[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Frameshift > The Lost Chapters

Frameshift: The Lost Chapters

Copyright © 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

[Frameshift] A novel has a life of its own, and, just like biological life, its metabolism consists both of anabolism (building up) and catabolism (tearing down).

My eighth novel, Frameshift, was published by Tor Books in June 1997. The published version of the novel is the tenth draft, weighing in at 109,000 words. The eighth, ninth, and tenth drafts (finished October 26, 1995; December 29, 1995; and June 5, 1996) were mostly concerned with catabolism — cutting the manuscript down from 129,000 words I'd built it up to by the seventh (October 4, 1995) draft.

In the end, I excised 20,000 words — the equivalent of 50 book pages — from the manuscript (all at my own volition, I might add).

Seven thousand of those words represented four whole chapters excised from near the beginning of the novel. There's no doubt that the final version of Frameshift is leaner and faster-paced without the following chapters, but I'm still quite fond of them, and so I thought I'd make them available here for those who had enjoyed the published novel and were looking for a little more background about the characters.


Chapter 2

January 1981

       Like many French-Canadians, Pierre Tardivel's parents had little love for the national government in Ottawa, or for a political system that made England's Queen Elizabeth the country's head of state. But they also knew that Quebec was a precarious proposition: six million French-speakers surrounded to the east, west, and south by a quarter of a billion Anglophones.

       Hoping to give him the most options, Pierre's mother sent him to an English-immersion high school for a year. It was too bad she hadn't decided he should be bilingual at a younger age; he never truly became comfortable in English. Pierre's father died when he was sixteen, but his life insurance provided enough money to see Pierre through as much schooling as he wished. When it came time for him to go on to college in 1980, McGill — Montreal's largest English-speaking university — had seemed a more sensible choice than any of the French-speaking ones.

       Pierre was bright — no question — but completely unmotivated. "Pourrait faire mieux" ("Could do better") and "N'atteint pas son plein potentiel" ("Not living up to his potential") had been boilerplate on his report cards since his public-school days. That he was going to university at all was just the path of least resistance.

       Pierre had no major; he was sampling subjects as if McGill's course calendar were a buffet. A little introductory genetics now, some 100-level history after that, a literature course later on . . . He'd coasted through the first semester and now, after the Christmas break, was already back to skipping as many lectures as he actually attended. As he sat slouched over a desk in his genetics class, bored silly, he wished he'd skipped this one, too.

       They'd only seen the fat, bald professor twice, once on the first day of classes and again just before Christmas. At all other times, they'd been fobbed off with a geeky teaching assistant. Today, Pierre had arrived late; the only vacant seat had been in the front row. As the TA plowed through his lecture, apparently thinking he'd get a medal for finishing the course work in record time, Pierre doodled hockey-team crests on a piece of lined paper. Periodically, he glanced at his watch.

       "... everything we are," said the TA, his voice a nasal twang that made English sound even uglier than it usually did, "is the result of the genes we inherited from our parents. As we saw last semester, Gregor Mendel, a nineteenth-century Austrian monk, did pioneering work . . ."

       Pierre drew the crest for the Canadiens, using different cross-hatching patterns to represent the red, white, and blue colors of the big, wide "C" surrounding the central "H."

       "... things such as hair color, blood type, and eye color all are inherited along predictable lines . . ."

       Satisfied with the crest, he went on to sketch a jersey around it, with a captain's "C" above the left breast . . .

       "... for instance, Mr. Tardivel here . . ."

       Pierre looked up. The TA had noticed he wasn't paying attention, but Pierre was damned if he was going to give in to a pencil-necked Anglais. The guy loomed in to look at Pierre's face. "... Mr. Tardivel here has brown eyes. Now, since the gene for brown eyes is dominant, one or both of his parents must also have brown eyes."

       Pierre made a sneering laugh. "Wrong."

       "I beg your pardon?" snapped the TA.

       "You don't know what you're talking about. Both my mother and my father have blue eyes."

       "You're not wearing tinted contacts, are you?" asked the teaching assistant, looming in for another look at Pierre's face.

       Pierre snorted. "No."

       "Then there's no way you can have brown eyes if both your parents have blue eyes."

       "This is stupid," said Pierre. "My mother has blue eyes, and my father, when he was alive, had blue eyes, too." He shook his head in disgust. "God, this class is a joke."

       But by this point, Brenda Hastings, one of the other students, was furiously leafing through the textbook. "He's right, Pierre," she said, holding up the book, displaying a chart. "See?"

       The book was passed from aisle to aisle until it reached Pierre's desk. He stared at the page and the chart labeled "Alleles and Eye Color." The only impossible combination, according to the book, was a brown-eyed child from two blue-eyed parents.

       Pierre slammed the cover shut. "Then how do you explain the fact that I've got brown eyes?"

       The TA crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Simple. Either you're adopted, or your legal father wasn't your biological father."

       Pierre started to say something in French, reformulated the thought in English, but then simply fell silent, stunned.


       Pierre skipped his next two classes — something he'd been toying with doing anyway — and trudged through the snow to McGill's science library. He read everything he could find on eye color: its heritability, whether there were any childhood diseases or conditions that could make blue eyes turn brown (there weren't), anything that might prove the TA wrong.

       But there was nothing. Eye color was a simple, standard example of heredity. The gene for blue was recessive; the gene for brown, dominant. If both parents had blue eyes, then their children had to, as well.

       It was that simple.

       It was that complex.

       Pierre's chair creaked as he leaned back in the library study carrel, looking up at the acoustical-tile ceiling. Everyone had always said he took after his mother: he had the same moon face, the same small nose, the same chocolate hair. No one had ever likened him to his father, Alain Tardivel — the man who had given him his name . . . and apparently nothing else.

       Pierre still lived at his mother's house, a forty-minute ride by bus and metro from McGill. There was still time to make his final class of the day but he couldn't bring himself to go. Instead, he headed home. His mother, who was a loans officer at a bank, wouldn't be back from work until six or so.

       But when she did get home, she and Pierre were going to talk.


       Pierre wandered around the house, killing time. It was a comfortable old side-split, built just after World War II. Pierre's father — Alain Tardivel, that is — had been a lawyer. He'd kept long hours — too long perhaps — but had made a lot of money. He'd died at forty-five of a heart attack, alone in his office.

       Pierre looked at the little framed pictures on the mantle above the fireplace. One of Alain and his mother, Élisabeth, back when they were still dating. Alain and Pierre, age five, at Expo '67. Alain, Élisabeth, and Pierre at Olympic Stadium, watching a baseball game. Élisabeth as matron of honor at her sister's wedding.

       Family pictures. The kind everyone had.

       At last his mother came home. She put fish sticks in the oven — this was Friday, after all — and then made herself a steaming cup of tea and sat down wearily in the living room to read the day's copy of Le Devoir.

       "How was work today?" asked Pierre in French.

       She lowered the paper and smiled at him. Pierre had always thought his mother had a pretty smile, but today it seemed to him just upturned lips. "Okay," she said.

       Pierre nodded and waited for the question he knew would come next, automatically, as it did every weeknight. "How were things at the university?"

       "Enlightening," said Pierre, choosing his words with care. "My genetics class was particularly interesting. We were studying heredity."

       Élisabeth had gone back to her newspaper. She turned the page. "Bein," she said.

       "Particularly, the heritability of traits like eye color."

       "Bein," she said again.

       "A person cannot have brown eyes unless one of his parents has brown eyes," said Pierre.

       Élisabeth was turning another page, the newsprint rustling like dried leaves. She stopped midway through the turn, arm extended. Her gaze met Pierre's.

       "Oh," she said softly.

       There was a long silence between them, punctuated only by the sounds of the house and the neighborhood: the susurration of the refrigerator, a barking dog, a car horn in the distance.

       When the silence had become unbearable, Pierre said slowly, "So which one is it? Was I adopted, or did you . . . did you . . . ?"

       Élisabeth opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it. Finally, simply, she said, "I'm very sorry."

       "Well?"

       "You are . . . not adopted."

       Pierre was quiet for fifteen seconds. "I see."

       He waited for more and at last it came. "Your father — Alain, that is — he worked such long hours and . . . and things were not always good between us. I never intended to tell you this, Pierre, but when we first got married, when we were just starting out, Alain used to —" her voice cracked slightly "— hit me." Her eyes were growing moist. "The first time he did it, I think he was as surprised as I was. This was 1960, Pierre. No one talked about stuff like that. There were no help lines to call, no support groups. Alain realized what he was doing was wrong and he stopped. Thank sweet Jesus, he stopped. But for a couple of years there, things were very, very bad. I, ah, had a friend who helped me through those times. He was a good man, a kind man — the kindest man I ever knew. But . . . but we're Catholic; I wasn't allowed to get a divorce."

       Angry: "You weren't supposed to —" He cut himself short, but the thought was plain: You weren't supposed to screw around, either. An awkward silence persisted for a few moments, then Pierre said, "What was his name?"

       "Henry," said Élisabeth.

       "`Henry,'" repeated Pierre, startled. "Tu as bien dit `Henry' et pas `Henri'?"

       "Oui."

       Sarcastic: "Oui? Tu veux dire `yes,' je suppose. Un Anglais!"

       "He was a very special man," said Élisabeth.

       "What was his last name?"

       "Spade."

       Pierre was almost amused by the absurdity. "Comme une pelle?" Like a shovel?

       "He always used to say `like Sam.' But he treated women — me, at least — a lot better than Sam Spade ever did."

       "Did you — did you love him?"

       There was no embarrassment in his mother's voice. "Very much indeed."

       "Did my father — did Alain — know? Know that I wasn't his?"

       Élisabeth shook her head ever so slightly.

       "Were you ever going to tell me?"

       She made no reply.

       "Is Spade still alive?"

       Élisabeth's shoulders rose and fell slightly. "I assume so. I haven't had any contact with him for eighteen years. The . . . relationship ended when your father — my husband, that is — got over his problems. Henry wished me every happiness. He wanted Alain and me to have a good life together. Of course, once things were going well with Alain again, there was no way I could tell him what I'd done."

       "Does Spade live here in Montréal?"

       "No, like a lot of Anglais, he left Québec. I heard through a friend — God, must have been a dozen years ago — that he got married. I think they settled in Toronto."

       "I want to meet him," Pierre said.

       "No," said Élisabeth simply. "That would be awkward."

       Pierre wasn't listening. "I want to meet him," he said again.

       His mother closed her eyes. She was clearly trying to keep her equilibrium, but there was a tightness at the corners of her mouth and a strained tone to her voice. "Pierre," she said, not quite looking at him, "what happened between me and Henry Spade was over ages ago."

       The electric clock on the wall whirred in the background. "It is not over," said Pierre. "I'm part of it."

       Perhaps feeling exposed, Élisabeth got up and drew the living-room blinds. It was dark outside. In the distance, she could hear someone trying to get a car to turn over in the cold. "He doesn't even know he has a son," she said, returning to her chair.

       "He doesn't know?" repeated Pierre, flabbergasted.

       His mother nodded slightly. "When, ah, I found out I was pregnant, I told Alain. That was it. That was the turning point for him. He never hit me again." She exhaled noisily. "I read now in magazines — now that this is something people talk about — that lots of men first hit their wives when they're pregnant. I'm lucky, I suppose. Anyway, I couldn't tell Alain and . . . and . . ."

       Pierre let her trail off, then it came to him. "Mon Dieu," he said. "You didn't know which of them was the father."

       His mother was biting her lower lip, trying not to cry. She nodded almost imperceptibly.

       Pierre sat there, shaking his head slightly. "Merde," he said.

       Élisabeth's voice was very far away. "After you were born, it became clear, to me at least, who the father was. I could see Henry in your eyes. But I never told Alain, and by that time Henry was no longer part of my life."

       Pierre said nothing.

       "So you see," said Élisabeth, turning to face her son directly, "you can't just go barging in on him eighteen years later and say, surprise!, you've got a grown son. He may have children of his own now. He —"

       "He's my father," said Pierre. "I have a right to meet him."

      


Chapter 3

       "Now, you two be good while I'm out." Barbara Bond smiled at her two daughters. "No fighting. I've left money for pizza on my dresser." She opened the front door. "Love ya both."

       "'Bye, Mom," said Molly Bond.

       "See ya," said Jessica, Molly's younger sister.

       Mrs. Bond smiled again and walked out the door, closing and locking it behind her.

       Molly went over to the living-room window and moved the curtain aside slightly. It was dark out and snowing lightly — a typical Minneapolis January evening. Her mother's red Honda pulled out of the driveway and disappeared down the recently plowed street. Molly turned around and looked at her sister. Jessica was fifteen, three years younger than Molly. Her naturally blonde hair had been bleached to an even lighter shade and she wore it all puffed out, just like Loni Anderson did on WKRP in Cincinnati. She'd recently gotten her ears pierced and constantly wore gaudy earrings. Molly smiled, wondering how she herself had missed out on the preening and primping stage that went along with being a pretty teenage girl.

       But Molly's smile soon faded. She'd been waiting for this all week. Her mother would be gone for hours, off Christmas shopping along the Nicolet Street Mall with her fiancé, Paul. Molly liked Paul a lot, although it was hard getting used to anyone thinking such lascivious thoughts about her mother — let alone the amazing things her mother thought about Paul. It had come as a shock to find that her mother, just this side of geriatric at thirty-seven, had a very active libido.

       "Jess?" Molly said, sitting down on the couch next to her sister, close enough that Jessica was inside her zone. "Can we talk?"

       Jess had her legs tucked up beside her. She looked up from the magazine she was reading — a teen magazine with a banner proclaiming Hottest Hunks of '81 and a picture of Tom Wopat from The Dukes of Hazzard on the cover. "'Bout what?"

       "What do you think of Paul?" she said.

       "He's cool," said Jess.

       "Do you think he likes Mom?"

       "Sure."

       "How can you tell?"

       Jess rolled her eyes. "Like, he's going to marry her."

       "But what do you think he thinks about Mom?"

       Jess shrugged. "I don't know."

       "Don't you?"

       "Earth to Molly: no, I don't. How would I?"

       "Can you ever tell in advance what people are going to say before they speak?"

       "What are you talking about?" asked Jess.

       "Do you ever know for sure that someone is lying even though they look like they're telling the truth?"

       "Get real," said Jess.

       Molly exhaled and looked around the living room. It was a comfortable home; Molly's mom had done all right for herself after the divorce. Barbara Bond had married Molly's dad quite young — just after her eighteenth birthday — and had given birth to Molly only a year later. When the marriage broke up, Molly's mom had gone to work as a secretary at a computer company, and was now executive assistant to the vice-president. She made a decent buck, and Dad, despite all his other failings, at least kept the child-support payments coming.

       Maybe Jessica was hiding it, thought Molly. Maybe if she knew that I was the same way, she'd open up. God, it would be so good to have someone to share this with. "Sometimes," said Molly, very slowly, "I can tell what other people are thinking."

       "Oh, sure," said Jessica. "Deja vu. I guess we all get that from time to time."

       Molly resisted the urge to correct her sister — no mean feat; correcting little sisters was what God had made big sisters for, after all.

       "I think I get it more than most people," said Molly. She moved a little closer on the couch to Jessica and strained to hear anything that would contradict what Jess had been saying. But there was nothing. Still, maybe one last test . . .

       "Tell you what, Jess. Let's play a game."

       "Puh-leeze!" said Jessica, rolling her eyes again.

       "No, seriously." Molly got up and went to the kitchen, returning a moment later with something to write on — the grocery list — and a pencil. "I'm writing a number between one and ten on the back of this." She did so. And then she went over to her purse, which was sitting on a cedar chest by the front door. She fished out her wallet and took a twenty from it. "If you can guess the number I've written down, you can have this money."

       "What is this?" asked Jess. "Some kind of a trick?"

       "No trick. Just try guessing the number. You want to go to that Bruce Springsteen concert, right? You could certainly use the money."

       Six, thought Molly, sitting down on the couch right next to her sister. She concentrated as hard as she could. Six. Six.

       "Oh, I'd just die to see The Boss!" said Jessica. "Is it —"

       Six!

       "Is it three?"

       Molly felt her heart sink. But she could hear her sister's thoughts, sense her excitement, see how much she wanted to be able to come up with the money to go to the concert, how cruel a joke this was.

       "Yeah," said Molly, extending her hand with the wrinkled bill. "Yeah, it is."

       "Cool!" squealed Jessica. "Deja vu!" She snapped up the money. Just then, the phone rang. Jessica hurried off the couch and picked up the handset, ever afraid that her mother or sister would answer first when a boy was calling for her. "Hello," she said. "Oh, hi! No, nothing. Just hangin' around . . ."

       Molly leaned back on the couch as Jessica ambled around, moving as far left and right as the handset cord would allow. After a bit, she hung up, then looked at Molly. "I'm going out. Donna's going to pick me up." Donna, who lived a half-block away, was almost a year older than Jessica and already had her driver's license.

       Molly forced a smile and waved at her sister. "Leaving her alone" was right. Molly had first started hearing other people's thoughts when she was thirteen. She'd watched Jessica day in and day out now for two years, looking for any sign that she'd developed the same gift. But there was nothing. She was sure her mother didn't have the talent; there were nights she never would have let Molly go out if she'd been able to read her mind. But she'd hoped that Jessica would be the same, that at last she'd have someone to talk to about all this, someone who would understand what it meant, what if felt like, what it did to you.

       There was a horn blast from the driveway. Jessica had already put on her bomber jacket and knee-high black leather boots. She hurried out the door, leaving Molly sitting there, all by herself, cold air wafting in.

      


Chapter 4

       Pierre Tardivel went to the dining-room table, took the phone off the buffet, and sat it in front of him. He tapped out 1-416-555-1212, Toronto directory assistance. The operator told him she had no specific listings for a Henry Spade, but there was an H. E. Spade, an H. H. Spade, and an H. J. Spade. Pierre jotted down the numbers for all of them, then turned to his mother, Élisabeth.

       "If need be, I'll call all three of these people," Pierre said to her. "I'll tell each of them who I am. You can save me some trouble and embarrassment, and two of these three people some inconvenience, if you tell me Henry's middle name."

       Élisabeth was quiet for several seconds. Finally: "James," she said. "Henry James Spade."

       "Thank you," said Pierre. He paused. "If I get him on the phone, do you want to speak to him?"

       Élisabeth considered. "No. No. He's got his own life now. I — I'd just like to know that he's well and happy."

       Pierre nodded. "I'm going to call him from my room, then." He headed for the stairs but, almost as an afterthought, he detoured long enough to give his mother a quick kiss on the cheek. "Merci," he said. "Merci, Maman."


       "Hello," said a woman's voice with a Toronto English accent.

       Pierre tried to flatten his own tones to match hers. "Hello," he said, in English. "May I please speak to Henry Spade?"

       "No," said the woman. He heard the handset crash down and, after some staticky silence, Pierre's ear was filled with dial tone. Pierre stared at the one-piece phone for more than a minute as though it were a snake. He couldn't understand getting such a harsh reaction.

       Well, he wasn't about to be stymied so easily. He took a deep breath, calming himself, then hit the asterisk key to re-dial the number.

       "Hello," said the same woman's voice.

       "Please don't hang up," said Pierre quickly, letting his French accent shine through. "I'm trying to locate Henry James Spade."

       The woman's voice was suspicious. "How do you know him?"

       Pierre felt his heart lift. It was the right phone number.

       "I'm the son of an old friend of his, from when he lived in Montreal in the early sixties."

       Suddenly the woman's voice was full of warmth. "Oh, I'm so sorry! Forgive me, please. It's just that — well, Henry hasn't been able to use the phone for several years. All our relatives and friends know that. I thought you were just another one of those endless telephone sales pitches. I'm sorry!"

       Pierre felt trepidation mingling with his relief. "That's okay," he said, forcing a little laugh. "I hate calls like that, too." He paused for a moment. "You . . . you said Henry can't use the phone? Is he okay?"

       Pierre could hear the rumble of the woman exhaling heavily directly into the mouthpiece. "No. No, he's not. I — I'm sorry, I didn't get your name?"

       "Pierre Tardivel."

       "And you're a friend of Henry?"

       "My parents were."

       "Why are you calling, may I ask? Has something happened to one of your parents?"

       "Well, my father passed on a while ago. But, no, that's not why I'm phoning. I just thought —" Pierre swallowed, then it all came out in a rush, the first conscious acknowledgment of the plan that had been forming at the back of his mind. "I'm going to be in Toronto over my university's reading week; my mother suggested I look Henry up. Can I — may I speak to him?"

       "No, I'm sorry. As I said, he doesn't use the phone much. He, ah, has Huntington's disease."

       Pierre had heard of it — a muscular disorder, perhaps? — but really didn't know anything about it. "Oh," he said.

       "It makes it hard for him. He has a telephone headset, but he doesn't like to wear it. He keeps knocking it off with his head movements."

       "If I could just have a word with him . . ."

       "I'd be glad to give him a message," said the woman.

       "I really did hope to get to see him when I'm in Toronto."

       "He rarely sees anyone anymore. I really don't think —"

       "Ask him," said Pierre bluntly. "Ask him if he'd like to see me. Tell him it's Pierre Tardivel." He repeated the last name. "Tell him I'm Élisabeth's son."

       "I really —"

       "Please," said Pierre.

       "All right," said the woman. "I'll ask him, and if he's interested in hearing from you, I'll phone you back."

       "No — please. I'll hold on."

       "It's long distance, and —"

       But Pierre feared if the woman were given time to think about it all, she might decide to ignore his request. "Please. I'll gladly hold on."

       The rumbling of a sigh again. "All right," she said. "I'll ask him. I'll have to go upstairs. Hang on."

       Pierre watched the second hand on his bedroom clock sweep through four complete circles as he waited. His heart was pounding.

       Finally, he heard the sound of someone approaching the phone, then picking up the handset. There was a protracted silence. He thought perhaps the phone was going to be slammed down again, but maybe all Mrs. Spade was doing was removing a recalcitrant earring.

       "Hello?" said the woman's voice. There was something quite puzzled about the tone.

       "Hello," said Pierre.

       "It's the strangest thing," said the woman. "I haven't seen my husband so agitated for years. To be honest, I don't recall him ever mentioning a Tardivel family. But when I said the name, he got quite excited. He says he'd be glad to see you when you're in town."

       "Thank you," said Pierre. His face itched, and he brought up a hand to scratch his cheek. He was astonished to find that it was wet. "Thank you very much."


       After a restless night, Pierre returned to the university science library and started digging. Huntington's disease (also known as Huntington's chorea) turned out to be a very nasty disorder indeed. First described in 1872, it affects one out of every ten thousand people, or about half a million people worldwide. For unknown reasons, it selectively destroys two small parts of the brain that aid in the controlling of movement: the putamen and the caudate nuclei. Symptoms for Huntington's, which normally first manifest themselves between the ages of thirty and fifty, include abnormal posture, progressive dementia, and involuntary muscular action — the name "chorea" referred to the dancing movements typical of the disease. The disease itself, or complications arising from it, eventually kills the victim; Huntington's sufferers often choke to death on food because they've lost the muscular control to swallow.

       All of that was horrible. All of that was devastating. Pierre's heart went out to Henry Spade, the father he had yet to meet. But there was more . . . much more. Pierre staggered out of the library and wandered around the cold streets of Montreal for hours, his eyes often being drawn to the giant cross atop Mount Royal, the hood of his coat only half-protecting his face from the teeth of Quebec's January wind.

       Huntington's disease was a hereditary disorder, an inherited condition. It was carried on a dominant gene. Every child of a parent with Huntington's had a fifty-fifty chance of coming down with Huntington's. Since symptoms did not normally show up until middle age, Pierre could have the gene and not yet know it.

       Pierre found a bench on the street and collapsed onto it, mentally and physically exhausted, breath escaping in visible clouds. His search for the beginning of his own life had perhaps inadvertently given him a foretaste of its end.


       Avi Meyer's father, Jubas Meyer, had been one of the fifty people to escape from the Treblinka death camp. Jubas had lived for three years after the escape, but had died before Avi was born. As a child growing up in Chicago, where Avi's parents had settled after time in a Displaced Persons camp, he'd resented the fact that Dad wasn't around. But shortly after his Bar Mitzvah in 1960, his mother said to him, "You're a man now, Avi. You should know what your father went through — what all our people went through."

       And she'd told him. All of it.

       The Nazis.

       Treblinka.

       Yes, his father had escaped the camp, but his father's brother and three sisters had all been killed there, as had Avi's grandparents, and countless other people they'd been related to or known.

       All dead. Ghosts.

       But now, perhaps, the ghosts could rest. They had the man who had tormented them, the man who had tortured them, the man who had gassed them to death.

       Ivan the Terrible. They had the bastard. And now he was going to pay.

       Avi Meyer was a compact, homely man whose beard grew fast enough that he needed to shave twice a day. Even though he'd just turned thirty-four, his shoulders were permanently hunched, the result of years spent poring over documents in libraries and archives around the world. He had small eyes, a pug nose, and a small mouth whose neutral position looked like most other people's frowns.

       In March 1979, U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell created the Office of Special Investigations within the Federal Department of Justice. Its mission was simple: investigate and prosecute suspected Nazi war criminals. Avi, who at that time had been with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, immediately joined the OSI. This case was their first big success.

       It was a crisp, cold morning, the sky the color of mercury, as Avi walked from his hotel to the Cleveland courthouse. As he got close to the building, he cringed. There were demonstrators waving placards. "Get USSR out of U.S. Courts!" demanded one. He ground his teeth in fury. That some of the evidence had come from the Soviet Union was irrelevant. They had the man. That was all that mattered.

       Another placard caught his eye. "Six Million Lies!" His stomach knotted as he made his way into the building and down the corridor to the large ceremonial courtroom, normally used for swearing in new citizens — an ironic locale for today's proceedings, but it was the largest room in the building.

       Avi took a seat on an aisle where he could get an unobstructed view of the defendant, who was already at the defense table with his lawyers. Avi had met the accused several times during the OSI's investigation of him. He didn't look particularly evil: a bald, tubby Ukrainian, sixty years old, with protruding ears and almond-shaped eyes behind horn-rim glasses. True, he seemed not nearly as cunning as some reports had made out Ivan the Terrible to be, but he was hardly the first man to have had his intellect dulled by the passing decades. And there was no doubt that his was the same face that appeared on the Trawniki card obtained from the Soviets — a card that proved he had been trained as a concentration-camp guard in 1942.

       The bailiff called for everyone to stand. Judge Frank Battisti entered with practiced ease and assumed his place at the bench. He nodded at the court reporter and said, "On the record now, in the matter of the United States of America, plaintiff, versus John Demjanjuk, defendant."

       Avi smiled without humor. Yes, his name was John now, but it had been Ivan Demjanjuk in 1951 when he'd applied at the American consulate in Stuttgart to enter the United States. Since then, besides ridding himself of the telltale first name, he'd married, had a daughter and a son, and had worked for years at a Ford plant. He'd also been active at his church and in Cleveland's Ukrainian community — Ward Cleaver with an accent.

       But then a Treblinka survivor named Eugen Turovsky had picked John Demjanjuk's photo from a spread. The next day, another survivor had identified him from the same photos. Shortly after that, a third recognized him as well.

       Yes, they had him.

       The case would last a month or maybe six weeks, thought Avi, but when it was over, the motherfucker would pay.

      


Chapter 5

March 1981

       Molly had first seen Ramon as a guest on Tony Orlando and Dawn when she was twelve or so. Of course, when she was that age, Ramon had seemed nothing special to her (and love songs like "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" had seemed wonderful, instead of making her feel sad and lonely).

       As Molly's own gift began to develop, she became fascinated by Ramon's life and work, always scanning TV Guide for his name, and re-reading the one book Ramon himself had written and another book about him she'd found at the Minneapolis Public Library.

       She knew most psychics were phonies. But when Ramon had briefly had his own TV series in the summer of 1978 (a variety show on CBS that lasted just four installments; Tony Orlando, by this time Dawn-less, had been his first guest), Molly made a point of watching each installment, trying to spot any evidence that he was faking. But no matter how hard she looked, she found nothing. The guy, it seemed, was legit.

       In March 1981 — spring break of her first year at university — Molly took a brief trip to Las Vegas. Ramon was appearing there at the Flamingo Hilton, and Molly had to see him.

       When she got to Vegas, she was overwhelmed by everything. The dry desert heat, the incredibly flat landscape, the beautiful mountains on the horizon, the huge numbers of tourists, the grungy men lining the sidewalks distributing leaflets about Nevada's legal brothels, the incredible velvet and neon and chrome decadence of the hotels — the Tropicana, Aladdin, the Dunes, Caesar's Palace, and the Flamingo Hilton, where she herself was staying.

       Molly toyed briefly with using her powers to get rich in one of the casinos, but in most of the games the dealers had no idea what cards they were holding until they were turned over, and, besides, she'd spent the last five years taking great pains to hide her power. She did buy twenty dollars worth of quarters and spent about forty minutes at a slot machine ("Loosest slots in town!" proclaimed the sign in the casino), which often enough spit back small winnings. Classic intermittent reinforcement, just like Lazarro had taught them in psych class. Of course, by the end she'd lost it all.

       Ramon had two shows each evening, one at eight and another at ten. The woman at the hotel counter selling tickets explained that at the later show, Ramon's female assistants were topless; Molly bought a ticket for the earlier one. Well before eight, she went down to the showroom. She'd read in the AAA guidebook that one had to tip well to get a good seat at a Vegas show; she gave the silver-haired Asian man at the door fifty dollars — almost twice what she'd spent on the show ticket — and requested a table right up front. Molly was doing something she rarely did: wearing make-up and a tight, low-cut top. She wanted to be near Ramon, and she wanted to be noticed.

       The Asian man seemed suitably impressed by Molly's money and seated her exactly where she'd asked.

       The show began with a stand-up comic who told all the predictable Vegas jokes. Husband to wife: "You know that money I told you to keep hidden from me at all costs — give it to me now!" Molly paid no attention and waited nervously for Ramon to appear —

       — which, at last, he did, wearing his trademark sequined tuxedo and accompanied by seven beautiful assistants dressed in ultraminiskirts and satin tops, each one a different color of the rainbow.

       He started off simply enough. "Someone over in this section of the room is celebrating an anniversary." His voice was tinged with a slight Italian accent. "Ah, yes. I knew it. Stand up, please, ma'am. It's a major anniversary, isn't it? No, don't tell me. Forty years, am I right? And you chose Las Vegas because you were married here, correct?"

       Well, anyone could have pulled off that bit, and Molly could see men around the room leaning in to their dates and explaining how it was all just lucky guesses. But then Ramon touched his forehead and scrunched his eyes as if concentrating. He turned to the left side of the room. "And over here someone has had a tragedy recently. The loss of a pet. Yes, sir. Please stand up. You lost a pet that was very dear to you, no? But — but it was an unusual pet. Not a dog or a cat. It was — an iguana, wasn't it, sir? And his name was . . . was . . ." (here he scrunched his eyes even tighter) "Carl, wasn't it? Carl, with a C, not a K . . . after your . . . your father's mother's eldest brother."

       The man, a beefy, fellow wearing a brown outback-style jacket, seemed dumbfounded. He spoke with an Australian accent, and agreed that Ramon had been correct in every particular.

       Next, Ramon called for a volunteer. Molly raised her hand immediately, stretching in her chair, trying to look as earnest as possible. The first two times he asked for volunteers, he chose other people, but on the third request he did indeed pick Molly.

       He came close to her. Molly saw that he was older than she'd first thought — perhaps as much as fifty, although his stage makeup tried to hide it. She rose to her feet. "Hello, young lady," he said. "That's a lovely dress you've got on — but I bet you don't wear clothes like that all the time. I see you somewhere cold, somewhere with lots of frozen lakes. You — you're from Minnesota, aren't you? Not the capital, though . . . your home is in Minneapolis, isn't it? Yes, I thought so . . . I can see you on Nicolet Street. You live in a . . . a house, don't you? Not an apartment, but a house."

       Molly felt her eyes go wide. He was reading her mind. He was for real. There was someone else like her. She wanted to shout it out right here, right now, in front of the entire audience. She was grinning from ear to ear and nodding her head at everything he said.

       He stepped closer, leaned in, entering her zone. He gallantly lifted her hand, bent to kiss it —

       And she heard it all, in his mind. He knew everything. Not just the general details, but her name and her address, too — everything . . . everything that was in the hotel registry about her. She was staying at this hotel and had charged the tickets to her room — tickets that were numbered. The Asian man had taken her ticket stub, noted her seating assignment, and now sat somewhere with a terminal tied into the hotel's computer feeding details by radio to a tiny receiver concealed beneath Ramon's carefully styled hair.

       Faked. All of it. The Australian — his clothing and his accent designed to make him look like a tourist — was doubtless a plant; the rest simple tricks of word association.

       Ramon did kiss her hand, then moved on to someone else. Molly slumped back down in her seat, and as soon as the spotlight had panned away from her, began to cry softly to herself in the darkness.


More Good Reading

The first two chapters of the published version of Frameshift
On Writing Frameshift


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