Nightwatch: Seven Years
By Ralph Benedetto, Jr.
Simon walked up to the side of the desk and leaned in toward the receptionist, holding out a flower. “Rose, my sweet, your namesake, though less beautiful than you are, is still, I trust, a worthy gift.”
The receptionist looked up at Simon, glanced quickly at the reception area and noted the presence of two people sitting there, glanced back at Simon and said, “Dr. Litchfield.” Her voice was toneless. She made no move to take the flower.
Simon pulled back, the smile fading from his lips. The receptionist’s eyes were colder than any pair of eyes he’d seen since his last divorce, and, had he imagined it, or had she actually pronounced his name, “Letchfield”? He had the impression that, if there hadn’t been strangers waiting in the reception area, she would have had a lot more to say. He felt a temptation to move so that the bulk of the desk was between the two of them, but he resisted it.
Simon leaned forward, his hand on the counter. “Now, Rose,” he said sweetly.
She picked up a heavy stapler and slammed it down onto the counter a hair’s breadth from his hand. Simon pulled his fingers to safety and stepped back from the desk. Rose turned her back on him and began to shuffle some papers.
With a shake of his head, Simon tucked the rose into his lapel for the moment and walked back toward the office area. Rose was normally such an even tempered girl…
As he walked toward his office, Simon noticed several people giving him odd looks. They couldn’t have seen how Rose had treated him. Could someone have been upset by his unscheduled vacation? Well, he wasn’t going to worry about that. He had been sent to Hants on what he had known would be a wild goose chase before he went, and, after a wasted week, had decided to head to Scotland for a few days of relaxation. The world had obviously managed to turn without him, so what was the big deal?
Still, casting the occasional puzzled look over his shoulder, Simon walked into his office and then cast a puzzled look in front of him. His office was just as he had left it, except for one object that hadn’t been there previously. One particularly big and bulky object that was sitting comfortably in the visitor’s chair in front of Simon’s desk.
“Tom,” Simon said. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, Simon.” Tom grinned and waved a hand at the chair behind Simon’s desk. “Have a seat.”
“Oh, thank you,” Simon said dryly, “Don’t mind if I do.”
As Simon settled himself in, Tom gave him a long, searching look and then asked, “So, how are you doing?”
Simon frowned at his friend. There was something subtly different about Tom this morning, but Simon couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. “Fine,” he replied. “And you?”
Tom nodded. “Excellent,” he said.
“Well, now that we’ve got the chit chat out of the way, what are you doing here?”
Tom shook his head and spread his hands. “I just thought I’d come by for a visit.”
It was then that Simon got it. The oddity that had been bothering him crystallized, and he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, a faint smile dancing at the corners of his mouth. “Well, it’s good to see you,” he said. “Do you often make house calls, Doctor? Or should I say ‘office calls’?”
After the briefest instant, Tom grinned. “Alright,” he said, “So there may be a touch of the professional about this visit, but only a touch.”
“And who thinks I need to be psychoanalyzed?”
“It isn’t that extreme, Simon. I’m just a little concerned about you. Several people are. You have to admit that your recent behavior has been a bit…odd.”
Simon shook his head. “No,” he said. “I don’t have to admit that at all.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “You don’t?”
“No. What’s so unusual about wanting to let off a little steam?”
“Nothing.” Tom shifted in his chair. It wasn’t really quite big enough to hold him. “But your method of…uh…letting off steam has been a little…troublesome to some people.”
It was Simon’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you’d become so puritan,” he said.
Tom laughed. “Puritan?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s puritan to suggest that it’s a bad idea to walk up behind the receptionist and reach around her to grab a handful of her right--”
“Whoa, whoa,” Simon said, sitting suddenly upright. “Who told you that?”
“She did,” Tom said. “And so did the three people who saw it.”
Simon shook his head. “Tom…” He laughed suddenly. “All right,” he said. “This is a bizarre sort of joke, even for you.”
“I’m not joking, Simon.” Tom studied his friend thoughtfully. “Stephanie’s pretty upset with you.”
“What?” Simon was beginning to get exasperated. “And what am I supposed to have done to her?”
Tom gave Simon a sour look. “Cornered her in a closet and--”
“Now, look, Tom, I appreciate a good joke as well as the next man, but this isn’t a good joke. This is witless. Let’s get to the punchline, shall we?”
“I suspect the punchline will come when you run into Micah. Literally. He’s been saying something about his fist and your nose.”
“What the hell are you going on about?” Simon snapped, suddenly losing his temper. “Rose was in a fine state this morning, everybody in this place is looking at me sideways and now you come in blathering on about who knows what. Get to the point, Tom.”
Tom raised a hand. “Calm down, Simon. This isn’t that big a deal. I’m just trying to find out what happened yesterday. Your behavior--”
”My behavior yesterday is none of your business.”
“I’m just concerned about you Simon, that’s all. Don’t I have that right?”
Simon didn’t answer, and Tom said, “A few people have told me they suspect you might have been drunk.”
“Indeed I was,” Simon said, his anger giving way to
puzzlement. “Soused to the gills and
acting the orifice, in fact. But what
does how I treat some attractive young women in a
“Yesterday, Tom, I was in
Tom shook his head. “I don’t know what you hope to accomplish with this story, but--”
“Tom,” Simon said, closing his eyes and rubbing his
head. “Wait.” There was a pause. “Wait.
Now listen to me very carefully.
I spent the last several days in
Tom stared at Simon.
Simon picked up the phone.
“Call transport,” he said. “A Nightwatch plane brought me back. Call Nichol.
You know Nichol, Tom. I have been
with him for the last three days. In
Tom continued to stare at Simon, then, with a look of
resignation, he pulled out a phone and punched in a number. After several rings, someone at the other end
answered and Tom had a brief conversation with him. He flipped the phone closed and looked at
Simon. “Nichol says you were in
Simon spread his hands, palms up.
“This is ridiculous,” Tom said carefully. “A dozen people saw you here yesterday.”
“An imposter?” Simon asked, sitting upright.
“With all of your access codes, your fingerprints, your retinal scan?” Tom shook his head. “How is that possible?”
“I don’t know! All I know is that I was in
“Simon…” Tom began, but Simon cut him off.
“In fact, maybe I’m not really here right now. Maybe I’m at home!” He grabbed his phone and punched in his home number. “Let’s just check, shall we?” He started to give Tom a sour look, and then his stopped and his mouth slowly fell open. He handed the phone to Tom. A voice could be heard asking, “Is anyone there?”
Tom took the phone. “Uh…hello?”
There was a pause.
There was a pause.
“Uh…no…” Tom said hastily. “No, nothing’s wrong. I…I just wanted to know if you wanted to play some racquetball this evening…What?...Oh…um…yeah, sorry about that. Someone came in and started talking to me right as you answered…well, I’m surprised to find you at home, but I tried the office and they said you weren’t in…Oh. O-okay. Right. See you later then. Bye…?”
Tom mechanically hung up the phone and then stared at Simon’s chair. It was empty. Tom shook his head. Was he going crazy? He stood up and turned toward the door of Simon’s office. There was a man lying on the floor, a mass of papers scattered around him. Tom stepped over him and peered down the hall. A distant door was still in the process of closing.
“Excuse me,” a voice said.
Tom looked down. The man he had stepped over was climbing to his feet and starting to gather the scattered papers. “Was that Dr. Litchfield?” he asked.
Tom nodded. “Yeah.”
The young man was dressed in black slacks, a deep blue shirt and an understated tie. Despite the tumble that he had just taken, his hair was perfect. He looked to be about twenty years old. A young twenty.
“Do you know where he was headed?”
“Do I know you?” Tom asked.
The young man grinned and held out his hand. “Bryan Henderson,” he said. “I’m Dr. Litchfield’s new intern.”
Tom took the hand.
“Tom Weldon.” He looked
“He seemed to be in quite a hurry.”
Tom grinned. “That’s Simon,” he said. “Always rushing from one place to another. I’m sure he’ll be back soon. If you’ll excuse me.”
Tom walked rapidly out of the building and headed for his car. He debated calling Simon’s cell phone, but, somehow, the thought made him uncomfortable. Surely there couldn’t be two Simons, but, if there were, how could he be certain which of them he was talking to? Maybe they each had a cell phone and they would both ring and he would find himself talking to two Simons at once. He shook his head. This was a little too much for this early in the morning.
When Tom got to Simon’s place, he saw Simon’s car double parked in front and Simon standing next to it. Simon watched him pull up and then waved him over.
“Come on, Tom,” he said. “As long as you’re here, you might as well keep an eye on me to make sure I’m really not crazy.”
“Who’s gonna keep an eye on me?” Tom asked. “Simon, what’s going on here?’
This Simon was dressed exactly the same as the Simon who Tom had seen at Nightwatch a short while before, but was it really the same Simon? Or was it the other Simon? If there was another Simon.
Simon shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. The door of his home was open, and an elderly woman was standing just outside the doorway. She was shorter than Simon, with gray hair pulled back and a pair of remarkably bright black eyes. “Mrs. Turner,” Simon said, facing her, “Would you tell Dr. Weldon what you told me?”
Mrs. Turner looked at Tom with a smile. “I merely asked the good doctor why he was
back so soon and why he had taken the time to change his clothes.” How ever long she had been in
Simon smiled slightly and spread his hands and looked at Tom. “Clear enough?” he asked.
Tom nodded and then shook his head. “Maybe,” he said. “I don’t know.”
“Let’s go in.” Simon glanced at Mrs. Turner. “If I come back while I’m here,” he said, “let me know.”
“Is there any particular message you’d like me to pass on to yourself?”
“Never mind,” he said with a grin. “I’m just being facetious. Come on, Tom.”
They passed through a foyer and down a corridor with cream colored walls. The quiet tick of a clock came out of an open doorway. Simon glanced into each room as they passed but didn’t stop until they came to the library.
The walls were lined with shelves, and every available bit of shelf space was occupied by books. There was a desk of polished mahogany in one corner with a very comfortable chair of leather and wood behind it. A computer was perched on the desk. There were two other chairs in the room, both of them of leather and both of them sumptuously comfortable. Near each chair was a table and a light. The chairs were close enough together to permit conversation but far enough apart not to make it a necessity. The only other furnishings in the room were a large globe and a small cabinet well stocked with everything from pencils to a selection of beverages. The wood was polished and stained a rich dark color. The only wall which wasn’t lined with shelves had two large windows in it lined with heavy drapes. Tom had been in the room many times, and it was one of his favorite rooms anywhere.
Simon stopped next to one of the chairs and looked down at the table. It held a bottle, a glass, and a book. Simon picked up the bottle. “Single malt Parker’s,” he said. “Twenty-five years old.” He put the bottle down.
“Whoever our friend is,” Tom said, “he does himself well.”
“At my expense,” Simon said dryly. He picked up the book, grunted, and dropped it back onto the table. “Bastard,” he said.
Tom looked curiously at the book. “What is it?” he asked.
“Picadilly Jim,” Simon said. He looked around the room. “It’s a book about a man who impersonates himself.” He walked toward the desk.
“What?” Tom asked. He reached out to pick up the book. “How could a man…”
“Tom,” Simon said. “I think we have more important things to consider right now.”
Tom drew his hand back. “Right,” he said, but he kept glancing back toward the book.
Simon sat down at his desk and glanced through the drawers. The computer was on, but no files had been opened. “I can’t tell what he’s been up to. Not that there’s anything particularly sensitive here.” He ran his hand over the lower part of his face. “But he didn’t come here just to drink my scotch and raid my library for reading material.” After a moment he looked up at Tom. “We’d better get back to the Institute,” he said. “Maybe he’s headed there.”
“Should we call and warn them?”
Simon frowned. “I’ve been trying to decide,” he said. “He had plenty of time to get into trouble yesterday it seems.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“But he doesn’t know that we know that he exists. If we tell someone at Nightwatch, they might slip up and clue him in.”
Tom shook his head. “I think you’re making this too complicated,” he said.
“I’m making this complicated? What about him?”
“I mean,” Tom explained, “that you’re cooking up some complicated to plan to what? Follow him and see where he goes? Isn’t a better idea just to catch him?”
“Yeah.” Simon reached for the phone. “Hi. This is Simon…we’ll sort that out later. Right now you need to know that we have an imposter on our hands…Me…Yes…I don’t know…no, I think we need to keep it from as many people as we…yes…um…Hang on…” Simon glanced at Tom. “They want to know how to tell the difference between us.”
“A good question.”
Simon’s eyes narrowed. “Are you busy?” he asked.
“What? You mean right this minute?”
“For the next few days. Are you busy.”
Tom shook his head. “Not especially, I guess. Why?”
Simon turned back to the phone. “The real me will have Tom Weldon with him. That’s how you’ll know…No, Tom won’t let me out of his sight, even for a second…okay…I’ll be on my back shortly.” He hung up and glanced back at Tom. “You’re busy now,” he said.
“Excuse me,” Tom said, raising and eyebrow, “but did you just say I wouldn’t let you out of my sight for a second? For how long?” And, Tom wondered to himself, how sure am I that this is the real Simon?
Simon grinned. “Until we catch the bad guy,” he said.
Simon rose to his feet. “Come on,” he said. He walked down the passage to the kitchen, where the housekeeper was doing the breakfast dishes. “Mrs. Turner.”
“When did I get back from my last trip?”
The housekeeper was not fazed in the slightest by the question. “Two days ago, so you said.”
“So I spent two nights here?”
“I’m sure I couldn’t say. When I got here yesterday morning, you were already here, but I don’t think you’d slept much. When I got here this morning, you’d eaten the supper I left for you last night. Except for the spinach, of course. Would you like to know what you ate for breakfast?” Her face radiated utter innocence, and her voice held no trace of sarcasm.
Simon grinned at her. “No thanks,” he said. As he walked out of the room, Tom hung behind for a moment.
“That must have seemed a bit odd…” he began, but Mrs. Turner smiled at him.
“Oh, no. I’ve done for a gentleman even more eccentric than Dr. Litchfield,” she said quietly. Then, humming softly to herself, she continued with the dishes.
Tom shook his head and followed after Simon, who had opened the front door and was just stepping out onto the sidewalk. Tom supposed he had already fallen down on the job, having let Simon out of his sight for a second.
There were two men standing on the sidewalk. One was a driver from the motorpool, though Simon couldn’t recall his name at the moment. The other was a stranger to him – young, earnest, all teeth. Simon’s initial estimate was that he was about twelve years old, but he was forced to revise that upward slightly.
“Bryan Henderson,” the earnest youth said, holding out a hand. “I’m your new intern.” He turned to Tom. “Nice to see you again, Dr. Weldon.”
Simon glanced at Tom, one eyebrow raised. Tom nodded ever so slightly. Simon took the offered hand and said, “How long have I had an intern?”
“This is my first day. Since you and Dr. Weldon brought two cars, I thought you might need someone to drive the extra car back to the institute for you. I had myself and Earnest,” he nodded at the man from the motorpool, “driven out here. Earnest can take your car back, and, if you wouldn’t mind, I could ride back with you and get filled in on my duties.”
Simon and Tom looked at each other for a moment, and then Simon nodded. “Well thought out,” he said.
“Well, sir,” said
“Uh…good,” Simon said. He glanced at Tom again. “Would you mind driving us?”
He and Tom climbed into the front seat of Tom’s car.
“Dr. Litchfield?” The voice was slightly nasal and very precise.
“This is Louis Decker, down in research.”
“Yes,” Simon said. He had already recognized the voice. It was hard not to. Lou held degrees in library science, digital information management and English, and he had the exact sort of voice Simon would have given him if he’d been creating him.
“Yes. I have some information you might be interested in, Doctor.”
Simon sighed. “Is this important?” he asked. “Because I’m a bit swamped right now.”
“If I’m interrupting something important, I’m quite sure that I don’t--”
“No, I’m sorry,” Simon said, interrupting. It had occurred to a bit belatedly that Decker had only called him twice before, each time with something of extreme importance. “I appreciate you taking the time to call me. Please, continue.”
“Very well, then. You might know I been working on a new search algorhithm based on the Kornheiser equations. I wished to make the search engine more intelligent, better able to weed out the items a searcher isn’t interested in and locate the information a searcher does want, even if the searcher doesn’t realize that he or she wants it. Do you follow me?”
“Sure,” Simon said. “I’m with you.”
“I have written a new program I call the Kornborer. Quite droll, don’t you think?”
“Quite,” Simon agreed.
“I needed something to test it on, a good search to push its limits. You have a new intern, isn’t that correct?”
Uh-oh, Simon thought. “Yes.”
“Yes. I set the Kornborer on him. His background has been checked already, of course, but that was the point. As you probably realize, if you have the money and the time, you can alter or eliminate records several layers deep, but you can’t get rid of or alter everything that’s out there.”
“I imagine not.”
“The young man’s records passed the preliminary search, or he never would have been taken on in the first place, and our preliminary search is, not surprisingly, rather thorough. Because of that, I didn’t really expect to find much, but I did turn up an interesting tidbit.”
“Really. And what would that be?” The back of Simon’s neck was beginning to itch. He could hear Tom and the new intern carrying on a pleasant conversation, but he was resisting an urge to look into the back seat and was trying to keep his posture relaxed.
“The first real clue was a picture from his tenth birthday party.”
Simon’s left eyebrow shot up. “I beg your pardon?”
“His tenth birthday party. It wasn’t in any of the major databases, but it was in the morgue of a little newspaper from a small Midwestern town. His tenth birthday was at a park outdoors, and a news photographer took some pictures, presumably as a human interest feature.”
“And?” The back of Simon’s neck was really starting to itch now.
“One of the guests at the party was Davis Howard.”
That was a letdown. Simon didn’t know the name at all. “Um…and…?”
“Davis Howard,” Decker continued, “Is now an aide to Senator Chalmers.”
“Oh,” Simon said neutrally.
“Your reaction is surprisingly placid, Dr. Litchfield.”
“Oh, no, not all,” Simon said calmly. “Quite the opposite, in fact.”
There was a pause, and then Decker said, “Ah. He’s in the room with you.”
“That’s right,” Simon said. “So, when can I expect to have it back?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well, I suppose that’ll be alright.”
“Ah. You’re engaging in a subterfuge for his benefit?”
“No, but don’t let it run any higher than that, all right?”
“I’m going to hang up now, Doctor Litchfield. While I appreciate the need for this stratagem, you can speak to the dial tone as well as to me, and I have some things that I must get done. Good-bye, sir.”
“Okay, but check back with me first. Good-bye.” Simon hung up and returned the phone to his pocket. Tom glanced at him curiously. Simon shook his head. “I hate doing real estate deals long distance,” he said.
“Are you buying a new house?”
“Some land,” Simon told him.
“As an investment. So,
Simon nodded thoughtfully. “Impressive ideals,” he said.
“You may,” Tom said sotto voce but loud enough for Simon to hear him and shoot him a glance.
“I am so excited to have the chance to work with Dr. Simon
“Oh, good,” Simon said, not quite convincingly. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”
“Good morning, Rose,” Tom said, smiling at the receptionist. He noted two men sitting almost casually in visitor’s chairs pretending to read magazines. They had tensed up a bit at the sight of Simon and relaxed again at the sight of Tom.
“Good morning, Dr. Weldon,” the receptionist replied with
almost an excess of warmth. She ignored
Tom’s smile grew broader, and he laid a massive arm across Simon’s shoulders. “Rose,” he said, “Dr. Litchfield would like to apologize to you for his behavior yesterday.” The receptionist’s eyes flickered toward Simon for an instant and then back to Tom. “He realizes that it was inexcusable, but I can assure you that Dr. Litchfield was not himself.” Simon made a slight noise, hastily suppressed. “I can also assure you that Dr. Litchfield was not responsible for his actions yesterday.” Tom’s tone was light, but his voice carried complete sincerity. It’s easiest to lie when you do so by telling the truth.
Rose glanced back at Simon again.
“I’m very sorry, Rose,” Simon said. He did look truly penitent.
The beginnings of a smile could be seen on her face. Her eyes looked concerned. “That’s all right,” she said. “I forgive you.”
“Thank you, Rose.”
“Now, Rose,” Tom continued. “I’d like you to do me a favor, all right?”
Rose nodded. “Of course,” she said.
Tom pulled out a business card and picked up a pen off of Rose’s desk, writing as he spoke. “Simon is supposed to be under my supervision for the next several days, so if you see him anywhere at all without me, especially here, I’d like you to give me a call at this number, all right?”
He held out the card, but Rose seemed hesitant about taking it.
“Please,” Simon said with a gentle smile. “I’d really appreciate it.”
She took the card. “Anything I can do to help,” she said honestly.
“Thank you, Rose.”
The two men headed back toward Simon’s office, and Simon said, “Well, thank you very much. Now she thinks I’ve got mental problems.”
Tom waved away Simon’s objection. “Well, we all have mental problems, Simon. It’s just a question of degree. Besides, isn’t this better than having her furious with you?”
Simon grunted sourly. “I don’t know about that,” he said. They turned into Simon’s office to find that Bryan was already present, a bright, earnest smile on his face, a PDA in his lap and a briefcase on the floor beside him, ready to get to work.
“Ah,” Simon said. “You’re eager.”
“Yes, sir. What shall we do first?”
Simon settled himself in his seat, leaned back and thought
for a moment. “Research,” he said. “As you may know, the Institute has a fairly
comprehensive library onsite. We need
some facts relating to a power plant project in the
Simon forced a smile as
Simon hung up the phone and grimaced at Tom. “You know,” he said. “This guy, whoever he is, is giving me a headache.”
“He might give you worse than that,” Tom said, frowning.
“What do you mean? No, wait for Stephanie to get here.”
Stephanie arrived a few moments later. She was dressed in comfortable khakis lined with pockets, every pocket bulging with bits of electronic equipment. In her hand was a small black metallic box. She smiled politely and nodded at Tom and then she gave Simon a venomous glare.
“Scan, please,” Simon said.
Stephanie closed the office door and then flipped a switch on the box. She moved carefully about the room for several minutes before announcing, “Clear.”
Tom raised one eyebrow, and Simon said, “No listening devices.” He sighed and then said, “Would you do it, please?”
Tom turned to Stephanie and said, “Why don’t you have a seat, Stephanie. This will take a few moments.”
She sank into a chair, not looking at Simon, every line of her body expressing a combination of anger and outrage. It took five minutes to convince her, and then she was slightly more relaxed and willing to look at Simon’s face. “Wow,” she said. “Where did this guy come from?”
“I have no idea,” Simon told her. He glanced at Tom. “And you were getting ready to say something earlier that was probably going to make me very unhappy?”
“Well, apparently this man, whoever he was, was able to access all of your files yesterday. He knew all of your passwords.”
Simon closed his eyes and breathed a single word, then he said, “You told me that earlier. I’d forgotten. I need to change my passwords.”
“And what if he has your other access codes?”
Simon shook his head. “What other access codes?”
“Well, to your bank accounts, for example.”
Simon closed his eyes again and groaned. “Okay,” he said. “First things first.” He picked up the phone again. “Hi, this is Dr. Litchfield.” He paused. “Could you change my main system access code please?” He covered the mouthpiece of the phone and said to Tom, “Give me a password. If I think it up myself, maybe this son of a bitch can come up with it, too.”
Tom thought for a second and then offered up a suggestion. Simon took his hand off of the receiver and passed it along.
“Thanks,” he said. “And now for part two. You want to make a bet with me? I’ll bet you fifty dollars that you can’t stop me from changing my access code again in the next two weeks…yeah, I’ll bet I can get someone else in the department to do it for me or even get you to do it…I’ll test you on it…I’ll do anything to convince you, maybe even offer to give up the bet…okay, we’ll see.” He hung up the phone and grinned at the others. “That ought to stymie the son of a bitch.”
“Clever,” Stephanie said. “Did you talk to Josh?”
“That man hates to lose.”
“Are you sure the internal phone line isn’t tapped?” Tom asked.
“I am,” Stephanie said. “We check that several times daily at random intervals.”
“And now for my bank account,” Simon said. “I won’t be able to use the same trick on them.” He turned to his computer and began to hit the keys. He was quiet for several moments and then began to swear violently. Tom and Stephanie exchanged a look and then Simon sighed and glanced at Tom.
“He cleaned me out. He couldn’t have spent it all. He must have done it just for spite.” He shook his head and then grinned feebly at Tom. “What now?” he asked. “Will you support me in the manner to which I have become accustomed?”
There was an instant of silence, and then all three of them
looked up to find
“My new intern,” Simon said, almost brightly enough to be an
“What can I do for you, Bryan?” Simon asked.
“Um…well, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to work here, and I have started the research work that you asked for. In fact, one of the librarians is looking up some information for me, and I have excellent computer access from home that will allow me to do most of the research on my own time, so I was wondering what else I could do for you in the meantime.” His smile became quite winning. “What I’m really hoping for, Dr. Litchfield, is the chance to work directly with you. I hope I’m not being too presumptuous, but that’s really what attracted me to Nightwatch. That and its humanitarian goals, of course.”
“My goodness,” Tom said with apparent sincerity. “That’s truly a compliment, Simon.”
“What are you grinning about?” Simon asked.
Tom shook his head. “Nothing of any consequence,” he said. “What now?”
Simon rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Okay,” he said, turning to Stephanie. “This fellow is driving my car around. I have a GPS system. Can you use it to find him?”
Stephanie grinned. “Well, as a matter of fact,” she said, “Yes.”
“How long will that take?”
“How does two minutes sound?”
Simon raised one eyebrow. “Like you’ve done this before,” he said.
She pretended to look uncomfortable. “Well, as a matter of fact, I did find out the code for your particular car and record that information.”
“And, why, if I may ask, did you do that?”
She shrugged. “I was trying out a new system. I had to pick on someone.”
Simon looked longsufferingly at Tom. “Why is that when the people who work here need to try out a new system they pick on me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I didn’t tell you about Louis Decker’s call, did I?”
Tom shook his head. “No. What about it?”
“Not yet. When we have time.” To Stephanie he added, “Get me that info, huh? As soon as you can? And send it to my cell.”
She nodded, rose from her chair and headed out the door. Just before exiting the room, she turned back to Simon and said, “Sorry if I was a little hard on you earlier.”
Simon shook his head. “Forget it,” he said.
She nodded and left.
Simon picked up his phone and dialed a five digit code. He waited for an instant, heard a tone in his ear and hung the phone back up.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“To the library.”
The Institute’s library was a sprawling structure containing a large store of material that had not yet been digitized. Simon led Tom through the stacks to the popular culture section. Tom looked around with interest.
“TV Guide?” he asked.
Simon shrugged again. “Now,” he said, “We don’t want to give Callow fits, so I need you to wait here.”
“No,” Tom said.
“I’ll stay away from you,” he explained, “Far enough that I can’t hear. But I have to be able to keep you in my sight.”
Simon sighed. “Tom,” he said, but his friend cut him off.
“I meant it, Simon. I’m your surety. It’s my job to make sure that the you I have with me is the real one. I have to be able to keep you in my sight. Can you prove to me that the imposter isn’t hidden somewhere in the stacks?”
Simon sighed again. “All right,” he said. He led Tom to a corner stack and pointed out a table where Callow was already seated.
Simon walked up to the table and sat down. Callow stared sourly at him.
“Well?” he asked. He nodded a head in Tom’s direction. “Your friend Dr. Weldon is going to be watching us? This is a serious breach of security, Simon.” Tom had been here before, but only at the express invitation of Callow, and that invitation had not been extended recently.
Simon’s face was just as sour. “He’s going to be watching me. To make sure that the me who walked into the library will be the same one who walks out of it. That would be an even more serious breach of security. We have a problem.”
“I am aware of it.” Callow’s voice was even more toneless then usual.
Simon stiffened in his seat. “What’s happened?”
“Chang’s cover was blown. She’s dead.”
“Damn it!” Simon said, the palm of his hand smacking into the table. “Do we know it was him?”
“Keep your voice down in the library, doctor,” Callow said coldly as Simon slowly made a fist just below the level of the man’s gaze. “What we know is that she was identified in an anonymous e-mail. We don’t have a complete copy of the text, but it obviously contained sufficient proofs to be convincing. It also apparently offered this information as a free sample.”
“To show them he knew what he was talking about so that he could offer more information for sale. Damn his eyes.” Simon glared at Callow. “Where did this guy come from?”
Callow nodded. “By all accounts he has your fingerprints, your retinal pattern, and a variety of access codes that should only be stored in your memory.” He stared at Simon. “You haven’t written any of your access codes down anywhere? Anywhere at all?”
Simon shook his head. “Never,” he said.
Callow looked at the laptop that was open on the table in front of him. “The fingerprints are easy enough to falsify. There might even be a way to falsify a retinal pattern, I’m not sure, but I what I really want to know is how he got your access codes and passwords. You’re certain you didn’t record them anywhere?”
Simon shook his head. “Definitely not,” he said. He tapped his head. “The only place those codes are located is in my head.”
Callow nodded. Although he wouldn’t admit it, he was apparently prepared to accept Simon’s word on the matter. “Then there are four possibilities. Either there is no imposter or you gave him the access codes or he has cracked our system or he has access to the inside of your head.”
Simon crossed his arms. “And which one are you going with?”
“Frankly, my first idea was that there is no imposter; that you were running some kind of operation. I no longer believe that. You are capable of a lot, but I don’t think you’re capable of sacrificing someone close to so callously as that.” Simon winced at sacrificing someone close.
“Your faith in me is touching,” Simon said acidly.
“I have verified your location since you left the dig site,” Callow said. “You still might have given him the access codes. It would be much easier to create a duplicate of you with your help, but I can’t figure out a reason for you to do so.”
Simon’s smile was razor thin. “I might be smarter than you,” he said.
“You aren’t, Dr. Litchfield.” One corner of Callow’s mouth twitched fractionally. “I think we’ve proven that.”
The change in Simon was somehow invisible and obvious at the same time. Tom recognized it from his vantage point and tensed up, ready to do…something, though he wasn’t sure what.
Callow’s expression slipped for just an instant, a brief flicker of humanity. Simon said not a word, and the silence between them stretched for a long moment. Finally, Callow cleared this throat awkwardly and said, “And…um…the system he used your access codes on has no external connections.” The slip betrayed Callow’s nervousness, a Simon found himself almost regretting the fact that Callow could, at times, act human.
“Which means,” Simon said with some difficulty, “that he would either have had to come in to crack the system or get help from someone who works here.”
“One can never be certain that there are no traitors,” Callow said, “but I am inclined to discount that possibility.”
“And the idea that someone came in and had the time to study our system and crack into to it to acquire the codes and then left with only that information so that someone else had to come back in and use the codes is a bit ridiculous,” Simon offered.
“Correct,” Callow said. “Which brings us to the last option. That someone has access to the inside of your head.”
Simon shook the aforementioned head. “No,” he said. “Do you mean someone drugged me or hypnotized me or something like that? No.”
“No,” Callow agreed. “You haven’t been out of contact long enough for something like that to have happened.”
“I am making some inquiries,” Callow said. “I hope to have some information for you soon.”
“Have you notified information systems?”
“Yes. External access to all systems is currently unavailable. If he wants more, he’ll have to come back for it.”
“Not that he needs to,” Simon said bitterly. “He’s got enough in his head to cause more damage and death than I care to think about. When you find out more, you’ll share the information with me?”
“Certainly.” Although he didn’t say anything else, Simon could practically hear the addendum: or, at least as much of it as I think you need to know.
“Yeah,” Simon said, pushing away from the table. “I bet.”
As they left the library, Tom remarked, “You didn’t kill him.”
“What?” Simon had pulled out his cell phone and was dialing, and his thumb stopped suspended over the numbers.
“I know you, Simon,” Tom said as Simon finished dialing. “There was a moment when I half expected you to leap across the table and throttle him.”
Simon grinned. “I
half expected it myself,” he said. He
clapped Tom on the shoulder and said, “It may happen yet.” The last comment was spoken with shades of
bitterness that Tom noticed immediately.
Litchfield held the phone to his ear.
“Morna…have you heard from me lately?...No, not this early in the day…
Tom took the phone and said, “Hello?...no, he’s fine, just pissed off…yes…yes…well, he’s cleaned out Simon’s bank account…”
“Among other things,” muttered Simon darkly.
“Yes…good…” Tom handed the phone back to Simon.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s right…Tom is my safety net…I will not contact you without having him with me for any reason whatsoever…promise?....right….bye…” He stared at Tom. “The bastard called her, Tom. He said he would be by to see her soon.” His face twisted, but he didn’t say anything else.
“What now?” Tom asked gently.
Simon was pushing buttons on his phone. “I have the info from Stephanie, so we’re going for a ride.”
“Oh, good!” said a new voice. Tom and Simon stopped and turned to see
Tom and Simon looked at each other, and then Simon turned to
Tom raised an eyebrow in Simon’s direction, and Simon said, “I have to make use of the facilities before we go, though.”
“Good idea,” Tom said. “Me, too.”
The men’s room was empty other than Simon and Tom, and, after checking the stalls to make certain they were unoccupied, Simon quickly explained the situation.
“It appears that my new intern has a connection with Senator Chalmers. Some brushing up was probably done to hide that fact, because it was pretty deeply buried.”
Tom looked puzzled. “And?” he said.
“The Institute is not a government agency. We don’t fall under their oversight. That bothers Chalmers quite a bit. He thinks we’re up to something shady and has, over the years, brought quite a bit of political pressure to bear on us.” Tom stifled the urge to say and you aren’t up to something shady?
“And you think your new intern may be on a…shall we say…fact finding mission?”
Simon shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said, “But I don’t want to take that chance. He’s certainly doing his best to stick to me like glue, and Chalmers and I have had some encounters in the past that have been a bit vituperative. If he could implicate anyone in Nightwatch in something shady, he’d salivate over the chance to have it be me.”
“So we keep an eye on the new intern. You’re fortunate that your Senator doesn’t understand the divine manipulation of the threads.”
Simon grinned. “Trying to be inscrutable, Confucius?”
Tom shook his head.
“Not Confucious,” he said. “The score is now twenty-seven to
twenty-six. What happens if we find your
“I don’t know,” Simon said, “But it’s probably better than leaving him here unsupervised, don’t you--”
At that moment, the door swung open, and
“So,” Tom said conversationally, “
“Uh, I’m sorry,”
Simon cleared his throat and then walked toward the sink, with Tom and Bryan rapidly following him.
“All right,” Simon said as he dried his hands, “Time to take a ride.”
“Where are we going?”
Tom, who was sitting behind the wheel – understandably since they were still using his car – looked at Simon, who had flipped open his phone and was calling up data. After a moment, he sighed and closed it again. The Colonial Mall.
“We’re going shopping?”
“We’re…looking at traffic flow patterns,” Simon told him.
“There are two kinds of engineering,
“The kind of thing that becomes a tourist attraction,” Tom offered.
“They can be majestic and magnificent,” Simon agreed.
“And sometimes, in our vanity, we attempt things that are beyond our scope,” Tom said.
“There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth.” Simon said.
“Thank you, Mr. Bulwer-Lytton.”
“Um. 28 to 26.” Simon turned back to
“And how is the traffic flow at the Colonial Mall?”
Simon grinned. “Have you ever shopped there?”
“Then you probably don’t need to ask.”
As they traveled, Simon gave
When they finally reached the mall, Tom cruised the parking lot, which was, as usual, a model of chaos theory in action. Stephanie’s information was that the car was stationary, and, using the data she provided, they eventually tracked it down, slotted into an anonymous space in the middle of the crowded lot. Tom was going to drive past it without stopping, but Simon said, “There it is.”
Tom raised an eyebrow and refrained from gesturing in
“There what is?”
“The tracker,” Simon said.
“A couple of days ago, we parked a car in this lot which would record
the traffic flow patterns.” He twisted
in his seat to look back at
Simon shook his head. “Much less so than when the city does it,” he said, “since they often record it photographically. Our scanners don’t take pictures of individual vehicles or record license numbers in any way. They basically record movement of bodies.”
“Excuse me just a minute,” Simon said. “I’m going to take a quick look at the equipment to make sure that it’s still functioning properly. I’ll be right back.” He hopped out of the car, and they watched him walk over and open the vehicle and peer in.
“Dr. Litchfield’s work encompasses a great deal, doesn’t
“It does,” Tom agreed. “It keeps him hopping.”
“It must be difficult for you when he travels abroad.”
“No,” Tom said with a slight smile. “I keep pretty busy myself.”
Simon glanced back, saw
“Everything looks good,” he said, stepping into
“Fred! Over here!”
Simon shook his head. “There isn’t much to see unless you know what you’re looking at. It’s just a black box with some gauges on the front. Pretty dull stuff.”
Simon laid a hand on
They climbed back into the car, and Tom settled back into his seat. “He didn’t see me,” he said. “Where to now?”
“Home, James,” Simon said. “Back to the Institute.”
“You don’t want to…pop into the mall and have a look around?”
“No,” Simon said, “I don’t think it’s worth it.”
“You don’t like the mall?”
“Oh, I have nothing against the mall,” Simon told him, “I just don’t think I’ll find what I’m looking for today.”
Simon smiled. “I’ll know it when I see it.”
“So,” Simon said, seated comfortably back in his
“So,” Tom agreed.
“Stephanie will keep an eye on the car in case it moves again, but it isn’t going to. He’s abandoned it.”
“What makes you so sure?”
Simon’s face twisted. “He left me a message.” He held up a piece of paper, and, when Tom reached out a hand, passed it over.
Tom unfolded the paper and then looked up at Simon. “This is your handwriting,” he said.
Simon nodded. “I noticed,” he said dryly. “Are you sure you believe there’s another me out there?”
Tom nodded absently while he read.
You don’t know where I come from
You cannot see where I am going
Am I a spectre? I am your chimera.
I shall always be one step ahead of you
Tom looked up at Simon and handed back the paper. “Is it supposed to be poetry?” he asked.
“It’s supposed to be annoying,” Simon answered.
“It isn’t very good poetry.”
“But it is very annoying. And save the critical analysis for your conversations with Sergei Illeyvich.” He smiled slightly, and the two of them stiffened as they heard footsteps.
“Here we go,”
“You like to do a thorough job,” Tom said approvingly.
Once the cups were passed out and everyone had added the
fixings of their choice,
“Good question,” Simon said. He glanced at Tom. “I think the first thing to do is to assess the urgency of the various projects facing us and deal with the most urgent first.”
“Makes sense,” Tom said.
“Well,” Simon said slowly, “There’s the traffic flow project…”
“Is traffic flow ever urgent?”
“How long have you lived in D.C.?” Tom asked with a grin.
“Ah. Yes, sir. Perhaps traffic flow is important after all. What else are we working on?”
Simon noted the ‘we’ and let it pass without comment. At that moment, his phone buzzed, and he picked it up. He listened for a moment and then said, “Thank you,” and hung up. He looked at the others. “Okay,” he said slowly. Tom, who knew him well, could see that he was thinking furiously. Unfortunately, Simon had spent several of the last few days on a drinking binge and then had found himself faced with a series of unexpected occurrences upon his return. His brain was tired. “We need to go to the library to do some research for…a new project.”
“The government of…a country…
“Yes,” Tom said. “That sounds fascinating, Simon.”
Simon very carefully didn’t look at Tom. “Yes,” he said. “It certainly does. Well, let’s get back to the library.”
“I’ve wondered about the library,”
“Well, obviously I haven’t had much time to wander around done there, but the little of the collection that I’ve seen seems rather startlingly eclectic.”
“Now that’s a great description,” Tom said with a grin.
“And, anyway, why don’t they simply digitize the entire collection?”
“Maybe they will, one day,” Simon said, “But that takes time and money, and they simply haven’t gotten around to it. As far as the eclecticness…” Simon glanced at Tom. “Is that a word?”
“Eclecticity?” Tom suggested.
Simon turned back to
“Wouldn’t it be more effective to simply make use of
resources which are already widely available?”
“You’ve already answered that objection yourself,” Simon told him. “We have a tremendously eclectic collection here. In some cases there are works that we refer to so frequently that it only makes sense to store them onsite in whatever form. In other cases there are works that we don’t refer to often but which we have to keep ourselves because few other libraries do.”
“You sound surprised,” Tom observed.
Simon glanced at him, his face impassive. “Well, we’re essentially a business,
“That’s very laudable,”
“That was quite a lecture you gave the boy,” Simon said with a sigh.
Tom grinned. “Look who’s talking. That was quite a spin you put on the Institute.” Simon shrugged, and Tom continued, “Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to give him something to think about aside from that machine to control the weather.”
Simon grimaced. “It was all I could think of on the spur of the moment.”
Tom nodded. “Anyway, he’s young. He still has a lot of decisions ahead of him.”
Simon laughed soundlessly. “And, once you make them, you’re stuck with them.”
Tom shook his head. “You’re stuck with the consequences,” he said, “But the decisions can be changed. Lives can be changed, right up to the end.”
Simon looked at him. “You really believe that,” he said. He looked into Tom’s face for a long moment and then said, “Callow wants to see me. Maybe he has some information. Here’s your spot. Don’t let the kid sneak up on us, right?”
“I’ve got two eyes,” Tom told him. “One for you and one for him.”
Simon walked up to the table where Callow was sitting and seated himself. Callow parted his thin lips and said a single word. “Mandoramus.”
Simon rubbed his forehead. “Callow,” he said, “I’m not in the mood for more of your alchemist nonsense. That spear of lightning business was a load of bullshit, and you knew it before you sent me to look for it.”
“I did not know it,” Callow said dryly. “I am not in the habit of wasting our money on wild goose chases.”
“I went to the site,” Simon told him. “I was there. It was a waste of time.”
“Certainly a waste of my funds,” Callow said pompously.
“You must have gotten the site team’s report,” Simon argued. “It’s been long enough.”
“Only the preliminary report. Tell me about it.”
Simon sighed. “All right,” he said. “Here’s what happened…”
Simon was used to being underground. He had walked tunnels intended for subway systems, for cars, and for water transport. He actually liked the feeling, somehow comforting, of being enclosed, surrounded by the evidence that the hand of man could reshape his surroundings. The darkness, the distant echoes, the growl of machinery, all of that was friendly and familiar. This tunnel, however, was neither. Rather than shaping the environment, he was exploring it. Exploration had its thrills, but not today. Simon had a sour feeling that he was wasting his time, sent out after the bogey man at the behest of an evil shade.
Simon sighed. The thought that he was not enjoying his current line of work had been occurring to him with greater and greater frequency of late.
The lights of his companions sent beams skittering through the darkness, dispelling it for an instant, though it always came flowing back to reclaim its own as the lights moved on. There was a metaphor there that suited Simon’s life all too well of late. Best to think of something else.
“Here it is,” a voice said. “We’re almost through. It shouldn’t take much longer.”
The sound of metal clinking against stone as pickaxes chipped away at the rock was eventually followed by a series of highly unappetizing grunts and the sound of something heavy sliding against the earth. The details were hard to make out in the sketchy light, and, to be honest, Simon didn’t try very hard. He hated having his time wasted, at least, when anyone other than him was doing the wasting.
The group of men pushed their way into a small chamber. Because they were in a more confined space, their lights did a reasonable job of illuminating it, and Simon looked around. Tables, shelves, cabinets, junk. In one corner was a rectangular piece of metal perhaps two feet across and seven feet high. Simon brushed a hand across it to sweep away some of the dust. The metal was webbed with a series of cracks that gave Simon’s reflection a distorted and uncomfortable appearance. He picked up a ball made of metal rolled it over in his hand. It seemed heavy for its size. He peered at a pyramid of glass nearly a foot high with its top broken off. Three metal goblets sat side by side, filled with dust and detritus. A metal cube, possibly lead, with its corners dented and bent lay on the floor, and that was all.
“There are no books or scrolls,” a man behind Simon said.
“I noticed.” Simon’s voice was dry.
“And nothing that looks like what we were told to expect,” another voice added.
“I noticed that, too.”
Simon looked around. “You might
as well keep looking,” he said, “But I don’t think you’re going to find anything. For my part, I am going back to
“What if we find something?” someone asked.
Simon discarded at least three answers that would have been satisfying but which the man didn’t deserve and simply said, “Then catalog it and bring it back for further study.”
He made his way back down the tunnel slowly. Really, what reason was there to hurry? Would his time be any better spent back in
“So,” Simon concluded, “I figured that, as long as my time
was going to be wasted, I might as well be the one doing the wasting, so I went
pub crawling in
Callow nodded his head and glanced at his laptop. “The records that told us about Mandoramus told us that he had invented quite a few interesting items. The spear of lightning does exist, Simon, and--”
“Look, Callow, if you called me all the way down here just to--”
“Mandoramus invented a mirror. You looked into it and it copied you. The copy beat you back here.”
There was a very long moment of silence after this, and then Simon closed his eyes. “Okay,” he said with a sigh, “I’ll listen.”
“We’ve found some records – not at the site – that indicate that Mandoramus invented a way of making an exact duplicate of an individual. It was called The Mirror.”
“I love it when people put a lot of thought into naming things.”
“The subject stood in front of it and was duplicated. Mandoramus is reputed to have duplicated King Adelfus once or twice so that the duplicate could be used in situations where there was a great risk of assassination.”
“Wouldn’t the secret service love to have that.”
“Yes,” Callow spoke cooly. “We didn’t really believe it existed, though. It is also written that Mandoramus three times duplicated the King’s best assassin for different missions.”
“How handy,” Simon said. “It must have gotten a bit crowded, though.”
“The duplicates don’t last. They seem to more or less evaporate after a time.”
“Oh, well,” Simon said, waving his hands, “Then we have no problem. My duplicate will just vanish into the air and I can go home and get some sleep.”
“Oh, of course not.” He sighed. “You might as well keep going.”
Callow glanced back at the laptop. “Adelfus was eventually overthrown and assassinated. Soldiers stormed the rooms where Mandoramus was accustomed to work, and they found him standing in front of the mirror, possibly casting some sort of spell.”
“Well, what’s a wizard to do?” Simon asked.
“There was a flash of light, and Mandoramus disappeared. The mirror, which, as you already know, was made of some kind of metal, was instantly covered with a spiderweb of cracks. They could see the image of Mandoramus reflected, unmoving, in the mirror. They tried to destroy it but were unable to even scratch it, so they walled the whole room up with everything inside it.”
“And you didn’t tell me all of this before because…”
“Because we weren’t able to read or to understand everything in the written records at that time.”
“Of all of the things that Mandoramus is supposed to have invented, the mirror was the most closely guarded secret, so there were very few written references to it, and those were obscure at best.”
“Okay,” Simon said. “I have seen enough strange things working here to at least take this as a working hypothesis. So?”
“We have to speculate now. You see, after Mandoramus disappeared, the mirror never reflected another person. It would reflect the background, but the only human seen in it was Mandoramus. That was how it was when they walled the room up.”
“But, assuming that what I looked at was the mirror, it was my own reflection.”
“Right. And a copy of you was made. But it clearly isn’t an exact copy. It has behaved anomalously.”
“Anomalously,” Simon repeated. “Yes, I guess we can say that.”
“So we have made some guesses based on the available information. Let’s assume that Mandoramus somehow entered the mirror to avoid being killed.”
“Sure,” Simon said. “Why not?”
“Well, isn’t it likely that he did it with some thought of continuing his existence?”
“I’ll buy that.”
“That chamber was guarded by seven men day and night until it was walled up. We have every reason to believe that it stayed walled up until you entered it. At that point the mirror reflected you, Simon.”
“And now you think that Mandoramus is inhabiting a body that looks like me.”
“Actually, we think that it doesn’t only look like you but is you. He has access to everything in your brain. Your language skills, everything you can remember, how to drive a car…”
“And all of my passwords and information. He double checked it by accessing some of my files.” Simon sat up and ripped out all of favorite curses in several languages.
“He knows everything you know.”
“He could make quite a good living off of that information,” Simon said.
“Though the same might not be said of some of the rest of us.”
There was another moment of silence, and then Simon said, “We have to find him. We really have to find him.”
“Yes. Fortunately, we may, and I do mean may have a chance.”
“What is it?”
“As you know, we have access to a variety of specialists, and we have consulted someone in this area.”
“You have access to an expert in…what…magic?”
“You have an alchemist on staff?”
“As a consultant.”
“How…no, never mind. Give me the information.”
“Well, there is evidence that the duplicate you may not be quite stable.”
“You mean it will evaporate over time?” Simon held up one hand. “Wait. What’s the evidence.”
Callow sighed. “The duplicate went into the code vault.”
Simon winced. “Well, he certainly went after the quality information. Did he get out with anything?”
“Only whatever was in his head after looked around. No actual copies, so far as we can tell. As you know, in order to access the code vault, you have to show your retinal pattern and palm print.”
“Right,” Simon said slowly, stretching the word out.
“Well, the palm print scanner also takes a few skin cells. We hang on to them for awhile in case we should ever need them for some reason.”
“A source of DNA for a profile, perhaps?”
“Given the current situation, a decision was made to study the sample obtained when he entered the vault. The cells have proven to be unstable. They are degrading very rapidly.”
“And yet you keep telling me that he isn’t going to evaporate. Why is that?”
“Our expert has studied all of the available documentation, and he believes that this copy is different because it contains the essence of Mandoramus, his spirit, if you will. For that reason it should have been stable, but something appears to have gone wrong. Our expert says that she thinks Mandoramus can rectify the problem--”
“But only if he has access to the mirror?” Simon interpolated.
“So we go to
Callow frowned. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll see--”
“Time’s up,” Simon said, rising rapidly to his feet and moving toward Tom. When he looked back a few seconds later, Callow had vanished.
“This is a library,”
“Sorry,” Tom whispered back.
“I found some data,”
“Great,” Simon said.
“So, what do we do now?”
“Now,” Simon said, “We consult an expert.”
“And this expert is where?”
“We’re going to
Simon looked at him thoughtfully. “Do you have a passport?”
“I certainly do!”
“Somehow, I thought you might have,” Simon said. “Yes. We’re going to
“Do you always have this much on your plate, Dr. Litchfield?”
“Oh, yes,” Simon said. “Always.”
Simon, Tom and Bryan found themselves standing on the tarmac
Tom scrutinized the former Canadair jet that was warming up some distance away. “You know,” he said casually, “One of the things I’ve always wondered about is if anybody ever stows away on jets. Like they used to do on boats.” He didn’t look at Simon, but he felt Simon stiffen slightly beside him.
“I don’t know,”
Tom shrugged. “Sometimes people do dangerous things.”
A man was walking toward them from the direction of the plane. As he drew near, Simon greeted him. “Jason.”
The pilot grinned, white teeth vivid against dark skin. “How you doing, Doc?” He shifted his gaze to the side. “Tom.”
“This is Bryan Henderson,” Simon said with a gesture toward
“Ah.” Jason held out a hand. “Jason Strauss,” he said.
“Nice to meet you,”
“I am,” Jason said. He glanced at Simon. “Been getting a lot of extra work lately,” he said. “But Bill’s wrist is about healed up. I expect he’ll be back soon.”
Simon clapped Jason on the shoulder. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll get us there in one piece,” he said with a grin. He guided Jason away from the group, and his voice became inaudible to Tom and Bryan. He returned a moment later. “Jason says we’ll be able to board shortly.” He looked around. “And we’re still waiting on someone…” he trailed off as he caught sight of a man walking toward them.
The man might have been a fullback for his college team twenty years ago. His face was tanned, and his fingers were short, blunt and thick. He was wearing hiking boots, faded blue jeans and a long sleeved shirt that proclaimed his undying allegiance for the Yankees. It somehow seemed wrong that he wasn’t wearing a hardhat.
“Dr. Litchfield?” he
asked as he drew near, his gaze resting lightly one each of them before
settling on Simon. The flavor of the
“Yes,” Simon said politely.
“I’m Mike Galloway.
Call me Mikey.” He shook hands with Simon and then with
“You, too,” Tom replied with a smile.
Scratching his cheek, Mikey turned to Simon and said, “I’m the…uh…expert you was told to expect.”
Simon blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?” he said.
“You know, the expert you was told to expect.” Mikey’s grin, which seemed to remain perpetually on his face, altered its character to look a bit ingratiating.
“Yeah. I know it takes some getting used to. I look like I might be an expert in going to the bar and having some brews, right?”
“Climatology,” Simon said. He glanced at Mikey. “Right?”
“On the button,” Mikey said. He clapped
“Oh, well, I’m an intern at the Nightwatch Institute right now,” he said, “But I’m working on a law degree.”
“Well, whatever keeps you busy,” Mikey said. He glanced at the plane, a converted Canadair jet. “Is that our bird?” he asked.
“It is,” Simon said, “But we aren’t quite ready to board yet.
Mikey continued gazing around as if he’d never seen an airport before and was fascinated what lay in front of him. “Well,” he said, “Then what’s say we find someplace around here to get a drink while we wait?
The wait turned out to be a short one. It was less than twenty minutes later when they were ushered on board, and Mikey, looking at the opulence of the passenger cabin, whistled. “Nice,” he said. He sank down into one of the plush seats and stretched out his legs in front of him with a sigh of satisfaction. “Now, this is what I call traveling in style.” He grinned over at Tom. “Nice to have a seat a big man can fit into comfortably,” he said.
Tom nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” he said. “I know what you mean.”
“This is quite…astonishing,”
Simon sat down and nodded. “It is,” he said, “But it’s worth it.” He settled into his seat. “When you have to travel as often as we do and as far as we do, it’s nice to travel in comfort.”
“You know,” Tom said, “I’ve been thinking.”
Simon, who had been listening to The Fine Art of Surfacing, cocked an eyebrow in Tom’s direction and
took off his headphones. They were both
keenly aware of
“And?” Simon asked.
“Do you think police officers and judges ever let their personal feelings influence their decisions?”
Simon frowned slightly. “I suppose so,” he said. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“Pretty much,” Tom agreed. He shifted in his seat. “What I was thinking was, suppose that they catch a criminal and that the crime he had committed had been one that particularly upset the officer. Or the judge.”
“Do you mean,”
Tom shook his head but kept his gaze on Simon. “No,” he said. “For example, suppose that he was a burglar and he happened to break into the judge’s house or the police officer’s house.”
“Ah,” Simon said. “The crime personally affected them, not because of its nature but because they were targets of it.”
“Yes,” Tom said. “You get the idea.”
“I do, indeed.”
“An officer of the court,”
“I agree with you,” Tom said, still looking at Simon. “I also think that justice should be tempered with mercy.”
“I’m a believer in making certain that some criminals never have an opportunity to commit certain crimes again,” Simon said.
“If it fits the crime, yes,” Simon said. He was still looking at Tom.
“Rehabilitation…” Tom began.
“Isn’t always an option,” Simon interrupted.
“I have to agree with Dr. Litchfield,”
“How do you know when rehabilitation is or isn’t an option?”
“You can’t always know,” Simon said. “But in some cases I prefer to err on the side of safety.”
“Now, that’s an interesting position,”
“Safety for whom?”
Simon grinned slightly. “Let’s suppose that your criminal is a spy,” he said. “An international spy who might have gathered some information that could be very damaging to the current state of world politics, that might threaten millions of lives or ruin the economic stability of nations.”
“You could capture him,” Tom said, “Question him and hold him incommunicado.”
“Special administrative measures,”
“For the rest of his life?” Simon asked.
Simon shrugged. “To me, that seems like cruel and inhumane treatment. It would be more merciful to execute him.”
“That’s because it isn’t your life,” Tom said gently.
“Touché,” Simon said with a grin. “You do have a way of getting to the heart of things, don’t you?”
“That’s a pretty good description of what I do.”
Simon looked at him, blinking. “Um…thanks,” he said uncertainly. “Martin!” he called. A steward approached. “How about some drinks?” Simon asked.
Simon smiled and glanced at the steward who was collecting
an empty glass from the arm of
“I shouldn’t think so, Dr. Litchfield.”
“Good.” Simon laughed lightly. “We don’t normally have stewards, you know, but Mr. Martin here hasn’t been completely certified with this bird’s flight controls, so we have to make him earn his pay somehow until then.”
“So,” Mikey said motioning to
“Yes,” Simon said. He looked at Mikey appraisingly. “I have to say,” he began.
“That I ain’t quite what you expected?” Mikey asked with a grin.
Simon smiled in return. “That’s it,” he said. “How you get into studying…”
“Alchemy,” Mikey said. “Not magic. I ain’t no wizard. This is a science.” He began to methodically crack the knuckles on his left hand. “Well, first I did a double major in mathematics and chemistry. I went on to get my Master’s in chemistry and a Ph.D. in physics.”
Simon blinked, looked at Mikey and didn’t say anything.
“I know,” Mikey said. “It’s easy to see me working a jackhammer or eating a dog out at the Meadowlands. It ain’t so easy to see me playing with neutrinos.” His omnipresent grin was in full force. “Kinds of get you, don’t it?”
“It is a little startling,” Simon said. He frowned. “When I was getting briefed on this mission, the person I was talking to seemed to use the terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ interchangeably when talking about you…”
Mikey laughed. “Nothing peculiar there, Doc. Was it that snotty guy? Sorry if he’s a pal and all.”
“Yeah, well, see, he’s got two sources for this kind of info. He thinks I don’t know that, but I do. I think he was just trying to jerk you around, you know?”
“He’s good at that,” Simon said grimly. “So, how do you know he has multiple sources…” His tone held a hint of uncertainty, as if he wasn’t sure he really wanted the answer.
“No magic there, either, Doc. See, there ain’t that many people taking a scientific approach to alchemy these days. Those that do, we know each other pretty well, and we talk. The other source your pal used happens to be a friend of mine. Rovena.”
Mikey was still grinning. “Yeah, you’d like her when she’s working. She’s tall, with black hair, black eyes, pale skin, long fingers. You’d think she looks like a witch.”
Simon nodded, his face expressive.
Mikey’s grin somehow grew
larger. “Except on the weekends,” he
said, “When she uses her real name – Maggie – and pulls on her jeans and cowboy
boots and likes to go out two-stepping and line dancing.” He laughed at the look on Simon’s face. “She grew up in a little town a couple of
hundred miles from
Simon shook his head. “This is a whole different world,” he said.
“What do you do, Doc? I mean, what are you trained in.”
Mikey nodded. “So, what do you think some desk jockey would say about walking down into a half finished tunnel under a river?”
Simon smiled. “I suppose he’d say that it’s a whole different world,” he said
“My world is strange to you – well, it’s strange to most people these days, I guess – but it’s normal to me.”
“Fair enough. So, what do you know about this mirror?”
Mikey nodded. “Mandoramus,” he said. “I suppose the snotty guy passed on all the info I gave him--”
“Why don’t you run over it again just to make sure,” Simon said.
Mikey nodded and gave a quick précis of the information Callow had passed on to Simon earlier.
“Yes,” Simon said.
“Okay, so I been giving the matter some thought. The snotty guy didn’t want to tell me why he wanted the info, but I know my field, so I figure that what happened is pretty straight forward – Mandoramus dropped his essence into the mirror. We know that from eye witness accounts. Beyond that, it’s guesswork, but I think good guesswork. He’d keyed the mirror to be nonresponsive for some period of time, long enough to be sure that he wasn’t going to reappear in the middle of some big group ready to string him up or burn him. What he didn’t count on was that they’d wall the room up and no one would be able to go in for a few hundred years or so. Good so far?”
“So, it’s obvious that somebody discovered his lab. One of those people looked in the mirror. I figure what we got now is a duplicate of whoever looked in the mirror with the essence of Mandoramus inside him. He’ll look just like whoever it is, he’ll have access to all the knowledge and memories inside that person’s head and also to their physical skills. He’ll also have all of his own knowledge and memories inside him.” He grinned. “He could wreak some havoc, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Simon said.
“So far so good, right?”
“You’ll notice I ain’t asking who the copy is.”
“It’s me,” Simon said. “You should probably know that.”
“Okay. Well, we’ve learned a thing or two in the last few hundred years, so I can make a reasonable guess that there’s a field exchange taking place with the mirror. That means that the copy ain’t permanent. Not yet. He didn’t realize that when he left, but he knows it now. He can make it permanent, but he’s gotta get back into the mirror to do it. We’re headed there to…what? Break the mirror? Stop him? Catch him? Kill him?”
“Something like that,” Simon agreed. “It depends on the circumstances we find when we arrive.”
“Okay. So, what do you want to know?”
“Well, suppose we wanted to kill him. What would we have to do?”
Mikey shook his head. “This ain’t magic, Doc. I keep telling you that. He’s a man. Hit him in the head with a baseball bat. Shoot him. Toss him off a roof. Whatever.”
“All right,” Simon said. “How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“You don’t want to save the mirror? Maybe try and use it for yourself?”
Simon sighed. “There are some things that we don’t need to have around, Mikey.”
“I agree,” Mikey said. Simon looked startled. “I can think of a few inventions that have come about over the years that haven’t exactly improved the lot of mankind, you know? I’m not such a fan of the ivory tower. I like to think about the potential applications of what I’m doing.”
Nodding, Simon said, “Good. So we break the mirror.”
“Yeah. That’s okay with me, Doc.”
“How do we do it?”
“The mirror is made of an alloy of multiple metals with a casting coat on top of it. They couldn’t break it when they tried after Mandoramus went into it. How did it look when you saw it?”
Simon thought for a moment. “Dirty,” he said, “But still reflective. It had…lots of small cracks in it.”
Mikey nodded. “Like I thought,” he said. “The thing wasn’t made to hold an essence for that long, so the field started leaking. Good. That makes it easy.”
“What’s your definition of easy, Mikey?”
Mikey grinned yet again. He patted his growing paunch. “Exactly what you’d think. Something I can do without a whole lot of effort. The only problem will be making sure that there isn’t a power flux when we do it, but I can handle that.”
“So we can destroy it?”
“Oh, yeah. Not a problem.”
“So,” Mikey craned his neck looking for the steward. “I never did get that beer when we was on the ground…”
“We need a word,” Tom said suddenly.
Simon cocked an eyebrow in his direction. “I beg your pardon?”
“We need a word that you can use so that I’ll know you’re you.”
Simon considered that for a moment. “You couldn’t have thought of that before you had to accompany me to the bathroom?” he asked.
“It was your idea to use me as your security blanket,” Tom reminded him.
Simon nodded, making a wry face. “Fine,” he said. “How about ‘antidisestablismentarianism’?”
Tom shook his head. “If you can think of it,” he said, “Maybe he can think of it, too.”
“All right. What’s the word?”
“Periwinkle,” Tom said.
“Well,” Simon said. “I never would have thought of that.”
“Ow…” he said, his brow furrowing.
“What’s the matter?” Tom asked.
Simon tossed him a small bottle of pills. “Try these,” he said. “They’ll help.”
“No, but it’ll help your headache. Trust me.”
“I try,” Simon said.
There was a land rover waiting for them. The driver was a big cheerful man in khaki clothes. Simon shook his hand warmly. “How are you doing, Geoff?”
“Never better, Doc, never better. You know me.”
Simon grinned and then introduced the others. “This is
Geoff shook their hands, his face lighting up when Simon pronounced Tom’s name. “So, Dr. Weldon…”
“Tom it is. I’ve heard a lot about you, mate. Is that story about the Saint Bernard, the swimming pool, and the watermelon really true?”
Tom glanced in Simon’s direction. “Somebody’s been telling tales out of school,” he said.
“That story is too good to let go to waste.”
“That it is,” Geoff said with a laugh. “I’ve gotten a bit of mileage out of it myself.”
Tom grinned ruefully. “My fame continues to precede me,” he said.
Geoff clapped him on the shoulder. “No worries, mate,” he said. “Some kinds of fame are good.” He headed to the Land Rover. “Shall we be on our way, then? Or do you want to find a hotel in town for a wash and brush up first?”
“I think we’d rather get right to the dig site,” Simon said.
“Kind of thought you’d feel that way. So, we’re all set and let’s go.”
The piled into the Land Rover with Geoff driving.
Geoff had a disturbing habit of looking at the person he was
talking to. This was disturbing in this
case largely because
“Well,” he said, twisting around, “Simon here is an engineer by trade. Not like me. I fall more into that jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none category, so I’ve asked Simon to give me some technical advice on a dig we’ve got going.”
“Geoff,” Simon said. He was in the front seat, and Geoff turned to look at him.
“I think you’re making the boy nervous.”
Geoff turned to look back at
“I think he likes the driver of the car he’s in to spend more time looking at the road and less time looking into the back seat.”
Geoff laughed heartily and turned his eyes forward again. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Bad habit, I guess. I like to look at a bloke when I’m talking to him.”
Tom and Mikey were also in the
back seat, with Mikey in the middle. Tom leaned past him to say to
“Mikey,” Simon asked, “Do you have everything you might need?”
Mikey nodded and patted a black bag, much like a doctor’s bag, that he was holding in his lap. “Yep. Got everything I need right here, Doc. Never travel without my tools.”
“Good idea, that,” Geoff agreed, twisting around to look at Mikey. “What you got in there, mate?”
“Geoff?” Simon said. “Eyes front, right?”
“What do you have
Mikey grinned. “Data recorders,” he said. “The dig don’t interest me, but the area outside it does.”
Geoff settled himself into his seat. “You yanks are too nervous. Must be the high pressure lives you lead. Now, back in Oz we---”
“Oh, here we go,” said Simon with a grin. “It’s the back in Oz speech. And, when was the last time you were back home, Geoff?”
Geoff squinted at the road as he thought. “About eight years, I reckon,” he said. “But some mates of mine send me beer regularly.”
“Well, that’s what matters,” Simon said.
“I think I like this guy,” Mikey said. “He’s got his priorities straight,”
Geoff twisted back to look at Mikey, narrowly missing a motorcycle in the process.
”You thirsty, mate?”
“I’m always thirsty,” Mikey said.
“Got some beers in an esky in the back if you want.”
“Outstanding,” Mikey said.
“Mikey,” Simon said.
“Ah, don’t worry, Doc. I’ll save ‘em for the trip back.”
“If you’ve got time to hang around, you and I could knock some back later on.”
“You got it,” Mikey said. He seemed unperturbed by Geoff’s driving style.
“First you have to get us there alive, Geoff,” Simon reminded him. “Eyes on the road?”
“Right-o, Simon. Right-o. No worries.”
It was at that moment that Geoff’s cell phone chimed. He grabbed it, flipped it open, and held it
to his ear for a moment. Then he said,
“Right.” He put the phone away and then
said, “Hang on, everyone. We’re in a
rush now.” His right foot moved rapidly
toward the floor, and
The Land Rover skidded to a halt, kicking up a cloud of dust. Geoff leaped out quickly, but Simon beat him to it.
The dig site was simple: an opening cut into the side of a hill. Near the rectangle of blackness was a tent. The side flaps were rolled up at the moment, turning it into more of an awning underneath which sat a man and a table covered with electronic equipment. The man looked up as Simon came toward him.
“Bill,” Simon said. “What’s up?”
Bill nodded a scanner in front of him. “Somebody’s down there,” he said. “I don’t know how he got in without me seeing him, but somebody’s down there.”
“I’m going in to take a look, then.”
“I’m coming with you,” Tom said.
“Me, too,” Mikey said.
“Everyone is staying here, Simon said.” His face looked odd in a way that Tom, despite all the years he’d known him, couldn’t define. He looked at each of the men around him. “Everyone is staying here,” he repeated. He glanced at Mikey. “He can’t…take me over somehow, can he?” he asked.
Mikey shook his head. “Nope,” he said.
“All right. I’ll call for help if I need it.” Tom clapped him on the shoulder, and they looked at each other for a moment, and then Simon scooped up an electric lantern, turned it on, and stepped into the darkness.
The tunnel was familiar. He followed it through the long left hand bend and then found the spot where the wall had been breached. He drew a pistol from beneath his jacket and stepped through the opening.
“Hello, Simon. You won’t need the gun.” The voice had that odd echoic quality that voices underground often have.
Simon was motionless for a long moment. Despite the reverb, the voice was oddly familiar – as if he were listening to his own voice played back on a recorder. With a quick motion, he suddenly holstered the gun. There had been a sort of weariness in the familiar/unfamiliar voice that felt very convincing.
Mandoramus was sitting on a wooden box next to the mirror. Simon moved toward him, holding the lantern high. “Nice outfit,” he said.
Mandoramus grinned tiredly. “Thanks,” he said. They both knew that the clothes had come out of Simon’s closet.
They studied each other as well as they could in the uncertain light. Their movements were eerily synchronized, though neither of them realized it.
“Have a seat,” Mandoramus said finally, pointing to another box that had been pulled up nearby.
:You were expecting me,” Simon said.
:Of course,” Mandoramus said. “Weren’t you prepared for that? You should have been.”
“Yes, I suppose I was.” Simon sat down. “Why are you still here?”
Mandoramus smiled wearily again. Simon felt his face pulling slightly, as if her were unconsciously trying to mimic the mirror image in front of him.
“I had originally hoped,” Mandoramus said, “to be gone by the time you got here.”
“Leaving a taunt behind for me, no doubt.”
“You have to be true to yourself,” Mandoramus said with smile that was very nearly a grin.
“So, why are you still here?” Simon felt that he had to ask, though he had a sneaking suspicion that he more or less already knew the answer.
“You know that this body is failing?”
Mandoramus nodded and then waved a hand at the mirror. “It’s broken,” he said. “Beyond my power to repair.” He shrugged. “I made it out the first time, but I can’t get back in.”
“You’re dying,” Simon said.
Mandoramus nodded. “I am.” He sighed. “And nothing to be done about it.”
“How long do you have?”
“I’m not sure. It isn’t an exact science, this, but I don’t expect to see the sun rise tomorrow, and it could conceivably happen in the next second. Or any time in between.”
Simon opened his mouth but couldn’t come up with anything to say.
“I know,” Mandoramus said. “It’s probably an odd experience for you.” He grinned. “It’s a little odd for me, too.”
“I suppose so.”
Mandoramus leaned back a bit to stretch his back and said, “Well, I don’t suppose you’ll miss me much.” He shook his head and then tapped himself on the temple. “It’s a pity, because I could have lived a very comfortable life in this world of yours on the money I would have earned from the information you’ve got up here.”
Simoned cocked his head. “You would have caused a lot of harm.” His voice was suddenly bitter. “You did cause a lot of harm.” His face hardened. “I should kill you now.”
Mandormaus shrugged. “Go ahead,” he said. When Simon made no move to carry out his threat, Mandoramus said, “I’m not what you would consider a good man, Simon. I don’t really care much about the rest of the world. Not that it’s an issue now. I haven’t spent all your money, by the way. It’s actually hidden in your house. In the sundries room. Is Tom here?”
The change in subject caught Simon off guard. “What?”
“Is Tom here?” Mandoramus shrugged. “He seems like a nice fellow. I kind’ve wanted to actually meet him.”
Simon studied him for a long moment and then said, “He’s here. But I’m not sure…” There was a long silence, then Simon called, “Tom!”
It took a moment before Tom came into the chamber. He stood for several long seconds, sweat beading up on his brow, staring at the two Simons. “Well,” he said.
Mandormaus nodded. “Hi, Tom,” he said.
“Hello,” Tom said. He looked quizzically at Simon.
“He’s dying,” Simon said.
“Without your help,” Mandoramus said.
“Ah.” Tom’s gaze returned to Mandoramus. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Mandoramus smiled. It was an expression of pure delight. “Thank you,” he said. “No, I’m ready for it. I just wanted to see how you would treat me. Does the enclosed space bother you much?”
Tom shrugged while making rather obvious attempts to disguise just how uncomfortable he really was. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk?”
Mandoramus shook his head. “Tom, I was stuck in that mirror for too many hundreds of years, aware, never knowing if I’d make it out again or not. I had a lot of time to think. It’s a wonder I didn’t go insane. I don’t know, perhaps I did. But death doesn’t scare me. Not now.” He looked back at Simon. “Is Stephanie here, too?”
“That’s a shame.” He sighed. “I would have liked to apologize to her.” He grinned. “If you go a few centuries without even seeing a woman…”
Simon exhaled loudly, and Mandoramus looked at him. “Yeah, Simon,” he said. “Still…” he stopped and then tried again. “Still…” He stopped again and looked at Simon, his eyes suddenly very wide and then lurched forward and fell to the floor. He twitched twice and then was still.
Tom rushed forward, but Simon knelt down and checked the limp wrist for a pulse. Finding none, he checked the carotid artery at the neck. Nothing. He frowned down at the corpse for a long moment and then pulled out his pistol.
“Isn’t he already dead?” Tom asked.
“It looks like it,” Simon said, screwing a silencer onto the barrel. He placed the muzzle carefully and the gun coughed once. Simon’s face was impassive as he stood up and reholstered his pistol.
Tom touched him on the shoulder, “Simon,” he said, “Do you want to say anything?”
Simon looked at him. “Periwinkle,” he said.