Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Mr. Pry's job was to give information, but he wasn't supposed
to know everything. And least of all, to know the future!
PARKINGTON PRY was cursed by two things, the first of which was his name—a definite handicap to anyone trying to live in harmony with his neighbors—and the second of which was his overpowering curiosity.
Now curiosity is a good thing to a certain extent, and cleverly adhered to might even be an asset. But Parkington Pry was the sort of fellow to carry things too far. He let his curiosity run away with him. Especially where his job was concerned.
For Parkington Pry was the information clerk in the municipal museum, in which capacity Mr. Pry felt that it was his duty to know things.
Consequently, in keeping with his sense of duty, he invariably used Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings to sit in the local library and brush up on the sundry information he felt he might be asked to know.
This particular morning was Friday.
"I am getting sick and tired of having you spend every night of the week in that horrible library," Mrs. Pry told him as he left for the museum. "Tonight I want you home on time for dinner, and prepared to play some Chinese checkers!" His wife liked Chinese checkers.
Mr. Pry protested.
"But Glenda," he declaimed, "surely you understand that it is nothing more than duty that takes me to the public library every evening. As an information clerk, I must be informed. I must know things. If I am ever to get a promotion, I'll have to know all sorts of things."
"Such as what?" Glenda Pry answered with venom in her tone.
"Such as about douffle birds," Mr. Pry responded proudly. "Do you know the origin of the douffle bird?"
"I only know," Glenda his spouse replied acidly, "the origin of the early bird. And you are going to be just that tonight—or else!"
"But Glenda," Mr. Pry began again.
"You heard me," his wife said firmly.
On his way down to work, Mr. Pry even considered going home for a change. But as the day wore on, and he grew more and more steeped in the exciting requirements of his job, Mr. Pry's sense of duty began to be overpowering. The lure of the library became too great. So, as he sat behind his counter, precisely one half hour before closing time, Mr. Pry was feeling qualms about the telephone conversation he would have to endure with his wife. He'd have to tell her he wasn't coming home—
"Shay—hie—where doesh a guy go to have himshelf stuffed?"
The voice, breaking in so abruptly on Parkington Pry's meditations, startled him somewhat.
"Three doors down to the left," Mr. Pry replied unconsciously, before he looked up into the face of the person sagging limply against his counter for support.
And then Mr. Pry's small, round, red face went ashen with shock—for he recognized the sagging person leaning against his counter. And recognized him as a peasant might recognize a king.
"Jay Worthington Throp!" The name escaped Mr. Pry's startled lips before he could stop it. Suddenly, Mr. Pry's hands were moist and his knees were knocking.
For Jay Worthington Throp was Mr. Pry's Diety, his Hero. Jay Worthington Throp was the master of ceremonies on that greatest of all radio shows, Give Me The Answer!
But just at the moment, Jay Worthington Throp, with his pearl gray gloves, pearl gray homburg, and pearl gray moustache, was stinking drunk. Mr. Pry perceived this fact an instant later, and then forgave it, for Jay Worthington made a thousand a week and was entitled to a little relaxation.
"You don't know me, Sir," Mr. Pry began humbly. "But—"
But if Mr. Pry had intended disregarding the feet of clay in his Idol, he was immediately disappointed, for Jay Worthington Throp suddenly let go of the edges of the counter and pitched happily forward on his gray moustache.
With a sharp cry of horror, Mr. Pry was around the counter and bending over to give assistance to his Hero.
"Oh Mr. Throp," Mr. Pry muttered unhappily. "Oh Mr. Throp!"
Straightening with great effort, Mr. Pry managed to pull Jay Worthington Throp halfway to his feet. But Mr. Throp was heavier than his girdle let anyone perceive, and in addition to this, the floor of the museum was marble.
Marble can be very untrustworthy where footing is concerned, and Mr. Pry found this out in a horrible second later. His feet shot out from under him, and with Jay Worthington Throp on top of him, Mr. Pry did a neat back-flip, landing on the marble floor headfirst!
A myriad of stars spilled gorgeously from a pitch black sky as Mr. Pry slipped into unconsciousness. And happily stretched over his thin, small body was the now slumbering form of Jay Worthington Throp.
UNFORTUNATELY for Mr. Pry, there had been no one in the museum to witness this accident. And fortunately for Mr. Throp, a taxi driver came hurrying into the museum lobby an instant after the accident occurred. The taxi driver looked at Mr. Throp, shaking his head sadly.
"I knew I shouldda kept my eye on him," he muttered sadly. Then, pulling Jay Worthington Throp off Mr. Pry, the taxi driver said: "This must be the friend he said he was gonna meet. Wouldn'cha know his pal would be plastered too?"
Sighing despairingly, the taxi driver—a very large hulking fellow—bent over and lifted the two unconscious forms under his great arms. "Might as well pile 'em back in the cab," he muttered.
No one paid particular attention to the taxi driver as he dragged his burdens limply from the museum and piled them into the back seat of his cab. And no one heard him mutter, "Might as well drive around annudder three hours. Then I kin take Throp to his radio station in time fer his program, like he told me to."
The cabbie threw his hack into gear and drove on.
EXCITED red-faced men in expensively-cut suits, dashed in and out of an ornate suite of rooms belonging to the American Broadcasting Network, some three hours later. In one of the rooms a shower was spraying icy water down upon the head and shoulders of Jay Worthington Throp, while in another room, stretched out limply on a couch, was the small, thin form of Parkington Pry.
A radio producer, dashing out of the room in which the shower and Jay Worthington Throp were battling, said over his shoulder to an assistant.
"Get in there and push Throp around a little more. He's starting to come out of it. We go on the air with Give Me The Answer in less than thirty minutes!"
The assistant nodded.
"Boy, he was crocked when he came in here." Then, marveling, "That guy's a genius!"
Fifteen minutes later, freshly clothed, sober, and shivering, Jay Worthington Throp looked down on the supine slumber of Mr. Parkington Pry. Looked down and frowned.
"Who's this?" demanded Jay Worthington Throp.
The radio producer who stood beside him looked astonished.
"What d'ya mean, who's this? Why, this little guy was with you. The cab driver brought you both in together." Jay Worthington Throp shook his head distastefully.
"Never saw him before in my life. Throw him out!"
"Why, we thought he was the guest you were hunting up for Give Me The Answer tonight. Where in the blazes is the fellow you were going to bring here?" demanded the producer.
Jay Worthington Throp's features turned the color of his gray moustache.
"Isn't there somebody here?" The producer looked grim.
"Not a soul."
Throp bent over Mr. Pry and slipped his hand into Parkington's inner pocket. He brought forth a wallet and some cards. Looking through the cards, Throp stopped.
"Can't you stand a little kidding," he asked, his face flooding red once more in the vast relief he felt. "This is our guest, Ha, ha, ha. Just thought I'd throw a little scare into you. Yes sir, Give Me The Answer has a very special guest tonight—Mr. Parkington Pry, an honest to goodness information clerk!"
An assistant producer, hurrying by, overheard this.
"Boy," he muttered, looking enviously at Throp, "that guy's a genius!"
Mr. Jay Worthington Throp, overhearing the remark, nodded smugly. The radio producer just sighed.
BEFORE the microphone in the air theater of the American Broadcasting Studios, twenty minutes later, a frightened and bewildered Parkington Pry faced the smiling gray moustache of his Hero, Jay Worthington Throp. "That," said the grinning Mr. Throp, "was a perfect answer. Really now, Mr. Pry, you're letting our experts look pretty silly aren't you?"
Mr. Pry turned slightly away from the mike to look frightenedly at the unsmiling group of four "experts" who were a weekly feature of the Give Me The Answer program. Unquestionably, ever since his introduction ten minutes ago, Mr. Pry had been making the "experts" look like dunces. And from the expressions on their faces, they hated P. Pry.
Mr. Pry gulped.
"Yes, sir," he replied. "Yes I am making them look like darned fools." And then, for the third time that evening, while the radio studio audience howled, Mr. Pry crimsoned. He hadn't meant to say that. He had meant to be tactful. But it was right. And every question he'd answered in the last ten minutes had been absolutely one-hundred percent correct.
Like the question about the name of the sixth cousin to Louis the Fourteenth who ate garlic and had but five teeth. Mr. Pry, on being asked who that person was, had given the name unhesitatingly, even though he was aware that he'd never known it before. The incident had frightened him at first, even in spite of the tremendous applause it drew from the studio audience. For Parkington Pry had felt as though another brain had seized control of his own vocal muscles and done the answering for him in his voice.
Jay Worthington Throp held up a hand to still the laughter of the audience. Then, smiling happily on Mr. Pry, as a schoolmarm might beam on a bright pupil, Throp asked:
"How many stitches did Betsy Ross put in the lower right hand corner of the first American flag she designed?"
And then it happened again. Unseen forces seemed to squeeze the words from Mr. Pry's tongue as he gave the answer. He couldn't recall ever having looked it up in the library, but never-the-less, the words just popped out of him!
The studio audience was breathless, while a man on the radio stage looked it up in a huge volume. He signalled Jay Worthington Throp.
"Indubitably correct!" shouted Throp. "To the last stitch!"
The studio audience let forth a roar of admiration, and the very wave of voices seemed to rush up to Parkington Pry and wash against his trembling knees. Cold sweat broke out on his brow, and he looked pleadingly at Jay Worthington Throp. But that gentleman was beaming enthusiastically, and bowing low from the waist, as if to take up any extra applause that Mr. Pry didn't get time to acknowledge.
Mr. Pry was terrified, thoroughly so. At first it had merely been the thought of being on the air that had scared him so. But now it was worse. It was the feeling of invisible forces working on him, turning him into a mastermind, frightening him horribly and casting a sort of morbid pall over his very soul.
BEFORE Jay Worthington Throp brought forth the next question, Mr. Pry had time to remember how much he had always enjoyed listening to this same program, and of the envy he had always held for Throp's "Board of Experts." He remembered, too, how he used to allow himself wild dreams in which he would do just this—in front of everyone—and establish himself as a genius of fact second only to Jay Worthington Throp.
But now, with all this at his feet, and in spite of the fact that he had stolen the show from the great Throp himself, Mr. Parkington Pry felt miserably, acutely, unhappily, morbid.
"Perhaps," thought Parkington Pry desperately, "it is this screaming headache." For the lump on the back of his head was still present to remind him uncomfortably of his accident that afternoon.
But whatever it was that held him in its weird grip, Mr. Pry was thoroughly aware of one thing. He wanted frantically to get away from where he was at the moment. And inconsequential though it usually was, Mr. Pry found himself worrying about Glenda and the fact that he hadn't even had time to call her to explain that he wouldn't be home.
He was certain that Glenda would no more approve of his being here on the Give Me The Answer program than she would of his being in the library. And he was also very certain that Glenda wasn't listening to this program—for she detested it as heartily as her spouse had approved it.
Jay Worthington Throp was speaking now.
"Our sponsors—The United Universal Especially Fine Encyclopedia Company—have here a question they've been saving for just such a guest as yourself, Mr. Pry. In order to prove to the listening audience that even those appearing on this program are human where knowledge is concerned, our sponsors have always kept a particularly difficult question in reserve to trick their guest performers. Frankly, Mr. Pry, until you came along, we never had to use this question. But I'm sure you will share the thrill of the radio audience in realizing that this is the first time our Super Colossal Question has had to be used!"
There was a short hysterical burst of applause from the studio audience. Mr. Pry looked around and saw the "experts" glaring triumphantly at him. He realized that this was to be his Waterloo, and felt suddenly relieved. Missing this was going to be a pleasure. Then he could get out and go home to Glenda.
Jay Worthington Throp had stilled the audience by now. The entire studio was breathlessly expectant. Mr. Pry gulped. Throp spoke.
"Have you ever heard of the Einstein theory, Mr. Pry?"
Parkington Pry nodded.
"Yes, but I've never studied it."
There was a disappointed murmur from the audience.
"Then this question will be impossible for you, I'm afraid," Throp said cheerfully. "But, since we must stump you before you leave us, here goes." He took a long breath. "There is a gentleman in our audience, Doctor Calktrig, who happens to be one of the five men in the world who are competent to judge your answer. When you have finished, we will ask the good Doctor to stand up and tell us all if you were right or wrong." Another long breath. "Now, then, Mr. Pry, what is the basic premise of the fifteenth equation in the Einstein Theory?"
PARKINGTON PRY felt a wild surge of elation. Here was something he would be utterly incapable of answering. Here was a question which—
But a voice had already started talking, and with a sudden horrible trembling, Mr. Pry realized that it was his own voice!
"It's very simple," Mr. Pry heard his voice saying, "very very simple. You see it's like this—" And then, incapable of stopping himself, utterly out of control of his vocal muscles, Mr. Pry stood there listening to himself ramble on with familiar ease about the Einstein Theory. For fully six minutes Mr. Pry rambled on, easily, fluently, casually, and—something inside told him—obviously correctly!
And when he had finished, the audience sat there in stunned silence, while the white haired figure of Doctor Calktrig climbed dazedly to his feet, an awed, bewildered expression on his wrinkled face.
"This," he croaked out in the dead silence, "is the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed. Mr. Pry has revealed not only the correct answer, but additional suppositions about which I, Professor Einstein, and the three other most eminent scientists in the world are totally ignorant!" His old voice broke for a moment, then he went on. "I will say with unqualified candor, that Mr. Parkington Pry is the greatest genius of knowledge the world has ever seen!" And then, terribly shaken with emotion, Doctor Calktrig slumped into his seat.
An incredibly wild wave of thunderous applause broke forth, and the entire studio audience was on its feet, rushing, scrambling, clamoring toward the stage on which the bewildered Mr. Pry stood cowering behind the equally astonished Jay Worthington Throp.
"Come on!" Throp gasped. "This program will never finish. The place is in an uproar. You'll be mobbed. Let's get you out of here!" And with that, a cordon of studio ushers formed around Throp and Mr. Pry as they battled their way to an exit.
IT was four hours later, and Parkington Pry squirmed uncomfortably under the excited barrage of questions which had been pouring down on him from all sides for the last three hours.
He sat in the executive offices of the United Universal Especially Fine Encyclopedia Company—located on the top floor of the sky-scraping Big City Building—while Jay Worthington Throp, Doctor Calktrig, and six or seven bigwigs from the Encyclopedia Company paced excitedly up and down before him.
On getting him out of the radio station, Jay Worthington Throp had spirited Mr. Pry into a taxi cab, and thence to where he now found himself. Even though it was somewhat late at night, the executives of the Encyclopedia Company, and Doctor Calktrig, had been glad enough to hustle down to these offices for a special conference in which the main subject of discussion was to be a means of capitalizing on their newfound genius.
As for Mr. Pry's part in this conference, he had been merely a bewildered and frightened foil for it all. He now had only one desire, and that was to get home to his wife. But when he had tremulously suggested this to Throp and the others, his request had been greeted with polite disregard.
"This fellow is a sensation," Throp had thundered at the assembled executives of United Universal Especially Fine Encyclopedias, "and since he is our—really my—find, we should decide at once how we can utilize this terrific font of knowledge. We'll have to act fast, gentlemen, for by morning every newspaper in the country will be carrying a feature story around the remarkable mental prowess of this genius!"
Somehow, from the tone of voice used by Throp and the rest, Mr. Pry felt as if he were a strictly inanimate object, like a wastepaper basket, or a new kind of mouse trap.
White haired, wrinkled faced, old Doctor Calktrig had been more calm and logical during the preliminary discussion of Parkington Pry.
"This is indeed incredible, gentlemen. But we shouldn't be to hasty. Perhaps Mr. Pry is a flash in the pan. He claims to be unable to understand where he gets his information from, even though he has admitted to a study of factual material for a number of years. However, through the use of an I.Q. test I have developed, we'll soon be able to learn just how much this man really knows."
Parkington Pry had taken the test, and had done his best to fail in it. But the results were beyond his control. Doctor Calktrig had summed it up.
"This man is no mere genius," he declared huskily after grading Mr. Pry's paper. "He is the genius of Genius's genius's!"
This involved bit of wordage had the effect of a thunderbolt on Jay Worthington Throp and the assembled executives. For the executives, it produced wild glitters of greed in seven pairs of eyes, and for Throp it produced an exultant bellow of personal triumph.
"You see," said the impressario of Give Me The Answer, "Throp has scored again!" He strutted in front of Mr. Pry, pointing to him as a guide might indicate an interesting scenic view. "I have uncovered the person the world has been waiting for—the man who has tapped the source of all knowledge. He's worth millions!"
MR. PRY, head still aching, felt morbidly that he should be consulted on all this pretty soon. Throp was talking as if he owned him, and Mr. Pry couldn't remember having signed any papers to that effect. Besides, although he seemed to know everything they asked him, he wasn't at all conscious of having the source of all knowledge in the back of his aching head. He didn't even realize what he knew, until he was asked a particular question demanding a particular answer. It was then that that hidden something took control of him and he found himself giving the right answer.
In a momentary lull, Mr. Pry plucked Doctor Calktrig's sleeve and explained this phenomena to him. The others weren't noticing, and Mr. Pry could see Throp, with the executives backed into a corner, heatedly discussing financial contracts.
Doctor Calktrig looked perplexed.
"You mean you don't actually know something until you're asked a direct question concerning it?"
Mr. Pry nodded.
"That's right." He felt that somehow Calktrig understood, and would now let him go home to his wife.
"But you say that you've been spending hour upon hour, year in and year out, digging up factual data in libraries," old Calktrig protested.
Mr. Pry nodded.
"My entire life has been devoted to questions and answers."
Doctor Calktrig shook his head, perplexed.
"Look, when did you first notice yourself giving ground to a more intelligent self; the force, that is, which you claim answers questions for you?"
Mr. Pry frowned.
"Just tonight. On the program. I can't recall it ever happening to me before."
Doctor Calktrig shook his head again.
"What happened to you this afternoon, anything unusual?"
"I met Mr. Throp," Parkington Pry answered, "and I fell on my head."
Doctor Calktrig seemed impressed.
"In that order?" he asked.
Mr. Pry nodded.
"Precisely that order."
Doctor Calktrig put a hand over his eyes.
"I must reason this out," he murmured. Suddenly he looked up. "I have it!" His voice was vibrant with excitement. "The fall on your head affected your mind. For years, by your own admission, you have been battling—so to speak—against the bulwarks of knowledge. The fall on your head must have so affected your mind that it somehow slipped through the bulwarks of knowledge into the limitless field of Absolute Information On Everything There Is!"
Mr. Pry blinked.
"Yes," he said vaguely. "You're probably right. But I don't like it. I want to go home. I wish I'd never seen a fact or an item of knowledge in my life!" His morbid state was added to now by ragged nerves. The strain was telling.
But Doctor Calktrig paid him scant attention.
"He is the door to infinite knowledge!" he was exulting. "Why, this man will open up the Unknown utterly to the world!"
Mr. Pry merely looked at him listlessly. The Doctor's words, somehow, seemed to add to his morbid state of mind.
JAY WORTHINGTON THROP and the seven executives had stopped their bickering and now came out of the corner of the room and over to Mr. Pry. Throp was holding a paper and pen in his hand.
"Here, Mr. Pry. Sign here. This paper'll give you the best manager in the world, me."
Mr. Pry looked dully up at Throp's gray moustache. He made no move to get the pen.
"Don't forget, Throp," said one of the executives. "He's to turn out a Pry Nonpeer Encyclopedia for us before he does another thing for any other contracts!"
Another executive piped up:
"And he's to be featured with you on the Give Me The Answer program!"
But it was Doctor Calktrig who raised his hand, and in a voice of which none of his listeners would have thought him capable, thundered indignantly:
"Stop, all of you!"
Everyone in the room looked in astonishment toward Doctor Calktrig; even Parkington Pry. The old man was standing in the center of the room, looking like a male version of the Statue of Liberty, his right hand held dramatically aloft. All he needed was a torch.
"Stop," he bellowed again, although this time unnecessarily. "I shall not stand by and watch you exploit this man! I won't let you get away with it!" His eyes were blazing, and even Jay Worthington Throp was impressed.
"This man, or I should say this unwitting genius, belongs exclusively to Science!" Calktrig thundered. "He is going to revolutionize the world, do you understand? He is not going to be treated like a freak!"
And with that, Doctor Calktrig grabbed Mr. Pry by the arm and pulled him up to his feet.
"Come, Mr. Pry, you are going to come with me," he declared.
Throp and the seven executives stood there looking amazed as Doctor Calktrig ushered his charge out the door. They were still rooted to the floor as they heard the elevator door clang behind the old man and Mr. Pry from the hallway.
It was Throp who dashed out into the hallway first.
"Good Lord," he shouted, "are we going to let that old fossil get away with a million bucks on the hoof?"
But as the executives milled uncertainly around Throp in the hallway, it looked as if Calktrig were going to get away with their fortune. For the elevator had already started downward, and since it was nighttime, there was only one operator on duty. Forty floors was a long way to jump, if they intended to catch Parkington Pry and Doctor Calktrig. Simultaneously, they cursed.
IN the taxicab he had hailed on leaving the Big City Building, Doctor Calktrig, still breathing fire, snorted.
"There, I guess we've shaken those rascals. The nerve of them, the utter colossal nerve!"
Mr. Parkington Pry, sitting meekly beside him, nodded listlessly. Doctor Calktrig looked at him sharply.
"What's ailing you? Don't you feel well?"
Mr. Pry thought about this. Then he shook his head.
"No," he decided. "I don't. I don't feel well at all. In fact I feel terrible. It's just as though a pall were hanging over me."
The old Doctor looked at him as though he were a scientific gadget that had just gone on the blink. He shook his white head.
"Strain is probably the cause. Just strain. You need sleep. Some peace and quiet. We'll have to put you where those sharpsters will never think of going to find you. Then, tomorrow or the next day, I can present you to the Institute of Science."
"I just want to go home," Parkington Pry muttered gloomily.
Doctor Calktrig snapped his fingers.
"An excellent suggestion. Just the place for you. Throp and his band of vultures will never think of looking for you in your home. They'll think I spirited you away some other place, won't they?"
"Yes," said Mr. Pry, horrified as his vocal muscles were out of his control once more. "Yes, they'll think you took me somewhere else."
Doctor Calktrig blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected an answer to his rhetorical question. But suddenly he beamed.
"Did you answer my question automatically?" he asked.
Mr. Pry nodded dumbly.
"Then that's capital," Calktrig exulted. "Perfect. You told me what I needed to know. Throp will never look for you at your home!" He chortled happily. "That's where we'll go!"
Precisely fifteen minutes later, the taxicab lurched to a stop before the modest suburban dwelling of Parkington Pry. Doctor Calktrig got out of the cab with Mr. Pry, and for an instant it seemed to him as if the good Doctor were intent on sticking around him for good. But much to Mr. Pry's relief, Calktrig merely said cheerfully:
"Well, here you are. I'll watch you until you get into the house. Then I'll give you a ring the first thing in the morning, and be out to take you to the Institute by noon."
Mr. Pry shook himself out of his stupor of melancholy long enough to smile wanly.
"Thank you," he said, and then added, "good night."
Slowly, Mr. Pry ambled up the walk. At the door, he pulled forth his key and inserted it with a minimum of noise. He dreaded to thing what Glenda would have to say to him when he walked in at this late hour.
As he closed the door behind him, Mr. Pry called:
"Glenda, oh Gleeeeeennnnda!"
There was no answer.
Mr. Pry tried again, as he walked across the darkened living room and groped toward a table lamp.
At that instant, Parkington Pry's fingers found the cord on the table lamp. The living room was suddenly flooded with light. But the first thing to catch Mr. Pry's eye was a white sheet of paper on the lamp table. It was a note. Bending over to read it caused Mr. Pry's head to ache even more.
I have had enough of your library haunting and fact ferreting. I can't stand it any longer. I'm leaving for good. Don't try to find me.
P.S. I left a fresh shirt for the morning on the dresser.
MR. PRY sat down suddenly on the chair beside the lamp table. He felt like a man who has been unexpectedly kicked in the stomach by an overly large mule. Glenda—gone!
It couldn't be. It just couldn't. But she was. And there was the note to prove it. If Mr. Pry had felt moody and disconsolate a few minutes before, he was now an A-1 candidate for a noose and cyanide. Under even the most pleasant of ordinary circumstances, Mr. Pry would not have been able to accept his wife's walk-out with any degree of joy. But now, as things stood, with the horribly morbid pall that hung over him, plus the distressing events of the evening, it was just about too much to stand.
If Mr. Pry had been sitting in an electric chair rather than a living room straight-back, he would have happily pulled the switch and then and there ended his troubles.
His fondest dream—that of being America's Ace Fact Ferret—had inexplicably turned to ashes in his mouth. And now, in addition to that, Mr. Pry was faced with the fact that his wife had left him, and for good.
He was beginning, too, to realize the delicate irony of his situation. Here he was, one man among billions, having access to all the knowledge in the world, and yet he hadn't the faintest inkling that this was going to happen to him. He hadn't known it because only a question such as, "is your wife going to leave you?" would have brought forth the necessary knowledge. His font of incredible information had proved quite valueless, unless someone popped a direct question to obtain the desired information.
Mr. Pry suddenly found that, in addition to his originally morbid state of mind, he now found himself hating himself with a wonderful thoroughness.
"Why," he moaned despairingly, "didn't some one ask me about this?"
And it was while Mr. Pry was trying to recall where he usually put the iodine bottle—with a view toward swallowing it—that there came a loud and insistent knock on his front door.
Mr. Pry blinked. Then he rose and stepped across the room. He had a wild minute of fast vanishing hope that this might be Glenda returned, but when he opened the door, his spirits dropped.
A stranger stood there.
"Your name Pry?" asked the stranger. He was a thin, dark fellow wearing a white hat and cream colored spats.
Mr. Pry nodded, and the stranger glanced down at a newspaper he held in his hand.
"Thought so," he observed. "Getcha' coat!"
It was instantly apparent even to Mr. Pry's dulled senses that the stranger was holding a revolver with his other hand.
But Mr. Pry didn't care. He didn't want to stay around this forbidding house any longer anyway. He got his coat.
IT was a long black limousine in which Mr. Pry found himself riding this time. And the man in the white fedora and cream colored spats was sitting next to him in the back seat. Two burly individuals, both wearing white hats similar to that of the man with the gun, sat in the front of the car.
For a moment, as he was being pushed into the car, Mr. Pry had hoped that his captor might have been a policeman, come to get him for someone's murder. He felt that bad. It would be fine to have Glenda think of his poor corpse lying in a prison graveyard. However, from the manner in which he was treated by the men in the limousine, it became instantly apparent that—except for the gun carried by the bespatted chap next to him—their attitude was not at all unfriendly.
Mr. Pry felt and sensed this, rather than knew it. For the two burly thugs in the front and the little fellow who sat beside him with the gun, confined themselves strictly to silence.
After what seemed hours of driving through the blackened night, the car at last swerved up a gravel road in a section which Mr. Pry figured to be even farther out of town than his suburban residence.
When the car drew up to a stop in front of a darkened farmhouse, Mr. Pry was not particularly surprised. For that was the way it always was in the movies. And when the boarded door of the farmhouse opened to admit Pry and party into a cheerfully furnished large room, he was also complacent.
The room was well lighted, and a fat, cheerful looking chap sat snugly in a large leather armchair beside a fireside. He wore a checkered suit, had a red face, and sported a diamond stickpin on his yellow cravat.
He rose to meet Mr. Pry.
"Well," he boomed, "I'm glad to see you didn't have no trouble, boys." Then to Parkington, "Glad to meetcha, Pry. You and me is gonna do some big things together. And there'll be plenty of kale in it for both of us."
Mr. Pry dully extended his hand.
"I don't believe I know you."
"My name is Botts, Bettamillion Botts. Y'mean you've never heard'a me?"
"No," said Mr. Pry truthfully, "I haven't."
"What do I do, boys?" Mr. Botts asked rhetorically. And in a sudden wave of the same old terror, Mr. Pry felt his jaws moving, and his voice speaking.
"You are a big shot gambler. You make your money from horses and lottery bets," Mr. Pry heard himself replying.
Bettamillion Botts threw back his fat red face and laughed.
"Just as I said, Pry. We can't miss—you know everything!"
Mr. Pry was about to reply that that was precisely what bothered him, but then he gave up the idea, realizing that Botts, like all the rest, could never understand what happened to him.
However, Botts seemed cordial enough, and Mr. Pry felt himself rather liking the blustering fellow. Botts was obviously like all the rest, in that he wanted to capitalize on Parkington Pry's astonishing talent. But, unlike the rest, Botts was the first to mention Mr. Pry's own share in the profits. This consideration, though negligible, made Mr. Pry feel warmly toward the checker-suited gambler. As warmly, at any rate, as the gloom that hung over him would permit.
"LOOK," Botts was saying, "I get to the point fast. You know what my racket is, and from hearing your broadcast tonight, I know that you're just about the sharpest mugg ever to hit this town. I been keeping my eye out for someone like you all my life. I always said that if I got someone with as much brains as I got luck, there wouldn't be anything in the world to stop me from minting a million a day. Now you come along—see? So I'm set. We're partners. Whadda you say?"
"Partners?" Mr. Pry was perplexed.
"Yeah," said Botts. "We split, see? Fifty-fifty."
"But what," stammered Parkington Pry, "would you want me to do? Do you want me to go on the air, or do you want me to write an encyclopedia, or do you just want to turn me over to science?"
Botts roared with laughter.
"That's ripe. Here's a guy who can dope out anything you ask him, and he's giving me that stuff about writing an encyclopediment. Ha, ha, that's rich!" He paused, slapping Mr. Pry heartily on the back. "Naw, we'll play the horses, pick the lotteries, bet the stock market. We'll make millions, y'unnerstand?"
"Millions," Mr. Pry reflected. "You're the first one who put it to me that way." He hesitated. His head was aching and he still felt horribly depressed. "Do you suppose millions will make me feel better?" he inquired timidly.
This time Botts thundered his laughter.
"Boy-oh-boy, I'll say you'll feel better. Just wait and see. Just wait and see!"
Mr. Pry nodded.
"All right, then. But what about Jay Worthington Throp and Doctor Calktrig and the encyclopedia people?"
"Don't worry about nothing, y'unnerstand? We'll keep them pests away. You'll stay here in secret until we make our cleaning," Botts replied.
MAKING a cleaning was almost as easy as Bettamillion Botts predicted it would be. For the following week, Mr. Pry remained a favored guest at the deserted farmhouse, and on the questions of Botts and his cohorts, selected innumerable "winners" in various phases of legal and illegal gambling.
It was all very new and quite a little bit perplexing to Mr. Pry. The money that they kept giving him as his share of the killings was also very new and perplexing. Mr. Pry had never seen so much money in all his life.
But most perplexing of all to Parkington Pry was the fact that he had not lost his pall of gloom. His morbid state of mind was growing worse instead of better. Part of it, he realized, was due to his wife. But the other part, for some mysterious reason, had something to do with his strange powers. He grew more and more listless, more and more indifferent with each increasing day.
Money rolled in, and Mr. Pry yawned and felt miserable looking at it. He didn't even go to the trouble to get someone to ask him where Glenda had gone and would she return to him, although he was aware that he could easily obtain this information merely by having Botts direct the question to him. Perhaps it was because he knew that he possessed that information and could get it when he wanted it. But at any rate, he sat there, day after day, yawning and moping and feeling morbid as Botts fired questions at him and handed him money.
Mr. Pry could not recall when he'd ever felt so blue.
"Whatsa matter?" Botts would ask him. "You look like you're dying from worms or sumpin."
"My head aches," Mr. Pry would explain. "And I feel dopey."
"Wait," Botts promised him. "Just wait a day more, and you'll feel plenty better. Tomorrow, with this cash we've piled up, we're gonna make a killing that'll put us on easy street for life."
But Mr. Pry only nodded indifferently.
On the following day, however, Botts was visibly excited as he faced Mr. Pry for the morning question bee.
"Look," said Botts. "This is the day—see? We're gonna stake everything on a certain race this afternoon. I gotta know who's gonna win it, like in them other races you doped for me before. But this time is gonna be the most important of all. We're riding every last cent we got on it. You wanta get in on the same basis with us?"
"How much money do I have now?" Mr. Pry asked merely to be courteous, rather than inquisitive.
"Fifty grand," Botts replied.
"In American money that would be—"
"Fifty thousand frogskins," Botts translated. "Whatta you say?"
"Very well," Mr. Pry replied, still trying to be polite.
"Itsa third race at Palm Pot Park," said Botts excitedly. "We got the dope that a hundred-to-one shot is set to go through. But we ain't been able to check it. The mule's name is Flybird. Is that right? Is Flybird gonna win really?"
Mr. Pry, who was thoroughly used to letting his voice speak for itself by now, heard himself reply:
"That is absolutely right. Flybird will win the race."
Botts was exultant.
"Wheeeeeeeeeeee!" he yelled. Then he was gone. Watching the black limousine pull out down the gravel road, Mr. Pry was conscious that this day he felt worse than ever before.
WHEN Botts returned some three hours later, he had a handful of tickets which he handed to Mr. Pry.
"These is yours," he announced. "You hold 'em until the race is won. Then I'll cash 'em for you." He had taken his place in his favorite red leather armchair, and now he snapped on the radio. The two burly hoodlums had also gathered in the farmhouse living room, as well as the slight, dark, cream colored spats chap. Everyone—with the exception of Parkington Pry—was visibly excited.
"They're lining up for the start of the third race at Palm Pot Park," an announcer's voice suddenly crackled out from the loudspeaker. "This is the feature race of the day, for three year olds and up. There are seven horses in the field. And I'll name them in the order of their starting positions."
While Mr. Pry listened with a morbid sort of detachment, the announcer ran through six names.
"Then at number seven position, wide on the outside, we have Flybird, a hundred to one shot, the joke horse of the afternoon."
Botts looked sharply at Mr. Pry.
"You certain?" he asked. Mr. Pry nodded and yawned.
"We're playing him to win," Botts reminded him.
"He'll win," Mr. Pry said with gloomy certainty.
The announcer was babbling on, and then, suddenly:
"They're off and running! Houseafire is in the lead, taking the pole by three lengths as they round the turn . . . Come Quick is second by a length . . . My Chance is running third . . . Baby Me is up close for fourth . . . Goody, and Aces Wild are neck and neck for fifth . . . Flybird is trailing."
"Come on, Flybird!" Botts bellowed.
"Now they're in the back stretch," the announcer was saying, "and they're just about the same, with the exception of Flybird, who's moved up to fourth position and coming along strong. Houseafire still leads the field by two lengths. Rounding the turn it's still Houseafire by a length. Flybird has moved up to third!"
"Come on, Flybird!" Botts entreated hoarsely.
"They're in the home stretch," the announcer babbled excitedly, "and it's still Houseafire, but only by a half length. Flybird has moved up fast into second position and is pressing Houseafire hard! Two hundred yards from the finish line it's still Houseafire by a quarter length. Flybird's jockey is giving the animal everything but a cannon! They're neck and neck, Houseafire and Flybird, thundering toward the tape. Flybird is ahead by a nose! They're even again. Now it's Houseafire by the damp of its nose. Aaaannnnnnd itsss—Houseafire by a nose! Houseafire the winner, Flybird second!"
Parkington Pry sat bolt upright, stunned.
Botts snapped off the radio.
The silence was pregnant.
"So you were positive," said Botts.
From the tone of the gambler's voice, Mr. Pry realized for the first time how unfriendly that gentleman could be when he wanted to.
Mr. Pry didn't have time to realize he was suddenly no longer listless. He gulped, frantically. The two thugs had risen and were walking toward him. The dapper chap was tearing up a batch of red tickets that must have belonged to all of them.
"Flybird won the race," Mr. Pry heard himself insisting, but his tone lacked conviction.
"Yeah," said Botts, "probably a moral victory. Get up!"
Shakily, Mr. Pry rose to his feet. "Look," he gurgled.
"Say your prayers," Botts suggested. Fifteen minutes ago, Mr. Pry would have greeted the suggestion that some one shoot him with a mixture of bland indifference and morbid delight. Now, suddenly, he wanted quite definitely to live.
"Get the car ready," Botts said to one of the thugs.
PARKINGTON PRY pulled himself out of a roadside ditch an hour later, dazedly wondering why Bettamillion Botts and his helpers hadn't finished the job and murdered him. His clothes were torn and muddy, and his face was nothing more than a bloody smear. But as he stepped groggily up onto the highway, Mr. Pry realized that his bones—though badly nicked up—weren't broken and he could still walk.
It was afternoon and the sun was shining, and Mr. Pry suddenly realized that his head didn't ache any more. This was strange, for he distinctly recalled having been dumped out of the speeding limousine directly on that part of his anatomy.
A car whizzed by, and Mr. Pry held up his thumb a second too late. Then another car approached. It stopped beside him. The driver leaned out.
"You know the way to Somerville?" the driver asked.
Mr. Pry frowned.
"Gee, you got me. I dunno," he said automatically.
The driver suddenly noticed Mr. Pry's appearance, and with a clash of gears, gave his car the gas and got out of there. But Mr. Pry, looking after him, was grinning like an idiot.
"I didn't know!" he told himself exultantly. "I didn't know!" His features wreathed in a bloody smile of sheer lunacy. The morbid cloak had dropped from his shoulders, and suddenly his heart was pounding in delightful excitement. The spell was gone. He was just like any other human being. He didn't have that horrible certainty of being able to know whatever he wanted. For the first time in hours, there was a zest in life!*
[*Here we have the explanation to Mr. Pry's morbid spell. It was because he'd been living in a world without suspense, a world lacking excitement in the unknown. No wonder he'd felt so morbid, so gloomy, so listless. The thrill had left everything completely. But now it was back. He was a normal human being again. Bloody and beaten—but normal! —Ed.
And suddenly Mr. Pry was tremendously happy that Doctor Calktrig would never be able to use him for science. Such a catastrophe would have meant a world surfeited with knowledge, a world sapped of suspense, a world from which every last thrill had been eliminated. Mr. Pry shuddered at the thought of a world like that.
A car screeched to a stop beside him.
"Geeze," said the driver. "You're a mess, buddy. Climb in."
Mr. Pry climbed in. The car had a radio, and it was on. The car started up, Mr. Pry heard an announcer say:
"Let me repeat that to all you horse fans. In the Third Race at Palm Park, Houseafire was disqualified, and Flybird was declared the winner!"
The driver looked at Mr. Pry's face, suddenly gone ashen.
"What's wrong, buddy?" he asked.
But a cold sweat was running down Parkington Pry's forehead. He gulped furiously.
"Ask me," he said hoarsely, "if my wife will ever return to me!"
The driver looked startled.
"Okay, will she?"
Time hung motionless for Mr. Pry. But nothing seized his voice. Then, deliberately, he said:
"I don't know, but I hope so." And quite suddenly he was laughing hysterically in relief, remembering the man who wanted the way to Sommerville a few minutes back. And then, too, he was thanking Bettamillion Botts for having dropped him out of the limousine on his head.
Then, unconsciously, he was digging a bunch of red betting markers from his ragged clothing. The driver looked at him and whistled.
"Are those good?" he gasped.
"I don't know," said Pry. "But I hope so." He chortled happily. "You don't know how much fun it's going to be, just waiting to see!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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