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´╗┐Title: Expediter
Author: Reynolds, Mack, 1917-1983
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Expediter" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction May 1963.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
    on this publication was renewed.


                              EXPEDITER


                His assignment was to get things done;
                        he definitely did so.
               Not quite the things intended, perhaps,
                         but definitely done.


                           by MACK REYNOLDS


                   ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE SCHELLING

       *       *       *       *       *



The knock at the door came in the middle of the night, as Josip Pekic
had always thought it would. He had been but four years of age when
the knock had come that first time and the three large men had given
his father a matter of only minutes to dress and accompany them. He
could barely remember his father.

The days of the police state were over, so they told you. The cult of
the personality was a thing of the past. The long series of five-year
plans and seven-year plans were over and all the goals had been
achieved. The new constitution guaranteed personal liberties. No
longer were you subject to police brutality at the merest whim. So
they told you.

But fears die hard, particularly when they are largely of the
subconscious. And he had always, deep within, expected the knock.

[Illustration]

He was not mistaken. The rap came again, abrupt, impatient. Josip
Pekic allowed himself but one chill of apprehension, then rolled from
his bed, squared slightly stooped shoulders, and made his way to the
door. He flicked on the light and opened up, even as the burly, empty
faced zombi there was preparing to pound still again.

There were two of them, not three as he had always dreamed. As three
had come for his father, more than two decades before.

His father had been a rightist deviationist, so the papers had said, a
follower of one of whom Josip had never heard in any other context
other than his father's trial and later execution. But he had not
cracked under whatever pressures had been exerted upon him, and of
that his son was proud.

He had not cracked, and in later years, when the cult of personality
was a thing of the past, his name had been cleared and returned to the
history books. And now it was an honor, rather than a disgrace, to be
the son of Ljubo Pekic, who had posthumously been awarded the title
Hero of the People's Democratic Dictatorship.

But though his father was now a hero, Josip still expected that knock.
However, he was rather bewildered at the timing, having no idea of why
he was to be under arrest.

The first of the zombi twins said expressionlessly, "Comrade Josip
Pekic?"

If tremor there was in his voice, it was negligible. He was the son of
Ljubo Pekic. He said, "That is correct. Uh ... to what do I owe this
intrusion upon my privacy?" That last in the way of bravado.

The other ignored the question. "Get dressed and come with us,
Comrade," he said flatly.

At least they still called him comrade. That was some indication, he
hoped, that the charges might not be too serious.

He chose his dark suit. Older than the brown one, but in it he felt he
presented a more self-possessed demeanor. He could use the quality.
Five foot seven, slightly underweight and with an air of unhappy
self-deprecation, Josip Pekic's personality didn't exactly dominate in
a group. He chose a conservative tie and a white shirt, although he
knew that currently some frowned upon white shirts as a bourgeois
affectation. It was all the thing, these days, to look proletarian,
whatever that meant.

The zombis stood, watching him emptily as he dressed. He wondered what
they would have said had he asked them to wait in the hallway until he
was finished. Probably nothing. They hadn't bothered to answer when he
asked what the charge against him was.

He put his basic papers, his identity card, his student cards, his
work record and all the rest in an inner pocket, and faced them. "I am
ready," he said as evenly as he could make it come.

They turned and led the way down to the street and to the black
limousine there. And in it was the third one, sitting in the front
seat, as empty of face as the other two. He hadn't bothered to turn
off the vehicle's cushion jets and allow it to settle to the street.
He had known how very quickly his colleagues would reappear with their
prisoner.

Josip Pekic sat in the back between the two, wondering just where he
was being taken, and, above all, why. For the life of him he couldn't
think of what the charge might be. True enough, he read the usual
number of proscribed books, but no more than was common among other
intellectuals, among the students and the country's avant garde, if
such you could call it. He had attended the usual parties and informal
debates in the coffee shops where the more courageous attacked this
facet or that of the People's Dictatorship. But he belonged to no
active organizations which opposed the State, nor did his tendencies
attract him in that direction. Politics were not his interest.

At this time of the night, there was little traffic on the streets of
Zagurest, and few parked vehicles. Most of those which had been rented
for the day had been returned to the car-pool garages. It was the one
advantage Josip could think of that Zagurest had over the cities of
the West which he had seen. The streets were not cluttered with
vehicles. Few people owned a car outright. If you required one, you
had the local car pool deliver it, and you kept it so long as you
needed transportation.

He had expected to head for the Kalemegdan Prison where political
prisoners were traditionally taken, but instead, they slid off to the
right at Partisan Square, and up the Boulevard of the November
Revolution. Josip Pekic, in surprise, opened his mouth to say
something to the security policeman next to him, but then closed it
again and his lips paled. He knew where they were going, now. Whatever
the charge against him, it was not minor.

A short kilometer from the park, the government buildings began. The
Skupstina, the old Parliament left over from the days when
Transbalkania was a backward, feudo-capitalistic power of third class.
The National Bank, the new buildings of the Borba and the Politica.
And finally, set back a hundred feet from the boulevard, the sullen,
squat Ministry of Internal Affairs.

It had been built in the old days, when the Russians had still
dominated the country, and in slavish imitation of the architectural
horror known as Stalin Gothic. Meant to be above all efficient and
imposing and winding up simply--grim.

Yes. Josip Pekic knew where they were going now.

       *       *       *       *       *

The limousine slid smoothly on its cushion of air, up the curved
driveway, past the massive iron statue of the worker struggling
against the forces of reaction, a rifle in one hand, a wrench in the
other and stopped before, at last, the well-guarded doorway.

Without speaking, the two police who had come to his room opened the
car door and climbed out. One made a motion with his head, and Josip
followed. The limousine slid away immediately.

Between them, he mounted the marble stairs. It occurred to him that
this was the route his father must have taken, two decades before.

He had never been in the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs,
before. Few Transbalkanians had, other than those who were employed in
the MVD, or who came under the Ministry's scrutiny.

Doors opened before them, closed behind them. Somewhat to Josip
Pekic's surprise the place was copiously adorned with a surplus of
metal and marble statues, paintings and tapestries. It had
similarities to one of Zagurest's heavy museums.

Through doors and down halls and through larger rooms, finally to a
smaller one in which sat alone at a desk a lean, competent and assured
type who jittered over a heavy sheaf of papers with an electro-marking
computer pen. He was nattily and immaculately dressed and smoked his
cigarette in one of the small pipelike holders once made _de rigueur_
through the Balkans by Marshal Tito.

The three of them came to a halt before his desk and, at long last,
expression came to the faces of the zombis. Respect, with possibly an
edge of perturbation. Here, obviously, was authority.

He at the desk finished a paper, tore it from the sheaf, pushed it
into the maw of the desk chute from whence it would be transported to
the auto-punch for preparation for recording. He looked up in busy
impatience.

Then, to Josip Pekic's astonishment, the other came to his feet
quickly, smoothly and with a grin on his face. Josip hadn't considered
the possibility of being grinned at in the Ministry of Internal
Affairs.

"Aleksander Kardelj," he said in self-introduction, sticking out a
lean hand to be shaken. "You're Pekic, eh? We've been waiting for
you."

Josip shook, bewildered. He looked at the zombi next to him,
uncomprehendingly.

He who had introduced himself, darted a look of comprehension from
Josip to the two. He said disgustedly, but with mild humor oddly
mixed, "What's the matter, did these hoodlums frighten you?"

Josip fingered his chin nervously. "Of course not."

One of the zombis shifted his feet. "We did nothing except obey
orders."

Kardelj grimaced in sour amusement. "I can imagine," he grunted.
"Milka, you see too many of those imported Telly shows from the West.
I suspect you see yourself as a present day Transbalkanian G-Man."

"Yes, Comrade," Milka said, and then shook his head.

"Oh, hush up and get out," Kardelj said. He flicked the cigarette butt
from its holder with a thumb and took up a fresh one from a desk
humidor and wedged it into the small bowl. He looked at Josip and
grinned again, the action giving his face an unsophisticated youthful
expression.

"You can't imagine how pleased I am to meet you, at last," he said.
"I've been looking for you for months."

Josip Pekic ogled him blankly. The name had come through to him at
last. Aleksander Kardelj was seldom in the news, practically never
photographed, and then in the background in a group of Party
functionaries, usually with a wry smile on his face. But he was known
throughout the boundaries of the State, if not internationally.
Aleksander Kardelj was Number Two. Right-hand man of Zoran Jankez
himself, second in command of the Party and rumored to be the brains
behind the throne.

The zombis had gone, hurriedly.

"Looking for me?" Josip said blankly. "I haven't been in hiding.
You've made some mistake. All I am is a student of--"

"Of course, of course," Kardelj said, humorously impatient. He took up
a folder from his desk and shook it absently in Josip's general
direction. "I've studied your dossier thoroughly." He flicked his eyes
up at a wall clock. "Come along. Comrade Jankez is expecting us. We'll
leave explanations until then."

In a daze, Josip Pekic followed him.

Comrade Jankez, Number One. Zoran Jankez, Secretary General of the
Party, President of the U.B.S.R., the United Balkan Soviet Republics.
Number One.

Josip could hardly remember so far back that Zoran Jankez wasn't head
of the Party, when his face, or sculptured bust, wasn't to be seen in
every store, on the walls of banks, railroad stations, barber shops,
or bars. Never a newsreel but that part of it wasn't devoted to
Comrade Jankez, never a Telly newscast but that Number One was brought
to the attention of the viewers. His coming to power had been a quiet,
bloodless affair upon the death of the Number One who had preceded
him, and he had remained in his position for a generation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Josip Pekic followed Aleksander Kardelj in a daze, through a door to
the rear of the desk, and into a somewhat bigger room, largely barren
of furniture save for a massive table with a dozen chairs about it. At
the table, looking some ten years older than in any photo Josip had
ever seen, sat Zoran Jankez.

He looked ten years older, and his face bore a heavy weariness, a
grayness, that never came through in his publicity shots. He looked up
from a report he was perusing and grunted a welcome to them.

Kardelj said in pleasurable enthusiasm, "Here he is, Zoran. Our
Comrade Josip Pekic. The average young citizen of Transbalkania."

Number One grunted again, and took in the less than imposing figure of
Josip Pekic. Josip felt an urge to nibble at his fingernails, and
repressed it. He had recently broken himself of the smoking habit and
was hard put to find occupation for his hands when nervous.

Zoran Jankez growled an invitation for them to be seated and Kardelj
adjusted his trousers to preserve the crease, threw one leg up along
the heavy conference table, and rested on a buttock, looking at ease
but as though ready to take off instantly.

Josip fumbled himself into one of the sturdy oaken chairs, staring
back and forth at the two most powerful men of his native land. Thus
far, no one had said anything that made any sense whatsoever to him
since he had been hauled from his bed half an hour ago.

Zoran Jankez rasped, "I have gone through your dossier, Comrade. I
note that you are the son of Hero of the People's Democratic
Dictatorship, Ljubo Pekic."

"Yes, Comrade Jankez," Josip got out. He fussed with his hands,
decided it would be improper to stick them in his pockets.

Number One grunted. "I knew Ljubo well. You must realize that his
arrest was before my time. I had no power to aid him. It was, of
course, after my being elected to the Secretary Generalship that he
was exonerated and his name restored to the list of those who have
gloriously served the State. But then, of course, you bear no malice
at this late date. Ljubo has been posthumously given the hero's
award."

It wasn't exactly the way Josip knew the story, but there was little
point in his objecting. He simply nodded. He said, unhappily,
"Comrades, I feel some mistake has been made. I ... I have no idea--"

Kardelj was chuckling, as though highly pleased with some development.
He held up a hand to cut Josip short and turned to his superior. "You
see, Zoran. A most average, laudable young man. Born under our regime,
raised under the People's Democratic Dictatorship. Exactly our man."

Zoran Jankez seemed not to hear the other. He was studying Josip
heavily, all but gloomily.

A beefy paw went out and banged a button inset in the table and which
Josip had not noticed before. Almost instantly a door in the rear
opened and a white-jacketed servant entered, pushing a wheeled
combination bar and hors d'oeuvres cart before him. He brought the
lavishly laden wagon to within reach of the heavy-set Party head, his
face in servile expressionlessness.

Jankez grunted something and the waiter, not quite bowing and
scraping, retreated again from the room. Number One's heavy lips moved
in and out as his eyes went over the display.

Kardelj said easily, "Let me, Zoran." He arose and brought a
towel-wrapped bottle from a refrigerated bucket set into the wagon,
and deftly took up a delicate three-ounce glass which he filled and
placed before his superior. He took up another and raised his eyebrows
at Josip Pekic who shook his head--a stomach as queasy as his wasn't
going to be helped by alcohol. Kardelj poured a short one for himself
and resumed his place at the heavy conference table.

Jankez, his eyes small and piggish, took up a heavy slice of dark
bread and ladled a full quarter pound of Danube caviar upon it. He
took up the glass and tossed the chilled spirits back over his palate,
grunted and stuffed the open sandwich into his mouth.

[Illustration]

Josip's eyes went to the hors d'oeuvres wagon. The spread would have
cost him six months' income.

Number One rumbled, his mouth full, "Comrade, I am not surprised at
your confusion. We will get to the point immediately. Actually, you
must consider yourself a very fortunate young man." He belched, took
another huge bite, then went on. "Have you ever heard the term,
expediter?"

"I ... I don't know ... I mean think so, Comrade Jankez."

The party head poured himself some more of the yellow spirits and took
down half of it. "It is not important," he rasped. "Comrade Kardelj
first came upon the germ of this project of ours whilst reading of
American industrial successes during the Second World War. They were
attempting to double, triple, quadruple their production of such war
materiel as ships and aircraft in a matter of mere months. Obviously,
a thousand bottlenecks appeared. All was confusion. So they resorted
to expediters. Extremely competent efficiency engineers whose sole
purpose was to seek out such bottlenecks and eliminate them. A hundred
aircraft might be kept from completion by the lack of a single part.
The expediter found them though they be as far away as England, and
flew them by chartered plane to California. A score of top research
chemists might be needed for a certain project in Tennessee, the
expediter located them, though it meant the stripping of valued men
from jobs of lesser importance. I need give no further examples. Their
powers were sweeping. Their expense accounts unlimited. Their
successes unbelievable." Number One's eyes went back to the piles of
food, as though he'd grown tired of so much talk.

Josip fidgeted, still uncomprehending.

While the Party leader built himself a huge sandwich of Dalmatian ham
and _pohovano pile_ chicken, Aleksander Kardelj put in an enthusiastic
word. "We're adapting the idea to our own needs, Comrade. You have
been selected to be our first expediter."

If anything, Josip Pekic was more confused than ever. "Expediter," he
said blankly. "To ... to expedite what?"

"That is for you to decide," Kardelj said blithely. "You're our
average Transbalkanian. You feel as the average man in the street
feels. You're our what the Yankees call, Common Man."

Josip said plaintively, "You keep saying that, but I don't know what
you mean, Comrade. Please forgive me, perhaps I'm dense, but what is
this about me being uh, the average man? There's nothing special about
me. I...."

"Exactly," Kardelj said triumphantly. "There's nothing special about
you. You're the average man of all Transbalkania. We have gone to a
great deal of difficulty to seek you out."

Number One belched and took over heavily. "Comrade, we have made extensive
tests in this effort to find our average man. You are the result. You are
of average age, of average height, weight, of education, and of
intelligence quotient. You finished secondary school, worked for several
years, and have returned to the university where you are now in your
second year. Which is average for you who have been born in your
generation. Your tastes, your ambitions, your ... dreams, Comrade Pekic,
are either known to be, or assumed to be, those of the average
Transbalkanian." He took up a rich baklava dessert, saturated with honey,
and devoured it.

Josip Pekic and his associates had wondered at some of the
examinations and tests that had been so prevalent of recent date. He
accepted the words of the two Party leaders. Very well, he was the
average of the country's some seventy million population. Well, then?

       *       *       *       *       *

Number One had pushed himself back in his chair, and Josip was only
mildly surprised to note that the man seemed considerably paunchier
than his photos indicated. Perhaps he wore a girdle in public.

Zoran Jankez took up a paper. "I have here a report from a journalist
of the West who but recently returned from a tour of our country. She
reports, with some indignation, that the only available eyebrow
pencils were to be found on the black market, were of French import,
and cost a thousand dinars apiece. She contends that Transbalkanian
women are indignant at paying such prices."

The Party head looked hopelessly at first Josip and then Kardelj.
"What is an eyebrow pencil?"

Kardelj said, a light frown on his usually easygoing face, "I believe
it is a cosmetic."

"You mean like lipstick?"

Josip took courage. He flustered. "They use it to darken their
eyebrows--women, I mean. From what I understand, it comes and goes in
popularity. Right now, it is ultra-popular. A new, uh, fad originating
in Italy, is sweeping the West."

Number One stared at him. "How do you know all that?" he rasped.

Josip fiddled with the knot of his tie, uncomfortably. "It is probably
in my dossier that I have journeyed abroad on four occasions. Twice to
International Youth Peace Conferences, once as a representative to a
Trades Union Convention in Vienna, and once on a tourist vacation
guided tour. On those occasions I ... ah ... met various young women
of the West."

Kardelj said triumphantly, "See what I mean, Zoran? This comrade is
priceless."

Jankez looked at his right-hand man heavily. "Why, if our women desire
this ... this eyebrow pencil nonsense, is it not supplied them? Is
there some ingredient we do not produce? If so, why cannot it be
imported?" He picked at his uneven teeth with a thumbnail.

Kardelj held his lean hands up, as though in humorous supplication.
"Because, Comrade, to this point we have not had expediters to find
out such desires on the part of women comrades."

Number One grunted. He took up another report. "Here we have some
comments upon service in our restaurants, right here in Zagurest, from
an evidently widely published American travel reporter. He contends
that the fact that there is no tipping leads to our waiters being
surly and inefficient."

He glared up at his right-hand man. "I have never noticed when I have
dined at the Sumadija or the Dva Ribara, that the waiters have been
surly. And only last week I enjoyed _cigansko pecenje_, gypsy roast,
followed by a very flaky cherry _strudla_, at the Gradski Podrum. The
service was excellent."

Kardelj cleared his throat. "Perhaps you receive better service than
the average tourist, Zoran."

Jankez growled, "The tourist trade is important. An excellent source
of hard currencies." He glowered across at Josip. "These are typical
of the weaknesses you must ferret out, Comrade."

He put the reports down with a grunt. "But these are comparatively
minor. Last week a truck driver attached to a meat-packing house in
Belbrovnik was instructed to deliver a load of frozen products to a
town in Macenegro. When he arrived there, it was to find they had no
refrigeration facilities. So he unloaded the frozen meat on a
warehouse platform and returned to Belbrovnik. At this time of the
year, obviously in four hours the meat was spoiled." He glowered at
Kardelj and then at Josip Pekic. "Why do things like this continually
happen? How can we overtake the United States of the Americas and
Common Europe, when on all levels our workers are afraid to take
initiative? That truck driver fulfilled his instructions. He delivered
the meat. He washed his hands of what happened to it afterward. Why,
Comrades? Why did he not have the enterprise to preserve his valuable
load, even, if necessary, make the decision to return with it to
Belbrovnik?"

He grunted heavily and settled back into his chair as though through,
finished with the whole question.

Aleksander Kardelj became brisk. He said to Josip Pekic with a smile,
"This is your job. You are to travel about the country, finding
bottlenecks, finding shortages, ferreting out mistakes and bringing
them to the attention of those in position to rectify them."

Josip said glumly, "But suppose ... suppose they ignore my findings?"

Number One snorted, but said nothing.

Kardelj said jovially, "Tomorrow the announcements will go out to
every man, woman and child in the People's Democratic Dictatorship.
Your word is law. You are answerable only to Comrade Jankez and
myself. No restrictions whatsoever apply to you. No laws. No
regulations. We will give you identification which all will recognize,
and the bearer of which can do no wrong."

Josip was flabbergasted. "But ... but suppose I come up against some ...
well, someone high in the Party, or, well ... some general or admiral?
Some--"

Kardelj said jocularly, "You answer only to us, Comrade Pekic. Your
power is limitless. Comrade Jankez did not exaggerate. Frankly, were
cold statistics enough, Transbalkania has already at long last
overtaken the West in per capita production. Steel, agriculture, the
tonnage of coal mined, of petroleum pumped. All these supposed
indications of prosperity." He flung up his hands again in his
semihumorous gesture of despair. "But all these things do not mesh. We
cannot find such a simple matter as ... as eyebrow pencils in our
stores, nor can we be served acceptably in our restaurants and hotels.
Each man passes the buck, as the Yankees say, and no man can care less
whether or not school keeps. No man wants responsibility."

Josip was aghast, all over again. "But ... but me ... only me. What
could you expect a single person to do?"

"Don't misunderstand, Comrade," Kardelj told him with amused
compassion. "You are but an experiment. If it works out, we will seek
others who are also deemed potential expediters to do similar work.
Now, are there any further questions?"

Josip Pekic stared miserably back and forth between the two, wondering
wildly what they would say if he turned the whole thing down. His eyes
lit on the dour, heavy Number One, and inwardly he shook his head. No.
There was no question about that. You didn't turn down Zoran Jankez.
He looked at Aleksander Kardelj, and in spite of the other's smiling
face, he decided you didn't turn down Number Two, either.

Josip said carefully, "From what you say, I ... I can override anyone
in Transbalkania, except yourselves. But ... but what if I antagonize
one of you? You know ... with something I think I find wrong?"

The second in command of the Party chuckled, even as he fitted a fresh
cigarette into his curved holder. "We've provided even for that,
Comrade. Fifty thousand Common Europe francs have been deposited to
your account in Switzerland. At any time you feel your revelations
might endanger yourself, you are free to leave the country and achieve
sanctuary abroad." He chuckled whimsically again. "Given the position
you will occupy, a man above all law, with the whole of the nation's
resources at his disposal, I cannot imagine you wishing to leave. The
Swiss deposit is merely to give you complete confidence, complete
security."

       *       *       *       *       *

Number One was radiating fury as he stalked heavily down the corridors
of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. On the surface, his face
displayed nothing--which meant nothing. There was simply a raging aura
of trouble.

Veljko Gosnjak, posted with one other before the office of Aleksander
Kardelj, winced when he saw the Party head approaching. He muttered
from the side of his mouth, "Watch out. He's on a rampage. In this
mood, he'd as well set you to filling salt shakers in the Nairebis
mines as...."

But Zoran Jankez was now near enough that he might hear, and Veljko
Gosnjak cut himself off abruptly and came to even stiffer attention.

Number One ignored them both and pushed on through the door.

Even as his right-hand man looked up from his work, Jankez was
growling ominously. "Do you know the latest from that brain-wave
experiment?"

Kardelj was close enough to the other personally to at least pretend
lack of awe. He grinned and said, "You mean young Josip? Sit down,
Zoran. A drink?"

The Number Two Party man swiveled slightly and punched out a code on a
series of buttons. Almost immediately, an area of approximately one
square foot sank down from the upper right-hand corner of his desk, to
rise again bearing two chilled glasses.

Jankez snorted his anger but took up one of the glasses. "These
everlasting gadgets from the West," he growled. "One of these days,
this confounded desk of yours will give you an electric shock that
will set me to looking for a new assistant." He threw the contents of
the glass back over his palate. "If I don't start looking before that
time," he added ominously.

However, he savored the drink, then put down the glass, pursed his
lips and rumbled, "Where do you get this excellent slivovka,
Aleksander?"

Kardelj sipped part of his own drink. He said lightly, "That is the
only secret I keep from you, Zoran. However, I will give you this
hint. Its proper name is sljivovica, rather than slivovka. It does
not come from Slovenia. I am afraid, once you know its origin, I will
no longer be of use to you."

He laughed again. "But what is it that young Josip has done?"

His superior's face resumed its dark expression. He growled, "You know
Velimir Crvenkovski, of course."

Kardelj raised scanty eyebrows. "Of course, Vice chairman of the
Secretariat of Agriculture."

Zoran Jankez had lowered his clumsy bulk into a chair. Now he said
heavily, his voice dangerous. "Velimir and I were partisans together.
It was I who converted him to the Party, introduced him to the works
of Lenin while we squatted in foxholes in Macenegro."

"Of course," the other repeated. "I know the story very well. A good
Party man, Comrade Crvenkovski, never failing to vote with you in
meetings of the Executive Committee."

"Yes," Jankez growled ominously. "And your precious Josip Pekic, your
expediter, has removed him from his position as supreme presider of
agriculture in Bosnatia."

Aleksander Kardelj cleared his throat. "I have just been reading the
account. It would seem that production has fallen off considerably in
the past five years in Bosnatia. Ah, Comrade Crvenkovski evidently had
brought to his attention that wild life in the countryside,
particularly birds, accounted for the loss of hundreds of thousands of
tons of cereals and other produce annually."

"A well-known fact," Jankez rasped. He finished what remained of his
drink, and reached forward to punch out the order for a fresh one.
"What has that got to do with this pipsqueak using the confounded
powers you invested him with to dismiss one of the best Party men in
Transbalkania?"

His right-hand man had not failed to note that he was now being given
full credit for the expediter idea. He said, still cheerfully,
however, "It would seem that Comrade Crvenkovski issued top priority
orders to kill off, by whatever means possible, all birds. Shotguns,
poison, nets were issued by the tens of thousands to the peasants."

"_Well?_" his superior said ominously. "Obviously, Velimir was clear
minded enough to see the saving in gross production."

"Um-m-m," Kardelj said placatingly. "However, he failed to respond to
the warnings of our agriculturists who have studied widely in the
West. It seems as though the balance of nature calls for the presence
of wildlife, and particularly birds. The increase in destructive
insects has more than counterbalanced the amount of cereals the birds
once consumed. Ah, Zoran," he said with a wry smile, "I would suggest
we find another position for Comrade Crvenkovski."

       *       *       *       *       *

The secretary-receptionist looked up at long last at the very average
looking young man before him. "Yes," he said impatiently.

The stranger said, "I would like to see Comrade Broz."

"Surely you must realize that the Commissar is one of the busiest men
in Transbalkania, Comrade." There was mocking sneer in the tone. "His
time is not at the disposal of every citizen."

The newcomer looked at the petty authority thoughtfully. "Do you so
address everyone that enters this office?" he asked mildly.

The other stared at him flabbergasted. He suddenly banged upon a
button on the desk.

When the security guard responded to the summons, he gestured curtly
with his head at the newcomer. "Throw this fool out, Petar," he
rapped.

Josip Pekic shook his head, almost sadly. "No," he said. "Throw _this_
man out." He pointed at the secretary-receptionist.

The guard called Petar blinked at each of them in turn.

Josip brought forth his wallet, fidgeted a moment with the contents,
then flashed his credentials. "State expediter," he said nervously.
"Under direct authority of Comrade Zoran Jankez." He looked at the
suddenly terrified receptionist. "I don't know what alternative work
we can find to fit your talents. However, if I ever again hear of you
holding down a position in which you meet the public, I will ... will,
ah, see you imprisoned."

The other scurried from the room before Josip thought of more to say.

Josip Pekic looked at the guard for a long moment. He said finally,
unhappy still, "What are you needed for around here?"

"Why yes, Comrade. I am the security guard."

Petar, obviously no brain at the best, was taken aback.

"You didn't answer my question." Josip's hands were jittering so he
jammed them into his pockets.

Petar had to think back to remember the wording of the question in
question. Finally he came up triumphantly with, "Yes, Comrade. I guard
Comrade Broz and the others from assassins. I am armed." He proudly
displayed the Mikoyan Noiseless which he had holstered under his left
shoulder.

Josip said, "Go back to your superior and inform him that I say you
are superfluous on this assignment. No longer are commissars
automatically to be guarded. Only under special circumstances. If ...
well, if our people dislike individual commissars sufficiently to wish
to assassinate them, maybe they need assassination."

Petar stared at him.

"Oh, get out," Josip said, with attempted sharpness. But then, "What
door leads to Comrade Broz's office?"

Petar pointed, then got out. At least he knew how to obey orders,
Josip decided. What was there about the police mentality? Were they
like that before they became police, and the job sought them out? Or
did the job make them all that way?

He pushed his way through the indicated door. The office beyond held
but one inhabitant who stood, hands clasped behind his back, while he
stared in obvious satisfaction at a wall of charts, maps and graphs.

The average young man looked at some of the lettering on the charts
and shook his head. He said, his voice hesitant, "Commissar Broz?"

The other turned, frowning, not recognizing his caller and surprised
to find him here without announcement. He said, "Yes, young man?"

Josip presented his credentials again.

Broz had heard of him. He hurried forth a chair, became expansive in
manner. A cigar? A drink? A great pleasure to meet the Comrade
Expediter. He had heard a great deal about the new experiment
initiated by Comrade Jankez and ably assisted by Aleksander Kardelj.
Happily, an expediter was not needed in the Transbalkanian Steel
Complex. It was expanding in such wise as to be the astonishment of
the world, both East and West.

"Yes," Josip began glumly, "but--"

Broz was back on his feet and to his wall of charts and graphs. "See
here," he beamed expansively. "This curve is steel production. See how
it zooms? A veritable Sputnik, eh? Our statistics show that we are
rapidly surpassing even the most foremost of the Western powers."

Josip Pekic said, almost apologetically in view of the other's
enthusiasm. "That's what I came to discuss with you, Comrade. You see,
I've been sitting around, ah, in the local wineshops, talking it over
with the younger engineers and the men on the job."

The other frowned at him. "Talking what over?"

"This new policy of yours." Josip's voice was diffident.

"You mean overtaking the steel production of the West, by utilizing
_all_ methods of production?" The commissar's voice dropped. "I warn
you Comrade, the germ of this idea originated with Zoran Jankez
himself. We are old comrades and friends from back before the
revolution."

"I'm sure you are," Josip said pessimistically, and suppressing an
urge to bite at the skin of his thumb. "However ... well, I'm not so
sure Number One will admit your program originated with him. At least,
it hasn't worked out that way in the recent past when something
soured."

The other bug-eyed. He whispered, "That approaches cynical treason,
Comrade."

Josip half nodded, said discouragedly, "You forget. By Comrade
Jankez's own orders I ... I can do no wrong. But so much for that.
Now, well, this steel program. I'm afraid it's going to have to be
scrapped."

"Scrapped!" the Commissar of the Transbalkanian Steel Complex stared
at his visitor as though the other was rabid. "You fool! Our steel
progress is the astonishment of the world! Why, not only are our
ultramodern plants, built largely with foreign assistance, working on
a twenty-four hour a day basis, but thousands of secondary smelters,
some so small as to be operated by a handful of comrade citizens, in
backyard establishments, by schoolchildren, working smelters of but a
few tons monthly capacity in the schoolyard, by--"

       *       *       *       *       *

The newly created State Expediter held up a hand dispiritedly. "I
know. I know. Thousands of these backyard smelters exist ... uh ...
especially in parts of the country where there is neither ore nor fuel
available."

The commissar looked at him.

The younger man said, his voice seemingly deprecating his words, "The
schoolchildren, taking time off from their studies, of course, bring
scrap iron to be smelted. And they bring whatever fuel they can find,
often pilfered from railway yards. And the more scrap and fuel they
bring, the more praise they get. Unfortunately, the so-called scrap
often turns out to be kitchen utensils, farm tools, even, on at least
on occasion, some railroad tracks, from a narrow gauge line running up
to a lumbering project, not in use that time of the year. Sooner or
later, Comrade Broz, the nation is going to have to replace those
kitchen utensils and farm tools and all the rest of the scrap that
isn't really quite scrap."

The commissar began to protest heatedly, but Josip Pekic shook his
head and tried to firm his less than dominating voice. "But even
that's not the worst of it. Taking citizens away from their real
occupations, or studies, and putting them to smelting steel where no
ore exists. The worst of it is, so my young engineer friends tell me,
that while the steel thus produced might have been a marvel back in
the days of the Hittites, it hardly reaches specifications today.
Perhaps it might be used ultimately to make simple farm tools such as
hoes and rakes; if so, it would make quite an endless circle, because
that is largely the source of the so-called steel to begin
with--tools, utensils and such. But it hardly seems usable in modern
industry."

The commissar had gone pale with anger by now. He put his two fists on
his desk and leaned upon them, staring down at his seated visitor.
"Comrade," he bit out, "I warn you. Comrade Jankez is enthusiastic
about my successes. Beyond that, not only is he an old comrade, but my
brother-in-law as well."

Josip Pekic nodded, unenthusiastically, and his voice continued to
quiver. "So the trained engineers under you, have already warned me.
However, Comrade Broz, you are ... well, no longer Commissar of the
Steel Complex. My report has already gone in to Comrades Jankez and
Kardelj."

       *       *       *       *       *

The knock came at the door in the middle of the night as Aleksander
Kardelj had always thought it would.

From those early days of his Party career, when his ambitions had
sent him climbing, pushing, tripping up others, on his way to the top,
he had expected it eventually.

Oh, his had been a different approach, on the surface, an easygoing,
laughing, gentler approach than one usually connected with members of
the Secretariat of the Executive Committee of the Party, but it made
very little difference in the very long view. When one fell from the
heights, he fell just as hard, whether or not he was noted for his
sympathetic easy humor.

The fact was, Aleksander Kardelj was not asleep when the fist pounded
at his door shortly after midnight. He had but recently turned off,
with a shaking hand, the Telly-Phone, after a less than pleasant
conversation with President of the United Balkan Soviet Republics,
Zoran Jankez.

For the past ten years, Kardelj had been able to placate Zoran Jankez,
even though Number One be at the peak of one of his surly rages, rages
which seemed to be coming with increasing frequency of late. As the
socio-economic system of the People's Democratic Dictatorship became
increasingly complicated, as industrialization with its modern
automation mushroomed in a geometric progression, the comparative
simplicity of governing which applied in the past, was strictly of
yesteryear. It had been one thing, rifle and grenades in hand, to
seize the government, after a devastating war in which the nation had
been leveled, and even to maintain it for a time, over illiterate
peasants and unskilled proletarians. But industrialization calls for a
highly educated element of scientists and technicians, nor does it
stop there. One of sub-mentality can operate a shovel in a field, or
even do a simple operation on an endless assembly line in a factory.
But practically all workers must be highly skilled workers in the age
of automation, and there is little room for the illiterate. The
populace of the People's Dictatorship was no longer a dumb, driven
herd, and their problems were no longer simple ones.

Yes, Number One was increasingly subject to his rages these days. It
was Aleksander Kardelj's deepest belief that Jankez was finding
himself out of his depth. He no longer was capable of understanding
the problems which his planning bodies brought to his attention. And
he who is confused, be he ditchdigger or dictator, is a man
emotionally upset.

Zoran Jankez's face had come onto the Telly-Phone screen already
enraged. He had snapped to his right-hand man, "Kardelj! Do you
realize what that ... that idiot of yours has been up to now?"

Inwardly, Kardelj had winced. His superior had been mountingly
difficult of late, and particularly these past few days. He said now,
cajolingly, "Zoran, I--"

"Don't call me Zoran, Kardelj! And please preserve me from your
sickening attempts to fawn, in view of your treacherous
recommendations of recent months." He was so infuriated that his heavy
jowls shook.

Kardelj had never seen him this furious. He said placatingly, "Comrade
Jankez, I had already come to the conclusion that I should consult you
on the desirability of revoking this young troublemaker's credentials
and removing him from the--"

"I am not interested in what you were _going_ to do, Kardelj. I am
already in the process of ending this traitor's activities. I should
have known, when you revealed he was the son of Ljubo Pekic, that he
was an enemy of the State, deep within. I know the Pekic blood. It was
I who put Ljubo to the question. Stubborn, wrong headed, a vicious foe
of the revolution. And his son takes after him."

Kardelj had enough courage left to say, "Comrade, it would seem to me
that young Pekic is a tanglefoot, but not a conscious traitor. I--"

"Don't call me comrade, Kardelj!" Number One roared. "I know your
inner motivation. The reason you brought this agent provocateur, this
Trotskyite wrecker, to this position of ridiculous power. The two of
you are in conspiracy to undermine my authority. This will be brought
before the Secretariat of the Executive Committee, Kardelj. You've
gone too far, this time!"

[Illustration]

Aleksander Kardelj had his shortcomings but he was no coward. He said,
wryly, "Very well, sir. But would you tell me what Josip Pekic has
done now? My office has had no report on him for some time."

"What he has done! You fool, you traitorous fool, have you kept no
record at all? He has been in the Macedonian area where my virgin
lands program has been in full swing."

Kardelj cleared his throat at this point.

Jankez continued roaring. "The past three years, admittedly, the
weather has been such, the confounded rains failing to arrive on
schedule, that we have had our troubles. But this fool! This
blundering traitorous idiot!"

"What has he done?" Kardelj asked, intrigued in spite of his position
of danger.

"For all practical purposes he's ordered the whole program reversed.
Something about a sandbowl developing, whatever that is supposed to
mean. Something about introducing contour plowing, whatever nonsense
that is. And even reforesting some areas. Some nonsense about
watersheds. He evidently has blinded and misled the very men I had in
charge. They are supporting him, openly."

Jankez, Kardelj knew, had been a miner as a youth, with no experience
whatsoever on the soil. However, the virgin lands project had been his
pet. He envisioned hundreds upon thousands of square miles of maize,
corn as the Americans called it. This in turn would feed vast herds of
cattle and swine so that ultimately the United Balkan Soviet Republics
would have the highest meat consumption in the world.

Number One was raging on. Something about a conspiracy on the part of
those who surrounded him. A conspiracy to overthrow him, Zoran Jankez,
and betray the revolution to the Western powers, but he, Zoran Jankez,
had been through this sort of plot before. He, Zoran Jankez, knew the
answers to such situations.

Aleksander Kardelj grinned humorously, wryly, and reached to flick off
the screen. He twisted a cigarette into the small pipelike holder, lit
it and waited for the inevitable.

It was shortly after that the knock came on his door.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zoran Jankez sat at his desk in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a
heavy military revolver close to his right hand, a half empty liter of
sljivovica and a water tumbler, to his left. Red of eye, he pored over
endless reports from his agents, occasionally taking time out to growl
a command into his desk mike. Tired he was, from the long sleepless
hours he was putting in, but Number One was in his element. As he had
told that incompetent, Kardelj, he had been through this thing before.
It was no mistake that he was Number One.

After a time he put a beefy hand down on the reports. He could feel
the rage coming upon him. Of late, he realized, there most certainly
had developed a plot to undermine his health by constant
frustrations. Was there no one, no one at all, to take some of these
trivialities off his shoulders? Must he do everything in the People's
Democratic Dictatorship? Make every decision and see it through?

He snapped into the mike, "Give me Lazar Jovanovic." And then, when
the police head's shaven poll appeared in the screen of the
Telly-Phone, "Comrade, I am giving you one last chance. Produce this
traitor, Josip Pekic, within the next twenty-four hours, or answer to
me." He glared at the other, whose face had tightened in fear. "I
begin to doubt the sincerity of your efforts, in this, Comrade
Jovanovic."

"But ... but, Comrade, I--"

"That's all!" Number One snapped. He flicked off the instrument, then
glowered at it for a full minute. If Jovanovic couldn't locate Pekic,
he'd find someone who could. It was maddening that the pipsqueak had
seemingly disappeared. To this point, seeking him had progressed in
secret. There had been too much favorable publicity churned out in the
early days of the expediter scheme to reverse matters to the point of
having a public hue and cry. It was being done on the q.t.

But! Number One raged inwardly, if his police couldn't find the
criminal soon enough, a full-scale hunt and purge could well enough be
launched. There was more to all this than met the eye. Oh, he, Zoran
Jankez had been through it before, though long years had lapsed since
it had been necessary. The traitors, the secret conspiracies, and then
the required purges to clean the Party ranks still once again.

The gentle summons of his Telly-Phone tinkled, and he flicked it on
with a rough brush of his hand.

And there was the youthful face of Josip Pekic, currently being sought
high and low by the full strength of the Internal Affairs Secretariat.
Youthful, yes, but even as he stared his astonishment, Zoran Jankez
could see that the past months had wrought their changes on the
other's face. It was more mature, bore more of strain and weariness.

Before Jankez found his voice. Josip Pekic said diffidently, "I ... I
understand you've been, well ... looking for me, sir."

"Looking for you!" the Party head bleated, his rage ebbing in all but
uncontrollably. For a moment he couldn't find words.

Pekic said, his voice jittering, "I had some research to do. You see,
sir, this ... this project you and Kardelj started me off on--"

"I had nothing to do with it! It was Kardelj's scheme, confound his
idiocy!" Number One all but screamed.

"Oh? Well ... well, I had gathered the opinion that both of you
concurred. Anyway, like I say, the project from the first didn't come
off quite the way it started. I ... well ... we, were thinking in
terms of finding out why waiters were surly, why workers and
professionals and even officials tried to, uh, beat the rap, pass the
buck, look out for themselves and the devil take the hindmost, and all
those Americanisms that Kardelj is always using."

Jankez simmered, but let the other go on. Undoubtedly, his police
chief, Lazar Jovanovic was even now tracing the call, and this young
traitor would soon be under wraps where he could do no more damage to
the economy of the People's Democratic Dictatorship.

"But, well, I found it wasn't just a matter of waiters, and
truckdrivers and such. It ... well ... ran all the way from top to
bottom. So, I finally felt as though I was sort of butting my head
against the wall. I thought I better start at ... kind of ...
fundamentals, so I began researching the manner in which the
governments of the West handled some of these matters."

"Ah," Jankez said as smoothly as he was able to get out. "Ah. And?"
This fool was hanging himself.

The younger man frowned in unhappy puzzlement. "Frankly, I was
surprised. I have, of course, read Western propaganda to the extent I
could get hold of it in Zagurest, and listened to the Voice of the
West on the wireless. I was also, obviously, familiar with our own
propaganda. Frankly ... well ... I had reserved my opinion in both
cases."

       *       *       *       *       *

This in itself was treason, but Number One managed to get out, almost
encouragingly, "What are you driving at, Josip Pekic?"

"I found in one Western country that the government was actually
paying its peasants, that is, farmers, not to plant crops. The same
government subsidized other crops, keeping the prices up to the point
where they were hard put to compete on the international markets."

Young Pekic made a moue, as though in puzzlement. "In other countries,
in South America for instance, where the standard of living is
possibly the lowest in the West and they need funds desperately to
develop themselves, the governments build up large armies, although
few of them have had any sort of warfare at all for over a century and
have no threat of war."

"What is all this about?" Number One growled. Surely, Lazar Jovanovic
was on the idiot traitor's trail by now.

Josip took a deep breath and hurried on nervously. "They've got other
contradictions that seem unbelievable. For instance, their steel
industry will be running at half capacity, in spite of the fact that
millions of their citizens have unfulfilled needs, involving steel.
Things like cars, refrigerators, stoves. In fact, in their so-called
recessions, they'll actually close down perfectly good, modern
factories, and throw their people out of employment, at the very time
that there are millions of people who need that factory's product."

Josip said reasonably, "Why, sir, I've come to the conclusion that the
West has some of the same problems we have. And the main one is
politicians."

"What? What do you mean?"

"Just that," Josip said with dogged glumness. "I ... well, I don't
know about the old days. A hundred, even fifty years ago, but as
society becomes more complicated, more intricate, I simply don't think
politicians are capable of directing it. The main problems are those
of production and distribution of all the things our science and
industry have learned to turn out. And politicians, all over the
world, seem to foul it up."

Zoran Jankez growled ominously, "Are you suggesting that I am
incompetent to direct the United Balkan Soviet Republics?"

"Yes, sir," Josip said brightly, as though the other had encouraged him.
"That's what I mean. You or any other politician. Industry should be run
by trained, competent technicians, scientists, industrialists--and to some
extent, maybe, by the consumers, but not by politicians. By definition,
politicians know about politics, not industry. But somehow, in the modern
world, governments seem to be taking over the running of industry and even
agriculture. They aren't doing such a good job, sir."

Jankez finally exploded. "Where are you calling from, Pekic?" he
demanded. "You're under arrest!"

Josip Pekic cleared his throat, apologetically. "No, sir," he said.
"Remember? I'm the average Transbalkanian citizen. And it is to be
assumed I'd, well ... react the way any other would. The difference
is, I had the opportunity. I'm in Switzerland."

"Switzerland!" Number One roared. "You've defected. I knew you were a
traitor, Pekic. Like father, like son! A true Transbalkanian would
remain in his country and help it along the road to the future."

The younger man looked worried. "Well, yes, sir," he said. "I thought
about that. But I think I've done about as much as I could accomplish.
You see, these last few months, protected by those 'can do no wrong'
credentials, I've been spreading this message around among all the
engineers, technicians, professionals, all the more trained, competent
people in Transbalkania. You'd be surprised how they took to it. I
think it's kind of ... well, snowballing. I mean the idea that
politicians aren't capable of running industry. That if the United
Balkan Soviet Republics are to ever get anywhere, some changes are
going to have to be made."

Number One could no more than glare.

Josip Pekic, rubbed his nose nervously, and said, in the way of
uneasy farewell, "I just thought it was only fair for me to call you
and give a final report. After all, I didn't start all this. Didn't
originate the situation. It was you and Kardelj who gave me my
chance. I just ... well ... expedited things." His face faded from
the screen, still apologetic of expression.

Zoran Jankez sat there for a long time, staring at the now dark
instrument.

It was the middle of the night when the knock came at the door. But
then, Zoran Jankez had always thought it would ... finally.

       *       *       *       *       *





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