It was about two hours later when Bogg heard the front door open and a light step over the threshold.
"Phineas?" Susan's voice called. "Are you still here?"
"In the living room," he called back.
She entered, smiling. "Oh, good. I'd hoped you hadn't gone yet. Did the electrician come?"
"He's been and gone. The power's on again." There was more to tell, but he held off for the moment, wanting a respite from the dark thoughts that had been keeping him company since his discovery in the basement. "You look happy. That mean everything's okay with the kid's folks?"
Susan nodded. "Bill's been released from the hospital. He and Kathy went back to Mrs. Rossini's to get ready for the rehearsal. His parents are expected to arrive in New York this afternoon too."
"So everything's back on track for the wedding, huh?"
"Oh, yes. And," Susan reached into the purse she was carrying and drew out what looked like an invitation, though the names on it were handwritten instead of engraved, "Kathy's insisted that we come to the wedding and the reception tomorrow. She said that, without you and what you did for Bill, there might not even be a wedding, so she won't hear of us refusing."
Bogg managed to dredge up a smile. "I knew Jeff got his stubbornness from somewhere. No objections to us attending?"
"None at all," Susan assured him. "It's nice to have the opportunity to witness a happy ending. And speaking of which," she added, "guess who stopped by the hospital as Bill was leaving?"
"Tony Sorvino. He said he'd just heard about what happened and he wanted--in his own words--'to apologize for being such an arrogant jerk last night.' And he actually sounded sincere, Phineas. I think we might be able to rule him out as having anything to do with Bill's accident "
Susan blinked, taken aback by his quick response. "You do?"
Bogg nodded, bracing himself for what he was about to reveal. "Sorvino had nothing to do with Bill almost getting electrocuted. But I know who did."
Susan's brows drew together. "Who?"
For answer, Bogg reached into his shirt pocket and brought out the evidence, still wrapped in his handkerchief, and laid it on the coffee table before them.
Susan's frown deepened as Bogg unfolded the handkerchief to show what lay within. "That--looks like a cigar."
"It is." Bogg took a deep breath. "Remember when I told you that Jeff and I ended up in Victorian London a while back?"
"We were there for two reasons--to make sure Nellie Bly resumed her around-the-world trip on time and to help Arthur Conan Doyle overcome a case of writer's block," Bogg continued. "Not surprisingly, our assignments overlapped. Nellie was hell-bent on trying to catch Jack the Ripper while she was in London. She didn't find him--but she found someone else who tried to kill her. And Doyle picked up a big piece of evidence at the scene: a cigar just like this one, right down to the way it was trimmed at the end."
"Victorian London . . . " Susan's eyes widened in sudden realization. "Wait, you said before that where's you and Jeffrey met--oh, no!"
"It all fits, doesn't it?" Bogg remarked, not doubting at all that she had arrived at the same conclusion he had. He gave a short, mirthless laugh. "How's that for irony? I asked the kid to try to think of enemies his folks might've had. I should have remembered the enemy we have!"
Susan bit her lip. "Phineas, I know that cigar seems to prove that Drake was here--"
"Seems to?" Bogg stared at her incredulously.
"But we can't prove that he's actually done anything, can we?" she continued. "I'd love nothing better than to nail his hide to the wall, but it's not like we've caught him red-handed."
"The fuse box was tampered with!" Bogg snapped. "When the electrician came, he said the outage was caused by fuses that were the wrong size, twice the voltage they should have been. The circuit overloaded--he said that we're lucky the whole house didn't catch on fire. He also said that, by the looks of it, the fuses had been replaced recently, like within the last few days."
"My God." Susan had gone almost as white as her blouse.
"Now, I don't know much about electricity," Bogg resumed. "But I'm betting that Bill does, and the guy he's renting from. I can't see either of them making this mistake. So maybe it wasn't a mistake, maybe somebody deliberately put in the wrong-sized fuses." He glanced down again at the cigar on the table. "And maybe we've just found our prime suspect."
"Maybe," Susan conceded, giving the cigar another look as well. "Only why would Drake leave something so incriminating behind?"
"I don't think he intended to. More likely, he got startled, dropped it, and had to Omni out fast. The basement's kinda damp, so the cigar would have burned out quickly." He paused, remembering. "I thought I smelled cigar smoke when Bill and I went down there to look for chairs before the party, but he said that Professor Carson smoked, so I thought that was the reason. And don't forget Kathy--she said she felt like she'd been pushed while she was crossing the street. Drake could've done it--"
"And Omnied out before you could see him," Susan finished, with a sigh. "This is all starting to sound horribly plausible. If he's doing awful things during these short time-hops, it's no wonder we're having such a hard time tracking him." She rubbed her forehead as if it ached. "But why would he be targeting Jeffrey and his family like this?"
Bogg's voice hardened. "Drake's never been one to pick on people his own size. And striking at me through the kid has got to be a pretty good bonus, as far as he's concerned."
"Phineas, I'm not going to deny that Drake hates you or that he'd go out of his way to stick a knife in your back any way he can. But there has to be more to this--attack against Jeffrey than that. I despise the man as much as you do, but I've got to admit, he thinks big."
"So do I," Bogg defended himself. "Remember all those things Jeff's supposed to do when he grows up--and how Drake tried to make sure he'd never do them? When I was on trial, he misled the tribunal about the kid staying a civilian, demanded that Jeff be sent back to 1982. We beat him--the three of us--but I'm betting he's decided to try again."
Understanding dawned on Susan's face as Bogg continued, "Ever since Drake went on the lam, he's been trying to wreck history. I thought messing up the past would be enough, even for him. But it looks like he's setting out to ruin the future too. Jeffrey's future--and I happen to take that very personally."
"Assuming you're right," Susan began, "what should we do next? Do you think he's likely to make another move against Bill and Kathy?"
"No," Bogg replied, after some consideration. "At least not in 1968. I think, if he was still in this time zone, the Omni would still be red. Now I could be wrong and he might pop in again just before the wedding, but I'd say the odds were against it. He's tried twice here, and failed. My guess is he'll Omni forward a few years before pulling his next stunt--and now that I know who I'm dealing with, I intend to be ready for him."
"Poor Jeffrey. Any idea what he'll do, once he knows?
"Jeff's not gonna know, 'cause I'm not gonna tell him."
Susan stared at him. "What? Phineas--"
"The kid's worried enough already, I'm not gonna add to that. I'm the adult, for God's sake--I'm supposed to take care of him, not scare him to death!"
"But what if he can help?" Susan countered. "You know how smart he is--"
"Drake is my problem to solve, not Jeff's," Bogg insisted. "He's not even fourteen yet--what can he do against a grown man who's just tried to murder his parents and keep him from being born? I know what I'm doing, Susan," he added as she started to protest further. "Believe me, it's safer all around if Jeff doesn't find out--from me or anyone else. At least, not until all this is over."
Susan shook her head ruefully. "Phineas Bogg, you're as stubborn as a herd of army mules."
"When it comes to protecting the kid, damn straight I am," Bogg retorted. "Promise you won't tell Jeffrey about Drake either?"
Susan sighed again. "Very well. I can't say that I agree with you on this, but Jeffrey's your partner, so I have to respect that. But he'll want to know what's been happening here. What are you going to tell him?"
"I don't know." Bogg pinched the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. "But I'll think of something."
"Hey, kid." Bogg greeted the boy as casually as if talking by HGT were commonplace for them both. "Hoped you'd be around when I checked in."
"Well, Olivia's off teaching her class and I just couldn't take the infirmary anymore," Jeffrey admitted. "At least things are happening in Mission Control, even if no one's got time to tell me what they are." He fiddled with his headset, making the hologram wobble slightly. "So--is everything okay where you are?"
"Fine," Bogg said, hoping he sounded convincingly hearty. "The electrician said the fuses need to be replaced, so he fixed everything up and now the power's back on." It wasn't really a lie, he told himself. What he'd said was true enough, even if it omitted certain--more sinister details.
"That's all it was, bad fuses?"
"Looks like." Bogg tried to keep his expression tranquil and his tone level. "Hey, don't tell me you're disappointed, Jeff!"
"I'm not!" the boy said hastily. "It's just that when we talked about this last night--"
"Well, last night was pretty upsetting," Bogg pointed out. "When something like your dad's accident happens, it's easy to start imagining the worst. But I said I didn't have any proof, either way." Except that now he did have proof--and he had actively decided not to share it with his partner. Susan had taken charge of the cigar, promising to have it tested for fingerprints and other evidence that might link it to Drake, once she returned to HQ.
Jeffrey was frowning a little. "What about Uncle Tony?"
"He's in the clear, kid. According to Susan, he stopped by the hospital today and apologized to your folks for acting like a jerk last night. Apparently he hadn't heard about the accident until this morning. So you've got nothing to worry about on that score." Just something twice as big, mean, and ugly on a completely different score, a little voice in Bogg's mind added.
Bogg throttled the little voice into silence. "So, you see, kid--everything's under control."
The boy relaxed visibly. "Thanks, Bogg! You know, I'm really glad Uncle Tony's innocent. Maybe he was a big jerk when he dated my mom, but I remember him as a pretty good guy."
"Then you can go on remembering him like that. Maybe we all do stupid things when we care too much. I know I have."
"Me too," Jeffrey admitted, with a rueful grin. "So the wedding's on for tomorrow?"
"Green light all the way, kid," Bogg assured him. "By now, I'd guess your folks are setting out for the rehearsal, and your grandparents were supposed to arrive today too. And Susan and I cleaned up the place in Queens this afternoon, so the place looks fit to live in again. Oh, and your mom invited us both to the wedding too."
"That's great!" Jeffrey exclaimed, then, in the next instant, his expression turned wistful. "Wish I could go too. But I guess that would really screw things up even if I wasn't stuck here at HQ."
"'Fraid so. But I promise to tell you all about it, once I get back."
"Thanks." The boy managed a smile. "It helps a lot to know I can always count on you."
Bogg swallowed, feeling guilt like a knife twisting in his gut. "I'll always look out for you, kid. Take care, okay?"
Jeffrey blinked. "I'll be all right. I'm not the one out there taking all the risks. So it should be the other way around, Bogg: you take care."
"I will," Bogg promised, forcing the words past the lump growing in his throat. "I gotta go now, Jeff. It's been a long day--and we've got an early start in the morning. You should rest too," he added. "Keeping late hours can't be good for a kid."
"It's still afternoon where I am," Jeffrey pointed out. "But I promise I'll turn in early tonight."
"Thanks, kid. Later?"
"Later," the boy agreed, and vanished obligingly.
Deactivating his own HGT, Bogg stared for a long time at the blank space where the holographic corridor had been--and silently repeated the filthiest curses he had learned during his days as a pirate.
Nearly two years of partnership, of close friendship, of absolute trust built up mission by mission . . . and he'd just betrayed it all. For Jeffrey's own safety, of course--but it felt like a betrayal just the same.
Bogg had once heard that lies of omission weren't as bad as lies of commission. But from where he was sitting, both felt equally lousy. And he strongly suspected that Jeffrey would agree--at least he would if his partner hadn't deliberately kept him in the dark.
I'll make him understand, Bogg vowed. When all this is over, I'll make him understand--somehow.
The strains of "Funiculi, Funicula" mingled with the hum of conversation and intermittent bursts of laughter. Which was only right, Bogg thought as he selected a crostini from a passing platter of appetizers, when people were celebrating a wedding.
Just that morning Katerina Beatrice Rossini and William Stephen Jones, surrounded by family and friends, had tied the knot in a small, jewel-box of a church in the heart of Little Italy. Sitting with Susan in one of the rear pews, Bogg had surreptitiously consulted the Omni during a crucial moment in the ceremony and breathed a sigh of relief to see a green light still shining steadily up at him.
Not surprisingly, the reception was also a family affair, held at Aldo's. Kathy's grandmother had even baked the three-tiered wedding cake, rich with chopped hazelnuts and delicately frosted. Toasts had been drunk, speeches made, and Kathy had serenaded her husband with renditions of "Un moto di gioia" and "I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls." Then the dancing began, was still going on in the part of the dining room that had been cleared for the occasion.
Bogg danced in turn with Susan, some of the lady guests, and the brand-new Mrs. Jones. All brides were considered beautiful on their big day, but Bogg thought that Kathy glowed. He rather suspected that she did in Bill's eyes too. Her wedding gown was simple but lovely--white voile trimmed with real Venetian lace, Susan had whispered in Bogg's ear before the ceremony began--and there were white rosebuds woven into her dark curls.
"Thank you for coming," she said, while they circled the floor together in a slow waltz. "I'm so glad you and Susan could make it, especially on such short notice."
"Thank you for inviting us," Bogg replied.
"Well, there might not have been a wedding without you," Kathy pointed out. "If you hadn't been there that night . . . " she broke off with a little shiver, shook her head in that now-familiar way, and managed to smile up at him. "I hope you two are enjoying yourselves."
"Oh, we're having a great time," Bogg assured her. "Everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves too."
"I still can't believe everything went off so smoothly," Kathy confessed. "Up until the last moment, I was half-expecting some kind of wedding disaster to happen, but it didn't." She laughed softly. "I'm hoping that's a good omen for the marriage."
"Well, it's probably a good omen for the honeymoon, at least. You and Bill managing a getaway?"
"We're taking off right after the reception for a weekend on Fire Island. Bill's got someone taking his Monday class since we probably won't get back until late. And then, we'll officially be moving into the Queens house as a married couple."
"You've got some major changes ahead," Bogg agreed. "Living with someone, even someone you're crazy about, is still a big adjustment."
She nodded, smiling ruefully. "Well, Bill and I promised that neither of us would run home to Mother--or Nonna, in my case--the first time we have a fight. We'll stay and tough it out, together."
Bogg smiled in turn. "Sounds like a plan. I'm sure you and Bill will have no trouble sticking to it, even if the plates start flying."
"Will you be stopping by to visit, once we get settled in? You'll always be welcome in our home."
"I don't know," Bogg said, with genuine regret. "My firm's setting up my next assignment, which could take me out of New York for a while. Susan will probably move with me."
"Oh!" Kathy looked disappointed. "I'm sorry to hear that. Not that you're working," she added quickly, "but that you might be leaving. It's funny, isn't it? I met you and Susan just three days ago, but I feel like I've known you both for a lot longer."
"Same here," Bogg admitted, with complete candor. "I guess some people just meet and form an instant connection, for some reason. Chemistry, sympathy . . . I can't think of the right word for it."
"Serendipity, maybe. And sometimes people come into your life, even briefly, and make an enormous impact." Kathy gazed up at Bogg with serious dark eyes. "I hope you won't think I'm being too fanciful, but ever since you kept me from being run over that day, I've felt like you were my guardian angel, at least for a while. Bill's too."
Bogg felt his face heating in an unaccustomed blush and tried to lighten the mood. "An angel, huh? I'd look pretty silly with a halo."
Kathy laughed. "Oh, I think the halo's optional. But I'll always be grateful for what you've done--for both of us." As the strains of the waltz ended, she reached up and kissed Bogg very gently on the lips. "Thank you, Phineas. And God bless you."
That had been almost an hour ago. Since then, Bogg had danced again with Susan, talked to Bill (fully recovered from his accident and clearly elated to be married at last), noted Tony Sorvino dancing with a striking blonde named Sophia, and wandered around the restaurant, unobtrusively patrolling the crowd. But the person he was braced to confront never appeared, the savory aromas in the dining room remained untainted by cigar smoke, and the Omni's light shone green whenever he checked it.
Some fifteen minutes previously, the bride and groom, along with their closest attendants, had vanished into a back room, to get ready for their departure. They emerged now, dressed in traveling clothes, amid laughter and cheers. Bogg and Susan joined the other guests on the sidewalk, waving and calling out good wishes as the Joneses climbed into a waiting taxi that would take them to the train station.
Bogg caught a glimpse of Kathy's face, smiling and flushed with excitement, at the window just before the taxi pulled away from the curb. He liked to think he would always remember her that way, loved and loving, embarking joyously on the adventure known as married life. He hoped he could share that image of her with Jeffrey too, once he and the kid were reunited.
But that moment hadn't yet arrived, and Bogg suspected that more challenges lay ahead before it would. Challenges that he could no longer put off facing.
"I have to go now," he murmured in Susan's ear.
It was a mark of her quick intelligence that she understood his meaning right away. "I know," she murmured back. "Your traveling clothes are in my tote bag." She smiled a little at his startled expression. "I suspected you might want to take off right after the wedding. Go--I'll wrap up all the loose ends here."
"Thanks." More grateful than he could say, he kissed her lightly on the lips before hurrying back into the restaurant. Susan's tote was resting on one of the chairs at their table; Bogg retrieved the plastic bag containing the casual clothes he had worn three days ago and hurried downstairs to the men's room to change.
Back upstairs again, he replaced the bag, now holding his formal clothes, in Susan's tote and took a fast look around the dining room. Most of the guests were still outside, talking animatedly among themselves about the wedding, but some were drifting back inside and there was no point in taking foolish risks. Sidling behind a convenient potted plant, Bogg took out the Omni and gazed one last time at the glowing green light.
"Goodbye, 1968," he murmured, and felt the world dissolve around him as he hit the switch.