"Made me a surgeon," he said.
"Never!" Shari said hotly.
"Ask Tex," Wally suggested. "He felt me put a lift on his coronary artery. I'm a TK surgeon--I've got enough TK to put clamps on inaccessible arteries and feel out mechanical disorders of the body. Check it. I'm on the staff at Universal Hospital."
"And what are you doing here?" she argued.
"Meeting my obligation to the Lodge," he said. "This is where I got my training, right in this building."
"I thought that brownstone house was the Lodge," I said.
"No," he said. "That's just the Grand Master's residence. The Lodge provides quarters for its brass. This building is the real chapter house."
He heaved a long sigh and dug into his drawer again. "You can beat it, Milly," he said. "Thanks."
"I know," she told him from the door. She had started out long before he spoke. Impressive stuff, but it got a sniff from Shari.
What Wally got out of his desk had a refreshing shape and color. It was oblong. It was green. It was money. It was, for a fact, a stack of one thousand dollar bills.
Wally shuffled the two cards under his desk again and piled them two-deep in front of Shari and me.
"You heard what Dr. King said," Wally reminded me. "She'll love you no less for being a PC. Now we'll play the game a little more realistically. Every time you guess the top card right, Tex, I'm going to give you a thousand dollars. No strings attached. When you miss, you give one back. But if you have none to give, you don't have to pay. You can't lose. Maybe you can win. All set?"
"One minute," I demanded. "Shari, is this a fair test?"
She shrugged. "Why not?"
"Is it gambling?"
She smiled faintly, her first sign of relaxation. "Hardly," she said.
"Then you don't mind if I win?"
She found a laugh this time. "You can try," she corrected me.
"This could be our nest egg," I said.
She blushed. "If that's a proposal," she said tartly. "The answer is 'no.'"
"I'll talk to you later," I growled. "When I'm richer!"
I looked at the back of the card on the desk. Wally was leaning back in his swivel chair and wasn't within four feet of the pasteboards. If there was any hanky-panky, I couldn't see how he planned to work it.
"Heart," I said.
"Why don't you turn it over, Dr. King?" Wally suggested. "Remove any possible chance of manipulation." It was the two of hearts that Shari turned over. I was a thousand dollars richer.
I won the next. And the next. My stomach tightened up. Every thousand dollars drove another nail into my coffin--went that much farther to prove I was a snake. Well, I wasn't!
I missed the fourth one.
"Cut that out!" Wally snapped at me. I jumped a foot. I had tried to miss it.
With a sickening realization of doom, I called the next four right.
"Stop it!" Shari screeched, grabbing at the cards. "I'll shuffle!" she announced. She hid the pasteboards from me with her body, and took care, in putting them before me on the desk, that I didn't see the face of the bottom card.
Her eyes were violet pools of hate and rage and she spoke to me: "Now try it!"
"Spade!" That made eight straight.
Even Shari succumbed to the ghastly fascination of it. There had been fifty thousand dollars in the stack of bills Wally had taken from his desk. Soon all fifty of the bills were stacked in front of me. Except for the one time I had tried to, I had never missed.
Lefty stuck his sharp chin at Shari. "I'd call that a fairly convincing string," he said. "Will you concede, Dr. King?"
She gave him an awful mouthful of silence. A pitiless blackness descended over my spirit. I looked at the money in front of me. It had been like selling my soul to the Devil. There it was, all that money. All I'd had to give up was any claim to being a human--I wasn't a Normal any more. I was a psi!
Then Shari was talking, in short gasping bursts, half choking, half sobbing. "No wonder Tex is in a whirl," she said. "I've seen some good illusions, worked by the best light-fingered operators in the country, but nothing to compare with this! Just let me see you match this charade in my laboratory! With my apparatus!" She meant her playing cards.
Wally was sweet and reasonable. "You dealt and shuffled most of the hands yourself," he reminded her. "I never touched the cards. How could I control them?" He grinned a little more sharply. "And you can't call it TK," he went on. "Did you feel the cards move or twitch or resist you as you shuffled them? It has to be PC."
She blew her top on that one. It's sickening to see someone you love goaded past all endurance and break down into screams and wild gestures.
"Aah!" she cried, shaking her head blindly. "Before I believe that Tex Robertson can feel things that I can't feel, I'll accept any other explanation. What are those cards of yours? Small TV screens? Is this more electronic hokum?"
Wally quietly tore one of the cards in two. "Now I understand," he said. "That's the real reason."
I looked my surprise at him, and Shari quieted down just a little. "Relax, Dr. King," he advised her. "The possession of psi powers isn't a mark of moral superiority. Part of the problem in the Lodge is that psi powers are possessed as often by evil and stupid people as by the good and intelligent. Yes, I know that you think you deserve precognition, Dr. King. But that ain't the way the ball bounces. You're a Normal, Dr. King, and that's all you'll ever be."
He got a face full of fingers for his trouble. Shari leaped to her feet and really slapped him in the kisser. She stormed out of there. I started to follow, but a tug at my earlobe signaled me to stop.
"Hold on a minute, Tex," Wally said sympathetically. "You're one of us now."
I had to go after her. "I love her," I said hopelessly. "I can't see her hurt and upset like that. I've got to--"
But he was shaking his head. "You haven't got a chance," Wally said. "She'll never forgive you for having precognition. That's why she made the study of psi her life-work. She's wanted PC for herself, and was sure she was pure enough of heart to deserve to have the power. Well, she doesn't have it, and she'll hate you for having what she thinks she deserves. Forget her."
Talk about your cup brimming over! Well, if I had to get used to being cut off from the human race, perhaps Shari was the place to start. That's what happens to superhumans!
There was one desperate hope. "This wasn't hallucination?" I tried.
"No, Tex," he said calmly. "This was on the level. Just for fun," he went on. "Can you do it when there isn't any money riding on it?"
Reluctantly I came back to his desk and looked down at the back of the top card. "Heart," I said dully. I hit ten in a row for him. The spade was on top four times, the heart six times.
"And was that on the level?" I asked.
He scowled at me and chewed his thin lips. "Yeah," he said.
"That settles it," I said, sagging back into my seat. "I'm a snake. A rotten PC!"
"Don't you believe it!" Wally growled, lunging out of his chair. He started to pace back and forth across the office, his chin stuck way out ahead of him as he prowled. "I don't know what you are, Tex," he declared. "But you're no PC!"
"I'm a Normal after all!" I gasped, feeling a surge of blessed relief.
He swiped at the air with a hand. "Don't be silly!" he snapped. "You've got a psi power so incredible that--" He whirled on me while I died for good.
"You explain it," he insisted. "After your lovely Dr. King flew out of here, I shuffled the cards ten times under the desk, and you hit ten in a row, right?"
"I cheated on the shuffle," he told me. "I used TK to make sure that I put the two of spades on top all ten times."
"No," I insisted. "Six times the heart was on top. You turned them over yourself."
"That's just it," he whispered, leaning toward me. "I put that spade on top every time! I did! But when I turned it over, more than half the time it was a heart. What did you do?"
"You mean I'm a hallucinator?" I asked. "Look, this is getting ridiculous! I was kidding myself, too?"
"Nonsense. It was real." His face jerked in surprise. "You couldn't!" he gasped, as the idea hit him. "But you did!" he reminded himself. "Wait till Maragon hears this!"
And then he told me. It couldn't be, I knew. But it was. He proved it to me--or I proved it to us.
At some stage you have to get excited about it, if it's no more than a grisly fascination. At that, it was dawn before we could stop our intoxicated talk. Maragon had been yanked out of bed again, and when he heard the news, woke up a darned sight faster than the night before. Pheola of the race-horse legs joined us, and several other psis as well. Before it was over the Grand Master had put on a ridiculous piece of regalia and mumbled me into probationary membership in the Lodge. There was nothing creepy about the ritual--only about the way I felt.
I guess, if we hadn't gotten hungry, we'd be there yet. Wally had one last little wrinkle for me as I started down the corridor for the elevator.
"Pheola," he called.
"Yes, darlin' Billy," she said, coming to his side.
"How's Tex going to make out with that overeducated iceberg he's hot after?" he asked her. I flinched at the thought of Shari--I was getting used to considering her a memory.
Pheola looked into the corner for a moment. "Oh, yum!" she said, smiling and showing the braces on her teeth. She kissed me. I think I was about as startled as Wally was. "Just so you let her be the only Cassandra," she said. "And you call that an iceberg?" She looked at me curiously. "You'd better start eating red meat, Tex," she told me, and would say no more.
I had a heck of a time getting Shari on the 'phone. An hour before lunch she caved in and accepted my call.
She looked pale and shaken, even in the black and white of the screen. "Please," she said. "I've had all I can stand. You stayed there all night, didn't you?"
"I'm not a PC, Shari," I said.
Nothing else would have caught her ear.
"Proved it before I left," I said. "I can prove it to you, too."
"Ridiculous. You can't prove a negative."
"Well, in a manner of speaking. What I can do is show you how the card trick was worked."
I had her hooked. "You mean it? It really was a trick after all?" she said, slumping.
"It sure wasn't PC," I said. "Let me show you."
"At the lab," Shari said. "I'll be there in ten minutes."
A couple graduate students were there, fooling around with Rhine cards when we arrived, and Shari chased them out without ceremony. She locked the door behind them. We were to have privacy. She didn't bother with her lab coat this time.
"Show me," she insisted.
"The apparatus, Shari," I grinned. She gave me a deck of cards, and pulled out the two of hearts and two of spades.
"We'll do it face-up," I said. "So you can see how it's done!"
I laid the two cards side by side on her blotter, face up. "Now put a finger on each one." I directed. "And watch them like a hawk. What card is under your right forefinger?"
"Heart," Shari said.
"Wrong," I told her. "Spade."
They could have heard that shriek clear to Keokuk. Good thing we were in a sound-proof laboratory.
I got her calmed down after a while. "It didn't happen!" she insisted, clutching at her temples.
"If you won't holler," I said. "I'll do it again. Remember, it's just a phenomenon, like osmosis."
"It is not!" she gasped.
But I did it for her. Ten times in a row. The cards changed under her fingers without moving.
"So it's not PC," I said.
"Oh, Tex, but what is it?"
"You agree it's real?"
Shari nodded. "It's real. You can do it, whatever it is. What is it?"
"TK," I told her. "Telekinesis."
"Nonsense," she said. "Are you trying to make me believe I wouldn't have felt the cards move if you'd snapped them out from under my fingers? I was pressing hard on them every time."
"I didn't move the cards," I explained.