Friday, March 23, 2012
A lurching, a transition, and suddenly everyone is aware of being somewhere else. Jane finds herself in a sparse living room, in what appears to be a residential house somewhere. She is crouching over a circle of broken wristwatches. She wears latex gloves and a plastic headcap. Four other people occupy the room. Next to her is a bald, bearded man wearing a dress shirt and khakis. He is also wearing latex gloves and a plastic cap over his beard. He is crouched over the circle of watches holding a silver hammer. Standing nearby is an older African-American man, also wearing latex gloves and a plastic headcap. He is holding a 9mm pistol at shoulder level, as if having recently fired it. Across the room, in line with the direction the pistol is pointing, is a woman in a blue skirt and blue blazer. She is crouching, and also wears latex gloves and a headcap. She has a 9mm pistol trained on a body on the ground, and is feeling the neck for a pulse. She cannot find one. Jane recognizes the woman in the suit as Liora Salem, one of her coworkers — a security guard at the Field Museum.
The body on the ground is a youngish, disheveled young Caucasian woman. She wears a T-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a ratty sweat shirt, and smells like she has not bathed in a while. A bloodied knife has fallen to the ground near her outstretched hand, and she has two bullet wounds in her chest. A growing pool of a sticky crimson fluid grows across the floor out from underneath her body. Jane recognizes this woman as her mysterious attacker, and assumes something similar must have happened here.
Questions and investigations are immediate. The barrels of the 9mm pistols have been drilled to be silenced; Liora thinks she is capable of doing such modifications. The pistols’ serial numbers have also been filed. Jane, thinking of her injuries and realizing she feels a little achey but not injured, turns around and checks her abdomen. Her wounds are scars now, evidently having healed. Introductions are made; the African-American — one Hauser Strauss — man does not introduce himself, but the other man introduces himself as James. After some discussion, it is clear that none of them have any memory of how they arrived here. They check cell phones, and find that it is apparently March 23, a little after 7:00 PM — the last day anyone remembers February 28, around 4:00 PM. Liora notes that she has a realtor’s badge giving her name as “Sharon Wilson.” In her pockets she has documentation suggesting she is a realtor, as well as a slip of paper labeled “KEY” with a four digit number written on it, and a key she does not recognize. The assembled group concedes that they probably entered the house under the pretense of being shown the house for sale. Hauser has a pay-as-you-go cell phone in his pocket which he does not recognize. Everybody, having checked cell phones, has a text message from Liora, dated about three hours ago, indicating that they were to meet in ten minutes. The message went out to Hauser, James, Jane, Terrence, and Vicky. Jane recognizes Terrence’s number, but does not know Vicky. Jane also notes through her GPS that they are still in Chicago, evidently in a residential neighborhood over on S. Kenton Avenue. Jane explains she knows Terrence, but he is apparently not around.
Through experimentation, they determine Liora’s extra key to be the key to the house, apparently retrieved from the lockbox at the front door using the code on the KEY paper. The dead woman bears no identification. Hauser and Liora investigate the house, but find nothing untoward other than broken glass from a backdoor. They come to the conclusion that Terrence is not anywhere in the house, and they have not found anyone who could be Vicky. After some discussion, the group inquires about what James is doing. He seems to recognize the activity — some ritual called the Path of Cronus from the Book of Myrddin, alleged to be the spellbook of Merlin but assuredly printed in the 19th century — but does not recall initiating this activity. Allegedly, the Path of Cronus ritual pushes the target forward in time through mystical means. Jane inquires where he obtained the book; he explains it came from a shop called Merciless Words. Jane is thrilled at this fact, as she is good friends with Rupert Blackmoor, the owner. Since he is involved, Jane calls Rupert and asks if she and her associates can see him; he says he should close around 8:00 PM, so they can come after that. Jane says she should be over at around 8:00 or 8:30. Sensing the tension in Jane’s voice, he asks if she is well; she merely indicates that she’ll explain once she arrives.
After further discussion and investigation, they decide to leave. Since the body is apparently a vagrant, they’re just going to the scene as it is. Hauser and Liora decide to wipe down the guns and leave them, as well as leave the key in the realtor’s lockbox and wipe down the keypad.
As they are preparing to leave, there is a knock at the door. Liora trains her gun on the door while she and Jane peek through the windows. They note a short, middle-aged woman with vaguely Hispanic features at the front door. Hauser has his gun at the ready and takes position at the door. Hauser, shouting through the door, asks what she wants; she replies she is Lizette, the next-door neighbor, and she just wanted to check if all is well. Particularly since the realtor is showing the house, she thought they may want to get to know each other if they plan on being neighbors. Hauser replies that he’s feeling antisocial, and asks if she could return later. Lizette looks somewhat crestfallen, wishes them well, and returns to her house.
After discussion, Hauser, James, and Jane sneak out the back while Liora exits and puts the key back in the lockbox. They all remove gloves and headcaps, and noting that Liora’s car is out front, they make their way to her car. The four of them pile into Liora’s sedan, and Jane gives her directions to Merciless Words. On the way, she texts Rupert to let him know they’re on the way. Thinking about the fact that Terrence is not around, she decides to call him; it rings, and a woman picks up, indicating that Jane must have a wrong number, as there is no one by the name of Terrence there. Liora inquires about Vicky, and Jane calls the number they have for Vicky. It immediately returns with, “Your call cannot be completed as dialed.”
Arriving at Merciless Words, Liora pulls a .40 handgun out of her car and conceals it before leaving the car. The four of them exit the vehicle and approach the storefront. Jane knocks on the door, and after a moment, Rupert answers the door. He greets all four of them by name as they enter, but Hauser, James, and Liora indicate they have never met him before. Jane explains they appear to have lost their memories of roughly the past month. She asks what he knows about their activities over the past month or so. He does not know a whole lot, apart from the fact that the four of them were engaged in some project. He has met Shelly, Terry, and Tommy — he is seemingly unaware of Terrence — although he hasn’t seen Shelly or Terry in the past few weeks. He doesn’t know Vicky, although he indicates he did see a younger woman with some of them in his shop. He also notes that he has seen some of them once or twice with a fellow named “Tom” — not Jane’s friend Tommy, but another person. He again asks if Jane is well or if she needs to go to a hospital, prompting her to unload about the past couple of months. Quickly, she explains everything about the Bill Toge incident. As she gets more agitated toward the end, Rupert fetches her a cup of tea.
Liora inquires if he might know anything about these sorts of rituals, but he does not — he is an antiquarian. She then inquires about the Book of Myrddin, and James suggests it would be at his apartment. The group decides to go to James’ apartment; before they leave, Jane gives Rupert a hug, which he accepts awkwardly, having just been given a lot of very weird and incriminating information. She says she’ll talk to him within the next day or so.
On the way to James’ apartment, Jane texts Tommy, inquiring about things. He says he can’t talk as he’s at work, and she replies that she may need his assistance.
Arriving at James’ apartment, it is well-appointed but relatively bare. There are some odds and ends about — science art, a few antique store finds, and a shelf full of texts primarily on science and mathematics, but with a small collection of history and occult books. He pulls a book out of the latter section, evidently the Book of Myrddin. The ask how he came to investigate the occult; he indicates it’s a hobby — he works at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but has come across some odd things and is attempting to reconcile the science he knows with the weirdness he has experienced. He has experienced nothing like Jane’s tale about Bill Toge, however. Although parts of it remind him of rumors of a Farouk who can cure any disease for $1,000,000. Jane says she’s heard of that, as well as a serial killer biting out eyes — James recognizes this as the Eye-Biting Man, an urban legend about some serial killer.
Jane flips through the Book of Myrddin, noting that it is a work of Victorian-era high hermeticism. The Path of Cronus apparently sends participants forward about a day or so in time, and requires forming a circle of twenty-three watches circumscribed with iron filings and mercury. The watches must each be smashed with a silver mallet while the officiant chants. At the end of this, the person in the middle of the circle is thrown forward in time. Flipping through the rambling grimoire, she finds no way to reverse this ritual.
While she reads, Liora pokes around the apartment while Hauser goes to the kitchen and starts rummaging through James’ food. He has little — mostly condiments — and Hauser settles on squeezing mustard on saltines.
The rest of the occult books don’t appear to be particularly relevant, at least not at the moment. Jane checks the Book of Myrddin regarding any spells that are supposed to aid memory, although the one she finds involves drinking mercury. She decides against it, although she does decide to poke around on neopagan message boards in the next few days to see if anyone uses a quicksilver substitute in their ritual worship. Liora checks her phone to see anything about a realtor named “Sharon Wilson,” and determines she probably made it up for the charade.
Content with their findings for the night, Jane and Liora discuss leaving, while Hauser makes it clear that he is staying the evening. Jane thanks James and officially introduces herself, as do the others. She tells him to contact them any time, or to visit the Field Museum if he should need anything. Jane and Liora then take their leave, as Liora will need to take Jane back to her apartment. Hauser goes to sleep in the corner of James’ apartment where he has been nesting; James says nothing about the intrusion, and wordlessly goes to his bedroom and closes the door.
Liora drives to Jane’s apartment without incident, and walks her up. Her apartment appears to be in order, although Jane has apparently installed bars on the windows in the intervening weeks. Content that all is well, Liora takes her leave. Jane pokes around her apartment for any clues as to the past few weeks. She does find her journal, which reveals she was released from the hospital on March 7. She also makes a reference to a Dr. Wakahisa, and that she and the others are following his instructions. She cannot find any other reference to this person on the internet or anything. She does not find any references to Terrence in her journal, however. Since she has not heard from Tommy yet, she leaves herself a note to text him in the morning.
Liora drives past the Field Museum, noting that someone is apparently covering her shift. Content, she returns to her apartment, and after checking to make certain all is well there, she decides to text Vicky, receiving an error message in reply almost immediately. Afterward, she goes to sleep.
Hauser awakens to the sound of James’ shower and decides to bathe in the sink. James finishes his shower just in time to round the corner and see a half-naked Hauser rubbing sink water all over himself. James looks resigned to this fate. After breakfast, James starts looking through things to piece together the last several weeks. Hauser inquires, and James decides to go to his office. Hauser insists on following, telling uncomfortable stories about Vietnam on the car ride over.
Liora awakens, works out, cleans her guns, and otherwise prepares for her day. She checks the Field Museum to get her work schedule — she somehow has the whole weekend off. She checks her bank balance, and finds some recent withdrawals but no paper trail.
Jane texts Tommy upon awakening. In a few minutes, Tommy calls her back and asks how things went last night. They agree to meet at Starbucks in about 45 minutes. Upon meeting at Starbucks, Jane explains her missing time dilemma and the events of last evening. Tommy is aware of the Path of Cronus ritual, and explains that “Vicky,” as listed in her phone, is the woman she saw in the hospital, the one who looked like the woman who attacked her, because they’re both the same, after a fashion. When Jane was in the hospital, Tommy took Shelly back to her apartment where they were ambushed by the knife-wielding woman. She angrily interrogated them, but was chased away by the arrival of two people, Tom and Shake, both of whom Tommy describes as “magicians.” When they came to her hospital room later to talk to her about events, they found that she already knew more about things than they, as she was contacted by a “Dr. Wakahisa.” Apparently, there was some manner of “time-error” that involved Hauser, James, Jane, and Liora, and they needed to convince Vicky to participate in this ritual to close the error.
Jane recommends returning to her apartment, and ask they’re walking, asks about Terrence. Tommy, apparently not understanding, explains that they no longer talk to Shelly or Terry — possibly something about them being replaced by their doubles from the Bill Toge incident, as no one is really certain what happened. When she explains that they knew two people named Terry, Tommy evidently has no recollection of Terrence. Jane is somewhat panicked, but is used to this weirdness; she just proceeds to explain how Tommy should know Terrence. Upon returning to her apartment, she shows him her pictures — none of which contain Terrence. In fact, the only evidence of him she can find are a couple of candid shots she took with her iPhone. Tommy, for what it’s worth, indicates that her phone is not magical.
Tommy also explains that he didn’t respond last night because he now has an assignment with the two hunter-guys they met in Stoon Lake. He can’t discuss what he does on these assignments, and he can’t talk on the phone while they’re ongoing.
He also explains about the house the used for the ritual last night. Tom apparently found it; an abandoned house to which the original owners still have a key, occasionally breaking back into it. That way any odd comings-and-goings would be ignored, especially with Liora masquerading as a realtor. Jane asks about everyone’s purpose; Tommy explains that Hauser and Liora were keeping watch in case-evil Vicky appeared, while James enacted the ritual and Jane assisted. Vicky was to be the subject of the ritual — according to the ritual itself, she should be thrown forward about a day, but Dr. Wakahisa apparently told Jane that it would throw Vicky backward, closing the time error loop.
Jane explains that the disheveled Vicky appears to have been killed during last night’s activities. Tommy thinks the ritual still took place as scheduled. Jane asks if Tommy’s associates are capable of cleaning up crime scenes, and Tommy says he’ll make a couple of phone calls. While he’s taking care of things, Tommy recommends contacting Tom and Shake. He asks about Hauser, James, and Liora before taking his leave.
Meanwhile, Hauser is following James. James enters his office, and after briefly speaking to a coworker who quickly leaves after encountering Hauser, he notes that he only appears to have graded some papers in the intervening weeks. He asks Hauser if he has any ideas, and Hauser insists on checking his usual hangouts.
Hauser directs James to a dice game in an alley behind a 7-11. The guys indicate that Hauser has been hanging out with a bunch of preppy white folks recently, rather like James, and he hasn’t been around much. They invite him to shoot craps, and he insists on including James. James is actually pretty good at dice, so Hauser tries to cheat, but his clumsy attempts are easily noticed by the others. They shout at him to leave.
Hauser then recommends the Field Museum next. He also insists that James buys him lunch; during the meal, James excuses himself and doesn’t return. While looking for him, Hauser runs into Liora, who indicates she was going to contact Jane. She calls Jane, and indicates they should meet up to discuss what Jane has learned.