Roy Glashan's Library
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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN
(WRITING AS JOHN YORK CABOT)

MURDER IN THE PAST

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RGL e-Book Cover 2018


Ex Libris

First published in Amazing Stories, March 1941
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-10-05
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Cover Image

Amazing Stories, March 1941, with "Murder in the Past"



"In 1940 you will betray me—steal my wife. That is why I have
come to 1920 to kill you; prevention is better than vengeance!"




Illustration

"I've come to kill you, Faydon. I've come from 1940 to 1920 to prevent your treachery.



FAYDON worked beneath the glaring light of a single lamp-bulb hanging from a frayed cord above the laboratory desk. His thin shoulders, hunched over formulae, charts, and figures before him, squirmed uncomfortably now and then, as his young, hungry-lean features tightened in rigid concentration.

He ran a chemical-stained hand through his lank black hair, pushed back the charts and papers, and straightened up.

"That's enough for a while," Faydon muttered, and the silence threw back faint echoes from the reaches of the dingy little laboratory.

Faydon looked at his watch. It was two a.m. His tired gray eyes looked discouragedly around the laboratory, and he shut them suddenly, as if to drive away the sight of his bleak surroundings. He opened them again, sighing heavily, and reached for a package at the far corner of his desk. A package wrapped in a newspaper, and tied with string.

He held the package in his hand momentarily, as if weighing it. Then his thin shoulders shrugged listlessly. If it weren't for the fact that he was so damned hungry—Smiling bitterly, Faydon began to untie the grocery cord that was wrapped around it. He knew what was inside; a few scraps of meat between week- old slices of bread, some fruit that was overripe and unfit for consumption at fraternity tables. An early morning snack. One of the two "meals" he could afford daily.

Faydon laughed unpleasantly. "Everything but finger-bowls," he told the silence of the dusty little laboratory.

There were four sandwiches inside, and Faydon knew that he would have to share two of these with his room-mate. At the thought of his room-mate, Paul Starman, Faydon looked up sharply toward the door. Starman should be due any moment. His job tending boilers didn't permit him to get to the laboratory until around two. But he was usually pretty prompt.

With enthusiasm produced only by the unpleasant hunger in his stomach, Faydon bit into a sandwich. Work, he thought, munching on the stale crusts, work and nothing but work. Ceaseless, thankless toil. Hours spent in a damned dump of a laboratory. Striving, learning, working side by side with Starman. Working toward a dream.

"Sometimes," Faydon said softly, "I'd be willing to chuck it all for a square meal."

He turned his attention to the newspaper in which the food had been wrapped. Three cents was a hell of a lot to pay for a newspaper, so Faydon was used to reading day-old items. The rumpled journal at which he gazed while munching his sandwich was a day old. Its date-line read, "Wednesday, March 22nd, 1920."

Faydon read and munched and wondered when his roommate would arrive. He and Starman had at least four hours work to do. Four hours in which to work out the third step in their experiment.

Footsteps rang down the corridor just outside the laboratory, and Faydon turned toward the door. This should be Starman now.

Faydon heard someone turning the handle of the door. Then it swung open.

"What held you up?" Faydon began, then stopped. The intruder was not his roommate. Not Starman. Instead, a fat, bald man, of middle stature and middle age, stood there in the doorway. His clothes were extremely and expensively cut—and he carried an automatic pistol in his hand.

Faydon slid down from his stool, placing his half-eaten sandwich on the edge of the laboratory desk. For a moment he stood there wordlessly, gazing in astonishment at the intruder, at the pistol pointing toward him.

"What do you want?" Faydon managed to say at last. "Who are you, and what do you mean breaking into this laboratory like this?"

The fat, bald, expensively-tailored man was standing just outside the full illumination of the bulb. His features were not quite clearly discernible. He moved forward a step, still holding the automatic pointed at Faydon.

"Don't you recognize me, Faydon?" he asked softly.

Faydon frowned. There was something in the voice, something to the way the fellow stood, that jarred a chord in his memory. He had seen him somewhere before. He'd be almost willing to bet on it.

"Possibly I do, perhaps I don't," Faydon replied, eyes fixed on the intruder's automatic. "But what I want to know is what you think you're doing in here. And why you've that gun in your hand."

The bald man smiled, and Faydon again experienced a flash of recollection. "I'm going to use this pistol on you, Faydon. And that answers your question about my being here. I've come here to kill you. And I've come a long way."

Instinctively Faydon stepped back. Stepped back and paled. Obviously, this fellow was a madman. There wasn't a person in the world who would have any reason to want to kill him.

"Look," Faydon rasped hoarsely. "I don't know who you are. You seem slightly familiar. But if I've seen you before I can't remember where it was. No one has any reason to kill me. Put down that gun."

His voice was shaking slightly as he finished, but he forced himself to remain cool. He tried to keep from looking at the door. Starman would be coming in a few minutes. And when the madman's attention was distracted —

The fat intruder must have seen Faydon's eyes shift toward the door, for he smiled again, unpleasantly. "Are you expecting someone, Faydon? Your fellow-student and room-mate?"

He laughed quietly at the startled fear in Faydon's gaze. "Are you expecting a fellow named Starman?" he taunted.

"You know my room-mate?"

"I should," the intruder replied laconically.

Sweat trickled down Faydon's forehead, and he tried to keep his hands from shaking. Tried to keep from showing fear before this madman. The fellow knew Starman. Desperately, Faydon tried to recall where he'd seen him before. Not with Starman, certainly.

The gun was still pointed unwaveringly on Faydon. The fat, bald man behind it said: "Think, Faydon. You've plenty of time before I kill you. Try to think of where you've seen me before."

"I don't know," Faydon said huskily. "I tell you I've never seen you as far as I can remember. For God's sake put that gun down!"

The fat fellow laughed again. "Bleat all you want, Faydon. No one will hear you. This building is totally deserted at this time of night. I know that very well, you see."

Faydon realized the truth of the stranger's statement. Realized, too, that the stranger must have somehow acquainted himself with the tiny college campus, that the stranger must have found out that Starman would not arrive tonight. Perhaps he had killed Starman.

"Yes," the stranger continued, his bald head gleaming as he moved forward another step. "I know a lot about you, Faydon. Even if you don't seem to remember me. I know that the sandwiches you have in that package are made with week-old bread. I know that the fruit on the table there is almost rancid. You intended to save two sandwiches for Starman, didn't you? Sort of a usual custom, eh, while you two eager students burn the midnight oil?"

Faydon said nothing, but his startled gasp sounded loud in the laboratory.

"Eat Starman's sandwiches, Faydon, if you want them. He won't be wanting them tonight," the bald man behind the gun mocked him.

"Who are you?" Faydon managed to blurt again. "For God's sake, who are you and where did you come from?"

"Think, Faydon," the fat, bald fellow taunted him. "You saw me about eight hours ago. Surely you haven't forgotten me so soon?" He grinned mirthlessly, relishing the other's discomfort.

Faydon buried his face in his hands. "Damn you!" he sobbed chokingly. "Put down that gun!"

"You're overwrought, Faydon. Nerves," said the fat intruder. "You've been working too hard and too long. Three hours sleep a night isn't enough for anyone, even an ambitious science student. Your nerves are shot clean through, Faydon. Just like Starman's nerves are shot."

Faydon stood there beside the laboratory desk, shaking.

"You haven't got ambition, Faydon," the fat, bald man declared. "The thing you're confusing with ambition is greed. You're greedy for power and wealth and acclaim! I know you are, Faydon. I found out you are. Too late—almost. That's why I'm going to kill you."

Faydon was still trembling slightly, but he had managed to pull himself together a bit. He forced himself to look again at the fat, bald man, at the gun he held in his hand. He wondered if he could risk a dive for that gun. If the madman would just relax an instant.... But the gun still pointed unwaveringly.

"Yes," the fat fellow resumed, "I found you out before it was too late. Before your greed got the best of me. Before you took my wife!"

Faydon could only gape.

The fat, bald intruder smiled bitterly. "You think I'm talking in riddles, eh, Faydon? You don't know who my wife is? You never fool around with women, especially married ones, eh? You haven't got the time or the money for anything like that, now."

"You're mad," Faydon rasped. "Stark, raving mad!"

The bald man nodded. "So it must seem to you, Faydon. Right now you're utterly innocent of the crimes of which I accuse you. Absolutely. I agree with you. But I'm going to kill you to prevent your damned desire for my wife, to prevent you from trying to take her from me!"

Faydon said nothing, his eyes flicking despairingly toward the laboratory door. Was Starman never coming? Was the madman right? Did he know something that gave him assurance that no one would interrupt them?

"There are other reasons," the stranger continued, "for my wanting to kill you, Faydon. I'm going to kill you to prevent your greed getting the best of me, to prevent you from doing me out of my money and reputation. I'm going to prevent your becoming a treacherous partner of mine."

The fat, bald man moved closer beneath the solitary laboratory lamp-bulb, and Faydon had the first distinct view of his features.

"Do you recognize me now, Faydon?" he demanded.

Faydon blinked unbelievingly. "No!" he gasped. "No!" His voice choked. "You can't be!"

That fat, bald man laughed again. "I'm older, Faydon. Older and fatter, and bald. The clothes I'm wearing aren't seedy, and they're designed a bit differently. Twenty years make a difference in a man, don't they?"

"No!" Faydon's voice was a gurgling sob. " You aren't Starman, you can't be Starman!"

"I can't be?" the other taunted. "I can't be?" Well, I am. And that's what counts, Faydon. That's what counts. I am Paul Starman. I am Paul Starman, bald, fat, and twenty years older. But I am Paul Starman, your roommate, your partner!"

The fat, bald man still kept his gun leveled at Faydon's chest, as he continued. "I'll explain it to you, Faydon, before I kill you. You'll appreciate the irony of it. You were always one for irony." He paused, then abruptly: "What year is this?"

Faydon heard himself answering automatically, unable to understand why he did so. "It's 1920."

"Exactly," said the fat, bald man. "Now, if you'll keep that in mind, I'll recite a little personal history for you. I'll begin that history by asking you a question. What are those charts and papers on the laboratory desk?"

Faydon hesitated. The fat, bald man waved his gun menacingly. "They're papers concerning a time theory," Faydon answered in terror.

"Ah, yes, I remember," the fat, bald intruder seemed ruminating, "a time theory. You and your fellow student, Paul Starman, are working on a time theory of your own, aren't you?"

Faydon felt himself nodding mechanically.

The bald man continued, "I'll pretend I'm not Starman, for our purposes.

"Starman and yourself have certain theories about time. The two of you hope some day to construct a machine. A machine that can transplant persons from one time phase to another. You believe that time is a sort of staircase; that all eras of time continue to exist, but that people merely pass through these eras. Right?"

Faydon looked at the bald man wordlessly. His brain was numbed by the words and event of the past minutes. This man was mad. This man must surely be mad. He looked like Starman. Like Paul Starman might look, twenty years hence, but he couldn't be Starman. Even though he babbled on about a theory known only to Starman and himself!

"Do you believe that time theory?" the bald man demanded, once more waving his gun slightly.

Faydon gulped. "Yes," he said faintly. "It's true. Starman and I will prove—"

The fat, bald man cut him off short.

"That's all I want to know. If you believe that time is a staircase, that all time continues to exist, then you'll grant the possibility of someone from the future coming into this room right now—were that someone able to do so!"

Faydon decided that his only course was to humor this madman. This madman who looked so much like his roommate. He nodded. "It would be quite possible. If there were a means whereby it might be done."

The fat, bald fellow grinned mirthlessly. "I have done just that, Faydon. I have entered this room from the future. Twenty years in the future. That is why you see me, Paul Starman, as a man who has grown fat and bald. I'm Paul Starman. But the Starman of twenty years from now. The Starman of 1940, rather than 1920!"

A sickening sensation hit Faydon in the pit of the stomach. A sensation of incredulity, horror, doubt, and a gnawing conviction that this man might not be mad. That this man might possibly be Starman. Starman of the future, come back to the present!

Faydon believed in his time theory. Implicitly. Good God, hadn't he starved and slaved in its behalf? But this fat, bald man. This man who called himself Starman, who looked like Star- man, whose voice sounded similar to Starman's— Faydon paled, his eyes really seeing for the first time the difference in design between his own clothing and the fat man's.

"Your idea is changing somewhat, eh?" said the man who might be Star-man. "You are beginning to wonder if this can be. Well let me erase any further doubt, Faydon. Let me erase further doubt by telling you why I am here to kill you."

Faydon's face was white.. He felt his reasoning becoming fogged, confused. Was this fat fellow right? The time theory. It could be. If—

"You and I—rather, I should say you and Starman—are working on a device at present, a formula, which you hope will enable you to construct a machine to carry men back and forth through time," the intruder continued. "You hope to see that dream completed in your lifetimes. It might take ten years, it might take twenty. It did take twenty years. For it is just that machine which I used to return twenty years to this dingy little laboratory. To return twenty years and kill you."

Faydon leaned weakly against the laboratory desk.

"The dream was completed. By 'was' I mean it was completed in my time era. In 1940. The two of us completed the machine. But by then our circumstances changed, Faydon. By 1940 we were both successful in the world of science. Partners, Faydon. We stuck together twenty years, to accomplish many things which brought us wealth and fame, and finally saw the completion of our dream—the time machine conceived here in this laboratory, in this time era."

Faydon felt as though his legs would no longer support him. He slumped down in the stool beside his desk. The fat, bald man, the man who might be Starman, smiled.

"Don't let my history confuse you, Faydon. Think of it in terms of what can happen according to your time theory. I'm here in the year 1920, telling you what happened in the lapse of time between 1920 and 1940, because I came from 1940. Simple, Faydon, really simple.

"I'm telling you all this because of your sense of irony, remember, Faydon? I thought you'd like a little time mathematics before you die." He paused. "But to continue: By 1930 we were both renowned as partners in scientific discoveries. I got married then, Faydon, to a girl you don't know now. I never suspected that you wanted her. I was stupid. I didn't realize that you envied me, that you wanted more than your just share of wealth and fame, that you coveted my wife."

The fat, bald man moved closer, automatic still fixed unwaveringly on Faydon.

"This puzzles you, Faydon, because you know nothing of it. You'll never know anything of it. You won't have the chance to," the fat man declared. "That's why I've come to kill you—to prevent what has happened from happening." Again he smiled mirthlessly. "Involved?"

Faydon was gathering himself for a leap toward the gun in the fat, bald man's hand, and the man who might be Starman sensed it. He brought the nose of the automatic up toward Faydon's temple.

"Don't try anything, Faydon. I don't want to have to kill you until I've made it all straight." Faydon relaxed once moire, and the fat man nodded. "That's better. Now to get back to where I was before you interrupted me."

The bald, fat man stopped abruptly. His eyes narrowed and he moved a step closer to Faydon. "What's wrong? Why are you staring at me like that, Faydon? Think I'm mad, eh?"

Faydon was watching him in horrified fascination, but said nothing, swallowing hard.

The fat man waved the automatic. "No matter what you think. I've come back, Faydon. Back through time. Twenty years through time—to see to it that the memory of you is erased from time. It's a clever plan, Faydon. Don't you agree with me?" The fat, bald man laughed wildly. "Clever as hell. You want my wife; you plot to take my money and reputation from me. So I go back twenty years. Twenty years to the time when we were both starting out. I'll kill you in the year 1920, then return to my own era, 1940. The perfect crime, Faydon!"

Somehow, Faydon found words.

"If what you say is true. If you are Starman, if you have returned from twenty years in the future, then your scheme will never work."

The fat man laughed harshly. "It's perfect, Faydon, and ironic. Here I'm bumping you off before you've even any knowledge of the crimes I hold against you. Before you're even guilty of them. It's funny, Faydon. Funny as hell!"

"You can shoot me if you wish," Faydon gulped. "You can kill me. But you'll never get back to 1940. You'll never return to your time era!"

The fat, bald man sneered. "You know nothing of the machine which we perfected. It permits man to travel through time in either direction. I've come back to 1920, and when I've killed you I can return to 1940. It's ironic, Faydon." He broke off in wild laughter.

"You forget," Faydon said hoarsely, "that you're subject to definite laws of time. You can't avoid those. You'll never return."

"Laws of time," the fat intruder scoffed, "have all been bridged. I'll return, never fear, Faydon. After I've killed you I'll return to my own time element. The time machine is right outside this door."

"You don't know it," Faydon said huskily, "but the laws of time, the laws you think you've bridged, are working on you at this very moment. You're changing physically, Starman. You're getting younger with every second. Your hair is returning, and you're losing weight. The pouches beneath your eyes are disappearing."

"A clever hoax, Faydon, but I don't believe you. You sha'n't sway me from my purpose. I'm going to kill you. KM you and escape to my own time flight, to 1940, twenty years ahead of now." In spite of his words, Starman's hand went instinctively to his head.

"You might be the Starman of 1940," Faydon was saying rapidly, "but 1940 or 1920, I still know more about time theories than you do. I tell you you're changing. That you won't get back! Not in a time machine."

"Like hell I won't!" Starman snarled, and his finger tightened convulsively on the trigger of the gun he held in his hand, squeezing again and again, the shots blasting the silence of the little laboratory. "Like hell I won't!"

Faydon, with the first shots, had jerked upward, arms flailing out to the side. Now he was pitching with sickening slowness to the floor, his hands clutching his stomach, his lips forming words.

"You fool," he gasped painfully, then he sprawled face forward and his breathing suddenly ceased.

A fog blanketed Starman's mind, and he felt an electric tingling throughout his body. Sickening blackness enveloped his brain and body, blotting out every last trace of the twenty years that had gone before him, the twenty minutes that had just passed.*

"Faydon!" he muttered thickly. "Good God, I've killed you!"

Footsteps clattered along the halls the building. Footsteps running to investigate the sounds of the shots, the man with the gun in his hand—a young man now, young and in the patched clothing of an impoverished student—scarcely heard them. He stared in horrified fascination at the gun in his hand, at the body on the floor.

People burst into the room. Voices rang in Starman's ears. Young Starman, no longer fat, no longer bald. Starman who had undergone the inevitable transition of time laws. Hands seized him, held him, but he didn't struggle. He couldn't tear his gaze from the body lying twisted and inert on the laboratory floor.

Bewilderedly, he was babbling. "I don't know why I did it. I can't understand. Oh, God, he was my friend. We had plans together, dreams together!" He broke into hoarse, uncontrolled sobbing. "Faydon, forgive me, Faydon!"

Officers arrived shortly after that, and led Paul Starman, who had forgotten the future he should never have known, away from the body of the man he had slain


THE END



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