The Project Gutenberg eBook of Community Property

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Title: Community Property

Author: Alfred Coppel

Release date: February 1, 2019 [eBook #58802]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at




The first successful non-Terrestrial divorce
case! Fame for Legal Eagle Jose Obanion for his
generalship of a three-sexed, five Venusian
history-shattering precedent! Habits are habits
but—alas!—on Venus they differ....

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, December 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

One of these days an embittered lawyer is going to write a text on the effects of spaceflight on the divorce laws. This writer will be a Terrie, about five ten, with blue eyes, black hair—turning grey very fast, and the unlikely name of Jose Weinberg Obanion III. Me.

I remember very well the day I was graduated from law school; the day my father gave me his version of the Obanion credo. Always remember you live in a community property state—

That simple phrase has kept three generations of Obanions in the divorce trade. And only I have had cause to regret it.

Basically, I suppose, my troubles began the day the Subversive Party swept the Joe Macs out of Congress and repealed the Alien Restriction Act of 1998. That bit of log-rolling gave the franchise to almost all resident aliens and resulted in a situation virtually destroying the sanctity of divorce as an institution.

I'm a Joe Mac myself—politically, I mean. Obanions have been voting the Joe Mac Party Ticket for more than a hundred years. Red is our color. There are even family legends that say an Obanion was with the first Joe Mac when he became President of that old unit the Euse of Aay.

We have to rely on legends, unfortunately, because the Joe Mac Party traditionally fed their rally bonfires with books, and when they won the election and took over the Euse of Aay they had a rally to end all rallies and somehow the Government Archives—books, you see, as well as punch cards and the like—got taken over by some very zealous Party men. The records were always rather incomplete after that. Only word of mouth information was available during that first Joe Mac Administration, and that can be sketchy. For example, the party color is red. All we know is that first Joe Macs had something to do with red. You see how it goes.

What I mean by all this, is that I can see the faults in my own Party. I'm no diehard. Nor am I a bad loser. The Subs won control of Congress by a landslide, so I guess the people wanted that sort of slipshod government. Only they should have been more careful, dammit, when they started tampering with the laws.

I'm not antispacegook, either. I have my framed Legal Eagle's Oath right over my desk and I live up to it. And if Congress sees fit to make any Tmm, Dccck, or Harry a citizen of our great Commonwealth—I account it my duty to see to it that they are not denied the benefits of our Terrestrial divorce laws.

But sometimes it can be very trying.

The new Sub Administration and their rash repeal of Joe Mac laws has had the effect of putting reverse English on the Obanion credo.

Always remember you live in a community property state....

That wonderful phrase that encompasses so many great truths—that ringing statement that has made me rich and kept me a bachelor—now means something else. Confusion. Work. Yes, and even spacegook depravity.

I should go back and pick up the story at the beginning before I get too upset.

My name, as I said before, is Jose Obanion. I'm a licensed Legal Eagle, specializing in divorce law—and doing well at it. I have a good office on the 150th floor of the Needle Building, a damned fine address and a comfortable lay-out, too. A whole room to myself, a private visor service to the Municipal Law Library, and a lap-desk for my secretary, Thais Orlof.

On the day it began I was walking to work from the tubeway station and feeling rather pleased with myself. My income was high and steady, my protein ration account was in good shape and I was doing my bit as a civilized Terrestrial.

The morning was remarkably clear. You could make out the disc of the sun quite nicely through the smog, and there was a smogbow gleaming with carbon particles in the sky. I felt alert, expectant. Something BIG was going to happen to me. I could feel it.

Even in the go-to-work press of people on Montgomery Street, I didn't get shocked once. That's the way my luck was running. And three characters brushed against me and got nipped by my new Keep-A-Way.

There's been talk about making Keep-A-Ways illegal. Just the sort of infringement on personal liberty the Subversives are famous for. Inconsistent, too. They pass laws letting every spacegook in the universe come here to live and then talk about taking away one of the things that makes the crowding bearable.

I made a point of arriving at the office a little early, hoping to catch Thais in the act of coming in late. My secretary was a hard girl to dock, but I never stopped trying. It was a game we played. If she came in late, I would be justified in docking a protein credit off her pay for every thirty seconds of office time she wasted. So far I had managed to keep her pay low enough so she couldn't think of leaving my employ—though she was earning a few prots on the side by acting as correspondent in divorce cases that couldn't be settled by Collusion Court and actually had to be tried before a judge and jury.

Thais and I were still haggling over the price of her services as part-time mistress, too. I couldn't see giving her her asking price, which was half again the regular market price. Thais knew the value of a prot, all right. And of an erg, too. "Take care of the ergs," she would say, looking at me meaningfully, "and the prots will take care of themselves." Thais was a devout Ben Franklinist and she was full of aphorisms like that.

I settled myself into my Lowfer and glanced over the desk calendar. A full, profitable day ahead. Tremmy Jessup and his new fiancee were coming in at 0900 to sign the premarital divorce settlement. A wise couple, I thought approvingly. Save a lot of trouble later. At 1100 Truncott vs Truncott and Truncott. A multiple divorce case with two women involved. Very lucrative sort of case. And then at 1200 Gleda Warick was coming in to have me validate her Interlocutory decree. A formality. But I hoped to take her to lunch at the Palace where they were advertising a five ounce portion of genuine horsemeat on their five prot dinner. That sort of thing would impress Gleda and I rather hoped for great things from her. Not only that, she was spending 25,000 prots yearly on divorces. No Franklinist, she.

It still lacked a minute to the hour so I switched on the TV to catch Honest Pancho's commercial. Pancho was my most active competitor and he cost me plenty, but I couldn't suppress a grudging admiration of his enterprise. He had Lyra Yves doing his stuff for him, and anyone as socko as Lyra was dangerous. Sweetheart of the Western Hemisphere is the way she was billed, and her agent wasn't exaggerating too much.

Lyra was singing his come-on backed by a quartet humming a steady whap rhythm and doing a slow twitch. The lights were playing her daring costume big, accenting the fact that she had one breast almost covered. I frowned. How come the League of Decency let her get away with anything as suggestive as an opaque breast covering. Pancho must have friends in the censor's office. It was just another sign of the increasing degeneracy of our times. Soon entertainers would be appearing clothed from head to foot, exploiting the erotic stimulation of imagination.

"—whap me slap me baby doll," Lyra was singing. "Beat my head against the wall—lover, I don't care at all at all—Whap! Honest Pancho's on the ball!"

Now the announcer cut in with his insinuating voice explaining how you could get your divorces quicker, cheaper and twice as funny at Honest Pancho's Big Splitzmart in the Flatiron Building, as well as his Legal Eaglery just down from the County Courthouse. "—yes, friends—TWO big locations to serve you. Come in and see Honest Pancho today!" And then Lyra again: "Whap! Honest Pancho's on the baaalll! WHAP!" She faded doing a sinuous twitch. I turned the TV off feeling a little worse than when I turned it on.

Maybe, I thought, I've been too conservative. Maybe I'd better get on the baaaalll, too. Or else. I shrugged the thought aside just as Thais slipped through the door—exactly on time.

I watched her strip off her smog mask and cinder cape—on office time—and place them carefully in the sterilizer. She was very careful not to smear the paint that was most of what she wore. I tapped a NoKanse alight and inhaled deeply. "Good morning, Thais," I said.

"Whap!" she said in return. "I heard the TV all the way down the hall."

She pulled a Lowfer out of the wall and settled down with her lap-desk across her knees. The tip of one sandal was just brushing my shin. The office, unfortunately, could have been bigger, but with sixteen million people living in the city, space was rather costly even for a man with a better than average prot account.

"New paint?" I asked.

She smiled brilliantly at me. "Nice of you to notice, boss." She fumbled in the pockets of the belt around her naked, cerise-painted middle and took out her pad and stylus. "On time and ready for work," she said. "A calorie saved is a calorie earned."

But now, somehow, I didn't feel like attacking the day's schedule. Not quite yet. Pancho's commercial had disturbed me. "Thais," I said. "I wonder if I'm—well, slowing down—"

"You, boss?" She fluffed her green-tinted hair provocatively and raised an eyebrow at me. "I wouldn't say so."

"I don't mean that way," I said. "I mean professionally. I wonder if I shouldn't seek wider horizons."

"New cases? Different cases? Give up divorce work? Oh, Boss!"

"Not give it up, Thais. Not that. I couldn't. Divorce is my life. Could a doctor give up healing? Could a Freudist give up lobotomy? No, I didn't mean that. Frankly, I meant should I get more aggressive. Go out and get cases that would have a certain advertising value." I didn't want to say I didn't feel like spending good protein on the sort of advertising Pancho and some of the other Legal Eagles, an unethical lot really, were buying. Besides, we Obanions have always been rather frugal.

Thais' face had come radiantly alive. "Oh, Joe—"

Now, that should have been a tip-off, because she never called me anything but boss. But I blundered right ahead because she was looking at me as though I were Clarence Darrow or somebody.

"I have a case. A real case. If you would—if you only would take it, you'd be famous. More famous, that is. You'd be really famous."

I knew that Thais had some rather questionable friends, being a Franklinist and all. And I knew too that some of them were spacegooks. But the combination of Lyra singing for Pancho and the way Thais was looking at me made me get careless.

"Tell me about it," I said in my best legal manner.

Her face fell. "Non-terrestrial." And then she brightened. "But that's the whole point. These people are citizens of Terra now ... and think of ityou will be the very first Legal Eagle to represent them in a divorce case tried under our laws."

Under our laws. Oh, I should have known. But almost all law is precedent. And I was blinded by trying a case that would set a precedent instead of follow one. Heaven help me, I said yes.

"Where are these spacegooks from? And what time can they be in the office tomorrow?"

"The Llagoe Islands on Venus," she said excitedly. "And they can be here anytime you say."

"Okay, ten hundred sharp. What do they do and how many people are involved?"

"They're musicians. And, uh, there are three. And two correspondents." She looked rather sheepishly at me as I raised my eyebrows and commented that even in this day and age of easy morality that was quite a number of 'people' to be involved in one divorce case. Too many, in fact.

"Well, they are subject to our laws," she said doubtfully.

"Indeed they are—thanks to a Subversive Congress." I made a few notations on my desk pad. "Five of them, eh? A multiple marriage."

Thais' voice was very low. "Well, no. Not exactly."

"What then?"

She looked at me resignedly. "Three sexes," she said.

I gave up my luncheon with Gleda; as much as I should have liked to split a five prot pony steak with her. Instead of the Palace, I went to the library. The public library. And read about Venerians. What I found out was interesting—and a little frightening, too. They were trisexual symbiotes. And they were only remotely humanoid.

There were very few of them on Terra—mainly because they relished their own planet's formaldehyde atmosphere so much they were extremely reluctant to leave it. When they did, ... and this really interested me—they generally became very wealthy as entertainers. They were accomplished musicians and—of all things—tumblers.

For reasons that were only hinted at in the staid Encyclopedia Terrestria, Venerians never entertained through the mass media such as the Livies or TV. Their stuff was limited to small, elite gatherings and it cost plenty.

I thought of Gleda Warick and the party she was planning for later in the week. She'd asked me to be alert for some good entertainment. Her friends were getting weary of games like Lizzie Borden and Clobber. Too many people getting hurt and all. Venerian tumblers and minisingers would be just the thing. And it would assure solvency on the part of my clients-to-be. Part of the Legal Eagle's Oath binds us to be concerned over our customer's finances.

The next morning, promptly at ten hundred, I was treated to the first sight of my clients. Their names didn't transliterate into anything remotely pronounceable, so they were going by the names of Vivian, Jean and Clare Jones.

After the first shock of seeing them wore off, I wrote on my pad: "Names used by humans of both genders. Significant."

They spoke English, the current lingua franca, with only a trace of a sibilant accent and they smelled of formaldehyde.

I explained their rights under our divorce laws. Did the best I could, that is, not being quite sure who was married to whom and under what conditions their marriage functioned—if at all. Finally I said, "Tell me all about it."

Clare, who seemed to be the spokesman for the group and therefore assumed, in my mind, a male gender, waved a boneless arm excitedly. "Had we known we were becoming subject to your Terrestrial laws by residing here we would never have remained. Our situation is desperate."

I wrote on my pad: "Situation desperate."

"Yes," hissed Vivian breathlessly. "Desperate."

I underlined desperate.

"We are, as you may know," Clare continued giving Vivian a dark look, "Trisexual symbiotes. You do not have any analogous situation among mammals on Terra."

I glanced at Thais. "We sure haven't," she said with feeling. "But it sounds fabulous."

"It is not, I assure you," Clare said running a four-fingered hand over his scaly crest in what I took to be a Venerian gesture of distraction. "We are not married as you people understand the term—"

"Not married," I wrote, underscoring it heavily.

"But your law enforcement agencies insist that our symbiosis is analogous to marriage and therefore subject to the regulations governing that odd institution."

"What a bore," Thais said helpfully.

"Our problem is this. The three of us live in what you might roughly call a connubial state. We—what is your word?—co-inhabit?—"

"That's close," I said.

"We live together, that is. But more than eroticism is involved, I assure you."

"Of course." Now it began to sound like most of my other cases and I could get my teeth into it.

"You seem doubtful," the Venerian said with a sharp-toothed frown. "Let me reiterate that what I say is so. The three of us have spent a ygith together—that is more than fourteen of your long years. But now the ygith is over and we must seek another—how would you say it?—liaison?"

"This is essential?" I asked. "Not just a whim?" It is, you see, the duty of a Legal Eagle to make every effort to save a marriage. In view of the circumstances, I felt that surely this was a marriage unique and therefore worth saving.

"No whim," declared Clare emphatically. "Each ygith—or what you Terrestrials would call 'mating period'—we must uh—realign. If we do not, deleterious effects are certain. Our health goes bad. We may even die."

"My friends," I said, "you have very little to worry about. There are many similar cases here on Terra. Just last week, for example, a divorce was granted in the case of Nork vs. Nork wherein it was established that the plaintiff, Mr. Nork was allergic to Mrs. Nork. A simple case, and not the first of its kind. I myself tried one such case wherein a wife broke out in a rash whenever her husband sought to question her about the household expenses. A divorce was granted on the grounds of basic incompatibility."

"Ah," Clare said sadly. "If it were only that simple. Our two correspondents, Gail and Evelyn, are ready to enter the realignment. But—" and here the Venerian glared at the smallest of the trio. "this ungrateful wretch is unwilling to adjust to the changed circumstances."

Great tears formed in Jean's slotted eyes. "How can you speak that way to me? After we've been through so much together?"

"Now, now—" Thais, who has a very soft heart, patted Jean in an effort to make he she or it feel better.

"Get to the point, Clare," Vivian said testily.

"It is our understanding that property held in joint tenancy by two contesting parties in a divorce case may be distributed at the discretion of the court."

"That's correct," I said.

"We contend, therefore, that Jean—" Clare pointed a scaly finger at the small Venerian, "is community property. Vivian's and mine. We wish to make an agreement between us for the disposal of it—"

"Wait a minute," I said, shocked. "I don't think you understand the community property laws at all. Jean is, by definition, a person. A person cannot be considered property or chattel. Oh, no—"

The small Venerian made a face at them. "I told you you couldn't get away with it," she said. "This isn't Venus, you know."

"On Venus you would be property," declared Vivian. And to me, he—she—I still get confused about this—added: "My sex was emancipated thirty ygiths ago at home. But Jean's is still considered—what did you call it?—chattel. No vote. No rights. Nothing but symbiosis."

"And Clare's is still the—uh—dominant one?" I asked hesitantly.

"That's the myth that's perpetrated," Clare declared acidly. "We guths do most of the work, if that means anything."

I wrote on my pad: "Guths—breadwinners."

"And who—well, forgive my indelicacy, but—" I shrugged mundanely, "who bears the children?"

"We all do," the three Venerians chorused at once.

Well, that's the way the interview went. When the three Venerians finally left I had a rough outline for the brief on my pad. Besides the other comments, I had the following information:

Re Jones and Jones vs Jones, trsex smbytes!!

See Ency
Clare—guth} Terrestria
Vivian—warth} PP 1099,
Jean—ith} Vol 17,
09 Ed

Jean—Community Property?

No. Not under Terr Law

See US vs Ignatz Wolk 1999.

What then?

Correspondents: Evelyn (guth) Gail (warth) Any overt acts of infidelity? Probable. No proof.

Only obstacle: Jean. Must reach agreement.

IMPORTANT: Plaintiffs and Defendant or Defendants and Plaintiff not solvent. Must arrange something.

See Gleda.

And see Gleda I did. I asked her if she could use not two, not three, but FIVE Venerian entertainers. She could and would. At 1,000 prots a head for an hour's entertainment. That took care of that much, anyway. I was, I felt, well on the road to making legal history.

The following day I made arrangements to meet Jean alone in a little bistro down on the Embarcadero. I felt the salt water air would make her-it feel more co-operative. But on the way down I became aware of someone following me. Cinder-caped and smog-masked, the tail I was dragging was inconspicuous enough, but I figured the thing about right. It was a Government man. There could be only one answer. Honest Pancho had tipped the TBI that I was doing something illegal or immoral. I was an active Joe Mac and that would be enough to put the Witch Hunt Division of TBI on me even without Pancho getting wind of my dealings with the spacegooks.

The gimmick would be, of course, that I was taking advantage of them, violating their rights under the V Amendment of the World Constitution. Pure falsehood, but my previous unwise political affiliations put me under suspicion.

I looked up through the smog, and sure enough. An Eyespy hung in the air just over my head—a tiny transmitter about as big as a half erg piece. If I spit on the sidewalk, I thought, they'll haul me in on the double.

This was bad enough, but when and if I actually got the Venerians an interlocutory decree, I'd really have to watch it—and them, to see that nothing went wrong. The WH boys would have Pancho right at their shoulder watching for the slightest excuse to invalidate the decree.

I could get used to the Eyespy, and I thought I could convince Jean. And above all, I had to keep the Venerians from anything like sexual activity during the two day period of the decree. Nothing—but nothing—will invalidate a decree quicker than that. And an invalidated decree is very bad for a Legal Eagle's reputation.

I was, I thought darkly, getting into this thing deeper than I thought. But the rewards would be worth it. Think of it. To Legal Eagle the first extraterrestrial divorce case in the history of the world! Holy Protein, I'd be in song and story.

I made my way through the press of people on the slidewalks, my Keep-A-Way crackling a jolly tune, and the Eyespy hovering over my head.

San Francisco is a wonderful place. Full of excitement and bustle. It's a port of entry, for one thing, with starliners letting down into the Bay from all over the Solar System. On the Embarcadero there were Sandies from Mars, Rooks from the Jovian System—every sort of spacegook there is. Except Venerians. And mingled with the crowd I could make out the distinctive cinder capes of the Longshoremen—absolute rulers of the district.

The bistro I was looking for was a floating platform moored to the ancient wharves, the ones that were left after the tidal wave caused by the bomb back in '59. It was a nautilus type joint, most of it under water, called the Deep Six.

An attendant took my cape and smog mask at the door and bowed me along to the maitre d'.

"A table, sir?" He clapped his hands for a waiter. "May I order you something? A morphine syrette? Phenobarb? We have a particularly fine aphrodisiac cocktail, sir. Or shall I just send the hostess to you and you can order later?"

I eyed the line up of girls regretfully. They were all lovely, all almost fully clothed—and what flesh was exposed was completely unpainted. If Thais looked like that, I thought sadly, I wouldn't haggle about her price. But that was sheer depravity, I told myself sternly. That's what comes of associating with triple sexed spacegooks—I was here on business. Not pleasure.

"I'm meeting someone," I said. "A spaceg—a Venerian uh—lady. Miss Jones."

The maitre shrugged. "Everyone to his taste. The person you wish is at the corner table, sir. Near the window." And sure enough, there was Jean, her crest waving agitatedly as she pressed her three nostrilled nose against the glass watching the sandsharks swimming gracefully among the mossy pilings outside.

"Oh, Joe—just like home," she hissed softly as I sat down. She was very strong of formaldehyde today, I thought.

I didn't quite know how to begin with her. I had to make her see reason, but she seemed to be unwilling to pay any attention to me at all except to comment that Clare and Vivian were very cruel to her. "And after I've given them the best ygith of my life." Then she returned to her melancholy contemplation of the underseascape beyond the glass.

I ordered an alkie-and-treacle and sipped it thoughtfully watching Jean. An amber tear had formed in the outer corner of each slotted eye and was oozing gelatinously down her pale green cheeks.

It was like someone turning on a light in my brain. The answer was plain as day. Jean was homesick. Miserable. And a miserable woman—or man—or—well, does it matter?—a miserable person was always contrary. Remove the misery and voila—gentle as a lamb.

"Jean," I said, "this case is important to me. You must help me get the decree. If you do—I'll do something nice for you."

Over my head the Eyespy clucked reproachfully, but I ignored it.

"Agree to the divorce. We can settle it in Collusion Court. And I'll see to it you get passage back to Venus on the first available starliner. How's that?"

"Back to Venus? Back Home?" Her eyes gleamed redly.

"That's a promise," I said. This would cost me plenty of prots, but the fame would be worth it. You can see how far gone I was on this case.

"Just one thing," I added thoughtfully. "What will become of the rest after the divorce? I mean, can two of each sex get along without a third? It sounds, well, almost unvenerian, if you know what I mean."

"The mating wouldn't be a very high-type experience," Jean said loftily, "without an ith—but it can take place. It's just the sort of disgusting business you could expect from people like Clare and Vivian. And those other two—well—you haven't met them, but really—"

"Then you'll do as I ask?"

Jean waved her crest at me seductively. "Joe Obanion, you're really very nice."

I backed away and swallowed hard as Jean laid a slick, webbed hand on my wrist. "How about it? Agreed?"

"You know," Jean said dreamily, "you remind me of a warth I used to know back home. He and I and a really divine guth called Charlie had the most marvelous ygith together. I wonder if he remembers little me—?"

"I'm sure he does. How could she forget you?" I asked warily.

Jean blinked her slotted eyes at me and her thin lips split into a tusky smile. "You say the nicest things, Joe. Yes, baby, I'll do as you ask. I won't contest the divorce."

"Jean," I said with feeling, "you'll never regret this."

And the Eyespy clucked disapprovingly. Drop dead, Pancho, I thought. Drop dead twice. I had made it.

Gleda Warick's house—mansion, really, lay sprawled over most of the Twin Peaks Area. From her Lunar Room you could see the whole of the city stretched out as if for inspection. To the east, the bay and the floating housing developments, wharves and night spots on and under the water. To the west the transocean highways, ribbons of plastic floating on the still Pacific. No one could afford to run ships now and almost all surface commerce was run over the highways in caravans of atomic trucks. To the Orient, to Alaska, to the Pacific islands. A steady string of lights moving at two hundred miles per hour. Rocket trails streaked the sky as starliners splashed into the bay and burbled to the surface, hissing and steaming. Market Street—all seven levels of it—ran from the base of the hills to the bay, a multilevel slidway jammed with people. The view from Gleda's place was magnificent because of the infra-red antismog windows she had installed in the Lunar Room at a cost, incidentally, of 100,000 prots.

She had three rooms and a kitchenette. You entered her place and almost had an attack of agoraphobia. It was that big.

The place was overrun with people. I'd brought Thais, of course, resplendent in red and silver paint. Lyra Yves appeared in a solid coat of gilt, with that one breast and her left arm sheathed in flexible vinyl. Thais nudged me. "Look at that. I think it's disgusting."

I did look. I couldn't help myself. That shiny vinyl caught the eye of every man in the room. "Depraved," Thais sniffed.

Honest Pancho came in with an older man who was pointed out to me as an ethnologist from the University of California across the bay. A Professor Cripps.

Pancho, dressed in his customary green and orange enamel and embroidered cowboy boots, stumped across the room to give me the big hello.

"Jose, my boy! Good to see you...." He glanced up at the Eyespy. "Trouble with the Witch Hunters? Tsk tsk—"

"As if you didn't know," I snapped.

"You think I'd do a thing like that to a friend?"


He grinned a big toothy smile at me. "As a matter of fact, you're right. I hear you've got a big case. Non-terrie. Worth a lot to a Legal Eagle to be the first with a non-terrie case—"

"You're too late, you vulture," I said. "Interlocutory decree granted." I tapped my pouch. "Right here."

He shrugged. "Hope nothing happens to void it, old sport."

He winked at his silent companion, the staid and seemingly dumb professor. He turned back to me. "Sorry. Should have introduced you. Prof Cripps—this is my friend and competitor, Jose Obanion."

"Pleased," the Professor said, looking fearfully at the Government Eyespy over my head. His fingers went automatically to the engraved tablet he wore on a chain round his neck—a validated Loyalty Oath—as though to show the unseen TBI observers he wasn't really a friend of this Joe Mac's.

"The Prof," Honest Pancho said softly, "is a specialist in Venerian ethnology. He'd like to meet your clients."

That gave me a start. "He'll meet them. They're going to sing tonight."

The Professor's eyes widened. They looked shocked in his yellow painted face. "And dance?"

I smirked happily at Pancho. "And dance. At 1,000 prots each."

If Pancho had any reply for that, I don't know, for Gleda came in. She was wearing her hair blue and she wore a really striking pattern of iridescent blue paint with a double snake pattern coiling up her legs and torso.

The party got under way very quickly. Gleda supplied the alkie and treacle and everyone nibbled their own synthetic protein out of their pouches. The combination soon had an hilarious effect on the gathering and a couple that I didn't know, a boy and girl in particolored green and blue, starting throwing small articles of furniture at the Eyespy over my head.

Couldn't hurt the Eye, of course, but I was kept pretty busy dodging. Then Thais suggested a quick game of Clobber. I must confess, not without satisfaction, that I cheated a little and peeked through the bandage so I could land a real lulu on Pancho's long pointed nose.

When Gleda stopped the bleeding and he was on his feet, someone asked Lyra for a song and the cry was taken up by all. I caught a glimpse of the five Venerians' round eyes peering at us out of the kitchenette. But Gleda was saving them for the last—the piece de resistance.

Lyra tore down a drapery and staggering a bit from two or three too many alkie-and-treacles, wrapped herself in it from head to foot. There was a shocked sort of gasp from the watchers. Professor Cripps turned red under his yellow paint.

Gleda put a tape on the MusiKall and Lyra went into her act. I've never seen anything like it. Swaying like a cobra, her bare feet pounding out the beat on the plastic floor, she raised the temperature about ten degrees in that room. Her green painted lips twisted in agony, her eyes rolled in the chromatic mask of her face. An old folk tune—not the sort of thing she generally did. Something that really tore at the heartstrings. A song that dated centuries back. History and the sense of our way of life lived in that room for a few short moments. Her voice was a blood-stirring trumpet—

"Mairzy Doats and Lammsy Doats
And little kiddsie Divy—
A Kiddlee Tivy Tooo Wouldn't you—?"

When it was over, there was a breathless hush in the room. I wondered where in the world Gleda had gotten that MusiKall tape—It had probably cost her plenty.

There was only one thing, I thought, that could top that. "Gleda," I said. "Now." Besides if the gooks didn't earn their prots, what about my fee? I was already losing protein on this deal. Passage to Venus isn't cheap.

The Venerians trooped in and squatted on the floor while Gleda made the introductions. The room began to smell very like an embalming room must smell.

"May I present Clare, Vivian, Gail, Evelyn and little Jean. They're going to sing for us." Cheers from the guests. I glanced triumphantly at Pancho. The Professor seemed fascinated. "And," added Gleda archly, "they may even tumble for us." The Venerians looked at one another, tittered and flushed dark green. I was glad to see they were all on friendly terms with Jean.

Clare struck an attitude, crest erect, and waited until everyone quit shuffling around. Presently, they sang. I think it was singing. Very cultural. Very esoteric. Also very noisy. It sounded rather like they were all in pain.

After what seemed to me a very long time, they grew silent. There was a smattering of discontented applause. Gleda glared at me. I looked at Thais in dismay. "They also dance," she said weakly.

"Yes," Pancho said. "Let's see them dance!"

"By all means," Gleda said, still eyeing me.

"Dance, fellows," I said hopefully.

Jean came over to me and whispered: "Are you sure it will be all right?"

"Do you want to ruin me? Dance. Tumble. Do something."

Jean shrugged and went back to where the Venerians squatted. "He says dance."

Evelyn and Gail stepped properly, I should say primly, aside and the other three began stomping about. The rhythm was infectious. The movements became more heated and shouts of approval began to ring out.

"Dance, Gookie!"


"Go go go Gook!"

I was delighted. So was everyone else. The dance grew more and more violent. There was a great deal of body contact in it. Evelyn and Gail looked longingly at the gyrating three, but kept out of it. I wondered why—never knowing that the Venerians are a very conventional people.

Pancho was delighted. So was the Professor. In the middle of it, the prof raised his hands and made a signal. An earsplitting clangor broke from the Eyespy.

The Venerians stopped.

Everyone stared at the Eye.

And at me.

The Professor stepped forward and flipped his Loyalty Oath over, it opened like a poison-ring. The engraving inside said TBI Morals Division.

"The Interlocutory Decree, if you please," he commanded.

Stunned, I fished it out and handed it over.

He glanced at it. "You realize of course that this is immediately invalidated."

"What?" I couldn't believe my ears.

"You know—as any Legal Eagle should know—that any re-stablishment of—uh—connubial rights abrogates an interlocutory."

"Of course I know that."

He glanced at Honest Pancho and smiled. There was triumph flashing between them like a shuttlecock. "You Joe Macs never learn. The law is the law. What do you think your clients were just doing—and in front of a roomful of witnesses?"

I felt my heart sink. "You mean—?"

Cripps nodded.

"That?" I asked weakly.

"That," he said, and tore up the paper.

I watched my future as a Legal Eagle flutter down to the floor. "And I thought they were dancing," Thais said sadly.

Well, the story doesn't end quite there. Gleda and I were arrested for running an obscene show. Gleda doesn't speak to me anymore. Nor do any of the people who were there that night. Lyra and Gleda get all their divorces at Pancho's Splitzmart now. It took most of my prot account to bail us out and pay our fines. Thais is with me. We're married and we haven't a prot between us for a divorce, so we'll just have to stay married.

The Venerians came out all right though. They were deported.