Chapter 1: The Time Traveler
He took out a pen and marked a new page in his journal.
Time-lapse, he decided to call it. After all, everything he’d read up until that point suggested that time played a role in this case.
00:01. Just after midnight. Not a soul out in the dark except for the degenerates or the party-goers. Usually both. Homeless individuals as well, but they weren’t trouble. A 5-piece bill here, a sandwich there, and they left you alone. It was the degenerates, the speed-heads coming out of the club, the sweaty patrons of the bar on the corner, still drunk from imbibing half the stock. Those were the ones to watch out for.
00:02. Can’t shake the chill this case gives me. This source supposedly knows things others don’t, things that happened decades ago; things that couldn’t have happened yet. “A real life time-traveler” is what she was called, but few took her seriously. Maybe she can help me find him.
00:03. Getting sleepy. Need coffee.
The last line took some effort. He’d been up since 5 am and the late hours were no help. His eyes were starting to fail him. Any other job and he might get overtime, but this division was understaffed and underpaid, so he put in the hours for free. He needed a jolt.
He put the journal down, stood up, and walked across the office to the coffee machine and took out a filter.
This much coffee, this much water. By now it was habit, though he added an extra spoonful of coffee grounds anyway. He’d need it. The coffee in this place was mediocre at best, but it got the job done. He set the coffee-maker to its setting, then snapped the top shut and let it brew.
As the water in the machine started to steam, he contemplated the case at hand.
A silver watch, a time-traveler, and two severed hands.
None of it made much sense. The crime was easy enough to figure out, clearly someone wanted this man dead. Maybe the victim was a junkie, or maybe it was a love triangle gone wrong, or one of the thousand other routine reasons he had come across in his long career. In this town, things were rarely out of the ordinary and most of the reasons for murder were boring. This case would have likely been boring but for one intriguing detail: Why leave the watch?
It was a grisly crime scene no doubt. Blood everywhere, a screaming waif at the other end of the alley, the body propped up in an inchworm-like gesture, its suit splattered in blood, and the hands. He couldn’t forget the way the hands were found. Severed and lying several feet away from the body, both hands were laid on the asphalt, several inches apart, palms up, with each of the fingers pressed into the palm except for the thumb and forefinger. In the right hand, nestled ever so deliberately between the thumb and forefinger, was a silver pocket watch. It gave the hand an eery sense of still being attached to its master.
He shivered again. Something about the way the hands were found was deliberate, that much was certain. But why? What purpose could there be for leaving the hands in such a position? Why leave the watch? His forehead began to sweat mildly, probably from trying to think with so little sleep. Or maybe it was the steam from the coffee machine, which he forgot he had turned on.
He quickly pulled his face away from the steam pillar, scratching the redness under his chin and cursing all modern technology.
After his anger subsided, he filled his cup more full than needed, went back to his desk to look through his notes one last time before he set out.
Silver watch. A time-traveler. Two severed hands.
There must be a connection.
He read through the news clipping about the source in question. A clipping from the 1960s claimed she had predicted the assassination of JFK and the Civil Rights Movement.
“She knows,” was written in red ink on the top of the clipping. Written in shorthand, as if the person who left the clipping on his desk had written it in haste. That meant it was someone from the office, or at the very least someone who could slip around unnoticed. Like a shadow in the dark.
He had asked around the office about the woman and got some varied responses. Only a rare few knew who she was, and they all dismissed her as a lunatic.
He figured he should take a trip to see her, but decided to do it under the cover of night. Ever since the warning from the mysterious shadow, he was taking careful steps.
After finishing up his coffee, he gathered his notebook and news clippings together, donned his coat, and headed out the door.
He went outside and breathed in the early Spring air. It was still too cold to walk these southwest streets without a coat, but warm enough for people to be outside at night. He hated this time of year, when the night became the domain of the rambunctious and the wasted. Most were on some kind of drug, something that he despised. It was one thing to go out looking for fun, he thought, it was quite another to throw your life away to what was at the end of a 6-inch piece of rolled paper.
He was unencumbered walking down the empty street, despite seeing people every now and then. Bar patrons and college kids coming out of the woodwork. Some looking for their next drink, others for sex, and some looking for much more sinister things in the dark. One or two asked for a light, one or two were looking for a fight. The former he gave them, the latter he could have.
As he made his way down the street, he pulled out his journal — partly to ease his mind and partly to make himself look too busy to talk — and began to write again:
00:45. Not much commotion tonight. Aside from a few tipsy college kids, no one has seen me. Except for her. She has eyes everywhere. No doubt she’s seen me tonight, but I have little to fear from her.
00:46. Still can’t believe I’m meeting this person. Still seems like something less out of routine urban crime and more out of science fiction to me. But I’m out of leads, and something about this case gives me the creeps. At the very least maybe she can put my mind in the direction of where it ought to be going.
Some time later, he came to the door of the apartment building. A modest one, built with older architecture and minimal security. Easy to miss, difficult to take note of. An invisible house, he thought.
He rang the doorbell for 01, and waited.
After several minutes, the buzzer buzzed meekly, and he opened the door.
To his right was 01, the first door in the building. It was probably all that remained, since the rest of the building looked as if it hadn’t been seen by anyone but rats and the occasional squatter in years. A place punished by time, left to decay.
He pushed the door open without knocking — not seeing the point of doing so since a slight knock would have opened the door anyway — and entered the room.
It was a spacious room, with only a few pieces of furniture lining the walls. There was no discernible order to the furniture, and it seemed as if there was no focal point to the room. Everything was put in place seemingly at random. A chair upside down, a coffee table ten feet away from it, a television facing the wall, and a couch where the study should be; none of it made much sense.
Except for the cupboards. Lining the wall on every side of the room were cupboards full of books, pictures, paintings, and maps. Moments captured in time, he thought.
And there on the rocking chair in front of the cupboards on the far wall was an older — but not too much older than himself — lady. She had curly, graying hair, a simple grey robe, and a scrapbook in her hands.
She was flipping through the scrapbook, not taking notice of him for a good ten minutes until finally she said,
“Ah! Demetri! It’s so good of you to visit me today, it’s my birthday after all…”
He was puzzled.
“Sorry Ma’am, but I’m not Demetri.”
“Oh of course you are, you are always such a trickster! Always were, ever since you were young. Now come help me with the place settings, guests will be here soon.”
He frowned, there was only one table for sitting, and the nearest chair was at least ten feet from it. And besides that, who would visit at this hour? Well… he would, obviously, but this wasn’t a typical visit. Clearly the woman was senile.
“Ma’am, who is Demetri?” He asked, genuinely curious.
She looked at him with a vacancy in her eyes, the wrinkles of her face pulled into a kind smile. Behind those eyes, some kind of clarity seemed to wash over them.
“Demetri is my grandson. He and his wife moved away several years ago. I always hope he would visit, he’s all the family I have left. But like old books, things get stored away, and are often never seen again.”
That was odd. One minute she thought he was her grandson, the next she was perfectly lucid.
Then it hit him. He shook his head in dismay. Alzheimer’s. A real life time-traveler indeed.
“Sorry Ma’am, I’ve come to the wrong place, I’ll be going now,” he said, turning towards the door.
“Nonsense,” said the old lady, she spoke just as he finished speaking, with no pause in between. “You, Martin McCarthy, have come enquiring about some hands I think, and a watch.”
He froze halfway to the door. How did she know about the watch? The case hasn’t even been made public, and I doubt this lady knows the crime scene investigators or beat cops.
He turned around, and the old lady had gotten up from the rocking chair and was now in the kitchen, pouring some hot water into tea glasses. How she managed to get up from the chair and cross over to the kitchen in less than a few seconds was something he didn’t puzzle over, neither was the fact that the water in the kettle was already hot, as if he was expected. No, he didn’t puzzle over either; he was more interested in how she knew about the watch.
He cautiously crossed over to her kitchen and took the cup she poured for him, taking a seat on the stool in front of the counter. He took a sip.
“Is it strong enough for you dear? I can give you something stronger if you like,” she said wickedly, gesturing towards a half-empty bottle of brandy next to the kettle. “You are such a weary looking thing, and the hour at which you come to call is late.”
He wasn’t fooled. He decided to show her so.
“I don’t believe for a second that this is late for you, otherwise you wouldn’t have troubled to brew the kettle for me.”
She smiled at that. A kind smile with a hint of wickedness to it. She popped the cork open from the brandy and added a splash of it to his tea, though added more than a splash to hers.
“It is true I knew you were coming. But how I know that is not important, what’s important is why you came.”
He took another sip from the tea, disappointed that it wasn’t coffee. He noted the bite as he swallowed.
“You know what I came for?”
“You came for the God of Time, the Shadow on the Mountain, and the Skinchanger of the Desert. You came because you must kill someone you have never met, and you came to unravel the secrets of The Beginning. You came because you want your daughter to know you love her, and you want her to find her feet. You came to find your other self, and you came to become something more. You came for all these reasons, but the reason you came tonight is because you seek the wearer of the watch.”
He was halfway through his second sip when he froze in place and stared at the woman, unsure of how to react. Most of what she said was nonsense, except for one thing. How did she know about Paige?
She chuckled at his expression.
“I know many things Martin. You are not the first to grace my home with your presence, though I dare say you are the handsomest. You give me hope for the future that I might never see.”
He set the cup down carefully. He felt violated. Violated that this woman knew so much about him.
“Do you always speak in puzzles?”
“Only about the things that are worth solving,” she chuckled.
There was a long pause. A pause filled only by the noises of the old woman sipping her much-too-strong cup of tea, the clock ticking above her sink, and the darkness of the world outside. Martin only stared at her in silence, contemplating what to say. She waited patiently when it might have been more polite to lead the next question, as Martin was clearly struggling. But she had a wicked streak, and seemed to take some delight in seeing him squirm.
Finally, Martin asked the one thing that seemed the most important to him at this point in time.
“Why leave the watch?”
She set the cup down, never breaking her smile, and spoke softly.
“It was given to the man whose hands you have in your possession by someone from a faraway land, a man who sometimes spends his evenings at one of the taverns you passed on your way here. As old as time and as drunk as a college student.”
He looked at her suspiciously. Her information seemed too good to be true, and it probably was. So he decided to try and get more information from her.
“I have other questions.”
“And I have other answers,” she said, without letting him continue. “Answers I may give you, but I’m afraid I only have the one answer tonight. If you can track down this perpetrator, it may prove you have some skill, and I like to give my secrets to men with skill. But before I can, you must show me you’re looking for more than just routine.
Go find this perpetrator, bring him to justice, and then you may call on me again for answers to your more pertinent questions,” she said while his mouth went from open to closed, trying to get a word in.
He decided it was no good. Somehow, she seemed to know exactly when he would speak, and what he was going to say. If he tried to ask her something else, she would only talk before the words left his mouth.
“Fine,” he said, admitting defeat. “You’ll be seeing me again.”
“Oho, a confident man as well. I like confident men,” she said with a wicked smile as he finished his cup and went for the door. “I wouldn’t call again tonight I’m afraid, not that you’ll catch the man tonight. Tomorrow though, tomorrow you may be a bit closer.”
As he went out her door, the building door, then to the street, Marty McCarthy pulled out his journal once again:
01:30 A real life time-traveler indeed.