2 January 2175
“Why do you ask?” said Charles.
George shot Olivia a glance that, clearly enough to Beatrice’s eyes, said I told you so. Then he gave the chair waiting on the subordinate side of Charles’s desk a quick one-handed spin, straddled it backwards—not an easy move with a chair that wanted so urgently to embrace the normal mode of sitting—and put his chin atop his folded hands on its back.
“Because we thought you’d know, boss,” he said.
“Mm,” said Charles. “Let me rephrase that. What made you consider ‘Has Janet done any jumps into the past recently?’ a reasonable question?”
He was honestly flummoxed, Beatrice realized, though of course he was trying not to show it. George sensibly remained silent, and after a few seconds Charles went on.
“Not that I know of. Does that satisfy you?”
“She didn’t make a jump for you while she was in Europe last winter?” said Olivia.
“Not for me, no. Jumping in Europe—”
“Was too dangerous at the time, yes, I know,” interrupted George. He’d experienced the disorientation and pain personally. “We thought with a Frog—”
“No, I was not in secret negotiations with Simone Jardine to… what?” Charles regarded George curiously. “Allow Janet to gain leverage over Rutger Kaufmann by spying on his past? Despite what we first thought of him, the man is boringly aboveboard in his politics, business and science, and hasn’t managed anything particularly sordid in other realms.”
“He stole Bernard’s DNA,” Olivia said. “And Janet’s.”
“And is he intending to blend the two and create a very intelligent child with a tendency to self-justification and a weird attraction to the Netherlands? That sounds familiar, but I thought we had determined that Wilfrid Dijkman, Jansen by adoption, is our young Prince of Peace?”
“He is,” said Beatrice. Everyone turned to look at her; she sighed. It was the same gesture of inquiry and submission to authority that Olivia was subjected to whenever someone mentioned Sam Brant, minus most of the sympathy. Friedman, after all, was not dead. Not in a manner of speaking, anyway. “Which doesn’t negate the possibility of illegal cooking up of lab babies, but I doubt that’s Rutger’s purpose. And I wouldn’t say,” she couldn’t help adding, “that Friedman has any attraction to the Netherlands beyond having been born there. We have no evidence he went back but the once after he left.”
“Twice,” said George.
They all turned to look at him now; he handled it better, simply shrugging. Charles frowned disapprovingly. “That’s not in my notes,” he said. “But nothing ever is, alas.”
He looked at her, his voice mocking confusion and dismay but his eyes lighting. Bright blue eyes: he denied surgery or genetic tweaking, so somehow the trait had worked its way down through the Mediterranean and South Asian forebears, along with the firm chin and the nose like the prow of a ship. And the enviable thinness. Her ancestors, Spanish and indigenous Central American mostly, must have tended to the short and broad. Charles seemed to appreciate that she was pleasant to rest upon, but they hardly made a matched pair. Their children would have been interesting, had they ever had a chance to produce any.
“So,” said Charles, studying George and Olivia again, “I repeat—why do you ask about Janet?”
They exchanged a glance, and then Olivia reached into the bag lying on the other free chair and produced an envelope, which she handed to Charles. Then she sat, expectantly, and let him read the contents. Beatrice took a few seconds to appreciate the half-paternal, half-dictatorial sway her husband-and-boss held over his employees, and then leaned in to read over his arm.
Dear Olivia, if I may so address you… Her first thought, not altered as she read through the letter, was that the man was in sore need of a confidant, and that despite his obvious yen for Janet, he’d crossed her off the list. Or more likely she’d crossed herself off.
“So what possibility do you think bothers him the most?” she said when Charles had finished. “That Janet lied to him or that something’s off in the analysis? I’m assuming,” she added, prompted by George’s expression, “that Rutger himself isn’t lying. Too elaborate a setup. Though he does know how to get Olivia’s attention, certainly.”
“He sent the box three months ago,” said Olivia with a rueful air.
“Oh dear. I’m surprised he’s not here knocking on all our doors. Did Janet throw him over that badly, that he can’t manage being on the same side of the ocean as her?”
“Bea, you’re romanticizing,” Charles said.
“Oh, all right. But she didn’t necessarily lie. I did catch that bit of misdirection, dear. You didn’t secretly negotiate with Simone for the use of the Saut de Soi, but Janet might have. And she might have done it after the time Rutger cites, when she told him she’d never jumped.”
“Proof that Gerrit and Lena really did make their jump to sixteen-twenties Amsterdam, since he was trying to stop them?” Beatrice thought a moment and was about to contradict herself when George spoke up.
“No. He wasn’t denying they were destined to make the jump. He was trying to screw up destiny.”
“Or apply the scientific method to it,” corrected Charles. “Which becomes difficult without a control group.”
“Weren’t George and I the control group?” said Olivia. “And Bernard, I suppose. Since we met Gerrit and Lena in Amsterdam.”
They were all silent briefly, presumably considering the directions in which the waters of time flowed and intersected. “Perhaps it’s occurred to the rest of you,” Beatrice said, not without hesitation, “that without Rutger’s interference Gerrit and Lena would have been gone on their journey long before March. Before the destined date of little Wilfrid’s conception. So Rutger couldn’t succeed in holding them back, but he had to try.”
“And Janet had to fail in preventing him?” suggested Charles. “In any case, the only way to answer the question of why her blood shows this marker is to ask her. Which I will do myself.”
He emphasized the last word just enough to prompt a “Lips buttoned, boss” from George: not resentful, in fact almost grateful. Olivia nodded an echo. Of course they weren’t likely to want to quiz Janet themselves.
“May I keep this?” Charles said, indicating the letter. “Temporarily?”
“Fine,” said Olivia, waving it away.
“Was there anything else?” said Charles.
“Did you know about the markers?”
Charles paused for a moment before answering. “Yes,” he said. “In general terms. It’s a fairly recent discovery, surprisingly enough, and there appears to be some controversy about the details. I understand the TTI will be sending out a memo. Eventually.”
“So we shouldn’t be talking about that either?” asked Olivia.
“Andy knows, if you feel you have to discuss it with someone. If he’s part of your circle of discussion…?”
George made a más o menos gesture with one hand. Things were better than they had been, apparently; it took time to repair friendships.
“He might know an expert who could explain it to you better than I could,” Charles added. “I am sorry not to have told you immediately.”
“It’s all right,” said Olivia: perhaps no more than reflexive politeness. “If that’s all we’ll be going; I have a meeting.”
“Ask Janet to stop by, would you?” Charles said in parting.
When they had left Beatrice turned to him, but his eyes were already back on the letter. After a moment he lifted the top page and went on to the analysis, studying it with an air of understanding she knew he didn’t have. Looking for something firm to grab onto, she thought; this was not going to be an easy interview.
He hadn’t mentioned Rutger Kaufmann in months, and Beatrice suspected he’d dismissed him as a factor in their affairs after the Department of Security and Intelligence investigation was through. Yes, he was a member of the European Arcadian Party, having stuck with them after the defeat last spring of their demand to open time travel to anyone who could afford it. Yes, he had been a friend of Gerrit Dijkman and Lena Raaf, fellow Arcadians, and seemed to be mending fences with them after his high-handed behavior had torn the friendship apart. Yes, he’d been an investor in Simone Jardine’s company and had had some part (mostly innocent if profitable; the heirloom tulips had done very well) in her plan to retrieve art works from seventeenth-century Amsterdam, along with perhaps reestablishing contact with Bernard Quan (or Bernt van Oosten, as he was known in his new life). And yes, he’d protected Sam Brant, providing the destitute time refugee a lawyer and giving him shelter after he’d been released from detention. It looked as though he had an unpleasant habit of stealing DNA samples, as well. But there was, in the end, little to interest Charles in all that, either as guardian of his employees’ safety or as occasional-and-forever DSI agent.
And here Rutger was, popping up again. Charles didn’t like people who popped up. He turned them into jokes, changed the subject when anyone else brought them up, or simply tried to ignore them into nonexistence, but he couldn’t quite forget them once the popping-up habit became established, and he didn’t appreciate that others couldn’t quite forget them either… and you’re not thinking about Rutger, are you?
Well, it made sense, what Charles was doing. There was a point to ignoring Friedman until he became small and insignificant. His own parents didn’t know who he was, though one of them had met him as an adult before he had been conceived, and they could not be allowed to find out. The less gossip the better. Constantine and Associates had received just one birth announcement, addressed to Andy, and he’d shown it around on a strict as-needed basis. Little Wilfrid had overshot Christmas by three days, entering this world on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Beatrice was inclined to think he’d done it on purpose. The christening had been yesterday; no one had yet reported a bland-looking middle-aged man hovering about as though he had a plausible excuse to be there.
Charles glanced up and smiled at her, not the slow sexy grin that belonged at home, but the long-familiar and just as irresistible we’re-on-the-same-page wink. She doubted its veracity, but melted at it nonetheless. He was reorienting; he’d discuss Rutger and Janet with her at length as soon as his brain was pointed in the right direction. Nor did he think she was sitting quietly and blankly waiting for him; he’d expect her to express her thoughts, her sense of connection, her opinions about psychology. Even her romantic imagination.
It was a very romantic story, if you ignored the part about knife accidents. And people in folk tales were always getting cut or having bits of them chopped off: no DNA analysis, but that would be very strange anyway considering how many of those characters transformed themselves into animals, or trees, or parts of the scenery. This was more an opera of thwarted passion and unforgivable transgression, though if Rutger had any guts he’d force the third act by popping onto an airship and showing up on Janet’s doorstep. And then, if she had a magic ring to do it with, she’d pop away again, across another ocean. They were always doing that in folk tales too. Usually it was the girl who did the chasing, wearing out the iron shoes walking over mountains to find her lover and ask his forgiveness. It would be nice to see a man do it for a change.
“Cupid and Psyche,” she said out loud.
Charles started. It was an oddly guilty start, not simply the shock of hearing her voice after so much silence.
“Or… what is it?” she went on, watching him closely. “East of the sun and west of the moon. I did something I shouldn’t, I saw something I shouldn’t, and now I have to find you again by walking the world over. Collecting tokens, usually. Chicken bones from the north wind’s mother to make a ladder to reach your window, with my own little finger as the last rung. I wonder if Rutger would cut off his little finger? Sam cut off Rinaldo’s, and that was for DNA too, so he could hijack Tim and come back here to shoot George. Not to shoot George, I mean; that got added to the agenda at the last minute.”
She forced herself to stop babbling. Charles had looked calm and indulgent until she’d mentioned Sam, and then he’d tensed again. He’d made no comment on the part of the letter that dealt with Sam. Of course Sam was in the “finished” pile of investigations as well, much more certainly than Rutger.
“I wonder what’s keeping Janet—” Charles began, at the same second that Beatrice said, “I wonder if it was a box full of chicken bones.”
“Excuse me, what?” said Charles. Then her words seemed to catch up with him. “Olivia… making a ladder?”
“Tokens. That lead you on to more adventures and help you to solve problems. As opposed to meaningless leftovers. You didn’t ask what was in the box.”
“She would have mentioned if it was anything important.”
“Because Olivia always opens her mind to you about everything.”
Charles absorbed the thrust by shifting his stance. “It’s a private matter. I wasn’t about to quiz her.”
“She wasn’t really his sister. Or his heir. You’re not legally obliged to anyone but his parents. And given the influence of certain people who don’t know how to behave properly with regard to time, it seems to me dangerous to close any case until you’re sure all the loose ends are knotted up.”
“They are. But if you insist I will ask Olivia next time I see her.” The door buzzed. “Ah, good. Janet. Come in,” he called.
“You wanted to see me?” said Janet as she entered, and then she saw Beatrice, and… an almost identical guilty twitch, how very interesting. Janet recovered quickly enough, and added, “Did he finally tell her?”
“Who?” asked Charles after a slight pause.
“George. Has he made up his mind about Rinaldo’s jump?”
“Oh. I haven’t asked him. What’s the latest you’ve heard?”
“Rinaldo says that Olivia’s good will is the final stumbling block. They didn’t come to the party New Year’s Eve; I thought maybe…”
“I don’t think he’s decided for sure yet,” Charles said. “But it’s only a matter of time.”
“As is everything we do,” said Beatrice with a smile, and then tried another probe. “But after all, it’s not just Olivia’s nervousness we have to think about. Remember George hasn’t actually been back in Tim’s lab since… it was almost a year ago now. Not something you get over quickly, though, watching a friend get stabbed and then being shot yourself, and I doubt it helps that everyone has been so solicitous to Olivia about Sam since his death. It could have been George who died; it was very close.”
“I think he has more courage than you’re giving him credit for,” said Charles in the tone of rebuke he never used except when distracted by something more personal. “But—Janet—”
“We can do the jump without him. In fact it’ll take some persuasion to get the client to approve the extra funds, not that we can’t pull that off. And George is known for being worth what he costs, and more.” Not an admission Janet would have made a year ago, Beatrice noted. “But if he won’t,” Janet went on, “Neil and Laurel can add a few more social events to their Philadelphia calendar, and—”
“Good,” said Charles. “That wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.” He motioned Janet to a chair, and she sat. “Do you know about the time phase markers?”
“You mean the trait that develops after time jumping flips a switch on a piece of what they thought was junk DNA, and is detectable if you take a sideways approach to testing?”
“Yes, and… obviously the answer is yes. Andy?”
“No.” Janet looked as though she were about to blush. “Rutger.”
Charles raised his eyebrows. “Last winter?”
“No. He sent me a cryptic note in September, with a review of a Vienna production of Turandot he’d written for some arts journal for scientists, and a few lines about the markers at the end. I should have reported it, but I didn’t think…”
“That’s fine,” said Charles. “When was the last genetic test you had?”
Janet looked puzzled. “When I took this job. Part of the routine physical.” Understanding suddenly seemed to blossom. “Where they don’t take a sideways approach…?”
“They wouldn’t have known how to go about it. Recent… events have stimulated research advances. Yes, I’m afraid you have them. Care to explain how?”
The blood—markers and all—began to drain out of Janet’s face. “There must be a mistake,” she said. “I haven’t had a test recently—did someone pull my samples? I thought they were tossed after—”
“I’d rather not say where the data came from,” Charles said.
“Well, I’m not going to answer any questions until you tell me. I haven’t been to the doctor for ages, I’m probably due, and no one has…” Her face cleared, and flushed again. “Oh, the bastard.”
“An accident with a knife,” said Beatrice, making the quote clear in her voice.
“Cabbage,” Janet said. “I don’t even like cabbage. Some traditional Austrian dish. We didn’t eat it; the cabbage was all… He bandaged it himself. A very clean, uncontaminated bandage.” Her right hand clasped at her left momentarily. “He told you and not me?”
“I found out indirectly,” said Charles. “When did you jump? And I do have a right to know; you signed a statement when I employed you that included the answer ‘never.’ I need to know if that’s changed.”
“No,” snapped Janet. “But I’d like to ask her the same question.” She pointed at Beatrice.
Charles’s brow furrowed, but he answered. “Bea was kidnapped by the man called Friedman last year; he carried her through multiple jumps, first in Moscow and then in Casablanca. And I carried her home using a Frog.” He’d left out one jump, but Beatrice was not going to correct him here. “So her status as regards time travel has also changed since employment,” Charles added. “But she reported it.”
“Yes, I knew all that,” said Janet. “I meant more recently.”
They both looked at Beatrice, Janet with what might have been resentment and Charles with utter confidence. “Sorry, not a one,” she said. “Very dull life.”
“Not yet, then,” said Janet. “Darn it. Dad was right.” She gave a helpless shrug. “Forget I said anything?”
“Hardly,” said Charles. “But let’s take this one subject at a time. You’d be willing to swear that you have never time jumped?”
A wry smile took possession of Janet’s mouth. “On a stack of my mother’s cookbooks,” she said. “Just don’t make me seal the affidavit in blood. I’m suddenly out of the habit of leaving bits of me around.”
“All right. I do believe you. Now what’s this about Bea?”
For answer Janet lifted her left hand for net access and said, “Beatrice and Charles photo.” An image appeared above the desk. The wedding reception: he’d looked at her with that expression all day long. She hadn’t realized how much it had mirrored her own.
“That’s very nice,” she said inadequately.
“Forty years ago,” said Janet, “minus some days, Beatrice—this Beatrice, gray-haired and wearing a wedding ring—somehow got herself hired on by or faked connection with an adoption agency. She showed up on the fourteenth of January at my parents’ house in New Hampshire, holding me in her arms. And left, minus baby, with some paperwork absently signed by the new doting and flabbergasted parents. They never saw her again until I showed them that photo.”
Too many project reports, Beatrice thought, though the adjectives and adverbs added some feeling. She would have gone the traditional route herself: once on a winter’s evening, an old woman carrying a child knocked on the door of a young couple’s cottage…
“So you’re telling me I’m due to make a time jump to deliver a baby who turns out to be my co-worker? Isn’t that a little steeped in coincidence?”
“Yes, and I shouldn’t have told you, the paradoxes—”
“It doesn’t sound like the sort of activity I’d engage in without prompting. Are you sure?”
“Both of them recognized you,” Janet said, though doubtfully. “It has been a long time…”
“I remember forty years ago pretty well,” Beatrice said, “but I’m not sure I’d recognize someone I’d seen once then and never again. Although…” A woman’s face came to mind: she’d caught Beatrice’s arm as she was about to slip off a crowded tube station platform, in April of her last year at college. Forty-two years ago, minus some months. The trains braked automatically when bodies flung themselves in their paths, but still, it had felt like salvation. She tried to recall the face of the professor of the Dante class she’d been coming home from, and got back only a kind of summary—it had been an extraordinary class, if little remained of its creator—but of the woman who had perhaps saved her life she remembered everything. One eyelid had drooped more than the other: weakness in a nerve or muscle. She’d had freckles on her nose and had been wearing silver and jade earrings shaped like seahorses and a white scarf over escaping wisps of auburn hair. Beatrice had said thank you and never set eyes on her since. She would know her anywhere.
“There is something about strong emotions,” she finished.
“Well, then,” said Janet. She gestured and the projection vanished.
Charles cleared his throat. “Have you checked with the adoption agency to see if they received the paperwork?”
Janet shook her head. “I only found this out a few days ago,” she said. “It’s been… I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m not even sure if it matters.”
“Something like this doesn’t happen without it mattering,” said Beatrice. “Further investigation sounds like a good plan.” She turned toward Charles.
“Please drop me a message with all the details you have and I’ll see what I can do,” he said. “And Janet—”
“I understand your reluctance to make yourself more vulnerable, but if I were you I would have a blood sample drawn and analyzed by a trustworthy lab. Just in case.”
She hesitated, then nodded. “I did notice, by the way, that you didn’t say how you found this out from Rutger. I don’t think he has any motive for lying. But I appreciate the caution. I’ll ask my DSI contact about labs.” She stood, ready to depart.
“Could I have a copy of the picture?” Beatrice asked. “I don’t think we have that one.”
“Of course. You can have the whole album; it’s a mix of different people’s that I borrowed from, so you can pick out what you don’t have.” They accomplished the transfer quickly, and Janet, noticeably more relaxed after the mundane exchange, left the room, carrying Charles’s additional reassurances that he’d get back to her.
“Clever of her to remind you that she’s tied into the DSI network too now,” Beatrice said. “Have you noticed how people perfectly capable of doing their own investigations are dropping them into your lap? Trust or laziness, do you think? Or is it that they’re too emotionally involved, and think you can’t possibly be?”
It was not a question meant to be answered, and Charles didn’t. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said.
“You keep telling me I need more exercise. Let’s walk across the park and have lunch at that tapas place.”
“Are you feeling that cooped up? It’s cold out.”
“It’s not that cold, and you have a warm coat, and I’ll put my arm around you.”
“All you had to say was the last part. Let’s go.”
Charles canceled one meeting, set a call-holding message, and five minutes later they were out the door. Their building sat near a major road, but if you walked out the back and beyond the garage entrance with its innocuous landscaping, you reached a little park with a sterile lake and miniature forest, and a gravel path covered with decaying leaves. The path led to a residential neighborhood where no one Beatrice knew lived, with clusters of shops and restaurants. In the spring it was a lovely walk. Today the company made it tolerable.
“You seem calm enough about this new revelation,” Charles said when they were well on their way. He’d taken his arm from around her when she’d warmed up: easier to walk separately.
“I’ve dropped my problem into your lap as well. For the time being. What I want to know is, do you think the two things are related? My jump and Janet’s?”
“That’s theorizing way ahead of data.”
“Just throw out a hypothesis or several. How about this: Janet has a baby, maybe Rutger’s, and I take it back in time and hand it over as Janet to her parents, and… no.”
Charles was shaking his head too. “Time paradox, time breach, and really screwy genetics. Worse than killing your grandmother.”
It also didn’t fit the fairy tale, not that Beatrice was going to say that out loud. The young woman in the story had to carry her baby herself over that long journey, wearing out the iron shoes. And old women in tales who took away babies were usually evil.
“But if Rutger cloned Janet—” Charles added.
“That’s just as circular. We’re still talking paradox or breach.” Although we don’t know I come back from it, do we? Beatrice repressed a shiver. “We know someone who’s immune to paradoxes and breaches, of course.”
But Charles didn’t take the Friedman-bait. “Whether Rutger is planning to clone her or not—and why would he?—I don’t trust his motives. There are other uses for DNA besides cloning or otherwise making babies.”
“As Rinaldo found out,” Beatrice said, holding up nine gloved fingers with the tenth folded down.
“As I did, in fact,” said Charles, touching his coat front where the locket he still wore under his shirt would be. It held some shed pieces of Beatrice’s hair he’d pulled out of her brush, an impulse more explicable though not less odd than Rutger’s collecting; whether he kept it close for sentiment or insurance she wasn’t sure. When Friedman had kidnapped her to Casablanca, the DNA in the hair had helped Charles zero in on December 1941 and find her again. “I’m particularly suspicious of his having Bernard’s sample,” Charles added.
“And Simone being involved, yes. But we really do need to focus on Janet.” They were approaching a small covered pavilion, with walls that did a fair job keeping out the wind. She turned her footsteps toward it. Walking helped with thinking, but not always with talking. “What good would it do Rutger to have… a homing signal, so to speak,” she said as they got closer, “to find someone in time if she’s never jumped? Unless you still think she’s lying?”
Charles shrugged. He didn’t like not having answers, and Beatrice let him stew in his unease for a moment, until they were sitting inside the pavilion close together. He took her hand with both of his, and traced the outline of her fingers.
“I thought I could keep you safe here at home,” he said.
“I’ll be all right.”
“You don’t know that.” His mouth quirked as the absurdity became clear to them both. “None of us know it, from moment to moment, day to day. But there are risks I wish you didn’t have to take.”
“Maybe you’ll come with me. Maybe you’re sitting outside the house in New Hampshire in a car.” People in tales traveled alone, or with a faithful animal companion, usually a human magically transformed. A fox, or a wolf, or an eagle. Charles was a bit like all three. She put her head on his shoulder: no fur, no feathers, not even a coat pretending to be of animal origin.
“January twenty-one thirty-five,” he said after a moment. “I was seventeen. Last year of high school in Norfolk, Virginia. We’d just moved there in August. The closest I ever was to you, though we didn’t know it at the time.”
Beatrice had lived a stable childhood in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. “Baltimore was closer,” she said. “And… hm, thirty-five. I’d finished college; I did a lot of traveling that year. I think I was in California for New Year’s. Maybe home again by the fourteenth. I wonder where the adoption agency was?”
“California, really? Almost as bad as Europe, in those days. Did the DSI have a file on you?”
“No. I checked when I started working there.”
“They wouldn’t have let you find your own file.” For some reason—maybe memories of sneaking into unoccupied DSI storerooms, unable to keep their hands off each other?—this prompted Charles to pull her closer and kiss her. It was warm and delicious, and she kissed back with ardor. They were too old for public displays of what should happen in private, but no one else was likely to be around. Her caressing hand strayed inside his coat and across his chest, and she felt the outline of the locket.
“You shouldn’t have this,” she whispered, tapping it. “Security. Janet was right about bits of us lying around.”
Charles bowed his forehead to touch hers. “I’m inclined to say ‘they’ll take it only from my dead body’ or something equally stupid, but—”
“Don’t. There have been too many dead bodies. We buried one of them. And others might have died, but for luck. Rinaldo was lucky, twice—that was a bad jump he took to St. Petersburg, and Sam hit him hard before cutting off the finger in Vienna.” She could feel Charles tensing again. “I suppose the finger isn’t still a similar risk to this,” she went on, releasing the locket. “Sam probably tossed it into the Atlantic when he got to Maine, and a fish ate it. Funny to think of Rinaldo’s cells becoming part of another organism. In stories fish always swallow rings and get caught and cut open, and there the ring is again, marker of identity before they could look at DNA. But I don’t think Rinaldo wore one on that finger.”
“Bea, is there a reason you keep talking about—”
“George was lucky too.”
“Yes. Many of us have been.”
“Sam… did not avoid the fate he deserved. In the end.”
Beatrice tried to pull back, but Charles’s hands were tight on her shoulders. “No one deserves that kind of death,” she said.
“He had no remorse for killing George. He thought he had.”
“So Olivia said. But, you know, he didn’t. Intent is not the same as commission.”
“He pulled the damn trigger, Bea. He pulled it, and I couldn’t…”
Stop him? Was that what this was about: the other side of the near-filial loyalty they all seemed to give him now? Did he not think he’d earned it, if he couldn’t prevent harm from coming to them?
A bullet in the chest, collapsed lung and broken ribs, hours of surgery and weeks of recovery: it was all horrible enough, but it wasn’t—to Beatrice’s mind—nearly as bad as what Olivia had gone through, even if she’d suffered little physical harm. And Charles had never spoken of her ordeal this way, nor of the various assaults on Rinaldo’s body that could also be said to be Charles’s fault, though only if he took responsibility for the risks of any assignment and its long-term consequences. George, when shot, had been in the wrong place at the wrong time purely on his own initiative, trying to amend for his own personal failings: nothing to do with Charles at all. So why was it so upsetting to him?
“Can we walk? I’m getting chilled,” she said. He gave her a hand up, and they went back out into what felt like a colder day now.
She couldn’t just let this go. A proper wife would pat him on the back and tell him it wasn’t his fault and everything was fine now. But that was seldom what Charles wanted from her, not as wife nor as employee. She still answered his calls and scheduled his appointments, but he’d given her the title of Advisor; it might have been Confessor or Conscience, and still no one should claim nepotism. She was good at what she did.
However, just now she was a bit stymied. She looked out at the small lake they’d begun to circle, dull under the gray sky, but unthreatening. She supposed it could hide a tiny submarine or a seriously misplaced shark. Tim’s lab had become just as ordinary to most of them, but it held a portal to other worlds. It was a scary place, when you really thought about it, and not only because people vanished from it and might not come back, or might come back when you didn’t expect them to. Perhaps Charles wasn’t feeling guilty that George had been at the lab at the wrong time, but that Sam had been? That he hadn’t predicted Sam’s encounter with Rinaldo in Vienna? Or not prevented Sam’s original betrayal? Plenty of fault there, to be sure, if not entirely Charles’s. But the twists and turns of Sam’s travels through time had been hard enough to figure out after the fact. How anyone could have known before…
Well, it depended on what “before” meant. He’d shot George (and stabbed Marisol Delgado, Tim’s technician, not that Charles seemed worried about her either) on January fifth, having hijacked Tim on a return jump from Rinaldo’s Vienna mission. Then he’d had Marisol set the controls for eighteenth-century Maine. From there, George and Olivia had collected him, jumping out of what to them was almost two months earlier in mid-November. Sam had spent the intervening time in detention, but was gone to Vienna, under Rutger’s auspices, before the January crisis hit. All that time, he’d known he’d attacked George and Marisol, and as far as she knew had told no one. Although he might well have assumed he’d be still in custody on the day of the attack, and be convicted of what he thought was murder.
Murder that he had already committed, but that hadn’t happened yet. That was a thought to wrap one’s brain around.
What if someone’s brain had been forced to wrap around it?
How did you ask a question like that?
She turned, took Charles’s hands in hers and stopped him. A breeze was coming over the lake; they were no longer protected by any walls.
“Cupid and Psyche,” she said, falling back on the phrase that had first provoked Charles’s tension. She could have said it more casually, so that if she was wrong, he’d just think she was remembering old tales again. But she wasn’t wrong.
The muscles of his hands went tight and his lips pressed together. “In some places and parts of time you would have been hanged for a witch,” he said.
“I just know you too well. Sorry. What did you want to tell me about Sam?”
He hesitated, the tension remaining in his face, and then began to walk again, keeping one of her hands captive.
“We were interrogating him about the American Arcadian cell structure,” he said. “Me for the DSI, and Ruth Fordham from Justice. Sam’s lawyer was present, and a technician to administer the Candorex truth drug.” He paused, looking out at the lake. “Sam was a babbler,” he went on. “Probably because he was so close-mouthed in normal life. It was hard to get him to focus, and Fordham isn’t good at it. The cell members at his university used code names, and Sam’s were apparently all reindeer—Dasher, Dancer, et cetera—and the cell leader was Cupid. Cupid had a relationship with another cell leader called Psyche, whose team may have been called Id and Ego and Superego, unless that was drug-induced free association. Anyway, none of that matters, except for two things. Once we were finally getting somewhere with lists of Arcadians, I let him ramble on too long, and before I knew it he’d reached his post-university days and named Bernard Quan.”
“I did wonder about that, once you finally told me what Bernard had done. You must have excised it from the record.”
“Of course. Bernard was gone, and there was no purpose to letting his betrayal become public. I could trust Fordham and the tech, and the lawyer promised silence, but… he must have talked to Rutger Kaufmann. Leading to some later complications, though that’s not what matters here.”
Beatrice squeezed Charles’s hand. “Tell me what matters, then.”
“Sam… he was free-associating, as I said, and when he started in about Cupid he naturally mixed in the mythology, the arrows of love and so forth. He’d apparently had a crush on Vixen of the cell, and then there was the woman in England, and… somehow it became about real arrows, and shooting, and death, and he began to list the people he’d killed… it was incoherent as hell, but he described Marisol—he didn’t know her name—and then added in George. And then before I could react he was back on Arcadians, and taking us where we’d wanted him to go all along. That’s when he slipped in Bernard.”
“I remember learning that Candorex can be beaten, if you can lead the interrogator,” Beatrice said, her breath quickening.
“You have to tell the truth, but you have some choice over what truth is told. That’s why the questions are so important.”
“And did you ask him about George?”
“Not then. By the time we got the excision from the record straightened out the drugs were wearing off. And I was beginning to grasp the implications. I went back to see him later. Alone.”
“You questioned him? Without drugs?”
“Drugs mean a tech,” said Charles. “And a lawyer. I just asked, and he told me. Only that he shot George and stabbed Marisol; he wouldn’t name a place or time. I didn’t know whether to believe him.”
“Sam being in jail for the foreseeable future, and George and Marisol perfectly healthy.”
“And I couldn’t quite see how he knew he’d done it when he hadn’t yet. Not then. I figured it out later on.”
“When?” asked Beatrice. Her feet stopped; her heart kept beating, though she felt it ought to pause in respect to the bleakness of the moment.
Charles dropped her hand and turned to her. “Before Rinaldo’s jump. Though I didn’t know George would be there. I still don’t know why he was there.”
“To talk to Marisol. There was… a thing between them he had to fix. Charles—”
“I’m sorry, Bea. I should have told you.”
“Me? You should have told George!”
“Well”—Charles’s mouth twisted ironically—“that’s why I didn’t tell you. Because you would have insisted I tell him. I couldn’t. You do see that.”
“No. I don’t.” She started walking again. There was a tree fifty meters on, considerably larger than its fellows, the trunk thick and bulging with history. She decided to concentrate her physical effort on reaching it as quickly as possible, instead of on punching Charles with ineffectual fists.
“It had already happened,” Charles said, catching up to her, “to Sam if not to George. We couldn’t change it. I still had hopes George would survive the shooting, but if he was meant to die, then his death was unstoppable.”
“And he didn’t have a right to know that?”
“And what? Decide not to go? Dodge the bullet?”
“Wear a bullet-proof vest?” Beatrice panted out, her breath growing short.
“Sam saw the blood, the wound. He felt the knife go into Marisol’s stomach. Described it in sickening detail. Smiling.” Charles took her by the arm and made her stop and face him. “Bea, I felt so helpless. And I hated him so much.”
She caught her breath, not knowing what to say. Charles was right, and at the same time so very wrong. The situation was impossible: time bending around itself in knots, squeezing out moral certainty.
“I guessed as best I could what was going to happen,” Charles said. “And I made sure Rinaldo’s DSI bodyguard was there that night. I was told later that his quick response saved George’s life; the alert from his identity chip wouldn’t have brought help fast enough.”
“And I’m sure that made you feel justified in your actions. Or lack of them,” she snapped back.
“There was nothing just about any of it,” said Charles. “I didn’t see George for the best part of a week, afterwards. When I finally went to the hospital it was to tell him Sam had kidnapped Olivia. I felt like a walking curse. I still do, sometimes, looking at him. But at least he lived. And Marisol. And Olivia.”
“And not Sam.”
“Killed by love, so Olivia says.”
“He committed suicide by walking into a fire. How many different ways are there to die of love, and how many of them hurt that much?” She let out what felt like a long-held breath. “Well, all I can say is I wish Rutger Kaufmann had been informed of this dilemma. He could have done his little experiment in make-your-own time paradoxes right here, instead of bothering Gerrit and Lena about it.”
“And probably condemned George to some other, less avoidable death. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you start fooling with… with the inevitable path of time—”
“Fate, Charles. Destiny. Call it what it is.”
“God’s will?” he said with a snarl in his voice. “I could have killed George by interfering, just as well as by not.”
“It was your will in either case. You put it on yourself. You might have left it up to God, or at least to George.”
“I didn’t put it on myself! Sam did.”
“You could have not asked.”
Charles let go her arm. “No,” he said, his voice strained to breaking point. “I couldn’t have. When we’re given a chance to know the truth—”
“Truth and wisdom are not the same thing. Truth and love are not the same thing.”
“Easy for you to say.”
You didn’t tell me. Not then, and not since. He’d done this to her before, and the last time it had been too much; she’d run off to Russia, which in retrospect was the most ironic response to clandestine excess she could have managed short of cutting out her own tongue. She did understand security clearances, and eyes-only files, and all that; in fact she’d just acknowledged without resentment the idea that Charles might know more about Janet’s activities in Europe than she did. She did not need to know what secrets Sam Brant had spilled about the Arcadian network. But this was personal. They were both close to George; she’d helped nurse him back to health; she’d been there by the hospital bed while Charles was feeling too cursed to appear.
Yes, she understood his dilemma; she forgave him not telling her until after the shooting. But that had been a year ago. Did Charles really feel that sharing the story was unnecessary because the tragedy he’d been anticipating hadn’t occurred? The struggle and tension in his face, his whole body, said no, even if she’d had to trick it to the surface. He’d been holding it in all this time, wanting to tell, not daring to. Because he thought she’d run even further this time?
“Easy for me,” she said, allowing him the point. “I didn’t have to make that choice. And if it were me about to be shot, would you make the same choice?”
Charles looked her steadily in the eyes, not touching her. “Yes,” he said.
“All right,” she replied, returning his gaze. “That’s what I wanted to know.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Well, ideally, take you home and give you a stiff whisky and a neck rub. But I think it’ll have to be tapas and wine. Or coffee, because you have meetings later.”
He looked lost; he’d been expecting divorce papers at the very least. “It’s funny,” she went on, “considering that I take seriously all those paired opposites we swore to—better and worse, sickness and health—but what I really can’t take is inconsistency. You’re getting over the sickness of secrecy, and you still have relapses, but no matter whether you tell me things or not, what goes on inside seems very consistent. Given those circumstances—and God knows we’re going to be presented with them if we keep messing around with time—anyone’s moral compass was going to swing a bit. Yours sticks to true north remarkably well.” She paused. “It can get pretty cold in the north.”
“Coffee sounds good,” said Charles. She hugged him, and could feel the shivers of relief down his muscles.
“Of course,” she said as they began to walk again, “you could have gone to the TTI that evening yourself. Lurked in the corridor until you heard the shot.”
“I was afraid I couldn’t stop myself rushing in too soon.”
“Reluctant man of action. You were about to rush Friedman, when he had a knife to my throat. Even if it meant both of us dying. Right?”
“That was different. No time paradoxes in sight.”
“If you’d killed him there would have been. There were things he hadn’t done yet that we knew had happened. It’s different when you’re forced to see the threat with your own eyes, isn’t it?”
“Especially when you love the person who’s threatened.”
“Certainly.” He reached for her hand. “I love you very much.”
“Yes. In a considerably different way.”
“I suppose things have all worked out the way they were supposed to,” Beatrice said.
“I hope so. I much prefer them like this.”
“The almost-intact nest of Constantine and Associates. Messed-up children and perennially confused parents.”
“Janet makes that oddly literal. I like the thought of you holding an infant, though. Perhaps we’ll have surrogate grandchildren someday?”
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
The restaurant, when they reached it, was warm and cozy and smelled of coffee and spices and onions sizzling in their own juices. They gave the menu the time it deserved, selecting as usual what would end up being one too many dishes to share. Beatrice felt she could eat for days. She also felt distant, faintly unreal, as though she were meant to be somewhere else and in other company.
While she sipped at her wine and dipped bread into herbed olive oil, she remembered Janet’s photos. She slid over close to Charles so she could project them privately, and flipped through them in sequence, reliving parts of the day she hadn’t seen for herself. Weddings were different when you were one of the principals; you missed a lot.
“Rinaldo, being very imaginative with the table decorations,” she narrated, watching the little animation for the second time. “Marisol flirting with the security officer. Glad to see he got some food. What is Laurel wearing? Looks like a taffeta computer mating with window blinds. I can’t imagine her in a corset and petticoat.”
“No need to strain your imagination,” said Charles. “It gets enough exercise. Who is that?”
“My cousin Estella from Texas. She really liked the cake, didn’t she? What did you think?”
“We had cake?”
“You didn’t get any?”
“Does that invalidate the marriage? I snagged one of the chocolate things when I was making the rounds.”
“What chocolate things?”
“Chocolate-covered something that exploded deliciously in your mouth. Pomegranate, that was it.”
“I didn’t think that was on the menu.” She kept flipping photos, thinking absently about Persephone in the kingdom of Hades, though she preferred to stay away from mythology for a while, thank you. Friedman had offered her pomegranate seeds while they’d been in Casablanca; she’d refused with a joke. And, when her season with him was over, he had let her go. It was winter again, and he was far away. In his various stages of maturity. How could he possibly have resisted the temptation to attend his own christening? Gerrit knew him by sight, of course, but as one of the principals in the ceremony he would never have noticed the slight man with thinning hair sitting quietly in a group of… who did they know, engineers and hotel managers and political activists, whoever was the most boring of those… she and Charles knew professors…
At the next photo, a table full of professors, her breath drew in involuntarily while she scanned faces, but all of them were known to her and none of them was Friedman. The next shot was of a tray full of shiny brown irregular lumps.
“The chocolate things!” said Charles. “They were really good. You should ask the caterer.”
Friedman couldn’t have come to the christening. It must have been a very private affair; only close family and friends had even known of Lena’s pregnancy. They meant to abandon this baby to other parents before he was old enough to recognize them; they would never see him again and know him. Perhaps one day a slight middle-aged man with thinning hair would disguise himself, drop in on Gerrit’s glass shop in Amsterdam, buy some wine goblets and chat for a moment, and then go away once more.
The next image was an unexpected video of Fred Nez and Marc Lamprey singing a song that Marc was too young to remember being popular; in fact it had been sung at Beatrice’s first wedding, a belated realization she was pleased to find did not detract from her amusement. In the background, a waiter with a tray of the chocolate things paused to listen, and then turned to face the camera.
The video ended before Beatrice could finish her gasp. Charles hadn’t reacted; their food was arriving. She wanted to play the image again to be sure. But she was sure, and Charles had downed a full glass of wine and was warm and loving and comfortable in his own soul, and… sometimes secrets could wait a day. Or a season.
She brushed the images away, and picked up her fork. “Pass the empanadas,” she said.