Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 25

A New Hire

It was an unusual day for Heike. She had hardly arrived at JOAD when Debbie came out from behind her desk and whispered,

"Yesterday, I met the man you're going to interview today. He's an absolute dream. Let's get you fixed up."

Debbie and the other secretaries carried with them an arsenal of cosmetics and other doodads. Once in the large spic-and- span ladies room, Heike found herself set upon by three pretty young women who, not content with re-doing her face, led her to the mirrors and required to smile in different ways. It wasn't until Heike produced something that seemed to her to border on the absurd that she was passed out.

It was just when Heike thought that they were finished that Debbie looked at her critically and said,

"Heike, we talked about this earlier and decided that your need is greater than Mary's, at least for today."

Mary was the youngest of the secretaries, about Heike's size, and she also looked younger than her age. To Heike's surprise, Mary went into a stall and began to undress. After a couple of minutes, a padded bra was handed out.

There was almost no way out. Heike knew that the others regarded her as a very intelligent little pet animal whose naivite was so great that she had to be managed for her own good. Heike went into the adjoining stall and made the change. When she came out, Debbie inspected her and said,

"A little more always helps."

As they were leaving the ladies' room to find Captain Stallman waiting with obvious displeasure for someone to take his dictation, Heike whispered to Debbie,

"I thought you'd all given up on me after I totally messed up that date."

"No, that was just a setback. This'll be great practice for you. This man flirted with all of us in the office, but you'll be interviewing him along with Jones and Commander Thurmond. There's nothing to be nervous about."

To the surprise of many, Dean Jensen had honored his promise and approved the appointment of a new programmer as a partial replacement for Jones and Heike. However, Captain Stallman, in charge of the interviewing, had, with the help of a couple of henchmen, screened the candidates. Undoubtedly, probable loyalty to JOAD, as opposed to CASP or any other agency, had ranked high on his list of criteria. Jones and Heike only got to interview the approved candidates, of which there were only three.

Heike knew that she and Jones were somewhat suspect, but would have expected Went to have a greater voice in a hiring decision. However, they did officially count as a group of three in the JOAD table of organization. Went was evidently being made to suffer for the company he kept, at least as far as Captain Stallman was concerned.

Heike could easily see why Debbie had reacted as she had to Walter Mason, a current Remington Rand computer division employee. Mason was strikingly handsome, obviously intelligent, and self-confident in an egoistic way. She could imagine his going up to a group of women at a dance, snapping his fingers, and saying, with a big smile, "Hi girls, who wants to dance with me first?"

Heike caught a look at the others as they introduced themselves. Went looked rather pleased, but Jones didn't. The last thing they wanted was a man who might well have helped build the computer now at CASP. In combination with natural inquisitiveness, this experience might allow him to penetrate any number of their various smoke screens.

Indeed, as the interview proceeded, Mason remarked that he had participated in the testing of that machine, and had written his own program for the tape reader. He had a copy of it in his brief case, and Jones inspected it. It turned out to be perfectly competent, but, as Jones announced with pleasure, three steps longer than Heike's corresponding program. Mason reacted well, and without prickliness, congratuating her on the economy of her programming. Things looked bad.

Things looked still worse when it came out that Mason had been in the Marine Corps during the war. Went nodded appreciatively. It wasn't the navy, still less the submarine force, but everyone remembered Tarawa and Iwo Jima. Expecting the usual pretend-modest account of military valor, Heike was surprised to learn that Mason had been a member of the Marine Corps' drill team. But, then, that wasn't really so surprising. They would naturally pick handsome men with a touch of vanity, and Mason would certainly have marched with precision and a certain dash. But, of course, he would still have spent most of the war in combat units.

It turned out not. Mason announced with pleasure,

"I spent the whole war with the drill team, and we won all the service competitions we entered."

Went, looking almost gray, asked,

"Didn't they rotate people between the drill team and the combat units?"

"They tried to, but whevever they replaced one of our team members with a combat marine, performance suffered. We almost lost one competition as a result."

Jones remarked pleasantly,

"I bet they never tried to replace you."

"No. I had certain special functions in the team, and really couldn't be replaced."

Went, with a strange look, mumbled,

"Special functions?"

"Yes. The man who leads a column in some formations has to pivot with a certain style. It's rather like dancing."

Went nodded, closed his eyes, and went silent. Jones, clearly amused, asked another question or two about marching, and then looked to Heike.

Heike, conscious of her expanded bust line, gave a modest little wiggle and smiled the smile she had just been taught. It seemed to have quite a desirable effect, and, thus encouraged, she engaged for some time in what she thought would count as flirting.

Mason obviously thought that the interview was going very well indeed. He didn't look at Went at all, and, with mostly silent but nodding approval from Jones, he charmed Heike for all she was worth. He eventually told a mildly risque joke, and, at the end, even Went managed a handshake.

When the door closed behind Mason, Went said only,


Jones replied helpfully,

"I suppose we should write some sort of evaluation."

"Not necessary! I'll explain the matter to Admiral Benson."

Went then waggled his finger at Heike and said,

"Young lady, you're to stay strictly away from that man, or anyone like him."

Later, when Heike was alone with Jones, he said,

"That was a very close thing."

"I know. The saving grace is that Mason's so self-centred that he had no inkling of the way he was affecting Went."

Jones agreed, and Heike, thinking as she spoke, said,

"Stallman must not have minded about the marine marching business because he hasn't had any combat experience himself."

"Well, I don't know. Stallman would never boast about being clever enough to have avoided combat. He must have seen sommething in Mason that made him think he'd be a future ally."

"Went can get Mason scratched, can't he?"

"I should think so. Went ought to still have enough prestige for that. And on those grounds!"

"Yes, that's the sort of thing Admiral Benson would understand."

"Incidentally, what came over you toward the end of the interview?"

Heike explained part of what had happened with Debbie and the others, concluding,

"Somebody had to carry the interview at that point, and there wasn't anything to lose. So I experimented."

"You're actually not a bad actress. I would've been fooled if I hadn't known you."

"I seem to have fooled Went."

"You absolutely did! He thought you were on your way to arranging a tryst with Mason."

"It was rather sweet of him to warn me. He really is a gentleman in some ways."

"In some ways, yes."

The next day brought another candidate. Before meeting him, Went said to Heike and Jones,

"I made the case about Mason to Admiral Benson and he agreed. It also turns out that one of the other candidates has already gotten a job, so it's either this man or back to the beginning."

The man in question, a mathematician of forty or so, poked his head into Went's office, apologized briefly, and disappeared. Heike said,

"He must have thought he had the wrong room."

Jones replied,

"He evidently thought that we couldn't possibly be the interviewing crew."

Went clutched his head, but Heike went in chase. She eventually found Mr. Hanford Roderick staring with indecision at the blank wall at the end of the corridor. As they sorted out the situation and introduced themselves, he smiled pleasantly and said,

"I create confusion wherever I go. It usually begins with people getting my name backwards."

"It does invite that. I suppose I could dress as a man and call myself Herrnstein Heike."

Jones and Went were now out in the corridor, and the conversation began with Went remarking,

"It says here that you're from Rising Sun, Indiana. I didn't know there was such a place."

"The name might have been appropriate once, but it keeps losing population and should probably be Setting Sun."

Jones said,

"I've heard of it, but I guess there isn't a lot to do there."

"Damned little. But we do have a Polar Bear Club and swim in the Ohio River the year round."

When Heike exclaimed about the cold water he replied,

"In winter we don't stay in more than twenty minutes. In summer we can swim back and forth across the river."

Jones responded,

"You could try the Potomac while you're here."

"I have been each day that I've been here. But, of course, there are other things to do here in Washington."

Now seated, they got down to serious business, it developed that Roderick, but for a brief stant as a military code- breaker, had been teaching at a small college for some twenty years. He explained,

"I sort of flunked out of a doctoral program at Columbia, but I did get an M. A. and wound up teaching at Hiram Campbell College. It wasn't the most absorbing work, but I became fascinated by the work of von Neumann and Turing, and wrote some things. Then, I saw your ad and applied."

Jones asked some questions about the halting problem, and Heike had the impression that Roderick understood it better than did Jones. Moreover, she realized that Roderick was something of a computer visionary. At one point, he remarked

"We know in principle that almost any task can be performed by a computer. It's just a question of developing the necessary robotic arms, legs, or whatever."

When she mentioned that she was developing a programming language, she found that Roderick was working on something similar. As the discussion went on, and the others simply sat listening, she remembered about their secrets. But it then occurred to her that, while Roderick would be capable of uncovering them, he wouldn't be the least interested in doing so. At one point, she shot a glance at Jones, and found agreement in his eyes.

When the interview finally ended and Roderick was leaving, Went said jovially to Heike,

"You'd better lead him out so that he doesn't get lost."

When Heike returned, Went said,

"He seems a little crazy, going down to the Potomac and diving in."

Jones replied,

"In summer, it'd be a great way to beat the heat. I might go with him."

"And, of course, I can't understand anything he says. But I guess he's the real McCoy, isn't he, Heike?"

"Oh yes. I can get him to contribute to may new journal."

"Well, Stallman's already passed on him, so, if we approve, that's it."

Heike, almost against her better judgment, said to Went,

"I'm a little surprised, in view of all Roderick's eccentricity, that Captain Stallman did pass on him."

"He probably didn't get lost trying to find Stallman's office or tell him that his first move on arriving in Washington was to dive into the river. We can put that down to the influence of Jones and yourself. And, of course, Stallman does respect intelligence."

"So he's hired, then?"

"Certainly. I'll report to the admiral, and Roderick can start as soon as may be. We do have that empty office."

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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