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       Time's Echo: A CHRONOS Files Novella, p.1

           Rysa Walker
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Time's Echo: A CHRONOS Files Novella

  ∞Table of Contents∞


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, and events are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual locations, events, or people, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2014 by Rysa Walker

  All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be used or reproduced by any means without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations included in critical articles and reviews.

  For information:

  First edition: April 2014

  Visit The CHRONOS Files online at

  In memory of

  Harold and Mildred Sparks



  July 11, 1905

  Kate's breath is soft against my shoulder when the chirping sound finally wakes me. I fumble in the semidarkness for the alarm, but the cell phone has fallen off the tobacco crate I use as a nightstand. Kate rolls toward the wall, pulling her pillow over her head, just as I locate the phone under the bed and turn it off.

  It's a bit after noon now, and this is probably the most sleep Kate's had all week. While there aren't many benefits to a room facing the alley, at least the sun doesn't jolt you awake at the crack of dawn after a rough night.

  I’d much rather stay here and enjoy a few more hours of shut-eye myself, but I need to get this job.

  It's not the money. I placed a bet on Marvin Hart for the 1905 heavyweight boxing title a few weeks back. Although the odds against Hart were high, when you have the advantage of seeing the newspaper a day in advance, like I do, a long shot becomes a sure thing. That investment brought in eighty-five bucks, more than enough money for me to hide out in this dump for a year.

  I don't want the job for the fame, such as it is. That just makes it more likely that the Cyrists will decide I'm enough of an annoyance to hunt me down. And if I'm bored during the times Kate is away, I can always find something that needs doing around Jess's store.

  No, landing the job at Norumbega Park is just the one thing I can do to help Kate without traveling too far out of my own timeline. I'm sick of watching her take all the risks.

  I drag myself to the door and down the hallway to the shower. Luckily, there's no line this late in the day. Most of the neighbors are off before sunrise. We're four stories up and the water barely trickles from the spigot, so I have to use an old tin cup in the corner of the stall to collect enough water to rinse the soap off. Kate doesn't shower here, and I don't blame her. I'd opt for hot water and a massaging shower head, too, given the choice.

  One of the Blake kids, maybe five years old, is in the hallway when I come out. She gives me a grin, her fingers tugging at a tangled lock of hair.

  “Got any candy today, mister?”

  I could have predicted the question the second I saw her. Helping at Jess’s store means I usually have a few sticks of peppermint, butterscotch or hoarhound stashed in my pockets—the only payment I take these days. Kate says I just like playing Willy Wonka. I'm not entirely sure that's a compliment. Judging from the book she gave me, Wonka was a bit of an ass. I do, however, remember being a kid with parents who could never spare a penny for sweets.

  I smile and tweak her freckled nose. “And where would I be hiding your candy dressed only in a towel, missy? Check back when I'm wearing britches.”

  The Blake girl giggles and skips down to the end of the hallway, where her brother and sister are crouched in their usual spot at the top of the landing, ready to bounce their rubber ball down the stairs at the first sound of footsteps. I’ve caught that bloody ball smack in the head twice and threatened to tell their mum, but they probably know I never would. She’d take it away and God knows they don’t have much else to occupy their time in the summer.

  When I get back to the room, Kate is sprawled out in her usual way on the bed, snoring gently. I won't be mentioning that to her, however, since I'm sure I’d get a solid punch in the arm if I did. Reaching under the bed, I pry loose the wooden plank and feel around in the space under the floorboards until I find another bandage and the small portable shaver Kate brought back after watching me use a straight razor one afternoon. I still use the blade when she’s not here, but I must admit this little gadget is less likely to slice an ear off when the light is dim.

  After shaving, I remove the puckered bandage from my thigh and use a fresh square of adhesive to tack the glowing green disc to my leg. Then I pull on my drawers, a garment that Kate finds funny because they come most of the way to my knees. She jokes that I should “go commando” or else let her bring me some boxer briefs. But these are what I’m used to and they also provide another layer to shield the light of the spare key, should I happen to run into anyone else with the CHRONOS gene. The medallion that I keep in my pocket, attached to my belt by a watch chain, is Cyrist-approved. The back-up key strapped to my leg is not.

  I draw back the red curtain Kate tacked up in one corner of the room and take the new suit from its hook. In this heat, the shirt will be limp and sweaty by the time I get to Newton. Hopefully, the coat and tie will make me presentable enough for the audition. I fold the jacket carefully and stash it in the drawstring bag that already holds my gear for the small tricks, along with three sets of handcuffs, a pair of leg cuffs, a ring of keys to those cuffs, and one spanking new collapsible top hat.

  I put a second set of keys on the nightstand. Then I watch Kate sleep for a moment, glad she's found a place where guilt and anger aren’t making her crazy, at least for a while. Even though she has a bigger and much more comfortable bed back at Katherine's, she's happier here, and I've grown accustomed to having her next to me. In the four months since I moved out of Jess’s storeroom, she's spent every night here and most days as well. I travelled to her time a few months back to watch some movie she wanted me to see, but mostly, we stay here. Long-distance jumps drain me.

  Not Kate. She pops back to Katherine’s house in Chicago for a few days, tracks down a CHRONOS key in Texas or London or wherever, attends classes at the University, and anything else she has to do in that life. And then she pulls up this room on her key and is back in my arms five minutes after she left. For me, it's like she only stepped out to the bathroom. I’m twenty-one, two years Kate’s senior, but another year of this double life for her and I could easily be the younger one.

  I push the dark curls aside and kiss her shoulder, running my hand under her pale pink camisole and tracing the curve of her spine with my thumb. After a moment, she turns toward me and pulls me down next to her.

  “Come back to bed,” she mumbles. “Lonely without you.”

  “Can’t. I'll miss the trolley.”

  She sniffs in protest and drapes her leg over mine. I give in, for now, and pull her closer, resting my head next to hers on the pillow.

  In the dim light of the oil lamp, I can just make out the edges of the dozens of glow-in-the-dark stars she pasted on the ceiling a few months back. Even turned up to full flame, the lantern would never make them glow, so I didn’t see the point in the stars until Kate reached into her pocket and produced this tiny device that shines with an odd, purplish light.

  I can still see her standing tiptoe on the bed, holding that light to the ceiling and, one by one, lighting the stars in our own private sky.

  Later, after the glow stars faded, I stashed the flashlight in the hole
under the bed, along with the shaver, her diary filled with rants about Katherine, and other odds and ends that don’t belong in 1905. Only Kate’s stars remain in the open. I know I should pull them down. It wouldn't be hard. Every day or two the humidity takes its toll on the cheap adhesive and another star falls onto the bed or the floor. But I leave them up. The odds of anyone seeing them are slim, and I think maybe this is the only place Kate feels free. This room, tiny as it is, has become her home as much as mine.

  “What time is the audition?” she asks, tucking her head downward as she speaks. I fight back a chuckle, knowing she’s trying to shield me from the “baby dragon breath” she says she has in the mornings. I’ve told her more than once that I’d kiss her even if she hadn’t brushed her teeth in a week, but she doesn’t believe me.

  “I go on at four-thirty, but it takes a while to get out there and I need time to set up. The manager said there are some stage props from the guy who left, and I need to check it all out. Make sure there’s something I can use for the finale.”

  She laughs. “You don’t need a trick cabinet. You have the medallion.”

  “True," I admit, "but it might draw some unwanted attention if I'm too obvious with it. And I have to make it credible, right? There needs to be some hint of stage trickery if I'm going to sell it to the manager and my assistants.”

  I feel her body stiffen and then she leans up on one elbow, giving me the evil eye.

  "Assistants? The kind in skimpy costumes?"

  “Norumbega is a family park. No drinking and nothing even slightly risqué. I’m guessing these assistants will be covered from head to toe. Or at least head to knee. They’ll certainly be wearing more than you are right now.” I pull the elastic strap of her camisole a tiny bit away from her shoulder and let it snap back against her skin.

  “Hmph. I'll be popping in to check out these assistants. Just so you know.”

  “Any time, love. Except maybe not during the audition. And don’t 'pop in' suddenly, right in the middle of an audience, else you’ll steal my thunder.”

  “No worries. I only want to see what goes on backstage.”

  “You don’t trust me?”

  “Oh, I trust you,” she says, snuggling closer. “I just don’t trust assistants in skimpy costumes.”

  This is a side of her I seldom see. The only time I’ve ever known Kate to act jealous is when I mention Prudence. Her aunt. My former lover. The enemy, in more ways than one, so I can't really fault her on that account. Even if I’m not consorting with Pru now, I have in the past and if the shoe were on the other foot, I'm sure I'd feel the same.

  “Tell you what,” I say, kissing the side of her neck. “You can check out the assistants at my first performance. Assuming I get the job, that is.”

  “You’ll get the job. You have sterling recommendations.” Her voice is a wee bit smug, and I can’t help grinning.

  “I have forged recommendations. Skillfully done, but forged nonetheless.”

  She shrugs, reaching over me to grab a peppermint from the nightstand. “Houdini is in Scotland. At the Gaiety Theater in Leith. Won’t be back until next month.” She pops the mint into her mouth. “That should give you a bit of time to start building up a reputation as the Amazing Boudini. From everything I've read, he'll take the bait and confront you.”

  “Or he'll sue me."

  "Either way, you'll have his attention and then we can confront him. It would have been a lot easier if Houdini had fallen for the photograph. Apparently, I'm not his type, since one of his bodyguards showed up at my hotel instead."

  I remember that photo and how little she was wearing in it. I'm not exactly happy about it being passed around by a bunch of hired thugs. "You didn't tell me anyone came to your hotel."

  Another shrug. "I slammed the door in his face when I saw it wasn't Houdini."

  "And you’re sure he's using a CHRONOS key?”

  “I know what I saw, Kiernan. There was a bright blue glow—exactly the shade of light I see from the key—coming from behind the curtain when I saw him in New York and again in London. He has a medallion."

  "And as you noted, he also has bodyguards. I don't think he's going to cheerfully hand over the medallion just because we ask nicely. It's how he makes his living."

  "We'll think of something," Kate says. "He doesn't like people who trick others using fake religion, so I doubt he'll approve of the Cyrists. Right now, you just need to focus on getting the job. The flyer I left with his booking agent in New York will get his attention.”

  "You left the flyer? I haven't even auditioned yet!"

  She nudges my face toward hers. “You'll get the job, Kier. You're good. I don’t mean the disappearing. That’s just the CHRONOS key. But the other stuff—you've been doing those tricks for ages. You’re really good with your hands.”

  When she catches my expression, she kicks me, not exactly gently, on the shin.

  “I didn’t mean that kind of good.”

  That she can still blush this far into our relationship strikes me as incredibly sexy. If I don't pull my thoughts back into line, however, I'll never get to the trolley on time. I walk my fingers down the side of her leg like a spider. “How about I give you a personal demonstration of that kind of good when I'm done? You’ll be here, right?”

  I immediately wish I hadn’t asked that, because her smile fades. I've reminded her of where else she should be. Of where she doesn't want to be. And why.

  “I’ll be here,” she says, her eyes narrowing. “But I’m going to go and have this out with Katherine while you’re gone. While I’m still really, really angry.”

  "You're tired, love. Why don't you get some more sleep first? Katherine will still be there, and I'm certain you'll still be really, really angry six or seven hours from now."

  Kate cried for ages last night, before collapsing, exhausted, into bed. I’m glad she didn’t go directly home, because I'd give solid odds that she'd have slugged her own grandmother. That’s frowned upon in 1905, so I’m guessing it's doubly true in her time, when people don’t even smack misbehaving kids on the bottom. And Kate would have regretted it later, even if she doesn’t believe that right now. What happened in 1938 wasn’t Katherine’s fault. Not really.

  I glance at the display on her phone and realize I’ll have to run to reach the station on time. And yes, I could jump back twenty minutes and avoid rushing, but I'd rather not push my limits with the medallion. Who knows how many times Easley might want to see my finale before making a decision?

  I cross over to the mirror and pull a comb through my hair, still damp from the shower. It's several inches too long for the current fashion and I'd planned to ask Kate to cut it last night. Scissors, tears, and anger are a dangerous combination, however. Even if I wasn't the person who'd made her angry.

  Kate is behind me in the mirror, sitting cross-legged on the bed, watching me. The gold ring on her finger catches the glow from the lamp. It's been over a month, and I still feel a sense of wonder each time I see it.

  "I can trim the back if you want."

  This is a major concession coming from her, since I know she prefers my hair long. But I shake my head.

  "No time. Surely the manager will cut some slack for a magician so highly recommended by the Great Houdini? I'll just say this is the style in Europe."

  She smiles and walks over to me, taking the comb from my hand. "It's not. I was there three days ago," she says, reaching up to neaten the back. "They're wearing it long on top, short on the bottom, just like all of the guys over here. So boring—no allowance at all for individual taste."

  Her bottom lip juts forward in a little pout as I turn toward her. I plant a soft kiss there. "Stay here, Kate. Okay? If you come back upset like last night, I don't want you to be alone."

  Tears fill her eyes again. "I'm sorry I was such a mess, Kier. If you'd seen his body, you'd understand. And I could have stopped it. I should have stopped it. I should go back right now and stop it no matt
er what Katherine says. I'm not bound by stupid CHRONOS regulations and this is just so wrong…"

  I wipe a tear away from her cheek and pull her close. "Wait here for me. If you think it will help, I'll go back with you and we'll both talk to Katherine. Or if you really have to go, wait and come back after the audition's over. I shouldn't be later than seven…maybe seven-thirty."

  She nods, then picks up my bag from the chair and hands it to me. "No promises except that I'll be here for the next hour so I can free you. If you jump back later than that, you may have to hold the keys in your teeth."

  "No, I'll just come back even earlier and unlock them myself."

  "Good luck dealing with the headache from juggling two different realities in your mind. Have you tried that?"

  "It would still be better than being stuck in four sets of cuffs." Not that I mean it. I'd probably stay in the cuffs until she came back. Jumps are tough enough for me. The fact that Kate avoids encountering previous versions of herself, when everything else about time travel is so damned easy for her, is ample reason for me to steer clear at all costs. And I've seen firsthand what it's done to Prudence.

  "I'll be here," Kate says, giving me a final kiss. "Now go or you'll be late. I love you. Break a leg. And don't mention the Scottish play."

  I laugh. "Do magicians have the same set of superstitions as theater actors? Maybe I should change my name to the Amazing Macbeth for an added touch of danger?"

  "Don't you dare. The Cyrists and CHRONOS have brought us enough bad luck and danger without you inviting extra. And the name has to be Boudini to make sure we piss him off enough to track you down."

  As I open the door to the hallway, Kate crawls back into bed, curling herself around my pillow. An unexplained sense of dread washes over me and I'm tempted to stay, but it's probably only stage fright. If you'd told me a week ago I'd be heading to an audition of any sort, I'd have laughed.

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