Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

It's Just a Matter of Time, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 4

"Nice town," Charlie said, looking around slowly as the Checker pulled onto Main Street in Stockdale, Missouri. The tinting that Ragal had given to the windows was one-way, a neat adaptation of the multi-armed black wraith he had used against Lane Tallfield in the mountaintop battle back in The Tors. They could see out, but others would just see indistinct shapes within the cab. Only the front windshield, and the driver's and front passenger's windows, had been left as they were.

After watching Ragal apply the darkening to the glass, Uncle Bob had shaken his head, and said he knew how to do it now, too. Apparently, the man had gained the ability to learn new magics he observed in use, as long as those magics fit within the scope of his own skwish talents. Another amazing example of magic-learning in action.

Ricky had sighed at that, but nodded his head. "I see how it works, too, with my magic mechanic ability. But it doesn't seem like I can do it, just because I know."

Uncle Bob patted his nephew on the shoulder from the seat behind. "To each his own, Rick. I can't do the things you can do, either."

"It's kind of a weird leap, from an inky octopus that can bind people, to tinting car windows, isn't it?" Adrian asked, eyeing Ragal speculatively.

The tall alien laughed. "It is, actually. But the octopus, as you call it, that I made to hold Lane Tallfield, was built of negative-light. The same principle can limit eyesight through these transparent panels, too."

Charlie turned to stare at Ragal. "I never heard of negative-light. And, actually, the very name is sort of ridiculous, isn't it? Wouldn't negative light just be dark?"

Ragal's eyes twinkled with humor. "I had to call it something. It actually bears no relationship to photonic light, so the name is a misnomer. It's more like a plastic medium of interwoven charged energy fields, though that designation would fall flat in any high-energy laboratory in existence. Suffice it to say I can use the stuff, and let it go at that."

"Never heard of such crazy witchery," Jeremiah said, from behind the wheel. "You folks sure have some interestin' problems!"

Kippy tsked. "I'd be willing to bet you haven't seen anything yet. I have a feeling we'll all be different by the time this one is over!"

"I like to learn," Casper said happily. "I would never have had these opportunities stuck back on my home planet."

"You and me, both, son," Jeremiah agreed. "Let's both get an eyeful, and call it luck, huh?"

"Where would the bank be?" Robin asked, leaning forward to lay a hand on Jeremiah's shoulder.

"Not where it is now, I'm sure. Those two banks we passed on the way into town don't count. They're both new these past thirty years. Chain banks, I call 'em." He waved a hand at the panorama before them. "Used to be, towns like this only had one bank, and only then if they were lucky. That original one's still here. But the buildin' it's in now was built back when I was a teener. My cousin, Vicky, lives here, and I used to come visit pretty often when her momma was livin'."

"Not anymore?" Kippy asked, causing Charlie to wince. Kip's bluntness could at times be awkward.

But Jeremiah just laughed. "Naw. She up'n married a feller from Wabash, Indiana, who buys houses, fixes 'em up, and flips 'em. They got money now, and her husband, George, thinks he's a somebody! His socks are too big fer my feet, so I kinda gave up on vistin' here."

Everyone in the car smiled or chuckled. Kippy grinned. "Thinks a lot of himself?"

Jeremiah whistled. "Does he! Got more bull in his barn than all the farms in Holdover! "

"So, we don't know where the bank was located in 1910?" Robin asked, through his own smile.

"I don't," Jeremiah admitted. "Guess we could ask about."

"Is there a library here?" Charlie asked. "Town libraries usually have a local history section."

Jeremiah slowed the car, then pulled it into the parking lot of a small market and turned it around. "We passed the library last street back."

Charlie frowned at that. One thing he seldom missed seeing was a library! "Well, take us back, then."

The town was alive with people on the sidewalks, and many of the buildings were hung with lights and Christmas decorations. Street traffic was sparse, though the slanted parking spaces fronting every store were mostly full of cars. The air seemed cheerful, and people ready to stop and talk to the others they met on the sidewalks. Charlie suspected this was a place where everyone knew each other, and where strangers would stand out. A number of people had already turned to stare at the Checker as it went by, though their expressions were just curious, or amazed at the sight of the long car. A Checker Aerobus wasn't exactly a common sight anywhere these days!

"I'm not sure how we're going to manage this," Charlie said, watching people pass by. "We can't just go walking around town with Ragal, Casper, and Auggie, like it's nothing."

"Can make not see," Auggie offered, from all the way in the back.

Charlie turned to stare at the bearcat. "I know you can make yourself invisible. But what about Ragal and Casper?"

"Them, too."

Ricky groaned. "Hell, we could have brought all three of them along to visit the Tallfields, then!"

Charlie laughed at the idea. "I'm sure that would have been interesting - not to mention difficult - navigating about in the house of witches with three invisible people in tow."

"Oh." Ricky frowned. "You think they'd have known they were there?"

"I think so," Kip said. "Eleanora, especially."

"We'd have been caught," Adrian suggested.

"You'd have been caught," Jeremiah agreed.

"But so what?" Rick said, brightening. "Eleanora and Rance are witches. They'd have accepted the guys, no problem."

"But the entire town here is not composed of witches, I'm thinking," Robin injected, looking exasperated at all the verbal back-tracking. "Even invisible, our friends here could get into trouble."

Charlie smiled. "I'm open to your suggestions."

A trace of a smile appeared on Robin's lips. "Let's go back to the library, and you and I, alone, will go in, and see about finding out where the bank was located in 1910. We will then go to that location, and Auggie can then transport us all back to the target date, and keep us all invisible while we're there. That way, we can observe events, without being observed ourselves."

"Why didn't you say that before?" Kippy asked, tossing a grin Charlie's way. "It would have saved a lot of time!"

Robin knew he was being kidded, and smiled. "I only just thought of it now."

"So, back to the library, right?" Jeremiah asked.

"Yes," Charlie agreed.

"Lead on, McGruff!" Ricky added, grinning.

Jeremiah pulled back out onto Main Street and went back the way they had come for a block, then turned left into a parking lot beside a large old brick building that looked far more like a hardware store than a library. "This is it?" Charlie asked, staring uncertainly at the place.

"This is it," Jeremiah agreed. "Library used to be in an old house down the road, but finally outgrew it. Moved here about ten years ago. This used to be the town hardware, 'fore that Lowe's moved in out on the interstate a few miles away, and killed this place."

As if to certify his words, a large sign came into view in front of the main doors, which said, Stockdale Town Library.

"I believe you," Charlie said, smiling.

Jeremiah turned twinkling eyes on him in the rear-view mirror. "Knew you would."

There were other cars in the lot, but plenty of room. Jeremiah chose to park at the end of the middle row, where the long Checker could take up two parking places. Charlie and Robin climbed out, and headed inside.

The place had obviously been remodeled from its former occupation as a selling point for nuts and bolts and hammers and chainsaws. The large glass front windows had remained, but inside, the floor was carpeted to help absorb sound, and the rows of wooden and metal bookcases were neat and lined up in orderly fashion. The walls were adorned with posters hawking new titles, there was a small computer area where two women sat in side-by-side cubicles, using the machines; and a long front desk where books were checked out and returned. There were several people there, but one older gentleman seated at the end smiled at them welcomingly across the way.

"Can I help you?"

Charlie and Robin crossed to him, and Charlie smiled and nodded. "We're interested in local town history."

The man's bright blue eyes briefly appraised them. "Any particular aspects?"

"Actually, we have one simple question," Robin said. "We would like to know where the town bank was located in 1910."

The man's eyebrows raised gently at that, but he smiled. "Stockton General Bank, you mean. I can tell you that. Corner of Main and Pickerel Streets. It's a vacant lot just now, but they're goin' to be buildin' a business of some kind there early next year."

"The old building was torn down, then?" Robin asked.

"It was. The bank outgrew it 'bout 1990 or so, as I recall." The oldster smiled. "Hard to remake a bank building into something else, 'specially one as old as that one. Stood vacant about ten years, then was torn down. Property's too valuable to leave empty like that."

"That's still some time," Charlie remarked. "Why did it stand empty so long before it was demolished?"

The old man chuckled. "Bickerin', mostly. The lot's been owned by four or five developers since they tore the old building down. Been several plans to build there, but the lot is just so big, y'know? And the town council has final approval of what can go there, and they don't want anythin' that'll be offensive to the neighborhood. That's the oldest section of town, and still lots of big homes there, money and the like. Won't do to put a tattoo parlor or a bar in there." The man chuckled at the idea, and Charlie smiled.

"That's the information we were looking for," he said, nodding. "Thank you."

The man looked surprised. "Nothin' more? I thought you wanted local history?"

Charlie and Robin exchanged glances. "You know much about the old bank?" Robin asked.

"Sure. I grew up in that part of town. Lived there my whole life, almost 77 years now. My granddaddy was a teller at the old General. I probably know as much about that bank as anyone, nowadays."

Charlie leaned forward on the counter. "We understand that, in 1910, the local sheriff was killed there in a robbery."

The old man nodded. "Sure. Lane Tallfield, was his name. From the Tallfields down Holdover way. Good man, by all accounts."

Robin smiled. "We heard that, too. Also, that he caught the robbers in the act, and was taking them to the jail, when he was shot from behind."

"That's the story. He caught the robbers straight up, with their hands in the safe."

Charlie nodded. "We heard the robbers blew open the safe."

"Actually, they didn't. It was left unlocked, by accident."

Robin narrowed his eyes, and Charlie found himself a little stunned, too. "It was left unlocked? How?"

The oldster settled himself on his stool, and looked happy to be retelling a good tale. "Well, there was a young lady by the name of Harriet Jensen, that was employed there to oversee the safe. She opened the safe each mornin', accounted for what went into it, and what came out of it durin' business hours, and then closed it and locked it at the end of the business day. Well, she fell ill with the fever on the Friday before Christmas - did you know that the calendar for that year was the same as for this year? Christmas was on a Sunday that year, too." The oldster smiled. "Well, anyway, in the hustle of gettin' the Jensen girl to the doc, the safe got closed but not locked."

Robin arched his eyebrows at that. "That's quite a coincidence, isn't it? The safe not being locked, and then robbers appearing at the same time?"

The old man gave a little shrug. "That's what happened. The safe wasn't locked. The Jensen girl fell ill about a half-hour before closin' time, and someone apparently just pushed the door to the safe closed while others carried the girl down to the doc. Guess later, they just saw the safe door was closed, and thought it had been locked, too." He leaned forward, a gleefully conspiratorial look on his face. "They tried to keep that part quiet, I think, to keep the town from going off. But, like I said, my granddaddy was a teller there, and he knew. The story got out."

"I would never have assumed it was locked," Robin said. "Strange." He cocked his head at that old man. "Where was the bank manager at that time? Fred Evans?"

"He was one of the ones to help carry the Jensen girl to the doc's house. It was closin' time when he got back, and he just took the word of the head teller that things were locked up."

Robin turned to Charlie, one eyebrow raised, before swinging back to the old man. "Could the Jensen girl have been faking being ill?"

The old man sighed. "Doubt it. She died, day after Christmas."

Robin shook his head, and Charlie knew the man well enough now to know he was unconvinced. As one with his own share of thievery under his belt, Robin was not one to be easily fooled. The tale didn't even sound right to Charlie, and he was by no means experienced in this sort of deviltry.

"We heard someone saw the robbers go in, and called the sheriff," Robin resumed.

"That'd be right. The story goes that some kid saw the robbers go in the back of the bank through a window, and run to tell the sheriff. Tallfield collected Fred Evans, and they went to see about it."

Robin nodded, leaning on the counter beside Charlie. "Was Evans armed, too?"

"Don't know that, but probably. Most people carried some sort of firearm then, 'specially if they worked with money. Fred Evans and Sheriff Tallfield was good friends. Fred used to eat dinner at the sheriff's house every Sunday after goin' to church with the Tallfield family. Lane taught him to shoot, so I s'pose he carried a gun. Bein' a banker, though, it would have been concealed, though they didn't call it that back then." The old man frowned. "Evans might just as well have died, the way the town turned on him after the robbery."

Charlie nodded at that. "We heard that he was somehow disgraced by the robbery, because the sheriff was killed, and he wasn't. That seems pretty judgmental to me."

The old man sighed. "Wasn't just that. The story about the unlocked safe got out, and people found the whole thing hard to take. Just seemed like pure incompetence to them."

"Was Evans badly hurt in the robbery?" Charlie asked.

"Got himself a good crack on the back of the head, probably hit with the same pistol that killed the sheriff. Coulda killed him, just didn't. But people still thought he was at fault, somehow, because the sheriff was killed. Tallfield was well-liked in this town. My granddaddy knew him, matter of fact. Said he was the luckiest feller that ever lived."

"Until the end," Robin pointed out quietly.

The oldster nodded. "Until the end. Just goes to show that no man's luck runs pure, I guess."

Charlie felt a small quiver inside then, a familiar touch to his skwish. But he avoided showing any reaction to it. "What happened to Evans?" he asked.

"Got suspended by the board of directors, but they couldn't find no actual negligence on his part. The whole thing with the Jensen girl caused a lot of confusion, and they couldn't rightly lay the blame on Evans. He was lookin' out for one of his staff. The head teller, a man named Arthur, took a lot of the blame for not checkin' the safe proper. The board couldn't find nothin' he did criminal, just stupid. They let him go. Evans stayed on a piece, but it's hard to run a business like a bank, when folk don't much care for you anymore. Took just a couple of weeks for the board of directors to give him a little nudge towards the door, and he left town for good."

Robin straightened, and took his hands off the counter. "Anything else you know?"

The old man laughed. "All sorts of gossip and stuff about the bank and the people there, over time. Hundred year's worth. Nothing else about Tallfield or Evans, though." He grinned, showing a missing tooth to one side. "That was before my time, so all I have is other folk's recollections to talk about."

Robin nodded slowly, thinking, and then smiled at Charlie. "That's all I have."

"We appreciate your time," Charlie said to the oldster, smiling. "You've helped us a lot. Thank you."

The old man sighed happily, and patted the countertop affectionately. "Part of the service, young man. If you can't learn things in a library, where can you go?"

Charlie and Robin smiled at that, gave the fellow a wave, and headed back to the car.

"That's quite a different story than Rance Tallfield told us," Charlie said. "Yet I felt like it was the truth, somehow, and not just lurid gossip."

"I felt the same," Robin admitted.

"So why don't Rance and Eleanora know all this?"

"They may have never been told all the facts," Robin suggested. "With a son being killed like that, to have it all be part of some colossal idiocy on the part of the bank staff...I guess Lane's parents were simply not told all the details. Towns back then often kept their shames to themselves, and without the sort of media we have today, those skeletons remained safely behind closet doors."

Charlie frowned. "Lane's dad repaid the bank for their loss. That seems almost tragic, in light of what we know now."

"Life is often tragic, Charlie." Robin chuckled. "Makes the high spots a lot more enjoyable, anyway!"

Charlie stopped then, a few feet from the Checker, and turned to Robin. "Something else. Did you get a sense from that old guy, that he might have a little skwish? I thought I felt it, when he was talking about luck."

"I did." Robin looked around the parking lot, and then waved at the street beyond. "I may have to change my opinion of this place. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a witch group in this town, too. Seems to be a common strain of it in this area." He turned to Charlie. "That may also account for some of the town's reaction to the bank robbery in 1910. If there was a witch strain among the townsfolk then, they would have felt the same distrust at this apparent coincidence with the bank's safe being left unlocked, that you and I are feeling now."

Charlie nodded. "Interesting."

"I just thought of something else," Robin continued, smiling. He patted his leather coat. "Not to change the subject, but we wore what we thought would be neutral clothing, not too modern to be outlandish for 1910. And, still, we were going to observe the bank robbery from afar, from a place of concealment. All that can go out the window now."

Charlie frowned at that. "How so?"

"Auggie can make us all invisible, so there is no longer any reason to watch from afar. Since none of us can be seen, even Casper and Ragal can accompany us right up to the scene of the events. And Auggie, too, of course. We will simply need to keep very quiet. But we can have a front row seat to the action."

Charlie blanched at the idea. "I'm not sure I want that!"

The older man dropped a hand on his shoulder. "It's necessary, Charlie. Tallfield is already dead, 112 years now. Watching it happen will be gruesome, certainly; but it has become important that we see everything that occurred at that moment. If we are to deal with Lane Tallfield, we must know everything that happened that day, and, if possible, discern which singular event initiated the split in the quantum echo of his consciousness."

Charlie stared at Robin a long moment. "You've probably seen a lot of people die, in 800 year's time."

The man gave a small, plainly weary nod to his head. "More than my share, son. More than my share."

Charlie raised a hand and laid it on Robin's hand on his shoulder, and gave it a brief, sympathetic squeeze. "Let's go."

They climbed back into the cab, and related to the others what they had learned, and what Robin had proposed as the plan of action.

"That sure is a lot more information than we got from Rance Tallfield's version of what happened," Horace noted, when Charlie had finished.

"We're supposing for the moment that Lane's family weren't told all the facts," Robin said. "And at this point, there is no need to tell them. I got a definite sense that the old man was telling us what he knew, without embellishment. Until proven otherwise, I plan to take what he said as the truth."

"I know where Pickerel Street is," Jeremiah told them. "Wanna head over there?"

Charlie looked around the interior of the cab. "Anyone have any concerns before we get started?"

Casper waved a hand. "So, we can watch up close now? That's better than than hiding in the bushes."

Kippy frowned. "I didn't think of that. We're going to see a man shot!"

"Anyone that doesn't want to see can stay back," Charlie said pointedly. "Watching someone be killed isn't going to be fun."

No one said anything, and Charlie nodded. "Auggie?"

The big bearcat turned a toothy smile on him. "Char-lee?"

Charlie couldn't help grinning back. That Auggie was enjoying his outing with them seemed clear. "I have a question about your control of time. How accurate is it? Or, better, how fine is your control?"

Auggie seemed to think about that, but only a moment. "Can do anything."

"Max seemed to think that Auggie's control of time was even better than an elf's, remember?" Adrian reminded.

Charlie nodded. "I just need to know how fine that control is." He frowned a moment, considering the angles, and realized he'd need to ask more direct questions of the bearcat. "Can you stop the action? Freeze a moment in time, so that we can observe it more closely?"


"How about back it up and show us a particular sequence again?"


Ricky laughed. "Instant replay! Better than a football game!"

"And much more important," Robin added. He nodded approvingly at Charlie. "Good idea, to ascertain our observational options before we get there."

"I just want to know we can inspect everything that happens closely. We can't afford to miss any small thing." Charlie frowned. "I'm just wondering how we'll tell Auggie to do something without the men at the bank hearing us."

"Just sound," Auggie said. "Waves in air. Not allow to travel, no one hear."

Charlie gave a surprised laugh at that. "You can keep them from hearing us, too?"

Auggie looked amused, like it should have been obvious to everyone. "Make no see us. Make bubble, us inside, light go around. Same bubble can make sound stay inside. No hear us, either."

Ragal smiled at that. "I wish my understanding of physical law was as good as our friend's, here."

"You'd have to be made of skwish and high expectations, like Auggie is," Kippy said, smiling. "And some love, too."

Auggie nodded his head up and down. "Love Kip-pee."

Kip sighed happily. "I love you, too."

At Jeremiah's obviously puzzled look, Charlie smiled. "Auggie is made of skwish, personified and given form by Kip's and Adrian's expectations of him."

"I'd like to think you and I helped with that last part!" Ricky objected amiably.

Charlie thought back to the day at the workshop in an undisclosed location somewhere near the North Pole, where Nicholaas and the elves assembled Christmas for the world, and the moment when a bit of rogue magic called a Foobear had materialized before them, and slowly taken the shape that was to become Auggie. What they had seen at first look, and what they had seen moments later, had, according to Nicholaas, been the result of all of them trying to make something familiar out of something that wasn't. But while Auggie's form may have been derived from their expectations of him, his personality was entirely his own. The bearcat was bright and curious, and learning all the time. And, he had become a wonderful friend, too.

Charlie nodded happily. "Yeah."

"Wow," Jeremiah said slowly, his eyes filled with wonder as they examined Auggie anew. "I knew this was gonna be a learnin' experience! You boys have some potent witchery goin' on here!'

"It's not just us," Kip said. "It's our friends, too. You haven't met them all yet."

Ricky leaned forward in his seat, and grinned a little evilly at the driver. "They're elves."

Jeremiah snorted at that, but when no one in the car started laughing, his eyes widened in shock. "You serious?"

"He is," Charlie agreed, casting a look of admonishment at Rick. "But that's for later, okay? Just now, that will only distract you. We need to concentrate on the issue at hand."

Jeremiah blinked, blew out a small laugh, and nodded his head. "I can wait, I s'pose." He examined Auggie one more time, his wonder apparent; and then smiled at Charlie. "Shall we head over to the old lot now?"

"Sure. Let's get going."

Jeremiah started the car, and they moved out.

The lot where the bank had once stood was exactly as the old man at the library had said: empty. Well, almost. A high chain-link fence circled the lot, which was at the end of a row of older buildings. Inside the fence, a lone backhoe was parked next to a small shed, beside which was piled what looked like wooden stakes, possibly to be used for marking off the new building's footprint. There was nothing else in sight at all. A little grass circled the edges of the lot inside the fence, and there were clumps of it here and there; but otherwise, the land looked ready and able to support something new.

"The buildings to that side are old, but certainly newer than 1910," Robin mused. "The bank probably stood alone in its time. Or, maybe with just a couple of neighbors on that one side. This town couldn't have been very large in 1910."

"I tend to agree with that." Charlie looked off down the street, where the tiny business district gave way to homes. The houses were large and old, some giving the impression of having been added to several times in their lifetimes. "I wouldn't be surprised if Pickerel Street here is the original Main Street."

"Where should I park?" Jeremiah asked.

"Somewhere out of the way," Charlie advised. "Park, and then Auggie can do his thing."

There was plenty of parking around. They chose the large side lot of a business of some sort that looked closed, and Jeremiah parked the Checker out of the way by a fence. Across the street was a little strip of stores, mostly boutique-type shops, that looked to be busy with holiday customers. But no one was looking their way.

Charlie turned around to look at Auggie. "Do we need to get out?"


Along with that answer came a brief and quite strange sensation of movement, a series of flashes that became a flicker of light, and then they were all standing together in a small grove of red mulberry trees. They seemed to be on a dirt path of some kind, but the ground around them was wild with underbrush, and dusted with snow. The day looked a gray one, and from somewhere they heard organ music playing, and people singing Joy to the World. It sounded like a small group, not a church congregation, but perhaps a large family. Charlie had to smile. What the performance of the carol lacked in professionalism, it more than made up for in gusto. There was true joy there, he could hear it in the voices. Happiness.

"Wow," Kip breathed, smiling. "That's wonderful!"

"Are we visible?" Robin asked, turning to Auggie.

"No can see. No can hear. Go where want."

The man nodded. "I take it we should stay in a group, more or less?"

Auggie gave a very feline chuckle. "Stay close, not let any people get between us. Else okay."

Robin smiled. "I think I get that." He turned to Charlie. "Shall we get out of these trees?"

Charlie cast a smile at Rick before nodding at Robin. "Lead on, McGruff."

Robin rolled his eyes, but turned and started along the path towards an opening in the trees. Kip took Charlie's hand, and everyone followed.

"Is this really 1910?" Jeremiah asked, his eyes trying to be everywhere at once.

Kippy laughed. "Auggie knows his stuff."

Jeremiah looked overwhelmed. "My daddy ain't even born yet!"

They emerged at the edge of a dirt road. A dirt street, rather. There was a large home across the way, set well back from the dirt street, a classical revival of some type, with a gabled roof and a wide porch across the front. Smoke rose lazily from chimneys at both ends of the house, and the music seemed to be coming from within. There were other, similar homes to either side, but by no means close.

The air was cold, but absolutely still. It brought with it the slight tingle and the particular smell that suggested more snow in the offing, though the overcast sky at the moment was inactive. The grayness of the day was held at bay by the caroling, and no sooner was Joy to the World completed, when the family launched into Oh, Holy Night.

"The bank would be to our right, I think," Uncle Bob said, pointing. "Given that our orientation is the same as it was in the, um, future."

"I don't remember seeing these houses back in our time," Adrian said.

"They weren't there," Rick agreed. "That's where the shops were."

"Then the bank is definitely to the right," Horace offered.

"Then we go right," Robin said, grinning.

They exited the grove of trees. There was no sidewalk along the dirt street, but the ground was hard beneath their feet. The coating of snow was slick, and they were careful as they moved along.

"I can see the new entry in my diary now," Kip said, as they walked along stiffly. "I slipped and fell on my ass in 1910 today."

Charlie laughed, and Rick and Adrian chuckled.

"Just be careful, guys." Uncle Bob admonished. "We don't want anyone writing that diary entry for real."

"There's the bank," Robin said then, pointing. "Right where we left it."

There was indeed a structure before them now, viewed from the side as they approached it. It was made of brick, and no larger than the homes across the way. As they came up to it, Charlie smiled at the hitching posts out front, where horses could be moored while bank patrons went inside. The bank had a brick paver landing in front of it in lieu of a sidewalk, which extended beyond the bank to a couple of businesses next door. As they stopped in front of the bank, Charlie glanced at the next building, and was not all surprised to see it with a sign above the door that said, General Store in large black letters, and beneath, in much smaller print, G, Fallon, Prop. - Feed - Grain - Leather Goods - Accessories.

The bank had a more ornate sign above the door, in gold letters, that made it quite clear that here was the Stockdale General Bank. Large windows fronted the building on either side of the steel-strapped front door, with the ghosts of a grill of steel bars showing behind each. The bank was imposing, definitely.

"I'll be damned," Jeremiah said, shaking his head.

"Looks like it would take some time to break into this place," Adrian noted.

"Let's walk around back," Charlie suggested. "I want to see the robbers go inside, if we can."

Robin nodded. "That will cue us in on when to expect Tallfield and Evans."

They circled the building, and found a rear door with several much smaller windows to one side. Charlie went up to them and looked inside, and was surprised to see no bars on the other side. "That doesn't make sense," he said. "Bars on the front windows, but not back here."

"Show of force out front," Robin suggested, shrugging. "Bars cost money. Maybe they hadn't gotten to it out back."

"The vault was probably counted on to protect the money," Horace offered. "Or, remembering the story the fellow in the library told you, a large safe."

Charlie turned to look around them. Beyond the back of the bank was a field of tall grass, brown in winter sleep, with woods beyond that. There was a hill a ways off to their right, on which stood a house. They were looking at the side of it, the windows of the upper floor visible above the trees. There seemed to be no other vantage spot from which to view the rear of the bank, so unless the kid who had witnessed the break in had been walking back here or in the woods, he must have been looking out a window of that house. Charlie mentioned that, and everyone nodded.

"What do we do now?" Casper asked.

Charlie patted the little alien on one shoulder. "I guess we wait."

Casper moved his conical head in a small circle, his version of a nod, and smiled up at Charlie. "I'm glad I dressed for it."

"You and me, both," Charlie agreed. The air was sharp with chill upon their faces, but their clothing held it easily at bay.

It took about an hour for the robbers to make their appearance. During that time, the house just down the street continued to make merry, pouring forth Christmas carols, one after the other.

"They'll all be hoarse by dinner," Kippy said, after a while. "Eating their turkey with swollen tongues!"

That brought chuckles, and a couple of wistful sighs. They'd eaten before starting on this venture, but it was amazing how quickly hunger returned when you were busy. And the idea of a Christmas dinner, with turkey and stuffing and all the tasty accompaniments...

"Shh! Look!" Adrian said then, pointing.

"They can't hear us," Charlie reminded, turning with the others. "Or see us. Everyone remember that."

"Like we not here," Auggie reaffirmed, looking curiously at the newcomers.

They were on foot, and each carried a small valise - a traveling bag, most often seen on trains of the period. They stepped from the woods and looked around carefully a moment, and then simply walked casually over to the rear of the bank. Charlie and the others stepped back carefully to watch.

The two made it to the back door, and stopped, as if listening.

"Someone's been here," one of them whispered, a tall man with shaggy blond hair protruding from around his cowboy-style hat. He pointed down at the dusting of snow on the ground. Charlie followed the man's finger, and was shocked to see their own footprints in the snow!

"Oops," Auggie said, chuckling.

"Well, they're not here now!" the other bandit said. The second man was a little shorter, with brown hair jutting from beneath a different style of hat, more like some kind of fedora. Both men would have been nice-looking, if they'd bothered to shave and clean themselves up a little. Their clothing looked warm but worn, and their boots had seen a lot of walking. "Let's just do this!" the brown-haired man hissed.

He set down his bag, opened it, and drew forth a pry bar, which he then forced upwards between the rails of the window sashes. A deft pull backwards, the crack of splitting wood, and then one of the glass panels broke in half with a sharp snap! The man pulled the pry bar out, wedged it under the bottom sash and bore down on it, and the window sash popped up. It had taken less than fifteen seconds.

"Experienced," Robin noted, shaking his head.

The bandit returned the pry bar to his bag, pushed the window upwards, and then offered a leg up to his companion. That man climbed inside, and then helped his companion in and closed the window.

"Less than a minute," Robin said then, sighing. "These boys probably haven't worked an honest day in their lives."

Charlie frowned, the entire experience having not been what he expected. The speed with which the robbers had gained entry to a building like a bank was disturbing. But--

"It's 1910, and Missouri," he reasoned. "Hardly New York City. I didn't see any utility poles around here, so no electricity. No alarms." He scratched his head. "No real deterrent to entry."

"Lotsa small towns down this way didn't get 'lectricity until the twenties, or even the early thirties," Jeremiah informed.

"Let's go around front," Ricky suggested. "If they've already been seen going in, the sheriff and the bank manager should be along shortly."

They retraced their path to the front of the bank, and stood off to one side, out of the way. No sound came from within the building, and the only sound they could hear was the insistent caroling of the family across the way.

"You'd think they'd take a break now and then," Adrian said wonderingly.

"No radio, no phone, no Internet, no cable TV," Charlie reminded. "Nothing to do but be together and celebrate. It was a very different way of life than the one we know."

"Someone's coming," Uncle Bob said. He had turned to watch back along the dirt street.

Everyone turned now, and could see two people walking towards them. One was about average in height, but the other was the unmistakably tall and lean figure of Lane Tallfield. The sheriff was covered in the same brown duster that they had seen him wearing at their first meeting, and wore the same Stetson upon his head. The other man was four inches shorter, and dressed in a brown suit with a simple overcoat and a brown derby hat. Tallfield had a revolver in his right hand, while the other man - presumably Fred Evans - had none.

"Step back," Charlie said then. "They'll go right by us."

The group moved back, and the two men drew near.

"...a hell of a day for this to happen," Fred Evans was whispering, as they came abreast of them.

Tallfield chuckled, not seeming at all worried. "There's never a good day for a robbery." He turned then, to look back over his shoulder the way they had come, and Evans turned to look as well.

"You hear something?" Evans asked, sounding nervous.

"No. I was just checking to make sure that March boy didn't follow us. After he showed up at my door so excited about the bank break-in, I had to order him to sit in a chair by the fire and not follow me along. Last thing I need is some darn kid getting in the way if shooting starts."

Both men stopped, not six feet away from them. Charlie stared at the man who was to become their nemesis, amazed now to see him as he was in life. This man had a commanding presence, and seemed totally lacking in the sinister, slightly unhinged air he had had about him at their encounter in The Tors. The menace. Here, the lawman looked strong and capable, ready to take on anything. This Lane Tallfield looked confident, serene, and almost blithely sure of himself.

"Speaking of that, you stay behind when I go in, Fred," Tallfield said in a low voice. "You aren't wearing a badge, you hear?"

Evans swallowed hard, looking scared. "I'm going in with you, Lane."

Tallfield issued forth a short laugh, but motioned with his gun for the other man to follow. "Give me the keys, Fred."

The bank manager dug in his pocket, produced a small ring of keys. "The big one," he whispered.

Tallfield nodded, and went into a crouch. He moved onto the paved landing before the doorway, careful to keep below the level of the windows. Evans followed, somehow managing to look far less graceful at it than the sheriff. Lane raised the key ring, selected the largest key, and moved it to the lock on the door. He slid it in slowly and quietly, gave it a turn, and then frowned when the lock responded with a loud click. He waited a moment, and then inched the door open.

"I want to look in the window," Robin whispered. "Come on."

They all moved slowly towards the large window on the right side of the doorway. They were only a few feet from the backs of the two men crouched at the door, yet neither could detect their presence.

Charlie pressed his face to the glass, and brought his hands up to either side to shield his eyes from the daylight, and was aware of the others doing the same. Inside, the interior of the bank was dim, lit only by the light coming in the windows. Yet in the back, behind the teller's windows, they could see a soft glow, perhaps the light of a lantern or candle.

Tallfield pushed the door open enough to creep inside, and he and Evans entered the bank. They came into sight inside, two shadowy figures making their way to the gate in the teller's cage, which was normally closed off by an ornate lattice of iron. The gate stood open, apparently left so by the intruders. Far to the right of the teller's cage, a door into the back of the building stood open, probably the way the two thieves had entered the front of the bank.

The sheriff and the bank manager made it to the teller's counter without incident, and they could see Tallfield rise slowly to peer over the countertop. He seemed to watch a moment, and then moved straight for the open gate, rose to his full height and stepped through, the gun held out before him.

"Move and I'll shoot!"

There were two yells of shock and surprise, and then the muffled sound of a shot. Fred Evans jumped up and filled the gateway, obviously watching what was going on beyond. In a moment he backed up, and the light approached, and then the two figures of the thieves came through, their hands on their hatless heads, followed by Lane Tallfield, his gun pointed at their backs and a lantern held in his other hand. The group proceeded towards them, moved briefly out of sight as they reached the front door, and then Charlie turned as the four men came outside into the gray day.

"Stop," Tallfield ordered, in a voice that allowed for no argument. "Let's have a look at you." He set the lantern down, and now Charlie could see that the sheriff also had the two outlaw's pistols hanging from his fingers by the trigger guards.

The two bandits stopped, and Tallfield circled them to the front, the six-gun in his hand never wavering an inch. The sheriff looked the two men up and down, and then spoke to Fred Evans without turning his head. "Ever see them before?"

"No," the bank manager said immediately, shaking his head.

Tallfield nodded. "Fred, they couldn't have been in there more than ten minutes, since the March boy came and told me what he saw. But they had the safe open, and not a mark on it I could see. How can that be?"

"I'm at a loss," Evans admitted. "It should have been impossible for them to open it without explosives."

"Even then," Tallfield said. "That Diebold should have been proof against these fellas, no question. Something funny is going on here." The sheriff looked over the two thieves again, and nodded. "Let's get them to the jail, and then I'll see about getting started identifying them. Have to wait until tomorrow to send anything by telegraph, I suppose."

The sheriff sighed, and tossed the keys to Evans. "Lock up here, Fred."

Charlie turned, looking now for the third man they suspected had been hiding outside. The watchman left to cover the thieves. But the street looked clear.

The bank manager did as instructed, and then nodded at the sheriff. "Ready."

Tallfield pointed at the two robbers with his gun. "Let's go, you two."

The two thieves turned as prodded and started down the paved walk. Tallfield fell in behind them, and Fred Evans followed.

But they had only gone a few feet from the door, and were just passing the window to that side, when Fred Evans reached into his coat, pulled out a pistol, and shot Lane Tallfield in the back.

"Halt it!" Robin yelled to Auggie.

The scene before them froze, Sheriff Tallfield folding and still on his way to the ground, the smoke from the barrel of Fred Evans' pistol still hanging in the air. Charlie was frozen in shock, himself, the totally unexpected violence just crushing.

"He shot him!" Ricky hissed, his voice cracking with horror and rage. "His friend shot him!"

Everyone continued to stare in horror.

"Bad," Auggie said, a never-before-heard tone of anger in his voice, and followed by a growl that left no doubt about how he felt.

"My god," Robin said, clapping a hand to his forehead. "I saw that coming, too."

Charlie found his voice. "You did?"

"Yes. Look around, Charlie. There's nowhere someone could have hidden here. And our two thieves came out of the woods alone, remember? I wasn't sure it was going to be Evans, but I suspected it would be someone the sheriff would never expect to hurt him. My sense of Lane Tallfield was that he was too good at what he did to be caught so unawares."

Kippy clenched Charlie's arm, and rubbed at his nose. "That was just awful."

"Bastard," Uncle Bob said, the hostility in his voice hard. "Sneaking, backstabbing bastard! Any sympathy I had for this guy sure flew the coop!"

Horace looked pale. "I can't imagine the sort of mind that would do such a wicked deed. It's frightening."

Ragal pointed at the scene before them. "We have to let it play out. We have to see what happened."

"I'd like to turn that guy into a drzilbint", Casper ground out. "He's like the fanatics on my home planet!"

"I can't believe it," Jeremiah whispered. "His own buddy!"

Charlie held up his own hands for silence. "I agree with Ragal. We have to see this thing played out. I think we're onto whatever it was that turned Lane Tallfield's spirit into what he is now." He turned to Auggie. "Can you restart it? But be prepared to stop, or go back, if we need you to."

The bearcat nodded, but still looked far from his normal happy self. "Start again."

They turned as the scene before them reanimated. Sheriff Tallfield hit the pavers and lay still, his gun and those of the robbers skittering away from him along the bricks. The two outlaws turned, their faces covered in shock, and stared at the fallen lawman. And then the tall, blond fellow jumped forward, and grabbed his and his friend's guns off the pavers.

The shorter of the two spoke then: "Goddammit, Fred! What have you done!"

"I had to," Fred Evans said, looking pale himself. "I couldn't let him take you. He would have eventually identified you. How could I have avoided going down, too, after telling him I didn't recognize my own brother?"

The taller robber held up his hands. "I didn't sign on for killin' no lawman! They'll never stop huntin' us, Fred!"

The bank manager shook his head. "No, they won't even know who you were." He reached into his pocket and produced his keys, and tossed them to his brother. "Go back inside. Clean out the safe. Be quick about it! I'll watch here."

The two robbers nodded, and returned to the bank door and let themselves inside.

Fred Evans looked both ways on the street. No one was in sight. Across the way, Christmas carols still floated from the home there.

Evans squatted next to the sheriff, and felt for a pulse. It became obvious he couldn't find one by the expression on his face. "Goddammit, Lane," he whispered. "Goddammit all! Had to be some stupid kid looking out his window! You just had to go and see, didn't you?" He squeezed his eyes shut a moment, and then nodded at the body on the ground. " wouldn't be you, if you didn't."

The two robbers reappeared, their valises appearing much heavier now.

"Is he dead?" The shorter one asked.

"Yes," the bank manager replied. He straightened. "Stick to the plan, little brother. The two of you get to Memphis. I'll give the false descriptions of you, and ride things out here. But I have a feeling I won't be staying long. This town is going to be madder than hell that someone killed Lane Tallfield. I expect these folk to run the whole bank staff outta here before it's all over."

"Okay," the younger Evans said. "We'll wait for you at the hotel, like we planned." He licked his lips. "Anyone suspect about the girl?"

"No." Fred Evans looked haunted now. "I may have given her more of that mixture than I should have. But if she doesn't make it, they'll just think it was fever that took her."

"Come on!" the blond robber urged. "Let's get the hell outta here, 'fore someone comes along!"

"Wait." Fred Evans stuck his pistol back into his inside holster and turned to his brother. "You've got to slug me good enough to convince people you knocked me out. I need to be laying here beside Lane when he's discovered."

The younger Evans licked his lips. "I don't know that I can."

"You have to," Fred repeated. "If no one comes along in a while I'll get up and stagger to that house. But you've got to make it look good. Hit me from behind, understand? Use your pistol butt."

The younger man's eyes widened. "I can't hit you like that, Fred! What if I kill you!"

"You might be killing me if you don't!" the older man hissed. "Do it!"

Young Evans nodded, looking grim, and circled behind his brother, drawing his pistol. He bit at his lip, firmed his resolve, and then suddenly whipped the gun around and brought the butt down on his brother's hat. The bank manager collapsed immediately and rolled off the pavers into the frozen mud of the street, and the younger Evans followed him down, looking panicked.

"We've got to go!" Blondie hissed, anxiously fingering the handle of his valise. "Come on, Dave!"

The younger Evans checked his brother, and then rose unsteadily to his feet. "He's breathin'. I just hope I didn't hurt him bad."

"Let's go!" his buddy repeated.

Dave Evans cast a last look at his brother lying on the ground, and then turned his gaze on the fallen sheriff. He winced, but then gathered himself, looked at his buddy, and nodded. "Come on."

The two men hastened to the corner of the bank and disappeared around back.

"Stop," Robin said.

No one said anything. The sheer act of treachery they'd witnessed had left them speechless. And knowing now that Fred Evans had also been responsible for the death of Harriet Jensen, in addition to Lane Tallfield...

Charlie stared at the unconscious figure of Fred Evans on the ground. It's a shame your brother didn't kill you, he found himself thinking. To think that these three men had gotten away with what they had done!

"This sucks," Ricky said, sounding mad. "I'd like to stomp that guy into the dirt!"

"Can't," Auggie said. "Can't change past."

Charlie scratched his jaw, and turned to his friends. "Even if we could, doing anything to Fred Evans would just be violence on top of violence. All I can hope is that a justice of some sort caught up with him later." He nodded at Rick. "We'll research him when we get back to the office. Find out, if we can, what happened to him after he left Stockdale."

Ricky nodded, but his jaw was still clenched in anger. "I hope he fell down a mine shaft, or something."

They needed to move away from the perfidy of the moment and get back to their investigation. "I want to help Lane Tallfield now, more than ever," Charlie said.

"So do I!" Kippy agreed. "I didn't like the guy at The Tors, but now I want to see him made whole again."

The others nodded, and Charlie forced a smile at that. "Then we need to get back to the reason we're here."

Robin sighed. "I agree." He shook his head. "What we've witnessed seems very straightforward, but we've obviously missed some crucial aspect of this event. As it is, I cannot imagine what shock Lane Tallfield received that might have driven him to the edge of sanity."

"It may have happened in a second, or even a part of a second," Horace theorized. "We'll need to replay the event until we spot whatever it was."

Casper made an unhappy sound. "That will hurt."

Charlie looked down at Lane Tallfield, motionless on the ground, and nodded. It would hurt.

Auggie backed up the moment, and they watched it again. And again. And again. Each time, it played through the same, and nothing they could see might be the trigger that had sent Lane Tallfield into a split of his quantum ghost. They moved closer, actually stood around the four men as the action progressed, but still couldn't see anything.

And then, on the twelfth replay, Kippy grabbed Charlie's arm. "Stop!"

Auggie froze the action. Kippy and Charlie were standing in front of Lane Tallfield at the moment, slightly to one side, by the window of the bank.

"What happened?" Charlie asked. "What did you see?"

Kippy turned to Auggie. "Back it up, slowly, can you? Stop when I say."

The bearcat nodded, and the scene before them inched backwards.

"Stop there!" Kippy called.

The action ceased.

"Look at Lane's eyes," Kippy said then.

Charlie stepped closer to the man, peering at his eyes, which were watching the two outlaws ahead of him.

"Now, inch it forward, Auggie," Kippy said, sounding strained.

Auggie moved closer to watch - everyone moved closer to watch - as the action resumed in extremely slow motion.

"Get ready to stop when I say," Kippy called to the bearcat. "And...stop!"

Charlie was watching Lane Tallfield's eyes at that moment. And, in that moment, they suddenly flicked to the side, looking towards --

Charlie turned, and was staring into the bank's window glass.

"Remember?" Kippy whispered. "The fortunetelling machine back at the office? It said, The answer is in the reflection!"

Charlie stared at the window. Clearly there, in reflection, was the figure of Lane Tallfield. And behind him, the gun just coming up in his hand, was Fred Evans, about to shoot. The motion of his arm, reflected in the window, had drawn Lane's gaze, and in the last part of a second of his life, he had seen his killer in the act.

No one seemed able to say anything, as they understood the import of what they were seeing.

It was Robin, finally, who breathed a soft sigh, and shook his head sadly. "He knew."

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