"well, i just wish you had told me this before."
"the billing cycle doesn't come up for another week, i was going to notify you then."
"do you think he will give you any trouble?"
"i don't know. probably not."
"i can send somebody over. to be there when you tell him. i'm really sorry about this."
"no, don't bother. i can handle it. nurse johnson and i can handle it."
"yes, i'm sure."
"if you change your mind, let me know,"
doctor fenway put the phone back in his pocket. he took it out again, began punching in another number, then shrugged and stopped.
he took a flat pill container out of his pocket, opened it and took out a small blue pill, which he quickly swallowed.
then, with a sigh, he opened the door to the front sitting room.
brock was back in his stuffed chair, breathing a little heavily, and nurse johnson was back on her sofa. both were straightening out their clothes.
"i hope nurse johnson didn't tire you too badly, sergeant."
"he'll be all right."
"yes, i'm sure. um, listen , sergeant , i just got off the phone with the representatve of your sponsor -"
"sponsor? what's this sponsor? what am i , a race car?"
"the gentleman who has been paying me for twenty-five years to maintain you in comfort."
"gentleman? how about good old uncle sam? i mean, i am a sergeant in the u s army rangers, am i not? or not?"
"do you mind if i sit down?" the doctor edged toward a stuffed chair close to the sofa nurse johnson was sitting on.
brock looked at him curiously. "it's your place, isn't it? sit wherever you want."
the doctor tried to lean back in his chair but quickly hunched forward again.
"you have been unconscious for over thirty years. you understand that, don't you?"
brock thought for a few seconds. "i understand the concept. and so far i am taking your word for it that is the way it is."
"why? why are you taking my word for it?"
"why not? i will find out quick enough if you are telling the truth."
"i don't know - look at a newspaper, see what the date is."
nurse johnson interrupted. "there are no more newspapers. they became obsolete years ago."
"how about radio?" brock asked. "hey, i know - how about television? that was the next big thing thirty years ago - i bet everybody has a television now."
the doctor shook his head. "ancient history. come and gone. remember, this is 1977."
"look, he doesn't to need to know all this stuff right now. what's this about je- about the sponsor?" nurse johnson stared at the doctor.
"the sponsor is dead. according to harris." the doctor turned to brock. "harris is his representative."
"and we are just hearing about it? when did this happen?"
"a couple of weeks ago. harris was going to tell us when the next payment was due."
brock yawned. then he yawned again.
"hey, you just woke up!" nurse johnson laughed.
the doctor didn't laugh. he looked intently at brock. "you know what this means, don't you?"
"no doctor, what does it mean?"
"it means - it means - you have no visible means of support."
"you mean, except the three hots and a cot the u s army gives me. i'll be all right."
"no - you don't understand. there is no u s army any more. there is no u s any more. do you begin to understand?"
brock scratched his head. "not really."
the doctor laughed nervously. "you seem to be taking it like a philosopher, anyway."
"it hasn't had time to sink in."
"you are right, doctor," nurse johnson put in, " it hasn't had time to sink in. so why not leave him alone?"
"leave him alone? but who - who is going to take care of him?"
"me. i will take care of him."
"someone appointed you his caretaker?"
"i appointed myself."
"well - you have always been a take charge type of person, but this is above and beyond the call of duty. thank you."
"you are welcome." she stared at him. "since i am being so helpful, maybe i can have the rest of the day off - i will take our friend here home with me, explain a few things to him - gradually, the way it should be done."
"you want to leave early? what about the report on mrs miller?
"you can't do it yourself?"
"oh, i guess so." the doctor exhaled and leaned back in the stuffed chair.
nobody moved. the doctor and the nurse looked at each other and brock looked at the floor.
"i sure could use a smoke," he announced after a while.
"sorry," nurse johnson told him. "that is as unlikely as anything in this world - or any world."
brock sighed. "how about that steak?"
"maybe. i will see what i can do. it will take time. i can't make any promises."
"you can get him a steak?"
"you heard what i said. i said i could try."
"you never told me you could get me a steak."
"did you ever ask?"
"no, i guess not." the doctor leaned back and shook his head. "it never crossed my mind. i knew you were resourceful. i didn't know you were that resourceful."
"you know," said brock, "i thought the modern world and science and stuff was about progress. what kind of progress is it when there is less stuff, not more?"
the doctor forced himself up out of the chair. "an excellent question. i am afraid it is one i can't answer."
nurse johnson also stood up. "come on, big guy. let's move out. we will leave the doctor here to his busy afternoon."
the doctor stood at the window, watching brock and the nurse move around the side of the building to the nurse's parked car.
"jeez, that's a small car."
"you think so? it's bigger than most - i had it made special."
"get in." she opened the door on the left side.
"it's not locked?"
"no. get in."
brock got in, careful not to bump his head.
"pretty good neighborhood, huh, nobody steals cars."
"no money in it?"
"no money in anything. no money."
"now you've gone too far." brock settled himself in the right front seat, and gazed out the window. "i know you are kidding me now." he turned to face her. "hey! what the - where's the steering wheel?"
"don't need it." nurse johnson took a little metal object like a cigarette lighter out of her big purse and pressed it. the car started up - brock could barely hear it - and rolled out to the street by itself.
"what fun is this? could you drive it yourself if you wanted?"
"there's places you can go to drive cars around by yourself."
"well, that's something. any around here?"
"no, they are on mars and jupiter."
"but they are not that hard to get to."
"i guess not."
the car picked up speed on the straight empty street. soon they were driving through flat desert.
"what's this about no money? if there's no money, what makes the world go round?"
"i'll tell you all about it when we get to my place. relax and enjoy the view."