“We were wondering when you might show up,” Augustus said with a smug grin that reminded me why I didn’t like him. For a split second, I considered tossing him off the roof as an excuse to wipe that arrogant look from his face.
“What do you mean we?” I asked, turning a curious eye to Allison. “And why would you be expecting me?”
“Nope, he’s gone again,” Augustus said as he lowered the binoculars he’d been using to spy on something across the street. He then reached into his pocket and removed an old-fashioned photograph.
“Where is he?” Allison asked, staring curiously at the building across the way.
Augustus handed me the photo while addressing Allison’s question, “Don’t worry, he’s there, but every time he gets a phone call, he walks to the other side of the roof. I’m guessing it has something to do with reception ... imagine having to worry about that?”
“Who’s this?” I asked, analyzing the smooth face in the picture. The guy looked about Augustus’s age and had cold, blue eyes and wavy brown hair. His nose was angular, but suited his overall features well and it wouldn’t have surprised me to learn he was a model. “Is this Crimson?”
Augustus grinned again and I wanted to punch him. Instead, I watched him casually hand Allison the binoculars.
“You’re right, he wouldn’t have left without his clubs,” she assured herself.
“We believe that’s Dimitri Stravolov – at least that was him several years ago,” Augustus explained. “He’s a Russian antiquities dealer who likes to collect rare books and often finds himself in direct competition with our friend Crimson. It’s our understanding their relationship is volatile and it’s only a matter of time before one of them offs the other.”
“It might be the reason Zachary drops off the map,” Allison interjected, still scanning the roof across the street.
“So why are you telling me this and how about answering my other questions?”
“Geez, Allison, you didn’t tell me he was always like this,” Augustus quipped, clearly enjoying the upper hand. “Ms. Petrovich believes he is somehow connected to your friend Matt.” He paused and by the shine of his overly white teeth, was clearly enjoying getting a rise out me. “That’s right, Trenton, Ms. Petrovich is two steps ahead of you – not to say that’s very difficult – but she wanted you to know who you needed to watch out for even though you were a complete pain in the ass.” He stuck the photo right in front of my nose as if I were a hound familiarizing myself with the scent of our prey. “This man’s dangerous without your friend Matt’s help, but with it, he’s doubly dangerous.”
“He’s back,” Allison announced and a wave of nausea suddenly washed over me. The pins and needles running up to my blackouts echoed in the distance. I feared I would soon pass out and gritted my teeth in hopes of stalling the inevitable. This must have been apparent because Augustus tapped Allison on the arm and they both observed me curiously before exchanging a mutual look of affirmation.
“Trenton,” Allison said softly, “what’s going on? How do you feel?”
“Slightly nauseous, but not as bad as it usually gets.” It was true, the intensity hadn’t grown like it usually did and I felt confident that I could control it. “You said he’s back ... who?”
“See for yourself,” she said and handed me the binoculars.
I eyed both of them suspiciously. They certainly knew a lot more than they were letting on and had me at a disadvantage. I didn’t like it and especially didn’t appreciate Allison’s role in the whole charade. She seemed to be enjoying it too.
I placed the tiny gadget on the bridge of my nose and peered through the magical lens. A man of about thirty – my best guess – tucked a thin, black device into his pant pocket, pulled out a golf ball and grabbed a club resting against the rooftop’s sole lawn chair. He stood about six-feet tall, had an athletic build, and black wavy hair with speckles of grey. After noticing this oddity, I figured he could be any age. I mean, as far as I knew, only old people got grey hair. Anyway, the more I studied his face, the more I noticed the wear and tear that could only have been gained through turmoil, not to mention years in the sun.
“Crimson James, huh?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I continued to watch the legend as he performed a graceful swing and launched the golf ball into the sky. “I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that.”
“They dissolve just before impact,” Augustus said. “Don’t ask me why, but they’re one of his inventions.”
“Interesting,” I replied, still monitoring the nausea humming through my veins.
Crimson stopped mid-swing, whipped out the black device and put it to his ear. He quickly walked to the other side of the roof and disappeared ... and so did my nausea. “What the…”
“Just as we suspected,” Augustus stated and I noticed Allison’s expression was bright and cheery, bordering on exuberant.
“Did the feeling stop when he vanished?” she asked.
“Yes, but how did you know ... what’s going on?”
“Did anything life-shattering come to you when Crimson first showed up and you began to get ... sick or whatever you might call it?” Augustus asked.
“Life-shattering ... no, I just felt the beginning stages of what usually becomes a blackout.”
“Interesting,” he said and glanced at Allison. It was as if they were having a telepathic conversation.
“He’s nearly 300 feet away, so maybe the closer he gets to physical contact, the more effective the sensation might be.”
“Look, I demand to know what’s going on,” I exclaimed.
“I can’t believe the trigger-effect works,” Allison said.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Augustus stated cautiously. “Time will only tell. Now we just need to get the two of them in close contact.”
“I’ve heard that term before,” I revealed.
“The trigger-effect,” Augustus said. “Let me guess ... from Number Nine, as you like to call him?”
“That’s right. He said that once Allison met Crimson, the hope was that their close physical contact would somehow trigger a flood of information into Allison’s current physical brain. I guess he meant that it would somehow unlock the deep recesses of her mind and soul.”
“Oh my god, Trenton,” Allison started, “you think that Crimson and I are ... I mean, that I was him in a past life?”
“Exactly. That’s what Number Nine told me anyway. And that’s why he said your life was in danger because you somehow hold the key and they needed to prevent you from using it.”
Allison smiled graciously and hugged me. She then planted a soft kiss on my cheek. “I’m not the special one in this group, honey, you are ... you were Crimson James in a past life.”
The nausea struck again and I fell to one knee. Allison glanced across the rooftop and smiled.
“You see, Crimson is back and you’ve been affected just like a few minutes ago.”
“This is crazy, you’re supposed to be Crimson, not me.”
“No, Trenton,” Augustus said firmly, “Ms. Petrovich knew all along. Why do you think she tried to recruit you? She wanted you to become an intern too, but since you wouldn’t open up your Past Lives Letter – and who the hell does that anyway – she had to devise Plan B. When she discovered that Number Nine was also trying to recruit you, we began monitoring you and figured they would do the hard work and deliver you instead ... and of course, she was right – she’s always right.”
“So this was all an elaborate plan to get me to come back to see if the trigger-effect would work?”
“That’s the main part of the plan,” Augustus replied, “but we’ve been attempting to acquire the wormhole theory by other—”
Augustus stopped mid-sentence and put his hands to his stomach. He frowned, as if disappointed, and turned a few shades paler. The growing red spot on his shirt told the story and he suddenly stumbled back. Allison screamed and I told her to get down.
A second shot clipped Augustus’s shoulder and sent him splaying back to the edge of the roof … I lunged and caught his leg as he toppled backward over the low wall. Small, brick granules chipped away and took flight, sailing down the thirty or so stories to the street below.
Augustus’s weight, combined with gravity, pulled his leg through my already weakened grip until all I could grasp was his shoe, but that didn’t hold for long and he unfortunately slipped out of it and fell the way of the lead balloon, leaving me holding his empty shoe haplessly in my hand.
Allison screamed again and ran toward me, but another shot hit the wall between us and I yelled for her to stay put. She crawled back toward the front wall, thereby reducing the angle of attack from whoever was using us for target practice.
“Did you get a look at where those shots are coming from?” I yelled.
“I think they’re coming from the building next to Crimson’s.”
“Toss me the binoculars.” She did and I exhaled before inching my head above the roof line. I quickly assessed the view and ducked back down, then slid a few feet over and inched upward again, but a bullet ricocheted near my head, forcing me to hit the deck.
“You’re not going to believe this, but Crimson’s friend Dimitri is on that roof holding a rifle.”
“Oh my god, what if he kills Crimson?”
I glanced in Crimson’s direction and found him missing. “He’s gone,” I shouted.
“What about his clubs?”
I checked again.
“They’re gone too.”
“That means he went back inside.”
“Good. Crawl this way and we’ll make our way to the rooftop door, okay?”
She nodded and worked her way toward me. Two minutes later, with our stomach’s scratched up and our shirts a mess, we swung open the door and fell inside. I stared out the door and was never so glad to have one hit me on the way out, or on the way in, as the situation would have it, when a glittering object in the distance caught my attention. It winked its metallic eye and I immediately made the connection – Augustus’s time travel coin. It must’ve fallen out during his last minute ordeal. Unfortunately, it couldn’t save him, but it sure was my ticket back to the future and I needed to grab it.
“Don’t even think about it!” Allison exclaimed.
“I have to. It’s my only way back.”
“No,” she shouted, but my foot was already leading the way when a bullet pinged off the outside door and swung it shut, nearly taking off my leg at the knee.
“Okay, maybe you’re right,” I said as we exchanged telling glances and ran down the stairwell.