Chapter V.

26 Jan

Tado Foleg was a freelance psychographer with his bluish gray eyes perpetually on the lookout for the main chance, the hidden opportunity. His ambitions had no limits to them.

He lived in rented quarters in the Rookeries, the warrens of poverty at the eastern end of the metropolis of Gath. Old, dilapidated tenements of a past century stretched skyward, darkening the narrow streets and alleys below. Though picturesque for some, the Rockeries were a dusty, grimy sector where most of the inhabitants were eager to make a rapid escape elsewhere.

Tado Foleg, short and light, did not necessarily share the widespread dream of fleeing the sector. He could see himself as succeeding and making a good life for himself as a leading member of the local elite. He could end up a rich frog in a pool of poverty, that seemed to him worthwhile to aspire towards, at least for the present time. But he realized that to acquire a large fortune he would have to reach far beyond the boundaries of his familiar Rockeries.

Occasional psychic work came to him from government bureaus and private investigators seeking documents that no one could locate. But there were too many talented psychics without steady, dependable employment. Several hundred skilled psychographers competed for temporary jobs within Gath. Tado, so far, was only one more desperate contender in a sea of competition. If only it were possible for him to gain some superior advantage!

One day, reading a daily ephemeris sheet, he came upon something that lit a bright spark in his mind. A company named Printing Mechanistics, after years of trial and experiment, claimed to have developed a manual printing apparatus called a dactylograph. A simple keyboard with individual letter keys controlled the placing of separate letters onto a blank sheet of flimsy. The page moved along after a key was struck and a mark printed. Another printed symbol, then another, in a continuous written stream of prints. The invention allowed a writer to compose a series of letters and blank spaces, with facings that followed each other rightward and finally downward on an empty page.

Tado found himself emotionally excited. He imagined what he could do with such a keyboard instrument. It was a writing machine that could operate with the speed of his fingers and his agile, nimble mind.

How was he to get hold of this innovation that possessed such promise? He thought all that day and into the night that followed. By morning, a clear plan of action had jelled for him. He would be compelled to take some risky steps to achieve his selfish goal, that was certain.

But first, he had to see how the device worked and find out where it was kept.

Printing Mechanistics owned a small red brick building in the area called the Steameries. This was an industrial sector of Gath where vapor engines had first been constructed and where their manufacture continued to be centered. The streets and structures here suffered continual attacks of factory smoke and gaseous effluvia. Those without work or business closely tied to the area rarely entered the repellant Steameries. It seemed a world all to itself, which no one ever visited.

Tado found the company he was after on a dusty, dirty dead-end lane. The street door was unlocked, so that he made his way right in. His sharp eyes scanned a large workshop where men in blackened smocks labored at big tables covered with rods, gears, and wheels of varied sizes. The place was noisy and unclean, not at all a pleasant atmosphere for creative artistry.

All of a sudden, a voice sounded from behind the intruder.

“Are you looking for someone, sir.”

Tado spun around swiftly and found a tall mountain of a man in a black frock coat staring at him with authoritative jet black eyes. The tough boss of the establishment, the psychic realized at once. He replied in a respectful, quiet tone to this individual of importance.

“Excuse me for barging in so unexpectedly, sir, but I recently read a report in the press about your new astounding mechanism, built here in this plant, the one called a dactylograph. The description of what you are creating excited and intrigued me. You see, I am a part of the book publishing industry. All the work in my office continues to be done by stylus and stylograph. That is slow and laborious. Writing cramps bedevil the secretarial staff of all our concerns. Editing takes forever, because it proceeds at a slow pace. If only I had something that operates fast, but still with accuracy. If only our copying could be mechanized with a device like yours.

“From all I have so far said, it is plain what it was that attracted me here. I woke this morning and the first thing I told myself was that it was urgent for me to have a good look at the miracle device that prints pages using keys connected to type. I must witness the phenomenon for myself. That is the reason for my visit here today.”

The huge boss gazed in silence at Tado, wearing his one and only brown sacque coat that had seen years of wear. He studied with care the stranger who claimed to be engaged in book publishing. Only when he was completely sure in his assessment did he speak to Tado in a steely voice, his tone one of cool confidence.

“Follow me. I will show you how the new machine is operated.”

The imposter followed the manager of the workshop to the rear of the building, where metal parts and supplies were stored. In a corner of the structure stood a small table with a strange-looking contraption resting on it. Rows of keys with the letters of the alphabet fastened to them stood out on the front of what was the first dactylographic printer ever constructed on the planet of Horae.

The two men stared at it for a length of time, until the head of the unit said “Come closer. I will insert a sheet of flimsy and you will see what the result of pressing down the keys is.”

He took a blank page and placed it against a roller at the back of the large mechanism. Turning the roller, he made the paper disappear into the interior of the machine, till the sheet began to appear on the opposite side of the roller.

“Now watch,” commanded the one who it now was clear was the owner of the establishment.

He pressed down one key, causing the top of the device to move. Then another key was depressed, with a second noisy action. A third, then a fourth key followed.

On and on the process repeated, until the upper part of the machine had moved far to the left. The operator then turned to Tado and spoke to him.

“I shall now remove the flimsy so that you can read the sentence I have printed with my fingers.”

It took only a moment to remove the sheet and hand it to the one who identified himself as a publisher of printed books but was not that.

Tado read what the type at the end of the keys had copied out.

“Every business office needs a dactylograph.”

A sharp peal of laughter came out of the throat of the psychic specialist. He turned to the giant, handing the flimsy back to him.

“Magnificent! It is better and clearer than anyone can imagine. Tell me, my friend. When can my business firm purchase this wonderful apparatus?”

The other man frowned. “Making them is a slow operation. It will take time. They are not yet for sale to any of our customers. But you have seen what this advanced invention is capable of.”

“Yes, indeed,” grinned Tado. “Yes, I have seen that.”

He soon left Print Mechanistics, convinced what his next step had to be.

There was only astral light from the sky that night, the three moons of Horae being simultaneously below the horizon. Red and orange illumination from night-working forges and furnaces did not affect the shadowed darkness of the obscure lane where the building with the dactylograph keyboard was located. Tado came with a handcart borrowed from a peddler who was an old acquaintance of his. He was there all alone in order to commit the criminal offense of industrial burglary. It was going to be a serious, dangerous bit of work tonight.

How fortunate it was that Print Mechanistics employed no night watchman at all.

Pushing the two-wheeled cart down the dark drive between his target and a neighboring structure, Tado emerged into the narrow alley behind the workshop he had visited only three days before. By now, any suspicions about the “publisher” who had visited to see the dactylograph for himself should have disappeared. He had allowed sufficient time to allow memory to fade. If no one remembered him, there would be no connection to the crime he was about to carry out in the empty, darkened workshop.

Setting the cart beside the rear wall of Print Mechanistics, the psychic took a short iron bar off of it and broke the window of the back delivery door. It was child’s play for him to turn the lock by reaching through the smashed pane. The door way was wide enough for him to wheel the hand cart into the storage room, over to where he remembered the keyboard apparatus rested.

Light from outside was sufficient to allow him to locate what he meant to take with him.

With a slight effort, the lightweight criminal lifted up the metal printing mechanism and placed it securely onto the holding surface of his carrier. With forethought, Tado had brought along a floor mat that could cover and conceal the stolen invention. There was no trouble at all for him in exiting the building, traversing the alley and driveway, and trucking his load into the shadowy lane. Tado was thankful there were no outdoor gaslights in these older parts of the Steameries. The darkness enveloped and protected his industrial thievery.

Faster than he had ever imagined possible, he was back on the familiar streets of the Rookeries. No one took any notice of the hand cart, its load, or the little man behind who pushed it forward. He passed saloons and taphouses out of which raucous song and the smell of alegar emerged.

Those carousing in the dives of the Rookeries were inattentive to Tado, busy imbibing their applejack, ratafia, demerara, grappa, cachaca, aquavit, and cellar-brewed ales.

Reaching his tenement building, the psychic parked the cart behind it. Then he lifted the dactylograph in his arms and carried it up to his flat on the fifth floor.

An old Horaen saying echoed in his memory: every great fortune begins with a crime of some sort.

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