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RGL e-Book Cover 2017

First published in Amazing Stories, January 1941
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-11-19
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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Amazing Stories, January 1941, with
"Skidmore's Strange Experiment"


"Three minutes to go," came the killer's hoarse
voice. "In three minutes you die, Skidmore."

Skidmore's life depended on the success of an untried
experiment—thought transference across space...

SO intent was Professor Skidmore, as he sat at the ornate mahogany desk in the solitude of his luxurious study, that he failed to hear the shuffling sounds on the fire-escape just outside his window. So intense was his concentration, that he was also quite oblivious to the soft noises made by the window being opened.

Skidmore failed, too, to notice the intruder who made his way into the study through that window. He didn't see the tall, gaunt figure, clad in a shining black serge suit, with a black slouch fedora pulled low over his eyes; an intruder who carried an automatic pistol in his right hand.

Professor Skidmore noticed none of this, as he sat, head in hands, staring at a series of white cards on the desk before him. He was still totally unaware of the intruder's presence, even after the gaunt man in the slouch hat stepped directly before his desk.

The intruder's entrance had been that stealthy, and the white-haired Professor's concentration had been that determined. And now, even though the intruder had raised his automatic to a level with the center of Skidmore's high forehead, the old scientist was completely unconscious of his presence.

Which was possibly the reason why the gaunt intruder hesitated before squeezing the trigger and sending a bullet tearing into the famous brain of the man who sat at the desk. He hesitated, then brought his left hand smashing down on the desk.

Skidmore, in the manner of a man who has been rudely awakened, looked up instantly. Looked up into the ugly barrel of an automatic pistol, then into the gaunt features of the man who held the weapon.

"Wha—" Skidmore began, startled. Then his pale gray eyes lighted in recognition, and his ascetic features tightened in a mask of involuntary fear.

"I hope," said the intruder acidly, his tones gutteral, "that I didn't disturb you."


"Ah, you remember me," said the intruder menacingly. "You can remember me, Professor Skidmore, and no wonder." Beneath his black slouch hat his mouth flattened in a thin mirthless smile.

"Good God, man," the old scientist began, "put down that gun! I don't know wha—"

"Don't know why I'm here?" the man called Koblar broke in. "Surely, Professor, your mind is not as juvenile as all that. I'm here to kill you, Skidmore. To settle a score." He still held the gun fixed steadily on Skidmore's forehead. "You fired me from your laboratories some three months ago, Professor."

"You were incompetent."

The man called Koblar's eyes blazed. "You wanted my findings on the genodrene formula!"

"Your findings were of no use to me, or to anyone. I can prove it to you now, as I proved it to you once before," Skidmore replied.

"Bah," snorted Koblar, his gaunt features contorting. "That is fool talk, and I am no fool!" The hand that held the gun was shaking slightly now.

GRADUALLY the fear had been slipping from Skidmore's features, and now they were again calm, wise, ascetic. He ran a blue-veined hand through his thinning white hair, closing his eyes momentarily as if to shut out a bad dream.

"You won't kill me," Skidmore said softly. "You won't kill me, Koblar, because you haven't got guts enough. Your lack of guts in the more dangerous experiments was one of the reasons why I discharged you from my laboratories."

Koblar's mouth went thin again, and the gun in his hand trembled more.

"That's a lie," he snarled. "I have courage!"

There was a hint of mockery in the old Professor's eyes. Mockery but no fear.

"I know you won't dare to shoot me, Koblar. I know it, and I can prove it." He paused. "You are a scientist, Koblar. Not a particularly competent one, but nevertheless a man of science. You have a certain amount of intelligence, enough to realize why you came here to kill me."

Koblar's lips parted in a sneer. "Quite."

"You want to get revenge," Skidmore resumed, "and to erase what your mad mind considers to be a stain on your honor. You know, as well as all our associates, that you were discharged for lack of nerve and incompetence. Killing me won't erase that knowledge from your mind. But if you could prove your nerve, especially to me, then you could kill me and be satisfied."

"I'm going to kill you anyway, Skidmore, so drop any ideas of tricks."

"This is no trick, Koblar," the old scientist said evenly. "I'm giving you a chance to prove yourself, and to get your revenge at the same time. It should make an interesting bit of experiment. As a scientist, it appeals to me."

"I am going to kill you," Koblar said harshly, "now!"

"Because your nerves are breaking, you know that another five minutes would leave you unable to do so!" Skidmore broke in swiftly. "Another five minutes and you'd crack, just as you cracked while conducting an experiment over the genodrene tubes. You lacked guts! You were afraid they'd explode."

Koblar hesitated, the gun in his hand still trembling in spite of the fact that his knuckles were white around it.

"You lie; time makes no difference!" he rasped.

"Prove it, Koblar, and you'll be able to go out of here knowing that I was wrong, that I paid for my ignorance." Skidmore's voice was persuasive.

"I am quite alone, here in my study. My servants are all out for the evening. There is no one, nothing to interrupt our little experiment, Koblar. Think, if you kill me now, Koblar, you'll know that I was right. But if you stand a five minute strain—" Skidmore let the words trail off meaningly.

Koblar looked swiftly around the room, then back at Skidmore. Suddenly, his thin mouth split in a savage smile.

"You have an idea, Professor. It has just occurred to me that the experiment might prove interesting on you. I shall wait five minutes, and then I shall kill you. It should be interesting to watch your reactions as you know that every minute brings you closer to death."

As Koblar talked, he had moved over to an easy-chair some five feet from Skidmore's desk. Now he sat down in it, his gun still trained on the old scientist's head.

"We will see," Koblar rasped harshly, "which of us is correct." He pulled forth his watch with his left hand, placing it on the arm of the chair in which he sat. "Five minutes, I believe, was the time you set. I will wait all of those minutes. Then I shall kill you, Skidmore!"

The old Professor nodded, pulling forth his own timepiece and placing it on the desk before him. On the desk beside the series of white cards. "I'll check, also, Koblar."

"They shall be minutes of silence, Professor," Koblar snarled. "Minutes of silence in which you can look at the hand of your watch moving slowly around to your death!" He paused. "Starting now."

FOR the second time that evening, old Professor Skidmore placed his head in his hands, staring down at his desk. But his eyes were not fixed on the watch. They were fixed on the same series of white cards. Neatly-typed cards, six of them, on which was the legend, "Experiment in Extra-Sensory Perception."[*] The experiment which Koblar had interrupted.

[* It was only six years ago, in 1934, that Duke University announced its epochal experiments in parapsychology, thereby raising that study of psychic phenomena from a pseudo-science to an exact science. Since then there have been many verifications from other laboratories of those classic researches. The strange telepathic and clairvoyant powers of the human mind have been amply demonstrated.—Ed.]

Professor Skidmore's mouth tightened, thinking of the interrupted experiment. On the other side of Manhattan there was another series of cards, identically the same, on the desk of another scientist—one Professor Cardigan. Skidmore could hear Koblar's breath coming harshly, and wondered what the man would think if he saw the cards. For when Koblar had entered, Skidmore had been attempting thought communication with Cardigan.

And now, with five minutes in which to save his life....

Skidmore pushed aside the cards, on which had been written simple messages. The message he was going to endeavor to send would be totally different—if Cardigan received it at all.

The old man could still hear the labored breathing of his would-be assassin, and then he forced himself to eliminate all thought but the intense concentration on his message. His throat felt dry, and he knew that his knees would refuse to support him should he try to stand.

Skidmore thought: Cardigan. Cardigan. A murder. Five minutes. Here in my apartment. Five minutes, Cardigan. Police. Phone them. Phone Police, Cardigan. A murder. Five minutes. Phone Police, Shelton Apartments. My suite, Cardigan.

Koblar's voice, as if from a distance, said: "Two minutes have passed!"

The old scientist's concentration was intense, sweat beaded his brow: Three minutes, Cardigan. Three minutes left. Cardigan. Hear me, Cardigan. Murder. My apartment. Shelton Apartments. Police, Cardigan. Get Police, Cardigan. Murder!

Faintly, like a trailing echo, Koblar's voice said: "Three minutes have passed, Skidmore. Two minutes before you die!" But the old scientist's head was bent, his jaw tight, and he didn't notice the acute trembling in Koblar's hand. Neither did he hear his voice a minute later. "One minute, Skidmore! "

Koblar had risen, was approaching the desk.

So intense was Skidmore's concentration that he didn't hear the footsteps in the hallway outside his apartment, and it wasn't until the first crashing blows landed on his door that he looked up. Looked up to see Koblar, face gone ashen, glaring swiftly at the door, then wheeling, face contorted in rage, toward the desk.

"Damn you," Koblar shrilled, "it was a trick!" And as he shouted, his finger squeezed again and again on the trigger of the automatic, the shots blasting deafeningly in the room.

And through the noise and confusion and gunsmoke, men were swarming into the room, seizing Koblar, moving to Professor Skidmore who crouched shaken behind the thick mahogany bulwark provided by his desk....

PROFESSOR SKIDMORE was trying to light a cigarette with hands that trembled badly. Koblar had already been removed from the apartment by the police. Others remained, some uniformed, some in plainclothes. A sergeant was taking a report.

"It's incredible, gentlemen," Skidmore repeated again and again.

The telephone on his deck rang suddenly, and Skidmore picked it up. In an instant his face lighted excitedly.

"It worked, Cardigan. Thank God, you called them in time! It worked, old boy. You saved my life!"

The Police Sergeant saw Skidmore's face swiftly change expression.

"But Cardigan," those in the room heard the old scientist bleat. "Cardigan, don't you know what I'm talking about? Didn't you get my communications? What? Not a word? No contact whatsoever?"

Professor Skidmore put the phone back on the cradle dazedly, turning to the officers in the room.

"He didn't get it," he muttered. "He didn't get a word of communication!"

The Police Sergeant, a fat, red-faced fellow, frowned. "You can owe your lucky break to the House Detective here at the Shelton, Professor. He tipped us off and got us over here in nothing fiat!"

The Sergeant pointed to a heavy-set, florid-faced man in a derby hat. He looked like the typical house detective in a movie, and grinned in modest embarrassment.

"Damnedest thing that ever happened to me, Professor," said the House Detective. "I was passing along outside your hall door about five or six minutes ago. Got the screwiest hunch I ever had in my life. Something just made me take a chance and call the cops pronto!"

"Five or six minutes ago?" muttered Skidmore bewilderedly.

"Might have been seven," said the House Detective. "But, Lord, I've never had such a powerful screwy hunch in my life before."

"What," Professor Skidmore managed to ask the House Detective, "is your name?"

The House Detective swelled proudly. "Cardigan, Professor. My name is Cardigan!"