Chapter Two: The Station
“Things are not as they seem.”
My son leaned back to look up at the sky, and my eyes sought after what he was seeing. Some bird, perhaps a hawk, rode a breeze undetectable to those like ourselves confined to the earth. He stared a moment at the creature gliding on the high wind before returning his gaze to me.
“Things are not as they seem,” Merlin repeated. “You understand that, don’t you?”
He turned his head to his left, studied the scene in that direction, then peered past my shoulders at whatever was going on behind me, next looking off to his right before giving me his attention once more.
“Things rarely are,” I replied, when he was looking at me again. “That’s what makes life so interesting.”
“That is true, but so easy for a Prince of Amber to forget. Amber is the center, that is what those sprung from the Unicorn have been taught. A certainty they now know to be false. Yet the old assumptions continue to guide their thinking. Do you not agree?”
“I’m not sure that I do. The war, the chaos storm which swept through Shadow, and a state funeral at the other end of existence should have changed that. At least, I would hope they did.”
He held my gaze with his own for a second or two, as though something significant had been revealed, before going on to say, “Yet the House of Amber goes on pretending, doesn’t it?”
I began to protest with, “I just said—” And then caught myself. Backing up a little on the conversational terrain, I decided to do as he seemed to be hinting, to question my assumptions.
So I sat back a little, regarding him curiously.
“Pretending what exactly?”
“That Shadow isn’t real.”
And it was true. He was right. Now that I thought I had an idea what he was getting at, the point toward which he seemed to be driving. Simply, the offspring of Oberon had always understood Amber to be a thing apart, the true reality, Substance as opposed to Shadow.
And how much had that really changed?
“Then I believe I understand,” I replied slowly. “Once we believed Amber the sole reality. We have since learned the Courts represent another center, a different but equally tenable reality. Perhaps even more tenable. And so we content ourselves that now we see the whole picture, and feel no need to look any further.”
“Did you find me today?” Merlin asked, “Or did I find you? Or did something else happen?”
As he finished speaking, he looked away again.
And I looked, too, of course.
The juggler on the unicycle was circling the fountain. He had retired the water balloon act, and was weaving two wands through the air, streams of iridescent soap bubbles trailing from their tips till they vanished in the sun.
“Everything is real,” Merlin continued, “Your dreams are real.”
Not exactly the father-and-son conversation I’d expected, I admit. But he had baited the line, and I was hooked and wondering how long till the fish would be landed and thrashing in the bottom of the boat.
“You think you’ve been watching. I tell you this: You’re being watched.”
Someone was standing close by, and, turning, I saw the expressionless face of one of New York’s finest staring down at me. Two other cops, strolling up behind, moved to stand behind Merlin.
That was the name I was registered under at my hotel.
“What can I do for you, officer?”
“You can come with us down to the station. We’ll have our talk there.”
“Why can’t we talk here?”
I noticed his hand drop to his belt, not so far from his holster.
“We need you to immediately cease your illegal activities and come with us,” the policeman said, delivering the next words with some extra emphasis, “Right now.”
Reaching for my things, I gathered them together, stood up.
“I’d like to know what illegal activities we’re talking about, officer. If it’s not too much trouble.”
“You deaf? I said, ‘Get moving.’ So get moving.”
They were armed, but standing within reach. I could probably take all three of them. With Merlin’s help, forget the “probably.” But Merlin was not himself today. Looking past them, I saw two cruisers at the edge of the square, lights flashing.
There was anger in me; I felt it burning in my chest and moving rapidly outward. A few years back, I would have let that wrath take me, and given these civil servants a lesson in civility, free of charge. Not as many years ago as I’d like to think. On this occasion, however, my wiser self was beside me and quietly counseling that the best way to find what this whole business was about was to go along with it for now.
Meanwhile, one of the cops, perhaps reading my first thought all too well, had taken a step toward the lead officer.
“Okay,” I assented, “you’ve got me curious. Let’s go.”
The second cop visibly relaxed a little. The third motioned Merlin to his feet and spoke for the first and only time during our happy association: “You, too.”
Merlin got calmly to his feet, and I was pleased. He had done the math and was rightly unconcerned. No ordinary cell could hold either of us, and it was even possible we might learn something.
So we went quietly, and since Washington and Liberty had finally gone on break, the couples and the children for the most part watched the unicyclist waving bubbles into being with the choreographed passes of his wands.
“So you’re his legal counsel?”
“That’s right,” I told the cop sitting across from us in the little room to which we’d been brought.
“So no phonecall for you?”
That last question had been directed toward Merlin, but I answered for him.
“You’d be advised to let him have his phonecall. It would be a shame to have our being picked up called into question on procedural grounds. Could muddy things where the legal pretext is concerned.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head with a dash of irony and a heaping cupful of mock concern, “We wouldn’t want that.”
“Well, then, what are we doing here, officer?”
“For us,” said a new voice belonging to a man just entering the room with Merlin’s backpack. Dark sunglasses, dark suit, dark hair cropped very short, tan. His colleague was similar, but a little taller, and bald.
“Thank you for your assistance, detective. We’ll take it from here.”
The cop asked, “Need anything?” as he got up to go.
The bald gentleman, entering the room behind his partner and partly obstructed from view as he passed through the door behind him, lifted up what he had in his hands so the policeman could see the coffee cups he held. The first man glanced meaningfully at the cups and smiled faintly as he said, “We’re good.”
The detective left and closed the door behind him.
The first man seated himself while the bald man set the coffees down on the table before retreating to stand in a position that left him closest to the door.
Noting the labels on the cups, I commented, “Yes, I couldn’t help noticing the Starbucks across the street as we were brought in, and thinking, ‘That’s not a coincidence.’”
The first man smiled again, more broadly this time, and said, “They’re for you.”
I took one and sipped.
Sweet, but I liked it.
“Hazelnut. How did you know?”
“We know a lot about you, Carl Wynne. Or Carl Corey. Or Cordy Fen. And about you, Morey Lennon. Or Mark Dillon. Or Marv Dunne. Among other names. And about your contacts, many highly respected scientists, writers and philosophers.”
“Not sure what you’re talking about,” I volunteered, genuinely not sure what he was talking about. “At best, I’m a military history buff. Maybe I’ve talked with a writer or historian here and there about the Napoleonic Wars. Otherwise, friend, you’re just blowing smoke.”
“Good,” the man said, “We’re friends now. Friends can tell each other stuff. Like why they spend so much time in Connecticut at the Flaumel household, often when unusual orders are placed by Amberline Enterprises. Like what’s so fascinating about the New England Air Museum outside Hartford. Like the reason for so many conversations with one of the nation’s leading time-travel researchers at UConn. Like how come one visit to the Nautilus nuclear submarine isn’t enough. Stuff like that.”
He had been looking at Merlin the entire time he had been speaking.
Merlin reached for his coffee and drank some of it.
“That’s really interesting,” I interjected — and it really was, especially the part about time-travel, “but friends also don’t let friends drive drunk. And, sadly, you gentlemen have dropped the ball on that one on several occasions. Luckily, no one got hurt and no drinks were spilled. Also, friends don’t call the cops on their friends.”
“Unless your friends are
“You’re not cops.”
“Give the man a prize. I’m Agent Michaels, and this is Agent Archer. And we can be better friends to you than the police. Maybe we can even help you.”
“Help us? By dragging us down to the police station without cause?”
“Oh, we got cause. And, yeah, we can help. We’ve had our eyes on you and your friend since the late ‘40s. Oh, that surprises you? Over fifty years of surveillance. Your friend was there
in New Mexico, that day in 1949. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. And you were there three years later when the heat got turned up in Washington. You met Sarbacher at least once, also met P. R. Wallace, and in the ‘60s you were in Cambridge attending lectures.”
Bells were being rung. Some of what Michaels described echoed bits of memory not reviewed since my identity had been returned to me that day on the Pattern in Rebma. Back then, though, in the days the agent was dredging back into the light, my identity had been a mystery to me and I’d been driven. Driven to examine any angle, to follow any lead, to learn whatever the great minds of the age might have to teach. I remembered the time at Harvard of which he was speaking.
I picked up my coffee and took another sip, thinking.
“You really thought no one would notice a guy who doesn’t get any older?” the agent wondered, seeming overwhelmed by the scope of my ignorance. “This is the Information Age, Carl. This stuff gets noticed. Everybody at Wright-Patterson that day got noticed. Especially the officers. Want me to go on?”
“Let’s hear the rest,” I said.
And, as I spoke, I was recalling the day he had just harkened back to, a summer day in Ohio that a number of men had been ordered to forget. That had not been the beginning for me. I’d pondered the possibility long before then. That day, though, had made the possibility real.
“After Cambridge,” Michaels continued, “you moved to Ithaca. 1968. About a year later, you stopped by Cornell to meet your old prof just days before you tried to find out how well your car could dog-paddle. Car drowned. You didn’t.”
I remembered! It wasn’t all that clear, but about as murky as the waters in which I’d been immersed that night. I’d gone to meet a very smart man, a dreamer, even a bit of a poet. Just the kind of guy an amnesiac Prince of Amber would be expected to seek. Not all of it was intelligible to me now, but that part made sense, fit into place, and was mine again.
“Honestly,” I said, actually meaning it, “that time in my life even today remains a jumble. I was experiencing memory problems at the time, and being given the wrong treatment for them.”
“We know. You were in a sanitarium.”
“All right, so tell me. Who was it I went to see before my car failed its aquatic test drive?”
Michaels leaned back in his chair and was quiet for a moment. Then he answered.
He had inspired a generation, at least. The sort of mind that could haunt many generations, make an entire century its home. He had firmly believed we are not alone, and had not even required extraterrestrials to sustain this belief. For he had considered dolphins to be at least as intelligent as humans.
He had also inspired me.
It was after encountering Jules Verne that I began to strongly suspect — and, in time, sincerely believed — planet Earth was not my home. Before Sagan, before Verne, I had wondered if I might have survived the demise of some lost city or sunken continent. Where might I find, then, my Shambhala? But H. G. Wells, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Teilhard de Chardin, Giordano Bruno and other far-ranging minds had suggested an alternative. The seed had been planted by Verne and the rest, but Sagan had tended it till it had emerged from the soil and come into full bloom. He had provided the philosophical scaffolding within which the notion could take solid form. Somehow, in a spaceship or on a beam of starlight, or perhaps through some process akin to quantum tunneling or via an Einstein-Rosen bridge, I had come to this world from another. The suspicion then became certainty as it had settled in my bones, where by intuition I had felt the notion to be correct. I was beyond all doubt a stranger in a strange land.
Nor, in the end, had I really been wrong about that. The method for getting from one world to another had simply been more arcane than any of those minds could have guessed.
“Sagan didn’t buy the Roswell UFO story,” I pointed out. “And, for the record, I don’t either.”
Michaels, unfazed, shrugged and responded, “Roswell was a non-event. You’re smart enough to know that. But you weren’t paying attention. I said 1949, not 1947.”
“Then what are we talking about?” I challenged, convinced this native of millennial America, this hotshot from some branch of the NSA, CIA, DIA, FBI or perhaps a more obscure triplet of initials, had no real clue at all.
“About an Indian reservation in New Mexico where something over one hundred feet in diameter was found. Something previously seen cruising at 18,000 miles per hour. Fast, big — a Humpty Dumpty that took the Foreign Technology Division a very long time to put back together again.”
“I doubt I know very much about your flying omelette.”
But I did. Since leaving this Earth, it had not seemed of any lasting importance, a mystery of no real consequence in the grand scheme of things. Far greater mysteries had subsequently come into play, and that grand scheme had involved both the creation and near-destruction of everything in existence. Now, however, the old puzzle returned and tugged at my curiosity.
“You were part of the reception committee,” Michaels persisted. “You’re not going to tell me you don’t remember, are you? If you’re having trouble remembering, we’ve got plenty of questions for your cousin here.”
A chill touched me then. There are shivers that run through a person for no apparent reason. But I knew the reason for this one. It was not unlike the feeling which most people have felt at one time or another, when one believes one is alone or unobserved and then realizes otherwise and intuits there is someone watching. The mind of another was seeking mine.
While I had sweated over the preparation of a makeshift Trump for Merlin and had on several occasions concentrated on forging a link between myself and my son through that image, I had resisted the temptation of using the Trumps to communicate with anyone else. And I was sweating again as I held my mind as blank as possible, stilling my thoughts, eyes closed. My attempts to reach Merlin by that means had failed; likewise, whoever held my Trump now and struggled to find the real me behind that image would also fail. By now, back in Amber I was either presumed dead or comatose or in some other manner disabled, and it would have to stay that way for awhile longer. Word from me was well overdue, of course, but certainly not during government questioning.
This was not the usual Trump contact, however. Nothing around me registered as I drew on the hard training of the Pattern to hold my will steady and immovable.
Then it went away. My temples were throbbing and I realized my hands were gripping the edge of the table. I relaxed them slowly, opened my eyes. Michaels was looking confused, and staring at me.
“What’s up, Carl? Having an attack? Faking one? Not going to help, not going to get you out of this room without answering some questions. Doesn’t work like that. You go on and keep up the quiet routine, and we’ll do this a harder way. That what you want?”
“If you really believe I’ve been around as long as you’re saying, then try not to be too surprised if I have a spell now and then,” I said, wondering who had mustered such a formidable intensity of mental force with which to assail my mind, and then thrusting all that momentarily aside as I wondered next if I really had much of anything useful to tell this agent. “Or if I have trouble sorting through very old recollections,” I added. “Give me a moment.”
What the hell kind of timing was that, anyway? The sheer perversity of it outraged me. When between a rock and a hard place, a boulder dropped on you is just overkill. Still, I told myself, seeking the serenity with which to move on, how different was it in the end from the salesman showing up to insistently ring the doorbell while you’re upstairs in the middle of making love?
I tasted the coffee again, and tasted a memory not sampled in decades. My first impulse was to deny all. Knowledge truly is power, after all. But it can work both ways, and any responses or reactions to what I had to say might provide information I could use. And then there was the implied threat toward Merlin. He’d been silent since we’d been taken into custody. Though I’d only be delaying him being grilled by these guys, the delay would buy me time to strategize.
“You’re talking about something that occurred half a century ago,” I hedged, even as the memory returned like the bars of a nearly-forgotten tune.
Michaels leaned forward, tossed something onto the table.
“We have pictures.”
I turned the photograph toward me. Black and white, and that was me, all right. For a moment, I considered the “ancestor with a strong family resemblance” line. There I was, though, in an Air Force uniform wearing work gloves, my hand grasping the sweeping edge of a very large ellipsoidal object of gray-white metal. The entire thing was not visible, but it was suspended above the floor of a hangar, cradled by cables, covered in blankets where the cables drew against it, tarps draped over it in various other places, as well. There were two other men nearby. One had a camera out, so that the unseen photographer taking this picture was himself being photographed. A complete record of the event in that moment was being made, and I’d been part of it.
“That could be anybody who looks exactly like me, you know,” I observed.
Michaels smirked, said nothing, waited.
“Only a few people knew the whole story,” I began after a slow sigh, rubbing my chin and dusting off parts of me somewhat faded and toward the back of the shelf. “Everything was on a need-to-know basis, but information is like water: it travels. There were rumors. Somewhere near Gallup, a ‘disc’ had been recovered, on high ground near the Arizona border. The story was that Native Americans had reached it first, and had even been enlisted by the military to help locate it. So the speculation was over whether they were Zuni or Navajo, whether it was a place near the Chuska or Zuni Mountains, Tohatchi or Black Rock.
“There was also uncertainty about when, as well as where. The incident had actually happened months earlier toward the end of the previous year, perhaps even early in 1949. All we knew was that it had taken place sometime that winter. So even the exact date was up for grabs. Why had it taken months to get the material from New Mexico to Ohio? No one dared ask, and no one in the know was talking. So, again, almost everything we thought we knew was based on assumptions and guesswork. Still, given the alleged location of the site, it seemed logical that the object had been moved to Kirtland Air Force Base, especially since the Roswell story had drawn so much unwanted attention to the other end of the state and activities at White Sands.”
I stopped there and reflected. Whatever I was telling these two men I had till that moment assumed they already knew. But doubt now began to gnaw at me. Ever since the Manhattan Project, the government’s clandestine operations had been carried out under the principle of compartmentalization. The right hand often had no idea what the left was doing. Meanwhile, who was still around from that time who knew any of the story? A few, no doubt, and each would know his piece. Why ask me these questions unless someone was engaged in an effort to, as the man had just said, put Humpty Dumpty back together again? How much should I tell of what I knew or guessed?
“Of course,” I went on, downing some more of the coffee, “inquiring minds always want to know. And some of the world’s most gifted inquiring minds were housed very nearby, at Los Alamos. My own supposition was that some of the folks there and at Sandia were invited to look it over, to tackle the mystery. There were rumors of a Japanese program to build a suborbital vehicle. Could this be a test-flight gone astray? If not Japanese, then perhaps Russian? Who knew? The story of small occupants of an Asian appearance favored the former explanation. And there was always the possibility that it was the Japanese project, but had been annexed by the Russians — via Sakhalin. But, naturally, other explanations were advanced, as well.”
Michaels smiled and prodded me with two words: “Project Sign.”
I did not suppress the chuckle that elicited from me.
“We called it Project Saucer. It had recently been shut down, but it was generally believed to have given birth to twins. One twin officially existed and was known as Grudge. The other did not officially exist, but no one really believed such an important area of research would be dropped; it would be reclassified and moved out of public view. The unofficial twin we continued to refer to as Project Saucer. It was obviously going on, and the arrival of the material from New Mexico was solid proof of that. We nicknamed it ‘the wallop from Gallup.’”
“So,” Michaels said, frowning and taking back the picture, which he dramatically held up for me to see again, “though there are pictures of you in the hangar with the 1949 retrieved UFO, and documents naming you as part of the Air Technical Intelligence team that handled it, you are going to deny
you were part of what you call ‘the unofficial twin’ project? Is that the story you expect us to believe?”
“Hey, that’s the story. Believe whatever you like. Yes, I was part of Air Technical Intelligence, and, yes, I was part of the crew that got it into the hangar that night. But, no, I was never brought into the project in any official way, and that was one of exactly two times I ever saw anything of the mystery ship.”
“The reason I was at Wright-Patterson was that I was good with languages and had spent time in Belgium, France and Germany. And I knew the basics of flying. And, as I was told more than once, I was recognized as an ‘all-arounder,’ a jack of all trades, good at finding how seemingly unrelated things were connected. Later on, I was shown some writing, in some kind of code or exotic script. Since it made no sense to me, I offered a couple of guesses, but made it clear that without seeing it in context the writing was unlikely to make any sense to me. So I was brought back to the hangar. The ship was kept behind corrugated aluminum partitions. I was walked in, and still not much of it was visible. Tarps, scaffolds, plastic sheeting, machinery, men working on and around it. I was brought to a table where a schematic of the thing was displayed. Most of it had been blacked out. The engineer pointed to the portion of the schematic I was permitted to see and told me that was where the writing had been found. I gave my opinion, that it was a pictoglyph indicating an auxiliary power-supply or propulsion system. And then I was walked back out of the hangar.”
“And that was it?”
“For me, yes. NASA intrigued me, but I lacked the kind of skills they wanted and so I became a civilian for awhile. The war was over. I followed the Space Race, curious to see if any of the technology or design borrowed from secret German projects and the work at places like Wright-Patterson would show up in the space program. For whatever reason, however, this never happened. I had been convinced some magnetic, nuclear or beamed-energy form of propulsion would overtake rockets, and was disappointed. Later, the Korean Conflict flared up, and I went over.”
“Stalinist Russia made Germany look like a warm-up act, by my lights. But Korea was the beginning of my disillusionment. The Great Powers were playing some sort of game, and I was tired of being one of the thousands of worthless pawns. So I went to college and returned to music, an old love of mine.”
“And met Sagan. A man who dismissed UFOs as no more believable than leprechauns.”
Having met my share of leprechauns, I smiled.
“He conceded the existence of UFOs, but rejected the extraterrestrial hypothesis offered in Project Sign’s ‘estimate of the situation.’”
“What about you, Carl? Do you reject the extraterrestrial hypothesis?”
“You touched a retrieved UFO.”
“How do you explain what you saw?”
“Operation Paperclip brought the greatest minds working on the most ambitious military programs in the history of the world into our military-industrial complex, where they were pivotal in its evolution. They had been working on their so-called disco-planes in Germany and continued their work here in the utmost secrecy. Russia doubtless indulged in a similar effort using their German scientists. The Cold War, therefore, was just a game to divert money and power to the militaries of both superpowers in the name of manufactured threats. Wars would no longer be fought for territories, but for resources. Both sides were militarily secure and therefore needed to concern themselves with economic survival. More powerful engines for economic muscle would be needed. Multinational corporations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and America securing the concession that OPEC oil would be traded only in dollars are all direct outcomes. The Cold War sham collapsed when Russia could no longer afford it. While underway, though, the magicians could never admit the rabbit had been in the hat all along.”
“So you’re saying the Air Force captured its own vehicle?”
“Giving you back your prize,” I acknowledged, inclining my head deferentially.
Michaels said nothing for a moment. He turned his head and exchanged a look with Archer, then resumed watching me, and finally spoke again.
“You want to try to explain that?”
“It’s simple. In super-secrecy, the Air Force builds German disco-planes in southern California, along with other innovative vehicles, weapons and propulsion systems. No effort is spared to maintain secrecy as they’re test-flown over remote areas to the east. In event of crash or capture, the vehicles and any pilots must appear foreign, but not Russian, since at the very highest levels of secrecy Russia’s real leaders, its kingmakers, and America’s are on the same side, staging the Cold War game for the world audience. Extemely advanced Russian technology might push Americans into an uncontrollable hysteria, with dangerous consequences at home. While the revelation that the American military has such technology would invite too many questions and too much scrutiny at a time when the military is irrevocably going ‘black.’ Unusually small, Asian-looking pilots, maybe even midgits? Why not? Coded controls employing symbols unrelated to any historical language? Of course. Fusion power-plant generating powerful electromagnetic forces to silently ‘levitate’ or swiftly whip test vehicles through the sky? The next step after rockets and nuclear fission, right? Inform the world such technology exists and let it radically alter the socio-economic structure of the emerging global civilization? Absolutely not.
“So there is an accident and a vehicle goes down. Only a very small number of people know the truth, so maintain the charade. Recover your own vehicle. Let the headquarters for Project Saucer and the Foreign Technology Division take possession. Admit nothing. Stall, prevaricate, disinform, classify. Sweep it away until a rug is found big enough for it to be put under.”
“So you,” Michaels said, sounding incredulous, “your relative, his cousin Martin, and your friend Raffy Ma’iio — none of you accept the extraterrestrial hypothesis? None of you are
the extraterrestrial hypothesis?”
“May I have the backpack?”
Michaels picked it up and dropped it on the table with, “Enjoy yourself.”
There was a scabbard sticking out of it, which was the first thing I noticed, the exposed portion of the sword it held wrapped in a silk scarf. I pulled off the scarf and recognized the unmistakable silver hilt. I removed the scabbard and set it on the table. Opening the pack further, I removed the rest of its contents. A curious ring, a prismatic serpent of wire and glassy scales grasping its tail in its mouth, was discovered first. It had been resting atop the next item, a folded dark blue cloak, esoteric designs woven into its satin-like material.
And there was a Tarot deck.
I replaced the items, closed up the pack.
Michaels sat there and looked unhappy. He was almost sulking.
“You, my friend, have caught yourself students of the occult arts and the art of the con. Mark Dillon, aka Morey Lennon, my ‘cousin,’ is indeed a relation. Martin, too. Maio is just some old hippy I ran into. All as human as I am, maybe even more so. And the place I call home has always been the one true world, the real Earth.”
“You didn’t come here in a spaceship?”
Chuckling, I answered, “Never have flown in space. I grew up around my favorite form of transportation: horses.”
“The research into,” and here Michaels paused as he pulled out a sheet of paper and began scanning it, “cosmology, non-locality, quantum gravity, astrophysical anomalies and — this part makes no sense — unicorns and obscure mythological references? What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Hold on just a minute,” I said, raising a hand and getting slowly to my feet. Archer visibly became more alert, but Michaels remained where he was, watching me. “I’ve been good, I’ve behaved and I’ve been interrogated—”
“—Interviewed,” Michaels corrected me.
“—Sure, interviewed. I’ve been interviewed and answered all the questions. So now I’ve got three questions for you. You ready?”
Michaels dipped his head agreeably.
“Okay,” I said, picking up the backpack and handing it to Merlin, “When exactly did you put the truth serum in the coffees, back at the coffee shop or right here in the police station? Either way, there were security cameras present, and a lab test of my blood should reveal which chemicals were used to violate my rights. Were you at least smart enough to turn off the recording devices in this room before beginning the ‘interview’?”
“The answers don’t matter. You’re free to go.”
Merlin pushed back his chair, stood, shouldered the pack.
“Don’t leave Manhattan for awhile, Carl,” Michaels said, also getting up. “You haven’t answered all our questions. And there’s still your friend Raffy Quaoar Ma’iio who we haven’t talked to yet. We have questions for him about his time at SSFL. But before you go, I still owe you a free one.”
“A free one?” I asked, perplexed for a moment, edging around the table on my way out. Archer was nice enough to open the door for us. “Oh, a free one. My last question would be: What was the charge?”
Merlin was already through the door, but I turned in the doorway to catch Michaels’ response.
The dark-suited man from an unnamed government agency actually lowered his shades enough to look me in the eye.
“Class B Misdemeanor.”
“Really?” I chortled, genuinely amused. “What for?”
He made a gun with his right hand and pointed it at me.
“Don’t go far, Carl.”
“Agents,” I said, looking for and finding stage left ready and available for the inevitable exit, “see you on the flip side.”
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