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Frederik Pohl - We Never Mention Aunt Nora

By Julie Adams,2014-11-24 14:42
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Frederik Pohl - We Never Mention Aunt Nora

We Never Mention Aunt Nora

    MARY LYNNE EDKIN brought the man home to meet her brother.

    It was uncomfortable for everyone. Mary Lynne‟s brother Alden looked up from his chair. He snapped his fingers and the sound on the trivision obediently diminished to a merely obtrusive level.

    He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, but it was obviously a lie.

Mary Lynne got that expression on her face.

“Al,” she said dangerously.

    Her brother shrugged and snapped his fingers twice more. The set shut itself off.

    Mary Lynne‟s expression cleared. She was not a pretty girl, but she was a pleasant-looking one. The no-midriff fashion was kind to her; she still had a nice figure.

“Al,” she said, but smiling now, “Al, guess what! Jimmy and I want to

    get married!”

    “Oh-ho,” said her brother, and he stood up in order to take a better look.

    Even standing, he had to look up at this man James Croy. Croy was big. Six feet ten or eleven at the least, and his hair was snow white. Still, thought Alden Edkin, the man‟s face didn‟t look old. Maybe he was platinum blond. Al snorted, for he didn‟t hold with men dyeing their hair, common though the practice was.

He asked accusingly, “How come 1 never met him before?”

“Now, Al—”

~„How come?”

    Mary Lynne blushed. “Well, Al, there hasn‟t been much chance for you to meet.”

“Oh-ho,” said her brother again. “You just met him yourself.”

    “But I love him, Al!” cried Mary Lynne, clutching at the tall man‟s ann. „He‟s—he—oh, I can‟t explain it. But I love him!”

    “Sure you do,” said her brother. “You love him. But what do you know about him?”

“I know enough!” -

    Alden said sternly, “Family, Mary Lynne! Marriage isn‟t just between two people. We come of good stock and we can‟t marry just anybody. Think

    of the children you may have! Our family—”

    “Our family!” echoed his sister. “What‟s so special about our family? How many times have you said that Aunt Nora—”

    “Mary Lynne!” Alden warned. She paused. He said, “No offense, Mr. Croy. But what do we know? You may be after her money, for all we can tell.”

    The large man cleared his throat and straightened the crease in his Bermudas. He said modestly, “I assure you, Mr. Edkin, I am not interested in money.”

    “But you‟d say that anyhow. Wouldn‟t you? Not that there‟s much cash. But there‟s this big house—Mary Lynne‟s and mine. And, Mary, you have to think of what Mother and Dad would want. They didn‟t leave you this big house—it will be yours when I‟m gone—so that some adventurer could

    come along and—”

    “Alden!” Mary Lynne was furious. She turned to the man she loved apologetically, but he was merely looking politely concerned. She whirled on her brother. “Apologize to Jimmy!”

There was a marked silence.

“Well,” said her brother at last, talking to the wall, “there‟s one

    good thing. Being that she‟s under age, she can‟t—”

He stopped and waited.

    They all waited. The big house that Mother and Dad had left them happened to be on the lip of the takeoff pits for the Moon rocket. The screeching

    howl of the night rocket‟s takeoff rattled the windows and made the trivision set moan shrilly in resonance.

    But it only lasted for a few seconds. “—can‟t get married without my consent,” Alden Edkin finished. “Alden!” cried his sister again, but

    it was more a sob than a protest. Alden Edkin merely looked obstinate. He was good at it.

    James Croy cleared his throat. “Sir,” he said, “I know that what you say is true. We cannot marry without your consent. I hope that you‟ll give it.”

    “Don‟t hold your breath.” Edkin sat down and glanced longingly at the trivision set. “As I say, we don‟t know anything about you.”

    “That‟s easily taken care of, Mr. Edkin,” said Croy, smiling. “I‟m an orphan. No ties, no family. Until recently, I was a draftsman for Amalgamated Luna, in the rocket engine department.”

“Until recently? You don‟t even have a job?”

    “Not exactly, sir. But I was fortunate enough to design a rather good firing chamber. They‟ve adopted it for the Mars rocket.”

Edkin nodded thoughtfully. “You sold them the design?”

Croy shook his head. “Not outright. But the royalties are—well, ample.

    I assure you that I can support Mary Lynne in adequate style. And I should mention that the royalty contract runs for thirty years, with cost-of-living increases.”

    “Urn.” Alden Edkin found that he was beginning to relax slightly. This Croy was, in his way, not without a certain charm.

    Edkin said in a warmer tone, “Well, money isn‟t the only consideration. Still . . . Say, what about making some coffee, Mary Lynne? I‟m sure

    our guest would enjoy it.”

    She looked at him in some surprise, shrugged, patted her proposed fiancé‟s arm and left the room.

    Edkin said, “I hope you won‟t pay any attention to what Mary Lynne said about Aunt Nora.”

    “Of course not,” said Croy and smiled. He had a very nice smile. His eyes were deep-set, somber and serious, and the smile beneath them was like sunlight bursting out from under a cloud.

    Edkin was momentarily dazzled. He shook his head to clear it; for a second, he had almost thought he could see through the man. But that was nonsense.

    Croy was saying, “I don‟t drink coffee, Mr. Edkin, but I‟m glad Mary Lynne‟s out of the room. I hope we can get better acquainted.”

    “Sure,” said Edkin testily. “Well, sit down and tell me something about yourself. Where was your family when you had one?”

“We‟re originally from Portland, Mr. Edkin.”

    “Portland, Maine? Say, I was stationed near Presq‟Isle when I was in the Army.”

    “No,” said Croy regretfully, “Portland, Oregon. After my parents passed away, I attended several schools, graduating from the University of California.”

    “Oh, we know lots of people there!” exclaimed Edkin. “Our cousins on my mother‟s side have some friends who teach at Berkeley. Perhaps you

    know themHarold Sizeland and—”

    “Sorry,” Croy apologized. “I was at the Los Angeles campus. But let‟s not talk about me, Mr. Edkin. Mary Lynne tells me you‟re in credit maintenance.”

“That‟s right.” Actually he was a loan collector; it was close enough.

    Croy leaned confidentially closer. “You can help me, Mr. Edkin. I‟m planning a sort of surprise for Mary Lynne.”

“Surprise?”

    “Here,” said Croy, reaching into his pocket. Hs pulled out several sheets of legal cap, stapled into a blue folder. “Since you‟re in the financial line,” he said, “you‟ll know if this is all right. What it is, it‟s a kind of trust agreement for Mary Lynne.”

    Edkin scowled. “You‟re taking a lot for granted, Croy. I haven‟t agreed to anything.”

    “Of course not. But won‟t you look this over for me? You see, it puts all the royalties from my firing chamber in her name. Irrevocably. So that if anything happened to me, or there was, well, anything serious—”

    he didn‟t say the word “divorce,” but he shrugged it—”she‟Il be well

    provided for. I‟d appreciate your opinion of the contract.”

Edkin glanced at the papers suspiciously.

    He was ready to stand up and order from the house this brash young giant who interrupted his trivision programs and proposed to carry off his sister. But something hit him in the eye. And what that something happened to be was a neatly typed line specifying Mary Lynne‟s guaranteed minimum annual income from the trust agreement.

Thirty-five thousand dollars a year.

Edkin swallowed.

    Attached to the certificate of agreement was a notarized copy of the Amalgamated Luna royalty contract. Unless it was a fake, the thirty-five-thousand-dollar figure was exactly right.

    Mary Lynne came back into the room, and nearly dropped the coffee tray.

    “Hi there, Mary Lynne!” greeted her brother, looking up from where he was patting Croy on the shoulder. “Coffee, eh? Good!”

    She stared at him unbelievingly. He bobbed his head, winked conspiratorially at Croy, jammed the papers in his pocket and stood up.

    “Coffee, eh?” he repeated, carrying chairs toward the table. “Your young man won‟t drink it, Mary Lynne. But surely he‟ll have some cake, eh? Or a drink? Some tea? Perhaps a glass of chocolate milk Mary Lynne

    will be glad to warm it. No?”

    He shrugged and sat down, smiling. “No matter,” he observed. “Now tell me. When would you two lovebirds like the happy event to take place?”

    Three days later, the marriage was performed. It was the minimum legal

waiting period.

    Alden Edkin, as it happened, was a bachelor who believed that every man who glanced at his sister was a prospective rapistand that those

    who proposed marriage were after her money besides. Still, he was not an idiot.

He had taken certain precautions.

    First, he took a copy of the trust agreement to Mr. Senutovitch in his company‟s legal department. Mr. Senutovitch read the papers over with real enjoyment.

    “Ah, bully stuff, Edkin,” he said sentimentally. He leaned back and gazed at the ceiling while the arms of his reclining chair sighed faintly and adjusted to his position. “It‟s a pleasure to read the work of a master.”

“You think it‟s all legal, Mr. Senutovitch?”

    “Legal?” Mr. Senutovitch coughed gently. “Did you notice the classic language of the operative clause? That‟s Paragraph Three: „Does hereby devise, grant, give, bestow and convey, without let or distraint, absolutely.‟ Oh, it‟s a grand piece of work.”

“And irrevocable?”

Mr. Senutovitch smiled. “Quite irrevocable.”

“You‟re sure, Mr. Senutovitch?”

    The lawyer said mildly, “Edkin, I wrote this company‟s Chattel Lien Form. I‟m sure.”

    The other precaution Edkin took was to drop into his company‟s Credit Reference Library and put through the name of Croy, James T., for a report.

    It would take a few days for the credit report to come through, and meanwhile the ceremony would be performed and the couple off on their honeymoon. But at least, Edkin consoled himself, when it did come through, it would be a comprehensive document. The company took an expansive view of what a credit report should cover.

    The company, moreover, was not to be deceived by any such paltry devices as a change of nameor, for that matter, of fingerprints, retinal patterns or blood type. If a man could change his basic genetic construction, he might fool the company, but not with anything less; the Credit Reference Library was hooked in by direct wire with the F.B.I. office in Washingtonfor the convenience of the F.B.I., not of the company. There would be no secrets left to Mr. Croy. And therefore no secret worries for Alden Edkin.

    And then Edkin stood by, fighting a manly urge to weep, as his sweet young sister gave herself in wedlock to this ~white-haired giant with the deep, penetrating eyes. The ceremony was performed before Father Hanover at Trinity Episcopal Church. There were few witnesses, though Mr. Senutovitch showed up, wrung the bridegroom‟s hand warmly and left without a word.

    In the empty house, Alden Edkin took a deep breath, let it out, and put through a phone call to their only surviving relative. It was the least he could do.

    A plump face over the fur collar of a lounging robe peered out of the phone‟s screen at him.

“Aunt Nora?” said Edkin tentatively. “My, you‟re looking well.”

    “You lie,” she said shrilly. “I look old. What do you want? If it‟s money, I won‟t give you a—”

“No, nothing like that, Aunt Nora.”

    “Then what? You sorry you threw me out of the house twenty years ago? Is that what you called up to say?”

    “Aunt Nora,” said Edkin boldly, “I say let bygones be bygones. I called you up to tell you the news about Mary Lynnemy sister your niece.”

“Well? Well? What about her?”

“She just got married, Aunt Nora,” said Edkin, beaming.

“What about it? People do, you know. There‟s nothing strange.”

    Edkin was shocked. Such a lack of family feeling! And from her who should

    feel herself lucky beyond imagining that anyone in the family called her up at all. He was angry enough to say what he had vowed he would never refer to.

“At least,” he said icily, “she got married.”

Pause. Thinly: “What do you mean by that?”

“You know perfectly well, Aunt Nora.”

    In the tiny screen, her face was a doll‟s face, an angry doll; it flushed red. She must have been shaking the phone, Edkin thought distractedly; rings of color haloed the edge of the screen.

    She cried, “You‟re a sanctimonious jerk, Alden Edkin! You forbade me to associate with your sistermy own niece!—so I wouldn‟t corrupt her . . . when she was three months old and the good Lord Himself couldn‟t corrupt

    her, because she didn‟t so much as know which end was up! And now, just because she‟s getting married, you call me up. Hoping, no doubt, that because I‟m getting old and absent-minded, I‟ll send along a little

    check for ten thousand dollars or so as a wedding present. Well, you‟re wrong! If Mary Lynne wants to call me up, I‟ll talk to her—but not to

    you! Understand?”

    And the little screen flashed red and orange as she hung up.

    Edkin pushed down the off button and shrugged. Aunt Nora! Who could account for her moods? A product of her sordid past, of course, but

    It had been a mistake to call her up. Definitely.

Virtuously, Alden Edkin went to bed.

    The following morning, he got the report from the Credit Reference Library. It had received special priority. The paper it was typed on flamed with warning red.

    Alden Edkin was waiting at the airfield when the honeymooners returned from their Grand Tour.

He had been champing at the bit for six weekssix long weeks and not

    a word from them, six weeks when they were out of touch with the world. Because they wanted it that way!

    It was Alden Edkin‟s conviction that he knew why James Croy wanted it that way. He stood there by the customs gate, grinding his teeth, a plump angry man with a face that was rapidly turning purple.

    He saw them coming down the wheeled steps from the plane and he bawled, “Mary Lynne! Mary Lynne, come down here this minute! Get away from that monster Croy!”

    Mary Lynne, her arm adoringly on the arm of her husband, shuddered. “Oh-oh,” she muttered. “Storm clouds rising. Batten down all hatches.”

    Croy tsked solicitously. “Poor man, he‟s upset, isn‟t he? But you mustn‟t worry.”

“I‟m not worried, darling.”

    “Of course not, of course not. Trust me.” Croy nodded approvingly. “I‟ve got to stop off for a second. A little errand But I‟ll be right back

    and then I‟m sure we can straighten out whatever‟s troubling your brother.” Gently he kissed her ear. “My darling,” he whispered, soft as a moth‟s wing.

    And then that perfect gentleman, James Croy, bowed to the brother-in-law who was raging impotently across the customs gate, turned on his heel and disappeared into the men‟s room.

The men‟s room had a North Entrance, a South Entrance, a Mezzanine

    Entrance and a Service Entrance to the floor below. It is not a matter of record which door Croy used to come out, but it was not the one by which he had gone in.

    The policemen finally went away. “Sorry,” said the sergeant, curt and somewhat boredhe had been with Missing Persons for a good long time. “Probably he‟ll turn up.”

    But it wasn‟t true, and both he and Alden Edkin k~new it. And when he had left, Edkin told his sister what the red-bordered credit report had shown.

    Across the top was printed in bold letters Zero Credit Rating Zero.

    “You can‟t fool Consolidated Credit,” snapped Edkin. “They know. And this man Croy—why, he‟s a monster, Mary Lynne! He preys on women.”

“Oh, no,” wept his sister. But she was already in her heart convinced.

    “Oh, yes! He is! Listen to this! Four years ago, in Miami, he married a girl named Doris L. Cockingham. There‟s no record of a divorce! He just married herset up a trust for her with the royalties from an electric underwater lung, left her pregnant and disappeared. Eh?”

“I don‟t believe you,” sobbed his sister.

    “Then listen to this! Eleven months later, in Troy, New York, he married Marsha Gutknecht. Revolting! Can you understand a man like that? Loose morals, bigamy—why, he‟d never get credit with a record like that.”

    “There must be some perfectly simple explanation,” whimpered Mary Lynne. “When Jim comes back—”

    “He won‟t be back!” said her brother brutally. “Get used to that idea, Mary Lynne! The Gutknecht woman never saw him again, and~ she was pregnant, too. He meant to run away! He used false names. Told different stories to each of them. But he couldn‟t fool Consolidated Credit. He put four hundred thousand dollars in trust for this woman and took off and never gave her another thought. How do you like that, Mary Lynne?”

“Jim wouldn‟t—”

“Jim did! And again the following year. Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin —a

    girl named Debris Bennyhoff. Then in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania—” He

    crumpled the paper in rage. “Ah, what‟s the use? Five women! He married

    them, runs off, leaves them pregnant. And what do you have to say to that, Mary Lynne?”

Mary Lynne looked at her brother through blurred eyes.

    In a faint, faint voice, she said, “Well, at least he runs true to form, Alden.”

    Oh, they looked for him. But they couldn‟t find him. The police couldn‟t find him, private detectives couldn‟t find him, even Consolidated Credit couldn‟t find him. Jim Croy was gone—probably forever, at least

    under that name. And while they were booking, events took their natural course, and Mary Lynne made reservations at the hospital and began to pack a little bag. And Aunt Nora phoned.

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