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Authors: Tim Powers

Three Days to Never

BOOK: Three Days to Never
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Three Days to Never
Tim Powers

For Chris and Teresa Arena

And with thanks to Assaf Asheri,
Mike Backes, John Bierer, Jim Blaylock,
Chris Branch, Didi Chanoch, Russell Galen,
Patricia Geary, Tom Gilchrist, Rani Graff,
Julia Halperin, John Hertz, Jon Hodge,
Varnum Honey, Pat Hough, Barry Levin,
Brian and Cathy McCaleb, Karen Meisner,
Denny Meyer, Eric Nylund, Serena Powers,
Aya Shacham, Dave Sandoval, Bill Schafer,
Sunila Sen Gupta, David Silberstein, Kristine Sobrero, Ed Thomas,
Vered Tochterman, Guy Wiener,
Hagit Wiener, Naomi Wiener,
Par Winzell, and Mike Yanovich.

Contents

Prologue

The ambulance came bobbing out of the Mercy Medical Center…

One

It doesn't look burned.”

Two

Outside the vibrating windowpane, the narrow trunks of palm trees…

Three

The truck cab smelled like book paper and tobacco.

Four

When Lepidopt unbolted the door and pulled it open, Malk…

Five

Huck Finn is told by Huck Finn himself, from his…

Six

When Frank Marrity walked down the gravel driveway at eight…

Seven

As Marrity held open the tinted glass door of Alfredo's…

Eight

While Daphne was in surgery, Marrity blundered outside for a…

Nine

He doesn't know what I was talking about,” said Rascasse,…

Ten

Rascasse was snapping the fingers of his free hand as…

Eleven

What intrusion? yesterday

Twelve

Derek Marrity wasn't going to go near Arrowhead Pediatric Hospital…

Thirteen

Frank Marrity awoke in the hospital-room chair when the aluminum-framed…

Fourteen

If something's going to be on the radio,” said Ernie…

Fifteen

Bennett Bradley stood up as the two men nodded to…

Sixteen

Sturm and Drang had driven Bennett to the Bank of…

Seventeen

Shit,” said Bennett shrilly, “a cop.”

Eighteen

When the taciturn young man dropped her off at the…

Nineteen

Lepidopt switched off his portable telephone and tucked the bulky…

Twenty

Yes,” Marrity said hoarsely. The boat seemed very unsteady, and…

Twenty-one

After the bus had pulled up alongside the battered car…

Twenty-two

Could I bum one of those?”

Twenty-three

The twin-engine Bell helicopter had touched down at a shadowed…

Twenty-four

The twelve-sided motel room was crowded. Frank Marrity and Charlotte…

Twenty-five

When the slab was lying across the bed with its…

Twenty-six

Daphne had fallen asleep in her chair in the black…

Twenty-seven

Old Frank Marrity was glad to see the last of…

Twenty-eight

Frank Marrity's vision had narrowed as if he were looking…

Epilogue

Juniper and cypress trees, tall and shaggy with age, threw…

Prologue

Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the King my father's wrack,
This music crept by me upon the waters.

—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE,
THE TEMPEST

T
he ambulance came bobbing out of the Mercy Medical Center parking lot and swung south on Pine Street, its blue and red lights just winking dots in the bright noon sunshine and the siren echoing away into the cloudless blue vault of the sky. At East Lake Street the ambulance turned left, avoiding most of the traffic farther south, where reports of a miraculous angel appearing on somebody's TV set had attracted hundreds of the spiritual pilgrims who had come to town for this weekend.

At the Everett Memorial Highway the ambulance turned north, and accelerated; in five minutes it had left the city behind and was ascending the narrow blacktop strip through cool pine forests, and when the highway curved east the white peaks of Shasta and Shastina stood up high above the timberline.

Traffic was heavier as the highway switchbacked up the mountain slope—Volkswagen vans, campers, buses—and the shoulder was dotted with hitchhikers in jeans and robes and knapsacks.

The red-and-white ambulance weaved between the vehicles on the highway, and it was able to speed up again when the highway straightened out past the Bunny Flats campgrounds. Three miles farther on, the parking lot at Panther Meadows was clogged with cars and vans, but the hospital had radioed ahead and Forest Service officers had cleared a path to the north end of the lot, where trails led away among the trees.

In the clearings around the trailhead, people were strolling aimlessly or staring up into the sky or sitting in meditation circles, and the woods were noisy with ringing bells and the yells of children; two white-clad paramedics got out of the ambulance and carried a stretcher through a sea of beards and gray ponytails and pastel robes, with the tang of patchouli oil spicing the scent of Douglas fir on the chilly breeze—but they didn't have to hike far, because six people had already made a stretcher of flannel shirts and cherry branches and had carried the limp body most of the way back from the high glades of Squaw Meadow; the body was wrapped in an old brown army blanket and wreathed with Shasta daisies and the white flowers of wild strawberry.

The paramedics lifted the old woman's body onto their aluminum-and-nylon stretcher, and within minutes the ambulance was accelerating back down the mountain, but with no siren now.

Back in the clearing up on Squaw Meadow, the people who had not carried the stretcher were dismembering a swastika-shaped framework of gold wire, having to bend it repeatedly to break it, since none of them was carrying a pocketknife.

ACT ONE
I'll Drown My Book

I have done nothing but in care of thee,

Of thee my dear one, thee my daughter,
who

Art ignorant of what thou art, not knowing Of whence I am…

—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE,
THE TEMPEST

I
t doesn't look burned.”

“No,” said her father, squinting and shading his eyes with his hand. They had paused halfway across the weedy backyard.

“Are you sure she said ‘shed'?”

“Yes—‘I've burned down the Kaleidoscope Shed,' she told me.”

Daphne Marrity sat down on a patch of grass and straightened her skirt, peering at the crooked old gray structure that was visible now under the shadow of the shaggy avocado tree. It would probably burn up pretty fast, if anybody was to try to burn it.

The shingled roof was patchy, sagging in the middle, and the two dusty wood-framed windows on either side of the closed door seemed to be falling out of the clapboard wall; it probably leaked badly in the rain.

Daphne had heard that her father and aunt had sometimes sneaked out here to play in the shed when they were
children, though they weren't allowed to. The door was so low that Daphne herself might have to stoop to get through, and she was not a particularly tall twelve-year-old.

It was probably when they were too young to go to school, she thought. Or else it's because I was born in 1975, and kids are taller now than they were back then.

“The tree would have burned up too,” she noted.

“You're going to get red ants all over you. She might have dreamed it. I don't think it was a, a joke.” Her father glanced around, frowning, clearly irritated. He was sweating, even with his jacket folded over his arm.

“Gold under the bricks,” Daphne reminded him.

“And she dreamed that too. I wonder where she is.” There had been no answer to his knock on the front door of the house, but when they had walked around the corner and pushed open the backyard gate they had seen that the old green Rambler station wagon was in the carport, in the yellow shade of the corrugated fiberglass roof.

Daphne crossed her legs on the grass and squinted up at him against the sun's glare. “Why did she call it the Kaleidoscope Shed?”

“It—” He laughed. “We all called it that. I don't know.”

He had stepped on what he'd been about to say. She sighed and looked toward the shed again. “Let's go in it and pull up some bricks. I can watch out for spiders,” she added.

Her father shook his head. “I can see from here that it's padlocked. We shouldn't even be hanging around back here when Grammar's not home.” Grammar was the family name for the old lady, and it had not made Daphne like her any better.

“We had to, to see if she really did burn it down like she said. Now we should see if”—she thought quickly—“if she passed out in there from gasoline fumes. Maybe she meant, ‘I'm
about
to burn it down.'”

“How could she have padlocked it from the outside?”

“Maybe she's passed out behind the shed. She
did
call you about the shed, and she doesn't answer the door, and her car
is
here.”

“Oh…” He squinted and began to shake his head, so she went on quickly.

“‘Screw your courage to the sticking place,'” she said. “Maybe there really is gold under the bricks. Didn't she have a lot of money?”

He smiled distractedly. “‘And we'll not fail.' She did get some money in '55, I've heard.”

“How old was she then?” Daphne got to her feet, brushing down the back of her skirt.

“About fifty-five, I guess. She's probably about eighty-seven now. Any money she's got is in the bank.”

“Not in the bank—she's a hippie, isn't she?” Even now, at twelve, Daphne was still somewhat afraid of her chain-smoking great-grandmother, with her white hair, her grinding German accent, and her wrinkly old cheeks always wet with the artificial tears she bought in little bottles at Thrifty. Daphne had never been allowed in the old woman's backyard, and this was the first time she'd ever been farther out than the back porch. “Or a witch,” she added.

Daphne took her father's hand as a tentative prelude to starting toward the shed.

“She isn't a witch,” he said, laughing. “And she isn't a hippie either. She's too old to have been a hippie.”

“She went to Woodstock. You never went to Woodstock.”

“She probably just went to sell her necklaces.”

“As weapons, I bet,” Daphne said, recalling the clunky talismans. The old woman had given Daphne one on her seventh birthday, a stone thing on a necklace chain, and before the day was out, Daphne had nearly given herself a concussion with it, swinging it around; when her favorite cat had died six months later, she had buried the object with the cat.

She tried to project the thought to him:
Let's check out the shed.

“Hippies didn't have weapons. Okay, I'll look around in back of the shed.”

He began walking forward, leading the way and holding her hand, stepping carefully through the dry grass and high
green weeds. His brown leather Top-Siders ground creosote smells out of the bristly green stalks.

“Watch where you put your feet,” he said over his shoulder, “she's got all kinds of old crap out here.”

“Old crap,” Daphne echoed.

“Car-engine parts, broken air conditioners, suits of medieval armor I wouldn't be surprised. I should carry you, your legs are going to get all scratched.”

“Even skinny I'm too heavy now. You'd get apoplexy.”

“I could carry two girls your size, one under each arm.”

They had stepped in under the shade of the tree limbs, and her father handed her his brown corduroy jacket.

He shook his head as if at the silliness of all this, then waded through the rank greenery to the corner of the shed and disappeared around it. She could hear him brushing against the shed's far wall, and cussing, and knocking boards over.

Daphne had folded his jacket and tucked it under her left arm, and now she walked up to the shed door and reached out with her right hand, took hold of the brown padlock, and pulled. The whole rusted hasp and lock came away from the wood in one stiff piece.

A few moments later her father appeared from around the far corner, red faced and sweating. His white shirt was streaked with dust and cobwebs.

“Well, she's not back there,” he said, brushing dead leaves out of his hair. “I don't think she's been out here in months. Years. Let's get out of here.”

Daphne held out the rusted hasp and padlock for him to see, then dropped it and brushed her fingers on her pink blouse.

“I didn't tear the wood,” she said. “The screws were just sitting in the holes.”

“Good lord, Daph,” said her father, “nobody's going to mind.”

“I know, but I mean the thing was just hung there, in the holes—somebody else pulled it out, and then hung it back up.” She wrinkled her nose. “And I smell gasoline.”

“You do not.”

“Honest, I do.” They both knew her sense of smell was better than his.

“You just want to look in there for gold.”

But he sighed and tugged on the purple glass doorknob, and the door creaked open, sliding easily over the dead grass.

“Probably she keeps whisky out here,” Daphne said, a little nervously. “Sneaks out at night to drink it.” Her father said her uncle Bennett kept a bottle of whisky in his garage, and that's why he kept all his business files out there.

“She doesn't drink whisky,” her father said absently, crouching to peer inside. “I wish we had a flashlight—somebody's pulled up half the floor.” He leaned back and exhaled. “And I smell gasoline too.”

Daphne bent down and looked past her father's elbow into the dimness. A roughly four-foot-square cement slab was leaned up against the shelves on the left-side wall, and seemed to be responsible for that wall's outward tilt; and a square patch of bare black dirt at the foot of the slab seemed to indicate where it had been pried up. The rest of the floor was pale bricks.

The floor was clear except for a scattering of cigarette butts and a pair of tire-soled sandals lying on the bricks.

The gasoline reek was strong enough to mask whatever moldy smells the place might ordinarily have; and Daphne could see a red-and-yellow metal gasoline can on a wooden shelf against the back wall.

Her father ducked inside and took hold of the handle on top of the can and lifted it. She could hear swishing inside the can as he stepped past her, and it seemed to be heavy as he carried it outside. She noticed that there was no cap on it. No wonder the place reeks, she thought.

There was a nearly opaque window in the back wall, and Daphne stepped in across the bricks and stood on tiptoe to twist the latch on its frame; the latch snapped off, but when she pushed on the window the entire thing fell outside, frame and all, thumping in the thick weeds. Dry summer air puffed in through the ragged square hole, fluttering her brown bangs. She inhaled it gratefully.

“I've got ventilation,” she called over her shoulder. “And some light too.”

A television sat on a metal cart to the left of the door, with a VCR on top of it. The VCR was flashing 12:00, though it must be past one by now.

“The time's wrong,” she said to her father, pointing at the VCR as he ducked his head to step inside again.

“What?”

“On her VCR. Weird to have electricity out here.”

“Oh! It's always had electrical outlets. God knows why. This is the first time I've seen anything plugged in, out here. Lucky there was no spark.” He glanced past her and smiled. “I'm glad you got that window open.”

Daphne thought he was relieved to learn that her “time's wrong” remark had been about the VCR. But before she could think of a way to ask him about it, he had stepped to the shelf and picked up a green metal box that had been hidden behind the gasoline can.

“What's that?” she asked.

“An ammunition box. I don't think she's ever had a gun, though.” He swung the lid up, then tipped it sideways so Daphne could see that it was full of old yellowed papers. He righted it and began flipping through them.

Daphne glanced at the nearly upright cement slab—and then looked at it more closely. It was lumpy with damp mud, but somebody had cleaned four patches of it—two handprints and two shoe prints, clearly pressed into the cement when it had still been wet. And behind the undisturbed clumps of mud she could see looping grooves in the face of the block; somebody had scrawled something in it too.

She put her father's jacket on the shelf beside the ammunition box and then stepped down onto the patch of sunken dirt next to the block. She pressed her open right hand into the right-hand print in the block—and then quickly pulled her hand away. The cement there was as smooth and warm as flesh, and damp.

With the side of her shoe, she scuffed mud off the bottom
of the slab, and then stepped back.
Jan 12—1928,
she read. The writing seemed to have been done with a stick.

“Bunch of old letters,” her father said behind her. “New Jersey postmarks, 1933, '39, '55…”

“To her?”

Daphne pried off some more mud with her fingers. There was a long, smooth groove next to the shoe prints, as if a rod too had been pressed into the wet cement. She noticed that the shoe prints were awfully long and narrow, and set at a duck-foot angle.

“Lisa Marrity, yup,” said her father.

Above the rod indentation was a crude caricature of a man with a bowler hat and a Hitler mustache.

“The letters are all in German,” her father said. She could hear him rifling through the stack. “Well, no, some in English. Ugh, they're sticky, the envelopes! Was she
licking
them?”

Daphne could puzzle out the words at the top of the block, since the grooves of the writing were neatly filled in with black mud.
To Sid—Best of Luck.
And the last clump of dirt fell off all at once when she tugged at it. Exposed now was the carefully incised name,
Charlie Chaplin.

Daphne looked over her shoulder at her father, who was holding the metal box and peering into it. “Hey,” she said.

“Hmm?”

“Check this out.”

Marrity looked at her, then past her at the cement slab; his face went blank. He put the box down on the shelf. “Is that
real?”
he said softly.

She tried to think of a funny answer, then just shrugged. “I don't know.”

He was staring at the slab. “I mean, isn't the real one at the Chinese Theater?”

“I don't know.”

He glanced at her and smiled. “Sorry. But this
might
be real. Maybe they made two. She says she knew Chaplin. She flew to Switzerland after he died.”

“Where did he die?”

“In Switzerland, goof. I wonder if these letters—” He paused, for Daphne had got down on her hands and knees and begun prying up the bricks along the edge of the exposed patch of wet dirt. “What?” he said. “Gold?”

“She
almost
burned up the shed,” Daphne said without looking up. “Got the cap off the gas can, at least.”

“Well—true.” Her father knelt beside her, on the bricks instead of the mud—which Daphne was pleased to see, as she didn't want to wash a fresh pair of pants for him to wear to work tomorrow—and pulled up a couple of bricks himself. His dark hair was falling into his eyes, and he streaked a big smudge of grime onto his forehead when he pushed it back. Great, Daphne thought; he looks—probably we both look—as if we just tunneled out of a jail.

Daphne saw a glint of brightness in the flat mud where one brick had been, and she rubbed at it; it was a piece of wire about as thick as a pencil. It was looped, and she hooked a finger through it to pull it up, but the rest of the loop was stuck fast under the other bricks.

“Is this gold?” she asked her father.

He grunted and rubbed more dirt off the wire. “I can't say it's not,” he said. “Right color, at least, and it's pliable.”

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