon a few weeks ago by some of my misguided rivals was a complete flopola. However, it seems to me what I have going for me is the miraculous …”

“Okay, the secret agents from China II picked up the bill,” cut in Conger. “Who did the actual job of bringing you back to life?”

“They call him Sandman.”

“Sandman?”

Cavala, becoming more lax, tipped over into the altar rail. His head bonged against the old dark wood twice before he slid down to lie on his face on the bottom most altar step. “I assume Sandman is a nickname, an ironic nickname,” he murmured. “Since, unlike the sandman of legend and lore, he brings not sleep but awakening. At least, so far …”

“Who is he?”