5.4 You Shouldn’t Have Come

“No better time than the present.” Old Tim puts the car into gear.

“Hold on, hold on.” I point to a hedge of trees along the fence-line. “Pull in over there.”

He stops the car there and turns toward me. “We don’t have time.”

My soul and spirit are torn.

“Yes, we’re pressed. I get it. You’ve lived twenty years with this and are anxious to fix things. But give me a second, okay?”

I can’t believe it was just yesterday that I came here for the first time. Noah was alive yesterday morning. This old man next to me was young yesterday. Time is like that.

“I know we’re detectives and all, but we’re Christians first. And I can’t go in facing… whatever it is they can do to us… without finding out what happened to you. Do you pray anymore? Do you care about doing what God wants?”

“Of course I do.” He presses his head back against the rest. “I know. I’m pressing you and pushing you. But I lost everything. And this is the way I can make it right for you.”

“For me? How can you be sure? No one knows what their future holds. The future might just go the way you say anyhow. What’s to say I have the control of everything in my hands. That’s a whole lot of responsibility. I can’t say it could ever be on me. It’s too much weight.”

“But you’ve heard of the butterfly effect.”

“Tim, of course we have. One event can change so many others.”

“No pressure, but every single decision a Christian makes helps to make this world a better place, or a worse place. There’s no neutral decision.”

“You’re not scaring me.”

“I’m not trying.”

“But you make it seem like everything rests on me. There was a point when the fate of the world fell on one man—well, two times. Adam and Jesus. But otherwise, we can only do our best.”

“Your best is not good enough.” Old Tim exhales loudly.

I hold to my stance. “It has to be. I cannot be responsible for ruining the future. The butterfly effect is theoretical. And its coincidental, not causative. Good grief—as if a butterfly can cause World War Three or something. Look, my dear future self, you can’t live in regret. You can’t live in fear. We’re going to go in there and be Christian about it.”

“That’s what I did the first time.”

“Well, this time we’ll be prepared. Being Christian doesn’t mean being a doormat. David was clever in his interactions with the enemy. But he walked in integrity, as best he could. My every misstep will not ruin some Garden of Eden. The world’s already broken. So buck up and let’s make a plan.”

He leans forward and clenches his scalp. “I just want to forget it all. It’s horrible.”

“Yeah, I know.” I pat his back. “I get like that sometimes about losing Mercy and Sophie. I can empathize with you, bud. I can imagine myself going down your path. But I don’t want to end up with the burden you’re carrying. I can’t.”

“Not wanting it is the burden itself.”

I answer now with less gusto and a bit of doubt. “As much as I want to second-guess everything about the case and what I’ve done, I have to trust that I’ve been covered by God’s protection the whole way. We can’t live in a world where we fear the next big thing. We have to be wise, decide best we can, and trust that God will keep his word. All things work together for good for us, right?”

He shakes his head and draws a deep breath. “As much as I’d like to believe that, it’s a long time in coming.”

Never in a million years could I imagine myself doing this, but I say to my future self, sitting next to me in a hijacked car, “I gotta pray.”

He flicks a shoulder, but closes his eyes.

“Father in Heaven, this is a crazy couple of days. I don’t know what’s going on, why or how things have happened that have happened. But I know you’re the boss of time. And even this is in your hands.” I remember Sophie in her bed, dreaming of me holding her hand. Even if Old Tim had been there, I don’t blame him. I’d have wanted to be there, too. “Be with Old Tim here who’s lost those he loves and has been lost to everyone for so long… in his own way. And help us solve this murder and… stop the horrible thing that’s happening to people with that device. In Christ’s name I pray, amen.”

Old Tim adds, “And comfort Sophie and Mercy. Show them your love.”

“Amen.” He looks aged another ten years. “How are we going to do this? We going straight with our guns shooting, or are we going in subtly?”

“I was considering splitting up. One of us going in the front door and the other going in through the back somehow. But I’ve changed my mind. Drive around the back, but keep your lights off.”

“There don’t seem to be very many people around.”

“Good for us.” I scan the lawn. Had anyone worked today, a day after the killings? Or had he given them the day off? I hadn’t been to the servant quarters yesterday and assumed people lived on the property. If so, we’d better be very quiet.

“No other cars out front,” he notes as we pulled around to the darkened back of the mansion. “None back here, either. If Briggston is here, his car’s somewhere else.”

“Good for us, I guess.” We park and slip through the shadows over to the house.

Very soon I find that in the future I’ve learned how to pick locks. Old Tim opens a back door and we find ourselves in the laundry room—the same one I’d found the robe tie in. I’d wanted to run that idea past Old Tim, but haven’t had a chance. Pending whatever happens here, I may never have the chance. Regardless, we keep silent. The hall is empty and dark, as is the house. The only light comes from Black’s room.

A few steps later we are at the bedroom door. It’s open and I listen at the crack. I press the door and it swings open. Brooke Black is not in the dark bedroom, but she might be in another room of the house. I look behind me to note it to Old Tim. But he is not behind me. I see his shadowy shape walking up the curving steps at the end of the hall.

He who was so pressed for time has caused more of a delay.

The light comes from the laboratory, and I step that direction, through the bedroom and office. The laboratory door is likewise open a bit. I wait and listen at the gap. In my mind’s eye I see Old Tim’s accident with Black and Briggston, feeling a bit of deja vu. At least this time I know what I’m up against. I’ll stay far from the portal circle.

There’s rustling in the room, sounds of things scraping and being dragged. I watch, noting only one person in there. Black.

Lord, may this be right.

I knock at the door and push it open.

William Black stands halfway between the vault and circle with a framed painting in his hands. He himself could be a picture from the nonmotion of his stance.

“What are you doing here?” he says.

In another scenario, he’d have had a gun. But this is William Black, the scientist, not a Russian thug.

“I know about the time machine.” I shut the door. The room looks very different than it did last time. In the center, on top of the portal circle, is a tall wooden crate with a side missing. Inside and on top of the crate are stacks of paintings.

“What are you doing?”

“Uh…” he looks from the crate to me, then at the door.

“You expecting someone?”

“Yes. My wife.”

“Well, let me take some time to talk to you about the murder of your son.”

“Do you have a search warrant? How did you get into my house?”

“You can call this off the record, for now. I’ll tell you when it’s on the record. And yesterday’s warrant will probably be enough for this search. I’ll ask you again, what are you doing here? What are all these paintings?”

The rectangular painting in his arms shows  thirteen people sitting on the opposite side of a long table. The man in the middle looks familiar. “Is that supposed to be Jesus?”

“Yes, it is. This is… or was a famous painting called The Last Supper. Believe it or not, DaVinci painted it.”

“DaVinci? The ancient inventor? I didn’t know he painted.”

Black scans the assortment of frames on his crate, then sighs. “He did. Was pretty famous for it too, once upon a time.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“That’s the problem, Detective.”

“What problem?”

He shakes his head and settles the painting on the crate. “Did you have some more questions for me? It was pretty unsettling to be taken in for questioning when you didn’t have any questions for us this morning.”

“Yeah, about that. Well, let’s just cut to the chase. Your son Nick is in custody for murder. We know he used the syringe somehow to kill his brother. Someone witnessed him using your time machine to get in and out of… another location. So the case is pretty strong against him. Are you ready to lose another son? Or are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

He rolls his eyes and turns his back on me, walking back to the vault.

“Mr. Black, I know it was an accident. I don’t want your son to lose the rest of his life for murder when it was most likely you causing accidental death. Do you want to save this son? Or let him take the fall?”

“You are way over your head, Detective.” He grabs a painting from several leaning on the wall by the vault and walks it over to the crate.

“You going somewhere with those?”

“I don’t have a choice here. Nick knew what he was getting involved in. He took the risk and if that’s what it takes, he’ll do time for it.”

“You say that so nonchalantly. I saw you crying yesterday about your son, Noah. You must feel remorse. How are you going to feel when Nick is gone as well? Oh, right. You have Benjamin still. Is he home yet?”

“That’s not funny. And no, he’s coming back in the morning.”

“Your kids have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. You’re a good model of industry and determination. You don’t fit the profile for a cold-blooded murderer. So why set up your son, when we all know he didn’t do it.”

Someone jiggles the knob of the laboratory door.

“It’s Briggston.”

Briggston? I hasten behind the door as he opens it.

But it’s not the banker’s voice I hear. “Hello, William. Remember me?” It’s Old Tim.

He steps forward, pressing Black to the side.

Behind him, Brooke Black also enters. Her eyes are pink from crying. Where had Old Tim run into her?

“William, what are all these paintings?” Brooke scans the set-up and the open vault.

Old Tim, at the vault door, whistles. “Did you see this, Tim?”

“What is he doing here? Who is he? What… is he?” Black looks left and right at his machine criss-crossing the ceiling. “Did my machine do this?”

“What are these paintings, dear?” Brooke is near the crate, flipping through the frames. “Can we keep some? What’s this big box for?”

“Step away please, Brooke.” William pulls her away from the circle. He turns back to me. “I once saw my future self.”

“Yes, you did,” says Old Tim, coming out of the vault. “Was he wearing what you’re wearing today?”

William looks at his dress and gasps. He tears off his sweater. “Yes.” Immediately, his hand is on his forehead, pinching between his eyes.

“Come over here, Tim.” Old Tim pulls me to the vault.

“Whoa.”

Leaning against the shelved sides of the vault are paintings and statues. On the shelves are baskets and baskets of gold coins and hoards of Egyptian-looking artifacts.

“Care to do some explaining?”

Brooke looks inside and her eyebrows pinch. “Yes, William. Why do you have museum things in here? At least we could have displayed some of them. And these paintings. They may be unknown artists, but some of them are lovely. Did you see that Impressionistic one with the bridge over lily pads? That’s so beautiful. Why are you packing that?”

William doesn’t answer. He’s walking around the room, agitated. “I get it. I understand now. Two devices. A loop. A circuit. Oh my. Oh my.”

Then he stops and looks at his watch. Blowing out, then eyeing me and Old Tim, he pivots purposefully, “Brooke, Mr. Briggston will be here shortly. Please meet him at the front door and bring him here.”

She smiles and leaves the room. But before he has a chance to talk, she peeks back in. “Don’t forget to set aside the bridge painting, darling.”

He nods to get her to leave.

“Noah would have loved that one,” she adds. “So peaceful. He so wanted peace. And Detective Reynolds, thanks for your prayers for us.”

I hardly had prayed. I should have done so more. But solving this crime is putting action behind my prayers. I exhale as my heart convicts me; it’s not the same.

“Please do not mention the detectives to Briggston,” Black warns.

When she leaves, he picks up the old Antikythera device. “I want to make this right.” He adjusts it and moistens his lips. “This is horrible. There should not be two of you, or two of me, or two of these mechanisms. I got it from myself, yes. That was five or so years back. When I realized what it could do and all the money to be had, I’d have to create a portal framework. And to do that, I needed money. I sold my soul to the devil to build this, that’s for sure.”

“The devil?” Was it a demon portal? Old Tim had used it and had wanted me to use it! Did that mean using it required selling your soul?

“Not technically, but almost. To Briggston. He owns my very life-breath. And he’s almost here. I know anyone can say anything, and you need evidence. I’m going to prove to you that he put me up to it.”

The front doorbell rings. We turn our faces toward the door for a long pause.

Black breaks the silence. “You’ve got to hide in the vault. I’ll leave it open. Do you have a recording device?”

I pull out my phone, but Old Tim makes me put it away. “Not on your life, William. You killed me once, you will kill me again. That’s an old vault. There’s no way to unlock it from inside. Going in is like being trapped in an old refrigerator. I won’t go.”

“But if Briggston sees either of you, he’ll say nothing, you won’t know the truth unless you trust me.”

Old Tim is not persuaded. “From what I see, you’re moving shop. You have a way out and if you wait long enough, you’ll have rid the earth of anyone that knows about the machine, namely us. No.”

I’m not sure. “There’s still Nick. He can expose the time machine. That will confirm what William Black says.”

“Not if he disables it, or runs off with both Antikythera mechanisms. Nobody will believe him. And you’ll be missing again. With the DNA evidence against you, you’ll be prime suspect, not William Black. We shouldn’t get in.”

We hear Brooke’s soft words approaching from down the hall. We have to decide, and now.

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