He was just emerging for the hundredth time during the week from the frightening hallucination that had come to plague him, when Kitty Murchinsom came into his office.
"It's almost 15:00, Philip," she said.
When she had entered, her face had taken on the placid look that everyone wore—unwittingly, but inevitably—the instant they came near Alcorn.
Finding Kitty's cool blonde loveliness projected so abruptly against the bleak polar plain of his waking dream, he knew how much more she was than either fiancee or secretary alone. She was a beacon of reassurance in a sea of uncertainty.
"Thanks, darling," he said, and looked at his watch. "I'd have woolgathered past my appointment and it's an important one."
He stood up. Kitty came closer and put both hands on his shoulders.
"You've had another of those dreams, haven't you? I wish you'd see a—a doctor about them."
He laughed, and if the sound rang hollow, she seemed not to notice.
"That's why I asked you to call me. I've made an appointment with one."
She stood on tiptoe to kiss him. "I'm glad you're decided. You haven't been yourself at all for a week, Philip, and I couldn't bear a honeymoon with a preoccupied husband!"
He managed the appropriate leer, though he had never felt less like it. The apprehension that followed his daytime chimera was on him again, so strongly that what he wanted most to do was to take Kitty's hand tightly, like a frightened child, and run headlong until he was beyond reach of whatever it was that threatened him.
"Small chance," he said, instead. "Any man who'd dream away a honeymoon with you is dead already."
She sighed placidly and turned back to the business at hand. "You won't be late for your 16:00 conference with our Mr. O'Donnell and Director Mulhall of Irradiated Foods, will you? Poor Sean would be lost without you."
He felt the usual nagging dissatisfaction with the peculiar talent that had put him where he was in Consolidated Advertising. "He'd probably lose this case without my soothing presence and CA would pay its first ungrounded refund claim in—" he counted back over the time he had been with Consolidated—"four years and eight months."
Kitty said wistfully, "Shall I see you tonight, Philip?"
He frowned, searching for a way to ease the hurt she would feel later, and finding none. "That depends on the psychiatrist. If he can't help me, I may fly up to my cabin in the Catskills and wrestle this thing out for myself."
Kitty moved to go, and then turned back. "I almost forgot. There was a call for you at noon from a secretary of Victor Jaffers' at Carter International. She seemed to know you'd be out and said that Mr. Jaffers would call again at 15:00."
"Victor Jaffers?" Alcorn repeated. The name added a further premonitory depression. "I think I know what he wants. It's happened before."
When Kitty had gone, Alcorn took a restless turn about the room and was interrupted at once by the gentle buzzing of the radophone unit on his desk. He pressed the receiving stud and found himself facing Victor Jaffers' image.
"Don't bother to record this," Jaffers said without preamble. "Complete arrangements have already been made to prove that I've never spoken to you in my life."
Jaffers was a small, still-faced man who might have been mistaken for a senior accountant's clerk—until the chill force of his eyes made itself felt....