"Yeah," the boy said, "I want to see them. They thought they trapped us, but it was the other way around." He looked at Meg. "As long as we've got each other, we can get out of any scrape, huh?"

"Bet on it," she said.

Parnell scooped up the weary boy in his arms to carry him to the barn.

As the raw wind nipped at Meg, she jammed her hands into her, coat pockets. She was relieved. At least for the moment, not all of the burden was hers.

Looking over his shoulder, Tommy said, "You and me, Mom."

"Bet on it," she repeated. And she smiled. She felt as if the door, to a cage, of which she'd been only dimly aware, had opened now, giving them access to a new freedom.



I WAS SLEEPING OFF HALF A BOTTLE OF GOOD SCOTCH AND A BLONDE named Sylvia, who hadn't been so bad herself. But no one can sneak up on me, no matter how bushed I am. You have to be a light sleeper to last long in this business. I heard the thump near the foot of my bed, and I was reaching under the pillow for my Colt .38 in the next instant.

If I hadn't been out celebrating the successful conclusion of a case, the blinds and drapes wouldn't have been drawn. But I had been, and they were, so I didn't see anything.

I thought I heard footsteps in the hallway to the living room, but I couldn't be sure. I slid out of bed, stared intently around the room. Brown gloom, no intruder. I padded into the hall, looked both ways. No one.

In the front room, I distinctly heard the rod of the police-special lock pull out of its floor groove. The door opened, closed, and footsteps pounded in the outside hall, then down the apartment-house steps.

I ran into the living room and almost into the corridor before I remembered I was in my skivvies. It's not a building where anyone would care—or maybe even notice—a guy in his briefs, but I like to think I have higher standards than some of the weird creeps I call neighbors.

Turning on the lights, I saw that the police lock had been disengaged. I slid the bolt back in place.

I carefully searched the apartment from the john to the linen closet. There weren't any bombs or other dirty work, at least as far as I could see. I checked the bedroom twice, since that was where I first heard him, but it was clean.

I brewed some coffee. The first sip was so bad that I poured half the mug in the sink, wondering if the old plumbing could take it, and then laced what was left with some good brandy. Better. My kind of breakfast.

So there I stood in my shorts on the cold kitchen floor, warming my gut with liquor and wondering who had broken in and why.

Then I had a bad thought. When the intruder left, he'd pulled the rod of the special lock out of its nest in the floor. Which meant he'd entered the apartment through a window or that, when he'd first come through the door, he had replaced the police rod. The last idea was stupid. No dude is going to make it hard for himself to get out if the job goes sour.

I went around checking all the windows. They were locked as always. I even checked the bathroom window, though it has no lock, is barred, and is set in a blank wall eight floors above the street. No one had come in any of the windows.

I slapped my head a few times, as if I might knock some smarts into myself and figure this out. No smarter, I decided to take a shower and get on with the day.

It must have been hallucinations. I'd never had what the two-hundred-dollar-an-hour shrinks call postcoital depression. Maybe this was what it was supposed to be like. After all, no one walks into your apartment after achieving the near impossible of silently throwing a police lock, then sneaks into your bedroom, just to look you over and leave. And none of my enemies would send a killer who would chicken out after he got that far.

I finished the shower at four-thirty and did my exercises until five. Then I showered again—cold, this time—toweled hard enough to raise blisters, combed my mop into a semblance of order, and dressed.

By five-thirty, I was sliding into a booth down at the Ace-Spot, and Dorothy, the waitress, was plopping a Scotch and water in front of me before the smell of the place was properly in my nose.

"What'll it be, Jake?" she asked. She has a voice like glass dropped into a porcelain basin.

I ordered steak and eggs with a double helping of french fries, then topped it off with a question: "Anybody been asking around about me, Dory?"

She wrote half the question down on the order pad before she realized that I had stopped ordering. Dory was supposed to have been a fine-looking street girl in her day, but no one ever said she had many smarts.

"Not me," she said. "I'll ask Benny."

Benny was the bartender. He was smarter than Dory. Some days, he was capable of winning a debate with a carrot.

I don't know why I tend to hang around with so many chumps, saps, and blockheads. Maybe it makes me feel superior. A guy who's dumb enough to be trying to make a living as an old-fashioned shamus in the late twentieth century, in the age of computers and space-age eavesdropping equipment and drug thugs who'd kill their grandmothers for a nickel—hell, he needs some reason to feel good about himself.

When Dory came back, she brought a negative from Benny, plus the food. I took it down in large bites, thinking about the stranger who had walked through the wall into my bedroom.

After two more big Scotches, I went home to look the place over again.

Just as I reached my apartment door and thrust the key toward the lock, this dude opened it from the inside and started coming out.

"Hold it right there, creepo," I said, leveling my .38 on his big belly. I pushed him back into the living room, closed the door behind us, and turned on the light.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"What do I want? Look, buster, these are my digs, see? I live here. And the last time I looked, you didn't."

He was dressed like something out of a Bogart film, and I might have laughed except that I was angry enough to chew up a little bunny rabbit and spit out good-luck charms. He had a huge hat pulled down over half his face. The overcoat might have been tailored for Siamese twins. It hung to his knees, and after that there were wide, sloppy trousers and big—I mean BIG—stuffy tennis shoes. The tennis shoes didn't fit Bogart, but the air of mystery was there.

For size, this guy reminded me of that actor from the old movies, Sidney Greenstreet, though with a serious gland condition.

"I don't want to harm you," he said. His voice was about a thousand registers below Dory's, but it had that same harsh sound of something breaking.

"You the same dude who was here earlier?" I asked.

He hunched his head and said, "I never been here before."

"Let's see what you look like."

I reached for his hat. He tried to pull away, discovered I was faster than he was, tried to slug me in the chest. But I got the hat off and managed to take the clip on the shoulder instead of over the heart where he had aimed it.

Then I smiled and looked up at his face and stopped smiling and said, "Good God!"

"That kicks it!" His face contorted, and his big square teeth thrust over his black lip.

I was backed up against the door. And though I was terrified for the first time in years, I wasn't about to let him out. If my threats didn't keep him where he was, a hot kiss from the .38 would manage just fine—I hoped.

"Who ... what are you?" I asked.

"You were right the first time. Who."

"Answer it, then."

"Can we sit down? I'm awful tired."

I let him sit, but I stayed on my feet to be able to move fast, and while he walked to the sofa and collapsed as if he were on his last legs, I looked him over good. He was a bear. A bruin. He was a big one too, no little Teddy, six feet four. His shoulders were broad, and under those baggy clothes he probably had a barrel chest and legs like tree trunks. His face was a block of granite that some artist had tried to sculpt with a butter knife, a straight pin, and a blunt screwdriver. All sharp planes, eyes set under a shelf of bone, a jaw better than Schwarzenegger's. Over all that: fur.

If I hadn't been used to watching afternoon TV talk shows when business was slow, all those programs featuring husbands-who-cheat-with-their-wives'-mothers and transvestite-dentists-who-have-been-abducted-by-aliens, then sure as hell the sight of a talking bruin would have crumpled me like an old paper cup. But even being a couch potato in the nineties and facing up to what's creeping around on our city streets is enough to make you tougher than Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe combined.

"Spill it," I said.

"My name is Bruno," he said.


"You only asked who I was."

"Don't get cute with me."

"Then you weren't being literal?"

"Say what?"

"By asking who I was, you were actually asking for a general accounting, a broader spectrum of data."

"I could blow your head off for that," I told him.

He seemed surprised and shifted uneasily on the sofa, making the springs sing. "For what?"

"Talking like a damn accountant."

He considered for a moment. "Okay. Why not? What do I have to lose? I'm after Graham Stone, the first man you heard in here a few hours ago. He's wanted for some crimes."

"What crimes?"

"You wouldn't understand them."

"Do I look like I was raised in a nunnery, don't understand sin? Nothing any sleazeball would do could surprise me. So how did this Stone character get in here? And you?"

I waved the .38 at him when he hesitated.

"I guess there's no concealing it," Bruno said. "He and I came through from another probability."

"Huh?" It was hard to make even that sound with my mouth hanging open as if I were a stoned fan at a Grateful Dead concert.

"Another probability. Another time line. Graham Stone is from a counter-Earth, one of the infinity of possible worlds that exist parallel to one another. I come from a different world than Stone's. You've become a focal point for cross-time energies. If this is the first time it's happened to you, then your talent must be a new one. Besides, you're not mapped—no record of you in the guidebook. If it were an old talent—"

I made a number of wordless grunts until he got the idea to shut his yap. I made him go pour me half a glass of Scotch and drank most of it before I said anything. "Explain this ... ability I've acquired. I don't scan it."

"It's possible to travel across the probabilities, from one Earth to another. But the only portals are those generated around living beings who somehow absorb cross-time energy and dissipate it without the rudeness of an explosion."


"Yes. That can be messy."

"How messy? Very."

"Anyway, you're one of those talented people who don't explode."

"Good for me."

"You broadcast a portal like—well, sort of like a spiritual aura in a twenty-foot radius, in all directions."

"Is that so?" I said numbly.

"Not all possible worlds have such talented creatures on them, and therefore the infinity of possibilities is not really completely open to us.'

I finished the Scotch and wanted to lick the glass. "And there is a ... a counter-Earth where intelligent bears have taken over?" I couldn't any longer blame this business on my hot night with Sylvia. Not even the most persuasive shrink in the world would ever convince me that postcoital depression could be like this.

"Not exactly taken over," Bruno said. "But on my probability line, there was a nuclear war of distressing dimensions shortly after the close of World War Two. In the aftermath, science survived, but not a great many people did. In order to survive as a race, they had to learn to stimulate intelligence in lesser species, master genetic engineering to create animals with human intelligence and dexterity. "

He held up his hands, which were graced with stubby fingers rather than paws. He wiggled them at me and showed all his square teeth in a broad, silly grin.

"If I can somehow get us an appointment with Steven Spielberg," I said, "we're both going to be filthy rich."

He frowned. "Steven Spielberg? The father of space travel?"

"Huh? No, the movie director."

"Not on my world."

"On your world, Spielberg is the father of space travel?"

"He invented frozen yogurt too."


"And antigravity boots and microwave popcorn. He's the richest man in history."

"I see."

"And the architect of world peace," Bruno said reverently.

I sat down as the implications of what he had told me began to work their way through my thick head. "Do you mean that weird characters from a thousand different worlds are going to be popping up around me all the time?"

"Not really," he said. "First of all, there just isn't that much reason to visit your probability—or any other, for that matter. There are too many alternate realities for cross-time traffic to get heavy in any one of them. Unless it's such a weird Earth as to be a tourist area. But your Earth looks bland and ordinary, judging from this apartment."

I ignored that and said, "But suppose I had been walking down the street when you popped through? That's going to cause some excitement when it happens!"

"Funny thing about that," Bruno said. "When one of us first pops through, not even you can see us. We gradually come into your perception, like someone seen out of the corner of your eye, and it doesn't look magical at all."

I made him go and get me more Scotch. After a third of that, I felt more cheerful. "You said you were a cop."

"Did I?"

"Just as much. You said this Stone is wanted for some crime or other. Unless you're an average citizen with more than his share of humanitarianism, then you're a cop."

He took a curious-looking silver circle out of his overcoat pocket and held it up: PROBABILITY POLICE. When he ran his thumb down its surface, the words disappeared under a picture of him. "Now, I really must be going. Graham Stone is too dangerous a man to be permitted freedom here."

Beside me were the controls for the CD player. I selected a disc and turned up the volume while he rose and pulled on his absurd hat. When the Butterfield Blues Band blared in at top volume, I put a slug in the couch beside him, incidentally tearing a hole through his overcoat.

He sat down.

I lowered the volume.

"What do you want?" he asked. I had to admit that he was cool about it. He didn't even check out his coat to see how close the round had actually been.