Jayne gags. She can never take aspirin with anything but beer, but pain and traveling had made her forget. She'd washed them back with water, and now her throat's burning, lined with gunk. And she's dying--she hasn't had a headache so brutal since she got rid of Hex. Him and his aftershave both.
Hex, she thinks, alias Migraine Man.
Might be a song in that.
Eyes blurring, she fumbles for her tour jacket and staggers down to the hotel courtyard. Past the fake tropical greenery and the pool--the chlorine makes her head worse--she squeezes through the back gate. It's dusk, and the cold cuts at her temples like a bone saw, a buzz powered by the drone of Niagara Falls.
Across the alley is the bar where her band is playing. The place--The Wedding Knight, it's called--is okay, Jayne thinks. It has hardwood fixtures and a high ceiling, which make for great acoustics, and a massive window pointed straight at the Falls, just in case you forget where you are. The decor is pubby: dark furniture and dim lighting, banners and stained glass with scenes of knights rescuing damsels. No swords on the walls, though, and only one suit of armor: by Niagara standards, the Knight is pretty restrained. Kim bitches about the size of the stage, but it's fine, really. They've played bandstands the size of sanitary napkins.
The door creaks as Jayne pitches inside. Smoky air mauls her, but then she sees the beer she needs, sparkling on the bar like an engagement ring.
“Set me up with one of those, Gerry?” Her voice is gargly.
“I think this one is for you, Sho--from Romeo here.” The owner, Gerry, looks ill. He jerks a thumb at the only customer.
The man is slumped over a newspaper, in a pose that reminds her of first grade, Teacher making them put their heads down when they got hyper. They didn't build them like this guy in school, though: nice muscles, gorgeous curly hair, olive skin.
“Beer's yours.” Quiet words seep from beneath the black curls.
Stop, Jayne tells herself. You're off men. “Gerry, can you get...”
But Gerry is fleeing, face chalky, a hand over his mouth.
“Dammit.” She picks up the mug. The aspirin pulp surrenders, washed off her larynx by the flood of beer. She hears a thunk in the men’s room--the door to one of the stalls--and then Gerry, retching. The sound vibrates the windows, the walls, her aching skull.
“Don't think this means we're engaged,” she says to Curly. “I only drink...”
“When you're sick.” The head rolls up, and Jayne's suddenly looking into tired gray eyes.
She takes a measured sip, sets the glass down, leaving a streak of condensation on the bar. Keeping her eyes on him, she snags a napkin and wipes the wood. He looks sane, but how can you tell?
“How did you know that?” she asks finally.
“I read your...” He pushes himself upright, closing his eyes as if moving hurts.
“Are you all right?”
“Sorry.” Then he passes out, hitting the floor so hard the thump comes up through Jayne's red boots.
Is he a reporter, she wonders. Fan? Old schoolmate? No, she'd remember this guy. A stalker, maybe?
Her eye skips over the newspaper headline: “Jumper Falls' Fourth Fatality of Year.”
She checks Curly's wrist for a pulse--yes--and a medical bracelet--no. He doesn't smell of booze, but there's something... is it diabetics who smell sweet?
Bending close, she takes a deep whiff. Dust and pollen icepick into her aching brain, along with something else.
She looks up, in search of anything that will help--and sees herself. There she is on television, her and the band. The sound's off. Their name, Imaginary Cherry, is in small print at the bottom of the screen.
Her lips move without sound, her bright red bass bobs as she plays.
Snatching the napkin dispenser, she mumbles the words:
Tell me the worst thing you've ever done
Tell me, my friend, and I'll beat it by one
“The bartender... he's timesick,” the man says as she peels up the sticky membrane of his shirt, soaking up blood with the napkins. “From the previous reroute.”
“You're worried about him?” she squeaks. Under his sternum, a chunk of heavy glass juts like a shark fin from under blood-slicked flesh.
“Get me away before he pukes up his liver.”
Jayne touches the piece of glass, hoping it will come loose, but it barely moves. “You are going nowhere.”
“I can treat it. Med-bug,” he says. “Trust me.” His voice is anguished.
“I'll call an ambulance,” she says.
Using his elbows and feet to push himself along, he tries to inch away.
“Stay where you are,” Jayne orders. There's no phone she can see behind the bar, and while she's looking, he grabs a table and pulls himself up, groaning.
“Could you get my newspaper?”
“Gerry, where's your phone?” Retching answers Jayne's shout.
The pay phones. Change. She slaps her pockets.
“Don't die. You hear me? Don't die.” She sprints outside. “Somebody call ... “
But the first face she sees is more trouble. It's Hex, the Migraine Man himself, a mean twist to his handsome features.
The tip jar. Quarters in the tip jar, dummy.
Backpedaling through the squeaking door before Hex can see her, Jayne sprints back the way she came.
The injured man isn’t there. Gerry moans from the men's room, and on television the video is ending. The band, wearing school uniforms, is herded into a truant officer's van. Last shot: close-up on Jayne as the doors slam.
On the floor, the newspaper and a puddle of blood make a triangle with the wad of bloody napkins.
“You okay, Gerry?” Her eye settles again on the headline.
“Jumper Falls' Fourth Fatality." Her skin crawls, but it’s not because of the headline. Thing is, it's a Sunday paper. And the date is tomorrow.
She's still staring when the door creaks.
Bleeding or not, the last thing Rath Harper had needed was an ambulance, with its cargo of paramedics and cops and complications. That scene couldn’t happen. Rath would have to go further back.
So the instant Jayne Sho ran off to get him some help, he had sailed backward, tacking in time. He'd aimed for dawn the previous Wednesday, which would've given him a full day before Imaginary Cherry arrived to play The Wedding Knight. But the time current here is too strong for a three-day jump. All Rath had gotten was twelve hours. He'd found dawn all right, but it was still Saturday.
He barely registers this piece of bad news--a streak of red numbers blinking across his timeskiff’s chronometer--before frustration and pain cause him to drop the thing. Bouncing on the hardwood floor, the skiff generates an era-appropriate mask for itself. It now looks like a calculator.
The damn song has soaked into his mind:
I'll tell the worst thing I've ever done
Guilt is a drug, son, you're not the only one.
Error is human, forgiveness divine
I'll absolve yours if you'll absolve mine.
Groaning, he fumbles for his med-bug. It's masked too--as a fat executive pen--but when he presses it against the wound it unfolds like a praying mantis. Needles and instruments, hinged like legs, explore the chunk of glass lodged under his sternum, probing beyond it to seal slashed capillaries, knitting ruptured flesh.
The glass was a gift from a younger, deadlier version of himself, a Rath Harper who sails time protecting what his former employers call the Glorious Future.
Rath the Older is a different guy. He's run out on the Time Division, but not on his conscience. That makes for a complicated existence, because his younger self still prowls the timestream. It isn’t enough that Rath is haunted by the memories of things he did for the Time Division. Sometimes he ends up confronting his past--even his past self--in the flesh.
While the bug does its work, Rath looks around. Hanging beside the door are black and white stills of bands booked to play the Knight. Jayne Sho's there in the center of a clutch of four women. She and the other singer, a white woman named Kim-Beth Castor, are cheek to cheek like best pals in a school yearbook. Flanking them are the others. The tall black woman is the drummer, Ardena Williams. The other one is the keyboard player, Ming Liang.
Rath contemplates Jayne's face. In the photograph she's lovely, the fragility of her features balanced by a confidence he hadn't seen in their brief encounter.
He locks eyes with her picture, trying not to anticipate the moment when med-bug will shock him with electrical current.
He hears the buzz, feels his chest go numb.
In the window there's a faint reflection, him and the insectile bunch of silver limbs, both superimposed on the spectacular view of Niagara. The blue-black wall of water is obscured by its own spray, dimly lit by the rising sun. He watches both waterfall and reflection as the med-bug braces against the blood-smeared skin of his chest. It extracts the glass, chittering in a manner that is supposed to be comforting. Rath, who gets patched by med-bug more often than he gets laid, hates the sound.
The anesthetic charge fades. Pain seeps back, an ache drizzling through him like rain running through hair, like the guilt that permeates the cracks and crannies of his mind.
Time Division, Rath's former employer, rules the Glorious Future. Young Rath's job had been rerouting events that threatened the timeline, even killing if a death would protect it. The trouble is that back then, Rath had rarely distinguished between necessary killings and convenient ones. And the Division hadn’t cared at all.
“Tell me the worst thing you've ever done,” he mumbles.
Rath, the here-and-now one with the hole in his chest, has been making amends, backtracking, trying to rehabilitate himself, rehabilitate the future too.
The crummy truth is that, in Rath's home era, everyone is healthy, fed and at peace. So he doesn’t want to derail the Glorious Future. All he wants is to wash some blood off his hands. Achieve the same goal without taking the violent shortcuts. Do things differently, do them better.
This time the mission was stopping his old self before he could commit the first and cruelest of Rath's unnecessary kills.
Med-bug seals the wound and turns back into a pen. Plucking napkins out of the dispenser, Rath wipes up the blood on the bar and stool. Groaning, he bends to wipe the floor, retrieving his timeskiff and the hunk of glass.
Each temporal reroute is like a stone dropped into water; as each reroute splashes into the timestream, ripples and waves emanate from its source. Rath has changed time twice now--once as his murderous young self, a second time when he stopped that self and got hurt. The bartender--Gerry, Jayne had called him--remembers Rath coming into the bar Saturday night, ten years younger, to make sure Imaginary Cherry was still playing that evening. And as of this reroute, Gerry also remembers Rath older. Older, bleeding and--maybe--ordering a beer.
Rath isn't sure he ordered the pretty singer's beer at all.
The Division calls this confusion--and the sickness that comes with it--mnemonesia.
He buries the glass and napkins deep in the trash and slips outside, shuffling down the Niagara Parkway toward the Falls. Today, he thinks, he has to talk to Jayne Sho. He may have prevented his young self's taking the easy way out, but if he doesn't want Time Division to send out another guardian, he still has a reroute to perform.
Thing is, he doesn't know exactly what it's gonna take to accomplish that reroute. But the first step has to be finding out what is driving Jayne’s former boyfriend, the guy she calls Hex, to a suicide date with Niagara Falls.
If he’s lucky, Jayne will know.
“I don't see why we need an extra room. I'm not going to meet anyone in Canada.”
“You could get laid in Antarctica,” Jayne says to Kim.
Imaginary Cherry's a band that pulses between dichotomies: Kim, with her high, vibrant voice, Jayne's lower, fuller sound; Jayne's songs and Kim's guitar, played like she shreds her strings off God's back. Kim's more extroverted than an evangelist, has curly red hair and sex appeal to burn. Jayne, a Thai-American with the kind of looks that reward close attention, has had to provide common sense for them both.
The tube's on and Ming's channel-surfing, clicking from commercial to commercial. Ardena's dozing.
“I'm keeping separate rooms,” Jayne declares.
“You know I can't sleep if I'm alone.”
“Neither of us sleeps if you're not.”
Ming, always the peacemaker, interrupts. “Screw the extra room. Let's talk about something important for a change.”
“Important like what?” Jayne says, though, really, she's afraid she knows. She sees the drummer's eyes open. Ardena is the oldest, and Jayne finds her intimidating as hell.
“I'm quitting if we stick with the high school angst crap.” Ardena says.
“What?” says Kim, her voice sharp and indignant.
The tension is there all at once, like water behind a new dam, and Jayne's eyes burn. “You didn't say anything yesterday about quitting.”
Ardena shrugs. “We barely talked.”
“We're going into the studio in six months,” Kim says. “Jayne wrote half the songs already.”
“More Schoolgirl Fantasy,” Ardena says. “Anyway, the music's fine. It's this.” She waves a stapled-together pile of paper scraps. Jayne writes lyrics on anything she can find.
“You're deranged. The lyrics click,” Kim says.
“I think we can click without playing fluff--”
“Guys ....” Ming pleads.
Blessedly, the phone rings. Hooking it off the table, Ming listens, then tosses the receiver. “Yours, Jaynie.”
Jayne catches it like a lifeline. “Hello?”
“Jayne Sho?” A man's voice, a stranger.
“Is it the bar?” Kim asks.
Jayne shakes her head. “Who is this?”
“My name's Rath Harper, Miss Sho. I'm calling about Reggie Bayers.”
“I have reason to think he's in trouble. I think you can help, and I need to talk to you. Can you meet me?”
“He's asking you out, isn't he?” Kim whispers. “Don't go, Jayne. He's probably a stalker.”
“What was that?” says the man.
“Nothing,” Jayne says.
“We can meet somewhere public,” he says. “The hotel cafe?”
“Fine,” Jayne says, ignoring Kim's frantic gestures. “When?”
“Sooner the better. I'm calling from the lobby.”
I could kiss you, Mister Rath Harper, Jayne thinks. “I'll be right down.”
Kim pouts as Jayne hangs up. “Jayne, a total stranger? They're gonna find your body dismembered in the whirlpool.”
“Won't that be nice for the tourists?” Jayne says, blowing kisses, avoiding Ardena's gaze. “Chopped Up Woman Falls' Fourth Fatality...”
“What is it?” Ming says.
“Nothing,” Jayne says, though suddenly she's sweating.
“We'll talk about the songs later, Jayne?”
“Sure, Ardie.” Scooping up her coat, she runs.
Kim's voice chases her down the hall. “Look, it's our video.”
Downstairs, there are two guys in the cafe. One is short, white, pimply. His lips move as he tracks his way down the menu with a nicotine-stained finger.
As for the other--well, if he's Rath Harper, Jayne really could kiss him. He's slumped in the booth, circles under his dark eyes, looking both gorgeous and vulnerable. You're off men, she thinks, and adds firmly: especially the tasty ones.
Then his gaze flickers up, and he smiles.
Jayne practically skips to the table. “How'd you recognize me?”
He nods at the television behind the grill. Van doors slam on the song's last chord and another video bumps her off the screen.
“Oh. Dumb question.”
“You're not used to being a star.” His shirt is cheap gray cotton, rumpled and at least one size too big. He smells like industrial soap.
“Hardly a star,” she says uncomfortably. “You said Hex was in trouble?”
His eyes cut into her skin, weighing the steel in her nerves. She hopes she isn't blushing, so naturally her face heats up. She wonders if he knows she and Hex broke up.
“He's going to kill himself tonight,” Rath says.
“Oh.” It stops her cold. Pulling a napkin from the silver box on the table, she twists it into a lumpy cord, concentrating on the wrinkles whirling into the paper, the pattern of dots pressed into the sheet, the tiny fibers popping loose like little bristles ... anything but what this strange, handsome man has just said.
“I don't believe you,” she says at last. “How could you know that?”
“It's true,” Rath says. “I thought you could tell me why.”
“Me? We broke up. Months ago.” Her mind slides uneasily over thoughts of the single that Imaginary Cherry is releasing next week.
Hex suicidal. Should she be worried? No, it's ludicrous. Angry, then, or just annoyed? This on top of Ardena she didn't need.
“Cripes,” she sighs, “what do you want to know?”
“For starters, who dumped who?”
“He dumped me.”
“If you figured the solution was to get us back together...”
“No.” He says it fast, Jayne is pleased to note.
“I was warming up to leave him. Wait ....” She shakes her head, as if the action will clarify things. “This is dumb. Who said Hex was suicidal?”
Just then the rest of the band appears in the cafe entrance. Kim's chattering at Ardena like a furious sparrow, and Ardena's shaking her head, not hearing a word. She won't waste energy fighting with Kim. Not when it's Jayne who has to rewrite the lyrics.
“There she is,” Ming says, breaking into the one-sided argument. She points at Jayne and knocks over the sign at the door. “Please Wait To Be Seated,” goes crashing onto the tiles.
“What's wrong?” Jayne says.
“Somebody broke into the Knight,” Ardena says.
Kim gives Rath the once-over. “Hi. I'm Kim-Beth Castor.”
“Gerry's wife asked if we should come make sure everything's still there,” Ming says.
“His wife?” Jayne says. Rath takes Kim's hand, shaking it briefly and dropping it without comment.
“Her name's Elaine,” Ming says. “Gerry's sick.”
“I'll be right there,” Jayne says. Nobody moves. “Go ahead. I'll catch up.”
Reluctantly they clear off, Ardena leading, Kim trailing.
“I'll have to call you,” she says to Rath.
“I'm not local,” he says. “I don't have a number.”
“Well, where are you staying?”
“Just arrived,” he says evasively, and suddenly Jayne doesn't trust him at all. “I'll hang out here. Can you come back?”
“Maybe.” Just as well she's off men.
She speeds off in pursuit of the band.
It's ridiculous anyway. Hex suicidal is about as likely as Kim celibate.
Besides, if Hex is in so much danger, why isn't Mister Rath Harper in Boston, saving him? How's he going to do any good here?
Then, halfway through the lobby, she's blasted by a familiar reek.
Aftershave ... a brand she knows well. The smell's coming from an alcove behind the escalators, rising up off the plush gray upholstery of an empty chair. Familiar, musky, it draws memories to her like water bubbling from rock. The throb of the Falls becomes an electric razor, the steamy smell of the cafe becomes the hot ozone of the iron Hex used to use on his jeans.
Standing beside it, she sees Rath Harper getting to his feet, laying a handful of change next to his untouched cup of coffee. The chair's got a perfect view of the booth where she's been sitting.
Jayne lays her hand flat on the seat cushion.
It's still warm.
Dribbling cream out of a plastic container, Rath soaks a question mark into a pristine white napkin.
Someone broke into the Knight. His younger self?
He hopes not.
Jayne running out on him is beginning to look like a pattern. Worse, every time she turns her back, Rath has to go off and do damage control.
When he's sure she's well gone from the cafe, he creeps painfully down to the hotel's basement, past the staff room and laundry, and heads into a big, jumbled storage area.
He had intercepted the old Rath in a Boston mall before he could reroute Hex Bayers. Time Division had assigned him the job of making sure Jayne Sho and Ardena Williams were still together a few years down the timeline. They hadn't bothered to say why--just that Imaginary Cherry broke up when Hex went over Horseshoe Falls. Jayne Sho canceled the Saturday night concert and the band dissolved before their next gig. She and Ardena never saw each other again.
The young Rath had determined that Hex wasn't needed anywhere else in the timeline, that his dying in Niagara when the band was there and in crisis had pushed them into splitting. His calculations had confirmed that if Hex died elsewhere and earlier, the band stayed together.
The timeflow balanced so beautifully that Rath had decided to kill Bayers in Boston--before he could off himself in Canada.
That accomplished, all he had to do was follow the band around Niagara and make sure they played the critical concert. He had even stuck around to keep an eye on Jayne afterward, watching her get the bad news about Bayers.
His old self had been nothing if not methodical.
There are ten years and thousands of time jumps between when young Rath killed Bayers and when the new improved Rath arrived to stop him. The revised memory of what happened has not caught up with the older Rath yet. So far, all he remembers is his first encounter with Hex Bayers, following him into a bathroom and shooting him at close range. Eventually the memories will catch up, and he'll remember being intercepted by a stranger, fighting him, stabbing him with a hunk of glass, eventually getting knocked out.
Maybe one day he'll remember waking up to discover the job he'd come to do had been mysteriously finished without him--and without a murder.
Rath had thought he was prepared to take himself on. He'd gotten a disguise, the type of mask he uses for the med-bug and skiff, and sailed to Boston. He'd waited for his young self.
But time travel's paradoxes wash up some memories and erode others. Rath's well planned surprise was blown when young Rath tacked into Boston and his temporal alarm started beeping.
He had forgotten he used to be tethered to the damned alarm.
The fight had been long and bloody, and he would have lost if young Rath hadn't begun to remember things two ways, begun to experience the first symptoms of mnemonesia.
That had scared him and--better--distracted him. Rath managed to knock him out, then dosed him to the eyeballs with a drug called Comazee.
He'd intended to drug Bayers too--different drug--but by then, mall security was on them and Hex was gone. So Rath slipped his young self into a time eddy and tacked forward, looking for an opportunity to dose Bayers. And the current had dragged him all the way to Canada--to Saturday just before the suicide.
Without the drug--Fugue, this one's called, in a dose strong enough to wipe a week’s worth of memories--Bayers is carrying the memory of his own death. Time Division calls this terminal mnemonesia.
Wedged in the deepest corner of the hotel basement behind the boiler room is a cache of false walls, spare doors and furniture rejected from honeymoon suites. Ten years ago when he was following Jayne, checking the integrity of his reroute, young Rath had stayed here. A curtained, heart-shaped bed sprawls under a long forgotten window. Through the grease-smudged glass and a layer of rusted chicken wire, Rath can just make out the hotel pool.
Alert for the temporal alarm, he squeezes between the fake walls, chest aching. If the old Rath has escaped from the time eddy, if he's loose in Niagara and breaking into bars, he might be hiding here.
No. Dust permeates the velvet cover of the bed and the gauzy pink curtains.
Pulling out his timeskiff, he generates a field, opening a pipe to the eddy where he'd left the old Rath and draining it into the present. His young self materializes on the bed, still unconscious, his own med-bug working the Comazee dose.
Through the grimy window, he sees Jayne Sho skirting kids and vacationers, on her way to the Wedding Knight. He'll have to catch up with her later, find out how to save Bayers.
Rath touches his young self's hand, reassuring himself that he's really there. Then he slumps onto the hard cement floor between the bed and an plaster-stained, heart-shaped Jacuzzi.
“Just for a minute,” he promises.
His eyelids sag and he drowns into sleep.
“I don't think anything's missing,” Kim says.
“They moved the instruments,” Ardena says.
“Everything's where we left it.”
“Sort of,” Ming says. All of them except Kim are neat freaks. “Keyboard's okay.”
Jayne's head throbs. She can't stop thinking about Hex. She smells him in her coat and on the black instrument crates. It's almost enough to make her wish he was dead.
“Okay,” she says uncertainly. One of the electrical cords in her bass kit doesn't belong to her.
She bends over, sneaks out her keychain, and opens her red-handled pocketknife. Feeling paranoid, she nevertheless cuts the plug off the cable, fraying copper wires. “My cord's falling apart.”
“Bar's got spares,” Ardena says.
“Good,” Jayne says, relieved and embarrassed at once.
She hums the notes of one of the new songs, then sings, improvising lyrics.
Hidden things and nightmares
A face I cannot see
What you say makes no sense today
Try again another time,
Or repeat it now--but to a different me
She scribbles the words on the back of a paper beer coaster.
“I like that,” Ardena says.
Jayne scoops up the decapitated cord and stamps out of the Knight.
He wakes up late. His self of a day ago is just about to meet Jayne in the bar.
Yawning, he pats his pockets. The skiff’s in one pocket, med-bug in the other... where’s the tempaedia?
Abandoned in the bar, dummy.
Fortunately, the old self carries the same kit. He pulls it out of the young Rath’s coat, a big wad of time-sensitive paper masked as a book. Kneading and spreading the paper into sheet big enough to display an entire newspaper, he programs it to scan the local daily.
“Jumper Falls’ Fourth Fatality,” is fading, smearing away into a different headline.
“Singer May Have Been Trying to Save Jumper.”
“Police investigating the fourth and fifth fatalities at the Falls this year say that Jayne Sho may have been accidentally pulled into the Falls by the other victim. Police think she may have been trying to save the man...”
Rath lunges for his skiff, dropping the tempaedia on the dusty bedspread. He’ll have to go further back.
Sailing isn’t easy. Time has rapids, currents. Here in this week in Ontario it’s a torrent, a deadly forward thrust. To time, Rath is less than a salmon trying to swim up a waterfall. He can only do the math and hope to shove himself clear of all his earlier reroutes.
He aims for Wednesday morning, before the band arrives.
Usually Jayne sleeps in the afternoon but she can't rid herself of the smell of aftershave, of the knowledge that Hex is in town, of the creepy idea that he watched her in the cafe.
Could seeing her with another guy drive him to suicide?
No. Murder maybe. Hex doesn't do so well with knowing there are other men in the world.
Eventually she worries herself into a brutal headache and goes rummaging for aspirin. She shakes six pills into her hand, then pauses on the way to clapping them to her mouth. Phantom sensations hit her--melted aspirin, burning throat.
Don't try to take them with water.
Tripping on the chopped-up electrical cord, she picks her jacket off the carpet and heads for the Knight. The door creaks as she walks in, and the sound doubles, echoing in her aching brain.
Elaine and Rath are the only ones there, and the pint of beer Jayne wanted is ready. “This mine, Harper?”
“Yeah,” he says. He's practically asleep. Maybe he did just get into town. Maybe he's jet lagged. Maybe she can trust him. His clothes fit better now--he must have changed. Dark shirt, long coat, admirably tight jeans.
“Where did you fly in from?” she asks.
He pushes himself upright and crumples the newspaper he's lying on, jamming it into his coat. “Sailed,” he says, voice pained. “Listen, can you help...” He lurches toward the men's room.
“You're not drunk, are you?” She slides under his shoulder, supporting him. He's warm; his arm fits around her perfectly. She guides him past the urinals into a stall.
“Thanks,” he says, closing the door. His coat drops onto the floor in front of the toilet. “I'll need a couple minutes.”
It's her second time in a men's room. The first time was in school, second grade. The urinals still remind her of totems, altars to a strange and hostile god. Snatches of potential lyrics flicker through her mind, and she pulls a paper towel off the sink and writes:
Went into the boy's room on a dare,
Trying to act like I didn't care,
Ardie would hate this, do I mind,
if she wants to quit maybe that's just fine.
An odd, electronic chitter hacks into her thought, and she addresses the closed door of the stall. “You sick? Flu?”
“Accident. Okay in a minute.”
The headline of his paper is poking out of the coat pocket. “Singer May Have Been Trying to Save Jumper.”
“I've been thinking about Hex all afternoon,” she says. “I can't believe he'd kill himself.”
“No?” He sounds surprised.
“And there's something else. Stupid, maybe. Remember someone broke in here? They replaced one of my electrical cords with a new one.”
“You don't still have it, do you?”
“It's in my room. I didn't want it near the instruments.”
“Good.” There's a buzz and a gasp from the other side of the door and a weird thunk: glass on tile. Between the toes of his shoes she sees a long, wickedly curved piece of glass, covered in blood.
Struck by an image--the glass, buried in Rath's flesh--Jayne bolts back into the bar, pausing half in and out of the men's room with the door propped open against her hip.
Elaine is watching the news. “He gonna make it?”
“Probably. What's on MuchMusic?”
Elaine flicks the remote. It's the Imaginary Cherry video. “Egomaniac.”
“Sorry,” Jayne says. She's jumpy, freaked. She met Rath this morning. Or... why does she think .... wasn't it ... ?
“When are they gonna start playing the new video?”
“This weekend,” she answers automatically.
“Schoolgirl Fantasy, right?”
“Hex is on his way up the street right now.”
Elaine frowns. “Pardon?”
“What did you say?” Rath stares at Jayne as he comes out of the stall. The bloody shirt is in his hand, and sticky lines of white cover his chest.
“I see Hex outside. I come back in and you're gone away.”
“I’m gone?” Rath says. He pulls a calculator out of his coat, looks at the display.
“He’s coming up the street,” Jayne says.
“You’re right. We need more time.” Rath punches calculator buttons as the Knight's door creaks, opening.
To see Niagara Falls is to wear a succession of raincoats. Blue for Maid of the Mist, the boats that take tourists down to the base of the Falls to get deafened and wet. Orange for the Cave of the Winds, a walkway at the bottom of the U.S. side. Yellow for the tunnels under Horseshoe Falls on the Canada side.
Each group of tourists becomes a separate herd of polyurethane-clad monks. When they're on the boat, they wave at the people in the tunnels, on the walkways. The other groups wave back.
The band is playing tourist. Rath's following. His chest aches and itches, but falling asleep in the hotel solved one problem--he's no longer staggering with fatigue.
Kim-Beth Castor is complaining: “You can't scope a guy in a raincoat,” she says as they get off the boat.
“Try looking at the waterfall,” Ardena says.
“They're herding us toward the gift shop, aren't they?” groans Ming. She's still cleaning her glasses.
They're filing past a shelf piled high with Canada flags when Jayne spots him. She does a double-take: makes sure he's not really looking at her friend.
He's suddenly conscious of how ugly his shirt is, how badly it fits. He stole it from a locker in the hotel.
“What's next?” Kim says.
“Wind tunnels,” Jayne says.
The tunnels are big concrete tubes with cheap lights, and they remind Rath of bomb shelters. The roar of water rushing over them is unnerving even before he passes the empty hole in the cavern and sees the Falls from behind, tons of white water pouring past the man-made gap in the stone, and a smell: wet rock ... fish, maybe, or algae.
Imaginary Cherry breaks into pairs, Ming and Kim ahead, Ardena and Jayne trailing.
“Kim's going to be an infant for the rest of her life,” the drummer says. “I can live with one baby. I can't live with two.”
“I'm barely old enough to drink and you're rushing me into the geriatric ward.”
“I want more songs like Guilt Trip. Not more cookie tunes. Life's too short to cut corners, Jayne.”
“I'm not getting what you want from me.”
“Grow up, that's all.”
“I write what's in me, Ardie.”
Ardena strides ahead, and Jayne turns her attention back to the short tunnel and the white water beyond it. A frail length of chain and maybe ten feet of distance are all that separate the public from the waterfall. There is no other barrier: no window, no bars.
Rath heard the argument. Now he sees Jayne crouch, grip the chain in her hands. She shakes it, obviously frustrated. The sound of the metal jangling is drowned by the water. Her lips move. She could be talking to herself or cursing Ardena. She could be singing a song.
“Jayne Sho?” he calls. Maybe he should give her a minute, but things are going badly. He couldn't tack back more than a day, and now the forward pull of time is dragging him again.
She straightens, turns to face him. Her sharp chin and big eyes are framed by wisps of damp, blue-black hair. It's a nicer style than her video persona--less polished, more real. It's more than stage presence. She's genuinely beautiful.
She gives him a smile he remembers from the video, confident and challenging. “You a reporter?”
He blinks, a little stunned. “No. I have to talk to you about Reggie Bayers.”
“Ancient history's not my best subject.”
“He's planning to attempt suicide.”
“What?” Her confident persona deflates. A hand snakes out and grabs the plastic sleeve of her raincoat, begins twisting.
Despite the urgency, Rath is sorry she stopped flirting.
“Jayne,” calls Ardena, returning from up ahead. Inside the yellow hood, her dark face is exasperated.
“I can't talk about Hex right now,” Jayne says.
“When can you? There isn't much time.”
“We're sightseeing today,” she says. “How about after the show? Eleven thirty at the Wedding Knight?”
“I'll be there,” he says.
He wastes a few hours eating in a restaurant, trying to find decent clothes to wear to the bar. He ducks back into the hotel for a few more hours of rest and a second treatment from the med-bug. He stares a long time at his drugged young counterpart, broods on the past till he's well and truly depressed. Then he tries to scan the timeflow, see if he's doing any good here. Everything's churned up and moving; none of his reroutes have settled yet.
He plays pointless games with the thousands of napkins, crumpling and throwing them into the heart-shaped Jacuzzi from the far end of his makeshift nest. Finally it's time.
He finds a booth in the back corner of the bar just as Imaginary Cherry comes on. The tension between them is obvious: the drummer plays with chilly precision, each movement sharp as glass; Ming's look is that of a woman torn by competing loyalties. Jayne plays the crowd with relentless concentration. Her voice is deep, sensuous, at odds with the girlish lyrics of the songs. Young men crowd against the stage, gazing up, eyes riveted.
Only Kim-Beth Castor seems oblivious. Unlike Jayne, she is making eye contact, winking, coming on to the audience, having fun. The combination--Kim flirting, Jayne putting it all into her voice--is pure power.
They play a set, then break in opposite directions. Ardena and Ming disappear through the fire exit to smoke. Kim orders a Bloody Mary and lingers in front of the stage. Jayne retreats with a beer to the far end of the bar. Her gaze rakes the crowd but misses Rath, who's in the shadow of the suit of armor.
Voices seep through the fire exit.
“What did she say?” Ming asks.
“She wasn't happy.”
“I wish you'd give her more time.”
Rath can't hear Ardena's response, guesses it's the same silent glower she's worn all night.
“Her stuff will mature.”
“After how long?” Ardena says. “We're almost thirty, Ming. I can't keep playing take me to the prom songs.”
“We're never going to find a better songwriter.”
“She needs us too,” Ardena says. “I'm good. You're good.”
“Great,” Ardena says heavily.
Rath sips his beer, leaving a circle of condensation on the table. He pulls napkins out of the dispenser, soaking up the ring, and sets the cup down on another white rectangle, pressing the moisture into pristine layers of paper.
“I think Jayne's capable of growing up now. I think with a little push she'd write things we'd all love.”
“You love Guilt Trip.”
“Is it so much to ask that I like ten out of twelve instead of one?”
There's a pause. “No,” Ming says.
“Stop being such a nanny fixit, then. How much time do you spend mediating their fights?”
“Not so much,” Ming says, defensive. Ardena laughs, and after a minute, Ming joins in. “You got a plan to fix Kim, too?”
“Won't matter as much if the rest works out.”
“True.” Ming agrees, but her voice is morose.
“You know,” Ardena says, “if I quit, it doesn't mean you have to.”
“You're so gallant. You go, I go,” Ming says.
“Magic's in the foursome anyway. So what's the plan?”
“Push Jayne some more,” Ardena says.
Ming's answer is lost in the crowd noise, and as Rath leans closer to the wall trying to pick it up, he spots Hex Bayers. Slumping further into shadow, he fumbles for the chain around his neck--the disguise he wore in Boston when he attacked his young self. He turns his face to the wall and triggers it, feels the masking tingle into place. He looks older now, black, with a beard and white hair.
Bayers is a big guy, tall and white, with crisp-curling golden hair and big, tanned features. His ice-blue eyes cut the crowd, lock on Jayne just as she slams down her beer and heads for the stage. He scans the room, looking for a seat, sees the space next to Rath.
“Terrific,” Rath mutters.
Ming, Ardena and Kim reappear, all moving toward the stage. Behind her glasses, Ming's eyes are huge and strained.
“This is our next single,” Jayne says as the crowd surges back to the dance floor. “It's called Schoolgirl Fantasy.”
As they start to play Hex jams himself against the booth, bookending Rath between his bulk and the suit of armor. A plastic bag is clenched in his fist, and through its translucent yellow skin, Rath can see the snake coils of an electrical cord.
Things I would put up with once, just to have a guy
Now I have to ask myself, why'd I bother, why?
Hex's face convulses with fury and he glances at the men nearest the booth. The song's obviously a knife in his pride. Maybe he'll be drunk before the concert starts tomorrow. Maybe he'll be headed out to the Falls when Jayne runs into him. Will she go to him, try to stop him?
Rath leans across the table. “Want to talk about it, son?”
“No.” Radiating hostility, Hex moves to take the seat across the table. Rath's experienced eye can see the mnemonesia below the surface: twitching eyebrows, shaking hands. He rubs his throat every two or three seconds, pressing his fingers over the spot where Rath knows he put the bullet. Hex drinks. He gets angrier.
Just before the second set ends, he starts examining the suit of armor. It's set on a black plywood frame, wired into place so that clumsy patrons can't knock it to pieces. The frame itself is a cheap and ugly in comparison to the hardwood in the rest of the bar, and the management has camouflaged its crudeness by draping banners from behind the visored helm down behind the silver toes.
Hex winks once at Rath and then slides his arm behind the banners. Apparently he finds empty space because, after a minute's groping, he retrieves the plastic bag, winks again, and slides out of sight behind the banners. The armor’s visor shivers, then stills.
Imaginary Cherry has finished playing, and the women pack up their instruments. Then Jayne does a slow cruise through the bar, looking for Rath. Their eyes meet and she smiles at his mask, the non-committal smile of a performer to someone she doesn’t know.
What to do? He can't very well approach her with Hex right there.
She waits for nearly twenty minutes before throwing on her red jacket and striding out of the bar. Hex remains silently tucked behind the armor, even when Gerry calls the last round.
One of the waitresses comes to escort Rath outside.
“Sir? You'll have to leave now. Want me to call you a cab?”
“No thanks.” He jerks his head suggestively at the armor.
“Good night, sir.” She hustles him outside.
How long is Hex going to stay in there?
He checks his watch: four hours before he sails into the bar at dawn.
He waits outside, listening to the Falls, watching the Knight. After half an hour he hears glass breaking around back. Bayers emerges--emptyhanded and wearing an ugly look of satisfaction.
Rath follows him a couple of blocks to his hotel, makes sure he gets to bed all right. Missing Jayne was bad enough. He can at least make sure the mnemonesia hasn't pushed Bayers' suicide forward a day.
“Why are we paying for three rooms? I'm not going to meet anyone in Canada,” Kim says.
Ming throws down the remote. “Anyone else feel like dogshit?”
“Me,” Ardena says.
“Maybe it's something you ate,” Jayne says.
“Maybe it's flu,” Kim says.
“We have to talk--” Ming begins, and the phone rings. “It’s for you, Jayne,” she says without picking it up.
Jayne lunges across the bed for it. “Hello?”
“Rath Harper,” Jayne says.
There's a pause. “Hi. I'm calling about Reggie Bayers.”
“Terrific.” She avoids glancing at Ardena. “Now would be a fabulous time to talk about that.”
“I can meet you in the hotel cafe.”
Jayne's flesh crawls. “Uh ... no. How about out back? By the pool.”
“The guy from the wind tunnels?” Ardena asks as she hangs up.
“You met a guy?” Kim asks.
“Yummy guy,” says Ardena. “You can be proud of her.”
“Jayne, they're gonna find your corpse in the whirlpool.”
“He might be worth it,” Jayne says, checking her lipstick. She's drenched in sweat, relieved. She was sure Ardena had been on the verge of threatening to quit the band.
She finds him slouched in a deck chair in the darkest corner of the courtyard.
“What can you tell me about Hex?” Rath asks.
“What do you want to know?” she says. “You mean like who dumped who?”
“He dumped you,” Rath says. “You were going to dump him.”
“Right,” she says.
“Tell me what he's like.”
“I still don't see why you believe he’s suicidal. The idea’s absurd.”
“Look, Miss Sho, there's no time. You’ve got to trust me.” He's so intense, looks so damn tired. What is it about him? “Otherwise I’m never going to get more than three minutes into this conversation...”
“Or to calling me Jayne?” She keeps her tone light.
“...and your ex is finished. Jayne. Look, things are out of hand right now. I’ll catch you up later, I swear. For now, please just tell me about Bayers.”
“Well ... he was okay in many ways,” she says uneasily. She feels like she's betraying some trust here. “Smart, you know, and fun a lot of the time. And, well... sexy.”
“He didn't really have any friends. Which meant he didn't want me to have any either. Because if I was busy, he didn't know what to do with himself.”
He perks up. “Maybe that's tied in to the suicide.”
“Hex doesn't get depressed. He gets sullen.” Suddenly it's coming out fast. “At first he was supportive--of me, of my music, the band. He kept saying we'd make it, he'd bring food when we were practicing late, he wired our equipment for us. But when we started doing well...”
“He got jealous.”
“Yeah. He'd criticize everything. Whenever we had an important concert he'd pick a fight with me. He picked fights with everybody: our manager, with the techies when we were lucky enough to have 'em, bartenders, club owners, even guys in the audience. He even got into it with Ming one time, which is no minor trick.”
“Sounds like the guy in Schoolgirl Fantasy.”
“Serves him right. Look, I don't know who told you he was suicidal. But that's impossible.” Her stomach roils. Is she sick? “Hex is fine.”
“I know he's suicidal,” Rath Harper says. “The disorientation you're feeling? It's timesickness. The truth is I know this stuff because I sail time. You're feeling weird because you and I have talked about this once already and you remember it two ways.”
She laughs shakily. “You'll have to do better than that.”
“It feels like deja vu, doesn't it?”
“It feels like flu.” The words tickle coming out.
“I know the future,” Rath says. “Hex is going to kill himself tonight. I have to stop him.” He stares past her, at a couple of shrieking kids trying to drown each other by the pool.
“Listen, Harper, it's not that I don't think you're pretty strange. Pretty and pretty strange.” Her voice is high and shaky.
“Don't believe it for him,” Rath says. “Believe it for you.”
“Imaginary Cherry is fighting, right?”
“Ardena,” Jayne sighs. “She wants me to rewrite the new songs. Why would Hex affect that?”
“I don't know, but his death does affect it. You break up.”
“And this matters enough for someone to ship out a time traveler? Please.”
Rath shrugs, and Jayne flashes on her misgivings in the cafe, feeling wary and distrustful. It's happening again--she's suspicious of him and remembering her suspicions all at once. Cripes, she thinks, who is this guy? She'd deserve it if they did find her body in the whirlpool.
“If I do buy it, then Hex is just a pawn on the board,” she says sharply. “You don't even want to help him for his own sake.”
He opens his mouth, then drops his face into his hands. Jayne fights an urge to apologize as he rubs his eyes.
His voice comes through his fingers. “I want to save him.”
She brushes his dark curls with her fingers, letting her hand settle on the back of his neck. “All right, Harper,” she says. “We'll save him.” Even if Hex doesn't deserve it, she thinks, and right away she's ashamed of herself.
There's a howl from the pool, from the kids wrestling at the edge of the deep end. They roll, entangled in each other, and splash in the water. Their heads disappear and then they come up, sputtering and laughing.
“What do you think sends him over?” Rath asks.
“I can't even guess.”
“You believe I sail time?”
“Well ....” The memory of meeting Rath in the cafe is like a layer of sweat on her skin.
“Could it be the song? It's the next single, isn't it?”
“I'd take it personally.”
Just then the others dart through the back door, and when Ming sees Jayne she swivels, almost falling into the deep end.
Ardena steadies her. “Jayne, the Knight's had a break-in. We gotta get over there.”
“Okay,” she calls. “Sorry, Harper. I've got to check my kit.”
“We're not awash in time here,” Rath says.
“You were supposed to see me after the show last night. What happened?”
“I don't know. I'm not there yet. I came straight from tonight at the bar. If I'm meeting you yesterday I'll have to tack back.”
She stares at him for a minute, trying to absorb that. “Try going forward for a change. You want to make sure we connect this afternoon, you better hang around. Go up to my room and get some sleep. You look half dead.”
“Maybe,” he says.
She dangles the key in front of him. “Tell me that doesn't tempt you.”
Confusion boils across his face and she realizes it sounds like a pass. Rather than making it worse, she just drops the key into his lap and leaves.
At the gate she pauses, watching as Rath skirts the pool, goes into the hotel. She focuses on the overlapping memories as they shift and break through her mind, giving herself a moment, letting her emotions settle. Rath said there wasn't much time. And she does want to help Hex.
Can he really be what he says?
“Forget the break-in,” she mutters.
Jayne's never followed anyone before but Rath is practically sleepwalking. He doesn't see her tracing along behind him like a crushed-out schoolgirl. He stops at the front desk, sliding the key across to the concierge. “Jayne Sho,” he says, and she blushes. Then he disappears into the stairwell, moving like an old lady. She tracks him past a bustling laundry crew into a cavernous storeroom, aches for him as he clutches his chest and staggers to a stack of false walls. He pushes them apart, squeezes through the opening.
Jayne has to lie down on her stomach to see. She feels vulnerable and blind down there on the cold cement floor.
He's slumped between a curtained, heart-shaped bed and a filthy heart-shaped Jacuzzi, dozing. She's about to crawl into his den when he shakes himself awake, peeling off the T-shirt to reveal a web of white lines crossing his chest. He goes over to a shop sink and rinses himself, dragging soap over his pits and the welts between his nipples. He splashes water on his face, reaches a hunk from a box spilling thousands of napkins. He dries himself with a handful and lets the rest drift to the floor.
Then he pulls a book out of his coat. He rips out the pages and folds them, meshing and melding the paper like magic. He spreads the paper--now a newspaper--out on the floor and reads. Then, cursing, he rummages in the coat, comes out with a calculator.
A calculator, Jayne thinks, sure. Just like the book was a book.
Punching keys, he vanishes into thin air.
“Cripes.” Jayne stares at the space where Rath was.
When he doesn't reappear, she wiggles under the walls, going straight to the heart-shaped bed. Napkins rustle under her feet; her shoes leave dusty imprints on them. She takes a deep breath and lifts the curtain.
It's another Rath Harper. This one's out of it, a weird metal bug poised on his arm with a needle in his vein.
Her legs give out and she lands on her ass, right next to the newspaper.
“Deadly Feud? Two Plunge over Falls.”
“Police are trying to sort out how two as-yet unidentified men plunged over Horseshoe Falls last night.”
The paper has tomorrow's date.
Pictures of Rath and Hex dominate the page. “Do You Know These Men?” reads a banner.
Steps echo beyond the barricade of junk. A familiar voice sings Schoolgirl Fantasy sotto voce. This version isn't going to make the charts.
Jayne hops onto the bed beside the unconscious Rath, pulls the curtains shut. The weird paper balls up in her hand. She watches it turn into a book again as the false walls creak and shift.
There's a skidding sound--paper on cement, and the curtains jerk aside. It's Hex.
“What a surprise,” he says.
“Don't wake him.” Scrambling out, she pushes him back toward the Jacuzzi.
He laughs. “I should drive a stake through his heart.”
Hex is looking strained--there are circles under his eyes and his jaw is clenched--but as usual that hasn't kept him from finding time to shave, to style his hair and slap on enough cologne to bring tears to her eyes.
“Hex, go back to Boston, please,” she says. “I know you're...”
What can she say? Confused?
“Upset,” she finishes.
“Let me tell you something, Jayne. If I'm upset, it's because of the new boyfriend here.”
“He's not my...”
He smirks. “He had the key to your room.”
She raises her hands in surrender: conceding the point is easier than explaining. “Why do you think it's his fault?”
“Remember the cafe?”
“How? It didn't happen, right?”
He sails time, she thinks.
“You remember, all right. Me, I remember other things that didn't happen.”
“I don't want to hear.”
“I ran into the boyfriend last week...”
“He’s not...,” she says. “Hex, shut up.”
“He had a gun.” Hex grabs Jayne's throat, pushes her onto the bed. The sleeping Rath's hand is icy. Dust, aftershave and pool chemicals mingle in her nostrils, and her vision blurs.
Hex makes a gun of his hand, like a kid playing. He presses two fingers--the muzzle--up under her chin. “As I recall, it went something like this...”
“Stop,” she whispers. His fingers on her throat are rigid as steel, and her voice comes out hoarse.
“Bam!” Hex screams into her face. His eyes are red, tiny traceries of blood criss-crossing the whites.
“I don't believe you,” she rasps, but she does. It fits too well--she remembers not believing Rath, the flare of instinctive suspicion. And Hex is a rotten liar. She can trust him that much.
His arms drop to his sides. She reaches for him, and he slaps her hand away.
“Hex,” she says. “What are you planning?”
“Scared, huh?” He gives her a grim, amused look.
“Give me a chance to talk you out of it.”
“Sure,” he says, glaring down at the unconscious Rath Harper. “Let's get out of here.”
She follows him upstairs, out through the lobby and to a white sedan parked behind the Knight. Red birds flit past, and he scowls. The hotel is on the Niagara Parkway, between the Falls and the Whirlpool. The violent white wall of Horseshoe Falls thunders at them from behind the high plume of its own spray. Tourists wave at them from Goat Island on the American side.
Hex scowls. “Get in, Jayne.”
Jayne's temples throb. She ought to be in the bar, finding an unfamiliar cord in her bass. A second ago he was choking her. Something's snapped him.
Like Rath Harper blowing his brains out?
“Let's walk to Clifton Hill. Check out the tourist traps,” she says. “Find a restaurant. It's only a few blocks.”
Hex seizes her wrist. “I thought you wanted to talk.”
Jayne kicks him.
She doesn't think about it--it's like her leg has finally had enough. Her boot crunches solidly into his knee, a blow so hard her leg muscles burn. Hex crumples.
“Bitch,” he moans.
Jayne hustles back into the hotel, to crowds and safety.
She puts an aspirin in her mouth and then spits it out. It disappears, camouflaged by immaculate white carpet.
Rath killing Hex, Hex following her, Hex going over the Falls. None of it makes any sense, but Jayne's scared. Powered by the roar of water outside, cold knives of fear cut at her brain.
Five aspirin in one hand and the bottle in the other, she lurches into the street, chilled, coatless. Just past the pool, she vomits into the plastic jungle. Her vision doubles, triples, and she remembers being here before. Puke drips from a fake bird of paradise. Wiping her mouth, she pops three aspirin off her hand. They bounce into the pool and fizz to acid.
It takes her five minutes just to cross the alley to the Knight, then, just as she reaches to open the door, she spins, stumbling. She's certain Hex is lurking, watching her.
Inside, Elaine is throwing up loudly in the ladies room. Rath Harper, one of them anyway, is bleeding all over the barstool. The buggy gizmo is extracting a glass fang from his chest.
The shard bounces on the hardwood floor and Jayne remembers seeing it on the men's room tiles.
“What the hell is going on?” Picturing the beer that isn't on the bar, she draws herself a pint in spite of the nausea.
“It's okay now, I'm okay,” Rath says. The thing's legs slide in and out of the gash in his skin, slick with blood.
Jayne closes her eyes. “Bully for you, Timeboy,” she says. “I feel like death.”
He pushes himself to his feet. “Mnemonesia” he says.
“Mnemonesia. Time sickness. If you can accept that all this happens a couple different ways, the nausea will pass.”
“You killed Hex,” Jayne says.
He bends to pick up the bloodied glass, and in it she sees his reflection, his eyes full of pain. “Yes.”
Her own words leak down from the television.
Tell me the worst thing you've ever done
Tell me, my friend, and I'll beat it by one
“Killing himself here, Hex murdered several futures,” Rath says quietly. “His, yours, the band's. His didn't matter.”
“You asshole,” Jayne says. “And I thought you were tasty.”
“I was a psychopath,” he says.
"Right, and you're better now?"
"I'm trying to make amends.”
“Trying to save him?”
“Yes,” he says, his hand curling around the glass. She wants so badly to believe him.
Throwing back the remaining aspirin, she washes them down with beer. She uses a napkin from the dispenser to wipe her eyes. “So what’s all this for, ultimately?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why does it matter? My future, Ardena... what did you kill Hex for in the first place?”
Wincing as he bends over, he buries the glass deep in the trash. “To ensure the stability of a particular timeline.”
“Mine, the people who sent me.”
“And they’re fascists, I bet.”
He shrugs. “Yeah, but there are good things about that future,” he says. “It’s just they don’t care what they have to do to protect the timeline. If you live in an era that predates the Time Division, you’re expendable. Pawns on the board.”
“So you came back to undo Hex’s...” Her throat closes over the word.
“Murder,” he sighs. “Yes. I’m undoing the worst things I did for them, but I don’t want to wipe out the Glorious Future. Just... make it a little better, maybe.”
“By lowering the cost?”
“Exactly. Which means here and now we still want the band to stay together.”
“Right,” she says, and she manages to smile as he settles onto a stool. “So this is sort of a way out form of social protest. With a heavy penance factor thrown in.”
“If you say so,” Rath says. “Listen. There was something you told me, last time.”
“Yeah. About a break-in?”
“There wasn't a break-in this time,” she says. “Or there was, but I didn't come check it out.”
“Do you remember checking it out in the other timestream?”
“My bass,” she says, and her stomach calms.
Jayne picks her way over the stage. Everything has been tidied by the others. Nothing's out of place.
Her hand reaches unerringly for the cord. She hands it to Rath and digs out her pocketknife. He slits the cord as if it was the belly of a fish, and his face takes on the look of a schoolboy, a kid trying to remember a lesson from the beginning of the year.
“It's wired to electrocute you.”
The words vibrate in the moments between Elaine's heaves: Wired to electrocute me... Wired ...
“He was never suicidal,” Jayne says. She blows her nose, scraping sensitive skin on the rough paper.
“He's not suicidal?” Rath cuts the cord into two chunks.
“No. He's been following me.”
“Then how does he end up going over the Falls?”
Just then there's a squeak. The door.
It's like she's seeing it from three different angles--bar, bathroom, stage--as Hex steps into the room.
(Jumper Falls’ Fourth Fatality this Year)
“Jayne,” Hex says, startled, his eyes shifting away from hers.
She ignores him for a second, long enough to make sure Curly's not passed out behind the bar. Focus on the injured guy, she tells herself. You're not ready to deal with the ex.
“Hex,” she says. Her voice comes out calm and businesslike. “Check on the bartender, will you? He's...”
Then Gerry appears in the doorway. “I'm okay, Sho.”
“Can I call anyone?”
“Nah, I'll call the wife,” he says.
Hex glares. Obviously this isn't the reunion he planned.
“That guy isn't in there, is he?” Jayne asks.
Gerry staggers across the room, holding himself up on chairs and tables. “No.”
“He's hurt,” Jayne says.
“He can't have gone far then,” Gerry groans. He flops onto a stool, crunching tomorrow’s newspaper on the floor under his shoe. He grabs a plastic sword from the bar next to the hard liquor, and she sees it's a phone. He hits a jewel on the hilt to trigger the autodial.
“Jayne.” It's Hex again, frustrated and insistent.
Am I ready to deal with him? Jayne asks herself. “Can you help me look for ... uh ... someone? He was here a minute ago. He was sick. Well ... bleeding.”
He blinks. “I've got a car. We could ... cruise the neighborhood.”
She follows him out to the beat-up white sedan. Hex opens the door for her, a move which reminds Jayne of riding to school in the mornings with her dad. But the passenger door molding is all cut up and messy, spoiling the image. As he closes her inside, her foot tangles in a collection of electrical cables--some whole, some in pieces. They’re entwined on the floor like a nest of snakes.
“Junk for work.”
The hairs on Jayne's neck stand up. Shaking her foot, she pulls a plug out of the tangle, coiling the cord as she works it loose from the ones underfoot.
Hex accelerates, tires squealing, up the Niagara Parkway. It's dusk, but he hasn't bothered to turn his lights on.
“We're supposed to be cruising the neighborhood,” Jayne says. A family of East Indian tourists darts into the street, and Hex pounds the brakes and horn at once.
Jayne tries her door. It's jammed.
The road clears and Hex hits the gas, singing Schoolgirl Fantasy in an off-key rasp.
All the things I wanted for my schoolgirl fantasy
Didn't take all that much man to meet a dreamer's needs.
“Hex,” she says, hammering the door. “You jerk.”
His face twists, and the car jolts to a stop. They're behind the Falls now, on the banks of the Niagara above the cataract.
“Hex,” Jayne shouts over the sound of rushing water.
He grabs her wrist, squeezing vital bones, pulls her over the driver's seat as he gets out of the car. She cracks her knee on the gearshift and her feet tangle in the black cord. Fighting for balance as he pulls her towards the water, Jayne digs her heels in, slides. The air is wet and thick, like congealed blood.
“You've got a real gift there, Jaynie. A real way of looking inside something and pulling out half the story...”
“It's a song!”
“You made me look ridiculous,” he bellows. His curls glisten under the streetlights. “People know I went out with you.”
“What people?” Jayne shouts back. “I'm not exactly famous yet, and you don't have any friends.”
Taken aback by her anger, he doesn't move right away, lets her get herself untangled, stand up. Mud and grass are slicked to her red jeans. Her elbow aches ...and Hex still has her wrist in a vise grip.
“You think I'd be on a stupid bar tour if Spin and Rolling Stone were begging me for interviews?”
There's a moment when they're panting in unison. One breath.
Then Hex yanks her towards the water. “You owe me more than that.”
Jayne kicks him.
Her leg moves and her boot connects with his knee. He wrenches her arm, but then, suddenly, his fingers slip loose. Falling, he rolls back and over the edge. He's in the river, clinging for a second by one hand.
Jayne flashes on swimming lessons from school. Throwing herself flat, she flings the loose end of the cord to him.
“Grab it, Hex,” she yells. “I'll pull you out.”
His face changes. Over the roar of the water he sings:
Tell me the worst thing you've ever done
He grabs, pulls. She's dragged closer to the river bank, inch by inch. There is no traction on the wet grass.
“Stop it! You're panicking!”
When she's almost at the bank he reaches for her hand.
Jayne lets go.
The current drags him towards the edge of the Falls, sucking him downstream.
As she loses sight of him, she realizes she's screaming.
(Singer may have been trying to save Jumper)
“Are you following me?” Jayne asks. Her voice echoes off the men's room ceiling.
Hex jerks his gaze from the bar, surprised to find her on the other side of the room.
“I feel kind of sick,” he says.
“Join the club.” Jayne turns her head, sees the now open door of toilet stall.
Rath Harper's gone, him and his calculator both. She sees only the piece of bloody glass, lying alone on the tile of the floor.
“How's the patient?” Elaine asks.
“Gone,” she says. “He's jammed on us.”
“You think he was okay?”
“Not even slightly.”
“We could look for him,” Hex volunteers. “I have a car.”
“Okay,” Jayne says warily. “You drive the neighborhood, and I'll look in the back alley.”
“I don't know what he looks like,” Hex sneers.
Liar, she thinks. You saw us in the cafe. “He can't have gone far. We'll look on foot.”
“There's a flashlight in my trunk,” Hex says.
She follows him out to the parking lot. She's alert, nervous, but then, just as she spots the white sedan, she's hit by a surge of nausea that all but doubles her over.
Hex doesn't waste the chance. He grabs, yanks, shoves her in the trunk, pushes down hard on the lid. The engine roars. They're moving, stopping suddenly. Hex honks angrily at someone--Rath, Jayne hopes--and then they're moving again.
The stench--hot stale air and that horrid cologne--overwhelms her. She pukes on Hex's suitcase, tells herself it's a start on revenge.
Cripes, she's scared.
Then they're stopped, and Hex pops the trunk, drags her out of the car. They’re near the river's edge.
“I'm sorry about the song,” she says.
He shakes her. “Who is he?”
He's someone who isn't here, thinks Jayne, and I wish he was. “Stop it.”
He laughs. “Give me a reason,” he says, and pushes her towards the river.
Jayne kicks him, and, amazingly, luckily, horribly, she's free. It's Hex who staggers over the edge. He's clinging to the side of the riverbank, his legs already pulled towards the drop-off.
“Grab my hand,” Jayne says, going down flat on the bank.
Hex's hand clamps on her wrist and his body curls. His feet catch and he propels himself backwards, towing her over the edge.
She hits the river, chokes on a mouthful of water. She tries to get free, struggles to swim ... but Hex is laughing, jerking her arm, kicking his legs between her feet as she churns them. She can't get the momentum, can't pull away from the roaring lip of the Falls.
It's too late.
Try to relax, Jayne thinks. People have survived this. The guide on the boat said a seven-year-old boy survived this wearing only a lifejacket.
The roar builds, crushing her temples, and suddenly Hex's grip breaks. He's ahead of her--she sees him go under the surface and then over. Over Niagara Falls. And now it's her.
Definitely falling now.
For a long, slow second she imagines she's okay. Then a fist of water rams past her teeth, up her nose, into her belly and lungs, exploding her like a bolt of dynamite.
Jayne clutches Rath's arm. “Don't go,” she moans.
“He's still in danger....” He shuts up when he sees how scared she is.
They're crouched amid the instrument boxes, bent over the frayed remains of the electrical cord, and Bayers can't see them. The ex's attention is drawn first by the sound of the bartender's wife barfing in the ladies' room, then by the Imaginary Cherry video and the blood on the barstool.
Rath's over the table before Hex can turn, throwing him back against the wall. He fishes for his timeskiff.
“Don't go,” Jayne says again.
“Don't worry,” he says. “Soon this'll be just another crappy memory.”
“That's what I'm afraid of,” she shrieks, hurling a napkin dispenser. It hits his hand, bouncing off his fist onto Hex's shoulder. Then she crumples. Her teeth are chattering--she's on the verge of convulsions.
Terminal mnemonesia, Rath thinks. She died on one of the reroutes. Singer may have been...
“Duh ... duh ... duh...” she stammers.
Rath rushes to take her hand, barely noticing as Hex bangs out the door.
“Don't go,” he says. “I won't.”
“Duh ... drowning,” she says.
“Jayne,” Rath says softly into her ear. “It didn't happen.”
“Is hap ... happening.”
“Try to think about the other times,” he says. “The cafe we didn't meet at.”
“Hex was there.”
“Shhh,” he says. “There's a trick to it. It didn't happen, this is the real timeline. Say it.”
“It duh ... didn't hap ... happen.”
“Trust me,” he says. “This is the real...”
“Trust,” she giggles shrilly. He's said the wrong thing.
Rath finds a heating vent at the edge of the stage, pushes her hand into the current of hot dry air. “You're not drowning, Sho.”
Her body snaps like it's just hit something. Slowly, she opens her eyes.
“Got it?” Rath says.
“For now,” she says, sucking in warm, dusty air from the vent and sneezing.
“It takes practice,” he says. “You'll reconcile it.”
“I drowned, Harper. We're not talking about the flu here.”
He puts an awkward hand on her red jacket, sees his own blood smeared on his fingers. “Listen, Jayne,” he says. “It's just a memory. It's survivable.”
She jerks away, and the sweep of her black hair covers her face, hiding her eyes. A low, desperate growl builds in the back of her throat, and she bangs her head softly against the dusty floor. She's clinging to the heating vent so tightly she's cutting the pads of her fingers. “Can't,” she whispers at last.
“It takes time,” he says. “I promise.”
“Can't you make anything better?” she shrieks, and suddenly she's not just tapping her head on the floor, she's slamming it.
Rath, alarmed, pulls her up against him. He holds her wrists with one hand, keeping her fingers in the flow of hot air as she kicks and yells. Each spasm of motion explodes pain through his aching chest. “You never show up,” she screams.
“When you do you make it worse!” Her temple's scraped and red.
“I can fix it.” He has to bellow before she hears him. “This time I can fix it.”
She stills, panting. “How?”
He fishes out the Fugue patch, waves it in front of her eyes. “See this? I made this for Hex. It'll erase the whole week.”
“All the versions?” He's got her wrists; his cheek is pressed against hers. Her pulse, staccato, beats against his skin.
She grabs the packet, squeezes it in her fist. “I'm not so sure I want that,” she says finally.
“Me either,” Rath admits.
She turns in his grip with the liquid grace of a minnow. There's a cold shock when she kisses him--her lips are almost blue. Rath presses, warming her.
Her fingers slide inside his coat, touch the wound on his chest, and she pulls away, eyes wide and wet. Rath struggles to breathe as she stares at the Fugue patch, at him. Then she tucks it into her boot.
“You'll try to live with it?”
“Try's the word. In the meantime, I'm not letting you out of my sight.”
“Your ex is headed for the Falls,” says Rath. “We have to save him too, remember?”
“He's got a car. We'll never catch him.”
“Watch us.” Rath puts an arm around her, still tapping keys.
It's easy to tack to the edge of the river. The incident above the falls is the point where all the time currents merge. It's been the pull from that center that has kept Rath from sailing back more than a day at a time--has forced him to splash from Saturday night to Saturday morning to Friday afternoon--but now it's on his side. He barely tosses out a spray of timefield, and he and Jayne are towed to the scene.
Two Plunge over Falls.
Just like that and they're on the river bank. Jayne sees Hex just pulling up, then sees the water. Losing her tenuous grip on the real timeline, she flees from the edge. She remembers other Jaynes, other Hexes. One Hex falls in when Jayne kicks him, yanks on the cable from the floor of the car. A second grabs her hand...
“This is the timeline,” she says. “I'm not in the water.”
Not yet. Phantom waves bat against her teeth.
Rath moves toward the car with his hands out. For a second she hopes Hex will drive away, but the car keeps coming, leaps over the kerb. Rath's illuminated in the headlights for a second before he jumps. Landing on the hood, he punches through the windshield with a fist. He grabs Hex, trying to pull him off the gas pedal. It doesn't work--Hex jerks in his grasp and the car, already so close to the edge, rolls farther forward.
Rath knocks through the windshield a second time, sweeping aside bits of glass. He hauls at Hex, gets most of him out. Now they're both on the hood.
Too late. The car tips, the two of them go over.
“Rath!” The car is in the way, tilting on the bank. She looks at her hand, hopes to see the cable. I left it at the bar, she thinks, it's wired to electrocute me. No, wait. It’s in the car...
There’s no time. Rath is in the water, clinging to the riverbank.
Jayne reaches for him, and then pauses, remembering Hex, remembering getting drowned, and what does she know about this guy anyway? Nothing except that he once shot Hex. He caused all of this.
He looks up at her with compassion and understanding, forgiveness even. He's slipping.
Jayne grabs, too late, and catches the shoulders of his jacket.
“Hold on,” she says ... but his momentum's too much. She feels the tearing, feels his weight slip away as the coat goes empty in her hands.
She's barely aware of Hex, bobbing under the water just as he goes over the edge of the cataract. Then it's Rath going ... gone away.
Crushing the coat to her chest, she curls up on the ground: sobbing, gulping, keening, rocking.
Eventually she hears sirens.
Climbing slowly to her feet, she pulls on the ripped and dripping coat. It hangs long, dragging almost to her knees. Sobbing more unevenly now, her nose streaming, she begins to trudge towards town. Not thinking, her hands jammed into the pockets, her fingers fish for a tissue--and come up against the pen that's not a pen, the book that's not a book, the calculator that's really a time machine.
Not that it matters. The time machine's no good. She doesn't know how to use it. And they're dead: she's sure of it. What was that headline she saw this afternoon in the basement of the hotel?
“Two Plunge over Falls,” she mumbles.
She can still feel the warmth of his mouth on hers, but he's gone.
She sits down in the dirt on the side of the road, pulls the Fugue patch out of her boot. She'll lose the last week, he said. She won't remember drowning or Hex following her around town. She won't picture Rath with glass in his chest and guilt in his gray eyes because once he killed her ex-boyfriend, won't recall that Hex would've tried to murder her. She will never have drowned. She won't remember Rath's arm around her shoulders or his lips warming hers.
She unwraps the patch. It's made of a soft white fabric. Dots are pressed into its surface, dots like those in the napkins in the cafe, the bar, the napkins she sometimes writes songs on. You could bury Niagara Falls in napkins, she thinks crazily, a flood of napkins for the torrent of people who come to watch the water fall. That huge crate of napkins in the hotel basement ... just one of how many more?
“Basement,” she says suddenly.
Shoving the patch back into its wrapper, jamming it into a pocket, she's up on her feet, starting to run.
“Hey, Joy Boy.” Jayne rips the med-bug off his arm, pours cold water over the olive skin, through the black curls. The other Rath opens his dark eyes.
“Who are you?” he asks. There is nothing in his voice, none of Rath's pain or regrets, no warmth.
I was a psychopath: that's what Rath had told her.
“Snap out of it,” she tells him. “Hex Bayers went over the Falls last night.”
Shoving the morning paper in his face, she's glad to see him blanch at the post-mortem pictures of himself and Hex.
“Do you know these men?” Jayne reads.
He groans, tries to fold the paper into a book.
She tears it away. “It's a real newspaper, idiot.”
“I'll reroute,” he says. “Go back to Boston and kill him.”
“How do you think this mess got started, you ham-fisted nutcase? Does this picture make it look like you died of old age?”
He flinches, then focuses, struggles to sit up. He's quick, she's got to give him that.
“What's your plan?”
Jayne's hand closes around the Fugue patch in her pocket. “You're taking me back to yesterday morning,” she says. “I owe somebody an apology.”
Jayne steps out of the stairwell into the lobby and spots both Rath Harper and Hex in the same moment. Hex is watching Rath from the chair in the alcove--seeing his hands shake, Jayne knows he's remembering the mall, the gunshot, dying.
Rath's on the payphone, calling her.
“Don't let anyone see you, Joy Boy,” Jayne orders, motioning him into a recess.
“I'm giving you one shot at a reroute,” he says. He's not as slow now, and Jayne feels like she's riding a shark with a paper halter.
She cuts across the lobby, pulls up a chair in front of Hex. “Hi,” she says.
He jerks with surprise.
“The song's a cheap shot,” she says. “I'm sorry.”
There's sweat beaded on his face.
She takes his hands, trying to focus all his attention on her. Her skin tingles as she remembers moving through the lobby. One memory--Jayne enters the cafe. One memory--Jayne meets Rath by the pool. “You've got to stop following me around, Hex.”
“You had your revenge. Now it's time for mine.”
“Wouldn't you rather have an apology? I'm sorry, Hex.”
He yanks his hands away, and for a second he's mad enough to hit her. “Not good enough.”
“Tell me what I can do to make it up to you. Anything...”
“There's no time.” He wipes a soggy napkin across reddened eyes.
“You remember being shot,” she says.
He slumps, and the anger drains away. He hasn't seen Rath and Jayne in the cafe together, hasn't seen his witch-bitch ex-girlfriend cozied up to the man who killed him. Maybe the mnemonesia is supplying those memories, but none of it can compete with the bullet exploding his throat in Boston. At least, that's what Jayne's counting on. It's not like she really understands this stuff. It's just that she remembers going over the Falls much more sharply than all the rest.
“The guy who killed me is here,” he whispers.
“Hex,” she says. “Do you trust me?”
Cripes, what an unfair thing to ask.
He stares at her for a long moment, drowning, then nods.
“You'll have to take my word for this, but he won't try again. You're not going to die.”
“I'm not sure it matters,” he whispers. “It's screwing me up, Jaynie.”
“It's a kind of sickness,” she tells him. “I've got a drug that'll cure it. You'll forget about the shooting, I promise.” And whether this works or not, she thinks, I'll remember going over the Falls forever.
He takes a long, shuddering breath. “How?”
“Just like this.” Jayne puts the patch on his arm. She holds his gaze, counting twenty, and his eyes close. Kissing his forehead, Jayne crooks a finger to summon the scary Rath Harper.
“Should've left him dead,” he says. “I did you a favor.”
“He's gonna get you killed if you aren't careful,” she says. “You'll see he gets home safe?”
“Sure,” he says. He's not a bit groggy now, and Jayne's heart revs every time he looks at her. But there's nobody else so she's stuck.
Even his laugh is scary. “Don't think I'll humor you forever.”
“You need me for your timeline,” Jayne says. Her voice comes out strong, and she keeps her eyes on Hex. “Please send him home.”
He taps keys on his skiff, sets it squarely on Hex's chest. Hex and the skiff vanish: dust puffs from the cushion as air rushes to fill the space where he was. Then, reappearing in mid-air, the skiff drops to the seat.
“That takes care of him,” Rath says. “What about Ardena Williams?”
“Don't worry,” Jayne says, touching the roll of napkins in her jacket pocket, the pen in the other. “Her problem was the songs. She thought they were fluff.”
“Suddenly the idea of recording more prom ditties doesn't appeal to me either.”
“Bayers will forget you apologized. What if he's still crazy when he wakes up?”
“What do you care?”
“That's my job,” he says in his dead voice.
“Caring?” Jayne laughs.
“Don't make me come back,” he says. “Watch yourself for a while. He might still want to kill you.”
She bites her lip. “I...”
“Forgot about that, did you?” He scoops up the timeskiff, looks at the readings on its tiny screen. “Just be careful. But the reroute looks solid. You've might have a knack for it--”
“What I've got is a headache.” The cheapjack reek of Hex's aftershave has her eyes watering again. She touches the cushion, feels the warmth there. “Gone away,” she whispers.
“Now what?” Rath says.
“I have to catch up with the band at the bar. I didn't show up the second time to check out the break-in. I have to get rid of the electrical cable Hex set up to fry me.”
“So we do the bar and then I take you forward to Sunday when we tacked out, and that's it?”
“What's left?” she says. “We saved him. I'll make sure the band stays together. I go back to my life, you go back to yours.”
The young Rath Harper puts on his sunglasses, and it's a relief to see his eyes disappear behind the smoke-gray lenses. “Good,” he says. “That waterfall's driving me nuts.”
The bar is empty.
Neither Gerry nor Elaine is behind the counter and Jayne checks the room. She's expecting to see Rath, but he's not here either.
Maybe she's early.
Then she hears the toilet flush. There's a creak--the stall door--and the sound of water splashing.
Rath steps out, pulling his coat back on over the med-bug’s repair job.
He comes around the bar and pulls her a beer.
“I only drink...”
“When you're sick,” he says.
“When did I tell you that?”
“Read it in a magazine interview.”
He shrugs, teasing, and pushes the beer towards her. “You've got mnemonesia. That's an illness.”
“Better get yourself one too, then.”
He does. “Should we have a toast?”
“Atoning for past crimes.” They clink glasses, drink.
“What's your paper say now?” Jayne asks.
Rath pulls out the book, folds it into a paper, brushes patterns over it with his fingertips.
“Deadly Feud,” she reads.
“It takes a minute to change,” he says.
“Turn on that television, will you?”.
Rath fishes for the remote, clicks. An old Rush video is coming to an end and the band appears. Jayne's lips move without sound, her bright red bass bobs.
“Egomaniac,” Rath says.
Rath points to a napkin on the bar. Red ink bleeds, spreads the letters: “Rath, Jayne. Stay where you are.”
“Feeble,” he says. “First thing they taught us not to do. Messages get lost. You can't trust them.”
“It's there, isn't it?”
The door creaks--once, twice, again. Real or remembered? She turns to look.
Rath's hand, hers, steal across the bar, connect. They hold there, just at the fingertips, as their memories split and merge. Jayne remembers drowning first, squeezing hard as she sees it play across Rath's face a minute later.
They look at the paper: “Lock Your Business: Rash of Break-Ins Stymie Cops.”
“It's over,” Rath says.
They stand in the dark for another minute, listening for sirens outside. It's quiet. They can hear Niagara Falls.
“So,” Jayne says finally. “Would you like to stay and hear me play tonight?” He starts to answer, and she stretches up to kiss him. He's warm; he smells good. “Don't say no,” she warns.
“I thought you were off men.”
Jayne grins. “Ancient history, Timeboy,” she says, and as they kiss again, the Guilt Trip video ends and vanishes from the screen.
This story originally appeared in SciFiction.