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No strings attached, p.1
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       No Strings Attached, p.1

           Lester Del Rey
 
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No Strings Attached


  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction June 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  No Strings Attached

  By Lester del Rey

  Illustrated by Kelly Freas

  _Poor Henry was an unhappy husband whose wife had a habit of using bad cliches. Alfear was a genii who was, quite like most humans, a creature of habit. Their murder compact was absolutely perfect, with--_

  * * * * *

  Committing a perfect murder is a simple matter. Drive out some nightto a lonely road, find a single person walking along out of sight ofanyone else, offer him a ride, knife him, and go home. In such acrime, there's no reason to connect killer and victim--no motive, noclue, no suspect.

  To achieve the perfect murder of a man's own wife, however, is adifferent matter. For obvious reasons, husbands are always high on thesuspect list. Who has a better reason for such a crime?

  Henry Aimsworth had been pondering the problem with more than academicinterest for some time. It wasn't that he hated his wife. He simplycouldn't stand the sight or sound of her; even thinking about her madehis flesh crawl. If she had been willing to give him a divorce, he'dhave been content to wish her all the happiness she was capable ofdiscovering. But Emma, unfortunately, was fond of being his wife;perhaps she was even fond of him. Worse, she was too rigidly bound totrite morality to give him grounds to sue.

  There was no hope of her straying. What had been good enough for hermother was good enough for her, and saved all need of thinking; awoman needed a husband, her place was in the home, marriage wasforever, and what would the neighbors think? Anyhow, she'd have haddifficulty being unfaithful, even if she tried. She'd been gainingsome ten pounds every year for the eleven years they had been married,and she'd long since stopped worrying about taking care of herappearance.

  He looked up at her now, letting the book drop to his lap. She satwatching the television screen with a vacant look on her face, whilesome comic went through a tired routine. If she enjoyed it, there wasno sign, though she spent half her life in front of the screen. Thenthe comic went off, and dancers came on. She went back to darning apair of his socks, as seriously as if she didn't know that he hadalways refused to wear the lumpy results. Her stockings had runs, andshe still wore the faded apron in which she'd cooked supper.

  He contrasted her with Shirley unconsciously, and shuddered. In theyear since Shirley Bates had come to work in his rare book store, he'ddone a lot of such shuddering, and never because of the slim blondewarmth of his assistant. Since that hot day in August when they'dclosed the shop early and he'd suggested a ride in the country to cooloff, he and Shirley....

  He was interrupted in his more pleasant thoughts by the crash ofscissors onto the floor, and his eyes focussed on the deepening foldsof fat as Emma bent to retrieve them. "Company coming," she said,before he could think of anything to prevent the mistaken cliche. Thenshe became aware that he was staring at her. "Did you take the garbageout, Henry?"

  "Yes, dear," he answered woodenly. Then, because he knew it was cominganyhow, he filled in the inevitable. "Cleanliness is next togodliness."

  She nodded solemnly, and began putting aside her darning. "That'sfinished. Mama always said a stitch in time saves nine. If you'd cutyour toenails, Henry...."

  He could feel his skin begin to tingle with irritation. But there wasno escape. If he went upstairs to his bedroom, she'd be up at once,puttering about. If he went to the basement, she'd find the cannedfood needed checking. A woman's place was with her husband, as she'drepeatedly told him. Probably she couldn't stand her own company,either.

  Then he remembered something he'd stored away. "There's a new pictureat the Metro," he said as quietly as he could. "Taylor's starred, Ithink. I was going to take you, before this extra work came up."

  He could see her take the bait and nibble at it. She had some vaguecrush left for Taylor. She stared at the television set, shifted herbulk, and then shook her head reluctantly. "It'd be nice, Henry. Butgoing at night costs so much, and--well, a penny saved is a pennyearned."

  "Exactly. That's what I meant to say." He even relaxed enough tooverlook the platitude, now that there was some hope. "I saved theprice of lunch today. The nut who wanted _King in Yellow_ was sotickled to get the copy finally, he insisted on treating. You can eventake a cab home afterwards."

  "That's nice. It'll probably rain, the way my bunion's been aching."She considered it a second more, before cutting off the television. Hewatched as she drew off the apron and went for her coat and hat,making a pretense of dabbing on make-up. She might as well have wornthe apron, he decided, as she came over to kiss him a damp good-bye.

  * * * * *

  He considered calling Shirley, but her mother was visiting her, andthe conversation would have to be too guarded at her end. If he couldfind some way of getting rid of Emma....

  It wouldn't even be murder, really. More like destroying avegetable--certainly no worse than ending the life of a dumb cow tomake man's life more worth living. It wasn't as if she had anything tolive for or to contribute. It would almost be a kindness, since shelived in a perpetual state of vague discontent and unhappiness, as ifsomehow aware that she had lost herself. But unfortunately, the lawwouldn't look at it in such a light.

  He'd only been thinking actively of getting her out of the way sinceAugust, however; and somehow, with time, there must be some fool-proofscheme. There was that alcohol-injection system--but it requiredsomeone who would drink pretty freely first, and Emma was ateetotaler. Maybe, though, if he could get her to taking some of thosetonics for women....

  He dropped it for the moment and turned back to the book. It was anodd old volume he'd received with a shipment for appraisal. There wasno title or date, but the strange leather binding showed it was old.Apparently it had been hand-set and printed on some tiny press by thewriter, whose name was omitted. It seemed to be a mixture ofinstructions on how to work spells, conjure demons, and practicewitchcraft, along with bitter tirades against the group who had driventhe writer out and forced him, as he put it, to enter a compact withthe devil for to be a wizard, which is like to a male witch. Henry hadbeen reading it idly, slowly deciding the book was authentic enough,however crazy the writer was. The book had no particular value as acollector's item, but he could probably get a fine price from some ofthe local cultists, particularly since there were constant promises init that the writer was going to give a surefire, positive and simplerecipe for conjuring up a demon without need of virgin blood,graveyard earth or unicorn horn.

  He skimmed through it, looking for the formula. It turned up on thefifth page from the end, and was everything the writer had claimed. Afive-sided figure drawn on the floor with ordinary candle wax, a pinchof sugar inside, a bit of something bitter outside, two odd but simplefinger gestures, and a string of words in bad Latin and worse Greek.There was a warning that it would work without the pentagram, sugarand bitters, but at parlous risk to the conjurer without suchprotection.

  He frowned. Too simple for the cultists, he realized--unless he couldsomehow persuade them that the trick lay in some exact phrasing orgesturing pattern which took experiment. They liked things madedifficult, so they'd have a good alibi for their faith when thetricks failed. If he could show them in advance that it didn't work,but hint that a good occultist might figure out the right rhythm, orwhatever....

  H
e read it through again, trying to memorize the whole thing. Thegestures were--so--and the words--umm....

  There was no flash of fire, no smell of sulphur, and no clap ofthunder. There was simply a tall creature with yellowish skin andflashing yellow eyes standing in front of the television set. His headwas completely hairless, and he was so tall that he had to duckslightly to keep from crashing into the ceiling. His features were toosharp for any human face. There were no scales, however; his gold capeand black tights were spangled, and he wore green shoes with turned uptoes. But generally, he wasn't bad looking.

  "Mind if I sit down?" the creature asked. He took Henry's assent forgranted and dropped into Emma's chair, folding his cape over one armand reaching for an apple on the side table. "Glad to see you're notsuperstitious
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