by "Lewis Padgett" (Henry Kuttner, 1914-1958 and C.L. Moore, 1911- ; this story is generally believed to have been written by Kuttner)
Astounding Science Fiction, January 11,170 words
The forensic sociologist looked closely at the image on the wall screen. Two figures were frozen there, one in the act of stabbing the other through the heart with an antique letter cutter, once used at Johns Hopkins for surgery. That was before the ultra-microtome, of course.
"As tricky a case as I've ever seen," the sociologist remarked. "If we can make a homicide charge stick on Sam Clay, I'll be a little surprised."
The tracer engineer twirled a dial and watched the figures on the screen repeat their actions. One--Sam Clay--snatched the letter cutter from a desk and plunged it into the other man's heart. The victim fell down dead. Clay started back in apparent horror. Then he dropped to his knees beside the twitching body and said wildly that he didn't mean it. The body drummed its heels upon the rug and was still.
"That last touch was nice," the engineer said.
"Well, I've got to make the preliminary survey," the sociolo-gist sighed, settling in his dictachair and placing his fingers on the keyboard. "I doubt if I'll find any evidence. However, the analysis can come later. Where's Clay now?"
"His mouthpiece put in a habeas mens."
"I didn't think we'd be able to hold him. But it was worth trying. Imagine, just one shot of scop and he'd have told the truth. Ah, well. We'll do it the hard way, as usual. Start the tracer, will you? It won't make sense till we run it chronologically, but one must start somewhere. Good old Blackstone," the sociolo-gist said, as, on the screen, Clay stood up, watching the corpse revive and arise, and then pulled the miraculously clean paper cutter out of its heart, all in reverse.
"Good old Blackstone," he repeated. "On the other hand, sometimes I wish I'd lived in Jeffreys' time. In those days, homicide was homicide."
* * * *
Telepathy never came to much. Perhaps the developing faculty went underground in response to a familiar natural law after the new science
appeared omniscience. It wasn't really that, of course. It was a device for
looking into the past. And it was limited to a fifty-year span; no chance of seeing the arrows at Agincourt or the homunculi of Bacon. It was sensitive enough to pick up the "fingerprints" of light and sound waves imprinted on matter, descramble and screen them, and reproduce the image of what had happened. After all, a man's shadow can be photo-graphed on concrete, if he's unlucky enough to be caught in an atomic blast. Which is something. The shadow's about all here is left.
However, opening the past like a book didn't solve all problems. It took generations for the maze of complexities to iron itself out, though finally a tentative check-and-balance was reached. The right to kill has been sturdily defended by mankind since Cain rose up against Abel. A good many idealists quoted, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground," but that didn't stop the lobbyists and the pressure groups. Magna Carta was quoted in reply. The right to privacy was defended desperately.
And the curious upshot of this imbalance came when the act of homicide was declared nonpunishable, unless intent and fore-thought could be proved. Of course, it was considered at least naughty to fly in a rage and murder someone on impulse, and there was a nominal punishment--imprisonment, for example-- but in practice this never worked, because so many defenses were possible. Temporary insanity. Undue provocation. Self-defense. Manslaughter, second-degree homicide, third degree, fourth degree--it went on like that. It was up to the State to prove that the killer had planned his killing in advance; only then would a jury convict. And the jury, of course, had to waive immunity and take a scop test, to prove the box hadn't been packed. But no defendant ever waived immunity.
A man's home wasn't his castle--not with the Eye able to enter it at will and scan his past. The device couldn't interpret, and it couldn't read his mind; it could only see and listen. Consequently the sole remaining fortress of privacy was de-fended to the last ditch. No truth-serum, no hypnoanalysis, no third-degree, no leading questions.
If, by viewing the prisoner's past actions, the prosecution could prove forethought and intent, O.K.
Otherwise, Sam Clay would go scot-free. Superficially, it appeared as though Andrew Vanderman had, during a quarrel, struck Clay across the face with a stingaree whip. Anyone who has been stung by a Portuguese man-of-war can understand that, at this point, Clay could plead temporary
insanity and self-defense, as well as undue provocation and possible
Only the curious cult of the Alaskan Flagellantes, who make the stingaree whips for their ceremonials, know how to endure the pain. The Flagellantes even like it, the pre-ritual drug they swallow transmutes pain into pleasure. Not having swallowed this drug, Sam Clay very naturally took steps to protect himself-- irrational steps, perhaps, but quite logical and defensible ones.
Nobody but Clay knew that he had intended to kill Vanderman all along. That was the trouble. Clay couldn't understand why he felt so let down.
The screen flickered. It went dark. The engineer chuckled.
"My, my. Locked up in a dark closet at the age of four. What one of those old-time psychiatrists would have made of that. Or do I mean obimen? Shamans? I forget. They interpreted dreams, anyway."
"You're confused. It--"
"Astrologers! No, it wasn't either. The ones I mean went in for symbolism. They used to spin prayer wheels and say 'A rose is a rose is a rose,' didn't they? To free the unconscious mind?"
"You've got the typical layman's attitude toward antique psychiatric treatments."
"Well, maybe they had something, at that. Look at quinine and digitalis. The United Amazon natives used those long before science discovered them. But why use eye of newt and toe of frog? To impress the patient?"
"No, to convince themselves," the Sociologist said. "In those days the study of mental aberrations drew potential psychotics, so naturally there was unnecessary mumbo-jumbo. Those medi-cos were trying to fix their own mental imbalance while they treated their patients. But it's a science today, not a religion. We've found out how to allow for individual psychotic deviation in the psychiatrist himself, so we've got a better chance of finding true north. However, let's get on with this. Try ultraviolet. Oh, never mind. Somebody's letting him out of that closet. The devil with it. I think we've cut back far enough. Even if he was frightened by a thunderstorm at the age of three months, that can be filed under Gestalt and ignored. Let's run through
this chronologically. Give it the screening for...let's see. Incidents involving
these persons: Vanderman, Mrs. Vanderman, Josephine Wells--and these places: the office, Vanderman's apartment. Clay's place--"
"Later we can recheck for complicating factors. Right now we'll run the superficial survey. Verdict first, evidence later," he added, with a grin. "All we need is a motive--"
"What about this?"
* * * *
A girl was talking to Sam Clay. The background was an apartment, grade B-2.
"I'm sorry, Sam. It's just that...well, these things happen."
"Yeah. Vanderman's got something I haven't got, apparently."
"I'm in love with him."
"Funny. I thought all along you were in love with me."
"So did I ... for a while."
"Well, forget it. No, I'm not angry, Bea. I'll even wish you luck. But you must have been pretty certain how I'd react to this."
"Come to think of it, I've always let you call the shots. Always."
Secretly--and this the screen could not show--he thought: Let her? I wanted it that way. It was so much easier to leave the decisions up to her. Sure, she's dominant, but I guess I'm just the opposite. And now it's happened again.
It always happens. I was loaded with weight-cloths from the start. And I always felt I had to toe the line, or else. Vanderman-- that cocky, arrogant air of his. Reminds me of somebody. I was locked up in a dark place, I couldn't breathe. I forget. What...who ... my father. No, I don't remember. But my life's been like that. He always watched me, and I always thought
some day I'd do what I wanted!--but I never did. Too late now. He's been
dead quite a while.
He was always so sure I'd knuckle under. If I'd only defied him once--
Somebody's always pushing me in and closing the door. So I can't use my abilities. I can't prove I'm competent. Prove it to myself, to my father, to Bea, to the whole world. If only I could--I'd like to push Vanderman into a dark place and lock the door. A dark place, like a coffin. It would be satisfying to surprise him that way. It would be fine if I killed Andrew Vanderman.
* * * *
"Well, that's the beginning of a motive," the sociologist said. "Still, lots of people get jilted and don't turn homicidal. Carry on."
"In my opinion, Bea attracted him because he wanted to be bossed," the engineer remarked. "He'd given up."
The wire taps spun through the screening apparatus. A new scene showed on the oblong panel. It was the Paradise Bar.
* * * *
Anywhere you sat in the Paradise Bar, a competent robot analyzer instantly studied your complexion and facial angles, and switched on lights, in varying tints and intensities, that showed you off to best advantage. The joint was popular for business deals. A swindler could look like an honest man there. It was also popular with women and slightly passé teleo talent. Sam Clay looked rather like an ascetic young saint. Andrew Vanderman looked noble, in a grim way, like Richard Coeur-de-Lion offer-ing Saladin his freedom, though he knew it wasn't really a bright thing to do. Noblesse oblige, his firm jaw seemed to say, as he picked up the silver decanter and
poured. In ordinary light, Vanderman looked slightly more like a handsome bulldog. Also, away from the Paradise Bar, he was redder around the chops, a choleric man.
"As to that deal we were discussing," Clay said, "you can go to--"
The censoring juke box blared out a covering bar or two.
Vanderman's reply was unheard as the music got briefly louder, and the lights shifted rapidly to keep pace with his sudden flush.
"It's perfectly easy to outwit these censors," Clay said. "They're keyed to familiar terms of profane abuse, not to circumlocutions. If I said that the arrangement of your chromosomes would have surprised your father...you see?" He was right. The music stayed soft.
Vanderman swallowed nothing. "Take it easy," he said. "I can see why you're upset. Let me say first of all--"
But the censor was proficient in Spanish dialects. Vanderman was spared hearing another insult.
"--that I offered you a job because I think you're a very capable man. You have potentialities. It's not a bribe. Our personal affairs should be kept out of this."
"All the same, Bea was engaged to me."
"Clay, are you drunk?"
"Yes," Clay said, and threw his drink into Vanderman's face. The music began to play Wagner very, very loudly. A few minutes later, when the waiters interfered. Clay was supine and bloody, with a mashed nose and a bruised check. Vanderman had skinned his knuckles.
* * * *
"That's a motive," the engineer said.
"Yes, it is, isn't it? But why did Clay wait a year and a half? And remember what happened later. I wonder if the murder itself was just a symbol? If Vanderman represented, say, what Clay considered the tyrannical and oppressive force of society in general--synthesized in the representative image...oh, nonsense. Obviously Clay was trying to prove something to himself though. Suppose you cut forward now. I want to see this in normal chronology, not backwards. What's the next selection?"
"Very suspicious. Clay got his nose fixed up and then went to a murder trial."
He thought: I can't breathe. Too crowded in here. Shut up in a box, a closet, a coffin, ignored by the spectators and the vested authority on the bench. What would I do if I were in the dock, like that chap? Suppose they convicted? That would spoil it all. Another dark place-- If I'd inherited the right genes, I'd have been strong enough to beat up Vanderman. But I've been pushed around too long.
I keep remembering that song.
Stray in the herd and the boss said kill it,
So I shot him in the rump with the handle of a skillet.
A deadly weapon that's in normal usage wouldn't appear dangerous. But if it could be used homicidally--No, the Eye could check on that. All you can conceal these days is motive. But couldn't the trick be reversed. Suppose I got Vanderman to attack me with what he thought was the handle of a skillet, but which I knew was a deadly weapon--
* * * *
The trial Sam Clay was watching was fairly routine. One man had killed another. Counsel for the defense contended that the homicide had been a matter of impulse, and that, as a matter of fact, only assault and battery plus culpable negligence, at worst, could be proved, and the latter was canceled by an Act of God. The fact that the defendant inherited the decedent's fortune, in Martial oil, made no difference. Temporary insanity was the plea.
The prosecuting attorney showed films of what had happened before the fact. True, the victim hadn't been killed by the blow, merely stunned. But the affair had occurred on an isolated beach, and when the tide came in--
Act of God, the defense repeated hastily.
The screen showed the defendant, some days before his crime, looking up the tide-table in a news tape. He also, it appeared, visited the site and asked a passing stranger if the beach was often crowded. "Nope," the stranger said, "it ain't crowded after sundown. Gits too cold. Won't do you no good, though. Too cold to swim then."
One side matched Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea-- "The act does not make a man guilty, unless the mind be also guilty"--against Acta exteriora indicant interiora secreta--"By the outward acts we are to
judge of the inward thoughts." Latin legal basics were still valid, up to a
point. A man's past remained sacrosanct, provided--and here was the joker--that he possessed the right of citizenship. And anyone accused of a capital crime was automatically suspended from citizenship until his innocence had been established.
Also, no past-tracing evidence could be introduced into a trial unless it could be proved that it had direct connection with the crime. The average citizen did have a right of privacy against tracing. Only if accused of a serious crime was that forfeit, and even then evidence uncovered could be used only in correlation with the immediate charge. There were various loopholes, of course, but theoretically a man was safe from espionage as long as he stayed within the law.
Now a defendant stood in the dock, his past opened. The prosecution showed recordings of a ginger blonde blackmailing him, and that clinched the motive and the verdict--guilty. The condemned man was led off in tears. Clay got up and walked out of the court. From his appearance, he seemed to be thinking.
* * * *
He was. He had decided that there was only one possible way in which he could kill Vanderman and get away with it. He couldn't conceal the deed itself, nor the actions leading up to it, nor any written or spoken word. All he could hide were his own thoughts. And, without otherwise betraying himself, he'd have to kill Vanderman so that his act would appear justified. Which meant covering his tracks for yesterday as well as for tomorrow and tomorrow.
Now, thought Clay, this much can be assumed; If I stand to lose by Vanderman's death instead of gaining, that will help considerably. I must juggle that somehow. But I mustn't forget that at present I have an obvious motive. First, he stole Bea. Second, he beat me up.
So I must make it seem as though he's done me a favor--somehow.
I must have an opportunity to study Vanderman carefully, and it must be a normal, logical, waterproof opportunity. Private secretary. Something like that. The Eye's in the future now, after the fact, but it's watching me--
I must remember that. It's watching me now!
All right. Normally, I'd have thought of murder, at this point. That can't
and shouldn't be disguised. I must work out of the mood gradually, but
Going off to buy a gun, he felt uncomfortable, as though that prescient Eye, years in the future, could with a wink summon the police. But it was separated from him by a barrier of time that only the natural processes could shorten. And, in fact, it had been watching him since his birth. You could look at it that way--
He could defy it. The Eye couldn't read thoughts.
He bought the gun and lay in wait for Vanderman in a dark alley. But first he got thoroughly drunk. Drunk enough to satisfy the Eye.
* * * *
"Feel better now?" Vanderman asked, pouring another coffee.
Clay buried his face in his hands.
"I was crazy," he said, his voice muffled. "I must have been. You'd better t-turn me over to the police."
"We can forget about that end of it, Clay. You were drunk, that's all. And I...well, I--"
"I pull a gun on you ... try to kill you...and you bring me up to your place and--"
"You didn't use that gun, Clay. Remember that. You're no killer. All this has been my fault. I needn't have been so blasted tough with you," Vanderman said, looking like Coeur-de-Lion in spite of uncalculated amber fluorescence.
"I'm no good. I'm a failure. Every time I try to do something, a man like you comes along and does it better. I'm a second-rater."
"Clay, stop talking like that. You're just upset, that's all. Listen to me. You're going to straighten up. I'm going to see that you do. Starting tomorrow, we'll work something out. Now drink your coffee."
"You know," Clay said, "you're quite a guy."
* * * *
So the magnanimous idiot's fallen for it, Clay thought, as he was drifting happily off to sleep. Fine. That begins to take care of the Eye. Moreover, it starts the ball rolling with Vanderman. Let a man do you a favor and he's your pal. Well, Vanderman's going to do me a lot more favors. In fact, before I'm through, I'll have every motive for wanting to keep him alive.
Every motive visible to the naked Eye.
* * * *
Probably Clay had not heretofore applied his talents in the right direction, for there was nothing second-rate about the way he executed his homicide plan. In that, he proved very capable. He needed a suitable channel for his ability, and perhaps he needed a patron. Vanderman fulfilled that function; probably it salved his conscience for stealing Bea. Being the man he was, Vanderman needed to avoid even the appearance of ignobility. Naturally strong and ruthless, he told himself he was sentimental. His sentimentality never reached the point of actually incon-veniencing him, and Clay knew enough to stay within the limits.
Nevertheless it is nerve-racking to know you're living under the scrutiny of an extratemporal Eye. As he walked into the lobby of the V Building a month later, Clay realized that light-vibrations reflected from his own body were driving irretrievably into the polished onyx walls and floor, photographing themselves there, waiting for a machine to unlock them, some day, some time, for some man perhaps in this very city, who as yet didn't know even the name of Sam Clay. Then, sitting in his relaxer in the spiral lift moving swiftly up inside the walls, he knew that those walls were capturing his image, stealing it, like some superstition he remembered...ah?
Vanderman's private secretary greeted him. Clay let his gaze wander freely across that young person's neatly dressed figure and mildly attractive face. She said that Mr. Vanderman was out, and the appointment was for three, not two, wasn't it? Clay referred to a notebook. He snapped his fingers.
"Three--you're right, Miss Wells. I was so sure it was two I didn't even bother to check up. Do you think he might be back sooner? I mean, is
he out, or in conference?"
"He's out, all right, Mr. Clay," Miss Wells said. "I don't think he'll be back much sooner than three. I'm sorry."
"Well, may I wait in here?"
She smiled at him efficiently. "Of course. There's a stereo and the magazine spools are in that case."
She went back to her work, and Clay skimmed through an article about the care and handling of lunar filchards. It gave him an opportunity to start a conversation by asking Miss Wells if she liked filchards. It turned out that she had no opinion whatso-ever of filchards but the ice had been broken.
This is the cocktail acquaintance, Clay thought. I may have a broken heart, but, naturally, I'm lonesome.
The trick wasn't to get engaged to Miss Wells so much as to fall in love with her convincingly. The Eye never slept. Clay was beginning to wake at night with a nervous start, and lie there looking up at the ceiling. But darkness was no shield.
* * * *
"The question is," said the sociologist at this point, "whether or not Clay was acting for an audience."
"You mean us?"
"Exactly. It just occurred to me. Do you think he's been behaving perfectly naturally?"
The engineer pondered.
"I'd say yes. A man doesn't marry a girl only to carry out some other plan, does he? After all, he'd get himself involved in a whole new batch of responsibilities."
"Clay hasn't married Josephine Wells yet, however," the sociologist countered. "Besides, that responsibility angle might have applied a few hundred years ago, but not now." He went off at random. "Imagine a society where, after divorce, a man was forced to support a perfectly healthy,
competent woman! It was vestigial, I know--a throwback to the days when
only males could earn a living--but imagine the sort of women who were willing to accept such support. That was reversion to infancy if I ever--"
The engineer coughed.
"Oh," the sociologist said. "Oh...yes. The question is, would Clay have got himself engaged to a woman unless he really--''
"Engagements can be broken."
"This one hasn't been broken yet, as far as we know. And we know."
"A normal man wouldn't plan on marrying a girl he didn't care anything about, unless he had some stronger motive--I'll go along that far."
"But how normal is Clay?" the sociologist wondered. "Did he know in advance we'd check back on his past? Did you notice that he cheated at solitaire?"
"There are all kinds of trivial things you don't do if you think people are looking. Picking up a penny in the street, drinking soup out of the bowl, posing before a mirror--the sort of foolish or petty things everyone does when alone. Either Clay's innocent, or he's a very clever man--"
* * * *
He was a very clever man. He never intended the engagement to get as far as marriage, though he knew that in one respect marriage would be a precaution. If a man talks in his sleep, his wife will certainly mention the fact. Clay considered gagging himself at night if the necessity should arise. Then he realized that if he talked in his sleep at all, there was no insurance against talking too much the very first time he had an auditor. He couldn't risk such a break. But there was no necessity, after all. Clay's problem, when he thought it over, was simply: How can I be sure I don't talk in my sleep?
He solved that easily enough by renting a narcohypnotic sup-plementary course in common trade dialects. This involved study-ing while awake and getting the information repeated in his ear during slumber. As a necessary preparation for the course, he was instructed to set up a recorder and chart the depth of his sleep, so the narcohypnosis could be
keyed to his individual rhythms. He did this several times, rechecked once a
month thereafter, and was satisfied. There was no need to gag himself at night.
He was glad to sleep provided he didn't dream. He had to take sedatives after a while. At night, there was relief from the knowledge that an Eye watched him always, an Eye that could bring him to justice, an Eye whose omnipotence he could not challenge in the open. But he dreamed about the Eye.
Vanderman had given him a job in the organization, which was enormous. Clay was merely a cog, which suited him well enough, for the moment. He didn't want any more favors yet. Not till he had found out the extent of Miss Wells' duties-- Josephine, her Christian name was. That took several months, but by that time friendship was ripening into affection. So Clay asked Vanderman for another job. He specified. It wasn't obvious, but he was asking for work that would, presently, fit him for Miss Wells' duties.
Vanderman probably still felt guilty about Bea; he'd married her and she was in Antarctica now, at the Casino. Vanderman was due to join her, so he scribbled a memorandum, wished Clay good luck, and went to Antarctica, bothered by no stray pangs of conscience. Clay improved the hour by courting Jose-phine ardently.
From what he had heard about the new Mrs. Vanderman, he felt secretly relieved. Not long ago, when he had been content to remain passive, the increasing dominance of Bea would have satisfied him, but no more. He was learning self reliance, and liked it. These days, Bea was behaving rather badly. Given all the money and freedom she could use, she had too much time on her hands. Once in a while Clay heard rumors that made him smile secretly. Vanderman wasn't having an easy time of it. A dominant character, Bea--but Vanderman was no weakling himself.
After a while Clay told his employer he wanted to marry Josephine Wells. "I guess that makes us square," he said. "You took Bea away from me and I'm taking Josie away from you."
"Now wait a minute," Vanderman said. "I hope you don't--"
"My fiancée, your secretary. That's all. The thing is, Josie and I are in love." He poured it on, but carefully. It was easier to deceive Vanderman than the Eye, with its trained technicians and forensic sociologists looking through it. He thought, sometime, of those medieval pictures of an
immense eye, and that reminded him of something vague and distressing,
though he couldn't isolate the memory.
After all, what could Vanderman do? He arranged to have Clay given a raise. Josphine, always conscientious, offered to keep on working for a while, till office routine was straightened out, but it never did get straightened out, somehow. Clay deftly saw to that by keeping Josephine busy. She didn't have to bring work home to her apartment, but she brought it, and Clay gradually began to help her when he dropped by. His job, plus the narcohypnotic courses, had already trained him for this sort of tricky organizational work. Vanderman's business was highly specialized--planet-wide exports and imports, and what with keeping track of specific groups, seasonal trends, sectarian holidays, and so forth, Josephine, as a sort of animated memorandum book for Vanderman, had a more than full-time job.
She and Clay postponed marriage for a time. Clay--naturally enough--began to appear mildly jealous of Josephine's work, and she said she'd quit soon. But one night she stayed on at the office, and he went out in a pet and got drunk. It just happened to be raining that night, Clay got tight enough to walk unpro-tected through the drizzle, and to fall asleep at home in his wet clothes. He came down with influenza. As he was recovering, Josephine got it.
Under the circumstances, Clay stepped in--purely a temporary job--and took over his fiancée's duties. Office routine was extremely complicated that week, and only Clay knew the ins and outs of it. The arrangement saved Vanderman a certain amount of inconvenience, and, when the situation resolved itself, Josephine had a subsidiary job and Clay was Vanderman's private secretary.
"I'd better know more about him," Clay said to Josephine. "After all, there must be a lot of habits and foibles he's got that need to be catered to. If he wants lunch ordered up, I don't want to get smoked tongue and find out he's allergic to it. What about his hobbies?"
But he was careful not to pump Josephine too hard, because of the Eye. He still needed sedatives to sleep.
* * * *
The sociologist rubbed his forehead.
"Let's take a break," he suggested. "Why does a guy want to commit
"For profit, one sort or another."
"Only partly, I'd say. The other part is an unconscious desire to be punished--usually for something else. That's why you get accident prones. Ever think about what happens to murderers who feel guilty and yet who aren't punished by the Law? They must live a rotten sort of life--always stepping in front of speedsters, cutting themselves with an ax--accidentally; acciden-tally touching wires full of juice--"
"A long time ago, people thought God sat in the sky with a telescope and watched everything they did. They really lived pretty carefully, in the Middle Ages--the first Middle Ages, I mean. Then there was the era of disbelief, where people had nothing to believe in very strongly--and finally we get this." He nodded toward the screen. "A universal memory. By extension, it's a universal social conscience, an externalized one. It's ex-actly the same as the medieval concept of God--omniscience."
"But not omnipotence."
* * * *
All in all, Clay kept the Eye in mind for a year and a half. Before he said or did anything whatsoever, he reminded himself of the Eye, and made certain that he wasn't revealing his motive to the judging future. Of course, there was--would be--an Ear, too, but that was a little too absurd. One couldn't visualize a large, disembodied Ear decorating the wall like a plate in a plate holder. All the same, whatever he said would be as important evidence--some time--as what he did. So Sam Clay was very careful indeed, and behaved like Caesar's wife. He wasn't ex-actly defying authority, but he was certainly circumventing it.
Superficially Vanderman was more like Caesar, and his wife was not above reproach, these days. She had too much money to play with. And she was finding her husband too stony willed a person to be completely satisfactory. There was enough of the matriarch in Bea to make her feel rebellion against Andrew Vanderman, and there was a certain lack of romance. Vanderman had little time for her. He was busy these days, involved with a whole string of deals which demanded much of his time.
Clay, of course, had something to do with that. His interest in his new work
was most laudable. He stayed up nights plotting and plan-ning as though expecting Vanderman to make him a full partner. In fact, he even suggested this possibility to Josephine. He wanted it on the record. The marriage date had been set, and Clay wanted to move before then; he had no intention of being drawn into a marriage of convenience after the necessity had been removed.
One thing he did, which had to be handled carefully, was to get the whip. Now Vanderman was a fingerer. He liked to have something in his hands while he talked. Usually it was a crystal-line paper weight, with a miniature thunderstorm in it, complete with lightning, when it was shaken. Clay put this where Vanderman would be sure to knock it off and break it. Meanwhile, he had plugged one deal with Callisto Ranches for the sole purpose of getting a whip for Vanderman's desk. The natives were proud of their leatherwork and their silversmithing, and a nominal make-weight always went with every deal they closed. Thus, presently, a handsome miniature whip, with Vanderman's initials on it, lay on the desk, coiled into a loop, acting as a paperweight except when he picked it up and played with it while he talked.
The other weapon Clay wanted was already there--an antique paper knife, once called a surgical scalpel. He never let his gaze rest on it too long, because of the Eye.
The other whip came. He absentmindedly put it in his desk and pretended to forget it. It was a sample of the whips made by the Alaskan Flagellantes for use in their ceremonies, and was wanted because of some research being made into the pain-neutralizing drugs the Flagellantes used. Clay, of course, had engi-neered this deal, too. There was nothing suspicious about that; the firm stood to make a sound profit. In fact, Vanderman had promised him a percentage bonus at the end of the year on every deal he triggered. It would be quite a lot. It was December, a year and a half had passed since Clay first recognized that the Eye would seek him out.
He felt fine. He was careful about the sedatives, and his nerves, though jangled, were nowhere near the snapping point. It had been a strain, but he had trained himself so that he would make no slips. He visualized the Eye in the walls, in the ceiling, in the sky, everywhere he went. It was the only way to play completely safe. And very soon now it would pay off. But he would have to do it soon; such a nervous strain could not be continued indefinitely.
A few details remained. He carefully arranged matters--under the
Eye's very nose, so to speak--so that he was offered a well-paying position with another firm. He turned it down.
And one night an emergency happened to arise so that Clay, very logically, had to go to Vanderman's apartment.
Vanderman wasn't there; Bea was. She had quarreled vio-lently with her husband. Moreover, she had been drinking. (This, too, he had expected.) If the situation had not worked out exactly as he wanted, he would have tried again--and again-- but there was no need.
Clay was a little politer than necessary. Perhaps too polite, certainly Bea, that incipient matriarch, was led down the garden path, a direction she was not unwilling to take. After all, she had married Vanderman for his money, found him as dominant as herself, and now saw Clay as an exaggerated symbol of both romance and masculine submissiveness.
The camera eye hidden in the wall, in a decorative bas-relief, was grinding away busily, spooling up its wiretape in a way that indicated Vanderman was a suspicious as well as a jealous husband. But Clay knew about this gadget, too. At the suitable moment he stumbled against the wall in such a fashion that the device broke. Then, with only that other eye spying on him, he suddenly became so virtuous that it was a pity Vanderman couldn't witness his volte face.
"Listen, Bea," he said, "I'm sorry, but I didn't understand. It's no good. I'm not in love with you anymore. I was once, sure, but that was quite a while ago. There's somebody else, and you ought to know it by now."
"You still love me," Bea said with intoxicated firmness. "We belong together."
"Bea. Please. I hate to have to say this, but I'm grateful to Andrew Vanderman for marrying you, I...well, you got what you wanted, and I'm getting what I want. Let's leave it at that."
"I'm used to getting what I want, Sam. Opposition is some-thing I don't like. Especially when I know you really--"
She said a good deal more, and so did Clay--he was perhaps unnecessarily harsh. But he had to make the point, for the Eye, that he was no longer jealous of Vanderman.
He made the point.
* * * *
The next morning he got to the office before Vanderman, cleaned up his desk, and discovered the stingaree whip still in its box. "Oops," he said, snapping his fingers--the Eye watched, and this was the crucial period. Perhaps it would all be over within the hour. Every move from now on would have to be specially calculated in advance, and there could be no slightest deviation. The Eye was everywhere--literally everywhere.
He opened the box, took out the whip, and went into the inner sanctum. He tossed the whip on Vanderman's desk, sp carelessly that a stylus rack toppled. Clay rearranged everything, leaving the stingaree whip near the edge of the desk, and placing the Callistan silver-leather whip at the back, half concealed behind the interoffice visor-box. He didn't allow himself more than a casual sweeping glance to make sure the paper knife was still there.
Then he went out for coffee.
* * * *
Half an hour later he got back, picked up a few letters for signature from the rack, and walked into Vanderman's office. Vanderman looked up from behind his desk. He had changed a little in a year and a half; he was looking older, less noble, more like an aging bulldog. Once, Clay thought coldly, this man stole my fiancée and beat me up.
Careful. Remember the Eye.
There was no need to do anything but follow the plan and let events take their course. Vanderman had seen the spy films, all right, up to the point where they had gone blank, when Clay fell against the wall. Obviously he hadn't really expected Clay to show up this morning. But to see the louse grinning hello, walking across the room, putting some letters down on his desk--
Clay was counting on Vanderman's short temper, which had not improved over the months. Obviously the man had been simply sitting there, thinking unpleasant thoughts, and just as Clay had known would happen, he'd picked up the whip and begun to finger it. But it was the stingaree whip this time.
"Morning," Clay said cheerfully to his stunned employer. His smile
became one-sided. "I've been waiting for you to check this letter to the Kirghiz kovar-breeders. Can we find a market for two thousand of those ornamental horns?"
It was at this point that Vanderman, bellowing, jumped to his feet, swung the whip, and sloshed Clay across the face. There is probably nothing more painful than the bite of a stingaree whip.
Clay staggered back. He had not known it would hurt so much. For an instant the shock of the blow knocked every other consideration out of his head, and blind anger was all that remained.
Remember the Eye!
He remembered it. There were dozens of trained men watch-ing everything he did just now. Literally he stood on an open stage surrounded by intent observers who made notes on every expression of his face, every muscular flection, every breath he drew.
In a moment Vanderman would be dead--but Sam Clay would not be alone. An invisible audience from the future was fixing him with cold, calculating eyes. He had one more thing to do and the job would be over. Do it--carefully, carefully!--while they watched.
Time stopped for him. The job would be over.
It was very curious. He had rehearsed this series of actions so often in the privacy of his mind that his body was going through with it now, without further instructions. His body staggered back from the blow, recovered balance, glared at Vanderman in shocked fury, poised for a dive at that paper knife in plain sight on the desk.
That was what the outward and visible Sam Clay was doing. But the inward and spiritual Sam Clay went through quite a different series of actions.
The job would be over.
And what was he going to do after that?
The inward and spiritual murderer stood fixed with dismay and surprise, staring at a perfectly empty future. He had never looked beyond this moment. He had made no plans for his life beyond the death of
Vanderman. But now--he had no enemy but Vanderman. When
Vanderman was dead, what would he fix upon to orient his life? What would he work at then? His job would be gone, too. And he liked his job.
Suddenly he knew how much he liked it. He was good at it. For the first time in his life, he had found a job he could do really well.
You can't live a year and a half in a new environment without acquiring new goals. The change had come imperceptibly. He was a good operator; he'd discovered that he could be successful. He didn't have to kill Vanderman to prove that to himself. He'd proved it already without committing murder.
In that time-stasis which had brought everything to a full stop he looked lit Vanderman's red face and he thought of Bea, and of Vanderman as he had come to know him--and he didn't want to be a murderer.
He didn't want Vanderman dead. He didn't want Bea. The thought of her made him feel a little sick. Perhaps that was because he himself had changed from passive to active. He no longer wanted or needed a dominant woman. He could make his own decisions. If he were choosing now, it would be someone more like Josephine--
Josephine. That image before his mind's stilled eye was sud-denly very pleasant. Josephine with her mild, calm prettiness, her admiration for Sam Clay the successful businessman, the rising young importer in Vanderman, Inc. Josephine whom he was going to marry--Of course he was going to marry her. He loved Josephine. He loved his job. All he wanted was the status quo, exactly as he had achieved it. Everything was perfect right now--as of maybe thirty seconds ago.
But that was a long time ago--thirty seconds. A lot can happen in a half a minute. A lot had happened. Vanderman was coming at him again, the whip raised. Clay's nerves crawled at the anticipation' of its burning impact across his face a second time. If he could get hold of Vanderman's wrist before he struck again--if he could talk fast enough--
The crooked smile was still on his face. It was part of the pattern, in some dim way he did not quite understand. He was acting in response to conditioned reflexes set up over a period of many months of rigid self-training. His body was already in action. All that had taken place in his mind had happened so fast there was no physical hiatus at all. His body knew its job and it was doing the job. It was lunging forward toward the desk and the knife, and he could not stop it.
All this had happened before. It had happened in his mind, the only place where Sam Clay had known real freedom in the past year and a half. In all that time he had forced himself to realize that the Eye was watching every outward move he made. He had planned each action in advance and schooled himself to carry it through. Scarcely once had he let himself act purely on impulse. Only in following the plan exactly was there safety. He had indoctrinated himself too successfully.
Something was wrong. This wasn't what he'd wanted. He was still afraid, weak, failing--
He lurched against the desk, clawed at the paper knife, and, knowing failure, drove it into Vanderman's heart.
* * * *
"It's a tricky case," the forensic sociologist said to the engineer. "Very tricky."
"Want me to run it again?"
"No, not right now. I'd like to think it over. Clay...that firm that offered him another job. The offer's withdrawn now, isn't it? Yes, I remember--they're fussy about the morals of their employees. It's insurance or something, I don't know. Motive. Motive, now."
The sociologist looked at the engineer.
The engineer said: "A year and a half ago he had a motive. But a week ago he had everything to lose and nothing to gain. He's lost his job and that bonus, he doesn't want Mrs. Vanderman anymore, and as for that beating Vanderman once gave him...ah?"
"Well, he did try to shoot Vanderman once, and he couldn't, remember? Even though he was full of Dutch courage. But-- something's wrong. Clay's been avoiding even the appearance of evil a little too carefully. Only I can't put my finger on anything, blast it."
"What about tracing back his life further? We only got to his fourth year."
"There couldn't be anything useful that long ago. It's obvious he was afraid of his father and hated him, too. Typical stuff, basic psych. The father
symbolizes judgment to him. I'm very much afraid Sam Clay is going to get
"But if you think there's something haywire--"
"The burden of proof is up to us," the sociologist said.
The visor sang. A voice spoke softly.
"No, I haven't got the answer yet. Now? All right. I'll drop over."
He stood up.
"The D.A. wants a consultation. I'm not hopeful, though. I'm afraid the State's going to lose this case. That's the trouble with the externalized conscience--"
He didn't amplify. He went out, shaking his head, leaving the engineer staring speculatively at the screen. But within five minutes he was assigned to another job--the bureau was understaffed--and he didn't have a chance to investigate on his own until a week later. Then it didn't matter anymore.
* * * *
For, a week later, Sam Clay was walking out of the court an acquitted man. Bea Vanderman was waiting for him at the foot of the ramp. She wore black, but obviously her heart wasn't in it.
"Sam," she said.
He looked at her.
He felt a little dazed. It was all over. Everything had worked out exactly according to plan. And nobody was watching him now. The Eye had closed. The invisible audience had put on its hats and coats and left the theater of Sam Clay's private life. From now on he could do and say precisely what he liked, with no censoring watcher's omnipresence to check him. He could act on impulse again.
He had outwitted society. He had outwitted the Eye and all its minions in all their technological glory. He, Sam Clay, private citizen. It was a wonderful thing, and he could not understand why it left him feeling so flat.
That had been a nonsensical moment, just before the murder. The
moment of relenting. They say you get the same instant's frantic rejection
on the verge of a good many important decisions-- just before you marry, for instance. Or--what was it? Some other common instance he'd often heard of. For a second it eluded him. Then he had it. The hour before marriage--and the instant after suicide. After you've pulled the trigger, or jumped off the bridge. The instant of wild revulsion when you'd give anything to undo the irrevocable. Only, you can't. It's too late. The thing is done.
Well, he'd been a fool. Luckily, it had been too late. His body took over and forced him to success he'd trained it for. About the job--it didn't matter. He'd get another. He'd proved himself capable. If he could outwit the Eye itself, what job existed he couldn't lick if he tried? Except--nobody knew exactly how good he was. How could he prove his capabilities? It was infuriating to achieve such phenomenal success after a lifetime of failures, and never to get the credit for it. How many men must have tried and failed where he had tried and succeeded? Rich men, successful men, brilliant men who had yet failed in the final test of all--the contest with the Eye, their own lives at stake. Only Sam Clay had passed that most important test in the world--and he could never claim credit for it.
"... knew they wouldn't convict," Bea's complacent voice was saying.
Clay blinked at her. "What?"
"I said I'm so glad you're free, darling. I knew they wouldn't convict you. I knew that from the very beginning." She smiled at him, and for the first time it occurred to him that Bea looked a little like a bulldog. It was something about her lower jaw. He thought that when her teeth were closed together the lower set probably rested just outside the upper. He had an instant's impulse to ask her about it. Then he decided he had better not.
"You knew, did you?" he said.
She squeezed his arm. What an ugly lower jaw that was. How odd he'd never noticed it before. And behind the heavy lashes, how small her eyes were. How mean.
"Let's go where we can be alone," Bea said, clinging to him. "There's such a lot to talk about."
"We are alone," Clay said, diverted for an instant to his original thoughts. "Nobody's watching," He glanced up at the sky and down at the mosaic pavement. He drew a long breath and let it out slowly. "Nobody," he
"My speeder's parked right over here. We can--"
"What do you mean?"
"I've got business to attend to."
"Forget business. Don't you understand that we're free now, both of us?"
He had a horrible feeling he knew what she meant.
"Wait a minute," he said, because this seemed the quickest way to end it. "I killed your husband, Bea. Don't forget that."
"You were acquitted. It was self-defense. The court said so."
"It--" He paused, glanced up quickly at the high wall of the Justice Building, and began a one-sided, mirthless smile. It was all right; there was no Eye now. There never would be, again. He was unwatched.
"You mustn't feel guilty, even within yourself," Bea said firmly. "It wasn't your fault. It simply wasn't. You've got to remember that. You couldn't have killed Andrew except by accident, Sam, so--"
"What? What do you mean by that?"
"Well, after all. I know the prosecution kept trying to prove you'd planned to kill Andrew all along, but you mustn't let what they said put any ideas in your head. I know you, Sam. I knew Andrew. You couldn't have planned a thing like that, and even if you had, it wouldn't have worked."
The half-smile died.
She looked at him steadily.
"Why, you couldn't have managed it," she said. "Andrew was the better man, and we both know it. He'd have been too clever to fall for anything--"
"Anything a second rater like me could dream up?" Clay swallowed. His lips tightened. "Even you. What's the idea? What's your angle now--that we second-raters ought to get together?"
"Come on," she said, and slipped her arm through his. Clay hung back for a second. Then he scowled, looked back at the Justice Building, and followed Bea toward her speeder.
* * * *
The engineer had a free period. He was finally able to investi-gate Sam Clay's early childhood. It was purely academic now, but he liked to indulge his curiosity. He traced Clay back to the dark closet, when the boy was four, and used ultraviolet. Sam was huddled in a corner, crying silently, staring up with fright-ened eyes at a top shelf.
What was on that shelf the engineer could not see.
He kept the beam focused on the closet and cast back rapidly through time. The closet often opened and closed, and some-times Sam Clay was locked in it as punishment, but the upper shelf held its mystery until--
It was in reverse. A woman reached to that shelf, took down an object, walked backward out of the closet to Sam Clay's bedroom, and went to the wall by the door. This was unusual, for generally it was Sam's father who was warden of the closet.
She hung up a framed picture of a single huge staring eye floating in space. There was a legend under it. The letters spelled out: THOU GOD SEEST ME.
The engineer kept on tracing. After a while it was night. The child was in bed, sitting up wide-eyed, afraid. A man's footsteps sounded on the stair. The scanner told all secrets but those of the inner mind. The man was Sam's father, coming up to punish him for some childish crime committed earlier. Moonlight fell upon the wall beyond which the footsteps approached showing how the wall quivered a little to the vibrations of the feet, and the Eye in its frame quivered, too. The boy seemed to brace himself. A defiant half-smile showed on his mouth, crooked, unsteady.
This time he'd keep that smile, no matter what happened. When it was over he'd still have it, so his father could see it, and the Eye could see
it and they'd know he hadn't given in. He hadn't...he--
The door opened.
He couldn't help it. The smile faded and was gone.
* * * *
"Well, what was eating him?" the engineer demanded.
The sociologist shrugged. "You could say he never did really grow up. It's axiomatic that boys go through a phase of rivalry with their fathers. Usually that's sublimated; the child grows up and wins, in one way or another. But Sam Clay didn't. I suspect he developed an externalized conscience very early. Symbolizing partly his father, partly God, an Eye and society--which fulfills the role of protective, punishing parent, you know."
"It still isn't evidence."
"We aren't going to get any evidence on Sam Clay. But that doesn't mean he's got away with anything, you know. He's always been afraid to assume the responsibilities of maturity. He never took on an optimum challenge. He was afraid to succeed at anything because that symbolic Eye of his might smack him down. When he was a kid, he might have solved his entire problem by kicking his old man in the shins. Sure, he'd have got a harder whaling, but he'd have made some move to assert his individuality. As it is, he waited too long. And then he defied the wrong thing, and it wasn't really defiance, basically. Too late now. His formative years are past. The thing that might really solve Clay's problem would be his conviction for murder-- but he's been acquitted. If he'd been convicted, then he could prove to the world that he'd hit back. He'd kicked his father in the shins, kept that defiant smile on his face, killed Andrew Vanderman. I think that's what he actually has wanted all along--recognition. Proof of his own ability to assert himself. He had to work hard to cover his tracks--if he made any--but that was part of the game. By winning it he's lost. The normal ways of escape are closed to him. He always had an Eye looking down at him."
"Then the acquittal stands?"
"There's still no evidence. The State's lost its case. But I...I don't think Sam Clay has won his. Something will happen." He sighed. "It's inevitable, I'm afraid. Sentence first, you see. Verdict afterward. The sentence was passed on Clay a long time ago."
Sitting across from him in the Paradise Bar, behind a silver decanter
of brandy in the center of the table, Bea looked lovely and hateful. It was the lights that made her lovely. They even managed to cast their shadows over that bulldog chin, and under her thick lashes the small, mean eyes acquired an illusion of beauty. But she still looked hateful. The lights could do nothing about that. They couldn't cast shadows into Sam Clay's private mind or distort the images there.
He thought of Josephine. He hadn't made up his mind fully yet about that. But if he didn't quite know what he wanted, there was no shadow of doubt about what he didn't want no possible doubt whatever.
"You need me, Sam," Bea told him over her brimming glass.
"I can stand on my own feet. I don't need anybody."
It was the indulgent way she looked at him. It was the smile that showed her teeth. He could see as clearly as if he had X-ray vision how the upper teeth would close down inside the lower when she shut her mouth. There would be a lot of strength in a jaw like that. He looked at her neck and saw the thickness of it, and thought how firmly she was getting her grip upon him, how she maneuvered for position and waited to lock her bulldog clamp deep into the fabric of his life again.
"I'm going to marry Josephine, you know," he said.
"No, you're not. You aren't the man for Josephine. I know that girl, Sam. For a while you may have had her convinced you were a go-getter. But she's bound to find out the truth. You'd be miserable together. You need me, Sam darling. You don't know what you want. Look at the mess you got into when you tried to act on your own. Oh, Sam, why don't you stop pretending? You know you never were a planner. You...what's the matter, Sam?"
His sudden burst of laughter had startled both of them. He tried to answer her, but the laughter wouldn't let him. He lay back in his chair and shook with it until he almost strangled. He had come so close, so desperately close to bursting out with a boast that would have been confession. Just to convince the woman. Just to shut her up. He must care more about her good opinion than he had realized until now. But that last absurdity was too much. It was only ridiculous now. Sam Clay, not a planner.
* * * *
How good it was to let himself laugh, now. To let himself go, without having to think ahead. Acting on impulse again, after those long months of rigid repression. No audience from the future was clustering around this table, analyzing the quality of his laughter, observing that it verged on hysteria. Who cared? He deserved a little blow-off like this, after all he'd been through. He'd risked so much, and achieved so much--and in the end gained nothing, not even glory except in his own mind. He'd gained nothing, really, except the freedom to be hysterical if he felt like it. He laughed and laughed and laughed, hearing the shrill note of lost control in his own voice and not caring.
People were turning to stare. The bartender looked over at him uneasily, getting ready to move if this went on. Bea stood up, leaned across the table, shook him by the shoulder.
"Sam, what's the matter? Sam, do get hold of yourself! You're making a spectacle of me, Sam! What are you laughing at?"
With a tremendous effort he forced the laughter back in his throat. His breath still came heavily and little bursts of merri-ment kept bubbling up so that he could hardly speak, but he got the words out somehow. They were probably the first words he had spoken without rigid censorship since he first put his plan into operation. And the words were these.
"I'm laughing at the way I fooled you. I fooled everybody! You think I didn't know what I was doing every minute of the time? You think I wasn't planning, every step of the way? It took me eighteen months to do it, but I killed Andrew Vanderman with malice aforethought, and nobody can ever prove I did it." He giggled foolishly. "I just wanted you to know," he added in a mild voice.
And it wasn't until he got his breath back and began to experience that feeling of incredible, delightful, incomparable relief that he knew what he had done.
She was looking at him without a flicker of expression on her face. Total blank was all that showed. There was a dead silence for a quarter of a minute. Clay had the feeling that his words must have rung from the roof, that in a moment the police would come in to hale him away. But the words had been quietly spoken. No one had heard but Bea.
And now, at last, Bea moved. She answered him, but not in words. The bulldog face convulsed suddenly and overflowed with laughter.
As he listened, Clay felt all that flood of glorious relief ebbing away. For he saw that she did not believe him. And there was no way he could prove the truth.
"Oh, you silly little man," Bea gasped when words came back to her. "You had me almost convinced for a minute. I almost believed you. I--" Laughter silenced her again, con-sciously silvery laughter that made heads turn. That conscious note in it warned him that she was up to something. Bea had had an idea. His own thoughts outran hers and he knew in an instant before she spoke exactly what the idea was and how she would apply it. He said: "I am going to marry Josephine," in the very instant that Bea spoke,
"You're going to marry me," she said flatly. "You've got to. You don't know your own mind, Sam. I know what's best for you and I'll see you do it. Do you understand me, Sam?"
"The police won't realize that was only a silly boast," she told him. "They'll believe you. You wouldn't want me to tell them what you just said, would you, Sam?"
He looked at her in silence, seeing no way out. This dilemma had sharper horns than anything he could have imagined. For Bea did not and would not believe him, no matter how he yearned to convince her, while the police undoubtedly would believe him, to the undoing of his whole investment in time, effort, and murder. He had said it. It was engraved upon the walls and in the echoing air, waiting for that invisible audience in the future to observe. No one was listening now, but a word from Bea could make them reopen the case.
A word from Bea.
He looked at her, still in silence, but with a certain cool calculation beginning to dawn in the back of his mind.
For a moment Sam Clay felt very tired indeed. In that moment he encompassed a good deal of tentative future time. In his mind he said yes to Bea, married her, lived an indefinite period as her husband. And he saw what that life would be like. He saw the mean small eyes watching him, the relentlessly gripping jaw set, the tyranny that would emerge slowly or not slowly, depending on the degree of his subservience, until he was utterly at the mercy of the woman who had been Andrew Vanderman's widow.
Sooner or later, he thought clearly to himself, I'd kill her.
He'd have to kill. That sort of life, with that sort of woman, wasn't a life Sam Clay could live, indefinitely. And he'd proved his ability to kill and go free.
But what about Andrew Vanderman's death?
Because they'd have another case against him then. This time it had been qualitative; the next time, the balance would shift toward quantitative. If Sam Clay's wife died, Sam Clay would be investigated no matter how she died. Once a suspect, always a suspect in the eyes of the law. The Eye of the law. They'd check back. They'd return to this moment, while he sat here revolving thoughts of death in his mind. And they'd return to five minutes ago, and listen to him boast that he had killed Vanderman.
A good lawyer might get him off. He could claim it wasn't the truth. He could say he had been goaded to an idle boast by the things Bea said. He might get away with that, and he might not. Scop would be the only proof, and he couldn't be compelled to take scop.
But--no. That wasn't the answer. That wasn't the way out. He could tell by the sick, sinking feeling inside him. There had been just one glorious moment of release, after he'd made his confession to Bea, and from then on everything seemed to run downhill again.
But that moment had been the goal he'd worked toward all this time. He didn't know what it was, or why he wanted it. But he recognized the feeling when it came. He wanted it back.
This helpless feeling, this impotence--was this the total sum of what he had achieved? Then he'd failed, after all. Somehow, in some strange way he could only partly understand, he had failed; killing Vanderman hadn't been the answer at all. He wasn't a success. He was a second-rater, a passive, helpless worm whom Bea would manage and control and drive, eventually, to--
"What's the matter, Sam?" Bea asked solicitously.
"You think I'm a second-rater, don't you?" he said. "You'll never believe I'm not. You think I couldn't have killed Vanderman except by accident. You'll never believe I could possibly have defied--"
"What?" she asked, when he did not go on.
There was a new note of surprise in his voice.
"But it wasn't defiance," he said slowly. "I just hid and dodged. Circumvented. I hung dark glasses on an Eye, because I was afraid of it. But--that wasn't defiance. So--what I really was trying to prove--"
She gave him a startled, incredulous stare as he stood up.
"Sam! What are you doing?" Her voice cracked a little.
"Proving something," Clay said, smiling crookedly, and glanc-ing up from Bea to the ceiling. "Take a good look," he said to the Eye as he smashed her skull with the decanter.
* * * *