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15

JUDSON BLINT TYPED names and addresses into the computer. Here it was, nearly ten in the morning, and he still hadn't finished with Super Star Music, while stacked up beside his left elbow were the letters, the applications, and the checks — lovely checks — for Allied Commissioners' Courses and Intertherapeutic Research Service. What a long way to go.

For some reason, the mail was always heaviest on Fridays. Maybe the post office just wanted to clear everything out before the weekend. For whatever reason, Friday was always the day that made this job seem most like a job, instead of what it actually was, which was three extremely profitable felonies.

Take Super Star Music, on which he was still working at ten in the morning. Advertising in magazines likely to draw in the young and the gullible, Super Star Music promised to make you rich and famous by setting your song lyrics to music. Alternately, if it's music you got, they'll give you lyrics. Now, most amateurs do simple marching-beat doggerel, so there's lots of music out there to match; just shift the rhythms around a bit. As for lyrics, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations has some pretty good ones, or there's always what's in the next envelope right here.

Allied Commissioners' Courses, on the other hand, would teach you everything you needed to know to make a fine living as a detective; sure. And if Intertherapeutic Research Service's dirty book doesn't improve your sex life, check your pulse; maybe you died.

Judson Blint's task in this triple threat ongoing skimming of the pittances of the reality impaired was simple. Each day, he opened the envelopes, typed the return addresses into the computer and attached the labels to the right packages. Then he carried the outgoing mail on a large dolly down to the post office in the lobby of this building, brought up the next batch of suckers, and carried the checks to the inner office of J.C. Taylor, who'd originally thought up all this stuff and would give him twenty percent of the intake simply for doing the clerical work — usually between seven and eleven hundred a week.

He'd been at this scam since July, when he'd first come to Manhattan out of Long Island, fresh out of high school and convinced he was the best con artist of all time, until J.C. saw through him in a New York minute but gave him this job anyway, for which he would be forever grateful. Also, it had already led a bit to even better things.

He was thinking about those better things, feeling sorry again that Stan Murch's idea at the O.J. the other night had been such a loser, because it was time to pick up a little extra coinage here and there before winter set in, when the hall door opened and, before Judson could do his spiel— "J.C. Taylor isn't in at the moment, have you an appointment, I'm terribly sorry" — Stan Murch himself walked in. He shut the door behind himself, nodded at Judson, and said, "Harya."

"Hi."

"I was in the neighborhood."

Of the seventh floor of the Avalon State Bank Tower on Fifth Avenue near St. Patrick's Cathedral? Sure. "Glad you could drop by," Judson said.

There were chairs in this small crowded room, other than the one at the desk where Judson sat, but they were all piled high with books, either detective or sex. Stan looked around, accepted reality, and leaned back against a narrow clear spot of wall beside the door. Folding his arms, he said, "That was really too bad about the other night."

"Yeah, it was."

"I just had the feeling, you know, the guys didn't quite get the concept."

"I had that feeling, too."

"You in particular," Stan said. "A bright young guy, not stuck with old-fashioned thinking."

"Well, it just seemed to me," Judson said, wanting to get out of this without acknowledging there was anything to get out of, "the other guys had a lot more expertise than me, so I oughta go along with the way they saw things."

"I got a certain expertise, too, you know," Stan said, and looked as though he were thinking about getting irritated.

"Driving expertise, Stan," Judson said. "You got the most driving expertise I ever saw in my life."

"Well, yeah," Stan said, but would not be deflected. "On the other hand," he said, and the inner door opened.

They both turned to look as J.C. herself walked in from her office, saying, "I heard voices. Hello, Stan. Keeping my staff from their work?" A striking if tough-looking brunette of around thirty, who moved in a style somewhere between a runway model's strut and a cheetah's lope, J.C., when she came into a room, particularly dressed as now in pink peasant blouse and a short black leather skirt and heeled sandals with black leather straps twining halfway up to the knee, it was impossible to look away.

Stan didn't even try. "Just exchanging a word or two, J.C.," he said. "Exercising our chins."

"Talking about the golden dome?" J.C. asked him.

Stan didn't like that. "Oh, Tiny told you," he guessed, Tiny Bulcher being J.C.'s roommate somewhere around town, a pairing that seemed to those who knew them to have been made, if not in Heaven, possibly in Marvel Comics.

"Tiny told me," she agreed. "He said it was the dumbest idea he'd heard since Lucky Finnegan decided to walk from the Bronx to Brooklyn stepping only on the third rail." To Judson she explained, "Lucky was very proud of his sense of balance."

"If no other sense," Stan said.

Judson said, "Somehow, I have the feeling he didn't make it."

"They're trying to find another nickname for him," J.C. said. "Something about barbeque."

"The golden dome," Stan said, his eye being on it, "is not as dumb an idea as some people think it is."

J.C. gave him a frank look. "Which people, Stan, don't think it's a dumb idea?"

"Me for one," he said. "My Mom, for two." J.C. pointed a scarlet-tipped finger at him. "Do not get your Mom involved."

"I'm just saying."

Judson said, "It's too bad John couldn't be there to hear the idea."

The silence that followed that remark was so extreme that both Judson and J.C. bent deeply suspicious frowns on Stan, to find him red-faced and struggling to find a deflecting comment. J.C. said, "You told him."

"We had a preliminary conversation on the subject, yes."

J.C. said, "And he hated it."

"It's true he doesn't yet see the potential," Stan said. "So all I was gonna suggest to Judson here, let's drive out, drive along the Belt, take a look at it, gleaming there beside the highway, it's like the dome of gold at the end of the rainbow."

Judson said, "I think that was a pot."

"A dome is a pot," Stan said. "Upside down."

"It is true," J.C. said, "that Judson here is a beardless youth—"

"What? I shave!"

"— but that doesn't mean he's green between the ears."

"Thank you, J.C."

J.C. considered what she was going to say next, as she hitched a hip onto the corner of the desk. "You know how it is sometimes," she said, "you see a very beautiful, very desirable woman, and man, how you'd like to get your hands on that?"

They both nodded.

"And then you find out," J.C. said, "she's unobtainable. That's all, just unobtainable. You know what I mean?"

They both nodded.

"So you feel sad a little while," she said, and they both nodded, "but then you move on, something else grabs your eye, all you've got left is a little nostalgic feeling for the never-happened," and they both nodded, and she said, "Stan, that's what that dome is. You saw it, you lusted after it, you tried to figure out how to get your hands on it, but it's just not obtainable. Try to think about something else."

The silence this time was more contemplative, and Judson deliberately gazed the other way while Stan worked his way through the seven stages of loss, or however many of those stages there are.

"Well," Stan said, at last, and Judson dared to look at him, and Stan had a recovered look on his face. "I guess for a while," he said, "I'll be taking some alternate route."


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