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Authors: Jack McDevitt

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BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
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Only in California.
had never talked much about his father. But Michael Shelborne had been a Nobel candidate on two occasions, for work that Dave couldn’t begin to understand. And he had found a way to travel in time, a feat that nobody except Dave even knew about. He recalled Shel’s mentioning that his father had been disappointed at his career choice. Shel, like his dad, had become a physicist. But he apparently lacked Michael’s genius and had eventually become the public-relations director for Carbolite, a high-tech firm. But if Michael had been disappointed in Shel, what must he have thought of Jerry, who’d become a lawyer?
Dave already missed Shel’s voice, his sardonic view of the world, his amused cynicism.
He sighed. The world was a cruel and painful place. Enjoy life while you can. He remembered his grandfather once commenting that he should live life to the fullest. “While you can,” he’d said, his intense sea-blue eyes locked on Dave. “You only get a few decades in the daylight. Assuming you’re lucky.”
Ray White, a retired tennis player who lived alone near the corner, was out walking. He waved as Dave slowed down and pulled into his driveway. Dave waved back.
He got out of the car, went inside, and locked up. He didn’t usually drink alone, but today he was willing to make an exception. He poured a brandy and stared out the window. The sky, finally, was clearing. It would be a pleasant evening. In back somewhere, something moved. It might have been a branch, but it sounded inside the house.
He dismissed it. It had been a long day, and he was tired. He sank into a chair and closed his eyes.
It came again. A floorboard, maybe. Not much more than a whisper.
He took down a golf club, went into the hallway, looked up the staircase and along the upper level. Glanced toward the kitchen.
Wood creaked.
A hinge, maybe.
He started up, as quietly as he could. He was about halfway when the closed door to the middle bedroom clicked. Someone was turning the knob. Dave froze.
The door opened. And Shel appeared.
“Hi, Dave,” he said.
. . . Gone before
To that unknown and silent shore,
Shall we not meet?—as heretofore,
Some summer morning. . . .
Shelborne, at an early age, fell in love with the ancient world. While most of the kids in his school went to the seashore or to theme parks during vacation, his father, Michael Shelborne, M.A., Ph.D., resident genius at Swifton Labs on the northwest side of Philadelphia, used his downtime to take him and his older brother, Jerry, to the Leaning Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Pyramid. They photographed the Sphinx, walked through the Parthenon, and visited the site of the Alexandrian Lighthouse. But Michael’s interests were universal. The family also rode a cruise ship through the Panama Canal and peered down at the Colorado River from the lip of the Grand Canyon. They visited Victoria Falls when he was eight, and he flew past Mt. Fuji at ten. He’d pleaded with his father for a chance to climb Everest, but that, perhaps, in the elder Shelborne’s words, might be better left for another day. Shel was, in most ways, a typical kid and would have loved to be able to say he’d thrown snowballs from the top of the mountain. But, as most of us do, he became more rational, more cautious, as he grew older. By the time he arrived at thirty, there would have been no way to coax him to undertake such a project. Or, for that matter, to venture too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon.
Everest became the end of the line for it all. Jerry had discovered girls and had never much liked the trips anyhow. He’d wanted to go to Wildwood and sit on the beach all summer. He claimed seniority to his brother in such matters. Consequently, Dad had grown tired of the carping, so the boardwalk took over for the Great Buddha and riding camels across the desert.
Shel’s father had hoped his boys would follow in his footsteps but had given up early on Jerry, who made it clear that he was headed for law school. He’d tried not to put any pressure on Shel. Had told him any number of times, “Do what you want; find what’s important to you.” Still, Shel knew what his father hoped for. Knew he was disappointed in his older son. Moreover, Shel was interested in why people fall when they walk off rooftops, or whether the sky really did go on forever, and if it didn’t, what was out there at the edge of space? So he’d gone to Princeton, majored in physics, turned in a mediocre performance, sweated out his doctorate, and come away with the knowledge that he would never be more than someone who confirmed other people’s findings.
His problem with physics was that he could never quite visualize reality, never understood that space was made out of rubber. That he aged more slowly doing seventy than waiting for his car to warm up. He
these things to be true, if somewhat exaggerated, but he couldn’t
Shel’s mother had died in an automobile accident when he was four. He’d been with her at the time but had escaped without a scratch. She’d secured him in his car seat, but had neglected to belt herself in. He remembered vividly being thrown against his restraints and the screech of metal being wrenched out of shape and the desperate cries of his mother.
His father had not married again. “There’s no way to replace her,” he’d told his sons, who worried for a time that a strange woman would come into their house.
Then one day in October 2018, when both of his sons were out on their own, Jerry in a law offic e and Shel doing public relations for Carbolite Systems, Michael walked out of the world.
first indication that something unusual was going on came in the form of a late-evening phone call. It was his father, who’d been away for several weeks consulting on a government project.
he said.
“I wanted to let you know I’m home.”
Shel was surprised. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“I didn’t, either, until the other day. Listen, I’ve left a message for Jerry. Why don’t we try to get together tomorrow for lunch? Are you available?”
There was something in his voice. “Dad, are you okay?”
“Sure. I’m fine.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’m glad to hear it. Where did you have in mind?”
“How about the Italian place?”
“Yes. Maybe eleven thirty, so we can beat the crowd.”
“That’s good.” Shel had been watching the
Phil Castle Show
. They were interviewing someone who was trying to sell a new movie. He’d been about to turn it off when the phone rang. He did so now. “Are you home to stay? Or are you going back?”
“I’m going to take a couple of days off. Then I’m going back to Swifton.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. We missed you.”
“I missed you, too, Shel.”
“And I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
a mild physical resemblance, Jerry Shelborne could hardly have been less like his brother. He was several inches taller than Shel and had for years enjoyed introducing his brother as “the other half of the comedy team.” Jerry was trim and kept in good shape. He was one of those guys who worked out at his club every day.
The chasm that had opened between them came from Jerry’s view that Shel was shuffling through life. That he’d caved in to his father’s wishes instead of following his own muse—that was actually the term he’d used—and that consequently, Shel would be stuck selling electronics for the rest of his life unless he got his act together. There was, unfortunately, some truth to the charge. And that, of course, made it all the more painful.
Jerry saw his own career as a way to “leave a footprint.” He argued that he was protecting those he called “the little people.” “The corporations will take us all,” he liked to tell prospective clients, “unless we’re willing to fight back.” And, to give the guy justice, he usually seemed to be on the right side of his cases. Though he was obviously collecting a substantial fraction of the money that was changing hands in the courtroom.
They were waiting for their father at Servio’s, an upscale Italian restaurant near City Avenue. “There was a case last week,” Jerry was saying, when Shel glanced at his watch and broke in.
“He’s twenty minutes late.”
“Not like him,” said Jerry.
Shel took out his cell phone and made the call. A recorded voice responded:
“Dr. Shelborne is not available at the moment. After the tone, please leave your name and number.”
“Let’s go find out what’s going on,” said Shel. He told the waitress, whom he knew, what had happened. “If he comes in,” he said, “call me, okay?”
Shelborne lived on Moorland Avenue in a modest two-story frame with two big oaks in the front yard and a backboard that Shel had used growing up, and which now more or less belonged to the neighborhood kids. Shel and Jerry pulled up in Shel’s car and parked in the driveway. Michael’s black Skylark was visible in the garage.
“So why isn’t he answering his phone?” asked Jerry.
Lights were on in the kitchen and in the den. They walked up to the front door, and Shel rang the bell.
A squirrel wandered across the lawn, stopped, and looked at them.
Shel rang again. He listened to the chimes.
Jerry twisted the knob. It was locked. “You bring the key?” he asked.
Shel had been coming over from time to time during their father’s absence to make sure everything was okay. A control unit turned lights off and on periodically to create the illusion someone was home. Still, the Skylark had been in New Mexico with their father. It wouldn’t have been too hard to figure out no one was here.
“No,” said Shel. “I didn’t think I’d need it.”
“Maybe one of the other doors is open.” They tried the back, but it was also locked. The side door was located inside the garage, but the garage door was down, and it locked automatically.
Shel lived only a few minutes away. “I’ll get the keys,” he said. “Be right back.”
door was chained. “Not a good sign,” said Jerry. He stuck his head in as far as he could. “Dad, you here anywhere?”
“Maybe we should call nine-one-one.”
“Let’s wait till we see what’s going on. We’d look kind of foolish if we get an ambulance in here, and he’s just fallen asleep.” He rang the bell again.
Shel tried a couple of the windows. They were locked, of course. No rocks were visible on the lawn, but there was a broken branch that had fallen into the driveway. He picked it up and came back. Jerry told him which window to break. It was one of the reasons he and Jerry didn’t do much socializing.
Before going any further, Shel called Servio’s.
they said,
“he hasn’t come in.”
He picked a different spot from the one Jerry had suggested and rammed the branch through the glass. He reached in, turned the lock, and raised the window.
Jerry stood aside and waited for Shel to climb through and open the door. “Very good,” he said, as if Shel had done an outstanding piece of work.
They called out again. Still no response. Shel hurried upstairs and looked into his father’s bedroom. It hadn’t been slept in. Two pieces of luggage, full but unopened, had been placed by the window. The other bedrooms were also empty. He returned downstairs, where Jerry was coming out of the den, shaking his head. “He’s not here. His luggage is up there. It looks as if he just came in and dropped them.”
“I can’t figure it,” said Jerry. He held up a wallet and a set of keys.
“Where were they?”
“On the dining-room table.” He started going from window to window, trying to lift each one.
“What are you doing, Jerry?”
“The other doors, side and back, are both bolted.” He turned and shrugged. “The windows are all locked. He has to be here somewhere.”
Shel couldn’t picture his father climbing down from the second floor. Nevertheless, he went back up and looked through the rooms, one by one. The windows were all locked.
He was not in the bathroom.
Not in any of the closets.
Not under the bed.
“He got out somehow.”
“When’s the last time you were here, Shel?”
“Wednesday.” Five days ago.
“Chain wasn’t on when you left?”
“How could it be?”
Jerry picked up the keys again. “He never goes anywhere without his car.”
Shel went back outside. The neighbor across the street, Frank Traeger, was raking leaves. Shel went over.
BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
7.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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