No roar of automobile engines, no exhaust-heavy air; instead, the swish of leather and bridles, rattling chains, creaking wooden wagons and thumping wagon doors, and the clomping and sloshing of horses' hooves. Drivers shouted at their horses or each other. One yelled to another with a wave as they passed, "Yo, Fred! You still driving that old nag? Time to turn her into dog food."
Smiling, Fred shouted back, "Don't talk about my wife like that!"
Horses bearing riders, horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, trucks, and wagons of all descriptions passed continuously as Joy Phim and John Banks sauntered along San Francisco's Market Street. The stench of horse dung and urine permeated the air, and flies were everywhere; stop for a moment, and they attacked any bare flesh. The flounced hem of Joy's shoe-length walking skirt was muddy where it brushed the boards that passed for a sidewalk. The boardwalk dipped and rose, and was slick in places where mud had splashed up from the gutter. Here and there, broken boards created a hole that rivaled the potholes in the street, and an occasional broken board stuck up at an angle, waiting to catch the unwary dress or pants leg. But the boards were better then slipping and sliding on the puddled, potholed street.
Overhead, wires looped either singly or in bundles from pole to pole, and from poles to buildings. They cut the cloudless blue sky into sections that could have been pieces of a child's jigsaw puzzle. "There must be a million of these wires," John commented, eyes wide, as he looked up for the first time. Many of the wires had deteriorated; the insulation hung from some, and others curled dangerously close to the ground from leaning poles. "San Francisco still must be recovering from the earthquake and fire; the condition of the street and utility wires in this section of town show that there still is much to do."
Joy grunted in response, while her nose wrinkled and her upper lip curled as if drawing away from the smells assaulting her nose. All her senses were quivering antenna automatically cataloguing what was to be ignored, remembered, or what demanded an instantaneous response in the form of a defensive move or offensive attack. This was a background to her thoughts.
She felt they were on their way. With the help of the three guys they met and hired soon after their arrival in this universe a couple of hours after midnight, she and John were able to get around San Francisco easily. They now had hotel rooms to live in. Actually, the Fairfax Hotel was theirs. John had bought it when its manager wouldn't give them rooms because Joy was Asian.
They had registered their new Tor Import & Export Company this morning. Just an hour ago, they had bought from the Bank of California the 8th Street warehouse in which their time machine had landed. And Joy had almost put behind her for a while the deep, heart-rending sadness she felt over leaving her mother behind, and the absolute horror of the message from the future of this new universe they were about to create that had awaited them on their arrival.
Their mission? To prevent war and democide--genocide and mass murder--by fostering democracy. The Survivor's Benevolent Society, of which Joy's adopted mother Tor was a leading member, had discovered the research that proved democracy is a method of nonviolence and a way to perpetual peace. They therefore sent volunteers Joy and John back in time to 1906 San Francisco to foster democracy, lobby for peace, and assassinate the warmongers and mass murderers, such as Hitler and Stalin. They staked their resources and the lives of Joy and John on preventing the horrible wars and democides of the twentieth century--the wars and murders that had so victimized members of the Society.
But within hours of Joy and John arriving in this time, their mission had changed. For they received a message from the future, impossibly, from far in the very future they were here to create--their new universe. It told of a nuclear attack on the democracies by the fundamentalist Islamic Abul Sabah, and his resulting victory and radical new world order. It was a horrible message. Although it told them that they did succeed in their mission to prevent the wars and democides that had happened in the world they left, they realized they'd created the conditions that made possible Sabah's nuclear attack, the defeat of the democracies, and the death of possibly two billion people.
Two billion loving, thinking, feeling human beings! Joy had been crushed by this toll. She had been shocked to her core by her responsibility for it. As she remembered this again for the hundredth time, her head lowered, and her eyes focused unseeingly on her moving feet. She had failed her mother, who had given up her loving daughter to this mission. She had horribly bungled the Society's deepest hopes for peace, hopes that it had placed on her and John's shoulders.
Suicide. It was all that remained for the shamed and dishonored warrior.
And she had reached for that peace of death. Her knife had been but a second away from the carotid vein in her neck when John, no warrior, had done the perfect thing. At the last second, he had slapped her head away from the knife and yelled, "Kill Sabah! We'll kill him soon after he's born in 1914."
Yes, she had realized, touching her burning cheek. Yes. That was it. They could kill him and save the world from his nuclear attack and radical Islamic world totalitarianism. This challenge overcame her shame. It was worthy of a warrior.
Her thoughts kept returning to that nuclear war, to the sheer horror of some two billion people murdered for the sake of one religious sect, by the power of one man. The message they had received from the far future about Sabah played like a video loop in her mind, interrupted only with the repeated question, How and when can we--I--assassinate him?
This is no good, Joy finally chided herself. Let Sabah go. He will not be born until 1914 and what happened in the New Universe will happen. It is set. We can't do anything about it. We can only change this one--the Third Universe.
She visualized the whole question of Sabah, his nuclear attack, and his world victory over the democracies as wrapped up in solid ball. She imagined putting that ball in a metal strongbox, locking it, and putting it into a vault with a massive steel door, then closing and locking the ponderous door and walking away. It worked. She sighed with relief as her mind cleared. Now, face forward, head up, and shoulders squared, she was ready to meet head-on the overwhelming challenge they faced. She and John, alone, pitting their lives against the armies, secret services, and tyrants of the world.
The excitement of her new life and surroundings, awful smells and pesky flies notwithstanding, was invigorating. Joy now looked with fascination at this new world about her. They walked far behind the three guys--Sal Garcia, Dolphy Docker, and Hands Reeves--who had been squatting in the warehouse where their time machine came to rest. The drifters were now their first company employees.
She and John watched the horse traffic so new to their eyes and noses, and ogled the eye-catching store window displays. There was a Graphophone Grand for $25.00 that played music or voice from a cylinder, a precursor of the disk record player. Here was a Swiss Calendar pocket watch for $4.95. And next to it a Delmar folding camera for $3.75. At another store was a Kit Carson Cowboy saddle for $20.00. John had to almost drag Joy past the gun shop displaying in its window the Marlin repeating rifle for $10.00, the Winchester repeating rifle for $12.50, and that which almost transfixed her, a 50-caliber Springfield government breech loading rifle with leaf sight and twenty rounds for $2.90.
Now, with her mind clear, she enjoyed pointing out in mock horror the women's clothes displayed in some of the shop windows. There was a taffeteen silk waist with a tight blue collar, and three hemstitched straps down the front that ended in buckles; it had wide cuffs, and three rows of tucking in the back. In another window was a lady's wash suit, with waist and skirt made of percale and trimmed with white cord and strips of white braid; it had cording around a high standing collar. Then there were the capes, the current rage among middle-class women. Capes with bows, capes with buttons, capes that were decorated like mid-twentieth century modern art, and capes made of silk, mohair, brocaded satin, and wool.
Joy kept muttering, "I'll give up eating rice before I wear those stupid clothes."
John nodded toward a shop that displayed corsets and corset covers in its window and, apparently never tiring of the joke he'd been repeating since they arrived, told Joy in mock seriousness, brows deeply furrowed, "You're gonna have to get one of those things, the way your stomach bounces like Jell-O."
Slim but curvaceous and lithe from her daily martial arts practice, Joy raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes heavenward before looking down at his crotch. Waving her finger at it, she told him, "I'll wear one of those when you wear a jockstrap and cup, big boy, the way you allow yourself to bulge out."
John's face went red and he quickly glanced around, then joined her laughter with a breathy, "Ha-ha." He kissed his index finger, pointed it at her, and jiggled it for a moment, as they continued their stroll toward his newly purchased Hotel Fairfax, still a mile away.
From across the street, Hadad al Jaber watched Joy and John with wide eyes, raised brows, and gaping mouth. He couldn't seem to take his eyes away from them, and had almost tripped or slipped on the boardwalk twice. He exclaimed to Carla Akwal, his time travel partner from 2013, "I cannot believe it. Here they are. I'm actually seeing alive the most famous couple in history. Some countries even have set aside a day of remembrance in their honor. There are statues of them all over; paintings of them hang in many a government building." He sneered. "Stupid. Dumb." He eyed Joy. "But Joy Phim is even more beautiful than her paintings, even at this distance. No wonder Joy was able to spin webs around people."
"You mean men," Carla corrected, drawing away from him and crossing her arms. "She will spin no web around me."
She glared at him, then stepped toward him, grabbed his arm, and shook it. "Come on," she said, "have you become so mesmerized by that woman that you've forgotten why we're here? We are to kill them, not lick their feet."
"Okay," he replied, lifting his chin and trying to stand tall. He looked for a gap in the slow horse and wagon traffic, so they could cross the street. Impatient, he yelled to Carla, "Go!" and dashed forward.
Dodging a horse-drawn cart, he slithered across the street, his shoes making slurping noises in the puddles. Carla followed him, but he had cut too close to the cart, and she ran into the horse's nose. The horse reared up, screamed, and skittered at an angle, almost upsetting the cart it was pulling. Carla tripped over a pile of horse manure and slid to her knee. She hurriedly got to her feet, dodging the frightened horse. She waved her fist at the shouting, red-faced driver as she pulled up on the boardwalk next to Hadad, who was waiting, hands on hips.
He growled, "What took you so long?"
Without looking at him, Carla headed rapidly toward Joy and John. They were ambling down the boardwalk about fifty feet away, and seemed so entranced with what they were seeing that they had not heard the horse's scream.
A sudden clacking noise behind her made her turn. Hadad was kicking a broken board that stuck out of the boardwalk. "Damn thing caught my pants leg," he hissed.
Carla sneered, "What's taking you so long?"
Hadad gave her a steely stare when he caught up, and then both of them riveted their attention on Joy and John's backs as they hurried toward them.
Joy was giggling to John about something.
John walked around a hole in the boardwalk and, pointing to it, said something to Joy.
Hadad and Carla took out their Stahls.
Already exulting with triumph, Hadad aimed at Joy's head and Carla coolly did the same for John's.
Her second day in this "primitive age," Khoo Jy-ying meandered down Market Street. She gazed here and there, at the people and their clothing, the small stores and their goods on display, and at the traffic, the incredible traffic of horse-drawn carts, wagons, carriages, surreys, and cabriolets, with an occasional rider on horseback or bicycle, and a rare automobile or truck, each adding its oily exhaust to the stench.
She twitched her nose and licked her lips, as though that could wash away the reeking air.
The unusually humid warmth of the air bore down on her; she could feel the sweat accumulating under her arms. When she'd left 2002, it had been winter and below freezing in northeast China; here, the average high for November was in the sixties Fahrenheit, using that crazy American way of measuring temperature. A comfortable temperature, but the high relative humidity got her.
She sensed things around her as a warrior would, while a portion of her mind recorded and evaluated this new world. This was a different world to be sure, but she hadn't really appreciated how different and grimy it would be.
Now that she had succeeded in arriving here safely with all the supplies required for her one assassination, her thoughts kept skirting the whole purpose of her new life. I will kill that time traveler when I find him. Me. Sabah Security Guard Captain Khoo will save a world. Alone.
But, no hurry. I have so much time to relax and explore this primitive world and try to discover what is good about it. I have seven or eight years, maybe even nine years, before that time traveler will try to kill Abul Sabah, or his parents before he is born--that is plenty of time to save the world of Sabah and ensure his Great Victory over the infidel democracies and heathenism.
She looked ahead when she heard a horse scream, and saw that a short man had run into a horse. As the horse bolted, the man slid and shuffled to the other side of the road, where another man, arms akimbo, waited for him. Jy-ying was about to look away when she saw them intently stare at the man and woman sauntering farther down the walk.
The two men suddenly rushed toward the unsuspecting couple.
I do not need my security training to know those two men are stalking that couple.
She had no intention of intervening. The stalkers could be undercover cops, as far as she knew. But then she saw them draw handguns and point them at the couple with the obvious intention of shooting them in the back. She scowled. Not right. She gave it not another thought. She dashed across the street to intervene.
Had the couple turned into dragons, she wouldn't have been more surprised at what she saw next.
Out of the corner of her eye, Joy caught movement close by, and a glint reflected in the store window next to her. Absently, she turned her head to get a better look at the reflection. It was like having someone pass a photograph rapidly before one's eyes. In the first instant it didn't make sense--she just glimpsed lines, dark patches, and colors outlined against moving horses, wagons, and buildings on the other side of the street. Half a heartbeat later, it all clicked into place.
Men with guns pointed at us!
Trained since the age of four in karate and judo, Joy's body almost instantaneously reacted. As she screamed at John, "Gun behind you!" she hunched down to get the best center of gravity, and launched into a swinging back flip. The man behind her desperately tried to track her movements with his gun. Joy's feet whipped from within a blossoming mass of skirt ruffles and underskirt to smack his gun at an angle, knocking it painfully out of his hand. It twirled through the air, hit the edge of the boardwalk, and bounced into the street.
Responding reflexively, John ducked down and rotated his hips for a swift back kick, the sole of his boot knocking the second attacker's gun flying into a store window. Broken glass cascaded onto the boardwalk.
The attackers fled.
As Hadad and Carla fled down the boardwalk, Carla looked over her shoulder to see whether Joy and John were pursuing them, and almost tripped on a loose board.
Hadad grabbed her arm before she could fall. Eyes flashing, he rasped, "Damn it, Carla." He jerked her along with him, almost tugging her off her feet again before he released her.
Suddenly a woman jumped from the roadway and stopped in front of them, loosely pointing a gun at them. "Stop! Hands up," she shouted.
Even before the sound of her command died away, Hadad zigged to one side and front kicked the gun out of the woman's hand while Carla zagged to the other side and, twirling, swoop kicked her in the face with her boot heel. The blow knocked the woman onto her behind in the muddy gutter.
Hadad ran into a store entrance and tried to turn toward the door, but the mud on his shoes from the street made him slide past. Right behind him, Carla gripped his arm and held him up until he got his balance.
"Damn it, Hadad," she hissed with a smirk.
Hadad ignored her and darted into the store with Carla behind him.
After kicking the attacker's gun out of his hand, Joy slammed flat onto the boardwalk, her wide-brimmed hat slipping over her face, its decorative egret feather sticking straight up in the air. She brushed the hat away and tried to roll into her fighting stance, but her long skirt and underskirt had gathered completely around her and her cape had twisted up her shoulders. She ended in a flop. Pushing up to her knees, she down fisted her hands in front of her chest, ready to fight from the ground. As soon as she saw the attackers fleeing, she stood up as best she could and jerkily untwisted her clothes and pulled her skirt back down to her shoes.
John had remained on his feet. Reaching for her arm, he yelled, "You okay?"
"Yeah," she said in a short tone as he picked up her hat and moved to help further straighten out her clothes. Anger flared her nostrils and narrowed her eyes further. The words boiled out: "That does it. I'm never, ever again going to wear an underskirt, petticoat, or one of these circular skirts with all these stupid ruffles. It's like trying to fight while covered with a net. Damn it."
John seemed relieved, and mumbled, "I'm glad that look wasn't directed at me."
She stared in the direction the attackers had fled. They were gone, but Joy saw a woman--a Chinese woman!--just getting to her feet in the muddy gutter. She had obviously been pushed off the walk. Joy pointed her out to John, and they hurried down the boardwalk to help her.
With Carla behind him, Hadad rushed toward the rear of the store, turning his head from side to side in search of a way out. A heavily bearded young man emerged from behind a counter, looking surprised, and seemed about to ask what they wanted. Hadad yelled at him, "Police. Where is your exit?"
They followed the pointing finger to a service entrance, and ran out into a walled alley filled with garbage cans and empty boxes. They ran down the alley, surprising a black cat that dashed before them in fright until they emerged onto a muddy side street with no boardwalk. Hadad had to slow down in the mud. A glance at Carla showed a flushed face, drawn lips, and contracted eyebrows.
She sputtered at him, "Satan be damned, what were you doing? Why did you not shoot her?"
Stabbing at her with his finger, Hadad spit out, "Ha! You did not shoot him. What is your excuse?"
Not caring whether she followed, he stomped down the street for several minutes, splashing muddy water, until he cooled down. He stopped and turned; she'd been right behind him and almost ran into him. He crossed his arms. "I wanted to be sure to get her in the head. Remember their damn armor. It is useless to take an easy body shot."
Drawing her eyebrows down over narrowed eyes, Carla yelled, "You screwed this up. Now they know someone wants to kill them."
"Yes, but they do not know us." He looked down at the mud, studying it without really seeing it, and shrugged his shoulders. "I do not think they got a good look at our faces, just our backs." He looked up. "And they must think you are a man."
Hadad reached out, palm up, and touched her arm. "We have years, Carla, years--and they cannot protect themselves every minute of every day. I want to go back to our room to check some details in Hands' Mission Humanity and John's Remembrance." He turned and headed for the next intersection, glancing back once. Carla hung back for a few seconds, shook her head, and hurried to catch up.
At the intersection, Hadad got out his map to see where they were. Once he was oriented, he led the way to their room at the New California Resort on Montgomery Street, just off the Barbary Coast.
As they approached the three-story gray building that covered half a block, Carla wrinkled her nose and waved at the shabby building. "How nice to return to our 'resort,'" she commented sourly, "with its stinking saloon, whore's dance hall, talentless cabaret, and seedy hotel." She grabbed Hadad's arm and made him stop. "I want to move," she railed, emphasizing the announcement by chopping the air with her free hand. "God, Hadad, we have all this money."
"I told you, Carla. This is our cover. We will live like rich capitalists--better, like monarchs with oil wells--after we kill them."
Sal, Dolphy, and Hands had been walking ahead of Joy and John, who constantly stopped or slowed down to look in store windows. The three men kept looking back at Joy and John, but they still missed seeing the attack. They ran back to Joy and John while Joy was still on her knees, her back to them, pushing aside clumps of straight black hair that had fallen out of her bun. They must have heard Joy yell, and then the noise of breaking glass.
John, crouched beside her holding her hat in one hand, straightened as Sal, boot knife in hand, and the others dashed up to them.
Hands asked John, "What happened?"
"Ah . . . somebody tried to . . . kill us," he stuttered, turning slightly pale.
The guys followed them to the Chinese woman getting up from the street. She had just picked up a gun and was trying to wipe the mud off its grip with her dress. Her nose was red and bleeding. Joy reached a firm hand out to her and helped her onto the walk.
The woman took a good look at Joy. Her slanted almond eyes widened and her eyebrows reached up for her hairline. She stared at Joy.
"What?" was all Joy could say, gaping in return. Even with her bloody and swelling red nose, the woman looked like her sister. Almost her twin, except slightly shorter. Joy knew people had doubles, but she'd never thought she would meet hers.
A stunned silence fell between them, which was finally broken by Sal. Idly holding his knife at his side, he waved at Joy and the other woman and asked nonchalantly, "Are you two sisters or something?"
Still wide-eyed, Joy shook her head.
John cleared his throat. The color was returning to his face. He asked the woman, "Are you okay? Your nose is bleeding."
"Yes. It is nothing," she said, using her white lace sleeve to wipe the blood from her nose and chin. Then she straightened, a stern, commanding look coming over her. "We must get their guns. They may help identify the attackers."
Joy broke out of her paralysis, put her hand out to John for her hat, plopped it on, and self-consciously shoved her errant hair under it as they all watched. She flashed a little smile at John, and turned to lead them back to the spot where they'd been attacked.
There, ignoring the store clerk staring at her through the broken window, she reached into the glass-littered display and picked up the gun John had knocked into it. She gave it a quick glance, frowned, and put it into her purse. Then she waved on two horsemen and a wagon that had stopped to see what was going on. John nonchalantly leaned over the gutter, gripped the muddy gun Joy had knocked there, and shoved it deep into his worsted coat's side pocket.
Sal half-turned his body to John, while keeping his distance. Waving a circle in the air with the point of his knife, Sal squinted at him and blurted in a tense voice, "Hey, boss. What the fu--what ya got us into?"
John held up his hand, and in a firm voice replied, "Wait until we get to my hotel room. Just be watchful until then. Okay?"
Sal mumbled something in Spanish, but nodded. He continued to hold his knife tightly, however, as he reached into his coat with his other hand for a half-smoked Abajo cigar, and put it his mouth, and lit it with a match he scratched on his boot.
John asked Hands, who was standing near Sal with his hands on his hips, one cheek puffed out by a wad of Red Man chewing tobacco, "How does one catch a cab here?"
"Wait," Joy exclaimed. She turned to the other woman. She was now almost able to accept her double for what she was. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes," the woman replied, her eyes narrowed, lips pursed. She seem to come to a decision. Pointing to Joy and then John, she said, "You two. You are martial arts experts, yes? That is the only way I can explain what you did to your attackers."
Joy's eyebrows popped up, and her eyes widened. She hesitated. Then, gaining control, she pulled her shoulders back and nodded.
The woman straightened her back, looked squarely at Joy, and went on. "I am a former teacher of wing chun kung fu." When Joy nodded in understanding, she continued. "I had a gun on those two men, but they both attacked me unexpectedly. I think they are experts in some martial art, which, going by their movements, may be Western or Southern Chinese."
Taking a half step toward the woman and holding her gaze with her own, Joy smiled. "I would like to get to know you; maybe you would like to join John and me in sparring sometime. Anyway, if you don't have something you must do, would you like to come back to our hotel with us?"
The woman pinched her nose, frowned, and looked down at her bloody sleeve.
John took out his handkerchief and handed it to her. "Your nose is still bleeding."
Lips pursed, she wiped her face.
John said, "Hold it to your nose until the bleeding stops, but to return the handkerchief to me, which you are now obligated to do, you will have to come to our hotel with us."
The woman raised one eyebrow, then finally grinned. "Thank you. I will do that."
John turned to Hands and asked, "Cab?"
"Cab?" Hands asked in return.
Joy supplied, "We want to rent something to take us back to our hotel."
"Oh, you mean a Hansom. But we won't all fit into it. I'll find a coach."
Hands stepped into the street, spit out what remained of his chewing tobacco, and soon hailed a four-wheeled open coach with a yellow stripe on its side, what looked like a canvas automobile top, one driver, and two horses--one red chestnut and the other a dun. The six of them squeezed into it. Sal, seeing how confined they would be, glanced at the two women, cut off the glowing end of his cigar, and pocketed it.
With all the swaying that sent them bouncing against each other, no one tried to say anything on the way. Dolphy was sitting next to Joy and seemed embarrassed by constantly rubbing against her. He pressed himself against Sal on the other side, pushing him hard against the door. Lost for the moment in her thoughts about what had happened, Joy paid no attention.
Sitting across from them with Hands and the Chinese woman, John again looked distracted, probably still thinking of the attack, Joy guessed. He didn't even notice that the woman was bouncing against him. Joy did.
When they arrived at the Fairfax Hotel, John asked the driver, "How much for the ride?"
"Fifty cents?" John repeated, brows knitted.
"Hey, look buddy," the cabby exclaimed, leaning down toward John from his wooden seat with narrowed eyes. He pointed his whip at him. "That's what I charge. You can't find anybody cheaper."
"No, no," John replied, waving his palms at the driver. "It's fine. Here, keep the change."
The cabbie looked at the dollar bill as though John were crazy, as did the three guys waiting close by.
The Chinese woman raised her eyebrows.
The Fairfax Hotel was a solid, square, three-story wooden building standing by itself amidst overgrown, rat-infested, vacant lots. The hotel's remoteness from the center of the San Francisco earthquake and the flexibility of its wooden structure had enabled it to survive the earthquake. This was not true of adjacent brick and hollow tile buildings that had been condemned by the city after the earthquake and torn down. One lot was the site of pre-earthquake redevelopment, but no work had been done on it since.
The hotel had a large marquee in front, and a vertical sign with "Fairfax" painted in large white letters outlined in black against a red background. Inside, the lobby was decorated in the typical Victorian style of middle-class, middle price range hotels in the western United States--plush blue velour sofas and chairs with curved armrests, here and there a Versailles chair, heavy blue and green drapes on the windows, three garish landscapes on the walls, numerous potted ferns, a Macarthur palm outgrowing an oxblood china bowl planter, and an imitation Persian rug, its convoluted colors and designs a mixture no Persian would confess to, even under torture, covering the floor. The place was stuffy, with an underlying odor that suggested someone's bad breath, perhaps emanating from the two spittoons.
As they entered the lobby, Joy sniffed the air and told herself again, "This place is so ugly and smelly it has to be on purpose. I bet it's so guests don't linger."
Once they were all packed into John's second floor hotel room, one of the largest in the hotel as befitted the owner, Joy turned to the woman, bowed slightly, and said, "I am sorry for being so rude. My name is Joy Phim." She introduced John as their boss and owner of an import-export company, and each of the three guys as fellow workers.
John said, "Nice meeting you."
Hands and Dolphy nodded and touched their cap rims; Sal waved his greeting with a grin, giving Jy-ying an open-eyed look.
Jy-ying bowed to each of them and then looked at Joy. "I am Khoo Jy-ying. I am from Tianjin, China. Where in China are you from?"
"I'm from Vietnam; no one knows my true ancestry, but it's probably Sino-Vietnamese, by my looks. My name comes from Tor Phim, who adopted me. More later. We have some things to do first."
She turned to John and, eyes narrowed, hand out, asked, "Could I see the attacker's gun that you have?"
He pulled it out of his pocket, saw that it was encrusted with mud, and turned to Jy-ying. "You no longer need my handkerchief for your nose. Could I have it back?"
"No, no," she said, "I will wash it."
"I'll give it back after I wipe the gun. Okay?"
She nodded, took it out of her purse, and handed it to him. He started to wipe the gun.
Joy jerked her head close to his ear and hissed, "The safety, John!"
He looked up at her with a Charlie Brown smile, flipped up what must have been the safety, knowing Joy would tell him if it weren't, and finished wiping the gun. He handed it to her.
She saw mud that John had missed, took the handkerchief out of his hand, shook her head, and wiped the remaining dried mud off the gun. She laid it on the bed next to the one she had recovered from the store window. Then she started to disassemble them.
The three guys watched what she was doing with huge eyes, as though she were performing a magic trick. Jy-ying stood off to the side, brows furrowed, and watched Joy easily disassemble the guns.
Sal asked in surprise, "You know about guns?"
"Sure. Ask me anything about guns and I'll give you an answer."
Hands responded, "I used to shoot with my uncle's old Civil War rifle when I was a boy." Smirking, he asked, "What was the rifle musket 1863 Type 1?"
Looking up from the guns on the bed, she replied, "Answer."
"What?" Dolphy asked.
"What kind of answer is that?" Hands asked.
Joy gave him a broad smile, and pointed out, "Well, I told you I would give you an 'answer,' and I did, didn't I?"
Sal chuckled and Dolphy waved his finger at Hands.
Hands crossed his arms over his chest and chided Joy, "You don't know, do you?"
Joy's smile turned to a grin. "The 1863 was based on Colt's Special Model 1861. Springfield modified it in four ways--made a flat S-shaped hammer with faceted sides; shortened the flat-faced bolster without a clean out screw; included round clamping barrel bands; and eliminated the band springs--a ramrod spoon held the ramrod in the stock. Despite all that, it was still a musket."
Good thing the guys had shoes on, or as their jaws fell open, they would have crushed their toes. Even John goggled.
Jy-ying's eyes narrowed further. She began to look carefully around the room, and at John and Joy's clothes. When they spoke, she was also unusually attentive, like a cat eyeing a bird on the ground.
As the guys tried to put their jaws back in place, Joy turned again to the guns on the bed. Accentuating her movements a little more than necessary, she ejected the magazine from each, took out a cartridge from one and looked at the bullet. Then she sat next to the gun pieces with a sigh and said, "These are good weapons. Our attackers are not cheap gangsters or thugs. They are professionals."
Jy-ying stepped over to the bed, picked up the weapons, and carefully examined them, holding each of the parts in her hands and eyeing them closely. She put them down and looked Joy in the eye, a curious light in her own. "You are correct. You are a weapons expert also. Yes?"
"And so are you," Joy said, surprised. She belatedly closed her sagging jaw. Jy-ying was not only her double, she also knew martial arts. And weapons. Christ. This is beyond probability, she thought. Some god is playing with us.
Hands looked from Joy to Jy-ying to John and back. "I can't believe you people, especially the ladies. But even you, boss . . . can I be frank?"
John mumbled something incredulous about "another Joy" before focusing on Hands to jerk his head up and down in a nod.
Dolphy put his hand on Hands' arm and whispered, "He's the boss and we got jobs. Don't ruin it."
Hands ignored him. "I've never worked for someone like you. Although you've been our boss as of this morning, you are very relaxed with us. You're more like a coworker than a boss. Same with Miss Phim. And although she's a woman, you treat her like you do us. And forgive me Miss Phim, but Mr. Banks told us you are his assistant and translator. What do you assist Mr. Banks in doing? Beating up your competitors? Buying guns?"
Sal and Dolphy went stone still.
Jy-ying stood back, her face intent and eyes focused on Joy as though only she existed.
John combed his unruly, carrot-colored hair with his fingers and glanced at Joy, who just sat on the bed looking down at the guns beside her and rubbing her arm.
A door slammed down the hall, and voices passed by the room. Outside, a steam-powered automobile coughed its way down the street.
Just as Hands waved his hand as though to apologize, Joy began with, "I help--"
John interrupted with a cough and a wave in Joy's direction. "She's my Girl Friday." His smirk broke through his attempt to hide it.
"What's that mean?" Sal asked, winking at Hands. "Does she do something special on Friday?" His grin looked suspiciously like a leer.
"She does whatever needs to be done for me," John said, finally achieving a poker face.
Joy stared at him. Doesn't he know what he is saying? Correction, with his stupid ego, maybe he does.
John's face turned red, and he took sudden interest in the gun parts on the bed. He tugged at his earlobe as the three guys grinned at Joy. Joy had to stop it. She glowered at John for a moment and then fixed the three guys with her stare. "In business, you guys. Don't get any ideas." She flashed another cold look at John, and continued. "And as far as my knowledge of guns is concerned, I'm just your ordinary woman who took up weapons to protect herself. Goes to show you, you never know what you're getting into when you mess with a woman."
With a grin that created those dimples at the corner of his mouth that Joy hated so much, John looked up at her. Hiding his mouth from the guys with his hand, he silently mouthed, "Getting into," and raised an eyebrow.
Joy realized what she had said. My God. My face feels so hot. I must be blushing. Me, who attended a Chinese school of the erotic arts when I was seventeen, blushing? John is going to have insufferable fun chiding me about this. The beast.
Joy was speechless for a few moments before she insisted to the room, "Let's get back to these guns. As I was saying, this was an attempted professional hit."
Jy-ying looked amused, but not distracted. She seemed to listen especially to John's voice and study his gestures.
Hands and Dolphy looked at each other, and Sal took out his Abajo and put it in his mouth. He pulled a wooden match from another pocket and scratched it against a nearby ceramic pillow ashtray that had one rough side for that purpose, and "Fairfax Hotel" stenciled on the opposite side. He applied the flame to his cigar, puffed, and put the match in the ashtray. When he looked back at Joy, he was startled by the black look she was giving him.
He gave her a "what did I do?" look, shrugged, put his foot on the room's only chair, and leaned on his knee.
She turned away. I've got to remember what age this is, Joy reproved herself. Almost twice as many cigars are sold as cigarettes, and John said that each day, eighty percent of all American men smoke one or more cigars. Still stinks no less.
John again looked at the disassembled guns for several seconds, and that drew the guys' attention back to them. Their demeanor changed and Hands loudly repeated the question Sal had asked on the street. "What have you gotten us into? You just hired us this morning, and now somebody wants to kill you two."
Emboldened by Hands' question, Dolphy went further. "I don't know whether what you're paying us is worth the risk. Why were you attacked . . . ah . . . boss?"
John sat down next to the guns. He rested his elbows on his knees and, leaning his chin on them, gazed at each of the guys in turn. When the guys began to fidget, John replied in a deep tone, "The why, we don't know. These may be killers hired by crazy people. They may have been hired by someone out east who felt our business robbed or cheated them when it was there, or by competitors who have heard of our company's success before coming here, and are afraid of our competition. This is still the wild frontier, you know. Anyway, I don't think either of us got a look at their faces. Can you describe them, Jy-ying? You saw them head-on."
As the guys turned their heads to look at Jy-ying, she answered, "They both are short and look a mixture of Caucasian and Oriental with strong, dark features. The shorter one looked almost effeminate, and may be a disguised woman. They might have seemed clumsy as they ran toward me, since one tripped and almost fell on the boardwalk, and the other held him up for a moment, but they actually moved well, almost gracefully. They were dressed in ordinary clothes, even to their hats, which they managed to keep on somehow. As I mentioned before, I think the way they attacked me indicates they are also trained in the martial arts."
John looked impressed.
"What's a martial arts?" Sal asked, taking his foot off the chair and standing up, shoulders back, to face Jy-ying.
Joy answered, "It's a form of person to person combat, either hand to hand, or weapon to weapon. There are many forms, such as judo, ka--"
"Yes," John interrupted, "I'm sure that Joy will teach you more about it some other time, but--"
Sal exhaled cigar smoke, smoothed down a tobacco leaf sticking out of the side of his cigar, and asked, "So, why are you and, ah . . . Jy-hing--"
"Jy-ying," Jy-ying corrected.
"--into martial arts?"
Joy looked at Jy-ying to answer first. Jy-ying gave Sal an intense look, then said, "My father was a teacher of wing chun, a form of kung fu martial arts, and when my mother was gang raped and killed when I was very young, he started to teach me wing chun so that I could protect myself when I grew up." She stopped and looked at Joy.
Joy's shoulders slumped. She swallowed several times, and gazed down at a finger that was fidgeting with one of the gun parts next to her. The memory of her mother was too fresh, too painful, and the question brought it all back--her leaving her mother forever, the last good-bye forever. Forever--less than a day ago. Her eyes moistened; she fought back tears. I don't want to cry. Not here. Not now. Not with all these people around. She felt her face flush.
John put his hand on her shoulder, and answered softly for her. "She was found alone and almost dead on a Vietnamese boat when she was four. She was taken to a hospital, and her story got into an American newspaper. Tor Phim, a Cambodian immigrant, saw the story and adopted her. She herself had suffered under a dictatorship--its thugs killed her husband, and she barely escaped alive. She adopted Joy, and had her trained in the martial arts so that she could always defend herself against the thugs of this world. Joy left her loving mother to come here with me. She died a couple of days ago."
Joy let out a quiet gasp and buried her face in her hand.
John quickly put his arm around Joy's shoulder and pulled her toward him. He whispered in her ear, "I'm sorry, baby."
Joy pushed gently away, shook her hair back from her face, tightly pressed her palms together on her lap, and looked up at nobody.
"Thank you, boss, for telling us," Hands said softly, with a slight bow of his head. Straightening up, he looked at Joy and then Jy-ying. Gesturing toward each, he said, "I think I speak for my friends, Sal and Dolphy. We're very sorry about what happened to you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, ours are free."
Dolphy and Sal nodded.
Joy finally focused her eyes on them and nodded in return.
Jy-ying moved to where the three guys could easily see her, and bowed to them from the waist.
John was getting to like these guys. They were strong-willed and independently-minded, but sensitive. Just the kind of employees he wanted. He was also surprised by Hands' speech. Although he did not have much of an education, he had learned much as a professional baseball player.
John held up his hand to still further comments. Pointing to the guys, he said, "I want to see your muscles. Take off your shirts and whatever you have underneath."
"Hey," Dolphy responded immediately, "we're not into that stuff."
Leering at Jy-ying, Sal blurted, "Speak for yourself. Girls first."
Hands grinned and asked, "In front of the ladies?"
Joy looked at John with raised eyebrows. He chuckled, and said, "Nothing like that. Just take your shirts off, not your pants--although I don't think you have anything that would surprise them."
"John!" Joy exclaimed, giving him a look from which a tiger would slink. But she confounded the look with the giggle that followed. Finally shedding the look altogether, she playfully leered at the guys' chests, one after another.
John thought, This was just the humor moment she needed.
"Ah, shucks," one of guys whispered under his breath. John guessed it was Sal, who at that moment was trying to put out his cigar in the ashtray so he could save it.
When the three guys had their shirts off, John walked around them looking at their physiques. There was no fat on any of them. Sal was lean but sinewy. Hands was the most muscular.
John then put his hand out to each in turn and said, "Grip my hand as tight as you can." Only Joy probably saw the pain in his eyes when Hands complied. "Very good," John said to Hands, his voice even. "Your baseball background is showing."
John then looked at each of them and said, "You guys have the physiques for what I have in mind. Do you know how to use handguns?"
"Yes," they responded together, as though John were asking them whether they knew how to pee.
"I will triple your pay if you will be our guards."
"Wow," Sal exclaimed, "that's a lot of money. What do we do for it?"
"You go with us wherever we go, and you keep an eye out for the killers. I don't want you jumping in the way of a bullet meant for us--no way. I want that understood now. Your job is more to scare the killers off than actually engage in a shoot-out. But you should be armed. Aside from Sal's knife, do you have weapons?"
"We just don't have the money to buy guns," Dolphy replied.
John reached into his wallet, took out $100, and gave it to Hands. "Use this money to buy the best guns. Not engraved grips and such, but the best mechanical ones. And a couple of boxes of cartridges. Now, go. And come back here when you've bought them."
Just as he was about to leave, Sal turned at the door and asked John, "What do you need us for? You got Miss Phim to guard you, us, your company, San Francisco--"
"And the United States," Dolphy interjected.
Joy laughed and replied, "Because I can't protect the United States alone."
Smiling, Sal pointed at Jy-ying. "You should hire her also."
John shooed them out with his hands. After they left, he turned to Jy-ying, who had been standing all this time. He invited her to sit on the cushioned wicker chair by the side table, while he and Joy sat on the edge of the bed facing her.
John told her, "Thanks for trying to help us. I'm sorry your nose got bloodied as a result."
Jy-ying looked for a second at the footprint Sal had made on the seat, glanced at the mud on her dress, and sat down. She leaned toward John. "Oh, excuse me. May I have your handkerchief back? I will wash it for you."
While John handed it to her, Joy asked, "Where do you live?"
"I just came here from Oakland yesterday. I did not want to stay there after my father died. I'm living here temporarily at the All Nations Hotel."
"Do you have a job?"
"Well," John said, "I'm looking for good people. I just moved my company from the east coast, as you heard, and I'm hiring. Would you like to work for me?"
"Thank you, but what would I do?"
Joy held her hand up to John to stop him from answering. She turned to Jy-ying, and asked in Mandarin Chinese, "Do you know much about China?"
Jy-ying answered in the same major dialect, "Yes, I was born and grew up there, and I've traveled there often with my father. And I have studied China in college."
Joy tried Shanghainese. "Do you understand me?"
"Yes, I know that Chinese."
Joy tried Cantonese, and then two other Chinese language groups. Jy-ying knew them all.
Brows raised and eyes wide, Joy turned to John and announced, "Her Chinese is excellent. She can work under me. I'll need all the help I can get in our future business with China. As you told me, this will be our major business for a while."
"Okay," John said. He smiled at Jy-ying.
She couldn't believe it. Her heart began to flutter, and she felt warm. Distracted, she didn't hear the first words he said.
" . . . most useful skills, I will pay you a professional salary of . . . ." John hesitated, took a notepad out of his coat pocket, and did some quick calculations. Finally he asked, "How about an annual salary of $1,100?"
She unconsciously licked her lips and leaned back, pushing out her chest. "I accept, John. Thank you. You treat this humble person with such honor."
"Very good. I'm in the process of getting organized. When I'm ready to start work, I will give you a call at your hotel the day before. In the meantime, your salary starts now. Do you need an advance?"
"You are too kind, but no," Jy-ying said, smiling into his eyes and holding them before looking away. Then she looked back. "I must go now."
She sprang up, faced Joy, and bowed. Joy stood, looked at her with raised brows and tight lips, bowed, and said nothing. Jy-ying turned at the door, smiled at John again, and left.
Jy-ying walked thoughtfully down the hallway to the stairs. When she reached the stairs, she pursed her lips and looked back at the closed door to John's room. Warmth rushed through her. She fluffed her hair and almost bounced down the stairs wearing a happy, satisfied smile.
She stopped at the reception desk and registered for a room. "I'm a friend of John Banks," she told the clerk. She got the room she wanted.
She returned to John's room and knocked on the door. John answered it; before he could say anything, she informed him that this hotel was so much better than the shabby one that she was staying in that she'd decided to get a room here. "I will move into it by evening."
"Oh, good. Convenient. I should have thought of that," John said, as Joy nodded--too abruptly.
As John was about to close the door, Jy-ying announced with a smile she could not help, "I will be right across the hall from Joy."
John had to use the bathroom on their floor; when he returned, he found Joy frowning as she studied the pieces of the disassembled guns. He sat down next to her on the bed, turned her head toward him with his fingers, and asked, "How did you know about that 1863 musket?"
Just the right question. Her frown turned into a grin that felt as though it had split her face in two. She asked in return, "Why dearest, am I not a weapons expert?"
John made beckoning motions with both hands while giving her a "who are you kidding?" look.
"Oh, okay, spoilsport. One of my weapons teachers collected Civil War weapons, and would occasionally bring several of them to the weapons range so that his students could handle and shoot them. The 1863 was among the last line of muskets. It was one of my favorites. I learned to take it apart and put it together again. Young boys tinkered with cars; I tinkered with guns."
"I thought young girls played with dolls and doll houses."
Joy's face turned dark, and she glowered. "Not when my parents had been murdered by pirates. Not when my dear adopted mother's husband had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge, and my godmother had her loving husband murdered in Mao's Cultural Revolution. Not when they barely escaped with their own lives. Not when most of the other adults I loved in my youth had suffered similar horrors in the Holocaust, Stalin's forced Ukrainian famine, Rwanda's Great Genocide, and World War One. John, you were almost killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Towers; your cousin was. You should understand."
John held his palms up toward her and said apologetically, "I'm sorry, sweetheart." He sat down next to her and rubbed her back. "Okay, Miss Weapons Expert," he said, changing the subject, "tell me about the attackers' guns."
Joy just looked down at her lap, at her clenched hands. The mention of her mother had flooded her with the emotional pain of their separation. Again. It overwhelmed her and this time she didn't fight the tears. They coursed down her cheeks and dripped onto her lap.
John saw them. He put his arms around her, held her close. "I'm really sorry, baby. I'm so stupid, causing you to think about your mother again."
Joy soon disengaged herself, leaned over, and picked up an edge of the bed cover. She wiped her face and dabbed at her wet eyes. She sighed, put her hands back in her lap and kept her eyes on them as she said softly, "Not your fault. I'm still just too close to our good-byes." She put her head in her hand and waved John away. "Give me a moment," she whispered.
Nearby was the inevitable porcelain water pitcher of the era on the universal hotel chest of drawers. John poured Joy a glass of water from the pitcher and gave it to her. She took a few sips, then shook her head as if to clear it. "I'm okay now. On to the guns," she murmured. She cleared her throat and narrowed her eyes. "Ah . . . " She made herself speak normally. "I've never seen this kind of gun before."
John's eyebrows jerked up.
Getting into one of her favorite subjects gave Joy the focus she needed. She looked up at John and noted his astonishment. "I'm not saying I don't know anything about the guns, only that I've never seen them before."
"Oh, stupid me," John replied, shaking his head.
Joy was now into it. "I can tell that they are both 9mm double action, each with an ambidextrous manual safety, automatic firing pin block, combat-style trigger guard, and loaded-chamber indicator. They have a strange, but clever, rackable slide and firing mechanism. The plaque on the bottom of the grip says 'Shultz 703 Hanover.' The magazine carries sixteen rounds." Her voice now firm, she added, "The bullets are a type of hollow point I haven't seen before, either. But, I know they would leave a hole larger than a fist where they exit a human body. If they had shot us in the head or body, no matter. We would be dead."
John turned to look at the gun parts. Suddenly, his voice a mixture of amazement and fear, he asked, "The guns were produced . . . when?"
Her almond eyes widened as what she was going to say finally hit home. She gulped, turned her head to look at John directly, put her hand on her cheek and, enunciating each word, announced, "They were made in the 1990s, or thereabouts."
"Thereabouts?" John nearly shouted. "You don't know the date of manufacture or more specifics about the gun?"
"No. I don't need to be more specific, damn it. They are from the future, John."
It was automatic with John. No matter whether his attempted humor was atrocious or ill timed, it was his cigarette or drink in time of stress. "Good thing the guys aren't here," John said, raising an eyebrow. "With your confession of ignorance on such an important matter, they would think less highly of you, Miss Phim."
"John. I'm not amused."
What Joy said electrified his mind. It was impossible. No, he realized, it wasn't. The hair on his arms bristled, and he was surprised his voice didn't waver as he repeated, "The future?"
"Certainly. The far future."
"No chance of being wrong."
"No! John, this is serious."
"Jesus Christ." John took a moment to control his voice and draw out the implications of what Joy had said. He put both his hands on his head, and groaned, "They are from our time. They followed us here. They are trying to kill us. And they have modern weapons, and who knows what else, to use against us." He lifted his hands from his head and shook them at the ceiling. "Holy shit!"
Joy glanced behind her at the disassembled guns on the bed before again looking at her hands on her lap. She called on her training to calm herself so that she could think this through. She took several deep breaths and visualized her muscles relaxing, beginning with her toes.
After a few minutes, she looked up at John's pale, sweaty face. "First," she said, "they could not have happened on us accidentally. They had to know where we would be at a certain time. That place was the bank. Second, they had to have some kind of road map of our activities after we arrived. Third, there is only one way the attackers could have gotten that, which is from the Survivor's Benevolent Society that sent us here."
John jumped up. Hands clasped behind him and head down, he began pacing a circuit of the room. Joy knew he needed this, and waited. Minutes later, and now much calmer, John pointed out, "But the attackers wouldn't know that we were going to Bank of California today to buy the warehouse."
"Still," Joy said, "the Society has to be the key. With a knowledge of the time and place to which we were sent, and the name of the Tor Import and Export Company we were to set up, someone who had access to information about our mission through the Society could reason that we would soon visit the bank to buy the warehouse."
John shook his head. "No one in the Society would talk."
Joy shook her head as well. "You're forgetting how our time travel happened. That FBI SWAT team that rushed into the Society's headquarters to search for the time machine forced us to leave months before schedule."
John nodded. Joy knew he was remembering the circumstances of their departure. The SWAT team had just reached the lab when her mom had hustled them into the machine, and they'd been sent off with barely enough time to say good-bye.
"Supposedly, the equipment and notes were to be destroyed right after our machine left," Joy continued. "Perhaps the scientists were prevented from doing that. Maybe notes were found. Somebody down the line talked. I don't know who, but the Society has to be the only source."
Scowling, John replied, "I don't believe it. But okay, let's assume that, as distasteful as it is." He waved his finger at her. "But then, they can't know about this hotel, because we didn't know we were going to be here until it was suggested by one of the guys. And the attackers couldn't know the details of any of our other movements. They will know in general, however, that we probably want to prevent the bloodbath of the Mexican Revolution, the First and Second World Wars, and so on. They will know the timing of these interventions."
"And that raises the big question," Joy said, too involved to really notice his hated finger shaking. "Why are they trying to stop us ending war and democide, and promoting democracy? I would think any sane person would be for this."
John shook his head as he waved his finger again. "You know better, baby. Think fanatics. Think Nazis, communists, radical Islamic terrorists. Think what power it would give any of them to be able to go back into the past and, with their knowledge of events and historically critical people, promote their ism, and assassinate those in the way."
"Yes," Joy said, unthinkingly waving her finger in return. "Just the opposite of our mission. Well, we're safe here, and they don't know about our warehouse or the precise time of our arrival. Otherwise, they would have killed us as we stepped out of our time machine. I thought we wouldn't have to arm ourselves until we traveled to Mexico for our first intervention, but we'd better do so now."
John put his finger on his chin, brows knitted. "There is an error in our reasoning. If it's through the Society that they knew we were going to buy the warehouse, then they should have known the time and place of our arrival. And if they knew that, it doesn't make sense for them to have waited until we went to the bank, as public a place as that is, to kill us."
"You're right. We need more information. Meanwhile, dearest, time for our weapons." She froze for a couple of seconds. "By the way, Jy-ying likes you."
"What healthy young woman wouldn't?" he replied, seeming relieved at the chance to make a joke.
I should've known better, Joy chided herself.
At the New California Resort, in their small room above the bar, Hadad and Carla sat on the double bed with Hands' Mission Humanity, a biography of Joy and John, and John's Remembrance between them. They'd just gone through a printed summary of the details in both books, to refresh their memory.
Carla gripped the Remembrance so tightly, her knuckles were white. Her eyes flashed at Hadad, and she snarled, "How could you forget? We memorized this stuff. Did that woman also hypnotize you? It's clear in printout--they did not start wearing armor until the thugs from that stupid anti-Oriental league attacked them. I should have shot John in the back instead of listening to you."
"If you are so smart, Carla, how come you did not remember they wore no armor? Huh? Why did you listen to me?"
As Carla's eyes glinted steel and the corners of her mouth headed toward the floor, Hadad shrugged his shoulders, looked down to avoid her eyes, and waved it away. "Nothing lost, anyway," he muttered. "We know where they are staying, and they don't know we know that. We also know about the three guys, as they call them."
He tilted his head back, raised his eyebrows, and met her eyes. "So, Carla," he declared, "I have a plan."
John left a message at the reception desk for the guys to wait for them in their rooms when they came back with their new weapons. Then he and Joy cautiously left the hotel, keeping close to buildings and walking one behind the other on the way to their warehouse on 8th Street. They unlocked the side entrance and entered, John with a sigh of relief.
The warehouse was large and dark, with a strongly supported floor meant for heavy equipment, and a high ceiling. With the dust, dirt, and debris scattered about, it looked more like the floor of a barn in heavy use. The owner had gone bankrupt because of the San Francisco earthquake and fire, and had sold off all the equipment and boxes that he had stored there.
Not far from the entrance, clustered together along one wall, were the supply time capsules that the Society had sent to be here when Joy and John arrived from 2002. Next to the capsules were broken boxes, cots, and other items the three homeless guys had accumulated while they squatted in the warehouse. It was here, upon entering the warehouse from whatever part-time jobs that they'd found, that the guys had discovered Joy and John soon after their arrival from the future.
Joy walked over to the weapons capsule, identified by a small W painted on its side, and opened an almost invisible lid to access the keypad. She keyed in the code, opened the capsule door, then reached around the door and switched off the automatic destruct switch--she had ten seconds to do so. She started looking around inside.
"Here," Joy said as she pulled out two armored vests, "let's put these on first." She handed John's vest to him. The armor had been molded to their torsos--there was no doubt which was Joy's.
She reached up and removed the pins holding on her hat, then took it off and held it out in front of her. Shaking her head, she stared at the fashionable wide-brimmed monstrosity of folded lace, imitation flowers, and white egret feathers sticking out at the side. She did not look at John, certain he would again be red-faced from the laughter he had learned to squelch when it came to these ridiculous clothes. She tossed the hat into the capsule.
She took off her cloth cape, pulled the shirt this era called a lady's white satin waist out of her long walking skirt, and unbuttoned the waist and its collar held tight at her throat. She let her stomach out with a sigh. She refused to wear a corset, but all these waists were cut as though she did wear one. And she unhooked her modern brassiere--she refused to give it up for what was available in this age.
Holding his armor loose in one hand, head tilted to the side, John watched her in a mood that invited no humor. When she was topless, he reached out, breathing rapidly, to touch her nipple with a finger.
Joy gently pulled away. "Darling, this is not the time for that."
He withdrew his finger, shrugged, and took off his fedora. He tossed it on Joy's hat, smoothing back his carrot-colored hair with his hand. Then he removed his blue, diagonally-worsted suit coat, maroon bow tie, and separate linen collar. As he started to take off his madras shirt, his brow furrowed, and he said wistfully, "It's just . . . sometimes I have to assure myself that you're real and not some glorious image or dream. I can't believe . . . ."
His voice quavered, and then he choked altogether. It was the nipple. Touching it brought home to him that he'd almost lost her--twice. And that he'd almost lost his own life just a little more than an hour ago. He stood by the capsule and started to shake. The stark fact that two attackers from the future had tried to kill them struck him with an emotional sledgehammer. He was like a man walking away from his trashed car after an accident and calmly telling those that come to help that he is okay. He tells the police what happened. And then maybe ten, maybe thirty minutes later, with perhaps another look at his wrecked car, he begins to shudder with the realization that he somehow escaped death or critical injury, and he suddenly has to sit on the curb.
Although John had studied violence as a graduate student and did his dissertation on war and democide, that violence was abstract, not personal. He was an innocent. Now though, he would actually carry guns. He was not a pacifist, but he had been a professor and had never shot a gun until Joy started training him. He had never killed an animal. He had never seen a dead body until the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Since the age of twelve, he hadn't been in a fight. His combat had always been with words, the weapon of choice in his profession.
Now, it was all as real as Joy's nipple. They had been seconds from violent death, and only the luck of Joy's glancing in a store window had saved them. And they had yet to be in this primitive age for even a full day. Fear washed over him and swamped his mind. He was terrified by his commitment to the mission; terrified by the risks he would take; terrified by his likely violent death; terrified by the probable agony he would suffer. Most of all, he was terrified by the possibility, even the likelihood, that Joy would be killed before him.
Although he was sweating, he felt chilled.
Looking over the weapons in the capsule, Joy started to say, "Did you see that ugly carving knife--" She glanced up at John and saw his flashbulb-wide eyes. "What's the matter, dearest?"
Now shaking all over, John dropped his armor, reached for support from the capsule, and crouched down to lean his back against it. He cleared his throat but couldn't speak. He patted the floor next to him for Joy to join him.
Lips pursed, she raised her dress around her waist and sat next to him. She lifted the flounced hem of her dress and wiped his face with it. Seeing his shaking, she put one arm around him and pulled him close, then put her head on his shoulder and took his hand in hers, squeezing it tightly. No words. She just held him to her.
John slowly emerged from the shock and gradually stopped shaking. He pulled away from Joy and shook his head to clear his mind. He ran his finger along her cheek, and then kissed her lightly. Holding up his index finger and thumb so that their tips were barely separated, he whispered, "This close. We came this close, you know. To death."
His voice gained strength. "How can you remain so calm? Have you come so close to being killed before?"
"No. I've not even seen death before in person. But I'm trained to kill and to accept death." She tousled his hair and smiled. "Twenty-one of my twenty-five years in judo, karate, and weapons training did have an effect. If it didn't, my mother should ask for her money back."
She kissed him on the forehead, on the cheek, brushed his lips with hers. "I'm proud of you, my man. I've been trained through a lifetime to react suddenly to danger. You have only my training of about five weeks. Yet, you did what a highly skilled specialist would have done. I really didn't know you had that back kick down pat like that. Had you missed or been a second slower, we both might be dead. After kicking the gun out of the hand of that killer behind me, I could not have righted myself in time to prevent the other one from shooting us."
Joy hesitated a moment, turned to rest on her knees in front of him, and leaned forward to take his head in both her hands. Their heads were inches apart. Her black eyes were now his universe; unblinking, they stared deep into his, and he could see and feel her sincerity. She whispered, "I would have been worried about you if you had not been shaken by what happened. But, my dearest, we worked as a team when we had to."
His brows rose. He murmured, "Aren't you afraid of anything?"
Joy sat back and nodded. "Plenty of things."
"What's your worst fear? I mean, besides big spiders and a lack of rice."
"That we will fail. That I will let down my mother and the Society. You know that. You saved my life when I couldn't stand the awful, awful thought that we'd caused the mass death of two billion people, and tried to commit suicide. You slapped my mind into working, and persuaded me we could kill Sabah and prevent the horror from happening."
She tilted her head, and ran her finger down his cheek. "You were very frightened after the attempt on our lives, although at the time you acted fearlessly. For me, fear is a constant. It's not fear of death or physical pain. I've been trained to be fearless--calm, centered--when so threatened. I carry with me the fear of what Asians call loss of face. It's the fear of shame."
Joy leaned forward and pulled his face to hers for a long, gentle kiss. Then she stood and held her hand out to pull him up.
John took her hand and rose. "Thanks, baby, for the hand and everything else." Smiling--really smiling--he asked, "Weren't you about to say something before I began to shake with utter happiness and joy at our being together?" Then he looked down at her bare breasts and added, "And seeing your boobs."
Joy giggled, waved her hand as though fanning noxious fumes away from her face, and asked in return, "What was I talking about?"
"Something about a knife."
"Oh, yeah. That awful knife that Sal carries. I wouldn't fight a chicken with it." She looked around in the capsule and pulled out a seven-inch combat knife with a double-edged, bead blasted blade, stainless steel guard, and linen micarda handle. She held it up to the light and looked at it with a little smile as she turned it one way and the other, feeling its balance in her hand. "This is better," she said, and put it into a holster purse that she'd taken out of the capsule.
They put their armor vests on and then pulled their clothes back on over them. Joy reached into the capsule and got her leg and hip knife sheaths, and slid her six-inch throwing knife and five-inch tactical knife into them. She slung the leather straps of her holster purse over her shoulder, with her prized Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum five-shot inside. She handed John his shoulder holster, the H&K USP .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol for it, and the .40 caliber S&W double-action and its pocket holster.
"I feel better," Joy exclaimed.
"So do I," John replied, holding a gun in each hand and trying to narrow his eyes in John Wayne's image. "I'm not a gun man. I favored gun control. But there's nothing like someone trying to kill you to make these babies look like bars of gold."
Joy and John had no sooner returned to the hotel and entered John's room, than there was a knock on the door.
"Come in," John yelled, and their three new guards came into the room.
"We bought them," Hands announced gleefully, as though they had found a ten-dollar bill.
Joy put out her hand. "Let me see them."
Hands looked from Joy to John and back.
With a smile, John told him, "She wants to show off again."
The guys pulled their new guns out of their coat pockets and put them on the bed next to Joy.
"You bought them, just like that?"
"I don't understand," Hands said.
John replied, "She means, you walked in, picked out your guns, bought them, and walked out with them in your pocket?"
John looked at Joy, and said with a shrug, "The good old days. No background check. No waiting period. Nothing to sign."
"Anyway," Joy said with emphasis, "these are Colt's pocket hammerless, .32 caliber, 1903 models." She picked up one, checked the safety, and as the guys watched in amazement, hefted it, opened it, looked at the chamber, closed it, and nodded. She handed all three guns back to the guys. "Good guns," she said.
Then she and John showed them their own weapons, and the guys were even more amazed. Joy also lifted her dress and showed them her leg sheath, and then dropped her dress, sucked in her stomach, and took out her five-inch tactical knife.
"Why are you so well armed?" Sal asked.
John answered, "Our business. We've been threatened. Some people want us out of business. And now you see that two men tried to kill us. Now, as to your guns, we want to make sure that you can shoot those things. Meet us here at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, and we'll rent a car, buggy, whatever, and find a place along the shore where we can see how good you can shoot." He waved his hand toward the door. "Have a good sleep."
As they were leaving, Joy asked Sal to stay for a moment. "Can I see that thing you call a knife?" she asked. Sal reached down and pulled it out of his boot, and handed it to her. She looked at it, and then handed it back. "Imagine I'm going to attack you. How would you defend yourself with that knife?"
"I can't do that, Miss Phim."
"Yes you can." Joy reached into her purse, pulled out the knife she'd brought for him, and assumed a knife-fighting stance. She narrowed her eyes, thrust her jaw toward him, and growled, "I'm going to cut your arm if you don't protect yourself."
John's brows shot up. "Joy!" he exclaimed.
Sal ignored him and went into crouch, blocking hand forward of his chest, and knife hand behind it. He slowly circled the tip of his knife through the air, keeping it pointed toward Joy.
Joy waved John away with her free hand. Then she looked at Sal's position, straightened, turned the knife around in her hand, and said, "Time out."
When she was sure that Sal understood, she tossed her knife, grip first, to John, stepped toward Sal, and took his knife hand in hers. "No Sal, with that ice-pick grip, you open your chest to attack, at the very least. Here, grip the knife tightly, as though it were a hammer, and put your thumb here." She showed him with her own thumb. "And loosen your wrist. When you grip the knife in this way, it won't be knocked out of your hand, and you also can attack with its butt.
"As to your stance, are you trying to commit suicide? Did you see my fencer's stance--right foot forward, left behind, and torso slightly angled, knife way out in front? And you keep it out there between you and your opponent, and always pointed at him. Your free hand is held to shield your heart or throat, top part of your arm facing your opponent so that he doesn't cut a vein. Anyway, you should be willing to sacrifice your arm to save your vitals.
"When you go on the offensive--"
John put his hand on Joy's shoulder, and shook his head at Sal. "This is her favorite weapon, as you may be able to tell. There will be a lot of opportunity for this once we get settled."
Joy shrugged John's hand off and gave him a sour look. She turned back to Sal. "One more thing." She raised her voice on the last word. "Practice my stance until it becomes automatic. When you have done that--"
"You are getting into two things," John pointed out.
"Judging by your stance, I don't think you know that knife fighting is a matter of split seconds. A lunge here, a leap there, a kick in the groin, dirt thrown in your face, a couple of feints from one side to the other, a different level of attack, a twisting thrust, and you're dead, faster than it took for me to say that. After you get the stance down, I'll show you some tricks."
Next, she drew a two-inch diameter circle with her lipstick on the room's door, and locked and tested it to make sure nobody would open it from the hallway. Standing fifteen feet back, she held out her hand to John for the knife.
"Three things," he said, grinning as he tossed the knife to her.
In one flowing motion, she caught it, turned toward the door, and cocked her arm back as though she were going to throw a baseball, automatically adjusting her grip so that her thumb was along the back edge of the knife, and the handle rested gently between her fingertips and the uppermost part of her palm. When her arm was fully cocked back with the knife blade level with her eyes and wrist and the tip pointed at the circle, she uncocked her arm toward the target and gently released the knife when her arm was fully extended. No wrist snap, no whirling rotations. Only a half-rotation, and the knife stuck perpendicular to the door and solidly within the circle, although a touch off-center.
"You missed the center," John observed dryly.
She stuck out her tongue at him, and with an angled jerk, pulled the still quivering knife out of the door. Giving it to Sal, she said, "Your turn. That's a combat knife, and not the best for throwing, but I want to see what you can do."
He took the knife and his eyes widened; he was obviously impressed by the feel and heft. Then he faced the target, gripped the tip between thumb and forefinger, and flipped it in a rotation and a half through the air. It stuck in the door at an angle, missing the circle by a fraction of an inch.
Joy withdrew the knife from the door and handed it back to Sal. "Give that primitive thing you call a knife a decent burial and keep this," she told him. "As my bodyguard, I want you to practice throwing it from this distance until you get it in a circle that size nine out of ten times. Then do twenty feet. Then thirty. You never know when throwing it is the only alternative you'll have to death."
She said the last for John's benefit. He still couldn't throw a knife into a circle that size from fifteen feet more that a quarter of the time.
Sal stood for a moment, staring at Joy with large eyes, lifted brows, and drooping jaw. He finally shook his head as if to clear it, then nodded and thanked her. He tossed his old knife into the room's garbage pot, and slid the new knife into his boot.
He stopped at the door on the way out and looked back at John with raised eyebrows. "Can I have my own . . . assistant and . . . translator?"
That evening, as they lay naked under the heavy blankets, wrapped in each other's arms, Joy mused, "You know, dearest, history is a series of contingencies. A little thing here or something missed there, and the whole world is changed. When I was four and my parents apparently tried to escape from Vietnam and were probably killed by pirates, the pirates must have just happened to overlook me on the boat. And the boat just happened to drift to the Philippines. A fisherman just happened to see it. A journalist just happened to be around writing a story. The New York Times just happened to pick up the story of this child lost on the ocean. My future mom just happened to read the newspaper on the day the story came out, and just happened to see the story. If any of these things happened just a little differently, I wouldn't be here and neither would you. Perhaps those who would have been here in our place, if anyone, would have been killed by the attack this afternoon.
"And I just happened to glance in the store window when I did. The billions of lives we are trying to save hung on just a glance. Just a little, fleeting, random glance. So much, hanging on so little."
The old building creaked quietly. "Hmmm," John finally murmured, cuddling close to her.
She felt his warm body on hers and thought, It was so close, so close. My dearest would be dead. His body cold. Joy caressed the orange hair on his chest. "John, now is the time."
"Time for what?" he mumbled.
"You remember while we were standing by the weapons capsule, you touched my nipple and I said that it wasn't the time?"
"Now's the time. You can touch my nipple."
He's asleep. I can't believe it.
She pulled the blanket up to her chin and in moments was about to fall sleep herself, when he suddenly rolled on top of her, laughing.
"Where's my foreplay?" she whispered huskily, tightening her legs together.
"This is the appetizer," John said softly, nibbling the lobe of her ear.
As she later opened her legs for him, she murmured, "Should've known better."
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