What You Need

by Lewis Padgett

       That’s what the sign said. Tim Carmichael, who worked for a trade paper that specialized in economics, and eked out a meager salary by selling sensational and untrue articles to the tabloids, failed to sense a story in the reversed sign. He thought it was a cheap publicity gag, something one seldom encounters on Park Avenue, where the shop fronts are noted for their classic dignity. And he was irritated.
       He growled silently, walked on, then suddenly turned and came back. He wasn’t quite strong enough to resist the temptation to unscramble the sentence, though his annoyance grew. He stood before the window, staring up, and said to himself, “We Have What You Need. Yeah?”
       The sign was in prim, small letters on a black painted ribbon that stretched across a narrow glass pane. Below it was one of those curved, invisible-glass windows. Through the window Carmichael could see an expanse of white velvet, with a few objects carefully arranged there. A rusty nail, a snowshoe, and a diamond tiara. It looked like a Dali decor for Cartier’s or Tiffany.
       “Jewelers?” Carmichael asked silently. “But why what you need?” He pictured millionaires miserably despondent for lack of a matched pearl necklace, heiresses weeping inconsolably because they needed a few star sapphires. The principle of luxury merchandising was to deal with the whipped cream of supply and demand; few people needed diamonds. They merely wanted them and could afford them.
       “Or the place might sell jinniflasks,” Carmichael decided. “Or magic wands. Same principle as a Coney carny, though. A sucker trap. Bill the Whatzit outside and people will pay their dimes and flock in. For two cents—”
       He was dyspeptic this morning, and generally disliked the world. Prospect of a scapegoat was attractive, and his press card gave him a certain advantage. He opened the door and walked into the shop.
       It was Park Avenue, all right. There were no showcases or counters. It might be an art gallery, for a few good oils were displayed on the walls. An air of overpowering luxury, with the bleakness of an unlived-in place, struck Carmichael.
       Through a curtain at the back came a very tall man with carefully-combed white hair, a ruddy, healthy face, and sharp blue eyes. He might have been sixty. He wore expensive but careless tweeds, which somehow jarred with the decor.
       “Good morning,” the man said, with a quick glance at Carmichael’s clothes. He seemed slightly surprised. “May I help you?”
       “Maybe.” Carmichael introduced himself and showed his press card.
       “Oh? My name is Talley. Peter Talley.”
       “I saw your sign.”
       “Our paper is always on the lookout for possible write-ups. I’ve never noticed your shop before—”
       “I’ve been here for years,” Talley said.
       “This is an art gallery?”
       The door opened. A florid man came in and greeted Talley cordially. Carmichael, recognizing the client, felt his opinion of the shop swing rapidly upward. The florid man was a Name—a big one.
       “It’s a bit early, Mr. Talley,” he said, “but I didn’t want to delay. Have you had time to get...what I needed?”
       “Oh, yes. I have it. One moment.” Talley hurried through the draperies and returned with a small, neatly-wrapped parcel which he gave to the florid man. The latter forked over a check—Carmichael caught a glimpse of the amount and gulped—and departed. His town car was at the curb outside.
       Carmichael moved toward the door where he could watch. The florid man seemed anxious. His chauffeur waited stolidly as the parcel was unwrapped with hurried fingers.
       “I’m not sure I’d want publicity, Mr. Carmichael,” Talley said. “I’ve a select clientele—carefully chosen.”
       “Perhaps our weekly economic bulletins might interest you—”
       Talley tried not to laugh. “Oh, I don’t think so. It really isn’t in my line.”
       The florid man had finally unwrapped the parcel and taken out an egg. As far as Carmichael could see from his post near the door, it was merely an ordinary egg. But its possessor regarded it almost with awe. Had Earth’s last hen died ten years before, he could have been no more pleased. Something like deep relief showed on the Florida-tanned face. He said something to the chauffeur, and the car rolled smoothly forward and was gone.

       “Are you in the dairy business?” Carmichael asked abruptly.
       “Do you mind telling me what your business is?”
       “I’m afraid I do, rather,” Talley said.
       Carmichael was beginning to scent a story. “Of course I could find out through the Better Business Bureau—”
       “You couldn’t.”
       “No? They might be interested in knowing why an egg is worth five thousand dollars to one of your customers.”
       Talley said, “My clientele is so small I must charge high fees. You...ah...know that a Chinese mandarin has been known to pay thousands of taels for eggs of proved antiquity.”
       “That guy wasn’t a Chinese mandarin,” Carmichael said.
       “Oh, well. As I say, I don’t welcome publicity—”
       “I think you do. I was in the advertising game for a while. Spelling your sign backwards is an obvious baited hook.”
       “Then you’re no psychologist,” Talley said. “It’s just that I can afford to indulge my whims. For five years I looked at that window every day and read the sign backward—from inside my shop. It annoyed me. You know how a word will begin to look funny if you keep staring on it? Any word. It turns into something in no human tongue. Well, I discovered I was getting a neurosis about that sign. It makes no sense backwards, but I kept finding myself trying to read sense into it. When I started to say ‘Deen uoy tahw evah ew’ to myself and looking for philological derivations, I called in a sign painter. People who are interested enough still drop in.”
       “Not many,” Carmichael said shrewdly. “This is Park Avenue. And you’ve got the place fixed up too expensively. Nobody in the low-income brackets—or the middle brackets—would come in here. So you run an upper-bracket business.”
       “Well,” Talley said, “yes, I do.”
       “And you won’t tell me what it is?”
       “I’d rather not.”
       “I can find out, you know. It might be dope, pornography, high-class fencing—”
       “Very likely,” Mr. Talley said smoothly. “I buy stolen jewels, conceal them in eggs, and sell them to my customers. Or perhaps that egg was loaded with microscopic French postcards. Good morning, Mr. Carmichael.”
       “Good morning,” Carmichael said, and went out. He was overdue at the office, but annoyance was the stronger motivation. He played sleuth for a while, keeping an eye on Talley’s shop, and the results were thoroughly satisfactory—to a certain extent. He learned everything but why.

       Late in the afternoon, he sought out Mr. Talley again.
       “Wait a minute,” he said, at sight of the proprietor’s discouraging face. “For all you know, I may be a customer.”
       Talley laughed.
       “Well, why not?” Carmichael compressed his lips. “How do you know the size of my bank account? Or maybe you’ve got a restricted clientele?”
       “No. But—”
       Carmichael said quickly, “I’ve been doing some investigating. I’ve been noticing your customers. In fact, following them. And finding out what they buy from you.”
       Talley’s face changed. “Indeed?”
       “In-deed. They’re all in a hurry to unwrap their little bundles. So that gave me my chance to find out. I missed a few, but—I saw enough to apply a couple of rules of logic, Mr. Talley. Item, your customers don’t know what they’re buying from you. It’s a sort of grab bag. A couple of times they were plenty surprised. The man who opened his parcel and found an old newspaper clipping. What about the sunglasses? And the revolver? Probably illegal, by the way—no license. And the diamond—it must have been paste, it was so big.”
       “M-mm,” Mr. Talley said.
       “I’m no smart apple, but I can smell a screwy set-up. Most of your clients are big shots, in one way or another. And why didn’t any of ’em pay you, like the first man—the guy who came in when I was here this morning.”
       “It’s chiefly a credit business,” Talley said. “I’ve my ethics. I have to—for my own conscience. It’s responsibility. You see, I sell...my goods...with a guarantee. Payment is made only if the product proves satisfactory.”
       “So. An egg. Sunglasses. A pair of asbestos gloves—I think they were. A newspaper clipping. A gun and a diamond. How do you take inventory?”
       Talley said nothing.
       Carmichael grinned. “You’ve an errand boy. You send him out and he comes back with bundles. Maybe he goes to a grocery on Madison and buys an egg. Or a pawnshop on Sixth for a revolver. Or—well, anyhow, I told you I’d find out what your business is.”
       “And have you?” Talley asked.
       “ ‘We have what you need,’ ” Carmichael said. “But how do you know?
       “You’re jumping to conclusions.”
       “I’ve got a headache—I didn’t have sunglasses!—and I don’t believe in magic. Listen, Mr. Talley. I’m fed up to the eyebrows and way beyond on queer little shops that sell peculiar things. I know too much about ’em—I’ve written about ’em. A guy walks along the street and sees a funny sort of store and the proprietor won’t serve him—he sells only to pixies—or else he does sell him a magic charm with a double edge. Well—pfui!
       “Mph,” Talley said.
       “ ‘Mph’ as much as you like. But you can’t get away from logic. Either you’ve got a sound, sensible racket here, or else it’s one of those funny magic-shop set-ups—and I don’t believe that. For it isn’t logical.”
       “Why not?”
       “Because of economics,” Carmichael said flatly. “Grant the idea that you’ve got certain mysterious powers—let’s say you can make telepathic gadgets. All right. Why the devil would you start a business so you could sell the gadgets so you could make money so you could live? You’d simply put on one of your gadgets, read a stockbroker’s mind, and buy the right stocks. That’s the intrinsic fallacy in these crazy-shop things—if you’ve got enough stuff on the ball to be able to stock and run such a shop, you wouldn’t need a business in the first place. Why go round Robin Hood’s barn?”
       Talley said nothing.
       Carmichael smiled crookedly. “ ‘I often wonder what the vintners buy one half so precious as the stuff they sell,’ ” he quoted. “Well—what do you buy? I know what you sell—eggs and sunglasses.”
       “You’re an inquisitive man, Mr. Carmichael,” Talley murmured. “Has it ever occurred to you that this is none of your business?”
       “I may be a customer,” Carmichael repeated. “How about that?”
       Talley’s cold blue eyes were intent. A new light dawned in them; Talley pursed his lips and scowled. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he admitted. “You might be. Under the circumstances. Will you excuse me for a moment?”
       “Sure,” Carmichael said. Talley went through the curtains.
       Outside, traffic drifted idly along Park. As the sun slid down beyond the Hudson, the street lay in a blue shadow that crept imperceptibly up the barricades of the buildings. Carmichael stared at the sign—”We have what you need”—and smiled.
       In a back room, Talley put his eye to a binocular plate and moved a calibrated dial. He did this several times. Then, biting his lip—for he was a gentle man—he called his errand boy and gave him directions. After that he returned to Carmichael.
       “You’re a customer,” he said. “Under certain conditions.”
       “The condition of my bank account, you mean?”
       “No,” Talley said. “I’ll give you reduced rates. Understand one thing. I really do have what you need. You don’t know what you need, but I know. And as it happens—well, I’ll sell you what you need for, let’s say, five dollars.”
       Carmichael reached for his wallet. Talley held up a hand.
       “Pay me after you’re satisfied. And the money’s the nominal part of the fee. There’s another part. If you’re satisfied, I want you to promise that you’ll never come near this shop again and never mention it to anyone.”
       “I see,” Carmichael said slowly. His theories had changed slightly.
       “It won’t be long before...ah, here it is now.” A buzzing from the back indicated the return of the errand boy. Talley said “Excuse me,” and vanished. Soon he returned with a neatly-wrapped parcel, which he thrust into Carmichael’s hands.
       “Keep this on your person,” Talley said. “Good afternoon.”

       Carmichael nodded, pocketed the parcel, and went out. Feeling affluent, he hailed a taxi and went to a cocktail bar he knew. There, in the dim light of a booth, he unwrapped the bundle.
       Protection money, he decided. Talley was paying him off to keep his mouth shut about the racket, whatever it was. O.K., live and let live. How much would be—
       Ten thousand? Fifty thousand? How big was the racket?
       He opened an oblong cardboard box. Within, nesting upon tissue paper, was a pair of shears, the blades protected by a sheath of folded, glued cardboard.
       Carmichael said something softly. He drank his highball and ordered another, but left it untasted. Glancing at his wrist watch, he decided that the Park Avenue shop would be closed by now and Mr. Peter Talley gone.
       “ ‘One half so precious as the stuff they sell,’ ” Carmichael said. “Maybe it’s the scissors of Atropos. Blah.” He unsheathed the blades and snipped experimentally at the air. Nothing happened. Slightly crimson around the cheekbones, Carmichael reholstered the shears and dropped them into the side pocket of his topcoat. Quite a gag!
       He decided to call on Peter Talley tomorrow.
       Meanwhile, what? He remembered he had a dinner date with one of the girls at the office, and hastily paid his bill and left. The streets were darkening, and a cold wind blew southward from the Park. Carmichael wound his scarf tighter around his throat and made gestures toward passing taxis.
       He was considerably annoyed.
       Half an hour later a thin man with sad eyes—Jerry Worth, one of the copy-writers from his office—greeted him at the bar where Carmichael was killing time. “Waiting for Betsy?” Worth said, nodding toward the restaurant annex. “She sent me to tell you she couldn’t make it. A rush deadline. Apologies and stuff. Where were you today? Things got gummed up a bit. Have a drink with me.”
       They worked on rye. Carmichael was already slightly stiff. The dull crimson around his cheekbones had deepened, and his frown had become set. “What you need,” he remarked. “Double-crossing little—”
       “Huh?” Worth said.
       “Nothing. Drink up. I’ve just decided to get a guy in trouble. If I can.”
       “You almost got in trouble yourself today. That trend analysis of ores—”
       “Eggs. Sunglasses!”
       “I got you out of a jam—”
       “Shut up,” Carmichael said and ordered another round. Every time he felt the weight of the shears in his pocket he found his lips moving. Five shots later Worth said plaintively, “I don’t mind doing good deeds but I do like to mention them. And you won’t let me. All I want is a little gratitude.”
       “All right, mention them,” Carmichael said. “Brag your head off. Who cares?”
       Worth showed satisfaction. “That ore analysis—it was that. You weren’t at the office today, but I caught it. I checked with our records and you had Trans-Steel all wrong. If I hadn’t altered the figures, it would have gone down to the printer—”
       “The Trans-Steel. They—”
       “Oh, you fool,” Carmichael groaned. “I know it didn’t check with the office figures. I meant to put in a notice to have them changed. I got my dope from the source. Why don’t you mind your own business?”
       Worth blinked. “I was trying to help.”
       “It would have been good for a five-buck raise,” Carmichael said. “After all the research I did to uncover the real dope—listen. Has the stuff gone to bed yet?”
       “I dunno. Maybe not. Croft was still checking the copy—”
       “O.K.!” Carmichael said. “Next time—” He jerked at his scarf, jumped off the stool, and headed for the door, trailed by the protesting Worth. Ten minutes later he was at the office, listening to Croft’s bland explanation that the copy had already been dispatched to the printer.
       “Does it matter? Was there...incidentally, where were you today?”
       “Dancing on the rainbow,” Carmichael snapped, and departed. He had switched over from rye to whiskey sours, and the cold night air naturally did not sober him. Swaying slightly, watching the sidewalk move a little as he blinked at it, he stood on the curb and pondered.
       “I’m sorry, Tim,” Worth said. “It’s too late now, though. There won’t be any trouble. You’ve got a right to go by our office records.”
       “Stop me now,” Carmichael said. “Lousy little—” He was angry and drunk. On impulse he got another taxi and sped to the printers, still trailing a somewhat confused Jerry Worth.
       There was rhythmic thunder in the building. The swift movement of the taxi had given Carmichael a slight nausea; his head ached, and alcohol was in solution in his blood. The hot, inky air was unpleasant. The great Linotypes thumped and growled. Men were moving about. It was all slightly nightmarish, and Carmichael doggedly hunched his shoulders and lurched on until something jerked him back and began to strangle him.
       Worth started yelling. His face showed drunken terror. He made ineffectual gestures.
       But this was all part of the nightmare. Carmichael saw what had happened. The ends of his scarf had caught in moving gears somewhere and he was being drawn inexorably into meshing metal cogs. Men were running. The clanking, thumping, rolling sounds were deafening. He pulled at the scarf.
       Worth screamed, “...knife! Cut it—”
       The warping of relative values that intoxication gives saved Carmichael. Sober, he would have been helpless with panic. At it was, each thought was hard to capture, but clear and lucid when he finally got it. He remembered the shears, and he put his hand in his pocket—the blades slipped out of their cardboard sheath—and he snipped through the scarf with fumbling, hasty movements.
       The white silk disappeared. Carmichael fingered the ragged edge at his throat and smiled stiffly.

       Mr. Peter Talley had been hoping that Carmichael would not come back. The probability lines had shown two possible variants; in one, all was well; in the other—
       Carmichael walked into the shop the next morning and held out a five dollar bill. Talley took it.
       “Thank you. But you could have mailed me a check.”
       “I could have. Only that wouldn’t have told me what I wanted to know.”
       “No,” Talley said, and sighed. “You’ve decided, haven’t you?”
       “Do you blame me?” Carmichael asked. “Last night—do you know what happened?”
       “I might as well tell you,” Talley said. “You’d find out anyway. That’s certain, anyhow.”
       Carmichael sat down, lit a cigarette, and nodded. “Logic. You couldn’t have arranged that little accident, by any manner of means. Betsy Hoag decided to break our date early yesterday morning. Before I saw you. That was the beginning of the chain of incidents that led up to the accident. Ergo, you must have known what was going to happen.”
       “I did know.”
       “Mechanical. I saw that you would be crushed in the machine—”
       “Which implies an alterable future.”
       “Certainly,” Talley said, his shoulders slumping. “There are innumerable possible variants to the future. Different lines of probability. All depending on the outcome of various crises as they arise. I happen to be skilled in certain branches of electronics. Some years ago, almost by accident, I stumbled on the principle of seeing the future.”
       “Chiefly it involves a personal focus on the individual. The moment you enter this place”—he gestured—you’re in the beam of my scanner. In my back room I have the machine itself. By turning a calibrated dial, I check the possible futures. Sometimes there are many. Sometimes only a few. As though at times certain stations weren’t broadcasting. I look into my scanner and see what you need—and supply it.”
       Carmichael let smoke drift from his nostrils. He watched the blue coils through narrowed eyes.
       “You follow a man’s whole life—in triplicate or quadruplicate or whatever?”
       “No,” Talley said. “I’ve got my device focused so it’s sensitive to crisis curves. When those occur, I follow them farther and see what probability paths involve the man’s safe and happy survival.”
       “The sunglasses, the egg and the gloves—”
       Talley said, ”Mr....uh...Smith is one of my regular clients. Whenever he passes a crisis successfully, with my aid, he comes back for another checkup. I locate his next crisis and supply him with what he needs to meet it. I gave him the asbestos gloves. In about a month, a situation will arise where he must—under the circumstances—move a red-hot bar of metal. He’s an artist. His hands—”
       “I see. So it isn’t always saving a man’s life.”
       “Of course not,” Talley said. “Life isn’t the only vital factor. An apparently minor crisis may lead to—well, a divorce, a neurosis, a wrong decision, and the loss of hundreds of lives indirectly. I insure life, health, and happiness.”
       “You’re an altruist. Only why doesn’t the world storm your doors? Why limit your trade to a few?”
       “I haven’t got the time or the equipment.”
       “More machines could be built.”
       “Well,” Talley said, “most of my customers are wealthy. I must live.”
       “You could read tomorrow’s stock-market reports if you wanted dough,” Carmichael said. “We get back to that old question. If a guy has miraculous powers, why is he satisfied to run a hole-in-the-wall store?”
       “Economic reasons. I...ah...I’m averse to gambling.”
       “It wouldn’t be gambling,” Carmichael pointed out. “ ‘I often wonder what the vintners buy—’ Just what do you get out of this?”
       “Satisfaction,” Talley said, “Call it that.”

       But Carmichael wasn’t satisfied. His mind veered from the question and turned to the possibilities. Insurance, eh? Life, health, and happiness.
       “What about me? Won’t there be another crisis in my life sometime?”
       “Probably. Not necessarily one involving personal danger.”
       “Then I’m a permanent customer.”
       “Listen,” Carmichael said, “I’m not trying to shake you down. I’ll pay. I’ll pay plenty. I’m not rich, but I know exactly what a service like this would be worth to me. No worries—”
       “It wouldn’t be—”
       “Oh, come off it. I’m not a blackmailer or anything. I’m not threatening you with publicity, if that’s what you’re afraid of. I’m an ordinary guy. Not a melodramatic villain. Do I look dangerous? What are you afraid of?”
       “You’re an ordinary guy, yes,” Talley admitted. “Only—”
       “Why not?” Carmichael argued. “I won’t bother you. I passed one crisis successfully, with your help. There’ll be another one due sometime. Give me what I need for that. Charge me anything you like. I’ll get the dough somehow. Borrow it if necessary. I won’t disturb you at all. All I ask is that you let me come in whenever I’ve passed a crisis, and get ammunition for the next one. What’s wrong with that?”
       “Nothing,” Talley said soberly.
       “Well, then. I’m an ordinary guy. There’s a girl—it’s Betsy Hoag. I want to marry her. Settle down somewhere in the country, raise kids, and have security. There’s nothing wrong with that either, is there?”
       Talley said, “It was too late the moment you entered this shop today.”
       Carmichael looked up. “Why?” he asked sharply.
       A buzzer rang in the back. Talley went through the curtains and came back almost immediately with a wrapped parcel. He gave it to Carmichael.
       Carmichael smiled. “Thanks,” he said. “Thanks a lot. Do you have any idea when my next crisis will come?”
       “In a week.”
       “Mind if I—” Carmichael was unwrapping the package. He took out a pair of plastic-soled shoes and looked at Talley, bewildered.
       “Like that, eh? I’ll need—shoes?”
       “I suppose—” Carmichael hesitated. “I guess you wouldn’t tell me why?”
       “No, I won’t do that. But be sure to wear them whenever you go out.”
       “Don’t worry about that. And—I’ll mail you a check. It may take me a few days to scrape up the dough, but I’ll do it. How much—?”
       “Five hundred dollars.”
       “I’ll mail a check today.”
       “I prefer not to accept a fee until the client has been satisfied,” Talley said. He had grown more reserved, his blue eyes cool and withdrawn.
       “Suit yourself,” Carmichael said. “I’m going out and celebrate. You—don’t drink?”
       “I can’t leave the shop.”
       “Well, good-by. And thanks again. I won’t be any trouble to you, you know. I promise that!” He turned away.
       Looking after him, Talley smiled a wry, unhappy smile. He did not answer Carmichael’s good-by. Not then.
       When the door had closed behind him, Talley turned to the back of his shop and went through the door where the scanner was.

     The lapse of ten years can cover a multitude of changes. A man with the possibility of tremendous power almost within his grasp can alter, in that time, from a man who will not reach for it to a man who will—and moral values he damned.
       The change did not come quickly to Carmichael. It speaks well for his integrity that it took ten years to work such an alteration in all he had been taught. On the day he first went into Talley’s shop there was little evil in him. But the temptation grew stronger week by week, visit by visit. Talley, for reasons of his own, was content to sit idly by, waiting for customers, smothering the inconceivable potentialities of his machine under a blanket of trivial functions. But Carmichael was not content.
       It took him ten years to reach the day, but the day came at last.
       Talley sat in the inner room, his back to the door. He was slumped low in an ancient rocker, facing the machine. It had changed little in the space of a decade. It still covered most of two walls, and the eyepiece of its scanner glittered under amber fluorescents.
       Carmichael looked covetously at the eyepiece. It was window and doorway to a power beyond any man’s dreams. Wealth beyond imagining lay just within that tiny opening. The rights over the life and death of every man alive. And nothing between that fabulous future and himself except the man who sat looking at the machine.
       Talley did not seem to hear the careful footsteps or the creak of the door behind him. He did not stir as Carmichael lifted the gun slowly. One might think that he never guessed what was coming, or why, or from whom, as Carmichael shot him through the head.

     Talley sighed and shivered a little, and twisted the scanner dial. It was not the first time that the eyepiece had shown him his own lifeless body, glimpsed down some vista of probability, but he never saw the slumping of that familiar figure without feeling a breath of indescribable coolness blow backward upon him out of the future.
       He straightened from the eyepiece and sat back in his chair, looking thoughtfully at a pair of rough-soled shoes lying beside him on a table. He sat quietly for awhile, his eyes upon the shoes, his mind following Carmichael down the street and into the evening, and the morrow, and on toward that coming crisis which would depend on his secure footing on a subway platform as a train thundered by the place where Carmichael would be standing one day next week.
       Talley had sent his messenger boy out this time for two pairs of shoes. He had hesitated long, an hour ago, between the rough-soled pair and the smooth. For Talley was a humane man, and there were many times when his job was distasteful to him. But in the end, this time, it had been the smooth-soled pair he had wrapped for Carmichael.
       Now he sighed and bent to the scanner again, twisting the dial to bring into view a scene he had watched before.
     Carmichael, standing on a crowded subway platform, glittering with oily wetness from some overflow. Carmichael, in the slick-soled shoes Talley had chosen for him. A commotion in the crowd, a surge toward the platform edge. Carmichael’s feet slipping frantically as the train roared by.
     “Good-by, Mr. Carmichael,” Talley murmured. It was the farewell he had not spoken when Carmichael left the shop. He spoke it regretfully, and the regret was for the Carmichael of today, who did not yet deserve that end. He was not now a melodramatic villain whose death one could watch unmoved. But the Tim Carmichael of today had atonement to make for the Carmichael of ten years ahead, and the payment must be exacted.

       It is not a good thing to have the power of life and death over one’s fellow humans. Peter Talley knew it was not a good thing—but the power had been put into his hands. He had not sought it. It seemed to him that the machine had grown almost by accident to its tremendous completion under his trained fingers and trained mind.
       At first it had puzzled him. How ought such a device to be used? What dangers, what terrible potentialities, lay in that Eye that could see through the veil of tomorrow? His was the responsibility, and it had weighed heavily upon him until the answer came. And after he knew the answer—well, the weight was heavier still. For Talley was a mild man.
       He could not have told anyone the real reason why he was a shopkeeper. Satisfaction, he had said to Carmichael. And sometimes, indeed, there was deep satisfaction. But at other times—at times like this—there was only dismay and humility. Especially humility.
       We have what you need. Only Talley knew that message was not for the individuals who came to his shop. The pronoun was plural, not singular. It was a message for the world—the world whose future was being carefully, lovingly reshaped under Peter Talley’s guidance.
       The main line of the future was not easy to alter. The future is a pyramid shaping slowly, brick by brick, and brick by brick Talley had to change it. There were some men who were necessary—men who would create and build—men who should be saved.
       Talley gave them what they needed.
       But inevitably there were others whose ends were evil. Talley gave them, too, what the world needed—death.
       Peter Talley had not asked for this terrible power. But the key had been put in his hands, and he dared not delegate such authority as this to any other man alive. Sometimes he made mistakes.
       He had felt a little surer since the simile of the key had occurred to him. The key to the future. A key that had been laid in his hands.
       Remembering that, he leaned back in his chair and reached for an old and well-worn book. It fell open easily at a familiar passage. Peter Talley’s lips moved as he read the passage once again, in his room behind the shop on Park Avenue.
       “And I say also unto thee. That thou art Peter— And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven—”

This short story was adapted for Rod Serling’s famed television series The Twilight Zone. It appeared as episode #12 in season 1 on December 25, 1959.