Three days to never a no.., p.15
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       Three Days to Never: A Novel, p.15

           Tim Powers
 

  It was a line from The Tempest—The Tempest again!—and Marrity automatically responded with Prospero’s reply to Caliban: “‘Hence, hagseed!’” The jagged outlines of the figure shifted, so Marrity went on dizzily, “‘Shrugg’st thou, malice? So, slave; hence!’”

  “Schneid mal die Kehle auf,” the thing said, and then its already minimal face sprang apart into random lines.

  The screen went dark—and Marrity backed away from it fast. He suspected that if he could stand on something and feel the top of the television set, it would be cold.

  Or maybe very hot.

  “Exit Caliban,” he said in a whispery exhalation. Then he turned to face the man in the doorway. “What was that?” His voice shook. “And who are you?” He crossed to Daphne’s bed and switched on the fluorescent light over her.

  The man stepped into the room. He was wearing a dark suit and tie, and gray leather gloves, and he appeared to be in his forties. “My name is Eugene Jackson,” he said. “I’m with the National Security Agency.” He was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, apparently impatient.

  Marrity squinted at him. “And what was that cartoon? It was—it was talking to my daughter! What did it mean about the fires? How could it talk to her?” He forced himself to gather his routed thoughts. “National…Do you have some identification?”

  Daphne was clearly wide awake now, clutching the bleach-paled blankets around her shoulders and blinking unhappily at the stranger.

  Yes, it was talking to your daughter.”

  Lepidopt reached into his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a badge wallet and showed Marrity his plastic NSA card; it was the current configuration—not that Marrity would know—with the blue band at the top edge that indicated a field agent, and the pattern of computer punch holes along the left side that would provide a scanner with the name “Eugene Jackson,” and a null identification number.

  He was far, far beyond the bounds of ordinary caution here. This was not how or where he would have preferred to approach Marrity—but when he’d seen the figure on the television screen, he’d had to pull out his earplugs and jump in. He gripped the little rubber plugs in his narrow right fist, aching to screw them back into his ear canals, but he was paying very close attention to the man and the girl.

  Clearly Marrity had not expected the dybbuk on the television, nor anything like it. That was good and bad—it meant Marrity wasn’t committed, but it also meant he didn’t know very much about what he was playing with.

  “What…was it?” asked Marrity.

  Lepidopt pushed the heavy door almost closed, and stood next to it so as not to be seen from the hall. He wished he could close it all the way, and make it impossible for the sounds of the nearest nursing station to reach him. What would happen, in the moment before a ringing telephone would be audible here? Would he simply drop dead of a massive stroke?

  “We’re hoping,” he said, “that you’ll be able to help us figure out what that was. We know it has to do with Peccavit.”

  “Einstein,” said Marrity blankly.

  “Yes, Einstein. And your grandmother, and Charlie Chaplin.”

  Marrity took a deep breath and let it out. “How is it—you’re a government agency, right? Like the FBI? How is this something you’d be involved with?”

  Get what you can here and now, thought Lepidopt. And quick. Marrity won’t leave the girl alone to talk somewhere else, and fortunately he’s only half awake now.

  “Einstein,” Lepidopt said, forcing himself not to speak too quickly, “was involved in paranormal research, contacting the dead. This sounds incredible, I know—but remember that cartoon thing you just saw on the television. He, Einstein, was very secretive about it, but we want to know what he discovered.” Lepidopt waved his free hand. “There are dead people we’d like to interview. And pioneers are careless—Humphrey Davy poisoned himself with fluorine, and Madame Curie killed herself by handling radium. Only later on did people discover precautions that those pioneers should have taken. Einstein exposed himself and his children to”—he glanced at Daphne, who was listening avidly—“to dangers. Your grandmother took a lot of precautions, but it may be that some of the consequences of her father’s work caught up with her yesterday. And we can detect paranormal events; we believe, in fact, that one occurred yesterday afternoon at four-fifteen, in San Bernardino, within a small area that includes your house. Did you experience any kind of”—he waved his gloved fist toward the dark television set in the corner—“intrusion at that time?”

  “Does paranormal mean witchy?” asked Daphne.

  “Yes,” said Lepidopt. He kept his eyes on Daphne, but she was looking at her father.

  Can you,” said Marrity, “make it stop?”

  “If we can reproduce Einstein’s work, I believe we can, yes. We can save—we can make this intrusion stop now, before it—goes any further.”

  Marrity was sure the man was being euphemistic because Daphne was listening. We can save your daughter’s life, he had probably been going to say; or at least, your daughter’s sanity. And before it’s too late.

  “I may have to—leave, abruptly,” Jackson was saying now, and he pulled a business card out of his pants pocket. “Take this, and call us if you think of anything later, or—need anything.”

  Marrity took it—the only thing printed on it on either side was an 800 telephone number. He tucked it into his shirt pocket. “Do you speak German?” Marrity asked.

  “Yes.”

  “What was the German thing the cartoon said, at the end?”

  The NSA man appeared to consider not answering; then he said, “It meant ‘Cut open her throat.’”

  Daphne touched the stitches below her chin. “Again?” she whispered.

  “No,” said Jackson, “that was an echo of something it said this afternoon, when you were choking.”

  “An old woman said it,” said Marrity, “in the restaurant. Were you there? What is all this? Was the old woman that thing on the TV? Tell me what’s going on.”

  “I can’t, until I know what’s gone on. Did you have some kind of intrusion yesterday afternoon?”

  “Yes,” whispered Daphne.

  “Yes,” echoed Marrity. He rubbed his eyes. “Did you have a woman approach me, a couple of hours ago? Primed with…knowledge of my tastes in books and liquor, to question me?”

  “No,” said the NSA man. “Where did this happen?”

  “Outside St. Bernardine’s, the first hospital we were at. She even smoked the same cigarettes I do.”

  “What did she look like?”

  “Audrey Hepburn.” He realized that he was describing her more to Daphne than to Jackson; they had watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s not long ago. “Slender, that is, with dark brown hair in a ponytail. Sunglasses. Burgundy shirt, black jeans. About thirty.”

  “You have a pen and paper,” said Jackson. “Let’s conduct this conversation in writing, shall we?”

  “You mean—not out loud,” said Marrity.

  “Right. I find it’s easier to keep track of topics that way.”

  Marrity was surprised to see Jackson hurriedly twist a pair of earplugs into his ears. But probably they’re miniature spy speakers, he told himself.

  Marrity crossed to Daphne’s table and tore off the top sheet of the pad and put it in his pocket.

  Ten

  Rascasse was snapping the fingers of his free hand as he listened to the scrambler telephone. He stopped in order to put his hand over the mouthpiece and bark at the driver, “Ralentissez, we are too late.” The roaring of the bus’s engine went down in pitch.

  Finally he replaced the receiver in its box. To Golze, he said, “We should have put Charlotte at the second hospital, compromised though she was. Shaved her head and given her a fake mustache. Not wasted her on foolish Bradley.”

  “What happened?”

  “An NSA man, or some fellow claiming to be of the NSA, talked to Marrity and the daughter at the hospital.”
r />   He sighed and dragged his fingers across his scalp, making his close-cropped white hair even spikier. “The dybbuk appeared on the TV set in her chambre, her room,” Rascasse went on, “trying to get her to let it into her mind. The NSA fellow and her father stopped her from consenting. An NSA man, knowing about dybbuks! We’ll be getting a fax of the transcription of their talk, but Marrity mentioned Einstein, and the NSA man gave him a bunch of nonsense about wanting Einstein’s work in order to talk to dead people. He hinted that Marrity’s daughter is in big danger if Marrity doesn’t cooperate.”

  “Well,” said Golze, “she would be.”

  “He’d have dropped the hint in any case, to open Marrity up. And Marrity said he and his daughter experienced some kind of ‘intrusion’ yesterday at four-fifteen, which is precisely when we registered the Chaplin device as having been activated.”

  Rascasse had been looking at Golze, but now Charlotte saw her own face swing into his view. “Then Marrity asked if the NSA had set a woman onto him, primed with his tastes in books and liquor!” He paused, no doubt making some sort of face. “And he gave the fellow a good description of you too. And then the NSA man said they should conduct the rest of their question-and-answer session in writing! All we got was the sound of a pen scratching on paper! Luckily Marrity made the man leave after about five minutes. We should have had you in the room next to the girl’s.”

  “True,” said Charlotte in a level tone. She was one of the very few remote viewers who could read text while looking out of someone else’s eyes—possibly because if she couldn’t read that way, she wouldn’t be able to read anything at all.

  The scrambler phone buzzed, and Rascasse opened the case again and lifted the receiver. After thirty seconds he said, “’Kay.” He replaced the receiver and shut the case.

  “The San Diego detective who called the Shasta hospital yesterday is dead,” he told Golze and Charlotte. “Before he died, our people asked him who told him to track down Lisa Marrity. The detective, who was Jewish, said he was doing a favor for a friend—and under duress admitted that he believed his friend was with the Mossad.”

  Beside Charlotte, Golze gulped audibly. “Then that wasn’t an NSA man in the girl’s hospital room—he didn’t sound like NSA, what with the dybbuk and all.” Behind the disordered tangle of his black hair, his glasses winked in the overhead light. “Could the Mossad be on to us, here, because of the New Jersey branch’s pass at the Tel Aviv mainframe on Saturday?”

  “They’re here for the same reason we are,” said Rascasse. “They want the thing Lieserl Maric had.”

  After a moment of bafflement, Charlotte remembered that Lieserl Maric was Lisa Marrity’s real, Serbian name.

  “We’ve got to get the thing, both pieces of it, and close this down,” said Rascasse. “We’re on alien turf here, our strength is all in Europe. This is still Einstein’s defended exile island. Tomorrow,” he said, staring at Charlotte so that she had a good view of her own face, “early morning, you kill Marrity. Gunshot.”

  Charlotte watched her eyebrows and mouth, keeping them in straight lines.

  “He’s the Mossad’s source now,” Rascasse went on, “and we don’t want them to get any more out of him than they did tonight. This will isolate the daughter, and we might be able to work on her with help from the dybbuk and our tête friend in the cabinet.”

  Her face swung out of Rascasse’s view as he looked out the window at cars in other lanes. “You’ve been due to kill someone for a while, you know, Charlotte,” Rascasse went on, not unkindly. “Can’t get favors from the Devil unless you do some favors for him.”

  “Okay,” she said flatly. She thought about her younger self, the pre-1978 Charlotte who could still see. I have done nothing but in care of thee, she thought forlornly.

  “Paul,” Rascasse went on to Golze, “tell the field men to bring in that old man who has been driving the green Rambler. He hasn’t done anything worth watching yet, but we need to prevent the Mossad from getting hold of him too. And I think we need to take another look at the Einstein cluster on the freeway.”

  Charlotte was estimating how many steps it would take her to get to her coat and purse at the back of the bus, and the bottle of Wild Turkey.

  “The freeway” was the Vespers term for the five-dimensional state outside of time, the region where the ghosts existed and where a person’s whole lifetime could supposedly be seen as something like a long rope curling through a vacuum abyss; though sometimes they described the lifetimes as sparks arcing across a vast gap, or as standing waves ringing some inconceivable nucleus.

  From any point on a person’s lifeline, such as right now, the person’s future was contained in an invisible cone expanding away forward in time. Like everybody, the Vespers could largely control their futures; but Charlotte knew that they hoped to work in the other direction too, so that even their pasts would be expanding cones of changeable possibilities, opening out backward.

  Charlotte needed it to be true.

  They were hardly the first natural philosophers to hope to do this—the Holy Grail was a picture of their ambition: a chalice made of two opposite-facing cones, one opening upward and the other opening downward.

  Already they could project their astral awarenesses “onto the freeway,” out into the bigger space of the fifth dimension, but they could only hang in one place out there and look around. They couldn’t do anything that could by analogy be called moving. And they could do even just this much only by summoning the beings that existed in that region, and…paying them.

  With the device Lieserl Maric had possessed, they believed they would be able to travel through the fifth dimension, into the past and the future—and they would probably be able to dispense with the diabolical escorts.

  And they would be able to change the past, with surgical precision.

  Right now the Vespers were pretty sure they knew how to “short out” a person’s lifeline, how to make someone never have existed. Einstein had supposedly left a device in a tower in Palm Springs that could delete a person’s lifeline from the universe, but among the Vespers it was generally believed that the device had never been used since Einstein created it in 1932.

  They couldn’t be certain, because in the resulting world—the world in which the shorted-out person had never existed—only the person who had performed the “erasure” would have any memory of the erased person or the world that had included him or her. And so far no one had claimed to have done it.

  Charlotte had heard Golze joke about a person known as Nobodaddy, who was evidently the mythical founder of the Vespers. According to the story, at some point the Vespers had shorted out the founder’s lifeline, erasing him from the memories of everyone in the world except the one person who had done the erasure, and leaving the Vespers as an organization that nobody had founded.

  “We should call it a tollway, not the freeway,” said Rascasse through closed teeth. “Fred!” he called to the driver. “Pull over when you see somebody walking alone—tell him you need to know how to get to the 210 freeway. Get the person to come aboard the bus to show you on your map. Charlotte can do a scan to make sure nobody’s watching, and when she says go, we’ll subdue the person.”

  Charlotte could see her own face squarely in the center of Golze’s vision; probably he was smiling at her. “People who would never get in a stranger’s car will get into a bus,” he said. “Everybody trusts bus drivers.”

  Eleven

  What intrusion? yesterday

  my daughter watched a video, an old b&w—I was in other room—reading d’ter’s mind—and the video scared her so bad that she set the VCR & her bedroom on fire. Just with her mind, no matches

  wheres the video from? my grandmother’s house, labeled Pee-wees Big Adv’ture, but only first 5 min were Pee-wee—after, this b&w. Very old movie, a silent—something about a woman eating the brains out of a bald guy’s head

  by the ocean?

  Dunno—ask her?

/>   later—video where now?

  burned up

  G’mother Lisa Marrity?

  yes

  what did she know about Einstein?

  he was her father. She had letters from him letters where now? stashed. I cn make copies need them now. tomorrow. Bank safe deposit

  What d u know about Einstein & yr g’mother? & Chaplin?

  Einstein, nada, she ne’r mentioned him. Said she knew Chap in 30s, went t Switzerland in 77 after he died

  G’ma ever refer to electric machine she &/or Einstein made?

  No

  Where was yr g’mother last, in Calif?

  ? Airport, I guess?

  Any certain reason to think so?

  She took cab. Card here. Who was the woman who talked t me?—books, liquor, cig’ts?

  Not sure. Don’t talk to her. Meet tomorrow—here, noon? We’ll compensate for time off work.

  ——ok

  “Well,” said Malk, slapping the sheet of paper onto the wooden table, “he didn’t put those letters in any safe-deposit box. No bank was open yesterday, and we followed him all day today.”

  “We followed him yesterday,” said Bozzaris. “It’s Tuesday now.” He was crouched on the floor at the shadowed opposite end of the little twelve-sided motel room, dialing the telephone that was mounted on the low vertical section of the white wall; above elbow height the walls slanted inward to a flat ceiling panel.

  The ringer coil and clapper had been taken out of the telephone, and the two brass bells themselves had been carefully wrapped in tissue paper and stashed in separate places. Lepidopt wasn’t worried about the cellular phone, which Marrity would reach if he called the number on the card Lepidopt had given him—the premonition had palpably been about telephone bells, not the electronic tone of a Motorola cellular phone.

  “The letters must be at his house,” said Malk. “We could go look for them right now.”

  “No,” said Lepidopt, who was sitting on the bed. “There’s a thousand places in that house to hide letters; and he’s being cooperative, considering his crash recruitment. Incidentally, Bert, I want you to go through his trash cans, before dawn, and find that burned-up VCR and videocassette.”

 

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