Time Goes By: Chapter Four

24 February 2174

“Charles, I’m becoming a bit concerned about the rate of staff attrition.”

Beatrice couldn’t repress a quiver in her voice behind the joke, and she knew Charles had heard it. He motioned her to a seat, and then to her surprise came out from behind his desk and took the chair next to hers.

“It’s not attrition in any sense of the word,” he said. For a moment, a priestly voice in her mind distracted her (“…the sorrow being based not on the pure love of God, whom sin has grievously offended, which would be perfect contrition, but from an inferior motive…”), but Charles was still speaking. “And none of them have left my employ, have they? Not as far as I’m concerned. Certainly not George and Rinaldo.”

“Oh, not them. Though I can’t help wondering how long they’ll be out of the office.”

“Jumpers are used to us waving goodbye to them in late morning and saying hello again after lunch, while they’ve been gone for weeks. It seems only fair we should experience separation at the same pace on occasion.”

“It still won’t be. George is jumping today, right? Has he already? I can never keep track of time zones.”

Charles glanced at the antique clock on his wall. “It ought to be very soon now.”

“I lit a candle for him. So,” she went on, returning to the topic Charles had called her in to discuss, “what exactly did Ted Chapman tell you about Andy?”

“Just that he was on an early flight this morning for Paris.”

“So much for ‘a bit under the weather; may have to take tomorrow off.’ Why Paris? Why Ted, for that matter?”

“Which question should I answer?” said Charles. “They had him under surveillance for some reason. Ted didn’t say for how long. I can’t imagine why, unless the DSI is tracking every employee of this company.”

“Oh, come on. He was at the Tea Party reenactment. He and Olivia were… very close.” Euphemism seemed better, in the office. “And he’s been with the company for a long time, longer than George even. I can see why they’d think him worth keeping an eye on.”

“Ted doesn’t trust me.”

“Is he wrong not to?”

“Bea—”

“Never mind. I trust you; you know that.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “Why do you think Andy went to Paris?” she repeated.

“No reason to think that’s his final destination. It may simply have been the most convenient flight. Ted said he would let me know what Andy’s next move was.”

“Do you suppose he knows he’s being tracked?”

“Well, he must,” said Charles.

“Not everyone has paranoia flowing through his veins like you do,” she said, looking down at their entwined hands. “Andy’s not trained that way. He knows anything charged to his identity account is traceable, but he wouldn’t assume active pursuit. Maybe he thought he’d be back again before anyone knew he was gone.”

“So you do think he’ll be back.”

“He left projects incomplete. Some with barely any notes at all, unless he filed them in his head.”

“An inconvenient habit,” said Charles, and, oblivious to Beatrice’s small snort, added, “Where do you think he’s gone? And why?”

“The romantic in me says he’s run off to rescue Olivia. The realist says, why now? Do you think he’s figured out what George is up to?”

“Or George told him.”

Beatrice shook her head. “Unlikely. But in any case, rushing off to get there first doesn’t make sense. When you’re time jumping, it’s not who gets the faster ride that counts, it’s who has the better aim. George knows exactly where to go, and he’s been there before, plus he has the Russians to help him. What does Andy have?”

“You tell me,” said Charles, annoyingly Socratic as usual.

“Beauty and brains,” she tallied. “The scientific method. Guts. And a surprising lack of scruples. But not a lot of information. That we know of.”

“It’s very unlike him to take off like this. I’m wondering how far ahead he planned it.”

“I shouldn’t think it was planned at all,” she said. The thumb caressing the back of her hand stopped. “Are you considering an equally unplanned transatlantic journey to find him and ask him?”

Charles gave her a how-dare-you-read-my-mind look and said, “Ted would just have me followed too. I think we have to wait this out. It’s just…”

“Frustrating? I know. Let me know if you need your hand held.”

He glanced down, surprised. “Sorry to burden you,” he said, and let go.

“What else am I here for?”

* * * * *

“No, Pasha, I am not going to watch Mozart play the piano again,” said George. “It was hard enough to get in last time. Besides, I can’t take the risk of running into myself.”

“Agreed, twice-in-lifetime experience is not as poignant. However, to see Mozart twice…” Pavel Magadeev made a gesture of yearning. “Also, you cannot have run into yourself, because you would be seeing yourself when there before.”

“Yes, I realize that.” Given a few minutes to think it through. “Let’s just assume that’s because I’m making the right decision on this end of things.”

“The right decision is, take me along and I will go to concert for you.”

“Pavel Ivanovich,” George said, turning in the middle of the hallway and embracing his fellow jumper theatrically, “my friend, my brother in the love of Wolfgang Amadeus… no. The message wasn’t delivered at the concert anyway. There’s no point.”

“There is a very great point. A very long and sharp point like needle. So I can see Mozart. So ha.” He jabbed George with one pointy finger.

“You’re just going to have to find your own opportunity.”

“The great one never came to Russia, and will I ever again jump outside my own land?”

“I’m sorry. Buy you a drink instead, when I get back?”

Pavel shrugged. “Better suggestion: bring your violin and I will buy you drink.”

“Play Mozart and he will buy you five drinks,” put in Damira.

They walked on along the labyrinthine corridors of the Institute. “You know,” said Rinaldo, “this whole running into yourself accidentally thing gives me the jitters.” He shuddered, illustrating the word. It wasn’t necessary; on occasion Pavel and Damira did break into rapid-fire Russian to discuss technical points, but their English comprehension was excellent. Rinaldo had taken to making acerbic comments in Spanish when he wished not to be understood.

“It scares you? How many war zones have you been in again?” asked George.

“It’s not the same. Though seeing myself on a battlefield, that would be really bad. Especially if I was dead.”

“How could you be… oh, the you that jumped later. But then wouldn’t you not go… or would it be sort of fate? Damira, this gives me a headache. Make it better.”

“I am not responsible for your headaches, George. I do not massage temples or resolve time travel paradoxes.”

“You’ll massage your Perevozchik’s temples, but not mine. It’s unfair.”

“It is my job, to see to Voszha’s needs. And Pavel,” she added severely, “you will not make jokes on the matter.” Only a brave man would tease Damira Zhumanova about her passion for the Russians’ time machine, which functioned as well as it did due to her ministrations, and Pavel teased her routinely. But today he’d make jokes on any topic except that one. George’s life might depend on Damira’s upgrades today.

He was much more nervous about the jump than he let on, but not about whether he’d actually make it to Vienna. Those who hadn’t returned from this winter’s failed jumps were in no position to relate their experiences; he preferred to think failure would mean a quick leap into oblivion and not forty years in a time breach with no escape but death, but he trusted Damira, and he had no choice but to make the jump. What haunted him was the thought of making errors, wasting time and losing chances. It wasn’t like him to obsess over details and second-guess choices, and he seemed to be spending most of his time doing just that—should I wear the same costume as last time, so I can impersonate myself? Or is it better to be another man entirely?—and torturing himself into near immobility. Thank God it was nearly time to go.

They left the east wing of the massive and creaky structure in which the Russians housed what they all referred to as “Neepoovrep”—during the weekend’s nonstop party, Rinaldo had recited “Nauchna-Isledovalskiy Institut Puteshevstvya vo Vremeni i Prostranstve” over and over, his pronunciation growing more fluid with each glass of vodka—and passed through its central chambers. The Scientific Research Institute of Travel in Time and Space: the Space part referring no doubt to the long walk the jumpers took each time they went to Voszha’s laboratory. It was an old building and had filled many roles in its time; history lurked behind every pillar, full of secrets and mistakes…

George turned abruptly, but the face he’d seen was no longer there. The others were ahead of him, continuing the conversation of which he’d been vaguely aware, something to do with Rinaldo’s (perhaps apocryphal) Russian ancestors; he stood frozen a moment longer until Pavel called him.

“Sorry,” he said. “Thought I saw… never mind.”

“Saw what?” said Pavel.

“Nothing. Nichevo.

“That is not word allowed inside these walls. We had memorandum.”

They were not going to let it alone, he could tell—he must have not hidden his shock as well as he’d intended—so he bluffed. “It was me. I thought I saw me, and I was clearly having anticipatory hallucinations. Damira, my sweet, explain again the physics of why I can be in the same place as the other me, without anything world-shattering occurring.” She took a deep breath and launched into incomprehensible theory; he let the words wash over him while he resisted the temptation to run back for a better look. He hadn’t been hallucinating; he was sure of that. Despite the clear spark of recognition he couldn’t recall where he’d seen the man before, but identification was one thing and instinct another: all his senses were alert with danger.

Damira’s technical explanations took them up another flight of stairs and down a long hallway into the west wing. She paused beside a large window; at least they had windows here, unlike in the TTI at home. “It is as the Greek philosopher said, you cannot step twice into the same river,” she finished, gesturing at the view. “Not exactly the same you, at least.”

No, just into significant bodies of water in sequence, while sleeping. He wondered now why he hadn’t associated the Boston ferryboat captain with Tim, and whether he would dream the avatars of each of the world’s time machines one after the other, or only those he actually hitched rides on. The latter, he hoped; the thought of riding a dream-tsunami with the Japanese edition of the Old Man of the Sea was enough to keep him wide awake.

The hilltop view from the window was splendid: the Moskva’s sinuous curves shining in the afternoon sun among the eclectic architecture of the city. He’d spent a few curious moments since Monday glancing at maps, wondering where along the river’s length his dream might have taken place, and had not been able to make sense of the self-exhortation Go southeast; it didn’t fit with the way the city had grown around him, but then his dreams were not known for their coherence. Kind of like my life.

“George?” said Damira softly. He turned. “Time to change your clothes,” she said. “We will be ready in half an hour.” She gestured him toward the dressing room; her finger happened to point southeast.

* * * * *

3 March 1782

He came to himself again in chill late-winter dawn, in the park-like glacis just west of the walls of the Innere Stadt, feeling like his insides had been ripped out and replaced by a careless hand. Perhaps, he thought, stepping hastily away from the time machine and into the lee of a beech tree, and sinking to the ground, he should have given the lung a few weeks more to heal… no. I’m here; I’m alive. The problem wasn’t him, and it wasn’t Voszha or Damira; it was whatever had gone wrong with time in Europe. But this was Vienna, and probably he’d reached the right date—he wasn’t sitting in the middle of the Ringstrasse, at any rate—so he had better get on with the job. He wrapped his cloak around him and stood.

The cloak was shield against the cold wind; it was also disguise, as he had decided upon twinning the self who’d jumped here before, and wore the clothes Phoebe had packed. He’d brought nothing else with him, except a knife to use if things got rough, and a little money: for food and bribes, not for shelter; he had no intention of sleeping here.

It wasn’t far to the nearest gate into the city center, and his steps were firm and regular as he advanced, though something in the compass of his inner ear kept veering him southwards. The pain had died away. He could remember a bit more of the journey now: jolting and hesitant, full of high-pitched sounds like distant screaming. Merely being aware of anything in the midst of a jump was unusual, but this trip felt like it had taken years, and not pleasant ones either. He had a brief, unworthy moment of dreading the return. But he was glad to be here, even if he lacked the familiar uplift of spirits on reaching a new place and time. He reached the gate, and it was open to him. Entering the streets of ancient Wien, he began to look for a place to hide.

* * * * *

That evening he spent lurking uncomfortably in the vicinity of the Burgtheater, waiting for the concert to finish. One retracing of his and Olivia’s steps had been all he’d allowed himself, in case anyone was watching and got inquisitive. His memory of their progress was a bit weak—he suspected Olivia had been leading him while he wandered in a haze of post-Mozartian bliss—but he managed to isolate the spot where the messenger had intercepted them, and found a convenient alley from which to spy.

Brant had been at the concert; they’d caught sight of him for a moment and then lost him in the crowds. George wondered if it was worth considering which Brant it had been. Probably not: if the hooded and masked figure who’d handed them the note and then melted away had been Brant the Second, either he’d made a quick exit from the theatre or it had been Brant the First in the audience, but it didn’t exactly matter which. The man had lived in Vienna for years; the sight of Mozart at the piano was not enough to unsettle him. George could count on him exhibiting guile and nerve tonight.

Strolling figures in evening dress began to cross Michaelerplatz in pairs and groups, and George came to full alertness. He and Olivia had been among the next wave of patrons, he thought, having hung back trying to find Brant, and… yes. There they were.

There we were.

He recognized Olivia before he knew himself. That much wasn’t surprising; the dizziness that hit him at the sight of his reversed mirror-image face was more disconcerting. Damira’s voice in his head, explaining about altered molecular structure, calmed him: the world was not about to explode. This was him, and yet not him. This was the George of four months ago, or five—depending on how you measured time—and he knew nothing, the youngster. He wanted to run to him and warn him, make him chart a different course for the time ahead, force on him incomprehensible pieces of advice. But they would all come down to “don’t act like an idiot” and they would make no difference.

He should look at Olivia instead, feast his eyes and know he’d have her back soon enough, if he did this right. The two of them were cozy together in the cold night air; they had already given up on Brant, and George the Younger was nattering on about Mozart. Olivia had an indulgent smile on her face and her hand on his arm. He could almost feel its touch now. She had loved him then, and he hadn’t known, could have done nothing if he had except make things worse. Four months, or five counting jumps: it seemed like a very long time.

The dark-cloaked figure loomed up in their path so suddenly that George, knowing this was coming, was still startled. He saw Olivia hop backwards and remembered his own heart pounding at the surprise. Grab him, he whispered to the other George, even though that would be entirely the wrong thing to do. But the figure moved away as quickly as it had appeared, and Olivia opened the folded note that had been thrust into her hand. The two peered curiously at it, but George’s attention could no longer be on them; the hooded emissary was headed his way.

A quick snatch and yank, and the man, off-balance but struggling, was in the alley with him. George looked out, making certain he and Olivia had moved on, and then forced his captive up against the wall. “All right, you bastard; got you this time,” he said, and got a very un-Brant-like squeak in return. He pulled down the hood and ripped off the mask. A weaselly, frightened and familiar countenance stared back at him.

“Oh, shit. Schicklgruber! What the fuck are you—” He paused and switched to German. “That is, may I ask what you were doing out there just now?”

Schicklgruber gaped at him, his eyes flickering from George’s face to the street outside. George realized belatedly that he had just performed an astounding feat of instantaneous matter transfer. “Executing a commission,” Schicklgruber gulped out finally.

“For which you were well compensated, I imagine,” said George. “Where’s Brant? And I thought I paid you to find him.”

Schicklgruber shrugged. “He paid me better.”

“I understand the need for disguise then. But why the Gray Messenger act? It looked like you were about to commission a Requiem Mass.” A blank stare in response: served George right for the anachronism. “Never mind. Where’s Brant? You told me about the concert, and he was there; is he on his way home? Where does he live?” Schicklgruber shook his head. “Where did he give you the note, then?”

Still no answer. When he’d hired the out-of-work hostler on the previous jump, George had credited him with more intelligence; he’d been quicker to speak (and to request payment) and good at tracking. Now, he seemed dazed. “Gott in Himmel,” he whispered finally. “All of you are magicians. Your gold will vanish as do your corporeal selves; it is devil’s gold, and would only buy me time in hell.”

“What are you talking about? Listen, I just move very fast—”

“And she? Whether she is your woman or his, I saw her, then I did not see her, and just now again she was here. I put the paper in her hand; it was solid flesh. Yesternight it was ether. I stood in his footprints, where he had held her in his arms but a moment past. They were no more.”

“You saw Olivia and Brant disappear? And this was yesterday?” Oh hell, oh bloody fucking hell. They’re gone. “Did Brant know you were watching?”

Nein.” Schicklgruber did not seem inclined to say more. Keeping a grip on him with one hand, George put the other ostentatiously into his pocket, jingling coins. Schicklgruber’s eyes flicked downwards and his mouth opened again. “I went to pay him a visit—”

“Where?”

“Spittelberg. We met in a tavern. Not one of the houses.” George, who had spent enough time in Vienna to understand Schicklgruber’s firm denial, nodded. “I thought perhaps if I saw him again—”

“You hadn’t decided yet it was the devil’s gold, had you? Too bad you know better now, and can’t take mine.”

“Assuredly, kind sir, I am already damned; you need have no concern for my immortal soul.” George took a coin from his pocket and held it between two fingers. Schicklgruber seemed to gather strength. “He stood in the shadow of a wall, but I knew his face nonetheless, and hers. She was weak; he kept her from falling. He spoke to her.”

“What did he say?”

“He said ‘Areis bleck wentschenz.’ I do not know what that means. And the rest was in English. I understood because it was numbers.”

“You would know numbers, wouldn’t you? And exactly how badly English tourists tip. What did he say?”

“I believe it was a date. Fifteen April. Seventeen seventy-eight. Then he said oh-sechs-hundert. Und, ach… mein Gott…

“Go on,” said George between gritted teeth.

“He held her in his arms and they vanished. And to the ground I fell, my hands clasped in prayer, until the madam of the house outside which I knelt came out and kicked me.”

“So he disappeared in front of your eyes. And you still came here and delivered his message?”

“What might he have done to me had I not?” said Schicklgruber, shivering.

George was about to say “Not much” but thought he’d better keep all their reputations for magical revenge intact. “Well, what needs to happen now is you disappear. Not in the same way—unless I lose my temper—but I cannot see you again.” Because I didn’t. “Take this”—he passed him a blind handful of coins—“and get out of my sight. Go back to Spittelberg and buy a whore if you like; just don’t come here again for two days.”

“I shall go north, not south, and I shall buy beer in quantity, not flesh. Danke, mein Herr. And I hope never to see you again.” George let go; Schicklgruber made him a clumsy bow, still looking terrified, and ducked out of the alley. George leaned back against the wall and put his face in his hands.

* * * * *

24 February 2174

“Damira, solntze moyo, my shining sun.” His eyes were playing tricks on him, so he closed and opened them, and she no longer wore an aura. “Listen. Give Voszha a quick rubdown and get him prepped again. I know where to go.”

She sat back on her heels and regarded him steadily. “I know where they are,” he said again, insistent on making her hear him. “Fifteen April seventeen seventy-eight. Oh-five-thirty, that’ll give me enough time.” The map in his head wavered and bled; he shook himself and it steadied. “The Burggasse. I bet there’s a churchyard. Or put me down in the glacis an hour earlier and I’ll walk.” She wasn’t moving. “Damira, please.”

“You are not going anywhere except your hotel, George. Or perhaps to a doctor. You cannot jump in that condition.”

“I’m all right,” he said, and tried to sit up. He was dizzy to the point of nausea, his muscles didn’t seem to be working properly, and his lungs felt as though he’d inhaled poison gas.

“George, you look like absolute shit,” said Rinaldo. “Your skin is a disgusting shade of grayish pink and you’re sweating buckets. I gather it was a bad jump?”

George tried not to shudder. “Not the best one I’ve had,” he admitted.

“Are you hurt other ways?” said Pavel, his tone unusually practical. “While in Vienna, any injuries?” George shook his head. “Then rest. You need not jump now, remember. They do not go away. They are four hundred years in past.”

“But I—” Want to, he finished silently. “All right,” he said after a pause. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

“When you are better,” said Damira. “And when I have run the report. It may be I can lessen these dreadful side effects.”

George nodded. “I don’t mind it myself. But Olivia…” If she was as weak as Schicklgruber had said, a jump like that might kill her. “As soon as you can, Damira.”

It was ten minutes before he could walk, and then they helped him down the stairs and, after he had refused medical care yet again, bundled him into a car with Rinaldo. Not until they entered the hotel lobby did he realize he still had on his eighteenth-century attire. He rejected Rinaldo’s help in undressing, but obeyed the order to sleep. Disobedience would have been difficult.

Normal jump hangover plus the after-effects of the return journey kept him unconscious past nightfall. On rising, he was shocked to find it nearly midnight. Feeling fully recovered, and seized by restlessness, he decided to go for a walk and left the hotel. The cold air on his face and the snow underfoot invigorated him further.

Moscow, intriguing by day, was gorgeous under the moon and stars, though heavenly features were pretty much invisible what with the earthly glow. The buildings shone with illumination by night, gaudy and effusive and beloved, a thousand years or more of representative architecture, if you were generous about reconstructions. He wandered aimlessly for a time, admiring. City of lights. It was interesting to observe how different municipal governments approached historic preservation: matter-of-fact pride; diffident reserve; nannyish anxiety; outright boasting; deliberate ignorance. That had been part of the charm of learning a new place, when he’d toured Europe in his early twenties. He wondered if all the history had got into his blood somehow, though it wasn’t until several years later that he’d become a jumper, and only when Charles picked him out, dusted him off, and set him on the path.

Cities, as a cultural phenomenon, didn’t seem to have changed a great deal over the centuries; the differences were on the surface, not at the root. You could see the new technologies more clearly in the daytime—self-directing vehicles and transit tubes and persistent cleanliness and the ubiquity of the net, as opposed to horse-drawn wagons and hand-written epistles and filth on the streets—but he felt their lack more at night, especially as he went further back in time. In eighteenth-century Vienna, not so much, at least if he stayed on the main avenues. Seventeenth-century Amsterdam, though: night there was another world, nearly as distinct from its daytime self as it was from this Russian midnight carnival. There had been something primitive about those dark streets and canals, despite the striving modernity of the people who lay abed in the houses flanking them. Certainly the night was a temptation to baser instincts. That much never changed. But it was easier to hide them when the night was truly dark. All those secrets. All those mistakes.

George’s steps halted for a moment. It was stupid, feeling ill-at-ease because someone seemed to be watching him; he’d been watched since he arrived. This was Russia, and they liked to know what you were doing. You didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother you; they took cold walks they didn’t enjoy, and that was fine with him. Now, instead, he wanted to duck into an alley, reach out and grab; at the same time he felt that what he got hold of might be far more dangerous than Schicklgruber. Was paranoia another side effect of bad jumps into Europe? And was he paranoid if someone was actually following him? Did two followers with differing goals cancel each other out, or reinforce each other? Would they compare notes? And laugh?

A shadow fled across the wall of the Kremlin, and a chain of lights on the tower above him blinked out. Time to go back to the hotel.

* * * * *

25 February 2174

Safe again at the nostalgically misnamed Grand Struggle of Lenin Palace, he accepted a glass of Turkish coffee from the concierge without the slightest concern that it would keep him awake, took the whole self-warming carafe because he did have to be awake in the morning, let himself into his room, locked the door thoroughly, and fell on the bed. Some hours later, the dream in which he was floating mid-Pacific on a raft with a Polynesian-looking ferryboat captain (who kept spouting advice about letting the waves take you where they would) was invaded by a non-threatening but annoyingly loud shark, circling the raft and buzzing. After some time he woke and realized it was his door alarm. He opened his eyes; the room was still dark.

“Rinaldo, what the hell?” he prepared to say, rising with a spinning head and an ache and tiredness in all his limbs, and going to the door. But it wasn’t Rinaldo standing in the doorway; it was a woman. She was short, blonde and pale-complexioned, and somewhere in her forties.

“George Merrill. At last,” she said, and broke into a wide smile. He stared, feeling incapable of words, though something to do with sharks flitted through his mind. “May I come in?” she added. She spoke English with a slight accent; at the moment he couldn’t place it.

“Why?” he managed.

“Why do you think?” she said. Then her smile faded. “You don’t recognize me, do you?”

Shit. Am I supposed to know her? Have we met? Have we done anything else? No, she did look vaguely familiar, but he was certain he’d never been in her presence before: the initial effect was not impressive, but the magnetic quality grew by the second. “No. Sorry. Who?” he said, wondering why his tongue wasn’t cooperating.

“You may call me Simone.”

“Jardine?” he slurred. “Have been waiting for you.” That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?

“I do apologize for the delay. Might I come in? We shouldn’t talk in the hall.”

He opened the door wider and she walked in, each booted foot placed precisely, then turned in a swift motion and divested herself of her faux-fur coat. It might in fact, he observed as its shimmering folds settled onto the bed like a sleepy cat, be real fur. Hard to come by in today’s world. The problem occupied him for a moment—could he tell by touching, or would he have to call in an expert? Could Damira do the analysis? Would Damira like a fur coat of her own?—and when he brought his eyes back to Simone, she looked amused.

“Long day?” she said.

“Longer by the minute. Though I think it’s tomorrow now.”

“Yes, George. It is tomorrow. That’s why I’m here.” He cocked his head at her, not understanding. It made him dizzier.

“May I have a cup of coffee?” she said, gesturing at the carafe.

“Forgetting my duty as a host,” he mumbled, took the few necessary steps without tripping, and poured for both of them with a shaky hand. She took the cup but did not drink; he swallowed his in a few gulps. It didn’t help.

“I think you’d better sit down,” she said.

“Not till you tell me what this is all about,” he answered. The demand would have sounded more impressive if he hadn’t stuttered.

“Sit down,” she said again, and he was suddenly all eagerness to obey. Down, he thought, it’s this way, and the floor came up to meet him.

* * * * *

This disappearing business was harder than it looked. Andy shouldered his bag more securely and glared up at the departure screens in the Düsseldorf Bahnhof, wondering what to do next. He’d taken a train from Paris to Luxembourg, and another here, and he’d purchased a ticket to Berlin, knowing it would send anyone tracking him in the wrong direction, chasing after a phantom. Which was all very well, but the unghostly Andy needed to go somewhere as well, and he couldn’t pay for it. In fact, he couldn’t buy anything, including food or shelter, from the moment the Berlin train left.

Reminded to stock up on snacks, he headed for the nearest dispensary. Düsseldorf, last outpost of civilization. Unlike George, he was not a seasoned European traveler, but the tasks of daily living weren’t very different here than at home. He’d visited places, even in the present day, where identity chip registration didn’t reach, where one used a local form of cash to buy things, or even bartered goods and services. But in Europe, as in North America, you were a nonperson if the chip in your shoulder was not available for use. The fact was, he’d moved too quickly, and hadn’t thought enough. This wasn’t something he could do alone; he needed help. And transportation. It was a long walk to Leerdam from here.

Hitching a ride west seemed the best possibility, though unlike in those cash-friendly regions of Africa and South America he could not simply stand by the road with his thumb out and wait for a car to stop. He’d have to identify likely venues for Dutch tourists who’d taken a car here instead of the train, and start approaching people. The question was whether he could refine his methods with the information gathered from refusals, and hit the jackpot, before someone reported him to the police. His looks were in his favor, at least up to the point they made him conspicuous; his lack of a convincing story was not.

So, he thought, trying to be logical, why might he not be able to get to Leerdam on his own? Lack of money was unlikely; identity accounts had multiple backups, and he didn’t look far enough down on his luck to have run through them all. Pretending illness or mental incompetence would just get him sent to a hospital. There was always the truth, or a facsimile of it, but that would appeal only to the minority who were adventure seekers. Of course, he ought to be familiar with the type. Just scout around for someone with George’s eyes. Except female: that would probably work better.

Well, no time like the present. So to speak.

He’d gone only halfway across the passenger lounge when he saw her. She was scanning the crowds, and caught his eye with an expression of recognition and relief. He almost walked past—this wasn’t where he’d intended to begin his search—but her obvious interest in him compelled him to pause.

“You look terribly lost. Perhaps I can help,” she said in barely accented English. She was sharp-featured and too thin, and about forty: not at all pretty, but someone he could tell at first glance would be interesting to know. And the eyes were exactly what he’d been looking for: challenging and somehow desperate.

“Well, I could use a ride,” he said. “I need to go to—” At the last second, he caught himself; for all he knew she was a spy. In fact, given the number of potential outfits she could be spying for, the chances seemed lower that she wasn’t. “Utrecht,” he finished.

“Oh, you don’t want to go there,” she said briskly. “You think you want to go to Leerdam, but actually you want Lingewaal. They’re very close.” Her voice had an almost musical quality that distracted him from her words at first; then he froze. “You are Andy, aren’t you?” she added. “I’d hate to be talking at cross-purposes. She described you pretty thoroughly, though.”

“Who did?”

“Janet, of course. Here, if you don’t believe me”—she pulled a messaging notepad out of her pocket—“she gave me this. It’s password-protected. ‘What he used to call me behind my back,’ she told me to say.”

He took the notepad and, embarrassed, entered “New Hampshire Crocodile.” Janet’s scrawl appeared on the screen: “Andy, whatever you’re doing here, keep your head down. Don’t buy anything. You can trust the bearer, up to a point, but don’t go blabbing out sensitive information. And for God’s sake don’t mention Olivia or George. I’ll see you soon.” He could almost hear Janet saying the words, with heavy emphasis on the Don’ts. As usual, her low expectations stung.

He wiped the screen and looked back at the woman. “I guess you’re giving me a ride, then,” he said. “Could I by any chance ask your name?”

“It would make communication a little easier, yes. Lena Raaf,” she said, holding out her hand. “I’m Gerrit Dijkman’s wife.”

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