Bean Counter

by Ron Merrill

The worst of it was that I knew I'd lost them — hell, I'd never had them — but I had to go through with the presentation to the end.

". . . So, ladies and gentlemen, the Radical Booster Design project is now back on schedule. We expect to launch the prototype within 18 months, opening up an entirely new line of business for California Aerospace. Thank you."

There was silence. I'd expected one of the new managers to be first to open up on me, but it was Elizabeth Barrett who claimed the floor with a standard power move, putting the cap back on her expensive pen with an audible snap. Trying to show how indispensable she was, no doubt. She looked up from her notes, glanced around the table, and smiled at me.

"A very skillful presentation, Bob. I have just a couple of questions about your budget numbers. I notice that you've assumed—"

To my surprise, McBarr cut her off. "Let's not take up time with that, Ms. Barrett. Dr. Enright seems to be a very competent engineer, and I've noticed that budget projections done by engineers are surprisingly accurate. In fact, I sometimes think an engineer is someone who knows the cost of everything — and the profitability of nothing." There was polite laughter; always laugh at the boss's joke, though I don't suppose half of them had ever heard of Oscar Wilde. "And that's the problem here," McBarr went on. "Dr. Enright, so far this company has spent over 200 million dollars on the RBD project. You tell us that you can finish it up with another 75 million. Assume that is correct; what I didn't see in your presentation was any indication of when, how, or how much profit is going to result. Just what is the market you intend to address?"

"Well, Sir," I said, "as you remarked, I'm an engineer, and so are the people who work for me. I've always taken it that it was our job to develop a good product; the company has other people who are paid to market the things."

McBarr glared at me. "That, Dr. Enright, is the attitude that has brought California Aerospace where it is today. That is why the company lost 1.8 billion dollars last year alone. That is why I and my colleagues were brought in by the Board." He slowly looked around the table; the few remaining managers from the old group kept their eyes firmly focussed on their notepads.

"I want you, Dr. Enright, and all of the rest of you to understand that from now on you will be expected to concentrate on the profitability of California Aerospace as a corporation — not on the needs and desires of your various departments."

He made a note on the pad in front of him, then fixed me again with his steel-gray eyes. "Now, Dr. Enright, with regard to your case. First: Your budget for the coming fiscal year will be 12.5 million dollars. I want a revised plan on my desk by the end of the month. Your efforts will focus on developing a profitable — I repeat, profitable — market or markets which can be addressed by the core technical skills of the Orbital Division.

"Second: From now on you will report, not to the Vice President for R&D, but to Mr. Grey, the new Chief Financial Officer. He will have final authority over all financial commitments in your group. Furthermore, he will review all project priorities and nothing will proceed without his written approval. Is that clear, Dr. Enright?"

I could feel my ears and face burning. I'd never been so humiliated since I was a schoolboy. But there was nothing to do but say, "Yes, Mr. McBarr. I understand perfectly." I looked at Henry Grey; was he enjoying this? His face was as emotionless as a robot's.


Jennie saw my face as I came in and said nothing. She handed me a beer and waited. I took a sip, counted to ten, and kissed her. "My gracious silence. OK, it was bad, but it could have been worse. Scott here?"

She nodded. "He's out back."

Scott is a bachelor and a terrific gourmet cook. We always let him take the grill when we invite him over for a barbecue. He looked up from the coals and said, "Good, I can start the meat. I'm starving. Well, how did it go, Bob? Do we still have jobs?"

I sat down on a lawn chair. "Some of us do." I told them what had happened at the meeting. "At least there's something left," I concluded. "I was really afraid the Orbital Division would be shut down completely."

"The High and the Mighty must be getting soft," said Scott.

"What's that?" I said.

"That's what people are calling McBarr. He fancies himself as a pilot, it seems. One of his conditions for taking the job was his personal corporate jet — and he gets to fly it himself." He set a hamburger in front of me. I smeared it with sauce bearnaise and took a bite.

Jennie could hold back no longer. "He's eliminated three fourths of your budget? What about the jobs? What about the people? My God, Bob, does he understand what he's asking you to do?"

"He's not asking me, he's telling me. And if I refused—"

"You'd be fired. Well, we could handle that."

"Sure. But probably Scott would be fired too—"

"I'd quit."

" — and in fact, then McBarr probably would shut down the whole division. All the jobs would be gone. And worst of all—"

" — the RBD project would be dead," said Scott. "I'm glad you consider me worth keeping, Bob. But the important thing is the project. The RBD design is the only way we're ever going to get the kind of launch capacity we need to make space exploration practical. You must not let it die."

"We'll save it somehow, Scott."


". . . I'd keep you if I could, Barbara. You've done a fine job for us, and I'll give you a warm recommendation and help you any way I can to find a new position. I'm terribly—"

"You don't have to apologize, Bob. I know it's not your fault. It's that God-damned bean counter," she said venomously.

I shook my head. "The decision who to keep and who to let go was mine; I have to take responsibility."

"Forget it, Bob. Outplacement?" I knew what it was costing her to keep her voice down, and that her hands were clasped primly in her lap mainly to keep me from seeing them tremble.

"Yes, indeed. We've got ECN Associates for outplacement, a very good firm . . ." I kept it as short as possible; I knew what she really wanted more than anything was to get it over with and leave the room. Finally I got through all the formalities and she could. I closed the door behind her and gave myself five minutes to recover. Then I pressed the intercom button on my phone.

"Yes, Dr. Enright?"

"Send in Harry Lockyer now, please."

By the time the day was over I was trembling myself. I stopped at Grey's office on the way out.

"It's almost done, Mr. Grey. We should have them all out by the end of the week."

"Good. These things are best handled as expeditiously as possible, for everyone's sake."

"I agree. But it's hard for me to be quite so casual, since I have to actually do the terminations. Tell me, Mr. Grey, have you ever had to do these yourself?"

"Many times, Dr. Enright."

"I suppose you have, considering your background. But did it bother you at all?" I walked out without waiting for an answer.


The atmosphere around the table might be described as grief tinged with guilt. Everyone had lost friends; several people at the table had had to terminate most of their subordinates themselves. The mood changed when Henry Grey entered the room; you could have cut the hostility with a knife. I glanced at him for permission, then called the meeting to order.

"This will be a very important session. Most of you are familiar with our methods, but for the sake of the newcomers"  — I carefully did not look at Grey — "I'll go over our ground rules. This is an informal brainstorming session. The objective is to come up with new ideas and useful information. No negative inputs are allowed. Anybody who blocks the creative flow with something like 'We tried that once' or 'I can prove that won't work' is required to contribute five dollars to the party fund on the spot.

"Our objective today is to find commercial applications for orbital launch and recovery operations using the Radical Booster Design. As a cost basis we're using $1,500 per kilo to geosynchronous orbit. Now, — "

"Wait a minute," said Jim Farley — a brilliant man, but very hard to work with; I'd agonized over keeping him. "What's the point of all this? It's much too early to try to assign economic values like that. If you'd done a cost-benefit on Columbus—"

"As a matter of fact," said Grey, "Christopher Columbus had a very good profit-and-loss proposal, at least by the accounting standards of his time. He did not propose to just go out into the Atlantic in the hope of finding something valuable. He had a very specific idea of how he was going to make money out of his voyage."

"But he didn't, did he, Mr. Grey?" said Farley maliciously. "He didn't make it to the Indies. He came back empty-handed. Yet in the end, his exploration paid off handsomely."

"That rather misses the point, Mr. Farley. Columbus failed in what he was trying to do — but he was trying to do something profitable. He had a business proposition. Fortunately for his Spanish backers, his successors hit a big payoff — far bigger than anything space exploration is likely to produce, even if we could be as lucky as they were."

"How can you say that?"

"Mr. Farley, in 1522 Cortez sent back to Europe, in a single ship, specie equivalent to the entire gross national product of Spain. The current GNP of the United States is around seven trillion dollars. Now, what do you propose to bring home from space that will be worth seven trillion dollars per shuttle-load? As I understand it, the purpose of this session is to answer that question." He nodded to me.

"Fortunately," I said firmly, silencing Farley, "we don't have to meet quite that exacting standard. We just need something that will make money at $1500 per kilo to get it into space and back. And we don't have to come up with a final answer or hard numbers today, we just need ideas — lots of ideas — some of which, we hope, will be good enough to do some real work on. Shall we begin?"

It didn't start well; the "bean counter" was, I suppose, an inhibiting factor. I gave it a push.

"OK, if we're going to make money we've got to find something of value. So what have we got in space that we ain't got here on earth? Come on, guys."

"Microgravity, of course."

I wrote it on the board. "Of course. Keep going."


"Mighty expensive vacuum."

"Five dollars in the jar, Hans. Come on, come on, you're an old-timer, you know better. Next item, come on, let's keep it moving." Running a brainstorming session is a lot like being an auctioneer.

"Solar energy."

"Tourism," said Scott.

"Platinum-bearing asteroids. If a near-earth asteroid—"

"How much does platinum sell for?"

"$495.50 per troy ounce, as of today," said Grey.

"What's that per kilo?" demanded Farley.

Grey scarcely hesitated. "$13,081.20 per kilo."

"Room to make a profit there," said Hans. "But could the market absorb tons of the stuff without a big price break?"

"I hate to risk a fine myself, but probably not. About half of the world's output goes to Japan for jewelry, and the rest goes into auto exhaust catalysts. Both markets have poor elasticity. However, if the price broke you could very likely open up new markets." He leaned back, as if to remove himself from the discussion.

"How about rhodium?" Farley said. "Some chemist friends of mine tell me the industry can never get as much as it needs, and it's viciously expensive — $50,000 a kilo or so. And there's the palladium and—"

"Let's include the whole platinum group," I said, writing them out on the board, "and we'll check each one out later. Now, what else?"

"Radiation," said Kyoko Nelson. "You've got straight cosmic rays, no atmospheric attenuation. Solar storms. Van Allen belts." I wrote it down.

"Communications, of course. Have we really considered the entire spectrum? You could do ultra-long wave stuff in space — no limit on antenna size."

When we'd finished I had to go over the list privately with Grey. "Not very promising," he summed up. "Once you remove the really off-the-wall stuff, it's mostly old ideas that space enthusiasts have been pushing for years. Mining, for instance. Even with the platinum group, costs are just too high, though Farley's idea of aiming at rhodium might have some merit. We're going to need something more original than these, I fear."

"If we hadn't lost so many of our good people, we might have better ideas, Mr. Grey."

"You kept the best ones, didn't you, Dr. Enright? If your intellectual elite can't produce new ideas, what does that say about your staffing policies? Now, when can you let me have a priority list with budget proposals?"


As it happened, my proposed priority list was approved untouched by Grey, his secretary signing for him. I don't know if he even saw it. The High and the Mighty was out of town again — for a famous turnaround expert, he seemed to take a lot of time off — and Grey, as CFO and Chief Hatchet Man, was busy firing people, I guess. The Orbital Division weren't the only victims, of course. The whole company was being decimated. I knew the previous management had let staffing bloat — we all knew it — and something had to be done, but the human toll was sickening. There were stories of former CalAero managers standing at freeway exits with "will work for food" signs.

I tried to get our survivors focussed on the task at hand. It was dawning on me that if we didn't have a convincing proposal for the next budget year, the Orbital Division would be shut down. I must have gotten the message across, because people began to dig in. The familiar struggle over which approaches to pursue began to engage our attention.

After three months Scott and I went over the priority list, which had been heavily culled.

"We're still spread too thin, Scott. We've got to cut out a couple more and concentrate our efforts in the next couple of months. What do you think? I've got to turn this in to Grey tomorrow morning."

"How about turning off the spigot for Kyoko's ion-implantation-by-radiation scheme?"

"Mmm. It is a bit on the wild side. But Grey seems to like it, oddly enough."

"Maybe she's paid him off with her hot little body," said Scott.

"Go wash out your mind with soap. Just thinking something like that is grounds for a sexual harassment suit, let alone saying it. Anyway, hot as she is on her project, Kyoko's a lot hotter on her husband. She worships him."

"Besides, I don't suppose the Bean Counter cares about sex. Well, what then? We're agreed on the first four priorities. We can wash out the solar concentrator, but are you going to drop Jim Farley's rhodium mines?"

"Hard to do that. It's one of the few cases where we have an established, solid market to address. I'm sure Grey will want to keep it."


But he didn't. When I got back the list from Grey, Kyoko's project had been substituted for the rhodium scheme. To add insult to injury, Grey ordered me to assign Farley to assist Kyoko on her project. It surprised me. Farley detested the Bean Counter, and, as was his way, he didn't hesitate to let everyone know it. I've known plenty of managers who would have fired him, maybe even made a point of humiliating him like this. But I thought Grey, with his pose of robotlike decision-making, would be above this kind of personal vengeance.

Of course Farley didn't exactly take things with good grace. He told everyone how badly he was being treated, then insisted on having it out with Grey personally. All I could do was quietly arrange with Grey's secretary to book the appointment for a very short opening in his schedule. He was busy, fortunately; the High and the Mighty was out again.

"Damn it, you wanted a real market, and this has got one. I've established that we can get firm commitments from Johnson Matthey or Englehard for the rhodium contracts. I've got real numbers — that's what you want, isn't it? On the other hand, Kyoko's thing—"

"We're here to discuss your proposal, not Dr. Nelson's," said Grey calmly. "Please stick to the subject."

"Well, what the hell is the problem, then? For only about a billion dollars we can build—"

"Mr. Farley. We are not the government." For once the Bean Counter seemed ready to show some emotion — maybe because he was talking about money. "Only a billion dollars. Do you have any conception how hard it is to raise even a million dollars for a new technology project? Investors take big risks sometimes — but with relatively small sums of money. Billion-dollar investments are sure things or very near it. Always." He raised a hand. "Yes, I know. There have been some very bad failures of such size — a couple of them here at California Aerospace. The principle remains that the investors who backed them thought they were sure things at the time; otherwise they wouldn't have touched them. We cannot convince the Board — or the bankers — that your scheme is a sure thing." He glanced at his watch.

"Just what is the problem?" demanded Farley. "The market's there, the mining and refining technology is there—"

"But is the rhodium there, Mr. Farley? The whole scheme depends on one of a very few Apollo asteroids turning out to have high concentrations of platinum-group metals. Classical wildcat prospecting. Not—"

"The Johanssen spectral studies showed that—"

"Not convincing. I'm sorry, Mr. Farley, time is up. If you and Dr. Enright will excuse me, I have another appointment now."

Farley was almost smoking at the ears as we started out of the office. I knew what was coming. He turned at the office door, opened his mouth, drew a deep breath — and gasped as I poked a finger in his kidney, hard. I closed the office door, grabbed his arm, and hustled him down the hall to an empty cubbyhole.

"Damn it, Bob, I'm going to—"

"No, you're not, Jim. You have three kids and a pregnant wife and I am not going to see you at a freeway exit holding up a cardboard sign. You are not going to quit. Do you read me, Jim?" I could see I was getting through to him. This was why I'd insisted on being at the meeting. Fortunately, Jim Farley would calm down almost as quickly as he got excited — if you handled him right.

"I suppose that fucking Bean Counter was counting on that too, wasn't he, Bob? OK, I admit you guys have got me by the balls. But I tell you this. I could stand my project not making the cut. But making me report to Kyoko — that was dirty pool, Bob."

"I know how you feel, Jim. But given that the project decision was made as it was, Kyoko has the toughest row to hoe. She needs someone to beef up her team, and you've picked up a lot on the chemical side in the last couple of months that may be of real use. Who better to help her out than our superstar, eh?"

"You're turning into a politician, Bob," said Farley, turning away. He didn't say it kindly.

"If I get much more interference like this, I'll quit," I told Jennie that night. "I have to back management regardless of what I think privately; to do otherwise would be unprofessional. But if my people end up hating me, what's it all for?"

"Well, no matter what Jim Farley says, you're not a politician," said Jennie indignantly.

"Not yet."


But Grey left me alone pretty much for the next few months.

I thought he probably wasn't very interested — after all, the Orbital Division was a tiny part of his responsibilities. Still, he spent a ridiculous amount of time looking over my shoulder, even if he seldom jogged my elbow. It made me nervous.

What made me more nervous was that we weren't going to make it. I cancelled two of the five projects as it became clear that they had no chance of commercial success at a level that would satisfy the Bean Counter. I wanted to do it myself, not wait till he ordered me to do it. Unfortunately, the other three proposals were looking pretty iffy also. I found myself scanning the "positions open" ads in the paper every morning.

One morning Jim Farley and Kyoko came to see me and closed my office door in a conspiratorial manner.

"Bob," said Farley, "I've got something that could be very good for us. But I'm not supposed to know it, let alone tell anyone, so I have to ask you to keep this strictly confidential."

I hesitated. "Uh, that might be a problem, Jim. I have to — "

"No, it's not like that, Bob," Kyoko broke in. "Tell him, Jim. He'll understand."

"OK. Look, I've been talking to a lot of people from various small companies lately." Networking in search of a new job, I translated silently. Well, I didn't blame him. "I got to know this guy at a little materials startup and he told me some things he really shouldn't have. Now, listen to this. They've made a single crystal of 1-2-3 nearly eight millimeters long."

"The high-temperature superconductor? That's very impressive indeed. Single phase?"

"Single phase, single crystal. And they think it's general; they could make the thallium superconductors and the other types too. But best of all, it's definitely scaleable — they've run the kinetic studies to prove it. They could make big crystals — say, six-inch diameter."

"Good God! They could make superconducting microchips, then!"

"Exactly," said Kyoko.

"So what's holding them back?"

"Cost. They had five million in venture capital and burned a third of that on one experiment to make this eight-millimeter crystal. The process is horrendously expensive."

"And you know why."

"Yup. The crystals won't grow right except in low gravity, and the secret ingredient is heavy irradiation during growth. They've got an old lead-shot drop tower combined with a Van de Graaf generator — a real Rube Goldberg apparatus, and the yield is disgusting. They have to make a ton of useless ceramic to get one crystal and the EPA is already jumping on them about copper emissions. So now you see . . ."

"Oh, lovely. Superconducting single crystals large enough for practical microchip manufacturing and the only way to make them economically is in space. OK, you two have sold me. Where do we go from here?"

"That's where you come in," said Farley. "I can't take it any farther with my contact. If his boss knew that he'd let this out, he'd be fired on the spot. But if you could discretely open relations with this company at a higher level . . ."

"I think it could be managed. You've been very careful not to put anything on paper, I assume, so give me a verbal briefing on the details and I'll get rolling on it. I'll bet this little outfit will jump at a joint venture. This will be big for all of us."

"Except the goddamn Bean Counter," grumbled Farley. "But even he can't stop this one."


"Lanthanide Materials Research, Inc.," repeated Grey. "I think I've heard of them. Who's the lead investor? Boxwood Ventures. OK, I know one of their partners, Nathan Beryl. I'll call him up and put out a feeler. The first priority, I take it, is to get you introduced to this outfit's CEO."

"Right," I said. "We can't move an inch until we sign a secrecy agreement and become officially aware of their breakthrough. And time is slipping away."

"It certainly is. Very well. But keep in mind that if this goes through I will be very actively involved with you in working out the financial arrangements. Be sure you don't make any premature commitments. I imagine Mr. McBarr will want California Aerospace to get a substantial equity position in Lanthanide Materials if we are to contribute any monies to the venture."

"That might be a problem," I warned. "Entrepreneurs get pretty tight with their stock, and the venture capitalists may have their own ideas on the subject. I'd hate to see us queer the deal by getting too greedy."

"Oh, I hardly think that will be a problem. Boxwood's fund is pretty much tapped out, so they can't put up additional money themselves. Mr. Beryl will be very reasonable, I suspect. And if the founders object — well, Boxwood will eject them."

I restrained my urge to comment on what a considerate and generous human being he was. The main thing was to get the project moving.


"Hot damn!" said Jim Farley a week later. "Space, here we come!"

"There are still some hurdles, Jim," Kyoko warned without taking her eyes from the documentation we'd just received on the superconductor process. But I could see she was practically quivering with excitement herself.

And so was I. "I don't see any insuperable problems, but we will have to look into the radiation control issue carefully. It may be tough to maintain just the right flux throughout the crystallization process. If there's a solar storm—"

"Automatic feedback — whoops, the shielding would add a lot of weight, wouldn't it? But maybe . . . Kyoko, where's that curve they did of yield versus flux?"

The door opened and Grey suddenly walked in. We looked up in astonishment.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your meeting, but something urgent has come up. Dr. Enright, would you come with me, please? I've already told your secretary that you'll be out for the rest of the day."

I took my jacket and followed him to his car. As he pulled onto the freeway I was pressed back into my seat and was reminded that the Mercedes is a German car, designed for use on autobahns with no speed limit. To my surprise I saw a top-of-the-line radar/laser detector attached to the dashboard.

"What's up?" I asked. I was terrified that something had happened to make the Lanthanide Materials deal fall through.

"You haven't heard? I guess not, I just heard myself. Hugh — Mr. McBarr — is in the hospital. He collapsed on his flight back from Philadelphia, just before landing. His copilot brought in the plane and they rushed him off in an ambulance."

"That's too bad," I said. "Heart attack?"

Grey didn't seem to hear. After a minute, he said, "Time for you to know, anyhow. Hugh has lung cancer; it was diagnosed years ago. It's been kept secret — except from the Board, they had to know. Of course they wouldn't have given him the job here if it hadn't been so obviously a temporary, turnaround situation. But in the last few months the malignancy has progressed rapidly."

Things began to add up for me. "That's why—"

"Yes. He was in the hospital a lot. We let people think he was on vacation or out of town." He drove on in silence for a few minutes, dodging slower-moving vehicles. "We all smoked back in those days, it was part of the macho image for pilots. They used to say they expected to spin in long before the cigarettes would kill them. Now . . ."

"You were a pilot, too?" I asked, astonished.

"No, I washed out early — eyesight. I qualified as a navigator. But Hugh was determined to become a test pilot. He was very good. Then on his first mission in Korea he was shot down by flak and his arm was hurt badly. It healed pretty well, but they wouldn't let him fly high-performance planes any more. He wanted to fly the X-series rockets, but that was totally out of the question. So he quit the Service and went into business."

He swerved through traffic to the freeway exit and decelerated in way that made my stomach lurch. I could see the hospital already. "If he had cancer, why didn't he retire? He's rich, isn't he? Why did he take the CalAero job?"

"Because of the Radical Booster Design, of course. We were both enormously frustrated that space exploration was going nowhere. None of the damned space enthusiasts could understand that they're staying right here on earth till space makes sense as a business proposition. He and I could both see that the RBD was the solution. CalAero had the key to the whole thing, but those meatheads we replaced were running the company right into the ground. Hugh and I could see that when the crash came the Orbital Division would be shut down and the RBD blueprints would be filed and forgotten. So we had to take over the company ourselves so we could control the process and save the RBD. We had a hell of a time wheedling the big stockholders into putting us in for the turnaround, especially with the damned doctors telling them that Hugh had only a few weeks to live. Well, he showed them. But—"

He whipped into the parking lot and rushed me into the building. He went directly to the oncology floor without having to ask for directions, glanced at the directory board in the nurses' station, and made a beeline for McBarr's room.

A doctor and nurse stood by the bed. McBarr, unconscious in a hospital bed, surrounded by drip lines and electrical monitors, looked very different from the hard-driving executive I'd thought I'd known.

"Good morning, Dr. Chang," said Grey. "How is he?"

The doctor shook his head. "Very bad. The metastasis into the liver is the real problem now. He's still got liver function but it's dropping almost as we watch." He hesitated, then went on. "Mr. Grey, there isn't going to be a comeback this time. Not from this one. I'm sorry."

"I believe you. We've been expecting it."

"Shouldn't we notify his family?"

"He has none to speak of. His son died in Viet Nam. His ex-wife lives in Grenoble and hasn't spoken to him in years. I have his power of attorney, as you know." He looked out the window for a minute, while we stood in silence, then turned back to the doctor. "All right. Bring him up, please."

"Are you sure you want to do that? He's—"

"This is necessary, doctor. Bring him up, please."

The doctor frowned, nodded at the nurse. She made an adjustment to a drip line.

After a while McBarr's head started to move back and forth. His face twisted and he moaned. We waited as his eyes opened and moved over us. Then suddenly his face changed; it was as if somebody had adjusted the focus knob on an oscilloscope. He began to speak, very slowly and carefully, but the old authority came even through the oxygen mask.

"Hello, Henry. Dr. Chang. I'm glad to see you here, Bob."

"Mr. McBarr, I'm so sorry—"

"No time for that. Now, listen carefully, both of you. I've been working to build support on the Board for the RBD project. A CEO can't just do as he pleases, especially these days. The following are solidly committed: Abel, Delimitros, Hendricks, Morgan, and Takahashi. In Philadelphia, I got the big investors to agree to putting Baker and Jameson on the Board at next month's meeting. That will solidify our majority.

"Henry, I think I've got it wired for you to be my successor. They'll put you in as a caretaker, and if you don't screw up they'll keep you. Bob, you're going to become Chief Technical Officer for the corporation."

"Good God, sir, I'm not—"

He stretched out a hand and I took it. His grip was almost painfully strong; I noticed his other hand grasping the bed rail, the knuckles white.

"You can handle it, and we have to have a champion for RBD at the highest level of the technical hierarchy. Listen, Bob, Henry, I'm sorry I couldn't push this through all the way. You have to carry the ball now. CalAero will be in the black next year; you've got a Board that will support you; and I've put loyal people in all the key management positions. You've got your chance, and this Lanthanide deal looks really good. Bob, I hope you understand by now that man is never going to get into space until it makes economic sense. Henry will back you, but you have to make it happen. I'm counting on you."

"I'll do it, Mr. McBarr."

"Good." He let go of my hand, took Grey's. "Henry . . . thanks."

"It's been a pleasure, Hugh. It's always been a pleasure."

"Me too . . . Doctor, I think I'd like to take a nap now."

At a gesture from Dr. Chang, the nurse adjusted the morphine IV again. We turned away and left the room as McBarr drifted back into sleep. The doctor met us outside the door.

"How long, now?" asked Grey quietly.

"A day or so," said Dr. Chang.

"I see. I'll wait."

We walked down the hall to a small room the hospital provided for the purpose. I could hardly sort out my emotions. Grey and I sat down on the couch and looked at each other. Then the Bean Counter put his head on my shoulder and began to sob.