“Oh,” the clerk squeaked indignantly, “Allied Domestic’s models are never destroyed. Banged up a little now and then, perhaps, but you show me one of our models that’s been put out of commission.” With dignity, he retrieved his order pad and smoothed down his coat. “No, sir,” he said emphatically, “our models survive. Why, I saw a seven-year-old Allied running around, an old Model 3-S. Dented a bit, perhaps, but plenty of fire left. I’d like to see one of those cheap Protecto-Corp. models try to tangle with that.”
Controlling himself with an effort, Tom asked: “But why? What’s it all for? What’s the purpose in this — competition between them?”
The clerk hesitated. Uncertainly, he began again with his order pad. “Yes sir,” he said. “Competition; you put your finger right on it. Successful competition, to be exact. Allied Domestic doesn’t meet competition — it demolishes it.”
It took a second for Tom Fields to react. Then understanding came. “I see,” he said. “In other words, every year these things are obsolete. No good, not large enough. Not powerful enough. And if they’re not replaced, if I don’t get a new one, a more advanced model –”
“Your present Nanny was, ah, the loser?” The clerk smiled knowingly. “Your present model was, perhaps, slightly anachronistic? It failed to meet present-day standards of competition? It, ah, failed to come out at the end of the day?”
“It never came home,” Tom said thickly.
“Yes, it was demolished . . . I fully understand. Very common. You see, sir, you don’t have a choice. It’s nobody’s fault, sir. Don’t blame us; don’t blame Allied Domestic.”
“But,” Tom said harshly, “when one is destroyed, that means you sell another one. That means a sale for you. Money in the cash register.”
“True. But we all have to meet contemporary standards of excellence. We can’t let ourselves fall behind . . . as you saw, sir, if you don’t mind my saying so, you saw the unfortunate consequences of falling behind.”
“Yes,” Tom agreed, in an almost inaudible voice. “They told me not to have her repaired. They said I should replace her.”
The clerk’s confident, smugly-beaming face seemed to expand. Like a miniature sun, it glowed happily, exaltedly. “But now you’re all set up, sir. With this model you’re right up there in the front. Your worries are over, Mr. . . .” He halted expectantly. “Your name, sir? To whom shall I make out this purchase order?”
Bobby and Jean watched with fascination as the delivery men lugged the enormous crate into the living room. Grunting and sweating, they set it down and straightened gratefully up.
“All right,” Tom said crisply. “Thanks.”
“Not at all, mister.” The delivery men stalked out, noisily closing the door after them.
“Daddy, what is it?” Jean whispered. The two children came cautiously around the crate, wide-eyed and awed.
“You’ll see in a minute.”
“Tom, it’s past their bedtime,” Mary protested. “Can’t they look at it tomorrow?”
“I want them to look at it now.” Tom disappeared downstairs into the basement and returned with a screwdriver. Kneeling on the floor beside the crate he began rapidly unscrewing the bolts that held it together. “They can go to bed a little late, for once.”
He removed the boards, one by one, working expertly and calmly. At last the final board was gone, propped up against the wall with the others. He unclipped the book of instructions and the 90-day warranty and handed them to Mary. “Hold onto these.”
“It’s a Nanny!” Bobby cried.
“It’s a huge, huge Nanny!”
In the crate the great black shape lay quietly, like an enormous metal tortoise, encased in a coating of grease. Carefully checked, oiled, and fully guaranteed. Tom nodded. “That’s right. It’s a Nanny, a new Nanny. To take the place of the old one.”
“Yes.” Tom sat down in a nearby chair and lit a cigarette. “Tomorrow morning we’ll turn her on and warm her up. See how she runs.”
The children’s eyes were like saucers. Neither of them could breathe or speak.
“But this time,” Mary said, “you must stay away from the park. Don’t take her near the park. You hear?”
“No,” Tom contradicted. “They can go in the park.”
Mary glanced uncertainly at him. “But that orange thing might –”
Tom smiled grimly. “It’s fine with me if they go into the park.” He leaned toward Bobby and Jean. “You kids go into the park any time you want. And don’t be afraid of anything. Of anything or anyone. Remember that.”
He kicked the end of the massive crate with his toe.
“There isn’t anything in the world you have to be afraid of. Not anymore.”
Bobby and Jean nodded, still gazing fixedly into the crate.
“All right, Daddy,” Jean breathed.
“Boy, look at her!” Bobby whispered. “Just look at her! I can hardly wait till tomorrow!”
Mrs. Andrew Casworthy greeted her husband on the front steps of their attractive three-story house, wringing her hands anxiously.
“What’s the matter?” Casworthy grunted, taking off his hat. With his pocket handkerchief he wiped sweat from his florid face. “Lord, it was hot today. What’s wrong? What is it?”
“Andrew, I’m afraid –”
“What the hell happened?”
“Phyllis came home from the park today without her Nanny. She was bent and scratched yesterday when Phyllis brought her home, and Phyllis is so upset I can’t make out –”
“Without her Nanny?”
“She came home alone. By herself. All alone.”
Slow rage suffused the man’s heavy features. “What happened?”
“Something in the park, like yesterday. Something attacked her Nanny. Destroyed her! I can’t get the story exactly straight, but something black, something huge and black . . . it must have been another Nanny.”
Casworthy’s jaw slowly jutted out. His thickset face turned ugly dark red, a deep unwholesome flush that rose ominously and settled in place. Abruptly, he turned on his heel.
“Where are you going?” his wife fluttered nervously.
The paunchy, red-faced man stalked rapidly down the walk toward his sleek surface cruiser, already reaching for the door handle.
“I’m going to shop for another Nanny,” he muttered. “The best damn Nanny I can get. Even if I have to go to a hundred stores. I want the best — and the biggest.”
“But, dear,” his wife began, hurrying apprehensively after him, “can we really afford it?” Wringing her hands together anxiously, she raced on: “I mean, wouldn’t it be better to wait? Until you’ve had time to think it over, perhaps. Maybe later on, when you’re a little more — calm.”
But Andrew Casworthy wasn’t listening. Already the surface cruiser boiled with quick, eager life, ready to leap forward. “Nobody’s going to get ahead of me,” he said grimly, his heavy lips twitching. “I’ll show them, all of them. Even if I have to get a new size designed. Even if I have to get one of those manufacturers to turn out a new model for me!”
And, oddly, he knew one of them would.
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