Three days to never a no.., p.7
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       Three Days to Never: A Novel, p.7

           Tim Powers

  The instruction was mostly done in a windowless trailer that was driven from place to place throughout the day, perhaps at random; five other students, all males of about his own age, sat with him at a bolted-down trestle table that ran the length of the trailer, and the twenty-one-year-old Lepidopt was soon able to take readable notes with his left hand, even when the truck braked or turned unexpectedly. The students seldom had the same instructor twice, but Lepidopt was surprised that each instructor was a tanned, fit-looking man of obviously military bearing, in spite of the anonymous suits and ties they all wore.

  He would have expected bent old scholars, or disheveled fanatics—for the texts the students analyzed were spiral-bound photocopies of old Hebrew mystical books. Some had titles—Sepher Yezirah, Raza Rabba—but others just bore headings like British Museum Ms. 784 or Ashesegnen xvii or Leipzig Ms. 40d.

  Often when the texts were in Hebrew they had to be copied out in the student’s handwriting before they could be read aloud, and in those cases the students had also had to fast for twenty-four hours before beginning, and make sure to write each letter of the text so that it touched no other letter; and often the lectures were delivered in whispers—though surely there could have been no risk of being overheard.

  The texts had largely been antique natural histories with interesting but outlandish theories, such as Zeno’s paradoxes that appeared to show that physical motion was impossible; but Lepidopt had been surprised to see that the fourteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero, in his book Pardes Rimmonim, had defined lasers while describing God and the amplified light that connects Him with His ten emanations; and that the succession of these emanations, or sephirot, seemed to be a stylized but clear presentation of the Big Bang theory; and that these medieval mystics apparently knew that matter was a condensed form of energy.

  It had seemed to young Lepidopt that the instructors emphasized these things a bit defensively, in order to lend some frail plausibility to the wilder things in the texts.

  Those wilder things began to have a stark, firsthand plausibility on the day when the students were taken in several jeeps out to some ruins in the desert north of Ramle—and that night in his own room, having pulled the curtains closed to block the view of the night sky, Lepidopt had wondered what sort of action the Fourth Battalion would have been faced with in the Sinai desert, at the Rephidim stone, if the orders had not been changed.

  The instructor that day had been a deeply tanned, gray-haired old fellow with eyes as pale as spit; he had taken them into the wilderness to show them a thing that he claimed was “one of the Aeons”—specifically the Babylonian air devil Pazuzu.

  Far out in the desert, half an hour’s steep hike from where they had had to park the jeeps, the students and the instructor had finally stood at noon in a shadeless, yards-wide summit ring of carved, weathered stones under an empty sky, and the old instructor had meditated for a while and then pressed his right hand on to an indentation in one of the stones—and then they were reeling with vertigo in the center of a clanging whirlwind, but it had palpably been a living, sentient whirlwind; and young Lepidopt had known in his spine and his viscera that it was the world that was spinning, and the alien creature, the Aeon Pazuzu, that was holding still. In comparison to it, nothing he had ever encountered had been motionless.

  Nothing else in the training had been as dramatic as that, but some things had been more upsetting—as when the students had been trained in astral projection. On the several occasions when Lepidopt’s consciousness had hung in the air, looking down at his own slack body on a couch, he had always been afraid that he would be spun away into the whirling honeycomb of the world and never find his way back to his physical body. Every time he had pulled himself back into his body, sliding into it as if he were inching into a tight sleeping bag, it had been with a profound sense of relief and a resolution never to leave it again.

  There had always been afternoon prayers in the truck, and evening ones if the lessons went on that long, but the Psalms all seemed to Lepidopt to have been chosen for their apologetic or resentful tone.

  Lepidopt realized he’d been staring across the table at Glatzer’s collapsed body. He stood up and crossed to the wide front window, and leaned his forehead against the curtained glass, idly listening to the faint music audible from the speaker taped against the windowpane—it was the new U2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

  Neither have I, Lepidopt thought. We seem to be very close now, but I wonder if I’ll live to find the…the technique, the technology, the breakthrough that Isser Harel has been searching for ever since learning of a nameless little boy who appeared in England in 1935 long enough to leave impossible fingerprints on a water glass.

  It had opened up a whole new direction of scientific inquiry. Isser Harel had kept it very secret, but perhaps not everyone else involved had been as discreet.

  The Iraqis had been pursuing research in the same direction in the late 1970s; and Lepidopt, working with a Halomot team on a war-surplus destroyer in the Persian Gulf in ’79, had detected the Iraqi research station at Al-Tuweitha, a few miles southwest of Baghdad. The world thought it was simply an Iraqi nuclear reactor that Israeli F-16s bombed to rubble in June 1981; only Menachem Begin and a few agents in the Halomot—and Saddam Hussein and his top advisors—had known what sort of device the Iraqis had been trying to build behind the cover of installing the French-built Tammuz reactor.

  How odd, he thought, that Moslems could even get close! Had they studied the Hebrew Kabbalah?

  The intelligence services of several countries seemed to be aware of the new possibility, just as they had vaguely known of “the uranium bomb” in the early ’40s; in 1975 the Soviet premier Brezhnev had asked for an international ban on weapons “more terrible” than any the world had yet seen.

  But it had been a Jew who discovered this thing, twenty years before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948; and in the text of the second-century Zohar was the passage, At the present time this door remains unknown because Israel is in exile; and therefore all the other doors are removed from them, so that they cannot know or commune; but when Israel will return from exile, all the supernal grades are destined to rest harmoniously upon this one. Then men will obtain a knowledge of the precious supernal wisdom of which hitherto they knew not.

  And Israel wasn’t in exile anymore.

  It’s all been one war for me, Lepidopt thought—and he made a narrow fist with the thumb and three fingers of his misshapen right hand.

  Bozzaris had said something to him. Lepidopt looked up. “What?”

  “I said the dead woman on Mount Shasta was definitely the woman known as Lisa Marrity. I got my sayan on the phone, and I had him call police departments in L.A. and Shasta and ask about a Lisa Marrity, with two rs. The guy just called back—a hospital in Shasta pronounced her dead at 12:20 this afternoon. Driver’s license says she was born in 1902 and lived at 204 Batsford Street in Pasadena. The Siskiyou County sheriff wants to look into it—it may have been suicide, since she had hardly anything but a note on her with next-of-kin phone numbers—which my man got and passed on to us, yes!—and witnesses say there was a big gold swastika on the grass under her body, made out of gold wire, just like Sam saw at noon. Real gold, they claim, though it was all gone by the time the cops got there.”

  “Some hippies,” said Lepidopt, echoing what poor old Sam had said. He got to his feet. “Airline tickets, gas receipts?”

  “None, and no keys at all, and no cash or credit cards at all. And she was barefoot, like Sam said, no shoes anywhere near her. Way up a hiking trail, and no cuts on her feet.”

  “Huh. So who are these next of kin?”

  “A Frank Marrity—two rs—and a Moira Bradley. Frank’s in the 909 area code, that’s an hour east of Pasadena, and Moira’s 818, which is Pasadena.”

  Bozzaris was in the kitchen with the Pasadena telephone directory. “Bradley,” he read, “Bennett and Mo
ira, as in ‘Uncle Bennett,’ note. 106 Almaraz Street. We haven’t got any 909 directories here.”

  “Yes, that’s got to be the ‘Uncle Bennett’ that Sam caught a reference to,” said Lepidopt. “Right before ‘pulled the tombstone down.’ Get your sayan to look up Frank Marrity. And then you can take Sam to Pershing Square. Don’t forget to take off the holograph talisman.”

  “I won’t. But you’d better get Tel Aviv to send us another remote viewer to hang it on.”

  “Yes. Won’t be as good as poor old Sam, I’m sure. I’ll send Admoni an e-mail tonight.” He wasn’t looking forward to sending the report—the Mossad strongly disapproved of letting sayanim get hurt, much less killed; still, Glatzer had been in his seventies, and a heart attack had never been unlikely. “What’s our safe-house situation like in the 909 area?”

  “The two apartments are still stocked and paid up, in San Bernardino and Riverside,” said Malk. “But for this kind of work your best bet is—”

  “I know,” said Lepidopt. “The tepee place.”

  “The Wigwam Motel on Route 66, right.”

  “Book us a room. A tepee. A wigwam.”

  I’ll start with Frank Marrity, Lepidopt thought. He’s almost certainly the guy Glatzer was reading this afternoon, the guy with the little girl.


  Huck Finn is told by Huck Finn himself, from his point of view.”

  Suddenly unwilling to read whatever sentence might follow that first one, Frank Marrity let the Blue Book test pamphlet fall into his lap. The stack of similar Blue Books stood on the table beside him, but he had just this moment decided to call in sick tomorrow, so they didn’t depress him nearly as much as they had when he had sat down.

  He was in the uphill living room, in a chair by the cold fireplace, and Daphne was asleep on the couch in front of the uphill TV set. She had drifted off during Mary Poppins, and he had turned the set off. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully, and he was reluctant to wake her.

  He tamped his pipe and puffed a cloud of smoke toward the set of Dickens on the mantel. His hands weren’t trembling now, but he still felt sick to his stomach.

  Poltergeist? he thought, allowing the morbid, impossible thought to surface again. It must—actually—have been a poltergeist! A girl in her teens—well, close enough—and sudden breakages or fires in the house when she was emotionally stressed. Are there child psychologists who specialize in…poltergeistery? Maybe it was a one-shot thing, maybe it will have worn off by morning. We’ll be able to forget about the whole thing.

  One of the cats, a tailless black-and-gray male, was clawing the back of the couch, which was already hanging in tatters from the previous attentions of the cats. “No no, Chaz,” said Marrity absently, saying what Daphne always told the cats, “we don’t do that. We’ve talked about it, remember?”

  What the hell kind of movie did Grammar leave lying around, anyway, driving little kids nuts? But apparently Grammar did mean to burn it. She would never knowingly hurt a child. Would never have.

  Marrity didn’t want to use the word poltergeist in Daphne’s hearing, since she had seen the Steven Spielberg movie with that title. The little girl in that movie had been contacted by some kind of ghosts through a television screen, and he didn’t want Daphne to develop a phobia about TV sets.

  His Encyclopedia Britannica—admittedly a set published in 1951—seemed to take poltergeist phenomena seriously. In the article on psychical research he had also read the section on telepathy and clairvoyance, but though the writer of the article seemed credulous of these things too, there was no mention of the sort of psychic link he and Daphne had.

  Their link had shown up in the two years since Lucy’s death, but until today it had alternated between them—for a week or so he would be able to catch occasional thoughts of Daphne’s, and then the ability would fade out, and a month later Daphne would be able to see some of his thoughts for six to ten days. Maybe the no-telepathy periods had been getting longer, the alternating telepathic periods getting closer together, until now they had actually overlapped. Would they stop, now, after having finally occurred together? He hoped so, even though he was glad he and Daphne had been linked this afternoon, when the fires had started.

  At dinner Daphne hadn’t eaten much of her chili con carne. Twice she had choked, as if she was having difficulty swallowing; but he had caught an image from her thoughts—a brief glimpse of somebody spooning out brains from a broken bald head with a splayed crown on it, seen in black and white and therefore obviously from the damned movie she had watched—and he had not asked her to say what was wrong. Maybe he should have.

  More strongly than he had in a long time, he wished that Lucy had not died, leaving Daphne and him adrift. Even two parents were hardly enough to raise a child. He remembered a passage from Chesterton: “Although this child is much better than I, yet I must teach it. Although this being has much purer passions than I, yet I must control it.”

  Daphne’s fingernails were always bitten down to the quick; for these last two years, anyway.

  I do my best, he thought, trying the phrase on; and then he wondered how often he really did do his best, and for how long at a time.

  Since he wouldn’t be setting the alarm clock for tomorrow, he poured more Scotch into his glass, though the ice had long since melted. He wouldn’t be paid for tomorrow either.

  But there’s gold under the bricks in Grammar’s shed, he thought. Possibly.

  Gold, which Grammar could have expected to survive the shed burning down; and some kind of movie, and some letters, which would reliably have been destroyed. Well, the movie was now burned up.

  There had been a message on the telephone answering machine from Mercy Medical Center in Shasta when he and Daphne had got home; he had called them back, and they had confirmed that Grammar had died on Mount Shasta at about noon.

  He took a sip of the lukewarm whisky, grateful for the full-orchestra burn of it in his throat, and then reached into his inside jacket pocket and carefully drew out the sheaf of letters that he had taken from the ammunition box in Grammar’s shed. Some flecks of broken old brown paper fell onto the Blue Book on his lap, and he brushed them and the booklet off onto the rug. The letters smelled of gasoline, and he laid his pipe carefully in the ashtray.

  The first envelope he looked into was postmarked June 10, 1933, from Oxford, but the letter inside was handwritten in German, and Marrity was only able to puzzle out the salutation—Meine liebe Tochter, which clearly meant “my dear daughter,” and the signature, Peccavit, which he believed was Latin for “I have sinned.”

  He flipped through the stack, poking his fingers into the envelopes to find one of the English-language letters he recalled seeing in the shed, and pulled free the first one he found.

  The postmark was Princeton, New Jersey, August 2, 1939; the printed return address on the envelope was Fuld Hall, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study; and under it, in pencil, someone had scrawled Einstein Rm. 215.

  Marrity paused. Had Albert Einstein written Grammar a letter? That would be worth something!

  Hoping it might be from Einstein, and hoping that a couple of others in the batch might be too, he carefully unfolded the yellowed letter. It was typed, and addressed to “Miranda,” though the addressee on the envelope was Lisa Marrity.

  My dear Miranda, Marrity read, I have sent today a Letter to the King of Naples, advising him of the ominous Behavior of Antonio, and advising him to busy himself in acquiring pre-emptively for Naples the Power toward which Antonio is looking.

  Marrity recognized these names—Miranda was the daughter of the magician Prospero in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, and Antonio was Prospero’s treacherous brother who had usurped the dukedom of Milan and driven Prospero and his daughter into exile.

  Grammar had called her father Prospero.

  I did not mention the other Power, the letter went on, and did not the Caliban who is now your chaste Incubus. (And whose Fault?) I can assist Naple
s with the First, but I will work only to conceal and obliterate all Records of the Other. I’ll break my Staff, and bury it certain Fathoms in the Earth, and deeper than did ever Plummet sound I’ll drown my Book.

  Caliban was an inhuman monster in the Shakespeare play, and the break my Staff sentence was a verbatim quote from the Prospero character.

  The letter ended with, And you should do the Same also. Forgive yourself about 1933, and then forget even what it was you did. Starve Caliban with Inattention. I should never have given him Shelter—I’ve learned my lesson, not to interfere with Suicides! Twice the Interfering has made Disasters, and so I must somehow have the Palm Springs Singularity to be destroyed. And you must burn the verdammter Kaleidoscope Shed!

  Marrity actually lowered the age-yellowed letter and looked around the dim corners of the room, as if this were a trick being played on him.

  Then he looked back at the sheet of old paper. The letter was signed Peccavit, in the same hand as the first letter he’d looked at.

  Was this Peccavit Grammar’s father? And was he Albert Einstein? Were all these letters from him?

  Marrity realized glumly that he couldn’t believe it. It was inconceivable that Albert Einstein could know about the shed he and Moira had played in as children. There were any number of plausible reasons why someone might write Einstein on an envelope.

  But hadn’t Einstein taught at Princeton?

  Marrity flipped through the stack again, peeking into the envelopes, and saw another in English. He carefully drew the letter out of the envelope—which was plain, postmarked Princeton, New Jersey, April 15, 1955. The letter was handwritten, in the same difficult scrawl as the Peccavit signatures.

  My dear Daughter, Marrity managed to puzzle out, Derek was here—did you know?


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