Loo-Macklin obediently repeated the comment.
Basright, who was obviously much more than just an overage gunman, punched in the complex question. The monitor screen was large enough for everyone to read the information it would display without leaving their seats.
The computer responded promptly to the inquiry.
INFORMATION NO LONGER IN FILES
“Try again,” said Khryswhy, while the woman named Amoleen and the suddenly uncertain Nubra began to fidget uneasily.
Basright repeated the query, slowly this time, and again was rewarded with the response:
INFORMATION NO LONGER IN FILES
He looked helplessly toward Khryswhy.
“Pursue it,” she said grimly.
He nodded, punched in fresh codes.
WHY REQUESTED INFORMATION NO LONGER IN FILES? INFORMATION REMOVED 0-4-26: 02:35
Basright licked thin lips, his long fingers working at the entryboard.
INFORMATION REMOVED BY WHOM?
The computer hesitated a second before announcing firmly:
WHAT QUALIFIED PERSONNEL?
INFORMATION NO LONGER IN FILES
Loo-Macklin allowed that to burn on the screen for a minute, then glanced down at the plain, thoughtful Khryswhy. “Want to try something else? How about asking it when and where and in what quantity the next shipment of green screamers is coming into your distribution system? Or, for that matter, any other syndicate pharmaceuticals?”
“You lousy, meddling mollywobble!” Nubra started to rise, expressing both confusion and anger.
Khryswhy glanced sharply at him. “Sit down, Nubra, and don’t play the idiot.” The young man hesitated, slowly resumed his seat and contented himself with glaring at Loo-Macklin.
“How’d you do it?” Khryswhy asked him.
He held up his bound wrists. “I volunteered to permit these. I’d like them removed with equally little hassle.”
She nodded, touched a hidden button. The door opened and the girl who’d placed them on his wrists came into the room. She looked at him uncertainly as she used an eyedropper to drip debonder on the binder. The glass dissolved and broke apart.
“Thank you,” he told her. She nodded, backed toward the doorway, her eyes never leaving him.
“All the critical information,” he told Khryswhy, “and most of what’s less critical, has been removed from the ninth syndicate’s storage bank.”
“Removed to where?” asked Amoleen nervously.
“To a place of safety,” he told her. “A place where it will be safe so that I’ll be safe.”
“What are you going to do with it?” asked Basright curiously. “Turn it over to the government for reward money?”
Loo-Macklin shook his head. “Now wouldn’t that be a terrible waste? Lal may have been a pig, but he was a good business pig. I have instant access to all the removed information via my personal coding system. I’m not about to tell you in which private bank the information has been placed, and I assure you, you could never find it.
“I know you won’t take my word for it.” He smiled. “After all, I’m unstable and unpredictable. If you’ll permit me?” He approached the console. Basright stepped out of his way.
He looked back at Khryswhy. “Remember the question?”
“Well enough,” she told him.
He turned to the board, thought a moment, and then ran his fingers over the keys. They touched lightly on the contacts, delicate as the fluttering of a musician’s hands. Basright and any hidden monitor were shielded from sight of his moving fingers.
Immediately a long series of figures and words, accompanied by matching illustrations, materialized on the screen.
“Very well,” said Khryswhy, “so you have access to the information you stole. What if we force you to give us your private retrieval codes?”
“You can’t do that.” Loo-Macklin told her softly.
“Want to bet?” Nubra was starting out of his chair again.
“Idiot,” Khryswhy looked bored with him. “I told you to _sit down_.”
He hesitated, half pleading with her. “But Khrys, let me have him for half an hour. Give me Mule and Pioptolus. We can make him talk.” He looked nastily at the unmoving Loo-Macklin. “He’ll tell us everything he knows and wish he had more to tell us when we’ve started on him.”
“Don’t you see what we’re dealing with here?” she said exasperatedly to the younger man. “Don’t you see that he doesn’t care? You can’t make somebody like that talk. And if you go too far and kill him, which I wouldn’t put past you, Nubra, the information will stay hidden permanently. And then where would we all be?”
“Broke,” Loo-Macklin told her. “You might even have to go legal, and that would mean starting at the bottom, status one hundred.”
She ignored that. “Anyway, he’s right about one thing. Business is good. I’d like to keep it that way.” She turned to him. “What is it you want, kid?”
“To begin with, you can remember never to call me kid again.” He strolled over to the table, pulled up a free chair, and sat down facing them, folding his hands on the smooth surface.
“I intend to keep the syndicate running profitably and efficiently. Within a year’s time we will see its income tripled.”
Amoleen burst out laughing. “Now how do you propose to do that?”
“By having my orders followed explicitly.”
“_Your_ orders?” Nubra was so furious he was shaking. “If anyone should give orders around here, it might as well be me. I’m a thirty-third-class illegal, I’ve been in the organized underworld for ten years. I’ve been…”
“Loud, abusive, and stupid, most of that time,” said Loo-Macklin, cutting him off. Nubra ground his teeth and glared at Loo-Macklin, but didn’t reply. Not with Khryswhy staring him down.
“If you need proof of that,” Loo-Macklin continued pleasantly, “there’s the undeniable fact that you’ve spent the last ten years of your life being ordered about by a pig. Because of my build, I’ve often been called an ape. I consider that a step up in class. There’s no shame in pigs taking orders from an ape.”
“You’re asking a lot,” said Khryswhy. “We’re doing quite well right now.” She lit a dopestick and he noticed a flicker of real interest in her eyes. “You really think, though, that you can triple the syndicate’s income within a year?”
He nodded slowly.
“You know what I think?” she continued, puffing away on the thin red smoke. “I think you’re a bold liar and a dangerous maniac.”
Here was a woman he could use, Loo-Macklin thought. “Does that really matter to you?”
“Not if you can do what you claim. If you can’t, well, we have a year in which to puzzle out a way to learn those new codes. Then we can steal our records back and have you put in your proper element, say, six meters of foundation stone. Time will be working against you, not for you.”
“But consider,” he said calmly, despite the threat, “what if I succeed?”
“In that case,” she told him, “I could give a damn what you’ve done with the records. You can keep ’em a secret forever if you want, and I’ll do everything in my power to assist your efforts.”
“Khryswhy!” exclaimed the fat woman, shocked.
“We may as well give him his chance, Amoleen,” was the resigned reply. “We have no choice. Be philosophical. Sometimes the insane can accomplish more than the sane. I’d rather be ordered about by an efficient madman than a mediocre sane one.”
“But he’s dangerous.” Amoleen avoided Loo-Macklin’s eyes. Such sleepy eyes! Would they never know for certain what was going on behind them?
“To himself, maybe,” said Khryswhy, “but I don’t think to us. Where would you like to begin … boss?” She looked around the table.
“Nubra?” The younger man’s anger hadn’t subsided, but he nodded reluctant agreement. “Basright?” The older man shrugged, said nothing. “Amoleen?”
“My dear Khrys,” the fat woman said, “this all goes against my better judgment. However,” she sighed dramatically and glanced at Loo-Macklin, “as you say, whatever our personal opinions, we’ve not been given much of a choice.”
“None whatsoever,” said Loo-Macklin firmly.
“Then that’s settled.” Khryswhy leaned across the table and extended an open hand. Each of her fingernails glowed with a different shade of polish.
“The pig is dead. Long live the ape.”
Loo-Macklin noted that she had a very firm handshake. He would watch her carefully. He would watch everything carefully.
The heavily muscled body had not grown any softer. The haircut was still the same. Half-lidded eyes still gave him that perpetually sleepy expression.
But around Loo-Macklin there had been many changes in the five years that had passed.
The conference room was on the uppermost level of G tube, not far from the offices of the city and planetary government; an irony, which Loo-Macklin appreciated. The name of the false corporation, which fronted for the syndicate, appeared in bold iridium letters outside the double doors: Enigman, Ltd. That was as close as he ever came to true humor.
There were no tables in the conference chamber. Loo-Macklin disdained tables. They separated people, put a barrier between personalities and conversation. They also made it difficult to quickly jump anyone pulling a weapon on you.