His exhaustion seemed only in part a result of his inability to sleep more than a couple of hours a night. If Hal Yamataka and the Dakotas could be believed—and Frank saw no reason for them to lie to him—he performed an incredible vanishing act several times during the night, though upon returning to his bed and staying put there, he could recall nothing of what he had done. Whatever the cause of those disappearances, no matter where he had gone or how or why, the very act of vanishing seemed likely to require an expenditure of energy as surely as walking or running or lifting heavy weights or any other physical act; therefore, perhaps his weakness and profound weariness were largely the result of his mysterious night journeys.
Bobby Dakota had pried only a couple of the brass teeth from the heel of the shoe. After studying them for a moment, he put down the penknife, leaned back against the sofa, and looked thoughtfully at the gloomy but rainless sky beyond the office’s big windows. They were all silent, waiting to hear what he deduced from the condition of those clothes and shoes.
Even exhausted, preoccupied with his own fears, and after only a one-day association with the Dakotas, Frank realized that Bobby was the more imaginative and mentally nimble of the two. Julie was probably smarter than her husband; but she was also a more methodical thinker than he was, far less likely than he was to make sudden leaps of logic to arrive at insightful deductions and imaginative solutions. Julie would more often be right than Bobby was, but on those occasions when the firm resolved a client’s problems quickly, the resolution would usually be attributable to Bobby. They made a good pair, and Frank was relying on their complementary natures to save him.
Turning to Frank again, Bobby said, “What if, somehow, you can teleport yourself, send yourself from here to there in a wink?”
“But that’s ... magic,” Frank said. “I don’t believe in magic.”
“Oh, I do,” Bobby said. “Not witches and spells and genies in bottles, but I believe in the possibility of fantastic things. The very fact that the world exists, that we’re alive, that we can laugh and sing and feel the sun on our skin ... that seems like a kind of magic to me.”
“Teleport myself? If I can. I don’t know I can. Evidently I have to fall asleep first. Which means teleportation must be a function of my subconscious mind, essentially involuntary.”
“You weren’t asleep when you reappeared in the hospital room or any of the other times you vanished,” Hal said. “Maybe the first time, but not later. Your eyes were open. You spoke to me.”
“But I don’t remember it,” Frank said frustratedly. “I only remember going to sleep, then suddenly I was lying awake in bed, in a lot of distress, confused, and you were all there.”
Julie sighed. “Teleportation. How can that be possible?”
“You saw it.” Bobby shrugged. He picked up his coffee and took a sip, more relaxed than anyone in the room, as though having a client with an astonishing psychic power was, if not an ordinary occurrence, at least a situation that all of them should have realized was simply inevitable, given enough years in the private security business.
“I saw him disappear,” Julie agreed, “but I’m not sure that proves he ... teleported.”
“When he disappeared,” Bobby said, “he went somewhere. Right?” ,
“Well ... yes.”
“And going from one place to another, instantaneously, as an act of sheer willpower ... as far as I’m concerned, that’s teleportation.”
“But how?” Julie asked.
Bobby shrugged again. “Right now, it doesn’t matter how. Just accept the assumption of teleportation as a place to start.”
“As a theory,” Hal said.
“Okay,” Julie agreed. “Theoretically, let’s assume Frank can teleport himself.”
To Frank, who was sealed off from his own experience by amnesia, that was like assuming iron was lighter than air in order to allow an argument for the possibility of steel-plated blimps. But he was willing to go along with it.
Bobby said, “Good, all right, then that assumption explains the condition of these clothes.”
“How?” Frank asked.
“It’ll take a while to get to the clothes. Stay with me. First, consider that maybe teleporting yourself requires that the atoms of your body temporarily disassociate themselves from one another, then come together again an instant later at another place. Same thing goes for the clothes you’re wearing and for anything on which you’ve got a firm grip, like the bed railing.”
“Like the teleportation pod in that movie,” Hal said. “The Fly. ”
“Yeah,” Bobby said, clearly getting excited now. He put down his coffee and slid forward on the edge of the sofa, gesticulating as he spoke. “Sort of like that. Except the power to do this is maybe all in Frank’s mind, not in a futuristic machine. He just sort of thinks himself somewhere else, disassembles himself in a fraction of a second—poof!—and reassembles himself at his destination. Of course, I’m also assuming the mind remains intact even during the time the body is dispersed in disconnected atoms, because it would have to be the sheer power of the mind that transports those billions of particles and keeps them together like a shepherd collie herding sheep, then welds them to one another again in the right configurations at the far end.”
Though his weariness was sufficient to have resulted from an impossibly complex and strenuous task like the one Bobby had just described, Frank was unconvinced. “Well, gee, I don’t know.... This isn’t something you go to school to learn. UCLA doesn’t have a course in teleportation. So it’s ... instinct ? Even supposing I instinctively know how to break my body down into a stream of atomic particles and send it somewhere else, then put it together again ... how can any human mind, even the greatest genius ever born, be powerful enough to keep track of those billions of particles and get them all back exactly as they belong? It’d take a hundred geniuses, a thousand, and I’m not even one. I’m no dummy, but I’m no brighter than the average guy.”
“You’ve answered your own question,” Bobby said. “You don’t need superhuman intelligence for this, ’cause teleportation isn’t primarily a function of intelligence. It’s not instinct, either. It’s just ... well, an ability programmed into your genes, like vision or hearing or the sense of smell. Think of it this way: Any scene you look at is composed of billions of separate points of color and light and shade and texture, yet your eyes instantly order those billions of bits of input into a coherent scene. You don’t have to think about seeing. You just see, it’s automatic. You understand what I meant about magic? Vision is almost magical. With teleportation, there’s probably a trigger mechanism you have to pull—like wishing yourself to be elsewhere—but thereafter the process is pretty much automatic; the mind makes it happen the way it makes instantaneous sense of all the data coming in through your eyes.”
Frank closed his eyes tight and concentrated on wishing himself into the reception lounge. When he opened his eyes and was still in the inner office, he said, “It doesn’t work. It’s not that easy. I can’t do it at will.”
Hal said, “Bobby, are you saying all of us have this ability, and only Frank has figured out how to use it?”
“No, no. This is probably a scrap of genetic material unique to Frank, maybe even a talent that sprung from genetic damage. ”
They were all silent, absorbing what Bobby had conjectured.
Outside, the layer of clouds was cracking, peeling, and the old blue paint of the sky was showing through in more places every minute. But the brightening day did not lift Frank’s spirits.
Finally Hal Yamataka indicated the pile of garments on the coffee table. “How does all this explain the condition of those clothes?”
Bobby picked up the blue cotton sweater and held it so they could see the khaki swatch on the back. “Okay, let’s suppose the mind can automatically shepherd all the molecules of its own body through the teleportation process without a single error. It can also deal with other things Frank wants to take with him, like his clothes—”
“And bags full of money,” Julie said.
“But why the bed railing?” Hal asked. “No reason for him to want to take that with him.”
To Frank, Bobby said, “You can’t remember it now, but you clearly knew what was happening while you were caught up in that series of teleportations. You were trying to stop, you asked Hal to help you stop, and you seized the railing to stop yourself, to anchor yourself to the hospital room. You were concentrating on your grip on that railing, so when you went, you took it with you. As for the clothes getting scrambled the way they are ... Maybe your mind concentrates first on getting your body back together in the proper order because error-free physical re-creation is crucial to your survival, but then sometimes you might not have the energy left to do as good a job on secondary things like clothes.”
“Well,” Frank said, “I can’t remember prior to last week, but this is the first time anything like this has happened since then, even though I’ve apparently been ... traveling more nights than not. Then again, even if my clothes have come through okay, I seem to be getting more weary, weaker, and more confused day by day....”
He did not have to finish the thought, because the worry in their eyes and faces made clear their understanding. If he was teleporting, and if it was a strenuous act that bled him of strength that could not be restored by rest, he was gradually going to get less meticulous about the reconstitution of his clothes and whatever other items he tried to carry with him. But more important—he might begin to have difficulty reconstituting his body, as well. He might return from one of his late-night rambles and find fragments of his sweater woven into the back of his hand, and the skin replaced by that cotton might turn up as a pale patch in the dark leather of his shoe, and the displaced leather from the shoe might appear as an integral part of his tongue ... or as strands of alien cells twisted through his brain tissue.
Fear, never far away and circling like a shark in the depths of Frank’s mind, abruptly shot to the surface, called forth by the worry and pity that he saw in the faces of those on whom he was depending for salvation. He closed his eyes, but that was a rotten idea because he had a vision of his own face when he shut out theirs, his face as it might look after a disastrous reconstitution at the end of a future telekinetic journey: eight or ten misplaced teeth sprouting from his right eye socket; the evicted eye staring lidlessly from the middle of the cheek below; his nose smeared in hideous lumps of flesh and gristle across the side of his face. In the vision he opened his misshapen mouth, perhaps to scream, and within were two fingers and a portion of his hand, rooted where the tongue should have been.
He opened his eyes as a low cry of terror and misery escaped him.
He was shuddering. He couldn’t stop.
HAVING FRESHENED everyone’s coffee and, at Bobby’s suggestion, having laced Frank’s mug with bourbon in spite of the early hour, Hal went to the nook off the reception lounge to brew another pot.
After Frank had been fortified with a few sips of the spiked coffee, Julie showed the photograph to him and watched his reaction carefully. “You recognize either of the people in this?”
“No. They’re strangers to me.”
“The man,” Bobby said, “is George Farris. The real George Farris. We got the picture from his brother-in-law.”
Frank studied the photograph with renewed interest. “Maybe I knew him, and that’s why I borrowed his name—but I can’t recall ever seeing him before.”
“He’s dead,” Julie said, and thought that Frank’s surprise was genuine. She explained how Farris had died, years ago ... and then how his family had been slaughtered far more recently. She told him about James Roman, too, and how Roman’s family died in a fire in November.
With what appeared to be sincere dismay and confusion, Frank said, “Why all these deaths? Is it coincidence?”
Julie leaned forward. “We think Mr. Blue killed them.”
“Mr. Blue Light. The man you said pursued you that night in Anaheim, the man you think is hunting you for some reason. We believe he discovered you were traveling under the names Farris and Roman, so he went to the addresses he got for them, and when he didn’t find you there, he killed everyone, either while trying to squeeze information out of them or ... just for the hell of it.”
Frank looked stricken. His pale face grew even paler, as if it were an image doing a slow fade on a movie screen. The bleak look in his eyes intensified. “If I hadn’t been using that fake ID, he never would’ve gone to those people. It’s because of me they died.”
Feeling sorry for the guy, ashamed of the suspicion that had driven her to approach the issue in this manner, Julie said, “Don’t let it eat you, Frank. Most likely, the paper artist who forged your documents took the names at random from a list of recent deaths. If he’d used another approach, the Farris and Roman families would never have come to Mr. Blue’s attention. But it’s not your fault the forger used the quick and lazy method.”
Frank shook his head, tried to speak, could not.
“You can’t blame yourself,” Hal said from the doorway, where he had evidently been standing long enough to have gotten the gist of the photo’s importance. He seemed genuinely distressed to see Frank so anguished. Like Clint, Hal had been won over by Frank’s gentle voice, self-effacing manner, and cherubic demeanor.
Frank cleared his throat, and finally the words broke loose: “No, no, it’s on me, my God, all those people dead because of me.”
IN DAKOTA & DAKOTA’S computer center, Bobby and Frank sat in two spring-backed, typist chairs with rubber wheels, and Bobby switched on one of the three state-of-the-art IBM PCs, each of which was outlinked to the world through its own modem and phone line. Though bright enough to work by, the overhead lights were soft and diffuse to prevent glare on the terminal screens, and the room’s one window was covered with blackout drapes for the same reason.
Like policemen in the silicon age, modern private detectives and security consultants relied on the computer to make their work easier and to compile a breadth and depth of information that could never be acquired by the old-fashioned gumshoe methods of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Pounding the pavement, interviewing witnesses and potential suspects, and conducting surveillances were still aspects of their job, of course, but without the computer they would be as ineffective as a blacksmith trying to fix a flat tire with a hammer and anvil and other tools of his trade. As the twentieth century progressed through its last decade, private investigators who were ignorant of the microchip revolution existed only in television dramas and the curiously dated world of most PI novels.
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