He was not a small man, though he looked slight and shambling as he hunched in his seat on the bus. But now he was standing, a little stooped, next to the driver with one hand grasping an airline bag and the pole to keep steady as the other hand groped through the pockets of his baggy pants for change.
"Thirty cents," the driver said.
"Just a moment. Right here."
The old man's German accent touched off the driver's memory of the loss of a brother in the Second World War not long ago, but the wrinkled man smiled through his mustache as he maneuvered a handful of coins toward the tips of his fingers. There was something familiar about that smile.
"Here we are," and the old man dropped a quarter and a dime into the driver's palm, "thirty cents."
The driver didn't move to make change, since the old man seemed not to notice it was due him. The guy might have a nice smile, but a nickel was a nickel, after all. The driver might have wondered why he tugged his woollen cap down over his ears on a day as warm as this, but he wasn't that observant.
"Excuse me, officer." The old man stopped a policeman in the charming rural village. "Do you know of a nice hotel maybe?"
"Yes, sir, at that corner you make a right for a block and you'll see the Smallville Hotel sitting there big as life. Staying in town long?"
"No, just a day or so. Thank you, officer."
"Visiting friends? Relatives?"
"Yes. Friends. Thank you very much."
"I'll walk you there, it's just down the block. I'm Captain Parker. George Parker, Mr.—"
"Eisner. Umm, Calvin Eisner. Lovely day, no?"
"Certainly is. Rained yesterday, though. Where are you from, Mr. Eisner?"
"The east. New Jersey. Tell me, is there a taxi company in Smallville?"
"Sure is. You can call them from the hotel. Free direct line. What do you do in Jersey?"
"I teach. I am a teacher."
"A teacher. I love kids. I thought of being a teacher. Couldn't afford college, though. Who you visiting in town, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Who? Umm, whoever it is that owns that ice cream parlor over there. I haven't had a good ice cream cone in weeks. Would you join me in an ice cream cone, Captain Parker?"
"Seems like a long time to go without ice cream. You been out of the country?"
The old man wondered whether the policeman was simply being friendly or whether he recognized him. The tight woollen cap hid the distinctive flurry of white hair, and the fact of being in a totally unlikely place, he thought, served to complete the disguise. It did not occur to him that with four years of the kind of paranoia that war brings about, it might be hard for the officer not to be suspicious of someone with a thick German accent. It was necessary, though, to meet as many people as he could in the next several hours, so he treated Captain George Parker to an ice cream sundae and checked into the hotel as Calvin Eisner.
In the hotel room he pulled the cap off and jiggled his head until his scalp could breathe. He sat on the bed, cupped his hands under his chin, stared out the window, and thought of Krypton. There were images, not only words, in the message from Jor-El. Images of a giant world circling a great red star. This world was huge, and not a gaseous, amorphous mass like Jupiter, but heavy with rocks and minerals and incredible gravity. Yet there were people there, walking and talking a completely foreign language, and living day to day in much the same way as those on Earth lived. This child on the way from that world would be quite an individual, born on Krypton and raised on Earth. The mere physical effects the change in environment would have on him would certainly be considerable.
The youngster would be human, the old man decided, that was for sure. But he would be a tuned-up human, a Kryptonian.
The old man imagined what it would be like to have muscle tissues heaped one on top of the other and ground together as hard as the composition of matter whose sub-atomic particles had fallen in on each other—to have a sun that makes normal skin tan make your supersensitive skin indestructible—to have every sensory nerve ending stimulated all the time—to be constantly aware of your environment's every aspect, every quirk—to be able to hear for perhaps as great a distance as there was a sound-conducting atmosphere—to see for incalculable reaches of space—to be able to negate even the tug of gravity with your own finely tempered mass.
He imagined this, and then imagined growing from infancy in that state. Being able to develop your motor reflexes through a body designed to weather terrible wear before it reaches maturity. Growing inside that body in surroundings that nurture rather than hinder. He imagined to what ends such massive excesses in physical and freed-up mental capacity could be turned with the proper guidance. Imagined approaching the upper limit of human potential.
The old man was never one to shrink from the wondrous and terrible places his analytical mind could take him; that was the source of his greatness. These thoughts, though, gave even him pause. There was the possibility that today the Earth would become home to a superman.
The old man considered the immense possibilities for disaster that might accompany such an event. There were, of course, even greater possibilities for disaster that might accompany such an event. There were, of course, even greater possibilities for benefit, and it was only now beginning to dawn on him how squarely the responsibility for providing conditions favorable to those benefits fell upon his shoulders. There was work to be done.
It seemed amazing, as he walked down the street with dusk beginning to fall, that he had received his mechanical visitor only about nine or ten hours earlier. Now, how did one meet people in Smallville?
Unfortunately, Smallville was apparently closed. It was a dry town; that was a good sign. The only place of business he found open was a small general store on Main Street where he bought a local newspaper, a corncob pipe, and some tobacco, all of which he enjoyed immensely until he fell asleep in his hotel room.
Morning was brisk, and the heavy woollen cap that hid his thick hair was almost comfortable. The old man was beginning to wonder whether the inquisitive police captain, George Parker, was his man. He was friendly, probably honest, had a secure job and was waiting outside for the old man as he shambled out of the hotel.
"Top of the morning, Mr. Eisner."
"Captain. What a pleasant surprise."
"You mentioned you needed a taxi, and I thought since I was in the neighborhood I'd offer to take you where you're going."
"Well, how considerate."
"Where was it you were going, now?"
The man huddled under his heavy sweater and drew on his corncob pipe. He was starting to notice a hint of suspicion in the policeman's disarming manner. "Actually, I was planning on taking a walk this morning. I would like to see what your lovely town looks like. Can you join me?"
"Walking around Smallville is what I do for a living."
"You keep long hours, Captain Parker. How does your wife feel about that?"
"I'm a widower. The force is about all I've got right now. Hope to be police chief someday."
"Oh, I am sorry. I lost my wife, too, some years ago. A man should have someone who can take care of him."
"Suppose he should. But I do all right."
The child should have a mother. Parker would not do.
"Surely you have other interests, Captain. Hobbies?"
"Oh, not really. Used to go sailing a lot, though. Tell me, Mr. Eisner, just who was it you wanted to—"
"Sailing? I love sailing. You know, I have my own sailboat. I go out every week on a lake where I live. Did you know that at the time of Columbus people did not even know how to sail into the wind?"
"No one had ever thought of something as simple as tacking with a rudder. Can you imagine that? One would think perhaps da Vinci or Archimedes or someone could have come up with the idea with not much effort, but no."
"Maybe we should go sailing, then, before you leave Smallville. How long did you say you would be staying?"
"Perhaps we could, Captain, that would be nice. Do you have a boat?"
"Not one of my own, but Sam Cutler here rents them by the day. The fella that owns the hardware store over there."
It was not simply a hardware store. There was hardware sold there, but also used heavy farm equipment, lumber, building supplies, and the finest collection of small sailboats the old man had seen in a long time. One in particular, a nine-foot Ketcham-Craft, drew his attention, and Parker wandered into the store after him when he insisted on measuring its dimensions.
The old man interrupted a conversation the proprietor was having with a handsome middle-aged couple to ask for a tape measure. "I know Franklin Ketcham, the sailboat racer," the old man whispered to Parker. "I had no idea he had gone into manufacturing."
"Sure is a fine-looking piece of machinery, Sam," the middle-aged man was saying to the shopkeeper, "but eight hundred for a used tractor is a little out of my range just now."
"For you, Jonathan, seven seventy-five."
"You make it look awfully good."
"Jonathan," the woman piped up, "if we can't afford eight hundred dollars, how can we afford twenty-five dollars less?"
"I don't know, Martha. Twenty-five dollars is twenty-five dollars, like the man says."
"Sure it is, Martha," the salesman insisted, "and look at that trailer attachment back there. See how solid it is?"
"Little rust underneath, ain't there?"
"That's not rust, Jonathan. That's weathering. Gotta expect a little weathering, don't you know? That'll haul twice as much as any horse you ever heard tell of."
"We sure need a tractor, Sam, we sure do, but I don't want to go into debt for more than another five hundred if I can help it."
"What's your worry, Jonathan? The war's over. We won. The country's depending on the farmers like you. Come here and look at this transmission."
The old man was chuckling with glee as he wrapped the tape measure over the hull of the sailboat. "That old goniff!" he mumbled at the policeman.
"Crook. That old crook."
"Sam? Can't blame Sam, he's honest as the next guy," the Captain snorted. "Just that Jonathan and Martha aren't to be believed."
"He used my design. Every inch of it."
"Every panhandler in town knows Jonathan Kent's a soft touch. You just can't help taking advantage of his good nature, but I'm not one to talk."
"He told me he was trying to design the perfect recreational sailboat, and he showed me all his figures, and I did a little sketch on a napkin and here it is."
"A shame they never had any children. Maybe it's just as well, he never made any money with that farm of his."
The old man looked up. "What did you say, Captain?"
Captain Parker wondered if it was time he started being overtly suspicious of the eccentric man with the German accent. Parker thought better of it when Eisner unceremoniously injected himself into Sam Cutler's sales pitch.
"I could not help noticing that you were looking for a tractor, Mr . . . Kent?"
"That's what I'm here for."
Blasted jerry, the shopkeeper sneered to himself.
In the next five minutes the old man convinced Jonathan and Martha Kent that he had a tractor deal for them that could only come once in a lifetime. You see, he explained, family responsibilities had forced the old man to sell his farm and go east rather suddenly, and he had a brand new tractor, next highest model after the one the Kents were looking over, for just five hundred dollars.
"Well, I'd sure like to look at it, Mr. Eisner," Jonathan Kent threw the bemused Parker a wide grin, "but Sam here's nearly got me convinced on this one."
"If it's everything Mr. Eisner says it is, we should surely look at it," Martha Kent insisted. "I'm sure Sam would understand, and we don't have to take Mr. Eisner's if we don't want it."
The old man directed the Kents to meet him and the tractor at a certain place outside Smallville at precisely six-fifteen that evening. Not a minute sooner or later.
Outside the hardware store, Parker cornered the old man. "Listen, pal, anyone who goes out on a limb like that for a perfect stranger is all right in my book, but who are you, really?"
"I believe I will have to trust you to keep a secret, Captain Parker, though I must caution you never to reveal I was here. I cannot tell you why."
"Let's hear what the secret is before I agree to keep it."
"That is not the best of conditions, but I will need your help."
The old man pulled off the woollen cap and shook free his shiny white hair.
Parker's face registered his stunned recognition. After a speechless moment he said simply, "Welcome to Smallville, sir."
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