Three days to never a no.., p.16
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       Three Days to Never: A Novel, p.16

           Tim Powers
 

  “Okay. Does he believe his daughter’s in big danger, and that you can save her?”

  “Partly. Mostly.”

  “Odd that he wouldn’t give you the letters right away. Why does he want to make copies of them?”

  “So he can sell the originals, I imagine,” said Lepidopt. If it were my son who was in danger, he thought, I would not be thinking first of making money from selling the Einstein letters.

  It’s afternoon in Tel Aviv right now, he thought; Louis is probably with Deborah, maybe having lunch. If I were there he would want to go to Burger Ranch for lunch, and get one of those disgusting Spanish burgers, with the watery tomato sauce on it.

  Lepidopt remembered riding on the old Vespa scooter with Louis through the quiet evening streets of Tel Aviv, stopping to feed the many stray cats and watch lights come on behind the shutters and awnings and planter boxes that residents had hung all over the balconies of the 1920s Bauhaus apartment buildings, breaking up and humanizing the once stark architectural lines.

  He pushed the tormenting thoughts away.

  Lepidopt and Malk and Bozzaris were in one of the tepee rooms of the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, on what had been Route 66 until two years ago but was only Foothill Boulevard now. The neighborhood, right across the highway from the train yards and the towering Santa Fe smokestack, had already begun to deteriorate. Luckily the Wigwam Motel was still in business—nineteen conical cement tepees arranged irregularly across three weedy acres, each tepee twenty feet tall and painted white with a pastel zigzag line around the middle. To see their cars, Lepidopt would have to get down on his hands and knees and peer out through one of the two diamond-shaped windows.

  The safe-house apartments were more conveniently located, and had garages and closets, and were certainly much bigger, but these concrete tepees, with steel-pipe “lodge poles” crossed at the narrow top, had the virtue of being largely free of right angles—a hostile remote viewer would find it difficult to get preliminary reference bearings.

  And Lepidopt was in no danger from telephones in nearby rooms!

  “My sayan is dead,” said Bozzaris harshly, hanging up the telephone. “The detective in San Diego. The police down there found his body an hour ago. Apparently he was tortured.”

  Lepidopt’s face was cold. Another sayan dead, he thought. “How could our, our adversaries have found out about him?” he asked.

  “He called the LAPD about Lisa Marrity yesterday,” said Bozzaris. “And then he called the hospital in Shasta. Probably the adversaries were monitoring calls to the hospital. Fuck.” He was still crouched beside the telephone, his head lowered and a lock of his black hair hanging across his face.

  Malk shifted in his chair at the little table. “You figure the ‘adversaries’ is the crowd with the dark-haired sunglasses girl?”

  “For now I figure that.” Lepidopt stood up from the bed and leaned against the slanted wall beside the front door. He dug a pack of Camels out of his pocket and shook one loose. “And clearly they’re not just Einstein scholars, or Charlie Chaplin fans. We should have roped in the old guy in the Rambler when we had the chance. They’re likely to get him next, whoever he is.” He struck a match and puffed rapidly on the cigarette.

  Two sayanim dead, he thought. Sam Glatzer was a heart attack, but this one sounds like plain execution. Tel Aviv would not be pleased—sayanim were sacrosanct. There would have to be retribution for this.

  “Bert,” said Bozzaris, straightening up and stepping away from the wall to stretch, “at the Italian restaurant, you did pick up those two beer bottles from the old man’s table, right? The Rambler guy?”

  “Yes,” said Malk.

  “Then Frank Marrity must have approached him in the restaurant, shortly after he and his daughter arrived. The fingerprints on the bottles are all Frank Marrity’s.”

  Lepidopt could feel the skin tighten on his face. He exhaled a stream of smoke, and then said, “For sure?”

  Lepidopt’s voice had been strained, and Bozzaris stared at him curiously. “Yes.”

  “Bert,” said Lepidopt, feeling again the tension he had felt in the wrecked lobby of the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem, on the night before they had besieged the Lion’s Gate in June 1967, twenty years ago now. “You’ve got your half of the orders?”

  Malk looked startled. “Yes.”

  “Haul it out.” He dug a set of car keys from his pocket and tossed them to Bozzaris. “Ernie, get the can of Play-Doh out of my car.”

  Bozzaris also looked disconcerted, but only said, “Right, Oren.”

  “Tel Aviv told us not to do anything,” said Malk as Bozzaris unbolted the door and stepped outside, letting in a lot of chilly night air that smelled faintly of sagebrush and diesel exhaust. Lepidopt could briefly see a diamond-shaped lozenge of yellow light from a tepee in the middle distance. “That would include reading those orders now.”

  “This supersedes what Tel Aviv said.” And I’m glad it does, Lepidopt thought; I want to see what we’re supposed to do, before the arrival of the Prague katsa, who outranks me.

  “What, all our sayanim dying?”

  “That too.”

  “Does Tel Aviv know about your ‘never again’ premonitions?”

  Malk and Bozzaris hadn’t known, until the necessity of insulating himself from all telephone bells had made Lepidopt explain it to them.

  And I must not hear the name of the actor who starred in True Grit. Don’t say it!

  For members of the Halomot branch of the Mossad, they had seemed very skeptical.

  “Yes,” Lepidopt answered. Tel Aviv took it seriously, he thought. Now Admoni probably intends this new katsa to replace me, if he didn’t intend that already.

  Lepidopt heard a car trunk slam shut, and then Bozzaris hurried back inside and closed and bolted the door. In his hand was a yellow can of Play-Doh with a blue plastic lid.

  “Don’t open it yet,” Lepidopt told him, “it starts to dry out pretty quick.” He reached into his shirt and pulled up the inch-wide steel cylinder that he always wore on a cord around his neck, while Malk was doing the same. Each of the cylinders was lathed to resemble a stack of disks, with the gaps between each precisely as wide as the disks, and the edges of the disks were visibly engraved with tiny figures.

  Lepidopt held out his hand for Malk’s, and Malk lifted the chain off over his head and stood up to pass it across to him.

  “This is premature,” said Malk.

  Lepidopt shook his head decisively. “Should have done it Sunday.”

  He held the two cylinders up next to each other, with their top and bottom faces exactly parallel—the disk edges of one precisely matched the grooves of the other, and it looked as if he could have pushed them together to some extent, like meshing two combs.

  “The engineering branch seems capable of precision machining, anyway,” Lepidopt said. “Let’s hope they remembered to do the text in mirror image.” He pulled the cord off over his head, untied the knot in it, and slid it out through the ring in the top of the cylinder.

  Malk had sat down again and was lighting a cigarette of his own, with shaky fingers. “Even if they didn’t,” he said impatiently, “there’s a mirror in the bathroom.”

  “True, true. Okay, Ernie,” Lepidopt told Bozzaris as he unsnapped the chain on Malk’s cylinder and drew it free of the ring, “open the can and roll me out a flat sheet of the stuff.”

  As Bozzaris was prying open the can’s lid, Malk asked, “What’s the movie, that the girl watched? That made her burn up the VCR?”

  “Almost certainly it’s a thing called A Woman of the Sea,” said Lepidopt, “filmed in 1926 by Josef von Sternberg. There were a couple of versions, and this would be the one edited by Charlie Chaplin, with scenes Chaplin shot. The brain-eating bit is supposed to have been only implied, subliminally. This Daphne is obviously a sensitive girl; and tough—I wouldn’t want to watch it.” He looked at Malk and shrugged. “And I guess I won’t. It was never shown in the
aters, and Chaplin burned all the prints and negatives in ’33, on June 21, the first day of summer. Three years ago there were still two people living who had seen the film, but Paul Ivano died in ’84, and Georgia Hale died in ’85.”

  “Obviously Chaplin didn’t burn every copy,” said Malk.

  “True. This was certainly his own copy, secretly kept in spite of Einstein’s advice.”

  Bozzaris blinked at him. “Einstein said burn ’em all?”

  “Right,” said Lepidopt. “This one was buried with Chaplin, but Lieserl got it anyhow. You remember Marrity said she went to Switzerland after Chaplin died. I’m sure it’s gone for good now, though—Chaplin would have destroyed the original film reels when he’d got it transferred onto VHS tape.”

  “Dangerous thing to leave lying around, apparently,” said Malk.

  “Very.”

  Malk spread his hands. “So what’s it…good for? What was it good for?”

  Lepidopt stared from fortyish Malk to late-twenties Bozzaris. Twentieth-century men, he thought; Jews, at least, so they know about more centuries and perspectives and philosophies than just the local ones they were born into, but still men who grew up swimming in the complacent default assumptions of the twentieth century.

  “You’re Halomot,” he reminded them. “Call to mind your training, call to mind some of the things you’ve seen.”

  Bozzaris grinned. “We expect it to be weird.”

  Lepidopt nodded, frowning. “Chaplin meant it to be a device that would let a person travel in space-time. It’s not, quite, just by itself, but it apparently turns out to be—to have been—a useful component of such a device. Like a catapult to help get jets up to speed coming off an aircraft carrier. The movie by itself would get you up to speed but wouldn’t provide an airplane. It—”

  “Is that like a time machine?” interrupted Bozzaris.

  “The complete device that Lieserl had would be more than that. But yes, it would be a time machine too.”

  There was no expression on Bozzaris’s face. “You mean like so a person could go into the future or the past.”

  “Yes,” said Lepidopt levelly, “and change things. In 1928 Einstein built the prototype, which could only travel up and down, to points in the operator’s future and past, not sideways to points outside of his future and past. And it was primitive—apparently Einstein almost killed himself when he used it in 1928—but over the years Lieserl added expansions and improvements, some of which were apparently provided by the movie. The Chinese Theater slab was probably a supplemental component of it too.”

  Malk nodded and waved his hand for Lepidopt to continue.

  “Chaplin,” Lepidopt went on, “apparently meant the movie to be a working time machine all by itself, just like he did with his later movie, City Lights. He had noticed that movies could evoke tangible energies out of the psyches of their audiences, and in these two movies he tried to direct those energies. He met Einstein in January of ’31, and attended some séances with him, and when Chaplin went to London later in ’31 he stood up the prime minister—a dinner to be given in Chaplin’s honor at the House of Commons—to run to Berlin and confer with Einstein again. It seems that Einstein didn’t so much say it couldn’t be done as that it would be a very bad idea.”

  “Why did Chaplin want a time machine?” asked Bozzaris.

  Lepidopt pursed his lips. “His first son died three days after being born, in 1919. Two weeks later Chaplin started shooting the movie The Kid, in which his Tramp character has adopted an orphan boy who the authorities are trying to take away from him. But apparently that…vicarious cinematic resurrection wasn’t enough. Chaplin wanted to go back and—somehow—save his actual son.”

  Bozzaris had used a water glass to roll a chunk of the blue Play-Doh into a sheet on the tabletop. “Ready for you here.” He looked up and frowned. “Wasn’t Chaplin’s body dug up again, and held for ransom?”

  “Yes,” said Lepidopt, stepping away from the wall. “By two idiots who wanted money to open a garage. They were caught, and Chaplin’s coffin was restored to the Vevey Cemetery, but the police never caught the woman who had coerced the two men into it, and of course she got away with the videocassette that had been in the coffin.”

  Malk frowned at the sheet of Play-Doh. “If the movie and the footprint slab are improvements Lieserl added,” he said, “what’s the basic engine?”

  Bozzaris got up from the table, and Lepidopt sat down in his chair, across from Malk.

  “It’s a machine,” Lepidopt said absently, hefting the cylinders, “small enough to fit into a suitcase, apparently. Einstein referred to it as his maschinchen, little machine, and from his papers we gather that part of its function—God knows why—is to measure very tiny voltages. Whatever it is, I think it’s in Newport Beach, or was, on Sunday. Tomorrow at dawn Ernie and I will go look for it.”

  “The cab,” said Malk. “The card.”

  Lepidopt smiled and nodded. “Right. I called the cab company and pretended to be LAPD, aiming to find out which airport Lieserl went to, which airline. But the cabdriver reported taking an old woman with one suitcase to Newport Beach, not to any airport. Balboa and Twenty-first, right by the Newport Pier. It may still be there, some pieces of it anyway, these thirty-six hours later.”

  “That’s this morning,” said Bozzaris.

  “Young people don’t need much sleep,” said Lepidopt absently.

  Now, carefully, he pressed one of the cylinders into the soft blue surface of the Play-Doh, and then he rolled it slowly away from him, maintaining the pressure. After he had rolled it across four inches, he lifted it away—imprinted on the blue surface now were five sunken bands, with fragments of raised letters visible in them. Then he lined up the other cylinder and just as carefully rolled it across the same area, and its disk edges imprinted the raised lines that had been left untouched by the first cylinder.

  When he lifted the second cylinder away, the Play-Doh showed a one-by-four-inch impression with tiny raised characters on it; the top rows of figures were repeated at the bottom, for he had rolled out more than one full turn of the cylinders, to make sure he got everything. The figures were Hebrew letters.

  “Do you need a magnifying glass?” asked Bozzaris.

  “Yes,” said Lepidopt, though already, squinting, he had managed to make out the Hebrew characters that spelled “1967” and “Rephidim stone” and “change the past.”

  The Rephidim stone again, he thought. Where Moses struck the rock to get water for the Israelites, in the Sinai desert—the original destination of the 55th Parachute Brigade, during the Six-Day War in 1967, for which we were issued the radiation-film badges that were actually amulets.

  He sighed and flexed his maimed hand. “So get me a magnifying glass, would you, Ernie?” he said.

  ACT TWO

  Ye Shall Not Surely Die

  And he walked in all the sins of his father,

  which he had done before him…

  —1 KINGS 15:3

  Twelve

  Derek Marrity wasn’t going to go near Arrowhead Pediatric Hospital—no, sir—even though he knew that’s where Frank Marrity would be right now.

  He needed to see Frank Marrity one more time, to tell him some things to do—and if Frank paid attention and did even some of what Derek would tell him, it should make the difference between living comfortably, on the one hand, and living in a twenty-four-foot trailer in a chain-link-bordered trailer park, on the other. But tonight would not be the night to approach him about it.

  He rolled his left hand on the steering wheel to look at his watch, then with his right hand pushed the stem to light its face. Nearly 1:30 in the morning. Not a good time to be driving drunk, and with no believable driver’s license, past the empty floodlit lots and the stray dogs and the dark car-repair garages of Base Line Boulevard in San Bernardino.

  The conversation between Daphne and Frank Marrity would have ended at least an hour ago, and Frank Marrity would b
e asleep by now in his truck in the hospital parking lot.

  Derek knew vividly what had taken place at the hospital. Frank Marrity had fallen asleep over Tristram Shandy in a chair in Daphne’s room, but he had awakened when a man peeked in at the door of the room; the man had apologized and walked away down the corridor, but by that time Daphne had been awake too.

  She had been uncommunicative before she’d gone to sleep, presumably woozy from the anesthetic; but now she had seemed alert, and not happy to see her father in the room.

  There was a pad on the desklike table by her bed, Derek knew, and Daphne had written on it, u cut my throat in letters that tore the sheet of paper in a couple of places.

  Frank Marrity, poor doomed soul, had said something like, “I had to, you were choking.” coughing, she wrote. “Daphne,” Marrity had protested, “no, you weren’t coughing, you were choking. You would have died. I love you, I saved your life.” She’d had to tear off the torn sheet of paper to write more, and then she had written: I was OK—u cut my throat—dont want to be alone w u. And of course after he had protested again that he had done it to save her, that he loved her, she had written I hate you.

  At that point, Derek knew, Frank Marrity had stumbled blindly out to his truck and eventually gone to sleep on the seat, with some serious drinking indicated in the near future.

  Probably one gang or the other had put microphones in the hospital room, and taped Marrity’s half of the conversation. Derek Marrity didn’t need to hear a recording of it.

  One pair of taillights shone on the dark highway a hundred yards ahead of him, and in his rearview mirror two swaying headlights were coming up fast. It didn’t look like a police car—probably a drunk. Good, thought Derek as he steered into the slower right-hand lane, any cops who are out here tonight will go after him, and ignore this sedate old Rambler. If it is old. I forget.

 

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