This story is of Rabelais Pettis, narrated by the bartender, a man named Mike Murphy. At the same time every day for over 30 years, from 1922 to 1953, Pettis comes into Murphy’s bar, has a singler beer, and leaves. At first, only the words necessary to order a beer are uttered between them, but as time goes on, they become conversational. Friendly, even. Murphy learns that Pettis is an inventor, although not a terribly successful one.
One day, in 1953, Pettis arrives cheerfully out of character, and doesn’t just order a beer for himself, but three rounds for the whole bar! Something was definitely changed about Pettis.
Pettis, drunk, and suddenly very wealthy, does his friend a huge favour and buys the bar he works in, making Murphy self-employed. Pettis then insists on showing Murphy his latest invention, which has proven to be a smashing success – a time machine.
Time travel is a plot device that I don’t much care for in my sci-fi stories. It’s rife with problems and paradoxes, and usually creates more plot holes and continuity problems than they solve. Trimble, however, seems aware of this, and his character Pettis refuses to take the time machine beyond the near future or into the past, saying “We have to watch probability”. Pettis doesn’t want to do too much meddling with timelines, but this point sails past Murphy’s head. Pettis has worked out that going a little bit into the future and simply observing is far less dangerous than going back into the past and changing even a minor thing.
For one night, Pettis takes Murphy and some girls they picked up in their celebrations on a time-travelling adventure before they return to 1953. Murphy got a glimpse of what the next several years hold for him, and over the next year, all these things begin to unfold. Pettis, however, no longer comes to the bar for his daily beer.
Then one morning, Murphy awakes to find himself back in 1953, on that fateful day that Pettis came into the bar in such a good mood and changed his life. Sure enough, at the prescribed time, Pettis arrives in a celebratory mood and the scene plays out as it did before, but both Murphy and Pettis are aware they’ve done this before. After a while, Pettis and Murphy get to talking and Pettis reveals that he has been doing more time travelling, well beyond the near future, and that while things will certainly be going well for Murphy in the future, they could be going SO much better for both of them, and Pettis has figured out how.
How? …well, if I told you, you wouldn’t have to read the book now, would you?
Originally published in “IF Worlds of Science Fiction” magazine, April 1954, this is about a 15-minute read.