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Hole Lotta Shakin’
A Tony Mandolin Short Story
By Robert Beers
Most of what Bain meant by help was him doing things in the background while we kept out of his way, or as he put it, “Staying the hell away so he could work without worrying about a pair of normals at the same time.”
So we stayed out of his way and played the part of tourists. Being dressed the part, we rode trolleys, explored the waterfront some more and checked out all of the famous producers of treats, Ghirardelli, Columbus and yes, Anchor Steam. And we ate a hell of a lot of crab. The deal with the gunfight and my being a Pinkerton, of sorts opened a few doors that may have ordinarily been shut since there was no way to make Frankie look other than what he was, a giant black man near the turn of the twentieth century. However, it was a different thing if that black man had the fastest draw around. Fortunately, no would be Billy the Kids showed up to try his hand.
Oh, and we tipped just well enough to be appreciated and not fawned over.
Bain didn’t return until Valentine’s Day and he didn’t seem to be in the mood for flowers or candy. He didn’t even bother to knock, and I’m sure I locked that door. “I found the bastard,” he said, slumping into the closest chair.
“Bastard?” Frankie asked, “Who’s the bastard?”
“That child of mine,” Bain muttered, “the one you were chasing.”
I blinked, “But… I thought the last one had died. I mean… by our time… that is.”
“Apparently not,” Bain snapped.
“Excuse me?” Frankie exclaimed, “I thought we were on the same side here.”
Bain waved it all away, “Sorry. You don’t know what I’ve been doing this past month, and you shouldn’t be involved, but you are. This one doesn’t belong in your time. I think he’s figured out how to use his ability to ride the rapids in the time stream.”
“Excuse me?” Frankie asked.
I gave him an eyebrow and he shrugged.
“Remember that conversation you overheard between Doctor Craig and Professor VanMeter? VanMeter’s right, time travel into the past is impossible, technically. However, add a little fae wizard-enhanced magic and the impossible becomes a reality, to a point.” Bain sighed, “It seems the last of my children was not the last of my children. Playing with time always gets the players in trouble.”
I nodded and said, “I understand.”
Bain smiled, “I know, aura, remember?”
“Is that why you just host and don’t play poker?”
He shrugged, smiling, “They refused to let me play after the seventh win in a row.”
The plan was to track Bain’s time-traveling offspring and lure him to be where we needed him to be when the quake hit. According to Bain, the energy release would also be the most dangerous part of the plan. If one thing went awry so would we, scattered in bits and pieces all along the time stream. Oh, great fricking jumping joy.
Bain disappeared again until about one o’clock on the morning of the 18th. Let me tell you, you really do not want to be standing around in a major city being one of the very few people who know without a doubt that a disaster is creeping up on you and it is literally a couple of hours away. Not a good feeling. Not at all.
“Come on,” he said, doing his appearing out of nowhere trick.
Both Frankie and I nearly jumped out of our skins. We’d been getting more and more anxious as the clock ticked by, and you can only check and recheck that you’ve checked everything so many times.
“Bain!” I yelled, startled to the point of stupidity, “Come on! Give a guy a little warning, okay?”
He smiled. It was his familiar, not nice smile, “I could just leave you here in the past and see how you do. It might be interesting.”
Frankie headed toward the door saying, “No, no, we’re coming.”
Bain smiled again, murmuring , “I thought you might.”
When we left the hotel the streets were nearly empty, almost as if the city as an entity in its own right was aware of what was coming and was bracing for the quake.
“Now tell me,” Bain said, holding out a hand and stopping us as we walked, “Where did you enter this time frame? Where exactly?”
“Just off the foot of Mission Street,” I said, “in the alley of the parking garage.”
“In the what?”
“Sorry,” I said, “it isn’t built yet. Let me think.”
“Sure,” Bain growled, “Take all the time you want. We have almost an entire hour before it hits.”
It came to me, “Mission, between Spear and Steuart.”
Bain held out a hand, murmured something and a dancing whitish-yellow glow bloomed over his palm. “Right,” he said. “Go find him,” he whispered into the glow.
It darted off, heading down the street toward the wharf.
Bain muttered to us, “Well don’t just watch it, you idiots, follow it.”
So we did. The glow didn’t bob or weave. It moved at a fast walking pace, keeping the same height above the surface. We crossed the Embarcadero and then followed it down an alley onto the boardwalk of the dock. I could hear the bay sloshing against the pilings and the beginning of the scent of an ever-lowering tide.
The glow stopped, hovering just outside a boat shed. Then it bobbed up and down, once.
“He’s in there,” Bain said. “If you have weapons, get them ready.”
I pulled out the five-seven, knowing it would look like the equivalent of a sci-fi weapon in 1906 California.
I saw Bain notice the gun, but he didn’t say anything. He just nodded. Then I heard another metallic sound of a hammer being pulled back.
I turned my head and saw Frankie holding the revolver he’d been given for the gunfight. “Frankie?” I whispered.
“It’s a keepsake,” he whispered back.
“What’s going on here?”
We all turned.
There, in the gaslight stood E.M. Swift-Hook, her pad poised.
“What… in the burning blue blazes of Hell are you doing here?” Bain advanced on her, his voice growing ever more threatening with each step.
You had to give the lady credit, she didn’t back down. “I’m a reporter,” she said, her voice cracking, giving away what she must have been feeling. Bain’s hands were clenched into fists and each was wreathed in flame.
“This is a story you more than likely will not survive to print, young lady,” Bain snarled. “You have no idea just how deadly that thing in the shed is.”
“T-thing?” Swift-Hook stammered. It could have been Bain’s tone, but I think it was the flaming fists that told her this wasn’t your everyday situation.
The door to the boat shed exploded outward sending splinters into the air like shrapnel. A blue glob shot through them, just missing Bain and Swift-Hook by inches. Frankie and I were on the dock scrabbling for our guns.
“Don’t shoot!” Bain shouted, “Not yet. After him. You’ve got to keep him in sight!”
My fingers finally found the gun and I grabbed it as I staggered to my feet. I saw the figure, it was the Russian, well, what appeared to be a Russian, tube in hand sprinting down the boardwalk towards the Mission Street slip.
“Come on Frankie,” I gasped, “Let’s run.”
“But… my gun,” he wailed.
“Too late for that. We’ve gotta move,” I said, rushing my words.
We were catching up. I could see our quarry limping. That explosion, or whatever it was in the shed must have done some damage to him as well.
“There he goes,” Frankie yelled, as it ran into the building where the bulk of the parking garage would be in about a hundred years.
“I see him,” I said, panting. “Where’s Bain?”
I looked. Bain was behind me, the glow sitting in his palm.
He said, in a very calm and steady voice, “I strongly suggest you and your friend go back out into the street, now.”
And then I felt it, a slow deep vibration. I tried to yell, “Quake” to Frankie but the next thing I knew I was tossed off my feet as the ground heaved.
I heard a woman scream and then I heard Frankie’s basso roar. Everything was jumping and shaking, as the ground beneath me imitated ocean waves. The building that Bain’s child had ducked into collapsed, the sides falling inward as the roof dropped straight down.
A blue glob spat out of the wreckage and hit Bain. He’d been able to keep his feet somehow, but that staggered him. Then the Russian, or whatever it really was climbed out of the rubble, his clothing torn and a bloody smear covering half of his face.
“Father,” Bain’s child snarled, “At last. For all of my brothers and sisters…” And then he leveled the tube.
I did not expect a gunshot. I especially did not expect one right behind my right ear. Bain’s kid jerked and then looked down at the dark stain spreading across his chest.
The tube dropped from his hand and he looked confused. “How—?” And then he collapsed as if his strings had been cut.
Another shock hit and we were jounced around like toys.
I heard Bain yelling and then I saw him point toward Frankie and motion me to that spot. Swift-Hook was being held upright by the wizard. She had Frankie’s keepsake in her free hand.
Bain yelled out again, pointing the tube, “I’ve already forgotten you.” And then all I saw was a blue glow.
I woke up in the alley where the sinkhole was supposed to be, but all I saw was Frankie, traffic on Mission Street, and no sign there had ever been a quake.
“Frankie, you okay?” I asked.
He felt around himself. “I’m fine.” Then he looked at me, “Are we home?”
“Let’s check,” I said. A vague fear of butterflies rising slowly in my gut. I looked at Frankie, his turn of the century outfit was gone and he was wearing his Private Eye get up. I looked down and saw what I’d been wearing when we started this whole thing. I said, “How in the hell…?” And then I thought of butterflies and the fear hit.
I didn’t want to do anything but make it back to the house. Maybe I’d read too many books or listened in on Max and his friends debate probability and causality and all of the other alities, but to put it mildly, I was spooked. I needed to be sure the world the big guy and I had woken into was the world we’d left.
I really didn’t begin to feel more secure until I was greeted by Greystoke, and then I saw the paper on my porch. It was the paper I’d forgotten to read the morning the quake bounced me out of bed. That quake, it had never happened. I thought, “Huh?”
I checked the time. It was a bit before noon. Chasing a wild hare, I went into my study, picked up the receiver and dialed Mannie Goldenberg’s shop.
Frankie watched as I had my conversation. All he heard was my brief question and then me saying, “Uh huh. Okay, well thanks. I appreciate hearing that. Goodbye.”
“What did he say?” Frankie asked.
“It never happened,” I said. “The quake, the Russian, the protection racket, none of it. Mannie was even confused as to how I knew his name since we’ve never met.”
Frankie walked back into the kitchen whistling the tune to a song from Annie Get Your Gun.