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´╗┐Title: Bad Medicine
Author: Sheckley, Robert, 1928-2005
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Bad Medicine" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



version by Al Haines.



Copyright (C) 2003 by Robert Sheckley.



Bad Medicine

by Robert Sheckley


On May 2, 2103, Elwood Caswell walked rapidly down Broadway with a
loaded revolver hidden in his coat pocket. He didn't want to use the
weapon, but feared he might anyhow. This was a justifiable assumption,
for Caswell was a homicidal maniac.

It was a gentle, misty spring day and the air held the smell of rain
and blossoming-dogwood. Caswell gripped the revolver in his sweaty
right hand and tried to think of a single valid reason why he should
not kill a man named Magnessen, who, the other day, had commented on
how well Caswell looked.

What business was it of Magnessen's how he looked? Damned busybodies,
always spoiling things for everybody....

Caswell was a choleric little man with fierce red eyes, bulldog jowls
and ginger-red hair. He was the sort you would expect to find perched
on a detergent box, orating to a crowd of lunching businessmen and
amused students, shouting, "Mars for the Martians, Venus for the
Venusians!"

But in truth, Caswell was uninterested in the deplorable social
conditions of extraterrestrials. He was a jetbus conductor for the New
York Rapid Transit Corporation. He minded his own business. And he was
quite mad.

Fortunately, he knew this at least part of the time, with at least half
of his mind.


-- -- -- -- --


Perspiring freely, Caswell continued down Broadway toward the 43rd
Street branch of Home Therapy Appliances, Inc. His friend Magnessen
would be finishing work soon, returning to his little apartment less
than a block from Caswell's. How easy it would be, how pleasant, to
saunter in, exchange a few words and....

No! Caswell took a deep gulp of air and reminded himself that he didn't
really want to kill anyone. It was not right to kill people. The
authorities would lock him up, his friends wouldn't understand, his
mother would never have approved.

But these arguments seemed pallid, over-intellectual and entirely
without force. The simple fact remained--he wanted to kill Magnessen.

Could so strong a desire be wrong? Or even unhealthy?

Yes, it could! With an agonized groan, Caswell sprinted the last few
steps into the Home Therapy Appliances Store.

Just being within such a place gave him an immediate sense of relief.
The lighting was discreet, the draperies were neutral, the displays of
glittering therapy machines were neither too bland nor obstreperous. It
was the kind of place where a man could happily lie down on the carpet
in the shadow of the therapy machines, secure in the knowledge that
help for any sort of trouble was at hand.

A clerk with fair hair and a long, supercilious nose glided up softly,
but not too softly, and murmured, "May one help?"

"Therapy!" said Caswell.

"Of course, sir," the clerk answered, smoothing his lapels and smiling
winningly. "That is what we are here for." He gave Caswell a searching
look, performed an instant mental diagnosis, and tapped a gleaming
white-and-copper machine.

"Now this," the clerk said, "is the new Alcoholic Reliever, built by
IBM and advertised in the leading magazines. A handsome piece of
furniture, I think you will agree, and not out of place in any home. It
opens into a television set."

With a flick of his narrow wrist, the clerk opened the Alcoholic
Reliever, revealing a 52-inch screen.

"I need--" Caswell began.

"Therapy," the clerk finished for him. "Of course. I just wanted to
point out that this model need never cause embarrassment for yourself,
your friends or loved ones. Notice, if you will, the recessed dial
which controls the desired degree of drinking. See? If you do not wish
total abstinence, you can set it to heavy, moderate, social or light.
That is a new feature, unique in mechanotherapy."

"I am not an alcoholic," Caswell said, with considerable dignity. "The
New York Rapid Transit Corporation does not hire alcoholics."

"Oh," said the clerk, glancing distrustfully at Caswell's bloodshot
eyes. "You seem a little nervous. Perhaps the portable Bendix Anxiety
Reducer--"

"Anxiety's not my ticket, either. What have you got for homicidal
mania?"

The clerk pursed his lips. "Schizophrenic or manic-depressive origins?"

"I don't know," Caswell admitted, somewhat taken aback.

"It really doesn't matter," the clerk told him. "Just a private theory
of my own. From my experience in the store, redheads and blonds are
prone to schizophrenia, while brunettes incline toward the
manic-depressive."

"That's interesting. Have you worked here long?"

"A week. Now then, here is just what you need, sir." He put his hand
affectionately on a squat black machine with chrome trim.

"What's that?"

"That, sir, is the Rex Regenerator, built by General Motors. Isn't it
handsome? It can go with any decor and opens up into a well-stocked
bar. Your friends, family, loved ones need never know--"

"Will it cure a homicidal urge?" Caswell asked. "A strong one?"

"Absolutely. Don't confuse this with the little ten amp neurosis
models. This is a hefty, heavy-duty, twenty-five amp machine for a
really deep-rooted major condition."

"That's what I've got," said Caswell, with pardonable pride.

"This baby'll jolt it out of you. Big, heavy-duty thrust bearings!
Oversize heat absorbers! Completely insulated! Sensitivity range of over--"

"I'll take it," Caswell said. "Right now. I'll pay cash."

"Fine! I'll just telephone Storage and--"

"This one'll do," Caswell said, pulling out his billfold. "I'm in a
hurry to use it. I want to kill my friend Magnessen, you know."

The clerk clucked sympathetically. "You wouldn't want to do that ... Plus
five percent sales tax. Thank you, sir. Full instructions are inside."

Caswell thanked him, lifted the Regenerator in both arms and hurried
out.

After figuring his commission, the clerk smiled to himself and lighted
a cigarette. His enjoyment was spoiled when the manager, a large man
impressively equipped with pince-nez, marched out of his office.

"Haskins," the manager said, "I thought I asked you to rid yourself of
that filthy habit."

"Yes, Mr. Follansby, sorry, sir," Haskins apologized, snubbing out the
cigarette. "I'll use the display Denicotinizer at once. Made rather a
good sale, Mr. Follansby. One of the big Rex Regenerators."

"Really?" said the manager, impressed. "It isn't often we--wait a minute!
You didn't sell the floor model, did you?"

"Why--why, I'm afraid I did, Mr. Follansby. The customer was in such a
terrible hurry. Was there any reason--"

Mr. Follansby gripped his prominent white forehead in both hands, as
though he wished to rip it off. "Haskins, I told you. I must have told
you! That display Regenerator was a Martian model. For giving
mechanotherapy to Martians."

"Oh," Haskins said. He thought for a moment. "Oh."

Mr. Follansby stared at his clerk in grim silence.

"But does it really matter?" Haskins asked quickly. "Surely the machine
won't discriminate. I should think it would treat a homicidal tendency
even if the patient were not a Martian."

"The Martian race has never had the slightest tendency toward homicide.
A Martian Regenerator doesn't even process the concept. Of course the
Regenerator will treat him. It has to. But what will it treat?"

"Oh," said Haskins.

"That poor devil must be stopped before--you say he was homicidal? I don't
know what will happen! Quick, what is his address?"

"Well, Mr. Follansby, he was in such a terrible hurry--"

The manager gave him a long, unbelieving look. "Get the police! Call
the General Motors Security Division! Find him!"

Haskins raced for the door.

"Wait!" yelled the manager, struggling into a raincoat. "I'm coming,
too."


-- -- -- -- --


Elwood Caswell returned to his apartment by taxicopter. He lugged the
Regenerator into his living room, put it down near the couch and
studied it thoughtfully.

"That clerk was right," he said after a while. "It does go with the
room."

Esthetically, the Regenerator was a success.

Caswell admired it for a few more moments, then went into the kitchen
and fixed himself a chicken sandwich. He ate slowly, staring fixedly at
a point just above and to the left of his kitchen clock.

Damn you, Magnessen! Dirty no-good lying shifty-eyed enemy of all
that's decent and clean in the world....

Taking the revolver from his pocket, he laid it on the table. With a
stiffened forefinger, he poked it into different positions.

It was time to begin therapy.

Except that....

Caswell realized worriedly that he didn't want to lose the desire to
kill Magnessen. What would become of him if he lost that urge? His life
would lose all purpose, all coherence, all flavor and zest. It would be
quite dull, really.

Moreover, he had a great and genuine grievance against Magnessen, one
he didn't like to think about.

Irene!

His poor sister, debauched by the subtle and insidious Magnessen,
ruined by him and cast aside. What better reason could a man have to
take his revolver and....

Caswell finally remembered that he did not have a sister.

Now was really the time to begin therapy.

He went into the living room and found the operating instructions
tucked into a ventilation louver of the machine. He opened them and
read:

To Operate All Rex Model Regenerators:

1. Place the Regenerator near a comfortable couch. (A comfortable couch
can be purchased as an additional accessory from any General Motors
dealer.)

2. Plug in the machine.

3. Affix the adjustable contact-band to the forehead.

And that's all! Your Regenerator will do the rest! There will be no
language bar or dialect problem, since the Regenerator communicates by
Direct Sense Contact (Patent Pending). All you must do is cooperate.

Try not to feel any embarrassment or shame. Everyone has problems and
many are worse than yours! Your Regenerator has no interest in your
morals or ethical standards, so don't feel it is 'judging' you. It
desires only to aid you in becoming well and happy.

As soon as it has collected and processed enough data, your Regenerator
will begin treatment. You make the sessions as short or as long as you
like. You are the boss! And of course you can end a session at any time.

That's all there is to it! Simple, isn't it? Now plug in your General
Motors Regenerator and GET SANE!


-- -- -- -- --


"Nothing hard about that," Caswell said to himself. He pushed the
Regenerator closer to the couch and plugged it in. He lifted the
headband, started to slip it on, stopped.

"I feel so silly!" he giggled.

Abruptly he closed his mouth and stared pugnaciously at the
black-and-chrome machine.

"So you think you can make me sane, huh?"

The Regenerator didn't answer.

"Oh, well, go ahead and try." He slipped the headband over his
forehead, crossed his arms on his chest and leaned back.

Nothing happened. Caswell settled himself more comfortably on the
couch. He scratched his shoulder and put the headband at a more
comfortable angle. Still nothing. His thoughts began to wander.

Magnessen! You noisy, overbearing oaf, you disgusting--

"Good afternoon," a voice murmured in his head. "I am your
mechanotherapist."

Caswell twitched guiltily. "Hello. I was just--you know, just sort of--"

"Of course," the machine said soothingly. "Don't we all? I am now
scanning the material in your preconscious with the intent of
synthesis, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. I find...."

"Yes?"

"Just one moment." The Regenerator was silent for several minutes.
Then, hesitantly, it said, "This is beyond doubt a most unusual case."

"Really?" Caswell asked, pleased.

"Yes. The coefficients seem--I'm not sure...." The machine's robotic
voice grew feeble. The pilot light began to flicker and fade.

"Hey, what's the matter?"

"Confusion," said the machine. "Of course," it went on in a stronger
voice, "the unusual nature of the symptoms need not prove entirely
baffling to a competent therapeutic machine. A symptom, no matter how
bizarre, is no more than a signpost, an indication of inner difficulty.
And all symptoms can be related to the broad mainstream of proven
theory. Since the theory is effective, the symptoms must relate. We
will proceed on that assumption."

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" asked Caswell, feeling
lightheaded.

The machine snapped back, its pilot light blazing. "Mechanotherapy
today is an exact science and admits no significant errors. We will
proceed with a word-association test."

"Fire away," said Caswell.

"House?"

"Home."

"Dog?"

"Cat."

"Fleefl?"

Caswell hesitated, trying to figure out the word. It sounded vaguely
Martian, but it might be Venusian or even--

"Fleefl?" the Regenerator repeated.

"Marfoosh," Caswell replied, making up the word on the spur of the
moment.

"Loud?"

"Sweet."

"Green?"

"Mother."

"Thanagoyes?"

"Patamathonga."

"Arrides?"

"Nexothesmodrastica."

"Chtheesnohelgnopteces?"

"Rigamaroo latasentricpropatria!" Caswell shot back. It was a
collection of sounds he was particularly proud of. The average man
would not have been able to pronounce them.

"Hmm," said the Regenerator. "The pattern fits. It always does."

"What pattern?"

"You have," the machine informed him, "a classic case of feem desire,
complicated by strong dwarkish intentions."

"I do? I thought I was homicidal."

"That term has no referent," the machine said severely. "Therefore I
must reject it as nonsense syllabification. Now consider these points:
The feem desire is perfectly normal. Never forget that. But it is
usually replaced at an early age by the hovendish revulsion.
Individuals lacking in this basic environmental response--"

"I'm not absolutely sure I know what you're talking about," Caswell
confessed.

"Please, sir! We must establish one thing at once. You are the patient.
I am the mechanotherapist. You have brought your troubles to me for
treatment. But you cannot expect help unless you cooperate."

"All right," Caswell said. "I'll try."

Up to now, he had been bathed in a warm glow of superiority. Everything
the machine said had seemed mildly humorous. As a matter of fact, he
had felt capable of pointing out a few things wrong with the
mechanotherapist.

Now that sense of well-being evaporated, as it always did, and Caswell
was alone, terribly alone and lost, a creature of his compulsions, in
search of a little peace and contentment.

He would undergo anything to find them. Sternly he reminded himself
that he had no right to comment on the mechanotherapist. These machines
knew what they were doing and had been doing it for a long time. He
would cooperate, no matter how outlandish the treatment seemed from his
layman's viewpoint.

But it was obvious, Caswell thought, settling himself grimly on the
couch, that mechanotherapy was going to be far more difficult than he
had imagined.


-- -- -- -- --


The search for the missing customer had been brief and useless. He was
nowhere to be found on the teeming New York streets and no one could
remember seeing a red-haired, red-eyed little man lugging a black
therapeutic machine.

It was all too common a sight.

In answer to an urgent telephone call, the police came immediately,
four of them, led by a harassed young lieutenant of detectives named
Smith.

Smith just had time to ask, "Say, why don't you people put tags on
things?" when there was an interruption.

A man pushed his way past the policeman at the door. He was tall and
gnarled and ugly, and his eyes were deep-set and bleakly blue. His
clothes, unpressed and uncaring, hung on him like corrugated iron.

"What do you want?" Lieutenant Smith asked.

The ugly man flipped back his lapel, showing a small silver badge
beneath. "I'm John Rath, General Motors Security Division."

"Oh ... Sorry, sir," Lieutenant Smith said, saluting. "I didn't think you
people would move in so fast."

Rath made a noncommittal noise. "Have you checked for prints,
Lieutenant? The customer might have touched some other therapy machine."

"I'll get right on it, sir," Smith said. It wasn't often that one of
the operatives from GM, GE, or IBM came down to take a personal hand.
If a local cop showed he was really clicking, there just might be the
possibility of an Industrial Transfer....

Rath turned to Follansby and Haskins, and transfixed them with a gaze
as piercing and as impersonal as a radar beam. "Let's have the full
story," he said, taking a notebook and pencil from a shapeless pocket.

He listened to the tale in ominous silence. Finally he closed his
notebook, thrust it back into his pocket and said, "The therapeutic
machines are a sacred trust. To give a customer the wrong machine is a
betrayal of that trust, a violation of the Public Interest, and a
defamation of the Company's good reputation."

The manager nodded in agreement, glaring at his unhappy clerk.

"A Martian model," Rath continued, "should never have been on the floor
in the first place."

"I can explain that," Follansby said hastily. "We needed a demonstrator
model and I wrote to the Company, telling them--"

"This might," Rath broke in inexorably, "be considered a case of gross
criminal negligence."

Both the manager and the clerk exchanged horrified looks. They were
thinking of the General Motors Reformatory outside of Detroit, where
Company offenders passed their days in sullen silence, monotonously
drawing microcircuits for pocket television sets.

"However, that is out of my jurisdiction," Rath said. He turned his
baleful gaze full upon Haskins. "You are certain that the customer
never mentioned his name?"

"No, sir. I mean yes, I'm sure," Haskins replied rattledly.

"Did he mention any names at all?"

Haskins plunged his face into his hands. He looked up and said eagerly,
"Yes! He wanted to kill someone! A friend of his!"

"Who?" Rath asked, with terrible patience.

"The friend's name was--let me think--Magneton! That was it! Magneton!
Or was it Morrison? Oh, dear...."

Mr. Rath's iron face registered a rather corrugated disgust. People
were useless as witnesses. Worse than useless, since they were
frequently misleading. For reliability, give him a robot every time.

"Didn't he mention anything significant?"

"Let me think!" Haskins said, his face twisting into a fit of
concentration.

Rath waited.

Mr. Follansby cleared his throat. "I was just thinking, Mr. Rath. About
that Martian machine. It won't treat a Terran homicidal case as
homicidal, will it?"

"Of course not. Homicide is unknown on Mars."

"Yes. But what will it do? Might it not reject the entire case as
unsuitable? Then the customer would merely return the Regenerator with
a complaint and we would--"

Mr. Rath shook his head. "The Rex Regenerator must treat if it finds
evidence of psychosis. By Martian standards, the customer is a very
sick man, a psychotic--no matter what is wrong with him."

Follansby removed his pince-nez and polished them rapidly. "What will
the machine do, then?"

"It will treat him for the Martian illness most analogous to his case.
Feem desire, I should imagine, with various complications. As for what
will happen once treatment begins, I don't know. I doubt whether anyone
knows, since it has never happened before. Offhand, I would say there
are two major alternatives: the patient may reject the therapy out of
hand, in which case he is left with his homicidal mania unabated. Or he
may accept the Martian therapy and reach a cure."

Mr. Follansby's face brightened. "Ah! A cure is possible!"

"You don't understand," Rath said. "He may effect a cure of his
nonexistent Martian psychosis. But to cure something that is not there
is, in effect, to erect a gratuitous delusional system. You might say
that the machine would work in reverse, producing psychosis instead of
removing it."

Mr. Follansby groaned and leaned against a Bell Psychosomatica.

"The result," Rath summed up, "would be to convince the customer that
he was a Martian. A sane Martian, naturally."

Haskins suddenly shouted, "I remember! I remember now! He said he
worked for the New York Rapid Transit Corporation! I remember
distinctly!"

"That's a break," Rath said, reaching for the telephone.

Haskins wiped his perspiring face in relief. "And I just remembered
something else that should make it easier still."

"What?"

"The customer said he had been an alcoholic at one time. I'm sure of
it, because he was interested at first in the IBM Alcoholic Reliever,
until I talked him out of it. He had red hair, you know, and I've had a
theory for some time about red-headedness and alcoholism. It seems--"

"Excellent," Rath said. "Alcoholism will be on his records. It narrows
the search considerably."

As he dialed the NYRT Corporation, the expression on his craglike face
was almost pleasant.

It was good, for a change, to find that a human could retain some
significant facts.


-- -- -- -- --


"But surely you remember your goricae?" the Regenerator was saying.

"No," Caswell answered wearily.

"Tell me, then, about your juvenile experiences with the thorastrian
fleep."

"Never had any."

"Hmm. Blockage," muttered the machine. "Resentment. Repression. Are you
sure you don't remember your goricae and what it meant to you? The
experience is universal."

"Not for me," Caswell said, swallowing a yawn.

He had been undergoing mechanotherapy for close to four hours and it
struck him as futile. For a while, he had talked voluntarily about his
childhood, his mother and father, his older brother. But the
Regenerator had asked him to put aside those fantasies. The patient's
relationships to an imaginary parent or sibling, it explained, were
unworkable and of minor importance psychologically. The important thing
was the patient's feelings--both revealed and repressed--toward his
goricae.

"Aw, look," Caswell complained, "I don't even know what a goricae is."

"Of course you do. You just won't let yourself know."

"I don't know. Tell me."

"It would be better if you told me."

"How can I?" Caswell raged. "I don't know!"

"What do you imagine a goricae would be?"

"A forest fire," Caswell said. "A salt tablet. A jar of denatured
alcohol. A small screwdriver. Am I getting warm? A notebook. A revolver--"

"These associations are meaningful," the Regenerator assured him. "Your
attempt at randomness shows a clearly underlying pattern. Do you begin
to recognize it?"

"What in hell is a goricae?" Caswell roared.

"The tree that nourished you during infancy, and well into puberty, if
my theory about you is correct. Inadvertently, the goricae stifled your
necessary rejection of the feem desire. This in turn gave rise to your
present urge to dwark someone in a vlendish manner."

"No tree nourished me."

"You cannot recall the experience?"

"Of course not. It never happened."

"You are sure of that?"

"Positive."

"Not even the tiniest bit of doubt?"

"No! No goricae ever nourished me. Look, I can break off these sessions
at any time, right?"

"Of course," the Regenerator said. "But it would not be advisable at
this moment. You are expressing anger, resentment, fear. By your
rigidly summary rejection--"

"Nuts," said Caswell, and pulled off the headband.


-- -- -- -- --


The silence was wonderful. Caswell stood up, yawned, stretched and
massaged the back of his neck. He stood in front of the humming black
machine and gave it a long leer.

"You couldn't cure me of a common cold," he told it.

Stiffly he walked the length of the living room and returned to the
Regenerator.

"Lousy fake!" he shouted.

Caswell went into the kitchen and opened a bottle of beer. His revolver
was still on the table, gleaming dully.

Magnessen! You unspeakable treacherous filth! You fiend incarnate! You
inhuman, hideous monster! Someone must destroy you, Magnessen! Someone....

Someone? He himself would have to do it. Only he knew the bottomless
depths of Magnessen's depravity, his viciousness, his disgusting lust
for power.

Yes, it was his duty, Caswell thought. But strangely, the knowledge
brought him no pleasure.

After all, Magnessen was his friend.

He stood up, ready for action. He tucked the revolver into his
right-hand coat pocket and glanced at the kitchen clock. Nearly
six-thirty. Magnessen would be home now, gulping his dinner, grinning
over his plans.

This was the perfect time to take him.

Caswell strode to the door, opened it, started through, and stopped.

A thought had crossed his mind, a thought so tremendously involved, so
meaningful, so far-reaching in its implications that he was stirred to
his depths. Caswell tried desperately to shake off the knowledge it
brought. But the thought, permanently etched upon his memory, would not
depart.

Under the circumstances, he could do only one thing.

He returned to the living room, sat down on the couch and slipped on
the headband.

The Regenerator said, "Yes?"

"It's the damnedest thing," Caswell said, "but do you know, I think I
do remember my goricae!"


-- -- -- -- --


John Rath contacted the New York Rapid Transit Corporation by televideo
and was put into immediate contact with Mr. Bemis, a plump, tanned man
with watchful eyes.

"Alcoholism?" Mr. Bemis repeated, after the problem was explained.
Unobtrusively, he turned on his tape recorder. "Among our employees?"
Pressing a button beneath his foot, Bemis alerted Transit Security,
Publicity, Intercompany Relations, and the Psychoanalysis Division.
This done, he looked earnestly at Rath. "Not a chance of it, my dear
sir. Just between us, why does General Motors really want to know?"

Rath smiled bitterly. He should have anticipated this. NYRT and GM had
had their differences in the past. Officially, there was cooperation
between the two giant corporations. But for all practical purposes--

"The question is in terms of the Public Interest," Rath said.

"Oh, certainly," Mr. Bemis replied, with a subtle smile. Glancing at
his tattle board, he noticed that several company executives had tapped
in on his line. This might mean a promotion, if handled properly.

"The Public Interest of GM," Mr. Bemis added with polite nastiness.
"The insinuation is, I suppose, that drunken conductors are operating
our jetbuses and helis?"

"Of course not. I was searching for a single alcoholic predilection, an
individual latency--"

"There's no possibility of it. We at Rapid Transit do not hire people
with even the merest tendency in that direction. And may I suggest,
sir, that you clean your own house before making implications about
others?"

And with that, Mr. Bemis broke the connection.

No one was going to put anything over on him.

"Dead end," Rath said heavily. He turned and shouted, "Smith! Did you
find any prints?"

Lieutenant Smith, his coat off and sleeves rolled up, bounded over.
"Nothing usable, sir."

Rath's thin lips tightened. It had been close to seven hours since the
customer had taken the Martian machine. There was no telling what harm
had been done by now. The customer would be justified in bringing suit
against the Company. Not that the money mattered much; it was the bad
publicity that was to be avoided at all costs.

"Beg pardon, sir," Haskins said.

Rath ignored him. What next? Rapid Transit was not going to cooperate.
Would the Armed Services make their records available for scansion by
somatotype and pigmentation?

"Sir," Haskins said again.

"What is it?"

"I just remembered the customer's friend's name. It was Magnessen."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Absolutely," Haskins said, with the first confidence he had shown in
hours. "I've taken the liberty of looking him up in the telephone book,
sir. There's only one Manhattan listing under that name."

Rath glowered at him from under shaggy eyebrows. "Haskins, I hope you
are not wrong about this. I sincerely hope that."

"I do too, sir," Haskins admitted, feeling his knees begin to shake.

"Because if you are," Rath said, "I will ... Never mind. Let's go!"


-- -- -- -- --


By police escort, they arrived at the address in fifteen minutes. It
was an ancient brownstone and Magnessen's name was on a second-floor
door. They knocked.

The door opened and a stocky, crop-headed, shirt-sleeved man in his
thirties stood before them. He turned slightly pale at the sight of so
many uniforms, but held his ground.

"What is this?" he demanded.

"You Magnessen?" Lieutenant Smith barked.

"Yeah. What's the beef? If it's about my hi-fi playing too loud, I can
tell you that old hag downstairs--"

"May we come in?" Rath asked. "It's important."

Magnessen seemed about to refuse, so Rath pushed past him, followed by
Smith, Follansby, Haskins, and a small army of policemen. Magnessen
turned to face them, bewildered, defiant and more than a little awed.

"Mr. Magnessen," Rath said, in the pleasantest voice he could muster,
"I hope you'll forgive the intrusion. Let me assure you, it is in the
Public Interest, as well as your own. Do you know a short,
angry-looking, red-haired, red-eyed man?"

"Yes," Magnessen said slowly and warily.

Haskins let out a sigh of relief.

"Would you tell us his name and address?" asked Rath.

"I suppose you mean--hold it! What's he done?"

"Nothing."

"Then what you want him for?"

"There's no time for explanations," Rath said. "Believe me, it's in his
own best interest, too. What is his name?"

Magnessen studied Rath's ugly, honest face, trying to make up his mind.

Lieutenant Smith said, "Come on, talk, Magnessen, if you know what's
good for you. We want the name and we want it quick."

It was the wrong approach. Magnessen lighted a cigarette, blew smoke in
Smith's direction and inquired, "You got a warrant, buddy?"

"You bet I have," Smith said, striding forward. "I'll warrant you, wise
guy."

"Stop it!" Rath ordered. "Lieutenant Smith, thank you for your
assistance. I won't need you any longer."

Smith left sulkily, taking his platoon with him.

Rath said, "I apologize for Smith's over-eagerness. You had better hear
the problem." Briefly but fully, he told the story of the customer and
the Martian therapeutic machine.

When he was finished, Magnessen looked more suspicious than ever. "You
say he wants to kill me?"

"Definitely."

"That's a lie! I don't know what your game is, mister, but you'll never
make me believe that. Elwood's my best friend. We been best friends
since we was kids. We been in service together. Elwood would cut off
his arm for me. And I'd do the same for him."

"Yes, yes," Rath said impatiently, "in a sane frame of mind, he would.
But your friend Elwood--is that his first name or last?"

"First," Magnessen said tauntingly.

"Your friend Elwood is psychotic."

"You don't know him. That guy loves me like a brother. Look, what's
Elwood really done? Defaulted on some payments or something? I can help
out."

"You thickheaded imbecile!" Rath shouted. "I'm trying to save your
life, and the life and sanity of your friend!"

"But how do I know?" Magnessen pleaded. "You guys come busting in here--"

"You can trust me," Rath said.

Magnessen studied Rath's face and nodded sourly. "His name's Elwood
Caswell. He lives just down the block at number 341."


-- -- -- -- --


The man who came to the door was short, with red hair and red-rimmed
eyes. His right hand was thrust into his coat pocket. He seemed very
calm.

"Are you Elwood Caswell?" Rath asked. "The Elwood Caswell who bought a
Regenerator early this afternoon at the Home Therapy Appliances Store?"

"Yes," said Caswell. "Won't you come in?"

Inside Caswell's small living room, they saw the Regenerator,
glistening black and chrome, standing near the couch. It was unplugged.

"Have you used it?" Rath asked anxiously.

"Yes."

Follansby stepped forward. "Mr. Caswell, I don't know how to explain
this, but we made a terrible mistake. The Regenerator you took was a
Martian model--for giving therapy to Martians."

"I know," said Caswell.

"You do?"

"Of course. It became pretty obvious after a while."

"It was a dangerous situation," Rath said. "Especially for a man with
your--ah--troubles." He studied Caswell covertly. The man seemed fine, but
appearances were frequently deceiving, especially with psychotics.
Caswell had been homicidal; there was no reason why he should not still
be.

And Rath began to wish he had not dismissed Smith and his policemen so
summarily. Sometimes an armed squad was a comforting thing to have
around.

Caswell walked across the room to the therapeutic machine. One hand was
still in his jacket pocket; the other he laid affectionately upon the
Regenerator.

"The poor thing tried its best," he said. "Of course, it couldn't cure
what wasn't there." He laughed. "But it came very near succeeding!"


-- -- -- -- --


Rath studied Caswell's face and said, in a trained, casual tone, "Glad
there was no harm, sir. The Company will, of course, reimburse you for
your lost time and for your mental anguish--"

"Naturally," Caswell said.

"--and we will substitute a proper Terran Regenerator at once."

"That won't be necessary."

"It won't?"

"No." Caswell's voice was decisive. "The machine's attempt at therapy
forced me into a compete self-appraisal. There was a moment of absolute
insight, during which I was able to evaluate and discard my homicidal
intentions toward poor Magnessen."

Rath nodded dubiously. "You feel no such urge now?"

"Not in the slightest."

Rath frowned deeply, started to say something, and stopped. He turned
to Follansby and Haskins. "Get that machine out of here. I'll have a
few things to say to you at the store."

The manager and the clerk lifted the Regenerator and left.

Rath took a deep breath. "Mr. Caswell, I would strongly advise that you
accept a new Regenerator from the Company, gratis. Unless a cure is
effected in a proper mechanotherapeutic manner, there is always the
danger of a setback."

"No danger with me," Caswell said, airily but with deep conviction.
"Thank you for your consideration, sir. And good night."

Rath shrugged and walked to the door.

"Wait!" Caswell called.

Rath turned. Caswell had taken his hand out of his pocket. In it was a
revolver. Rath felt sweat trickle down his arms. He calculated the
distance between himself and Caswell. Too far.

"Here," Caswell said, extending the revolver butt-first. "I won't need
this any longer."

Rath managed to keep his face expressionless as he accepted the
revolver and stuck it into a shapeless pocket.

"Good night," Caswell said. He closed the door behind Rath and bolted
it.

At last he was alone.

Caswell walked into the kitchen. He opened a bottle of beer, took a
deep swallow and sat down at the kitchen table. He stared fixedly at a
point just above and to the left of the clock.

He had to form his plans now. There was no time to lose.

Magnessen! That inhuman monster who cut down the Caswell goricae!
Magnessen! The man who, even now, was secretly planning to infect New
York with the abhorrent feem desire! Oh, Magnessen, I wish you a long,
long life, filled with the torture I can inflict on you. And to start
with....

Caswell smiled to himself as he planned exactly how he would dwark
Magnessen in a vlendish manner.


The End





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