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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE RIGHT TIME *** Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction December 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

 

THE RIGHT TIME

 

The trouble with prophets is that if they're accurate, the news won't do you any good, and if they aren't accurate, they're no good. Unless, of course, they're more than just prophets....

 

WALTER BUPP

 

Illustrated by George Schelling

"Don't let the old goat rattle you, Pheola," I said as we rode the elevator to the penthouse. "He'll try. Just remember, he is the one who has to say O.K. if we are to give you some training."

Her eyes rolled and she moaned softly, clinging to my arm. "Oh, Billy Joe!" she whispered. "I don't want to fail you!"

Maragon has some pretty creepy types in his office and the receptionist that day was no exception. She was one of those twitchy hyper-thyroid clairvoyants that he likes to test.

"Don't tell me," the receptionist twitched proudly as we came in. "I know!" She got up from behind her desk and led us to the Grand Master's private office.

I intended to make her guess whom I had with me, but that didn't bother her. "Dr. Walter Bupp and Pheola Rountree," she announced smugly. Clairvoyants live in a condition of perpetual thrill with their powers.

Maragon's penthouse office has glass walls on two sides. He was prowling back and forth in front of his desk, sharply lit by the bright sunlight that streamed in. His gray shock of hair glistened, and his bushy eyebrows shaded his face. He radiated impatience, from the grinding of his square jaw to the fists he had rammed into his hips.

"Lefty," he greeted me, "do they all have to look alike? Where did you get this scarecrow?"

I could feel Pheola stiffen. I guess no woman, no matter how plain, likes to be reminded of it.

"Same place you dig up those twitchy CV types you have spooking up your outer office," I snapped. "There's nothing the matter with Pheola that three square meals won't cure in a month!"

Maragon grunted. "And just what wonderful power do you have, young woman, that makes it worth while for the Lodge to fatten you up?" he demanded.

She had plenty of spunk, I'll say that for her. "I have the power of prophecy, and the gift of healin'," Pheola said, squinting at him.

He barked a laugh at her and went across the thick carpet to sit in his swivel chair. It was a beauty of dark green morocco that matched his Bank of England chairs and leather sofa that was against one of the walls. "What's your favorite prophecy, young woman?" he wanted to know.

Pheola smiled over at me. "Oh, no!" I groaned, but she nodded.

"Billy Joe and I are gettin' married," she told Maragon.

"Billy Joe?" he asked, scowling at me across his desk.

"That's me," I said. "Don't ask me where the name comes from."

"I couldn't care less," Maragon grumped. "Is it true? Are you going to marry this bag of bones?"

I could feel my face getting red. "Not that I know of," I said.

He swung around in his chair to face her. "Young woman, someone has told you how much the Lodge is interested in precognition. You wouldn't walk in here claiming the power if you didn't know we want to find it, and rarely can. But you certainly came ill-prepared. Going to marry Lefty, eh? Why, you can't predict the right time!" He banged his fist on the big slab of walnut. "You're a fake!" he said.

"I ain't a fake!" Pheola protested. "We will get married!"

"Drag her out, Lefty," Maragon said wearily, with a limp wave of his hand.

"Come on, Pheola," I said, taking her arm with my right hand. I saw no point talking with him any further.

"Lefty!" Maragon exclaimed.

"Yes?"

"You used your right arm! You can't move it!"

"I can now," I told the old goat with relish. "Pheola told you she was a healer. Well, she healed me a ... a couple days ago!"

He went for the jugular: "Have you ever done anything like that before, Pheola?" he demanded.

"Mostly small ailin'," she said, squinting and backing away from his desk defensively. "Never nothin' as big as findin' the weak spot in Billy Joe's haid. But I told you I had the power of prophecy and the gift of healin'."

I suppose her degree of humility decided him. "She can stay," Maragon said. "Look into this healing thing, Lefty. But, for the love of Mike, don't waste time with her precognition."

Pheola moaned, then keened, and waved her hands in front of her face, as if to ward off a swarm of bees. "My healin' won't do you much good, you nasty old man!" she said in a shrill voice. "You'll git a pain, sich a pain," she insisted, pressing her hand to her heart. "It will like to kill you, and it nearly will!"

Maragon laughed at her again. "A young witch!" he proclaimed. "I'll bet you scared half of Posthole County into fits with dark remarks like that. Take her away, Lefty!"

 

Pheola didn't break her silence until I showed her into the apartment adjoining mine in the Chapter House. The Lodge Building is a hundred stories high, and most of it is devoted to offices that we rent out to doctors, lawyers and the like. We only use a part of the placeโ€”there just aren't that many Psis aroundโ€”and save a few floors for apartments for members permanently assigned, as I am, to Lodge duties.

Pheola stood stiff and unseeing in the apartment, her fists clenched at her sides, plainly in no shape to appreciate her rooms. They were in the usual good taste I always associate with a Psi decorator.

"How could I let you down, Billy Joe!" she said to me, as soon as the door to the corridor had closed behind us.

"Oh, stop it!" I snapped, giving her a shake. "Weren't you ever wrong in a prophecy before?"

She squinted to see me better. "Does it make you hate me?" she asked. "Yes, I've been wrong lots of times," she admitted. "But not about marryin' you. How does he know I'm wrong?"

"He doesn't," I growled. "He just doesn't believe in precognition. What little we see of it in the Lodge is so erratic that you can't count it as a proven Psi power."

"Then maybe I am right," she pressed me.

"Not if I can help it," I said sourly. "I'm in no mood to get married. Mostly I want to give you some advice. O.K.?"

She made cow eyes at me. "You know you can, Billy Joe," she said.

"Well," I snarled, "my first suggestion is that you cut out this 'Billy Joe' stuff. My name is Wally Bupp. You can call me Lefty if you want to. I'm not your darlin' Billy."

"I tole the truth and you hate me for it!" she said hotly. "I was afeered of that."

"'Afeered!'" I sneered. "All that corn pone and chitterlin's dialect! You can cut that out, too, can't you? Wasn't that just part of your local color?"

"Sort of," she admitted, switching to the neutral American dialect. "Yes, I can cut that out, too, Lefty."

"Good. I'm willing to take a couple of chances with that old goat, because I believe in you. I saw you in action in Nevada, and you sold me that you have some Psi powers. We'll work on your healing, as Maragon suggested. But I want to have your precognition tested. Just keep your mouth shut about it here in the Lodge, do you hear?"

She nodded.

"All right," I said. "I'll have to make some arrangements, or Maragon will have my scalp. In the meantime, why don't you fix up so we can go out to dinner?"

She gave me a look of adoration that would have curdled fresh milk. "Oh, Lefty, I'd love that." And then her face fell. "But I don't have a thing to wear!"

I don't think she was exactly a moocher. She didn't have anything to wear, when I thought of it. "Sure," I said more mildly. "Well, that's the good part of getting some training here. The Lodge will take care of your needs. Just call the girl on the desk and say you need some clothes. She'll send somebody over from one of the department stores."

Pheola's eyes grew round. Ordinarily she squinted when she wanted to see anything. "What should I get?"

"Start from the skin and work out," I told her. "Tell the department store you'll be working in an office, and that you'll need a couple of cocktail dresses and wraps for evening, too. Get lots of shoes. O.K.?"

Was it ever!

I had an idea that clothes would be quite a change for Pheola. I had met her only three days before, in a Nevada gambling house. She'd made for me like a lode-star, called me her Billy Joe and announced that I would be her next husband. I'll tell you, that was a shocker. I'm not about to marry anybody. She was as tall as I was, which isn't so very much for a man, skinny to the point of emaciation, wearing a "borrowed" dress that didn't fit, and had that unmistakable slatternly look that you associate with white trash. On top of that, she was vain enough about her bucktoothed and pointed-nose features to keep her glasses in her purse, and as a result she went around peering at you from a distance of eight inches to make sure you were the right guy.

But she had Psi powers. She had been hot as a firecracker predicting the roll of dice on the gambling tables, the very dice that I was tipping with telekinesis. Much more important to me personally, she had announced that she was a healer, and on my dare had "laid hands" on me, and brought my dead right arm to life.

My obligation as a Lodge official was to bring her to the Manhattan Chapter for measurement and training, no matter what the Grand Master felt about the reality of her powers of precognition. Maragon had been about as obstreperous as I had figured. We have a lot of trouble working together, probably because he resents my TK powers. He's good at it, but I'm a good deal better. That's why I'm a Thirty-third Degree member of the Lodge.

Leaving Pheola's new home, I went next door to my own apartment and checked in by phone with Memorial Hospital. Fortunately, I was not on call, and could take a few steps to find out how much PC Pheola really had. I went down to the forty-third floor, where we have our laboratories, and let myself into the data-processing center.

They don't like me to do that. That place is under full temperature and humidity control, and every time an outsider barges in the whole system does nip-ups.

Norty Baskins came scurrying away from a card sorter. "What's this!" he exclaimed. "Oh, it's you, Lefty." His face went solemn with his effort, and I felt a twinge in my ear lobe. I returned the grip, tweaking his ear the same way. He began to smile, realizing that I had felt his lift and was returning it.

"You shouldn't be in here, Lefty," he said. "You know the rules."

"And I know this is the time to break them, Norty," I said. "I've got something really rare for you."

"Rare?"

"This time I've really got one," I insisted. "A precog who can call things with pin-point accuracy."

"Not again, Lefty," he said, disgusted. "Aren't you getting a little tired of striking out on that prediction? You've brought half a dozen flops in here in the last year."

"Not Pheola," I said. "Listen, Norty, I want this girl measured."

"I thought you said she was pin-point accurate," he sneered. "And what does Maragon say?"

I waved a hand at him and walked over to sit on one of the lab stools. He went to the sorter and pulled cards from the bins, joggling them up into one solid stack that he put back in the hopper. But he did not press the "start" button.

"You know, Maragon," I told him. "This girl is hot, and then she's cold. But there is so much accuracy when she's right that I think there's some future to training her. What I want out of you is a measurement of how great her accuracy is."

Norty snorted. "When Maragon doesn't believe it?" he said. "No thanks." He started the card sorter, filling the room with its clatter.

I drew a pair of dice from my pocket. I'm never without the ivories. They

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