A matter of time
I. On the Z Axis;
12 September 1977;
At the Intersection
Total darkness. Silence broken only by restless audience movements.
Suddenly, all-surrounding sound. A crossbreed, falsetto yodel/scream backed by one reverberating chord on the bass guitar. A meter-wide pillar of red light waxes and wanes with the sound.
Erik Danzer is on.
Nude to the waist, in hip-deep vapor, he rakes his cheeks with his fingernails. He is supposed to look like an agonized demon rising from some smoldering lava pit of hell.
Light and sound depart for five seconds.
Owlhoot sound from the synthesizer.
Sudden light reveals Danzer glaring audience right. Light and sound fade. Repeat, Danzer glaring left.
Harsh electric guitar chords, with the bass overriding, throbbing up chills for the spine. Mirror tricks, flashing, put Danzer all over the stage, screaming, "You! You! You!" while pointing into the audience. "You girl!"
The lights stay on now, though dimly, throbbing with the bass chords. Danzer seems to be several places at once. The pillar-spot moves from man to man in the band.
The man in the shadowed balcony, whose forged German Federal Republic passport contains the joke-name Spuk, neither understands nor enjoys. His last encounter with British rock was "Penny Lane." He does not know that Harrison, Lennon, McCartney, and Starr have gone their separate ways. He has never heard of "Crackerbox Palace," Yoko, Wings, "No, No, No, No"…
He wouldn't care if he had.
The pillar roams. The spook lifts the silenced Weatherby. Through the sniperscope, after all these years, the target's face is that of a stranger.
The bass guitarist's brains splatter the organist.
Spuk is a half mile away before anyone can begin sorting the screaming mob in the hall.
II. A Pause for Reflection
Sometimes the balloon is booby-trapped.
Grinning little vandal, full of pranks, you jab with your pin. Ouch! It isn't a balloon at all. It's a Klein bottle. The pin conies through behind you, butt high.
If you're obstinate, you play Torquemada with yourself for a long time.
Take a strip of paper. Make it, say, two inches (or five centimeters if you're metrically minded) wide and fifteen (40 cm is close enough) long. Give it a half twist, then join the ends. Take a pencil and begin anywhere, drawing a line parallel to the paper's edge. In time, without lifting your pencil, you will return to your starting point, having drawn a line on both sides of the paper.
The little trickster is called a Moebius Strip. You might use it to win a beer bet sometime.
Now imagine joining the edges of the strip to form a container. What you would create, if this were physically possible, is a hollow object whose inside and outside is all one contiguous surface.
It's called a Klein Bottle, and just might be the true shape of the universe.
Again, you could begin a line at any point and end up where you started, having been both inside and out.
There is always a line, or potential line, before your starting point and after, yet not infinite. Indeed, very limited. And limiting. On the sharply curved surface of the bottle the line can be made out only for a short distance in either direction. You have to follow it all the way around to find out where it goes before it gets back.
III. On the Y Axis; 1975;
Norman Cash, line-walker, began to sense the line's existence at the point labeled March 4,1975.
It was a Tuesday morning. The sneak late snowstorm had dropped fourteen inches.
"It's killing the whole damned city," Cash told his partner.
Detective John Harald packed a snowball, pitched it into the churn of Castleman Avenue. "Shit. I've lost my curve-ball."
"We're not going anywhere with this one, John."
At 10:37 p.m. on March 3, uniformed officers on routine patrol had discovered a corpse in the alley between the 4200 blocks of Castleman and Shaw.
Ten-thirty, next morning, four detectives were freezing their tails off trying to find out what had happened.
"Hunch?" The younger man whipped another snowball up the street. "Think I got a little movement that time. You see it?"
"After twenty-three years, yeah, you develop an intuition."
As a starting point the corpse had been little help. White male, early to middle twenties. No outstanding physical characteristics. He had been remarkable only in dress, and lack thereof: no shirt, no underwear, no socks. His pants had been baggy tweeds out-of-style even at Goodwill. He had worn a curiously archaic hairstyle, with every strand oiled in place. He had carried no identification. His pockets had contained only $1.37 in change. Lieutenant Railsback, a small-time coin collector, had made cooing sounds over the coins: Indian Head pennies, V nickels, a fifty-cent piece of the kind collectors called a Barber Half, and one shiny mint 1921 Mercury Head dime. Sergeant Cash had not seen their like for years.
He and Harald were interviewing the tenants in the flats backing on the alley. And not making anyone happy.
They were pressed, not only by the weather but by fifty-two bodies already down for the year. The department was taking heat. The papers were printing regular Detroit comparisons, as though there were a race on. The arrest ratio pleased no one but the shooters.
"That's the way it is," Cash mumbled. He shivered as a gust shoved karate fingers through his coat.
"What?" Harald kneaded the elbow of his throwing arm.
"Nobody wants to help. But everybody wants the cops to do something."
"Yeah. I been thinking about taking up jogging. Getting out of shape. What do you think?"
"Annie grew up on this block. Says it's always been tough and anti-cop."
"She married one."
"Sometimes I think maybe one of us wasn't in their right mind."
The flats had been erected in the century's teen years, to house working-class families. The two- and four-family structures had not yet deteriorated, but the neighborhood was beginning to change. For two decades the young people had been fleeing to more modern housing outside the city. Now the core families had begun to retreat before an influx from the inner city. Soon the left-behinds would be people too poor to run. And landlords would give up trying to stave off the decay of properties whose values, they felt, were collapsing.
"I thought we'd get some cooperation 'cause they know us," said Harald, after having been cold-shouldered by a high-school classmate. Cash lived just two blocks away, on Flora; John had grown up in the neighborhood.
"Badge does something to people. Puts them on the defensive no matter how hard you try. Everybody's got something to feel guilty about."
The entire morning had been a no go. People had answered their questions only reluctantly, and had had nothing to tell. No one had seen or heard a thing.
Not that they cared, Cash thought. They just answered fast and true to get the cops off their doorsteps.
Cash had met a girl once, Australian he now suspected, who had had a strange accent. That had been a long time ago, college days, before he had married. He no longer remembered who had introduced them, nor what the girl had looked like, just her accent and the fact that he had mimicked it, thinking she had been putting him on. He still felt ashamed of the incident.
Little things like that hang with you, he thought, and the big things get forgotten.
The memory was triggered by the old woman at 4255, Miss Fiala Groloch.
Miss Groloch's was the only single-family dwelling on the block, a red-brick Victorian that antedated everything else by at least a generation. He found it odd and attractive. He had been having a love affair with stuffy, ornate old houses since childhood.
Miss Groloch proved more interesting still. Like her house, she was different.
He and Harald grumped up her unshoveled walk, onto a porch in need of paint, and looked for a bell.
"Don't see one," said John.
Cash opened the storm door and knocked. Then he saw the bell, set in the door itself. It was one of those mechanical antiques meant to be twisted. It still worked.
Miss fiala groloch was the name printed in tiny, draftsman-perfect letters on a card in a slot on the face of a mailbox that looked as if it had never been used. Miss Groloch proved to be old, and behind her the interior of her house looked like a hole-up for a covey of old maids.
"May I help you?" Her accent was slight, but the rhythm of her syllables conjured visions of tiny European kingdoms perishing beneath the hooves of the Great War.
"Police officers, ma'am," Cash replied, tipping his hat. That seemed compellingly appropriate. "I'm Detective Sergeant Cash. This's Detective Harald."
"Well. Come in. Is very nasty, yes?"
"Sure is. Who'd have thought it this late?" To John, whispering, "Knock the shit off your shoes, Hoosier."
They followed the woman to her parlor, exchanging frowns. That curious accent. And she talked slowly, as if trying to remember the words.
"It has been a long time since company I've had," she said apologetically, clearing a piece of needlepoint from a chair that, Cash suspected, had been an antique before his birth. She brisked to another, woke a fat tomcat and shooed him. "Tea I will have in a minute."
"No thank you, ma'am," said Harald. "We've only got a minute. Sorry to bother you like this, but we've got to visit everybody on the block."
Cash chuckled. John was trying to be genteel. It was the contrasts. Harald's contemporaries had all the gentility of Huns in rut. But that house, and that woman, demanded it.
"Oh, fooey. What bother? Already the pot is hot. Just time to steep it needs. You Jungen are always in so big a hurry. Sit. Just sit. Be comfortable."
What could they do? The little lady rolled along like a train. They hadn't the heart to derail her.
She was tiny, under five feet tall, all smile and bounce. She reminded Cash of his wife's great-aunt Gertrude, who had come from England to visit the summer before. Auntie Gertie had been a hundred-fifty pounds of energy jammed into an eighty-pound package. Except in terms of spirit she was indescribable.
They exchanged shrugs and glances in her absence, but neither voiced his fear that they had been shanghaied by a lonely old woman who would use them as listening butts for slice-by-slice accounts of her seventy operations.
Cash studied his surroundings. Everything had to be older than Miss Groloch herself. It could have been a set for an 1880s drawing room, crowded as it was with garish period impedimenta. Most moderns would have found it distressingly nonfunctional and cluttered. Cash felt comfortable. Something in him barkened back to good old days he had never lived himself. But, then, as his sons had often told him, he was an anachronism himself. He was an idealistic cop.
There was no television, nor a radio, or a telephone. Incredible! The lights were the only visible electrical devices. Gas jets still protruded from the walls. Would they work? (He was unaware of the difference between natural and lighting gas.) An old hot water heating radiator stood in a corner, painted silver. Had her furnace been converted from coal? There were still coal burners around, but he couldn't picture Miss Groloch running downstairs to shovel.
She returned with delicate, tiny china cups on a silver tray.
And cookies, little shapes with beads of colored sugar like his wife had made for Christmases before the boys had grown too old for productions. There was sugar in lumps for the tea, with tongs, and cream. And napkins, of course. Luckily, she came to Cash first. John was too young to know the rituals. Cash had had maiden aunts with roots out of time, leapfrogging a generation into the past. Harald did a credible job of faking it, though, and left the talking to Norm. He nibbled cookies and waited.
"Now, then," said Miss Groloch, seating herself primly at the apex of a triangle of chairs, "slowed you down we have, yes? You won't be having a stroke. But busy I'm sure you are. That last gentleman, Leutnant Carstairs, the criminals said were taking over." There were little soft zs where the th sounds should have been. And Leutnant. Wasn't that German? "Relax that man could not."
"Carstairs, ma'am?" Cash asked.
"A long time ago was that. Years. Now. I can do for you what?"
Accent and rhythm were moving more toward the Missourian, though her compound and complex sentences remained confusing.
There were concepts of feminine delicacy which went with the age into which they had plunged, concepts especially strong as regarded little old ladies. But in their business they weren't accustomed to dealing with murder delicately. "Our officers found a man in the alley last night," Cash said. "Dead."
"Himmel!" One tiny hand covered her mouth momentarily.
"We're asking everyone if they heard or saw anything."
"No. Though Tom was restless. The weather it was, I thought."
She indicated the cat, who sat at her feet eying the cream pitcher.
"I see. Just one more thing, then. We have to ask you to look at this picture…"
"Not to be so apologetic, young man. Please to let me see it."
Cash handed it to her, said, "No one knows who he is."
There were a lot of things the department didn't know, he reflected. Like how the guy died. Forensics, the coroner, and fingerprint people were all working on him.
She stiffened, grew pale.
"You know him?" Cash asked, hoping he had struck oil.
"No. For a moment I thought… He looks like a man I knew a long time ago. Before you were born, probably."
Indian Head pennies and a corpse that was an utter mystery to everyone except, possibly, an old lady who said he looked like someone she had known before he was born. Not much to go on.
"Well, thanks for your time and the tea," Cash said. "We really do have to get on."
"Welcome, Sergeant." She accompanied them to the door, an aged but spritely gnome in Cash's imagination.
"You think she knows something?" Harald asked as they approached the four-family flat next door.
Cash shrugged. "I think she told the truth." But he had reservations.
John glanced at her house. "Spooky place."
"I sort of liked it."
"Figured you would."
They struck out everywhere.
"The prelims are in," Lieutenant Railsback told them when they returned to the station. "We've still got a John Doe."
"Give them time," said Cash. "FBI won't even be awake yet."
"Christ, it's hot in here," John complained. "Can't you turn it down? What ever happened to the energy crisis?"
Railsback was one of those people who set the thermostat at eighty, then opened windows.
The lieutenant ignored Harald, one of his favorite pastimes. "You ain't going to believe the coroner."
Railsback lit up. It had been two years, but Cash still lusted after the weed.
"The guy was scared to death. Ain't that a bite in the ass? And he was dead less than an hour when they found him."
"Any marks?" Harald asked.
"On his back. Maybe fingernail scratches."
"Cherchez la femme."
"Eh? Damned college kids…"
"Means find the woman. He was a Jody. Somebody's old man got home early."
"And scared him to death?"
"Maybe he was the nervous type."
Cash intervened before the dispute could heat up. "I don't think it'll hold water, John, but it's an angle. Let's see what Smith and Tucholski got." The detectives who had worked the Shaw side of the block, he saw, had been back long enough to get the red out of their cheeks. Long enough for Tucholski, who looked like a slightly younger Richard Daley, to have fouled half the office with dense blue cigar smoke. Smith defended himself by chain-smoking Kools. Officer Beth Tavares, who was little more than secretary-receptionist for the squad, coughed and scowled their way.
"You guys get anything?" Cash asked.
"John thinks maybe he was visiting somebody's wife. Any possibles?"
Tucholski exhaled a stormcloud. "Broad at… shit. Middle of the block. Kid's got it in the book. What was her name?"
There were two Kids in the squad. Harald by Railsback's designation, Smith by Tucholski's. Both were in their late twenties.
Smith, a black, was the smartest of the new generation coming into the department. Cash figured he would go far even without affirmative action. He stayed even with Tucholski by having a Polish joke for every occasion.
"Gobielowski. Wouldn't you know it? All we have to do is find the bowling shirt the guy left behind."
Smith and Tucholski bickered constantly, yet were close. Their feud was entirely in honor of tradition.
It was lucky, Cash thought, that neither had a hair-trigger temper.
Harald, too, had to keep the notes. "A Mrs. McDaniel. Looked the type, too. In the upstairs flat in the first building east of the old lady's."
"Put them down for a followup."
"Gentlemen," said Railsback, "it's almost shift's end and I know you want to finish your paperwork so you can get home and shovel the sidewalks, so we'll start in the morning."
"Shit," said Tucholski. "He's had one of his brainstorms."
"Tomorrow," Railsback said, "you guys are going to take the pictures around to the coin shops. Somebody'll know him."
"You want to bet?" Cash asked. "I've got a hunch we imagined this guy."
"It's too early for pessimism," Smith observed. "The body's hardly cold." The investigative machinery had barely started rolling.
"FBI will ID him," said Railsback. "They'll find him in the military files."
"Or we might get a confession from a wife with a guilty conscience," said Harald, without conviction. "Or a witness might pop up like a genie out of a bottle."
"We might find an illegally parked car come sweeper day," Cash suggested. "Wednesdays and Thursdays are street-sweeping days over there."
"A thought," Railsback agreed. "I'll have a car check it."
Fifteen minutes later Cash finished his paperwork and left.
Annie had haddock on for dinner, because of his cholesterol. On the bad days, if it were not for her, he would break down and hit a dozen pork chops like Attila the Hun. He had a little sign on his desk at work, one of several homespun gems: You know you're past it when a doctor, not the law or church, takes away everything you like. He was supposed to shun coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, and cholesterol. He did all right on the latter two.
Sometimes it was a pain in the butt. He managed with cussing and little self-reminding notes about having to hang on long enough to collect the pension he had been getting ripped off for all these years.
"Bad day?" Annie guessed.
"The worst." He explained. She had a good head. Interested in his work. He told her what he could. But she was a little drifty about it. She was a mystery buff. Any given time there would be ten to fifteen paperbacks scattered round the house. She came up with some weird suggestions.
"He wasn't dumped? There's that drug war on the North Side."
"No. The doctor says not. The scene agrees. With the snow and everything, they got it pinned. He died where they found him when there was an inch of snow on the ground. He was barely cold when they spotted him. This fish isn't bad. What'd you do?"
"No tire tracks or anything?" Her quick little mind was cataloging possibilities from mysteries read. She had the memory of the proverbial elephant, though it was as cluttered as a scrapyard.
"Not even tracks for him past three steps. They claim they went over that alley with everything. It's like he stepped out of thin air, walked a few steps, then croaked.”
"Kaspar Hauser," she mumbled. "How about a fall?"
"Nope. Nothing he could've fallen from. No bruises or anything, either. Just some passion scratches on his back." Her eyebrows arched. "That's what John thinks."
"There goes my helicopter idea. Eat your broccoli."
Ech, he thought. Especially broccoli. But cauliflower was worse and he would get that tomorrow if he didn't eat up today. He was the only baby she had now.
"Matthew called," she said, and was off with the latest from their youngest, who was at UMC and costing more than some of Uncle Sam's earlier wars. His major was Criminal Science. He wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, he said. Cash was not sure why, did not understand, but was pleased. Most kids weren't interested in their old man's work. Especially cops' kids. They all wanted to make a new world and a million bucks. Cash wasn't against doing either. It was just that the youngsters apparently believed in witchcraft, that somewhere, maybe in Washington, there was a magic button. If you were to push it, all the bad guys would get good, all the poor people would get rich, and all the starving would be fed. But the Powers had hidden it, because for some obscure reason that was to their advantage.
Talking about Matthew inevitably led to their other son, Michael. Obliquely, Annie asked, "When are you going to have John and Carrie over again?"
John Harald and Michael had grown up together, gone to college together, and had been in the war together. Vietnam. That had been "The War" to them. To Cash it was that nearly forgotten playground squabble with the Madman of Berlin. To each generation its own, he thought.
Michael Cash had not come home from his. He was still technically MIA. It was a thing between John and Cash that sometimes made them uncomfortable with one another, though they had few differences over the war itself.
"Did you hear me, Norman?"
"Sorry. It's the case."
"I asked what block."
"Eh? Oh. Forty-two hundred. Four or five places west of where you used to live."
"Ech. Good place for it. Right behind old spooky Groloch's. Is she still there? Did you meet her?"
"Yeah. Nice old lady. Reminded me of Auntie Gertie."
"We thought she was a witch when I was little. Took a dare to get us to go past on her side of the street."
"She's been there that long?"
"Was I born in the Dark Ages? Just because little Mike thinks I polished cannonballs for George Washington…"
"You know what I mean. Nobody stays around over there. She's probably the only one on the block that was there five years ago."
"Another murder mystery at Miss Groloch's," Annie mused. "What do you want to watch tonight? There's a Tony Curtis movie on Channel Five. An original, one of those pilot things. Or 'Hawaii Five-O'?"
"Cop shows, cop shows, that's all you get on Tuesday. Let's watch the movie. What do you mean, another murder mystery?"
"Oh, a long time ago, before I was born, they tried to get Miss Groloch for murdering her… lover, I guess. Only they never found the body."
"Warm up the time machine. I'll send them mine. Then we'll all be happy."
"That's not fair. I think she was innocent. He probably ran off with her money. He was a rat."
"If you weren't even born…"
"Mom told me about him. Even if she was guilty, she should've gotten a medal. When I was a kid, people still talked about how rotten Jack O'Brien was. Most of them did think she killed him, but they were on her side. They said he was a liar, a thief, a cheat, that he never worked a day. And that the only reason he would've hung around an older woman was to use her somehow. But nobody ever figured how she could've done it. That's how come we were scared."
"How old is she, anyway?"
"I don't know. At least eighty-five. That was in nineteen twenty-one…"
"Twenty-one?" Cash echoed, startled.
"This guy… he had a pocketful of old coins. A twenty-one dime was the newest."
They stared at one another.
"A practical joke?"
"Annie, people don't kill people for a joke. But I'll check it out. See if anybody's got it in for her, or if there's any bodies missing…"
"You never did say. You think it's murder?"
"I don't know, hon. When we get bodies in alleys, we have to dig. He could've escaped from a funeral parlor."
"You said he died there."
"Yeah. So let's do the dishes and watch the movie, or something. Before it drives me crazy."
Next morning, before beginning the rounds of the coin shops, Cash cornered Railsback. "Hank, you ever heard of a Lieutenant Carstairs?"
"On the force?"
"Can't say that I have."
"He'd go back a ways."
"I can ask the old man. Is it important?"
Old Man Railsback had retired in 1960, but still hung around the station more than home. He lived with his son, which Cash felt was explanation enough.
"Not really. Just curiosity."
The old man seemed to know everything that had happened since Laclede's landing. Apparently, he had been there. Or so his reminiscences made one think.
Cash shifted subjects. "Annie thinks our John Doe might have been lowered from a helicopter."
"No way," Railsback said. "I thought of that myself, Norm. I called Lambert Field. They said not even a nut would fly a chopper in that."
"I didn't think so. But Annie-"
"Annie should write mysteries, not solve ours. Now, if you've got the time, find John and do the coin shops. Maybe we can wrap this up before the next one comes floating belly up. Here's your list."
It was no go. They got shrugs, blank stares, and a few definite negatives. They wasted half a day. But that was the nature of the job. You always played out every chance.
"What I think," said John, around his Big Mac at lunch, "is we should put his picture on the wire. Guy's probably got a wife and seven kids in Little Rock, or someplace."
"Maybe. But you've got the feeling too, don't you? This one's going in the files unsolved."
"Yeah. It's weird. Like in Nam, you could tell Charlie had an ambush set without seeing a thing…" He turned it off because of what he saw in Cash's face.
Funny how it keeps on hurting, Cash thought.
He had had an uncle who had gotten it in Italy, 88 mm in the chest while standing half out of his tank turret. That had never bothered him the way Michael's loss did. He supposed it was this not knowing for sure, this perpetual half-suspicion that the boy was alive somewhere in the Asian jungles. And it was worse for Nancy and the kids. Their lives were drifting away while they marked time.
"Maybe FBI will find something."
"They're running out of places to look. What do we do then? Call the CIA? Interpol? Or put his picture in the papers?"
Cash got a new angle on John there. This case was bothering his partner as much as it was him. He thought he understood why. It did not seem right that a man should die, murdered or not, without so much as a memorial in a police record. A man should have a monument, like maybe: "Here Lies the Unknown Victim, A Casualty in the Cops-and-Robbers War."
They were remembering Michael, that was why. Michael would have no memorial either. His war had cast him into a limbo where there were no monuments, no eulogies, no benefits for his survivors… Only their memories would ever show that he had existed. And here they had the mirror image, a corpse that was the only proof that a man had ever lived.
One wake without a ship, and one ship without a wake.
"Maybe Tucholski got something," Cash said.
"Want to bet?"
"Not a doughnut hole."
John was right. The women on the reinterview list had ironclad alibis. One had a mother, and the other a boyfriend very much alive and kicking about being hassled. And of the cars illegally parked on the Wednesday side of the street only one could not be accounted for. That was a junker without plates the neighbors said had been there for months.
Dead ends. It was all dead ends. They still had nothing from FBI. Missing Persons across the country had come back with nothing. Lieutenant Railsback got growly when he heard his brainchild had been stillborn, grumbled about putting the case on a back burner till something concrete turned up.
It had begun bugging them all. Nobody wanted to do it slow and by the numbers.
"I talked to the old man at lunch," Railsback told Cash later, as he and John were about to go home. "He said there was a Colonel Carstairs on the Board of Commissioners in the late thirties. Came up out of Homicide. That's the only Carstairs he remembered."
"Probably the same man. Thanks, Hank."
"What was that?" John asked on the way down to the parking lot.
"Just checking something the old woman said the other day. About a Lieutenant Carstairs. You and Carrie coming by?" Annie had insisted that morning so he had extended an invitation.
"Yeah. We'll bring Nancy and the kids, too. Carrie called Nancy and Nancy said Annie had already called…"
"I get the picture."
It was nice having people around sometimes, Cash reflected, though the children made him nervous. And Carrie and Nancy, who were cousins, made these evenings together a sort of wake. Michael's body might be gone, but his ghost remained very much among them.
Following dinner the children established squatter's rights to the TV while the women caucused in the kitchen, so Cash and Harald retreated to the rathskeller.
"Something bothering you?" John asked, letting Cash pour him a scotch and water.
"The case. The damned John Doe." He repeated Annie's story about Miss Groloch and her mysteriously missing lover.
"Coincidence," said John. "Or a grisly joke."
"That's what Annie thought. Wanted me to check for body snatchings."
"No go. Front page."
"That's what I told her. And how to get it there still warm, during a snowstorm, without leaving a trace?"
Against one wall stood a crude set of shelves, boards on cinder blocks, that Cash had erected for his wife's old mysteries. Somehow, when Michael had gotten married, a lot of his science fiction had migrated into them rather than out of the house. Nancy's people were stodgy. He had preferred to hide his reading tastes the way his father's generation had hidden their Playboys from their wives in the fifties. John pulled out a couple and tossed them onto the bar.
"Tried to read The Time Machine once," Cash said. "Didn't grab me. Never noticed this other one before." It was The Corridors of Time by Isaac Asimov. Its dog-eared look suggested that it had been one of Michael's favorites.
It was Cash's fault that his son had gotten started reading that stuff. He had brought home a book called The Naked Sun, same author, given him by someone at the station who had thought Annie would like it. "But I get your drift."
John looked expectant in the way a pup does when his master catches him peeing off the paper.
Cash shrugged. "There's a more reasonable explanation."
"Tell you what," John replied. "Let's check the files. See what the reports have to say."
"John, I wouldn't know where to look. I mean, sure, they keep the files open forever. Supposedly. But where? We'd really have to dig. First just to find out where they keep records of where they keep records from fifty years ago. And on our own time…" The case bothered him, yes, but twenty-three years of homicide investigations had put calluses on his curiosity. He had not worked on his own time for ten years, since the bizarre rape-murders around Mullanphy School.
John seemed disappointed. "All right. I'll do the digging. If I locate the file, I'll have it sent over."
"Railsback would crucify us just for thinking about it. No imagination, old Hank."
Cash was saved John's stronger opinion of Railsback by Carrie.
"I'm sorry, Norm. We're going to have to go. It's my head, John."
"Didn't you bring your pills?"
"I didn't think…"
"We've got aspirin, Carrie," said Norm.
"No. Thanks. I'm sorry. With aspirin I have to take so. many I make myself sick at my stomach."
"Okay," said Harold. "Get your coat. I'll be ready as soon as the kids are."
Carrie's headaches were genuine, but Cash suspected they were a psychological convenience. Judging from the past, she had gotten Annie and Nancy going on Michael, real soap-opera stuff. Cash had been through a few of those sessions himself. Carrie was good at starting them. But she didn't like being around the people she made unhappy or depressed.
"All right," he said. "I'll see Nancy and the kids get home. John, we'll talk about it tomorrow."
Thursday they got another negative on cars illegally parked and more silence from Missing Persons around the country. FBI produced nothing. Railsback decided to release photos for television and the papers. John got on the phone and started trying to locate Homicide records for 1921. Friday lunch he disappeared, turned up late with a crusty file, thick, handwritten, almost illegible.
They never got into it. The new case, that had held off longer than seemed believable, finally broke. It was a holdup-murder. Two partners in a cheap used-furniture store had been killed, and an officer wounded. One freelance socialist was dead and two more were fleeing on foot, one of them hit. The whole division was on it till dark, and by then they had another. The weekend had begun. It was Tuesday again before Cash had a chance to worry about the mystery corpse.
On Sunday the story hit the papers. On Monday the Channel Four evening newscast mentioned the case in passing. Tuesday morning, at 8:30, Cash got a buzz from Tom Kurland on the booking desk.
"Norm? Got a live one down here. Voluntary confession on that John Doe stiff from last week."
Ah. The genie from the bottle. Cash brightened. "Hey. Good. Bring him up. You made my day, Tom."
"On the way." Mysterious laughter lurked round the fringes of Kurland's voice.
"Hey, John…" he called from his gym locker of an office.
A florid, gray-haired man with the build of an athlete long gone to seed, who looked like he ought to be traveling in a cloud of flies, pushed through the main door. " 'Lo, Beth," he said.
"Winehead Andy," Cash muttered. "The Prince of Hungary. I'll get you for this, Kurland."
Officer Tavares tried stopping the man. He just grinned and kept coming, with a little wrist-flick of a greeting to Old Man Railsback, who was snoring in a chair in a far corner.
"It's all right, Beth."
" 'Lo, Sarge."
"Hi, Andy. What is it this time?" As if he didn't know. The man, who claimed to be a deposed Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (he was neither old enough nor, insofar as Cash had been able to determine, did he speak a word of German or Magyar), was, with a blush, going to admit that, in a fit of madness, he had slain the mystery man. Andy swore that he was the Jekyll-and-Hyde type.
"Can't live with it anymore, Sarge. Had to turn myself in…"
The man had confessed so often that Cash no longer found him amusing.
Neither did Lieutenant Railsback. "What the hell is that wino doing in my squad room?" he thundered from his office.
"The usual," Beth replied, returning to her work.
Rather than come out looking for trouble, Railsback slammed his door.
"All right, Andy. You know the routine," said Cash. "How'd you do it?"
"Knife. In the back. Grabbed him from behind and stabbed him in the heart…"
"Wrong-o, Andy. You lose again. Think it out better next time. That's hard for a right-handed man."
"Just testing, Sarge." He stopped smiling. "I really strangled him…"
"Missed again." Cash shook his head. He didn't understand. Andy's sole ambition seemed to be to get himself put away.
There had been a time when he was a semipermanent resident in the holdover downstairs, especially in winter, but these days every room with a lock on its door was packed with genuine bandits.
"Andy, here's two bucks. Go over to the Rite-Way and tell
Sarah I said to give you the breakfast special."
Andy took the money. "Sarge, one of these days you're going to catch me red-handed. Then you'll believe me. It's my mind, see. I can't remember afterward…"
"I know, Andy. Till I do, you'll keep getting away with it. Meantime, I've got to go by the book. Now do me a favor. Go eat breakfast."
Andy stood tall as he left. A wino, yes, but he walked like a prince.
"Beth, remind me that Tom Kurland is one up on me."
"Us." Her dark eyes sparkled mischieviously. "I'm working on it already."
"Make it vicious." He walked to a window. "He's out the door already."
Below, Andy scampered through traffic.
"You must be part Gypsy. Anything on my corpse?"
"No. No ID. No claim on the body. FBI says they've given up trying to locate prints."
"Norm," said Railsback, "you get rid of him yet?"
"He just needed the price of a bottle, Hank."
"About your mystery corpse. 'Bout time you got it certified nonhomicide, isn't it? Get it off our backs? I don't like it. I want it pushed back, out of the way."
"Not yet. Maybe in a couple days."
It's really bizarre, Cash thought, the way this is affecting us. Railsback would not have let go of any other case for weeks or months. But with this one even the marginally involved people, like Beth, were behaving strangely.
Once Railsback did get it shoved back, little happened.
Events elsewhere devoured Cash's attention and emotions.
IV. On the X Axis;
Lidice, Bohemia, 1866; A Minor Event during the Seven Weeks' War
A wise man once observed: The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.
Fiala… Marda… Fiala tossed her head violently, battered her temples with her fists. What was happening? Was it the Prussians?
The pain broke the grip on her mind.
Father lay sprawled half in, half out of the doorway. Mother knelt before the Virgin, moaning.
Fiala was having a fit. He heaved on his pallet, shrieking.
Her brother? She was an only child… And her mother had died in the Uprising.
Couldn't be the Prussians. The armies were north of Lidice.
Lidice? What the devil was Lidice?
Who was Marda?
"Uncle Stefan…" Oh, Lord, her mouth wouldn't shape the words right.
Mother whirled, stared in horror.
Where am I? What's happening to me? Who are these people? What's wrong with my mind?
What's wrong with my mind? God help me! Something's in my head. Possessing me.
German. That was it. Only no one spoke German anymore. Not outside a classroom.
It was a strong demon. "Mother… Priest… "Mother ran from the house. Would Father Alexander believe her?
What was this mumbo-jumbo? Only recidivist subversives believed that nonsense anymore. Only stupid, ignorant country people…
"Oh blessed Jesus, help me!"
The blow floored her. And terminated the contest. The terrified thing in her mind twisted away with a fading shriek, as if sliding off round the treacherous curves of a Klein bottle.
Who was this ragged brute? The man who had been lying in the doorway.
"Yes. Come on. Get up."
The words were butchered by lips and tongue that had never spoken Czech.
"I'm not sure. There's no time to worry about it now. Just accept it. Help me with Stefan."
His absolute calm enveloped her, included her. The thing inside her, the other, momentarily gave up trying to reassert itself. Numbly, she seized the feet of the hovel's remaining, now silent tenant and helped swing him onto the rude table. He was just a boy, yet his face was a land on which several bad diseases had left memorials.
No one outside a labor camp lived this way. Dirt floor to sleep on, a pallet stuffed with straw. Only furniture a homemade table… No, there were a few crude pieces in shadowed corners. No water. No toilet.
This wasn't her world.
"The woman. She went for someone."
Then she studied herself.
And received a greater shock.
The body she wore, beneath the crudest peasant clothing, was tiny, emaciated, just entering puberty. It was the female counterpart of the boy on the table. "Oh…" It couldn't be a labor camp.
One of those places, only rumored, where they experimented on enemies of the State?
Outside, the sun was rising. On a morning like this, the spires of Hradcany Castle would be visible from the church belfry.
A scant sixty miles to the northwest, men named von Bismarck and von Moltke were defining her history with words spoken by the mouths of cannon. Already the troops were moving at Kцniggratz.
She had come to a land more alien than she could believe.
Its name was July 3,1866.
V. On the Y Axis;
The collapse of South Vietnam had begun in January, a slow, snowballing thing that had not seemed serious at first. But when Hue and Da Nang went and the North Vietnamese started whooping down the coast routes like a juggernaut, it became obvious that the end had finally come. Those with an emotional investment in the country could, like watching the football Cardinals go into the second half down by seventeen, hope for a miracle, but that hope was wan.
One night Cash woke to find Annie sobbing beside him. He pretended not to notice.
Later that week he found her sniffling in the kitchen when he returned from work.
"What's the matter?"
"Been a rotten day. Everything went wrong. And now I burned my finger."
She was lying. The stove wasn't hot. But he let it slide. Even shared griefs had to have their private facets.
"Nancy's bringing the kids over tomorrow."
"Yeah? Second time this week. What's up? I thought she didn't like us that much."
"I guess." They just could not get it out in the open.
The worst cruelty, for Cash, was the indifference of the people he encountered. But they were dead-tired of Vietnam. Most would have been pleased to see the damned country follow Atlantis's example.
Cash was angry and unapproachable most of the time.
During the downhill plunge to the fall of Saigon he remained utterly distracted. Nothing could draw him out of the netherworld to which he had retreated. He had little time for murders or murderers. His thoughts all revolved around that one little country, that pimple on the ass of the world, where his oldest son was still missing…
He did not really care about Vietnam per se. He was no rabid anti-communist. The system had done wonders in China. Through the later years of the war he had been critical of United States involvement, though for reasons at variance with those vocalized in the streets. Those he could not comprehend at all. They had no apparent relation to reality, only to wishful thinking about how the world should be. He felt that, like a too cautious coach, the United States had gone, at best, for a draw. He felt the military should have been allowed to go for a victory with everything but nuclear weapons, and to hell with futile arguments about the propriety of being there in the first place. Once you're wet, you should go ahead and swim, not cry about falling in, he thought. But he kept his opinions to himself, being rational enough to know they were opinions and not something Moses had brought down from the mountain in his other hand.
He had greeted the January, 1973, news of United States withdrawal with relief. The Kissinger "peace" had seemed a last, comic punctuation to an era of futility. He had predicted the disaster even then, and had tried to school himself to live with its inevitable consequences.
Vietnam was dead. The people who had buried it wanted everyone to forget. That would be nice, Cash thought. He wished he could. If he had known for sure about Michael, he might have been content to stick his head in the sand with the rest. But he knew the other side wouldn't forget. They knew, now, that they had carte blanche in that end of the world. They knew, from peasant to premier, that the fall of Saigon symbolized far more than the culmination of years of warfare. It marked the east's watershed victory in World War III. Solzhenitsin had pointed it out: the west had been fighting a halfhearted and half-assed delaying action since 1945; Vietnam had marked the beginning of the end. From the fall of Saigon onward the collapse would cease to be gradual. The west, whether good or evil or whatever, was about to come apart, and at a rate which, historically speaking, would be precipitous. Cash supposed he would live long enough to see the barbarians at the gates himself.
But, from a historical perspective, it would not matter much. Life would go on. The big change would be in which gang of mental cases would be running things.
Times were when Cash grew extremely cynical. Especially about government and the people in it.
Annie, in her anger, in her passion to show others her feelings, volunteered to adopt an orphan. There weren't enough to go around. After the collapse, she decided they would sponsor a Vietnamese family. Cash acquiesced, hoping she would not start blaming them about Michael, expecting she would forget the whole thing when she calmed down.
Mayagыez put everyone on an even keel again. It was silly, being such a small incident, not well executed at all, and likely to be nothing more than a fix for the national pride.
Yet next day Cash was able to get back into his world, to work by more than the numbers.
John Harald was more perceptive than Cash had suspected.
During the grim months he had not said a word about the mystery corpse. That morning after Mayagыez, quiet because even the bandits were home following the news, he strolled into Cash's office and dropped the ancient file onto his desk. "Want to glance through this?"
"Carstairs's file on the Groloch investigation. The missing man."
"Just have a read. I'll be catching up on my paperwork."
They had been a lot less formal in the old days, Cash discovered. Carstairs's report contained a lot of opinion and suspicion that was hard to separate from evidence. The story was much as Annie had described, though Carstairs had been convinced that Miss Groloch had murdered Jack O'Brien. Good riddance, he had observed. But the extent of the report indicated that he had put a lot of hours into hunting a solution.
Initially, Cash's strongest reaction was an eerie feeling of dйjа vu. Carstairs's emotional responses had been identical to his own.
Atherton Carstairs had felt driven to find out what had happened to O'Brien. And had faced the same reluctance to push it on the part of his superiors. They had wanted to write it off as a simple disappearance after only two days-despite the fact that there had been a dozen witnesses willing to testify that O'Brien had been seen entering Miss Groloch's house, that later there had been the screams of a woman being beaten, then a masculine voice pleading for mercy. And O'Brien had never come out.
The file included a thick sheaf of letters. For years Carstairs had kept up a correspondence with friends in other cities, hoping someone would stumble on to O'Brien alive. A search of Miss Groloch's house, in a day when such things need not be done so politely and proper, had produced nothing. He had not found a doily out of place, let alone bloodstains or evidence of violence. For weaponry the woman had possessed nothing more dangerous than a few kitchen knives.
Carstairs had made his final entry in 1929, on the eighth anniversary of the case, and the eve of his assignment to the Board of Police Commissioners. He had left best wishes for anyone who became interested in his hobby case.
He had finally surrendered.
Pasted to the last page was a snapshot of a man and a woman, in the style of the early twenties. Penned on the yellowed sheet was "Guess who?" in John's hand, with an arrow indicating the man.
The resemblance was remarkable. Even to the suit. And the woman was undeniably Fiala Groloch.
"John!" Cash thundered. "Get in here!"
He appeared quickly, wearing a foolish grin. "Saw the picture, eh?"
"Yeah. You didn't fake something up, did you?" John and Michael, as teenagers, had loved practical jokes. John had once gone through a camera stage. He and Michael had made some phony prints showing Cash and a neighbor woman leaving a motel. There had been virtual war with Annie before the boys had confessed. Cash had never forgiven them.
Because he really had been guilty, his feet of clay had been innocently, accidentally exposed, his darkest secret had been hauled, bones rattling, from its casket by children who knew not what they did. The experience had made him suspect there might be something to the law of karma after all.
John's smile faded. "Not this time. You want to run tests?"
"No." Cash believed him. He didn't want to, though. "Wait. Maybe. This's impossible, you know. It can't be him."
"I know." Harald seemed proud of his little coup, but frightened. As was Cash, who felt like a wise Pandora about to open the box anyway.
"There're no prints in the file," Cash observed. "Did they use them then?"
"Got me. I don't even know how to find out."
"They started in the eighteen hundreds, I think. Didn't Sherlock Holmes use them?"
"Shee-it, I don't know. Never made any difference to me."
"Okay. Okay. We got a problem. How to prove our corpse isn't Jack O'Brien. We need something concrete. Dental records?"
"No way. You saw the coroner's report. No dentist ever saw the inside of that mouth. Perfect teeth."
"Yeah. Wouldn't find anything medical, either. It'd be here in the file. Scars and things. Carstairs doesn't mention a one. You'd think a guy with O'Brien's street record would've gotten cut up a little. Must've been a lucky bastard. Bet you couldn't even find a birth record… Wait! O'Brien. Catholic…"
"Got you." John started to leave.
"Hold on here. Let's have a plan. All we can do is find out if he was born here, maybe if any relatives are still alive… Yeah, that'd help. Find somebody who really knew him besides Miss Groloch. Wouldn't be conclusive, though."
Cash paused, thought for nearly a minute. "We need to get ahold of something with his prints. You think any would still be around?"
John spread his hands, shrugged. "They found pterodon bones in Texas a couple months ago."
"Okay. Anything's possible. Slide out when Railsback isn't looking and start checking parish records. I'll cover for you."
"But Railsback is looking," the lieutenant said from behind Harald. "What're you up to now?"
"Not much. A little hobby case, you might say."
"Yeah," said John. "Just a check on a birth certificate. It'll only take half an hour."
Railsback spotted the file. And picture. "Hey, the John Doe. Where'd you get this? Who is he?"
Harald and Cash exchanged looks.
"Name's Jack O'Brien," said Cash. "That man disappeared in 1921. This is the file on the investigation."
"Eh?" Railsback frowned. "What the hell? You're shitting me."
"Nope." Improvising, Cash added, "We thought the John Doe might be a relative."
"Really?" Railsback gave them both the fisheye. "You got the Donalson thing straight?"
"He's in the can, ain't he?"
"Sure. But for how long? Judge'll probably release him on his own recognizance."
They had brought Donalson in for a double murder. He was an enforcer for one of the drug gangs, had been on bond awaiting trial on two previous murder charges when they had grabbed him. One case had gone more than a year without disposition. It was the sort of thing that made them wonder why they bothered.
"The paperwork's current," said Cash. "Won't be anything more till the prosecuting attorney asks for it."
"Okay, you want to chase some crackpot time machine notion, go to it. Just keep in touch, huh?"
John disappeared before the lieutenant changed his mind. Once he was gone, Railsback exposed a bit of his normally hidden human side. "You feeling better now, Norm? Maybe if you get into something really zany like this…?"
"Yeah, Hank. I think we got it worked out now. It hit Annie pretty hard, though."
"I heard she wants to sponsor one of the families."
"We've talked about it." From there they let it slide into shop talk. Railsback had lost his idealism in the trenches of the Us-and-Them War of their business. He had worked his way up from patrolman, and patrolmen often became disillusioned early. They began seeing their lives in terms of cops against the world. Sometimes the people they protected became indistinguishable from the predators. An Alamo psychology developed. Guys who understood what was happening to them usually got out. The others stayed in and exacerbated the profession's bad image.
After fifteen minutes Railsback wandered off. Cash wondered if he were having family trouble again. He had seemed distracted. He did not socialize much on the outside. No one really knew the private Railsback, though it had long been apparent that he and his wife lived in a state of armed truce, which explained why he often worked a double shift. The one time Cash had met Marylin Railsback he had come away wondering what Hank had ever seen in her. The ways of love were as strange as those of the Lord.
What with keeping up on the daily casualty list and not making much headway with parish records, John didn't find anything for a week. Cash's own workload, which now included covering for Harald where he could, gave him no time to get involved. And on his own time he had private problems. Annie kept fussing about taking in a Vietnamese family. For reasons known only to herself, Annie had asked for a police official. Cash wasn't sure he would be able to handle that. Some of them, surely, had earned their reputations.
But John eventually came rolling in. "I've got it: a sister. Twelve years younger than O'Brien, but she's still around. All his other relatives have moved or died. What took so long was, she was married, then her old man got blown away in World War Two, then she went into a convent. Lot of name changes."
"Saint Joseph of Carondelet."
"Hell, that's right over on Minnesota."
"Yeah. Thought you'd want to go along."
"Damned right. So let's hit it."
They slid out while Railsback was on the phone home, arguing. That didn't bode well for their return.
"Think we ought to take her down to the morgue and spring it on her?" John asked while on the way.
"To look at the corpse."
"You mean they still got it?"
"Yeah. I checked this morning. Since nobody ever claimed it, they just sort of forgot it. Sloppy, leaving a stiff laying around the meat locker like that."
"Isn't that against the law, or something? I mean, there'd have to be all kinds of screw-ups. Should've been an inquest, should've-"
"Probably. Anyway, they're talking about doing something with it now that I reminded them."
"That's the weirdest thing about this guy. Everybody's in a rush to get rid of him, if only by forgetting. Even us. Look how long we let it go. It's like he don't belong and everybody can feel it just enough to want to ignore him. How'd you stop them this time?"
"Told them I thought we'd found a relative."
"So I fibbed. Just wanted to see what she thought."
"This is an old lady, John, a nun. Maybe it's too rough…"
Sister Mary Joseph was no aged but delicate flower. A glance was enough to show them that she was a tough old bird. Had to be. She was a first-grade teacher with twenty years service in the witch's cauldron walled by children, parents, and superiors in the archdiocese.
"Sister Mary Joseph? Norman Cash."
"You're the policemen?"
"Uhm. This's Detective Harald. John Junior. His dad was a competitor. Episcopalian."
"Why'd you want to see me?"
"Just to ask a few questions."
She seemed puzzled. "About what? Will it take long? I have classes…"
"This man?" Cash handed her the picture of the corpse, the same one that had gotten a reaction from Miss Groloch.
She frowned. Her breath jerked inward. One hand went to her mouth, then made the sign of the cross.
"He looks like my brother Jack. But it can't be. Can it? He died in 1921."
"Disappeared," Harald corrected. He presented the picture from the file.
"Fiala Groloch. The heathen foreigner." This time she made a sign against the evil eye, then reddened when Harald and Cash looked puzzled. Cash had never seen an embarrassed nun.
"Sorry. There was a lot of animosity. Would you explain now?"
Cash took it, kept it simple, did no editorializing. "We're playing a long shot. Hoping this man might be your brother's son or grandson."
John added, "We hoped you'd be willing to view the corpse. To let us know if you think that's possible."
"Well, I suppose. Sister Celestine won't mind an extra hour with the children." She smiled a delightfully wicked little smile.
Cash couldn't help observing, "I think you'd like my wife's aunt, Sister Dolorosa. She's a Benedictine. At a convent in northwestern Pennsylvania."
"Oh? Well, I'd better tell Mother Superior. Be right back."
Sister Mary Joseph returned while John was on the phone to the morgue. "I've always had a feeling this would come back on us. Fiala Groloch should've been burned for witchcraft."
Cash didn't respond verbally, but his surprise was obvious.
"I know. That's not charitable. Not Christian. But if Satan ever sent his emissary, Fiala Groloch's it."
"That much bitterness? After all these years?"
"Oh, it's not Jack. I was too young to understand at the time, but he was the devil's disciple himself. He probably deserved whatever he got. Did you meet her? I hear she's still there. And strong as ever."
"We did. She seemed like a nice old lady."
"Old? I wonder how old she really is."
"About eighty-five, I guess. She only looked about sixty, though."
"At least she's aged some."
"I don't understand."
"When it happened… whatever happened with Jack… she looked about forty…"
"Early thirties, I heard, but you're the only one I've talked to who knew her then."
"About forty. And even then there wasn't anybody who remembered when she didn't live there. Her house was built when that part of the city belonged to the private estate of a Mary Tyler. When I was a child, the old folks said it'd been built right after the Civil War."
"I figured the eighteen eighties, just guessing."
"My grandparents came over in eighty-three. She and the house were there then, and had been for a long time. My grandmother told me she'd heard that there'd been a man who was supposed to be Fiala's father. He disappeared too, I guess. Miss Groloch told people he went back to the old country. Nobody ever heard which one it was. She used to get out and around in those days. Didn't lock herself in till after Jack disappeared."
"The name sounds like eastern European." He wasn't really hearing the sister. That Miss Groloch might be 130, or even older, seemed so ridiculous that her words just floated across his consciousness like unsinkable ice. His only reaction was to make a note to tell John to check the tax and building records on the Groloch house.
Harald returned. "Okay. All set, Norm. Got to hit it now, though. The morgue people are spooked about having the stiff around so long."
During the trip downtown Cash tried to draw the woman out on her feelings toward Miss Groloch. He failed. She retreated into a shell not at all in keeping with the warmth and spirit she had shown earlier.
Sister Mary Joseph made the sign of the cross again when the attendant rolled the corpse out. Several times. Cash feared she would faint.
But she got a grip on herself. "Do you have his clothes?"
Harald spent a half hour hunting them up. Then the Sister merely glanced at them. She found a chair, sat, thought for several minutes. Finally, "You'll think I'm crazy. And maybe I am. But that's Jack. Those are the pants he was wearing the day he disappeared. I remember. I was sitting on the front steps with Colin Meara from upstairs. Jack gave me a dime and told us to get a soda before the old man heard about us holding hands on his own doorstep. He winked at Colin and went off whistling. He had his lucky tarn on, and his hands stuffed in his pockets. Sergeant, it's him. How can that be?"
Harald grinned like a Little Leaguer who had just pitched a no-hitter. Cash just sat down and put his face in his hands. "I don't know, Sister. I don't know. This thing's getting crazier and crazier."
"How did he die?"
"Scared to death, the coroner says."
"Is that possible? I mean…?"
"It's possible. Not common, but possible."
"But how'd he keep so long? They didn't have freezers."
"He died March third. About 9:30 p.m."
"This March? That's impossible."
"I know it. You know it. But that there Jack O'Brien don't know it. Didn't know it. He was barely cold when they found him. His body heat had melted the snow…"
"But it's impossible. Fifty-four years…"
"I know. I know. I know."
John continued to grin-with worry beginning to nag around the edges as he recognized more and more improbabilities. Cash and the sister sat in an extended silence. Finally, she said, "I think you'd better take me back now." To the puzzled attendant, who had been hovering about all along, "What do I have to do about the body? About arrangements?"
She was convinced.
Railsback was at his foulest when they returned. He looked, Cash thought, like a tornado about to pounce on a trailer park.
"Cool it, Hank," Cash said. "Sit down and shut up till we're done. We just bought a time bomb."
Railsback recognized distress, was reasonable enough to realize a tantrum was inappropriate. "Talk to me," he said.
"We got a claimant for our John Doe. Guy's sister. Positive ID. Absolutely no doubts. But…" And Cash gave him the buts.
As was becoming more common, Railsback thought before he growled. But he growled anyway. "Norm, I don't want anything to do with it. Get it out of here. There's got to be some way we can dump it on somebody else…"
"There's still a murder file open."
Railsback pulled a bottle of pills from a drawer, gobbled a couple. "Who knows? You and Harald. Me. The sister. Anybody else? This hits the papers and TV, they'll clobber us."
"Not today's developments. I guess the wives are current through yesterday. Oh, and there was the attendant at the morgue, but he didn't know what the hell was going on."
Railsback rubbed his forehead. He got headaches when the pressure was on. He was an ulcer man, too. He ate Valium like candy. "Too many. It's going to leak somewhere. All right, you guys dug it up, you bury it. One way or another, you get out there and prove she's a nut. Maybe we can't find out who he is, but we damned sure better find out who he isn't."
"How? "John asked.
"I don't care. It's your problem. Use your imagination. Roust this Fiala Groloch. Way you describe her, she's got trunks full of mementoes. Look for prints. Do whatever you have to, but do something."
VI. On the Y Axis;
Through 8 August 1964;
The Chinese Puzzle
A man named Huang Hua, whose true name was something else entirely, spent the years 1956-1973 in virtual self-imprisonment in a two-room office in a basement in Peking. He was a veteran of the Long March and the engineer of the POW defections during the Korean War.
One room was living quarters. It contained his bed and toilet. The other contained cooking facilities and a small desk with a single telephone. Along one wall stood a bookcase containing numerous looseleaf notebooks of western manufacture, each filled with the tiny, precise characters of his pen, plus several hundred books, mostly in English. Along the base of another wall were cartons of office supplies, more than Huang could use in two lifetimes. He was a hoarder.
Only four men knew why Huang had gone into hibernation: himself; the chairman; Lin Piao; Chou En-lai.
In 1971 Lin would feel compelled to let the Muscovite revisionists in on the secret. Air Force fighters caught his aircraft over Mongolia on September 12.
Huang's telephone linked directly with a small underground establishment in Sinkiang. It was the only regular connection. Security was more strict than at the Lop Nor facility.
Huang's life and project reflected the Chinese character. He had failed in Korea. Certain that other chances would arise, he had kept his project going and growing. Not once did the policy-makers ask him to justify the expense or necessity. Tibetans, Indians, recalcitrant regionalists, old Nationalists, even a few Russians from the 1969 clashes on the Ussuri River, and Burmese from the border skirmishes there, came to his facility. He learned. He polished. He refined. He persevered.
August 8, 1964, provided one of the great moments in his life. That was the day the Chairman himself phoned to give him the news about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
All things came to the man who was patient.
VII. On the Y Axis;
Cash and Harald were in the station parking lot when John said, "We can't prove a thing even if we do find prints that might've been O'Brien's."
"How do we prove they're his? How do we date them? If they match the John Doe, all we prove is that he was in the house. Not when."
"Yeah. Well, shit. At least we'd have a reason to ask Miss Groloch some questions."
"If she cooperates. We haven't got a warrant, you know."
"Whose side are you on, John?" Cash slammed the car door. "Can you see what the court would say if we applied?"
But they went on in hopes she would cooperate. Carstairs had noted her willingness to do so several times. That had fed his suspicions.
On the way Cash told Harald what Sister Mary Joseph had had to say about Miss Groloch. With a sigh, Harald replied, "I'll dig through the records. This's getting to be a lot of work for no return, Norm."
Miss Groloch, of course, was in, and remembered them. "Sergeant Cash. Detective Harald. Just in time you are. I just put some cookies out to cool. Tom!" she shouted toward the rear of the house. "You get down!" Cash could not see the cat. She explained, "On the table he will be getting now. We know each other well. Sit. Sit. The tea I will start." She bustled toward the kitchen.
Miss Groloch's parlor had not changed since their previous visit. Cash began wondering about the economics of her life. Annie had said no one could remember her having left the house since the O'Brien incident. He and John had caught the mailman on the way in. The man claimed that all she ever got was junk mail. No personal letters, no Social Security checks.
"What about tax forms?" Cash had asked.
The man had not been on the route that long. But then he did remember that she sometimes received packages from a health food firm in New Jersey. He had seen nothing that might have been a tax refund or rebate check.
At Lambert's, the little market a block north, the manager had told Cash that his boy delivered twice a week, in small amounts. She always paid in cash, and always gave the boy a list for next time. Her tastes seemed a bit old-fashioned, but not as much as might be expected of a refugee still steeped in the last century.
Cash wanted a look at her kitchen, to see if she had a refrigerator.
A thousand questions piled up every time he thought about Miss Groloch. And he had barely scratched the surface. The questions came like those little metal puzzles you take apart, then can't get back together, only in a chain a hundred puzzles long.
"Now," said Miss Groloch, the amenities performed, "What can I do for you this time?"
Sometimes Harald had the tact of an alligator. He did it on purpose. "We've got a positive identification of our corpse: Jack O'Brien."
When you look into a kaleidoscope and turn the barrel, patterns shift. Sometimes, after the flicker, the change seems undetectable.
That happened with Miss Groloch. She was pallid for an instant. Her teacup rattled against her saucer. Terror lightninged across her face. Then, so quickly her reaction seemed imaginary, she was the cool old lady again. "No. Seventy-five Jack O'Brien would be. The photograph you showed me, it was that of a boy." Her pronunciation altered subtly, moving toward the European.
"His sister identified him. She was so sure she claimed the body."
The woman seemed to wander off inside. The tomcat came and crouched nervously against her ankles. Finally, "The Leutnant Carstairs, he said you would never stop…"
Cash tried to get a handle on the accent. German? Somehow, that didn't seem quite right. His duties in 1945-46, as a sergeant attached to Major Wheeler of the Allied Military Government, had kept him hopping through the Anglo-American Zone. The accent, he was positive, wasn't North German. Too soft. Nor did Bavarian or even Austrian seem quite right.
John was playing it too heavy. It was time he stepped in. "You'll have to excuse John. This case is frustrating. We're sure the man's not Jack O'Brien, too. We came because we hoped you could help us prove it. It's indelicate to mention it, I know, but you knew him best."
"It is that. But if I can help, I must." She was in such rigid control that her accent and structural stumbling all but disappeared. "There is so little to tell. He was like a-what do you call those spring storms?-like a tornado. Here, there, gone before he left a deep hurt. I know what people thought. But love him I never did… Does that surprise you, Sergeant?"
"No." But it did. He had fixed notions about his elders and their times. Casual affairs then? No, not till later, once Prohibition had reached its absolute nadir.
John horned in. "Would you be willing to look at the body?"
"To tell us how it can't be O'Brien. So we have something to go on."
That flustered her. It meant a trip downtown. "I… I don't know. To going out I'm not accustomed." Her accent thickened again. She slowed her speech as she groped for words.
Cash groped too, for the high school German that had been the army's excuse for sticking him into the AMG operation. Maybe he could catch her off-guard.
But no useful phrases would come.
What about maintenance? he thought. A big house like hers, so old, had to have paint, tuckpointing, and repairs all the time. The plumbing had to be crankier than a '47 Ford. How did she manage upkeep without going out? And, if they did find someone who had made repairs, would they learn anything?
Harald softened his approach. "I know. I don't think you'd have to if we could find some other way. Say, fingerprints."
She frowned, turned to Cash for an explanation. He tried, showing her the difference between their thumbs. "The natural oils leave marks," he told her. "I'm sure you've noticed, housekeeping. No two people's are alike. We hoped you'd have something around…" Her housekeeping habits did not appear the sort that would leave fingerprints lying around for fifty years.
Cash was fishing for an invitation to see the rest of the house.
She was cool for having been so long alone. Panic scrambled around behind her eyes, like a roomful of mice with a cat thrown in, but she did a good job of controlling it. Time had made her timid, but she refused to be spooked when the world assaulted her privacy.
"Is no chance, I think. No. But look we can. Where do we begin?" She rose, patted her skirts down.
"Any souvenirs?" Cash asked. "Something glass might have taken a print. Or paint if he touched it while it was tacky. Or a photo."
"Was a photograph once, yes. Just one. Your Leutnant Carstairs never gave it back. I do not remember any painting doing then. Everything has been painted since. Many times. I would not leave a dirty glass sitting for fifty years."
"We're grasping at straws," Cash admitted.
Her spectral smile informed him that she was aware of that fact.
For a moment he felt he and John were being manipulated, that her cooperation was a subtle form of mockery.
"Well, come then. Upstairs we'll go and see."
Cash didn't know what to expect. A locked, dusty room, memorially closed in respect for a withered love? Something like that. He just couldn't take her no love claim at face value.
What he did see was pretty much what an ordinary visitor would expect: just an old lady's house.
Cash stuck close. He was briefly bemused by her spryness on the stairs. John hung back, sticking his nose everywhere. With another of her quiet smiles, Miss Groloch pretended not to notice.
"Where to look I really do not know," she said, leading Cash into a bedroom. "But this seems the best place to start. It's a mess. I'm sorry."
"My wife should be so slack."
"Most of his time he spent here. Or in the kitchen. He was that kind."
Despite her ingenuous claim, the room had been kept with the care of a woman who had little else to occupy her. Cash picked up a perfume bottle that looked old enough, but which was of cut glass. "Any presents?" he asked. "He ever bring you anything?"
"Presents?" She looked thoughtful. "Now that I think, yes. Once. A porcelain doll. From Germany. Dresden, I think. He stole it, probably."
She went to an alcove off the bedroom which seemed to function as storage space, though it had probably been meant for a nursery. She opened a wardrobe which showed flecks of dust, rummaged around the back of a cluttered top shelf.
Cash noted four dresses hanging inside, all in styles a woman might have worn shortly after the Great War. They appeared to have hung undisturbed since their proper period. Miss Groloch wore appropriate old lady clothing now.
She might live outside it, but she was not unaware of the world.
It just keeps getting weirder, Cash thought.
"Here it is." She brought out something wrapped in yellowed tissue paper that crumbled when she tried to unwrap it.
"Hold on." John appeared genielike, a doily in hand. "Lay it here. You'll ruin any prints if you handle it."
"Fah!" she said. "Filthy it is. Laziness. No excuse is there. Someday to clean this, I will come." She stirred through the wardrobe, muttering to herself. "Sergeant, your force. It has the… vas ist?… charity?" She held up several sound but ancient shoes.
"We do." He forebore saying that he didn't think anyone was desperate enough to accept something fifty years old.
John slipped away with the doll, carrying it in front of him, on his palms, as though it were a nitro bomb. Miss Groloch abandoned the wardrobe in disgust, continued giving Cash the tour. John rejoined them as they were about to look into the attic, which proved to be a vast, dark, dusty emptiness. Miss Groloch refused to go up.
"Up there Tom gets sometimes," she said. "Filthy he comes back. I maybe should get one of those vacuum sweepers…"
"Don't you go climbing around up there," Cash told her. "If you fell over a joist and broke a leg, who'd come help you?"
She smiled, but didn't reply.
Cash was satisfied. He did not bother going into the attic. As Carstairs had noted so long ago, she was too smart to leave any evidence. If ever there had been any.
But Harald asked to see the basement. He seemed determined to push till he found the limit of her cooperation.
The basement had to be entered through the kitchen. Miss Groloch did have a refrigerator, Cash noted. It was so ancient that it had the round radiator stack on top. Ammonia coolant? he wondered.
To Cash the basement looked as innocuous as the rest of the house. Already certain they would find nothing, he remained at the foot of the steps taunting himself with Miss Groloch's accent while Harald prowled. What little looking he did was for his own curiosity's sake.
As he had suspected, the furnace was a conversion, coal to gas, probably with fuel oil as an intermediate step. The electrical wiring was the old exposed single strand, heavy guage copper wire. He noticed several places where the insulating fabric had become frayed.
"You see where the cloth on the wires is getting ragged? That could cause a fire someday. And this floor joist. You see where the insulator goes through? By the knot. It's cracked. You should have a carpenter scab on a sister beam before it settles and ruins your floor."
"This house and I, we are alike," Miss Groloch responded. "Getting old. Coming apart. Nothing lasts forever."
It was odd, the way she said that. Her wistfulness caused Cash to examine her expression. For a moment she wore a faraway look, then gave him that ghostly smile. Once again he had the feeling he was being manipulated.
"Tear it down they will when I'm gone, I expect. A pity that would be. It is a good house. Love and attention it needs, is all. Houses, they are like people, that way."
Before she could pursue this unexpected line, Harald said, "Well, sorry to take up so much of your time." He seemed disappointed. "We appreciate your cooperation." He made it sound as though he would have appreciated a confession a good deal more.
"I am happy to help, any time. You will be back, yes?"
That had the ring of accusation. Harald shrugged.
"You are always welcome. To being alone one never grows accustomed."
John grunted, took a last look around.
Loneliness. Cash wondered why she had never taken another friend after Jack O'Brien. Or had she? He would have to double-check with Annie.
Back in the car, after another round of tea and cookies, Harald asked, "What do you think?"
"What's to think? It's perfect. We've got to find another goddamned angle."
"Something's out of kilter. Something's not straight."
"How so? I didn't see anything."
"I don't know. Petty shit, I guess. Maybe it was the basement. You notice anything queer?"
Cash tried to visualize. "No."
"Probably nothing, but there were a couple things I noticed. Like, it wasn't a full basement."
"So the end that would've gone under the rest of the house had a wall that looked like it was built a long time after the other three. The stone was different. And it was laid on top of the floor. And the floor was poured a long time after the basement was dug. It looked like it was done in sections. Like somebody mixed and poured it by hand."
"So? What can we do about it? Never mind the buried men and the secret rooms. You think Carstairs wouldn't have found them? Think we should cite her for not getting a building permit? Even then you'd have to prove she violated the building codes. They probably did it before there were any."
"You're no help, Norm. Not a damned bit. We already know Carstairs wasn't infallible. And there were other anomalies."
"Ooh, college words. Like what?"
"A washer and dryer. And water heater."
"That's a crime?"
"When the rest of the house is so old-fashioned?"
"No, now hang on, John. You might think you've got to have a telephone, radio, and TV, but somebody who grew up without wouldn't. The stuff she's got is practical. And she had an icebox. I mean refrigerator. You take a bushman out of the Kalahari, offer him one modern appliance he could take back, I bet you he'd want a refrigerator…"
"Okay. Okay. So that explains some of it. Maybe. But not where she gets the money."
"You're bound and determined to nail her for something, aren't you?"
That was an aspect he kept worrying about himself, though, technically, it did not relate to their case. "Look into it if you want. Go down to the IRS. Maybe they've got something."
"If they'll let me have it." They swung into the station lot. "But they've probably never heard of her."
"Take care of the car, hear? I'll haul the doll upstairs."
"Got one for you, Beth," Cash said, opening the door with his rear while keeping both hands on the doll.
"Print evidence. Lab stuff. Want to take it to them for me? Okay? You got a box, or something?"
"Kleenex box okay?" She fished one from her wastebasket.
"Fine. Anything. Give it to George, all right?"
"The Groloch thing."
"Your wife left a message. I put it on your desk. I'll take this over while I'm remembering it."
He studied her behind as she left. Not bad. Someday he might give that a try… He returned to his desk.
His In tray had had a litter in his absence. It was all routine stuff that could have been handled by a semiliterate, patient chimp. Mostly revenue-sharing record-keeping that no one would ever look at once it left his Out tray.
Cash got less done than the chimp would have. His mind refused to stay off Jack O'Brien, Miss Groloch, and the certainty of Sister Mary Joseph. Somehow, something had to add up. But it just would not.
The puzzle of Miss Groloch was, more and more, displacing that of O'Brien's death.
And the clock kept capturing his eye. Beth had left the memo, in purple ballpoint, square in the middle of his blotter.
Norm (in wide, looping script): Annie says she went ahead. A man from
the Relocation Board will visit you tonight. Try to get home early.
P.S. I guess this is a surprise.
It was. Despite her talk, he had expected Annie to fold.
While he was trying to make up his mind whether or not to leave right away, a voice said, "You've done it this time, Cash." Lieutenant Railsback appeared before his desk.
"You look like Rip Van Winkle the day he woke up. What's happening?"
"Your china doll. They got a print off it. Already. Right thumb."
They stared at one another. All Cash could think was that this was impossible. But if it were true, there was a hole in Miss Groloch's defenses. She had made a mistake.
"Hank, I saw that doll come out of her wardrobe. I can't prove it, but it sure as hell looked like it'd been in there for years." He recalled impressions of being manipulated. Had the old woman known they would find a matching print? Was she mocking them? No. That would mean too much attention. She wouldn't want that. "The tissue paper…"
"I already told them to work on it. Told them to run every test they could think of, and to go to FBI if they had to." He dragged a chair up to Cash's desk, flopped in. "There's got to be a hole. Somewhere, there's got to be a hole. Or we're up against a Fu Manchu."
"Uhm. You remember Doc Savage?"
"The old man never let me read that crap. So I read his after he goes to sleep now. Yeah, I know him. Even went to the movie. Too campy. What about him?"
"Just think it'd be nice if we could put in a call to New York, have him clean this up. You notice how he always gets the job done in a couple days?"
"Don't pay any attention to the rules, either. Just busts people up." He snorted. "Long as we're wishing, why not go for a psychic? There's that fat English broad out in the County…"
Cash thought about it. It was straw-grabbing time, and there were precedents. Then it struck him. "We wouldn't dare. We'd be up to our necks in reporters. That's their meat."
"Norm, I'm getting close to retirement. I don't need this."
Close? Cash thought. More like five years. Matter of viewpoint, he supposed. "I didn't ask for it either."
"You sure as hell did. You had to keep poking and poking."
What was keeping John? Cash had wanted to talk to his partner, but did not feel like listening to Railsback while waiting around. He also wanted supper and time to put his heels up before the refugee placement interview.
"Look," he said, "we've had it this long and nobody's popped a cork. Why don't we just keep it canned? There's no pressure. Meanwhile, put a hold on that stiff. We've got a print from the old lady's house now. We can put some heat on."
"Yeah? All right." Railsback was unimpressed. "Wish we could just bury him. That's what I'd do with most of them if it was up to me. Often as not, they need what they get." He rose. "Give my best to Annie. Have to have you over sometime."
"Right. Same to Marylin." Cash hoped he would never receive a more definite invitation.
The lieutenant left without responding. Toward the end of the day he always grew depressed and remote, especially when he had no work to keep him overtime.
Annie got to Cash sometimes, as all wives do to their husbands, but, he felt, if she came on like Marylin Railsback, he would have bailed out years ago.
John wasn't going to show, Cash decided. He left.
"Fish again?" he grumbled as he walked in the door. "I could smell it clean out in the street."
"You were expecting maybe filet mignon?"
"Bad day?" He stalked Annie across the kitchen, put his arms around her from behind.
"Not really. Just nervous."
"And thirds and fourths. What's your problem?"
"You can still back out." Then he explained about the case.
" 'Curiouser and curiouser,' as Alice said. I thought you'd given up on that one."
"We never give up. We just put it away for a while. Getting sorry we came back. Oh. Don't tell anybody about it. Hank told me not to tell you."
"Okay." She twisted free, commenced setting the table. "What do you want to wear?"
"You going through with it?"
"All the way. A little buck fever, that's all."
He was not sure she understood the relationship of Michael to refugee in her own mind, but asked no questions. He never would. It was hers to work out.
"When's this guy supposed to show up?"
"Around eight. They were real nice when I told them about your job."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that they're having trouble finding people. You know me. Always the cynic. Bureaucrats don't make things convenient to be nice. They got a Moses somewhere who brought down a tablet telling them to be horse's asses."
"You're right. You are a cynic. Don't get going tonight."
The bell rang a minute after eight.
"That's them already!" Annie exploded in a frenzy of last second seam-straightening and hair-patting. "They're early."
"It's eight." He went to the door. Startled, he said, "Yes?" to the man he found there.
"Jornall Strangefellow. From the Relocation Office."
"Oh. We've been expecting you." Someone, anyway. But not a six-foot-four-inch, roly-poly black man with a bizarre name. Cash tried to cover his reaction. "Come in." He led the way to the living room. "Annie, this's Mr. Strangefellow. From the Board. My wife, Ann."
She did a less competent job of concealing her surprise. Strangefellow stirred uneasily while pretending not to notice.
"Well, sit down. Let's see what we have. Can we get you anything? Coffee?" Cash flashed Annie a look. What will the neighbors think was all over her face. This, probably, was part of the testing pattern.
"Tea. If I may. Plain."
Miss Groloch flashed across Cash's mind.
"What we have," Strangefellow said, after making small talk till Annie, composed once more, brought coffee and tea, "is a family of four. A major of police from Saigon, Tran Van Tran, is interested in your offer. Our backgrounding suggests you'd be compatible."
"Well, to be honest, I'd be a little worried about his record. You know, the Fonda people were always talking about the police over there. If they were on our side, they were concentration-camp guard types."
"I see. Understandable. Some probably were. You needn't worry, though. This guy's as straight as Jack Armstrong. Educated here and in France. He was liaison between the Saigon police and our MPs for two years. He had no connection with the secret police. Oriental politics operating the way they do, though, he probably did have some political responsibility on paper."
"No, that wouldn't bother me. Even here we've got trouble keeping City Hall from using us. I just didn't want any SS-types."
"None of that. Tran's a genuine Audie Murphy, Vietnamese-style. Squeaky clean war hero. Remember the Tet Offensive in sixty-eight? He won their equivalent of the Medal of Honor during that one."
"Oh?" Cash was beginning to grow distracted. Strangefellow was so thoroughly educated and bureaucratized that he seemed like a white man in blackface. His failure to conform to any racial stereotype was flatly disconcerting.
"Seems that, even with a bullet through his liver, he single-handedly stopped a Viet Cong suicide squad from reaching a packed ARVN hospital with their satchel charges. And later, when the end came, he stuck it out till the last minute. He was one of the last people they brought out."
"Have you met him?" Annie asked.
"No. I'm sorry. Not yet. Except through the paperwork. The book on him is this: he's thirty-eight, his wife, Le Quyen, is thirty-four, his sons, That Dinh and Don Quang, are fifteen and twelve. There aren't any extended family complications. This is Tran's second time on the run. Just after he got married, he and five brothers had to scoot out of North Vietnam. They were Catholic, and Ho had just given the French the boot. Their parents and most of their relatives still live in the Haiphong region, they think."
"It sounds good to me," said Cash. "Annie?"
She nodded. "Go ahead."
"We can handle our part, then. Might have some trouble finding him a job, though. Things are tight here. But we're ready to go to the next step."
Annie nodded again. She did not trust her mouth much tonight.
"No hurry on decisions," said Strangefellow. "This is just a preliminary interview. We won't get started on the details till the Board reviews my field report."
"I see." The whole thing hung on the impression they had made tonight.
"There're some personal questions I'm supposed to ask. If you think the answers aren't any of my business, just say so."
Yeah, Cash thought. And Annie can kiss her pet project good-bye. "Go ahead."
"You lost a son in Vietnam?"
"Missing in Action," Annie replied. For her, and thousands like her, the distinction between KIA and MIA was critical.
"I see. Thank you." Strangefellow smiled thinly. "I'm trying to determine if there's any resentment of the Vietnamese because of your loss.”
"No sir," Annie said.
Damned right there is, Cash thought. "Maybe a little," he confessed. "You can't help thinking some strange things sometimes. Especially what if this or that had happened differently. You don't have to worry about us taking it out on Tran, though. We're not that petty."
"And your daughter-in-law?"
"I can't speak for her. I think she's mostly mad at the government, though. Kissinger especially."
"Friends of the family?"
"We don't move in a large circle. There'd be more curiosity than anything."
"I guess they're mostly the sort who'd try to make them feel wanted."
"Good enough. I think that's all for this time." He began assembling the few papers he had brought.
"That's all there is to it?" Annie demanded.
"For tonight. There'll be paperwork if the Board gives us the go-ahead. I don't foresee any difficulties there, though."
"Oh. I see." Annie always felt more secure when bulwarked by paperwork.
"Thanks for the tea. And I'm sorry I took up your evening."
Norm glanced at the clock. The man had been there less than a half hour. Amazing. He walked Strangefellow to the door, said good night.
"I should've expected it," Annie grumbled when he returned.
"That they'd send a black man. Or someone different."
"Well, it don't matter now. I think we got through all right. It kept me from worrying about O'Brien and Miss Groloch for awhile, anyway."
He switched on the TV, but mostly thought the thoughts he wanted to avoid till the ten o'clock news came on.
That was the same old noise. Two more of the people he was supposed to protect had gotten themselves killed. It seemed like the department was always too busy picking up the bodies to indulge in any prevention.
Next day, long before his evening escape rolled round, he began wondering if he should not just spend the rest of his life locked in his bathroom.
VIII. On the X Axis;
Prague, 26 August 2058;
Agency for State Security,
Que Costodi Custodes?
"Thought you should know, sir." Sergeant Helfrich's voice sounded tinny, crackled. His picture kept twisting away into a dark, slanting line.
"We'll be right up." Colonel Neulist severed the connection, glared down at the page for his stamp album that he had been hand-lettering. He had smeared the black ink in a little feather that obscured several letters. "Damned phones. Even the agency can't get ones that work."
"Yes sir," his aide, Lieutenant Dunajcik, responded, thinking the quality of service at home was far worse. At least here in the agency building one had reliable sound.
"That was Helfrich. Good man. He's been with me since the Uprising." Neulist's fingers showed none of his rage as he used a white-out solution to conceal the smear.
"Yes sir." The lieutenant had been twelve the summer rebellion had swept through Central Europe like the fury of an avenging god. Like the fury of a god betrayed, Dunajcik thought. The People, the Party intoned reverently in every statement. Who were these People being deified? Certainly not those who had thought their last hope was to take up arms against Party and State.
Neulist held up a stamp with a pair of tongs. He peered at it this way and that, with the wonder of a child examining a butterfly. "Look at it, Anton. A work of art. The engraving… As fine as any banknote."
The lieutenant could not begin to understand his boss's love affair with the little bits of paper. There were as many stamp albums and medical journals on the disorganized shelves as there were accepted agency materials. Albums and catalogs always lay open on the colonel's desk. "Yes sir."
Dunajcik had been with the agency three years, mostly in Neulist's cluttered office. The man often made him wish the rebels had succeeded.
As he often did, the colonel skipped tracks without warning, shifting emotions as he did. "Let's get moving. The Zumstegs are up to something. They brought the girl with them. Today."
This was a crisis point in the agency's history. Perhaps the State's. This was the unexplained limit date of the Tachyon Displacement Data Transfer System on which the agency had built its remarkable record. Everyone in the building knew Time Zero was approaching, that the Central Committee was watching closely.
"Yes sir." Dunajcik eased the colonel's wheelchair into the corridor and started toward the elevators. His heart fluttered as they passed the emergency stairs. Dump the bastard down there someday, he thought. ISD could requisition a power chair for its director.
Internal Security Division's primary responsibility was ferreting out enemies of the State hidden within the agency itself. It was the agency's most powerful, shadowed, and feared division, and Neulist made an erratic guiding spirit.
The colonel was a dreaded man. His whim could terminate lifelines anywhere in Prague Zone. Dunajcik was one of a tiny handful of Central Europeans who did not hold the man in absolute terror. He just hated Neulist.
The colonel's current obsession was nailing the Zumsteg brothers for the anticipated failure of the TDDTS. But his motivation was spite, not service to the State. Otho Zumsteg's physician daughter had rejected the colonel. And Otho had had the nerve to threaten personal violence after having learned of the advance.
Dunajcik had witnessed that confrontation. He had come away with his hatred reconfirmed.
The colonel would not tolerate rejection, much less threats. He seemed to feel he was a god, above any rules or control.
Dunajcik's greatest failing was that he took as ex cathedra every encyclical published by the Central Committee.
By their officially published guidelines, Neulist was guilty of gross abuse of power.
Dunajcik had therefore pursued the only course he had seen as open to a minor cog in the State machine. He had approached Committeewoman Bozada, who was known for her dislike of the colonel.
Was Neulist aware that he had become the woman's creature? The bastard was slick as a greased snake. He wriggled out of every trap.
In the Zumstegs the colonel had met a match. They had patrons on the Committee. Their subdivision, a cornerstone of Security, Economic, and Agricultural Directives, was absolutely critical to the welfare of the State. Only Neulist had ever questioned their loyalty. And their genius was such that the TDDT System could not function long without them.
Neulist had chosen a hard nut.
Three floors up, Sergeant Helfrich managed his electronic sorceries from a room hardly larger than a closet. Dunajcik and Neulist were compelled to remain in the open doorway.
"What're they up to?" the colonel demanded.
Helfrich glanced at Dunajcik.
Was that a signal of trust? Or of imminent termination? At one time, before the Uprising had radically altered his life, Neulist had been an outstanding medical experimentalist at one of the secret research facilities. It would suit the man's sense of humor to condemn his aide to human guinea pig service in such a place.
Helfrich was as near a friend as the colonel had, and even he walked on eggs.
"They're setting up to transmit the final program. With triple fail-safes, all recorders going, like that. Frankly, I think the girl's with them because it's the one place you can't reach her."
Neulist smashed his good fist against the arm of the wheelchair. The lieutenant and sergeant exchanged looks, anticipating one of the colonel's fits. Dunajcik reached back to make sure he still had the hypo kit attached to his belt.
"What the hell's wrong with that picture?"
"Static from the tachyon generator, Colonel. When my laser beam bounces off the back theater wall…"
"Doesn't anything work in this place? Give it more power."
"I can't, sir, without giving them interference readings that would tell them we're watching."
"All right. All right. Damn you, Dunajcik. You brought me up here for nothing."
Always his fault. Why hadn't they given him pilot's training the way he had asked? He swallowed an observation concerning the colonel's own stupidity. Any fool could have seen this was pointless, today of all days.
"Hell. I'm going in there. Those bastards have been getting away with this shit for too long. Dunajcik. The programming theater."
"Sir?" He could not stifle a sharp intake of breath.
"You heard me. Wheel me in there where I can watch while those traitors sabotage the system."
He was further gone than Dunajcik had suspected. He had begun to confuse his own interests with those of the State.
No one-and there was an unexplained Special Advisory specifically banning Neulist-was allowed within the main programming theater without clearance from the Committee itself.
What to do? Dunajcik wondered. He had his ass in a sling now. If he conformed to security directives, Neulist would devour him. If he did not, he would be explaining why to Committeewoman Bozada.
He flashed a look of appeal at Helfrich.
The sergeant nodded slightly. One finger tapped a nervous tattoo near his phone.
Take a chance. Maybe Helfrich could place the State ahead of his old master.
Dunajcik fingered a scrap of paper from the hypo kit, let it fall where the sergeant would see it.
There was a number on it. The one Bozada had given Dunajcik.
Helfrich acknowledged with a slight nod.
Relieved, Dunacjik wheeled the colonel into the corridor. Now, if he could just stall…
There was no way to restrain Neulist long enough. Even if Helfrich reached Bozada immediately, it would take time to poll the Committee, and to advise the Ministry. Then word would have to reach General Kulage, who would have to trace and convince Neulist's number two, Major Votruba…, With the comm systems in their present state, an Emergency Executive Action might take an hour.
The lieutenant ran out of stalls and time-consuming stupidities much sooner.
They pushed through a door guarded only by dread and respect for the importance of the work carried out behind.
Today, of all days, Dunajcik thought, you'd think there'd be a sentry.
"Stand by," Otho Zumsteg was saying. "It's coming. Marda, watch that…" He whirled. "Neulist. You idiot. What're you doing here?"
Beyond him, his daughter's face reflected a lightshow of colors from the winking lights of the programming console.
"Zumsteg, you traitor…"
"Oh, damn. Now I see. Lieutenant, get that fool out of here! Don't you know what you're doing?"
For an instant Dunajcik hated Zumsteg. Here was a man who could say what he thought and get away with it.
He didn't know what to do. He was in the meat grinder now.
He did a thing that was treason by everyone's standards. He said a silent prayer that Helfrich had indeed called Bozada. Then he began backing the colonel from the room.
Neulist produced a pistol, obviously with the intent of using it. Dunajcik fled. Shots pursued him. One smashed into his right shoulder, spun him, hurled him to his knees in a half-faint.
He did not feel the pain, only the horror of failure.
"Oh, god," Stefan Zumsteg moaned. "Otho, this must be what the Neulist message meant."
"You're right." Otho stared into the muzzle of the colonel's weapon. "Override and send the warning. Try to be more explicit this time." He stepped carefully toward Neulist, his intention to soothe the man. "Marda, help me…"
Stefan managed exactly the same message they had received six months earlier, jammed into the weekly weather/agricultural program: "Neulist in theater…" It was the only explanation they had ever had for the fact that the future ended on 26 AUG 58.
The colonel resumed firing.
A bullet shattered the heads that recorded the information to be impressed on the tachyon stream. The result would be, or had been, a burst of white noise on January 4, and every point subsequent when an intercept of the particular program had been attempted. Messages received after that date had all been transmitted prior to the final program.
Dunajcik recovered, staggered toward Neulist. Tape heads could be replaced. The installation and Zumstegs could still be salvaged.
"We're all fools," he muttered. "We protect the State…"
But who could prevent the State from destroying itself?
One bullet had changed him, or compelled the admission of changes that had been coming on since his assignment to the colonel. He could now indulge his heresies, his seditions. He no longer had anything to lose. Even his life might be forfeit.
He had failed. Both himself and the trust of Madame Bozada.
The Zumstegs retreated into a frightened huddle. Neulist now wore the mad-gleeful expression that had become so familiar in Uprising news tapes, at those moments when he had personally dispatched rebel ringleaders for the camera. That had been before the reactionary bomb had rendered him permanently disabled.
Neulist had come to his position in an oblique manner. Strong rebel mobs had hit the agency building early, very nearly destroying the agency's ability to react. Then director of a nearby medical research facility, Neulist had led his staff in counterattack, had picked up the reins while the Central Committee remained stunned, and had acted so well in the crisis that he was allowed to continue prosecuting the Uprising's suppression. The ISD Directorate, once the bomb had rendered him an invalid, had been his reward.
It was one the Central Committee often rued giving.
Dunajcik hit Neulist. The wheelchair rolled toward the Zumstegs. Dunajcik clung, unable to aim it in the direction he wanted to go.
The colonel emptied his weapon.
One bullet penetrated the tachyon generator. Another shattered the governor on the tiny fusion plant that provided the theater's independent power.
A hitherto only theoretical tachyon storm raged for nanoseconds. Then the generator blew with the force of a satchel bomb.
Luckily, the fusor didn't go, didn't take out the agency's headquarters. Instead, it just died.
Major Votruba arrived as fire began gnawing at the cabinets containing the master programming disks. They, and the Zumstegs, were beyond salvage.
For an instant he forgot everything the State had taught him. "Mother of God!" He crossed himself.
For the first time in seventy years the State and agency would have to meet the future head-on, without foreknowledge.
Despair soon gripped the Party hierarchy.
IX. On the Y Axis;
Cash arrived early, but found John in ahead of him. Harald looked as though he hadn't gotten much sleep.
"What'd you get?" Cash asked.
"Christ. I fought it out with a whole battalion of clerks down there, for almost nothing." He opened his pocket notebook. "About the house. They started building it in 1868 or 1869, depending on who you ask, for two guys named Fian and Fial Groloch. Brothers? Anyway, these guys contracted the whole thing from New York. Never even came out to look at the land. Nobody knows for sure how they got Mrs. Tyler to let them build on her estate. Some people think that Henry Shaw arranged it, that he met them in Europe. If you want, I'll dig into that. Shaw's pretty well documented. Fian Groloch came out in sixty-nine to move in. He brought a man named Patrick O'Driscol with him. O'Driscol may have been wanted both in Ireland and New York. He seems to have been a Fenian, and a draft dodger during the Civil War, as well as hooked up with some shady people in New York. Fian also brought either a daughter or niece named Fiala…"
"Where the hell did you get all this?" That wasn't the sort of information kept in city records.
With a sarcastic stress on the O in official, he said, "From the official historian of the Shaw Neighborhood Association. Old dingbat named Mrs. Caldwell. 'Virginia, if you please.' You might know her. She lives on Flora too. Her old man, a doctor, died in fifty-nine, left her a bundle. Keeping track of this kind of stuff is all she does. She's got about three hundred diaries and a ton of papers and letters. Thrilled as hell when I showed up. The way she talks, she's got enough to tell us every time a Groloch farted. She's going to dig it up for us. They were great Groloch watchers in the old days. But don't go to her house unless you got a good excuse to get the hell out again quick. She'll drive you up the wall. Thinks she's still nineteen…"
'Taxes are current. Paid in cash every year. I had a hassle with the IRS, but they did break down and admit she's up to date with them. Pays quarterly estimates, by money order, on stock dividends that come to around twelve grand a quarter."
Cash whistled softly.
"Yeah. Sweet. That's about it, except they said she doesn't collect Social Security. I'll try to get a handle on her finances next. Banks and brokers. Utilities. Stuff like that."
He flipped his notebook shut, stared into space for a moment. "One other thing. O'Brien wasn't the first disappearing Irishman."
"O'Driscol. He and Fiala had a thing going on for years, then he disappeared. I'm not sure this's the same Fiala, by the way. Maybe her mother. I hope. Mrs. Caldwell didn't say.
"And what about this Fian, you ask? Just dropped out of sight, apparently sometime in the eighteen eighties. And a guy named Fial apparently never made it out from New York."
Cash had the feeling he had ridden the carousel too many times around. "Railsback put a hold on the corpse."
"So I thought we'd take her down. Spring it on her. While she's off balance, we hit her with questions about the prints."
He hadn't heard. Someone had slipped up. Or maybe not. It was Railsback's style to play games. "The doll. They got a matching print."
"Oh, shit." The vinegar went out of Harald. He dropped into the chair Railsback had used the previous afternoon, gripping its arms like an old person flying for the first time. Like me, Cash thought, screaming inside all the way, It's going to crash, it's going to crash. His face grew pale. His lips trembled. "That old. And now prints."
He changed. "Norm, somebody's set this up. Somebody's gone to one hell of a lot of trouble to cover a trail." He had reached the limit of his credulity. His features became set. He wanted an alternate theory. Cash suspected that from now on he would edit all the facts to fit one he liked.
That had to be aborted. The attitude could leak over into more mundane cases.
"You were the guy who brought up the science-fiction angle to begin with."
"Yeah. Yeah. But I never thought we'd get backed into a corner where it was the only explanation left."
"It isn't. Not yet. That print just proves she knew the guy. Hell, it doesn't even prove that, really. It just proves that something he touched ended up in her wardrobe. He could've been a burglar. But it is circumstantial evidence that she hasn't told us everything. Hey! Here's an angle. Suppose he really is a descendant of the original Jack O'Brien? Say he came back to check on Grampa's old flame?" The possibility had occurred to him on the way to work. "Or, if you want it bizarre, he could be her son and she's kept him locked up since he was born."
"Come on, Norm. She's fruity, but that'd take a genuine National Enquirer basket case. Anyway, his age isn't right."
"Just a hypothesis. He could be her son but O'Brien's grandson. How's that for off the wall?"
"There would've been rumors. You can't keep babies a secret. They yell all night." He said that bitterly. Cash now knew why he looked so haggard. His youngest had had a bad night.
"Just trying to make the point that there's still lots of possibilities. Probably a lot we haven't even thought of yet. When we find one that fits all the physical evidence, we'll have it whipped. Meanwhile, we just keep plugging."
That summed up Cash's philosophy of detective work. No grandstanding, no Sherlock Holmes ingenuity. Like the ram, just keep butting your head against that dam. Sooner or later, something would give.
"You dig some more this morning. I'll arrange a viewing for this afternoon. Say around two."
"Okay." Harald left in a hurry, as if glad to escape the speculations. Cash would have liked to have escaped himself. Miss Groloch and Jack O'Brien had driven his thoughts into some truly bizarre channels.
He did not understand why, for sure, that everyone, even he, assumed the old woman was guilty… of something. If she were really as old as she seemed, might there be an alienness which could be sensed only subconsciously? A natural resentment on the part of the ego?
"Heard you guys talking," said Railsback, replacing Harald in the chair. "I think you ought to follow up on your theory."
A glance told Cash the chance that incest and/or genuine murder were involved seemed, to Railsback, a piece of spider's silk thrown to a drowning man. He wanted logically neat, if morally outrageous, answers.
Even if the evidence at the scene hadn't suggested any direct connection with Fiala Groloch. Cash cautioned himself against grabbing for scapegoats, for easy outs.
He dithered a while, pushing papers, then checked out and went to the convent.
Sister Mary Joseph kept him waiting fifteen minutes, then appeared with a curt, "What is it this time?"
Cash was startled. But even nuns had to have their bad days, he supposed.
"And only I can help."
"We're going out on a limb. If you'll help, we're going to try jarring some information loose from Miss Groloch. Seems like it's the only way to get the whole story."
She crossed herself. "What would I have to do?"
"We figured we'd bring her in to view the body. And have you there to see what happens."
"You should take her into the room with the rubber hoses."
Cash shook his head. The sister seemed to have an overpowering, irrational hatred of the old lady.
"All right. But these interruptions are getting to be a habit."
"I'm sorry. I really am. If there were some other way… Well, my partner, the young officer, will pick you up about one-thirty. I'll try to have him call ahead so you'll know exactly when."
Cash beat a hasty retreat, involved himself in some unrelated legwork, a call home, and his daily Big Mac.
During the drive to Miss Groloch's he caught himself listening to the dispatcher with a grim intensity, as if subconsciously hoping something would interfere with his complicated, makeshift scheme.
Among other maneuvers, just this once, he had decided to bring Annie into the game.
Miss Groloch no longer appeared pleased to have company, though she remained a polite and fussy hostess. She even asked if he would like to see anything special on the television she had been watching.
The change was more marked in the behavior of her cat, who watched him warily, tail lashing, while he sipped tea, and sneaked amazed glances at the television. It had materialized overnight.
"It's my boss. Lieutenant Railsback. The woman claims the dead man's her brother. He says that, being's you're the only other one we can find who knew him, you'll have to come down and take a look too."
The woman was no fool. From her four-feet-ten she looked up and smiled a thin, I-don't-believe-a-word smile. Well, so much for poor Hank, he thought. For once the horns and tail couldn't be sloughed off on him. My turn in the barrel.
But she didn't call him on it. He suspected she had already decided that it would come to this and had elected for continued cooperation. Even if she were guilty of something, the net he was drawing closer had holes big enough for much larger fish to slip through.
"Just let me get my hat and coat," she said. "I'll only be a minute."
To his surprise, that was all it took. As she returned, she said, "I hope you will understand if I'm nervous. I have not been anywhere in so long."
Her stepping-out togs, which included a parasol, confirmed her claim. Coat and hat were ancient, and looked it, though they weren't threadbare. Cash thought his mother, at thirty, would have looked stylish in them. He hoped no one laughed. He was causing the woman enough distress as it was.
"I look how?"
His pause gave him away.
"Behind the times, yes? I can see out my windows, Sergeant." Her accent thickened. She smiled nervously. "Maybe, for my trouble, around the shops I should make you take me."
He groaned inwardly, dreading the chance. Annie was a window-shopping terror who drove him squirrely, and her wardrobe was up to date. Shopping with any of the women he knew sent him up the wall. His style was to decide what he wanted beforehand, get in, grab it, and get the hell out.
His dread showed. "Not to fret," she said. "Force you I won't. Well, let us be off." Her nervousness grew more intense.
Cash glanced at his watch. He was running early. He led the way to the car, making sure he held doors and gates. Neighborhood children stared. Some ran to inform their mothers. Miss Groloch pretended not to notice.
Cash was about to pull out when a truck stopped alongside him. A boy ran the afternoon paper to Miss Groloch's door. No big thing, Cash thought, but proof she wasn't completely out of touch.
Cash's home was just two blocks south and two east. He had to kill time. Miss Groloch had gotten ready far faster than expected.
"This's my home," he told her as he rolled to the curb. "I'm going to pick up my wife. I thought you'd be more comfortable if she went with us."
She did not respond positively or negatively. All during the drive her gaze had been aflutter as she devoured the changes time had wrought on the neighborhood.
"Is possible I can wait inside? Meaning no imposition."
"Of course." She would feel exposed, Cash thought. He hurried around to her door, saying hello to a neighbor's child on her way home from some special event at St. Margaret's School. Another dozen children were in sight. Miss Groloch paid them no heed.
He hoped Annie would be as slow as usual.
She was, the mindreader.
Miss Groloch prowled his living room like a cat in a strange environment, saying, when he offered her a chair and tea, "I'm too skittery. You don't mind?"
"No. Go ahead and look around."
She examined the television, apparently comparing it to her own, the telephone, a clock radio, and other impedimenta that had been developed or refined since she had gone into seclusion, and seemed especially intrigued by the concept of a paperback book. Several lay scattered about. Annie couldn't work on just one at a time.
"The kitchen? May I look?"
"Sure. Sure. I like to show it off. Did it over myself, about five years ago. It was a real antique. Same icebox and stove as when we moved in in forty-nine."
Miss Groloch seemed amazed by the smooth, coilless surface of the electric stove, and by the freezer compartment atop the refrigerator.
"So pretty. And convenient. And reliable? But wasteful, I suppose."
"Up here, someday, I'm going to put a microwave oven."
In moments he was doing all the talking, revealing plans of which even Annie was unaware. Time whipped past. He might have conducted the grand tour had Annie not decided it was time to go.
Miss Groloch had not, till that moment, seen Cash's wife. When she did, she peered at her queerly for a moment, then snapped her fingers. "The pears. Ripe pears from the tree beside the carriage house. I never did catch you, did I? "
Annie's eyes got big. One hand fluttered to her mouth. She grew more red than she had when Cash's Uncle Mort, drunk as usual, had gone further than usual with his off-color remarks at Michael's wedding reception. "Oh…" was all she could say, then and now.
Cash frowned at each in turn.
"Oh, she was a demon," said Miss Groloch. "Bolder than any of the boys. They thought I was a witch, you know. She would climb the fence and steal the pears. The boys would hide in the alley behind the carriage house."
Cash looked at his wife, trying to picture her as a tomboy child. He didn't doubt that she was guilty as charged. He decided not to tease her about it just yet, though. She looked frightened.
A memory that good did seem witchy.
Annie valiantly tried playing hostess all the way downtown, but couldn't get into the role. She kept lapsing into long silences. For Cash's part, he was thinking about carriage houses. Miss Groloch's, and any neighboring pear tree, was gone now, but its location was interesting.
He had seen Miss Groloch's backyard. There was room for a carriage house in just one place. Against the alley where the body had been discovered.
Had the carriage house been there still, there would have been little mystery in most of the physical evidence. The man could have stepped out and collapsed.
The bustle of downtown did nothing to settle anyone's nerves.
John met them in the hallway outside the morgue. He looked grim.
"Problems?" Cash asked.
"I feel like a Fed trying to make a tax case against Tony G. The trails are invisible. And none of them lead anywhere anyway." He then shut up. Miss Groloch was perturbed enough.
Sister Mary Joseph, in full habit, was with the body, which could not be seen from the doorway. The same nervous attendant hovered nearby. He was a young black man who, likely, had gotten his job on patronage. He was clearly uncomfortable with his work. If he remained a good party man, though, he would soon move to something better.
He was having trouble waiting.
So was Sister Mary Joseph, in her way. She crossed herself when Miss Groloch entered.
Cash wasn't sure how he had expected the old woman to react. Certainly with more emotion than she showed. But she had been forewarned, hadn't she?
"I will say this," she said. "It certainly looks like Jack. Paler, thinner, and shorter than I remember him, but memory plays tricks. Uhm?"
John removed the sheet, exposing the entire body.
"Himmel! Is this a bad joke, Sergeant? He could pass as Jack's double."
Cash and Harald turned to Sister Mary Joseph, who had been staring fixedly at Miss Groloch since her entry. The nun could not bring herself to speak. John signaled the attendant. The man produced the plastic bag containing the clothing and effects that had come with the corpse.
Miss Groloch examined them carefully, but with distaste. Finally, "Sergeant, I think I am going to contact my solicitors."
Harald grinned, thinking they had her on the run.
"Either you men, or his baby sister there, or someone you know, are doing what, I think, you Americans call the frame-up. Sergeant, I think you better take me home now." She was cool and hard…
John's grin evaporated. Now she was an extra step ahead.
"Is this, or is this not, Jack O'Brien?" Cash asked, using his Official tone. "I'm afraid I have to insist on an unequivocal answer."
"If this were fifty years ago, I would say yes. But this is 1975, Sergeant."
"Miss Groloch, there're a lot of things here that look impossible. And I think you know what I mean. If this isn't Jack O'Brien, then who is it?"
"Sergeant, I don't know. If you have any more questions, wait until I talk to my solicitors."
"Miss Groloch, we aren't accusing anyone of anything. We don't have to wait on lawyers. Now, it doesn't seem possible to me that you can't identify the man. You yourself gave us a doll that had his fingerprints on it. That, you have to admit, gives us some justification for asking questions."
Her face registered shock. She turned to the corpse once more, hardly listening as Cash kept on.
"Now, we don't know that any crime has been committed. We're not saying one has. That's what we're trying to find out. You see? If we do find out, and you've been holding back, then you'll have been an accessory. Do you understand that?" He paused a moment for it to sink in, though he wasn't sure she was listening at all. "Look, I don't like this any more than you do, but the man died weird. We have to find out how and why. And who he was. And you're our only lead."
She remained stubbornly silent. She now posed defiantly, hands on hips.
"Don't be upset," said Annie, fussing round the older woman. "They're not trying to crucify you."
Her reassurances had no effect.
Harald didn't help. He played the bully. "The rest of you can be nice if you want. Me, I've got questions. And she has the answers."
"Just can it for a minute, Norm. Let's get the shit cleared away. Like, how old are you really, Miss Fiala Groloch? If that's really your name. Where were you born? Are you really human? Whatever happened to Fian and Fial Groloch? What about Patrick O'Driscol? And Jack O'Brien? Too many disappearing men, Miss Groloch. Too many arrows pointing to you, Miss Groloch. And I, for one, mean to find out what they're pointing at. Talk."
"John, you're being an ass…"
"Annie, I'm up to here with this old witch. One way or another, the truth's coming out. All of it."
Not one question elicited a response, nor did Miss Groloch seem much surprised by any of them.
"John, shut your mouth," Cash snapped. He sent a look of appeal to Sister Mary Joseph. She was the one who was supposed to apply the pressure.
But the nun had folded in the crunch. She seemed too terrified to do anything but alternate between signs against the evil eye and crossing herself. The few words that crossed her lips were incantatory Latin.
Miss Groloch spoke but once, to amplify Annie's point. "Young man, you are a boor."
Cash wondered, again, at the improvement in the woman's English.
"We're just getting mad at each other," he finally observed. "Let's cut it off here. Let it rest awhile. Miss Groloch, I'll take you home now. John, will you take Annie?"
As he pulled to the curb before the old woman's home, Cash apologized for the third or fourth time. "I'm truly sorry we upset you." She had ignored him all the way. He wondered if John and Annie were getting anything from the nun.
"Sergeant, stop the pretense. Although it is impossible, you think I murdered Jack O'Brien. Without leaving a mark. Then I transported him fifty-four years." Her accent was thick enough to slice, yet the improved sentence structure persisted. "You've made up your mind. Now you are looking for ways to prove your convictions. Let me assure you that, even if I had a way, and wanted to scare a man to death, I would not drop the body behind my own house."
"I'll grant you that much sense. I'll even confess that I haven't made up my mind. In fact, there's no evidence indicating murder. I'm trying to tell you. This isn't a murder case. Not yet. Like I said downtown, all we're trying to do is find out who the man was and what happened."
"I wish you luck. But you will gain nothing by hounding me."
"Maybe not. But I'll remind you that there's a connection, a provable connection that'll hold up in court, between a dead man and a porcelain doll found in your possession." It would not hold up, really. A good lawyer would get the whole thing laughed out before the prosecutor went before the Grand Jury. But the old woman didn't need to know that.
"That'll have to be explained," he continued. "Really, what makes your position difficult is your mysteriousness."
She started to let herself out. Cash reached over, gripped her left hand with his right. "Please. You read the paper. You should have an idea what would happen if the media got ahold of a story like this. We're trying to keep them off, but if we don't get it cleaned up pretty quick, they'll get their hooks in. They could make a circus out of you. We're trying to protect your privacy as much as anything."
She wasn't mollified. "Thank you. And good-day, Sergeant." She took care of the car door and gate herself, leaving Cash with one foot still inside the vehicle as she stamped up her walk, a diminutive Fury.
Glancing round, Cash saw several neighbors watching. A teenager with ragged hair and beard spat, mouthed a silent "Pig."
Halfway to her door Miss Groloch stopped, turned, said, "If you want to find out what happened to Jack, look into the Egan Gang. Carstairs would not."
"Egan's Rats? He was connected?" But she was on her way again.
Carstairs's report hadn't mentioned Egan's Rats at all. But the gang had been powerful at the time, with Torrio and Purple Gang alliances, and O'Brien's belonging would explain how he had supported himself. Cash made a mental note to look into it.
He frowned the long-haired youth into his flat, then dumped himself into the car.
X. On the Z Axis;
A Company Scale Action
Whang! Whang! Whang!
The bullets did more damage to nerves than to the Huey. The AK47 couldn't punch through the ship's armor.
Michael clutched his M-16. John's fingers were white on his M-79.
Twenty-two was too young.
Then Wallace, who was at the open hatch talking back with the M-60, said, "Huh?" and stiffened. The machine gun kept firing, muzzle climbing.
John staggered over to help Sergeant Cherry drag the dead giant away from the weapon that had been his closest friend. Through the black man's nap he saw the rotor wash whipping the up-rushing grass of the landing zone.
The chopper shuddered, shook, flipped. Its main rotor played power mower for a fractional second.
"Ahshitmyarm!" John screamed as men and equipment piled onto him.
"Not again!" Michael yelled.
"Get the fuck out before the fuel goes!" Cherry ordered. "Come on! Move it! Cash, take care of Harald."
Oblivious to the gunfire, the men hauled one another through the hatchway. Michael got an arm around John and, crouching, firing with his left hand, dragged his friend away from the wreck. "Medic!"
Gunships ripped across the sky, sending their best to the little brown brothers behind the treeline. Air cavalrymen poured from the uninjured craft.
The force of the explosion threw them forward.
"Damn!" Michael snarled. "We didn't get Wallace out."
"He don't care. He was dead already."
"Lyndon Johnson, I love you, mein Fыhrer. How's the arm?"
"Hurts like hell. I think it's broke."
"That was a good coon. A bad motherfucker."
"I hope the lieutenant does it. If he don't, I will."
"Write the letter?"
Wallace had said, if he got skragged, send the announcement to his next of kin, George Corley, care of the Governor's Mansion, Montgomery, Alabama.
"What the fuck are we doing here, Michael? We had wives. We had deferments." Incoming mortar bombs crumped like a beaten bass drum with a loose head.
"You was the one who wanted to quit school and join the army." Cash peered into a cloudless sky so bright it hurt. "Here come the navy birdboys."
"I wasn't the one who said let's volunteer for Nam. I wanted to go to Germany. Remember?"
Napalm sunflowers blossomed among the trees. They only perturbed the brown brothers more. The volume of fire doubled.
"Them bastards were laying for us again."
Cherry came snaking through the grass. "How's the arm, Harald?"
"Okay, except a little broken." John groaned when the sergeant made sure the bone hadn't broken through the skin.
"Where's the grenade launcher? Lieutenant's got a machine gun that company says needs skragging."
"In the chopper."
"Shee-it. Great. Well, Cash, it's you and me hand-delivering it, then."
Michael unconsciously fingered a grenade. "What about John?"
"He'll be okay. All he's got to do is lay here and jack off. The dinks will be hauling ass out of here in fifteen minutes. They don't, the navy's going to splatter them from here to the Cambodian border. And the Arvans are coming up behind them."
The ADs began a second pass, this time firing rockets.
"So take it easy, John," said Michael, examining his weapon. It had a tendency to jam.
"You be careful. I need somebody to bring me flowers in the hospital."
"Hell of a way to get the Purple Heart." Cash's smile was a pale, nervous rictus. "What I'll bring is that little Le girl you liked so much. The one that works out of the Silver…"
"Never mind the pussy. Let's go." Cherry slithered toward the treeline. Cash scrambled along in his wake. Bullets whipped the grass, harvesting clippings by the pound.
The gunships took over from the ADs.
You got to hand it to the dinks, Cash thought. They've got balls.
Cherry waved him forward. "They're in some kind of bunker, else they'd have been skragged already. I want to come at them from the side, so they don't spot us."
All around the company's perimeter similar little stalks were underway, driving the Cong back. That he wasn't the only one crawling into hell did nothing to calm Michael's nerves, though. It was becoming a very small, very personal war.
"I'll put the grenade in. You cover."
"Don't be a hero…"
"Hey, man. Not me. This here's Chicken Charlie Cherry talking. If I was in the navy, they'd call me the Chicken of the Sea. But if we don't get that gun, a lot of guys are going to be dead when the Arvans get here." He resumed crawling, more cautiously now that they were near the trees.
Michael crept along behind, remembering his company commander in infantry school, Master Sergeant Heinz Krebs.
Michael had invariably grandstanded the exercises. And as inevitably, Krebs's softly spoken admonition had been, "You goddamned idiot. The idea's supposed to be to make the other jackass die for his country."
Krebs had always had an illustrative tale to show his pupils what they should have done. His father had managed to survive six years of the Second World War, most of them in the hell of the Eastern Front. He had been one of few enlisted men to win the Knight's Cross, Oak Leaves, and Swords to the Iron Cross.
His son had made an impression on Michael. Cash remembered his lessons once he found himself in a place where the bullets were flying.
Three dead men lay just behind the treeline, surrounding an American-made 57 mm recoilless rifle. They were so tiny and skinny that they resembled children. And in years, they were. The oldest might have been seventeen.
"No shells," Cherry observed.
"Shit. Think this's what got the Huey?" Several spent casings lay to one side.
"Could be. Let's go."
The snarl of the machine gun was loud now. It sounded like one of the Czech jobs, not the Russian. It was arguing with an American counterpart out in the grass. The American fire was all way high.
"Sixty meters," said Cherry. "Let me get about fifteen ahead before you follow me. They surprise me, you surprise them."
It went like an exercise. Everyone in the area, except the gun crew, seemed to be dead or gone. The ADs and gunships had done a good job.
Cherry made it to the flank of the low earth and log bunker, prepared a grenade, tossed it through the personnel opening in back.
Oblivious to the bursts from the American weapon, Cherry sprinted toward Michael.
A rifle cracked.
Several hundred secondary explosions followed as machine gun ammo went.
Michael put three rounds into the guerrilla who had shot Cherry in the back, then killed the two who, miraculously, staggered from the bunker.
His weapon jammed.
As someone tried for a homer with his head and helmet for a ball.
Feebly, he rolled onto his back, stared into the hate-filled eyes of the fifteen-year-old about to bayonet him.
An officer in North Viet uniform seized the boy's rifle.
Michael fumbled for his own bayonet.
The officer kicked it away. And allowed the boy to punt his ribs a half dozen times while he ended Cherry's misery with a pistol round through the brain.
By the time the ARVN battalion arrived and the body counting began, Michael Cash was three miles into an odyssey that would pause only briefly in a grim little camp in North Vietnam.
From one point of view, he could be considered lucky.
He was still alive.
XI. On the Y Axis;
It was almost quitting time when Cash reached the station, returning from Miss Groloch's. He was near distraction with the case.
It had taken Harald as long to dispose of Annie and Sister Mary Joseph. They arrived at the same time. Cash told him about the Egan lead.
"Egan's Rats? Don't think I ever heard of them."
"Predecessors of the Syrian Gang, more or less. Goes way back. Bootleggers, train robbers, like that. Some supposedly were the trigger men in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. I was thinking. I know a couple of the old Syrians. They go back far enough. Tommy O'Lochlain in particular might remember O'Brien."
The Syrian Gang, with most of its members in their dottage, was probably the last of the Irish outfits. Cash had never learned the reason for their name. Perhaps because there were a number of Lebanese connected.
They moved into the office. From behind his desk Cash asked, "How'd you do with the sister?"
"She went completely drifty. Kept babbling about witchcraft and Satan was going to get her. She's scared to death of that old lady. It's weird."
"What about this morning?"
"Oh." He took out his notebook. "Didn't get much that's solid. She ought to launder money for CREEP."
"She's got a lot of stock. Old stuff, in rails and arms, A, T and T, companies that have been around as long as she has. She's also got a growth portfolio that she's done good with.
Like Xerox. Her income, about fifty thousand, is all from dividends. She puts most of it back in. Her brokers have a power of attorney. They pay her living money into an account managed by an accounting company. Those guys take care of her bills, taxes, and things. I couldn't find out if she has a savings or checking account anywhere. Depending on what she's buying, she pays cash at her door or has the accountants send a money order. Twice a month they send a messenger with cash and any paperwork that needs signing. She sends back written instructions for the accountants and brokers.
"The brokers are a little scared of her. They've had her since the thirties. She never loses money. She doesn't move often, but when she does she's always right. When she shakes something out of her portfolio, they pass the word to their other clients. But she's no Getty. I think because she's careful. Doesn't want to attract too much attention."
"Maybe Annie and the sister are right. Maybe she is a witch. What about everyday things? Maintenance on the house, appliances, like that?"
"Per the letters of instruction. The accountants let me look at their records after I started to make a scene. They wouldn't let me see the letters without a warrant, though. Anyway, she's had them on retainer since forty-seven, when they took over from another outfit. Since then, nobody's done any work inside. But she's had wallpaper, paint, and stuff like that delivered several times. Outside work, even gardening, she contracts. Lawn mowing and stuff is probably done by neighborhood kids. The furnance was converted to oil in fifty-four. The washer and dryer came in sixty-three. On a trade-in. Probably some real antiques. And a TV just the other day."
"You said nobody got inside."
"Not to paint or anything. But the gas company did the furnace conversion. The appliance dealer did the delivery and installation on the washer, dryer, and TV. You think we could find any of those guys now? She might be Hitler in drag, but there's no way to pin her down. She's stayed so insulated that it's unreal."
"Hell, why else?"
"So why's she hiding? From whom? Goddamn, John, if she's really the same Fiala Groloch who came here a hundred years ago, she's already outlived anybody who could've been after her in the old days. Unless they're some of those two-hundred-year-old Russians."
"Or the Secret Masters?"
"Just joking. Haven't you ever heard about the secret society that runs the world? Sometimes they're supposed to be immortals."
"Yeah. And sometimes they're Communists, Tibetan monks, Rothschilds and Rockefellers, Jews, Masons, Rosecrucians, combinations thereof, or the gang in this Illuminati book Smith was on about the other day. I don't believe in vast secret conspiracies, John. Not even real ones if I can help it. Wouldn't it be nice if Patty Hearst and the SLA, or the Manson family, were just some cheap writer's gimmick? I'll stick with the time machines, and thank you."
"Whatever you want, Norm. But you got to admit that her being a spry hundred-and-thirty-plus takes some explaining."
Everything about Fiala Groloch took some explaining, Cash reflected. He was beginning to wish that he had let Railsback bury the whole thing. "You find anything about a demolition contract?"
Cash explained about the carriage house and pear tree.
"No. But that's something we should be able to trace at City Hall. I was going down tomorrow to check out the house anyway." He put the notebook away, rose. "But right now I'm getting the hell out of here. Don't want to think about this anymore for a while. Maybe I'll take Carrie to see Jaws. They say that'll blow anything out of your head."
"Yeah, me too. I keep finding myself wishing these were the old days and we could just drag her down into the dungeon and get the answers with the whips and chains. The good old Iron Maiden…"
Just then he spied Railsback backing from his office while arguing vehemently with someone inside. Beth made violent signals indicating they should use the door. "Time to make a break, old buddy. Hank's going to have somebody's ass on toast in a minute."
Harald made it, but by the time Cash had gone down to his personal automobile, discovered he had left his keys in his desk, and had returned for them, Railsback was a thunder-head on a course to intercept him at the door.
"What the hell kind of clown's festival did you and the kid put on today?" he thundered, startling every eye into looking their way. "I thought I told you to keep it quiet."
Cash put on his puzzled-but-curious face and asked, "What's the matter?"
"I got some bozo from the Argus, of all goddamned things, in there bugging me for an old-fashioned scoop, and I don't even know what the hell he's talking about. He's got more imagination than you and the kid combined."
The Argus was a small but highly respected newspaper, the oldest black business in the city. The source of the leak was obvious. The morgue attendant. Equally obvious was the fact that the major dailies and electronic media would be on it by tomorrow.
Cash shrugged. "We just took the old lady in for a look at the stiff. She claimed we were working a frame. Where's the hassle?"
"There was this attendant, see? And he listened to everything, see? Maybe he didn't hear so good, but there was this spooky old lady, this hysterical nun, and these two weird cops claiming the stiff was a guy that got croaked fifty years ago… I got to say more? Can you see it when it hits the Post? They'll go the 'Cops roust little old granny lady over science-fiction theory' route. And that bleeding heart jackoff McCauley could turn it into the biggest show around here since the World's Fair."
Over the past ten years, the Post's editorial stance had become ever more left-radical, and Railsback's opinion of it had declined proportionally. There were times when he mumbled about driving a stake through the heart of Jason McCauley, especially when that worthy did one of his columns bemoaning the plight of some prisoner it had taken city and state years to put inside. Cash suspected that his superior lived in terror of being discovered by the newspaper. It had ruined careers before. Cash had his own differences with the Post, but remained amused by Railsback's pointed fingers and endless cries of "Anti-Christ!"
"They wouldn't go that far."
"The hell they wouldn't. Stay away from them, Norm. Don't give them anything. Let them dig it out without any help from us. Maybe they will come up with a rational explanation. Now get the hell home before I blow a fuse. Best to Annie."
"Yeah. 'Lo to Marylin, too." Cash made himself scarce.
"Honey," he said as he pushed through the door, "you started supper yet?"
"Got some hamburger thawing."
"Put it back in. I'm taking you out. Movie, too."
"What brought this on?" Being taken out to dinner was an event so rare it called for some questioning.
"I just need to get out. Away." He described the encounter with Hank.
"What if Nancy calls? The kids might need something…"
"She should be able to cope for one night. Come on, get your purse. Don't even bother fixing up."
She went with great reluctance, and dinner was no success.
"What's worrying you?" Cash finally demanded, after his second and third choices of movies elicited flat refusals.
"I just think we should be home in case…"
"Christ! How come you're so all-fired sure…"
"I ran into Martha Schnieder at Kroger yesterday. She told me her daughter has been baby-sitting for Nancy."
"So lately it's been three or four nights a week. Nancy has been hanging out at the Red Carpet Lounge in Cahokia. Sometimes she doesn't come home till three or four in the morning…"
It finally sank in. And for a minute his emotions rushed this way and that. Finally, he took her hands in his. "Honey, there's a fact that we've all got to face. Michael's been gone for eight years. And Nancy's still young."
"Norman, that's enough. I know it all by heart. Every damned argument: 'It's time we accepted the fact that Michael's dead'; 'Nancy has the right to a sex life'; 'She has the right to find a new husband.' And on and on. Anything you can think of, I've thought of already. And it's all true. But dammit, Norm, it hurts. She and the kids are all that's left."
He knew she was describing a battle he still had to fight. Not yet engaged, he could observe, "I don't think she'd cut us out. She's still family. The most she'd want is for us to mind our own business. It is her life."
"What if she married somebody who had to move somewhere else?"
"We'd just have to live with it."
"I don't want to live with it!"
She was getting loud enough to draw curious glances. "We'd better go. Come on, I'll take you to Baskin-Robbins." She loved ice cream. A cone had smoothed over many a rough spot.
They spent the rest of the evening in front of the TV. As Cash had predicted, the phone didn't ring once. Instead of watching Carson, he turned in early.
He didn't sleep well. Michael's ghost hovered over his bed whispering about time machines.
The media did get hold of the story next day, but didn't play it up. Cash supposed it was because they could get nothing to sink their teeth into, though Railsback offered the opinion that reportorial imaginations bogged down when wandering outside the traditional bounds of business, politics, and crime. Harald claimed it was because the department itself was for a time diverted.
The entire department became embroiled in a series of crash priority cases, a hectic mishmash of murder probably due, in part, to the torrid weather. There was the killing of an off-duty patrolman during the holdup of an evening church service, then the rape-murder of a ten-year-old girl, followed by the molestation-immolation of two young boys by a gang of teenagers, and a homosexual jealousy homicide involving the scion of a prominent family. Next came a flare-up in the ongoing struggle for control of heroin traffic in the heavily black central and north wards. There, every time a big fish got sent up, the medium fishes shot it out for the top spot.
It was busy busy busy. If not hunting down a convicted murderer who simply bolted from the courtroom as the verdict was delivered, or beating the bushes in a panicky search for two teenage girls who had run away from the School for the Blind, Cash and Harald were continually in court. Their cases seemed to be coming to trial all at once. Most were disappointing in result. The fifteen-year-old who had gunned down a retired lieutenant, in the course of a robbery witnessed by the forty-three passengers aboard the bus from which the victim had just descended, was found guilty of assault and robbery, but the jury couldn't agree on the murder charge. Cash, being an officer, had never done jury duty. He couldn't begin to fathom the workings of the juror's mind. He sometimes wondered how anyone got put away.
But they both managed a nickel-dime investigation in spare moments. Harald continued doing the donkey work, discovering that the Groloch house had started construction early in 1869, and that the carriage house had been demolished in 1939. He actually located one of the workmen, but the man barely remembered the job, and had seen nothing out of the ordinary. No one remembered Miss Groloch ever having possessed either car or carriage.
And Harald discovered that large quantities of sand, gravel, cement, and building stone had been delivered to the house in July 1914. Presumably these were the materials used to pour the basement floor and wall off part. Cash went back to Carstairs's report several times, but there was nothing in it to indicate that he had thought the basement unusual.
And again he returned to the report. He had copies run off and took one home with the notion of musing over it while watching TV, and of letting Annie worry it instead of why they hadn't heard from the Relocation Board. Somewhere in the report, he thought, overlooked by everyone, was the key.
He had to keep reminding himself that he and Carstairs weren't working the same case, only cases with a coincidental connection spanning fifty-four years.
Cash passed another birthday. Each seemed more miserable than the last. Somewhere around twenty you began the downhill slide, he reflected, though you didn't realize it till years later. Around thirty you tried to stop looking forward. There was one bad ambush up there that you got more and more reluctant to approach. No matter what you had accomplished, you felt like a failure because there was so much more you should have done. By forty you were moving along looking backward, engrossed in might-have-beens. You remembered the girls who were willing when you were too chicken, opportunities that went begging because you dithered when you should have dashed in, alternate branches of the road you didn't even recognize at the time. You cried a lot inside, and died a little more each day. Maybe you fought the hook a little that decade, but by fifty you had surrendered.
Sitting at his desk, before going home to a "surprise" party put on by Annie, Nancy, and his grandchildren, he did his silent dying and penned a fragment of a poem:
Time wanders into oblivion, gentle as a rose
A traitor only too late revealing, had I but known,
The perfect moment.
There were times when, even more than immortality, he wanted a time machine with which he could go back and adjust… Or, at least, use to send an admonitory message to his younger self.
XII. On the X Axis;
3-6 July 1866;
"You know the crudest jest?" Fian asked. They were walking eastward, tending a little south, toward the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. "This little cosmic joke rips a vital organ right out of the corpus of State philosophy." It was his first remark in hours.
The roads were awash with refugees and stunned imperial troops. No one paid any heed to three odd peasants.
"How so?" Fial responded.
They had decided they would be less conspicuous using the names of the bodies they wore. Neither the people of Today nor Tomorrow would pick them out as easily.
And, of course, Neulist was a consideration.
Who could guess when, or where, the colonel was?
Father was so damned calm about everything, Fiala thought. "Yes. That bears explanation."
She remained balanced precariously on the knife-edge of a scream. The Other wouldn't die. Temporarily defeated, it lay back in the deep shadows, wounded, hating, a savage thing waiting with reptilian patience.
"Souls. I'm talking souls. Or something so much like them that it makes no difference."
He and Fial, immediately, became hounds on the scent of the connections between souls, tachyons, and Dialectical Materialism.
Fiala (Fial was her twin in this incarnation) remained intellectually numb. She just couldn't surrender to belief in the evidence surrounding her. She tried ignoring it all, even her companions, who strode through this alien time as though they were on foreign sabbatical and going home was a matter of traveling kilometers, not years.
She coped with the impossible by concentrating on the one thing with a reality too unrelenting to be denied.
The soul-eater waiting in the dungeons of her mind.
Father and Fial had decided that they had to remove themselves as far from their own pasts as possible. Who, more than a Zumsteg, could imperil the future? Who knew but what the State might never be born because of a chance remark by a peasant from a village on the outskirts of Prague?
It was ludicrous. Loyalty to something not yet dreamed?
But there was Neulist.
Fiala understood Neulist.
If the colonel had come back, he would haunt them. He had the soul of a demented terrier. He never let go. And, should he locate them, he might wound the future far more in achieving his sick satisfaction than ever they could by shifting three supremely unimportant peasants out of Europe.
Fial had argued for Brazil. Armies, even nations, could vanish into that vast South American wilderness.
But that nation would not be tamed, really, till the end of the twentieth century.
Fian had decided they should lose themselves, instead, in the witch's cauldron of post-Civil War United States. The nineteenth century was primitive enough. No need to overdo the pioneer thing. America offered an opportunity to wait out the future with some prospect of comfort, and little chance to alter the destiny of the State.
So why were they traveling eastward?
The day after tomorrow, on July 6, an Austrian official, fearing capture by Prussian cavalry, would bury nearly a hundred thousand florins in gold and silver near a tortoise-shaped granite boulder at the edge of a meadow on the western slopes of the Bohemian-Moravian heights. It would remain a lost treasure till workmen unearthed it the spring of the year before the outbreak of the Uprising.
Fian planned to borrow that treasure long enough to establish his family in America. With a little capital and Fial's historical knowledge, waiting in style shouldn't be difficult.
"Marx is in England now, isn't he?" Fial mused. "I wonder…"
"I have a feeling that the most important thing we can do here is shun our shrines and saints." Fian had always been irreverent of political holies, but his dedication was beyond question. Two centuries out of his own time, and still he was sacrificing for the good of the State. "The disappointment could be too much to handle."
Fial chuckled. "For us or him?"
Fian was also a realist. The State wasn't the workers' paradise Marx had envisioned. Nor, he was sure, would Marx be the ivory tower Messiah created by generations of State information officers.
"Father," Fiala asked, "do you really think Neulist is here?"
"There's no way of knowing. We've seen no proof that he isn't. For our own welfare we've got to act as if he is. Still, I don't think it's likely. He was quite a ways from the focus. But nothing about this seems likely. Anticipate the worst, hope for the best, survive, take the warning back the only way we can. That's what we have to do."
"That lieutenant. I feel sorry for him."
"Yes. Dead or blown back, he's better off. Seldom has a man been in a tighter spot. We'd better speak Czech for a while."
They had been forcing themselves to use German. It was a minority language in Bohemia, but the official language. It would be decades yet before Masaryk could elevate Czech to equal status. Even then, Czech would not take over completely till the fall of the Third Reich and the evacuation of the German minority.
Now, coming to a crossroad where an endless column of Austrians were moving south, they had to take care lest they were overhead.
The battered, dispirited vanquished of Kцnniggratz wouldn't give three ragged Bohemians anything but a hard time. Ordered to wait, they spent hours reviewing that parade of defeat. Fial and Fian debated the possible courses of history had the Empire beaten the Prussians.
For at least the twentieth time Fiala relived the final scene in the hovel at Lidice.
What had gone wrong?
The woman had returned with a priest, the pair chattering at one another crazily. The cleric hadn't believed a word-till he entered the hut.
Whatever it was about them, he had sensed it without a word having been spoken.
Mama!… the Other had screamed… And had slammed into her, out of mental nebulae, coming within a micron of shattering her control, of betraying all three of them.
The creature would babble the last gram of truth if ever she got the opportunity.
She knew, then, that there never would be peace between them. They were too alien.
The priest's eyes had widened startlingly. He had thrust the woman behind him, shielding her with his body, and had compelled her retreat while brandishing his crucifix. He had stammered something about bringing in the bishop and an exorcist.
Fian had grimly chuckled and said they had best depart before villagers gathered with torches and wooden stakes.
They had grabbed a few things and had gotten out immediately, before the villagers could react. Fial they had had to support between them till he recovered. Only after they were a half-dozen kilometers from the village did they begin planning, once Fial, with his historical background, had recovered enough to make them fully aware of when they were.
Where was no problem. Fial explained that Lidice had at one time been a national shrine. Later, the Central Committee had chosen it as the site of the headquarters, Agency for State Security.
There had been no spatial displacement.
Fial and Fian would invest man-months trying to develop a mathematical model of a chronon field capable of linearly linking a site despite all the motion of a planet, solar system, galaxy, and universe over two centuries.
Fiala concentrated on medicine. It would be critical if they were to survive this medically primitive era. At least they hadn't come in their own bodies, to a world where all the viruses and most of the bacteria would be alien, deadly, able to overwhelm their bodily defenses in no time.
XIII. On the Y Axis;
The drug war flowed into the West End for one violent evening and, while in the area following up a lead linking the activity to a case in his own district, Cash stole an hour to drop in on a physicist at Washington University,
Dr. Charles DeKeersgeiter seemed awfully young for the high-powered reputation his secretary imputed, though he was sneaking up on forty.
Cash had never heard of him.
The age thing had always bothered him. Even now, though a grandparent, he unconsciously expected successful, powerful men to be much older than himself. During his early thirties he had gone through a bad crisis in which he had suffered deep depression and self-doubt each time he had heard of, or read about, someone who had become a substantial success at an age younger than he was then.
But the whole race couldn't consist of Alexanders or Napoleans, or even Al Capones. In time he had made a shaky peace.
"I'm not sure I understood why you wanted to see me, Sergeant," said DeKeersgeiter, after Cash had been shown into his office.
"I'm not either. What I want is for you to tell me about Time." Briefly, he presented the apparent facts of the Groloch-O'Brien case. "The only handle we can get on it is an impossible one: time travel."
"What we call the least hypothesis." DeKeersgeiter showed more than the polite interest Cash had expected. "That's the simplest theory that'll include all the known facts. Sometimes you come up with something outrageous. This time, though, I submit that the facts aren't all known." He made a steeple of his fingers beneath his chin, stared at the ceiling. "Time: The popular view is that it's like a river, flowing one direction at a steady pace. In physics we know this isn't necessarily true. Time's a phenomenon associated with space and matter. And motion. Velocity and the shape of space can cause differences in observed time flow. Especially in the matter of motion. It's my own feeling that matter, or the mass thereof, also directly correlates to time in any given frame. We know it does at the event horizon of a singularity. With better math, we might find gravity even more important than commonly thought."
He spoke slowly, pedantically, as if unsure he could express himself in terms Cash could understand.
"That is, time flow on the surface of a neutron star should differ significantly, not only from here but from current mathematical predictions, because of the proximity of disparate masses." He glanced at Cash as if to solicit an opinion. When none was forthcoming, he went on.
"A few years ago there was a flap over a hypothetical particle called a tachyon. At first it was supposed to move faster than light and have negative mass. Then it was supposed to have positive mass and a velocity below that of light, but was supposed to be moving backward in time. Some of my colleagues also feel there's a movement of mass backward in time from a black hole or singularity to a white hole or quasar, extremely violent stellar events so far away that what astronomers see are events which took place almost back at the beginning of the universe. But I was talking about tachyons. Since nobody's been able to detect them, and their proponents have been heavily criticized by their opponents, the excitement's pretty well died down. I haven't heard a thing recently. But I'm so damned busy pushing paper-federal grant, you know-that I don't have time to keep up with the literature."
DeKeersgeiter's mind seemed to jump tracks for a minute. He treated Cash to a critique of federal grant practices that would have endeared him to Lieutenant Railsback. Then, as suddenly, he skipped back, leaving Cash momentarily bewildered.
"We have fads in physics, too. Tachyons. Gravitons. The latest is the Hawking Black Hole." As the physicist sneered at the impossibility of BB-sized or gram-weight singularities left over from the explosion of the primal egg, Cash began to wonder if he were going to get any sense from the man at all. Then the man's mind skipped another track.
"There's only one way your corpse could've moved in time, so far as we know. The usual. Unless…" He steepled his fingers and studied the ceiling once more. "I almost overlooked something. Fell into the obvious trap. When you think time travel, you always think of going back. It's a powerful, almost archetypal human drive, to go back and put things right. But your man came forward. And that's possible. There's a shortcut.
"The mechanism is that of Fitzgerald-Lorentz. When an object with mass nears the velocity of light, its time reference relative to slower objects grows retarded. If we could put a man into a spaceship and whip him up to ninety-nine point-nine nine percent the velocity of light and send him off to, say, the nearest star and back, to us it would seem like it had taken him about nine years to make the trip, but for him only a few months would pass. Of course, that's not humanly possible. But the theory's sound. It's been proven with atomic clocks in satellites and fast planes."
Cash caught the stress of "humanly." "You mean a flying saucer could've gotten him?"
Embarrassed, DeKeersgeiter nodded. "It fits the least hypothesis as neatly as your time machine. There's more evidence that they exist. And it doesn't conflict with physical law."
All Cash said was "Thanks," but thought, A whole new can of worms. What else would he come up with before they closed the case? Suspended animation? Perpetual motion machines? How about deals with the devil? Sister Mary Joseph had suggested that one already.
He got the hell out. Politely, but out.
And got hell.
The dispatcher had been trying to get in touch. Annie had called. Major Tran was on his way in from Fort Chaffee to look them over. She wanted Cash to meet him at the bus station. She was afraid to handle it herself. But Railsback, because he hadn't let the dispatchers know where he would be, wouldn't let him go.
Cash caught John leaving as he himself went into the station. They hadn't seen much of each other recently. "You heard?"
"About the gook? Yeah."
"Sorry. Railsback's been on my ass."
Beth was trying to get his attention. He held up a. finger in a wait-a-second gesture.
"I just wanted to know if maybe you could come over tonight. Maybe ease things a little. You know these people better…"
"Now who's doing it?"
"You know what I mean."
"If he spent time over here before, he can cope. Probably better than we did over there. But I'll stop over." He started on. "Oh. I'll come by myself. You'd better keep Nancy and the kids away, too. Let Annie get settled before you sic the whole gang on him."
"Right. Good thinking." Cash didn't think his daughter-in-law would cause a problem, but the grandchildren might.
"Cash! If your personal life can stand it?…" Railsback. The way he had come on all week, life at home must have become hell.
Cash glanced at Beth, who just smirked and mouthed, I tried to warn you.
Once he turned, before he could say anything, Railsback snapped, "What the hell have you been up to this time?"
Cash thought he was still pissed about not being able to get in touch. Wrong. As soon as he started to explain, Railsback interrupted.
"You shook a nut tree is what you did. I got a bunch of goddamned flying saucer freaks coming in here tomorrow. Here. They didn't even ask, they told me. Why can't you just write this creep off? You have to put our careers on the line over him? And don't bug the old lady no more, either. Last time you did I had a whole platoon of ambulance chasers shaking my phone off the wall."
Surprise and surprise, Cash thought. DeKeersgeiter had moved fast. Cash hadn't suspected the man was that interested. And this was the first the lieutenant had mentioned the lawyers. Which meant that he had gone to bat for his troops. He wasn't as bad as he pretended.
"Look, Hank, there's got to be an angle on this thing. And Miss Groloch's in it up to her pointy ears. And covering up. You don't haul out the legal talent if you're not feeling guilty, not just 'cause you got a little pressure from a cop. Not if you're an old timer. Kids these days are something else. And we got prints, remember? With that we might be able to get a search warrant. Speaking of prints, whatever happened to the paper that came off of that doll?"
Railsback looked thoughtful, then sheepish. "I sent it over to FBI."
"That old, huh?"
"Well, I'm not letting go. Not even if I have to bring in Gypsies with crystal balls."
Railsback was less angry than he pretended. He grinned, made a dirty crack, said, "Norm, I read the Carstairs file, too. The sonofabitch didn't let go for eight years. And he didn't get anywhere. How come you think you'll do better?"
"Because I already have, Hank. I've got a print, and I've gotten a rise out of Miss Groloch. She gave me an angle herself, but I haven't had time to follow it up." He explained the connection with Egan's Rats. "Hank, it might get tough, but I won't give up. It doesn't seem rational, but I think there's a connection between a 1921 murder without a victim and a 1975 victim without a murderer. I'm not saying Miss Groloch had anything to do with it. I'm not saying this is O'Brien from twenty-one. I'm just saying there's a connection. And she's holding out on us."
"Personally, I think you're full of shit, and ain't got a snowball's chance. You won't get her to talk. She's tough, Norm."
"Maybe not. But maybe I'll find the right lever. You've got to keep plugging."
"I hope you've got a guy like you for a sergeant when you've got my job, Norm. Like Harald. Tied to you like a can. But you're a good cop most of the time. Go on. Haul ass before I find something for you to do."
Cash got out of his way, and out of the station as soon as he could. Beth's bemused smile pursued him all the way.
Major Tran turned out to be a friendly, energetic little man who resembled Marshal Ky in Ben Franklin glasses. He wore them perched on the tip of his nose, peering over their tops.
Cash's first impression was Walter Mitty, bookkeeper, not the hardnosed hero-cop on record.
Tran had the language pat and the customs near enough to get by. Cash supposed he could have passed as Nissi had he so desired. They shook hands, started feeling one another put while Annie mixed drinks. She had gone to the bus station after all, and had arrived home just as Cash was getting out of his own car. He had paid the cab for her.
"I'm a martini addict," said Tran. After a sip, "Your wife mixes a good one."
"Rum and coke man myself, when I break doctor's orders. And tonight I need one."
"Aren't any good ones anymore. Just some not as bad as others. We're under siege."
"Ah. The Great American Lament. Overworked and underpaid."
Cash chuckled. "Overworked, anyway. I don't know. It just seems like everything's coming apart. And nobody cares. Not enough to get off their butts and do something."
"Norm," said Annie, "I don't think Major Tran is ready for that." She had put on the warning frown usually reserved for grandchildren.
Tran had been westernized. He didn't blink at the interruption. He held up a hand, smiled, said, "Rather say it's a problem I knew too well. It's not uniquely American, though it seems to come with Americanization."
Cash frowned, wondered if the man were being critical. Flashes of old news clips rambled across his mind. He saw the man's point. Saigon, in part, had become cardboard America, a cheap imitation of the cultural exporter's already tawdry features.
"Don't mind my grumps," Cash told him. "I've got an especially frustrating case."
"Miss Groloch again?" Annie asked.
"Still." The doorbell rang. "That'll be John." He started to rise.
"I'll get it." Annie hurried doorward, presumably anticipating feminine companionship. While she was being disappointed Tran asked about the case and Cash sketched it for him.
"Most curious," he said. "And interesting. Amidst a war one hasn't time for such delicate investigations. I've always been fond of the outrй. Have you read Conan Doyle?"
"Sherlock Holmes? A little. His cases didn't seem that unusual."
"In the context of his times…"
John came in trying to placate Annie for not having brought Carrie. Cash made the introductions. "I was just telling Major Tran about the O'Brien thing. Might as well fill you in. Rails-back didn't give me a chance this afternoon."
When Cash finished describing his visit to Dr. DeKeersgeiter, John said, "Hank'll really love you now. Flying saucers!"
"Oh, he does. What he wished on me was to have you as my second for the rest of my life." They chuckled together, then Cash asked, "I take it you like UFOs better than time machines."
"A hell of a lot. I can believe it. Only it's just as hard to prove."
"I don't." Just thinking about it made him queasy. "Too many late shows, I guess. Bodysnatchers, like that." Then, "John, what're we doing? Dammit, I'm sitting here taking it seriously when we should be trying to figure out what really happened. But I'm going to let those saucer nuts work on it. It'll keep them out of our hair."
Said Harald, to Tran, "One of the problems with being a cop over here is you've got to be nice to everybody, good guys, bad guys, and nitwits."
"You are, perhaps, too much intrigued by the exotic," Tran replied. "If one unfamiliar with all the details may speak? As you outlined it to me, Norman, you haven't yet gone to conclusion with the critical question."
"The nature of the connection between woman and corpse. That appears to be the critical element. It would seem that all else would fall into place once you discovered what she and the dead man were to one another."
"True," said John. "Thanks, Annie." He sipped the drink and avoided her eyes. Though he had been around the house since childhood, he still wasn't comfortable using her first name. He had had the same problem with Cash when he had come into the department, but had outgrown it. "But American law, like God, moves in mysterious ways. We can't go into her house after proof till we can prove it's there. I'd love to tear the place apart. But we couldn't get a warrant with what we've got."
"John," said Cash, "we might. I've been thinking about that. Judge Gardner's moving from Juvenile to Criminal. He might take the chance."
Gardner had the reputation of being a hard-nosed, old-fashioned jurist. His three years on the Juvenile bench had been accompanied by storms of controversy-and a dramatic decline in juvenile crime. He might take a chance on the print-if they could argue convincingly enough.
"Maybe. I've got court again tomorrow. I'll try to see him. Did you check the gang connection?"
"Haven't had time."
"Norm. John. Major Tran's come a long way, and not to listen to you two talk shop."
Cash started to apologize. She was right.
"Not to be concerned," said Tran. "I find it relaxing. It's been months since I've worked myself. This matter, so intriguing, stimulates my mind. Should the chance arise, I'd like to meet this woman. She sounds most remarkable."
"She is that," Cash responded, then steered the conversation to more immediate matters. "But Annie's right. We should be talking about your problems. Maybe I haven't been looking as hard as I could, but I've been asking around about jobs. Can't say I've had any luck."
"Not to worry," Tran replied. "I have an offer. Waiting tables in a place called The Mainlander, with a chance for my sons to work part-time."
"It's a name restaurant," John said. "Good tips." He didn't seem surprised.
Cash and Annie were. "You sure that's the sort of thing you want to do? " Annie asked.
Tran was surprised by their surprise.
"There is pride and pride," he said, trying to explain. "In America a man is too proud to work below his station. This is true of some of my countrymen also. But there is another pride. It refuses to allow one to live off the good will of others when one is physically capable of working. This is a peasant philosophy, perhaps. In the country everyone must work. Only the city rich… I'm sorry. Perhaps I should say it thus: Your country has done enough by permitting me to escape the Viet Minh once more. Now it's up to me to care for those who have joined their lives to mine. Perhaps someday I will move to better work. They have begun making arrangements for retraining doctors already."
"I don't know how you'd get back into your own line," said Cash. "Residency, citizenship, all that crapola. And physical requirements. You'd have to get a height waiver."
"Not to mention good old-fashioned prejudice," Harald added. "There're a lot of bitter people here."
"We might wrangle a retainer as a consulting expert in Vietnamese affairs," Cash mused. "Enough refugees have settled around here that there's bound to be some problems."
Tran shrugged. "There will be difficulties. I expected them. I survived them before. I will again. I did my thinking before I boarded your helicopter. My problems this time, likely, will be less than before."
Cash didn't understand, but Harald did. "You haven't seen real prejudice till you've seen it over there, Norm. They aren't a bunch of pussy-footing Archie Bunkers. Everybody hates everybody. A refugee from the north, especially if he was Catholic and fell in with Buddhists, would have had a bad time. Though less so than, say, the Black Thai."
Tran nodded, smiled. "On that everyone agreed. Everybody hated the Black Thai. Looking at it from here, I begin to wonder why."
"You'll have to excuse my ignorance. You don't get to see much of that from the home front."
"No matter," said Tran. "Those are all problems for the PRG now. May they get their bellies full."
Annie had grown restless during the discussion and had begun drifting back and forth between kitchen and living room. Now, from the kitchen, she called, "Supper." She scowled at Cash for not having warned her about John.
The sum of the evening was that Cash and Tran found one another acceptable.
"I think," said Tran, "that I'll bring my family here as soon as I can. Unless you change your minds. Fort Chaffee is… well, it's not comfortable. We'll be as little trouble as we can, and out as soon as possible."
The man, Cash reflected, was positively embarrassed.
Tran became more so when he asked, softly, "Your wife. Why is she so tense? So strained?"
"We lost our oldest son in Vietnam. Missing in action. We still don't know anything for sure…"
"If this will work an emotional hardship, perhaps I should look elsewhere?" Tran, of course, would have been briefed. Cash supposed he was just making sure all the cards were on the table.
"No. No. There'll be no problem."
"I think I understand. My father, mother, sisters, brothers… It's been more than twenty years since I've heard anything from my parents. And only my one brother, Trich, got out this time. He's in San Francisco. The others were all army officers too. There are nights when I get no sleep wondering what has become of them."
It helped. Especially when he told Annie the same things, after insisting on helping her with the dishes-an eventuality which left John agog.
The major's return bus was a late one. Cash didn't get to bed till after three o'clock. Next morning he was in no mood to take crap from anyone. He went in to work almost hoping Lieutenant Railsback would pitch one of his infamous fits.
The man had a sixth sense. He stayed out of sight even while the saucer freaks were stamping up dust in the outer office, driving Beth to distraction.
XIV. On the Z Axis;
24 December 1967
"Shit, Mike," said Caldwell. "They're making an early start this week."
"Eh?" Cash glanced up as Snake lowered himself painfully from the crack in the barracks wall. Dawn shoved a broken finger inside.
"Bashful’s making his rounds. Got the colonel, Captain Richards, and Commander Wainwright already."
"Shit." Cash tried to shrink into his pallet, to twist himself into a fetal ball too tiny to be found. His turn would be coming up again soon. He had stopped hurting. Except around the hunger knot in his stomach.
"Going to be a big show. Dopey, Doc, and Sleepy are with him."
Michael shuddered. "I can't take much more, Snake." The polite, smiling, nameless little brown men never let up. They looked like comic opera or movie gooks in their baggy uniforms, carrying their antique rifles, but their humorousness ended in interrogation. "What the hell do they want?"
Any military information they possessed was far out of date. And any forced confessions to imaginary war crimes would be believed by no one.
"It don't make sense, Snake."
"Shut up, you guys," Koester growled from his pallet. "And for Christ's sake quit whining, Cash."
He was getting a reputation for that, and for malingering. But what could he do?
"They're just trying to get even," said Cantrell. His eyes were questioning as they rose to meet Michael's.
Did he suspect?
Michael had just about decided to cooperate.
The door creaked inward. Bashful made a black silhouette against the pale light. "Caldwell. Cash. Koester. DeLosSantos Zachary." He needed to say no more. The prisoners knew the drill.
The dwarves had collected twenty-three men already, including all the senior officers.
"Big party," Cantrell observed, as he and Michael fell in at the rear of the column of twos. Dopey made a threatening gesture with his bayonet. "Stick it where the moss don't grow, asshole." Snake said it like, "Good to see you again." Bashful was the only dwarf who spoke any English. "Hey, group, what say we have a little Bridge music?" He began whistling,
Michael turtled his chin down into his filthy collar. Snake just wouldn't learn.
Captain Richards quickly took up the tune, and the other navy flyers followed his example. Bashful's shoulders tightened, but he didn't turn around. He couldn't club them all. Not right now. Soon even Michael was whistling.
"Sesu Hayakawa he ain't," said Snake when the party, swollen to forty of the camp's eighty-plus inmates, halted before a strange, bespectacled little man. The commandant hung around him like a nervous puppy anxious to please.
"A Chink," said Cantrell. "And a wheel. Maybe if I kiss his ass, he'll get me a guitar. Or let me have the harmonica back."
The drill resembled an inspection. Spectacles passed through the ranks. The commandant and a translator followed, playing Pete and Repeat before each prisoner. The dwarf called Grumpy hung around with a stack of file folders, some of which Spectacles inquired into when examining lower grade officers and enlisted men. In most cases he just grunted what seemed to be Chinese for yes or no.
Once he finished, Bashful called names. There were fifteen. Michael Cash was the fourteenth.
"Shit. What the fuck? Snake…"
"Just hang tough, Mike. It'll be all right."
"I'm scared shitless, Snake." He eyed the battered Russian-made bus coughing toward them.
"Probably just a working party. Fix a road or power station the airedales blew away. You better move out. The dwarves are getting restless."
Bashful reassembled those who had made the cut and herded them aboard the bus.
Four men in regular North Viet officer's uniforms, with AK47s, watched over them. None, apparently, spoke English. They didn't try to control the murmuring of their charges.
It had to be something new, something special. This was the first time Cash had been taken anywhere without having to walk.
The journey north had nearly killed him. He still hadn't recovered completely.
The bus rumbled through hills, jungles, and paddies for two hours, till it reached a deserted airstrip. Four MiG 21s lurked beneath camouflage netting at one end; two SAM sites and several AA positions could be discerned. Base personnel were remarkable primarily by their absence. ' Spectacles had arrived already. He stood at the foot of a ramp leading to the passenger section of an old Ilyushin with Chinese markings. The four officers shepherded the prisoners into the aircraft. Spectacles took the weapon from one officer while he and the bus driver pulled the cabin hatch shut.
The ship's engines roared.
The confused Americans sought seats. No one said a thing. Their guards took predetermined posts and, one by one, exchanged their Viet tunics for Chinese.
The Ilyushin grumbled and shuddered down the runway, staggered into the morning sky. One engine coughed and sputtered uncertainly at times. Loose rivets rattled. There were places where Cash could look through cracks in its skin.
Michael felt a brief moment of hope when navy F4s slid in on the quarters to see who had the balls to fly their sky in broad daylight. The Chinese pilot just kept heading for the border. Navy eyeballed the plane's markings, then departed in search of prey on the politicians' approved list.
The Ilyushin was old and slow. The flight, including a fuel stop at another deserted airstrip, took sixteen hours. The thoughtful Chinese had provided a bucket which, when the pressure became unbearable, had to be used in full view of all aboard. There were no meals.
Cash missed Snake. They all could use a little of his irrepressible defiance here.
It was deep night when the aircraft reached its destination. The pilot did not kill his engines, remained on the ground only long enough to discharge his cargo. The passengers never saw him, nor he them.
"Merry Christmas," Captain Richards told each man as he descended into the chill air of an apparent desert. The pilots and navigators studied the skies as if seeking a guiding star.
Michael Cash was too frightened to give a damn what day it was, or where he had been taken.
XV. On the Y Axis;
It was a Friday, but an unusually quiet one. For once Norm didn't have much paperwork. He suspected that it was his temper. It was so foul that the gnome-god who spat blizzards of blank fitness reports and law enforcement assistance forms had been intimidated. The easy load and a quart of Beth's virulent station house coffee had brought him around to semi-human by ten o'clock. He called Tommy O'Lochlain, his man in with the Syrians, and made a lunch date.
O'Lochlain was what the papers called "reputed consigliere" of the gang. His own people didn't call him that, nor did Cash, who had never heard the term before The Godfather, but that was or had been his function. Number Two among those of the gang age and infirmity hadn't yet claimed. They still had their hands in amusements, vending, and gambling, but were no more than a ghost of the old mob. The Italians had begun displacing them as early as the middle thirties. Now the Italians were giving way to blacks, at least on the street level, as time and the IRS depleted their ranks. But such transitions were long and slow and never as bloody or complete as movies and television would indicate.
But that was unimportant to Cash or O'Lochlain.
They were old acquaintances. During his rookie year, when the Syrians had had far more pull, Cash had made the mistake of stopping O'Lochlain for speeding, then had arrested him on a concealed weapons charge. The man had gone in with Cash grinning, chatting amiably, giving advice on what he saw as good police procedure, then had glad-handed it with his company fixer, who had beaten them to the station. Cash had felt, and had looked, so pathetic that O'Lochlain had laughed and promised him better for the future.
Even then the man had been old, a gray-topped mop who had looked like he was dying of cancer.
Though Cash had remained perfectly straight, O'Lochlain had adopted him as his pet cop. The relationship hadn't become friendship, but they respected one another. Both had profited, though Cash had also come by his share of grief. People asked questions, especially when O'Lochlain gained as much as the department.
The trouble with meeting O'Lochlain, even for lunch, was that someone would notice. Even a hood so old that he looked like an oversight in the Reaper's bookkeeping remained a hood. Neither man, from viewpoints on both sides of the law, had any business consorting with the enemy. There was no way to escape watchers. So their meetings were infrequent, always public, and on neutral ground.
Even so, Cash expected some static. He thought it worthwhile when balanced against what he might learn.
"O'Brien?" O'Lochlain asked around a mouthful of expensive spaghetti. "Nineteen twenty-one? What the hell you digging that far back for?" The neutral ground was a restaurant indirectly owned by the man John affectionately called The Head Wop. The clientele were often a mixture of mafiosi and the crime-busters watching them. By meeting there the two announced to these observers that business wasn't on their agenda. There was a ritual and formality to such things, though it was being destroyed by the barbarisms of the sixties and seventies.
"I'm not sure. We've got a stiff that, by every test we've applied, comes up O'Brien. Yet he was supposed to have been killed back then, though the body never turned up. The one we've got is the right age, for then. I heard he ran with the Rats. I thought maybe you knew him."
O'Lochlain did his Fifth Amendment face.
"Hey, look, it's ancient history. And I'm not asking for names."
"I'm not holding out, Rookie. Just thinking. Sure, I remember the guy: wild, scatter-brained; didn't care about anything but himself. What you'd call a security risk nowadays. Couldn't trust him with your money, your secrets, or your woman. If he'd stayed around, he would've taken the ride. One way or another. He was a punk. The top boys were watching him."
"They had him running the bag to the precinct houses and collecting cash and slips from the betting shops. Donkey work, the kind they used for breaking in new fish. It looked like he was skimming, a few bucks every run. Nothing big, but enough so that they wouldn't trust him with a big bag. There was some talk about breaking a bone or two to straighten him out."
"Did it get done?"
Playing a game of suspense, O'Lochlain downed mouthful after mouthful of spaghetti, chasing each with huge drafts of steaming coffee. A large pot had been brought to the table for his convenience, without his asking.
"Thing came up where they were short on men. They decided to give him the acid test. They palled him with Fred Burke and sent him to Torrio with some new girls. They were doing a triangle with Torrio and the Purple Gang, with Maddox in Chi directing the thing. Girls recruited here usually went to Chi for training, then Torrio would wholesale them to Detroit for Canadian whiskey. Detroit girls came here, then went to Chi. And so on. Sometimes they went the other way. Clothing factory work was usually the hook. Sometimes they got suspicious. That's why they needed a couple of guys along.
"This time there was merchandise both ways. Torrio's people had gotten onto some good counterfeit. They were going to bring back twenty Gs to, what you might say, test market. If it went, they'd buy in. They didn't tell O'Brien. Wanted to see what he'd do around that much cash."
While O'Lochlain paused for more spaghetti and coffee, Cash reflected that the man's theys were sometimes hard to follow. But Tommy had always been reluctant to name certain names.
"What he did was knock Burke in the head and jump the train while it was pulling into Union Station."
"They put a thousand on him; a G and a half for recovery."
"No. Not even when they went to twenty-five and opened the contract. Not a whisper. The G-men never got him either. Their people on the inside were watching for him. He just disappeared, Rookie. Like Judge Crater. They figured his girl friend got him, same as the bulls."
Cash asked the date. Perfect fit. O'Brien had jumped the train in the morning. The screams at Miss Groloch's had been heard that afternoon.
"Did you know him well enough to finger him if he walked in here right now?"
"Yeah. I'll tell you, Rookie, I was hoping I'd be the guy who collected on that one. I owed him." But he wouldn't go into detail.
"Want to come look at the stiff we've got?"
"Hey. I paid. Give me a break."
"Sure you did. On the expense account. Okay. But I don't like morgues."
Cash grinned, thought, I can see why. You're afraid they'll realize they've overlooked you and yank your card out of the living file.
"Good," he said. "Maybe we'll stir something up. I haven't had a row about being on the pad for years."
"Rookie, I'm out of it. Everybody knows that."
"And you were saying that before I was born."
O'Lochlain smiled, downed another cup of coffee. "Kojak you're not."
The lean black attendant was getting used to it. "Twenty-three again?" he asked, pulling the card.
"How long's this guy been there?" O'Lochlain asked.
"Since March fourth."
"They pumped him full of something. They're kind of in a tight spot. Can't get rid of him."
The attendant had rolled out the corpse. Cash glanced at O'Lochlain. "What?"
"It's him. The sonofabitch. Only it can't be, can it?" He stared, stared.
Cash felt like the Hindenburg, after. Down in flames. There was just no way to keep that bastard from being Jack O'Brien. "You know anybody else that might remember him?"
He shrugged. "Looking for an out, Rookie?"
O'Lochlain was quick. He had seen the whole problem without being told.
"You won't get it from me. I know it's impossible, you know it's impossible, but you park my butt on the stand, I'm going to say it's him. That's how it hangs. Sorry."
"You're sorry? You don't have to live with it."
"Are you finished with me? I'd better make a Mass. I feel the need coming on. You know, when you called, I figured you was going to be after me about Hoffa."
"Sure. Every cop in the country is after every guy that's ever been even remotely connected, trying to make a name by being the guy who finds out what happened. Going to be some heat on over that one. Hope the guys who did it got paid off in suitcases full of money."
"I haven't been paying much attention. He asked for it."
As they walked down exterior steps to where O'Lochlain's driver had parked his limo in a No Parking zone, the Irishman asked, "You got any angles?"
"Not that I can believe. Either it's O'Brien and he's been moved fifty-four years, without damage, or it's not, and nobody in the whole goddamned country knows who he is."
"Maybe he's a Russian spy."
"Maybe." Cash chuckled, didn't bother giving details which made that answer less than satisfactory. He said goodbye and returned to the station, where Railsback was waiting with the third degree about consorting with known hoodlums. The lieutenant was sorry he asked.
John came in later, looking glum. "Gardner won't help."
"I laid it all out. He only asked one question."
"Did we have any evidence that a crime had been committed."
"Yeah. I should've figured."
"But I do have a new angle." And suddenly he seemed frightened and nervous. Cash was puzzled by it.
"Norm, if I tell you something personal, will you keep it quiet?"
"I mean really. Not even tell Annie. Especially not Annie. Or any body."
"Hey, if you're that worried about it, you better keep it to yourself. That way nobody can tell."
"Well, if I tell my news, I have to tell the other thing too."
What the hell? Cash thought. He had known John since Michael's second day of grammar school, didn't think there was much he didn't know about the younger man. "It's up to you. But I'll keep it under my hat."
"Well, there's this girl. We went to high school together."
A ghost of a smile fleeted across Cash's lips. So John was messing around. He almost confessed his own secret, in the matter of the doctored photograph, but remembered his own advice. There was no way he would risk getting that stirred up again.
"She works at the Post. In Classifieds. I had this wild hunch last night, see, so I called her and asked her to do some checking."
He had turned a startling red. Cash began to suspect a name: Teri Middleton. John and Michael both had pursued her during their senior year, and, Cash suspected, had caught her. They had vied for her weekends while in college. She had gotten married somewhere along the way, about the time that Nancy and Carrie had come into the picture, and had dropped from sight. Cash thought he remembered Annie saying she had gotten a divorce after two and a half years and two kids. For a while there, the girl had been as much a part of the family as John.
"Anyway, we had lunch and she gave me this." He offered a pink, scented bit of stationery covered with numbers. "She's going to check some more."
"I can't make anything out of this. What is it?"
"Dates and codes. These first numbers are the dates they ran classified ads for a certain party."
"I think so. They were put in by her accountants. And get this. When she showed me this, I asked her to check her subscription file. She got back to me a few minutes ago. Sure enough. They've got one to Rochester, New York, in the name of Fial Groloch, that's been going out regular as long as they've been keeping track."
It was a breakthrough of sorts, proof that there was more than one Groloch, and pinned him or her to a specific address.
"Kind of corny, don't you think? And clumsy. And slow. But secure, I guess. Lucky you thought about it."
"Carrie's fault, really. She was reading the paper and asked me what I thought some Personal meant. You know how cryptic some of them are. Anyway, I started thinking about spy stories where they sent messages that way. And Sherlock Holmes. He was always putting ads in. Then I remembered you said she took the paper. Decided to check it. But I never thought I'd find anything."
"Serendipity, that's what you call it when you get something good when you don't expect it. Still good thinking, though. You get any of the ads?"
"Not yet. She's going to check through their file copies. She has to do it on her own time. You won't say anything, will you?"
Cash tried for a bemused expression. "About what? I haven't heard anything yet. I can't tell what I don't know."
Harald relaxed a little. "I won't hear anything more at least till Monday…"
"It's another piece in the puzzle, but it probably won't get us anywhere. All we found out is that Fial Groloch, or somebody using the name, is alive and well enough to subscribe. Doesn't help us with our dead man."
"Maybe not, but it makes me wonder if we shouldn't bring in the FBI, or somebody."
"What the hell for? Don't we have problems enough?"
"Norm, don't it bug you that we've got a woman a hundred and thirty years old hiding out here? And she's got a relative in Rochester who might be even older? Goddamned, they must be some kind of Draculas. And you keep worrying about the dead guy. I'm starting to think maybe he shouldn't matter so much, that we should be worrying about the ones that're still alive."
"John, there's people in Russia that old. There's even this old guy down in Florida that was in the army during the Civil War and can prove it. Anyway, we don't have a shred of proof that these people are really that old. They don't have to be the same Groiochs…"
Harald looked at him. Cash looked back. "You're ducking it," said John. "I don't believe it's that simple. And I don't think you do either. Only you're scared of the can of worms…"
"I'm scared? Anyway, what right do we have? We can push about the corpse, but the rest really isn't any of our business."
"All right. Look. I know a guy in New York. We did the FBI course together, years ago. I'll call him Monday. Maybe he'll dig something up. Give me that Rochester address. And I'll try Immigration on the name Groloch. I don't know if their records go back far enough, but it's worth a try. The Feds never throw anything away."
Harald settled himself in a chair and put on his stubborn look. Maybe he was right, Cash thought. Maybe it was time to get some government agency involved. Somewhere in Washington, with its numberless bureaucrats, and bureaus, there was bound to be an outfit that investigated people like Miss Groloch.
"You get anything more from your Mrs. Caldwell?"
Harald shrugged. "Been trying to stay away. But she should have her stuff ready sometime next week. She called about it the other day. What about your saucer people?"
Cash had almost forgotten. "Nothing. They made copies of everything we had, then disappeared. One guy said they wouldn't bother me till they got something."
Harald's expression grew more stubborn. "Norm, I'm getting some really bad vibes from this thing. If we can't give it to the Feds, maybe we should let it go."
Where had his enthusiasm gone? Cash wondered. It was just minutes since he had been excited.
"How? The way I see it, we're riding a tiger. People have started to notice, to watch. Might be some difficult questions if we turned loose now."
John nodded, looked more glum, glanced at the clock. For an instant Cash saw another Hank Railsback foreshadowed in the younger man's face.
"You and Carrie having trouble?"
He seemed startled. "Is the Pope a Catholic?" Then, "It shows, huh?" He remained silent so long that Cash decided he would go no further. But, finally, "Norm, you've been married a long time. Can you figure Annie?"
"Whenever I start thinking I do she surprises me. Like this refugee business. I would've bet anything she wouldn't have gone through with it."
"You know how Carrie gets when she's pregnant?"
Cash didn't know the woman as well as Annie did or his daughter-in-law, but recalled that during each of three pregnancies she had made life hell for those around her. And the nearer full term, the worse. The last time it had carried over postpartum, and had come close to taking the marriage to court.
On the surface it seemed she hated John for causing her condition. For the final four months of that last pregnancy they had slept in separate bedrooms. Cash had once overheard Carrie telling Annie she would castrate John if it happened again.
"Well, she's started yakking about wanting another kid."
"Is right. Norm, I had a vasectomy after the last one. I never told her. I don't know what she'll do if she finds out."
"How'd you manage that?"
"I lied. Told them I was divorced. They never checked."
Cash pursed his lips and exhaled thoughtfully, slowly shook his head. "I don't know what to say. Sounds like you're between a rock and a hard place. If it was Annie and she got the way Carrie does, I'd just keep my mouth shut and make like I was trying. Way she was before, she'd probably change her mind as soon as it was too late."
"I know she would. And I know I couldn't go through that crap again. That's why I got the operation. But she might get to be hell on wheels anyway."
"Uhm." And there's Teri, too, Cash thought. He wondered how much she had had to do with the operation. He didn't ask.
"You know, Norm, lately I've been asking myself a lot what the hell am I doing here. Why I bother. You think it matters? You know what I keep thinking? I could just jump on my cycle and head for the coast. Let her have everything. You can live on the beaches around L.A…"
" 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,' " Cash quoted. " 'What doth a man profit?
"What the hell?"
"Ecclesiastes. The Bible. You aren't the first. Everybody feels that way sometimes. Especially if you step back and look at your life and you see it going by and you're not really doing anything with it. The things you wanted to do before you had to spend all your time coping with babies and bills. I know I do. Mostly I just hang in there and hope something will come up to make it worth the pain."
" 'The majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation.' "
"Something like that."
Cash was not sure he had made any impression. John could be hard to reach. But, at least, he had matured enough not to sneer at the voice of experience. Cash smiled, remembering John and Michael and their self-certainty, what seemed just a few months ago, when they had been in high school. As one local wit had been heard to observe, there is a substitute for experience: Being sixteen.
"Maybe. Maybe. But sometimes I just get so depressed…"
"If it's that bad, maybe you'd better see the departmental psychologist."
Harald didn't become defensive. Cash considered that a good sign.
"I've been thinking about it. Maybe I will. But I don't think it's that bad. Not yet, anyway."
"Then maybe you should put in for vacation. I know for a fact that you haven't taken one since you came to the District."
"That's an idea too. And when was the last time you took off, Norm?"
Cash shrugged. "A long time ago. A week when my mother died." Michael and John had been eight, Matthew newly born. Cash started getting antsy if he were off more than a weekend. "Don't go copying me, John. There're better models."
He had a sudden, frightening intuition, and hoped he was wrong.
John was an only child. His father was a minister. His mother had divorced the man when John was nine. That had been a hard period for both John and Michael, neither of whom had understood. Since, till his marriage, John had lived with his mother, who had never remarried.
Within a year of the divorce, Harald had begun calling Cash "Dad." At the time, Annie and Norm had thought it both cute and pathetic. The behavior had faded when Cash had refused to reinforce it with a positive response.
Could that still be in John's mind, down deep where he didn't recognize it?
Harald always had been nearly as close as Michael, but Christ, Cash thought, this was a responsibility he didn't want. I never did that good by Michael or Matthew. How dared John put that load on him?
It was terrifying.
"You're not that bad, Norm."
"Except maybe you're too private. Know what I wish there was? A machine where you could go right inside somebody's head and figure out what they really think and feel."
"I'll tell you what I really think about that. It sucks, that's what. If some guy ever invents one, and you don't blow his brains out before he can tell anybody, bend over and kiss your ass good-bye. The Gestapo would be lining us up to find out if we're reliable or not."
"You better believe."
"I never thought about it. I just thought, like, you could get to know people who mean something to you, because everybody hides from everybody, a little bit. Like, I could understand why Carrie gets the way she does. But, yeah, we could use it too. Round up all the bad guys and ship them out before they hurt any body."
"We're Gestapo enough, John. And I don't think we could resist the temptations. Get thee behind me." How did we get on to this? he wondered.
"Probably be no more reliable than a lie detector, anyway."
"Yeah. Even if you could get Carrie to be honest right now, I bet you couldn't get her to explain herself. She probably doesn't know either. Hormones."
"Bull. She's just trying to get to me."
"Bull to you too. Bet the way you're feeling right now has to do with hormones too."
"I'll tell you what I think. You and Carrie should probably get away from each other for a couple weeks. I mean, every time I see you together and one of you says black, the other one hits the roof screaming white. I don't say you're planning it, but both of you are picking fights. Whatever you do, John, don't end up like Hank."
"Hey, come on. It ain't me…"
"Crap. You think you try. You say you do. So does Carrie. But you don't, not really."
"Hey, this's getting a little heavy…"
"You're both lying to yourselves. What you're really doing is setting each other up to take the blame. Like this guy on the radio was saying the other day, you're not fighting fair. That's why I say get away from each other for a while. Let the scabs heal, think about the real issues. Maybe write them down and trade lists without talking about them."
"You know how jealous she is…"
"Right." Cash now wanted to end the discussion, so made no comment at all about Teri. He had said too much already. He was no Dear Abby. Lifting the lids on the trash cans of others' lives made him too damned uncomfortable. His concern for John had taken him past discomfort to outright embarrassment this time. "What about the case?"
"Why don't we, for Christ's sake, just shitcan the damned thing?"
"Not a viable option. And you know it."
"You threw Bible stuff at me. How about this? 'Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.' That used to be one of my dad's favorites, whenever a spanking was coming on."
"Okay. I already know you don't like it. Some of them I don't like either. But we don't get refusal rights. We have to go by the rules. You have to go after this one just the same as one you did like. I mean, you came up with some good angles already. We get a few more, we might start getting a picture, something that'll give us a handle on it."
"Yeah. We could get lucky." Harald responded with all the enthusiasm of a man asked to fly off a cliff by flapping his arms. "But what you want to bet we don't?"
XVI. On the X Axis;
The Austrian treasure lay exactly where Fial had predicted it to be. He took a small silver coin from the hoard.
"Fian, I'll flip you for who goes back to that last town."
"What for?" Fiala asked.
"We need pens, ink, and paper. To list the coins. Dates, values, mint marks, wear, like that. It'll be years before we can replace any of them. Memory won't do. And it'll have to be right, else it might change something."
"What about economic changes? Won't putting that money in circulation make changes? You didn't think about that, did you?"
Neither man had. Fian responded, "We have to take the chance. We need the capital. I can't see how a few thousand florins would effect history much anyway."
Fiala pursed her lips. They were compromising their resolve already. They would be able to rationalize their deviations any time convenience demanded it.
It was pretty much what she had expected. Anyone who attained any standing in the State machinery learned the trick early.
Fian lost the toss.
"Well, take a fistful," Fiala said. "I'm starved. And I could use some decent clothes. This thing must've been made out of a potato sack."
"She has a point, Fial. We'll end up in prison if we go flashing a fortune looking like this." He took a handful of small silver, studied the coins.
"Don't spend it all in one place. The more you scatter it, the less attention it'll draw."
"I know. Can you remember these till I get back? To check me?"
"I'll have to, won't I?"
"What's your size, Fiala?"
"Think about that, Fian," said Fial. "This is eighteen sixty-six. You don't buy things off the rack here. You make your own. Unless you can afford a tailor. Just say yea by so. That'll be good enough till we get out of the country and find a tailor."
"I suppose you're right again. I'm beginning to think you burying your nose in books all the time wasn't such a waste of time after all."
Thus, by degrees, they upgraded their apparel and story as they stole westward across Europe.
Neither Fian nor Fiala could get over how little real control governments maintained over their citizens. Contemporary social organization, from their viewpoint, was only slightly more structured than anarchy.
And the amazing thing was that the political movements of the time, even those antecedent to their own, all seemed to espouse more democracy and anarchy.
"That Bakunin is a madman," Fian said of one of the State's minor saints. "He wants to destroy everything. Something must have been lost in the translation."
Fial just chuckled. "Maybe it is a good thing we decided not to look any of them up. But hang on, brother. It'll get worse."
• • •
It was in Paris that they encountered and charmed the Americans. The people were even more naive and generous than their fool descendants.
The Atlantic storms were terrible during a December crossing. Their ship was a day late making New York.
"Damn, I wish they'd hurry," Fian growled from his place at the promenade rail. "I'm supposed to meet Handy today."
"Use the English, father," Fiala admonished remotely. She was captivated by the huge, rude new land rearing behind the piers, so different from the New York she had seen in her own time.
"Too slow, the strange tongue," said Fial. He still fought mal de mere. A nineteenth century steamer was a far cry from a twenty-first century SST.
Fiala regressed to German herself. "Look at them. Swarming like rats." Hundreds of men crowded the piers. Less than half appeared to be stevedores, or otherwise employed.
"Unemployment problem," Fial observed. "The country hasn't successfully changed over to a peacetime economy yet. Plus immigrants. Looks like we'll be able to go ashore in a few minutes."
Fiala rushed to be first.
Minutes later, "Top o' the morning to you, young miss."
The redhead, about twenty-five, cut her out of the mob with consummate skill, and established some proprietary right immediately acknowledged by his competitors.
"And won't you be needing someone to manage the plunder?"
She frowned in perplexity.
"Ah, me manners. O'Driscol. Patrick Michael himself… Ah, it's not me manners. Ya sweet thing, ya don't speak the language."
"I do. But do you?"
"Ah, she's got the tongue, don't she, Patrick Michael? Aye, it's the Queen's Own Anglish I'm talking. Her Majesty just hain't the proper use of it yet."
And thus O'Driscol drifted into their lives, initially as a porter helping with their baggage, and later as a guide. And later still, as a bodyguard when, quite unaware of what he had saved, he drove off three would-be robbers while Fian was carrying twenty thousand dollars.
One morning, a year later, they went to see Fial off to his new home in Rochester.
As the train pulled out, Fian asked, "Patrick, what's haunting you?"
The Irishman was forever looking over his shoulder and starting at the passage of unknown people. Hitherto, though, he had been completely uninformative about his past, except to proclaim that he came of the Kerry O'Driscols and not the Kilkenny, which made all the difference.
Patrick glared. Then grinned. "I'm an Irishman, ain't I?"
"That might be explanation enough to another Irishman. Maybe even to an Englishman. But we lesser races…"
"Ah, the Anglish. They'd know, yes, but they'd never understand. A stubborn, thick-headed race."
"So. Maybe you left home after some ill-starred attempt to educate them?"
"You know the Fenians, then?"
"No. But I understand the cantankerous nature of the human beast. You really think the Queen's men would chase you this far?"
"No. But there's them here what would be pleased to lay hands on the genuine Kerry O'Driscol. Them as put down the draft laws during the recent brouhaha with the South. And there's them from Washington City worried about what the Fenians might be planning for Canada, and them on the other side o' the law what feels O'Driscol owes them."
With those points as arguments, and Patrick's growing interest in Fiala to tilt the balance, Fian did not have a great deal of difficulty convincing O'Driscol that he should join their move west. The Irishman had lost virtually all taste for the life of a political activist.
It was a romantic era. With no State to demand her total devotion, Fiala enjoyed a postponed adolescence. Her life became a masquerade, she a tourist enjoying a foreign time. Even Fian succumbed, somewhat, to the Mardi Gras spirit.
Without duties or obligations, the soul was at liberty to chase butterflies of personal happiness.
Diversion was a necessity. Two centuries could make a long, boring walk home.
That making it was possible was beyond doubt. Fiala didn't abandon herself completely. She researched contemporary medicine with the same intensity given play. And she quickly developed substitute rejuvenation courses that would see them into a more medically enlightened age, where the real thing could be obtained.
Fial's job was to twist the tail of the tiger of capitalism till it yielded up enough danegeld to finance Fian in the creation of a primitive tachyon communicator. Fian was driven by a need to warn his future, or past, of Neulist's imbecilic actions.
"What I'm trying to do," he once told Fiala-she had just rendered a professional opinion, warning him that he had begun showing obsessive-compulsive tendencies-illustrating with a piece of string in which he had tied a loop, "is use the machine to snip out this backward loop, so, and have a straight line again."
"Too many paradoxes for me."
"If you were going to be successful, we would've gotten the message already. We wouldn't be here now."
"Not necessarily. There's still a knot in the string. Anyway, without computers, all I have to go on is intuition. My feeling is that there's an oscillation. A duplication. Where it happens both ways. And going either way makes the other happen."
But Fian erred in his topological analogy, though he was on the right track. The string and loop were too linear. He should have been thinking of a Klein bottle, where the loop could go any of a thousand directions, inside and out, and still come back to the same starting point.
• • •
"It's… elegant," Fiala decided. They were viewing the St. Louis house for the first time. "Period. Definitely period." She descended from the carriage. Patrick helped, then ran to open the gate. She had captivated the Irishman completely.
Fian followed with an amused smile. For Patrick's peace of mind he pretended ignorance of what was going on.
"It's remote enough." The nearest house was a quarter mile away, on the Shaw estate. "Come on, Father! Let's see what it looks like inside."
"I'm glad you're making the best of this. I never gave you much happiness before the accident."
"You were all right. For our times. Anyway, it'll all get tiresome. It's a long time to wait."
"Have a good time while you can, then."
Fian's obsessive work on his communicator persisted for a full two decades. He was compelled, to all practical purposes, to create his own technology, and that was a challenge worthy of an Einstein. Patrick made an invaluable, if ignorant, assistant.
Fial, from Rochester, made it all possible.
Patrick's eventual disappearance finally murdered the little joy left in the working vacation.
There was nothing mysterious about it. He had found a woman interested in marrying and raising children. He hadn't the nerve to explain in person, so just left a note.
"And I taught him to read and write!" Fiala spat.
"He was a good Catholic man," her father replied. "His conscience got to bothering him. It had to happen someday. Be glad you got as much as you did."
Fiala would not be consoled. She had loved O'Driscol in the silly, romantic style of the time, and insisted that she was desolate. In a month, though, the hard-headed twenty-first century doctor returned and the decades with Patrick slipped into perspective. An amusing, diverting episode along the long road home. Nothing more.
The absence of the Irishman's perpetual optimism made itself felt in Fian's work immediately. Fian had never realized just how much donkey work there was. But he kept plugging for another two years.
"That's it!" he shouted disgustedly one morning. "There's no way to build the thing using tubes. I can't create a pure enough vacuum. It'll be another seventy years before I can go solid state. Fiala, I'm going home."
"Back to Prague. Just for a year or two. It's time those coins were replaced anyway. Fial can spare the money now."
The new land held no more excitement for Fiala, either. "I'll start packing. Are we going to sell the house?"
"No. I want you to stay. You'll be safe. Neulist could be prowling Europe like some vengeance-mad Wandering Jew. Damn. Wouldn't it have saved a lot of trouble if that bomb had killed him?"
The argument ran for days, but Fiala finally had to accept her fate, to remain behind.
Thus did the lonely years begin.
For one reason or another-his excuses always sounded good-Fian never got around to coming back. Eventually, Fiala resigned herself. He never would.
There was the occasional lover, when she encountered a man who, like Patrick, couldn't sense the difference about her. She tried making friends with the new people building nearby, but few of them were immune to her alienness.
The loneliness became unspeakable for one raised in the crowded communal life of the densely populated State. It was broken only by occasional letters from Fial or her father. And those, ultimately, only depressed her more, for their loneliness leaked through their cheerful words.
The past was indeed a foreign land.
Maybe the Christians were on the right track. There was a hell. And this was it.
Over the first twenty-seven years-as long a time as she had lived in her own era-Fiala gradually forgot the thing in the back of her mind. Fian and Fial had annihilated their predecessors in the flesh within hours of reaching the new age, and she assumed hers had perished as well, though more slowly and quietly.
She was to be unpleasantly surprised.
The first attack came the evening of April 12, 1893, as she was about to retire.
She barely survived.
The thing had lain back all those years, studying, learning, abiding the opportune moment.
After four attacks spanning the next three years, Fiala finally determined the pattern. The assaults came only when she was tired and deeply depressed.
The Other wasn't stupid. It wouldn't attack when she wasn't vulnerable…
So many years to wait and battle for existence.
And Fian just wouldn't come to help.
The woman who had been her mother's body had died. Those who remembered Fian as a peasant had all passed away. Shortly after the turn of the century, he re-established himself at Lidice. He hoped, he explained in his letters, to have more luck contacting the Agency from that site.
He even intended pursuing the obvious in crosstime communications by burying a warning note with the Austrian treasure.
Fial visited occasionally during the decades straddling the century's turn, and Fiala made several journeys to Rochester. These vacations did little but make the loneliness worse after separation. By 1914 they had restricted communication to the occasional letter.
Populations were exploding near both homes. The St. Louis neighborhood, especially, was in the grip of a building boom. It seemed wise to retreat from public view lest too many questions be asked about their apparent agelessness.
Fiala invested that summer in concealing Fian's machine with a wall and beneath a new basement floor. For several months that kept her too busy and too tired to be lonely.
An attack, a week following Fial's final visit, came closer than ever to destroying her. Her haunt did seize control for a few minutes, driving her body into the street, where she shrieked for help in Bohemian German. Her Irish neighbors decided she was insane, but took no action.
The thing, fortunately, had no strategy for maintaining control. Fiala fought her way back.
Now it was she who lived in terror. The next episode, or the one following, might be her last. She was certain she could not destroy her unwanted companion. The thing had made itself invulnerable. She was much less confident of the reverse. Each assault educated the Other a little more, highlighting her weaknesses. She feared that, if it successfully supplanted her, she would suffer the fate of the spirits that once had occupied the bodies now inhabited by Fian and Fial.
Once the Other had been an ignorant peasant girl with severely restricted horizons. Barbarically ignorant. But it was smart, savagely crafty, and making full use of its advantages.
It had complete access to Fiala's memories, thoughts, and emotions-while revealing none of its own. It knew what Fiala knew, could do what Fiala could do. Fiala, on the other hand, had gotten almost nothing from it since leaving Bohemia.
One thing she did know. The need to break out, to reassert control, to extract a revenge, had driven her mind-companion completely mad.
It was like living in the same head with a Colonel Neulist.
And someday, if she didn't make it home first, the Other would win the one victory it needed to reach its goals.
XVII. On the Y Axis;
It began to move. Monday morning Cash called his New York friend.
"Come on, Frank. You owe me. Big. The Jackson brothers last fall? I wore out a pair of shoes on your account. Come on, don't try to snow me. What about that bond-skipper? Branson."
Frank seemed to be a one-way favor man. He argued.
"Hey, I know Rochester's out of town. But it ain't in Poland. I ain't got time-or the evidence-to go through channels. And you're my only connection back there. Why don't you get your state police to check it?"
Frank bitched and moaned. Cash remained adamant, going so far as to show a little temper. "Look, One-way, you owe me clear back to the Gallo War. And you're going to want something again someday."
As soon as the man folded, Cash yelled, "Beth, be a darling and see if you can't get ahold of somebody in Immigration who knows their history and record-keeping."
The woman materialized in his doorway. "The Groloch thing again?"
"Yeah. Still. You look sexy this morning."
"Well. You're getting frisky, old folks. Good weekend?"
"I guess. Matthew turned up. We had a barbecue… Yeah. It was okay. Made it to the ballgame too. I think they're going to start winning, they keep playing that good. What'd you do?"
"Cleaned house and watched TV."
"Thought you and Tony would-"
"He had something else come up."
Cash thought her fiance was a first-class prick. The only time he came round was when he couldn't get screwed anywhere else.
"Oh, never mind. I keep my mouth shut, I won't have to taste my dirty sock."
"Oh." She smiled weakly. "You might as well say it, Norm. Everybody else has. My mother… God. Must've spent an hour yesterday trying to get me to move back home. It don't hurt anymore. Much. I know I'm a fool."
One more minute and the tears would start.
"You deserve better."
Beth was extremely shy, and, apparently, subconsciously convinced that whatever happened to her was the result of her own shortcomings. She was extremely vulnerable to the Tony-type of predator, who knew all the right things to do and all the right things to say to snare the shy ones. He was so arrogantly self-certain that girls like Beth surrendered even while aware of what was happening. The man's complete lack of self-doubt was, even more than his lack of concern for the feelings of others, the reason Cash loathed him. Cash envied that certitude.
He had seen Beth get dumped on before. He had been her crying shoulder more than once. In one way she was right. It was her own fault-because she kept letting it happen.
"Norm, I…" She took a tentative step into his office.
He later suspected that she would have said something important and difficult for her had she been allowed the opportunity.
It had taken her four years to feel safe enough to play their everyday game of office banter, a game she engaged in with no one else.
Hank Railsback shattered the fragile crystal moment.
"Norm, I got it."
Beth closed up like a poppy at sunset.
"What?" Cash snapped. Hank was startled. But only momentarily.
"A whole new angle on your damned Groloch case. I think it's the answer."
"Excuse me," said Beth. "I'll start calling."
Bulwarked by anonymity and long distance, she could sometimes be a dragoness. It was too bad she couldn't live her life via the long lines.
"Thanks, Beth. So clue me, Hank."
"I got the idea watching the Bijou on four Friday night. Know something? I can't even remember the name of that turkey now."
"I don't care what it was."
"You don't have to bite. What it was was, there was this private eye who had a problem something like yours. Couldn't get the facts to add up."
"So, in the end, it turned out that the cop who supposedly found the body was really the guy who did it."
Cash raised a hand, asking a chance to think.
He grinned. The rattle of his head machinery must be shaking windows throughout the building.
Of course! Hank had to be right. Or on the right track, anyway. Not once had he bothered counterchecking the evidence itself. Nor had he questioned the reporting officers, nor the evidence technicians, nor the man who had done the autopsy. There was plenty of room for error or outright lying…
"Goddamned, Hank! After all these years I've got to admit I was wrong about you. You just keep your genius hidden. Hey! How much pressure can I put on? Could I use a polygraph?"
A phone rang. Beth, with receiver in hand already and another call on hold, said something neither shy nor ladylike.
"I thought I'd dump it on the inspector's office."
"My ass. This's mine, Hank. You start the ball rolling. Soon as Beth finishes what I've got her on now, I'll have her dig up the names and current shift assignments."
Beth called out, "Your wife, Norm."
"Eh?" He went to take the call at Beth's desk.
"Not that one. The other one. I've got Immigration on hold there."
Cash grabbed the receiver. "Yeah?"
"What happened to the twenty thousand?" Annie asked.
"Huh? What twenty thousand?"
"The counterfeit money O'Brien snatched. I think you said it never turned up. I thought maybe he might have left it at Miss Groloch's."
"She would've gotten rid of it…" The wheels were turning again.
"She hung on to that doll. And she probably wouldn't have known it wasn't any good."
"Could be. Could be. I'll talk it over with John."
Harald had been in and out at start of shift almost too fast for "Hello." He was rushing his legwork because they had a court appearance that afternoon. Cash was to meet him in the civil courts building at one o'clock.
Hopefully, jury selection would be complete and they would spend just the one afternoon testifying.
"Beth, be a doll and, when you get a chance, see if you can get me a meeting with Judge Gardner during lunch."
She sighed into the phone she was holding. "More Groloch?"
"You really should let go."
He couldn't think of a thing more to say. Norman Cash would never win prizes as a phone conversationalist. When on he would speak his message, then wait, first nervously, then impatiently, for the other party to end it. He was completely aware of what he was doing even while doing it, yet could never smooth over with small talk. Even with a wife of half a lifetime.
"Anything else?" he asked, knowing she would resent it, yet totally unable to think of any better course.
"No. Bye then." Her tone was disappointed. It always was. Damned, but he wished he knew how to give her more of whatever it was she wanted. Or that she could understand him a little better.
"Bye." He hung up with the inevitable feeling of relief.
Beth still watched with those big brown eyes. They seemed to stare right down inside to those shadowed parts of his soul that were alien even to him. His own gaze slid away.
Another bad habit. How come he had so much trouble meeting a woman's eyes?
Maybe he was the one who should make an appointment with the departmental shrink.
"Uh… I'm going out. To see O'Brien's sister."
Beth merely nodded. Then, as he was moving out the door,
"Norm, I've got to have your LEA paperwork today."
"Aw, shit. Okay. I'll get it when I get back. Oh. Do me another favor. See if you can track down Tommy O'Lochlain. So I can give him a call."
Beth sighed again. Cash went out thinking he should do something special for her. He had been dumping on her a lot this morning.
Sister Mary Joseph was openly hostile this time around. Cash pretended not to notice. Maybe he should do something for her, too.
"Just a couple questions this time," he said. The answers should have been in the Carstairs file. The lieutenant must have carried on a remarkably narrow or uninformed investigation.
"The day your brother vanished he stole twenty thousand dollars from the people he worked for."
He really needed go no further. Her surprise answered his question before he put it into words.
"I wondered if he'd been home that day? If he had a package or briefcase or anything?"
"Yes. He was there. For half an hour. To change and eat. He'd been away for three or four days. I told you that before. But he didn't bring anything home. I don't think. But I remember he was real happy. Excited."
"Tch. Yeah. Pretty much what I expected." He took a deep breath, plunged. "I'm really sorry about all the trouble I've been. Can I do something, a gesture, you know, to make it up? Maybe have you to dinner some night?"
Damn, it was hard making the feelings translate.
She was surprised. Then a ghost of a smile flickered across her lips. "Thank you. I might take you up on that. Just to get even."
"Well, you're welcome. Annie would love having you. Just give me a call at the station when you make up your mind."
"I will." She reached out and touched the back of his hand. He returned to the station feeling good.
"Mr. O'Lochlain is waiting for you to call him at home," Beth told him, handing him a note. "Your friend from New York called back. He's set it up with the state police, and he'll get back to you in a couple days." She handed him a second note. "I told him to ask them to check back a ways, that we have at least one other crime involving our Groloch here."
"Good thinking. Thanks."
"John called too. He says he'll be getting the texts of those classifieds come lunch, and he picked up the historical research from Mrs. Caldwell." She passed him another note, then a fourth. "Judge Gardner will see you in his chambers. Eleven-thirty."
"Ha! It's moving. Beth, we're closing in. I can feel it."
"Crap, Norm. Bet you dinner-you pick the place if you win-that none of this gets you an inch closer."
"You're on," he replied without thinking,, turning toward his office.
"And get on that LEA stuff. You've only got an hour."
"All right. All right. Why don't they hire somebody to take care of that crap?" Then he muttered, "Christ. Starting to think like a bureaucrat." Paying someone to handle LEA paperwork would absorb half the district's grant, making the whole thing just another exercise in governmental futility.
He whipped through in time by faking half his data. Lieutenant Railsback was supposed to double-check and countersign before sending the stuff on for the captain's signature, but Cash knew Hank would never see it. Beth would forge his John Hancock for him, with his blessing.
Someday they were all going to get their tits caught in the wringer.
"On my way out, Beth." He tossed her the papers. "Don't check them too close."
"Who gives a damn, Norm? They just file them. Remember that bet. I mean to collect."
Railsback shoved in the door. "Oh. Sorry, Norm. Well, I got what you wanted. Captain says we can polygraph everybody who had anything to do with the stiff, long as they're willing. Only, you ain't going to like the arrangements. Says we've got to do it on their time, meaning second shift, which is where most of them still are."
"Gah. Annie's going to love that. When can I start?"
"How about tonight? I want this done with. Oh, one other thing. If you start this, the captain says you have to go with it all the way. Meaning you, the kid, Smith, and Tucholski got to take the test too."
"O joy, O joy. All right. I'll show the troops how. Be the first victim. Beth…"
With one of her long-suffering sighs, she replied, "I'll find the people and set it up, Norm. You want me to call your wife?"
"No. I'll handle that. No point you taking the shit for me. Look, Hank, I got to meet Judge Gardner at eleven-thirty."
"Okay. So go."
"Norm," said Beth, "did you call Mr. O'Lochlain yet?"
"What're you doing messing around with that hood again?"
"Damn. I clean forgot. I'll do it from downtown." Cash patted his pockets to make sure he had his keys and Beth's notes.
"I get tired of explaining about O'Lochlain," Railsback grumbled.
"He said he'd only be there till one."
"Okay. Okay. Bye, all." He sailed down the hall with Hank glaring after him.
He had trouble finding a parking place, so was five minutes late. The judge didn't mind. "They've turned half of downtown into a parking lot the last ten years," the man observed, "and still there's no place to park. I have a theory that says building a parking space spontaneously generates two cars to compete for it. Sit down. Tell me about your case. The girl who called was pretty vague."
Good girl, Cash thought. "Probably nerves. She's shy." He began a quick outline while studying Gardner, whom he hadn't seen for ten years.
The man had aged well. He looked and sounded like a fiftyish Everett Dirksen. The most amazing thing about him, in Cash's opinion, was that he refused to use his bench as a springboard to political office.
Only the unicorn is more rare than the lawyer without political aspiration.
Perhaps it was because he was so controversial. He had as many liberal enemies as he had conservative cheerleaders. And there was some sort of fiscal foul-up in his court which, while due only to clumsy administration, didn't look good in the papers.
"Hold it, Sergeant. Seems to me there was another officer here with the same story a while back."
"My partner. And you turned him down. But there's been a new development." He explained about the counterfeit money and outlined his other plans.
"You're coming out of left field and I think you know it. You want me to let you go looking for the money because you hope you'll find something else. You know perfectly well that anything you found would be constitutionally questionable."
"I know. What I'm really after is a gap in the old lady's story. She knows a lot more than she's telling."
"They all do. That's not the point. To be frank, I think you're getting damned near harassment. I can't do anything the way it stands. Suspicion of possession of counterfeit is a federal thing anyway. And I doubt if they'd be interested. First, statute of limitations. Second, you couldn't pass one of the real bills nowadays."
"Well, if you can't, you can't. Thanks for your time." Cash rose.
"Hang on. First run out your other leads: O'Lochlain; these polygraph interviews. If you come up empty, and only if-no, if you get something supportive, too-call me back. I'll see how I feel about it then. I go by intuition sometimes. But you make damned sure you've tracked that money, that you've eliminated all the other possibilities. You'd better check with the Secret Service, too. See what their attitude is."
Cash couldn't help whistling as he waited for a down elevator.
He grabbed a quick lunch at a chili joint four blocks east. His stomach didn't know how to take it. It had grown accustomed to an endless progression of Big Macs. After browsing through a bookstore, picking out a couple mysteries as a peace offering to Annie-he had wanted The Dreadful Lemon Sky, but the clerk told him the paperback wasn't due till September-he called home. Annie was more understanding than he had expected, though still irritated.
"Norm, you're scaring me."
"Because you're getting so involved in this. Almost obsessed."
"Hey. Not to worry, Hon. We're just getting close. Smelling the kill. Anyway, it's a lot more challenging than your usual family murder or gang killing."
"You're making excuses."
He knew it, and had begun worrying a little himself.
He said good-bye with a smile. She seemed to be having a good day. That was encouraging. She had so few anymore.
He was stalking back to the courts building when John hailed him. He waited as Harald and the woman slipped through traffic, jay-walking.
"Hi. You're looking good, Teri." She was. She had turned into a damned sexy woman. He envied John. "I appreciate what you're doing for us. How have you been?"
Trying to cover what he suddenly perceived as a tactical error, John interposed himself and began flashing papers. "Mrs. Caldwell's stuff."
The woman had done a hell of a job, typing everything up and inserting it into an Accopress binder. It ran more than fifty pages.
"She really must be lonely."
It didn't take much sensitivity to feel the scream for notice implicit in so much hard, unnecessary work. He would have to show his appreciation somehow.
"She is. You got to feel sorry for her. But she comes on in a way that makes you look for excuses to get out."
"I know the type. Lot of old people get that way. You know, we're piling up some debts on this one."
"You are. I haven't been making any friends. In fact, I've about run out of angles."
"Yeah?" Cash grinned. "I'm just getting started. Got so much going today that I won't have time for it all. Been driving Beth crazy."
He glanced at his watch. "Fifteen minutes. And I've still got a call to make." He had come near forgetting O'Lochlain again.
"I'll catch you in the courtroom, then. It's twelve, in Kiel."
"Right. Nice to see you again, Teri." He chuckled as John hurried her away before she could strike up a conversation. She began giving him hell before they were out of earshot.
The Fates were conspiring to make him late today. After finally getting change from the blind couple who ran the courts building canteen, he found the phones tied up. He got through to O'Lochlain barely in time.
"Hey, Rookie. I'd given up on you. I'm on my way to the club now."
Couldn't be too bad, being retired, Cash thought. Phone in his car yet. "I won't tie you up long, Tommy. Remember what we talked about last time?"
"Right. I wanted to go over some things again. Especially the twenty thousand. That ever turn up?"
"Not even one bill?"
"Not a one."
"How much looking did they do?"
"Plenty. They covered every step he took from the train to the girl friend's house. It disappeared when he did."
It seemed to Cash that, for twenty-thousand 1921 dollars, rough riders like Egan's Rats would not have balked at manhandling Miss Groloch. "Anybody talk to the woman?"
There was a long silence.
"I take it they did. Come on, Tommy. What's to worry now?"
"I wasn't in town, so I don't know the details. The bet was that they got the cash and decided to vacation."
"The two guys they finally sent in a couple weeks later. Only, when they never turned up, they sent a couple more to make sure."
"Four men? You mean a whole gang disappeared there?"
"Five-guys if you count O'Brien. It was so spooky that after that they couldn't get nobody to go ask the questions."
"Four more. Jesus. How come you didn't tell me before?"
"You didn't ask. You got to ask, Rookie. Anyway, you was just interested in O'Brien. Look, we're coming to the club. I got to go."
"Do me a favor. Just one more. Drop me a postcard. Just four names on it. Okay?"
"I'll think about it. Watch yourself, Rookie." He hung up before Cash could respond.
Norman first ascribed the disturbance to the chili. Then he remembered a time when his stomach had felt the same with nothing in it at all.
He was sitting in a peasant shack in eastern France on December 17, 1944, supposedly safely behind the lines. He had been in France just two weeks. Somehow, during the night, he had lost his first patrol and himself. Exhausted, he had decided to hole up till morning before trying to find his unit.
The only evidences of war were an abandoned German field telephone and a tiny wood stove the Krauts had made from a fuel can.
A nagging sound from afar wakened him, a growling, metallic cling with overtones of squeak. Twice he tore himself away from the stove to look out across winter at nothing but skeletal, distant woods. The sky was so heavily overcast that nothing was in the air, and few shadows stalked the earth below. The third time he looked he saw the vague shapes of the winter-camouflaged Tigers and Panthers. The Fifth Panzer Army was on the move.
The feeling was terror. Stark, unreasoning terror.
Five men had vanished without a trace. He and John could have gone the same way…
"Hey, buddy, you going to fart around all day?"
He realized he had been staring into nothing for several minutes, reliving the past. He glanced at his watch. "Shit." He was late already and still had two blocks to walk. "I'm really sorry."
The assistant prosecuting attorney scowled as Cash slipped into the pewlike courtroom bench next to John. The man was one of the young firebreathers, bound for political glory. The judge, defense attorney, and court staff barely glanced his way. The jury and other witnesses paid him no heed either.
"Anything happened?" he whispered.
"Still making speeches." John handed him a manila envelope. It contained two-dozen Xeroxes of classified pages, Personals. The key item on each had been circled in red magic marker.
Most began with a cryptic, "Thanks to St. John Nepomuk for favors received," and a date, followed by two or three vaguely religious and completely uninformative lines.
Nepomuk? Wasn't that a Czech saint? Cash asked himself. There was a Czech Catholic church at Twelfth and Lafayette dedicated to him. Why would a German, especially one who showed no religious inclinations in her home, be invoking a Czech saint?
Wait. Parts of Czechoslovakia… the Sudetenland, Bohernia. That had been Hitler's excuse for invading Czechoslovakia-to liberate the German minority. People who spoke German, anyway. In fact, Czechoslovakia as a country only went back to the First World War, didn't it?
What was it before that? Part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But the part called Bohemia had been an independent kingdom once. Prague was the capital. Hadn't there been a Mad King Ludwig once? No, he had been king of Bavaria. Hadn't he? Or was that Leopold? No, that was in Belgium…
There were times when he wished he knew more. About everything.
"The dates are important," John whispered.
Teri had gone to the bother of typing up a catalog list. Most of the dates, the earlier ones, were at regular six month intervals. But since March there had been four, at erratic intervals. Cash reread those ads. He couldn't see where they varied significantly from the others, but their publication seemed timed to his encounters with Miss Groloch.
"How'd she put them in?"
John grinned. "Through her accountants. I did a little number on them this morning. Had to stretch the truth a little and hint that we were on a narcotics case. The boss finally admitted that he got his instructions by phone."
"But she doesn't have one."
"There's an outside pay phone at the service station at Russell and Thurman. Only two blocks. She called the man at home, late at night."
Cash laid a hand on John's arm. Both prosecutor and judge were eying them in irritation. "Later."
He began browsing through Mrs. Caldwell's report, which told him almost nothing he really wanted to know. It was thick because the woman had reproduced the entirety of dozens of letters or diary entries which mentioned the Grolochs only in passing.
During the first few decades, when there had been few neighbors, there seemed to have been a great deal of traffic to and from the Groloch house, mainly the coming and going of tradesmen. Letters of the period remarked on the odd bent of the Grolochs' interests. They were believed to be inventors, working with telegraphy, telephonies, or electricity. But Miss Groloch also seemed immensely interested in things medical.
She received dozens of journals, many from Europe.
Was invention the source of their fortune? Cash wondered. Was he going to have to undertake a stalk through patent records?
There had also been the air of mystery still felt today. Perhaps it had been even stronger then. More than one letter mentioned an irrational dread of the foreigners, who were universally admitted to be perfect neighbors.
Only the Fenian, O'Driscol, seemed to have been comfortable in their presence.
Of the Irishman there was little mention. The man seemed to have maintained a low profile, which fit his hypothetical revolutionary and draft-dodger background. His disappearance had caused so little comment that Mrs. Caldwell hadn't been able to pin down the exact year, let alone a specific date. Sometime in the eighties, probably late.
His departure loomed important only in retrospect, in the minds of a handful of people who had still been around at the time of the O'Brien incident.
Cash penned a marginal note: What was happening in Ireland? The man might have gone home to take part in one of the periodic uprisings.
Then he noted, How has Fial been responding to ads? And, Miss Groloch to take lie detector? Ask Hank about her lawyer.
The departure of Fian, also, had slipped by with little notice, though it was better documented. June 14, 1889, aboard an eastbound train from Union Station. Explanation, a death in the old country, an estate that had to be settled.
Cash made another note: Passport issued? Then, U.S. citizenship?
Suppose the Grolochs were illegals?… No, no leverage there. Every ten years or so Congress passed laws exculpating long-term illegals.
There seemed to have been no animosity toward Miss Groloch during the Great War, either because no one knew of her origins or because St. Louis's vast German community had remained completely, demonstratively loyal despite countless family ties in Europe. There had been little trouble.
Cash closed the folder little wiser. Just with more questions. Always there were more questions.
And don't lose the forest for the trees, he cautioned himself.
Jack O'Brien had a crafty way about him. He kept trying to disappear among the distractions. And he, or whomever the dead man might be, was what this case was all about.
He opened Mrs. Caldwell’s report to the page where he had made notes and added, Any other mysterious corpses on record?
Digging into that ought to keep John busy for a while.
Harald poked him. Everyone was rising. Court was recessing without their having been called to testify.
"Damn," John complained as they departed. "There's tomorrow shot all to hell. Christ, it's hot out here. Hope Carrie bought some beer."
Cash told him of his evening plans.
John was furious. But he didn't say a thing.
Cash brought him up to date on the morning's work. John began to get that hungry hunter look again.
"Maybe it is starting to go. Maybe. You'd better let Gardner know about those four hoods. If we could just jam her into the damned lie detector…"
Cash had a sudden thought. "John. That mailman… let's find out if her mail has changed since we've been pushing her. Also, you might ask your friend if there's any chance of tracking down classifieds from the time when she was having trouble with Carstairs."
The look of the hunter faded. "Norm, this's getting to be a pain in the ass."
"You don't like it, get out and drum up some alternate business. Me, I'm determined to nail this one shut."
"That's what Carstairs was going to do, remember? For eight years."
"Yeah. I remember." And he thought about it all the way back to the office.
XVIII. On the Z Axis;
The most striking thing, Thorkelsen scribbled on his notepad, as the former prisoners descended from the transport- and it is the same every time I come out here-is not their gauntness, nor their confusion about the changes that have taken place in their absence, nor even the mechanical way they greet their families and respond to our questions. It is something I cannot quite put my finger on.
He wrote all his notes longhand, laboriously. His handwriting was so bad even he had trouble reading it if he hurried.
He turned to Cameron, who had been sent down by the Sacramento Union. "They're all the same. You see it?"
The second reporter grunted. "Hunh? Nope. What do you mean?" But he wasn't listening when Thorkelsen tried to explain. He was wondering if he would have time to slip into Frisco and catch a hooker before he had to go home to a wife he detested. The girl named Fay knew exactly how to get the damned thing up, and had the patience to do it right.
"Big ones, little ones, black, white, commissioned or enlisted, they all look like the same guy designed them."
Thorkelsen knew only the air was listening. But he persisted. He could order his thoughts by talking, and might get through just enough to stimulate some sort of insight.
This was his fourth planeload met. He was now certain he lingered on the edge of a story. But the damned puzzle pieces wouldn't fall into place.
"It's not looks, though. They look pretty much alike because they've got to meet the same physical requirements and go through the same training. The pilots, anyway. No, it's something else. Something inside."
There were enlisted men on this flight. Just a handful, but only the second group he had seen.
They were the same too.
"Hey, Bob, I'll catch you later." He had noticed a tech sergeant who didn 't have the nameless air.
"Yeah. Sure." Cameron resumed pursuit of his interrupted fantasy. What Fay could do with her dark little hands smothered in soap lather was a certifiable miracle. She ought to be canonized.
The sergeant's nametag read cantrell, A.O.
"Excuse me, Sergeant Cantrell. Nils Thorkelsen, Fresno Bee. Got a minutel"
The man stopped, but did not reply. He stared through Thorkelsen, did not bother dropping his travel bag.
Thorkelsen tried to explain the feeling he had gotten about the returning prisoners of war, and that he had sensed something unique about Cantrell. "Could you tell me why that is?"
"Eh? Could you try again?"
"I can't be programmed."
Debatable. The man's a zombie, Thorkelsen thought. He stood as still as death, the weight of his bag unnoticed.
"And the others can be?"
"Have they been?"
A fountain of information here. "How? For what? Would you explain?"
"Brainwashing. The best ever. Their mission is to resume positions in the imperialist armed forces and society, assuming positions of control as available, and await orders. Some will enter business or politics. Most are unaware of their status. They will be activated by a post-hypnotic key at the proper time. One thousand Trojan horses."
Cantrell spoke without emotion or inflexion, as if repeating a message he had often rehearsed for this one telling.
"Not that many prisoners are being returned."
"Some must be retained for other employment."
"How can you tell me this? If the others can't?" There had never been a hint of such a thing, though it was clear the Pentagon was covering something. That, it was pretty clear, was simply a prohibition on discussing maltreatment while interned.
"I couldn't be programmed. They couldn't break me."
Debatable, Thorkelsen thought again. Not much of a man remained here.
He had his major story. A story of the decade. A sure prizewinner.
If it could be proven.
Prisoners of war returned as Communist agents… Nobody would believe it. "How come they let you go, if you're beyond control?"
A frown twisted Cantrell's face. "Bureaucratic error. The kind of screw-up that happens whenever people saddle themselves with the idiocy of a government. I didn't set them straight." He began to show a little animation delivering that remark.
"What do you plan to do with this knowledge?"
"Nothing. I've done it." He seemed puzzled by the question. "You ask. I have to tell. They succeeded that much. I talk. I talk. I talk."
"Shouldn't somebody be warned?"
"I don't understand. Why not?"
"Because I don't give a fuck. The Chinese did this to me. But you put me where they could get their hands on me."
The Chinese? "A pox on both our houses?"
Certain he was interviewing a madman, Thorkelsen shifted his questioning to the mundane. "What're your plans now? What're you going to do with all that back pay?"
"Buy me a guitar."
"Buy me a guitar. They wouldn't let me have a guitar."
"That's all? That's your only ambition?"
"Yes. It's been six years. I'll have to learn all over again."
Thorkelsen was convinced. This pot wasn't just cracked, it was shattered. Maybe the VA could put the man's head back together again.
"Thanks for your time, Sergeant. And good luck." He was so sure it would draw belly laughs he promptly forgot the whole thing.
It didn't come back to him till, three years later, while working for a Los Angeles paper, he noted an AP wire-service story about a navy captain, ex-POW, who was resigning his commission to run for Congress.
"Hey, Mack," he called to his editor. "You see this about this ex-POW running for Congress in the Florida primary?"
"Yeah. Need more like him. 'Bout thirty of those men in the House, we might start getting this country back to what it's supposed to be."
"I don't know…"
"What do you mean? A few real patriots up there…"
"I mean he might not be a patriot."
"What? After what he went through for his country? The camps, the-"
"Exactly. No, wait a minute. Let me tell you. When I was with the Bee they used to send me to Beale every time a planeload of prisoners came in. The third or fourth time I interviewed this army sergeant. A really spooky guy. He was a nut, but he had a good story."
"Such as the Chicoms brainwashed all our prisoners before the North Viets returned them. Turned them into agents. He claimed most of them wouldn't even know they were agents till they got their orders from Peking. All they would know was they were supposed to get into important positions in the Pentagon, and in government and business. They were sort of, like, hypnotized as well as brainwashed."
Thorkelsen's editor hailed from Orange County, Bircher country, and could believe in seven more outrageous communist plots before the first edition every morning. And his strongly conservative paper was in dire need of something that would catch the imagination of a predominantly liberal market.
When the man's jaw finally rose and his brain had at last finished pursuing the germs of a hundred new conspiracy theories, he asked, "What about MIAs? Did he say anything about them?"
The man was planning a campaign, Thorkelsen saw. Allegations of a plot wouldn't get him the attention he desired. He had made a career of crying wolf. But an apparent break in the MIA question… that would grab national attention. While he had it, his message could be delivered. The nation could be awakened.
"Find that soldier, Nils!" Mack ordered. And he meant it. "Find him and drain him like a spider would. Every detail. His whole story, from the minute he was captured. You get the name of just one MIA, we can hold the whole world by the nose while we pound it with this other thing."
And for the next hour Thorkelsen endured a harangue damning the eastern Jew liberal press and the investigative reporting that had toppled Richard Nixon. Now those self-righteous hypocrites were going to get a shithouseful dumped right back in their laps.
But Cantrell had left no trail. It took Thorkelsen more than a year to identify and trace his man, now the bass guitarist of an obscure British rock group.
Long before Thorkelsen could make contact, before, even, he had located his man, Mack had begun trying to hype circulation with editorials hinting at a forthcoming blockbuster of a story, one that would send the blade of the guillotine plummeting toward the neck of the left-wing clique destroying the country.
Unfortunately, he named and told too much about Cantrell.
A Chinese agent included the articles in his routine reports. The story took months to percolate through the Peking bureaucracies, but it did, and eventually entered the ken of the man called Huang Hua.
An order for executive action went out immediately. Hua had the confidence of Mao's successor, Jua Kuo-feng, who had an even greater interest in the project than had the Chairman.
A race was on.
And Thorkelsen, plodding along in his spare time, drawn on only by drifty visions of a Pulitzer, convinced he was hunting one crackpot at the behest of another, never knew he was running with other horses.
XIX. On the Y Axis;
Cash found Lieutenant Railsback in the process of departing when he reached the office. "Hang on a minute, Hank." Beth had already left. An envelope addressed to him lay centered on her desk. "I need a couple things. Mainly, a shot at the old lady's lawyer. To see if he'll let her go on the lie detector. When he says no, I want to show him what we've got."
"What you've got? You've got to be kidding. You ain't got shit."
"I've got four more mysterious disappearances, in her house, and a missing twenty grand in counterfeit that also looks like it ended up at her place."
"What kind of crap are you trying to feed me now?"
Cash outlined his day.
"Look, let me think. I'm just going to the Rite-Way anyway. I'm going to hang around for the polygraph session."
"Bring me a couple large Cokes and one of Sarah's special cheeseburgers then, okay? Here." He handed over two dollars.
John came in while Cash was opening Beth's envelope. He had a cold six-pack. Two cans were missing. "Bribes," he admitted. Bringing beer in was a violation of regulations.
"Hank's coming back." Cash popped a top and drained half a can.
"I know. He's got dibs on a can too. If I'd have known this was going to happen, I'd have got a case."
"Let me see what Beth has to say here."
It was a lengthy letter. She meandered. There had been something beside business on her mind. The gist was that she had begged, cajoled, or bullied everyone concerned into appearing for the polygraph test, and Immigration would be no help. The government hadn't gotten seriously involved until 1882. Their suggestion was to appeal to immigrant societies of the national group to which his subject belonged.
Well, he hadn't expected that angle to pan out.
If he wanted her to take notes during his evening extravaganza, he should call her at home.
"What do you think about Beth, John?"
"Huh? Nice ass. Tits ain't bad either. But she's cold. Something drifty about her."
"Not really. She's just not sure of herself. You remember how she was when she first came here? Quiet, goosey?"
"Still is with most of us. Got to whack her up side the head just to get her to say hi. Except you. You she treats almost normal. Guess maybe because you're a safe old father figure."
All I need, Cash thought. Another part-time kid.
"You know her number?"
"Huh? That's the best-kept secret since the atom bomb. Why?"
"She says to call her."
"Then you must have it somewhere."
"Not that I know of. Maybe it's in the book."
He looked it up. Sure enough.
She had just gotten home. She begged five minutes for a shower.
"God, I'm a rotten old bastard," Cash told her when she arrived. He was feeling loose. Hank had gone out after more beer. "I saved you a Coke, though. And dinner when you're done. All right?"
"Getting pretty feisty for an old man, aren't you?" John asked. "I mean, hustling young girls…" Beth blushed, stared at the floor, then tried to cover by searching for pen and dictation pad.
"I already called Annie and told her," Cash responded defensively. Annie hadn't liked the idea, even when he had invited her to go along. She had refused on grounds that Nancy might need her.
"Some other time?" Beth asked. "I think everybody's down there now. They all got here early. Guess they want to get it over with."
As they descended the stairs, Beth observed, "Everybody was so cooperative, we probably ought to call the whole thing off."
"I'll buy that," said John.
"You know we've got to go the whole route, John. Step by step. When I'm done there ain't going to be a hole big enough for a roach to crawl through."
"You're just painting yourself into a corner."
"Beth! Who are all these people?"
"Reporting officers. Evidence technicians. Ambulance driver and attendant. Emergency room staff. People from the coroner's office. From the morgue."
Twenty bewildered pairs of eyes watched the polygraph operator set up his equipment. Hank Railsback leaned against the wall in a shadowed corner, an amused smile playing across his lips as he listened to the captain.
"What kind of story did you feed them, woman?"
Beth just blushed and studied the floor.
"Uh-huh. A line of bullshit."
It was eleven-fifteen before they finished.
John was right. Beth was right.
Nursing a headache, Cash watched the polygraph operator pack his gear. Beth kept flexing fingers sore from gripping a pen. John, and everyone else who could, had taken off long since.
"Too bad Hank didn't stick around. But he hates to see his brain-children stillborn."
Beth moved behind him, began kneading his shoulder muscles. It startled him, but felt so nice he didn't ask her to stop.
"Where do you want to eat?"
Her grip tightened. She started to say something, choked on it. Her fingers quivered. "I still think I should take a rain-check. We've got to be back in here at eight."
"Yeah. Right. Well, I'll walk you to your car."
Leaning in her window, he said, "Thanks again. I really don't know what I'd do without you, Beth. You shouldn't put up with the crap I dump on you. That we all do."
"I don't mind. For you. At least you… Well, you know. You're nice about it. I'd better go."
"Sure. Thanks again. Bye."
He thought about Beth all the way home.
More and more, he suspected something was happening. It was flattering, tempting, and terrifying. If he formally recognized the condition at all, there would be pain and trouble no matter what course he followed. The wise thing, he supposed, would be to cool it by completely ignoring it. That would minimize the potential for pain.
Annie had fallen asleep watching Johnny Carson and rereading MacDonald's The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper. He wriggled himself a seat and gently woke her, presented the books he had picked up downtown.
"Struck out again, huh?" she mumbled.
"Keep plugging, honey. It'll come."
"I'm beginning to wonder."
Cash's depression carried over into Tuesday. Lack of sleep was no help, and spending morning and afternoon being bored or angered by lawyers badgering witnesses or protesting one another's antics was a classic downer. He kept stifling an urge to stand up and scream, "But what about justice!" The concept seemed to have vanished from the American courtroom completely. All that remained was a highly ritualized barristry.
There were moments when he wished the Good Lord would send down a plague able to take no one but ambulance chasers. They were a pestilence themselves, a pustulant wound on the corpus of humanity. Directly or indirectly they controlled everything.
These dreary courtroom passages often brought on moments of paranoia when he felt as intensely about attorneys as had Hitler about Jews. He fancied very similar conspiracies.
Beth had but one bit of progress to report when he returned to the station. Railsback had contacted Miss Groloch's attorney about the possibility of the old woman undergoing a polygraph test. The man had refused. Of course.
John had completed his courtroom purgatory by noon recess. He had spent his afternoon digging. He now arrived, looking sheepish.
"Got an idea," he said. "Illegal as hell. Well, shady. You got your contacts in the outfit. I thought maybe you could get them to help."
"I don't think I'm going to like this." Cash guided Harald into his office, closed the door.
"Suppose we jump the old lady?" John asked. "Anything, just so we get her to move. We got a good idea she'll make it down to that pay phone. Maybe some of O'Lochlain's people could snatch her for a while. And some others toss her place. Like with metal detectors and stuff. We could loan them the gear."
"I knew I wouldn't like it."
"What about it?"
"In a word, illegal. John, something like that could get us crucified."
Cash was tempted. Unbearably. Otherwise he would have responded with a simple no.
"Only as a last resort, of course."
"You'll think about it?"
"How can I help it now that you've brought it up? But I guarantee you I won't pull anything like that unless Judge Gardner keeps turning me down. He doesn't, we can do it ourselves, legal. Subject closed."
"Okay. You don't have to bite my head off. Now, how about your little brown brother?"
"Major Tran. When's he coming?"
"Not sure yet. Sometime this week. Why?"
"Carrie and Nancy have had their heads together. Near as I can figure, they want to come over and do the welcoming party cooking for Annie. As a surprise."
"I don't know."
"Know what you mean. If they get going on Michael. And the kids making like Indians… Maybe we could get sitters."
"Maybe. Their hearts are in the right place, anyway. Let's worry about it when the time comes."
"Okay. I'm heading home now. Oh. We're having a barbecue Sunday, if it doesn't rain. Bring your own beer and pork steaks. And if Annie wants, she can make one of those green cakes."
"The pistachio?" Cash's stomach lusted. He loved barbecued pork. "Me, I'll have to make it with the all-beef hot dogs again. Sounds good, though. I'll see if I can't come up with a watermelon for the kids. Hey, all right if I bring Matthew? He might come down this weekend, to meet the Trans."
"You have to ask?"
As John left, Cash noticed Tony something-or-other Spanish, Beth's guy, in the outer office. What a loser, he thought.
He examined the reaction for the taint of jealousy. It wasn't there. But there was a lot of envy in it.
Desirable as Beth might be, his feelings seemed primarily paternal, protective. His reaction to that was both one of relief and one of mild self-deprecation.
Next morning the card with the four names arrived. He hadn't encountered a one of them before. He slipped the card into his desk, on impulse dug out the phone number of the man conducting the UFO investigation.
Those people had found nothing, though the man spent a quarter of an hour getting around to the admission. Cash told him of the additional disappearances. Then he rang Judge Gardner's court and left the same information. Not pressed with any other business, he then spent an hour playing bureaucratic double shuffle with the local treasury department people. The Secret Service proved to be very uninterested in fifty-four-year-old counterfeit money. The attitude was much the same as that expressed by Judge Gardner Monday. The stuff couldn't be passed anyway, so who cared?
He found Beth in his doorway when he hung up.
"John called while you were on the phone. He said he talked to that mailman. He says the old lady has gotten three or four real letters the past few months. The reason he noticed was because the sender used all real old two- and three-cent stamps. Postmarked in Rochester, New York. No return address."
"Hmm. We're getting something stirred up, then. Wish we could spook her into giving herself away."
"Norm, how come you want to get her so bad? You used to get on John. Now I think you don't care anymore. Not even how, so long as you take her down. How come?"
"Beth, I wish I knew. I worry about it too. Really. And I don't much like me for it. But I'm sure I'm right. I have to do it. I think part of it comes from everybody else being so damned eager to kill the case."
"Phone's ringing." She darted out. A moment later, "It's your wife."
"I'll take it in here. Yeah?"
"Mail came. There's an invitation."
"Huh? What to?"
"Come on, Annie…"
"Really. From that Sister Mary Joseph."
He was silent for a long time. Then, "Beth, when did Hank release my stiff?"
"Early Monday morning. I thought you knew."
"Son of a bitch. Me and him are going to have words over this."
"Norm?" Annie was trying to get his attention again.
He snapped his fingers. "Honey? Where? What time? Let me get a pencil here."
"Damned right. I'll bet Miss Groloch was invited too. And I'll bet she shows. No matter what part she's played, she's got to be damned curious about this thing."
He wrote demonically as Annie relayed the information. "Thanks, love. I've just got to run. Love you. Bye. Beth! Put out the word for John to call me."
A half hour later they had it set up. John was able to confirm, from his chat with the postman, that Miss Groloch had received an invitation that morning.
Cash parked a half block short of the Groloch house. Castleman was one-way, eastbound. Any cab would have to pass them if already called. They had arrived, they judged, forty minutes before the woman would have to leave to make the funeral.
"This's crazy," Harald insisted. "I just don't see why you think she'll go."
"Call it a hunch." The sun beat down. The car quickly evened up. He didn't feel communicative.
"How's she going to get a cab?"
"She's going to walk down to that pay phone. If she hasn't already."
Passersby gazed at them curiously. The neighborhood hairy youth appeared on his front porch, stared, ducked back inside. Even plainclothes cops were easily recognized by their suits, semi-military haircuts, and blackwall tires.
"Bet that jerk thinks it's him we've got staked out."
"Want me to go roust him?"
"He must've done something."
"Shit, John. Probably got a little pot put away. What's the dif?"
Harald shrugged, changed the subject. "What the hell do we get out of this even if she does go?"
"I don't know. It just seems to me that, long as we can keep her breaking her pattern, chances are she'll slip up. I want to be there when it happens. You ever see a dog go after one of them little box turtles you find in the woods? That turtle is safe… as long as Rover don't con him into sticking his head out."
"Shit. Can't we move up? That sun's murder."
"Soon as somebody pulls out from under a tree."
"How about I walk over to Lambert's and get us a couple of Cokes?"
"You really got the fidgets, don't you? Yeah, sure. Here. I'll buy."
"Hang on. Here we go."
Miss Groloch was on the move. She was brisk, businesslike, as she strode eastward, quite alert to her neighbors' reactions. Few of them had ever seen her. Those who had been out surreptitiously eyeballing the cops now watched her.
"No. After the cab comes. We'll follow her now. Make sure she uses that phone."
"Norm, I'm beginning to think this maybe isn't such a hot idea."
"It was yours."
"Yeah. That's why. No. Only sort of. And it's not legal. I'd rather have crooks do the crooked stuff. What if somebody spots me and calls the cops? Lot of people out here. Could we talk our way out of it?"
"What do you mean, 'we,' white man?"
"Norm, if it was anybody else sitting over there, I wouldn't admit it. But I'm scared. Last time I had the shakes this bad was the day Michael…"
"Want some outside backup?" Cash started the car, began creeping down the block. "Smitty might do it."
"No. Shit no. We can't get anybody else involved. Even you shouldn't be. Twenty-three years is a lot to risk."
"Nah. No problem. We can bullshit our way out." But he, too, had begun to feel that peculiar twisting of the guts remembered from the Ardennes and several occasions when he had approached women with less than honorable intentions. He dithered at the intersection with Klemm till another vehicle rolled up behind him.
He turned right, went over to his own street, then east a block to Thurman. He parked beneath the huge elm on the corner. In the distance, Miss Groloch turned on to Thurman and strode purposefully toward the service station.
Cash said, "Guy that lives here on the corner is going to run for alderman next year." As John grunted his disinterested response, Norm turned to peer out the back window. They had parked in front of the house next to his own. He wondered if Annie had noticed. "Maybe you knew him in school. Name's Tim Schultz."
"It's the service station all right. She's crossing over. You going to cruise past?"
"No. She might make us. Don't want her changing her mind now."
Miss Groloch vanished behind the bulk of the station.
"I figure you should have a good two hours," Cash continued. "Plenty of time. I'll leave you off, then head for the funeral. Soon as you finish, hoof it over here. Annie'll be home. She never goes anywhere anymore. I'll pick you up when I get back."
The funeral was small and quiet. The priest didn't have much to say. He, Cash, and two men from the funeral parlor did the pallbearing. Sister Mary Joseph was accompanied only by two nuns. No one else came.
Except Miss Groloch, who watched from a distance, from the shadow of a grove of young maples. Her cab awaited her on a cemetery road behind her.
After depositing the casket next to the grave, Cash positioned himself so he could observe the principals. Sister Mary Joseph showed neither warmth nor coldness. Earlier, she had greeted him only with a curt nod. Miss Groloch seemed more interested in the surrounding cemetery than in the funeral, though there was no one in sight except an old man, off among the fancier monuments, who appeared to be a caretaker.
Once the casket had been lowered and he had deposited his handful of earth, Cash started the old woman's way.
He stopped, turned. "Sister?"
"Thank you for coming. Even if you had to."
"Had to? I didn't. It just seemed right."
"Miss Groloch? Yes. She was in those trees over there." The cab had departed while his back was turned.
The sister squinted.
She was nearsighted, Cash realized. No wonder she hadn't noticed.
"She's gone now. Do you need a ride back to the convent?" He cast a sour look at the gravediggers. They were sidling nearer already, not trying to hide their impatience. Didn't anyone have any respect anymore?
"I'd appreciate that. We came out in the hearse. There's something I want to tell you anyway."
But she could not seem to get started. After a half mile, Cash asked, "I've always wondered. How come Miss Groloch upsets you so much? You seem to have adjusted to… to…"
"Jack's disappearance? It's all right, Sister Carmelita," she told the younger of the nuns in the back seat. The woman had placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I liked Jack, Sergeant. Even when I knew what he was. He was that way. Nobody could really hate him.
"I had no illusions. I knew something would happen, the way he lived. I think I was used to the idea before it did.
"No. I don't hate her for Jack's sake. It's Colin that did it."
"My boyfriend. Colin Meara. If you can have a boyfriend when you're that young. The kid I was with the last time I saw Jack."
"I remember now. But I don't understand."
"The whole neighborhood knew about Jack. Because of the yelling and screaming and all that. Well, Colin decided he'd play detective. So he snuck into her house one night. And…"
"And?" Cash prompted after fifteen seconds.
"He never came out. Never. Nobody ever knew what happened but me. His parents thought… his dad was really rough on him. Because he was afraid Colin would be like Jack. He adored Jack. They said all sorts of crazy things, but mostly they just thought he ran away. He was an only child. I never could tell them the truth. Not even his mother when she was asking for him when she was dying. Couldn't ever tell anybody. Till now."
Sister Carmelita patted her shoulder.
Cash almost ran a red light. "Why?"
"I was waiting outside. We stayed awake and snuck out after everybody was asleep. I remember it so clearly. It was after midnight, almost a full moon. Not a cloud. The stars were so beautiful… We were going to do it together. Only I got scared. So he told me to wait outside. And he never came back."
A silent sob racked her thin frame.
"Sergeant, fifteen minutes after he went in… that woman came to the door. Then she came outside, all the way out to the gate. I couldn't run. She just stood there and stared at me for maybe five minutes. It was like looking the devil in the eyes. Then she just smiled and nodded and went back inside."
"She didn't say anything?"
"Nothing. Not a word. God in heaven. I was scared. Of her, of my father, if he found out I snuck out nights, of Colin's father… I'm still scared. I can still see that evil smile…"
Lord, another one, Cash thought. The Groloch place was a slaughterhouse.
"I thought you'd come today. I prayed you would. Last night I wrote it all down. I borrowed a school typewriter and put down everything I could remember, all the stuff I didn't tell you before. Maybe it'll help."
"Everything's a help." Something akin to elation coursed through Cash. It was starting to come. Finally, the information was breaking loose.
He had been home a half hour and had read the sister's deposition twice before he thought to ask, "What happened to John?"
"I haven't seen him," Annie replied. "Was I supposed to?"
"Yeah. He was supposed to meet me here. Hey. Maybe he found something and grabbed a cab back to the station."
Cash evaded by ducking back into the memoir. It was richly detailed, yet told him nothing Sister Mary Joseph hadn't covered orally.
"Honey, you ever hear of Miss Groloch having another boyfriend after O'Brien?"
"I don't think so. Why?"
"Just curious. Been wondering, off and on." He phoned the station. Old Man Railsback answered. "Is Beth around? Well, have her call me when she gets back. At home. Never mind what I'm doing here. Just do it."
Hank's father was making himself useful, more or less, while Beth was in the can.
The phone rang within five minutes. "Beth? Yeah. Do me a favor, will you? Check the O'Brien autopsy sheet and see what he had in his stomach." He wasn't sure, but didn't think the report jibed with the sister's statement. She claimed his last meal had consisted of cold roast beef and cold boiled potatoes, washed down with homemade beer.
Beth took another five minutes. Then she asked, "You still there?"
"Hank's kicking up dust about something. I was helping his dad calm him down. Norm, this thing don't look right. It says there wasn't anything in his stomach. Except almost indetectable traces of what may have been pureed beef liver, and what may have been applesauce."
"No potatoes? No roast beef? No beer?"
"No." She sounded puzzled.
Cash let out a whoop. "We did it! We proved it! The guy ain't O'Brien."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Babe, I'll tell you all about it when I get there. Don't let John get away. He'll want to hear this too." He hung up, wrapped Annie in a powerful hug.
"Norman, will you please calm down long enough to explain?"
"Honey, I just made a breakthrough. It'll put Hank on Cloud Nine. The dead guy can't be Jack O'Brien."
"I heard. So how can you prove it?"
"He ate meat and potatoes before he disappeared. The dead guy ate liver and applesauce."
She smiled, sharing his joy. Then, "You'd better sit down. You forgot something."
"Like you only proved that he wasn't run through the time machine right away."
"Those meat and potatoes wouldn't stick to his ribs forever. Fifty years is plenty of time to digest them."
"Oh." He slumped against the back of the couch. "I went off half-cocked, didn't I?"
"Looks like." She took one of his hands in hers. "It'll be okay. You'll get to the bottom of it."
"Okay. Look, I got to get back. Hank's pissed enough now, we spend so much time screwing around with this thing."
"Don't let him keep you too late. Major Tran called. They'll be here in time for supper."
"Damn. I don't know if I'll be able to cope. Unless John's got something to cheer me up. There was another one, honey. I found out today. Besides O'Brien and the four hoods."
"Another victim. A kid. Twelve years old. Carstairs never found out about him or the hoods. But he must've felt something. That had to be why he was so stubborn about letting go."
"Evil. I told you…"
"I'll be home as soon as I can." He kissed her good-bye. They still did that, after all these years.
"What happened to the high?" Beth asked as he slouched through the office door.
"My old lady shot it down." He explained. "Where's John? What'd he get?"
"I haven't seen him. I thought he was with you."
"But…" What the hell? John had had plenty of time… Teri? The sonofabitch was making whoopie on company time. He grabbed a phone, then thought better of it. No point stirring things up, or playing Typhoid Mary with his depression. Let John enjoy till he decided it was time to come in.
A thump startled him.
Old Man Railsback had dozed off. A book had fallen off his lap.
Hank's door was closed, but the sound of his feet as he paced could be heard.
"Beth, see if you can get Judge Gardner for me. If you can't, just leave a message saying I dug up another disappearance. With a witness."
"At the Groloch place again?"
"Yeah. I'll be in here shuffling papers."
Quitting time arrived. Still no John. This was going to have to stop. Sooner or later, Cash decided, Harald was going to force him to take official notice.
Irked, he returned home. He had been counting on John to give the day a bright ending.
It was just the day that had him down. John had been vanishing without explanation since before Christmas.
A cool shower did wonders. Norm felt human by the time Tran and his family arrived.
XX. On the X Axis;
A Bohemian Physician
Neulist arrived May 12,1889.
The crone of a midwife strained cataracted eyes-and screamed. "Another one! Another devil!"
No one listened. She had been going on this way for twenty-five years, since the flight of her husband and children. Her warnings had been so fervent for so long that even the most compassionate villagers shunned her as a madwoman.
Those same villagers shunned the growing boy. His approach stirred irrational loathings. Even his parents barely tolerated him.
He had spent years in isolation, hated by millions. The antipathy of a few hundred superstitious peasants troubled him not at all. What bothered him was being a child.
Children in this age were little more than slaves.
He found the midwife's past overwhelmingly intriguing. All that talk about her husband and children, about possession and flight…
The other villagers were bored with it. Possession? By now they believed she had driven them off with her shrewish ways.
The mayor once mentioned having received a letter all the way from America, from Fiala, asking after her mother. The boy broke into the man's home and stole it when he was seven.
It gave him an address.
He mulled that letter, and the old woman's story, for years. And knew were his destiny lay.
As a child he had no more rights, and little more power, than a bondservant. Till he turned thirteen he hired out to work in the fields. Then he joined his father in the mines at Kladno.
There was little he could do till he became a man.
Except study. The village priest overcame his revulsion and helped a haunted but brilliant child find the navigation markers of life in that age.
Those were the years when he learned patience. He had no choice. A strapping was the inevitable consequence of the slightest rebellion.
His mother died when he was nine.
His father loathed him almost as much as did the midwife. His childhood became one long exercise in discipline. He learned, without coming to understand, what it was like to live on the receiving end of dictatorship.
In time he became perfectly willing to invest decades in his vengeance. And absolutely determined to carry it out. For these years of hell the Zumstegs would pay in agony and blood.
The summer of 1908, finally, saw him fleeing his hell for Vienna, taking his own, his father's, and his church's savings. There, through applied gall and a talent for forgery, he enrolled himself in the Academy of Fine Arts, where his work as a sculptor was just good enough to keep him in. Two years later he reverted to old habits, began studying contemporary medicine with a Dr. Mayer in Leopoldstadt, Vienna's Jewish district.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his background in twenty-first century medicine, he was an abysmal failure as a medical understudy. Students weren't permitted to contradict the common wisdom of their teachers, nor to promulgate crazy medical theories. Mayer endured him for two years. The doctor was a patient, tolerant man, completely oblivious to any aura of the alien. His cause for dismissing his apprentice was, in fact, personal. He learned that his goy pupil had been bedding his daughter-and had gone so far as to abort their love-child.
Mayer expelled his protege from his practice with that air of great sadness characteristic of the career long-suffering European Jew.
There had to be, Neulist thought at the time, laws of temporal inertia, or laws of chronological thermodynamics, that refused to permit the introduction of changes or new ideas.
He could not comprehend the importance to these people of being goyim or Jew, nor the intense revulsion the period's habitues bore abortion.
His response to the dismissal was blind despair. Medicine was the only field he knew-since people in this age had little need of a chief of secret police whose duties were to maintain the purity of the party ideal. Not even his obsession with the Zumstegs could break through. When the depression at last lifted he was left with nothing but indifference and a bottomless well of self-pity. His social condition slipped from bad to worse-he made his few kronen performing abortions-and to worse still, till in January 1913, so destitute that he no longer possessed a winter coat, he pawned his shoes for enough money to spend a week in the Mannerheim. The Mannerheim was a five-hundred-bed dormitory maintained for the not-quite-indigent, a sort of Viennese YMCA.