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The Perfectionists



The Perfectionists







From: The Perfectionists

Is there something wrong with you?
Do you fail to fit in with your group?
Nervous, anxious, ill-at-ease? Happy
about it? Lucky you!


Frank Pembroke sat behind the desk of his shabby little office over
Lemark's Liquors in downtown Los Angeles and waited for his first
customer. He had been in business for a week and as yet had had no
callers. Therefore, it was with a mingled sense of excitement and
satisfaction that he greeted the tall, dark, smooth-faced figure that
came up the stairs and into the office shortly before noon.

"Good day, sir," said Pembroke with an amiable smile. "I see my
advertisement has interested you. Please stand in that corner for just a
moment."

Opening the desk drawer, which was almost empty, Pembroke removed an
automatic pistol fitted with a silencer. Pointing it at the amazed
customer, he fired four .22 caliber longs into the narrow chest. Then he
made a telephone call and sat down to wait. He wondered how long it
would be before his next client would arrive.

* * * * *

The series of events leading up to Pembroke's present occupation had
commenced on a dismal, overcast evening in the South Pacific a year
earlier. Bound for Sydney, two days out of Valparaiso, the Colombian
tramp steamer Elena Mia had encountered a dense greenish fog which
seemed vaguely redolent of citrus trees. Standing on the forward deck,
Pembroke was one of the first to perceive the peculiar odor and to spot
the immense gray hulk wallowing in the murky distance.

Then the explosion had come, from far below the waterline, and the decks
were awash with frantic crewmen, officers, and the handful of
passengers. Only two lifeboats were launched before the Elena Mia went
down. Pembroke was in the second. The roar of the sinking ship was the
last thing he heard for some time.

Pembroke came as close to being a professional adventurer as one can in
these days of regimented travel, organized peril, and political
restriction. He had made for himself a substantial fortune through
speculation in a great variety of properties, real and otherwise. Life
had given him much and demanded little, which was perhaps the reason for
his restiveness.

* * * * *

Loyalty to person or to people was a trait Pembroke had never recognized
in himself, nor had it ever been expected of him. And yet he greatly
envied those staunch patriots and lovers who could find it in themselves
to elevate the glory and safety of others above that of themselves.

Lacking such loyalties, Pembroke adapted quickly to the situation in
which he found himself when he regained consciousness. He awoke in a
small room in what appeared to be a typical modern American hotel. The
wallet in his pocket contained exactly what it should, approximately
three hundred dollars. His next thought was of food. He left the room
and descended via the elevator to the restaurant. Here he observed that
it was early afternoon. Ordering a full dinner, for he was unusually
hungry, he began to study the others in the restaurant.

Many of the faces seemed familiar; the crew of the ship, probably. He
also recognized several of the passengers. However, he made no attempt
to speak to them. After his meal, he bought a good corona and went for a
walk. His situation could have been any small western American seacoast
city. He heard the hiss of the ocean in the direction the afternoon sun
was taking. In his full-gaited walk, he was soon approaching the beach.

On the sand he saw a number of sun bathers. One in particular, an
attractive woman of about thirty, tossed back her long, chestnut locks
and gazed up intently at Pembroke as he passed. Seldom had he enjoyed so
ingenuous an invitation. He halted and stared down at her for a few
moments.

"You are looking for someone?" she inquired.

"Much of the time," said the man.

"Could it be me?"

"It could be."

"Yet you seem unsure," she said.

Pembroke smiled, uneasily. There was something not entirely normal about
her conversation. Though the rest of her compensated for that.

"Tell me what's wrong with me," she went on urgently. "I'm not good
enough, am I? I mean, there's something wrong with the way I look or
act. Isn't there? Please help me, please!"

"You're not casual enough, for one thing," said Pembroke, deciding to
play along with her for the moment. "You're too tense. Also you're a bit
knock-kneed, not that it matters. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"Yes, yes--I mean, I suppose so. I can try to be more casual. But I
don't know what to do about my knees," she said wistfully, staring
across at the smooth, tan limbs. "Do you think I'm okay otherwise? I
mean, as a whole I'm not so bad, am I? Oh, please tell me."

"How about talking it over at supper tonight?" Pembroke proposed. "Maybe
with less distraction I'll have a better picture of you--as a whole."

"Oh, that's very generous of you," the woman told him. She scribbled a
name and an address on a small piece of paper and handed it to him. "Any
time after six," she said.

Pembroke left the beach and walked through several small specialty
shops. He tried to get the woman off his mind, but the oddness of her
conversation continued to bother him. She was right about being
different, but it was her concern about being different that made her
so. How to explain that to her?

* * * * *

Then he saw the weird little glass statuette among the usual
bric-a-brac. It rather resembled a ground hog, had seven fingers on each
of its six limbs, and smiled up at him as he stared.

"Can I help you, sir?" a middle-aged saleswoman inquired. "Oh, good
heavens, whatever is that thing doing here?"

Pembroke watched with lifted eyebrows as the clerk whisked the bizarre
statuette underneath the counter.

"What the hell was that?" Pembroke demanded.

"Oh, you know--or don't you? Oh, my," she concluded, "are you one of
the--strangers?"

"And if I were?"

"Well, I'd certainly appreciate it if you'd tell me how I walk."

* * * * *

She came around in front of the counter and strutted back and forth a
few times.

"They tell me I lean too far forward," she confided. "But I should think
you'd fall down if you didn't."

"Don't try to go so fast and you won't fall down," suggested Pembroke.
"You're in too much of a hurry. Also those fake flowers on your blouse
make you look frumpy."

"Well, I'm supposed to look frumpy," the woman retorted. "That's the
type of person I am. But you can look frumpy and still walk natural,
can't you? Everyone says you can."

"Well, they've got a point," said Pembroke. "Incidentally, just where
are we, anyway? What city is this?"

"Puerto Pacifico," she told him. "Isn't that a lovely name? It means
peaceful port. In Spanish."

That was fine. At least he now knew where he was. But as he left the
shop he began checking off every west coast state, city, town, and
inlet. None, to the best of his knowledge, was called Puerto Pacifico.

He headed for the nearest service station and asked for a map. The
attendant gave him one which showed the city, but nothing beyond.

"Which way is it to San Francisco?" asked Pembroke.

"That all depends on where you are," the boy returned.

"Okay, then where am I?"

"Pardon me, there's a customer," the boy said. "This is Puerto
Pacifico."

Pembroke watched him hurry off to service a car with a sense of having
been given the runaround. To his surprise, the boy came back a few
minutes later after servicing the automobile.

"Say, I've just figured out who you are," the youngster told him. "I'd
sure appreciate it if you'd give me a little help on my lingo. Also, you
gas up the car first, then try to sell 'em the oil--right?"

"Right," said Pembroke wearily. "What's wrong with your lingo? Other
than the fact that it's not colloquial enough."

"Not enough slang, huh? Well, I guess I'll have to concentrate on that.
How about the smile?"

"Perfect," Pembroke told him.

"Yeah?" said the boy delightedly. "Say, come back again, huh? I sure
appreciate the help. Keep the map."

"Thanks. One more thing," Pembroke said. "What's over that way--outside
the city?"

"Sand."

"How about that way?" he asked, pointing north. "And that way?" pointing
south.

"More of the same."

"Any railroads?"

"That we ain't got."

"Buses? Airlines?"

The kid shook his head.

"Some city."

"Yeah, it's kinda isolated. A lot of ships dock here, though."

"All cargo ships, I'll bet. No passengers," said Pembroke.

"Right," said the attendant, giving with his perfect smile.

"No getting out of here, is there?"

"That's for sure," the boy said, walking away to wait on another
customer. "If you don't like the place, you've had it."

* * * * *

Pembroke returned to the hotel. Going to the bar, he recognized one of
the Elena Mia's paying passengers. He was a short, rectangular little
man in his fifties named Spencer. He sat in a booth with three young
women, all lovely, all effusive. The topic of the conversation turned
out to be precisely what Pembroke had predicted.

"Well, Louisa, I'd say your only fault is the way you keep wigglin' your
shoulders up 'n' down. Why'n'sha try holdin' 'em straight?"

"I thought it made me look sexy," the redhead said petulantly.

"Just be yourself, gal," Spencer drawled, jabbing her intimately with a
fat elbow, "and you'll qualify."

"Me, me," the blonde with a feather cut was insisting. "What is wrong
with me?"

"You're perfect, sweetheart," he told her, taking her hand.

"Ah, come on," she pleaded. "Everyone tells me I chew gum with my mouth
open. Don't you hate that?"

"Naw, that's part of your charm," Spencer assured her.

"How 'bout me, sugar," asked the girl with the coal black hair.

"Ah, you're perfect, too. You are all perfect. I've never seen such a
collection of dolls as parade around this here city. C'mon, kids--how
'bout another round?"

But the dolls had apparently lost interest in him. They got up one by
one and walked out of the bar. Pembroke took his rum and tonic and moved
over to Spencer's booth.

"Okay if I join you?"

"Sure," said the fat man. "Wonder what the hell got into those babes?"

"You said they were perfect. They know they're not. You've got to be
rough with them in this town," said Pembroke. "That's all they want from
us."

"Mister, you've been doing some thinkin', I can see," said Spencer,
peering at him suspiciously. "Maybe you've figured out where we are."

"Your bet's as good as mine," said Pembroke. "It's not Wellington, and
it's not Brisbane, and it's not Long Beach, and it's not Tahiti. There
are a lot of places it's not. But where the hell it is, you tell me.

"And, by the way," he added, "I hope you like it in Puerto Pacifico.
Because there isn't any place to go from here and there isn't any way to
get there if there were."

"Pardon me, gentlemen, but I'm Joe Valencia, manager of the hotel. I
would be very grateful if you would give me a few minutes of honest
criticism."

"Ah, no, not you, too," groaned Spencer. "Look, Joe, what's the gag?"

"You are newcomers, Mr. Spencer," Valencia explained. "You are therefore
in an excellent position to point out our faults as you see them."

"Well, so what?" demanded Spencer. "I've got more important things to do
than to worry about your troubles. You look okay to me."

"Mr. Valencia," said Pembroke. "I've noticed that you walk with a very
slight limp. If you have a bad leg, I should think you would do better
to develop a more pronounced limp. Otherwise, you may appear to be
self-conscious about it."

* * * * *

Spencer opened his mouth to protest, but saw with amazement that it was
exactly this that Valencia was seeking. Pembroke was amused at his
companion's reaction but observed that Spencer still failed to see the
point.

"Also, there is a certain effeminateness in the way in which you speak,"
said Pembroke. "Try to be a little more direct, a little more brusque.
Speak in a monotone. It will make you more acceptable."

"Thank you so much," said the manager. "There is much food for thought
in what you have said, Mr. Pembroke. However, Mr. Spencer, your value
has failed to prove itself. You have only yourself to blame. Cooperation
is all we require of you."

Valencia left. Spencer ordered another martini. Neither he nor Pembroke
spoke for several minutes.

"Somebody's crazy around here," the fat man muttered after a few
moments. "Is it me, Frank?"

"No. You just don't belong here, in this particular place," said
Pembroke thoughtfully. "You're the wrong type. But they couldn't know
that ahead of time. The way they operate it's a pretty hit-or-miss
operation. But they don't care one bit about us, Spencer. Consider the
men who went down with the ship. That was just part of the game."

"What the hell are you sayin'?" asked Spencer in disbelief. "You figure
they sunk the ship? Valencia and the waitress and the three babes? Ah,
come on."

"It's what you think that will determine what you do, Spencer. I suggest
you change your attitude; play along with them for a few days till the
picture becomes a little clearer to you. We'll talk about it again
then."

Pembroke rose and started out of the bar. A policeman entered and walked
directly to Spencer's table. Loitering at the juke box, Pembroke
overheard the conversation.

"You Spencer?"

"That's right," said the fat man sullenly.

"What don't you like about me? The truth, buddy."

"Ah, hell! Nothin' wrong with you at all, and nothin'll make me say
there is," said Spencer.

"You're the guy, all right. Too bad, Mac," said the cop.

Pembroke heard the shots as he strolled casually out into the brightness
of the hotel lobby. While he waited for the elevator, he saw them
carrying the body into the street. How many others, he wondered, had
gone out on their backs during their first day in Puerto Pacifico?

* * * * *

Pembroke shaved, showered, and put on the new suit and shirt he had
bought. Then he took Mary Ann, the woman he had met on the beach, out to
dinner. She would look magnificent even when fully clothed, he decided,
and the pale chartreuse gown she wore hardly placed her in that
category. Her conversation seemed considerably more normal after the
other denizens of Puerto Pacifico Pembroke had listened to that
afternoon.

After eating they danced for an hour, had a few more drinks, then went
to Pembroke's room. He still knew nothing about her and had almost
exhausted his critical capabilities, but not once had she become annoyed
with him. She seemed to devour every factual point of imperfection about
herself that Pembroke brought to her attention. And, fantastically
enough, she actually appeared to have overcome every little imperfection
he had been able to communicate to her.

It was in the privacy of his room that Pembroke became aware of just how
perfect, physically, Mary Ann was. Too perfect. No freckles or moles
anywhere on the visible surface of her brown skin, which was more than a
mere sampling. Furthermore, her face and body were meticulously
symmetrical. And she seemed to be wholly ambidextrous.

"With so many beautiful women in Puerto Pacifico," said Pembroke
probingly, "I find it hard to understand why there are so few children."

"Yes, children are decorative, aren't they," said Mary Ann. "I do wish
there were more of them."

"Why not have a couple of your own?" he asked.

"Oh, they're only given to maternal types. I'd never get one. Anyway, I
won't ever marry," she said. "I'm the paramour type."

It was obvious that the liquor had been having some effect. Either that,
or she had a basic flaw of loquacity that no one else had discovered.
Pembroke decided he would have to cover his tracks carefully.

"What type am I?" he asked.

"Silly, you're real. You're not a type at all."

"Mary Ann, I love you very much," Pembroke murmured, gambling
everything on this one throw. "When you go to Earth I'll miss you
terribly."

"Oh, but you'll be dead by then," she pouted. "So I mustn't fall in love
with you. I don't want to be miserable."

"If I pretended I was one of you, if I left on the boat with you, they'd
let me go to Earth with you. Wouldn't they?"

"Oh, yes, I'm sure they would."

"Mary Ann, you have two other flaws I feel I should mention."

"Yes? Please tell me."

"In the first place," said Pembroke, "you should be willing to fall in
love with me even if it will eventually make you unhappy. How can you be
the paramour type if you refuse to fall in love foolishly? And when you
have fallen in love, you should be very loyal."

"I'll try," she said unsurely. "What else?"

"The other thing is that, as my mistress, you must never mention me to
anyone. It would place me in great danger."

"I'll never tell anyone anything about you," she promised.

"Now try to love me," Pembroke said, drawing her into his arms and
kissing with little pleasure the smooth, warm perfection of her tanned
cheeks. "Love me my sweet, beautiful, affectionate Mary Ann. My
paramour."

Making love to Mary Ann was something short of ecstasy. Not for any
obvious reason, but because of subtle little factors that make a woman a
woman. Mary Ann had no pulse. Mary Ann did not perspire. Mary Ann did
not fatigue gradually but all at once. Mary Ann breathed regularly under
all circumstances. Mary Ann talked and talked and talked. But then, Mary
Ann was not a human being.

When she left the hotel at midnight, Pembroke was quite sure that she
understood his plan and that she was irrevocably in love with him.
Tomorrow might bring his death, but it might also ensure his escape.
After forty-two years of searching for a passion, for a cause, for a
loyalty, Frank Pembroke had at last found his. Earth and the human race
that peopled it. And Mary Ann would help him to save it.

* * * * *

The next morning Pembroke talked to Valencia about hunting. He said that
he planned to go shooting out on the desert which surrounded the city.
Valencia told him that there were no living creatures anywhere but in
the city. Pembroke said he was going out anyway.

He picked up Mary Ann at her apartment and together they went to a
sporting goods store. As he guessed there was a goodly selection of
firearms, despite the fact that there was nothing to hunt and only a
single target range within the city. Everything, of course, had to be
just like Earth. That, after all, was the purpose of Puerto Pacifico.

By noon they had rented a jeep and were well away from the city.
Pembroke and Mary Ann took turns firing at the paper targets they had
purchased. At twilight they headed back to the city. On the outskirts,
where the sand and soil were mixed and no footprints would be left,
Pembroke hopped off. Mary Ann would go straight to the police and report
that Pembroke had attacked her and that she had shot him. If necessary,
she would conduct the authorities to the place where they had been
target shooting, but would be unable to locate the spot where she had
buried the body. Why had she buried it? Because at first she was not
going to report the incident. She was frightened. It was not airtight,
but there would probably be no further investigation. And they certainly
would not prosecute Mary Ann for killing an Earthman.

Now Pembroke had himself to worry about. The first step was to enter
smoothly into the new life he had planned. It wouldn't be so comfortable
as the previous one, but should be considerably safer. He headed slowly
for the "old" part of town, aging his clothes against buildings and
fences as he walked. He had already torn the collar of the shirt and
discarded his belt. By morning his beard would grow to blacken his face.
And he would look weary and hungry and aimless. Only the last would be a
deception.

* * * * *

Two weeks later Pembroke phoned Mary Ann. The police had accepted her
story without even checking. And when, when would she be seeing him
again? He had aroused her passion and no amount of long-distance love
could requite it. Soon, he assured her, soon.

"Because, after all, you do owe me something," she added.

And that was bad because it sounded as if she had been giving some
womanly thought to the situation. A little more of that and she might go
to the police again, this time for vengeance.

Twice during his wanderings Pembroke had seen the corpses of Earthmen
being carted out of buildings. They had to be Earthmen because they
bled. Mary Ann had admitted that she did not. There would be very few
Earthmen left in Puerto Pacifico, and it would be simple enough to
locate him if he were reported as being on the loose. There was no out
but to do away with Mary Ann.

Pembroke headed for the beach. He knew she invariably went there in the
afternoon. He loitered around the stalls where hot dogs and soft drinks
were sold, leaning against a post in the hot sun, hat pulled down over
his forehead. Then he noticed that people all about him were talking
excitedly. They were discussing a ship. It was leaving that afternoon.
Anyone who could pass the interview would be sent to Earth.

Pembroke had visited the docks every day, without being able to learn
when the great exodus would take place. Yet he was certain the first
lap would be by water rather than by spaceship, since no one he had
talked to in the city had ever heard of spaceships. In fact, they knew
very little about their masters.

Now the ship had arrived and was to leave shortly. If there was any but
the most superficial examination, Pembroke would no doubt be discovered
and exterminated. But since no one seemed concerned about anything but
his own speech and behavior, he assumed that they had all qualified in
every other respect. The reason for transporting Earth People to this
planet was, of course, to apply a corrective to any of the Pacificos'
aberrant mannerisms or articulation. This was the polishing up phase.

* * * * *

Pembroke began hobbling toward the docks. Almost at once he found
himself face to face with Mary Ann. She smiled happily when she
recognized him. That was a good thing.

"It is a sign of poor breeding to smile at tramps," Pembroke admonished
her in a whisper. "Walk on ahead."

She obeyed. He followed. The crowd grew thicker. They neared the docks
and Pembroke saw that there were now set up on the roped-off wharves
small interviewing booths. When it was their turn, he and Mary Ann each
went into separate ones. Pembroke found himself alone in the little
room.

Then he saw that there was another entity in his presence confined
beneath a glass dome. It looked rather like a groundhog and had seven
fingers on each of its six limbs. But it was larger and hairier than the
glass one he had seen at the gift store. With four of its limbs it
tapped on an intricate keyboard in front of it.

"What is your name?" queried a metallic voice from a speaker on the
wall.

"I'm Jerry Newton. Got no middle initial," Pembroke said in a surly
voice.

"Occupation?"

"I work a lot o' trades. Fisherman, fruit picker, fightin' range fires,
vineyards, car washer. Anything. You name it. Been out of work for a
long time now, though. Goin' on five months. These here are hard times,
no matter what they say."

"What do you think of the Chinese situation?" the voice inquired.

"Which situation's 'at?"

"Where's Seattle?"

"Seattle? State o' Washington."

And so it went for about five minutes. Then he was told he had qualified
as a satisfactory surrogate for a mid-twentieth century American male,
itinerant type.

"You understand your mission, Newton?" the voice asked. "You are to
establish yourself on Earth. In time you will receive instructions. Then
you will attack. You will not see us, your masters, again until the
atmosphere has been sufficiently chlorinated. In the meantime, serve us
well."

He stumbled out toward the docks, then looked about for Mary Ann. He saw
her at last behind the ropes, her lovely face in tears.

Then she saw him. Waving frantically, she called his name several times.
Pembroke mingled with the crowd moving toward the ship, ignoring her.
But still the woman persisted in her shouting.

Sidling up to a well-dressed man-about-town type, Pembroke winked at him
and snickered.

"You Frank?" he asked.

"Hell, no. But some poor punk's sure red in the face, I'll bet," the
man-about-town said with a chuckle. "Those high-strung paramour types
always raising a ruckus. They never do pass the interview. Don't know
why they even make 'em."

Suddenly Mary Ann was quiet.

"Ambulance squad," Pembroke's companion explained. "They'll take her off
to the buggy house for a few days and bring her out fresh and ignorant
as the day she was assembled. Don't know why they keep making 'em, as I
say. But I guess there's a call for that type up there on Earth."

"Yeah, I reckon there is at that," said Pembroke, snickering again as he
moved away from the other. "And why not? Hey? Why not?"

Pembroke went right on hating himself, however, till the night he was
deposited in a field outside of Ensenada, broke but happy, with two
other itinerant types. They separated in San Diego, and it was not long
before Pembroke was explaining to the police how he had drifted far from
the scene of the sinking of the Elena Mia on a piece of wreckage, and
had been picked up by a Chilean trawler. How he had then made his way,
with much suffering, up the coast to California. Two days later, his
identity established and his circumstances again solvent, he was headed
for Los Angeles to begin his save-Earth campaign.

* * * * *

Now, seated at his battered desk in the shabby rented office over
Lemark's Liquors, Pembroke gazed without emotion at the two demolished
Pacificos that lay sprawled one atop the other in the corner. His watch
said one-fifteen. The man from the FBI should arrive soon.

There were footsteps on the stairs for the third time that day. Not the
brisk, efficient steps of a federal official, but the hesitant,
self-conscious steps of a junior clerk type.

Pembroke rose as the young man appeared at the door. His face was
smooth, unpimpled, clean-shaven, without sweat on a warm summer
afternoon.

"Are you Dr. Von Schubert?" the newcomer asked, peering into the room.
"You see, I've got a problem--"

The four shots from Pembroke's pistol solved his problem effectively.
Pembroke tossed his third victim onto the pile, then opened a can of
lager, quaffing it appreciatively. Seating himself once more, he leaned
back in the chair, both feet upon the desk.

He would be out of business soon, once the FBI agent had got there.
Pembroke was only in it to get the proof he would need to convince
people of the truth of his tale. But in the meantime he allowed himself
to admire the clipping of the newspaper ad he had run in all the Los
Angeles papers for the past week. The little ad that had saved mankind
from God-knew-what insidious menace. It read:

ARE YOU IMPERFECT?

LET DR. VON SCHUBERT POINT OUT
YOUR FLAWS

IT IS HIS GOAL TO MAKE YOU THE
AVERAGE FOR YOUR TYPE

FEE--$3.75

MONEY BACK IF NOT SATISFIED!





Next: Figures Don't Lie

Previous: Hard Guy



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