DEATH IS EASY
by
Russell Madden
 
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FREEDOM, As If
It Mattered
by
Russell Madden
 
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Softcover, $24.95
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Hardcover, $34.95
 
(Preview. Also available in a digital edition, $5.63.)

 



 

RANDOM

Chapter 4

by

Russell Madden

 



A day had passed since Scanlon Reeves last killed someone. While the double-pair of homicides provided him by the interlude with the Cannons had served to slake his immediate desire for excitement, that satiated feeling had begun to diminish, like a heavy meal evaporating under the stress of intense activity.

For now, though, he wanted only to enjoy the pleasure of this late Sunday drive under the electric blue skies of a brilliant Georgian afternoon.

The white Ford LTD he had stolen on St. Simons Island rumbled along on its eight cylinders northbound on Interstate 16, west of Savannah. The implicit power of its large engine provided a promise of speed yet untapped. Perhaps later he would dip into that storehouse of energy. Engaging in dodge-and-weave with the moderate traffic headed towards Atlanta, though, would require more concentration than he cared to commit at the moment.

He had no idea who had invented cruise control, but he wished he could shake that gentleman's hand. What a marvelous assistant! With a jazz CD booming from the four custom-installed speakers, he immersed himself in the rhythm and beat of song, car, and road.

For the first portion of the trip, he had entombed himself totally within the automobile environment. The streaming air-conditioner had cooled and dried the air in a welcome respite from a typically humid Southern afternoon. That buffer from the elements had eventually become too confining, too isolating. Rushing wind streaming into his face from the speed of his passage somehow made him feel more connected, more vital...more alive.

When he had gathered his wits about him after his transition from Alicia's side in Menden, he had felt the pleasantly cool grit of sand rubbing against his back. The gentle susurration of waves engaging in their coquettish duet with the land had helped sooth any emotional upset lingering from his delayed encounter with his chosen woman.

Rolling onto his side, Scanlon had gazed across the broad band of a moonlit beach stretching towards a restless sea. Where he had landed, he had no real idea. The warmth of the breeze tousling his hair and caressing his body, however, suggested somewhere in the southern United States.

The parameters he had set into the Tempus system ensured he would remain in familiar (?) or, at least, friendly territory.

(An amusing question tickled his rambling thoughts as he sat up and surveyed his new home: had that incompetent fool, Hanson, decided to get off his ass and actually convince someone to trail him? Perhaps his pursuer even now lay disoriented, alone, and frightened not too distant from here. The thought sent an almost sexual thrill coursing along his spine.)

Fatigue, however, beckoned him to take this respite and recuperate as best he could. While he skipped sleep for considerable periods of time, even his hyper-metabolism dragged him down after too long a period without recharging. Three or four hours should suffice. Then he would decide what next to do.

Glancing up at the star-sprinkled heavens, he saw a yellow-white cone of light sweep through the dust-and-moisture laden air. A lighthouse. Good. That meant he had not ended up on some desolate shore miles from civilization.

Reassured by that symbol of human presence, Scanlon stretched out on the sand and drifted into a sleep untroubled by bad dreams.

Even before the sun oozed above the watery horizon -- further orienting him -- the scientist rose and scrubbed at his face. His stubbly beard itched. One more detail to handle, he thought, realizing that incipient hunger also rumbled an alert that his stomach could not be ignored forever.

First, he decided to stroll along the beach, enjoying the birds seeking a snack among the scattered rocks and landlocked pools of water deserted by the retreating tide. Heading at an ambling pace in the general direction of the invisible lighthouse, he stretched his legs. His well-worn tennis shoes -- their laces tied together -- dangled around his neck like a tacky ornament, thumping lightly on his chest with every step.

The sea-freshened air filled his lungs, readying him for the upcoming day's adventures...whatever those might be. His first priority was to clean up and find some new, somewhat more suitable clothing. He suspected the jacket he wore would be ill-suited to the warmth of the coming day. Already, the temperature felt to be in the upper sixties. The thermometer might well climb into the eighties by noon. Hardly conducive to wearing a heavy jacket.

As though greeting an old friend, his right hand slipped into a pocket and touched the metal of his as-yet-unused Beretta. He would have to devise another mode of transport for that trusty companion.

With the lightening of the sky, he discerned jutting houses perched on the upper reaches of the beach above a broad line of boulders...the latter perhaps brought in to fight erosion. His current position did not appear to be some commercial district. A resort area, perhaps?

A larger construction to his right suggested a hotel of some type. Briefly, he considered simply walking into the lobby and registering. In his currently disheveled state and given the early hour, however, that might invite more questions than he really wanted to handle.

Striking out towards the hotel -- the King and Prince, a sign declared -- Scanlon slipped on his shoes and picked up the pace. A crowded array of houses greeted his scrutiny. Fifteen minutes of walking brought him to a residential neighborhood far enough from the beach to ease his concerns for quiet.

The white-sided home he selected occupied a corner lot. Obviously not new construction, he doubted an alarm system protected its perimeter. Gaining entrance through an open garage door, he grabbed a pillow from a living room couch, slipped into the back portion of the house, and found a bedroom where a white-haired couple in their sixties slept away the last few seconds of their lives.

Muffling the sound of the discharges with the pillow, he placed a pair of bullets in the foreheads of first the husband (as the greater potential threat) and then the wife as she struggled to awaken and comprehend what had just happened. Scanlon waited only long enough for that horrid realization to burn its way into her brain before he destroyed that terrified mind with two nine-millimeter slugs.

In no mood for artistic niceties, he wanted the job done quickly and efficiently. A warm shower washed away the grunge he had accumulated over the past twelve hours. A suspended mirror there guided him as he scraped away his bristly growth with a white safety razor. The deceased man's fine leather wallet provided him with two-hundred dollars. The larger one in the woman's purse boosted the total to three-hundred-fifty. Two sets of keys hung from hooks near the garage entrance. Scanlon shoved the smaller set into the slacks he had borrowed from the small bedroom closet. Mr. George Hallahan luckily matched his frame more closely than had Mr. Cannon.

A quick meal of cold cereal killed his complaining hunger. From a pile of opened letters -- bills, mostly -- he discovered he had landed in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Georgia. A long way from his native South Dakota. As a teenager, he had dreamed of someday migrating towards warmer climes. The impulse had nagged at him the most in the midst of some dreary, cold, and blustery late-January storm when the snow and wind screeched their disdain for all of human kind. Ironically, Tempus had provided him with a compromise. The border state of Maryland did bring him farther south but had never seemed quite...exotic...enough to satisfy those adolescent fantasies of his.

Early morning television offered an historically fascinating diversion. Before his sentencing for the murder of that inane and worthless asshole, Marelli, he had read all he could about this time period. Documentaries and movies from the era had aided in sketching in a sense of the culture. Even so, the adjustment had taxed his chameleon abilities after his banishment to this primitive realm. Someone from this present society transported to the infant days of the republic when lovers-of-liberty Thomas Jefferson and James Madison warred with statists such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton offered an imperfect analogy.

Still, he had learned readily enough that whatever the century, people shared the same basic drives, desires, and fears. Whatever superficial differences in habits, technology, and customs distinguished one set of individuals from another, the universals formed a bedrock upon which he could build the kind of existence he had chosen for himself. For as long as he could, he would strive to fulfill the appetites of his mercurial self. While he admired in an abstract sense men of ideals such as Jefferson, he saw the reality of his life clearly enough to know he identified more with such manipulators of the innocent as Adams, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. He had -- unfortunately? -- found himself unable or unwilling to adhere to the stricter and more demanding path pioneered by those such as the sage of Monticello.

Pushing the off button on the remote, Scanlon headed for the garage.

So be it. The small dissenting voice which had for so long counseled him to resist the powerful influences of his now-future society stirred in its buried grave. To disturb it now, though, would only cause him needless pain. Better to abandon a pointless fight than to remain mired in misery and disappointment. That lesson, he had accepted in full.

A few minutes sufficed to acquaint him with the features of the LTD hidden in the garage. The luminous numbers on the dash told him that the citizens of St. Simons Island would be about their business by now.

Glancing through the visitors guide he had found on the Hallahan's kitchen table -- "High Tide's Guide to the Golden Isles of Georgia" -- Scanlon decided discretion should lead him off the island before someone inadvertently recognized George's car or discovered their quiet, cooling corpses in their modest bed. Atlanta would be a nice place to visit; via Savannah, perhaps. The journey might suggest a way to contact his tethered alter-ego, assuming that such had even been dispatched to track him down.

Pulling out onto King's Way, he smoothly accelerated his confiscated car and headed for Brunswick and I-95. He appreciated the automatic transmission the Hallahan's had so thoughtfully selected for him. His first and only attempt to take an automobile with manual shifting had been an embarrassing failure. That lurching travel had, in fact, been what had attracted the attention of the police days before. Finding him in a stolen vehicle with an unregistered handgun had made the day for the rookie cop who had arrested and cuffed him. Had it not been so late in the evening, Scanlon might have resisted. The next transition had rendered his incarceration a moot point.

Gliding past the palm trees and the live oaks draped with hanging Spanish moss, he smiled and rested his elbow on the window sill of the car.

Had Alicia awakened yet? Had she noticed his muddy trail? Did she realize the scarf he now kept in his shirt pocket close to his heart had disappeared from her dresser? Were the police even then seeking a man who did not officially exist in this time period?

Perhaps he would call her that afternoon. He frowned. No. Better to wait until Monday. An appointment in her office to assess her more directly. No need to rush. Anticipation formed half the fun.

Interstate-16 merged with I-75 and turned north to Atlanta. With his cruise control set at sixty-four-miles-per-hour, Scanlon continued on his way. Shifting into the left lane to pass a dented red pick-up encrusted with rust, he listened as the CD player paused then commenced a new track.

A blast from an air horn jerked him from his reverie. Glancing up into his rearview mirror, he saw a roaring mechanical buffalo bearing down upon him. Before he could even catch a glimpse of the driver of the massive truck-and-trailer rig, the beast's bumper hovered mere feet from his own.

A corner of Scanlon's mouth twitched. Another time and he might have contested the right-of-way. Before his tranquil mood could totally dissipate, however, he flipped on his right turn signal. Cautiously, he gauged the proper maneuver to slide into the space between a pair of slower sedans, the lead one forest green, the other black.

At that precise moment, the faceless truck driver chose to flash his headlights at the pokey LTD.

A grim smile curved Scanlon's lips. All right. If that's the game you want to play. With mindless complacency, the cruise control maintained the car's steady speed. Crawling past the green Toyota in the right lane, Scanlon turned up the volume on the stereo. As minutes passed, he kept to his course in the outer lane, inching by the vehicles growing in number as they approached the outskirts of Atlanta.

The side view mirror with its quaint message -- "Objects In This Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear" -- revealed the semi-truck dogging his heels. A hand's-breadth separated the looming behemoth from the sedately traveling Ford. Even when the highway widened to three lanes, the truck refused to budge.

Gratified at the rage the trucker no doubt felt at that juncture, Scanlon nevertheless tired of this cat-and-mouse play. Giving in and abandoning the now-middle lane, however, never occurred to him.

With the matter-of-fact curiosity of his academic background, he pulled the charged Beretta from the fanny pack he had taken from the Hallahan home and held it in his left hand. Smiling broadly, he stuck his upper torso out the window and looked back and up at his anonymous nemesis.

The scowling visage of a middle-aged white man, his dirty green cap pulled low above his eyes, rewarded Scanlon's efforts. The trucker's ugly expression tightened even more at sight of the man who dared challenge his supremacy of the road.

Though the LTD weaved a bit in its lane as Scanlon steered half out of the automobile, he knew this lovely interlude would not last long. Stretching out his left arm, he aimed his weapon -- not at his opponent -- but at the truck's gleaming chrome radiator.

Scanlon savored the abrupt widening of the asshole's dark eyes and the sudden screeching of huge rubber tires as air brakes kicked in with savage force. Before the stuttering, smoking truck could widen the distance from the Ford, the time traveler snapped off a half-dozen rounds at his target. Five slugs slammed into the radiator. One -- by chance? -- starred the windshield inches to the left of the trucker's ghost-white face.

Veering precariously towards the median, the chastened trucker battled for control of his mortally wounded transport. Other unsuspecting cars, pick-ups, and trailer trucks formed a mobile obstacle course for the careening vehicle. The crunch, screech, and crash of out-massed traffic pinballing into one another chased Scanlon as he sped from the scene of carnage. The diminishing image in his mirrors showed the steaming front of the truck he had disabled bouncing over the edge of the highway and plowing like some bizarre tractor into the grass-lined strip separating the two flows of traffic. As the truck proceeded to demolish itself, its long, gray trailer kinked in the middle, twisting the rig and flipping it at the gory last onto its side.

Rolling up his window to drown out the aftermath of the disaster, Scanlon grinned, cranked up the air-conditioner, and smoothly slid down the gently sloping curve of an exit ramp. Since the entire episode had transpired within a handful of seconds, he doubted anyone would remember his license plate number or be able to connect him with the pile-up. Still, a bit of evasive maneuvering to muddy the trail might not be a bad idea.

Whistling along with the music, Scanlon felt at peace with himself and the world. Spontaneity. Yes, that definitely kept life interesting.

#

Emerging from the fog of displacement, Rick Beckman struggled to piece together his scattered thoughts. He remembered entering the chamber, his palms and underarms damp with sweat, and seating himself on the matrix pad. A powerful hum that burrowed under his skin announced the activation of the Tempus system as it prepared to hurl him two centuries into the past. An intolerable instant of intense pressure on ear and heart and lungs vanished along with the subsonic sound beating at his flesh.

At first he thought the temporal displacement had failed. His immense relief flew away as the back of his torso, head, and legs registered the rough, unyielding surface of concrete supporting his trembling body. A faint breeze wafted over him. He shivered, though less from any physical chill than the realization that his world was gone...or rather, yet to be.

Sitting up, he winced at the pain of an insistent headache tightening with the force of a metal band around his temple. A deep-throated groan rumbled from the depths of his soul.

What had they done to him?

Circumstances bequeathed him little opportunity to ponder the practical and philosophical implications of that rhetorical question. A spear of brilliant white light impaled him in its slanting circle. Blinded by the intensity of that unexpected illumination, Rick raised a hand to shield his eyes, attempting to penetrate to the source of the spotlight exposing him.

Hard on the heels of that light came the sputtering cough of a large motor revving to life. The roar of its animalistic growl spun upward in pitch and volume. Seconds later, that unidentifiable engine of approaching destruction bore down upon his vulnerable position.

Paralyzed only a moment before his reflexes kicked in, Rick rolled to his right, scraping his hands and knees on the unforgiving surface beneath him. In an instant, the charging creature leaped towards him...

...and soared overhead with a deafening whoosh of sound and air.

Gasping for breath and crouching with his out-stretched fingers balancing him on the runway, Rick paused to watch the prop plane lift into the late night sky. The pitch of its engine dopplered down as it headed into the wind for whatever strange destination beckoned.

With prudent haste, Rick dashed for a chain-link fence yards away. Scaling it with a rapidity that marveled even him, he dropped down onto a sidewalk and waited for his thundering pulse to stutter down towards normalcy.

An airport. He had materialized on a runway...somewhere.

Like a drunk regretfully dealing with the aftermath of a particularly nasty hangover, Rick massaged his pounding forehead. Despite his physical and mental shakiness, he paused to check his inventory. If any of his precious accouterments vanished or were damaged, his future promised to be a bleak one, indeed.

Based on his research, he had selected a kind of informally dressy outfit. Standard blue jeans, comfortable, dark brown shoes modeled on those of a defunct brand -- Rockports -- a crisp, white cotton shirt, and a medium-weight navy jacket should service him in any number of locales in late May, U.S.A. His recreated Para-ordnance semi-automatic lay snugly in a synthetic leather shoulder holster. Extra clips rested on a cross-strap. In a small "fanny pack," he carried additional ammunition, the small homing device needed to notify Tempus upon completion of his mission, and a quickly cobbled-together directional tracker based on Reeves's displacement signal. The latter would -- Hanson had assured him -- aid in narrowing down the search area as he stalked his prey.

His own well-worn, tan wallet -- carefully screened for anachronistic inclusions -- carried two-thousand current dollars in cash, a federal carry permit for his weapon, assorted pictures of friends and relatives (some fictitious), an automobile driver's license, and a special credit card -- a "gold Visa" -- that would tap into any credit files and establish an unimpeachable credit record for him. Luckily, a national identification card for work and travel would not be established for another thirty years. His mobility should not be hampered by any current laws regulating the citizenry. The separate badge ID declaring his status as a Special Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation should provide him the leeway to wiggle his way from any uncomfortable situations.

In his right pants pocket, a four-inch lock-blade folding knife with a partially serrated edge provided emergency back-up. He had agreed with Hanson that a secondary revolver would merely complicate an already wobbly situation.

Checking his digital computer watch, he noted the time. 4:47. At least Tempus had established Reeves's location in the southeast corner of Georgia, near the small town of Brunswick. That meant Eastern Daylight Time. His quarry had nearly a five hour start on him.

Casting about in the darkness, Rick tried to recall the general area around Brunswick. An airport. Someone had gotten a very early start on his day's business, Rick thought idly. As a lone car cruised by on some odd errand or other, the time traveler started to walk. Less suspicious to be moving.

The area around him appeared too built up to match the site of the Brunswick airport. The broad beam of light sweeping the dark sky ahead and to his left provided him the clue to drop the pieces into place. A lighthouse. The closest lighthouse to Brunswick he could remember rested on the southern shore of Saint Simons Island. A long walk to the southwest should bring him to the area known as "the Village." Tourist oriented shops and restaurants there should provide him a starting point to begin his efforts.

Buttoning his jacket against the predawn chill, he continued a brisk pace as he followed the sidewalk paralleling the airport. Quickly checking the read-out of his tracking device confirmed that Dr. Scanlon Reeves remained somewhere within five miles of the airport. A digital read-out provided a measure of the signal strength and thus an indirect indicator of the fugitive's distance. Theoretically, the glowing red numerals would be at one-hundred percent at Reeves's exact coordinates and would gradually taper to zero at a range of five miles. Dr. Vernon had warned Rick, however, that given the impromptu nature of the device, he could reasonably expect a ten-percent margin-of-error in actual field usage.

Close enough, Rick thought wryly. The digits fluctuated around "fifty." Whether any variance there could be attributed to his movement, to Reeves's, or to built-in inaccuracy in the device, he could not say.

In any event, he had approximately nineteen hours before both hunted and hunter would flip to another area of the country.

Being on an island helped. Natural boundaries should limit Reeves's movements.

After some false turns -- a testament to his less-than-perfect sense of direction -- Rick found himself strolling past a line of darkened shops leading towards a pier jutting out into a stretch of water. Benches lined a walkway, now devoid of pedestrians. "Neptune Park" sported a variety of wooden jungle gyms, swings, and other paraphernalia designed to occupy hyperactive children while their vacation-worn parents soaked up the healing rays of Georgia sunshine. A large community center with a public library -- a possibly valuable resource, he thought -- stretched behind him.

As he stepped out onto the T-shaped pier, he felt the breeze quicken and tug at his hair. Farther out in the water, net-festooned shrimping boats tugged towards the rising sun as it swelled above the distant horizon like some reddish-orange blob of barely contained fire. Multi-colored streaks of flame infused wispy lines of morning clouds with a rich brilliance rarely witnessed in his native Baltimore, in this era not yet a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Crossing deliberately to the edge of the pier nearest the brightening sunrise, Rick rechecked his tracker. Still flickering near fifty. Perhaps the displaced murderer he sought slept somewhere, cozy and warm in the guiltless slumber of a conscience-less maniac.

Rick yawned. Sleep. His whirlwind briefing and hastily intense preparations had left him precious little time for more than fitful naps on uncomfortable couches. Too nervous to eat before his departure, his rumbling stomach reminded him that even the iron Special Agent must attend to basic bodily needs if he entertained any hope of succeeding in this outlandish enterprise.

Resting his forearms on the pier railing, he dropped his head wearily onto his hands. In less than a week, he had to catch Reeves and kill him. Sounded simple enough. Yet even if he had attempted such a task in his own time, any scampering prey possessed certain inherent advantages over a hungry predator. A thousand directions in which to run; a million holes in which to hide. The only constraints a quarry faced were his own imagination and financial resources. In this instance, throw in the wild card of nightly displacements and a lack of any formal support from this era's law enforcement agencies. The more he pondered the enormity of this project, the more Rick struggled to suppress the tendrils of self-doubt wispily encircling him.

Abruptly, he jerked up his head, amazed and chagrined that he had dozed. Only for a minute or two, true, but still... Scrubbing at his face, he turned and retraced his steps. A light breakfast heavy with a caffeine chaser offered him an enticing alternative to shivering here in the heightening wind.

The full force of the breeze abated as he retreated towards the park. Squawking birds clamored for his attention, but he ignored their panhandling. With his shadow stretching to his left, he made his way into the village. Wandering down a side street, he stumbled upon a small restaurant open and already welcoming customers into its narrow coziness.

MJ's Coffeehouse exuded warmth as Rick pulled open the door. A quick scan of the well lit interior revealed five customers seated at tables covered with blue-and-white checked cloths. A young man and his female companion, two older, retired (?) men, and an older woman chatted quietly or read a morning newspaper (a newspaper! Rick noted with amazement. How long since news had come in paper form?) while eating from plates steaming with eggs, pancakes, or potatoes.

The single woman glanced up briefly, grim-faced, then returned to the story otherwise occupying her attention. The smile on Rick's lips died aborning. Selecting a table in a far corner facing the door, he slid onto the well-worn wooden seat. Moments later, a cheery voice greeted him. Despite himself, he jerked slightly at the unexpected salutation.

"How ya-all doin'?" A woman in her thirties stood next to him, a rectangular pad of paper held in one hand, a short stub of an orange-yellow pencil poised in the other.

"Um..." Rick smiled inanely. "Hi. I'm doing fine, thanks. How are you?"

A puzzled expression flickered over the waitress's reasonably attractive features. Absently, she brushed aside a dangling wisp of hair from her pale blue eyes. "Just great. What can I get you? Or do you need some time to decide?"

"I, uh..." Searching for a menu on his table, Rick stumbled for the proper procedure to follow. "I'm not sure, I..." Getting a strangle-hold on his nerves, he cleared his throat as well as his thoughts. "Menu?"

The woman -- whose name tag read "Melinda" -- inclined her head towards the front counter. Sliding his gaze in that direction, Rick saw a blackboard hung near the ceiling. Hand-lettered in rainbow shades of colored chalk, an eclectic listing of main dishes, appetizers, drinks, and desserts stood ready for perusal.

"Can you bring me some hot tea while I decide?" he asked in a rush.

Melinda raised a brow. "Sure. Want lemon with that?"

Did he? "Sure." Acquiescence seemed easier.

"I'll be right back."

Watching Melinda saunter towards the counter, Rick cursed himself. Too many hours awake had robbed him of his normally cool professionalism. Murderers, rapists, and terrorists had all presented him dangerous challenges in the past (future?). So why did he feel so rattled ordering a simple breakfast?

When the waitress delivered a small, silvery pot of steaming water along with an empty cup and a chipped saucer holding a white tea bag, Rick had his answer. Even with extensive research, he could all too easily violate a local norm and thereby proclaim his status as an outsider. Any faux pas might reveal just how big a fraud he really was. Reaching for his wallet, he thumbed through the bills hidden there. "How much do I...?"

Melinda laughed, either in pity or derision. "Pay me when you're done eating," she said. Sympathy -- and curiosity -- apparently won out over patronizing superiority. "Pardon me for asking, but you're not from around here, are you?"

"No." A short, masterful example of understatement.

A knowing nod from Melinda announced her judgment vindicated. "I thought so. Your accent. I can't quite place it. And believe me, down here, I've heard them all."

Accent? I have an accent? "Up north. Baltimore."

"Huh. Different," she commented, still not totally mollified. With an abrupt sea-change, she said, "Decide what you want?"

Rapidly considering his choices, Rick said, "A ham and cheese omelette, hash browns. A cinnamon roll."

"Hungry, huh?"

I suppose I am, at that. With a shrug, Rick reached for the miniature pot.

As he let his tea steep, he watched as other customers drifted in. By the time his breakfast came, the coffeehouse had filled. A small line of patient customers queued near the door, each person quietly awaiting his or her turn to refuel.

The food proved surprisingly delicious. Despite the provincial nature of this time period, meal preparation obviously did not suffer. Savoring each bite of the homemade cinnamon roll, its white frosting still dripping down the sides of the warm bread, Rick finished his meal.

Having clandestinely observed the pattern of the earlier customers, he waited for Melinda to bring him his check. The eight-dollar-and-seventy-two-cent bill seemed ridiculously low until he did the math and refigured in the two-hundred-plus-percent inflation that had ravaged (would ravage. Damn! The language had yet to adapt adequately to handle time travel.) the country's economy over the next two centuries. Not so inexpensive, after all, perhaps.

Leaving a ten-dollar bill -- the smallest denomination he had -- for a tip, he paid a teenaged boy at the electronic cash register then squeezed out into the mounting warmth of morning.

He understood physical monetary bills, of course -- such money still had its clandestine and peripheral uses even in his society -- but personal identification cards fulfilled most financial functions in his future. Containing a complete and updatable demographic, medical, and financial history of the holder, such cards provided the passport to daily life. Without a PIC, one could not exist as a normal human being. Only minor purchases, irregular jobs, and insignificant medical care could be had without that ubiquitous piece of hardened plastic. Someone in the Legislative had seriously suggested substituting coded tattoos to prevent counterfeiting or loss. Thankfully that elderly "statesman" had withdrawn his proposal when someone delicately pointed out to him that such a static form of ID would present certain technical difficulties whenever an individual's data needed to be altered.

Unzipping his pack, Rick extracted and turned on the directional finder. At sight of the double-zeroes glowing accusingly there, he stopped with the suddenness of a pole-axed steer. Gone. Reeves was gone. While the "Special" Agent had leisurely consumed his meal, the scientist had been on the move, perhaps even off the island.

What to do now?

Sickened by his laxity, Rick slowly put away the useless tracker. Should he get an automobile? Drive around the island? Head out for the mainland? Surely the murderer would not wander far. Not when he knew he would flip at the end of the day.

In the distance, sirens wailed, waxing and waning towards the shoreline.

Burying his disappointment in both circumstances and himself, Rick clamped down on his jaws. He could whine or he could act. No one here would -- or could -- rescue him from his silly blunder. He had learned a good lesson, one better understood sooner rather than later: for the next week, he could not relax, not dawdle, not pretend the future did not depend upon him for its salvation. Eat on the run. Sleep as little as possible. Constantly be on the move. Only those choices would afford him even the slimmest of opportunities to complete what had been so badly begun.

Effective transportation had to be his first priority. On foot, only blind luck would lead him to Reeves.

An open phone booth provided him with the name of an automobile rental agency and a map of early Twenty-first century Saint Simons Island. The maps he had studied in the future showed a landscape crammed with buildings, tourist attractions, and people. Here and now, vast open areas of undeveloped land yet existed. More to his advantage. One such as Reeves would never seek out uninhabited areas. His inclination would be to mingle among potential victims, maybe to hide, more likely to enjoy the scent and presence of such a wealth of naive and unsuspecting fodder.

An hour more passed by the time Rick managed to locate the Hertz agency -- oddly, not too distant from his original appearance near the McKinnon airport -- complete the paperwork, have his "credit card" verified, and slip behind the wheel of the white Toyota Camry sporting its peach-adorned license plates.

The saleswoman -- Cindy Beckett -- leaned on the window sill as Rick familiarized himself with the workings of this antique. While ownership of private transport was strictly limited in his world, given the nature of his occupation, he had driven his era's electrically powered vehicles quite frequently. Of course, with a top speed of fifty-miles-per-hour, those futuristic versions of this gas-guzzler came off as woefully inadequate and boring affairs.

As Cindy explained the intricacies of the Camry's stereo system, a paunchy man in an ill-fitting green suit scurried from the office area in an ungraceful and undignified hurry.

"Cindy! Cindy!" the man barked out.

Annoyed, Cindy drew her brows together and stood to face her co-worker. "What is it, Hank?" she asked with strained politeness.

"I just heard it on the radio," he said in a breathless rush.

"Heard what?" she snapped, crossing her arms over her tailored pink blouse.

A queasy certainty washed over Rick as he studied the flushed features of this distraught salesman.

"The radio. Your...your in-laws." The whites circling Hank's brown eyes imparted the man an aura of a deer facing down a slathering mountain lion.

"My in-laws? What about them?" she asked, lowering her arms in mild alarm.

"They..." Hank swallowed. "They just found them. Dead."

"Dead?" Cindy's otherwise pleasant voice squeaked into a higher register as the import of Hank's words penetrated. "What? How...?"

Tears leaked down Hank's chubby cheeks. "Murdered. Someone killed them."

Barely conscious of the impulse driving him, Rick opened the door and leaped from his car in an instant. Catching Cindy as her knees buckled, he lowered her to the warm concrete of the parking lot.

Her pasty white features testified to the shock gripping her. "George. Ida. Murdered."

Scowling, Rick locked his gaze with Hank's wandering eyes. "You! Hank! Help me get her inside. Now."

As though grateful for some outside direction, the salesman nodded and grabbed Cindy's right arm in mirror of Rick's own grip. Together they got the distraught woman inside the office and stretched out on a leather couch in the reception area.

As two secretaries moved in to relieve the men of their burden, Rick pulled Hank to one side and dug clawed fingers into the thick flesh of the salesman's biceps. "Where do her in-laws live?"

Hank blinked at the odd question. "What?"

Savagely, Rick shook the dazed stranger. "Where do they live, damn it! Her in-laws."

Waving vaguely, Hank said, "I don't know. Over by the King and Prince somewhere. I don't know the exact addre--"

Rick wasted no time seeking additional information. Running to his rental, he kicked it into gear and headed shakily out into the street. Similar vehicles, yes, a distracted part of him observed, but not identical. A glance at his map directed him towards the beach area.

Following the curving road and the steadily increasing traffic flow, Rick surmised others besides him sought the vicarious thrill that only a fresh crime scene could provide...though his motives veered sharply from those of these idle on-lookers.

A half-dozen police vehicles, their red-and-whites still flashing, blocked entrance to the narrow street where the murders had occurred. The perimeter of a corner lot on which sat an innocent looking white-sided house had been strung with yellow police ribbon, warning off those bolder civilians who would gain a closer glimpse of the titillating and the verboten.

No matter what the century, some things never changed.

Parking his car half a block away, Rick trotted towards the police cars acting as an impromptu barrier. Stony-faced officers scanned the crowd as though any minute the spectators might make a concerted rush for the house. A quick, quiet analysis of the situation decided Rick.

With the projected confidence and self-assurance of someone long accustomed to gruesome sights, he dug out his phony FBI badge and ID and pushed his way through the mingling throng. He would soon see just how competent the historical recreation division at Tempus truly was.

A young policeman held up a hand. "Hold on there, mister," he said sternly. "There's a police investigation going on here."

Barely pausing, Rick snapped open his ID and shoved in the startled officer's face. "Special Agent Rick Beckman. FBI. I need to get in there, now."

The officer's eyes widened at the federal badge. "I, uh, I..." He glanced towards the house where other officers milled about. Spotting a sergeant, he breathed a sigh of relief. "You'll have to discuss that with Sergeant Jenner. He's in charge here."

Nodding curtly, Rick crossed the flimsy yellow line of plastic and marched towards the slightly paunchy, gray-haired sergeant. At Rick's approach, Jenner looked up in surprise and annoyance from his conversation with a woman carrying a medical bag.

Before the officer could voice the objection forming on his lips, Rick showed him his identification and explained who he was.

"FBI...?" Briefly turning away, Jenner uttered a not-so-sotto-voce curse. "Goddamned feds. Sticking their..." Pressing his lips down on the expletive, Jenner frowned. "What the hell are you doing here? This is out of your jurisdiction. Or have the feds made murder a federal crime, too?" he asked, sneering.

Abruptly realizing that his usual aggressive approach at crime scenes would serve only to antagonize this man whose territory and authority he invaded, Rick let his features relax a fraction as he slipped the ID wallet back into a pocket. "Sorry to intrude on your work, Sergeant Jenner," he said apologetically. "I realize you're quite busy. I simply wanted permission to examine the area and perhaps ask a few questions."

With his ruffled feathers slightly smoothed, Jenner pursed his lips. "What's your interest here, Beckman? The Hallahans' neighbors phoned in the 911 less than an hour ago. How'd you hear about it so soon?"

911? Oh, yes. A universal signal here for emergencies.

"The bureau's been tracking a serial killer we recently learned might be in this area. If the modus operandi here is similar to past incidents, that may put us on his trail."

Jenner's scowl darkened. "Jesus Christ on a stick. A serial killer? Thanks so much for keeping our department informed," he snarled.

Each passing moment scraped at Rick's patience. "We didn't want to alarm anyone needlessly, Sergeant."

Jenner jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the house. "Well, there's two people in there who sure as well would have appreciated a little 'needless alarm.' Those people were friends of mine, Beckman. I don't appreciate being kept in the dark."

Swallowing his irritation, Rick sought to empathize with this small-town policeman. "I'm sorry, Sergeant. If the Bureau -- if I -- made a mistake in not informing you sooner of our investigation, I sincerely and truly apologize. If I could somehow undo what happened here, believe me, I would. But I can't. So help me catch this maniac. Don't give him an opportunity to repeat this obscenity. Let me poke about and I'll be gone in a few minutes."

Sergeant Jenner appeared ready to refuse the request on general principles, so Rick added, "I'll make certain your department is provided full details of whatever we discover." Rather than add more and perhaps upset the precariously balanced cart, he clamped down on any further assurances.

Another policeman holding a clipboard approached the sergeant. Sliding his gaze between this new factor and the contrite Special Agent, Jenner waved the detective ahead. "Go on. Get what you need. Just stay out of the way of our investigators."

Not waiting for another change of heart, Rick waved his thanks and hurried into what had until so recently been a quiet and comfortable retirement bungalow.

The paramedics were just beginning to prepare the bodies for transport when Rick poked his head through the doorway. A local cop supervised the activities of the ambulance crew. Glancing up at this new face, he asked no questions, apparently assuming that anyone making it past the sergeant had the proper clearance.

"Hello, Officer," Rick said. "Rick Beckman. FBI." Extending an arm, he shook the startled man's hand.

"Sam Charles." Sam squinted. "FBI, huh? What're you doing here?"

"A follow-up on a case." With an almost bored familiarity, he observed the paramedics sliding the female corpse into the black plastic bag. "How were they killed?"

"Double shots to the head." He pointed towards a torn pillow laying on the dresser. "The killer apparently used that as a silencer."

"Anything missing?" Rick swept a critical eye around the room. Nothing else seemed disturbed.

"Their car. A late model Ford LTD sedan. Maybe some clothes." Sam indicated a large plastic bag containing what appeared to be rather soiled shirt and pants. "Seems he helped himself to Mr. Hallahan's closet. At least that provides some boundaries on the suspect's size."

"No obvious motive."

Sam took Rick's statement as a question. "None we can tell, anyhow. Plain, stone cold-blooded murder." He shook his head at the disgusting wonder of it all. "Hell, he didn't need to kill them in their sleep just to steal their car."

"Any reports spotting the vehicle?"

Sam snorted. "Jesus, mister. Just how dumb do you Washington boys think we are, anyway? Think I'd be here twiddling my toby with you if I knew where that bastard was?"

Rick thought it better to take that as a rhetorical question. "Um. Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your help." As he started to leave, Sam called out to him.

"You know who this guy is?"

Inhaling a deep breath, Rick said, "I'm not sure. Too little evidence to go on here."

"We can let you know what the prints show, if you like."

"Thanks. I'll be in touch."

To avoid another bristling encounter with Sergeant Jenner, Rick detoured around the home. Nothing there proved any more enlightening. No direct evidence linked this crime to Dr. Scanlon Reeves. The senselessness of the action, however, combined with Rick's knowledge of the murderer's presence on St. Simons earlier that morning prodded him to assume that more than coincidence operated in this instance.

Sweat beaded Rick's face and dampened his armpits as he entered his rental car. When he had left Tempus -- had it really only been hours before? -- late spring weather had offered a pleasant change from a particularly frigid winter. Here in the deep South, however, spring warmth and humidity brought summer more to mind.

Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, Rick admitted how helpless he felt facing such a bizarre set of conditions. Tempus had selected him for his expertise, yet who could be proclaimed an expert in bringing a criminal two-hundred years dead to justice?

Find Reeves. Kill him. Save the future. Return.

Such an elegantly concise assignment. The devilish details of transforming that outline into a reality, however...

Starting the Camry, Rick performed an awkward U-turn. The tracker he placed on the passenger seat still mocked him with its double-zeroes. For Reeves, the Hallahans had been nothing more than a convenient means to his prosaic end of obtaining transportation off the island. That, and perhaps an anonymous source of momentary power and personal pleasure. A diversion. For Rick, those unfortunate victims of his era's criminal justice policies represented an unforgivable lapse in his own judgment and integrity.

As he passed the rows of expensive houses lining King's Way, the palm and magnolia trees, the azalea and rhododendron blossoms, the marshy land bordering the intercoastal waterway, all added an overlay of deceptive peace to a landscape anything but safe and secure. The political leaders of his time, the officials at Tempus, and sociopaths such as Reeves made certain of that.

Whatever he could do to end that discordant madness, Rick vowed to do. He doubted the Hallahans were the first to run afoul of Scanlon Reeves and pay with their lives. He could only believe they would not be the last...

...unless he got to Reeves first.

As the sun behind him rose towards the zenith, Rick reached Interstate 95 and turned south towards Jacksonville, Florida, the nearest large city where a monster might lurk amidst the crowded byways. Before midnight, he had a lot of miles to cover.

Time was running out. For all of them.

###

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