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by C.M. Kornbluth
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Syndic versus Mob! The Syndic operated as a sort of gigantic protective league in what had once been the states east of the Mississippi. Here was a totally hedonistic society--moral inhibitions had gone the way of the horse. (Polo was played in jeeps with 50-calibre machine guns.) The hopelessly corrupt old North American government had been driven literaly into the sea, but make occassional forays onto the mainland from bases on the coastal fringes of a Europe that had returned to the Dark Ages.... West of the Mississippi was Mob territory, a society whose entire system of values was totally opposed to the Syndic. Here morality ruled with an iron hand. When a wave of assassinations broke out in New Your, it was clealy time to take action against the Mob!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks,
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [253 KB]
Reading time: 151-211 min.
"In my opinion The Syndic was Kornbluth's best novel in his short but brilliant career."--Damon Knight, Science Fiction Grand Master "A grand blend of excitement and thinking--a thoroughly stimulating and delightful book."--Anthony Boucher, New York Herald Tribune
Charles Orsino was learning the business from the ground up--even though "up" would never be very high. He had in his veins only a drop or two of Falcaro blood: enough so that room had to be made for him; not enough for it to be a great deal of room. Counting heavily on the good will of F.W. Taylor, who had taken a fancy to him when he lost his parents in the Brookhaven Reactor explosion of '83, he might rise to a rather responsible position in Alky, Horsewire, Callgirl Recruitment and Retirement, or whatever line he showed an aptitude for. But at twenty-two one spring day, he was merely serving a tour of duty as bagman attached to the 101st New York Police Precinct. A junior member of the Syndic customarily handled that job; you couldn't trust the cops not to squeeze their customers and pocket the difference.
He walked absently through the not unpleasant routine of the shakedown. His mind was on his early-morning practice session of polo, in which he had almost disgraced himself.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Orsino; a pleasure to see you again. Would you like a cold glass of beer while I get the loot?"
"No, but thanks very much, Mr. Lefko--I'm in training, you know. Wish I could take you up on it. Seven phones, isn't it, at ten dollars a phone?"
"That's right, Mr. Orsino, and I'll be with you as soon as I lay off the seventh at Hialeah; all the ladies went for a plater named Hearthmouse because they thought the name was cute and left me with a dutch book. I won't be a minute."
Lefko scuttled to a phone and dickered with another bookie somewhere while Charles absently studied the crowd of chattering, laughing horseplayers. ("Mister Orsino, did you come out to make a monkey of yourself and waste my time? Confound it, sir, you have just fifty round to a chukker and you must make them count!" He grinned unhappily. Old Gilby, the pro, could be abrasive when a bonehead play disfigured the game he loved. Charles had been sure Benny Grashkin's jeep would conk out in a minute--it had been sputtering badly enough--and that he would have had a dirt-cheap scoring shot while Benny changed mounts. But Gilby blew the whistle and wasn't interested in your finespun logic. "Confound it, sir, when will you young ruiners learn that you must crawl before you walk? Now let me see a team rush for the goal--and I mean team, Mr. Orsino!")
"Here we, Mr. Orsino, and just in time. There goes the seventh."
Charles shook hands and left amid screams of "Hearth-mouse! Hearthmouse!" from the lady bettors watching the screen. * * * *
High up in the Syndic Building, F.W. Taylor--Uncle Frank to Charles--was giving a terrific tongue-lashing to a big, stooped old man. Thornberry, president of the Chase National Bank, had pulled a butch and F.W. Taylor was blazing mad about it.
He snarled: "One more like this, Thornberry, and you are out on your padded can. When a respectable member of the Syndic chooses to come to you for a line of credit, you will in the future give it without any tomfool quibbling about security. You bankers seem to think this is the Middle Ages and that your bits of paper still have their old black magic.
"Disabuse yourself of the notion. Nobody except you believes in it. The Inexorable Laws of Economics are as dead as Dagon and Ishtar, and for the same reason. No more worshipers. You bankers can't shove anybody around any more. You're just a convenience, like the non-playing banker in a card game.
"What's real now is the Syndic. What's real about the Syndic is its own morale and the public's faith in it. Is that clear?"
Thornberry brokenly mumbled something about supply and demand.
Taylor sneered. "Supply and demand. Urim and Thummim. Show me a supply, Thornberry, show me a--oh, hell. I haven't time to waste re-educating you. Remember what I told you and don't argue. Unlimited credit to Syndic members. If they overdo it, we'll rectify the situation. Now, get out." And Thornberry did, with senile tears in his eyes.
At Mother Maginnis' Ould Sod Pub, Mother Maginnis pulled a long face when Charles Orsino came in. "It's always a pleasure to see you, Mr. Orsino, but I'm afraid this week it'll be no pleasure for you to see me."
She was always roundabout. "Why, what do you mean, Mrs. M." I'm always happy to say hello to a customer."
"It's the business, Mr. Orsino. It's the business. You'll pardon me if I say that I can't see how to spare twenty-five dollars from the till, not if my life depended on it. I can go to fifteen, but so help me--"
Charles looked grave--graver than he felt. It happened every day. "You realize, Mrs. Maginnis, that you're letting the Syndic down. What would the people in Syndic Territory do for protection if everybody took your attitude?"
She looked sly. "I was thinking, Mr. Orsino, that a young man like you must have a way with the girls--" By a mighty unsubtle maneuver, Mrs. Maginnis' daughter emerged from the back room at that point and began demurely mopping the bar. "And," she continued, "sure, any young lady would consider it an honor to spend the evening with a young gentleman from the Syndic--"
"Perhaps," Charles said, rapidly thinking it over. He would infinitely rather spend the evening with a girl than at a Shakespeare revival as he had planned, but there were drawbacks. In the first place, it would be bribery. In the second place, he might fall for the girl and wake up with Mrs. Maginnis for his mother-in-law--a fate too nauseating to contemplate for more than a moment. In the third place, he had already bought the tickets for himself and bodyguard.
"About the shakedown," he said decisively. "Call it fifteen this week. If you're still doing badly next week, I'll have to ask for a look at your books--to see whether a regular reduction is in order."
She got the hint, and colored. Putting down fifteen dollars, she said: "Sure, that won't be necessary. I'm expecting business to take a turn for the better."
"Good, then." To show there were no hard feelings, he stayed for a moment to ask: "How are your husbands?"
"So-so. Alfie's on the road this week and Dinnie's got the rheumatism again but he can tend bar late, when it's slow."
"Tell him to drop around to the Medical Center and mention my name, Mrs. Maginnis. Maybe they can do something for him."
She glowed with thanks and he left.
It was pleasant to be able to do things for nice people; it was pleasant to stroll along the sunny street acknowledging tipped hats and friendly words. (That team rush for the goal had been a sorry mess, but not his fault--quite. Vladek had loosed a premature burst from his fifty caliber at the ball, and sent it hurling off to the right; they had braked and backed with much grinding of gears to form V again behind it, when Gilby blew the whistle again.) * * * *
A nervous youngster in the National Press Service New York drop was facing his first crisis on the job. Trouble lights had flashed simultaneously on the Kansas City-New York, Hialeah-New York and Boston-New York trunks. He stood, paralyzed.
His supervisor took it in in a flash and banged open the circuit to Service. To the genial face that appeared on the screen, he snapped: "Trace Hialeah, Boston, and Kansas City--in that order, Micky."
Micky said: "Okay, pal," and vanished.
The supervisor turned to the youngster. "Didn't know what to do?" he asked genially. "Don't let it worry you. Next time you'll know. You noticed the order of priority?"
"Yes," the boy gulped.
"It wasn't an accident that I gave it to him that way. First, Hialeah because it was the most important. We get the bulk of our revenue from serving the horse-rooms--in fact, I understand we started as a horsewire exclusively. Naturally the horse-room customers pay for it in the long run, but they pay without pain. Nobody's forcing them to improve the breed, right?
"Second, Boston-New York trunk. That's common carrier while the Fair Grounds isn't running up there. We don't make any profit on common-carrier service, the rates are too low, but we owe it to the public that supports us.
"Third, Kansas City-New York. That's common carrier too, but with one terminal in Mob Territory. No reason why we should knock ourselves out for Regan and his boys, but after the other two are traced and closed, we'll get around to them. Think you got it straight now?"
"Yes," the youngster said.
"Good. Just take it easy."
The supervisor moved away to do a job of billing that didn't need immediate doing; he wanted to avoid the very appearance of nagging the boy. He wondered too, if he'd really put it over, and decided he hadn't. How could he, after all? It took years on the wires to get the feel. Slowly your motivation changed. You started by wanting to make a place for yourself and earn some dough. After years you realized, not with a blinding flash, but gradually, that you were working for quite another reason. Nice gang here that treats you right. Don't let the Syndic down. The customers pay for their fun and by God, you see that they get it or bust a gut trying. * * * *
On his way to the 101st Precinct station house, the ears of Charles Orsino burned as he thought of the withering lecture that had followed the blast on Gilby's whistle. "Mister Orsino, is it or is it not your responsibility as team captain to demand that a dangerous ball be taken out of play? And did or did not that last burst from Mr. Vladek beat the ball out of round, thus giving rise to a distinct possibility of dangerous ricochets?" The old man was right of course, but it had been a pocked and battered practice ball to start with; in practice sessions, you couldn't afford to be fussy--not with regulation 18-inch armor steel balls selling for thirty dollars each at the pro shop.
He walked between the two green lamps of the precinct station and dumped his bag on the sergeant's desk. Immediately the sergeant started a tale of woe: "Mr. Orsino, I don't like to bother you with the men's personal troubles, but I wonder if you could come through with a hundred-dollar present for a very deserving young fellow here. It's. Patrolman Gibney, seven years in the old 101st and not a black mark against him. One citation for shooting it out with a burglar and another for nabbing a past-post crook at Lefko's horse-room. Gibney's been married for five years and has two of the cutest kids you ever saw, and you know that takes money. Now he wants to get married again, he's crazy in love with the girl and his first wife don't mind, she says she can use a helping hand around the house, and he wants to do the thing right with a big wedding."
"If he can do it on a hundred, he's welcome to it," Charles said, grinning. "Give him my best wishes." He divided the pile of bills into two orderly stacks, transferred a hundred dollars to one and pocketed the other.
He dropped it off at the Syndic Building, had an uninteresting dinner in one of its cafeterias and went to his furnished room downtown. He read a chapter in F.W. Taylor's--Uncle Frank's--latest book, Organization, Symbolism and Morale, couldn't understand a word he read, bathed and got out his evening clothes. * * * *