The Caves of Steel
1: Conversation With A Commissioner
Lije Baley had just reached his desk when he became aware of R. Sammy watching him expectantly.
The dour lines of his long face hardened. “What do you want?”
“The boss wants you, Lije. Right away. Soon as you come in.”
R. Sammy stood there blankly.
Baley said, “I said, all right. Go away!”
R. Sammy turned on his heel and left to go about his duties. Baley wondered irritably why those same duties couldn’t be done by a man.
He paused to examine the contents of his tobacco pouch and make a mental calculation. At two pipefuls a day, he could stretch it to next quota day.
Then he stepped out from behind his railing (he’d rated a railed corner two years ago) and walked the length of the common room.
Simpson looked up from a merc-pool file as he passed. “Boss wants you, Lije.”
“I know. R. Sammy told me.”
A closely coded tape reeled out of the merc-pool’s vitals as the small instrument searched and analyzed its “memory” for the desired information stored in the tiny vibration patterns of the gleaming mercury surface within.
“I’d kick R. Sammy’s behind if I weren’t afraid I’d break a leg,” said Simpson. “I saw Vince Barrett the other day.”
“He was looking for his job back. Or any job in the Department. The poor kid’s desperate, but what could I tell him. R. Sammy’s doing his job and that’s all. The kid has to work a delivery tread on the yeast farms now. He was a bright boy, too. Everyone liked him.”
Baley shrugged and said in a manner stiffer than he intended or felt, “It’s a thing we’re all living through.”
The boss rated a private office. It said JULIUS ENDERBY on the
clouded glass. Nice letters. Carefully etched into the fabric of the glass. Underneath, it said COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, CITY OF NEW YORR.
Baley stepped in and said, “You want to see me, Commissioner?”
Enderby looked up. He wore spectacles because his eyes were sensitive and couldn’t take the usual contact lenses. It was only after one got used to the sight of them that one could take in the rest of the face, which was quite undistinguished. Baley had a strong notion that the Commissioner valued his glasses for the personality they lent him and suspected that his eyeballs weren’t as sensitive as all that.
The Commissioner looked definitely nervous. He straightened his cuffs, leaned back, and said, too heartily, “Sit clown, Lije. Sit down,”
Baley sat down stiffly and waited.
Enderby said, “How’s Jessie? And the boy?”
“Fine,” Said Baley, hollowly, “Just fine. And your family?”
“Fine,” echoed Enderby. “Just fine.”
It had been a false start.
Baley thought: Something’s wrong with his face.
Aloud, he said, “Commissioner, I wish you wouldn’t send R. Sammy out after me.”
“Well, you know how I feel about those things, Lije. But he’s been put here and I’ve got to use him for something.”
“It’s uncomfortable, Commissioner. He tells me you want me and then he stands there. You know what I mean. I have to tell him to go or he just keeps on standing there.”
“Oh, that’s my fault, Lije. I gave him the message to deliver and forgot to tell him specifically to get back to his job when he was through.”
Baley sighed. The fine wrinkles about his intensely brown eyes grew more pronounced. “Anyway, you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, Lije,” said the Commissioner, “but not for anything easy.”