Read Like A Writer

There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.


John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction

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Friday, April 22, 2016

The Undetected by George O. Smith


The Undetected

By GEORGE O. SMITH

Illustrated by FINLAY

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction December 1959.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



Nothing can possibly be more baffling than
a crime in a sealed room ... but what if the
investigator happens to have an open mind?


I

I took a quick look around the apartment, even though I already knew what I had to know.

Gordon Andrews had been slain in his sleep by the quick thrust of some rapierlike instrument. There was no sign of any struggle. The wall safe stood with its door open and its contents missing. Every door and window was closed, locked, burglar-bugged, and non-openable from the inside; the front door had been forced by the police. Furthermore, it had been raining in wind-whipped torrents for hours, yet there was no trace of moisture on any of the floors.

Of course no one had heard a sound, and naturally there were no fingerprints.

Police Chief Weston spied me and snapped, "What do you make of it, Schnell?"

I shrugged and said, "Completely sealed room."

"Got any ideas?" he demanded.

I had a lot of ideas, but I was not going to express myself without a lot of stark evidence. I do not yearn to have the prefix "ex-" installed in front of my title of Captain of Detectives. I'm much too young to be retired. So instead of trying to explain, I said, "The modus operandi is—"

Chief Weston snorted, "Schnell, there isn't a clue in the whole damned building, and yet you stand there and yap about modus operandi?"

"That's the point, Chief. The cluelessness is itself the modus operandi that points to—"

"You talk as if we had a whole file of unsolved, clueless, sealed-room homicides!"

"Chief," I said, "a true 'perfect crime' would be one in which no clue existed, including the fact of the crime itself—except those clues that were deliberately planned by the perpetrator for some purpose of his own."


He glowered at me. "What are you driving at, Schnell?"

"I'm trying to convince you that we are faced with a very clever criminal mind," I said. "A man with a fine talent. One who plans his crimes so well that they aren't even recognized as criminal."

"Nonsense. You can't conceal any crime forever."

"Forever isn't necessary, Chief. Just long enough to cover up completely, to remove all connection. We don't know how many bank tellers have been running on reduced salary because they somehow paid out a hundred in cashing a ten-dollar check. We couldn't demand an audit of all the big financial accounts in town, to know the why and wherefore of the transfer of any sum of money larger than the limit of petty larceny."

"But now you are talking about a sly, clever operator, Schnell. This is a plain case of homicide and burglary."

Plain? Was he kidding himself?

I smiled crookedly. "Chief, there is no doubt in my mind that our crook intended to clean out Gordon Andrews' safe without disturbing a soul. But the imminent awakening of Andrews presented a physical threat that had to be silenced immediately."

"So that is the work of your sly thief?"

"Chief, just remember that Gordon Andrews was an eccentric old sourpuss who hated to do business with bankers. Now let's suppose that Andrews had awakened in the morning to find his safe cleaned out. He screeches for the cops. We come a-roaring in with the fingerprint detail and the safe specialists and the break-in experts. We find," I said with a wave of my hand, "everything just as we found it here and now. So we look Gordon Andrews in the eye and tell him that no one could get in, no one had gotten in, and that we suspect him of cleaning out his own safe and yelling 'Copper' to make trouble for the Mayor and the Commissioner, who refused to appoint him a special detail of city employees for bodyguards last year."

"Go on, Schnell," said Chief Weston with deadly patience.

"The homicide was a spur-of-the-moment necessity. Had it been planned, the crook would have plugged Andrews with the old man's personal Banker's Special, which he kept on the bedside table, and made it look like suicide."

"Know a lot about Andrews, don't you, Schnell?"

"What do you mean, Chief?"

"About the Banker's Special."

"I have an excellent memory," I said. "Andrews had a license for the thing. The serial number is 233,467,819 and the gun and license were acquired on August seventh, 1951."


The Chief sarcastically grunted, "Has it been fired since?"

"It was fired six times at the date of delivery by the police laboratory for the land-mark records," I said.

"Let's not try being funny, Schnell. This is a serious business. Andrews was an eccentric old curmudgeon, but he was also a philanthropist, and the papers will be after our throats if we don't come up with this super-criminal."

"He's going to be damned tough, Chief."

"Okay, this is your project. Nothing else matters until he's caught and convicted—of homicide committed during the course of grand robbery, meaning automatic hot seat."

I nodded slowly.

"Just remember, Schnell—the whole department's behind you," Chief Weston assured me.

I continued to nod, but his assurance didn't reassure me in the least. With about ninety-eight per cent of the general public still not quite willing to accept rockets, missiles and space travel, I had a fat chance of convincing anybody that a telepath had kept guard over the slumbering mind of Gordon Andrews, while a perceptive solved the combination to the wall safe, so that a kinematic could twirl the dial; that the imminent awakening of Gordon Andrews had indeed been an imminent physical threat to a delicate extra-sensory undertaking, and that therefore he had been silenced by the kinematic, with a weapon located by the perceptive, after warning from the telepath; after which the crime had continued, with the loot being floated by a levitator along a freeway explored by the perceptive and scouted by the telepath and cleared of barriers by the kinematic who opened and debugged them as he went along—and that the real topper for this whopper was that this operation was not the integrated effort of a clever gang of extra-sensory specialists, but rather the single-handed accomplishment of one highly talented Psi-man!

A Psi-man ruthless enough to kill before he would permit his victim to watch the turning dial, the floating loot, the opening portal, simply because there stood a probability that one of the two billion persons on Earth might suspect the phenomena as parapsychical activity, instead of the hallucinatory ravings of a rich old eccentric who hated the incumbent political party!

How best to keep a secret?

Let no one suspect that any secret exists!


II

The rain was still coming down in wind-whipped torrents that slatted along the avenue in drenching sheets. Huddled in the scant cover of the apartment door was a girl of about eighteen. The raincoat she wore was no protection; the wind drove the rain up under it. Womanlike, she was struggling with the ruins of a fashionable little umbrella instead of abandoning it for the tangled mess that it was.

She looked at me as I opened the door. She was without guile. She was wet and miserable and determined to take whatever help was proffered, and hope afterward that no unfair advantage would be taken of the situation.

I showed her my I.D. card and she read: "Howard Schnell, Captain, Special Detail." Her face changed from cautious immobility to a sort of wet animation, and she added as if it were important under the circumstances to be completely open, "I'm Florence Wood."

I took the ruined umbrella from her unresisting hand and stood it in the foyer for the janitor to dispose of, and pointed out across the rain-ponded sidewalk to the police car. It was almost high noon, but the rain was so heavy that the identity of the car was by no means conspicuous from the apartment door. Florence Wood nodded as she caught sight of it.

I said, "Now, I'll make a run for it and open the door, and get in first so that I'll be on the driver's side. As soon as I'm out of your way, just dive in and don't worry about closing the door until you're out of this rain. Catch?"

She nodded.

"I'd play Sir Galahad and give you my foul-weather gear to wear," I said, "but you're already so wet that it wouldn't do more than keep the water in."

She smiled at me understandingly.

Then she looked at me with curiosity because I was standing there waiting instead of making my dash immediately. I thought of how my Psi-man could have floated the loot out of an open window and kept the rain from soaking the floor at the same time.

So, to make conversation, I said, "I'm waiting until my will power builds up enough to overcome the forces of gravity, barometric pressure, and the rest of whatever goes into the making of a howling downpour like this. Considering that nature is dissipating energy equal to a couple of hundred atom bombs per second, it takes a bit of time to collect the necessary amount of mental power."

Florence Wood laughed. In mere instants she'd changed from weather-drenched misery to a cheerful sort of discomfort no worse than many a human has endured for hours at a football game. She said with amusement, "Captain Schnell, why don't you start the car and drive it over here? Seems to me it would take less power than stopping this storm."

"The law says that it is considered unlawful to operate a motor vehicle from any position other than the driver's seat," I replied.


When the slack in the storm I'd been anticipating finally arrived, I took advantage of it to make my run across the sidewalk. Miss Wood followed: her timing was perfect. Everything happened in a continuous sequence without a stoppage at any point. The door opened and I went in, landing hard and bouncing deliberately on the seat springs to hunch myself over; Miss Wood landed and whirled in a flurry of wet skirt and clammy raincoat, hauling one rain-booted ankle out of the way as the door swung closed with a solid and satisfying thunk.

I started the car and let the engine idle to warm it up and dry it off. Then I said, "Part of my duty to the citizen includes protection of his health and comfort as well as protection from unlawful behavior. So, where do you wish to be taken?"

She regarded me out of clear gray eyes. "Don't you know?" she asked with a quirk at the corner of her mouth.

"Do I look like a mind reader?"

"Well, you did slow down the storm."

I laughed. "Miss Wood, King Canute would have been a hero instead of a bum if he'd waited until high water before he told the tide to stop. Now, what gave you any reason to suppose that I am endowed with special talents?"

"Well," she said, fumbling through her handbag for the comb, which naturally was at the bottom, "you did come along when I needed help, and you did identify yourself when I so much wanted to know—"

"And since I also remembered that storms as violent as this always have lulls, you put two and two together? Well, it doesn't require telepathy to conclude that you are soaked to the skin, that you need and want help, and that you'd prefer to know just whom you are driving off in a car with. Any other ideas about my talents?"

"Well, I should think—"

"Address first, Miss Wood."

She gave me an address in a residential district that was the maximum distance one could get from City Hall and still enjoy the privilege of paying city taxes. I started the car and headed in that direction. Then I said, "Now, Miss Wood, let's go on with your little fancy."

"Fancy?"

"You've been moonbeaming about a little courtroom drama where twelve good telepaths and true are reading the mental testimony of a witness who had located some vital bit of evidence by perception and brought it to light by kinematic power."

"Well, it does seem that any truly gifted person would work for the good of humanity."

"I doubt that being gifted with a sense of perception would automatically endow a man with a sense of honor."

"But doesn't it seem just awful to think of anything as miraculous as telepathy being used for—for—"

She was trying to avoid the word "immoral" because she was of an age and experience that felt sensitive about its use. Unfortunately the only substitute was the word "sin."

I came to her rescue. "It's deplorable but true that nothing was ever developed for the benefit of mankind without a few sharpshooters quickly figuring out some way to make it pay them a dishonest buck."

"But it would be frightfully hard to bamboozle a telepathic policeman, wouldn't it?" she asked hopefully.


I thought of my PSI-man, whose only mistake in the sealed room murder of Gordon Andrews had been in being so good that he'd actually disclosed the existence of a criminal who employed Psi faculties.

"Wouldn't that depend upon whether the policeman or the criminal was the more talented?" I parried. "But that supposes that the police force would have a corps of Psi policemen."

"Wouldn't they?"

"Honey-chile," I said, "at the first thin hint that the Commissioner was even interested in the possibility of hiring someone who knew what the term 'parapsychic phenomena' really meant, there would be a universal howl against 'Thought Police' so loud that it would shatter the polar icecaps."

"But why?" she asked, bewildered.

"They'd start screaming about 'invasion of privacy,' and cite the Bill of Rights, and that would be that."

"You mean that the law has laws against telepathy?"

"No, it doesn't say anything about telepathy," I admitted, knowing what was to come next.

"Well, then?"

"Don't sound so superior, Miss Wood. At the first attempt, the law would discover that it had a hell of a lot to say about telepathy and perception, since they'd definitely affect the interpretation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments."

"I know the Fifth," she said, "but how about the Fourth?"

"Unreasonable and unwarranted search," I told her.

"But isn't a man guilty when he's guilty?"

"I wish it were as simple as that."

"But why isn't it?"

"Little Miss Wood, you are now asking me to solve an ethical question that's been unanswered for more than ten thousand years." I smiled wistfully. "I am not—repeat not—big enough to answer the following question: 'Shall a killer in the confessional, who has been given absolution by his God, subsequently be punished by his fellow man?'"

"But what has that to do with it?"

"Let's have you answer one: 'Could you truly bare your secret soul to God if you suspected that some prying human being was taking it all down on a tape recorder?'"

"No, I suppose not."

"Then our 'Thought Police' would be standing as a human barrier between any man and his God."

"I suppose so—but couldn't I tell?"

"Tell?"

"Tell whether someone was listening to my thoughts?"

That was another stumper. Does the sign wear out any faster if it's read? Can the radio transmitter be measured to tell whether the broadcast has any audience? Does the tree that falls in the forest barren of animal life generate the same wave-motion as it would if all the leaves were replaced by active eardrums? There are lots of analogs, but are any of them valid?

I said, "If I cry out, how can I know whether I am being heard?"

And in my mind I made my own reply. I thought in deep concentration: "How do you read me, Psi-man?"

The response was zero-zero. And it meant—nothing. My Psi-man could have been following my every thought from the moment that my ringing telephone summoned me to Gordon Andrews' apartment to the present instant, so far as I could tell. There was no feeling of intrusion, no feeling of presence.


III

Florence Wood giggled. "Going to stop the rain again, Captain Schnell?"

The storm was still howling. In the near suburbs, the rain came in more gracefully draped sheets and the wind was not whirlpooled by the fluelike canyons between the buildings, but residential rainwater is just as wet per cubic centimeter as the metropolitan variety.

"Maybe I should drive up over the lawn," I suggested.

"Daddy would blow a fuse."

"We might wait for it to let up."

"I'd rather not," she said soberly. "It's one thing to be driven home in a strange car during a cloudburst, but it's something else to sit out here making it look as if I were paying off by making out."

It came as a pleasant surprise that she did not consider me a superannuated gaffer, and it was her youth that allowed her to discuss parapsychic phenomena without the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the older know-it-alls. I considered Florence Wood and realized that she was at least old enough so that I wouldn't be jugged for cradle-robbing so long as I had a parental acceptance. And I did want someone to talk out the business of psionics without having someone wind me in a sheet and ship me to a shrinker.

And so I said, "If it will smooth things a bit, I'll umbrella you to the door and make official explanation to the stern and anxious parent."

"That we'll enjoy," she giggled. "Daddy always says that he doesn't have to be a mind reader to advise against what my boy friends have in mind. It'll be fun to face him with a—policeman."

Darkly, I said, "Most folks don't look upon me as the fun-loving type. Policemen aren't always welcome, you know."

"Oh, Daddy will enjoy it. He writes a bit. He'll never be another Ellery Queen, but he will enjoy talking to a real live captain of detectives."

At this point a lot of favorable things took place at once, such as the arrival of another convenient letup in the storm, the mad rush and the ringing of the doorbell, the opening of the door and some gasped introductions as we stood in a little hallway dripping puddles of rainwater on a small rug.

"Police Captain—?"

"Howard Schnell."

"But Florence isn't—?"

I laughed at Mrs. Wood. "Not at all. This is just the rescue of a very wet maiden in distress. When we're not shooting bank robbers, we also help little old ladies—and lovely young girls—across streets. All in the day's work, you know."

Mrs. Wood hauled Florence off, saying something about hot showers and dry clothing, while Mr. Wood regarded me with interest.


He beat all the way around the bush, trying to ascertain without actually asking pointblank whether I could spend a few moments, and, if so, would I like a drink.

One must not anticipate, so I waited until he'd made his meaning clear. Then I accepted his offer of some bourbon, refused his offer of a cigar and settled myself into the chair he waved at.

I tasted the highball, smiled in approval, and opened the conversation by saying, "Your daughter tells me that you write, Mr. Wood."

He smiled wistfully. "Well, I'm not at the stage where the mere announcement that I am working on a novel causes an immediate pre-publication sale of seventy thousand copies. You see, I'm still trying to work out a good association gimmick."

"A what?"

"An association gimmick. The name Erle Stanley Gardner, for instance, always means a story about Perry Mason and the inevitable courtroom scene full of legal fireworks. Rex Stout has his Nero Wolf, the fabulous detective who lets his secretary do all the work."

"And," I added, "John Dickson Carr writes about Gideon Fell, who is an expert at solving sealed-room mysteries."

"Exactly!" he said. "I've a series of gimmicks all planned, but I really need a strong, out-of-the-ordinary character to go along with them. You see, I propose to write a series of stories about 'perfect crimes.'"

"I'm not smart," I said. "I've always assumed that the so-called 'perfect crime' would be one in which the criminal walks off scot-free with the loot under one arm and the girl on the other."

He said, "From your point of view, a true 'perfect crime' would be one in which no clue existed, including the fact of the crime itself—except those clues that were deliberately planned by the perpetrator for some purpose of his own. That is your own angle, isn't it?"

I nodded. Indeed it was, and it had been expressed in precisely the same words that I had used in speaking to Chief Weston.

"However," he went on blandly, "you'll agree that a clue is usually the result of a mistake, or failure to plan completely, or the result of some accidental circumstance."

"Right."

"But in a 'perfect crime' there would be no error, no mistake."

"Yes, but aren't you backing yourself into a hole that you've lined with fish hooks yourself?"

"Not at all," he replied. "Clues must be cleverly contrived, created, and established in such a way that the episode is ultimately known to be crime and not labeled misadventure, suicide, or the like. Otherwise," he said with a genial smile, "we're writing about a 'perfectly justifiable homicide' instead of a 'perfect crime.'"

I nodded again.

"And, of course," he finished, "these clues must also provide precisely the correct amount of information so that the motive of the criminal is not only fulfilled, but exposed—if not to one of the characters in the book, at least to the reader."


Mr. Wood relaxed and sipped his own drink. From somewhere aloft, a number of individually insignificant traces added up to fairly reliable evidence that Florence and Mrs. Wood were about to return. I gathered that the cross-questioning had allayed any parental suspicion.

I said, "One thing you haven't mentioned," and paused for effect. "To the Hindu, 'perfection' means the inclusion of an almost imperceptible flaw so that its maker cannot be accused of presuming to be as good as God. Is your 'perfect crime' to be perfect in the eyes of the criminal, or in the eyes of the police?"

He said, "Ah, Captain Schnell, that is indeed one of my bothersome problems."

Mrs. Wood came into the room, followed by Florence. The girl had lost the soaked-gamin look. She was transformed by modern alchemy into a poised young woman who forced me to revise my estimated eighteen several years upward. She nodded affably at her father, smiled at me and then came over because she noticed that my highball glass was empty.

I thanked her, and she smiled wide and bright as she asked, "Has Daddy been giving you the details of his impossible bandit?"

"Well, in a way."

Mr. Wood said, "I'm sort of like the standard television father—incapable of adding two and two without the close supervision of the female members of my family."

"I—that is, we—keep telling Daddy he should hire Superman for a hero."

"You've changed," chuckled Mr. Wood.

"Changed?"

"Yesterday you advocated that I hire a detective with telepathy and a sense of perception."

"We discussed it on the way home," said Florence.

"Superman?" I asked.

"No, this extra-sensory business," said Florence.

Mr. Wood inquired, "Are you interested in parapsychology, Captain Schnell?"

"I've been interested in the subject for a good many years," I answered.

"Would the public accept it, I wonder," he mused.

Mrs. Wood said, "A lot of people read psychic books."

Mr. Wood said plaintively, "I don't want to write psychic books. I want to write whodunits. But it would solve my problem, wouldn't it? My series would consist of crimes that would be perfect, except for the introduction of a Master of Psionics who tells the story in the first person singular, and who solves the crime by parapsychic power."

"It might read better if you made your extra-sensory character the criminal," I suggested.

He shook his head. "Wouldn't do at all. A criminal with extra-sensory talent would always win out over the police. There have been only a very few successful stories written in which the criminal got away."

"Maybe he wouldn't," I said.

"But how could he possibly fail?"

"He might get sloppy."

"Sloppy! Mind reading every anticipated move?"

"Or bored."

"Bored!"

"One often leads to the other," I told him with a smile. "Which is just my policeman's way of thinking. From the policeman's point of view, you're overlooking one rather important angle."

"Indeed? Well, you must tell me all about it."


"Okay," I said. "My point is that you should not view this as a single incident in the life of an extra-sensory who has turned his talent to crime, but rather take the overall view. For instance, we can write the life history of our Psi-man in broad terms. As a schoolboy, he was considered extraordinarily lucky at games of chance and skilled in games of manual dexterity; he stood high in schoolwork and at the same time managed to do it without working very hard. By the time he enters high school, he realizes that his success is due to some sort of 'sensing' of when things will be right. This increases the efficiency of his talent and he surges forward and would have become top-of-class if he hadn't discovered that brilliance in recitation made up for a lack of handed-in homework.

"In other words, nothing stands as a real challenge to him. His talents surmount the obstacles that confront his fellow man. He could collect corporations or be a labor leader, President or bum. Anything he wants can be gotten without much fuss. Our Psi-man is primarily interested in a statistical income sufficient to support him to the dictates of his ambition. The trick is to achieve, say, twenty grand per annum, in such a way that the manipulation is never discovered.

"At first our Psi-man plans meticulously. But soon this process seems unnecessary because the poor ignorant homo saps don't even know they're being conned. He has no hard surface against which to whet his nervous edge, and so he begins to play games. He leaves clues, at first to ascertain the true level of his fellow man's intelligence and ability. Next he leaves conflicting clues to see which way the poor dopes will jump. In a world that scoffs at parapsychic phenomena, he leaves clues to support the theory that only an extra-sensory criminal could have done the dastardly deed. Will one of the ignorant apes recognize the truth? If he does, will he be in a high position, or will he be one of the diligent ones who fetch coffee for the guy in the upper office? If the work of a Psi-man is recognized, how will our bright policeman go about it, and what will he do with the evidence after it's been shown to him?

"And so, Mr. Wood, our Psi-man criminal has become bored because there is no one in the world to challenge him, and he gets sloppy through his growing contempt for the antlike activities of his fellow creatures. At last he shows himself, deliberately taunting them to take action against him. And that," I concluded, with a nod at him, "might be the 'perfect crime' in which your extra-sensory criminal finally exposes himself."

"But why," Mrs. Wood asked in perplexity, "would such a talented person turn to crime—or do you think that all extra-sensory people—"

I turned to smile at her. "Mrs. Wood, I was not speaking of extra-sensory people as a statistical body. I was referring to one particular character."

"I find him hard to believe in."

"On the contrary, my dear," said Mr. Wood, "Captain Schnell has drawn an amazingly accurate thumbnail sketch of our Psi-man, and I daresay that he could go on and on, filling in more minute details."

"Oh, yes, indeed," I said. "But I must leave it up to the professional writer to tell what the brilliant policeman does when he recognizes the work as that of an extra-sensory. For instance, does he become bold enough to mention it to Chief Weston, or to Commissioner Stone? Or will he confine his discussion to the company of a rain-soaked young woman so circumstantially available and coincidentally willing to discuss Psionics?"

"Captain Schnell," breathed Florence Wood, "what on Earth are you talking about?"

"Your father," I said.

Mr. Wood stepped into the breach. "Captain Schnell was dramatizing for your benefit, I'm sure. Because Captain Schnell knows very well how impossible it is to surprise a telepath into revealing himself."

Florence Wood's expression changed to a mildly bothered smile. "It certainly sounded as if he were accusing you of something."

"You mean—like—mind reading?" he asked with a big belly laugh that closed the subject.


IV

By most of the rules of society, both Mr. Wood and I were guilty of gross gentility. He greeted me overtly as the welcome guest and needled me with a show of patronizing tolerance as he implied that my basic interest was in Florence.

To match him, I accepted his hospitality and made use of the proximity to spy on him and his family.

There are ways and means of making a pretended deaf-mute reveal himself—the human being does not live who will not leap halfway out of his skin at the shock of an unexpected revolver shot, no matter how well trained he is at feigning deafness.

As for surprising a telepath, I knew it wouldn't work, but I had to try it anyway. I put both Mrs. Wood and Florence through a number of mental hurdles. To this, Mr. Wood took a quietly tolerant attitude. He understood and was prepared to accept as healthily normal a certain amount of lust and carnal conjecture in the minds of males who were interested in his daughter. He forgave me for mentally insulting his wife because he knew that my mental peregrinations were only aimed at determining whether his wife was telepathic. Finally he came out flatly and told me to stop wasting my effort, because neither Florence nor Mrs. Wood had a trace of extra-sensory power. Their lack of shocked or outraged response was not a case of the well-trained telepath divining my intention and planning a blank response.

Furthermore, Mr. Wood asserted that neither of them knew of his extra-sensory faculty, that he fully intended to keep it that way, and that I should know damned well that such stunts wouldn't work in the first place.

And so I continued to enjoy a dinner now and then, and occasionally the company of Florence.

Ultimately the lack of progress brought Chief Weston's nervous system to the blowup point. He called me in and I went, knowing that trouble cannot always be avoided, and when it can't, it's just plain sense to kick out the props and have done with it.

He plowed right in: "And what in hell have you been doing?"

"Chief, I've been—"

"You put a make-team on some half-baked writer named Wood."

"Edward Hazlett—"

"Because," he yelled, "the first person you saw when you stuck your nose outside of Gordon Andrews' apartment was Florence Wood!"

"Well, Chief, you see—"

"You perhaps suspected that she'd just walked through the wall of that apartment? And naturally you pulled out your hip-pocket crime laboratory and checked that umbrella tip for bloodstains before you threw it aside."

"Well, you see—"

"Schnell, would you have been so damned gallant if she'd been an ugly old hag in a ratty dress carrying a dead halibut wrapped in an old newspaper?"

"But you see—"

"So you leap into gallant action, and after you've rescued the fair maiden from her watery grave, you suddenly find it desirable to use a department automobile to deliver the damsel home."

"But—"

"Schnell, I'll bet that Wood girl wasn't any wetter than you were. And that's how you put the long arm of coincidence to work?"


It was more than coincidence. Florence Wood had been in that soaking rain and whipping wind for more than an hour. Any housewife would have corroborated my statement that only a prolonged soaking can achieve a truly wet-through-the-seams condition. Oh, Daddy Wood was just the guy to think of a stunt like saturating the seams and fibers of his daughter's clothing by agitating the water supersonically at high amplitude, but, let's face it, that would have beaten hell out of her soft white skin.

As for the umbrella, the wound could indeed have been made by a rapierlike thrust. But a comparison between the depth of the wound and the length of the tip showed that the bottom of the wound could not have been reached without forcing part of the umbrella itself into the victim's body. The face of the wound showed no such outsize penetration, hence the umbrella was not the sought-for weapon.

At this point, Chief Weston's telephone interrupted him and he snatched it up, bellowed his name, and then listened. Finally he snarled that it was for me and fairly hurled the handset at me.

I caught it at the end of its cord and said: "Captain Schnell, Special Detail—"

"Oh, I know it is you, Captain Schnell," said the suave voice of Edward Hazlett Wood. "I just wanted to tell you that your analysis of the umbrella's uselessness as evidence was quite brilliant. Also your logic in the matter of my daughter's rain-soaked clothing was clever. I really don't regret the chewing out you are getting. You deserve it. I was hoping to find you bright enough to avoid it. Anyway, can we expect you for dinner this evening?"

"Yes," I snapped, and hung up, thinking a few things that would have called for a terse reprimand about foul and abusive language if telepathy were administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

"Wood?" snapped Chief Weston.

"Yes."

"Date?" he snarled.

I groaned. Wood did have the nasty telepath's ability to maneuver me into a situation that I could not conveniently avoid.

"When they start calling the office to pester you for dates—"

"I know what I'm doing!"

"So do I!" he yelled. "You're doing nothing!"

"Listen, Chief, I'll admit the long arm of coincidence, but you'll have to admit that when there's trouble, I'm usually the first one to smell it."

"So how do you connect them up?"

"Chief, I walk out of that apartment with your own words ringing in my ears. 'Looks like the classical setup for a "perfect crime,"' you said. And then I meet this girl who just happens to have a father who writes whodunits and is planning a series of books based upon the 'perfect crime.'"

"Maybe," sneered Chief Weston, "the guy is a mind reader."

"I've given even that some consideration."

"So I hear tell."

"Any objections?" I asked.


"Objections? I've got a lot of objections!" he howled. "This is a police department, not a soothsayers' convention! We're subject to enough criticism as it is. You needn't have added the act that makes us look like a bunch of damned fools."

"But, Chief, I—"

"So what do I hear tell?" He hauled the tray drawer of his desk open and pulled out one of the tabloids, opened to one of its hate-everything columnists. "Listen! 'In recent years the legality of the famous witchcraft trials of the past has been subject to debate, with the result that these past convictions have now been declared "miscarriages of justice." Posthumously, I must unhappily add. However, there has been little or no amendment to the laws against witchcraft, wizardry, charms, amulets and spells.

"'But brace yourselves, citizens. One of our younger and more brilliant captains of detectives has shown an interest recently in parapsychics and may be training to track down criminals by the application of extra-sensory detection. If this be true, the laws will have to be ruptured to permit him to secure evidence, since it is a tenet of the law that evidence must be secured through legal methods and processes.

"'Fortune Tellers of the World, Arise! You have nothing to lose but your crystal balls!'"

Chief Weston slapped the paper down. "What do you think of that?"

I said, "He's just making noise. Telepathy has nothing in common with—"

"I wish I could stop you from even thinking about telepathy!"

"If you could," I said calmly, "you'd have to be telepathic to determine when I had violated your dictum—and if you were telepathic, Chief, you'd have been on my side from the beginning."

He merely glared at me. At this moment I should have been expecting the worst, and prepared to meet it. But please remember that there's always that mental block against prying, especially when the United States mail is concerned. But now Edward Hazlett Wood was about to show me how a real extra-sensory sharpshooter clobbers his enemies.


Weston's secretary entered, carrying a package.

I saw it, knew at once what it was, and groaned with despair. The only chance I saw of getting out of this was the forlorn hope that Weston would believe the package was a dig, probably mailed by the sniping columnist.

It was cleverly contrived. The addressee's name had been blurred and half-obliterated so that it couldn't have been quietly dropped on my desk where I could have disposed of its damning contents quietly. It had, of course, come special delivery, urgent, immediate handling. If I were a believer in amulets, witches and spells, I'd have been of the opinion that an aura of urgency had been created about the box.

Chief Weston's secretary handed it to him with a mumbled suggestion that it seemed to be important, and perhaps it should be opened in hopes that the contents would convey information as to the identity of the owner.

I said nothing.


Inside the package was a fine crystal ball, a set of tarot cards with a thick book of explanations, and a second deck of cards the like of which most people have heard but few have actually seen. These were the square, circle, wiggly line cards used in parapsychic research.



There was the damning evidence of a packing slip with my name clearly printed on it, and a rubber stamp notation that the merchandise order had been accompanied by a prepaid postal note.

The timing was perfect. The problem of keeping that package on schedule all the way from its point of origin to its devastating delivery must have taxed Wood's faculties, but he'd done it.

Chief Weston's choler rose visibly, and in a voice loud enough to be heard in Asbury Park, he yelled: "Schnell, did you—buy—this?"

I was trapped. No matter what I said, it was calculated to get me into trouble. For in the petty cash box in the secretary's desk was a petty cash slip made out in the amount of thirty-nine dollars and seventeen cents for a postal money order payable to the Aladdin Novelty Company of Bayonne, New Jersey. The signature was good enough for me to accept it myself. All along the line it had been nicely legal—or would have been if I'd really signed that petty cash slip.

If it came to an argument, I'd have to perform miracles to prove my innocence.

"Schnell," said Weston in a cold, level voice, "you'll get me a lead on the Gordon Andrews murder by tomorrow night or hand me your badge."

I fumed in silence because there was nothing to say.

"Get out!"

As I closed the door behind me, I heard the crash of the crystal ball hitting the wall. Luckily he hadn't hurled it at the glass panel in his office door.

My own phone was ringing as I approached my desk. I picked it up wearily and said, "Very clever, Mr. Wood. Very damned clever."

He said, "Your basic difficulty, Captain Schnell, is that you have sworn to uphold the law and are compelled to employ legal methods. You must always work within the framework of the law. You would not think of tampering with the United States mails, even to save yourself from an unjust charge."

"Wood, if I make a single move outside of the law, you'll use it against me, won't you?"

"I'm afraid that's the way it has to be. You play according to your rules and I'll play according to mine."

"Well, now, Mr. Wood, in our philosophy there may be strength. Remember, upon the day that the forces of law and order must violate their own concepts in order to effect their own ends, on that day law and order ceases to be the goal of honest men."

"Spoken like an idealist!"

Hanging up a telephone is not polite, but in this case hanging up did not snap the link of communication.


V

An angry man is a poor fighter. I sat shuffling papers on my desk, half of my intellect raging helplessly. Finally I forced myself to sit and read the papers on the desk, even though I knew every word on every one of them.

One reported that Wood had been one of the less conspicuous partners in a very successful personnel-placement agency. I could have added a penciled note that a telepath should make a very successful personnel manager.

Another said that Florence Wood was employed as a safety deposit vault clerk in the Third National Bank. This didn't bother me. What the standard human gets out of staring at a solid phalanx of safety deposit boxes is a headache, not perceptive-gained information.

There was a medical report that Wood had undergone a mild coronary occlusion some months ago which had hastened his retirement. I wondered whether his retirement had been hastened by a real coronary occlusion or whether he'd used his extra-sensory power to fake the symptoms and control the doctor's instruments.

Among the papers was a complete dissertation on the stab-wound in Gordon Andrews' chest. There was no trace of any foreign body; the wound did not go all the way through the chest cavity. It was not clean cut, as if made by a sharpened weapon, but more like the semi-rounded end of an umbrella or a blunt, heavy spike. In the opinion of the medical examiner, the wound had been made with a rapid thrust, but it looked as if there had been no withdrawal. An inspection of the wound for traces of excess water (icicles) or carbon dioxide (dry ice) had failed to disclose any plausible weapon or projectile that could have evaporated or sublimed out of existence.

I longed to suggest that a test be made for air. If a kinematic can create pyrotic effects by agitation of the molecules in something to be ignited, a good kinematic could make Maxwell's Demon go to work for him. Like compressing a volume of air into a .38 slug and projecting it at revolver velocity.

And in the end I was not leafing the reports or reading them. I was really staring at the wall. Specifically, I was staring at the calendar without paying much attention to it, and as I came out of my reverie I realized that I'd been absorbed in a little red smudge on one of the dates.

Association is a funny process. The combination of calendar and red blob stared at hazily had finally brought my mind around to thinking of February the fourteenth, which honors a patron saint who has absolutely nothing to do with Jimmy Valentine, who was reputed to have been a very fast man with the combination of a safe, especially the type of safe that Gordon Andrews kept his money in because he did not trust banks, which may have been a good idea considering that Florence Wood worked in a bank vault, and her father....

I jumped out of my office chair just as it tilted over backward. If I hadn't jumped, I'd have split my skull on the radiator under the window behind me.

A heavy brass-edged ruler came up from the desk and swung in a whistling saber swipe at my face. I ducked in time to let the cut pass over my head; it clipped a few upstanding hairs. When it reached the end of its stroke, I wrested it out of Wood's control just to prove that an alert local force could exert more power than a distant kinematic force. Naturally I could. Leverage, of course.


Next came a metal-to-metal clicking sound; it was the police positive in the upper left-hand corner of my desk. I thought strongly, "Psi-man, you lift that gun and fire it at me through the desk drawer, and the angle and everything will be enough evidence to change Weston's opinion from angry rejection of all Psionics to a cold, calculated, vengeful agreement with everything I've suggested."

The clicking stopped coming from the desk drawer and resumed in smaller kind from the little desk lock in the tray drawer of the desk.

These desk locks can be picked with a bent hairpin, but picking takes time. Everything takes time. At any rate, it did indeed take Edward Hazlett Wood a finite time to juggle the little brass tumblers, turn the main cylinder, retract the sliding bolt, withdraw the desk tray to unlatch the side drawers, pull open the upper left-hand drawer and extract my police positive from its holster with its mechanism entering the firing cycle—which itself takes time.

By which time I'd vacated my office and was starting across the outer office floor in the brisk, stiff-legged walk of a man in a hurry to go a long way fast.

Wood was stalled. I thought: "Make like a poltergeist, Psi-man—and convince everybody that you exist!"

The outer office was a bustle of the usual police activity. But Wood did not have the ability to invade another mind and take over. At least, not one of the men in the office suddenly had a fit of homicidal mania with Captain Schnell listed as the first victim.

And so I made Weston's office and shoved my head in through the outer door and yelled: "Weston—Third National Bank—and make it fast!"

I turned and headed outside as Weston started the usual top-brass routine of wanting to know all of the infinitely variable reasons why he should leave his office at all, let alone right now. With no one to fire delaying questions at, and with a growing realization that he was not going to learn a thing by sitting there in fulmination, he followed.

I paid no more attention to him once I knew he was on his way.

I had my own hands full.


Considering the general reliability of the average internal combustion engine in the face of neglect, abuse and the natural ravages of weather, the automobile engine is a brute-force mechanism completely unable to support a psychosis. I was, however, appalled to discover just how many little thumb-valves, levers, wires, doo-dads, cams, gizmos and kadodies there are, each of which must be adjusted within ridiculously narrow limits before the so-called brute-force mechanism will deign to turn a gear. But again, and luckily, making adjustments and maladjustments takes time. And by the logical rules of classical mechanics, the simple maladjusting turn of a screw valve takes no longer to return to adjustment provided the restorer is as bright and as quick as the wrecker.

We worked our way through it like a pair of fencers or ju jitsu professionals going through the formal ritual of opening their engagement.

He fastened on the starting system, but I licked him cold on that one because the ignition key controls the starter relay switch and I could handle both with one hand.

He tried to block the starting relay, but the armature had started before he arrived with his kinematic barrier and the solid mechanico-electrical power carried the armature home.

He made a futile attempt to flummox up the laws of Mr. Ohm, but he did not have the power to prevent amperes from flowing from the battery into the starting motor. By the time he thought of gumming up the bendix, the gear had meshed against the flywheel and the engine was turning over.

He tried to flood the engine, but I held the choke valve just as I wanted it. He fiddled with the breaker-points and I blocked that until one of the cylinders fired. That kicked the whole engine into life and made the engine far too rapid to control, moving member by moving member. This caused his attention to turn to the needle valves, but as fast as he turned them out, I turned them back in again. He hit the choke again and I parried his thrust.

The engine kicked over, caught, spluttered and backfired, and then went into an erratic running that smoothed out slightly as it warmed. I wasted no time; I kicked her into gear and took off in a jack-rabbit start with my siren wailing.

Exultantly, I thought: "Can you hit a moving target, Psi-man?"

Yes, you can stop an internal combustion engine turning at three thousand revolutions per minute by yanking off the ignition system. But not when your opponent is doing everything in his power to prevent you, and not when both of you are traveling at sixty or more miles per hour and you have a rougher driving course than he.


My own siren was clearing my way, driving motorists to the shelter of the side streets and parking places, and causing my fellow policemen to take charge blocks ahead to clear the path for the vehicle that had the right to exceed the city speed limit. My worthy opponent drove at sixty miles per hour at his own risk, trying to race me to the Third National Bank.

Wood's extra-sensory driving was no better than mine. The traffic pattern was clear to both of us. But who should know better than a policeman what the average motorist will do in the face of an emergency?

He took the time now and then to hurl something at me, but this was not very effective. If you think not, figure how many things you can see and use as weapons while driving at sixty.

And, too, he was also fighting the unfavorable end of a missile-problem called "terminal control," which simply states that any guided missile approaching its target is subject to greater and greater interference by the enemy as it gets closer. Wood's near-misses I ignored with a disdain calculated to make him furious, and his near-hits I blocked with an ease that proved my ability to outguess and outmaneuver him.

I chuckled to myself, for Edward Hazlett Wood had been played off-balance. He'd committed the hysterical mistake of fighting me on my ground instead of his. He had thrust and I'd parried and advanced, forcing him to thrust again before he could recover. He'd been fighting in the very odd position of conducting a vigorous offensive while back-stepping in inexorable retreat. He should have run and run until he was clear enough to prepare a single telling blow.

And so ultimately I came to the front of the Third National Bank in a screeching halt. I stepped under a falling cornice, neatly avoided a revolving door that tried to slice me, and side-stepped the bronze bust of Salmon P. Chase that toppled from its niche of honor above the door. I evaded the erratic rolling of a pencil, and I trod with unerring step on a circular patch of invisible stuff that was as slippery as the proverbial frictionless lubricant. The slick flowed forward and down over the stairs as I hurried below; I held myself erect above it by sheer will power.

As I strode toward the safe-deposit vault, I thought exultantly: "You're outpointed, Psi-man!"


VI

Florence Wood looked up from her little desk and cried, "Why, Captain Schnell! How nice to see you!"

"Hello," I said with a smile. "I hope you won't mind my company for a while."

"I'm not likely to go for a stroll in—Captain Schnell! Don't—"

Seven and one-half tons of finely wrought and polished tool-steel alloy swung on delicately balanced hinges, coming to rest with the metal-to-metal sound of machined surfaces sliding into a perfect fit with its precision-matched receptacle. Its piston-fit made a pressure on our eardrums. Then the automatic switches took over and motors whirred in solid muffled harmony as the massive bars slid out of their nests into the polished slots.

The ponderous operation that sealed the two of us off from the outside world behind a barrier of drill-proof and burglar-proof and blast-proof solidity concluded not with the mechanical fanfare it deserved, but with a gentle little click that was as final as the Word of God.

"—do that!" gasped Florence Wood, weakly finishing her admonition.

She stared at me.

The knowledge that this bank vault door was equipped with a time-lock that would not permit it to be opened except in the interval between nine-fifteen and nine-thirty in the morning of any working weekday ceased to be mere information and became vitally important to Florence Wood.

So did the secondary knowledge that the bank vault was also contrived in available volume to limit the breathable air. There was not enough to support the average human adult overnight until opening time tomorrow morning. Now there were two of them entombed in it—and she was one of them!

"We'll die!" she screamed.

"Trust me, Florence?"

She looked dubious. She was not at all willing to regard anyone as competent who was so foolish as to lock himself into a bank vault—and her with him.

Florence was still struggling through her sea of mixed thoughts when the telephone rang. It was Chief Weston and he bellowed almost loud enough to hear through the yards of concrete and steel that separated us.

"Schnell—what in the bloody hell have you done?"

"I've shut the vault," I said.

"You'll die!"

"I doubt it."

"How do you propose to get out?" he demanded with heavy sarcasm.

"Just ask Edward Hazlett Wood—the Psi-man in our midst."

"Schnell, if you get out of there alive, I'm going to ask for your resig—"

"If I get out of here alive, you'll need every faculty I have to keep our Psi-man jugged for good."

"You and your extra-sensory—"

"Chief, get it through your thick skull that I am so convinced I'm right that I am betting my life on it!"

"And can you tell me why he is going to give himself away to rescue you?"

"Because I have his daughter right here beside me."

"Schnell—"

"Stop yacking, Chief. Call me when Wood arrives. I have an emotional problem on my hands down here."

"How do you know Wood's coming?"

"He's been following my every move by telepathy," I said. "And he's been trying to block me all the way. Oh, he knows all right."


Then I hung up to stop a lot of senseless gab. I turned to Florence, who was just beginning to understand what I had said and what it meant to both her and her father. She stood there with shocked eyes regarding me, and with one hand pressed back against her teeth. She said, "I don't believe it," in a barely audible voice.

"It's true, and I'm sorry it's true," I told her.

"It can't be true."

"That's what you'd like to believe," I said softly. "But the fact remains that your father is a killer."

"I'd rather die."

"Florence, the choice between death and dishonor is not yours to make. Whether you live or die is up to your father, who is guilty of placing you in this awkward position by turning his talents to evil."

She stared at me. "But—how could you—?"

"There was no other way but to bait this trap emotionally."

"So cold and cruel—"

I nodded. "So were the pioneers who saved one last bullet for their wives."

How could I tell this hurt girl that I had looked time and again into the minds of killers and found them far worse than the deeds they committed? When the official record states that upon such and such a date, so and so was punished for his crime, how is he punished for the harm he did to those who placed their trust in him? I hate them because they force me to reveal them for what they are, making me an agent of their betrayal.

The phone rang again. "Yeah, Chief?"

"Schnell, Wood's just arrived. What shall I tell him?"

"Don't bother. He knows it all."

"Schnell, granting that you are right, why should he show his hand when he knows—or could easily find out—that the time-lock setting mechanism is on your side of that vault door?"

"Sure it is," I replied. "But it's covered by a sheet of five-ply safety glass."

"Use your revolver!"

"Chief, reprimand me for a violation of regulations if you must, but let me point out that only an idiot would wear a gun when he's pitting himself against a Psi-man."

"Got everything figured out, haven't you, Schnell?"

"Chief," I said, "this affair started in a sealed room, and now it's going to end in one."

I yanked on the telephone and pulled it out of its connection block, snapping that link of communication. Then, to satisfy Edward Hazlett Wood, I hurled the instrument as hard as I could against the safety glass. The telephone bounced as if I had thrown it against six solid feet of battleship plate armor.


I thought: "Psi-man, you are trapped!"

He thought: "I've killed before, Schnell. Why shouldn't I profess helplessness and innocence, and accuse you and the whole Police Department of the stupid and wanton death of my beloved daughter?"

"Because you've erred, Psi-man Wood."

"Ah, now I have proof! You're a Psi-man, too!"

"Who—me?" I thought without a visible change in my expression for Florence Wood to see. "You're the one who erred, Wood. You neglected the rules."

"Bah—the law! Stupid law—"

"Not so stupid, Wood. The law is really very sensible. It's strong, Wood, and it fosters the strength that comes of following it. So you see, Psi-man Wood, by never, never making any overt use of my talent, by never admitting that I know more than any clever man can see and deduce from what he knows—it has now become quite obvious to Chief Weston that if any such shenanigans as extra-sensory manipulation of this bank-vault door take place—you're the only one suspected of parapsychic power!"

And then the time-lock setting dials clicked around, their tiny noise muted by the glass door. They came around until they pointed to the present time. Then came the louder manipulation of outside dial lock, the heavy click of massive tumblers, and then the solid turning sound of wheel and mighty lever. The vault door swung open.



Outside, a pale and speechless man faced me, looking at his daughter. Weston was shaking his head, but the confusion was clearing. Weston was a good man, quite willing to operate without a full explanation, so long as there was a reasonable probability that some reasonable explanation would come later. The president and four vice-presidents of the bank stared at their vault door in dismay, wondering how anyone could from now on rely on any protection if the best of the vault-maker's art could be opened with such ease.

And Florence. She started forward with a glad cry, but stopped in mid-stride as she realized the full truth. In those fractions of a second, she became the full, mature adult who had been hurt, and who knew that hurt and pain are not the end.

She stopped a full yard from him and whispered, "Daddy—you did—it!"

He looked at her out of frantic eyes. "I didn't! I didn't!"

Chief Weston took a pair of handcuffs from one of the uniformed cops and held them up in front of Edward Hazlett Wood's eyes. "Coming quietly, Wood, or must I weld them on you?"


Stunned, knowing that any move he made I would block, the murderer turned to go.

I was going to have quite an interesting intellectual problem to solve. I was going to have to testify that I was clever enough to trap an extra-sensory criminal without displaying my own extra-sensory talent. It wasn't just a matter of putting a possible ending to my official usefulness to the forces of law and order if the facts became known. One word of suspicion against Captain Howard Schnell and some clever defense attorney would raise a wholly reasonable doubt as to which Psi-man opened that vault door.

And being sworn to uphold the law, and enforce the law within the framework of the law itself, I'd have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God!

But, according to the same sensible law, not unless I was specifically asked.

And to answer Edward Hazlett Wood's question: The perfect answer to the perfect crime committed by the perfect criminal is a perfect retribution.

Survival Kit by Frederik Pohl


It wasn't fair—a smart but luckless man
like Mooney had to scrounge, while Harse
always made out just because he had a....

Survival Kit

By FREDERIK POHL

Illustrated by GAUGHAN

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction May 1957.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



I

Mooney looked out of his window, and the sky was white.

It was a sudden, bright, cold flare and it was gone again. It had no more features than a fog, at least not through the window that was showered with snow and patterned with spray from the windy sea.

Mooney blew on his hands and frowned at the window.

"Son of a gun," he said, and thought for a moment about phoning the Coast Guard station. Of course, that meant going a quarter of a mile in the storm to reach the only other house nearby that was occupied; the Hansons had a phone that worked, but a quarter of a mile was a long way in the face of a December gale. And it was all dark out there now. Less than twenty miles across the bay was New York, but this Jersey shore coast was harsh as the face of the Moon.

Mooney decided it was none of his business.

He shook the kettle, holding it with an old dish towel because it was sizzling hot. It was nearly empty, so he filled it again and put it back on the stove. He had all four top burners and the oven going, which made the kitchen tolerably warm—as long as he wore the scarf and the heavy quilted jacket and kept his hands in his pockets. And there was plenty of tea.

Uncle Lester had left that much behind him—plenty of tea, nearly a dozen boxes of assorted cookies and a few odds and ends of canned goods. And God's own quantity of sugar.

It wasn't exactly a balanced diet, but Mooney had lived on it for three weeks now—smoked turkey sausages for breakfast, and oatmeal cookies for lunch, and canned black olives for dinner. And always plenty of tea.


The wind screamed at him as he poured the dregs of his last cup of tea into the sink and spooned sugar into the cup for the next one. It was, he calculated, close to midnight. If the damn wind hadn't blown down the TV antenna, he could be watching the late movies now. It helped to pass the time; the last movie was off the air at two or three o'clock, and then he could go to bed and, with any luck, sleep till past noon.

And Uncle Lester had left a couple of decks of sticky, child-handled cards behind him, too, when the family went back to the city at the end of the summer. So what with four kinds of solitaire, and solo bridge, and television, and a few more naps, Mooney could get through to the next two or three A.M. again. If only the wind hadn't blown down the antenna!

But as it was, all he could get on the cheap little set his uncle had left behind was a faint gray herringbone pattern—

He straightened up with the kettle in his hand, listening.

It was almost as though somebody was knocking at the door.

"That's crazy," Mooney said out loud after a moment. He poured the water over the tea bag, tearing a little corner off the paper tag on the end of the string to mark the fact that this was the second cup he had made with the bag. He had found he could get three cups out of a single bag, but even loaded with sugar, the fourth cup was no longer very good. Still, he had carefully saved all the used, dried-out bags against the difficult future day when even the tea would be gone.

That was going to be one bad day for Howard Mooney.

Rap, tap. It really was someone at the door! Not knocking, exactly, but either kicking at it or striking it with a stick.

Mooney pulled his jacket tight around him and walked out into the frigid living room, not quite so frigid as his heart.

"Damn!" he said. "Damn, damn!"

What Mooney knew for sure was that nothing good could be coming in that door for him. It might be a policeman from Sea Bright, wondering about the light in the house; it might be a member of his uncle's family. It was even possible that one of the stockholders who had put up the money for that unfortunate venture into frozen-food club management had tracked him down as far as the Jersey shore. It could be almost anything or anybody, but it couldn't be good.

All the same, Mooney hadn't expected it to turn out to be a tall, lean man with angry pale eyes, wearing a silvery sort of leotard.


"I come in," said the angry man, and did.

Mooney slammed the door behind him. Too bad, but he couldn't keep it open, even if it was conceding a sort of moral right to enter to the stranger; he couldn't have all that cold air coming in to dilute his little bubble of warmth.

"What the devil do you want?" Mooney demanded.

The angry man looked about him with an expression of revulsion. He pointed to the kitchen. "It is warmer. In there?"

"I suppose so. What do—" But the stranger was already walking into the kitchen. Mooney scowled and started to follow, and stopped, and scowled even more. The stranger was leaving footprints behind him, or anyway some kind of marks that showed black on the faded summer rug. True, he was speckled with snow, but—that much snow? The man was drenched. It looked as though he had just come out of the ocean.

The stranger stood by the stove and glanced at Mooney warily. Mooney stood six feet, but this man was bigger. The silvery sort of thing he had on covered his legs as far as the feet, and he wore no shoes. It covered his body and his arms, and he had silvery gloves on his hands. It stopped at the neck, in a collar of what looked like pure silver, but could not have been because it gave with every breath the man took and every tensed muscle or tendon in his neck. His head was bare and his hair was black, cut very short.

He was carrying something flat and shiny by a molded handle. If it had been made of pigskin, it would have resembled a junior executive's briefcase.

The man said explosively: "You will help me."

Mooney cleared his throat. "Listen, I don't know what you want, but this is my house and—"

"You will help me," the man said positively. "I will pay you. Very well?"

He had a peculiar way of parting his sentences in the middle, but Mooney didn't care about that. He suddenly cared about one thing and that was the word "pay."

"What do you want me to do?"

The angry-eyed man ran his gloved hands across his head and sluiced drops of water onto the scuffed linoleum and the bedding of the cot Mooney had dragged into the kitchen. He said irritably: "I am a wayfarer who needs a. Guide? I will pay you for your assistance."

The question that rose to Mooney's lips was "How much?" but he fought it back. Instead, he asked, "Where do you want to go?"

"One moment." The stranger sat damply on the edge of Mooney's cot and, click-snap, the shiny sort of briefcase opened itself in his hands. He took out a flat round thing like a mirror and looked into it, squeezing it by the edges, and holding it this way and that.

Finally he said: "I must go to Wednesday, the twenty-sixth of December, at—" He tilted the little round thing again. "Brooklyn?" he finished triumphantly.

Mooney said, after a second: "That's a funny way to put it."

"Question?"

"I mean," said Mooney, "I know where Brooklyn is and I know when the twenty-sixth of December is—it's next week—but you have to admit that that's an odd way of putting it. I mean you don't go anywhere in time."

The wet man turned his pale eyes on Mooney. "Perhaps you are. Wrong?"


II

Mooney stared at his napping guest in a mood of wonder and fear and delight.

Time traveler! But it was hard to doubt the pale-eyed man. He had said he was from the future and he mentioned a date that made Mooney gasp. He had said: "When you speak to me, you must know that my. Name? Is Harse." And then he had curled up on the floor, surrounding his shiny briefcase like a mother cat around a kitten, and begun dozing alertly.

But not before he showed Mooney just what it was he proposed to pay him with.

Mooney sipped his cooling tea and forgot to shiver, though the drafts were fiercer and more biting than ever, now just before dawn. He was playing with what had looked at first like a string of steel ball-bearings, a child's necklace, half-inch spheres linked together in a strand a yard long.

Wampum! That was what Harse had called the spheres when he picked the string out of his little kit, and that was what they were.

Each ball-bearing was hollow. Open them up and out come the treasures of the crown. Pop, and one of the spheres splits neatly in half, and out spills a star sapphire, as big as the ball of your finger, glittering like the muted lights of hell. Pop, and another sphere drops a ball of yellow gold into your palm. Pop for a narwhal's tooth, pop for a cube of sugar; pop, pop, and there on the table before Harse sparkled diamonds and lumps of coal, a packet of heroin, a sphere of silver, pearls, beads of glass, machined pellets of tungsten, lumps of saffron and lumps of salt.

"It is," said Harse, "for your. Pay? No, no!" And he headed off Mooney's greedy fingers.

Click, click, click, and the little pellets of treasure and trash were back in the steel balls.

"No, no!" said Harse again, grinning, snapping the balls together like poppets in a string. "After you have guided me to Brooklyn and the December twenty-sixth. But I must say to you. This? That some of the balls contain plutonium and some radium. And I do not think that you can get them. Open? But if you did, you perhaps would die. Oh. Ho?" And, laughing, he began his taut nap.


Mooney swallowed the last of his icy tea. It was full daylight outside.

Very well, castaway, he said silently to the dozing pale-eyed man, I will guide you. Oh, there never was a guide like Mooney—not when a guide's fee can run so high. But when you are where you want to go, then we'll discuss the price....

A hacksaw, he schemed, and a Geiger counter. He had worn his fingers raw trying to find the little button or knob that Harse had used to open them. All right, he was licked there. But there were more ways than one to open a cat's eye.

A hacksaw. A Geiger counter. And, Mooney speculated drowsily, maybe a gun, if the pale-eyed man got tough.

Mooney fell asleep in joy and anticipation for the first time in more than a dozen years.


It was bright the next morning. Bright and very cold.

"Look alive!" Mooney said to the pale-eyed man, shivering. It had been a long walk from Uncle Lester's house to the bridge, in that ripping, shuddering wind that came in off the Atlantic.

Harse got up off his knees, from where he had been examining the asphalt pavement under the snow. He stood erect beside Mooney, while Mooney put on an egg-sucking smile and aimed his thumb down the road.

The station wagon he had spotted seemed to snarl and pick up speed as it whirled past them onto the bridge.

"I hope you skid into a ditch!" Mooney bawled into the icy air. He was in a fury. There was a bus line that went where they wanted to go. A warm, comfortable bus that would stop for them if they signaled, that would drop them just where they wanted to be, to convert one of Harse's ball-bearings into money. The gold one, Mooney planned. Not the diamond, not the pearl. Just a few dollars was all they wanted, in this Jersey shore area where the towns were small and the gossip big. Just the price of fare into New York, where they could make their way to Tiffany's.

But the bus cost thirty-five cents apiece. Total, seventy cents. Which they didn't have.

"Here comes another. Car?"

Mooney dragged back the corners of his lips into another smile and held out his thumb.

It was a panel truck, light blue, with the sides lettered: Chris's Delicatessen. Free Deliveries. The driver slowed up, looked them over and stopped. He leaned toward the right-hand window.

He called: "I can take you far's Red Ba—"

He got a good look at Mooney's companion then and swallowed. Harse had put on an overcoat because Mooney insisted on it and he wore a hat because Mooney had told him flatly there would be trouble and questions if he didn't. But he hadn't taken off his own silvery leotard, which peeped through between neck and hat and where the coat flapped open.

"—ank," finished the driver thoughtfully.

Mooney didn't give him a chance to change his mind. "Red Bank is just where we want to go. Come on!" Already he had his hand on the door. He jumped in, made room for Harse, reached over him and slammed the door.

"Thank you very much," he said chattily to the driver. "Cold morning, isn't it? And that was some storm last night. Say, we really do appreciate this. Anywhere in Red Bank will be all right to drop us, anywhere at all."

He leaned forward slightly, just enough to keep the driver from being able to get a really good look at his other passenger.

It would have gone all right, it really would, except that just past Fair Haven, Harse suddenly announced: "It is the time for me to. Eat?"


He snip-snapped something around the edges of the gleaming sort of dispatch case, which opened. Mooney, peering over his shoulder, caught glimpses of shiny things and spinning things and things that seemed to glow. So did the driver.

"Hey," he said, interested, "what've you got there?"

"My business," said Harse, calmly and crushingly.

The driver blinked. He opened his mouth, and then he shut it again, and his neck became rather red.

Mooney said rapidly: "Say, isn't there—uh—isn't there a lot of snow?" He feigned fascination with the snow on the road, leaning forward until his face was nearly at the frosty windshield. "My gosh, I've never seen the road so snowy!"

Beside him, Harse was methodically taking things out of other things. A little cylinder popped open and began to steam; he put it to his lips and drank. A cube the size of a fist opened up at one end and little pellets dropped out into a cup. Harse picked a couple up and began to chew them. A flat, round object the shape of a cafeteria pie flipped open and something gray and doughy appeared—

"Holy heaven!"

Mooney's face slammed into the windshield as the driver tramped on his brakes. Not that Mooney could really blame him. The smell from that doughy mass could hardly be believed; and what made it retchingly worse was that Harse was eating it with a pearly small spoon.

The driver said complainingly: "Out! Out, you guys! I don't mind giving you a lift, but I've got hard rolls in the back of the truck and that smell's going to—Out! You heard me!"

"Oh," said Harse, tasting happily. "No."

"No?" roared the driver. "Now listen! I don't have to take any lip from hitchhikers! I don't have to—"

"One moment," said Harse. "Please." Without hurry and without delay, beaming absently at the driver, he reached into the silvery case again. Snip, snippety-snap; a jointed metal thing wriggled and snicked into place. And Harse, still beaming, pointed it at the driver.

Pale blue light and a faint whine.

It was a good thing the truck was halted, because the whining blue light reached diffidently out and embraced the driver; and then there was no driver. There was nothing. He was gone, beyond the reach of any further lip from hitchhikers.


III

So there was Mooney, driving a stolen panel truck, Mooney the bankrupt, Mooney the ne'er-do-well, and now Mooney the accomplice murderer. Or so he thought, though the pale-eyed man had laughed like a panther when he'd asked.

He rehearsed little speeches all the day down U.S. One, Mooney did, and they all began: "Your Honor, I didn't know—"

Well, he hadn't. How could a man like Mooney know that Harse was so bereft of human compassion as to snuff out a life for the sake of finishing his lunch in peace? And what could Mooney have done about it, without drawing the diffident blue glow to himself? No, Your Honor, really, Your Honor, he took me by surprise....

But by the time they ditched the stolen car, nearly dry of gas, at the Hoboken ferry, Mooney had begun to get his nerve back. In fact, he was beginning to perceive that in that glittering silvery dispatch case that Harse hugged to him were treasures that might do wonders for a smart man unjustly dogged by hard times. The wampum alone! But beyond the wampum, the other good things that might in time be worth more than any amount of mere money.

There was that weapon. Mooney cast a glance at Harse, blank-eyed and relaxed, very much disinterested in the crowds of commuters on the ferry.

Nobody in all that crowd would believe that Harse could pull out a little jointed metal thing and push a button and make any one of them cease to exist. Nobody would believe it—not even a jury. Corpus delicti, body of evidence—why, there would be no evidence! It was a simple, workable, foolproof way of getting any desired number of people out of the way without fuss, muss or bother—and couldn't a smart but misfortunate man like Mooney do wonders by selectively removing those persons who stood as obstacles in his path?

And there would be more, much, much more. The thing to do, Mooney schemed, was to find out just what Harse had in that kit and how to work it; and then—who could know, perhaps Harse would himself find the diffident blue light reaching out for him before the intersection of Brooklyn and December twenty-sixth?

Mooney probed.

"Ah," laughed Harse. "Ho! I perceive what you want. You think perhaps there is something you can use in my survival kit."

"All right, Harse," Mooney said submissively, but he did have reservations.

First, it was important to find out just what was in the kit. After that—

Well, even a man from the future had to sleep.


Mooney was in a roaring rage. How dared the Government stick its bureaucratic nose into a simple transaction of citizens! But it turned out to be astonishingly hard to turn Harse's wampum into money. The first jeweler asked crudely threatening questions about an emerald the size of the ball of his thumb; the second quoted chapter and verse on the laws governing possession of gold. Finally they found a pawnbroker, who knowingly accepted a diamond that might have been worth a fortune; and when they took his first offer of a thousand dollars, the pawnbroker's suspicions were confirmed. Mooney dragged Harse away from there fast.

But they did have a thousand dollars.

As the cab took them across town, Mooney simmered down; and by the time they reached the other side, he was entirely content. What was a fortune more or less to a man who very nearly owned some of the secrets of the future?

He sat up, lit a cigarette, waved an arm and said expansively to Harse: "Our new home."

The pale-eyed man took a glowing little affair with eyepieces away from in front of his eyes.

"Ah," he said. "So."

It was quite an attractive hotel, Mooney thought judiciously. It did a lot to take away the sting of those sordidly avaricious jewelers. The lobby was an impressively close approximation of a cathedral and the bellboys looked smart and able.

Harse made an asthmatic sound. "What is. That?" He was pointing at a group of men standing in jovial amusement around the entrance to the hotel's grand ballroom, just off the lobby. They wore purple harem pants and floppy green hats, and every one of them carried a silver-paper imitation of a scimitar.

Mooney chuckled in a superior way. "You aren't up on our local customs, are you? That's a convention, Harse. They dress up that way because they belong to a lodge. A lodge is a kind of fraternal organization. A fraternal organization is—"

Harse said abruptly: "I want."

Mooney began to feel alarm. "What?"

"I want one for a. Specimen? Wait, I think I take the big one there."

"Harse! Wait a minute!" Mooney clutched at him. "Hold everything, man! You can't do that."

Harse stared at him. "Why?"

"Because it would upset everything, that's why! You want to get to your rendezvous, don't you? Well, if you do anything like that, we'll never get there!"

"Why not?"

"Please," Mooney said, "please take my word for it. You hear me? I'll explain later!"

Harse looked by no means convinced, but he stopped opening the silvery metal case. Mooney kept an eye on him while registering. Harse continued to watch the conventioneers, but he went no further. Mooney began to breathe again.

"Thank you, sir," said the desk clerk—not every guest, even in this hotel, went for a corner suite with two baths. "Front!"


A smart-looking bellboy stepped forward, briskly took the key from the clerk, briskly nodded at Mooney and Harse. With the automatic reflex of any hotel bellhop, he reached for Harse's silvery case. Baggage was baggage, however funny it looked.

But Harse was not just any old guest. The bellboy got the bag away from him, all right, but his victory was purely transitory. He yelled, dropped the bag, grabbed his fist with the other hand.

"Hey! It shocked me! What kind of tricks are you trying to do with electric suitcases?"

Mooney moaned softly. The whole lobby was looking at them—even the conventioneers at the entrance to the ballroom; even the men in mufti mingling with the conventioneers, carrying cameras and flash guns; even the very doorman, the whole lobby away. That was bad. What was worse was that Harse was obviously getting angry.

"Wait, wait!" Mooney stepped between them in a hurry. "I can explain everything. My friend is, uh, an inventor. There's some very important material in that briefcase, believe me!"

He winked, patted the bellhop on the shoulder, took his hand with friendly concern and left in it a folded bill.

"Now," he said confidentially, "we don't want any disturbance. I'm sure you understand how it is, son. Don't you? My friend can't take any chances with his, uh, confidential material, you see? Right. Well, let's say no more about it. Now if you'll show us to our room—"

The bellhop, still stiff-backed, glanced down at the bill and the stiffness disappeared as fast as any truck-driver bathed in Harse's pale blue haze. He looked up again and grinned.

"Sorry, sir—" he began.

But he didn't finish. Mooney had let Harse get out of his sight a moment too long.

The first warning he had was when there was a sudden commotion among the lodge brothers. Mooney turned, much too late. There was Harse; he had wandered over there, curious and interested and—Harse. He had stared them up and down, but he hadn't been content to stare. He had opened the little silvery dispatch-case and taken out of it the thing that looked like a film viewer; and maybe it was a camera, too, because he was looking through it at the conventioneers. He was covering them as Dixie is covered by the dew, up and down, back and forth, heels to head.

And it was causing a certain amount of attention. Even one of the photographers thought maybe this funny-looking guy with the funny-looking opera glasses was curious enough to be worth a shot. After all, that was what the photographer was there for. He aimed and popped a flash gun.

There was an abrupt thin squeal from the box. Black fog sprayed out of it in a greasy jet. It billowed toward Harse. It collected around him, swirled high. Now all the flashguns were popping....

It was a clear waste of a twenty-dollar bill, Mooney told himself aggrievedly out on the sidewalk. There had been no point in buttering up the bellhop as long as Harse was going to get them thrown out anyway.


On the other side of the East River, in a hotel that fell considerably below Mooney's recent, brief standards of excellence, Mooney cautiously tipped a bellboy, ushered him out, locked the door behind him and, utterly exhausted, flopped on one of the twin beds.

Harse glanced at him briefly, then wandered over to the window and stared incuriously at the soiled snow outside.

"You were fine, Harse," said Mooney without spirit. "You didn't do anything wrong at all."

"Ah," said Harse without turning. "So?"

Mooney sat up, reached for the phone, demanded setups and a bottle from room service and hung up.

"Oh, well," he said, beginning to revive, "at least we're in Brooklyn now. Maybe it's just as well."

"As well. What?"

"I mean this is where you wanted to be. Now we just have to wait four days, until the twenty-sixth. We'll have to raise some more money, of course," he added experimentally.

Harse turned and looked at him with the pale eyes. "One thousand dollars you have. Is not enough?"

"Oh, no, Harse," Mooney assured him. "Why, that won't be nearly enough. The room rent in this hotel alone is likely to use that up. Besides all the extras, of course."

"Ah." Harse, looking bored, sat down in the chair near Mooney, opened his kit, took out the thing that looked like a film viewer and put it to his eyes.

"We'll have to sell some more of those things. After all—" Mooney winked and dug at the pale-eyed man's ribs with his elbow—"we'll be needing some, well, entertainment."

Harse took the viewer away from his eyes. He glanced thoughtfully at the elbow and then at Mooney. "So," he said.

Mooney coughed and changed the subject. "One thing, though," he begged. "Don't get me in any more trouble like you did in that hotel lobby—or with that guy in the truck. Please? I mean, after all, you're making it hard for me to carry out my job."

Harse was thoughtfully silent.

"Promise?" Mooney urged.

Harse said, after some more consideration: "It is not altogether me. That is to say, it is a matter of defense. My picture should not be. Photographed? So the survival kit insures that it is not. You understand?"

Mooney leaned back. "You mean—" The bellboy with the drinks interrupted him; he took the bottle, signed the chit, tipped the boy and mixed himself a reasonably stiff but not quite stupefying highball, thinking hard.

"Did you say 'survival kit'?" he asked at last.

Harse was deep in the viewer again, but he looked away from it irritably. "Naturally, survival kit. So that I can. Survive?" He went back to the viewer.

Mooney took a long, thoughtful slug of the drink.


Survival kit. Why, that made sense. When the Air Force boys went out and raided the islands in the Pacific during the war, sometimes they got shot down—and it was enemy territory, or what passed for it. Those islands were mostly held by Japanese, though their populations hardly knew it. All the aboriginals knew was that strange birds crossed the sky and sometimes men came from them. The politics of the situation didn't interest the headhunters. What really interested them was heads.

But for a palatable second choice, they would settle for trade goods—cloth, mirrors, beads. And so the bomber pilots were equipped with survival kits—maps, trade goods, rations, weapons, instructions for proceeding to a point where, God willing, a friendly submarine might put ashore a rubber dinghy to take them off.

Mooney said persuasively: "Harse. I'm sorry to bother you, but we have to talk." The man with the pale eyes took them away from the viewer again and stared at Mooney. "Harse, were you shot down like an airplane pilot?"


Harse frowned—not in anger, or at least not at Mooney. It was the effort to make himself understood. He said at last: "Yes. Call it that."

"And—and this place you want to go to—is that where you will be rescued?"

"Yes."

Aha, thought Mooney, and the glimmerings of a new idea began to kick and stretch its fetal limbs inside him. He put it aside, to bear and coddle in private. He said: "Tell me more. Is there any particular part of Brooklyn you have to go to?"

"Ah. The Nexus Point?" Harse put down the viewer and, snap-snap, opened the gleaming kit. He took out the little round thing he had consulted in the house by the cold Jersey sea. He tilted it this way and that, frowned, consulted a small square sparkly thing that came from another part of the case, tilted the round gadget again.

"Correcting for local time," he said, "the Nexus Point is one hour and one minute after midnight at what is called. The Vale of Cashmere?"

Mooney scratched his ear. "The Vale of Cashmere? Where the devil is that—somewhere in Pakistan?"

"Brooklyn," said Harse with an imp's grimace. "You are the guide and you do not know where you are guiding me to?"

Mooney said hastily: "All right, Harse, all right. I'll find it. But tell me one thing, will you? Just suppose—suppose, I said—that for some reason or other, we don't make it to the what-you-call, Nexus Point. Then what happens?"

Harse for once neither laughed nor scowled. The pale eyes opened wide and glanced around the room, at the machine-made candlewick spreads on the beds, at the dusty red curtains that made a "suite" out of a long room, at the dog-eared Bible that lay on the night table.

"Suh," he stammered, "suh—suh—seventeen years until there is another Nexus Point!"


IV

Mooney dreamed miraculous dreams and not entirely because of the empty bottle that had been full that afternoon. There never was a time, never will be a time, like the future Mooney dreamed of—Mooney-owned, houri-inhabited, a fair domain for a live-wire Emperor of the Eons....

He woke up with a splitting head.

Even a man from the future had to sleep, so Mooney had thought, and it had been in his mind that, even this first night, it might pay to stay awake a little longer than Harse, just in case it might then seem like a good idea to—well, to bash him over the head and grab the bag. But the whiskey had played him dirty and he had passed out—drunk, blind drunk, or at least he hoped so. He hoped that he hadn't seen what he thought he had seen sober.

He woke up and wondered what was wrong. Little tinkling ice spiders were moving around him. He could hear their tiny crystal sounds and feel their chill legs, so lightly, on him. It was still a dream—wasn't it?

Or was he awake? The thing was, he couldn't tell. If he was awake, it was the middle of the night, because there was no light whatever; and besides, he didn't seem to be able to move.

Thought Mooney with anger and desperation: I'm dead. And: What a time to die!

But second thoughts changed his mind; there was no heaven and no hell, in all the theologies he had investigated, that included being walked over by tiny spiders of ice. He felt them. There was no doubt about it.

It was Harse, of course—had to be. Whatever he was up to, Mooney couldn't say, but as he lay there sweating cold sweat and feeling the crawling little feet, he knew that it was something Harse had made happen.

Little by little, he began to be able to see—not much, but enough to see that there really was something crawling. Whatever the things were, they had a faint, tenuous glow, like the face of a watch just before dawn. He couldn't make out shapes, but he could tell the size—not much bigger than a man's hand—and he could tell the number, and there were dozens of them.

He couldn't turn his head, but on the walls, on his chest, on his face, even on the ceiling, he could see faint moving patches of fox-fire light.


He took a deep breath. "Harse!" he started to call; wake him up, make him stop this! But he couldn't. He got no further than the first huff of the aspirate when the scurrying cold feet were on his lips. Something cold and damp lay across them and it stuck. Like spider silk, but stronger—he couldn't speak, couldn't move his lips, though he almost tore the flesh.

Oh, he could make a noise, all right. He started to do so, to snort and hum through his nose. But Mooney was not slow of thought and he had a sudden clear picture of that same cold ribbon crossing his nostrils, and what would be the use of all of time's treasures then, when it was no longer possible to breathe at all?

It was quite apparent that he was not to make a noise.

He had patience—the kind of patience that grows with a diet of thrice-used tea bags and soggy crackers. He waited.

It wasn't the middle of the night after all, he perceived, though it was still utterly dark except for the moving blobs. He could hear sounds in the hotel corridor outside—faintly, though: the sound of a vacuum cleaner, and it might have been a city block away; the tiniest whisper of someone laughing.

He remembered one of his drunken fantasies of the night before—little robot mice, or so they seemed, spinning a curtain across the window; and he shuddered, because that had been no fantasy. The window was curtained. And it was mid-morning, at the earliest, because the chambermaids were cleaning the halls.

Why couldn't he move? He flexed the muscles of his arms and legs, but nothing happened. He could feel the muscles straining, he could feel his toes and fingers twitch, but he was restrained by what seemed a web of Gulliver's cords....

There was a tap at the door. A pause, the scratching of a key, and the room was flooded with light from the hall.

Out of the straining corner of his eye, Mooney saw a woman in a gray cotton uniform, carrying fresh sheets, standing in the doorway, and her mouth was hanging slack. No wonder, for in the light from the hall, Mooney could see the room festooned with silver, with darting silvery shapes moving about. Mooney himself wore a cocoon of silver, and on the bed next to him, where Harse slept, there was a fantastic silver hood, like the basketwork of a baby's bassinet, surrounding his head.



It was a fairyland scene and it lasted only a second. For Harse cried out and leaped to his feet. Quick as an adder, he scooped up something from the table beside his bed and gestured with it at the door. It was, Mooney half perceived, the silvery, jointed thing he had used in the truck; and he used it again.

Pale blue light streamed out.

It faded and the chambermaid, popping eyes and all, was gone.


It didn't hurt as much the second time.

Mooney finally attracted Harse's attention, and Harse, with a Masonic pass over one of the little silvery things, set it to loosening and removing the silver bonds. The things were like toy tanks with jointed legs; as they spun the silver webs, they could also suck them in. In moments, the webs that held Mooney down were gone.

He got up, aching in his tired muscles and his head, but this time the panic that had filled him in the truck was gone. Well, one victim more or less—what did it matter? And besides, he clung to the fact that Harse had not exactly said the victims were dead.

So it didn't hurt as much the second time.

Mooney planned. He shut the door and sat on the edge of the bed. "Shut up—you put us in a lousy fix and I have to think a way out of it," he rasped at Harse when Harse started to speak; and the man from the future looked at him with opaque pale eyes, and silently opened one of the flat canisters and began to eat.

"All right," said Mooney at last. "Harse, get rid of all this stuff."

"This. Stuff?"

"The stuff on the walls. What your little spiders have been spinning, understand? Can't you get it off the walls?"

Harse leaned forward and touched the kit. The little spider-things that had been aimlessly roving now began to digest what they had created, as the ones that had held Mooney had already done. It was quick—Mooney hoped it would be quick enough. There were over a dozen of the things, more than Mooney would have believed the little kit could hold; and he had seen no sign of them before.

The silvery silk on the walls, in aimless tracing, disappeared. The thick silvery coat over the window disappeared. Harse's bassinet-hood disappeared. A construction that haloed the door disappeared—and as it dwindled, the noises from the corridor grew louder; some sort of sound-absorbing contrivance, Mooney thought, wondering.

There was an elaborate silvery erector-set affair on the floor between the beds; it whirled and spun silently and the little machines took it apart again and swallowed it. Mooney had no notion of its purpose. When it was gone, he could see no change, but Harse shuddered and shifted his position uncomfortably.

"All right," said Mooney when everything was back in the kit. "Now you just keep your mouth shut. I won't ask you to lie—they'll have enough trouble understanding you if you tell the truth. Hear me?"

Harse merely stared, but that was good enough. Mooney put his hand on the phone. He took a deep breath and held it until his head began to tingle and his face turned red. Then he picked up the phone and, when he spoke, there was authentic rage and distress in his voice.

"Operator," he snarled, "give me the manager. And hurry up—I want to report a thief!"


When the manager had gone—along with the assistant manager, the house detective and the ancient shrew-faced head housekeeper—Mooney extracted a promise from Harse and left him. He carefully hung a "Do Not Disturb" card from the doorknob, crossed his fingers and took the elevator downstairs.

The fact seemed to be that Harse didn't care about aboriginals. Mooney had arranged a system of taps on the door which, he thought, Harse would abide by, so that Mooney could get back in. Just the same, Mooney vowed to be extremely careful about how he opened that door. Whatever the pale blue light was, Mooney wanted no part of it directed at him.

The elevator operator greeted him respectfully—a part of the management's policy of making amends, no doubt. Mooney returned the greeting with a barely civil nod. Sure, it had worked; he'd told the manager that he'd caught the chambermaid trying to steal something valuable that belonged to that celebrated proprietor of valuable secrets, Mr. Harse; the chambermaid had fled; how dared they employ a person like that?

And he had made very sure that the manager and the house dick and all the rest had plenty of opportunity to snoop apologetically in every closet and under the beds, just so there would be no suspicion in their minds that a dismembered chambermaid-torso was littering some dark corner of the room. What could they do but accept the story? The chambermaid wasn't there to defend herself, and though they might wonder how she had got out of the hotel without being noticed, it was their problem to figure it out, not Mooney's to explain it.

They had even been grateful when Mooney offered handsomely to refrain from notifying the police.

"Lobby, sir," sang out the elevator operator, and Mooney stepped out, nodded to the manager, stared down the house detective and walked out into the street.

So far, so good.

Now that the animal necessities of clothes and food and a place to live were taken care of, Mooney had a chance to operate. It was a field in which he had always had a good deal of talent—the making of deals, the locating of contacts, the arranging of transactions that were better conducted in private.

And he had a good deal of business to transact. Harse had accepted without question his statement that they would have to raise more money.

"Try heroin or Platinum?" he had suggested, and gone back to his viewer.

"I will," Mooney assured him, and he did; he tried them both, and more besides.


Not only was it good that he had such valuable commodities to vend, but it was a useful item in his total of knowledge concerning Harse that the man from the future seemed to have no idea of the value of money in the 20th Century, chez U.S.A.

Mooney found a buyer for the drugs; and there was a few thousand dollars there, which helped, for although the quantity was not large, the drugs were chemically pure. He found a fence to handle the jewels and precious metals; and he unloaded all the ones of moderate value—not the other diamond, not the rubies, not the star sapphire.

He arranged to keep those without mentioning it to Harse. No point in selling them now, not when they had several thousand dollars above any conceivable expenses, not when some future date would do as well, just in case Harse should get away with the balance of the kit.

Having concluded his business, Mooney undertook a brief but expensive shopping tour of his own and found a reasonably satisfactory place to eat. After a pleasantly stimulating cocktail and the best meal he had had in some years—doubly good, for there was no reek from Harse's nauseating concoctions to spoil it—he called for coffee, for brandy, for the day's papers.

The disappearance of the truck driver made hardly a ripple. There were a couple of stories, but small and far in the back—amnesia, said one; an underworld kidnaping, suggested another; but the story had nothing to feed on and it would die.

Good enough, thought Mooney, waving for another glass of that enjoyable brandy; and then he turned back to the front page and saw his own face.

There was the hotel lobby of the previous day, and a pillar of churning black smoke that Mooney knew was Harse, and there in the background, mouth agape, expression worried, was Howard Mooney himself.

He read it all very, very carefully.

Well, he thought, at least they didn't get our names. The story was all about the Loyal and Beneficent Order of Exalted Eagles, and the only reference to the picture was a brief line about a disturbance outside the meeting hall. Nonetheless, the second glass of brandy tasted nowhere near as good as the first.


Time passed. Mooney found a man who explained what was meant by the Vale of Cashmere. In Brooklyn, there is a very large park—the name is Prospect Park—and in it is a little planted valley, with a brook and a pool; and the name of it on the maps of Prospect Park is the Vale of Cashmere. Mooney sent out for a map, memorized it; and that was that.

However, Mooney didn't really want to go to the Vale of Cashmere with Harse. What he wanted was that survival kit. Wonders kept popping out of it, and each day's supply made Mooney covet the huger store that was still inside. There had been, he guessed, something like a hundred separate items that had somehow come out of that tiny box. There simply was no room for them all; but that was not a matter that Mooney concerned himself with. They were there, possible or not, because he had seen them.

Mooney laid traps.

The trouble was that Harse did not care for conversation. He spent endless hours with his film viewer, and when he said anything at all to Mooney, it was to complain. All he wanted was to exist for four days—nothing else.

Mooney laid conversational traps, tried to draw him out, and there was no luck. Harse would turn his blank, pale stare on him, and refuse to be drawn.

At night, however hard Mooney tried, Harse was always awake past him; and in his sleep, always and always, the little metal guardians strapped Mooney tight. Survival kit? But how did the little metal things know that Mooney was a threat?

It was maddening and time was passing. There were four days, then only three, then only two. Mooney made arrangements of his own.

He found two girls—lovely girls, the best that money could buy, and he brought them to the suite with a wink and a snigger. "A little relaxation, eh, Harse? The red-haired one is named Ginger and she's partial to men with light-colored eyes."

Ginger smiled a rehearsed and lovely smile. "I certainly am, Mr. Harse. Say, want to dance?"

But it came to nothing, though the house detective knocked deferentially on the door to ask if they could be a little more quiet, please. It wasn't the sound of celebration that the neighbors were objecting to. It was the shrill, violent noise of Harse's laughter. First he had seemed not to understand, and then he looked as astonished as Mooney had ever seen him. And then the laughter.

Girls didn't work. Mooney got rid of the girls.

All right, Mooney was a man of infinite resource and sagacity—hadn't he proved that many a time? He excused himself to Harse, made sure his fat new pigskin wallet was in his pocket, and took a cab to a place on Brooklyn's waterfront where cabs seldom go. The bartender had arms like beer kegs and a blue chin.

"Beer," said Mooney, and made sure he paid for it with a twenty-dollar bill—thumbing through a thick wad of fifties and hundreds to find the smallest. He retired to a booth and nursed his beer.

After about ten minutes, a man stood beside him, blue-chinned and muscular enough to be the bartender's brother—which, Mooney found, he was.

"Well," said Mooney, "it took you long enough. Sit down. You don't have to roll me; you can earn this."

Girls didn't work? Okay, if not girls, then try boys ... well, not boys exactly. Hoodlums. Try hoodlums and see what Harse might do against the toughest inhabitants of the area around the Gowanus Canal.


Harse, sloshing heedlessly through melted snow, spattering Mooney, grumbled: "I do not see why we. Must? Wander endlessly across the face of this wretched slum."

Mooney said soothingly: "We have to make sure, Harse. We have to be sure it's the right place."

"Huff," said Harse, but he went along. They were in Prospect Park and it was nearly dark.

"Hey, look," said Mooney desperately, "look at those kids on sleds!"

Harse glanced angrily at the kids on sleds and even more angrily at Mooney. Still, he wasn't refusing to come and that was something. It had been possible that Harse would sit tight in the hotel room and it had taken all of the persuasive powers Mooney prided himself on to get him out. But Mooney was able to paint a horrible picture of getting to the wrong place, missing the Nexus Point, seventeen long years of waiting for the next one.

They crossed the Sheep Meadow, crossed the walk, crossed an old covered bridge; and they were at the head of a flight of shallow steps.

"The Vale of Cashmere!" cried Mooney, as though he were announcing a miracle.

Harse said nothing.

Mooney licked his lips, glancing at the kit Harse carried under an arm, glancing around. No one was in sight.

Mooney coughed. "Uh. You're sure this is the place you mean?"

"If it is the Vale of Cashmere." Harse looked once more down the steps, then turned.

"No, wait!" said Mooney frantically. "I mean—well, where in the Vale of Cashmere is the Nexus Point? This is a big place!"

Harse's pale eyes stared at him for a moment. "No. Not big."

"Oh, fairly big. After all—"

Harse said positively: "Come."

Mooney swore under his breath and vowed never to trust anyone again, especially a bartender's brother; but just then it happened. Out of the snowy bushes stepped a man in a red bandanna, holding a gun. "This is a stickup! Gimme that bag!"

Mooney exulted.

There was no chance for Harse now. The man was leaping toward him; there would be no time for him to open the bag, take out the weapon....

But he didn't have to. There was a thin, singing, whining sound from the bag. It leaped out of Harse's hand, leaped free as though it had invisible wings, and flew at the man in the red bandanna. The man stumbled and jumped aside, the eyes incredulous over the mask. The silvery flat metal kit spun round him, whining. It circled him once, spiraled up. Behind it, like a smoke trail from a destroyer, a pale blue mist streamed backward. It surrounded the man and hid him.

The bag flew back into Harse's hand.

The violet mist thinned and disappeared.

And the man was gone, as utterly and as finally as any chambermaid or driver of a truck.

There was a moment of silence. Mooney stared without belief at the snow sifting down from the bushes that the man had hid in.

Harse looked opaquely at Mooney. "It seems," he said, "that in these slums are many. Dangers?"


Mooney was very quiet on the way back to the hotel. Harse, for once, was not gazing into his viewer. He sat erect and silent beside Mooney, glancing at him from time to time. Mooney did not relish the attention.

The situation had deteriorated.

It deteriorated even more when they entered the lobby of the hotel. The desk clerk called to Mooney.

Mooney hesitated, then said to Harse: "You go ahead. I'll be up in a minute. And listen—don't forget about my knock."

Harse inclined his head and strode into the elevator. Mooney sighed.

"There's a gentleman to see you, Mr. Mooney," the desk clerk said civilly.

Mooney swallowed. "A—a gentleman? To see me?"

The clerk nodded toward the writing room. "In there, sir. A gentleman who says he knows you."

Mooney pursed his lips.

In the writing room? Well, that was an advantage. The writing room was off the main lobby; it would give Mooney a chance to peek in before whoever it was could see him. He approached the entrance cautiously....

"Howard!" cried an accusing familiar voice behind him.

Mooney turned. A small man with curly red hair was coming out of a door, marked "Men."

"Why—why, Uncle Lester!" said Mooney. "What a p-pleasant surprise!"

Lester, all of five feet tall, wispy red hair surrounding his red plump face, looked up at him belligerently.

"No doubt!" he snapped. "I've been waiting all day, Howard. Took the afternoon off from work to come here. And I wouldn't have been here at all if I hadn't seen this."

He was holding a copy of the paper with Mooney's picture, behind the pillar of black fog. "Your aunt wrapped my lunch in it, Howard. Otherwise I might have missed it. Went right to the hotel. You weren't there. The doorman helped, though. Found a cab driver. Told me where he'd taken you. Here I am."

"That's nice," lied Mooney.

"No, it isn't. Howard, what in the world are you up to? Do you know the Monmouth County police are looking for you? Said there was somebody missing. Want to talk to you." The little man shook his head angrily. "Knew I shouldn't let you stay at my place. Your aunt warned me, too. Why do you make trouble for me?"

"Police?" Mooney asked faintly.

"At my age! Police coming to the house. Who was that fella who's missing, Howard? Where did he go? Why doesn't he go home? His wife's half crazy. He shouldn't worry her like that."


Mooney clutched his uncle's shoulder. "Do the police know where I am? You didn't tell them?"

"Tell them? How could I tell them? Only I saw your picture while I was eating my sandwich, so I went to the hotel and—"

"Uncle Lester, listen. What did they come to see you for?"

"Because I was stupid enough to let you stay in my house, that's what for," Lester said bitterly. "Two days ago. Knocking on my door, hardly eight o'clock in the morning. They said there's a man missing, driving a truck, found the truck empty. Man from the Coast Guard station knows him, saw him picking up a couple of hitchhikers at a bridge someplace, recognized one of the hitchhikers. Said the hitchhiker'd been staying at my house. That's you, Howard. Don't lie; he described you. Pudgy, kind of a squinty look in the eyes, dressed like a bum—oh, it was you, all right."

"Wait a minute. Nobody knows you've come here, right? Not even Auntie?"

"No, course not. She didn't see the picture, so how would she know? Would've said something if she had. Now come on, Howard, we've got to go to the police and—"

"Uncle Lester!"

The little man paused and looked at him suspiciously. But that was all right; Mooney began to feel confidence flow back into him. It wasn't all over yet, not by a long shot.

"Uncle Lester," he said, his voice low-pitched and persuasive, "I have to ask you a very important question. Think before you answer, please. This is the question: Have you ever belonged to any Communist organization?"

The old man blinked. After a moment, he exploded. "Now what are you up to, Howard? You know I never—"

"Think, Uncle Lester! Please. Way back when you were a boy—anything like that?"

"Of course not!"

"You're sure? Because I'm warning you, Uncle Lester, you're going to have to take the strictest security check anybody ever took. You've stumbled onto something important. You'll have to prove you can be trusted or—well, I can't answer for the consequences. You see, this involves—" he looked around him furtively—"Schenectady Project."

"Schenec—"

"Schenectady Project." Mooney nodded. "You've heard of the atom bomb? Uncle Lester, this is bigger!"

"Bigger than the at—"

"Bigger. It's the molecule bomb. There aren't seventy-five men in the country that know what that so-called driver in the truck was up to, and now you're one of them."

Mooney nodded soberly, feeling his power. The old man was hooked, tied and delivered. He could tell by the look in the eyes, by the quivering of the lips. Now was the time to slip the contract in his hand; or, in the present instance, to—

"I'll tell you what to do," whispered Mooney. "Here's my key. You go up to my room. Don't knock—we don't want to attract attention. Walk right in. You'll see a man there and he'll explain everything. Understand?"

"Why—why, sure, Howard. But why don't you come with me?"

Mooney raised a hand warningly. "You might be followed. I'll have to keep a lookout."

Five minutes later, when Mooney tapped on the door of the room—three taps, pause, three taps—and cautiously pushed it open, the pale blue mist was just disappearing. Harse was standing angrily in the center of the room with the jointed metal thing thrust out ominously before him.

And of Uncle Lester, there was no trace at all.


V

Time passed; and then time was all gone, and it was midnight, nearly the Nexus Point.

In front of the hotel, a drowsy cab-driver gave them an argument. "The Public Liberry? Listen, the Liberry ain't open this time of night. I ought to—Oh, thanks. Hop in." He folded the five-dollar bill and put the cab in gear.

Harse said ominously: "Liberry, Mooney? Why do you instruct him to take us to the Liberry?"

Mooney whispered: "There's a law against being in the Park at night. We'll have to sneak in. The Library's right across the street."

Harse stared, with his luminous pale eyes. But it was true; there was such a law, for the parks of the city lately had become fields of honor where rival gangs contended with bottle shards and zip guns, where a passerby was odds-on to be mugged.

"High Command must know this," Harse grumbled. "Must proceed, they say, to Nexus Point. But then one finds the aboriginals have made laws! Oh, I shall make a report!"

"Sure you will," Mooney soothed; but in his heart, he was prepared to bet heavily against it.

Because he had a new strategy. Clearly he couldn't get the survival kit from Harse. He had tried that and there was no luck; his arm still tingled as the bellboy's had, from having seemingly absent-mindedly taken the handle to help Harse. But there was a way.

Get rid of this clown from the future, he thought contentedly; meet the Nexus Point instead of Harse and there was the future, ripe for the taking! He knew where the rescuers would be—and, above all, he knew how to talk. Every man has one talent and Mooney's was salesmanship.

All the years wasted on peddling dime-store schemes like frozen-food plans! But this was the big time at last, so maybe the years of seasoning were not wasted, after all.

"That for you, Uncle Lester," he muttered. Harse looked up from his viewer angrily and Mooney cleared his throat. "I said," he explained hastily, "we're almost at the—the Nexus Point."


Snow was drifting down. The cab-driver glanced at the black, quiet library, shook his head and pulled away, leaving black, wet tracks in the thin snow.

The pale-eyed man looked about him irritably. "You!" he cried, waking Mooney from a dream of possessing the next ten years of stock-market reports. "You! Where is this Vale of Cashmere?"

"Right this way, Harse, right this way," said Mooney placatingly.

There was a wide sort of traffic circle—Grand Army Plaza was the name of it—and there were a few cars going around it. But not many, and none of them looked like police cars. Mooney looked up and down the broad, quiet streets.

"Across here," he ordered, and led the time traveler toward the edge of the park. "We can't go in the main entrance. There might be cops."

"Cops?"

"Policemen. Law-enforcement officers. We'll just walk down here a way and then hop over the wall. Trust me," said Mooney, in the voice that had put frozen-food lockers into so many suburban homes.

The look from those pale eyes was anything but a look of trust, but Harse didn't say anything. He stared about with an expression of detached horror, like an Alabama gentlewoman condemned to walk through Harlem.

"Now!" whispered Mooney urgently.

And over the wall they went.

They were in a thicket of shrubs and brush, snow-laden, the snow sifting down into Mooney's neck every time he touched a branch, which was always; he couldn't avoid it. They crossed a path and then a road—long, curving, broad, white, empty. Down a hill, onto another path. Mooney paused, glancing around.

"You know where you are. Going?"

"I think so. I'm looking for cops." None in sight. Mooney frowned. What the devil did the police think they were up to? They passed laws; why weren't they around to enforce them?

Mooney had his landmarks well in mind. There was the Drive, and there was the fork he was supposed to be looking for. It wouldn't be hard to find the path to the Vale. The only thing was, it was kind of important to Mooney's hope of future prosperity that he find a policeman first. And time was running out.

He glanced at the luminous dial of his watch—self-winding, shockproof, non-magnetic; the man in the hotel's jewelry shop had assured him only yesterday that he could depend on its time-keeping as on the beating of his heart. It was nearly a quarter of one.

"Come along, come along!" grumbled Harse.

Mooney stalled: "I—I think we'd better go along this way. It ought to be down there—"

He cursed himself. Why hadn't he gone in the main entrance, where there was sure to be a cop? Harse would never have known the difference. But there was the artist in him that wanted the thing done perfectly, and so he had held to the pretense of avoiding police, had skulked and hidden. And now—

"Look!" he whispered, pointing.

Harse spat soundlessly and turned his eyes where Mooney was pointing.

Yes. Under a distant light, a moving figure, swinging a nightstick.

Mooney took a deep breath and planted a hand between Harse's shoulder blades.

"Run!" he yelled at the top of his voice, and shoved. He sounded so real, he almost convinced himself. "We'll have to split up—I'll meet you there. Now run!"


VI

Oh, clever Mooney! He crouched under a snowy tree, watching the man from the future speed effortlessly away ... in the wrong direction.

The cop was hailing him; clever cop! All it had taken was a couple of full-throated yells and at once the cop had perceived that someone was in the park. But cleverer than any cop was Mooney.

Men from the future. Why, thought Mooney contentedly, no Mrs. Meyerhauser of the suburbs would have let me get away with a trick like that to sell her a freezer. There's going to be no problem at all. I don't have to worry about a thing. Mooney can take care of himself!

By then, he had caught his breath—and time was passing, passing.

He heard a distant confused yelling. Harse and the cop? But it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was getting to the Nexus Point at one minute past one.

He took a deep breath and began to trot. Slipping in the snow, panting heavily, he went down the path, around the little glade, across the covered bridge.

He found the shallow steps that led down to the Vale.

And there it was below him: a broad space where walks joined, and in the space a thing shaped like a dinosaur egg, rounded and huge. It glowed with a silvery sheen.



Confidently, Mooney started down the steps toward the egg and the moving figures that flitted soundlessly around it. Harse was not the only time traveler, Mooney saw. Good, that might make it all the simpler. Should he change his plan and feign amnesia, pass himself off as one of their own men?

Or—

A movement made him look over his shoulder.

Somebody was standing at the top of the steps. "Hell's fire," whispered Mooney. He'd forgotten all about that aboriginal law; and here above him stood a man in a policeman's uniform, staring down with pale eyes.

No, not a policeman. The face was—Harse's.

Mooney swallowed and stood rooted.

"You!" Harse's savage voice came growling. "You are to stand. Still?"

Mooney didn't need the order; he couldn't move. No twentieth-century cop was a match for Harse, that was clear; Harse had bested him, taken his uniform away from him for camouflage—and here he was.

Unfortunately, so was Howard Mooney.

The figures below were looking up, pointing and talking; Harse from above was coming down. Mooney could only stand, and wish—wish that he were back in Sea Bright, living on cookies and stale tea, wish he had planned things with more intelligence, more skill—perhaps even with more honesty. But it was too late for wishing.

Harse came down the steps, paused a yard from Mooney, scowled a withering scowl—and passed on.

He reached the bottom of the steps and joined the others waiting about the egg. They all went inside.

The glowing silvery colors winked and went out. The egg flamed purple, faded, turned transparent and disappeared.

Mooney stared and, yelling a demand for payment, ran stumbling down the steps to where it had been. There was a round thawed spot, a trampled patch—nothing else.

They were gone....

Almost gone. Because there was a sudden bright wash of flame from overhead—cold silvery flame. He looked up, dazzled. Over him, the egg was visible as thin smoke, hovering. A smoky, half-transparent hand reached out of a port. A thin, reedy voice cried: "I promised you. Pay?"

And the silvery dispatch-case sort of thing, the survival kit, dropped soundlessly to the snow beside Mooney.

When he looked up again, the egg was gone for good.


He was clear back to the hotel before he got a grip on himself—and then he was drunk with delight. Honest Harse! Splendidly trustable Harse! Why, all this time, Mooney had been so worried, had worked so hard—and the whole survival kit was his, after all!

He had touched it gingerly before picking it up but it didn't shock him; clearly the protective devices, whatever they were, were off.

He sweated over it for an hour and a half, looking for levers, buttons, a slit that he might pry wider with the blade of a knife. At last he kicked it and yelled, past endurance: "Open up, damn you!"

It opened wide on the floor before him.

"Oh, bless your heart!" cried Mooney, falling to his knees to drag out the string of wampum, the little mechanical mice, the viewing-machine sort of thing. Treasures like those were beyond price; each one might fetch a fortune, if only in the wondrous new inventions he could patent if he could discover just how they worked.

But where were they?

Gone! The wampum was gone. The goggles were gone. Everything was gone—the little flat canisters, the map instruments, everything but one thing.

There was, in a corner of the case, a squarish, sharp-edged thing that Mooney stared at blindly for a long moment before he recognized it. It was a part—only a part—of the jointed construction that Harse had used to rid himself of undesirables by bathing them in blue light.

What a filthy trick! Mooney all but sobbed to himself.

He picked up the squarish thing bitterly. Probably it wouldn't even work, he thought, the world a ruin around him. It wasn't even the whole complete weapon.

Still—

There was a grooved, saddle-shaped affair that was clearly a sort of trigger; it could move forward or it could move back. Mooney thought deeply for a while.

Then he sat up, held the thing carefully away from him with the pointed part toward the wall and pressed, ever so gently pressed forward on the saddle-shaped thumb-trigger.

The pale blue haze leaped out, swirled around and, not finding anything alive in its range, dwindled and died.


Aha, thought Mooney, not everything is lost yet! Surely a bright young man could find some use for a weapon like this which removed, if it did not kill, which prevented any nastiness about a corpse turning up, or a messy job of disposal.

Why not see what happened if the thumb-piece was moved backward?

Well, why not? Mooney held the thing away from him, hesitated, and slid it back.

There was a sudden shivering tingle in his thumb, in the gadget he was holding, running all up and down his arm. A violet haze, very unlike the blue one, licked soundlessly forth—not burning, but destroying as surely as flame ever destroyed; for where the haze touched the gadget itself, the kit, everything that had to do with the man from the future, it seared and shattered. The gadget fell into white crystalline powder in Mooney's hand and the case itself became a rectangular shape traced in white powder ridges on the rug.

Oh, no! thought Mooney, even before the haze had gone. It can't be!

The flame danced away like a cloud, spreading and rising. While Mooney stared, it faded away, but not without leaving something behind.

Mooney threw his taut body backward, almost under the bed. What he saw, he didn't believe; what he believed filled him with panic.

No wonder Harse had laughed so when Mooney asked if its victims were dead. For there they were, all of them. Like djinn out of a jar, human figures jelled and solidified where the cloud of violet flame had not at all diffidently rolled.

They were alive, as big as life, and beginning to move—and so many of them! Three—five—six:

The truck-driver, yes, and a man in long red flannel underwear who must have been the policeman, and Uncle Lester, and the bartender's brother, and the chambermaid, and a man Mooney didn't know.

They were there, all of them; and they came toward him, and oh! but they were angry!