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       Probability, p.1

           Louis Trimble
 
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Probability


  Produced by Greg Weeks and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's Note:

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

  _If you ever get to drinking beer in your favorite saloon and meet a scared little guy who wants to buy you the joint, supply you with fur coats and dolls and run you for Congress--listen well! That is, if you really want the joint, the fur coats, the dolls and a seat in Congress. Just ask Mike Murphy...._

  Probability

  By Louis Trimble

  Illustration by Ed Emsh

  The first time this little guy comes in I'm new on the job. He looksaround as if he's scared a prohibition agent will pop out of the wallsand bite him. Then he gets up his nerve and sidles to the bar. Hisvoice is as thin as the rest of him.

  "Glass of beer."

  I draw. He drinks and pays and goes out.

  That keeps on, Monday through Friday at five-ten p.m., year in andyear out. He slips in, peers around, has his beer, and pops out. Evenin '33, when we become legitimate, he acts the same way--scared of hisshadow. Except he isn't big enough to have a shadow.

  During the war, when we're rationed, I save him his daily glass. Henever fails to come in except for two weeks every summer when he's onvacation. From 1922 to 1953 he drinks one daily beer.

  In thirty-one years, he and I grow older together, and after the firstten he talks a little so that over a period of time I manage to learnsomething about him. That first day he'd come in, he was on his firstjob out of college. Well, so was I, only I went to bartending schoolto learn how to mix prohibition liquor. But even so, it gave ussomething in common, and when he learned we had started lifetogether--as he put it--he talked a little more.

  His name is Pettis. Six months after I learn that, I get his firstname. It's Rabelais, and I could see why he doesn't like it. But whenhe breaks down and tells me, he gets real bold and says:

  "And what's yours, my male Hebe?"

  "Mike Murphy."

  "Naturally," he said. He laughs. It is the only time I hear him laughin thirty-one years. I can't see anything funny.

  He is a draftsman for those old skinflints Cartner and Dillson. Whenthey die, their sons take over and are even worse. In the depression,Pettis gets a little shabby but he always has the price of a glass ofbeer. In '53 he's at the same desk and doing the same job he startedon in '22.

  In '35 he gets married. He tells me so. Tasting his beer, he says,"I'll be married this time tomorrow." I often wonder what his wifelooks like but I never see her. Not even when it gets decent forladies to come in, she never shows. Marriage doesn't seem to changehim; he never looks happier or less shabby or less browbeat.

  In '42 I heard his first complaint. By then we're both getting intoour forties and, what with his lack of size and caved-in chest and myinsides all busted up from pre-World War I football, the army doesn'twant us. So he never misses a day except on his vacation.

  He says, "I can't get raw materials." About three months later, Iunderstand what he means when he says, "My hobby is inventing."

  In '45 I ask him, "What do you invent?"

  It takes him two years to decide to tell me. By now we are pretty goodpals. He never tells anyone else that I know of. He says, "I inventmachines. Super machines."

  In '48 he says, "But they don't work. Someday...."

  * * * * *

  And in '53, on the day of our thirty-first anniversary, you might say,he comes in and things are different. All different. I can feel itwhen he opens the door and comes in at five-o-nine instead offive-ten. There is plenty more different, too. He walks up to the barlike it's his and roars:

  "Two beers, Mike!"

  I drop a glass I'm so surprised, but I give him two beers like hewants. He gulps them both down, puts a foot on the rail and looks mestraight in the eye. His eyes are a sort of washed blue. I've nevernoticed them before.

  "Beer for the house!" he yells at me.

  "Take it easy, Mr. Pettis," I says.

  "Easy, hell!" he shouts and slaps a roll as big as his hand on thebar. "And call me Rabelais, Mike. We're pals, aren't we?"

  "You bet," I assures him. And I mean it. Not because of the dough.That makes me sweat. I can't figure where this little guy gets such awad. And good money, too.

  He sets them up three times. By now he's feeling fine. I suggest heget going before he misses the last train home.

  "I already missed it," he says proudly. "And I'm not going home. Letthe old battle-axe really have something to complain about. Beer,Mike!"

  In a way I hate to see it, but then I figure a man has a right to letoff a little steam once every thirty-one years. Even so, I get alittle worried when he asks for the phone and calls up his wife.

  He says, "Myrtle, this Rabelais. Rabelais, your husband, you old sow."He takes a breath and says, "You're damned right I'm drunk. And I'mstaying that way. Go home to your mother.... Oh yes, you are. You'releaving on the 12:05 tomorrow and you'll eat chicken a la king on thetrain and fall asleep at Holt's Corner and snore all the way home. Andyour mother will be mad because her left fender will get dented on theway to the station." Bang! He hangs up.

  "Beer, Mike."

  "Now look, Mr.--Rabelais--"

  He ignores me. "Mike, who owns this place?"

  I don't, but I'd like to. I tell him who my boss is and he hunts himup in the phone book and calls him. He says, "This is Rabelais Pettis.I want to buy your Fifth Avenue Tavern. How much?... Sold!"

  And so help me, the boss comes down and Rabelais hauls bills fromevery pocket and lays it on the bar in a great big pile. Then he hasthe boss sign the place over to me. Me, Mike Murphy. I figure tomorrowwhen he wakes up broke I'll have to give it back. But tonight I ownit. I'm real proud.

  But I don't get to enjoy it. He says, "Mike, let's do the town." Canyou refuse a guy who just gives you a thirty thousand dollar property?We do the town. We do the girl shows, and he yells at all the damesand tries to date the usherettes until we finally get pitched out. Weget pitched out of five before I steer him to a hash house.

  "Phooey," he says. "We'll go to the Buster for a steak." That's ourfanciest place where the food starts at ten dollars. We have two ofthe biggest steaks I ever saw with champagne and stuff, and so helpme, when Rabelais tries to date the floor show girls, instead ofgetting pitched out, we walk out with two of the cutest kids I everhope to see. Only they're young enough to be our daughters or maybegrand-daughters even.

  Rabelais is big hearted if not big in any other way. He says to hiskid, a redhead a foot taller than he, "Do you have a fur coat?"

  "No, Rabelais." She learns fast that he likes the name now.

  "Ha," he says. "Then we'll get some."

  "In the summer?" I asks.

  "We'll make it winter," Rabelais says. "I'm tired of summer. Besidesin '56 there's a new bar in town and it's a pip."

  Now the three of us are halfway sober and we just look at each otherand shrug. But Rabelais acts and talks normal enough. He calls a caband has us hauled to an old cottage in the suburbs. He waves the cabbyoff with a twenty dollar bill. When we go inside, he points across theway. "I live there. This is my secret laboratory."

  We think he is kidding us some more because there isn't anything butdust and cobwebs in the place. But he takes us to the basement andthere is a whole mess of junk lying around. There are bars and gearsand wires and some stuff that doesn't make any sense at all. It hascobwebs and dust on it too.

  "My super machines," he says. "They don't work."

  The red
head looks a little as if she thinks he's nuts. But what canshe do? Already he's given her a hundred dollar bill just for fun.

  "But," he says, leading us into another room, "this one does work."

  There isn't anything in the room but a big metal plate on the floorwith a wooden bench on it and levers and rods in front of the bench."Climb on," Rabelais says.

  We sit on the bench to humor him and he pulls one lever as far left ashe can, then another a little ways, then another, and a fourth. Thenhe twists a rod to the right. The lights go out and a cold draft ofair comes in through
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