Propelled by wine and birthday cake, Angela leaned against the door frame a little more than she would've cared to admit as she flipped through her mail. Electric bill; credit card bill; a card-sized purple envelope postmarked Bankton, Ohio, no doubt a perfectly-timed card from her parents.
The last envelope was weird. Fumbling with her key in the door, she held it up to the outside light. She couldn't remember addressing an envelope to herself at any point recently, but the mailing address was definitely written in her handwriting. At the upper left was a logo that read "Continuity Corp, 829-A O Street, Washington, D.C. 20036."
Regardless of the wine, she liked to think she'd recall addressing an envelope to herself while she was at work. It seemed like something a normal person would be able to do, and twenty-nine seemed far too early to be losing her memory.
Inside her apartment with the door safely closed and locked behind her, she ripped into the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Under the bolded word FROM two columns stood out.
Beside check boxes were the following options: "your supervisor," "a colleague," "a family member," and "none of the above - please specify below" (this was checked). The second column only had two options: "past" and "future."
"Future" was checked.
"You're kidding," she told the paper.
It stubbornly kept its silence, but underneath the check boxes was a note written in her own hand:
Chin up! Twenty-nine won't be what you expect.
If you're careful no one will get hurt.
(continued from page 4)
Werner, son of American science fiction author Liam Crawford, was thirty-two when he wrote the best-selling Lives at the End of the Continuum, based on true stories from people he met in his travels. Works like his father's came out at a time when the truth was actually becoming stranger than fiction and the elusive goal of time travel was finally within reach. "My life," he once told an interviewer, "quickly became as strange as anything my father had written." Tiki-huts at the end of the continuum, theft across time, an increasing debate over the potential of using time travel to keep the parents of dangerous convicted criminals from meeting: the statement can't be argued.
Werner was twenty-seven the first time he set foot in Crazy Joe's tiki-hut at the end of the continuum. His past is no secret: he famously spent a large sum of money on a time machine and a plan to travel back for the Mona Lisa, crafted in response to the sudden disappearance of the painting just a year before his first visit to Joe's.
When asked why, Werner downplayed the whole thing: he was young, impulsive, spoiled. His grandparents on his father's side had made a fortune in investments, and he had never wanted for much. He confided that he spent nearly thirty years too intimidated to follow in his parents' footsteps but always had a great love for the arts. With frank blue eyes and a ready smile, Werner displayed no shortage of charisma. While he has spoken at everything from colleges to congressional sessions, he doesn't give many interviews. Pressed for details about his Mona Lisa heist, he candidly described commissioning painter Kate Rhodes, a good friend of his, to create a duplicate of the famous painting. He didn't give an exact quote when he talked about how much he spent on buying his first time-travel device, nor did he go into detail about the member of the police force who helped him "train" for the job. Despite the questionable legality of what he attempted to do, Werner was equally candid about the art experts who refused to believe he had gone back in time to retrieve the original Mona Lisa. "The paint was far too fresh to convince anyone," he acknowledged with amusement. "But let's not ignore the fact that there was no proof otherwise. As far as anyone can tell, I didn't change the course of history by taking it."
If it made sense to try it again, he claimed, he would take reliable source with him to observe, but when asked why he hasn't done it already, he shook his head firmly. "Where would it stop? I can assure you that I'm aware of how imperfect I am, and I don't want to create a never-ending cycle of trying to go back and correct my mistakes. I'd rather make them in real time and move forward. Besides," he added after a pause, "while time travel devices have been almost prohibitively expensive for the past nine years, the prices will continue to go down. Soon enough someone with a device will care enough to attempt to go back to the exact hour in an effort to catch me in the act."
Most of his points were fair ones, but I found his reluctance to do anything about this particular mistake surprising for a man once willing to steal one of history's most famous paintings and drag it through time.
Martha sighed, abruptly leaning back in her seat. "Are you gonna talk, or are you gonna sit across from me and think about it for another ten minutes?"
Caught in the act, Angela pressed her lips together.
"I'm only asking because I can hear the gears turning in your head every time you look across at me."
Angela frowned guiltily, running a hand through her hair, and then leaned forward on her desk. "All right. Have you ever gotten a strange memo?"
She watched Martha glance left and then right to see who was around. Hall and Lawrence were at the nearest desks, but Hall had his headphones on and his nose buried in paperwork while Lawrence took a call. They were about as close as they'd get to privacy within the office during regular hours. "Here? Getting one from Future Flannigan when he tested the Manifold for the first time was weird."
"From the future, yeah, but at your home?"
Across their desks, Martha's eyes grew large. "At home? No."
"I got one on Saturday."
Martha waited expectantly.
"Garret," Martha butt in skeptically, "you would not do that. Flannigan would throw a fit and fire you."
"Yeah." That was a mild way of putting it, Angela thought, but she felt herself give a helpless shrug. "That's the first thing I thought. Employees don't screw with the timeline. But it was my handwriting--"
"Could be forged."
"--and wished me a happy twenty-ninth birthday--"
"Basically public knowledge."
"--and was on company stationery with the right postmark."
"Maybe we've been robbed."
"Or," Angela hissed pointedly, leaning in further, "I sent myself a memo from the future for some important reason."
Martha frowned. "I don't want to say your birthday's not important, Garret, but--"
"I don't think that was the point of the message."
Kate Rhodes was the person I wanted to track down first. The opening of her show (Ongoing at New Nola Gallery, 423 Royal Street. Call for hours. -Ed.) and her work on the set design for Canal Street Theater's November production of Macbeth were keeping her busy enough that I felt lucky when she was able to fit me into her schedule.
She showed up to our meeting wearing an apologetic smile and carrying a giggling two-year-old in her arms. "Sorry. Sam was on call today, so you get a joint interview with the most notorious cookie thief in the south." When they grinned the resemblance was striking.
Kate and Werner became friends in their senior year of college and remained in touch over the years. She admitted to laughing when first asked to paint the Mona Lisa. "Sometimes great art is lost and you don't get it back. My copy was about as good as I could make it, but I bet Leonardo wasn't fooled."
Speculation ran rampant after Werner came forward with the freshly painted Mona Lisa. Having seen it in side-by-side comparison to a replica, I can say that to these untrained eyes Werner's painting does indeed look much like the original, but the question of validity has to be left to those who have argued over it for years now or to those who will finally make that specific trip back in time. Kate can only personally verify that it isn't her own work.
I asked her if she had any thoughts on Werner's changed approach to his past and future, but she shook her head. "I'm pretty sure Werner's already talked to anyone he wants to talk to about it."
Kate is one of the more pleasant people I've interviewed, but she knows how to make a point.
The walls were wooden, the roof was thatched, and a sign was posted where Angela's eyes couldn't fail to fall on it as soon as she entered:
1. No violence.
2. Don't feed the parrot, no matter what he says.
3. As owner, Joe is the final authority in any disputes on the property.
Behind the bar, a bright yellow parrot squawked.
The man standing near the parrot looked as though he could've been a pirate in a previous life: shaggy hair, eye patch, a silver tooth. He even wore a bandana tied around his head. "Welcome to Crazy Joe's!"
"Crazy Joe's," the parrot echoed in a whistling voice. "Nothing's crazier than the prices."
Angela hesitated, hints of an unbidden smile at the corners of her mouth. "I didn't exactly mean to come here."
"Most people don't." The woman on the nearest bar stool wore a red trench coat and still had both her fedora and sunglasses on. She rapped her knuckles on the bar's surface and pointed to her nearly empty glass. "Because how many people leave their coordinates on all zeroes when they travel? It's either an accident or you know something most people don't."
After refilling the woman's glass, the bartender found a second glass, filled it, and placed it on the bar in invitation. "Irish whiskey," he explained with the faintest hint of an English accent. "2020. Take it. The first drink'll cost you, but the second one's always free for newbies."
Even by her job's standards it seemed surreal. "What do you take as payment?"
The parrot whistled. "Two crackers and a nice Merlot."
"Standard currency for your time and place. The going rate then and there'll be your going rate here."
Angela smiled, moving toward a bar stool of her own. "How do you know if I'm telling the truth?"
"Try me," the man laughed. "We always figure it out sooner or later, and I never forget a face."
It didn't seem like the worst decision she'd made that night, so she sat down and had the drink.
They were called Rainbow and Star. While their great-grandparents were the true children of the 1960s, Rainbow and her girlfriend Star looked the part when I met them at Crazy Joe's; both of them had long hair, Rainbow's in thick waist-length braids, and she wore sandals while Star went blissfully barefoot. They were friendly to a fault, offering to share their meals and cigarettes. Joe's specializes in the kinds of fruity drinks one might wish for while lounging on a warm beach, and Rainbow proved unable to resist them.
They showed me their method of time travel: a black Volkswagen Beetle, the car once selected most likely to blend into any past or future.
The interior smelled earthy, herbal, and I couldn't help noticing the large purple peace sign hanging from the rearview mirror. "We had no idea when we bought it," Rainbow informed me, reaching past me to open the glovebox. Inside was a slim device -- completely new to me -- with a glowing digital display. On the floor underneath, a tiny stegosaurus lifted its head from slumber, let out a low rumble, and then went back to sleep.
I asked about their meetings with Werner Crawford. Star called him a "solid dude," but she also described him as "kind of distant." Rainbow recalled that the first time she recalls seeing him at Joe's he was sitting at the bar with a redhead. "I can't say they were 'together' together," she admitted, but he never smiled the same way at us."
Oliver Adams, better known as the man who brought Shakespeare back to life, shared a similar sentiment. While he was less than eager to discuss Shakespeare's poorly received "Mona and the Dragon," he had no trouble recalling Werner and the mystery woman. I learned that her name was Angela -- he didn't remember her last name -- and he claimed to have seen her a few times. He also felt certain he had spotted her alone once in 1917 Washington, D.C., but he had never verified it.
It was clear to him, he mentioned, that Angela and Werner were romantically involved.
Soap scented his skin, and even though she knew she only had an hour to get back she lingered, her body curving around his once he sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I don't want to go," she confessed to his hip, wrapping an arm around his waist.
It felt good to make him laugh.
"Maybe you shouldn't." His hand found hers and their fingers threaded. "You could stay here."
She let out a laugh of her own. "That's weird, Werner."
"You sneak into your own office to use the company time machine, you accidentally find Joe's on your first trip, you allow me to talk you into coming to my time, but staying is that line in the sand that can't be crossed because it feels too weird?"
She rolled her eyes, sighing, but she let her hand stay where it was. "I don't even know if I have paperwork and an ID that'd pass for proper identification here."
Smiling, he turned toward her. "That's easy enough to remedy."
Tipping her head, she smiled back. "Until we find out I don't, and then what will we do?"
"As it happens," he reminded her, walking his fingers up her arm, "my inheritance was sizable. There's a way."
Her free hand covered her face, but she couldn't hold in another laugh. "You'd get me fake identification."
"On a grand scale, it doesn't seem that bad, but" -- smile stretching, he shrugged -- "I'll admit my judgment may be clouded as long as you're wearing my bedsheets. At any rate, it doesn't seem worse than replacing a days-old Mona Lisa with a forgery. If we were in your time, you'd have to hunt me down for that."
"Only after you've stolen it. And only if we find out about it." It sounded weak even to her own ears.
"I won't take it personally if it ever happens." Hand sliding over her shoulder, he leaned in until their noses touched. "But if you change your mind I hope you'll tell me."
Through a few conversations with people she'd talked to, I discovered her name was Angela Garret from the year 2059 of a timeline where Martin Luther King was assassinated before he could become President. Time travel was uncommon, but she worked for Continuity Corporation, a government-approved organization devoted to preserving the timeline at all costs. A George Mason graduate with a degree in forensic science, Angela found her niche as a field agent who assisted her local police with the apprehension of time criminals and artifact thieves.
I went to her timeline, hoping to check out where she lived and worked or find someone she knew, someone who could direct me to her.
I made the mistake of contacting Continuity first. George Flannigan, Angela's boss, refused to be interviewed and promised swift action should I do anything to disrupt the natural progression. Thwarted, I attempted to look up Angela's phone number. I found one Angela Garret's number, but upon calling I only succeeded in confusing the woman who answered. She was not the right Angela.
When I got off the phone I discovered I was being observed by an armed Continuity agent. I spent four hours strolling from monument to monument like any average tourist, stopping for snacks at an overpriced refreshment kiosk, and even wandering into museums, but I was tailed the entire time.
I took the hint and didn't linger.
The air felt oddly still, the calm before snowfall. "Why the Mona Lisa?"
"Because to this day it's one of my mother's favorites?" Swinging their joined hands, Werner looked up into the gray sky. "Because my dad always used to say that if I was going to do something I should go big?" Glancing sideways at her, he shrugged. "Because if I do it right I can make a lot of people happy, make history remember me, and put my family's money to the most interesting use possible all in one shot."
When she scrunched her lips together, he tugged her closer until their hips touched.
"Are you passing judgment?"
"No," she said immediately, then paused. "Not exactly."
"Not exactly. You're the most reassuring person I know."
She squeezed his hand and turned toward him. "I'm not passing judgment. And I have to admire your drive for it, but I'm thinking that if I had loads of money I would do very different things."
Werner considered her for a moment, and she was too stubborn to look away.
"Like get out of debt. Buy myself a condo. Go on vacation, and send my parents on an equally nice but separate vacation."
With an abrupt laugh, he let go of her hand in favor of wrapping his arm around her waist. "I'd offer to help out, but something tells me you'd turn it down."
"I like the idea of easy money as much as anyone else does, but..." Trailing off, she shook her head. "No, that's cheating too much. I signed a contract to uphold the timeline, and I'm already bending that rule."
His next laugh was louder, infectious. "Angela, if you consider this bending that rule I'd love to see how hard you'd break it."
She felt her expression melt from mildly reproachful to unapologetically smug. "I bet you would."
I needed to do one of two things: go back to Angela's timeline, preferably prior to my first visit, or ask Werner directly. The former seemed to guarantee more answers, but on the heels of that bad experience I put it off for a few days. Instead I spent an evening at Crazy Joe's, helping myself to a healthy dinner of bar food and beer.
As he slid my beer across the bar to me, Joe remarked that it was good to see me again. I mentioned that everyone must be right when they say he never forgets a face and asked him if he'd mind working that memory for me.
"It'll cost you," squawked Joe's ever-present parrot, cocking his head at me.
"Opportunist," Joe admonished him, then laughed as he turned to me. "What can I help you with?"
I told him about writing a piece on Werner, discovering Werner's relationship with Angela, finding so little information about Angela, and then I asked if he knew anything about what happened to Angela.
"Sorry,” he started, sounding much less crazy than advertised, “but you know at least as much as I do. Angela came here often for several months, then less often as she started going directly to Werner's time to see him. Eventually she stopped coming altogether, and I found out she'd stopped visiting Werner at the same time. Either something bad happened to her or the two of them had such a massive falling out that she was turned off this place completely. I tend to think it was the former."
"Werner never said anything about an argument and spent a good three weeks coming in every few days and asking me if I'd seen her since his last visit. Shortly after that he stopped coming in himself, and he didn't come back for months. I'd always thought the man had gotten depressed. His sweetheart disappears, and people from his time don't want to believe he got the Mona Lisa: sounds like a rough patch to me. Especially if he found out anything bigger happened as a result of his trip into the past."
"You're looking a little tired. You doing all right?"
Angela shut her mouth on a yawn, the backs of her fingers pressed against her lips. "Yeah. Doing fine."
Martha leaned in, lowering her voice. "Anything new in your mailbox?"
For the space of two heartbeats Angela felt guilty. "Nothing new. Still trying to figure out the memo." It was 50% true; surely that was good. Maybe, she thought, it was a goal she could shoot for moving forward: stay at least 50% truthful with Martha about anything not work-related.
It seemed like Martha was trying to read her face, and for a moment she was acutely aware of how tired her eyes looked. There was no such thing as a good night's sleep on nights when she went back into the office after hours to use the Manifold.
"You gonna share the news if you solve that mystery?"
Angela exhaled and it was almost a laugh. "Ask me again if I ever solve it."
When I asked what Joe meant, he in turn asked me how experienced a time traveler I was. I had to admit I'd made less than ten trips, and most of those were to the tiki-hut.
"Then allow me to explain. For some reason no one -- not even me -- has been able to put a finger on, all years before 1865 are tricky. Unstable for time travelers. Some people have found that taking items out of an earlier year may result in those items going missing from all directly related timelines. Sometimes it doesn't matter, but sometimes it's a big problem. Have you ever heard of Rongorongo tablets?"
It was proving to be a humbling conversation; I had to admit I was unfamiliar with the term.
"They're wooden planks from Easter Island and covered with glyphs believed to be a system of writing or proto-writing by the early inhabitants. In your time I'd bet any remaining objects with Rongorongo on them are heavily damaged, but I once knew of three that were intact and easily legible, even if they weren't easily deciphered. An archeologist went back in time for them, directly to the island itself, and later discovered that his actions had affected multiple related timelines. The tablets had disappeared from all of them." He gestured dramatically with both hands. "Poof. I'd say it occurs a third of the time, maybe more. Happened in one timeline with scrolls rescued from the Library of Alexandria before the fire."
I nearly choked on my beer. "People would kill for those."
Joe raised an eyebrow knowingly. "Welcome to time travel. Travelers are happy to go around changing events in their histories, but if too many changes are made, too many futures avoided, all of time can start to act funny. Most people here have seen it happen at some point. Their coordinates get stuck when they try to travel; items suddenly appear in times and places where they have no business; vortexes crop up."
"Is there such a thing as too much?"
"That's the question, isn't it? But don't worry. This is the end of the continuum. No matter what happens out there, this place isn't going anywhere." (Watch for the first installment of our two-part interview with Crazy Joe in February's issue! - Ed.)
"2301 L Street NW. Urgent."
It didn't happen every day -- not even every week -- but Angela knew what that meant: another time criminal, and a big catch if Flannigan's message, even more concise than usual, was anything to go by. The good news was that she was already awake, armed, and not only dressed but warmly bundled. The bad news was that she was nearly halfway to the O street office on foot.
And that there'd be no meeting Werner as planned, but she'd explain everything in a few days.
It could be she dodged a bullet, she thought. Flannigan could've been in the office when she got there, and even though she's thought time and time again about what she'd say if someone found her where she shouldn't be, having someone look her in the eyes and want an answer would be the real test.
She doubled back to her apartment, wasting six minutes, and hopped into her car, ignoring the speed limit the whole way to the L Street Police Department. She had barely parked and unbuckled, opening her wallet to her Continuity ID, before Flannigan knocked on her windshield. Behind him Martha was flanked by two cops she didn't recognize.
"No time," he told her as she opened the door. He reached inside to place a wireless dash light as close to the center of her windshield as possible. "You have to go right away."
My next trip to Angela's timeline was set before my first arrival, and I avoided Continuity as though my life depended on it.
Instead I sought out public records from the quiet comfort of a public library, and nothing I thought I'd find came near the truth.
In the early hours of January 17, 2088, an Angela Garret had been arrested for burglary. Later the same day, an Angela Garret disappeared.
It was starting to snow in earnest, dusting her black-clad shoulders and knit hat. The chill crept through her jacket, her turtleneck, the tank top underneath, and she realized that in her hurry she hadn't stopped to put on her work-issued bulletproof vest.
At 2310 suspect shut down all power at the National Archives. The auxiliary power never came on. The night-time securitybot was found still in his charging pod, apparently disabled much earlier in the day, and both after-hours security guards were found unconscious but otherwise uninjured near their posts. The Constitution, Declaration, and Bill are all missing, their respective cases seemingly cut into with very little effort.
Martha was out there somewhere, and Detectives Carter and Isaiah couldn't be far; she could see the beams of their flashlights creeping through the thicket of trees.
One of the guards claims he got a decent look at the suspect before he was attacked. He believes it is a female, approximately 5'4" and physically fit. She was dressed in all black with a dark skull cap and a mask over her face. Lawrence and Hall have been investigating for the past forty minutes and believe the suspect was filmed, thoroughly bundled up and holding a briefcase as she boarded the night's last red line train toward Glenmont. We have officers posted at every station in the city, and the driver of the train has orders to stop between Takoma and Silver Spring, where Montgomery County police officers are waiting to board the train. I want you there when it happens.
"Where the hell are you," she muttered.
It was a disaster from the get-go. The perp didn't waste a second once the train stopped in its tracks, using the emergency door release and hopping out of the train before anyone was near the right car.
We don't know if she's packing any guns, but expect her to be armed. We believe the security guards were taken out by smoke bombs filled with sleeping gas tonight, so while you should avoid using deadly force -- I've stressed this to our friends from the police department -- you will want her restrained as quickly as possible.
Feet away, a branch snapped. She whirled around, just barely making out a retreating figure in the darkness, and sprinted after it, pointing her own flashlight in front of her.
As the trees cleared she found herself on the edge of an overgrown lot, the rumbling thumpthumpthump of an approaching helicopter reaching her ears. The nearest building looked old enough to creak just from the weight of her eyes. She ran toward it, chest tight from the effort, and just as she rounded the corner of the building she saw her suspect going through the side door.
It seemed dumb. The trees were much easier to get lost in, as they'd just demonstrated, but without a second thought she followed.
Darkness reigned inside the building, barring what little outside light came in through the windows; on high alert, she shined her flashlight around the room, pointing herself toward a set of double doors, one faintly swinging, directly across from her.
She turned her head toward the sound, and the room was flooded with overhead light. She blinked hard, whirling around, and was greeted with a gloved fist in her face.
That year of unarmed combat training Continuity provided proved useful after all: though she stumbled back from the sudden blow, she tossed her flashlight into the perp's masked face and immediately blocked a kick aimed at her stomach.
"Nice," she heard the other woman mutter grudgingly, but it didn't stop her from knocking Angela's gun away next, sending it sliding across the floor.
Both of them lunged after it, and Angela had to roll herself on top and stay there, all her weight bearing down, in order to keep the upper hand. She twisted the gun out of the woman's grasp and turned it back around, aimed at the perp's face. "Move and I'll shoot."
"What happened to not using deadly force?"
Her surprise made her hesitate. "I won't aim for your head or your heart," she offered with dry generosity. "Take off the mask."
"You're in no position to ask for promises."
The woman laughed as though it was the most ridiculous thing she'd ever heard, and something about it put an uneasy feeling in the pit of Angela's stomach. "You take off my mask."
It was already one of the strangest experiences of her life, but as her fingers pulled the mask away she was nowhere near prepared.
As strict as their policies were on people who endangered the timeline, there was no precedent for a case like Angela's. The punishments could be harsh -- at one time trips into the past to keep the parents of dangerous criminals from meeting had been debated -- but no one had ever punished someone for crimes that hadn't already committed. The best scenario she could have looked forward to would still involve her losing her job. She would have been lucky if Continuity let her resign instead of firing her outright for her unauthorized use of the company time travel device, and a company like that wouldn't be very helpful as she tried to find another job.
Riveted to the computer screen, I read every account I could find. Interviews with her partner, Martha Jacobs. Tight-lipped statements released by Continuity. Interviews with the two other officers who'd been on the job when Angela had found... Angela. Memories from her parents, her extended family, her former teachers, the next-door neighbor in her apartment building, her college professors.
The detail that finally satisfied me was the list of items found on the scene: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, a pure jade statuette shaped like anthropomorphic broccoli, a Beatles reunion album, and the Mona Lisa.
"Now promise me two things," Angela Garret insisted, looking up into Angela's horrified eyes. "Before you leave, check the next room. You'll thank me later. I also want you to avoid Joe's. The Manifold will, if requested, reveal the last three coordinates it recently visited, and believe me: Flannigan will fucking request it after this."
The face was a little older and the hair was a pixie-cut, but it was her. It was undeniably her. Angela's mouth opened, but at first no words would come out. She had to make the effort to clear her throat. "Promise." It seemed like the least she could do, especially since she was going to finish the job she started. Outside she could hear Martha shouting for her, and the helicopter was coming closer, its light piercing the broken windows nearest the ceiling. "Put on the mask," she whispered.
"Garret?!" Martha yelled, just outside.
"I'm in here!" she called back once her future self pulled the mask down over her face again. "I need your cuffs!"
Sweating, her hair and shoulders covered with a fine layer of snow, Martha burst in. Immediately she trained one gun on the masked Angela and reached for her cuffs with the other, tossing them over.
Angela pulled her future self to her feet. A quick patdown revealed nothing but a metro ticket, and reciting her own rights as if on cruise control, she cuffed her wrists behind her back. "Where's the case?"
The masked Angela nodded to one wall, where the briefcase sat so innocently.
"And the combination?"
Future-Angela had the grace to try making her voice less recognizable. It wasn't difficult over the sound of the helicopter outside. "All zeroes."
One of the two detectives came in, gun pointed first at them and then quickly away as he realized what was going on. "Everyone good?"
"We're fine," Angela confirmed. "I need you to open the suitcase and be sure the charters are in there."
Detective Carter obeyed, quickly crossing the room.
"I'm looking around. Keep an eye on her, Martha, but let her wear the mask down for now."
"What? Why?" Martha's face was so incredulous that Angela thought it summed up the whole night.
"Just let Flannigan handle it."
The adjoining room was no less musty than the first, but there were a few things of note: one was a painting in a clear protective case, carefully resting up against the wall so the Mona Lisa could gaze back at her, unconcerned. The second item of interest was the pocket-sized device beside it, slim and black with a faintly glowing display. It was the Manifold, or at least it was a Manifold. Without thinking twice, she picked it up.
I called Werner as soon as I got home that night. When his answering machine picked up I left him a message asking for one more meeting over coffee. Over the next forty-eight hours we played phone tag, scheduling a date and time through a series of messages and voice mails.
I had to wait almost a week. On the day of our meeting, Werner was early; I found him at a table outside, a folded newspaper in his left hand and a cup of coffee in his right. He looked up, dropped his paper, and greeted me with a smile and a friendly handshake, asking how I'd been, but after exchanging pleasantries I got down to business and told him I had just a few more questions to ask him.
"Ask away," he invited, hands spread.
"What happened to Angela?"
He smiled wryly and took the most infuriatingly casual sip of his coffee. "Angela hasn't been around for a while."
"Did you know there's a good chance she's at least indirectly responsible for the disappearance of the Mona Lisa?"
"I've heard that theory, yes, and I wholeheartedly subscribe to it. She -- some past or future version of her -- is probably at the root of it."
At least, I thought to myself, he acknowledged that he knew what had happened to Angela in her home timeline, but that was far from the conclusion I had craved.
"Look," he added, "if you're looking to add a little romance to your piece, I can introduce you to Gena when we're done here."
"Gena?" I repeated.
"My frequent consultant, occasional business partner, and favorite woman in this or any timeline--"
Gena swatted Werner with the magazine. "Did you pay her to quote you on that?"
Laughing, he wrapped his arms around her. One hand dipped under the bedsheet in search of bare skin. "Not a cent."
"I had no idea I was your favorite woman in any timeline." Her lips curved teasingly, and she let the magazine fall from her fingers. "All this time I thought it must be" -- looking from one wall to the other, she considered Le rire and Warhol's prints and Munez's Morena Dama before finally pointing at La Gioconda in a beret and Groucho glasses -- "that one. Definitely."
"No, no." Grinning, he pointed to the opposite wall, to the one wearing a simple black mask that could easily allow her to flit between a masquerade ball and a bank heist. "She's the only one that comes close."
As his fingertips crept up her side, tickling, a helpless laugh bubbled in her throat. "Watch out. I had a year of unarmed combat, you know."