by Richard Matheson
The package was lying by the front door - a cube-shaped carton sealed with tape, the name and address printed by band: MR; AND MRS. ARTHUR Lewis, 217 E. 37TH STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10016. Norma picked it up, unlocked the door, and went into the apartment. It was just getting dark. After she put the lamb chops in the broiler, she made herself a drink and sat down to open the package. Inside the carton was a push—button unit fastened to a small wooden box. A glass dome covered the
button. Norma tried to lift it off, but it was locked in place. She turned the unit over and saw a folded piece of paper Scotch-taped to the bottom of the box. She pulled it off: “Mr. Steward will call on you at eight p.m.” Norma put the button unit beside her on the couch. She sipped the drink and reread the typed note, smiling.
A few moments later, she went back into the kitchen to make the salad.
The doorbell rang at eight o’clock. “I’ll get it,” Norma called from the kitchen. Arthur was in the living room, reading. There was a small man in the hallway. He removed his hat as Norma opened the door. “Mrs. Lewis?” he 20
inquired politely. “Yes”? “I’m Mr. Steward.” “Oh, yes.” Norma repressed a smile. She was sure now it was a sales pitch. “May I come in?” asked Mr. Steward.
“I’m rather busy,” Norma said. “I’ll get you your watchamacallit, though.” She started to turn. “Don’t you want to know what it is?” Norma turned back. Mr. Steward’s tone had been offensive. “No, I don’t think so,” she said. “It could prove very valuable” he told her. “Monetarily?” she challenged.
Mr. Steward nodded. “Monetarily,” he said. Norma frowned. She didn’t like his attitude. “What are you trying to sell?” she asked.
“I’m not selling anything,” he answered. Arthur came out of the living room. “Something wrong?” Mr. Steward introduced himself. “Oh, the …” Arthur pointed toward the living room and smiled. “What is that gadget, anyway?” 5
“It won’t take long to explain,” replied Mr. Steward. “May I come in?” “If you’re selling something...” Arthur said. Mr. Steward shook his head. “I’m not.” Arthur looked at Norma. “Up to you” she said. He hesitated. “Well, why not?” he said.
They went into the living room and Mr. Steward sat in Norma’s chair. He reached into an inside coat pocket and withdrew a small sealed envelope. “Inside here is a key to the bell-unit dome,” he said. He set the envelope on the chairside table. “The bell is connected to our office.” “What’s it for?” asked Arthur. “If you push the button,” Mr. Steward told him, “somewhere in the world, someone you don’t know will
die. In return for which you will receive a payment of fifty thousand dollars.” Norma stared at the small man. He was smiling. “What are you talking about?” Arthur asked him. Mr. Steward looked surprised. “But I’ve just explained,” he said. “Is this a practical joke?” asked Arthur.
“Not at all. The offer is completely genuine.” “You aren’t making sense,” Arthur said. “You expect us to believe ... “Whom do you represent?” demanded Norma. Mr. Steward looked embarrassed. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to tell you that,” he said. “However, I assure you the organization is of international scope.”
“I think you’d better leave,” Arthur said, standing. Mr. Steward rose. “Of course.” “And take your button unit with you.” “Are you sure you wouldn’t care to think about it for a day or so?” Arthur picked up the button unit and the envelope and thrust them into Mr. Steward’s hands. He walked
into the hall and pulled open the door. “I’ll leave my card,” said Mr. Steward. He placed it on the table by the door. 2
When he was gone, Arthur tore it in half and tossed the pieces onto the table. “God!” he said. Norma was still sitting on the sofa. “What do you think it was?” she asked. “I don’t care to know,” he answered. She tried to smile but couldn’t. “Aren’t you...