but sometimes he wished he was just a little bit lonelier.
like when he was expecting a visit from the ambassador.
mr carbo thought of his visitor as “the ambassador” even though he had never taken the same form twice, and he, carbo, had no way of telling whether it was the same creature talking different forms, or a different creature each time.
after reading of the demise of his old rival sylvester mcdonnell jefferson he expected a visit from the ambassador.
jefferson had been one of the final four candidates for the position of ruler of the world, along with himself, vorch, and jian.
when the position had opened, and the protocol for the final selection had been explained to them, carbo and jian had sided with vorch, effectively freezing out jefferson, who had not taken his defeat in a sportsmanlike manner.
and then vorch had no sooner been installed when he abdicated his post! and disappeared.
jian also disappeared.
and so carbo succeeded to his lonely post.
as the federation took little notice of the planet except under extreme circumstances, carbo felt he had little to fear from the still embittered jefferson - who, so far as he knew, had no way to contact the federation or its ambassador or ambassadors.
and yet jefferson’s death filled carbo with a strange foreboding. he felt sure he would receive a visit.
how he regretted ever coming into contact with the federation!
rain began to fall on the wide window of mister carbo’s office.
a light fog came off the ocean onto the island.
like the fog on the adriatic sea the night he had been introduced to vorch and jian and jefferson…
none of them ever knew why they had been selected.
the ambassador had merely stated, quietly but with absolute assurance, that the reason was beyond the comprehension of their human brains.
after the innkeeper had brought them their wine and retired, the ambassador explained that the four of them had been selected - to decide between themselves - by agreement or contest, whichever they preferred - who would be the “ruler” of earth - subject to the oversight of the federation.
vorch - a thug from the back alleys of baku - had asked - “why not just pick one of us yourselves?”
“we have our reasons,” the ambassador had replied placidly.
the four had looked around at each other.
“and when he has been selected,” jian - as wily an oriental as ever lurked in an alley or behind an opium den - had then asked - “do the other three become his lieutenants?”
“no, but the others will simply go about their business.” the ambassador took a sip of his wine, which strangely enough, he seemed to enjoy the taste of. “but - if anything should befall the chosen one in the next ten years, one of the others will then replace him.”
the four considered this. jefferson asked - “does all this have anything to do with the war?” at that time the russians were just beginning their encirclement of the germans at stalingrad.
“no, no! we care nothing about such things,” the ambassador quickly replied with a laugh.
“well then,” carbo spoke for the first time. “what are the duties involved in this position?”
“and what are the benefits?” jefferson quickly added.
the ambassador began to explain.
outside in the fog a tugboat hooted….
mister carbo looked out into the rain.
sure enough, a small boat appeared on the horizon. who could it be but the ambassador?
there was a small safe in the corner of the office.
although mister carbo had no reason to think its contents had been disturbed, he went over and began to open it with the combination known only to himself.
just to be absolutely sure, if the ambassador should ask him about it…
“the golden gumdrop.”
“it could get you killed.”
what a lot of hooey!
on returning to the hotel st crispian, hyacinth had dropped into the prince hal room for another night cap - and another one for the road before taking the elevator up to her suite.
instead of mellowing her, the drinks had left her more annoyed than ever with phil wheeler and his mysterious and portentous warnings.
she tossed the jewels she had taken to the meeting, including the infamous “gumdrop”, on the bed, and then flopped down on the bed herself.
she had half a mind to toss the “gumdrop” into the trash or out the window.
but then she had a better idea.
in a couple of weeks she was taking a train to pittsburgh for a “special two-week engagement” of angus strongbow’s “softly go the damned”.
when she was in pittsburgh, she would go to the first pawnshop she could find and just take whatever she was offered. well, maybe haggle a little bit, just so the guy behind the counter wouldn’t get suspicious.