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Laura had expected to see an examination table and equipment that had been in use and well maintained for thirty-odd years, a homely den of medicine straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, but everything looked new. There was even an EKG machine, and at the far end of the room was a door with a sign that warned X-RAY: KEEP CLOSED IN USE.

“You have X-ray equipment here?” she asked.

“Sure. It's not as expensive as it once was. Every clinic has X-ray equipment these days.”

“Every clinic, yes, but this is just a one-man-”

“I may look like Barry Fitzgerald playing at being a doctor in an old movie, and I may prefer the old-fashioned convenience of an office in my home, but I don't give patients outdated care just to be quaint. I dare say, I'm a more serious physician than you are a desperado.”

“Don't bet on that,” she said harshly, though she was getting tired of pretending to be cold-blooded.

“Don't worry,” he said. “I'll play along. Seems like it'll be more fun if I do.” To Chris, he said, “When we came through my office, did you notice a big, red-ceramic jar on the desk? It's full of orange-slice candies and Tootsie Pops if you want some.”

“Wow, thanks!” Chris said. “Uh . . . can I have a piece, Mom?”

“A piece or two,” she said, “but don't make yourself sick.”

Brenkshaw said, “When it comes to giving sweet treats to young patients, I'm old-fashioned, I guess. No sugar-free gum here. What the hell fun is that stuff? Tastes like plastic. If their teeth rot out after they visit me, that's their dentists' problem.”

While he talked, he got a folding wheelchair from the corner, unfolded it, and rolled it to the middle of the room.

Laura said, "Honey, you stay here while we go out to the


“Okay,” Chris said from the next room, where he was peering into the red-ceramic jar, selecting his treat.

“Your Jeep in the driveway?” Brenkshaw asked. “Then let's go out the back. Less conspicuous, I think.”

Pointing the revolver at the physician but feeling foolish, Laura followed him out of a side door in the examination room, which opened onto a ramp, so there was no need to descend stairs.

“Handicapped entrance,” Brenkshaw said quietly over his shoulder as he pushed the wheelchair along a walk toward the back of the house. His bedroom slippers made a crisp sound on the concrete.

The physician had a large property, so the neighboring house did not loom over them. Instead of being planted with alders as was the front lawn, the side yard was graced with ficus and pines, which were green all year. In spite of the screening branches and the darkness, however, Laura could see the blank windows of the neighboring place, so she supposed that she could be seen, as well, if anyone looked.

The world had the hushed quality that it possessed only between midnight and dawn. Even if she had not known it was going on two in the morning, she would have been able to guess the time within half an hour. Though faint city noises echoed in the distance, there was a cemeterial stillness that would have made her feel like a woman on a secret mission even if she had only been taking out the garbage.

The walk led around the house, crossing another walk that extended to the back of the property. They went past the rear porch, through an areaway between house and garage, into the driveway.

Brenkshaw halted at the back of the Jeep and chuckled. “Mud on the license plates,” he whispered. “Convincing touch.”

After she put the tailgate down, he got into the back of the Jeep to have a look at the wounded man.

She looked out toward the street. All was silent. Still.

But if a San Bernardino Police cruiser happened to drive by now on a routine patrol, the officer would surely stop to see what was up at kindly old Doc Brenkshaw's place. . . .

Brenkshaw was already crawling out of the Jeep. “By God, you do have a wounded man in there.”

“Why the hell do you keep being surprised? Would I pull this kind of stunt for laughs?”

“Let's get him inside. Quickly,” Brenkshaw said.

He could not handle her guardian by himself. In order to help him, Laura had to stick the .38 in the waistband of her jeans.

Brenkshaw made no attempt to run or to knock her down and get the weapon away from her. Instead, as soon as he had the wounded man in the wheelchair, he rolled him out of the drive, through the areaway, and around the house to the handicapped entrance at the far side.

She grabbed one of the Uzis from the front seat and followed Brenkshaw. She didn't think she'd have any use for the automatic carbine, but she felt better with it in her hands.

Fifteen minutes later, Brenkshaw turned from the developed X-rays that hung on a lightboard in a corner of his examination room. “The bullet didn't fragment, made a clean exit. Didn't nick any bones, so we don't have chips to worry about.”

“Terrific,” Chris said from a corner chair, happily sucking on a Tootsie Pop. In spite of the warm air in the house, Chris was still wearing his jacket, as was Laura, because she wanted them to be ready to get out on short notice.

“Is he in a coma or what?” Laura asked the doctor.

“Yes, he's comatose. Not from any fever associated with a bad infection of the wound. Too early for that. And now that he's gotten treatment, there probably won't be an infection. It's traumatic coma from being shot, the loss of blood, the shock and all. He shouldn't have been moved, you know.”

“I had no choice. Will he come out of it?”

“Probably. In this case a coma is the body's way of shutting down to conserve energy, facilitate healing. He's not lost as much blood as it appears; he's got a good pulse, so this probably won't last long. When you see his shirt and lab coat soaked like that, you think he's bled quarts, but he hasn't. Not that it was a spoonful, either. He's had a bad time of it. But no major blood vessels were torn, or he'd be in worse shape. Still, he should be in a hospital.”

“We've already been through that,” Laura said impatiently. “We can't go to a hospital.”

“What bank did you rob?” the physician asked teasingly, but with noticeably less twinkle in his eyes than there had been when he had made his other little jokes.

While he waited for the pictures to develop, he had cleaned the wound, flooded it with iodine, dusted it with antibiotic powder, and prepared a bandage. Now he got a needle, another implement she could not identify, and heavy thread from a cabinet and put them on a stainless-steel tray that he had hung on the side of the examination table. The wounded man lay there, unconscious, propped on his right side with the help of several foam pillows.

“What're you doing?” Laura asked.

“Those holes are fairly large, especially the exit wound. If you insist on endangering his life by keeping him out of a hospital, then the least I can do is throw a few stitches in him.”

“Well, all right, but be quick about it.”

“You expect G-men to break down the door any minute?”

“Worse than that,” she said. “Far worse than that.”

Since they had arrived at Brenkshaw's, she had been expecting a sudden, night-shattering display of lightning, thunder like the giant hooves of apocalyptic horsemen, and the arrival of more well-armed time travelers. Fifteen minutes ago, as the doctor had been X-raying her guardian's chest, she'd thought she heard thunder so distant that it was barely audible. She hurried to the nearest window to search the sky for far-off lightning, but she saw none through the breaks in the trees, perhaps because the sky over San Bernardino already had a ruddy glow from city lights or perhaps because she had not heard thunder in the first place. She had finally decided that she might have heard a jet passing overhead and, in her panic, had misinterpreted it as a more distant sound.

Brenkshaw stitched up his patient, snipped the thread-“sutures will dissolve”-and bound the bandages in place with wide adhesive tape that he repeatedly wound around the guardian's chest and back.

The air had a pungent, medicinal smell that made Laura slightly but it did not bother Chris. He sat in the corner, happily working on another Tootsie Pop.

While waiting for the X-rays, Brenkshaw also had administered an injection of penicillin. Now he went to the tall, white, metal cabinets along the far wall and poured capsules from a large jar into a pill bottle, then from another large jar into a second small bottle. “I keep some basic drugs here, sell them to poorer patients at cost so they don't have to go broke at the pharmacy.”

“What're these?” Laura asked when he returned to the examination table, where she stood, and gave her the two small plastic

“More penicillin in this one. Three a day, with meals - if he can take meals. I think he'll come around soon. If he doesn't he'll begin to dehydrate, and he'll need intravenous fluid. Can't give him liquid by mouth when he's in a coma - he'd choke. This other is a painkiller. Only when needed, and no more than two a day.”

“Give me more of these. In fact give me your whole supply.” She pointed to two quart jars that contained hundreds of both capsules.

“He won't need that much of either one. He - ”

“No, I'm sure he won't,” she said, “but I don't know what the hell other problems we're going to have. We may need both penicillin and painkillers for me - or my boy.”

Brenkshaw stared at her for a long moment. “What in the name of God have you gotten into? It's like something in one of your books.”

“Just give me - ” Laura stopped, stunned by what he had said. “Like something in one of my books? In one of my books! Oh, my God, you know who I am.”

“Of course. I've known almost from the moment I saw you on the porch. I read thrillers, as I said, and although your books aren't strictly in that genre, they're very suspenseful, so I read them, too, and your photograph's on the back of the jacket. Believe me, Ms. Shane, no man would forget your face once he'd seen it, even if he'd seen it only in pictures and even if he was an old crock like me.”

“But why didn't you say - ”

“At first I thought it was a joke. After all, the melodramatic way you appeared on my doorstep in the dead of night, the gun, the corny, hard-boiled dialogue ... it all seemed like a gag. Believe me, I have certain friends who might think of such an elaborate hoax and, if they knew you, might be able to persuade you to join in the fun.”

Pointing to her guardian, she said, “But when you saw him-”

“Then I knew it was no joke,” the physician said.

Hurrying to his mother's side, Chris pulled the Tootsie Pop from his mouth. “Mom, if he tells on us . . .”

Laura had drawn the .38 from her waistband. She began to raise it, then lowered her hand as she realized the gun no longer had any power to intimidate Brenkshaw; in fact it had never frightened him. For one thing she now realized he was not the kind of man who could be intimidated, and for another thing she could not convincingly portray a lawless, dangerous woman when he knew who she really was.

On the examination table her guardian groaned and tried to shift in his unnatural sleep, but Brenkshaw put a hand upon his chest and stilled him.

“Listen, Doctor, if you tell anyone what happened here tonight, if you can't keep my visit a secret for the rest of your life, it'll be the death of me and my boy.”

“Of course the law requires a physician to report any gunshot wounds he treats.”

“But this is a special case,” Laura said urgently. “I'm not on the run from the law, Doctor.”

“Who are you running from?”

“In a sense . . . from the same men who killed my husband, Chris's father.”

He looked surprised and pained. “Your husband was killed?”

“You must've read about it in the papers,” she said bitterly. “It made a sensational story there for a while, the kind of thing the press loves.”

“I'm afraid I don't read newspapers or watch television news,” Brenkshaw said. “It's all fires, accidents, and crazed terrorists. They don't report real news, just blood and tragedy and politics. I'm sorry about your husband. And if these people who killed him, whoever they are, want to kill you now, you should go straight to the police.”

Laura liked this man and thought they shared more views and sympathies than not. He seemed reasonable, kind. Yet she had little hope of persuading Brenkshaw to keep his mouth shut. "The police can't protect me, Doctor. No one can protect me except me-and maybe the man whose wounds you just sewed up. These people who're after us ... they're relentless, implacable, and they're

He shook his head. “No one is beyond the law.”

“They are, Doctor. It'd take me an hour to explain to you why they are. and then you probably wouldn't believe me. But I beg of you, unless you want our deaths on your conscience, keep your mouth shut about our being here. Not just for a few days but forever.”

“Well ...”

Studying him, she knew it was no use. She remembered what he had told her in the foyer earlier, when she had warned him not to lie about the presence of other people in the house: He did not lie. he said, because always telling the truth made life simpler; telling the truth was a lifelong habit. Hardly forty-five minutes later, she knew him well enough to believe that he was indeed an unusually truthful f man. Even now, as she begged him to keep their visit secret, he was I not able to tell the lie that would placate her and get her out of his office. He stared at her guiltily and could not tease the falsehood from his tongue. He would do his duty when she left; he would file a police report. The cops would look for her at her house near Big Bear, where they would discover the blood if not the bodies of the time travelers, and where they would find hundreds of expended bullets, shattered windows, slug-pocked walls. By tomorrow or the next day the story would be splashed across the newspapers. . . .

The airliner that had flown overhead more than half an hour ago might not have been a passing jet, after all. It might well have been what she had first thought it was-very distant thunder, fifteen or twenty miles away.

More thunder on a night without rain.

“Doctor, help me get him dressed,” she said, indicating her guardian on the table beside them. “Do at least that much for me, since you're going to betray me later.”

He winced visibly at the word betray.

Earlier she'd sent Chris upstairs to get one each of Brenkshaw's shirts, sweaters, jackets, slacks, a pair of his socks, and shoes. The physician was not as muscular and trim as her guardian, but they were approximately the same size.