"Hello," said the telephone cheerfully into Dortmunder's ear, "this is Andy Kelp."
"This is Dort-" Dortmunder started to say, but the telephone was still talking in his ear. It was saying:
"I'm not home right now, but-"
"-you can leave a message on this recording machine-"
"It's John, Andy. John Dortmunder."
"-and I'll call you back just as soon as I can."
"Andy! Hey! Can you hear me?"
"Leave your message right after you hear the beep. And do have a nice day."
Dortmunder held both hands cupped around the mouthpiece of the phone and roared down its throat: "HELLO!"
" eeeepp "
Dortmunder recoiled from the phone as though it were just about to explode, which he half expected it would. Holding the receiver at arm's length, he watched it mistrustfully for a few seconds, then slowly brought it closer and bent his ear to the earpiece. Silence. A long, hollow, sort of unreeling kind of silence. Dortmunder listened, and then there was a faint click , and then the silence changed, becoming furry, empty, and pointless. Knowing he was all alone, Dortmunder nevertheless asked, "Hello?" The furry silence went on. Dortmunder hung up the phone, went out to the kitchen, had a glass of milk, and thought it over.
May was out to the movies, so there was no one to discuss this situation with, but on reflection it seemed to Dortmunder pretty clear what had happened. Andy Kelp had got himself a machine to answer the telephone. The question was, why would he do such a thing? Dortmunder cut a slice of Sara Lee cheese danish, chewed it, mulled this question, drank his milk, and at last decided you just could never figure out why Kelp did the things he did. Dortmunder had never talked to a machine before-except for an occasional rude remark at a car that refused to start on a cold morning-but okay; if he was going to continue to know Andy Kelp, he would apparently have to learn to talk to machines. And he might just as well start now.
Leaving the glass in the sink, Dortmunder went back to the living room and dialed Kelp's number again, and this time he didn't start talking until the machine was finished saying, "Hello, this is Andy Kelp. I'm not home right now, but you can leave a message on this recording machine and I'll call you back just as soon as I can. Leave your message right after you hear the beep. And do have a nice day." eeeepp
"Sorry you aren't there," Dortmunder said. "This is Dortmunder and I'm-"
But now the machine started talking again: "Hey!" it said. "Hello!"
Probably a malfunction in the announcement mechanism. Well, it wasn't Dortmunder's problem; he didn't have any goddam gizmo on his telephone. Doggedly ignoring the machine's irruptions, Dortmunder went on with his message: "-off on a little job. I thought you might come with me-"
"Hey, it's me! It's Andy!"
"-but I guess I can do it on my own. Talk to you later."
As Dortmunder hung up, the phone was saying, rather plaintively, "John? Hello !" Dortmunder went to the hall closet, put on his jacket with the burglar tools all tucked away in the hidden interior pockets, and left the apartment. Ten seconds later, in the empty living room, the phone rang. And rang. And rang ...
Nestled on a deep soft background of black velvet, gleaming under the bright glare of the overhead fluorescent tubes, the Byzantine Fire shone a lustrous carmine, reflecting and refracting the light. If machines could bleed, a blood drop from Univac might look like this; cold, clear, almost painfully red, a tiny faceted geodesic dome of deep color and furious light. Weighing ninety carats, the Byzantine Fire was one of the largest and most valuable rubies in the world, worth possibly a quarter million dollars merely in itself, not even counting its setting and its history, both of which were impres