The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein

The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein

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by Robert A. Heinlein

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Robert A. Heinlein, the dean of American SF writers, also wrote fantasy fiction throughout his long career, but especially in the early 1940s. The Golden Age of SF was also a time of revolution in fantasy fiction, and Heinlein was at the forefront. His fantasies were convincingly set in the real world, particularly those published in the famous magazine Unknown

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Robert A. Heinlein, the dean of American SF writers, also wrote fantasy fiction throughout his long career, but especially in the early 1940s. The Golden Age of SF was also a time of revolution in fantasy fiction, and Heinlein was at the forefront. His fantasies were convincingly set in the real world, particularly those published in the famous magazine Unknown Worlds, including such stories as "Magic, Inc.," "'They—,'" and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag." Now all of Heinlein's best fantasy short stories, most of them long novellas, have been collected in one big volume for the first time.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"He made footsteps big enough for a whole country to follow. And it was our country that did it....We proceed down a path marked by his ideas. That's legacy enough for any man. He showed us where the future is." —Tom Clancy

"He rewrote US SF as a whole in his own image. Robert A. Heinlein may have been the all-time most important writer of genre SF." —The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

"Robert A. Heinlein's methodical approach to scientific exploration was equally effective when he bent to fantasy and supernatural fiction....Heinlein was one of the first writers to successfully meld the substance of SF and fantasy into an integral whole without compromising either genre." —The Encyclopedia of Fantasy

Russell Letson
Probably the best reason for the existence of this volume is to juxtapose three of Heinlein's most striking nightmare visions. "They" and "All You Zombies" are variations on the solipsism theme that shows up throughout Heinlein''s career (notably anything featuring Lazarus Long). "The Unpleasant Profession of Johnathan Hoag" runs some metaphysical games with links to both of the solipsism stories and finishes with an image (the loving couple sleeping handcuffed to each other) that complements the curtain line of "Zombies". Maybe these explorations of the extremes of the human condition are important because they are so unlike what we think of as "Heinlein SF." Fantasy, after all, is the back door to the mind, and tracing the connections that link these stories to each other and to the rest of his work reveals a good bit of what made Heinlein tick.

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The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein

By Heinlein, Robert A.

Tor Books

Copyright © 2002 Heinlein, Robert A.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312875572

"Whose spells are you using, Buddy?"
That was the first thing this bird said after coming into my place of business. He had hung around maybe twenty minutes, until I was alone, looking at samples of waterproof pigment, fiddling with plumbing catalogues, and monkeying with the hardware display.
I didn't like his manner. I don't mind a legitimate business inquiry from a customer, but I resent gratuitous snooping.
"Various of the local licensed practitioners of thaumaturgy," I told him in a tone that was chilly but polite. "Why do you ask?"
"You didn't answer my question," he pointed out. "Come on--speak up. I ain't got all day."
I restrained myself. I require my clerks to be polite, and, while I was pretty sure this chap would never be a customer, I didn't want to break my own rules. "If you are thinking of buying anything," I said, "I will be happy to tell you what magic, if any, is used in producing it, and who the magician is."
"Now you're not being co-operative," he complained. "We like for people to be co-operative. You never can tell what bad luck you may run into not co-operating."
"Who d'you mean by 'we,'" I snapped, dropping all pretense of politeness, "and what do you mean by 'bad luck'?"
"Now we're getting somewhere," he said with a nasty grin, and settled himself on the edge of the counter so that hebreathed into my face. He was short and swarthy--Sicilian, I judged--and dressed in a suit that was overtailored. His clothes and haberdashery matched perfectly in a color scheme that I didn't like. "I'll tell you what I mean by 'we'; I'm a field representative for an organization that protects people from bad luck--if they're smart, and co-operative. That's why I asked you whose charms you're usin'. Some of the magicians around here aren't co-operative; it spoils their luck, and that bad luck follows their products."
"Go on," I said. I wanted him to commit himself as far as he would.
"I knew you were smart," he answered. "F'r instance--how would you like for a salamander to get loose in your shop, setting fire to your goods and maybe scaring your customers? Or you sell the materials to build a house, and it turns out there's a poltergeist living in it, breaking the dishes and souring the milk and kicking the furniture around. That's what can come of dealing with the wrong magicians. A little of that and your business is ruined. We wouldn't want that to happen, would we?" He favored me with another leer.
I said nothing, he went on, "Now, we maintain a staff of the finest demonologists in the business, expert magicians themselves, who can report on how a magician conducts himself in the Half World, and whether or not he's likely to bring his clients bad luck. Then we advise our clients whom to deal with, and keep them from having bad luck. See?"
I saw all right. I wasn't born yesterday. The magicians I dealt with were local men that I had known for years, men with established reputations both here and in the Half World. They didn't do anything to stir up the elementals against them, and they did not have bad luck.
What this slimy item meant was that I should deal only with the magicians they selected at whatever fees they chose to set, and they would take a cut on the fees and also on the profits of my business. If I didn't choose to "co-operate," I'd be persecuted by elementals they had an arrangement with--renegades, probably, with human vices--my stock in trade spoiled and my customers frightened away. If I still held out, I could expect some really dangerous black magic that would injure or kill me. All this under the pretense of selling me protection from men I knew and liked.
A neat racket!
* * *
i had heard of something of the sort back East, but had not expected it in a city as small as ours.
He sat there, smirking at me, waiting for my reply, and twisting his neck in his collar, which was too tight. That caused me to notice something. In spite of his foppish clothes a thread showed on his neck just above the collar in back. It seemed likely that it was there to support something next to his skin--an amulet. If so, he was superstitious, even in this day and age.
"There's something you've omitted," I told him. "I'm a seventh son, born under a caul, and I've got second sight. My luck's all right, but I can see bad luck hovering over you like cypress over a grave!" I reached out and snatched at the thread. It snapped and came loose in my hand. There was an amulet on it, right enough, an unsavory little wad of nothing in particular and about as appetizing as the bottom of a bird cage. I dropped it on the floor and ground it into the dirt.
He had jumped off the counter and stood facing me, breathing hard. A knife showed up in his right hand; with his left hand he was warding off the evil eye, the first and little fingers pointed at me, making the horns of Asmodeus. I knew I had him for the time being.
"Here's some magic you may not have heard of," I rapped out, and reached into a drawer behind the counter. I hauled out a pistol and pointed it at his face. "Cold iron! Now go back to your owner and tell him there's cold iron waiting for him, too--both ways!"
He backed away, never taking his eyes off my face. If looks could kill, and so forth. At the door he paused and spat on the doorsill, then got out of sight very quickly.
I put the gun away and went about my work, waiting on two customers who came in just as Mr. Nasty Business left. But I will admit that I was worried. A man's reputation is his most valuable asset. I've built up a name, while still a young man, for dependable products. It was certain that this bird and his pals would do all they could to destroy that name--which might be plenty if they were hooked in with black magicians!
Of course the building-materials game does not involve as much magic as other lines dealing in less durable goods. People like to know, when they are building a home, that the bed won't fall into the basement some night, or the roof disappear and leave them out in the rain.
Besides, building involves quite a lot of iron, and there are very few commercial sorcerers who can cope with cold iron. The few that can are so expensive it isn't economical to use them in building. Of course if one of the café-society crowd, or somebody like that, wants to boast that they have a summerhouse or a swimming pool built entirely by magic, I'll accept the contract, charging accordingly, and sublet it to one of the expensive, first-line magicians. But by and large my business uses magic only in the side issues--perishable items and doodads which people like to buy cheap and change from time to time.
So I was not worried about magic in my business, but about what magic could do to my business--if someone set out deliberately to do me mischief. I had the subject of magic on my mind anyhow, because of an earlier call from a chap named Ditworth--not a matter of vicious threats, just a business proposition that I was undecided about. But it worried me, just the same....
I closed up a few minutes early and went over to see Jedson--a friend of mine in the cloak-and-suit business. He is considerably older than I am, and quite a student, without holding a degree, in all forms of witchcraft, white and black magic, necrology, demonology, spells, charms, and the more practical forms of divination. Besides that, Jedson is a shrewd, capable man in every way, with a long head on him. I set a lot of store by his advice.
I expected to find him in his office, and more or less free, at that hour, but he wasn't. His office boy directed me up to a room he used for sales conferences. I knocked and then pushed the door.
"Hello, Archie," he called out as soon as he saw who it was. "Come on in. I've got something." And he turned away.
I came in and looked around. Besides Joe Jedson there was a handsome, husky woman about thirty years old in a nurse's uniform, and a fellow named August Welker, Jedson's foreman. He was a handy all-around man with a magician's license, third class. Then I noticed a fat little guy, Zadkiel Feldstein, who was agent for a good many of the second-rate magicians along the street, and some few of the first-raters. Naturally, his religion prevented him from practicing magic himself, but, as I understand it, there was no theological objection to his turning an honest commission. I had had dealings with him; he was all right.
This ten-percenter was clutching a cigar that had gone out, and watching intently Jedson and another party, who was slumped in a chair.
This other party was a girl, not over twenty-five, maybe not that old. She was blond, and thin to the point that you felt that light would shine through her. She had big, sensitive hands with long fingers, and a big, tragic mouth: Her hair was silver-white, but she was not an albino. She lay back in the chair, awake but apparently done in. The nurse was chafing her wrists.
"What's up?" I asked. "The kid faint?"
"Oh no," Jedson assured me, turning around. "She's a white witch--works in a trance. She's a little tired now, that's all."
"What's her specialty?" I inquired.
"Whole garments."
"Huh?" I had a right to be surprised. It's one thing to create yard goods; another thing entirely to turn out a dress, or a suit, all finished and ready to wear. Jedson produced and merchandised a full line of garments in which magic was used throughout. They were mostly sportswear, novelty goods, ladies' fashions, and the like, in which style, rather than wearing qualities, was the determining factor. Usually they were marked "One Season Only," but they were perfectly satisfactory for that one season, being backed up by the consumers' groups.
But they were not turned out in one process. The yard goods involved were made first, usually by Welker. Dyes and designs were added separately. Jedson had some very good connections among the Little People, and could obtain shades and patterns from the Half World that were exclusive with him. He used both the old methods and magic in assembling garments, and employed some of the most talented artists in the business. Several of his dress designers freelanced their magic in Hollywood under an arrangement with him. All he asked for was screen credit.
But to get back to the blond girl--
"That's what I said," Jedson answered, "whole garments, with good wearing qualities too. There's no doubt that she is the real McCoy; she was under contract to a textile factory in Jersey City. But I'd give a thousand dollars to see her do that whole-garment stunt of hers just once. We haven't had any luck, though I've tried everything but red-hot pincers."
The kid looked alarmed at this, and the nurse looked indignant. Feldstein started to expostulate, but Jedson cut him short. "That was just a figure of speech; you know I don't hold with black magic. Look, darling," he went on, turning back to the girl, "do you feel like trying again?" She nodded and he added, "All right--sleepy time now!"
And she tried again, going into her act with a minimum of groaning and spitting. The ectoplasm came out freely and sure enough, it formed into a complete dress instead of yard goods. It was a neat little dinner frock, about a size sixteen, sky blue in a watered silk. It had class in a refined way, and I knew that any jobber who saw it would be good for a sizable order.
Jedson grabbed it, cut off a swatch of cloth and applied his usual tests, finishing by taking the swatch out of the microscope and touching a match to it.
He swore. "Damn it," he said, "there's no doubt about it. It's not a new integration at all; she's just reanimated an old rag!"
"Come again," I said. "What of it?"
"Huh? Archie, you really ought to study up a bit. What she just did isn't really creative magic at all. This dress"--he picked it up and shook it--"had a real existence someplace at some time. She's gotten hold of a piece of it, a scrap or maybe just a button, and applied the laws of homeopathy and contiguity to produce a simulacrum of it."
I understood him, for I had used it in my own business. I had once had a section of bleachers, suitable for parades and athletic events, built on my own grounds by old methods, using skilled master mechanics and the best materials--no iron, of course. Then I cut it to pieces. Under the law of contiguity, each piece remained part of the structure it had once been in. Under the law of homeopathy, each piece was potentially the entire structure. I would contract to handle a Fourth of July crowd, or the spectators for a circus parade, and send out a couple of magicians armed with as many fragments of the original stands as we needed sections of bleachers. They would bind a spell to last twenty-four hours around each piece. That way the stands cleared themselves away automatically.
I had had only one mishap with it; an apprentice magician, who had the chore of being on hand as each section vanished and salvaging the animated fragment for further use, happened one day to pick up the wrong piece of wood from where one section had stood. The next time we used it, for the Shrine convention, we found we had thrown up a brand-new four-room bungalow at the corner of Fourteenth and Vine instead of a section of bleachers. It could have been embarrassing, but I stuck a sign on it.
and ran up another section on the end.
An out-of-town concern tried to chisel me out of the business one season, but one of their units fell, either through faulty workmanship on the pattern or because of unskilled magic, and injured several people. Since then I've had the field pretty much to myself.
I could not understand Joe Jedson's objection to reanimation. "What difference does it make?" I persisted. "It's a dress, isn't it?"
"Sure it's a dress, but it's not a new one. That style is registered somewhere and doesn't belong to me. And even if it were one of my numbers she had used, reanimation isn't what I'm after. I can make better merchandise cheaper without it; otherwise I'd be using it now."
The blond girl came to, saw the dress, and said, "Oh, Mr. Jedson, did I do it?"
He explained what had happened. Her face fell, and the dress melted away at once. "Don't you feel bad about it, kid," he added, patting her on the shoulder, "you were tired. We'll try again tomorrow. I know you can do it when you're not nervous and overwrought."
She thanked him and left with the nurse. Feldstein was full of explanations, but Jedson told him to forget it, and to have them all back there at the same time tomorrow. When we were alone I told him what had happened to me.
He listened in silence, his face serious, except when I told him how I had kidded my visitor into thinking I had second sight. That seemed to amuse him.
"You may wish that you really had it--second sight, I mean," he said at last, becoming solemn again. "This is an unpleasant prospect. Have you notified the Better Business Bureau?"
I told him I hadn't.
"Very well then. I'll give them a ring and the Chamber of Commerce too. They probably can't help much, but they are entitled to notification, so they can be on the lookout for it."
I asked him if he thought I ought to notify the police. He shook his head. "Not just yet. Nothing illegal has been done, and, anyhow, all the chief could think of to cope with the situation would be to haul in all the licensed magicians in town and sweat them. That wouldn't do any good, and would just cause hard feelings to be directed against you by the legitimate members of the profession. There isn't chance in ten that the sorcerers connected with this outfit are licensed to perform magic; they are almost sure to be clandestine. If the police knew about them, it's because they are protected. If they don't know about them, then they probably can't help you."
"What do you think I ought to do?"
"Nothing just yet. Go home and sleep on it. This Charlie may be playing a lone hand, making small-time shake-downs purely on bluff. I don't really think so; his type sounds like a mobster. But we need more data; we can't do anything until they expose their hand a little more."
We did not have long to wait. When I got down to my place of business the next morning I found a surprise waiting for me--several of them, all unpleasant.
It was as if it had been ransacked by burglars, set fire to, then gutted by a flood. I called up Jedson at once. He came right over. He didn't have anything to say at first, but went poking through the ruins, examining a number of things. He stopped at the point where the hardware storeroom had stood, reached down and gathered up a handful of the wet ashes and muck. "Notice anything?" he asked, working his fingers so that the debris sloughed off and left in the hand some small metal objects--nails, screws, and the like.
"Nothing in particular. This is where the hardware bins were located; that's some of the stuff that didn't burn."
"Yes, I know," he said impatiently, "but don't you see anything else? Didn't you stock a lot of brass fittings?"
"Well, find one!"
I poked around with my toe in a spot where there should have been a lot of brass hinges and drawer pulls mixed in with the ashes. I did not find anything but the nails that had held the bins together. I oriented myself by such landmarks as I could find and tried again. There were plenty of nuts and bolts, casement hooks, and similar junk, but no brass.
Jedson watched me with a sardonic grin on his face.
"Well?" I said, somewhat annoyed at his manner.
"Don't you see?" he answered. "It's magic, all right. In this entire yard there is not one scrap of metal left, except cold iron!"
It was plain enough. I should have seen it myself.
He messed around awhile longer. Presently we came across an odd thing. It was a slimy, wet track that meandered through my property, and disappeared down one of the drains. It looked as if a giant slug, about the size of a Crosley car, had wandered through the place.
"Undine," Jedson announced, and wrinkled his nose at the smell. I once saw a movie, a Megapix superproduction called the Water King's Daughter. According to it undines were luscious enough to have interested Earl Carroll, but if they left trails like that I wanted none of them.
He took out his handkerchief and spread it for a clean place to sit down on what had been sacks of cement--a fancy, quick-setting variety, with a trade name of Hydrolith, I had been getting eighty cents a sack for the stuff, now it was just so many big boulders.
He ticked the situation off on his fingers. "Archie, you've been kicked in the teeth by at least three of the four different types of elements--earth, fire, and water. Maybe there was a sylph of the air in on it, too, but I can't prove it. First the gnomes came and cleaned out everything you had that came out of the ground, except cold iron. A salamander followed them and set fire to the place, burning everything that was burnable, and scorching and smoke-damaging the rest. Then the undine turned the place into a damned swamp, ruining anything that wouldn't burn, like cement and lime. You're insured?"
"Naturally." But then I started to think. I carried the usual fire, theft, and flood insurance, but business-risk insurance comes pretty high: I was not covered against the business I would lose in the meantime, nor did I have any way to complete current contracts. It was going to cost me quite a lot to cover those contracts; if I let them slide it would ruin the good will of my business, and lay me open to suits for damage.
The situation was worse than I had thought, and looked worse still the more I thought about it. Naturally I could not accept any new business until the mess was cleaned up, the place rebuilt, and new stock put in. Luckily most of my papers were in a fireproof steel safe; but not all, by any means. There would be accounts receivable that I would never collect because I had nothing to show for them. I work on a slim margin of profit, with all of my capital at work. It began to look as if the firm of Archibald Fraser, Merchant and Contractor, would go into involuntary bankruptcy.
I explained the situation to Jedson.
"Don't get your wind up too fast," he reassured me. "What magic can do, magic can undo. What we need is the best wizard in town."
"Who's going to pay the fee?" I objected. "Those boys don't work for nickels, and I'm cleaned out."
"Take it easy, son," he advised, "the insurance outfit that carries your risks is due to take a bigger loss than you are. If we can show them a way to save money on this, we can do business. Who represents them here?"
I told him--a firm of lawyers downtown in the Professional Building.
I got hold of my office girl and told her to telephone such of our customers as were due for deliveries that day. She was to stall where possible and pass on the business that could not wait to a firm that I had exchanged favors with in the past. I sent the rest of my help home--they had been standing around since eight o'clock, making useless remarks and getting in the way--and told them not to come back until I sent for them. Luckily it was Saturday; we had the best part of forty-eight hours to figure out some answer.
We flagged a magic carpet that was cruising past and headed for the Professional Building. I settled back and determined to enjoy the ride and forget my troubles. I like taxicabs--they give me a feeling of luxury--and I've liked them even better since they took the wheels off them. This happened to be one of the new Cadillacs with the teardrop shape and air cushions. We went scooting down the boulevard, silent as thought, not six inches off the ground.
Perhaps I should explain that we have a local city ordinance against apportation unless it conforms to traffic regulations--ground traffic, I mean, not air. That may surprise you, but it came about as a result of a mishap to a man in my own line of business. He had an order for eleven-odd tons of glass brick to be delivered to a restaurant being remodeled on the other side of town from his yard. He employed a magician with a common carrier's license to deliver for him. I don't know whether he was careless or just plain stupid, but he dropped those eleven tons of brick through the roof of the Prospect Boulevard Baptist Church. Anybody knows that magic won't work over consecrated ground; if he had consulted a map he would have seen that the straight-line route took his load over the church. Anyhow, the janitor was killed, and it might just as well have been the whole congregation. It caused such a commotion that apportation was limited to the streets, near the ground.
It's people like that who make it inconvenient for everybody else.
* * *
our man was in--Mr. Wiggin, of the firm Wiggin, Snead, McClatchey & Wiggin. He had already heard about my "fire," but when Jedson explained his conviction that magic was at the bottom of it he balked. It was, he said, most irregular. Jedson was remarkably patient.
"Are you an expert in magic, Mr. Wiggin?" he asked.
"I have not specialized in the thaumaturgic jurisprudence, if that is what you mean, sir."
"Well, I don't hold a license myself, but it has been my hobby for a good many years. I'm sure of what I say in this case; you can call in the independent experts you wish--they'll confirm my opinion. Now suppose we stipulate, for the sake of argument, that this damage was caused by magic. If that is true, there is a possibility that we may be able to save much of the loss. You have authority to settle claims, do you not?"
"Well, I think I may say yes to that--bearing in mind the legal restrictions and the terms of the contract." I don't believe he would have conceded that he had five fingers on his right hand without an auditor to back him up.
"Then it is your business to hold your company's losses down to a minimum. If I find a wizard who can undo a part, or all, of the damage, will you guarantee the fee, on behalf of your company, up to a reasonable amount, say 25 percent of the indemnity?"
He hemmed and hawed some more, and said he did not see how he could possible do it, and that if the fire had been magic, then to restore by magic might be compounding a felony, as we could not be sure what the connections of the magicians involved might be in the Half World. Besides that, my claim had not been allowed as yet; I had failed to notify the company of my visitor of the day before, which possibly might prejudice my claim. In any case, it was a very serious precedent to set; he must consult the home office.
Jedson stood up. "I can see that we are simply wasting each other's time, Mr. Wiggin. Your contention about Mr. Fraser's possible responsibility is ridiculous, and you know it. There is no reason under the contract to notify you, and even if there were, he is within the twenty-four hours allowed for any notification. I think it best that we consult the home office ourselves." He reached for his hat.
Wiggin put up his hand. "Gentleman, gentlemen, please! Let's not be hasty. Will Mr. Fraser agree to pay half of the fee?"
"No. Why should he? It's your loss, not his. You insured him."
Wiggin tapped his teeth with his spectacles, then said, "We must make the fee contingent on results."
"Did you ever hear of anyone in his right mind dealing with a wizard on any other basis?"
Twenty minutes later we walked out with a document which enabled us to hire any witch or wizard to salvage my place of business on a contingent fee not to exceed 25 percent of the value reclaimed. "I thought you were going to throw up the whole matter," I told Jedson with a sigh of relief.
He grinned. "Not in the wide world, old son. He was simply trying to horse you into paying the cost of saving them some money. I just let him know that I knew."
It took some time to decide whom to consult. Jedson admitted frankly that he did not know of a man nearer than New York who could, with certainty, be trusted to do the job, and that was out of the question for the fee involved. We stopped in a bar, and he did some telephoning while I had a beer. Presently he came back and said, "I think I've got the man. I've never done business with him before, but he has the reputation and the training, and everybody I talked to seemed to think that he was the one to see."
"Who is it?" I wanted to know.
"Dr. Fortescue Biddle. He's just down the street--the Railway Exchange Building. Come on, we'll walk it."
I gulped down the rest of my beer and followed him.
Dr. Biddle's place was impressive. He had a corner suite on the fourteenth floor, and he had not spared expense in furnishing and decorating it. The style was modern; it had the austere elegance of a society physician's layout. There was a frieze around the wall of the signs of the zodiac done in intaglio glass, backed up by aluminum. That was the only decoration of any sort, the rest of the furnishing being very plain, but rich, with lots of plate glass and chromium.
We had to wait about thirty minutes in the outer office; I spent the time trying to estimate what I could have done the suite for, subletting what I had to and allowing 10 percent. Then a really beautiful girl with a hushed voice ushered us in. We found ourselves in another smaller room, alone, and had to wait about ten minutes more. It was much like the waiting room, but had some glass bookcases and an old print of Aristotle. I looked at the bookcases with Jedson to kill time. They were filled with a lot of rare old classics on magic. Jedson had just pointed out the Red Grimoire when we heard a voice behind us.
"Amusing, aren't they? The ancients knew a surprising amount. Not scientific, of course, but remarkably clever--" The voice trailed off. We turned around; he introduced himself as Dr. Biddle.
He was a nice enough looking chap, really handsome in a spare, dignified fashion. He was about ten years older than I am--fortyish; maybe--with iron-gray hair at the temples and a small, stiff, British major's mustache. His clothes could have been out of the style pages of Esquire. There was no reason for me not to like him; his manners were pleasant enough. Maybe it was the supercilious twist to his expression.
He led us into this private office, sat us down, and offered us cigarettes before business was mentioned. He opened up with, "You're Jedson, of course. I suppose Mr. Ditworth sent you?"
I cocked an ear at him; the name was familiar. But Jedson simply answered, "Why, no. Why would you think that he had?"
Biddle hesitated for a moment, then said half to himself, "That's strange. I was certain that I had heard him mention your name. Does either one of you," he added, "know Mr. Ditworth?"
We both nodded at once and surprised each other. Biddle seemed relieved and said, "No doubt that accounts for it. Still--I need some more information. Will you gentlemen excuse me while I call him?"
With that he vanished. I had never seen it done before. Jedson says there are two ways to do it, one is hallucination, the other is an actual exit through the Half World. Whichever way it's done, I think it's bad manners.
"About this chap Ditworth," I started to say to Jedson. "I had intended to ask you--"
"Let it wait," he cut me off, "there's not time now."
At this Biddle reappeared. "It's all right," he announced, speaking directly to me. "I can take your case. I suppose you've come about the trouble you had last night with your establishment?"
"Yes," I agreed. "How did you know?"
"Methods," he replied, with a deprecatory little smile. "My profession has its means. Now, about your problem. What is it you desire?"
I looked at Jedson; he explained what he thought had taken place and why he thought so. "Now I don't know whether you specialize in demonology or not," he concluded, "but it seems to me that it should be possible to evoke the powers responsible and force them to repair the damage. If you can do it, we are prepared to pay any reasonable fee."
Biddle smiled at this and glanced rather self-consciously at the assortment of diplomas hanging on the walls of his office. "I feel that there should be reason to reassure you," he purred. "Permit me to look over the ground--" And he was gone again.
I was beginning to be annoyed. It's all very well for a man to be good at his job, but there is no reason to make a side show out of it. But I didn't have time to grouse about it before he was back.
"Examination seems to confirm Mr. Jedson's opinion; there should be no unusual difficulties," he said. "Now as to arrangements--" He coughed politely and gave a little smile, as if he regretted having to deal with such vulgar matters.
Why do some people act as if making money offended their delicate minds? I am out for a legitimate profit, and not ashamed of it; the fact that people will pay money for my goods and services shows that my work is useful.
However, we made a deal without much trouble, then Biddle told us to meet him at my place in about fifteen minutes. Jedson and I left the building and flagged another cab. Once inside I asked him about Ditworth.
"Where'd you run across him?" I said.
"Came to me with a proposition."
"Hm-m-m--" This interested me; Ditworth had made me a proposition, too, and it had worried me. "What kind of a proposition?"
Jedson screwed up his forehead. "Well, that's hard to say--there was so much impressive sales talk along with it. Briefly, he said he was the local executive secretary of a nonprofit association which had as its purpose the improvement of standards of practicing magicians."
I nodded. It was the same story I had heard. "Go ahead."
"He dwelt on the inadequacy of the present licensing laws and pointed out that anyone could pass the examination and hang out his shingle after a couple of weeks' study of a grimoire or black book without any fundamental knowledge of the arcane laws at all. His organization would be a sort of bureau of standards to improve that, like the American Medical Association, or the National Conference of Universities and Colleges, or the Bar Association. If I signed an agreement to patronize only those wizards who complied with their requirements, I could display their certificate of quality and put their seal of approval on my goods."
Joe, I've heard the same story," I cut in, "and I didn't know quite what to make of it. It sounds all right, but I wouldn't want to stop doing business with men who have given me good value in the past, and I've no way of knowing that the association would approve them."
"What answer did you give him?"
"I stalled him a bit--told him that I couldn't sign anything as binding as that without discussing it with my attorney."
"Good boy! What did he say to that?"
"Well, he was really quite decent about it, and honestly seemed to want to be helpful. Said he thought I was wise and left me some stuff to look over. Do you know anything about him? Is he a wizard himself?"
"No, he's not. But I did find out some things about him. I knew vaguely that he was something in the Chamber of Commerce; what I didn't know is that he is on the board of a dozen or more blue-ribbon corporations. He's a lawyer, but not in practice. Seems to spend all his time on his business interests."
"He sounds like a responsible man."
"I would say so. He seems to have had considerably less publicity than you would expect of a man of his business importance--probably a retiring sort. I ran across something that seemed to confirm that."
"What was it?" I asked.
"I looked up the incorporation papers for his association on file with the Secretary of State. There were just three names, his own and two others. I found that both of the others were employed in his office--his secretary and his receptionist."
"Dummy setup?"
"Undoubtedly. But there is nothing unusual about that. What interested me was this: I recognized one of the names."
"You know, I'm on the auditing committee for the state committee of my party. I looked up the name of his secretary where I thought I had seen it. It was there all right. His secretary, a chap by the name of Mathias, was down for a whopping big contribution to the governor's personal campaign fund."
We did not have any more time to talk just then, as the cab had pulled up at my place. Dr. Biddle was there before us and had already started his preparations. He had set up a little crystal pavilion, about ten feet square, to work in. The entire lot was blocked off from spectators on the front by an impalpable screen. Jedson warned me not to touch it.
I must say he worked without any of the usual hocus-pocus. He simply greeted us and entered the pavilion, where he sat down on a chair and took a loose-leaf notebook from a pocket and commenced to read. Jedson says he used several pieces of paraphernalia too. If so, I didn't see them. He worked with his clothes on.
Nothing happened for a few minutes. Gradually the walls of the shed became cloudy, so that everything inside was indistinct. It was about then that I became aware that there was something else in the pavilion besides Biddle. I could not see clearly what it was, and, to tell the truth, I didn't want to.
We could not hear anything that was said on the inside, but there was an argument going on--that was evident. Biddle stood up and began sawing the air with his hands. The thing threw back its head and laughed. At that Biddle threw a worried look in our direction and made a quick gesture with his right hand. The walls of the pavilion became opaque at once and we didn't see any more.
About five minutes later Biddle walked out of his workroom, which promptly disappeared behind him. He was a sight--his hair all mussed, sweat dripping from his face, and his collar wrinkled and limp. Worse than that, his aplomb was shaken.
"Well?" said Jedson.
"There is nothing to be done about it, Mr. Jedson--nothing at all."
"Nothing you can do about it, eh?"
He stiffened a bit at this. "Nothing anyone can do about it, gentlemen. Give it up. Forget about it. That is my advice."
Jedson said nothing, just looked at him speculatively. I kept quiet. Biddle was beginning to regain his self-possession. He straightened his hat, adjusted his necktie, and added, "I must return to my office. The survey fee will be five hundred dollars."
I was stonkered speechless at the barefaced gall of the man, but Jedson acted as if he hadn't understood him. "No doubt it would be," he observed. "Too bad you didn't earn it. I'm sorry."
Biddle turned red, but preserved his urbanity. "Apparently you misunderstood me, sir. Under the agreement I have signed with Mr. Ditworth, thaumaturgists approved by the association are not permitted to offer free consultation. It lowers the standards of the profession. The fee I mentioned is the minimum fee for a magician of my classification, irrespective of services rendered."
"I see," Jedson answered calmly, "that's what it costs to step inside your office. But you didn't tell us that, so it doesn't apply. As for Mr. Ditworth, an agreement you sign with him does not bind us in any way. I advise you to return to your office and reread our contract. We owe you nothing."
I thought this time that Biddle would lose his temper, but all he answered was, "I shan't bandy words with you. You will hear from me later." He vanished then without so much as a by-your-leave.
I heard a snicker behind me and whirled around, ready to bite somebody's head off. I had had an upsetting day and didn't like to be laughed at behind my back. There was a young chap there, about my own age. "Who are you, and what are you laughing at?" I snapped. "This is private property."
"Sorry, bud," he apologized with a disarming grin. "I wasn't laughing at you; I was laughing at the stuffed shirt. Your friend ticked him off properly."
"What are you doing here?" asked Jedson.
"Me? I guess I owe you an explanation. You see, I'm in the business myself--"
"No--magic. Here's my card." He handed it to Jedson, who glanced at it and passed it on to me. It read:
Jack bodie
licensed magician, 1st class
telephone crest 3840
"You see, I heard a rumor in the Half World that one of the big shots was going to do a hard one here today. I just stopped in to see the fun. But how did you happen to pick a false alarm like Biddle? He's not up to this sort of thing."
Jedson reached over and took the card back. "Where did you take your training, Mr. Bodie?"
"Huh? I took my bachelor's degree at Harvard and finished up postgraduate at Chicago. But that's not important; my old man taught me everything I know, but he insisted on my going to college because he said a magician can't get a decent job these days without a degree. He was right."
"Do you think you could handle this job?" I asked.
"Probably not, but I wouldn't have made the fool of myself that Biddle did. Look here--you want to find somebody who can do this job?"
"Naturally," I said. "What do you think we're here for?"
"Well, you've gone about it the wrong way. Biddle's got a reputation simply because he's studied at Heidelberg and Vienna. That doesn't mean a thing. I'll bet it never occurred to you to look up an old-style witch for the job."
Jedson answered this one. "That's not quite true. I inquired around among my friends in the business, but didn't find anyone who was willing to take it on. But I'm willing to learn; whom do you suggest?"
"Do you know Mrs. Amanda Todd Jennings? Lives over in the old part of town, beyond the Congregational cemetery."
"Jennings...Jennings. Hm-m-m--no, can't say that I do. Wait a minute! Is she the old girl they call Granny Jennings? Wears Queen Mary hats and does her own marketing?"
"That's the one."
"But she's not a witch; she's a fortuneteller."
"That's what you think. She's not in regular commercial practice, it's true, being ninety years older than Santy Claus, and feeble to boot. But she's got more magic in her little finger than you'll find in Solomon's Book."
Jedson looked at me. I nodded, and he said:
"Do you think you could get her to attempt this case?"
"Well, I think she might do it, if she liked you."
"What arrangement do you want?" I asked. "Is 10 per cent satisfactory?"
He seemed rather put out at this. "Hell," he said, "I couldn't take a cut; she's been good to me all my life."
"If the tip is good, it's worth paying for," I insisted.
"Oh, forget it. Maybe you boys will have some work in my line someday. That's enough."
Pretty soon we were off again, without Bodie. He was tied up elsewhere, but promised to let Mrs. Jennings know that we were coming.
The place wasn't too hard to find. It was an old street, arched over with elms, and the house was a one-story cottage, set well back. The veranda had a lot of that old scroll-saw gingerbread. The yard was not very well taken care of, but there was a lovely old climbing rose arched over the steps.
Jedson gave a twist to the hand bell set in the door, and we waited for several minutes. I studied the colored-glass triangles set in the door's side panels and wondered if there was anyone left who could do that sort of work.
Then she let us in. She really was something incredible. She was so tiny that I found myself staring down at the crown of her head, and nothing that the clean pink scalp showed plainly through the scant, neat threads of hair. She couldn't have weighed seventy pounds dressed for the street, but stood proudly erect in lavender alpaca and white collar, and sized us up with lively black eyes that would have fitted Catherine the Great or Calamity Jane.
"Good morning to you," she said. "Come in."
She led us through a little hall, between beaded portieres, said, "Scat, Seraphin!" to a cat on a chair, and sat us down in her parlor. The cat jumped down, walked away with an unhurried dignity, then sat down, tucked his tail neatly around his carefully placed feet, and stared at us with the same calm appraisal as his mistress.
"My boy Jack told me that you were coming," she began. "You are Mr. Fraser and you are Mr. Jedson," getting us sorted out correctly. It was not a question; it was a statement. "You want your futures read, I suppose. What method do you prefer--your palms, the stars, the sticks?"
I was about to correct her misapprehension when Jedson cut in ahead of me. "I think we'd best leave the method up to you, Mrs. Jennings."
"All right, we'll make it tea leaves then. I'll put the kettle on; 'twon't take a minute." She bustled out. We could hear her in the kitchen, her light footsteps clicking on the linoleum, utensils scraping and clattering in a busy, pleasant disharmony.
When she returned I said, "I hope we aren't putting you out, Mrs. Jennings."
"Not a bit of it," she assured me. "I like a cup of tea in the morning; it does a body comfort. I just had to set a love philter off the fire--that's what took me so long."
"I'm sorry--"
"'Twon't hurt it to wait."
"The Zekerboni formula?" Jedson inquired.
"My goodness gracious, no!" She was plainly upset by the suggestion. "I wouldn't kill all those harmless little creatures. Hares and swallows and doves--the very idea! I don't know what Pierre Mora was thinking about when he set that recipe down. I'd like to box his ears!
"No, I use Emula campana, orange, and ambergris. It's just as effective."
Jedson then asked if she had ever tried the juice of vervain. She looked closely into his face before replying. "You have the sight yourself, son. Am I not right?"
"A little, mother," he answered soberly, "a little, perhaps."
"It will grow. Mind how you use it. As for vervain, it is efficacious, as you know."
"Wouldn't it be simpler?"
"Of course it would. But if that easy a method became generally known, anyone and everyone would be making it and using it promiscuously--a bad thing. And witches would starve for want of clients--perhaps a good thing!" She flicked up one white eyebrow. "But if it is simplicity you want, there is no need to bother even with vervain. Here--" she reached out and touched me on the hand. "'Bestarberto corrumpit viscera ejus virilis'." That is as near as I can reproduce her words. I may have misquoted it.
But I had no time to think about the formula she had pronounced. I was fully occupied with the startling thing that had come over me. I was in love, ecstatically, deliciously in love--with Granny Jennings! I don't mean that she suddenly looked like a beautiful young girl--she didn't. I still saw her as a little, old, shriveled-up woman with the face of a shrewd monkey, and ancient enough to be my great-grandmother. It didn't matter. She was she--the Helen that all men desire, the object of romantic adoration.
She smiled into my face with a smile that was warm and full of affectionate understanding. Everything was all right, and I was perfectly happy. Then she said, "I would not mock you, boy," in a gentle voice, and touched my hand a second time while whispering something else.
At once it was all gone. She was just any nice woman, the sort that would bake a cake for a grandson or sit up with a sick neighbor. Nothing was changed, and the cat had not even blinked. The romantic fascination was an emotionless memory. But I was poorer for the difference.
The kettle was boiling. She trotted out to attend to it, and returned shortly with a tray of tea things, a plate of seed cake, and thin slices of homemade bread spread with sweet butter.
When we had drunk a cup apiece with proper ceremony, she took Jedson's cup from him and examined the dregs. "Not much money there," she announced, "but you shan't need much; it's a fine full life." She touched the little pool of tea with the tip of her spoon and sent tiny ripples across it. "Yes, you have the sight, and the need for understanding that should go with it, but I find you in business instead of pursuing the great art, or even the lesser arts. Why is that?"
Jedson shrugged his shoulders and answered half apologetically, "There is work at hand that needs to be done. I do it."
She nodded. "That is well. There is understanding to be gained in any job, and you will gain it. There is no hurry; time is long. When your own work comes you will know it and be ready for it. Let me see your cup," she finished, turning to me.
I handed it to her. She studied it for a moment and said, "Well, you have not the clear sight such as your friend has, but you have the insight you need for your proper work. And more would make you dissatisfied, for I see money here. You will make much money, Archie Fraser."
"Do you see any immediate setback in my business?" I said quickly.
"No. See for yourself." She motioned toward the cup. I leaned forward and stared at it. For a matter of seconds it seemed as if I looked through the surface of the dregs into a living scene beyond. I recognized it readily enough. It was my own place of business, even to the scars on the driveway gateposts where clumsy truck drivers had clipped the corner too closely.
But there was a new annex wing on the east side of the lot, and there were two beautiful new five-ton dump trucks drawn up in the yard with my name painted on them!
While I watched I saw myself step out of the office door and go walking down the street. I was wearing a new hat, but the suit was the one I was wearing in Mrs. Jennings's parlor, and so was the necktie--a plaid one from the tartan of my clan. I reached up and touched the original.
Mrs. Jennings said, "That will do for now," and I found myself staring at the bottom of the teacup. "You have seen," she went on, "your business need not worry you. As for love and marriage and children, sickness and health and death--let us look." She touched the surface of the dregs with a finger tip; the tea leaves moved gently. She regarded them closely for a moment. Her brow puckered; she started to speak, apparently thought better of it, and looked again. Finally she said, "I do not fully understand this. It is not clear; my own shadow falls across it."
"Perhaps I can see," offered Jedson.
"Keep your peace!" She surprised me by speaking tartly, and placed her hand over the cup. She turned back to me with compassion in her eyes. "It is not clear. You have two possible futures. Let your head rule your heart, and do not fret your soul with that which cannot be. Then you will marry, have children, and be content." With that she dismissed the matter, for she said at once to both of us, "You did not come here for divination; you came here for help of another sort." Again it was a statement, not a question.
"What sort of help, mother?" Jedson inquired.
"For this." She shoved my cup under his nose.
He looked at it and answered, "Yes, that is true. Is there help?" I looked into the cup, too, but saw nothing but tea leaves.
She answered, "I think so. You should not have employed Biddle, but the mistake was natural. Let us be going." Without further parley she fetched her gloves and purse and coat, perched a ridiculous old hat on the top of her head, and bustled us out of the house. There was no discussion of terms; it didn't seem necessary.
* * *
when we got back to the lot her workroom was already up. It was not anything fancy like Biddle's, but simply an old, square tent, like a gypsy's pitch, with a peaked top and made in several gaudy colors. She pushed aside the shawl that closed the door and invited us inside.
It was gloomy, but she took a big candle, lighted it and stuck it in the middle of the floor. By its light she inscribed five circles on the ground--first a large one, then a somewhat smaller one in front of it. Then she drew two others, one on each side of the first and biggest circle. These were each big enough for a man to stand in, and she told us to do so. Finally she made one more circle off to one side and not more than a foot across.
I've never paid much attention to the methods of magicians, feeling about them the way Thomas Edison said he felt about mathematicians--when he wanted one he could hire one. But Mrs. Jennings was different. I wish I could understand the things she did--and why.
I know she drew a lot of cabalistic signs in the dirt within the circles. There were pentacles of various shapes, and some writing in what I judged to be Hebraic script, though Jedson says not. In particular there was, I remember, a sign like a long flat Z, with a loop in it, woven in and out of a Maltese cross. Two more candles were lighted and placed on each side of this.
Then she jammed the dagger--athame, Jedson called it--with which she had scribed the figures into the ground at the top of the big circle so hard that it quivered. It continued to vibrate the whole time.
She placed a little folding stool in the center of the biggest circle, sat down on it, drew out a small book, and commenced to read aloud in a voiceless whisper. I could not catch the words, and presume I was not meant to. This went on for some time. I glanced around and saw that the little circle off to one side was now occupied--by Seraphin, her cat. We had left him shut up in her house. He sat quietly, watching everything that took place with dignified interest.
Presently she shut the book and threw a pinch of powder into the flame of the largest candle. It flared up and threw out a great puff of smoke. I am not quite sure what happened next, as the smoke smarted my eyes and made me blink, besides which, Jedson says I don't understand the purpose of fumigations at all. But I prefer to believe my eyes. Either that cloud of smoke solidified into a body or it covered up an entrance, one or the other.
Standing in the middle of the circle in front of Mrs. Jennings was a short, powerful man about four feet high or less. His shoulders were inches broader than mine, and his upper arms were thick as my thighs, knotted and bowed with muscle. He was dressed in a breechcloth, buskins, and a little hooded cap. His skin was hairless, but rough and earthy in texture. It was dull, lusterless. Everything about him was the same dull monotone, except his eyes, which shone green with repressed fury.
"Well!" said Mrs. Jennings crisply, "you've been long enough getting here! What have you to say for yourself?"
He answered sullenly, like an incorrigible boy caught but not repentant, in a language filled with rasping gutturals and sibilants. She listened awhile, then cut him off.
"I don't care who told you to; you'll account to me! I require this harm repaired--in less time than it takes to tell it!"
He answered back angrily, and she dropped into his language, so that I could no longer follow the meaning. But it was clear that I was concerned in it; he threw me several dirty looks, and finally glared and spat in my direction.
Mrs. Jennings reached out and cracked him across the mouth with the back of her hand. He looked at her, killing in his eyes, and said something.
"So?" she answered, put out a hand and grabbed him by the nape of the neck and swung him across her lap, face down. She snatched off a shoe and whacked him soundly with it. He let out one yelp, then kept silent, but jerked every time she struck him.
When she was through she stood up, spilling him to the ground. He picked himself up and hurriedly scrambled back into his own circle, where he stood, rubbing himself. Mrs. Jennings's eyes snapped and her voice crackled; there was nothing feeble about her now. "You gnomes are getting above yourselves," she scolded. "I never heard of such a thing! One more slip on your part and I'll fetch your people to see you spanked! Get along with you. Fetch your people for your task, and summon your brother and your brother's brother. By the great Tetragrammaton, get hence to the place appointed for you!"
He was gone.
Our next visitant came almost at once. It appeared first as a tiny spark hanging in the air. It grew into a living flame, a fireball, six inches or more across. It floated above the center of the second circle at the height of Mrs. Jennings's eyes. It danced and whirled and flamed, feeding on nothing. Although I had never seen one, I knew it to be a salamander. It couldn't be anything else.
Mrs. Jennings watched it for a little time before speaking. I could see that she was enjoying its dance, as I was. It was a perfect and beautiful thing, with no fault in it. There was life in it, a singing joy, with no concern for--with no relation to--matters of right and wrong, or anything human. Its harmonies of color and curve were their own reason for being.
I suppose I'm pretty matter-of-fact. At least I've always lived by the principle of doing my job and letting other things take care of themselves. But here was something that was worthwhile in itself, no matter what harm it did by my standards. Even the cat was purring.
Mrs. Jennings spoke to it in a clear, singing soprano that had no words to it. It answered back in pure liquid notes while the colors of its nucleus varied to suit the pitch. She turned to me and said, "It admits readily enough that it burned your place, but it was invited to do so and is not capable of appreciating your point of view. I dislike to compel it against its own nature. Is there any boon you can offer it?"
I thought for a moment. "Tell it that it makes me happy to watch it dance." She sang again to it. It spun and leaped, its flame tendrils whirling and floating in intricate, delightful patterns.
"That was good, but not sufficient. Can you think of anything else?"
I thought hard. "Tell it that if it likes, I will build a fireplace in my house where it will be welcome to live whenever it wishes."
She nodded approvingly and spoke to it again. I could almost understand its answer, but Mrs. Jennings translated. "It likes you. Will you let it approach you?"
"Can it hurt me?"
"Not here."
"All right then."
She drew a T between our two circles. It followed closely behind the athame, like a cat at an opening door. Then it swirled about me and touched me lightly on my hands and face. Its touch did not burn, but tingled, rather, as if I felt its vibrations directly instead of sensing them as heat. It flowed over my face. I was plunged into a world of light, like the heart of the aurora borealis. I was afraid to breathe at first, finally had to. No harm came to me, though the tingling was increased.
It's an odd thing, but I have not had a single cold since the salamander touched me. I used to sniffle all winter.
"Enough, enough," I heard Mrs. Jennings saying. The cloud of flame withdrew from me and returned to its circle. The musical discussion resumed, and they reached an agreement almost at once, for Mrs. Jennings nodded with satisfaction and said:
"Away with you then, fire child, and return when you are needed. Get hence--" She repeated the formula she had used on the gnome king.
The undine did not show up at once. Mrs. Jennings took out her book again and read from it in a monotonous whisper. I was beginning to be a bit sleepy--the tent was stuffy--when the cat commenced to spit. It was glaring at the center circle, claws out, back arched, and tail made big.
There was a shapeless something in that circle, a thing that dripped and spread its slimy moisture to the limit of the magic ring. It stank of fish and kelp and iodine, and shone with a wet phosphorescence.
"You're late," said Mrs. Jennings. "You got my message; why did you wait until I compelled you?"
It heaved with a sticky, sucking sound, but made no answer.
"Very well," she said firmly, "I shan't argue with you. You know what I want. You will do it!" She stood up and grasped the big center candle. Its flame flared up into a torch a yard high, and hot. She thrust it past her circle at the undine.
There was a hiss, as when water strikes hot iron, and a burbling scream. She jabbed at it again and again. At last she stopped and stared down at it, where it lay, quivering and drawing into itself. "That will do," she said. "Next time you will heed your mistress. Get hence!" It seemed to sink into the ground, leaving the dust dry behind it.
When it was gone she motioned for us to enter her circle, breaking our own with the dagger to permit us. Seraphin jumped lightly from his little circle to the big one and rubbed against her ankles, buzzing loudly. She repeated a meaningless series of syllables and clapped her hands smartly together.
There was a rushing and roaring. The sides of the tent billowed and cracked. I heard the chuckle of water and the crackle of flames, and, through that, the bustle of hurrying footsteps. She looked from side to side, and wherever her gaze fell the wall of the tent became transparent. I got hurried glimpses of unintelligible confusion.
Then it all ceased with a suddenness that was startling. The silence rang in our ears. The tent was gone; we stood in the loading yard outside my main warehouse.
It was there! It was back--back unharmed, without a trace of damage by fire or water. I broke away and ran out the main gate to where my business office had faced on the street. It was there, just as it used to be, the show windows shining in the sun, the Rotary Club emblem in one corner, and up on the roof my big two-way sign:
Jedson strolled out presently and touched me on the arm. "What are you bawling about, Archie?"
I stared at him. I wasn't aware that I had been.
* * *
we were doing business as usual on Monday morning. I thought everything was back to normal and that my troubles were over. I was too hasty in my optimism.
It was nothing you could put your finger on at first--just the ordinary vicissitudes of business, the little troubles that turn up in any line of work and slow up production. You expect them and charge them off to overhead. No one of them would be worth mentioning alone, except for one thing: they were happening too frequently.
You see, in any business run under a consistent management policy the losses due to unforeseen events should average out in the course of a year to about the same percentage of total cost. You allow for that in your estimates. But I started having so many small accidents and little difficulties that my margin of profit was eaten up.
One morning two of my trucks would not start. We could not find the trouble; I had to put them in the shop and rent a truck for the day to supplement my one remaining truck. We got our deliveries made, but I was out the truck rent, the repair bill, and four hours' overtime for drivers at time and a half. I had a net loss for the day.
The very next day I was just closing a deal with a man I had been trying to land for a couple of years. The deal was not important, but it would lead to a lot more business in the future, for he owned quite a bit of income property--some courts and an apartment house or two, several commercial corners, and held title or options on well-located lots all over town. He always had repair jobs to place and very frequently new building jobs. If I satisfied him, he would be a steady customer with prompt payment, the kind you can afford to deal with on a small margin of profit.
We were standing in the showroom just outside my office and talking, having about reached an agreement. There was a display of Sunprufe paint about three feet from us, the cans stacked in a neat pyramid. I swear that neither one of us touched it, but it came crashing to the floor, making a din that would sour milk.
That was nuisance enough, but not the pay-off. The cover flew off one can, and my prospect was drenched with red paint. He let out a yelp; I thought he was going to faint. I managed to get him back into my office, where I dabbed futilely at his suit with my handkerchief, while trying to calm him down.
He was in a state, both mentally and physically. "Fraser," he raged, "You've got to fire the clerk that knocked over those cans! Look at me! Eighty-five dollars worth of suit ruined!"
"Let's not be hasty," I said soothingly, while holding my own temper in. I won't discharge a man to suit a customer, and don't like to be told to do so. "There wasn't anyone near those cans but ourselves."
"I suppose you think I did it?"
"Not at all. I know you didn't." I straightened up, wiped my hands, and went over to my desk and got out my checkbook.
"Then you must have done it!"
"I don't think so," I answered patiently. "How much did you say your suit was worth?"
"I want to write you a check for the amount." I was quite willing to; I did not feel to blame, but it had happened through no fault of his in my shop.
"You can't get out of it as easily as that!" he answered unreasonably. "It isn't the cost of the suit I mind--" He jammed his hat on his head and stumped out. I knew his reputation; I'd seen the last of him.
This is the sort of thing I mean. Of course it could have been an accident caused by clumsy stacking of the cans. But it might have been a poltergeist. Accidents don't make themselves.
* * *
DITWORTH CAME TO SEE ME a day or so later about Biddle's phony bill. I had been subjected night and morning to this continuous stream of petty annoyances, and my temper was wearing thin. Just that day a gang of colored bricklayers had quit one of my jobs because some moron had scrawled some chalk marks on some of the bricks. "Voodoo marks," they said they were, and would not touch a brick. I was in no mood to be held up by Mr. Ditworth; I guess I was pretty short with him.
"Good day to you, Mr. Fraser," he said quite pleasantly, "can you spare me a few minutes?"
"Ten minutes, perhaps," I conceded, glancing at my wrist watch.
He settled his brief case against the legs of his chair and took out some papers. "I'll come to the point at once then. It's about Dr. Biddle's claim against you. You and I are both fair men; I feel sure that we can come to some equitable agreement."
"Biddle has no claim against me."
He nodded. "I know just how you feel. Certainly there is nothing in the written contract obligating you to pay him. But there can be implied contracts just as binding as written contracts."
"I don't follow you. All my business is done in writing."
"Certainly," he agreed; "that's because you are a businessman. In the professions the situation is somewhat different. If you go to a dental surgeon and ask him to pull an aching tooth, and he does, you are obligated to pay his fee, even though a fee has never been mentioned--"
"That's true," I interrupted, "but there is no parallel. Biddle didn't 'pull the tooth.'"
"In a way he did," Ditworth persisted. "The claim against you is for the survey, which was a service rendered you before this contract was written."
"But no mention was made of a service fee."
"That is where the implied obligation comes in, Mr. Fraser; you told Dr. Biddle that you had talked with me. He assumed quite correctly that I had previously explained to you the standard system of fees under the association--"
"But I did not join the association!"
"I know, I know. And I explained that to the other directors, but they insist that some sort of an adjustment must be made. I don't feel myself that you are fully to blame, but you will understand our position, I am sure. We are unable to accept you for membership in the association until this matter is adjusted--in fairness to Dr. Biddle."
"What makes you think I intend to join the association?"
He looked hurt. "I had not expected you to take that attitude, Mr. Fraser. The association needs men of your caliber. But in your own interest, you will necessarily join, for presently it will be very difficult to get efficient thaumaturgy except from members of the association. We want to help you. Please don't make it difficult for us."
I stood up. "I am afraid you had better sue me and let a court decide the matter, Mr. Ditworth. That seems to be the only satisfactory solution."
"I am sorry," he said, shaking his head. "It will prejudice your position when you come up for membership."
"Then it will just have to do so," I said shortly, and showed him out.
After he had gone I crabbed at my office girl for doing something I had told her to do the day before, and then had to apologize. I walked up and down a bit, stewing, although there was plenty of work I should have been doing. I was nervous; things had begun to get my goat--a dozen things that I haven't mentioned--and this last unreasonable demand from Ditworth seemed to be the last touch needed to upset me completely. Not that he could collect by suing me--that was preposterous--but it was an annoyance just the same. They say the Chinese have a torture that consists in letting one drop of water fall on the victim every few minutes. That's the way I felt.
Finally I called up Jedson and asked him to go to lunch with me.
I felt better after lunch. Jedson soothed me down, as he always does, and I was able to forget and put in the past most of the things that had been annoying me simply by telling him about them. By the time I had had a second cup of coffee and smoked a cigarette I was almost fit for polite society.
We strolled back toward my shop, discussing his problems for a change. It seems the blond girl, the white witch from Jersey City, had finally managed to make her synthesis stunt work on footgear. But there was still a hitch; she had turned out over eight hundred left shoes--and no right ones.
We were just speculating as to the probable causes of such a contretemps when Jedson said, "Look, Archie. The candid-camera fans are beginning to take an interest in you."
I looked. There was a chap standing at the curb directly across from my place of business and focusing a camera on the shop.
Then I looked again. "Joe," I snapped, "that's the bird I told you about, the one that came into my shop and started the trouble!"
"Are you sure?" he asked, lowering his voice.
"Positive." There was no doubt about it; he was only a short distance away on the same side of the street that we were. It was the same racketeer who had tried to blackmail me into buying "protection," the same Mediterranean look to him, the same flashy clothes.
"We've got to grab him," whispered Jedson.
But I had already thought of that. I rushed at him and had grabbed him by his coat collar and the slack of his pants before he knew what was happening, and pushed him across the street ahead of me. We were nearly run down, but I was so mad I didn't care. Jedson came pounding after us.
The yard door of my office was open. I gave the mug a final heave that lifted him over the threshold and sent him sprawling on the floor. Jedson was right behind; I bolted the door as soon as we were both inside.
Jedson strode over to my desk, snatched open the middle drawer, and rummaged hurriedly through the stuff that accumulates in such places. He found what he wanted, a carpenter's blue pencil, and was back alongside our gangster before he had collected himself sufficiently to scramble to his feet. Jedson drew a circle around him on the floor, almost tripping over his own feet in his haste, and closed the circle with an intricate flourish.
Our unwilling guest screeched when he saw what Joe was doing, and tried to throw himself out of the circle before it could be finished. But Jedson had been too fast for him--the circle was closed and sealed; he bounced back from the boundary as if he had struck a glass wall, and stumbled again to his knees. He remained so for the time, and cursed steadily in a language that I judged to be Italian, although I think there were bad words in it from several other languages--certainly some English ones.
He was quite fluent.
Jedson pulled out a cigarette, lighted it, and handed me one. "Let's sit down, Archie," he said, "and rest ourselves until our boy friend composes himself enough to talk business."
I did so, and we smoked for several minutes while the flood of invective continued. Presently Jedson cocked one eyebrow at the chap and said, "Aren't you beginning to repeat yourself?"
That checked him. He just sat and glared. "Well," Jedson continued, "haven't you anything to say for yourself?"
He growled under his breath and said, "I want to call my lawyer."
Jedson looked amused. "You don't understand the situation," he told him. "You're not under arrest, and we don't give a


Excerpted from The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein by Heinlein, Robert A. Copyright © 2002 by Heinlein, Robert A.. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) is widely acknowledged to have been the single most important and influential author of science fiction in the twentieth century. He won science fiction’s Hugo Award for Best Novel four times, and in addition, three of his novels were given Retrospective Hugos fifty years after publication. He won Science Fiction Writers of America’s first Grand Master Award for his lifetime achievement.


Born in Butler, Missouri, Heinlein graduated from the United States Naval Academy and served as an officer in the navy for five years. He started writing to help pay off his mortgage, and his first story was published in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine in 1939. In 1947, he published a story in The Saturday Evening Post, making him the first science-fiction writer to break into the mainstream market. Long involved in politics, Heinlein was deeply affected by events such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Cold War, and his fiction tended to convey strong social and political messages. His many influential novels include Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough for Love. At the time of his death in 1988, he was living in Carmel, California with his wife Virginia.

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Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
July 7, 1907
Date of Death:
May 8, 1988
Place of Birth:
Butler, Missouri
Place of Death:
Carmel, California
Graduate of U.S. Naval Academy, 1929; attended University of California, Los Angeles, 1934, for graduate study in physic

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