Colonel Hampton wondered, anxiously, where Dearest was, now. He had not felt her presence since his nephew had brought his lawyer and the psychiatrist into the house. He wondered if she had voluntarily separated herself from him for fear he might give her some sign of recognition that these harpies would fasten upon as an evidence of unsound mind. He could not believe that she had deserted him entirely, now when he needed her most....
"Well, what can I do?" Doctor Vehrner was complaining. "You bring me here to interview him, and he just sits there and does nothing.... Will you consent to my giving him an injection of sodium pentathol?"
"Well, I don't know, now," T. Barnwell Powell objected. "I've heard of that drug--one of the so-called 'truth-serum' drugs. I doubt if testimony taken under its influence would be admissible in a court...."
"This is not a court, Mr. Powell," the doctor explained patiently. "And I am not taking testimony; I am making a diagnosis. Pentathol is a recognized diagnostic agent."
"Go ahead," Stephen Hampton said. "Anything to get this over with.... You agree, Myra?"
Myra said nothing. She simply sat, with staring eyes, and clutched the arms of her chair as though to keep from slipping into some dreadful abyss. Once a low moan escaped from her lips.
"My wife is naturally overwrought by this painful business," Stephen said. "I trust that you gentlemen will excuse her.... Hadn't you better go and lie down somewhere, Myra?"
She shook her head violently, moaning again. Both the doctor and the attorney were looking at her curiously.
"Well, I object to being drugged," Colonel Hampton said, rising. "And what's more, I won't submit to it."
"Albert!" Doctor Vehrner said sharply, nodding toward the Colonel. The pithecanthropoid attendant in the white jacket hastened forward, pinned his arms behind him and dragged him down into the chair. For an instant, the old man tried to resist, then, realizing the futility and undignity of struggling, subsided. The psychiatrist had taken a leather case from his pocket and was selecting a hypodermic needle.
Then Myra Hampton leaped to her feet, her face working hideously.
"No! Stop! Stop!" she cried.
Everybody looked at her in surprise, Colonel Hampton no less than the others. Stephen Hampton called out her name sharply.
"No! You shan't do this to me! You shan't! You're torturing me! you are all devils!" she screamed. "Devils! Devils!"
"Myra!" her husband barked, stepping forward.
With a twist, she eluded him, dashing around the desk and pulling open a drawer.
For an instant, she fumbled inside it, and when she brought her hand up, she had Colonel Hampton's .45 automatic in it. She drew back the slide and released it, loading the chamber.
Doctor Vehrner, the hypodermic in his hand, turned. Stephen Hampton sprang at her, dropping his drink. And Albert, the prognathous attendant, released Colonel Hampton and leaped at the woman with the pistol, with the unthinking promptness of a dog whose master is in danger.
Stephen Hampton was the closest to her; she shot him first, point-blank in the chest. The heavy bullet knocked him backward against a small table; he and it fell over together. While he was falling, the woman turned, dipped the muzzle of her pistol slightly and fired again; Doctor Vehrner's leg gave way under him and he went down, the hypodermic flying from his hand and landing at Colonel Hampton's feet. At the same time, the attendant, Albert, was almost upon her. Quickly, she reversed the heavy Colt, pressed the muzzle against her heart, and fired a third shot.
T. Barnwell Powell had let the briefcase slip to the floor; he was staring, slack-jawed, at the tableau of violence which had been enacted before him. The attendant, having reached Myra, was looking down at her stupidly. Then he stooped, and straightened.
"She's dead!" he said, unbelievingly.
Colonel Hampton rose, putting his heel on the hypodermic and crushing it.
"Of course she's dead!" he barked. "You have any first-aid training? Then look after these other people. Doctor Vehrner first; the other man's unconscious; he'll wait."
"No; look after the other man first," Doctor Vehrner said.
Albert gaped back and forth between them.
"Goddammit, you heard me!" Colonel Hampton roared. It was Slaughterhouse Hampton, whose service-ribbons started with the Indian campaigns, speaking; an officer who never for an instant imagined that his orders would not be obeyed. "Get a tourniquet on that man's leg, you!" He moderated his voice and manner about half a degree and spoke to Vehrner. "You are not the doctor, you're the patient, now. You'll do as you're told. Don't you know that a man shot in the leg with a .45 can bleed to death without half trying?"
"Yo'-all do like de Cunnel says, 'r foh Gawd, yo'-all gwine wish yo' had," Sergeant Williamson said, entering the room. "Git a move on."
He stood just inside the doorway, holding a silver-banded malacca walking-stick that he had taken from the hall-stand. He was grasping it in his left hand, below the band, with the crook out, holding it at his side as though it were a sword in a scabbard, which was exactly what that walking-stick was. Albert looked at him, and then back at Colonel Hampton. Then, whipping off his necktie, he went down on his knees beside Doctor Vehrner, skillfully applying the improvised tourniquet, twisting it tight with an eighteen-inch ruler the Colonel took from the desk and handed to him.
"Go get the first-aid kit, Sergeant," the Colonel said. "And hurry. Mr. Stephen's been shot, too."
"Yessuh!" Sergeant Williamson executed an automatic salute and about-face and raced from the room. The Colonel picked up the telephone on the desk.
The County Hospital was three miles from "Greyrock"; the State Police substation a good five. He dialed the State Police number first.
"Sergeant Mallard? Colonel Hampton, at 'Greyrock.' We've had a little trouble here. My nephew's wife just went juramentado with one of my pistols, shot and wounded her husband and another man, and then shot and killed herself.... Yes, indeed it is, Sergeant. I wish you'd send somebody over here, as soon as possible, to take charge.... Oh, you will? That's good.... No, it's all over, and nobody to arrest; just the formalities.... Well, thank you, Sergeant."
The old Negro cavalryman re-entered the room, without the sword-cane and carrying a heavy leather box on a strap over his shoulder. He set this on the floor and opened it, then knelt beside Stephen Hampton. The Colonel was calling the hospital.
"... gunshot wounds," he was saying. "One man in the chest and the other in the leg, both with a .45 pistol. And you'd better send a doctor who's qualified to write a death certificate; there was a woman killed, too.... Yes, certainly; the State Police have been notified."
"Dis ain' so bad, Cunnel," Sergeant Williamson raised his head to say. "Ah's seen men shot wuss'n dis dat was ma'ked 'Duty' inside a month, suh."
Colonel Hampton nodded. "Well, get him fixed up as best you can, till the ambulance gets here. And there's whiskey and glasses on that table, over there. Better give Doctor Vehrner a drink." He looked at T. Barnwell Powell, still frozen to his chair, aghast at the carnage around him. "And give Mr. Powell a drink, too. He needs one."
He did, indeed. Colonel Hampton could have used a drink, too; the library looked like beef-day at an Indian agency. But he was still Slaughterhouse Hampton, and consequently could not afford to exhibit queasiness.
It was then, for the first time since the business had started that he felt the presence of Dearest.
"Oh, Popsy, are you all right?" the voice inside his head was asking. "It's all over, now; you won't have anything to worry about, any more. But, oh, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it!"
"My God, Dearest!" He almost spoke aloud. "Did you make her do that?"
"Popsy!" The voice in his mind was grief-stricken. "You.... You're afraid of me! Never be afraid of Dearest, Popsy! And don't hate me for this. It was the only thing I could do. If he'd given you that injection, he could have made you tell him all about us, and then he'd have been sure you were crazy, and they'd have taken you away. And they treat people dreadfully at that place of his. You'd have been driven really crazy before long, and then your mind would have been closed to me, so that I wouldn't have been able to get through to you, any more. What I did was the only thing I could do."
"I don't hate you, Dearest," he replied, mentally. "And I don't blame you. It was a little disconcerting, though, to discover the extent of your capabilities.... How did you manage it?"
"You remember how I made the Sergeant see an angel, the time you were down in the snow?" Colonel Hampton nodded. "Well, I made her see ... things that weren't angels," Dearest continued. "After I'd driven her almost to distraction, I was able to get into her mind and take control of her." Colonel Hampton felt a shudder inside of him. "That was horrible; that woman had a mind like a sewer; I still feel dirty from it! But I made her get the pistol--I knew where you kept it--and I knew how to use it, even if she didn't. Remember when we were shooting muskrats, that time, along the river?"
"Uhuh. I wondered how she knew enough to unlock the action and load the chamber." He turned and faced the others.
Doctor Vehrner was sitting on the floor, with his back to the chair Colonel Hampton had occupied, his injured leg stretched out in front of him. Albert was hovering over him with mother-hen solicitude. T. Barnwell Powell was finishing his whiskey and recovering a fraction of his normal poise.
"Well, I suppose you gentlemen see, now, who was really crazy around here?" Colonel Hampton addressed them bitingly. "That woman has been dangerously close to the borderline of sanity for as long as she's been here. I think my precious nephew trumped up this ridiculous insanity complaint against me as much to discredit any testimony I might ever give about his wife's mental condition as because he wanted to get control of my estate. I also suppose that the tension she was under here, this afternoon, was too much for her, and the scheme boomeranged on its originators. Curious case of poetic justice, but I'm sorry you had to be included in it, Doctor."
"Attaboy, Popsy!" Dearest enthused. "Now you have them on the run; don't give them a chance to re-form. You know what Patton always said--Grab 'em by the nose and kick 'em in the pants."
Colonel Hampton re-lighted his cigar. "Patton only said 'pants' when he was talking for publication," he told her, sotto voce. Then he noticed the unsigned commitment paper lying on the desk. He picked it up, crumpled it, and threw it into the fire.
"I don't think you'll be needing that," he said. "You know, this isn't the first time my loving nephew has expressed doubts as to my sanity." He sat down in the chair at the desk, motioning to his servant to bring him a drink. "And see to the other gentlemen's glasses, Sergeant," he directed. "Back in 1929, Stephen thought I was crazy as a bedbug to sell all my securities and take a paper loss, around the first of September. After October 24th, I bought them back at about twenty per cent of what I'd sold them for, after he'd lost his shirt." That, he knew, would have an effect on T. Barnwell Powell. "And in December, 1944, I was just plain nuts, selling all my munition shares and investing in a company that manufactured baby-food. Stephen thought that Rundstedt's Ardennes counter-offensive would put off the end of the war for another year and a half!"
"Baby-food, eh?" Doctor Vehrner chuckled.
Colonel Hampton sipped his whiskey slowly, then puffed on his cigar. "No, this pair were competent liars," he replied. "A good workmanlike liar never makes up a story out of the whole cloth; he always takes a fabric of truth and embroiders it to suit the situation." He smiled grimly; that was an accurate description of his own tactical procedure at the moment. "I hadn't intended this to come out, Doctor, but it happens that I am a convinced believer in spiritualism. I suppose you'll think that's a delusional belief, too?"
"Well...." Doctor Vehrner pursed his lips. "I reject the idea of survival after death, myself, but I think that people who believe in such a theory are merely misevaluating evidence. It is definitely not, in itself, a symptom of a psychotic condition."
"Thank you, Doctor." The Colonel gestured with his cigar. "Now, I'll admit their statements about my appearing to be in conversation with some invisible or imaginary being. That's all quite true. I'm convinced that I'm in direct-voice communication with the spirit of a young girl who was killed by Indians in this section about a hundred and seventy-five years ago. At first, she communicated by automatic writing; later we established direct-voice communication. Well, naturally, a man in my position would dislike the label of spirit-medium; there are too many invidious associations connected with the term. But there it is. I trust both of you gentlemen will remember the ethics of your respective professions and keep this confidential."
"Oh, brother!" Dearest was fairly hugging him with delight. "When bigger and better lies are told, we tell them, don't we, Popsy?"
"Yes, and try and prove otherwise," Colonel Hampton replied, around his cigar. Then he blew a jet of smoke and spoke to the men in front of him.
"I intend paying for my nephew's hospitalization, and for his wife's funeral," he said. "And then, I'm going to pack up all his personal belongings, and all of hers; when he's discharged from the hospital, I'll ship them wherever he wants them. But he won't be allowed to come back here. After this business, I'm through with him."
T. Barnwell Powell nodded primly. "I don't blame you, in the least, Colonel," he said. "I think you have been abominably treated, and your attitude is most generous." He was about to say something else, when the doorbell tinkled and Sergeant Williamson went out into the hall. "Oh, dear; I suppose that's the police, now," the lawyer said. He grimaced like a small boy in a dentist's chair.
Colonel Hampton felt Dearest leave him for a moment. Then she was back.
"The ambulance." Then he caught a sparkle of mischief in her mood. "Let's have some fun, Popsy! The doctor is a young man, with brown hair and a mustache, horn-rimmed glasses, a blue tie and a tan-leather bag. One of the ambulance men has red hair, and the other has a mercurochrome-stain on his left sleeve. Tell them your spirit-guide told you."
The old soldier's tobacco-yellowed mustache twitched with amusement.
"No, gentlemen, it is the ambulance," he corrected. "My spirit-control says...." He relayed Dearest's descriptions to them.
T. Barnwell Powell blinked. A speculative look came into the psychiatrist's eyes; he was probably wishing the commitment paper hadn't been destroyed.
Then the doctor came bustling in, brown-mustached, blue-tied, spectacled, carrying a tan bag, and behind him followed the two ambulance men, one with a thatch of flaming red hair and the other with a stain of mercurochrome on his jacket-sleeve.
For an instant, the lawyer and the psychiatrist gaped at them. Then T. Barnwell Powell put one hand to his mouth and made a small gibbering sound, and Doctor Vehrner gave a faint squawk, and then both men grabbed, simultaneously, for the whiskey bottle.
The laughter of Dearest tinkled inaudibly through the rumbling mirth of Colonel Hampton.
SORRY: Wrong Dimension BY ROSS ROCKLYNNE.
So the baby had a pet monster. And so nobody but baby could see it. And so a couple of men dropped out of thin air to check and see if the monster was licensed or not. So what's strange about that?
Baby didn't cry all day, because he had a monster for a playmate. But I didn't know he had a playmate, and much less did I know it was a monster. The honest truth is that for the first time since baby was born, I had my nerves under control, and I didn't dare investigate why he wasn't crying. I got all the ironing done--all of it, mind you--and I got Harry's work-clothes mended and I also read three installments of a Saturday Evening Post serial I'd been saving. And besides this Mabel, my neighbor, and I had a couple or three cups of coffee. We also had a giggling fit. I remember once we went off into hysterics at the picture of ourselves we had--two haggard old wrecks of women, worn out at twenty-three from too much work around the house. "But thank Heavens baby hasn't cried all day!" I gurgled when we came out of it.
"Neither has mine," said Mabel, who isn't due for six months.
"Mabel, honest, you kill me," I said, "and excuse me while I comb my messy hair--because I'm not a wreck. Harry said so. He says I'm still the best hunk of female pulchritude he's met since high school--and we've been married two years!"
I went into the bathroom leaving Mabel choking hysterically behind me. When I came out of the bathroom, she was hysterical but in a different way. She'd discovered why Harry, Jr., wasn't crying. She'd been in the nursery. Her face was white as an egg-shell.
"He's playing with something," she chattered. "It's alive. I heard it cooing back."
I ran three steps to baby's crib ... one on the corner of Little Jack Horner, one on the sheep of Little Bo Peep, one on the cupboard of Old Mother Hubbard. "Baby!" I almost screamed. But baby cooed and gurgled and laughed and rocked back and forth on his diapers. He was playing with his teething ring, but something was trying to jerk the teething ring out of his hands. And baby liked it.
Baby lost his hold on the teething ring, and fell on his back. The teething ring stayed up in the air and then by itself moved toward baby's waving hands and let him get a hold of it.
Mabel screeched through her teeth, "Baby's got it, the monster's got it, now baby's got it!" She began to collapse.
"Don't faint," I snapped, "and don't let's play tennis." I was shaking. I reached into the crib. My hands closed around something that put ice-water in my vertebrae. It was a monster.
"It's got fur!" I whispered. I felt some more. "And clammy scales!" I lifted it out of the crib. "And a trunk!" I was determined to save baby. Baby cried!
We got some chairs and sat there for ten minutes close together while baby played with the invisible monster. "I don't know what to do!" I said. "It's alive. Maybe it's poisonous. But it's friendly. Maybe it's another baby!"
"From another dimension," said Mabel.
"Rot," I said; I think I picked that up from the detective in the Saturday Evening Post serial. "Let's keep our heads."
"If baby keeps his," said my friend Mabel.
That got me. "I've got to call Harry," I chattered. "They don't like him to be called at work, but I've got to call him."
"You'll just worry him," said Mabel. "Call the police."
"No!" I said. I felt like crying myself. Baby was so happy. Maybe the baby monster was happy, too. The police would do something awful to it. But what about my maternal instinct? Something told me I simply had to save my baby! "I've got to call Harry," I insisted, and I went to the 'phone.
The dial tone sounded peculiar, I remember, but I called Harry's place of employment. A brisk female voice cut in: "What number are you calling, please?"
"CHarlemont 7-890," I whispered.
"Sorry. You must have the wrong dimension." There was a click as she disconnected. I sat like a statue. A haggard statue with a greasy housedress on. A statue that hadn't plucked its eyebrows in two months. I had a lot of nerve. I was a bad mother, and a poor mistress. And I had a swell husband, who could lie like a trooper. I wasn't any good, I was ugly, I was greasy. I cried. "Mabel," I choked.
It took her a while to get it out of me, and then her blue eyes flashed. "I told you!" she cried. "From another dimension!" In her broken-down green wedgies she clattered toward the door. I heard her fighting it. She couldn't get it open. Then she tried a window. It opened, but she couldn't stick her hand out. She flung herself around.