I already had my angle. "You're going to need help. I know this urban dump. You don't."

"I have my own devices," he said.

"Devices? You're not Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England, buster. This is America in the nineties, the big city—they eat bears like you for breakfast."

He looked worried. "I'm not particularly familiar with this reality—"

"So you need me," I said, keeping the Colt aimed in his general direction.

"Go on," he said gruffly. If he could have gotten to me, I'm sure he would have shown me how fast those blocky fists could move.

"It just so happens that I'm a private investigator. I never have much liked the badge-carrying kind of police—like you. But I'm never against working with them if there's a profit in it."

He seemed about to reject the proposal, then paused to give it some thought. "How much?"

"Let's say two thousand for the whole caper."

"Two thousand dollars."

"Or two pair of Spielberg gravity boots, if you've got 'em."

He shook his head. "Can't introduce revolutionary technology across the probability lines. Bad things happen."

"Like what?"

"Little girls spontaneously combusting in New Jersey."

"Don't play me for a fool."

"I'm serious." He looked serious, all right-bearishly dour, bearishly grim. "The effects are unpredictable and often weird. The universe is a mysterious place, you know."

"I hadn't noticed. So do we have a deal for two thousand bucks?"

"You use the gun well," he said. "Okay. Agreed."

He had accepted the figure too smoothly. "Better make that three thousand," I said.

He grinned. "Agreed."

I realized that money meant nothing to him—not the money of this probability line. I could have asked for anything. But I could not squeeze more out of him. It would be a matter of principle now.

"In advance," I said.

"You have any money on you?" he asked. "I'll need it to see what sort of bills you have."

I took two hundred out of my wallet and flopped it on the coffee table in front of him.

He lined up the fifties and twenties on the coffee table, then produced what appeared to be a thin camera from his overcoat. He photographed the bills, and a moment later duplicates slid out of the developing slit in the device's side. He handed them across and waited for my reaction.

They were perfect bills.

"But they're counterfeit," I complained.

"True. But no one will ever catch them. Counterfeiters get caught because they make a couple of thousand bills with the same serial numbers. You only have two bills of each. If you have more cash around, I'll copy that."

I dug out my cash reserves, which were hidden in a lockbox in the false bottom of the kitchen cabinet. I had my three thousand within a few minutes. When I had put everything back under the kitchen cabinet, with the original two hundred in my pocket, I said, "Now let's find Stone."


BY TWILIGHT, WHEN SNOW BEGAN TO FALL AND THE TRAIL STARTED TO get hot, we were in an alley two miles from my apartment.

Bruno checked the silver wafer that had been his ID badge but that obviously served other purposes. He grunted approval at the shimmering orange color. It measured, he said, the residual time energy that Stone radiated, and it changed colors the closer we got to the quarry.

"Neat gadget," I said.

"Spielberg invented it."

Yellow when we had left the apartment, the disc was now turning a steadily deeper shade of orange.

"Getting closer," Bruno said. He examined the rim, where the color changes began, and snorted his satisfaction. "Let's try this alley."

"Not the best part of town."


"Probably not for a seven-foot bear with futuristic weapons."

"Good." Hunching to minimize his height, huddling in the big coat and enormous hat, striving to pass for a big bearded human being, he put his head down and plodded forward. I followed him, bent against the brisk wind and the driving snow.

The alley led into a street lined with auto yards, industrial-equipment companies, warehouses, and a few other businesses that didn't look so obviously like mafia front operations. One of the warehouses was an abandoned heap of cinder block and corrugated aluminum; its two windows, high above the street, were shattered.

Bruno checked his disc and looked at the warehouse. "There," he said. The wafer was glowing soft red.

We crossed the street, leaving black tracks in the undisturbed skiff of white. There were two ground-floor entrances: one a man-size door, the other a roll-up large enough to admit trucks. Both were firmly locked.

"I could blast the sucker open," I said, indicating the lock on the smaller door.

"He's upstairs anyway," Bruno said, checking the wafer again. "Let's try the second-story door."

We climbed the fire escape, gripping the icy iron railing because the stairs were treacherous. The door at the top had been forced open and was bowed outward on flimsy hinges. We went inside and stood in the quiet darkness, listening.

Finally I switched on a flashlight when I realized that Bruno could probably see in the dark and I definitely couldn't. We were standing in a wide gallery that encircled an open well to the ground floor of the warehouse.

A hundred feet to the left, a rattling sound arose, like a sack of bones being shaken. When we tracked it down it was only a wooden ladder, still vibrating after someone had descended it.

I peered over the edge, but Stone was gone. We had not heard either of the lower doors open, so we went down after him.

Ten minutes later, we had checked out all the empty crates and broken pieces of machinery, all the blind spots in the row of empty offices along the rear wall. We hadn't found a trace of this Stone joker. The front doors were still locked from the inside.

Neither of us put away his gun. I had replaced the expended shell in the Smith & Wesson and now had a full clip.

Bruno's weapon wasn't anything like I'd seen before, but he assured me it was deadly. "It's a Disney .780 Death Hose."


"Walt Disney. Best armament manufacturers in the world."


"You don't have them here?"

"Mine's a Smith and Wesson," I said.

"The hamburger people?"

I frowned. "What?"

"You know—the Smith and Wesson golden arches?"

I dropped the subject. There are some pretty weird alternate realities out there.

I heard faint strains of heavy-metal music that seemed to emanate from the thin air around us, but when I looked carefully along the walls, I found an old door that we had missed, painted to match the walls. I opened it cautiously and stared into black depths. Thrashing guitars, a keyboard synthesizer, drums. I went down the steps, and Bruno followed.

"Where's the music coming from?" my bruin friend asked.

I didn't like his hot breath storming down my neck, but I didn't complain. As long as he was behind me, nobody was going to sneak up on me unawares. "Looks like maybe there's a cellar in this place or in some connecting building where they're playing."


"The band."

"What band?"

"How should I know what band?"

He said, "I like bands."

"Good for you."

"I like to dance," said the bear.

"In the circus?" I asked.


Then I realized that maybe I was on the verge of insulting him. After all, he was an intelligent mutant, a probability cop, not one of our bears. He was no more likely to have performed a dance routine in a circus than he was to have worn a tutu and ridden a unicycle.

"We're getting closer," Bruno informed me as we continued down the stairs, "but Stone isn't here."

The wafer still was not a bright crimson.

"This way," I said as we reached the bottom of the stairs and arrived at the damp, fetid, trash-heaped basement of the abandoned warehouse. The place smelled of urine and dead meat, and it was most likely the breeding ground of the virus that will eventually wipe out humanity.

I followed the siren strains of the head-banger music from one cold stone room to another, scaring rats and spiders and God knows what else. Even Jimmy Hoffa might have been down there. Or Elvis—but a strange, walking-dead Elvis with lots of sharp teeth, red eyes, and an uncharacteristically bad attitude.

In the dankest, most stench-filled room of all, I came to an old timbered door with iron hinges. It was locked.

"Stand back," I said.

"What're you doing?"

"Renovation," I said, and blew the lock out of the door.

When that hellacious roar finished bouncing around the cellar, Bruno said, "I have subtler devices that accomplish the same thing."

"To hell with them," I said.

I opened the door—only to discover another door behind it. Steel. Relatively new. There was no handle or lock on our side. The double-door arrangement was meant to seal off this building from the next, so it was impossible to get from one to the other without people acting in concert on both sides.

Stepping forward into the beam of my flashlight, Bruno said, "Allow me."

From a pocket of his voluminous coat, he produced a four-inch-long rod of green crystal and shook it as if it were a thermometer.

I could hear the instrument begin to ring, way up on the scale where it would soon become inaudible to human beings but bother the hell out of dogs. Weirdly, I could feel the vibrations of the damn thing in my tongue.

"My tongue's vibrating," I said.

"Of course."

He touched the crystal rod to the steel door, and the locks—more than one—popped open with a hard clack-clack-clack.

My tongue stopped vibrating, Bruno returned the crystal rod to his pocket, and I pushed open the steel door.

We were in a washroom, alone. Two stalls with the doors half open, two urinals that some of the stoned customers evidently found too stationary to hit with any regularity, a sink so filthy that it looked as if Bobo the Dog Boy regularly took baths in it, and a stained mirror that showed us grimacing like a pair of old maids in a bordello.

"What's that music?" Bruno shouted. It was necessary to shout, because the heavy-metal band was nearby now.


"Not very danceable," he complained.

"Depends on how old you are."

"I'm not that old."

"Yeah, but you're a bear."

I sort of like heavy metal. It clears out my sinuses and makes me feel immortal. If I listened to too much of it, I'd start eating live cats and shooting people whose names annoyed me. I needed my jazz and blues. But a little was always good, and the band at this club wasn't half bad.

"Now what?" Bruno shouted.

"Sounds like a bar or club or something," I said. "We'll go out and look for him."

"Not me. I mean, it's okay to be out on the streets, especially at night, at a distance from people where they can't quite get a look at me unless I let them, but this would be close quarters. Stone shouldn't be mingling either. He looks human mostly—but someone might get suspicious. He should never have tried jaunting into an unexplored time line in the first place. It was desperation when he knew I almost had him."

"What then?" I asked.

"I'll stay here, in one of the stalls. You check the place out. If he isn't there, we'll go back into the warehouse and up into the street where we can pick up the trail."

"Earning my money, eh?" I asked.

While I adjusted my tie in the mirror, Bruno went into a toilet stall and closed the door.

From in there, he said, "Lord Almighty."

"What's wrong."

"Do people on this world have any respect for cleanliness?"

"Some of us have standards."

"This is disgusting."

"Try the other stall," I advised.

"What might be in there?" he grumbled.

"I won't be long," I promised, and I left the reeking washroom in search of Graham Stone.


I HAD TO BULL MY WAY OUT OF THE WASHROOM, BECAUSE THERE WERE so many people in the place that they were stacked like cordwood on end, wall to wall. I had seen Graham Stone's picture on that changing badge of Bruno's, and I knew what to look for: six feet tall, pale face, jet-black hair, eyes that were crystal blue and looked as empty as a tax collector's heart, thin lips—an image of cruelty. I checked out those around me, rejected them, and worked my way deeper into the mob of head-bangers who were swilling beer, smoking medicinal herbs, feeling up their girls, feeling up their guys, jumping to the music, and looking me over as if I might hand them copies of Watchtower magazine and try to convince them that Jesus was their savior.

It wasn't easy finding one face out of that crowd. Things kept distracting me. There were strobe lights winking every few minutes, and when they were on, I had to stop and wait before moving on again. When the strobes were off, there were shimmering film clips from horror movies projected on the walls and ceiling, and on the patrons as well. About ten minutes after I had started across the floor, through the scattered dancers, past the bar and bandstand, I spotted Graham Stone working his way to the lighted doorway in the far right corner.

A sign above the door claimed OFFICE, and another on the door itself insisted EMPLOYEES ONLY. It was half open, and I walked through as though I belonged there, keeping a hand in my jacket pocket where I had the pistol.

There were several rooms back here, all leading off a short hall, all the doors closed. I rapped on the first one, and when a woman said, "Yes?" I opened it and checked out the room.

She was a stacked redhead in a leotard, doing ballet steps in front of a mirror to the sounds—now—of Megadeth. Ten chairs were lined up against the walls around the room, and in each chair sat a different ventriloquist dummy. Some held bananas in their wooden hands.

I didn't want to know any more about it.

"Sorry," I said. "Wrong room."

I closed the door and went to the one across the hall.

Graham Stone was there. He stood by the desk, watching me with those cold eyes. I stepped inside, closed the door, and took the Smith & Wesson out of my pocket to be certain that he understood the situation. "Stand real still," I said.