CIA #320

Coconolte Investigation Agency

Case #320
The Affair of the Temporal Extortionist

(The entire book is here and will remain until January 15, 2020)

EPISODE ONE
Tomorrow will be fine

“NICK!!!!!!!  Behind you!!!” Someone was shouting at me, but I was turning just as he yelled. I probably sensed his warning before he could put it into words. I wasn’t prepared for what happened though- FIRE! SMOKE! HEAT! so intense I felt as if I had been thrown into a blast furnace, flames engulfing and smothering me.

Then, nothing but cool darkness all around me; no sensations, no sound, almost floating.  Where the hell am I and why am I here?  If I’m dead, part of me hasn’t realized it yet.  If I could remember what started me on the road to the hot house, maybe, I’ll find I’m still alive.  Or maybe the rest of me will finally catch up.  I can’t be dead, yet.  My head hurts too much.

Nick.  My name, apparently, is Nick.  Is there more?  Conol? Coco? Am I Coco Chanel?  No, can’t be.  She has something to do with perfume.  My career wasn’t nearly so sweet.  Coconole... tee, Nick Coconolte.  Ok, but who yelled before the Chicago Fire fell on me?  Sam?   I had; no, I have a brother Sam; my youngest brother.  There’s a third one, Phil, the brother between Sam and I.  We worked together.  Firefighters?  No, much too dangerous.  Cops?  Am I a cop?  Yes, I was a cop... but Phil and Sam weren’t.  Phil studied to be a lawyer, and Sam was in the Marine Corps.  But we worked together!   No, we still work together at the Agency!  I left the P.D. because of too many bad cops and started the Agency.  The Coconolte Investigation Agency.  Phil left the big law firm because only the elite seemed to be getting any justice, and Sam needed a job when he came home from China.

Where did all the fire come from?  Rain.  Rain?  The day this started, it was raining.  The rain was drumming on the window.  I can almost see the rain-blurred letters painted on the window washing away under the incessant drumming.  I can see the letters clearly now: COCONOLTE INVESTIGATION  AGENCY.  Smaller letters promise: `Discreet Inquiries, Affordable Rates.’  Suddenly, my memory kicked in….

The office on the other side of the window is small.  Not expensive, not cheap.  Entirely adequate for a three-man organization.  One room, one desk with one rotary chair, two wooden straight backed chairs for clients.

There's a wooden four-drawer file cabinet with an old pencil sharpener firmly mounted to the top.  The single window is behind the desk.  Two visible doors.  One, opposite the desk, leads to the main hallway of the Alcock Building's second floor.  The other door, on a side wall, opens to reveal the combination cloakroom/storage/toilet.  Plenty of room to hang a raincoat, hide a body, and wash up, if there's time.

I was sitting behind the desk, talking to a new client.  No, I didn’t want his business.  I thought he might have been a gag sent over by Flick of the Pinks.  He was portly, fiftyish, balding slightly, and... unusual.  Wolf?  No, Fox.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Fox, but I’m afraid we can’t help you,” I said.  He’s not responsible for all the fire, is he?  We’d needed work, but this investigation would have been too much like the Fernwood Case.  Who’s Fernwood?

“Your sign indicates `Discreet inquiries,” Fox said with a hopeful look.

Someone was leaning against the wall next to me.  Phil, it was my brother, Phil.  He spoke before I could reply to Mr. Fox:  “We can be very discreet when we have to, but we’re not fully qualified for this sort of investigation.”

"But Mr. Coconolte, how difficult could it be to learn President Roosevelt’s means of communicating with his superiors on Mars.  I must speak with them, it’s very urgent.  I have information that will make them realize how foolish complete domination-”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Fox, but we are unable to give this job the attention it needs.”  I remember thinking I have to hustle him out now, before he really gets rolling.  I stood, hoping Fox would take the hint, and he did.  When I turned slightly, I noticed the look in Phil’s eyes; he had to be thinking the same as me: Why us?  Turning back to Fox, I tried to mollify him.  “Might I suggest the Pinkerton Agency?”

“I’ve been to Pinkertons’; they suggested I come here.  Agent Flick said this would be right down your alley, in a manner of speaking.”

“Agent Flick?” Phil said.  A barely concealed grin was trying to get out.  “He would say that, wouldn’t he, Nick?  Especially after the Fernwood affair.”

“Probably.”  Somehow I knew Flick would be involved somewhere.  I stepped around the desk to show Mr. Fox to the door.  “Mr. Fox, I’m sorry we can’t help you at this time,” or any time in the near future, I thought to myself, “but our caseload is quite heavy right now.”  Phil’s having trouble holding it in now.  Stretching the truth the way I was certainly didn’t help.  “We couldn’t possibly provide enough manpower for a job of this sort.  I’ll be frank with you, our agency just isn’t qualified for an investigation of this nature and importance.”  Be diplomatic, Nick, but get him out.

Fox extended his hand to me. Shaking my hand, he said, “Thank you for your honesty, Mr. Coconolte.  I’ll try elsewhere.”

I wished him luck in his endeavors and stepped to the door with him and found Sam on the other side, reaching for the knob just as I opened it.

My youngest brother was standing there holding a carton containing sandwiches and coffee from Mollie’s Diner across the street.  He was also soaking wet with rain from the sprint across and back.  Standing in a doorway, he left no room for anyone to get past, and I wanted Fox out the door as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Gesturing up at him, I introduced Sam to Fox.  “The newest member of the firm.  Sam, this is Mr. Fox.”  Fox had to look way up to see Sam’s face and when they shook hands, Fox’s seemed to disappear.

“How do you do, Mr. Fox?  Are we going to be able to help you?”

Before Fox could say anything, I jumped in.  “I’ve informed Mr. Fox that we are too busy and understaffed to help him right now.”

“Too busy?  That’s ridiculous.  Why, we haven’t…” is all Sam could say before he notices Phil, still standing by the window, violently shaking his head, eyes wide, ears red, one hand over his mouth and the other semaphoring “NO!!”   I could almost hear Sam shifting his mental gears, and start in another direction, “…even had a chance to stop and eat for two days.”  He waggled the carton he was holding in both hands for emphasis and said “I grabbed something to eat while we finish the paperwork on our current investigation.  I’m sorry we can’t help you, Mr. Fox.  I’m sure it’s an important job.”

I jumped in again before Fox could begin his story.  “It’s fascinating, Sam.  However, Mr. Fox is far too busy to tell it all over again, aren’t you?”  Fox gave a little tired nod.  “I’ll discuss it with you later, Sam.  Right now we do have that paperwork to tend to, and Mr. Fox probably has other appointments to worry about.  Goodbye, Mr. Fox.  I do hope things work out for the best.”

Fox gave me a friendly smile before speaking.  “Thank you, Mr. Coconolte, for your time and patience.  And for not ridiculing me.  Some people have actually acted as though I were crazy.  I’m leaving for New York tomorrow.  I think I’ll stop by and talk to Orson.   He may have an idea or two about communicating with Mars.  He’s well known in the broadcasting business and may know someone connected with the Army’s radio experiments of 1924.”

I finally got Fox through the door and headed for the elevator.  In a whoosh, Phil released the breath he’d been holding.

“Lord, I thought I was gonna bust,” he said with that grin of his. “That guy couldn’t possibly be for real, could he?  Hey!! Pass me a couple of those sandwiches before you guys inhale all of `em!”



“--so this poor old guy says that the President is communicating with other worlds and has been since the Army’s radio experiments back in `24.”  Phil was laughing and choking at the same time trying to eat while I was telling Sam about Fox.  “He’s probably just a lonely old guy--’  I was interrupted by the door almost flying off of its hinges, crashing against the wall, and the sudden appearance of a young woman.  Dinner was not to go uninterrupted.

She looked at us very intensely and asked, “Are you the Coconolte boys?”

Of course, we all sat frozen, staring at her.  She was, after all, a beautiful, mystery woman.  Just like in the pulp thrillers.  For the moment, that is. 

I was sitting behind the desk, while Phil and Sam were on either side sitting in the old straight back chairs.  I had raised my sandwich to my mouth for a bite between words when she had literally exploded through the door.  Phil stopped chewing and Sam had just stuffed a healthy portion of roast beef on rye into his gob when she appeared.  There we were.  A still life: “Three Siblings at Dinner.”  Nothing like this had ever happened in this office before.

She was tall, slim, and blond, maybe genuine.  About twenty-nine or thirty.  No umbrella and no raincoat, yet dry as bone while the rain continued to pour outside in the dusk.  However, none of this occurred to me until much later.

After a few heartbeats of silence, Sam was the first to show signs of life: he began to chew Mollie’s delicious sandwich.  I looked at him with a frown, put my sandwich down and turned back to the young woman.  After the shock of her arrival had faded, I remembered her question.

“For the right people, we are indeed the Coconolte boys.  For the wrong people, we try to be something entirely different.  Now which are you, right or wrong?” I asked with a smile.  I was still a little surprised, but I had to act like beautiful mysterious women showed up at my door every day.

 “My name is Eva Nerak, and I need your help desperately.”  She was practically in tears and shaking slightly.

Before I could reply, Phil swallowed noisily and said, “You’re not looking for someone with cosmic contacts on Mars, are you?”

Phil’s question seemed to shake her.  “Mars?  I…  I... don’t understand?”  she stammered with quite a surprised look.  “What about Mars?”   Later, I would understand why she was so surprised by Phil’s flip question.

“Please, ignore my half-wit brother.  It’s not been quite a normal day around here.”  I stuck my elbow into Sam’s ribs and pointed at his chair.  “Please, sit.  Relax.”

Sam moved his chair around to the front of the desk.  He sat on one corner, still working on his roast beef.

“Make yourself comfortable.  Would you care for some coffee?  There’s plenty.  Mollie makes the best in town.”  I was hoping she’d relax and become a little more coherent.

“Mollie?  Oh. Yes. The diner across the street.  I remember now.  No, thank you.”  She was sitting now.  Still very nervous about something, twisting her small handbag tightly.  “Please, you must help me.  My… brother is missing, and I must find him.  I haven’t seen or heard from him for... days.”

“Miss Nerak, may I call you Eva?”  She nodded slightly, eyes screwed up trying to hold back tears.  “My name is Nick, this is my brother Phil, and the eating machine responds to Sam.  Don’t let his size scare you.  He’s harmless unless you get between him and food.”  She smiled and relaxed visibly.  “That’s better.  Have some coffee.  Phil, are there any sandwiches left?  One?  Quick, pass it to Miss Nerak!”

As she accepted it, Sam growled around another large bite of roast beef.  Seeing the look in his eye, she smiled again and relaxed still more.

“Thank you.  This smells marvelous.  Suddenly, I feel as if I hadn’t eaten for... years.”

 I gave her time to swallow a couple of bites and a sip of coffee.  “Now, what can you tell us about your brother?  Between bites.”

 “I… I don’t really know when... how to begin.  I haven’t heard from him in weeks... I mean days.  Usually, I see him, or he calls me at least once a week.”  She was getting jumpy again.  Phil also noticed this and glanced at me.  I’m sure Sam noticed, too, but he seemed to be fully occupied with the remains of his sandwich.

“What’s your brother’s name?”  I spoke softly, hoping she might calm down again.

“Bobby.  Robert Emerson Randolph, Jr.”  Her head was down, she sounded like she was all alone in the world.  “He was named for his father, my... my...”

Suddenly, she seemed to snap back to life.  “My mother’s first husband.  He went.. he died when Bobby was very young.  It was before the first world... the War.  Yes, before the War.  I’m sorry if I seem to be babbling.  I’m just so worried about him.  She leaned forward slightly and placed the unfinished sandwich on the desk.  Putting her face down into her hands, she began a gentle sobbing.

Phil leaned near to whisper in my ear.  “Are you buying any of this?”  I shook my head slowly, never taking my eyes from the girl.

“Miss Nerak... Eva.”  She looked up at me with slightly red and damp eyes.  “Do you live nearby?  Is there someplace for you to stay?”

“No.  No, I arrived earlier today.”

My face didn’t change, but I saw Phil react to her answer.  Sam seemed to be more interested in the unfinished sandwich Eva had been nibbling.

“I think you need some rest.  Sam, will you take Miss Nerak next door.  Tell Hans she needs a quiet room.  And ask him not to check her in officially, yet.  Eva, the hotel next door is quiet, clean, safe, and most importantly, cheap.  Hans has been very helpful in some of our investigations.  You can trust him.  We’ll talk again after you’ve had some sleep.”  I had come around the desk to help her rise from the chair.  “Do you have any luggage with you?”

“Uh… no.  Yes.  I left a small bag at the... train station?  Yes, the train station.”

“I’m sure one of my gallant sibs would be more than honored to retrieve it for you.”

“There’s no hurry for it.  Tomorrow will be fine.”

“Very good.  Sam, please escort Miss Nerak to her suite.  I’m sure you’ll feel much better in the morning,” I said as she and Sam moved to the door.

“Thank you… Nick.  All of you, thank you.”



When the office door had closed behind Miss Nerak and Sam, Phil and I stepped back to the desk for a short business conference.

“She’s lying, isn’t she, Nick?”

“I think so.  But not all of it is lies.”  I stared at the closed door long enough for Phil to fidget a bit, and said, “She really is worried.  Almost terrified, I’d say.  Someone is missing and/or in big trouble, but it’s not her brother.”

“I don’t like the part about her mother’s first husband,” Phil said while he looked at the closed door.  “I wonder who’s she lying to protect?”

“Let’s not push her for the moment.  She needs help now, so, we’ll let her think we believe her story.  If we can gain her trust, she might open up more.”  We both stared at the door for a heartbeat or two, and it opened.  Sam, returning from escort duty.

He walked over to the desk without a word, and sat in the chair that Miss Eva Nerak had recently occupied.  He picked up her unfinished sandwich and took a healthy bite.  There was never wasted food in the house when the three of us were growing up.

“Well, Sam,” I said, “How do you feel about Eva Nerak?”

“Too skinny.  She doesn’t eat right,”   he answered, between bites.

“Besides that.”

"I believe her name really is Eva Nerak and she’s afraid someone very close to her is in extreme danger.  I don’t believe that it’s her brother, or that her mother’s first husband died before the Great War.  I also believe that I’m going across the street and have some of Mollie’s fine apple pie before she closes for the night,” Sam said, as he swallowed the last bite and added “a la mode.”

 “Nick, how did we ever get along in this business before Sam came home from the Marines?”

 “Okay, guys, let’s all go have some pie.  Maybe Miss Nerak will be a bit more co-operative after some sleep.”

 “I think breakfast might also be very therapeutic for her,” Sam said, smiling broadly.

 I had to sigh as I looked heavenward.  “All right, I’ll buy if you guys will shut up and stuff your faces with pie and ice cream.




EPISODE TWO
“See ya in the funny pages”


The next day started bright and fresh after the cleansing rain of the night before. The clouds were drifting out over the harbor, away from the city, and fresh new sunshine was soaking into the pools and puddles all around town.



My brothers and I were treating Eva to Mollie’s finest breakfast special. We were all having the special. `Specially Sam. Mollie always gave him a special special: “Here’s your usual, Sam.” His usual was a large plate with three specials on it. “I want you to clean your plate like a good boy so you’ll grow up big and strong like your brothers,” she told him, mostly for Eva’s benefit. Sam must be as big and strong as Phil and I put together.

“Yes, mom. I mean, yes, ma’am.” He’s a good boy. When he wants to be.

We were all sitting in the big back booth that Mollie reserves for special occasions and Coconolte/client conferences. You can’t see it from the street, and it’s very private.

“Did you sleep any, Eva?” I asked.

“Like a log. Talking to all of you last night helped me stop and think about what needs to be done instead of flying around in a panic. I’m sure I can be more coherent now than I was last night.” She smiled around her fork as she finished the last bite of her eggs. She seemed more confidant and sure of herself that morning.

“Are you ready to talk about it?”

“How do I begin?”

“When did you last see your brother?”

“Close to two weeks now? Yes, almost two weeks, I think.”

“And you’ve had no contact with him since?”

She put down her fork and reached for the coffee cup. “Nothing!” She stared into the cup for a moment. She needed both hands to hold it down on the table, her knuckles whiter than the rest of her pale skin.

We all looked at one another while she was lost in her coffee. Two minutes ago, she acted as though life was almost perfect; now, she’s almost in tears again. Whatever is going on has affected her more than she wants to admit. I was beginning to think life and death struggle. Not my favorite kind of assignment.

“More coffee, boys? Miss Eva?” Mollie was back to clear away dishes and break the awful silence. “’nother special, Sam?”

There were various yeses for coffee. Sam sighed and said, “Just java, Mollie. Looks like I’m on the clock.”

After refills all around, Phil spoke first. “Miss Nerak, I have a very important and extremely delicate question that must be asked. You may be shocked or offended, but we must know. Does your brother have any unlawful, or amoral habits... or hobbies?”

Her eyes opened wide for a brief moment and she drew a quick breath. “No. I understand why you must ask, but if you knew him, you’d realize that’s a foolish question.”

“Then he has no enemies, owes no one huge sums of money or favors?” She shook her head as Phil continued. “What is his profession?”

“He’s a doctor. A heart specialist. We must find him soon. His most important patient needs him!”

“Who is this patient?”

“His grandmother,” she replied, again studying her coffee.

“His grandmother?” I asked, slightly surprised. “Don’t you mean your grandmother?”

“What?” Her head jerked suddenly and she looked around at us. “Oh, no... I mean... his father’s mother. I think I’m losing it again.”

“Slow down. Take a deep breath, that’s it. Drink you coffee before it gets cold. It’s the best in town.”

After she had a couple of sips, I continued where Phil left off. “Did he say anything about going anywhere or visiting someone?”

“No. The last thing I heard was that he was going to see how his grandmother is doing, and... and... he never arrived.”

“Would you give us a description of him? Sam, get this down.”

As she spoke, Sam entered it into that little notebook of his. Someday I have got to get a look at that book. “He’s thirty-five, almost two meters tall-”

“He’s almost what?” Sam said, looking up from his notes.

“He’s, uh, just a little over six feet tall. Deep blue eyes and black wavy hair. He’s in excellent shape. Probably because of the aerobic exercises he does every morning before breakfast.”

“What are aerobics?” Sam asked. I was curious too.

“Very fast, intensive physical exercising.”

“Silly habits like that kept me from re-enlisting. Anything else? Marks, scars, tattoos?”

“No, none that I know of.”

“Does he drink or smoke?”

“No,” she said with a queer look. “Nobody smokes anymore back home.”

It was an unusual answer. I didn’t want to pursue it any further, for fear she might have another case of the nerves. “Sam, I think you’ve got enough to start the legwork.”

“For which I am best qualified being the junior member of the firm,” he said as he rose from the booth. “Usual places, Nick? Police station, hospital, the, uh…” He looked down at Eva.

“Say it, Sam,” she whispered, again studying her coffee.

“The county morgue, too?”

She shuddered slightly. I gave Sam a small nod and he turned to go.  Mollie caught him and handed him a brown bag. “For later, Sam. You’ll like them.”

He took the bag with a smile. “Mollie, you are truly the only civilized person I know. If I hadn’t dedicated my life to keeping my brothers out of trouble, I’d marry you.”

“Don’t kid a kidder, kid. You’ll always be like a son to me. Now get on about your business, and help this young lassie. Out!” She was pushing him towards the door. Over her shoulder she called back, “If you need anything just holler.”

                                                                 

“Mollie is a wonderful old soul, isn’t she?” Eva said when Mollie was out of earshot.

“She’s a widow,” Phil said, “Her husband passed away only a couple of years ago.”

“How sad. Did they love each other?”

“Like the sun loves the moon. A real storybook romance. The thing that really hurt her the worst was her sons.”

“What happened?” There was a little of the fear in her eyes again.

“Mollie and Flynn had three fine, strapping sons. All with a wee touch o’ the Irish. They were all close in age. About like Nick, Sam, and I. Anyway, when it looked like the U.S. was going to get into the war, the three of them were the first in the neighborhood to sign up. Back around the end of 1915.”

“Did they go over there?” Her eyes got visibly larger.

“Yes. All three. All in the same combat outfit.”

“Please, Phil, don’t tell me they all died.”

“Okay, I won’t say it, but they were all awarded posthumously for helping others come home alive.”

“Mollie seems to treat you three as her sons.”

“I think we helped her out of the dumps after her husband died. Phil joined me in the agency just before Flynn passed away. Some out of town business men offered to buy the diner a short time later, and their business manner was none too subtle,” I said.

“What happened?”

Phil explained. “Well, Nick and I were afraid the food wouldn’t be nearly as good under new management, and Mollie had no intention of selling, so we convinced these gentlemen that the place wasn’t for sale. If Flynn hadn’t died of a medical condition, I think we could have done more than run them out of town, but there wasn’t any way they could have been responsible. Just timely. Anyway, she adopted us, after a fashion, and treats us like family now. I think it’s because we’re always trying to help people with no other options.”

“Like her sons,” Eva said, smiling again. “I think Sam is her favorite.”

“So do Nick and I,” Phil said as he stood, “but she’ll never admit it.  Confidentially, Sam’s our favorite, too. I’m going back to the office to warm up the blower.” The puzzled look on Eva’s face made Phil smile and add, “The telephone. Sam’s running around town, annoying people in person, I get to annoy them from the comfort of the office. See you later.”

“Ask if there’s anyone suffering from problems of the heart, and I don’t mean the romantic kind.”

“Okay, Nick. I’ll keep that in mind. Especially when I talk to Dr. Lowell, right? Oh, sorry, Mollie. I didn’t see you.” Phil’s always had trouble walking and talking at the same time.

“Here, these are for later. Now go.”

Phil looked in the bag she handed him and said, “If I don’t stay away from here, I’ll soon be wider than I am tall. Thanks, Mollie.” A quick peck on the cheek and he was on his way to the door.

“I have more questions about your brother, if you’re up to it,” I said as gently as I could. It would be difficult not to fall for this girl, even though she’s not been completely open with me. And the fact that I was still undecided about someone else. What was I thinking, she couldn’t possibly have been as old as Sam was. At the time. She stared into her cup while this jumble of thoughts and feelings seemed to swell and roll around in my head.

“It has to be done. Time is, literally, of the essence,” she said very quietly. Her odd remark about time snapped me back to the present and other suspicions.

“Has anyone else talked to you about... Bobby’s disappearance? Anyone at all?”

She looked up from her cup, and off into space. I thought. “No, no one... well, yes, his grandmother told me she was... concerned about him, then I got worried and rushed here to look for him.” She came back from wherever, or whenever she was, and was looking directly into my eyes. Easy, Nick. Don’t get lost. Someone else could get hurt.

I blinked to break the inner tension. “Where does he live? Have you checked there for a message of some sort?”

“He… he doesn’t live here. I’ve checked his home and there’s nothing there. There was no indication that he was planning on going anywhere for any length of time.” She was looking down again, hiding her eyes. From me? Was she afraid of me, or my feelings? Get a grip, Nick. She’s only here because you claim to be a professional. It must have been something else she wanted to hide. What, and why?

“Eva, what aren’t you telling me?” Good cop wasn’t getting me anywhere, time for the bad cop. “I- we can’t help you if you don’t help us. Where does he live? And where are you from?” I had gently taken her hand; good cop just wouldn’t go away. She was trembling slightly, but I don’t think it was because of me. “Talk to me. I want to help you. My brothers want to help you. After all, the Coconolte boys have a reputation to uphold. If we can’t get you through this, Mollie will probably disown all of us, including Sam.”

She smiled and blinked away some tears. “We both live in the Capital District.”

“D.C.? Washington?”

“Um... yes. Bobby has a practice there, and the law firm I work for is there. I think he came out here, or was brought here, to see someone.”

“Who?” I asked. “Someone of importance? Official?” I was beginning to get some very unpleasant ideas. “Someone... dangerous?”

“I don’t know. If I knew I’d have gone to them. Mrs. Randolph, Bobby’s grandmother, said he may have been headed this way. She mentioned the Carleton Hotel.”

“Not exactly the Ritz, but I know someone at the Carleton.”

“I know. I went there first to see if he’s registered as a guest, but no one at the desk had heard of him, and there were no reservations in his name. I was so worried and distraught that a very kind gentleman came up to help me, and, well, he gave me your name and address. He said if you couldn’t help, no one could.”

“That had to be Murph. He’s my contact at the Carleton.”

“I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. I feel so... helpless.”

Before I could say or do anything more to comfort her, Mollie hustled up with more coffee and fresh coffee cake. “Not for you, mister. For Miss Eva and me. You have work waiting. It’s time for Miss Eva and me to get acquainted. You go make sure Phil and Sam aren’t goofing off. Shoo!”

“Yes, ma’am. Eva, when you return to the hotel, make sure Hans knows you’re there. Please? I don’t want two missing persons to look for. Take care of her, Mollie. Try to cheer her up, will you?” And I left the back booth for the office.

                                                              

When I got back to the office, I found Phil behind the desk, telephone receiver pressed to his ear with one hand, his other fumbling with a small notepad. ”You’re sure? Yeah, I got it. What?” He looked up at me and winked as I walked through the door. “Yeah, I’ll tell him. Sure, I know. Thanks.” He dropped the receiver back on its hook, leaned back in the chair, hands behind his head, and gave me a big, wide smile.

“What?” I asked, “was that your bookie, Phil? Did you finally win the big one?”

“Nah, my bookie has been out of town for two weeks now.  For his health.” Still that big smile.

“So why the big grin? I don’t suppose that was Randolph, was it?”

“No such luck. That was Dr. Lowell over at County General. Boy, what a knockout!” Wistfully he said, “Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t so damned healthy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before. What did she have to say?” Sometimes I wish I had never met the good doctor. More importantly, I wish my brothers had never met her.

“I asked her if she knew of any heart doctors named Randolph.” His smiled faded somewhat as he referred to the notes. “She can doctor my heart anytime.”

“And?”

“And, the only Dr. Robert Randolph she can get a line on is a foot doctor in Miami. And he retired there fifteen years ago.”

“Is that what all the grinning and eyeball rolling was about?”

“This?” Phil said, holding up the notepad. “Oh, no. This is very serious stuff.”

“Then what was so humorous when I walked in? Did I forget to wear my nose, again?” I had a hunch I knew what was comimg.

“Oh, that. Dr. Lowell asked me to tell you she thinks it’s about time you had a complete physical.” Big grin to emphasize `complete.’

“What’s so funny about that? I’m flattered that she’s concerned about my health. And, if you were to ask, I’m sure she’s concerned about your health, and... Sam’s, and practically everybody else’s in the community.” I wish they wouldn’t keep reminding me about her. I’m still confused about my feelings, and this new missing person case isn’t helping. “Chris- Dr. Lowell will just have to wait a while to get me into the (another smirk from Phil) hospital. Eva’s problem has priority right now. I did manage to get a little more out of her before Mollie chased me out. Let’s compare it to what you’ve learned.” I scooted one of the old chairs over to the desk and sat down.

“Okay, but when this is all over and done with, if I were you, I’d sure think about checking into the hospital and letting Dr. Lowell take care of you for awhile. An old fogey like you can’t be too careful, you know.”

“Well, you’re not me, so don’t worry about it. As soon as we finish this job, I’ll see the good doctor professionally. Now, be quiet, and tell me what you’ve learned.”

                                                                

Sam called in from a payphone at the county hospital. He’s a little more dexterous than Phil is, so I know he had his notebook and at least half a sandwich in one hand, while the other was occupied with holding the receiver up to his ear.

He had just seen Sgt. Morris at the desk of our local precinct to ask about vagrant arrests resembling our client’s brother, before checking in with us. “Hi, Phil, it’s me. Your other brother. I’m at County General. Morris checked back two weeks for me. No John Does resembling Randolph have been reported or arrested up to last night.... no, no unidentified bodies either... the Doc never heard of him, either, huh? I don’t suppose you asked her about any emergencies that could be him, did you? I didn’t think so. Well, I’ll ask at the desk. Damn. No, not you, Phil. Mollie’s bag has nothing left but used wax paper in it. Maybe she’s trying to put me on a diet.... I’m sorry, what did you say, Phil? Tell Dr. Lowell what? I can’t understand you with Nick yelling like that. Ya know, an old fart like Nick really should start thinking about his- oh, hello Nick.... don’t worry, I won’t talk to her if I can avoid it... you really should have her check your blood pressure, though. I would if I were you. As often as possible... okay, okay, I’m on it. I’ll be back in the office as soon as I can. G’bye.”

I know he was grinning when he hung up the phone. But, I’ll bet that grin faded when his empty lunch bag caught his eye. He’s conscientious, so I’m sure he stuffed it into a trash can somewhere before talking to the girl at the desk. She’s a pretty young thing, sitting behind a sign that says ‘Information/Admitting.’ She’s also about Sam’s age, and would have been watching him as soon as he walked in to use the phone. Quite casually, of course. From what he put into his report later, I’m sure the conversation went something like this:

“Hi, Sam. Keeping busy?”

“Today, yes. How’s life in the big city, Abby?’

“You see more of it than I do. You didn’t just happen to stop by to see if I’m busy Saturday night, did you?” She would have done something with those eyes of hers then.

“I wish. I may be stuck on this case all week. And that new Robin Hood flick with Flynn starts Saturday.”

“I know. Errol’s my second favorite hero.” This would have brought the dreamy look to her face.

“And who, may I ask, is your favorite hero?”

Abby would have tried to affect an air of disinterest as she answered that. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve never heard of him. He works for a big, famous detective agency with his brothers. They’re always saving the world or some beautiful, mystery woman from some awful gangsters, or evil scientist, or something, every day.” There’d have been some laughter in her eyes while she teased him.

“Well, it sounds like he’s working steady, at least. We’re trying to help a mystery woman right now. I hope there are no mad scientists or foreign spies involved. I like my excitement on the silver screen, Saturday night. With any luck, we’ll be finished by then.”

This would have made Abby hopeful. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Maybe.” Showing her the description of Randolph in his notes, he asked her if anyone fitting that description named Randolph or Emerson would have been admitted recently. But, no.

“Sam, we’ve got two un-identifieds that came into the emergency room. One of them is a woman, so that leaves just one to check. Hold on a moment, I’ll buzz the emergency ward... Hello, June, this is Abby, would you describe the unidentified man that arrived the other day? No, too old.... oh, Sam’s here looking for a man... I know, I’m practically throwing myself at him, but he’s insisting on a six foot guy with black hair... okay, thanks, June. `Bye. `Fraid not, Sam. Sorry I couldn’t help.”

“Don’t be sorry, Abby. We want to find him alive and well. If we can wrap this thing up by Friday, I’ll give you another chance to practically throw yourself at me again. Gotta run. Bye now.”

“Sam!” But he was too late. Dr. Lowell came striding down the corridor towards him. He never told me what his conversation with Chris was about, but I got most of it out of her later.

“Hello, Doc, and how are you today?” I know Sam likes her. Most men like her. Some even respect her for the intelligent woman that she is.

“What’s wrong with Nick? He hasn’t called me for days. Is he upset with me?” She’s just a bit younger than I am, but looks almost too young to be an experienced doctor.

“I personally think my older brother has a hole in his head that lets all of his common sense leak out when it applies to you, Doc.” This would have emphasized her dimples. “You know how he is about independence. When Phil left that law firm to join the agency, Nick was uncomfortable for about a year and a half. Now that he knows Phil’s okay in a tight spot, he doesn’t worry quite so much. Because of my hitch with the Marines, he got used to having me around a little quicker than that. It’s a lot different with you. I think he’s afraid of how it might hurt you if he let himself get too close and something unfortunate happened to him.”

“I worry about all three of you when you’re working. I talked to Phil earlier, and I’ve got mixed feelings about this job.”

“I didn’t like parts of it from the beginning. The girl is so distraught that I’m willing to go along with her story just to get her calmed down. Maybe then we can find out what’s really going on. I can’t tell if she’s worried about her brother, if there is a brother, or if she’s afraid of someone or something else.”

“If this young woman... Eva? If Eva knew the Coconolte boys the way I do, she wouldn’t be afraid of anyone or anything. I know you’ll do your best. You can count on me for help, too.”

“Thanks, Doc. Say, Phil asked about Randolph, but did he ask if anyone around here needed a high-falutin’ doctor from back east?”

“Why, no, he didn’t. I’ll check around. I have to run, Sam. Give my best to Phil and Nick.”

“Especially Nick, right?”

“Well, maybe. And tell him to call me. Please?”

“Uh, Doc, after we get this one taken care of, I think Nick might be a little more susceptible to your charms. He hasn’t noticed it, but I’ve seen him look at Eva in a different way a couple of times. He may be questioning his own feelings right now. Just don’t act like he’s the only fish in the sea. You know, make him think you’re looking around.”

“Do you suppose that would work?”

“Sure. Have a drink somewhere with someone. Just be sure you’re seen by someone who knows Nick.”

“Hmmm. Dr. Brown in maternity has asked me to dinner once or twice. Maybe he’ll ask again.”

“That’s it, but don’t overdo it. Wake up his curiosity. Well, gotta go. G’bye, Abby, Doctor. See ya in the funny pages.”




EPISODE THREE
“The Kazoo from Hell”

When Sam got back to the office, Phil was on the phone again. “Okay, thanks, Lenny. Hello, Sam. Any news?”

“Isn’t the absence of bad news usually considered to be good news?”

“Well, maybe. I think it might depend on what sort of bad news is absent. Tell me what you didn’t learn, and maybe we can try to understand it together.”

At this point, I can just picture Sam sitting in front of the desk with his size fourteen brogans propped up on the corner. He’d also be consulting that little book of his: “Well, there are no unclaimed stiffs in the county morgue’s cold box that match Randolph’s description, which is a point in his favor, and no unidentified patients in the hospital that look like him, point number two for our side. However, since he hasn’t turned up dead or unconscious by now, he’s either hiding out, alive and well, or very much dead and hidden even better.”

"Maybe he’s alive and hidden against his will.”

“I don’t think so, Phil. If that was the case, I think someone would be trying to exchange him for something.”

“Hey, Sam, what if... Randolph was grabbed, but not for money. Maybe he knows some...VIP or something, and the grabbers are trying to force this... VIP into doing something for their benefit.” (When Sam and Phil mentioned this little bull session to me, I suddenly realized that Phil reads too many cheap thrillers. Maybe, unconsciously, he wants to write that kind of stuff.)

“I don’t think so, Phil. That would only work if Randolph is more important to the VIP than the something is.”

“Well, he’s supposed to be a heart doctor. If our theoretical VIP needed special care from Randolph, wouldn’t he do anything to get his doctor back?”

“Anyone that important, or powerful, would just buy whoever, and whatever he needed. No, I think Randolph is just a pawn that happens to be a doctor, caught in a game bigger than any he’s ever been in before. And, if someone powerful is involved, Randolph is a close relative. Without more information from, or about, our client, we may never know why, or where he’s gone. I’d sure like to know more about this grandmother. Speaking of gone, Phil, where the hell has Nick gotten off to?”

“Miss Eva mentioned the Carleton Hotel, remember? He went over to talk to Murph.”



It was late afternoon in the city. The departing rain clouds were turning a reddish-gold out over the ocean. I was watching them drift into the sunset without really seeing them. I was standing at the only window in the office of the Carleton Hotel’s house detective. His name is Murphy Wollenski. Another ex-cop. And close friend of mine. Most of Murph’s friends and acquaintances call him Ski or Murphski, but I can’t. He taught me everything I needed to know, and more, when I was a young rookie. Saved my butt a few times, too. There would be no CIA detectives if not for him.

I was waiting while he was on the phone with the front desk. “No Emersons either? Okay, thanks, Bill.” I turned as he hung up. “No one registered under any combination of Randolph’s name. Sorry, Nick.”

“Thanks, Murph. I knew it was a long shot.”

“You gotta follow `em all up, long or short. Sometimes the long ones pay off. Give me that description again.”

“It’s not much. Six-two, good shape physically, thirty-five. Blue eyes, black wavy hair. Sounds vaguely like most of the leading men in Hollywood right now.”

Murphy grinned at that. “You’re right. I was- (a loud snap from his fingers) say! Wait a minute.” His eyes didn’t quite bug out, but it was close. “That reminds me. I overheard two of the maids talking about a guest on the fourth floor. One of `em thought Errol Flynn was sleeping off a drunk here and the other said no, it was Clark Gable hiding from an irate husband.”

I was suddenly hopeful. “You didn’t overhear a room number, by any chance?”

“No, but I do know how to find out.” Murphy was up and headed for the door in a flash. “Come on.”

“Where are we headed?”

“To the fourth floor. And on the way up, we talk to Johnny.”

I was somewhat bewildered by Murph’s sudden activity. “Johnny?”

“Yes, Johnny. One of the elevator operators. Reads all those screen magazines. He wants to be either a movie star, or a writer for a scandal sheet, I not sure which. If there’s anything remotely resembling a movie star or a possible scandal, Johnny knows.”

As we approached the elevator, the doors slid open and an elderly couple stepped out. “The lobby, folks. Watch your step. I think you’ll really enjoy the hotel restaurant.  Hi, Mr. Ski. What’s cookin’?”  This was Johnny. Maybe eighteen. About five-ten and skinny. Tries to comb his hair like Buddy Rogers. A little more beef on his frame and he just might be Hollywood fodder. If he stays skinny, he’ll probably become a writer. Either way, Murphy’s prediction will be right. “Where to, gents?”

“Four. Johnny, this is Nick Coconolte. He’s a good friend of mine, and he needs our help with a missing person case.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Ski. Didn’t I read something about you and somebody named Fernwood, Mr. Coconolte?”

Scandal sheets, definitely. “Yeah, but it was a place, not a person. Not one of our more representative cases. Call me Nick. We’re looking for a missing grandson. At least we think he’s a grandson. Have you seen, or heard about anyone resembling Errol Flynn or Clark Gable in the hotel?”

“Nah.” Murph and I looked at one another with instant disappointment. “One of the bellhops said Cary Grant is staying in 412, though.”

Our disappointment flashed into surprise and hope. “Is he?” Murph asked, trying to conceal that hope.

“Nope. He looks like the Hollywood type, but I’ve never seen him before. Fourth floor. Watch your step, gentlemen.”

I tried to give Johnny a buck, but he shook his head. “On the house for friends of Mr. Ski. Good luck, Nick.”

“Thanks, Johnny. Let me know when you start writing.”

It was Johnny’s turn for surprise. “How did you know…?” The doors closed, before he could finish.

“You’re getting better, Nick. Here’s 412.”

Murphy tried the knob only to find it locked. He knocked and got no answer. We could hear sounds of movement coming from within the room. “Let’s go in,” Murphy said to me, quietly. He pulled a ring of passkeys from his pocket and selected one to open the door.

As we entered the room, we saw a man forcing another man into the closet. “Stop!” Murphy shouted as he reached for his hotel badge. “What are you doing?”

The man doing all the pushing turned to us and pointed a small pen like object in our direction. I saw the tip of the object glow dimly, and I knocked Murphy to the floor. A small burn mark, and a smoke ring appeared silently at about chest level on the doorframe we had just passed through.

While we tried to regain our footing, and our dignity, the closet door clicked shut.

After Murphy and I had helped each other up, he asked me, “What the hell was that, Nick?”

“I don’t know for sure, but be very careful.” I had an idea what it might be, but explaining it to Murphy would be difficult and time consuming.

We had reached the closet door by this time, and were ready to confront our assailant. Murphy pulled his revolver from under his coat and motioned me to open the door from the side.

I jerked the door open, blocking my view of the inside as Murphy pointed his revolver into the closet.

“Alright, I want you to come out with your-” was all I heard him say.

I eased my head around the door to look into an empty closet as Murphy finished with,  “What the hell?”

We both stepped into the closet and began to search for any way out other than the door. Murphy stamped on the floorboards while I tapped the walls looking for secret panels and trapdoors, but nothing was apparent.

“Where did they go, Murph?”

“I wish I knew. Uhh, Nick, you’re not going to tell anyone about this, are you? If you do, I’ll deny all of it. I saw it, and I don’t believe it. That guy disappeared like a magician.”

“Don’t worry. Phil and Sam are the only ones I have to convince. I would appreciate your keeping all of this to yourself.”

“Ha! I like having a steady job. As far as I’m concerned, there was no one in this room when we walked in. We didn’t even come in here.”

“How are you going to explain that burn on the doorframe, Murph?” I asked, with a smile.

“I don’t have to. Prob’ly a cigar burn left by some drunk during the last convention.” It was Murphy’s turn to smile.

“Thanks, Murph. Believe it or not, this experience has been very helpful to me. Now, I have got to get back to the office. I’ve suddenly got a new batch of questions for our client.”



The sun was almost down by the time I reached the office. I found Phil and Sam trying their damndest to shoot holes in each other’s theories.

“Just because she claims she and her brother are from Washington, doesn’t mean some high government big wig is involved. If that were so, we’d be up to our... armpits in FBI and Secret Service types. And you know how they stick out in a crowd. Have you heard of any strangers in town? Hello, Nick,” Sam said, looking up at me. “’Bout time you got back. The only thing Phil and I have been able to agree on is dinnertime. Well, any word on the street about G-Men in town, Phil?”

“Not a thing from anyone I talked to. Hi, Nick, what’s for dinner? I still think that if she’s from D.C., the Feds are somehow involved.”

“They may be,” I said, “But, she didn’t say she was from D.C.”

Sam and Phil both looked at me together.

Phil frowned. “Where, exactly, did she say she’s from?”

“I told you earlier. She said `the Capital District.’ I asked if she meant D.C., and she hesitated before she said yes.”

“How many Capital Districts can there be?” Sam asked, of no one in particular. “We can worry about that later. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, what did you find at the Carleton?”

“I saw two guys that weren’t there hiding in a closet that’s too small to swing a cat in.”

Sam looked worried. Mock worried. “When did you eat last? Hallucination is a sure sign of malnutrition.” He tried to sound worried, but it just didn’t come across.

I gave them the story about the mystery of room 412, ignoring their looks of disbelief.

“So, Murph and I checked at the desk about 412. Two and a half weeks ago, a Mr. Jonathan Harrison-Smythe checked in alone. (“An alias if I ever heard one,” Sam muttered.) He was expecting a business associate to meet him within a week’s time. Three days later, two men showed up, one asking for Harrison-Smythe, the other too ill to speak, and barely able to walk. The ill gentleman resembled Eva’s vague description of her missing brother.”

Sam leaped to his feet. “At last, a real lead! I move we celebrate over dinner.”

“Not yet,” I said. “There’s something we have to do first.”

“Where do we go from here?” Phil asked.

“Straight to our client. As soon as you two have given me all the dope you learned today.”



“- so, I think Randolph’s chances of still being alive are pretty good,” Sam said. “Oh, and Dr. Lowell sends her regards. I heard, at the hospital, some good-looking doctor had been talking to her.”

I said, probably with a frown, “I hope they’re very happy together. Did you get anything after I left, Phil?”

“I talked to as many of our regular contacts as I could track down. The ones that aren’t dead or hiding out. Nobody’s heard about any serious illness amongst the local bad boys. And no one’s come in from out of town looking for medical help, either. Sam, you don’t mean Doc Brown up in maternity, do you? I’ve heard that most of the nurses there treat him like a king.”

“That’s him. He’s-”

“Hey, guys! Earth to Phil and Sam. Gossip later with Mollie. We have to talk to our client.” I picked up the phone to ring Hans in the hotel next door, hoping to distract my brothers from anymore nonsense about Dr. Lowell’s love life, but I should have known better. “Hans, Nick. Is Miss Nerak in? Good. We’re on our way over to see her- no, don’t tell we’re coming. Thanks.”



 As we approached the small front desk of the hotel, Hans lowered his Racing Form, said “Evenin’, boys.”

“Hello, Hans. Has Miss Nerak been down since I called?”

Nope, haven’t seen her since she went upstairs.”

“When was that?”

“Oh, `bout one this afternoon. She stopped to talk for a minute.”

“She say anything that might be important to us?”

“Nah, just trying to get her mind off her troubles. You know, the weather, baseball-”

“Baseball? She didn’t seem like the baseball type to me,” Phil said.

“Hey, my grandmother was the original sweet little old lady, but if she didn’t agree with the umpire, she sounded like a sailor with twenty years service. Anyway we started discussin’ baseball and I was surprised at how much she knows. Mostly historical stuff. `Specially about the Dodgers. She’s another one of you, Phil. Funny, she started to say something about the Dodgers goin’ to Los Angeles, when suddenly, she clams up, nods her head and said she had to go, and headed up the stairs. She’s a nice kid, too bad she’s so shook up.”

“Yeah, well, if she’ll be honest with us, we might be able to help her get through this. Thanks, Hans. If any strangers come in, ring her room, will you?”

“Sure thing, Nick. Good luck with this one. I hope it doesn’t turn into another Fernwood.  I still get the chills when I walk past room 22.”



As we approached Eva’s room, Phil held me back and said, “Maybe you should go in first. Sam and I can wait out here for a minute.”

“Good thought. The three of us at once might spook her a little.”

I rapped on the door, but there was no answer. I tried the knob, and it turned. I glanced at Phil and he nodded toward the room so I opened the door and stepped in.

“Eva, are you here?” I closed the door quietly and looked around. Typical cheap hotel room: single bed, small bureau for clothes, door to a private bath, and a door to a closet, both closed, no windows.

There was a small suitcase next the bureau. Was it hers? Did Sam pick it up at the station? He didn’t mention it.

I stepped over to the closet. After a deep breath, I opened the door quickly. I released the deep breath when I found nothing inside.

I crossed over to the bathroom and stepped in. Just barely room for the old fashioned tub, a toilet, and a sink on the wall with a mirror above it. Not even a window.  

So, where was Eva?  There was no way she could have left the hotel without Hans knowing. At least, no way she could know about, I thought at the time.

I stepped out of the bathroom, closing the door behind me, and when I looked up, I saw two strange men standing in the room. Make that one strange man. The last time I had seen the other, he was trying to stuff a semi-conscious man into the closet of room 412 of the Carleton Hotel.

The strange man was pointing something that looked like a kazoo at me.

“What are you doing in my room?” I tried to sound as indignant as possible.

“Cut the crap. We want the girl.” The closet magician sounded angry.

“What girl? I don’t have a girl in here. Who are you, the house detective?” Fat chance of that. Hans is practically the whole staff.

“A wise guy, huh?” He looked at his associate and said, “Buzz him.”

The strange man did something with the kazoo-like device, and immediately I felt as if I had plunged into a vat of acid. Every single nerve ending in my body seemed to be plugged into a light socket. I couldn’t move or cry out for help. It seemed to go on for an eternity.

“That’s enough.” Although the pain ceased the instant he spoke, I was still unable to move. “Would you care for another dose? Tell me: what have you done with the girl?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I didn’t have to fake fear of his toy, he could see it in my eyes.

“Again.”  Once more I felt the flash of intense pain and heat wash over me. Again the eternal burning and then coolness.

“That was just one second. Want to try for double or nothing? Where’s the girl?” The kazoo from hell was raised in my direction again, but before he could use it a third time, I managed to cry out, “Sam, Phil!!” before collapsing to the floor.

The door seemed to explode from its frame as Sam burst into the room. “Nick! What’s wrong?” Phil was shouting as he followed closely on Sam’s heels.

When they stopped next to me, they were looking around the room for any signs of trouble, but saw only me curled up on the floor.

“Stop them! They’re after Eva!” I shouted. I must have looked like a madman in convulsions, struggling to get up.

“Who? Who’s after Eva?” Phil and Sam were also struggling, trying to help me get up.

“Two guys! Didn’t you see them? They must have gotten past you, somehow.”

“Nobody’s been through that door, other than you, Phil and me in the past five minutes,”  Sam said. “Where’s Eva?”

“She’s not here. I was looking in the bathroom when those two goons appeared, literally out of nowhere.” Phil and Sam had finally gotten me up from the floor and sitting on the edge of the bed. From the look in Phil’s eyes, I must have been pretty pale after my ordeal. “I don’t know where she-”

At that moment, the door to the bathroom opened and out stepped Miss Eva Nerak. All smiles and perfectly calm. The three of us reacted in the same manner as the first time we met her; we played statues again.

Phil was the first to speak. “Now you have no excuse for avoiding Dr. Lowell’s check-up. You’re cold as ice on a corpse.”

I brushed Phil’s hand from my forehead so I could see Eva clearly.

“Come on, Nick. We’re all going to the hospital. Now,” Sam said.

“I appreciate your sibling loyalty, but I have a couple of burning questions for Miss Nerak. Where were you?”

“I was in the bathroom, freshening up.” She wouldn’t look at me as she spoke.

“I looked in the bathroom. Were you hiding under the tub?”

“But I swear-” Before she could finish, I stood up, swaying somewhat and grabbed her arm, partly to show her I was serious, but mostly to keep from falling on my face again. “Ouch, Nick, you’re hurting me.”

“Nick, what’s wrong with you?” “Hey, take it easy, Nick!” Sam and Phil were speaking at the same time.

“Come on. We have to get out of here before they come back.”

“Before who comes back?” Eva asked.

“Let’s go. I want some answers, and I want them now! If we stay here, that closet stuffing magician may show up with reinforcements. And they won’t be bearing gifts.” I headed for the broken door, practically dragging Eva behind me. I’m sure that Phil and Sam behind me were shaking their heads and thinking that their older brother had finally lost it.



I was sitting behind the old desk in the office. Phil and Sam were both perched on the front corners. Eva was on one of the straight back chairs, before us. She was sitting up straight, eyes closed, hands in her lap.

“But I told you everything.” She was trembling slightly.

“Miss Nerak, we want to help you. We can’t if we don’t know what to expect. I can’t speak for my brothers, but I believe only about half of what you’ve told us so far.” I tried to sound firm, but I’m not sure how it came across.

“Eva, we can’t work in the dark. If this is a `need to know only’ situation, then we need to know everything. If you can’t tell us, we’re as helpless as you and your brother. Maybe more so,” Sam said gently.

her shoulders slumped forward as she hung her head. She whispered, almost inaudibly. “He’s not my brother.”

“We didn’t think so, from the first time you spoke to us. What is his relationship to you? Your husband, fiancĂ©? What? Don’t stop now. You can trust us. We’ve trusted you up to this point.” I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, and maybe some information out.

She looked up at us and showed a weak smile through her tears. She was very pale. Too young and pretty to be subjected to such a nasty ordeal.

“Mollie told me I could put my life into your hands. But it’s not my life that’s in so much danger. It’s Bobby’s. If I tell you the whole story, you’ll never believe me. You’ll think I’m crazy and send me away someplace.” I saw a spark in her eyes that sent a chill down my spine.

“Try us, Eva, we may surprise you. We’ve heard some fairly strange stories before. Stories the likes of which you could never believe. Now, who is Robert Emerson Randolph?” I was still a bit shaky from my experience in the hotel room so her next words sent an even bigger chill down my spine.


She closed her eyes, swallowed, and said, “He’s my grandson.”



EPISODE FOUR

"I never studied Missing Persons 101"



“My name really was Eva Nerak. Nerak is my maiden name. Bobby’s name is Robert Emerson Randolph, Jr., just as I told you. He is a doctor, and he really is my grandson. Or he will be someday. This is where my story takes a turn for the unbelievable.



“Bobby won’t be born until the year 2025. I won’t be born until 1974. I came here from the year 2004 of the 21st century.



“In 2004, my son, Bobby’s father, is only one year old. I’ve been married for two years now. My husband and I both work for the same law firm in the Capital District. No, not the capital of the United States as you know it now, Washington, D.C., but Bern, Switzerland, capital of United Terra.



“About a week ago, for me, decades from now, I was working at my desk on a stack of legal briefs. When I looked up, there was an elderly woman standing in front of me. She had such a funny look on her face, I thought she may have been ill. `Are you alright?’ I asked.



“It was a moment before she spoke. She kept staring at me. It was so eerie. I felt like I knew her from somewhere, like in a previous life or something. Finally, she said, ‘It worked! It really worked! Oh, thank God!’


“`Is something wrong? Perhaps you should sit down.’ I got up and came around the desk to help her into a chair. She looked like she was at least eighty years old. `Who are you and how did you get in here?’

“From the way she kept staring at me, I was afraid she was in a state of shock, or something. I got her a glass of water from the cooler. I’ve seen that done in old movies, and it worked. After a couple of sips, she was able to speak to me.

“At first I thought she was just some old lady that had wandered in off the street. But she couldn’t have gotten that far past security without being stopped. And, she was very well dressed. But her story was so fantastic!

“She said that she was me from the future. She didn’t make much sense at first, but as she calmed down and spoke to me, I began to understand what she was trying to tell me. She had traveled backwards through time from the future to the year 2004!

“I was flabbergasted. Now, I was staring at her. `Are you part of some research project?’

“`No,’ she said quite calmly now, `I came back to talk to you. I must make you understand fully, the gravity of the situation in the future.’ Oh, no, I thought, she wants me to save the world from pollution or alien invasion or something just as typical of demented people. `I don’t have much time, and I need your help, desperately. Now.’

“She then proceeded to tell me a story even more incredible that than the one about how she arrived in front of my desk.

“Through hard work and determination, and with a little luck, I will be elected the first woman President of United Terra in the year 2058. In her- my second year in office, 2060, a very important piece of legislation will be in the final phase of enactment. Millions of people will be affected by this act. No more exploitation by big business of people living in technical slavery. Freedom and denied rights will be restored. She couldn’t give me the details of all this, because of time constraints and the fact that too much knowledge of the future could be dangerous. I could see how concerned she was, and I didn’t press her for more details.

“Just days before she was to make final approval of the act with her signature and Seal of Office, she received word that my- her grandson, Bobby- Dr. Randolph, had been kidnapped. If she allows the enactment of the new bill, she’ll never see her grandson again. Alive or dead!

“It would be completely within the privilege of her Office to veto the whole thing with no explanation or reason. However, to her, this act is, or will be, more important than the life of any one person. Or grandson. She must allow it to pass unhindered, and she will. She was very hopeful that I could help rescue Bobby.

“I couldn’t begin to believe any of this outlandish tale. It was so… fantastic! She was ready for that, too. She had family photos to show me. Pictures of me with my husband and baby son. Pictures of us, only older. I know that pictures can be doctored and created with computers, but she had pictures that I had just taken and hadn’t even had holo’d yet! She knew the pet names my husband and I had for each other that no one else in the whole world could possibly know. She told me how I got the scar on my right elbow, and then showed me that scar on her right elbow! That finally convinced me.

“She was so relieved when I agreed to help. She gave me what little information the Presidential Security Agency had been able to gather about the kidnapping, and where Bobby might be hidden, along with a small device for temporal displacement. Time travel, as they called it in the old sci-fi stories.

“After she was certain I understood everything, she was ready to return to her own time. Before she left, I asked her why she wanted my help.

“`Because the only person I can possibly trust in this matter is myself, you. Unfortunately, the me of 2060 is far too old to be gallivanting about in time, chasing criminals. And if I’m not present in 2060, they’ll know I’m fighting them.’

“And with that, she disappeared. Back to her own era.

“Then, I came here to look for Bobby. Only, I never studied `Missing Persons 101’ in law school, and I don’t have any of the experience she has, yet, so I came looking for help.”




EPISODE FIVE


"You're not thinking four-dimensionally"

“Well?” she said after finishing her wild tale. “What now? Do you believe me... or not? I don’t have time for you to make up your mind. Bobby is out there, alive, somewhere, I can feel it. And I’m going to find him. With or without you.”

How did you get into the bathroom after I had searched it?”

“I was worried about my husband and son, so I stepped into the bathroom and returned to my own present. When I was sure they were okay, I jumped back to this present. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be in my room when I returned. I was gone from now for only a few seconds.”

“Just long enough to miss those two thugs that were looking for you. If I hadn’t been nosing around, they’d have been there when you came back.” I frowned at her for a second. “Eva, you do realize that this is a pretty outrageous story, don’t you?”

“I know it sounds insane, but it’s the truth. What are you going to do now?” She took a deep breath when I reached for the telephone. “Are you going to call the police? What will you tell them? There’s a crazy lady in your office they should come and get?” Her cheeks were red and her eyes hot while I dialed a number. She was staring at me with defiance and determination while I waited for an answer.

“Hello, Will? This is Nick. Is Orb around? Thanks... Orb, there’s a woman here in our office with a little problem that just might be up your alley. I was hoping you and Will could stop by and talk to her- she claims she’s from the future, Orb, and she says her name is Eva Nerak- I thought that might get your attention. The sooner the better. Thanks, Orb. We’ll be expecting you.”

All through my conversation, Eva had been giving me a look that should have vaporized me in my chair. I was afraid she might jump and bolt for the door, but before I could do or say anything, the air in the office seem to shimmer slightly, and two men began to appear out of nothing.


Eva’s hot look of intense hatred changed to one of cold fear. I felt the same fear she did, afraid that the two men with the nasty kazoo had found us.



Before the two figures could coalesce into solid forms, both of my brothers were on their feet, Sam heading straight for the two, and Phil jerking Eva from her seat.

Just before Sam got too close, recognition hit me like a poleax. We were perfectly safe. “No, Sam! It’s okay.”

Sam stopped short of colliding with the two, now solid, forms. Phil had Eva wrapped up in his arms with his back turned to any possible danger. When he heard me, he looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Boy, you guys sure know how to make an entrance, don’t you?”

Eva peeked over Phil’s other shoulder with a concerned look. When she saw Sam and I shaking hands and exchanging backslaps with the new arrivals, the concern faded and the enmity started to come back.

“Eva, you have nothing to fear from these two... gentleman. They are cousins of ours from another branch of the Coconolte family tree. The tall one is Professor Orbille, and the less taller is Professor Willver Coconolte. They answer to Orb and Will in mixed company. They are the founders and owners of a small scientific research company called Time-Zone Labs. Boys, I’d like to present to you, Mrs. Eva Randolph, nee Eva Nerak.”

Orb took her hand very gently, and with a slight bow said, “Madame President, it is an honor.”

She blushed and stammered, “I won’t be president for several years yet.”

“I’m sure we could arrange something a little sooner if you like, Mrs. Randolph,” Will said.

“Oh, no!” She turned to Will, her eyes wide for a second and then she caught on. “You’re kidding, of course, aren’t you, Prof. Coconolte?”

“Please, call me Will. And yes, I was kidding, but rest assured, my brother Orb and I could arrange it. However, before we discuss your election celebration, we should talk about your grandson.”

While Eva and Will were exchanging pleasantries, Orb turned to me and said, “Why didn’t you call us as soon as she came to you?”

“Because when you were telling us all those stories about your historical research, you neglected to tell us the maiden name of the first woman President of United Terra.” Eva must have caught some of what I was saying, because she had turned to stare at Orb and me, with a blank look. “If we had known who she is, or should I say, will become, I’d have called you immediately. I must be slipping because I never thought about putting Eva and Randolph together as one name.”

“Oh. Right. Well, there’s so much to tell about our historical research, and we can’t tell just anyone.”

Eva interrupted for a moment. “What do you mean by historical research? I don’t understand.”

“Mrs. Randolph,” Orb began.

“Please, call me Eva.”

“Eva, Will and I stumbled across time travel, uh, temporal displacement as we prefer to call it, about five years ago. Quite unintentionally. We formed our company to develop and improve our apparatus so that we could wander all about time, recording history as it actually happened, and could actually happen-”

“Poking our noses into it, is more like it,” Will interjected.

“Yes, well. As I was saying. We manufacture and sell certain devices that we’ve developed along the way, to industry and government, to help finance our primary interest: time travel. That is not for sale. And, I am proud to say, none of our products can be used by anyone for nefarious purposes.”

Eva had a surprised look on her face. “Then, you actually could fix an election? No, don’t answer that. I got the impression from President Randolph that time travel had finally been developed mid-way through the twenty-first century, experimentally, by the world government.”

“Will and I, and our gumshoe cousins, are very good at keeping secrets. When this little problem has been cleared up, all Will and I ask of you is help in keeping our little secret.”

“Of course. My trip back here was only possible because my older self was able to use her official position to gain access to classified equipment. I think she could get into serious trouble for her actions, but I know that wouldn’t stop her.” Eva looked rather proud of the woman she was to become. She was also beginning to look rather tired and run down.

Cousin Orb must have noticed it, too. “Nick, I would suggest you put this young woman someplace safe, so she can rest. I can offer the facilities at Time-Zone Labs, if you like.”

“Good thinking, Orb. Sam, take Miss Eva over to Mollie’s house. She’ll get a thrill out of helping us. Make sure you’re not followed.”

“You got it, chief.” Sam offered his arm to Eva, with a smile. “Madame President, may I escort you to your suite of hideout?”

She dimpled and curtsied slightly. “Thank you, kind Sir Knight.” And, arm in arm, they went out into the night.

When the office door closed behind them, I turned to Orb with several questions. “What gives? You’re only partly concerned about her health. Why did you want her out of here? Is she in more danger than we know about? Or is she still not telling us the truth?”

“Slow down, Nick. You need to take it easy. Maintain the old blood pressure.”
“I am not going to drop everything for a silly little check-up.”

“What? Never mind. The story she told you is true. About the President of United Terra, and the kidnapping, all of that. But, it’s not the whole story. Even she doesn’t know all of it. At least, not yet. I have things to tell you that she shouldn’t hear.”

“Ok, sit down and spill it. I’ll fill Sam in, when he gets back.”

“Alright, I’ll give it to you from the beginning. After I finished speaking with you last week-”

“Whoa! Hold the phone, Orb. For a specialist in the temporal arts, you sure own a lousy watch. You and Will faded in almost before I had hung up.”

“Excellent!” Orb exclaimed. He turned to his brother Will with a very satisfied smile. “Well done, Will. You’ve got the arrival circuits of the new model right on the mark.”

Will had been unpacking equipment from a small carrier marked: `TIME-ZONE LABS - CONFIDENTIAL’ with my brother Phil when he looked up with his own grin. “You said you wanted to land as close to the end of the call as possible. You know my motto: I aim to maim, or please, whatever the situation calls for.”

As Will and Phil continued to unpack several seemingly harmless small objects, Orb turned back to me to continue. “We jumped uptime to the period when Mrs. Randolph is President and her grandson has been kidnapped. We approached her, with great discretion, to learn just as much as we could about the whole affair. Then we returned to our present to get some hardware together for the job. Will and I redesigned a few items, and even invented a couple of new ones. We’ve been busy as beavers for the last week. He and I are at work in the prototype shop right now. To avoid any delays, we jumped back to this moment as soon as we were ready for business.

“Why didn’t you guys just show up before all this began?” I asked. “I could have avoided a few headaches.”

“Two reasons: number one, if you’d have known all about it when she came looking for help, she might have thought we were involved with the kidnapping and she may have run away from us. Reason number two, if Will and I had shown up before Miss Nerak, you’d never have had a reason to call for help. Therefore, Will and I would never know that she needed help until way too late. Sort of a self-defeating causality loop.” Orb had one of those temporal lecture smiles of his. He loves theorizing about paradoxes.

I was still a bit puzzled. “I understand most of what’s going on, but I still can’t figure out how you can be here and back in your lab at the same time.”

Orb sighed. “Nick, to quote another unknown temporal researcher: `You’re not thinking four-dimensionally.’ Trust me, we have all the time/space we need in which to be or not to be. Now, let me finish my report.”

“Okay, but take it slow.”

“Everything young Eva told you is true, to her knowledge, but not complete. There are aspects of this case of which she is completely unaware. Things better not known by her, until the time is right. Hmm. Until the time is right. I like that, I’ll have to write that down. Okay, okay.

“`Round about 2022, the first manned explorations of Mars begin. Why the funny look, Nick? Believe me, the planet Mars is involved in this. As a matter of fact, Mars is the whole reason this nasty business got started. Hold on and you’ll know as much as Will and I know.

“Shortly after the scientific installations become self-supporting on Mars, they will expand to include mining and manufacturing operations, funded by large business cartels here on earth. Materials and goods from these operations will help make conventional travel between the worlds of our solar system easier at first, and then faster and more efficient in the long run. Unfortunately, I believe that our moon and Mars will be the only places where permanent colonies can be established. There will be adventure tours and safaris of a sort to the outer planets, I’m sure, along with scientific expeditions.

“Anyway, by 2040, the scientific installations will grow to the size of large industrial settlements. Unfortunately, control will still be in the hands of big business back here on mother earth. Ma Terra, sometimes known as Ma Terror. Most of the larger corporations are owned by one family, the d’Negel family, headed by Dr. d’Negel himself.

“In 2060, the Terran Government is trying to break the iron grip in which d’Negel and the others hold on these company towns, to give the people a governing body of their choice. No one had given any thought to the politics of other worlds before the first manned missions left for Mars, and consequently, there were no laws protecting the rights of anyone away from the home world. d’Negel and the others are fighting tooth and nail, using every loophole and precedent they can find, but they are slowly losing. So, d’Negel, or someone close to him, hatched this ugly little extortion plot.

“Shortly before President Eva Randolph was to finalize the Martian Independence Act of 2060, her grandson, Robert Emerson Randolph, Jr., was quietly kidnapped from the Heart Institute of Luna. To all appearances, he just disappeared.

“Mrs. Randolph was secretly advised that if the act liberating the colonies was passed, her only living blood relative would perish in a very ugly public manner, bringing disgrace to the administration of the first woman president of United Terra. She would never see Robert alive again, and she would be forced to resign as one of Terra’s greatest leaders.

“She let us know, in no uncertain terms, that she would rather resign than let anything happen to her Bobby. However, she also can’t bring herself to allow the lives of several million people to continue as they have for nearly forty years.

“President Randolph doesn’t know that after the Martian Colonies become a free state, commercial traffic and free trade will begin, in 2063, between Earth and Mars. This is important because it will allow complete exploration of our solar system, leading to low and high temperature, zero-g research and manufacturing in an almost perfect low pressure environment, and the mining of the asteroid belt for known and unknown metals and other materials, without destroying the home worlds. All this will lead eventually to the remainder of this galaxy, and probably beyond.

“President Randolph will sign this act, no matter the consequences to Bobby.

“Now, I have things to tell you about Miss Eva. Something she does not need to know, if at all possible.
“So far, she’s only seen holos, fancy 3D pictures to you, of her grandson, Robert, Jr. She hasn’t seen any pictures of her son, Robert, Sr. with his future wife and son. When Robert, Jr. turns sixteen, his parents will die in an unfortunate, but possibly avoidable, traffic accident. This will occur when they are returning to Bern, after attending a theatrical performance in London. Eva and her husband will become Bobby’s guardians and raise him as their own son.

“If Eva were to learn that her one year old son would die before he’s forty-six, it’s hard to predict how she’ll react. We don’t want her to jump forward of her time-frame to warn or save him. As upset as she might be, there’s no telling what she could do to any number of time-lines. Will and I are returning uptime to try and learn more about Junior’s disappearance and whereabouts from that end. We’ve already assigned our best Department X team to track the traffic incident and look for a way around that tragedy without causing any ripples in the temporal pool.

“There’s one more unhappy event in Eva’s life that we cannot divert. Her husband will pass away a few years before she becomes President of United Terra. It will be due to a hereditary heart problem, with complications concerning transplant and artificial systems. There is no way to prevent it. He and Eva will come to grips with it before the end. This is the main reason that Robert, Jr. will decide to go to medical school.

“Life for Eva, as she grows older, will be very educational. I believe that’s why she will be Terra’s finest leader. And that’s also why she deserves our best effort.”

We were all silent for a moment after that. Then, I decided to break that silence.

“I have one last question, temporal, of course.”

“Give it to me,” Orb said.

“How come this nasty little scenario didn’t show up while you and Will were on tour through time, the first time?”

“The only answer I can give you is, what we have witnessed in the future isn’t carved in stone, until it happens. If we had stayed uptime, then that future would be permanent in our memories. Coming back leaves Old Man Time a lot of options.”
“You feel pretty strongly about this particular `option’, don’t you Orb?”

“Yes, I do. I think Will feels the same.”

“I’m all for helping the old lady- I mean, of course, Madam President,” Will declared. “Orb and I have seen some of the things she’s accomplished for others. She really cares about her work, not the glamour of her position.”

“Okay,” I said, “Let’s do it. Where, or should I ask, when, do we start?”

Orb gave me a laugh and a slap on the back that I felt down to my soles. “Good man! We start right here, right now, with these little goodies,” he said, with a sweep of his hand towards my old desk. “Will and I are going to give the three of you the short course in the operation of temporal/spatial access equipment. Oh, by the way. Most of this is still experimental, but Will and I both have full confidence in all of it. Captain Burdick of product testing would have a fit if he knew we were going on a mission without the full series of tests, but, there’s no time to put him into the loop.”

Orb had that thoughtful look of his while he was telling me all this. Then, he flashed that `It’s alive’ smile and said, “As soon as we get this job done, I’ll bounce back to today, and ask him to run the standard series. While we’re on the job, he can do his job, and we’ll all be happy. Sometimes, the paperwork almost takes all the fun out temporal displacement. Now, to work.” As he rubbed his hands together, he had an expression that sent a chill down my spine and made me think of Colin Clive in Frankenstein.

“Okay, what are these?” I asked. There were six pocket sized objects on the desk. Three looked like the new Zippo cigarette lighter I was thinking about buying, and the other three looked like the cheap paperback novels I had seen Will reading at times. They were all Duke Kelton mysteries.

“I was expecting the sort of thing Doc Savage might have; shiny, mystic.” A sheepish grin must have shown on my face when I realized what I had said. “Hey, somebody left a couple of magazines lying around the office a while back, and, it was a slow week, so... what’s this one, Orb?”

“This one is a micro version of our standard temporal displacement navigator.” He looked at me with a straight face and said, “Doc Savage would describe this to his aids as a portable, handheld time-machine.” Then, he smiled. “I’ve had occasion to read the pulps, myself. Very diverting. Sometimes, downright inspirational. If Will and I were to patent some of our designs, we’d have to put Doc Savage’s name on the application with ours.”

I had flipped the top of the lighter open only to find a thumbwheel and a wick. “Where are the buttons and doo-dads? Will I need some kind of science degree to work this thing?”

“No. When it’s been taught to recognize your voice pattern, you merely tell it when and where you wish to go.”

Phil’s eyes lit up when he heard Orb say that. “Does that mean, that if I were to say `I wish I was a million miles away from here,’ POOF! I’m there?” He looked a little worried.

“Yes, I suppose that could conceivably happen, if, there were no safeties built in. Only commands with specific destinations will be accepted. Once it’s been programmed for your vocal patterns, you’ll also assign a password or phrase to initiate travel mode. `The horse in striped pajamas’ or, `there’s no place like home,’ for example. You can also assign keywords or phrases for specific places and times. Speed jumping with one word. These three units will be programmed to respond to the three of you as well as to Will and myself. No one else will be able to activate them.”

“Are there any other little features we should be aware of? I’d hate to accidentally fry someone with a death ray, or something.”

“Oh my, yes.” Orb seemed very proud of these little gadgets. Almost like they were his children. “When you initiate travel mode, it automatically takes the person or object it’s programmed for, as long as that person or object is within its six foot proximity. If you are touching another person, or holding an object, that goes too. Needless to say, you’ll never arrive somewhere naked... unless you want to. Oh, and if another person touches the device when it’s activated, that person goes along for the ride. And, probably the most important feature, communication between units is possible. Even if the units are in different time-frames, they are all synchronized to the same present. You can’t talk to yourself in tomorrow, but you can talk to your brothers, no matter the time-frame they’re in. When Sam returns, we’ll give all three of you complete instructions in the use and care of these little gems.”

I finally gave in to my curiosity, and flicked the little thumbwheel of the temporal device I had been looking at, and almost dropped it when a very bright flame appeared.

“Yes, Nick, you can even start fires with it. That helps hide its true purpose. And it will never need refilling. Just don’t start any big fires.”

Phil had been examining one of the units closely and added his two cents worth. “I don’t suppose you could put a camera into one of these, could you? It would be great for surveillance.”

“I’ll work on that for you,” Will said.

I turned back to Orb. “I’m sold. Sam should be here soon.”

“Let’s look over the temporal field detector/tracer units while we wait,” Orb said as he held up one of the garish covered paperbacks.

“I have a question about this password thing.” Phil still seemed a little concerned about leaping around through time and space. “It shouldn’t be something that might come up in normal conversation, right?”

Will chimed in before Orb could speak, “I like the phrase: `Energize, Mr. Scott.’”

Phil and I both had questioning looks, so Orb explained. “Nick, you and I enjoy the pulp thrillers. Will, on the other hand, loves the entertainment media of the future: television. When you see it in action in a few years, you’ll either love it or hate it.”




EPISODE SIX 
Once a knight is enough


“Congratulations, boys, you are now fully accredited temporal-meddlers,” Cousin Will said when he had finished his instructions for using the small temporal access devices. “When you begin jumping around in time, please try to divert as few time-lines as possible. Remember: the history you change may be your own.”


“Don’t go back and smother my brothers in their cribs, right?” Phil asked, facetiously.



“I don’t think that could hurt the history of this universe too much. I might suggest, though, that you get there first.”



Sam and I gave Phil very menacing looks when he glanced at us, as Will continued. “Let’s get this job taken care of before you guys go bouncing around time making trouble for each other. Now, does anyone have any final questions?”



“If we run into difficulties, like getting lost somewhere, can we call for help?” Phil was still a little leery about casually tiptoeing through the Land of Chronos. At least he was thinking ahead.



“Yes! Just call the Temporal Hotline! Twenty-four hours a day, night and day! Any time! Any millennium! Operators are standing by!”

“Translated into English, what Will is trying to tell you, is, yes, in case you have any problems, call us with your temporal unit. We’ll get a lock on your space/time location and haul you out of your predicament. We’ve had quite a bit of experience bringing some of our researchers home before becoming the main course at state dinners‚ or gifts to volcanic gods. I’m sure you get the idea.” Orb said all of that with a straight face while watching Phil’s face pale.

“Oh, thanks. Nick, is this trip really necessary?”

“Don’t worry, Phil. It’s just a simple kidnapping. What could possibly happen?” Turning to my cousins, I said, “Well, I think we’ve pretty much got these things figured out. I’m ready to start.”

Will began putting his ominous looking instruments back into the carrier he had brought, and said, “Good. While I pack up the alignment programmer, Orb can fill you in on what we’ll be doing uptime.”

“There’s not much to tell. Will and I are going to look for a connection between d’Negel and Randolph’s kidnappers. The President may be able to force d’Negel to release her grandson if we can dig up some proof of his involvement. Simple temporal legwork, really. You guys have the more critical and possibly dangerous job: find Junior and shoot him back to 2060. We’ve programmed the time and place into all three of your temporals. If you find him and any one of you can get within six feet of him, just say: ’Randolph, home’ and he’ll be on his way automatically with you. If you have to, just get the unit in contact with him physically. In a pocket or his hand, and he’ll jump. The temporal will then return automatically to your location immediately. Please try to wait around for it. I’d hate for any of them to fall into the wrong hands. I still regret how lax we were in the Fernwood affair.”

“I’m sorry we couldn’t have kept it more quiet than we did, Orb.”

“You all did your best, and that’s what’s important. Now, we have time for one last question.”

“I still don’t see how we can communicate across time,” Phil said. “Radio and telephones I understand, in principle, at least, but how do you string wires through time?”

As he was closing the carrier, Will answered, “Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a course in Temporal Communications, so, just think of each word as a miniature time traveler looking for his time and place to be heard. Later, if you’re still interested, I’ll show you our temporal switchboard.”

“Orb, I don’t know how we’ll ever thank you for your help on this one.”

“It’s the least we can do, Nick. We still owe you for Fernwood. Besides, we’re not doing it just for you. There’s a very sweet young girl with a family, and more people than you can begin to shake sticks at. Take good care of Eva. As soon as Randolph is safe, send her home, too.”

“We will. Good luck on your end, guys,” I said as we shook hands all around. “If you find anything that may help us, call.”

“You can count on it. Say, Orb!” My cousins were picking up the secured carrier to be on their way, when Will was struck with a thought. “Do you think we could swing a Temporal Knighthood out of this?”

Orb was looking around for any last stray articles when he answered absently. “Don’t be silly. United Terra no longer has class structures that include Knights. Besides, you know perfectly well, once a Knight is enough.” Then, holding one grip of the carrier as Will held the other, he gave us a small wave, and spoke as though to no one in particular. “Main Transit Stage, Randolph Project Control, two-thousand-sixty.”

In a mirage-like shimmer, the two scientists were lost from our sight.

                                                 

“Okay, Nick. What do we do now?” Phil asked me, after the light show had finished.



“You and Sam go next door to Eva’s room. Try out these detectors. I’ll go over to room 412 of the Carleton and do the same.



“I think we should stay together,” Sam said. “You still look a little pale, Nick.”



“I’ll call if I feel faint again. If you two find anything next door, don’t try tracking it until I get back, okay?” I was anxious to get started, but I didn’t want anyone jumping the gun until we were all together and had a little experience with the new toys.



“Alright. And how,” Phil asked, “do you plan on getting to the Carleton? Cab?”



“No, Will made it quite clear that these little `gizmos’ have access to complete information about the entire city on both sides of today’s date, remember? I’m going to check it out.”

“I was afraid of that. Take it easy, will you? I don’t want to interview applicants for a new big brother.”

“Somebody has to go first. It might as well be me. I’ll be careful.” I stood up from the chair behind the desk. “Room four-one-two, Carleton Hotel, city, present.” I glanced at my brother. “Thanks, Phil. Geronimo.”

Everything around me faded to black. Just as a pleasant dream fades when you wake.





After standing quite still for several moments, I began to wonder if my first unnatural trip through time had blown a tire. “Have I arrived?” I asked the darkness.



Just before my calm state gave way to intense panic, I remembered the small penlight in my pocket. Flicking it on, I played the beam around my surroundings, hoping desperately for something familiar, and non-precarious.



I was standing in the middle of a typical hotel room. Typical for my present. I moved quickly to the door and opened it to glance up and down the corridor. Gratified that no one was about, I looked at the number on the door: 412.



“I’ll be damned,” I murmured to myself. “Bless you, Will. You, too, Orb.” I closed the door and turned on the solitary lamp in the room.



Then, it was time to face the closet. Again.

I stepped over to the closet slowly, stopping before the closed door. Reaching into a coat pocket, I withdrew the temporal field detector/tracker I had just learned to use. It was disguised to look like one of the cheap thrillers that my Cousin Will loves to read in his spare time. The garish cover indicated that this one was a detective story called: ’You Can’t Dodge Death!’ by Duke Kelton.



Turning past the first few pages revealed its true nature. There was a small screen, like a miniature movie screen, near the top of the page. Will had called it a monitor. Below the screen was a recess just large enough to hold the cigarette lighter shaped temporal device that had transported me to the hotel room and was presently residing in my pants pocket.



As I held it so that I could watch the monitor, I spoke to it. “Detection mode.” I would have felt silly about talking to inanimate objects if I didn’t think of them as ordinary telephones or microphones.



The small monitor screen lit up, and the word `SCANNING’ appeared. I moved closer to the closet door, holding the detector in front of me. `I’ll have to ask Will if this thing can tell me when there’s a goon with a sap waiting for me,’ I thought as I stepped forward.



Nearing the door, the screen read: FIELD DISTURBANCE IN GENERAL LOCALITY.



I opened the door, hoping any goon waiting for me might be on his coffee break, and stepped in. DISTURBANCE DETECTED-DOWNTIME JUMP MADE WITHIN LAST 12 HOURS.

“You really do work, don’t you?” I reached into my pocket for the phony lighter. “Phil, can you hear me?” I asked the lighter. Anyone watching my actions would probably have wondered about my level of stability.

“Yeah, go ahead, Nick. Where the hell are you?” Did Phil sound worried?

“I’m in room 412 at the Carleton. This thing is neat.” I probably sounded pretty smug about my first solo.

“How long have you been there?”

“Maybe five minutes. I was trying out the detector. It works, too. It found something in the closet Randolph disappeared from while Murphy and I were watching.”

“Sam and I have found two different sets of something, disturbances, here in Eva’s room.”

“Well, that certainly proves that I didn’t imagine all of it. I’m on my way back now. Don’t do anything before I arrive.”

“We’re glued to the spot, Nick. Hurry up.”

So, I told Duke to shut down, pocketed him, then commanded my temporal access device to shoot me over to Eva’s hotel room.

After turning off the room lamp, of course.





“Welcome back to reality,” Sam said as I became whole again. “How was your trip?”



“First class, all the way. No motion sickness, no crowds. A wonderful way to travel. When this is all over, I’m going to make a little deal with Orb to buy these travelers’ aids. On the installment plan, of course. What’d you find here?”



“There were a total of four jumps in this area. One into this room from the past, and one out of this room uptime,” Phil said. “Both jumps were made less than eight hours ago. Sam scanned the bathroom.”



“Let me guess. One jump uptime into the future, the second from the future, made about the same time as everything out here, right?” I asked Sam.



“Coconolt-a-psychic scores again. How do you do it?”

“Kidneys,” I said, tapping my temple. “Now, we know Eva made both trips in the bathroom. We should track the jumps made in here.  Phil, I hate to separate the team for this first trip through time, but you follow the uptime jump. Sam and I will head downtime. As soon as your detector dumps you back into real-time, call Will and Orb. Find out if you’re in the same timeframe. They can provide backup, if you land someplace hot.”

“Will said he could pull my chestnuts out of the fire from anywhere. What do you think the chances are that Randolph is uptime?”

“Next to nothing. I don’t think they’d be foolish enough to take him anywhere near his own present. Someone might recognize him. My guess is, he’s further back in the past than this. They know we’re onto them, I just hope like hell they don’t know we can follow.”

“If we can follow,” Phil said. “So far, you’ve made the only trip. And that was just across town in our present. I’m still a little nervous about this.”

“Good,” Sam said with confident smile number six. “You’ll also be a lot more cautious.”

“If we don’t stop yakkin’, there may be no reason for nerves or caution. Let’s get to it,” I said.

The three of us fished the pseudo lighters out and slipped them into the small recess of each detector/tracer unit. Within a second, each monitor screen showed the same message: TRAVEL INTERFACE CONFIRMED.

“Sam and I will go first, Phil. Believe me, it’s no worse than waking up in the morning. Ready, Sam?”

“Let’s go.”

I grabbed Sam’s sleeve before speaking the magic words: “Track downtime disturbance- Geronimo!” sending Sam and me through time and space.

I’m quite sure that after we were out of sight, Phil would have sighed before saying: ”Here goes. Track uptime disturbance- Do It,” to make his first jump into the great unknown.





From Phil’s point of view, it looked like the hotel room had disappeared, to be replaced by a dimly lit office.



“Gee, there’s nothing to it. I wonder where, no, when I’ve arrived?”  He looked down at the monitor of his tracer to see: CURRENT TIME 0230HRS 01APR2060. He smiled and said, “It figures; April Fool’s Day.”



Now, to look around. He found that he had landed in an office that overlooked the floor of a large warehouse. The office lights were out, probably due to the hour. The only light in the room was coming through the windows from the warehouse space proper. Every other light was dark over the main floor.



The office equipment was all new to him, except for a few things he had seen while visiting the cousins’ research labs. There were the typical basics that never change: desks, chairs, filing cabinets. He smiled at a very familiar object fastened to the top of a very stylish filing cabinet. “Half-past the twenty-first century and the self-sharpening pencil hasn’t been invented, yet? I’ll have to ask Cousin Will about this.”



As he began searching for information about his location, he spotted a business card holder on a desktop. Selecting a card, he read:

d’NEGEL TRANSWORLD ENTERPRISES Ltd
Import & Export Traders Specializing in 
Goods and Materials
of Mars Mining & Manufacturing

Main Office: Bern, Swiz, U.T. SDXO: KL5DTE77XO
Branches in: Bombay, Hong Kong, London, New York,
Luna City, Berlin, Johannesburg, Rio De Janeiro, Beijing,
and Winnemucca

Family Owned and Operated Since 1880



Phil slipped a dozen or so cards into a pocket and continued looking around. Glancing out the windows, he noted that the office was located in one corner of the warehouse, at the top of a single flight of stairs. He also noted a small light moving around on the floor below. A night watchman, perhaps.



Deciding that he had enough information for the moment, he thought it time to make a little call. Raising his tracer/travel unit combo to his ear, he spoke softly.



“Orb? Will? Is anyone there?”



“We’re here, Phil. Where are you?”



A brief look of surprise appeared on Phil’s face at the sound of cousin Orb’s voice. “I’m not really sure. I’m in the office of a large dark warehouse. I think there’s a guard making his rounds, down below, and I’d really prefer not to explain how I came to be here on his watch. Any suggestions?”

“What’s the time and date of your present location?”

“Uh, my tracers says it’s 2:45am, April first, 2060.”

“Hold the phone a minute, Phil. Have you got him, Will?”

Phil cautiously watched the small light moving about below, and realized that all he had to do, really, was command the travel unit and he could have been home in moment. “Say, Orb, I can-”

“We’ve got you, Phil. Get him out of there, Will.”

“-find my own way...” Phil found himself standing in the center of a huge platform, laid out with a numbered grid of six foot squares, and so well lit that he had to squint to see anything.

Moving his tracer from his ear to shade his eyes, he turned around slowly to see where he was. He stopped turning when he noticed a large, glassed-in enclosure, resembling a radio studio control booth, with two men inside.

“Orb? Will? I hope?” He couldn’t see their faces clearly because of the glare, but when they began waving in a friendly fashion, he relaxed.

The taller of the two opened a door and gestured towards a stairway leading up to the control booth. “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow, Phil,” Cousin Orb said.

“Just where and when am I?” Phil asked, as he entered the booth.

“You’ve landed in the Main Transit Station, and it’s still April Fools’ Day, 2060. However, you’re closer to lunchtime now then you were a few seconds ago. Care for a bite to eat? Will and I were about to drop by the commissary when you called.”

“Holy moly, Orb, I’m suddenly ravenous! Is this an aftereffect of passing through time and space?”

“When did you eat last?”

“About a hundred and twenty years ago, it seems.”

“No, I meant in real time, for you. Look at your watch.” Orb was trying very hard not to laugh at him.

“Oh, I get it now.” Phil would have looked at his wristwatch as comprehension spread through his nervous system. He’s not the quickest, but he gets there, finally. “It’s been about nine or ten hours for me since our breakfast conference with Miss Nerak at Mollie’s. No wonder I’m so hungry. I could eat a horse.”

“Let’s get to the commissary. They serve cultural cuisine from all over our world, and a few others. Horse may be available today. Will and I can give you the nickel tour on the way. The place has grown quite a bit since you visited last in the twentieth century.”

And so ended Phil’s first artificial trip through time and space. 



Somewhere else, Sam and I rematerialized in a different when.



“Boy, Nick, you were right. That was pretty smooth.” Sam looked impressed. And he’s not easily impressed.



“Sure beats walking, doesn’t it?”



“No doubt about it. I can walk until tomorrow, but walking back to yesterday ain’t easy. Hey, that sounds like a song title. ‘And now, the lovely, but petite, Sammy Coconolte will ask that hauntingly beautiful musical question: Walkin’ back to yesterday.’ What do you think? Should I get into show biz?”



“I think, Sam, my dear brother, that you would need a dump truck to help you carry a tune. I’ve heard you sing. What does your tracer show?”

“Mine says just after one PM, January first, 1901. Say, we just missed lunch. What say we go back another hour or so and look for someplace to eat?”

“We don’t even know where we are, yet. And until we do, your Michelin Guide won’t do us any good. So, we’ve arrived at the first day of the twentieth century. Happy New Year, Sam!” I said as I patted him on the back.

“Big deal- no food, no party, no carousing. I ask you, is this any way to celebrate the new century?”

“Once we’ve wrapped up this case, I’m sure Orb and Will would be more than happy to show you around a few New Year parties. Maybe even a couple of millennium parties. C’mon, let’s find out where we are.”

We had landed in an old warehouse. Looking around, we found the small office space where all the paperwork would have been handled. We began by investigating a desk covered with the usual business paraphernalia.

A wall calendar provided a clue as to our general whereabouts. The upper part of the calendar was an old (new?) Currier and Ives illustration. The lower part had the typical tear-off stack of monthly leaves. Printed under the tear-offs was:

d’NEGEL IMPORT-EXPORT Co, Ltd.
New York, New York
Established 1880

The first leaf was January, 1901, naturally. January first was circled and noted: Holiday, half day off.



“Look at this, Nick. If this is the d’Negel place, we got here just after everybody knocked off for the day.”



“Only a half day off? I’m glad we won’t be working for a few years yet.” Noticing one desk a little larger and more ornate than the few others, I pointed and said, “Go through that desk, quietly, there may be a watchman someplace about.”



“Do I know what I’m looking for?” Sam asked as he sat down at the old roll top and began rifling its contents.



“Anything that looks out of place for 1901. Anachronistic, I think our cousins would call it. Maybe even out of place for our time-frame. I’m going to look around the warehouse. Shout if anyone shows up, then head straight back to the office. Got it?”

“I hear you. Be careful out there.”

I left Sam in the office and began prowling around the main floor. There were shipping crates and barrels stacked orderly in practically every useable space. Stencils and labels with numbers and characters of seemingly hundreds of different languages.

As I was stealthily making my way amongst the stacks of crated goods, keeping one eye open for a watchman and the other open for smaller boxes to stumble over, I stepped on something.

It was small and slim, sharpened to a point on one end like a pencil.  Jet black in color with no shine. Printed on it were the words: d’NEGEL TRANSWORLD ENTERPRISES, Ltd. I slipped it into my shirt pocket, next to my fountain pen.

Satisfied that we were alone, I returned to the office section of the warehouse.

“There’s no one here, Sam. Just us,” I reported to my brother. “Find anything of interest, yet?”

“So far, it all looks like typical business records and shipping documents. Oh, I did come across a `penny dreadful’ for you. Here.” Sam tossed me an old magazine. “I’m sure it’s not nearly as exciting as Doc Savage, but it should keep you quiet while I finish ransacking this desk.”

I studied the cover of the old pulp. The title proclaimed:

`ROOK THE ROBBER’
or
‘London Fifty years Ago’

As I sat, fanning the pages and looking at the woodcut illustrations, I stopped at the center of the book.  Bound into the middle was a card with some sort of order form. When I read the card, my eyes opened wide and I let out a whoop. "Holy cow! Sam! Listen to this!"

`If you enjoyed this reproduction of the two-hundred year old adventure story `Rook the Robber’ (originally published in 1860) fill out this card and file it at the nearest E-mail station, or visit our site at repropulp.com. We have a large catalog of fine reprints of nineteenth and twentieth century adventure stories. Don’t delay, file today!’ 

 You found a link to Randolph’s time-frame. If this was printed in 2060, the only way it could be here is if someone brought it back. Wait! I found something out on the floor.” I took the slim dark rod from my pocket and handed it to my brother. “What do you make of this?”



“Looks like a pencil,” he said, turning it about in his hand. “But it’s not wood and graphite.



Sam tried it on a piece of paper, apparently not expecting any results. “Hey! Look at this, it writes just like a pencil.”



He passed the paper to me. “Kilroy was here,” I read. “Who’s Kilroy?”



“Abby’s kid brother. I wonder how this thing works?” Sam squinted at the pointed end, then took the scrap of paper from me and squinted at the marks on it. “It doesn’t smear like ink, and it doesn’t really look like pencil marks. Can I hold onto this thing for awhile? I want to ask Will about it.”

“Yeah, sure. Just don’t lose it. And put that magazine back where you found it.”

“Okay. Anything else here?”

“No, not here.” I took the tracer from my coat pocket. “Phil, are you there?”

“Hello, Nick. How are you?” Phil asked, quite calmly, from the future.

“Ask him where he is,” Sam said.

“I heard that,” Phil’s disconnected voice said. “I’m in the commissary at Time-Zone Labs with Orb and Will. We’re just finishing lunch.”

“What,” Sam exclaimed. “What time is it, there?”

I had to laugh at Sam’s preoccupation with his stomach. “Settle down, big guy. Phil, where did your jump land you?”

“All I know is, it was a big dark warehouse (Sam and I looked at each other) at 2:30 in the morning of April Fool’s day, 2060. I don’t know where it is- just a second, Nick- thanks Will. Nick, Will says I was in New York somewhere- he can find out exactly if you need to know.”

“We might go there later, if need be. Did you find anything there?”

“The place was locked up tight. I picked up some business cards. The cards are from a company called d’Negel Transworld Enterprises. You can look them over when you get here. You are coming here, aren’t you?”

“What’s for lunch?” Sam asked.

“Braised sirloin tips on rice with some excellent mixed vegetables,” Phil answered from the future.

“That’s it, I’m on my way.” Sam stood from the chair. “What time do you have, Phil?”

“It’s two-oh-five in the afternoon, April Fools’ Day, 2060, and you don’t have to shout. Get here as soon as you can.’

“Move over, Phil. That’s me sitting down next to you.” Sam turned to me and asked “Care to have lunch with your kid brother? I know the best place of all time and space, and the owners are relatives of mine.”

“I can see we won’t get much done until you’ve eaten. Let’s go.”

“Please, allow me.” I placed my hand on Sam's shoulder and spoke.  “Time-Zone Labs, Employees’ Commissary, 1355 hours, one April 2060, Geronimo.” And we were surrounded by darkness... again.  



EPISODE SEVEN 
What? No time for dessert?

“-and you don’t have to shout. Get here as soon as you can.” Phil was speaking to his temporal unit while sitting at one of the long tables in the Time-Zone Labs commissary. Across from him were our two scien-terrific cousins. He was smiling, thinking about his younger brother’s obsession with food.



Suddenly, his reverie was interrupted by two men, jostling his elbows as they tried to sit on either side of him. “Move over, Phil,” came from his temporal unit as the two men got comfortable along side of him. “That’s me sitting down next to you.”



Phil looked both ways in complete surprise at Sam and I. Our trays were on the table and our forks in the air before he could speak. “How the hell did you do that?” he asked.



“I believe Cousin Sam has caught on to temporal displacement quite well, don’t you, Will?” Orb casually remarked.


“Yes, a most apt pupil. He may be of some use in our research.”

“Lunch first, research later,” Sam said between bites.

Phil had a dumbfounded look. “This may take awhile to get used to.”

“Not for me,” Sam managed to get out around sirloin and rice. Swallowing, he added, “I can see it now. No more missed meals during stake outs. No more cold hamburgers in the rain. I’ll always have time for hot food at my leisure.” He was practically beaming. “And a hot shower followed by a nice snooze.”

Ignoring my youngest brother’s new found joy, (Zen and the Art of Temporal Convenience by S. Coconolte from T-ZL Press,) I turned the conversation back to reality. “Orb, were you able to learn any more from this end?”

“d’Negel is a hard man to pin down. We haven’t been able to dig up much about the current head of the organization. It’s almost as though he’s trying to be non-existent. We were able to trace the family business back to-”

“1880, New York,” I interrupted.

“Why, yes. How did you know?”

Sam and I exchanged knowing looks. “That’s our profession,” I said, trying not to look too smug.

Phil reached into a coat pocket and withdrew a small stack of business cards, spilling them on the table. With a smile, he said, “I’ll bet they got lucky. Just like I did. Right?”

“Well, that’s part of our profession, too. Sometimes. Our jump ended in a warehouse in 1901 New York. On the wall in the shipping office was a company calendar that said the business was established in 1880.” Picking up one the cards, I continued my report. “We also found a most unusual writing instrument. Show `em, Sam.”

Sam stopped knife and fork operations long enough to hand the slim black rod to Phil.

“d’Negal Transworld Enterprises,” he read aloud. “I don’t suppose this is normal for 1901 New York, is it?”

“’Fraid not, Phil. May I see that?” Will turned it around in his fingers for a moment. “Nope. This is a technical impossibility in 1901, but a dime a dozen today. 2060, today, that is. Plus, our inquiries into the firm of d’Negel and family show that the name didn’t become `Transworld’ until 2026.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Just a self-sharpening pencil. An advertising give away. I can get you a case of them, exactly like this, marked `Time-Zone Labs.’ But don’t give them away when you get back to our home-time. This thing won’t be invented until 2020, and even then, it won’t be cheap enough to give away until 2035.”

Sam had finally finished eating, and spoke. “How does it work, Will?”

“When you hold it for writing, a miniature peltier device inside converts the heat from your hand into energy. When the tip comes into contact with any surface, it causes a molecular discoloration of that surface. The way the sun will turn paper brown if focused properly with a lens. Any surface except skin, thank god.” Will handed the device to Sam. “If you don’t lose it, it will last forever.”

“Practically,” Orb added. “As to the d’Negel firm. The business started in 1880, New York. They would buy foreign cargoes that arrived there and sell them to local merchants and importers. Sometimes, the sales were to foreign interests. Only about ten percent of what they handled would see that warehouse you visited. Most of it would arrive aboard ship, and the d’Negel family would have it paid for and resold before the ship docked. Generally, the customer would unload his purchase from transport without any of the d’Negel staff having seen the merchandise, or the ship. I think most of their business transactions took place entirely on paper.”

“And under the table, I’ll bet,” I said.

“Undoubtedly,” Orb said with a smile. “The more I think about the d’Negel family, the more I begin to wonder about their existence.”

“Real or not, business ethics have not been a high priority within the d’Negel organization,” Sam commented.

“And, they’ve had almost two hundred years to fine tune the operation,” Orb added.

“We’ve got to get the apparatus that d’Negel is using to bounce around time,” Phil said. “If he, or they, succeeds with this... temporal extortion plot, what might happen next?”

“Orb and I are already looking into that. We’ve learned that d’Negel himself, or someone posing as him, procured the device used to grab Randolph. It’s a prototype system from a government lab. The actual displacement units are hand holdable like ours, but considerably larger. They are useless on their own. The main control is a larger unit that remains in one place. The displacement units can go back in time and return to the real time of the main control unit. They can’t go forward of the main control. So, we don’t have to worry about d’Negel’s men accessing better technology in the future.” Will squinted in thought for a moment before continuing. “There are two controls, and three displacement units. President Randolph was able to seize one control and the two displacement units under its programming.”

“Couldn’t the other control and displacement unit be traced with the control unit in the President’s possession?” Phil asked.

“It’s in our possession now, actually. Yes, I think we could tinker with it, but there’s a risk of losing Randolph. We’ve got to find him and the displacement unit together. The question is: how are we going to locate him?”

“The old fashioned way, with a new twist,” I said. When everyone looked at me, I continued. “Temporal legwork. By the way, how does the President feel about your operations?”

“We’ve had a nice long chat about that,” Orb said. We offered to cease all temporal research and travel once d’Negel is stopped and her grandson is safe.”

“What did she say to that?”

“She trusts us not to stir up the time-lines too much. We can continue our research as long as we look but don’t touch.”

“The Prime Directive,” Will murmured.

Phil looked at him and said, “The what?”

“Nothing important,” Orb said, frowning. “We also suggested destroying the equipment d’Negel and the President have used. As to tracking d’Negel’s henchmen, since they can’t go forward in time beyond 2060, hindsight might just be what you need to locate Randolph- well, look who just walked in.”

We all turned to look towards the front of the large room. Two elderly men had entered with a group of executive types.

“Who’s that?” Phil asked.

“That is Brother Will and myself as we appear in 2060,” Orb explained. “Looks like there’s a board meeting today.”

Phil shivered slightly. “This is eerie. How old are you guys here?”

“Well past the century and a half mark, chronologically. All Time-Zone personnel and their families are eligible for our premium medical care. When there’s time, we can arrange for you boys to visit our facilities. A checkup couldn’t hurt. All voluntary, of course, and free, too. I might suggest the complete inoculation series, in case you should ever need to spend any time in the distant past.”

Sam smiled and said, “Nick’s already avoiding a checkup back home, aren’t you?”

Ignoring Sam, I turned to Orb. “Any clues as to where Randolph might be?”

“I would guess 1901 New York. Somewhere in or around the d’Negel organization. I’m certain they don’t know we’re on their trail through time. Dr. d’Negel is probably sitting fat, dumb, and happy, secure in the knowledge that he’s outsmarted everyone.”

“Okay, we’ll start there. Thanks, Orb, Will.”

“Our pleasure. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’d like to thank ourselves for the use of the local facilities. Good luck, boys, we’ll keep on it from this end.”

Our cousins rose from the table and headed for the table the board members were using.

Phil shook his head gently and said, “I hope I never run into myself like this.”

“Why not?” Sam asked. “Might be kinda fun. Think of the stories you could tell yourself.”

“That’s what scares me the most.’

“If you two are finished, I think we should jump back to the office and get ready for our trip to 1901 New York,” I said.

“No time for dessert?” Sam said.

“I’m sure Mollie can take care of that later. We have to get to work.”

Phil had a thoughtful look, then said, “It’s a good thing Orb set us up for meals here.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m not sure how to write up an expense report showing meals taken across different centuries.”

“Let’s hope that’s the worst of our worries. Come on, we’ll jump back to just after we left the office.”

And so, we commanded our little time machines and disappeared from sight. Completely un-noticed by anyone around us in the Time-Zone Labs Employees’ Commissary.




EPISODE EIGHT
Isn't it on Another Planet?

I was sitting at my old desk, staring at the scars in the wood before me, contemplating the journey ahead of us. Unlocking the lower left hand drawer of the desk, I spoke to my brothers, without looking up. “Do either of you think we need to take any horsepower with us?”

Sam turned from the equally scarred file cabinet. “What do you mean, a rod, a gat, an iron, a roscoe, the cold blue death?” He was smiling when I looked up at him.

“Is that all you had time for in the Marines? Detective thrillers?” Phil asked.

“No, in `27 I had to protect Shanghai with some help from a tommy-gun and a few good friends of mine in the Corps.”

“Well, I’m not talking about Shanghai, `27,” I said. “I’m talking about New York in aught-one. And no, you can’t have a tommy-gun. If we take anything, you can have one .45 and as many loaded magazines as you can carry.”
            
“I don’t know, Nick.” Phil must have sensed how reluctant I felt about carrying a weapon just to have it. He had a troubled look as he said, “Nobody was making guns like that in 1901. What if someone took them away from us, or, worse yet, we lost one?”
            
“You have a point, an excellent one at that. We also don’t want to endanger Randolph.” I relocked the desk drawer without having opened it. “So, we go armed solely with our wits, and reinforcement from our cousins.”
            
“I have an idea,” Sam said. “A very good idea, I think. Since we can jump to 1901 from anywhere, and anytime, why don’t we take a break? I, for one, could use a short nap. Ten, maybe twelve hours straight. I learned three very important things in the service: sleep, eat, and go to the can every chance you get.”
            
“I know from personal experience that you’ve got the eating part down to a science,” Phil said with a chuckle.
            
“I sleep real good, too. I’d sure like to be ready for anything when we get there.”
            
As I stood from behind the desk, I felt better about our foray against our adversaries. “Okay, let’s head for the barn and get a little shuteye. We’ll meet back here in twelve hours. I’m walking back to the apartments, anyone want to join me?”
            
“I’m going to jump from here. The sooner I arrive, the sooner I start sawing logs.” My little brother certainly seemed to enjoy this new mode of transportation.
            
“You two go ahead, then. I’ll still walk. Maybe two blocks will help me sort out my thoughts about a few things.” I picked up my battered fedora and headed for the door. “Don’t get lost on the way,” I said, as I closed the door behind me. But Sam and Phil were probably gone before I got that far.



Walking and thinking made me realize that most of my feelings for Eva stemmed from her problems. So young and horribly frightened by events completely outside of her experience and control. I wanted to hold her, protect her. Learning that she was married also made me think that perhaps I saw her, subconsciously, the same way she saw a grown man named Randolph. Family; someone in dire need of help.
            
If Chris and I ever have a daughter, I hope she’s like young Eva... whoa! Where did that come from? I have strong feelings for Chris, yes... but are they that strong? And deep enough for that kind of commitment?
             
I wish I could talk to her without feeling, and looking, like an idiot.



The Coconolte boys appeared, slowly and silently, in a dark corner of the d’Negel Import & Export, Co. warehouse. We had arrived in the early afternoon of January first, 1901.
            
When we had become solid entities again, I placed my finger to my lips in the universal sign for: `don’t make a damned sound or else!!’ for my brothers to remain silent.
            
We were in the corner nearest the office that Sam and I had gently ransacked during our previous appearance. Advancing slowly, and quietly towards the open door, we heard voices coming from within.
            
A raised voice asked:” What time do you have, Phil?” We couldn’t hear a reply, but did hear: “Move over, that’s me sitting down next to you.”
            
Sam was the first to react when he realized he was listening to his own conversation from hours before. “Nick, that’s you and me in there. Let’s go say howdy,” he whispered.
            
Phil touched Sam’s arm and said, “No, don’t.”
            
Sam smiled and shook off Phil’s hand. “Come on,” he said and stepped through the doorway into the office. “Hey guys, hold up-” but it was too late. All that was left was a faint glow, fading as we entered. “Damn, I missed.”
            
“It’s just as well, Sam,” I said. “We’ve already looked in here. Let’s go out and search the warehouse proper. Quietly. Use your detectors on everything. I want to know if there have been any jumps in any temporal direction at all.”
            
Separating, the three of us began moving quietly about the warehouse, working our way around the crates and boxes. All the while, watching for any trace of temporal anomaly, a phrase used quite often by my cousins.
            
We gathered again in the small shipping office after covering the entire building. “Anything?” I asked.
            
“I found traces to and from uptime. They were fairly weak, probably made several days ago,” Phil told me. “Nothing either direction downtime.”
            
Sam said, “I found our earlier arrival, strong trace, but nothing else.”
            
“I couldn’t find anything downtime either. So, they’ve taken Randolph back to the future, or, out of this building in this timeframe,” I said.
            
“Ya know,” Sam remarked, “we’re beginning to sound an awful lot like our cousins. `Timeframe, temporal jump, uptime trip. I hope nobody ever overhears us.”
            
“That’s better than sounding like the hard-boiled detectives in the pulps. At least Orb and Will act and sound intelligent, even if they are the closest thing to mad scientists we’ll ever meet. I hope,” Phil said.
            
I smiled and moved to the door of the small office. “Let’s look around outside. Maybe we’ll spot something that will yield a clue.”
            
Followed by my brothers, I headed for an exit at the rear of the building.
            
Sam opened the door slowly and peeped around the frame. “All clear,” he said, quietly, and opened the door fully.
            
We stepped out into an alleyway behind the warehouse, running the length of the block.
            
“Brr!! Damn, it’s cold out here!” Phil exclaimed with a shiver.
            
“It’s only January. See what happens when you spend your formative years behind a desk in a cozy law office.” Sam was giving Phil his daily ration.
            
I motioned them to be quiet, and began walking down the alley. At the end of the block, I turned and headed for the front of the warehouse, followed by my brothers, both looking around intently.
            
“Do either of you know New York?” I asked.
            
“Never been there." "Isn’t it on another planet?” “You’re thinking of Hollywood.” My brothers; frustrated vaudeville comics.
            
Taking the sometimes cigarette lighter from my pocket, I said, “I’ll call information. Hello, Orb, can you hear me?”
            
“I’m here, Nick.” I swear, even though he was over a thousand miles and a century and a half away, it sounded like he was standing right next to me.
            
“Are you busy right now?”
            
“I’ve got all the time in the cosmos. What can I do to help?”
            
“We’ve just arrived at the d’Negel location in 1901 New York. There’s no sign of Randolph in the warehouse. Can you find out if there’s a cheap hotel, or boarding house within walking distance?”
           
“Give me a minute, and I’ll call right back.”
            
“Thanks, we’ll stay right here.”
            
I began walking along the front of the warehouse, headed more or less, for the main entrance.
            
“Hey!” Sam said. “I thought you told Orb we’d wait here.”
           
Smiling, I said, “Where ever we are is `right here’ to Orb.”
            
Beckoning them to follow, I continued on my way.
            
Walking along the front of the d’Negel Import & Export Co. warehouse, I noticed that it was of typical late nineteenth century wooden construction, with four large doors along the front with a smaller, person-sized entrance near the center- “2060 to Nick and company, do you copy?”
            
“Uh, yeah, we’re here. Go ahead, Orb.”
            
“I’ve found a low rent hotel in that district that should suit their needs. It offers hourly rates, so you can pretty much imagine what its like.”
            
“I get the idea. Where is it?”
            
“Go out to the street fronting d’Negel’s-” I grinned at my brother Sam,”-and walk north for two blocks. It’s called `The Majestic Arms.’  Don’t let the name fool you.”
            
“Thanks, Orb. We’re on our way. Nick and company, out.” I moved a little faster, with Phil and Sam hurrying to catch up.
            
“Don’t hesitate to call for backup. 2060 signing off.”



The Majestic Arms Hotel. The name alone couldn’t do it justice. A wrecking ball might help. Rundown and seedy. Three floors, built B.E. That’s 'Before Elevators.’
            
Scanning the front of the... building, Sam said, “Doesn’t look like much, does it?”
            
“If they’re here, I’m sure it’s not for the gold bathroom fittings,” I said. “We might as well go in and lean on the desk clerk. Gently, of course.”
            
As we entered, the aforementioned staff member looked up and smiled. “May I help you, gentlemen?”
            
“We’re looking for some... business associates. A Mr. Harrison-Smythe and his partner. There may be a third gentleman accompanying them,” I said, pleasantly.
            
“I don’t recall a Harrison-Smythe registering recently, but that’s not unusual, here. Would you describe him?”
            
“We’ve never actually met. The third man accompanying Smythe and his partner is about thirty-five, close to six feet tall, black wavy hair, and considered quite handsome by the ladies. And he may appear ill or somewhat dazed.”
            
“Him I remember. I was given the impression he was... intoxicated. Do they owe you money?”
            
“No, our business concerns the... ill gentleman.”
            
The desk clerk narrowed his eyes somewhat before asking, “Are you from the police?”
            
“Not exactly, but the ill gentleman is being held against his will. We’re here to reunite him with his family.” I tried to sound authoritative, without ruffling his feathers. It appeared to allay his fears, somewhat. Sam’s presence seemed to help the desk clerk make up his mind quickly.
            
“Will the police be required? Some of our guests would rather not be disturbed.”
            
I smiled. “I think we can accomplish our business without disturbing anyone. What room are they in?”
            
“Room 309, top floor. If anything happens, I’ll have to deny seeing any of you.”
            
Sam leaned closer to the desk, smiling radiantly, and said, “That’s precisely the way we want it.”
            
As we started for the stairs, I turned back to the clerk. “Thank you for your assistance, and I can promise that you will never see any of us again.”
            
“Thank you, that’s precisely the way I want it. Good luck.”



On the third floor landing, we got into a small strategy meeting.
            
“How should we handle this?” Phil asked.
           
“I was planning on knocking on the door.”
            
“No,” Sam said.  “If these are the guys, they’ll recognize you.”
            
“Okay, I’m open for suggestions.”
            
“I’ll knock on the door. You and Phil stand on either side of the door, out of sight. When I go in, you two follow, loaded for bear. Okay?”
            
“Sounds good, Sam. Just don’t do anything too crazy.”
            
Arriving at room 309, Phil and I took our places and waited for Sam’s cue.
            
The door opened almost immediately after Sam’s firm rapping. Harrison-Smythe, the closet stuffer of the Carleton Hotel stood there, looking up at my kid brother. “What do you want?” he demanded.
            
“Where the hell is my wife, you son of a bitch!” Sam said, in a loud, heated voice.
            
“Go away! I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Smythe said, trying to close the door in Sam’s face. Fat chance.
            
Sam pushed the door into Smythe’s face. “I know she’s here, and she’s leaving right now!”
            
Smythe’s eyes were wide open in abject terror as Sam propelled him back into the room. Once Sam had cleared the door, Phil and I charged in right behind him.
            
Smythe was fumbling in his coat pockets, just as Sam swung back and landed a blow to Smythe’s face, sending him across the room. Contact with Sam’s fist, or the bureau against the wall, rendered Smythe instantly unconscious.
            
Lying on the single bed in severely wrinkled clothing, was the missing Randolph, eyes open and glassy. Standing next to him was the man holding the kazoo-like device I had experienced before, seemingly less than a episode ago. He pointed it at Sam while reaching down and grasping the lapel of Randolph’s coat. Before I could react, he stunned Sam, and as Sam collapsed, he reached into his coat and disappeared, with Randolph in hand.
            
Phil and I were still taking all of this in as Sam crumpled to the floor.
            
I rushed over to my fallen brother. “Sam, are you all right?” I motioned Phil over to the still unconscious Smythe.
            
Phil relieved Smythe of some objects in his pockets, and said “This one’s okay. He’s breathing, at least. I was afraid Sam might have killed him.”
            
“If Sam’s not okay, I kill the other one myself. Personally.”
            
Sam stirred and groaned. A good sign. “Ohhh- Mollie, what did you put in that punch?” A better sign.
            
“He’s okay, Phil.”  Phil looked almost as relieved as I felt. “Sam, can you hear me?”
            
Shaking his head, with eyes screwed tight shut, he replied “You don’t have to holler. I’m woosy, not deaf.” After hearing that, I knew he would be as good as new in no time.
            
“Can you stand up? Phil, drag that clown over here where we can keep an eye on him.”
            
I helped Sam to his feet while Phil struggled with Smythe. None too gently, I noticed.
            
“Sam, are you all here yet?” Sam nodded his head, eyes still closed. “I want you to jump to the labs. Turn this guy over to Orb and Will, then let their med’s check you out, okay?”
            
“No, not okay. You or Phil take him to the labs.” Sam got his detector out of his pocket and slipped the travel unit into its slot. “I’m going after the guy with Randolph. He and I have some unfinished business.” He then began searching for the field disturbance.
            
I sighed and turned to Phil. “Take Smythe uptime. Sam and I are going after Randolph.”
            
“Gotcha. I’m beginning to wish Sam had that tommy-gun now.”
            
“I don’t think he’s going to need it. Get going.” I slipped my lighter into the detector’s slot and started looking for the disturbance.
            
Phil grabbed Smythe’s coat. “Main Transit Stage, Time-Zone Labs, 1600 hours, one April, 2060.  Do it.”
            
As Phil shimmered out of sight with our first collar in this case, I asked Sam, “Are you sure you’re up to this?”
            
“I’m ready,” he said with a grim look. I began to feel sorry for the other guy. But only a little. “Let’s jump.”
            
We gave the commands to track Randolph’s abductor, and departed from the Majestic Arms in total silence.




EPISODE NINE
"We’ve got front row seats"

We arrived in the center of a flooded street, rain pouring down around us.

“Nick, my tracer says it’s May thirty-first, 1889. Where are we?”

I looked around for a clue as to our physical whereabouts. We were standing in front of a wooden building with a sign indicating it was the local general store and post office. “We’re in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Sam.”

“Down the street, Nick!” Sam was pointing towards our quarry. “Look, he’s still got Randolph.” The kidnapper was trying to run and drag his captive through the ankle deep water.

All around us was a distinct rumble. Getting louder, or closer. And something else... a steam whistle, like a runaway locomotive, gone berserk.
          
“After them!” I shouted above the noise and rain.
            
I could feel that rumble through my waterlogged shoes as we waded along in the flowing water.
            
Before we could go fifty feet, I saw the kidnapper turn to look at us. Something behind us wiped the look of contempt from his face and replaced it with one of horror.
            
I turned to look at what he saw, only to realize what was causing the rumble.
            
“Sam!! This is the Johnstown Flood!”
            
Sam turned to see a wall of water, forty feet high, rushing towards us, scooping buildings and trees up like toys and scattering them as broken sticks and shards.
            
“Follow Randolph! Now!!” I was screaming so Sam could hear me over the thunderous sound.
            
With only seconds left, we gave the commands to track Randolph and his captor.
             
Disappearing just as the wave of debris and water thundered over our position, I realized that the sound of the berserk steam whistle had stopped.  



We reappeared aboard a ship. It looked like a passenger liner. But all was not peace and tranquility.
            
“What the hell is going on, Nick?” Sam had to shout for me to hear him over the panic stricken crush of people rushing about on deck. “Please don’t tell me we’re aboard the Titanic!”
            
“It can’t be! My tracer says we’ve landed in 1915!”
            
We were slowly being separated by the mass of people, I being the easier to carry away than my brother Sam.
            
Grasping the rail as I neared it, I managed to anchor myself in one spot, momentarily. Looking about me for Randolph and his abductor, I saw a lifeboat, tangled in its davits, crew and passengers struggling to free it. On the bow of the small boat was the name of the ship.
            
“Sam! We’re aboard the Lusitania!” I shouted towards my brother, thirty feet away and still moving along.
            
Suddenly, from a companionway, I saw the kidnapper push a young woman towards Sam, then disappear into time, taking Randolph with him.
            
“Sam!!” I screamed, watching helplessly, as the young woman collided with my younger brother.
            
Sam tried to catch her, but was pressed against the rail by her momentum. The only way he could save himself from being thrown overboard would mean allowing her to go over instead, into the water far below.
            
I watched in horror as Sam used her momentum to sling her back away from the rail, causing himself to tumble over the side.
            
“Sam!!! Jump!! Now!!!”  I shouted at the top of my lungs, trying to make Sam hear me.
            
All I could do was watch as he hit the water, narrowly missing a lifeboat, packed with terrified passengers.
            
Praying that someone would pull my brother from the water, I commanded my tracer to follow the kidnapper, and disappeared from the surrounding nightmare.



I reappeared on the steps of a large, ornate building. I recognized it as San Francisco’s city hall. And immediately realized that it was the pre-1906 earthquake city hall.
            
As I was looking at my tracer for the time and date of my arrival, a cold, wet hand grasped my shoulder.
            
Spinning around, I came face to face (almost) with my youngest brother, soaked completely with a goodly portion of the ocean.
            
“Sam! My god, I saw you hit the water. Did someone in that lifeboat pull you out?” He must have seen the relief on my face.
            
“Hell, no. I had to jump with half the damn Atlantic sticking to me. Where are we?”
            
“San Francisco, before the earthquake.” I looked backed down at my forgotten tracer. “Damn, only moments before the earthquake. We’re in 1906. Do you see Randolph anywhere?”
            
“No, but my tracer is picking up a faint disturbance in that direction,” Sam said, pointing up the steps of city hall. “The kidnapper may have dragged him in there after arriving here. Let’s go in and look around-”
            
Before Sam could finish, the first shocks began to arrive.
            
“No!! He wanted us in there when it collapses! Follow him now, from here.”
            
And again, we made a jaunt through time-



-into an intense battle. Bullets seemed to fly past from all directions. Instinctively, we tried to become one with the earth.
            
“Now what? Nick, when we catch that guy, I’m going to try to shoot him into the center of Mount Shasta.”
            
“Be quiet, and stay down!”
            
“I know the drill. I’ve had this sort of experience before. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.” Sam managed to pull his tracer out from- “OW!” -under him where it landed when he dropped to the ground.  “Look at this, its July second, 1863. Nick, this must be Gettysburg! And we’ve got front row seats.”
            
“Sam, I think this guy is intentionally trying to hurt us,” I said, as calmly as I could.
            
“If I get my hands on him, I’m not going to try, I’m going to do. Any trace, Nick?”
            
“Yes,” I said. I was lying on my back, looking up at my tracer. “He’s gone uptime. I hope we can jump without standing up.”
           
“Let’s go, Nick. I can wait for the movie. Anything would have to be better than this.”



“And then again, maybe not. Where did he go this time? The fiery pits of hell?”
            
We had arrived, still lying down, but instead of bullets and shrapnel flying about, there was roaring flame and heavy acrid smoke, with the stench of sulphur.
            
“Nick, where are we this time?” Sam shouted over the roar of the fire.
            
“I don’t know! My tracer says we’re in 1988!”
            
Through a clearing in the smoke, I spotted Randolph and the kidnapper. We turned and began to run in their direction, coughing and choking in the smoke filled air.
            
The kidnapper was pushing and dragging Randolph along. He turned to look back at us, and stumbled over something hidden in the smoke covering the ground. Falling made him lose his hold on Randolph, who began wandering aimlessly.
            
I started after Randolph, while Sam put on a burst of speed in the direction of the kidnapper.
            
Sam reached his objective before I reached Randolph. The kidnapper was struggling to get up when Sam grabbed him by the lapels, drew back his fist, and landed a single blow that snapped the kidnapper’s head back as though a mule had kicked him in the face.
            
The kidnapper slumped to the ground like a rag doll with a sawdust leak as Sam turned his attention to me and Randolph.
            
I was still pursuing Randolph, trying to catch him before he could stumble and fall into who-knows-what.
            
I was just a couple of feet behind him when I heard (or sensed) Sam’s shout.
            
“Nick!!!!!!! Behind you!!!”
            
I glanced up over my shoulder, only to see a huge, flaming tree falling towards Randolph and myself.
            
I threw my detector/tracer/travel unit at Randolph, shouting the jump command, “Randolph - HOME!!” hoping the device would touch Randolph before responding to the command.
            
Just as it touched Randolph dead center of his back, the command took effect, and he instantly disappeared.
            
Just as instantly, I found myself engulfed in flames, losing consciousness as some immense, smothering weight flattened me to the ground amid total blackness, all encompassing pain and the smell of burning pitch.

                                                                      

Episode 10
"You Can't Dodge Death"


This is where I came in: the hero has reached the cliffhanger and if the audience is sympathetic enough, they’ll be back for the next episode. I sure hope someone is waiting to see how he gets out of this one.

Funny, the pain is gone. Maybe this has all been a dream after all. But, I can still smell something. Something much more pleasant than burning pitch. If there was just a little light, I might know where I am.
            
If this is all just a dream, I should be able to open my eyes.
            
Slowly. That’s it. Yes, just a little more, Nick. Pretend you’re a tough guy- open those eyes.
            
“My god, I must be dead after all,” I hear a hoarse voice say.
            
“Welcome back to reality, Mr. Coconolte,” an incredibly beautiful face says. “No, you’re not dead. We’ve been waiting for you. I’ll inform the doctor of your return.”
            
CRACK!!!  “NICK!”  Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my kid brother, Phil, on a chair. He must have been leaning back against the wall and fell asleep, again. “Boy, am I glad you’re back! Can you hear me? Can you see me?”
           
“Yes,” I croak. My voice sounds so strange. “Don’t get excited. I’m alive, at least the angel told me I’m not dead. When- no, where am I? I had the craziest dream about kidnappers and extortion, and time travel.”
            
My brother’s face swims into view over me. “You’re in a private room of the Time-Zone Labs Med Center, in the year 2060, and none of it was a dream, unless... do you remember anything about Marlene Dietrich?”
            
“No, there was a lot of strange stuff, but she wasn’t there.”
            
“Then, none of it was a dream. How do you feel?”
            
“I can’t feel anything really. Phil, I... I can’t even move!” Don’t panic, old boy. “How badly was I injured? Am I paralyzed?”
            
“Calm down, Nick.” If Phil isn’t worried, I should be able to relax. “The doctor has an ‘A and I’ field on around you.” A grin from Phil. “Anesthetic and Immobilization. It’s the only way you could sleep without thrashing around for the first few days.”
           
“Days?! What happened back there?”
            
“Don’t you remember?”
            
“The last thing I remember is being surrounded by fire just after sending Randolph back, then blackness and pain. Did he get back okay?”
            
“Yes, he’s safe. He and Madame President have been waiting to see you. It’s not polite to keep a world leader waiting. Especially for two weeks.”
            
“I’ve been out for two weeks! Phil, just what the hell happened? Tell me. Now!”
            
“I was at the transit stage when Randolph arrived. He smelled of smoke, and he looked terrible. I helped him down from the stage, and had just turned back, when you, Sam, and Smythe’s accomplice appeared. I was totally unprepared for what I saw.
            
“Sam was standing there, with a grim look on his face, holding the kidnapper by his belt, and you, slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
            
“Nick, Sam’s clothes were smoldering and smoke seemed to be everywhere. His face and hands were covered with burns and soot. Especially his hands.”
            
“Is Sam alright?” Anxiety for my youngest brother makes feel even more alive.
            
“He’s okay. The doctor should be removing the bandages right now. He was nothing compared to you. I thought you were dead! Your clothes weren’t just smoldering, they were charred and still burning in places! Before I could move, Orb and Will were up on the stage with fire extinguishers, calling for an emergency med transfer and... and... all I could do was stand there with my mouth wide open.” Phil looks somewhat dejected.
            
“Phil, look at me. What happened after I was knocked out?”
            
“Sam was several feet away from the tree when it fell, but I’d bet he broke the hundred yard dash record getting to where you were buried under burning limbs. He charged in, digging you out with his bare hands… luckily, you weren’t caught under the tree trunk itself. He said he threw you over his shoulder, snatched up the bad guy, and jumped straight back.”
            
I look up at the ceiling, to think about my brother Sam. What a strange place for a mirror. He deserves something really nice for his birthday. My god! Is that me? I look like Boris Karloff as the Mummy.
            
“When can I see Sam?”
            
“As soon as the good doctor is finished,” comes a voice from the door.  Cousin Orb just stepped into the room. “I’m glad you’re back with us. You gave us quite a scare. Sam certainly knows how to make an entrance.  Watching the two of you arrive with your trophy was almost like a religious experience. And I know wherewithal I speak.”
            
“Orb, where was that hellish fire we jumped into?”
            
“That was the Great Yellowstone Fire of 1988. It burned for weeks.”
            
“What was that guy doing? Every jump he made ended in the middle of a horrible disaster.”
            
“Before we turned Harrison-Smythe and his accomplice over to the authorities, we... uh... interrogated them ourselves. They were informed by d’Negel that someone may have picked up their trail, so, they programmed a series of jumps intended to stop, or kill any possible pursuers. Fortunately, you stopped Smythe first-”
            
“Sam stopped Smythe.”
            
“Yes, thereby saving both your butts, your's twice. By the way, his name really is Harrison-Smythe. He’s d’Negel’s right hand man. A fixer, so to speak. Or was.”  Big smile on Orb’s face. Looks happy about the outcome of this case.
            
Will’s at the door now. “Is this a good time, Orb?”
            
“The doctor’s not here yet, but I think Nick’s up to it.”
            
“I’m up to what?”
            
My question is answered by the entrance of an elderly woman, strangely familiar, and a mid-thirties man. It’s President Eva Randolph of United Terra, and her grandson, Dr. Robert Randolph, Jr.
            
“Madame President!” I can’t sit up against the field I’m in.
            
“Please, relax, Nick. Don’t try to get up. And my name is still Eva, to you and your brothers.” She slides her arm about `Bobby’s’ waist. “I’ll never be able to thank all of you as much as you deserve for what you’ve done.”
            
“Gram’s told me everything. I can’t remember anything between passing out in the Heart Institute restaurant, and waking up down the hall a couple of days ago. But if she says it’s so, it’s so. Thank you, Mr. Coconolte.”
            
“I can’t take all the credit. And it wasn’t just for you. Thinking back on it, there are other grandmothers and grandsons, whole families, that I hope will benefit from our efforts. As my Cousin Orb said to me, ages ago, `More people than we can begin to shake sticks at.’” A weak smile is about all I’m good for right now.
            
“I wish I could tell all those people, and the generations to follow, but I can’t even give you a medal,” Eva said.
            
“I, for one, am glad. I’d rather not be memorialized as a hero for eternity.”
            
Will’s grinning at me. “What? You don’t want to be a rest stop for Martian pigeons in town squares?”
            
“You look very tired, Nick. Bobby and I must leave. Duty calls.” A quick peck on the cheek not covered with bandage. “You and your brothers will always be welcome in Bern. You’ll always be my `Knights Temporal.’”
            
“Did you talk to Sam?” Orb asks her.
            
“Yes, while that pretty young doctor was examining his hands. I’m so glad he’ll be all right. Get some rest, Nick. I think all of you deserve a nice long vacation. Switzerland is very nice this time of year.” 

                                                                   

I start the questions almost before the President and her grandson were out the door.
            
“What about Bobby’s... Dr. Randolph’s parents? Can we do anything to save them without stirring up trouble?”
            
“It’s done. Will sent a clean-up crew from Department X to disable their vehicle for the night of the accident. They missed the play, but we arranged tickets for another night.”
            
“And the two guys that snatched Dr. Randolph?”
            
“Better you don’t ask,” Will says. “They were turned over to the Presidential Security Agency. I’m sure they’re not going to be drawn and quartered, but they’ll probably be out of circulation for a long time.”
           
“And d’Negel? Have you turned over his rock yet?”
            
“He seems to have disappeared,” Orb says.
            
“Into the murky depths of time, I suppose.”
            
“I don’t think so. If he did, he’s stuck there. With the temporal unit taken from Smythe’s accomplice, we were able to track down the master control and... liberate it.”
            
I look directly into Orb’s eyes. “Did you destroy it?”
            
“Welllll... that’s the official word Madame President has passed onto the group responsible for developing it.”
            
“Come on, Orb. Where is it?”
            
“Don’t worry. It’s completely harmless, and inaccessible. Our top temporal engineers have all of the devices strung out over several workbenches,” Cousin Will tells me.
            
“Does Mrs. Randolph know this?”
            
“Of course. It was her idea, actually. That reminds me.’ Orb withdraws a clear plastic bag containing a charred and fused object from the depths of one of his lab coat pockets. Holding it up for me to see, he says “Does this look familiar?”
            
“Is that my copy of `You Can’t Dodge Death’? What happened to it?”
            
“After it delivered Randolph safely here, it made the automatic return to your last location. Apparently, it arrived as Sam was digging you out from under that pine bonfire, and remained there.”
            
“How did you get it back?”
            
“We sent a recall. It came back, but I’m afraid it will never jump again.” Orb looks like his new puppy has just been run over.
            
“I’m sorry, Orb. It’ll take awhile, but, I swear, I’ll pay for it.”
            
“Pay for it?” Orb looks very surprised. “Don’t be silly. You could never afford it. Even if you were a presidential security advisor full-time. Besides, Time-Zone Labs has a strict company policy about this sort of thing. Employees are never held responsible for equipment damage, destruction, or malfunction while under test or in use for company business. The same goes for medical expenses incurred on the job. Nope, this poor little guy will be placed in the corporate display of T-Z L projects and adventures.”
            
Something Orb had just said is trying to ring bells in my head. “Employees?”
            
“Yes, Nick,” Phil says. “Time-Zone Labs has contracted the Coconolte Investigation Agency for investigative services and security consultations.”
            
“That’s right. Now, the three of you are eligible for medical and retirement benefits. And if this case is indicative of your methods, you’re going to need all of those benefits.” Orb chuckles at his own sense of humor.
            
“What’s going on here?” My youngest brother seems to blow into the room. He looks just fine after our little temporal quest. “Everybody has to clear out. The doc wants to look Nick over again, then knock him out for awhile longer.”
            
“C’mon, Sam, let’s go downstairs. I’m sure Nick would prefer to be alone with the doctor. At least, he’s had a complete physical. Pity he doesn’t seem to remember it. Dinner’s on me.” Phil’s turning Sam back out the door.
            
“No time, Phil. I have to get home. I have a date for a movie.” Sam says as he and Phil move down the hall. “You know, Abby’s roommate is kinda cute-” is all I can hear.
            
“We also have to get back to the old homestead time/frame,” Orb says, as he and Will head for the door. “You’re all welcome to stay here until you’re back on your feet. Let’s go, Will. It’s time to get back to our regular chaotic routine. Oh, that invitation applies to your doctor as well, Nick. Quite a woman, that-” as the door closes behind my mad scientist cousins.
            
As the silence returns, I settle back, what little I can in the immobilization field, letting the random thoughts begin to flow... my doctor?
            
The door opens again and in floats Dr. Christina Lowell.
            
“And how are we feeling today?” She sits down on the edge of the bed, touching a small device on the wall, and looks into my eyes. “There, now you can move about. But not too much.”
             
Looking into her eyes is making me a little woozy, again.
            
“My knight in smoldering armor. Yes, I know the whole story. Why couldn’t you have gotten into bookkeeping instead of law enforcement? I don’t think accountants have to go bouncing about time and space, saving the world to earn a living.”
            
After a moment of silence, I can again control my vocal cords. “How... when did you get here?”
           
“Phil picked me up when he returned to take young Eva back to 2004. Nick, this is a wonderful time and place! I wish I could bring all of my patients here.”
           
“You can’t even think about this place when we go back.”
            
“I know,” she sighs. “I am glad they brought you here, though. I couldn’t have done much for you at home. The scar tissue alone would have been....”  
            
Before the tears begin, I take her hand. “Hey. “Don’t. This is the last time we’ll ever get involved in something like this. I’m sure... I hope.”
            
After a snuffle, a smile, then, “I saw your Cousin Will showing Sam and Phil a couple of cigarette lighters the other day. He said they were the new models he had just finished for them.”
            
There’s silence as I look at her. My turn to sigh, then smile.
            
“I think you had better get used to patching up the Coconolte Boys. The Temporal Knights may one day again ride to the rescue. Maybe I can wangle an office for you out of Orb.”
            
Another pause, while I sink deeper into those eyes.
            
“Chris, there are things I have to discuss with you. Important things, about you, about me, and... mostly about us. God, I feel like a tongue tied-kid on his first date-”
            
“Shut up and kiss me, you heroic idiot.”
            
And, as I pull her down to me, everything fades to black... again.

The Affair of the Temporal Extortionist:

CASE CLOSED

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