Bad Medicine by Robert Sheckley
On May 2, 2103, Elwood Caswell walked rapidly down Broadway with a loaded revolver hidden in his coat pocket. He didn’t want to use the weapon, but feared he might anyhow. This was a justifiable assumption, for Caswell was a homicidal maniac.
It was a gentle, misty spring day and the air held the smell of rain and blossoming-dogwood. Caswell gripped the revolver in his sweaty right hand and tried to think of a single valid reason why he should not kill a man named Magnessen, who, the other day, had commented on how well Caswell looked.
What business was it of Magnessen’s how he looked? Damned busybodies, always spoiling things for everybody….
Caswell was a choleric little man with fierce red eyes, bulldog jowls and ginger-red hair. He was the sort you would expect to find perched on a detergent box, orating to a crowd of lunching businessmen and amused students, shouting, “Mars for the Martians, Venus for the Venusians!”
But in truth, Caswell was uninterested in the deplorable social conditions of extraterrestrials. He was a jetbus conductor for the New York Rapid Transit Corporation. He minded his own business. And he was quite mad.
Fortunately, he knew this at least part of the time, with at least half of his mind.
– – – – –
Perspiring freely, Caswell continued down Broadway toward the 43rd Street branch of Home Therapy Appliances, Inc. His friend Magnessen would be finishing work soon, returning to his little apartment less than a block from Caswell’s. How easy it would be, how pleasant, to saunter in, exchange a few words and….
No! Caswell took a deep gulp of air and reminded himself that he didn’t really want to kill anyone. It was not right to kill people. The authorities would lock him up, his friends wouldn’t understand, his mother would never have approved.
But these arguments
seemed pallid, over-intellectual and entirely without force. The simple fact remained – he wanted to kill Magnessen.
Could so strong a desire be wrong? Or even unhealthy?
Yes, it could! With an agonized groan, Caswell sprinted the last few steps into the Home Therapy Appliances Store.
Just being within such a place gave him an immediate sense of relief. The lighting was discreet, the draperies were neutral, the displays of glittering therapy machines were neither too bland nor obstreperous. It was the kind of place where a man could happily lie down on the carpet in the shadow of the therapy machines, secure in the knowledge that help for any sort of trouble was at hand.
A clerk with fair hair and a long, supercilious nose glided up softly, but not too softly, and murmured, “May one help?”
“Therapy!” said Caswell.
“Of course, sir,” the clerk answered, smoothing his lapels and smiling winningly. “That is what we are here for.” He gave Caswell a searching look, performed an instant mental diagnosis, and tapped a gleaming white-and-copper machine.
“Now this,” the clerk said, “is the new Alcoholic Reliever, built by IBM and advertised in the leading magazines. A handsome piece of furniture, I think you will agree, and not out of place in any home. It opens into a television set.”
With a flick of his narrow wrist, the clerk opened the Alcoholic Reliever, revealing a 52-inch screen.
“I need – ” Caswell began.
“Therapy,” the clerk finished for him. “Of course. I just wanted to point out that this model need never cause embarrassment for yourself, your friends or loved ones.