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´╗┐Title: Charity Case
Author: Harmon, Jim
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 "Charity Case" ***

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



                             Charity Case

                             By JIM HARMON

                      Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

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



               Certainly I see things that aren't there
               and don't say what my voice says--but how
               can I prove that I don't have my health?


When he began his talk with "You got your health, don't you?" it
touched those spots inside me. That was when I did it.

Why couldn't what he said have been "The best things in life are free,
buddy" or "Every dog has his day, fellow" or "If at first you don't
succeed, man"? No, he had to use that one line. You wouldn't blame me.
Not if you believe me.

The first thing I can remember, the start of all this, was when I was
four or five somebody was soiling my bed for me. I absolutely was not
doing it. I took long naps morning and evening so I could lie awake all
night to see that it wouldn't happen. It couldn't happen. But in the
morning the bed would sit there dispassionately soiled and convict me
on circumstantial evidence. My punishment was as sure as the tide.

Dad was a compact man, small eyes, small mouth, tight clothes. He was
narrow but not mean. For punishment, he locked me in a windowless
room and told me to sit still until he came back. It wasn't so bad a
punishment, except that when Dad closed the door, the light turned off
and I was left there in the dark.

Being four or five, I didn't know any better, so I thought Dad made it
dark to add to my punishment. But I learned he didn't know the light
went out. It came back on when he unlocked the door. Every time I told
him about the light as soon as I could talk again, but he said I was
lying.

       *       *       *       *       *

One day, to prove me a liar, he opened and closed the door a few times
from outside. The light winked off and on, off and on, always shining
when Dad stuck his head inside. He tried using the door from the
inside, and the light stayed on, no matter how hard he slammed the
door.

I stayed in the dark longer for lying about the light.

Alone in the dark, I wouldn't have had it so bad if it wasn't for the
things that came to me.

They were real to me. They never touched me, but they had a little boy.
He looked the way I did in the mirror. They did unpleasant things to
him.

Because they were real, I talked about them as if they were real, and
I almost earned a bunk in the home for retarded children until I got
smart enough to keep the beasts to myself.

My mother hated me. I loved her, of course. I remember her smell mixed
up with flowers and cookies and winter fires. I remember she hugged me
on my ninth birthday. The trouble came from the notes written in my
awkward hand that she found, calling her names I didn't understand.
Sometimes there were drawings. I didn't write those notes or make those
drawings.

My mother and father must have been glad when I was sent away to reform
school after my thirteenth birthday party, the one no one came to.

The reform school was nicer. There were others there who'd had it about
like me. We got along. I didn't watch their shifty eyes too much, or
ask them what they shifted to see. They didn't talk about my screams
at night.

It was home.

My trouble there was that I was always being framed for stealing. I
didn't take any of those things they located in my bunk. Stealing
wasn't in my line. If you believe any of this at all, you'll see why it
couldn't be me who did the stealing.

There was reason for me to steal, if I could have got away with it. The
others got money from home to buy the things they needed--razor blades,
candy, sticks of tea. I got a letter from Mom or Dad every now and then
before they were killed, saying they had sent money or that it was
enclosed, but somehow I never got a dime of it.

When I was expelled from reform school, I left with just one idea in
mind--to get all the money I could ever use for the things I needed and
the things I wanted.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was two or three years later that I skulked into Brother Partridge's
mission on Durbin Street.

The preacher and half a dozen men were singing _Onward Christian
Soldiers_ in the meeting room. It was a drafty hall with varnished
camp chairs. I shuffled in at the back with my suitcoat collar turned
up around my stubbled jaw. I made my hand shaky as I ran it through my
knotted hair. Partridge was supposed to think I was just a bum. As
an inspiration, I hugged my chest to make him think I was some wino
nursing a flask full of Sneaky Pete. All I had there was a piece of
copper alloy tubing inside a slice of plastic hose for taking care of
myself, rolling sailors and the like. Who had the price of a bottle?

Partridge didn't seem to notice me, but I knew that was an act. I knew
people were always watching every move I made. He braced his red-furred
hands on the sides of his auctioneer's stand and leaned his splotched
eagle beak toward us. "Brothers, this being Thanksgiving, I pray the
good Lord that we all are truly thankful for all that we have received.
Amen."

Some skin-and-bones character I didn't know struggled out of his seat,
amening. I could see he had a lot to be thankful for--somewhere he had
received a fix.

"Brothers," Partridge went on after enjoying the interruption with a
beaming smile, "you shall all be entitled to a bowl of turkey soup
prepared by Sister Partridge, a generous supply of sweet rolls and
dinner rolls contributed by the Early Morning Bakery of this city,
and all the coffee you can drink. Let us march out to _The Stars and
Stripes Forever_, John Philip Sousa's grand old patriotic song."

I had to laugh at all those bums clattering the chairs in front of me,
scampering after water soup and stale bread. As soon as I got cleaned
up, I was going to have dinner in a good restaurant, and I was going to
order such expensive food and leave such a large tip for the waiter and
send one to the chef that they were going to think I was rich, and some
executive with some brokerage firm would see me and say to himself,
"Hmm, executive material. Just the type we need. I beg your pardon,
sir--" just like the razor-blade comic-strip ads in the old magazines
that Frankie the Pig sells three for a quarter.

I was marching. Man, was I ever marching, but the secret of it was I
was only marking time the way we did in fire drills at the school.

They passed me, every one of them, and marched out of the meeting
room into the kitchen. Even Partridge made his way down from the
auctioneer's stand like a vulture with a busted wing and darted through
his private door.

I was alone, marking time behind the closed half of double doors. One
good breath and I raced past the open door and flattened myself to the
wall. Crockery was ringing and men were slurping inside. No one had
paid any attention to me. That was pretty odd. People usually watch my
every move, but a man's luck has to change sometime, doesn't it?

Following the wallboard, I went down the side of the room and behind
the last row of chairs, closer, closer, and halfway up the room again
to the entrance--the entrance and the little wooden box fastened to the
wall beside it.

The box was old and made out of some varnished wood. There was a slot
in the top. There wasn't any sign anywhere around it, but you knew it
wasn't a mailbox.

My hand went flat on the top of the box. One finger at a time drew up
and slipped into the slot. Index, fore, third, little. I put my thumb
in my palm and shoved. My hand went in.

There were coins inside. I scooped them up with two fingers and held
them fast with the other two. Once I dropped a dime--not a penny,
milled edge--and I started to reach for it. No, don't be greedy. I knew
I would probably lose my hold on all the coins if I tried for that one.
I had all the rest. It felt like about two dollars, or close to it.

Then I found the bill. A neatly folded bill in the box. Somehow I knew
all along it would be there.

       *       *       *       *       *

I tried to read the numbers on the bill with my fingertips, but I
couldn't. It had to be a one. Who drops anything but a one into a Skid
Row collection box? But still there were tourists, slummers. They might
leave a fifty or even a hundred. A hundred!

Yes, it felt new, crisp. It had to be a hundred. A single would be
creased or worn.

I pulled my hand out of the box. I _tried_ to pull my hand out of the
box.

I knew what the trouble was, of course. I was in a monkey trap. The
monkey reaches through the hole for the bait, and when he gets it in
his hot little fist, he can't get his hand out. He's too greedy to let
go, so he stays there, caught as securely as if he were caged.

I was a man, not a monkey. I knew why I couldn't get my hand out. But I
couldn't lose that money, especially that century bill. Calm, I ordered
myself. _Calm._

The box was fastened to the vertical tongue-and-groove laths of the
woodwork, not the wall. It was old lumber, stiffened by a hundred
layers of paint since 1908. The paint was as thick and strong as the
boards. The box was fastened fast. Six-inch spike nails, I guessed.

Calmly, I flung my whole weight away from the wall. My wrist almost
cracked, but there wasn't even a bend in the box. Carefully, I tried to
jerk my fist straight up, to pry off the top of the box. It was as if
the box had been carved out of one solid piece of timber. It wouldn't
go up, down, left or right.

But I kept trying.

While keeping a lookout for Partridge and somebody stepping out of the
kitchen for a pull on a bottle, I spotted the clock for the first
time, a Western Union clock high up at the back of the hall. Just as
I seen it for the first time, the electricity wound the spring motor
inside like a chicken having its neck wrung.

The next time I glanced at the clock, it said ten minutes had gone by.
My hand still wasn't free and I hadn't budged the box.

"This," Brother Partridge said, "is one of the most profound
experiences of my life."

My head hinged until it lined my eyes up with Brother Partridge. The
pipe hung heavy in my pocket, but he was too far from me.

"A vision of you at the box projected itself on the crest of my soup,"
the preacher explained in wonderment.

I nodded. "Swimming right in there with the dead duck."

"Cold turkey," he corrected. "Are you scoffing at a miracle?"

"People are always watching me, Brother," I said. "So now they do it
even when they aren't around. I should have known it would come to
that."

The pipe was suddenly a weight I wanted off me. I would try robbing
a collection box, knowing positively that I would get caught, but I
wasn't dumb enough to murder. Somebody, somewhere, would be a witness
to it. I had never got away with anything in my life. I was too smart
to even try anything but the little things.

"I may be able to help you," Brother Partridge said, "if you have faith
and a conscience."

"I've got something better than a conscience," I told him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Brother Partridge regarded me solemnly. "There must be something
special about you, for your apprehension to come through miraculous
intervention. But I can't imagine what."

"I _always_ get apprehended somehow, Brother," I said. "I'm pretty
special."

"Your name?"

"William Hagle." No sense lying. I had been booked and printed before.

Partridge prodded me with his bony fingers as if making sure I was
substantial. "Come. Let's sit down, if you can remove your fist from
the money box."

I opened up my fingers and let the coins ring inside the box and I drew
out my hand. The bill stuck to the sweat on my fingers and slid out
along with the digits. A one, I decided. I had got into trouble for a
grubby single. It wasn't any century. I had been kidding myself.

I unfolded the note. Sure enough, it wasn't a hundred-dollar bill, but
it was a twenty, and that was almost the same thing to me. I creased it
and put it back into the slot.

As long as it stalled off the cops, I'd talk to Partridge.

We took a couple of camp chairs and I told him the story of my life, or
most of it. It was hard work on an empty stomach; I wished I'd had some
of that turkey soup. Then again I was glad I hadn't. Something always
happened to me when I thought back over my life. The same thing.

The men filed out of the kitchen, wiping their chins, and I went right
on talking.

After some time Sister Partridge bustled in and snapped on the overhead
lights and I kept talking. The brother still hadn't used the phone to
call the cops.

"Remarkable," Partridge finally said when I got so hoarse I had to take
a break. "One is almost--_almost_--reminded of Job. William, you are
being punished for some great sin. Of that, I'm sure."

"Punished for a sin? But, Brother, I've always had it like this, as
long as I can remember. What kind of a sin could I have committed when
I was fresh out of my crib?"

"William, all I can tell you is that time means nothing in Heaven. Do
you deny the transmigration of souls?"

"Well," I said, "I've had no personal experience--"

"Of course you have, William! Say you don't remember. Say you don't
want to remember. But don't say you have no personal experience!"

"And you think I'm being punished for something I did in a previous
life?"

He looked at me in disbelief. "What else could it be?"

"I don't know," I confessed. "I certainly haven't done anything that
bad in _this_ life."

"William, if you atone for this sin, perhaps the horde of locusts will
lift from you."

It wasn't much of a chance, but I was unused to having any at all. I
shook off the dizziness of it. "By the Lord Harry, Brother, I'm going
to give it a try!" I cried.

"I believe you," Partridge said, surprised at himself.

He ambled over to the money box on the wall. He tapped the bottom
lightly and a box with no top slid out of the slightly larger box. He
reached in, fished out the bill and presented it to me.

"Perhaps this will help in your atonement," he said.

I crumpled it into my pocket fast. Not meaning to sound ungrateful, I'm
pretty sure he hadn't noticed it was a twenty.

And then the bill seemed to lie there, heavy, a lead weight. It would
have been different if I had managed to get it out of the box myself.
You know how it is.

Money you haven't earned doesn't seem real to you.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was something I forgot to mention so far. During the year between
when I got out of the reformatory and the one when I tried to steal
Brother Partridge's money, I killed a man.

It was all an accident, but killing somebody is reason enough to get
punished. It didn't have to be a sin in some previous life, you see.

I had gotten my first job in too long, stacking boxes at the freight
door of Baysinger's. The drivers unloaded the stuff, but they just
dumped it off the truck. An empty rear end was all they wanted. The
freight boss told me to stack the boxes inside, neat and not too close
together.

I stacked boxes the first day. I stacked more the second. The third day
I went outside with my baloney and crackers. It was warm enough even
for November.

Two of them, dressed like Harvard seniors, caps and striped duffer
jackets, came up to the crate I was dining off.

"Work inside, Jack?" the taller one asked.

"Yeah," I said, chewing.

"What do you do, Jack?" the fatter one asked.

"Stack boxes."

"Got a union card?"

I shook my head.

"Application?"

"No," I said. "I'm just helping out during Christmas."

"You're a scab, buddy," Long-legs said. "Don't you read the papers?"

"I don't like comic strips," I said.

They sighed. I think they hated to do it, but I was bucking the system.

Fats hit me high. Long-legs hit me low. I blew cracker crumbs into
their faces. After that, I just let them go. I know how to take a
beating. That's one thing I knew.

Then lying there, bleeding to myself, I heard them talking. I heard
noises like _make an example of him_ and _do something permanent_ and I
squirmed away across the rubbish like a polite mouse.

I made it around a corner of brick and stood up, hurting my knee on a
piece of brown-splotched pipe. There were noises on the other angle of
the corner and so I tested if the pipe was loose and it was. I closed
my eyes and brought the pipe up and then down.

It felt as if I connected, but I was so numb, I wasn't sure until I
unscrewed my eyes.

There was a big man in a heavy wool overcoat and gray homburg spread on
a damp centerfold from the _News_. There was a pick-up slip from the
warehouse under the fingers of one hand, and somebody had beaten his
brains out.

The police figured it was part of some labor dispute, I guess, and they
never got to me.

I suppose I was to blame anyway. If I hadn't been alive, if I hadn't
been there to get beaten up, it wouldn't have happened. I could see
the point in making me suffer for it. There was a lot to be said for
looking at it like that. But there was nothing to be said for telling
Brother Partridge about the accident, or murder, or whatever had
happened that day.

       *       *       *       *       *

Searching myself after I left Brother Partridge, I finally found a
strip of gray adhesive tape on my side, out of the fuzzy area. Making
the twenty the size of a thick postage stamp, I peeled back the tape
and put the folded bill on the white skin and smoothed the tape back.

There was only one place for me to go now. I headed for the public
library. It was only about twenty blocks, but not having had anything
to eat since the day before, it enervated me.

The downstairs washroom was where I went first. There was nobody
there but an old guy talking urgently to a kid with thick glasses,
and somebody building a fix in one of the booths. I could see charred
matches dropping down on the floor next to his tennis shoes, and even a
few grains of white stuff. But he managed to hold still enough to keep
from spilling more from the spoon.

I washed my hands and face, smoothed my hair down, combing it with my
fingers. Going over my suit with damp toweling got off a lot of the
dirt. I put my collar on the outside of my jacket and creased the
wings with my thumbnail so it would look more like a sports shirt.
It didn't really. I still looked like a bum, but sort of a neat,
non-objectionable bum.

The librarian at the main desk looked sympathetically hostile, or
hostilely sympathetic.

"I'd like to get into the stacks, miss," I said, "and see some of the
old newspapers."

"Which newspapers?" the old girl asked stiffly.

I thought back. I couldn't remember the exact date. "Ones for the first
week in November last year."

"We have the _Times_ microfilmed. I would have to project them for you."

"I didn't want to see the _Times_," I said, fast. "Don't you have any
newspapers on paper?" I didn't want her to see what I wanted to read up
on.

"We have the _News_, bound, for last year."

I nodded. "That's the one I wanted to see."

She sniffed and told me to follow her. I didn't rate a cart to my
table, I guess, or else the bound papers weren't supposed to come out
of the stacks.

The cases of books, row after row, smelled good. Like old leather and
good pipe tobacco. I had been here before. In this world, it's the man
with education who makes the money. I had been reading the Funk &
Wagnalls Encyclopedia. So far I knew a lot about Mark Antony, Atomic
Energy, Boron, Brussels, Catapults, Demons, and Divans.

I guess I had stopped to look around at some of the titles, because the
busy librarian said sharply, "Follow me."

I heard my voice say, "A pleasure. What about after work?"

I didn't say it, but I was used to my voice independently saying
things. Her neck got to flaming, but she walked stiffly ahead. She
didn't say anything. She must be awful mad, I decided. But then I got
the idea she was flushed with pleasure. I'm pretty ugly and I looked
like a bum, but I was young. You had to grant me that.

She waved a hand at the rows of bound _News_ and left me alone with
them. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to hunt up a table to lay the
books on or not, so I took the volume for last year and laid it on the
floor. That was the cleanest floor I ever saw.

It didn't take me long to find the story. The victim was a big man,
because the story was on the second page of the Nov. 4 edition.

I started to tear the page out, then only memorized the name and home
address. Somebody was sure to see me and I couldn't risk trouble just
now.

I stuck the book back in line and left by the side door.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went to a dry-cleaner, not the cheapest place I knew, because I
wouldn't be safe with the change from a twenty in that neighborhood.
My suit was cleaned while I waited. I paid a little extra and had
it mended. Funny thing about a suit--it's almost never completely
shot unless you just have it ripped off you or burned up. It wasn't
exactly in style, but some rich executives wore suits out of style
that they had paid a lot of money for. I remembered Fredric March's
double-breasted in _Executive Suite_ while Walter Pidgeon and the rest
wore Ivy Leagues. Maybe I would look like an eccentric executive.

I bought a new shirt, a good used pair of shoes, and a dime pack of
single-edged razor blades. I didn't have a razor, but anybody with
nerve can shave with a single-edge blade and soap and water.

The clerk took my two bucks in advance and I went up to my room.

I washed out my socks and underwear, took a bath, shaved and trimmed
my hair and nails with the razor blade. With some soap on my finger, I
scrubbed my teeth. Finally I got dressed.

Everything was all right except that I didn't have a tie. They had
them, a quarter a piece, where I got the shoes. It was only six
blocks--I could go back. But I didn't want to wait. I wanted to
complete the picture.

The razor blade sliced through the pink bath towel evenly. I cut out a
nice modern-style tie, narrow, with some horizontal stripes down at the
bottom. I made a tight, thin knot. It looked pretty good.

I was ready to leave, so I started for the door. I went back. I had
almost forgotten my luggage. The box still had three unwrapped blades
in it. I pocketed it. I hefted the used blade, dulled by all the work
it had done. You can run being economical into stinginess. I tossed it
into the wastebasket.

I had five hamburgers and five cups of coffee. I couldn't finish all of
the French fries.

"Mac," I said to the fat counterman, who looked like all fat
countermen, "give me a Milwaukee beer."

He stopped polishing the counter in front of his friend. "Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, or Milwaukee, Oregon?"

"Wisconsin."

He didn't argue.

It was cold and bitter. All beer is bitter, no matter what they say on
TV. I like beer. I like the bitterness of it.

It felt like another, but I checked myself. I needed a clear head.
I thought about going back to the hotel for some sleep; I still had
the key in my pocket (I wasn't trusting it to any clerk). No, I had
had sleep on Thanksgiving, bracing up for trying the lift at Brother
Partridge's. Let's see, it was daylight outside again, so this was the
day after Thanksgiving. But it had only been sixteen or twenty hours
since I had slept. That was enough.

I left the money on the counter for the hamburgers and coffee and the
beer. There was $7.68 left.

As I passed the counterman's friend on his stool, my voice said, "I
think you're yellow."

He turned slowly, his jaw moving further away from his brain.

I winked. "It was just a bet for me to say that to you. I won two
bucks. Half of it is yours." I held out the bill to him.

His paw closed over the money and punched me on the biceps. Too hard.
He winked back. "It's okay."

I rubbed my shoulder, marching off fast, and I counted my money. With
my luck, I might have given the counterman's friend the five instead of
one of the singles. But I hadn't. I now had $6.68 left.

"I _still_ think you're yellow," my voice said.

It was my voice, but it didn't come from me. There were no words, no
feeling of words in my throat. It just came out of the air the way it
always did.

I ran.

       *       *       *       *       *

Harold R. Thompkins, 49, vice-president of Baysinger's, was found
dead behind the store last night. His skull had been crushed by a
vicious beating with a heavy implement, Coroner McClain announced in
preliminary verdict. Tompkins, who resided at 1467 Claremont, Edgeway,
had been active in seeking labor-management peace in the recent
difficulties....

I had read that a year before. The car cards on the clanking subway and
the rumbling bus didn't seem nearly so interesting to me. Outside the
van, a tasteful sign announced the limits of the village of Edgeway,
and back inside, the monsters of my boyhood went _bloomp_ at me.

I hadn't seen anything like them in years.

The slimy, scaly beasts were slithering over the newspaper holders,
the ad card readers, the girl watchers as the neat little carbon-copy
modern homes breezed past the windows.

I ignored the devils and concentrated on reading the withered,
washed-out political posters on the telephone poles. My neck ached from
holding it so stiff, staring out through the glass. More than that, I
could feel the jabberwocks staring at me. You know how it is. You can
feel a stare with the back of your neck and between your eyes. They got
one brush of a gaze out of me.

The things abruptly started their business, trying to act casually as
if they hadn't been waiting for me to look at them at all. They had a
little human being of some sort.

It was the size of a small boy, like the small boy who looked like me
that they used to destroy when I was locked up with them in the dark.
Except this was a man, scaled down to child's size. He had sort of an
ugly, worried, tired, stupid look and he wore a shiny suit with a piece
of a welcome mat or something for a necktie. Yeah, it was me. I really
knew it all the time.

They began doing things to the midget me. I didn't even lift an
eyebrow. They couldn't do anything worse to the small man than they
had done to the young boy. It was sort of nostalgic watching them, but
I really got bored with all that violence and killing and killing the
same kill over and over. Like watching the Saturday night string of
westerns in a bar.

The sunlight through the window was yellow and hot. After a time, I
began to dose.

The shrieks woke me up.

For the first time, I could hear the shrieks of the monster's victim
and listen to their obscene droolings. For the very first time in my
life. Always before it had been all pantomime, like Charlie Chaplin.
Now I heard the sounds of it all.

They say it's a bad sign when you start hearing voices.

I nearly panicked, but I held myself in the seat and forced myself
to be rational about it. My own voice was always saying things
_everybody_ could hear but which I didn't say. It wasn't any worse to
be the _only_ one who could hear other things I never said. I was as
sane as I ever was. There was no doubt about that.

But a new thought suddenly impressed itself on me.

Whatever was punishing me for my sin was determined that I turn back
before reaching 1467 Claremont.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Clrmnt," the driver announced, sending the doors hissing open and the
bus cranking to a stop.

I walked through the gibbering monsters, and passing the driver's seat,
I heard my voice say, "Don't splatter me by starting up too soon, fat
gut."

The driver looked at me with round eyes. "No, sir, I won't."

The monsters gave it up and stopped existing.

The bus didn't start until I was halfway up the block of sandine
moderns and desk-size patios.

Number 1423 was different from the other houses. It was on fire.

One of the most beautiful women I've ever seen came running up to me.
What black hair, what red lips, what sparkling eyes she had when I
finally got up that far! "Sir," she said, "my baby brother is in there.
I'd be so grateful--"

I grabbed for her. My hand went right on through. I didn't try
grabbing her again. This time, I had a feeling I would feel her. I
didn't want to be _that_ bad off.

I walked on, ignoring the flames shooting out of 1423.

As I reached the patio of 1467, the flames stopped. It was a queer
kind of break. No fadeout, just a stoppage. I took a step backward. No
flames this time, but the very worst and very biggest monster of them
all. Coming suddenly like that, it got to my spine and stomach, even
though I was pretty used to them. I stepped away from it and it was
gone.

Number 1467 was different from the other houses, and it wasn't even
on fire. It was on two lots, and it had two picture windows, but only
one little porch and front door. I guess even the well-to-do have a
hard time finding big houses and good building sites and the right
neighborhood. The trouble is so many people are well-to-do and there
just aren't enough old manses to go around.

I strolled up the stucco path and lifted the wrought-iron knocker,
which rang a bell.

The door opened and there was a girl there. She wasn't much compared
to the one I put my hand through. But she was all right--brown hair, a
nice face underneath the current shades of cosmetics, no figure for a
stripper, but it would pass.

"You the maid?" I inquired.

"I am Miss Tompkins," she said.

"Oh. Any relation to Harold J. Tompkins?"

"My father. He died last year."

"Can I see your mother?"

"Mother died a few months after Daddy did."

"You'll do then."

I stepped inside. Miss Tompkins seemed too surprised to protest.

"I'm William Hagle," I said. "I want to help you."

"Mr. Hagle, whatever it is--insurance--"

"That's not it exactly," I told her. "I just want to help you. I only
want to do whatever you want me to do."

She stared at me, her eyes moving too quickly over my face. "I've never
even seen you before, have I? Why do you want to help me? How?"

"What's so damned hard to understand? I just want to help. I don't have
any money, but I can work and give you my pay. You want me to clean up
the basement, the yard? Got any painting to be done? Hell, I can even
sew. Anything--don't you understand--I'll do _anything_ for you."

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl was breathing too hard now. "Mr. Hagle, if you're hungry, I
can find something--no, I don't think there is anything. But I can give
you some money to--"

"Damn it, I don't want your money! Here, I'll give you mine!" I wadded
up the $6.38 cents I had left, plus one bus transfer, and put it on
the top of a little bookcase next to the door. "I know it doesn't mean
anything to you, but it's every penny I've got. Can't I do anything for
you? Empty the garbage--"

"We have a disposal," she said automatically.

"Scrub the floors."

"There's a polisher in the closet."

"Make the beds!" I yelled. "You don't have a machine for _that_, do
you?"

The corners of Miss Tompkins' eyes drew up and the corners of her
mouth drew down. She stayed like that for a full second, then smiled
a strange smile. "You--you saw me on the street." She was breathing
her words now, so softly that I could only just understand them. "You
thought I was--stacked."

"To tell the truth, ma'am, you aren't so--"

"Well, sit down. Don't go away. I'll just go into the next room--slip
into something comfortable--"

"Miss Tompkins!" I grabbed hold of her. She felt real. I hoped she was.
"I want nothing from you. Nothing! I only want to do something for you,
anything for you. I've got to help you, can't you understand? I KILLED
YOUR FATHER."

I hadn't meant to tell her that, of course.

She screamed and began twisting and clawing the way I knew she would
as soon as I said it. But she stopped, stunned, as if I'd slapped her
out of hysterics, only I'd never let go of her shoulders.

She hung then, her face empty, repeating, "What? _What?_"

Finally she began laughing and she pulled away from me so gently and
naturally that I had to let go. She sank down and sat on top of my
money on the little bookcase. She laughed some more into her two open
hands.

I stood there, not knowing what to do with myself.

She looked up at me and brushed away a few tears with her fingertips.
"_You_ want to get _me_ off of your conscience, do you, William
Hagle? God, that's a good one." She reached out and took my hand in
hers. "Come along down into the basement, William. I want to show you
something. Afterward, if you want to--if you really want to--you may
kill me."

"Thanks," I said.

I couldn't think of anything else to say.

       *       *       *       *       *

Down in the basement, the machinery looked complex, with all sorts of
thermostats and speedometers.

"Automatic stoker?" I asked.

"Time machine," she said.

"You don't mean a time machine like H. G. Wells's," I said, to show her
I wasn't ignorant.

"Not exactly like that, but close," she answered sadly. "This has been
the cause of all your trouble, William."

"It has?"

"Yes. This house and the ground around it are the Primary Focus area
for the Hexers. The Hexers have tormented and persecuted you all your
life. They got you into trouble. They made you think you were going
crazy--"

"I never thought I was going crazy!" I yelled at her.

"That must have made it worse," she said miserably.

I thought about it. "I suppose it did. What are the Hexers? What--for
the sake of argument--have they got against me?"

"The Hexers aren't human. I suppose they are extraterrestrials. No
one ever told me. Maybe they are a kind of human strain that went
different. I don't really know. They want different things than we do,
but they can buy some of them with money, so they can be hired. People
in the future hire them to hex people in the past."

"Why would anybody up ahead there with Buck Rogers want to cause me
trouble? I'm dead then, aren't I?"

"Yes, you must be. It's a long time into the future. But, you see, some
of my relatives there want to punish you for--it must be for killing
Father. They lost out on a chain of inheritance because he died when
he did. They have money now, but they are bitter because they had to
make it themselves. They can afford every luxury--even the luxury of
revenge."

I suppose when you keep seeing monsters and hearing yourself say
things you didn't say, you can believe unusual things easier. I
believed Miss Tompkins.

"It was not murder," I said. "I killed him by accident."

"No matter. They would hex you if you had hit him with a car in a fog
or given him the flu by sneezing in his face. I understand people are
hexed all the time for things they never even knew they did. People
up there have a lot of leisure, a lot of time to indulge their every
irritation or hate. I think it must be decadent, the way Rome was."

"What do you--and the machine--have to do with my hex?" I asked.

"This is the Primary Focus area, I told you. It's how the Hexers get
into this time hypothesis. They can't get back into this Primary
itself, but they can come and go through the outer boundary. It's hard
to set up a Primary Focus--takes a tremendous drain of power. They
broke through into the basement of the old house before I was born and
Daddy was the first custodian of the machine. He never knew that he
was helping avenge his own death. They let that slip later, after--it
happened."

"Why did they come to you? Why did you help them?"

She turned half away. "The custodian is well paid. My relatives
preferred the salary to go to someone in the family, instead of an
outsider. Daddy accepted the offer and I've carried on the job."

"Paid? You were paid?"

She brushed at her eyes. "Oh, not in United States currency. But--Daddy
got to be president of the store. It was set up so he could make a
fortune that they could inherit. All he left was his insurance, and
that went to mother. She died a few months later and some of it went to
me and the rest to her relatives."

"You mean my life has been like it has because some descendants of
yours in the future hate me for an accident that deprived them of some
money?"

       *       *       *       *       *

She nodded enthusiastically. "You understand! And because I helped the
Hexers they hired get to you. I was afraid you wouldn't believe me.
Now"--she stopped to exhale--"do you want to kill me?"

"No, I don't want to kill you." I walked over and squinted at the
machine. "Could _I_ get into the future with this thing?"

"I don't know how you work the outer boundary. I think you need
something else. There's an internal energy contact--you can talk to
Communications." She raced through that. "You want to kill _them_,
don't you? The Hexers and my relatives?"

"I don't want to kill anybody," I told her patiently. "I feel dirty
just hearing how far some people can go for revenge. I just want them
to let me alone. Why don't they kill me and get it over with?"

"They haven't a license to kill. Not yet. There's legislation going on."

"Listen," I said, listening to the idea coming into my head, "_listen_.
These descendants of your mother's relatives--they _did_ inherit money
because your father died. Maybe they feel grateful to me. Maybe they
would help me. Would you help me try to talk to them?"

"Yes," Miss Tompkins said, and she used a dial on the machine.

It was as simple as putting through a phone call.

"We really understand your situation," Mr. Grimes-Tompkins said. "But
it would take quite a bit to buy off the Hexers. However, we certainly
appreciate the killing you made for us."

"Couldn't you buy off the Hexers, then, with some of the money I
brought to your side of the family?" I asked.

"We don't appreciate it _that_ much."

"What? You aren't going to pay him back for killing my father?" Miss
Tompkins cried, outraged.

"Look," I said, "if you had some money of mine, would you pay off the
Hexers for me? You do still use money up there, don't you?"

"We certainly do, young man. Just what did you have in mind?"

"If I gave you authorization now to use any assets I have in your time,
would it be legal?"

"Declarations by temporal transmission? Yes, of course. Routine
transaction."

"Take any money I have and use it to pay off the Hexers. Will you do
it?"

"I don't see why not, since our ancestor seems to approve."

Miss Tompkins regarded me solemnly. "What do you intend to do,
William?"

"Banks are out," I said, thinking hard. "They don't let inactive
accounts go on drawing interest more than twenty years, or something
like that. But government bonds don't have to be converted when they
mature. One bond can pile up a fantastic amount of interest for them to
collect."

"You have government bonds, William?"

"Not yet."

Miss Tompkins stood close to me. "I have plenty of money, William. I'll
give it to you. You can buy bonds in my name."

"No. I'll get my own money."

"Shall I destroy the machine, William? Of course they'll only open
another Focus--"

"No, you would just get yourself hexed too."

"What can I do, William?" she asked. "All along, ever since I was a
little girl, I've known I've been helping to torture somebody. I didn't
even know your name, William, but I helped torture you--"

"Because I killed your father."

"--and I've got to make it up to you. I'll give you everything,
William, everything."

"Sure," I said, "to take me off your conscience. And if I take your
offer and you get hexed, what happens to my conscience? Do we go around
again--me working my tail off to raise the dough to get you unhexed,
and you buying the Hexers off me? Where would it stop? We're even
right now. Let's let it go at that."

"But, William, if we've taken, now we can give to each other."

She looked almost pretty then, and I wanted her the way I'd always
wanted women. But I knew better. She wasn't going to get me into any
trouble.

"No, thanks. Good-by."

I walked away from her.

For the first time, I could see what my life would be like if I wasn't
hexed. Now I could realize that I knew how to do things right if I was
only let alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

The intern took the blood smear. He reeled off a long string of
questions about diseases I wasn't allowed to have.

"No," I said, "and I haven't given blood in the last thirty days."

He took my sample of blood and left.

I had to have eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents. They paid you
twenty dollars a pint for blood here.

One government bond held for centuries would pile up a fortune in
interest. The smallest bond you can buy is twenty-five dollars face
value, and it costs eighteen seventy-five.

If I had kept that twenty, I would have had a buck and a quarter
change. But if I hadn't have gotten cleaned up, the hospital might not
have accepted me as a donor at all. They had had some bad experiences
from old bums dying from giving too often.

I only hoped I could force myself to let that bond go uncashed through
the rest of my life.

The intern returned, his small mustache now pointing down. "Mr. Hagle,
I have some bad news for you. Very bad. I hardly know how to tell you,
but--you've got lukemia."

I nodded. "That means you won't take my blood." Maybe it also meant
that I would never be allowed to have eighteen dollars and seventy-five
cents in one lump again as long as I lived.

"No," the intern finally managed. "We can't accept your blood--"

I waved him off. "Isn't there some fund to take care of lukemia
victims? Feed them, house them, send them to Florida to soak up the
sun?"

"Certainly there is such a fund, and you may apply, Mr. Hagle."

"I'd certainly benefit a lot from that fund. Doctor, humor me. Test me
again and see if I still have lukemia."

He did. I didn't.

"I don't understand this," the intern said, looking frightened.
"Transitory lukemia? It must be a lab error."

"Will you buy my blood now?"

"I'm afraid as long as there is some doubt--this must be something
new."

"I suppose it is," I told him. "I have all sorts of interesting
symptoms."

"You do?" The intern was vitally interested. "Feel free to tell me all
about them."

"I see and hear things."

"Really?"

"Do you believe in ESP?"

"I've sometimes wondered."

"Test me as much as you like. You'll find that in any game of chance, I
score consistently far below the level of wins I should get by the law
of averages. I'm psionically subnormal. And that's just the beginning."

"This must be _really_ new," the intern said, eyes shining.

"It is," I assured him. "And listen, Doctor, you don't want to turn
something like me over to your superiors, to leave me to the mercies of
the A.M.A. This _can_ be big, Doctor, _big_."

       *       *       *       *       *

They offered Hagle's Disease to a lot of comedians, but finally it was
the new guy, Biff Kelsey, that got it and made it his own. He did a
thirty-hour telethon for Hagle's Disease.

Things really started to roll then. Boston coughed up three hundred
thousand alone. The most touching contribution came from Carrville.

I plugged away on the employ-the-physically-handicapped theme and was
made president of the Foundation for the Treatment of Hagle's Disease.
Dr. Wise (the intern) was the director.

So far, I had been living soft at Cedars, but I hadn't got my hands
on one red cent. I wanted to get that government bond to buy off the
Hexers, but at the same time it no longer seemed so urgent. They seemed
to have given up, and were just sitting back waiting for their bribe.

One morning three months later, Doc Wise came worriedly into my room at
the hospital.

"I don't like these reports, William," he said. "They all say there's
nothing wrong with you."

"It comes and it goes," I said casually. "You saw some of the times
when it came."

"Yes, but I'm having trouble convincing the trustees you weren't
malingering. And, contrary to our expectations, no one else in the
country seems to have developed Hagle's Disease."

"Stop worrying, Doc. Read the Foundation's charter. You have to treat
Hagle's Disease, which means you can use that money to treat _any_
disease of mine while we draw our salaries. I must have _something_
wrong with me."

Wise shook his head. "Nothing. Not even dandruff or B.O. You are the
healthiest man I have ever examined. It's _unnatural_."

Six months afterward, I had been walking all night in the park, in the
rain. I hadn't had anything to eat recently and I had fever and I began
sneezing. The money was still in the bank--no, not in _my_ name--I
couldn't touch it; Miss Tompkins' descendants couldn't touch it--just
waiting for me to--

I started running toward the hospital.

I slammed my fists against Wise's door. "Obed up, Wise. Id's be, Hagle.
I god a cold. _That's_ a disease, is'd it?"

Wise threw back the door. "What did you say?"

"I said 'Open up, Wise. It's me, Hagle. I've got a cold'.... Never
mind, Wise, never mind."

       *       *       *       *       *

But you don't want to hear about all that. You want to know about what
happened in the relief office. There's not much to tell.

I picked up the check from the guy's desk and looked at it. Nine
fifty-seven to buy food for two weeks. I griped that it wasn't
enough--not enough to keep alive on and save eighteen seventy-five
clear in a lifetime.

The slob at the desk said, "What have you got to complain about? You
got your health, don't you?"

That's when I slugged him and smashed up the relief office, and that's
why the four cops dragged me here, and that's why I'm lying here on
your couch telling you this story, Dr. Schultz.

I had my health, sure, but I finally figured out why. If you believe
any of this, you're thinking that the Hexers must have laid off me,
which is why I'm healthy. I thought so too, but how would that add up?

Look, I tried every way I could to raise eighteen seventy-five to buy
a government bond. I never made it I never made it because I wasn't
_allowed_ to.

But I didn't know it because I'd been euchred into the Foundation for
the Treatment of Hagle's Disease. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, all
earmarked for one purpose only--treating my disease--and I haven't got
any!

Or maybe you're figuring the way I did, that senility is a disease, and
all I have to do is wait for it to creep up on me so I can get some of
that Foundation money. But the Hexers have that fixed too, I'll bet.
I'm not sure, but I think I'm going to live for centuries without a
sick day in my life. In other words, I'm going to live that life out as
poor as I am right now!

It's a fantastic story, Doctor, but you believe me, don't you? You _do_
believe every word of it. You _have_ to, Doctor!

Because a persecution complex is kind of a disease and I'd have to be
treated for it.

Now will you let me out of this jacket so I can smoke a cigarette?





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