The man at the bar was exceptionally handsome, and he knew it. So did the light-haired girl at his side, and so did the nondescript man in the gray suit who was watching them from a booth in the corner.
Everyone in the room was aware of the big young man, and most of the humans present were resentful, for he handled himself consciously and arrogantly, as if his appearance alone were enough to make him superior to anyone. Even the girl with him was growing restless, for she was accustomed to adulation herself, and next to Gabriel Lockard she was almost ordinary-looking.
As for the extraterrestrials--it was a free bar--they were merely amused, since to them all men were pathetically and irredeemably hideous.
Gabe threw his arm wide in one of his expansive gestures. There was a short man standing next to the pair--young, as most men and women were in that time, thanks to the science which could stave off decay, though not death--but with no other apparent physical virtue, for plastic surgery had not fulfilled its bright promise of the twentieth century.
The drink he had been raising to his lips splashed all over his clothing; the glass shattered at his feet. Now he was not only a rather ugly little man, but also a rather ridiculous one--or at least he felt he was, which was what mattered.
"Sorry, colleague," Gabe said lazily. "All my fault. You must let me buy you a replacement." He gestured to the bartender. "Another of the same for my fellow-man here."
The ugly man dabbed futilely at his dripping trousers with a cloth hastily supplied by the management.
"You must allow me to pay your cleanery bill," Gabe said, taking out his wallet and extracting several credit notes without seeming to look at them. "Here, have yourself a new suit on me." You could use one was implied.
And that, coming on top of Gabriel Lockard's spectacular appearance, was too much. The ugly man picked up the drink the bartender had just set before him and started to hurl it, glass and all, into Lockard's handsome face.
Suddenly a restraining hand was laid upon his arm. "Don't do that," the nondescript man who had been sitting in the corner advised. He removed the glass from the little man's slackening grasp. "You wouldn't want to go to jail because of him."
The ugly man gave him a bewildered stare. Then, seeing the forces now ranged against him--including his own belated prudence--were too strong, he stumbled off. He hadn't really wanted to fight, only to smash back, and now it was too late for that.
Gabe studied the newcomer curiously. "So, it's you again?"
The man in the gray suit smiled. "Who else in any world would stand up for you?"
"I should think you'd have given up by now. Not that I mind having you around, of course," Gabriel added too quickly. "You do come in useful at times, you know."
"So you don't mind having me around?" The nondescript man smiled again. "Then what are you running from, if not me? You can't be running from yourself--you lost yourself a while back, remember?"
Gabe ran a hand through his thick blond hair. "Come on, have a drink with me, fellow-man, and let's let bygones be bygones. I owe you something--I admit that. Maybe we can even work this thing out."
"I drank with you once too often," the nondescript man said. "And things worked out fine, didn't they? For you." His eyes studied the other man's incredibly handsome young face, noted the suggestion of bags under the eyes, the beginning of slackness at the lips, and were not pleased with what they saw. "Watch yourself, colleague," he warned as he left. "Soon you might not be worth the saving."
"Who was that, Gabe?" the girl asked.
He shrugged. "I never saw him before in my life." Of course, knowing him, she assumed he was lying, but, as a matter of fact, just then he happened to have been telling the truth.
Once the illuminators were extinguished in Gabriel Lockard's hotel suite, it seemed reasonably certain to the man in the gray suit, as he watched from the street, that his quarry would not go out again that night. So he went to the nearest airstation. There he inserted a coin in a locker, into which he put most of his personal possessions, reserving only a sum of money. After setting the locker to respond to the letter combination bodyguard, he went out into the street.
If he had met with a fatal accident at that point, there would have been nothing on his body to identify him. As a matter of fact, no real identification was possible, for he was no one and had been no one for years.
The nondescript man hailed a cruising helicab. "Where to, fellow-man?" the driver asked.
"I'm new in the parish," the other man replied and let it hang there.
"Oh? ... Females? ... Narcophagi? ... Thrill-mills?"
But to each of these questions the nondescript man shook his head.
"Games?" the driver finally asked, although he could guess what was wanted by then. "Dice? ... Roulette? ... Farjeen?"
"Is there a good zarquil game in town?"
The driver moved so he could see the face of the man behind him in the teleview. A very ordinary face. "Look, colleague, why don't you commit suicide? It's cleaner and quicker."
"I can't contact your attitude," the passenger said with a thin smile. "Bet you've never tried the game yourself. Each time it happens, there's a ... well, there's no experience to match it at a thrill-mill." He gave a sigh that was almost an audible shudder, and which the driver misinterpreted as an expression of ecstasy.
"Each time, eh? You're a dutchman then?" The driver spat out of the window. "If it wasn't for the nibble, I'd throw you right out of the cab. Without even bothering to take it down even. I hate dutchmen ... anybody with any legitimate feelings hates 'em."
"But it would be silly to let personal prejudice stand in the way of a commission, wouldn't it?" the other man asked coolly.
"Of course. You'll need plenty of foliage, though."
"I have sufficient funds. I also have a gun."
"You're the dictator," the driver agreed sullenly.