Illustrated by Scoenherr
If you should set a thief to catch a thief, what does it take to
stop a racketeer...?
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald found a package before his door that
morning, along with the milk. He took it inside and opened it. It was a
remarkably fine meerschaum pipe, such as the sergeant had longed
irrationally to own for many years. There was no message with it, nor
any card. He swore bitterly.
On his way to Headquarters he stopped in at the orphanage where he
usually left such gifts. On other occasions he had left Scotch, a
fly-rod, sets of very expensive dry-flies, and dozens of pairs of silk
socks. The female head of the orphanage accepted the gift with
"I don't suppose," said Fitzgerald morbidly, "that any of your kids will
smoke this pipe, but I want to be rid of it and for somebody to know."
He paused. "Are you gettin' many other gifts on this order, from other
cops? Like you used to?"
The head of the orphanage admitted that the total had dropped off.
Fitzgerald went on his way, brooding. He'd been getting anonymous gifts
like this ever since Big Jake Connors moved into town with bright ideas.
Big Jake denied that he was the generous party. He expressed complete
ignorance. But Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald knew better. The gifts were
having their effect upon the Force. There was a police lieutenant whose
wife had received a mink stole out of thin air and didn't speak to her
husband for ten days when he gave it to the Community Drive. He wouldn't
do a thing like that again! There was another sergeant—not
Fitzgerald—who'd found a set of four new white-walls tires on his
doorstep, and was ostracized by his teen-age offspring when he turned
them into the police Lost and Found. Fitzgerald gave his gifts to an
orphanage, with a fine disregard of their inappropriateness. But he
gloomily suspected that a great many of his friends were weakening. The
presents weren't bribes. Big Jake not only didn't ask acknowledgments of
them, he denied that he was the giver. But inevitably the recipients of
bounty with the morning milk felt less indignation about what Big Jake
was doing and wasn't getting caught at.
At Headquarters, Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald found a memo. A memo was
routine, but the contents of this one were remarkable. He scowled at it.
He made phone calls, checking up on the more unlikely parts of it. Then
he went to make the regular investigation.
When he reached his destination he found it an unpretentious frame
building with a sign outside: "Elite Cleaners and Dyers." There were no
plate-glass windows. There was nothing show-off about it. It was just a
medium-sized, modestly up-to-date establishment to which lesser
tailoring shops would send work for wholesale treatment. From some place
in the back, puffs of steam shot out at irregular intervals. Somebody
worked a steampresser on garments of one sort or another. There was a
rumbling hum, as of an oversized washing-machine in operation. All
The detective went in the door. Inside there was that peculiar,
professional-cleaning-fluid smell, which is not as alarming as gasoline
or carbon tetrachloride, but nevertheless discourages the idea of
striking a match. In the outer office a man wrote placidly on one
blue-paper strip after another. He had an air of pleasant
self-confidence. He glanced up briefly, nodded, wrote on three more
blue-paper strips, and then gathered them all up and put them in a
particular place. He turned to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald showed his shield. The man behind the counter nodded again.
"My name's Fitzgerald," grunted the detective. "The boss?"
"Me," said the man behind the counter. He was cordial. "My name's Brink.
You've got something to talk to me about?"
"That's the idea," said Fitzgerald. "A coupla questions."
Brink jerked a thumb toward a door.
"Come in the other office. Chairs there, and we can sit down. What's the
trouble? A complaint of some kind?"
He ushered Fitzgerald in before him. The detective found himself
scowling. He'd have felt better with a different kind of man to ask
questions of. This Brink looked untroubled and confident. It didn't
fit the situation. The inner office looked equally matter-of-fact.
No.... There was the shelf with the usual books of reference on textiles
and such items as a cleaner-and-dyer might need to have on hand.
But there were some others: "Basic Principles of Psi", "Modern
Psychokinetic Theories." There was a small, mostly-plastic machine on
another shelf. It had no obvious function. It looked as if it had some
unguessable but rarely-used purpose. There was dust on it.
"What's the complaint?" repeated Brink. "Hm-m-m. A cigar?"
"No," said Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald. "I'll light my pipe." He did,
extracting tobacco and a pipe that was by no means a meerschaum from his
pocket. He puffed and said: "A guy who works for you caught himself on
fire this mornin'. It happened on a bus. Very peculiar. The guy's name
Brink did not look surprised.
"It's kind of a strange thing," said Fitzgerald. "Accordin' to the
report he's ridin' this bus, readin' his paper, when all of a sudden he
yells an' jumps up. His pants are on fire. He gets 'em off fast and
chucks them out the bus window. He's blistered some but not serious, and
he clams up—but good—when the ambulance doc puts salve on him. He
won't say a word about what happened or how. They hadda call a ambulance
because he couldn't go huntin' a doc with no pants on."
"But he's not burned badly?" asked Brink.
"No. Blisters, yes. Scared, yes. And mad as hell. But he'll get along.
It's too bad. We've pinched him three times on suspicion of arson, but
we couldn't make it stick. Something ought to happen to make that guy
stop playin' with matches—only this wasn't matches."
"I'm glad he's only a little bit scorched," said Brink. He considered.
"Did he say anything about his eyelids twitching this morning? I don't
suppose he would."
The detective stared.
"He didn't. Say aren't you curious about how he came to catch on fire?
Or what his pants smelled of that burned so urgent? Or where he expected
burnin' to start instead of his pants?"
Brink thought it over. Then he shook his head.
"No. I don't think I'm curious."
The detective looked at him long and hard.
"O.K.," he said dourly. "But there's something else. Day before
yesterday there was a car accident opposite here. Remember?"
"I wasn't here at the time," said Brink.
"There's a car rolling along the street outside," said the detective.
"There's some hoods in it—guys who do dirty work for Big Jake Connors.
I can't prove a thing, but it looks like they had ideas about this
place. About thirty yards up the street a sawed-off shotgun goes off.
Very peculiar. It sends a load of buckshot through a side window of your
Brink said with an air of surprise: "Oh! That must have been what broke
"Yeah," said Fitzgerald. "But the interesting thing is that the flash of
the shotgun burned all the hair off the head of the guy that was doin'
the drivin'. It didn't scratch him, just scorched his hair off. It
scared him silly."
Brink grinned faintly, but he said pleasantly: "Tsk. Tsk. Tsk."
"He jams down the accelerator and rams a telephone pole," pursued
Fitzgerald. "There's four hoods in that car, remember, and every one of
'em's got a police record you could paper a house with. And they've got
four sawed-off shotguns and a tommy-gun in the back seat. They're all
laid out cold when the cops arrive."
"I was wondering about the window," said Brink, pensively.
"It puzzles you, eh?" demanded the detective ironically. "Could you've
figured it out that they were goin' to shoot up your plant to scare the
people who work for you so they'll quit? Did you make a guess they
intended to drive you outta business like they did the guy that had this
place before you?"
"That's an interesting theory," said Brink encouragingly.
Detective Fitzgerald nodded.
"There's one thing more," he said formidably. "You got a delivery truck.
You keep it in a garage back yonder. Yesterday you sent it to a garage
for inspection of brakes an' lights an' such."
"Yes," said Brink. "I did. It's not back yet. They were busy. They'll
call me when it's ready."
"They'll call you when the bomb squad gets through checkin' it! When the
guys at the garage lifted the hood they started runnin'. Then they
hollered copper. There was a bomb in there!"
Brink seemed to try to look surprised. He only looked interested.
"Two sticks of dynamite," the detective told him grimly, "wired up to go
off when your driver turned on the ignition. He did but it didn't. But
we got a police force in this town! We know there's racketeerin' bein'
practiced. We know there's crooked stuff goin' on. We even got mighty
good ideas who's doin' it. But we ain't been able to get anything on
anybody. Not yet. Nobody's been willin' to talk, so far. But you—"
The telephone rang stridently. Brink looked at the instrument and
shrugged. He answered.
"Hello.... No, Mr. Jacaro isn't in today. He didn't come to work. On the
way downtown his pants caught on fire—"
Fitzgerald guessed that the voice at the other end of the line said
"What?" in, an explosive manner.
Brink said matter-of-factly: "I said his pants caught on fire. It was
probably something he was bringing here to burn the plant down with—a
fire bomb. I don't think he's to blame that it went off early. He
probably started out with the worst possible intentions, but something
happened...." He listened and said: "But he didn't chicken! He couldn't
come to work and plant a fire bomb to set fire to the place!... I know
it must be upsetting to have things like that automobile accident and my
truck not blowing up and now Jacaro's pants instead of my business going
up in flames. But I told you—"
He stopped and listened. Once he grinned.
"Wait!" he said after a moment. He covered the transmitter and turned to
Fitzgerald. "What hospital is Jacaro in?"
Fitzgerald said sourly: "He wasn't burned bad. Just blistered. They lent
him some pants and he went home cussing."
"Thanks," said Brink. He uncovered the transmitter. "He went home," he
told the instrument. "You can ask him about it. In a way I'm sure it
wasn't his fault. I'm quite sure his eyelids twitched when he started
out. I think the men who drove the car the other day had twitching
eyelids, too. You should ask—"
The detective heard muted noises, as it a man shouted into a transmitter
Brink said briskly: "No, I don't see any reason to change my
mind.... No.... I know it was luck, it you want to put it that way,
but.... No. I wouldn't advise that! Please take my advice about when
your eyelid twitches—"
Fitzgerald heard the crash of the receiver hung up at some distant
place. Brink rubbed his ear. He turned back.
"Hm-m-m," he said. "Your pipe's gone out."
It was. Sergeant Fitzgerald puffed ineffectually. Brink reached out his
finger and tapped the bowl of the detective's pipe. Instantly fragrant
smoke filled the detective's mouth. He sputtered.
"Now.... where were we?" asked Brink.
"Who was that?" demanded Fitzgerald ferociously. "That was Big Jake
"You may be right." Brink told him. "He's never exactly given me his
name. He just calls up every so often and talks nonsense."
"What sort of nonsense?"
"He wants to be a partner in this business," said Brink without
emotion. "He's been saying that things will happen to it otherwise. I
don't believe it. Anyhow nothing's happened so far."
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald tried at one and the same time to roar and
to swallow. He accomplished neither. He put his finger in the bowl of
his pipe. He jerked it out, scorched.
"Look!" he said almost hoarsely, "I was tellin' you when the phone rang!
We got a police force here in town! This's what we've been tryin' to
get! You come along with me to Headquarters an' swear to a complaint—"
Brink said interestedly: "Why?"
"That guy Big Jake Connors!" raged the detective. "That's why! Tryin' to
threaten you into givin' him a share in your business! Tryin' to burn it
down or blow it up when you won't! He was just a small-town crook, once.
He went to the big town an' came back with ideas. He's usin' 'em!"
Brink looked at him expectantly.
"He started a beer business," said the detective bitterly. "Simultaneous
other beer dealers started havin' trouble. Empty kegs smashed. Trucks
broke down. Drivers in fights. They hadda go outta business!"
"What did the cops do?" asked Brink.
"They listened to their wives!" snarled Fitzgerald. "They begun to find
little grabbag packages in the mail an' with the milk. Fancy perfume.
Tricky stockin's. Fancy underwear they shoulda been ashamed for anybody
to know they had it on underneath. The cops weren't bribed, but their
wives liked openin' the door of a mornin' an' findin' charmin' little
"Ah," said Brink.
"Then there were juke boxes," went on the detective. "He went in that
business—an' trouble started. People'd drive up to a beer joint, go in,
get in a scuffle an'—bingo! The juke box smashed. Always the juke box.
Always a out-of-town customer. Half the juke boxes in town weren't
workin', on an average. But the ones that were workin' were always Big
Jake's. Presently he had the juke-box business to himself."
Brink nodded, somehow appreciatively.
"Then it was cabs," said Fitzgerald. "A lot of cops felt bad about that.
But their wives wouldn't be happy if anything happened to dear Mr. Big
Jake who denied that he gave anybody anything, so it was all right to
use that lovely perfume.... Cabs got holes in their radiators. They got
sand in their oil systems. They had blowouts an' leaks in brake-fluid
lines. Cops' wives were afraid Big Jake would get caught. But he didn't.
He started insurin' cabs against that kinda accident. Now every
cab-driver pays protection-money for what they call insurance—or else.
An' cops' wives get up early, bright-eyed, to see what Santa Claus left
with the milk."
"You seem," said Brink with a grin, "to hint that this Big Jake
is ... well ... dishonest."
"Dishonest!" Fitzgerald's face was purplish, from many memories of
wrongs. "There was a guy named Burdock who owned this business before
you. Y'know what happened to him?"
"Yes," said Drink. "He's my brother-in-law. Connors or somebody insisted
on having a share of the business and threatened dreadful things if he
didn't. He didn't. So acid got spilled on clothes. Machinery got
smashed. Once a whole delivery-truck load of clothes disappeared and my
brother-in-law had to pay for any number of suits and dresses. It
got him down. He's recovering from the nervous strain now, and my
sister ... eh, asked me to help out. So I offered to take over. He warned
me I'd have the same trouble."
"And you've got it!" fumed the detective. "But anyhow you'll make a
complaint. We'll get out some warrants, and we'll have somethin' to go
"But nothing's happened to complain about," said Brink, quite
reasonably. "One broken window's not worth a fuss."
"But somethin's goin' to happen!" insisted the detective. "That guy Big
Jake is poison! He's takin' over the whole town, bit by bit! You've been
lucky so far, but your luck could run out—"
Brink shook his head.
"No-o-o," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm grateful to you, Mr.
Fitzgerald, but I have a special kind of luck. I won't tell you about it
because you wouldn't believe but—but I can give you some of it. If you
don't mind, I will."
He went to the slightly dusty, partly-plastic machine. On its shelf were
some parts of metal, and some of transparent plastic, and some grayish,
granular substance it was hard to identify. There was an elaborate
diagram of something like an electronic circuit inside, but it might
have been a molecular diagram from organic chemistry. Brink made an
adjustment and pressed firmly on a special part of the machine, which
did not yield at all. Then he took a slip of plastic out of a slot in
"You can call this a good-luck charm," he said pleasantly, "or a
talisman. Actually it's a psionic unit. One like it works very well, for
me. Anyhow there's no harm in it. Just one thing. If your eyelids start
to twitch, you'll be headed for danger or trouble or something
unpleasant. So if they do twitch, stop and be very, very careful.
He handed the bit of plastic to Fitzgerald, who took it without
Then Brink said briskly: "If there isn't anything else—"
"You won't swear out a warrant against Big Jake?" demanded Fitzgerald
"I haven't any reason to," said Brink amiably. "I'm doing all right. He
hasn't harmed me. I don't think he will."
"O.K.!" said the detective bitterly. "Have it your way! But he's got it
in for you an' he's goin' to keep tryin' until he gets you! An' whether
you like it or not, you're goin' to have some police protection as soon
as I can set it up."
He stamped out of the cleaning-and-drying plant. Automatically, he put
the bit of plastic in his pocket. He didn't know why. He got into his
car and drove downtown. As he drove, he looked suspiciously at his pipe.
He fumed. As he fumed, he swore. He did not like mysteries. But there
was no mystery about his dislike for Big Jake Connors. He turned aside
from the direct route to Headquarters to indulge it. He drove to a
hospital where four out-of-town hoods had been carried two days before.
He marched inside and up to a second-floor corridor door with a
uniformed policeman seated outside it.
"Hm-m-m. Donnelly," he growled. "How about those guys?"
"Not so good," said the patrolman. "They're gettin' better."
"They would," growled Fitzgerald.
"A lawyer's been to see 'em twice," said the patrolman. "He's comin'
back after lunch."
"He would," grunted the detective.
"They want out," said the cop.
"I'm not surprised," said Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald.
He went into the sick room. There were four patients in it, none of them
looking exactly like gentle invalids. There were two broken noses of
long-ago dates, three cauliflower ears, and one scar of a kind that is
not the result of playing lawn tennis. Two were visibly bandaged, and
the others adhesive-taped. All of them looked at Fitzgerald without
"Well, well, well!" he said. "You fellas still here!" There was silence.
"In union there is strength," said Fitzgerald. "As long as you stay in
one room everybody's sure the others haven't started rattin'. Right?"
One of the four snarled silently at him.
"It was just a accident," pursued the detective. "You four guys are
ridin' along peaceable, merrily takin' the air, when quite inadvertently
one of you almost blows the head off of another, and he's so astonished
at there bein' a gun in the car that he wrecks it. And when they get you
guys in the hospital there ain't one of you knows anything about four
sawed-off shotguns and a tommy gun in the car with you. Strange!
Four faces regarded him with impassive dislike. The bandaged ones were
prettier than the ones that weren't.
"That tommy gun business," explained Fitzgerald, "is a federal affair.
It's against Fed law to carry 'em around loaded. And your friend Big
Jake hasn't been leavin' presents on the White House steps. Y'know, you
guys could be in trouble!"
Three pairs of eyes and an odd one—the other was hidden under a
bandage—stared at him stonily.
"Y'see," explained Fitzgerald again, "Big Jake's slipped up. He hasn't
realized it yet. Its my little secret. A week ago I thought he had me
licked. But somethin' happened, and today I felt like I had to come
around and congratulate you fellas. You got a break! You're gonna have
free board and lodging for years to come! I wanted to be the first to
He beamed at them and went out. Outside, his expression changed. He said
bitterly to the cop at the door: "I bet they beat this rap!"
He went downstairs and out of the hospital. He started around the
building to his car.
His eyelid twitched. It twitched again. It began to quiver and flutter
continuously. Fitzgerald stopped short to rub the offending eye.
There was a crash. A heavy glass water-pitcher hit the cement walk
immediately before him. It broke into a million pieces. He glared up.
The pitcher would have hit him if it hadn't been for a twitching eyelid
that had brought him to a stop. The window of the room he'd just left
was open, but there was no way to prove that a patient had gotten out of
bed to heave the pitcher. And it had broken into too many pieces to
offer fingerprint evidence.
"Hah!" said Fitzgerald morosely. "They're plenty confident!"
He went to Headquarters. There were more memos for his attention. One
was just in. A cab had crossed a sidewalk and crashed into a plate-glass
window. Its hydraulic brakes had failed. The trouble was a clean saw-cut
in a pressure-line. Fitzgerald went to find out about it. The cab driver
bitterly refused to answer any questions. He wouldn't even admit that he
was not insured by Big Jake against such accidents. Fitzgerald stormed.
The owner-driver firmly—and gloomily—refused to answer a question
about whether he'd been threatened if he didn't pay protection money.
Fitzgerald raged, on the sidewalk beside the cab in the act of being
extracted from the plate-glass window. An open-mouthed bystander
listened admiringly to his language. Then the detective's eyelid
twitched. It twitched again, violently. Something made him look up. An
employee of the plate-glass company—there were rumors that Big Jake was
interesting himself in plate-glass insurance besides cabs—wrenched
loose a certain spot. Fitzgerald grabbed the bystander and leaped. There
was a musical crash behind him. A tall section of the shattered glass
fell exactly where he had been standing. It could have been pure
accident. On the other hand—
He couldn't prove anything, but he had a queer feeling as he left the
scene of the crash. Back in his own car he felt chilly. Driving away,
presently, he felt his eyelid tentatively. He wasn't a nervous man.
Ordinarily his eyelids didn't twitch.
He went to investigate a second memo. It was a restaurant, and he edged
the police car gingerly into a lane beside the building. In the rear,
the odor of spilled beer filled the air. It would have been attractive
but for an admixture of gasoline fumes and the fact that it was mud. Mud
whose moisture-content is spilled beer has a peculiar smell all its own.
He got out of his car and gloomily asked the questions the memo called
for. He didn't need to. He could have written down all the answers in
advance. The restaurant now reporting vandalism had found big Jake's
brand of beer unpopular. It had twenty cases of a superior brew brought
in by motor-truck. It was stacked in a small building behind the café.
For one happy evening, the customers chose their own beer.
Now, next day, there were eighteen cases of smashed beer bottles. The
crime had been committed in the small hours. There were no clues. The
restaurant proprietor unconvincingly declared that he had no idea who'd
caused it. But he'd only notified the police so he could collect
insurance—not from Big Jake.
With a sort of morbid, frustrated gloom, Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald
made the necessary notes. He put his notebook in his pocket and backed
his car out of the alley. Oddly enough, he thought of a beautifully
carved meerschaum pipe he'd found with the milk that morning. He'd
presented it to an orphanage mainly because, irrationally, he'd have
liked to keep it. There had been other expensive gifts he'd have liked
to keep. Bourbon. A set of expensive dry-flies. An eight-millimeter
movie camera. Scotch. Shiny, smooth silk socks that would have soothed
his weary feet. He'd denied himself these gifts because he believed—he
knew—that they came from Big Jake, who tactfully won friends and
influenced people by making presents and denying it. In business matters
he was stern, because that was the way to collect protection-money. But
he was subtle with cops. He had their wives on his side.
Sergeant Fitzgerald growled in his throat. He'd always wanted a really
fine meerschaum pipe. He'd had one this morning, and he'd had to get rid
of it because it came from Big Jake. He felt that Big Jake had robbed
him of it.
He turned the police car and drove back toward the Elite Cleaners and
Dyers establishment. As he drove, he growled. His eyelid had twitched
twice, and each time he'd been heading into danger or trouble. The fact
was dauntingly coincidental with Brink's comment after giving him a
scrap of plastic from the bottom of that crazy machine. These things
were on his mind. He couldn't bring himself to plan to mention them, but
he needed to talk to Brink again. Brink could testify to threats. He
could justify arrests. Sergeant Fitzgerald had a fine conviction that
with a chance to apply pressure, he could make some of Big Jake's hoods
and collectors talk, and so bust things wide open. He only needed
Brink's co-operation. He drove toward the Elite Cleaners and Dyers to
put pressure on Brink toward that happy end. But he brooded over his own
When the cleaning establishment came into view, there was a car parked
before it. Two men from that car were in the act of entering the Elite
plant through the same door the detective had used earlier. He parked
his car behind the other. Fuming, he crossed the sidewalk and entered
the building. As he entered, he heard a scream from the back. He heard a
crashing sound and more screams.
He bolted ahead, through the outer office and into the working area he
had not visited before. He burst through swinging doors into a
two-story, machinery-filled cleaning-and-dyeing plant. Tables and
garment racks and five separate people appeared as proper occupants of
the place. But something had happened. There was a flood of
liquid—detergent solution—flowing toward the open back doors of the
big room. It obviously came from a large carboy which had been smashed
as if to draw attention to some urgent matter.
The people in the room seemed to have frozen at their work, except that
Brink had apparently been interrupted in some supervisory task. He was
not working at any machine to clean, dye, dry, or press clothing. He
looked at the two individuals whom Fitzgerald had seen enter only
fractions of a minute earlier. His jaw clenched, and Fitzgerald was
close enough behind the bottle-breakers to see him take an angry,
purposeful step toward them. Then he checked himself very deliberately,
and put his hands in his pockets, and watched. After an instant he even
grinned at the two figures who had preceded the detective.
They were an impressive pair. They were dressed in well-pressed garments
of extravagantly fashionable cut. They wore expensive soft hats, tilted
to jaunty angles. Even from the rear, Fitzgerald knew that handkerchiefs
would show tastefully in the breast pockets of their coats. Their shoes
had been polished until they not only shone, but glittered. But by
professional instinct Fitzgerald noted one cauliflower ear, and the
barest fraction of a second later he saw a squat revolver being waved
negligently at the screaming women.
He reached for his service revolver. And things happened.
The situation was crystal-clear. Big Jake Connors was displeased with
Brink. In all the city whose rackets he was developing and
consolidating, Brink was the only man who resisted Big Jake's civic
enterprise—and got away with it! And nobody who runs rackets can permit
resistance. It is contagious. So Big Jake had ordered that Brink be
brought into line or else. The or else alternative had run into snags,
before, but it was being given a big new try.
There was the shrill high clamor of two women screaming at the tops of
their voices because revolvers were waved at them. One Elite employee,
at the pressing machine, took his foot off the treadle and steam
billowed wildly. Another man, at a giant sheet-iron box which rumbled,
stared with his mouth open and blood draining from his cheeks. Brink,
alone, looked—quite impossibly—amused and satisfied.
"Get outside!" snarled a voice as Fitzgerald's revolver came out ready
for action. "This joint is finished!"
The companion of the snarling man rubbed suddenly at his eye. He rubbed
again, as if it twitched violently. But it was, after all, only a
twitching eyelid. He reached negligently down and picked up a wooden
box. By its markings, it was a dozen-bottle box of spot-remover—the
stuff used to get out spots the standard cleaning fluid in the
dry-cleaning machine did not remove.
The man heaved the box, with the hand with which he had rubbed his
twitching eye. The other man raised a hand—the one not holding a
revolver—to rub at his own eye, which also seemed to twitch agitatedly.
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald had his revolver out. He drew in his
breath for a stentorian command for them to drop their weapons. But he
didn't have time to shout. The hurtling small box of spot-remover struck
the large sheet-iron case from which loud rumblings came. It was a
dryer; a device for spinning clothes which were wet with liquid from the
dry-cleaning washer. A perforated drum revolved at high speed within it.
The box of spot-remover hit the door. The door dented in, hit the
high-speed drum inside, and flew frantically out again, free from its
hinges and turning end-for-end as it flew. It slammed into the thrower's
companion, spraining three fingers as it knocked his revolver to the
floor. The weapon slid merrily away to the outer office between
Detective Fitzgerald's feet.
But this was not all. The dryer-door, having disposed of one threatening
revolver, slammed violently against the wall. The wall was merely a thin
partition, neatly paneled on the office side, but with shelves
containing cleaning-and-dyeing supplies on the other. The impact shook
the partition. Dust fell from the shelves and supplies. The hood who
hadn't lost his gun sneezed so violently that his hat came off. He bent
nearly double, and in the act he jarred the partition again.
Things fell from it. Many things. A two-gallon jar of extra-special
detergent, used only for laces, conked him and smashed on the floor
before him. It added to the stream of fluid already flowing with
singular directness for the open, double, back-door of the workroom. The
hood staggered, sneezed again, and convulsively pulled the trigger of
his gun. The bullet hit something which was solid heavy metal,
ricocheted, ricocheted again and the second hood howled and leaped
wildly into the air. He came down in the flowing flood of spilled
detergent, flat on his stomach, and with marked forward momentum. He
slid. The floor of the plant had recently been oiled to keep down dust.
The coefficient of friction of a really good detergent on top of
floor-oil is remarkably low,—somewhere around point oh-oh-nine. Hood
number two slid magnificently on his belly on the superb lubrication
afforded by detergent on top of floor-oil.
The first hood staggered. Something else fell from the shelf. It was a
carton of electric-light bulbs. Despite the protecting carton, they went
off with crackings like gunfire. Technically, they did not explode but
implode, but the hood with the revolver did not notice the difference.
He leaped—and also landed in the middle of the wide streak of
detergent-over-oil which might have been arranged to receive him.
He remained erect, but he slid slowly along that shining path. His
relatively low speed was not his fault, because he went through all the
motions of frenzied flight. His legs twinkled as he ran. But his feet
slid backward. He moved with a sort of dignified celerity, running fast
enough for ten times the speed, upon a surface which had a frictional
coefficient far below that of the smoothest possible ice.
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald gaped, his mouth dropped open and his gun
held laxly in a practically nerveless hand.
The thing developed splendidly. The prone gunman slid out of the wide
double door, pushing a bow-wave of detergent before him. He slid across
the cement just outside, into the open garage whose delivery-truck was
absent, and slammed with a sort of deliberate violence into a stack of
four cardboard drums of that bone-black which is used to filter
cleaning-fluid so it can be used over again in the dry-cleaning machine.
The garage was used for storage as well as shelter for the
The four drums were not accurately piled. They were three and a half
feet high and two feet in diameter. They toppled sedately, falling with
a fine precision upon the now hatless, running, sliding hood. One of
them burst upon him. A second burst upon the prone man—who had butted
through the cardboard of the bottom one on his arrival. There was a
dense black cloud which filled all the interior of the garage. It was
bone-black, which cannot be told from lamp-black or soot by the
From the cloud came a despairing revolver shot. It was pure reflex
action by a man who had been whammed over the head by a
hundred-and-fifty-pound drum of yielding—in fact bursting—material.
There was a metallic clang. Then silence.
In a very little while the dust-cloud cleared. One figure struggled
insanely. Upon him descended—from an oil drum of cylinder-oil stored
above the rafters—a tranquil, glistening rod of opalescent
cylinder-oil. His last bullet had punctured the drum. Oil turned the
bone-black upon him into a thick, sticky goo which instantly gathered
more bone-black to become thicker, stickier, and gooier. He fought it,
while his unconscious companion lay with his head in a crumpled
cardboard container of more black stuff.
The despairing, struggling hood managed to get off one more shot, as if
defying even fate and chance. This bullet likewise found a target. It
burst a container of powdered dye-stuff, also stored overhead. The
container practically exploded and its contents descended in a
widespread shower which coated all the interior of the garage with a
lovely layer of bright heliotrope.
Maybe the struggling hood saw it. If so, it broke him utterly. What had
happened was starkly impossible. The only sane explanation was that he
had died and was in hell. He accepted that explanation and broke into
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald had witnessed every instant of the
happening, but he did not believe it. Nevertheless, he said in a strange
voice: "I'll phone for the paddy-wagon. It'll do for a ambulance, in
case of need."
He put away his unused service revolver. Thinking strange, dizzy
thoughts of twitching eyelids and plastic scraps and starkly incredible
happenings, he managed to call for the police patrol. When he hung up,
he gazed blankly at the wall. He gazed, in fact, at a spot where a
peculiar small machine with no visible function reposed—somewhat
dusty—on a shelf.
Brink stepped over briskly and closed the door between the scene of
catastrophe and the immaculate shop. Somehow, none of the mess had
spilled back through the doorway. Then he came in, frowning a little.
"The fight's out of them," he said cheerfully. "One's got a bad cut on
his head. The other's completely unnerved. Tsk! Tsk! I hate to have
such things happen!"
Sergeant Fitzgerald shook himself, as if trying to come back to a normal
and a reasonable world.
"Look!" he said in a hoarse voice. "I saw it, an' I still don't believe
it! Things like this don't happen! I thought you might be lucky. It
ain't that. I thought I might be crazy. It ain't that! What has been
Brink sat down. His air was one of wry contemplation.
"I told you I had a special kind of luck you couldn't believe. Did your
eyelids twitch any time today?"
"They did. And I stopped short an' something that should've knocked my
cranium down my windpipe missed me by inches. An' again—But no matter.
"Maybe you can believe it, then," said Brink. "Did you ever hear of a
man named Hieronymus?"
"No," said Fitzgerald in a numbed voice. "Who's he?"
"He got a patent once," said Brink, matter-of-factly, "on a machine he
believed detected something he called eloptic radiation. He thought it
was a kind of radiation nobody had noticed before. He was wrong. It
worked by something called psi."
Sergeant Fitzgerald shook his head. It still needed clearing.
"Psi still isn't fully understood," explained Brink, "but it will do a
lot of things. For instance, it can change probability as magnetism can
change temperature. You can establish a psi field in a suitable
material, just as you can establish a magnetic field in steel or alnico.
Now, if you spin a copper disk in a magnetic field, you get eddy
currents. Keep it up, and the disk gets hot. If you're obstinate about
it, you can melt the copper. It isn't the magnet, as such, that does the
melting. It's the energy of the spinning disk that is changed into heat.
The magnetic field simply sets up the conditions for the change of
motion into heat. In the same way ... am I boring you?"
"Confusing me," said Fitzgerald, "maybe. But keep on. Maybe I'll catch a
"In the same way," said Brink, "you can try to perform violent actions
in a strong psi field—a field made especially to act on violence. When
you first try it you get something like eddy currents. Warnings. It can
be arranged that such psi eddy currents make your eyelids twitch. Keep
it up, and probability changes to shift the most-likely consequences of
the violence. This is like a spinning copper disk getting hot. Then, if
you're obstinate about it, you get the equivalent of the copper disk
melting. Probability gets so drastically changed that the violent thing
you're trying to do becomes something that can't happen. Hm-m-m. ... You
can't spin a copper disk in a magnetic field when it melts. You can't
commit a murder in a certain kind of psi field when probability goes
hog-wild. Any other thing can happen to anybody else—to you, for
example—but no violence can happen to the thing or person you're trying
to do something violent to. The psi field has melted down ordinary
probabilities. The violence you intend has become the most improbable of
all conceivable things. You see?"
"I'm beginnin'," said Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald dizzily, "I'm
beginnin' to get a toehold on what you mean. I'd hate to have to testify
about it in court, but I'm receptive."
"So my special kind of luck," said Brink, "comes from antiviolence psi
fields, set up in psi units of suitable material. They don't use up
energy any more than a magnet does. But they transfer it, like a magnet
does. My brother-in-law thought he had to lose his business because Big
Jake threatened violent things. I offered to take it over and protect
it—with psi units. So far, I have. When four hoods intended to shoot up
the place and moved to do it, they were warned. Psi 'eddy currents' made
their eyelids twitch. They went ahead. Probability changed. Quite
unlikely things became more likely than not. They were obstinate about
it, and what they intended became perhaps the only thing in the world
that simply couldn't happen. So they crashed into a telephone pole. That
wasn't violence. That was accident."
The detective blinked, and then nodded, somehow painfully.
"I see," he said uncertainly.
"Somebody set a bomb in my delivery truck," added Brink. "I'm sure his
eyelids twitched, but he didn't stop. So probability changed. The
explosion of that bomb in my truck became the most unlikely of all
possible things. In fact, it became impossible. So some electric
connection went bad, and it didn't go off. Again, when Jacaro intended
to plant a time fire-bomb to set the plant on fire—why—his eyelids
must have twitched but he didn't give up the intention. So the psi unit
naturally made the burning of the plant impossible. For it to be
impossible, the fire-bomb had to go off where it would do next to no
harm. Jacaro lost his pants."
He stopped. Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald swallowed carefully.
"I don't question it," he said dizzily, "even if I don't believe it.
Will you now tell me that what just happened was a psi something keepin'
violent things from happening?"
"That's it," agreed Brink. "The psi unit made the dryer-door fly off and
knock a pistol out of a man's hand. If they'd dropped the idea of
violence, that would have ended the matter. They didn't."
"I accept it," said Fitzgerald. He gulped. "Because I saw it. A court
wouldn't believe it, though, Mr. Brink!"
"I've been tryin' for months," said Fitzgerald in sudden desperation,
"to find a way to stop what Big Jake's doin'. But he's tricky. He's
organized. He's got smart lawyers. Mr. Brink, if the cops could use what
you've got—" Then he stopped. "It'd never be authorized," he said
bitterly. "They'd never let a cop try it."
"No," agreed Brink. "Until it's believed in it can only be used
privately, for private purposes. Like I've used it. Or Hm-m-m. Do you
fish, or bowl, or play golf, sergeant? I could give you a psi unit
that'd help you quite a bit in such a private purpose."
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald shook his head.
"Dry-fly fishin's my specialty," he said bitterly, "but no thank you!
When I'm pittin' myself against a trout, it's my private purpose to be a
better fisherman than he's a fish. Usin' what you've got would be like
dynamitin' a stream. No sport in that! No! But this Big Jake, he doesn't
act sporting with the public. I'd give a lot to stop him."
"You'd get no credit for it," said Brink. "No credit at all."
"I'd get the job done!" said Fitzgerald indignantly. "A man likes
credit, but he likes a lot better to get a good job done!"
Brink grinned suddenly.
"Good man!" he said approvingly. "I'll buy your idea, sergeant. If
you'll play fair with a trout, you'll play fair with a crook, and an
Irishman, anyhow, has a sort of inheritance—I'll give you what help I
can, and you'll do things your grandfather would swear was the work of
the Little People. And for a first lesson—"
"Big Jake discourages me," said Brink. "So I'll call him up and say I'm
coming to see him. I'll say if he wants this business I'll sell it to
him at a fair price. But I'll say otherwise I'll tell the newspapers
about his threats and the four of his hoods in the hospital and the two
others on the way there. Want to come along?"
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald reached his hand to where his service
revolver reposed in its holster. Then he drew it away.
"He's a very violent man," he said hopefully. "I wouldn't wonder he
tried to get pretty rough—him and the characters he has on his payroll.
If they have to be stopped from bein' violent by—what is it? Psi units?
Sure I'll come along! It'd ought to be most edifyin' to watch!"
There was a clanging outside. Brink and Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald
delayed while the two unnerved, helpless, and formerly immaculate gunmen
were loaded into the paddy-wagon and carried away—to the hospital that
already held four of their ilk. Then Brink called Big Jake on the
Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald listened with increasing appreciation as
Brink made his proposition and explained matter-of-factly what had
happened to Big Jake's minions who should have wrecked the Elite
Cleaners and Dyers. When Brink hung up, Fitzgerald had a look of zestful
anticipation on his face.
"He said to come right over," said Brink. "But he was grinding his
"Ah-h-h!" said Fitzgerald pleasurably. "I'm thinkin' of the cab-drivers
an' truck drivers that've been beat up. I'm thinkin' of property smashed
and honest people scared.... Do you know, I'm terrible afraid Big Jake's
too much in the habit of violence to stop, even if his eyelids twitch?
It's deplorable! But on a strictly personal basis I think I'll enjoy
seein' Big Jake an' his hoods discouraged by ... what is it Psi units?
And he did. Big Jake's eyelids undoubtedly did twitch while he was
preparing a reception for Brink and Detective Sergeant Fitzgerald. But
he did not heed the warning. He did not even think of the legal aspect
of violent things attempted against his visitors. So he tried
violence—he and his associates. They started out with fists and clubs,
regardless of discretion. They tried to beat up Brink and Fitzgerald.
From that they went on to sawed-off shotguns. Their efforts were still
unsuccessful. Then they went to extremes.
Fitzgerald wore an expression of pious joy as Big Jake Connors and his
aides, obstinately attempting violent actions, were prevented by psi
When it was all over, the ambulance had to make two trips.
Produced by Greg Weeks, Bruce Albrecht, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science
Fiction April 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]