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Chapter Eleven

GIBSON FIRED FIRST. French staggered backward but didn't go down or even drop the rifle. They must have been made of sterner stuff in his dimension, maybe more selective breeding. There was no mistaking that the heavy-caliber slug was hurting him. His face was contorted, and his whole body cringed around the point of impact as though trying to contain and blanket the exvcruciating pain. It wasn't stopping him, however, even though purple blood was now seeping from the entry wound and Gibson could only guess at the mess that had been made of his back where the bullet exited. French was bringing up the rifle again. Gibson fired a second time. French dropped to his knees but still struggled to stand, and might even have made it if Gibson hadn't put a third bullet into him. This time he dropped the rifle. He was clawing inside his coveralls, pulling out a miniature version of the multibarreled streamheat weapon. Gibson hesitated. What was French doing? Why would he bother to zap him when he could have killed him the old-fashioned way with the rifle?

Before Gibson could react, French turned the weapon on himself. He placed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. There were twin flashes and French vanished as Gibson watched dumbstruck. The streamheat weapon clattered to the floor when the hand that was holding it ceased to exist in that dimension.

For the first time, Gibson was aware of the pandemonium in the square below, a cacophony of massed sirens and the sounds of people screaming, a lot of people screaming. He resisted the temptation to run to the window and look out. He had to clear his mind and think. If he didn't think it through and think it through right, he would be dead within minutes, shot by the police or torn apart by a raging crowd. His first thoughts were the simple ones: Go, run, hide, find a hole and crawl into it, then pull the hole down on top of him. Unfortunately any hole that might offer protection had, by definition, to be well away from Crown Electrical and Craven Plaza.

His instincts said flee, and since he couldn't think of any better plan on the spur of the moment, he followed them. He fled. With a last look at the rifle, the pool of French's purple blood, the spent shell casings and the streamheat weapon lying on the floor, he stuffed the pistol into the pocket of his coveralls and was out of the room and hurrying down the corridor. Next question-the stairs or the elevator? The elevator would probably be quicker but the stairs were less claustrophobic. He opted for speed and pressed the elevator's call button. To his surprise, the door immediately opened on an empty car. Maybe he did still have some luck left. He pushed the button for the second floor. There could be all manner of problems in the lobby, and he'd decided that the second floor would provide a little early warning. As he stepped out on two, he found that his caution had been justified. There was the sound of heavy, almost certainly cop, boots coming up the emergency stairs immediately beside the elevator shaft. He stepped back into an open doorway and found that he was in the small lunchroom. It was empty. He turned and right in front of him was a soft-drink vending machine.

Do something. Demonstrate a reason for being there. He felt for the change in his pocket and started feeding it into the machine. It was the only way that he could think of to cover himself if anyone came into the room. A twelve-ounce bottle of carbonated brown liquid rattled into the vending slot at the bottom. Gibson was just in the process of opening it when a fat red-faced cop in full riot gear, visor up and clutching an assault rifle, came panting through the door.

"You see anyone come out of the elevator?"

Gibson kept his cool and shook his head. "What's going on?"

"You don't know? They shot the president, goddamn it. That's what's going on."

With that he was gone and Gibson let out his breath. Too close, much too close. His mouth was dry and he took a drink of the soda. It tasted a lot like Pepsi or maybe RC Cola. Suddenly he choked and he couldn't stop soda from bubbling out of his nose.

"Oh, Christ. Oh, Jesus." A memory had come out of nowhere and poleaxed him. Lee Oswald had been seen by a cop at the vending machine in the lunchroom of the Texas Book Depository right after the assassination. Panic. He was locked into some historical parallel. They'd made him Oswald and he had no free will. Leh Zwald? Even the fucking name was nothing more than an echo. Had there ever been a Leh Zwald or was he just a streamheat invention? Had it all been supposed to go this way from the start? These were questions that would lead to madness. Ignore them. "Get a grip, kid. Don't go mystic." This was a time of survival, not Shirley MacLaine.

Still clutching the soda bottle, he walked hurriedly down the emergency stairs doing his best to look like a worker who had just heard the terrible news and was coming down to see what was going on. More cops came charging up the stairs, pushing past Gibson and almost knocking him over in their blind headlong rush but at the same time not giving him a second glance. They obviously thought that the assassin was still somewhere on the upper floors. Had that been the plan? That French was to somehow incapacitate him and leave him to be captured? Gibson could just see him babbling to a roomful of ugly, angry Luxor cops as the hero serum wore off, telling them how he'd been instructed to pose as a presidential assassin by some characters from another dimension. They would have him pegged straight away as a lone nut, and that was probably exactly what Raus and his cohorts wanted. Or maybe the plan had been a whole lot simpler than that. Maybe they would have simply killed him and made it look like a suicide. Either way, he'd been taken for a sucker, all the way down the line.

The lobby of the building was in the grip of madness. Cops milled around while bemused and hysterical Crown Electrical workers got under their feet. He made his way to the main door, and found that the street was a hundred times worse. Police cruisers screamed up and down with their lights flashing and sirens wide open while more cops on motorcycles buzzed in between them like angry banshees. Uniformed officers and plainclothesmen with their badges out on display hollered orders, although it was debatable whether anyone was paying very much attention. All over, people stumbled around in blind shock, apparently unsure of what to do or where to go while patrolmen on foot attempted, without too much success, to create some kind of order out of the confusion at the same time as their colleagues confiscated cameras and tried to detain potential witnesses.

Gibson stood for a couple of moments on the steps of Crown Electrical before he moved down onto the sidewalk and let the crowd swallow him up. He eased his way through the milling, weeping people, avoiding the police and doing his best not to make it obvious that he was attempting to put as much distance between himself and the scene of the shooting as he could. While he walked, he hunted through the disorganized junkroom of his memory for some clue as to a feasible escape plan. What did Oswald do next? He wasn't that well up on his Kennedy Assassination trivia. Robo the bass player had been the band's conspiracy expert. As far as he could remember, Oswald had left the Texas Book Depository on foot and gone back to the rooming house where he was staying to get a gun. Gibson already had his gun and that in itself was a break with the pattern. A theory was starting to coalesce. If history had some sort of lock on him, maybe each time that he made a decision on his own, and didn't simply mirror the actions of Lee Oswald, he was increasing his chances of survival and moving away from an inevitable death that mirrored the events in Dallas three decades earlier and a bunch of dimensions away.

He reached the end of the block and turned left on a side street. It was a great deal quieter there, and Gibson was glad to be away from the concentration of police on the plaza. He realized that he was pretty much walking blindly, but he still lacked a definite plan of action. He'd only walked a half block on the side street when the sound of an engine behind him caused him to look down. To his dismay he found that a police cruiser appeared to be not only following him but was actually slowing down. Even the hero serum didn't stop the cold chill from clutching at his stomach like a physical pain.

The black bulk of the police car came to a halt beside him. There were mesh screens down over the windows and it was impossible to see inside. A hand reached out and lifted the screen that was covering the front window on the driver's side, and Gibson, whose own hand was moving surreptitiously toward the gun in his pocket, heard a familiar voice.

"Joe, quick, get in. I'm going to take you out of here." It was Klein, dressed in full LPD uniform. Gibson stood his ground and shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Just get in the car, Joe. We don't have time to argue."

"I'm not arguing. You people have tried to nail me once, and I'm damned if I'm going to give you the chance for a second shot."

"Everything can be explained, Joe, but not here. You must get in the car. I have to get you to a safe place."

The car door started to open. Klein was coming out to get him. Gibson's fingers touched the butt of the pistol. Without even thinking he pulled it out and pointed it at Klein.

Klein looked up at the gun in amazement. "You don't understand"

"Oh, yes I do."

He pulled the trigger once. The bullet took Klein in the forehead. Blood, brains, and bone were splattered across the roof of the car. Klein jerked back and then fell forward. It seemed that a forty-five slug in the head was enough to stop even a streamheat. Klein lay half in and half out of the car with his shattered head in the gutter. The purple blood formed a miniature river, flowing toward the first open drain. As the echoes of the shot died away, the car's radio crackled into life.

"This is to all cars. This is to all cars. President Lancer was pronounced dead three minutes ago at Memorial Hospital. I say again, President Lancer was pronounced dead three minutes ago at Memorial Hospital. This is now a homicide investigation. All officers will stand by for an updated description of the suspect."

Gibson didn't wait to hear any more. He quickly turned and started down the street. As he hit his stride, he saw that there was an old lady standing in the doorway of one of the nearby buildings, a tiny woman with white hair and a pale-blue, heavily lined face. Their eyes met but she didn't look away. She returned his stare without the slightest trace of fear. Thoroughly unnerved, he turned and ran. After the first corner he slowed to a walking pace, and tried to look as normal as possible. Down the block, on the other side of the street, he spotted the red-and-blue neon sign of what had to be a movie theatre. He couldn't read the tide of the movie on the marquee but he had to assume that it was some kind of parallel-dimension Rambo flick. The poster showed a muscular, stripped-to-the-waist figure in ragged fatigue pants brandishing a huge phallic machine gun. The temptation to slip inside and hide himself in the darkness was overwhelming, but that would be following the pattern with a vengeance. Oswald had lammed out on foot and so had he. Kennedy had died on the operating table and so had Lancer. Oswald had killed a cop and Gibson had shot Klein, who was disguised as a cop. Now here was the movie house and the Dallas cops had taken Oswald when he'd tried to hide in a movie house. Was it all really inevitable?

A police car screamed through the intersection at the other end of the block, and Gibson knew that he had to get off the street. Screw the pattern. If he continued walking aimlessly, there wasn't a doubt that he'd be picked up inside of an hour. The movie house would at least give him a chance to sit and think his way out of this mess. He was now level with the theater, and he quickly looked up and down the street. There was no one around. He hurried across the street and up to the box office. A teenage kid was selling tickets.

Gibson pulled out his money and slapped down a twenty. "Has the movie started yet?"

"It's about halfway through."

"That's okay, I'll pick it up."

The kid punched the buttons on the old-fashioned ticket machine, and a single ticket popped out of the slot. Was it Gibson's imagination or was the kid looking at him a little strangely? He had a portable radio in the booth with him that was playing muted martial music. Had the police started circulating descriptions of a suspect to the media?

The ticket taker tore his ticket in half and handed him the stub. Gibson passed through into the darkness. On the screen, the naked-to-the-waist figure from the poster in front of the theater was engaged in wholesale slaughter of small blue soldiers with narrow Oriental eyes. It seemed quite in keeping with the Cold War mind-set of this dimension. Gibson dropped into a seat about three rows from the front and cast a quick precautionary glance around the darkened theater. He found little difference between a lunchtime movie audience in this dimension and one back in his own. It was largely empty except for a sprinkling of old people, a couple of solitary men, and three teenagers sitting together, probably cutting school, unless they had been given the day off for the president's visit. None of them paid him the slightest attention. He realized that if the movie had been running for a while, these people might not even know what had just gone down in the plaza only a few blocks away. Or had they interrupted the movie?

Gibson sat and stared uncomprehendingly at the screen. The Rambo character had taken a break from slaughtering Orientals and was talking to a very beautiful woman who was wearing very few clothes. It was clearly a preamble to going to bed with her.

The ideal thing would be to get out of the city except that he doubted it would be possible. They probably had the airport and the bus and train stations completely sealed. What the hell was he going to do?

Gibson had just decided that he'd see the movie around two or three times and wait until the streets were dark before he reemerged, and the Rambo character on the screen was in bed with the beautiful woman, when the film abruptly stopped. It was as though the projector's plug had been pulled. The visual images flickered and then the screen went black. The audio plunged to a sub-bass grumble and then there was silence. The house lights went up. Suddenly cops were pouring into the theater. Black uniforms coming down the aisle, guns out, badges flashing. The other patrons looked round in alarm. The kid from the ticket booth was with the police and pointing at Gibson. "That's him!"

The kid's voice was high with excitement. He'd probably tell the story for the rest of his life. Gibson was on his feet, reaching for the gun, with no clear idea of what he intended to do with it.

One of the cops was shouting. "Watch it! He's got a gun!"

And then the cops were on him, punching and hitting. One had him by the hair; then the gun was gone from his hand and someone was yelling obscenities in his ear. The cop who had him by the hair abruptly jerked his head down, smashing it into the arm of the seat. He could feel blood on his forehead. He was being picked up bodily. A fist struck him on the upper thigh, probably a blow intended for his balls. His head was smashed into the seat arm for a second time, and it felt as though his hair was being torn out by the roots. There was more shouting. Someone seemed to be trying to pull the cops off him. "For Christ's sake don't kill him! We want him alive. He can't go on TV if he's too messed up."

That seemed to say it all. He couldn't go on TV if he was too messed up. Now that they had him, they planned to exhibit him. He was on his feet again. His arms were being forced behind him and handcuffs snapped around his wrists. They were far too tight and started hurting almost immediately. Before he could protest, they were hustling him up the aisle. He could even hear himself yelling to the other people in the cinema.

"Remember me! I'm being set up here! If I wind up dead, remember me!"

It hardly seemed that the voice belonged to him. It was as though he was hearing someone else yelling, the voice of a hysterical stranger.

One of the cops holding him punched him hard in the stomach. "Shut the fuck up."

He doubled over with the wind driven out of him. He wanted to vomit but there was no time. He was helpless, being half dragged and half carried toward the back of the theater. Then he was in the lobby, propelled quickly through it by a lot of hands. A small crowd had gathered and they were being held back by even more cops.

He heard someone telling someone else, "He's the one, he killed the president."

Gibson tried to struggle. "I didn't do it. I didn't kill anyone. I'm being setup."

They were pushing him into a police cmiser. An officer put a hand on his head to stop him smashing it on the doorframe. Inside the car, the cop sitting next to him thrust his face into Gibson's. "I'd like to get you alone in an empty room for just ten minutes. I'd show you what we think of people who kill presidents."

Gibson, with nothing left to lose, sneered back at him. "Yeah, but you ain't going to get the chance. I'm too fucking important. You've all got to keep me in one piece for the TV cameras,"

For a moment, Gibson thought that he'd gone too far and the cop was going to smash his fist into his face. The man controlled himself, however, and had to be content with a simple snarl. "Yeah, but I'll be the one laughing when they strap you into the crasher."

Gibson shook his head. "That's never going to happen."

Although Gibson had no idea what was going to happen to him, he had a strangely absolute certainty that trial and execution weren't in his future. He realized that he didn't even know how they executed people in Luxor, although the crusher sounded particularly cruel and unusual. He turned and looked out of the window as the police car roared through the city, being given a complete right-of-way through the early-afternoon traffic. He knew that this might be the last moment of calm that he would be allowed for a very long time.

Before Gibson could think about it too much or start hoping too hard, they arrived at police headquarters and turned into a long sloping tunnel that led down to an underground lot in the bowels of the building. The circus that was waiting for him there was nothing short of pandemonium. There were wall-to-wall cops, maybe two hundred in all, so far in excess of the manpower that might be needed to either prevent him escaping or protect his safety that he could only assume the majority had come down from other parts of the building just to watch the arrival of the man who had killed the president. In addition to the cops there was a large crowd of reporters complete with cameras, lights, and bulky tape recorders. As the car slowed to a halt, they broke through the line of cops that was supposed to be holding them back and swarmed all over the car, elbowing each other and stmggling for the best position, peering in the windows of the cruiser and bellowing questions at the tops of their voices. The place was disturbingly like the underground police garage where Jack Ruby had shot Oswald, and Gibson had to remind himself that Oswald was being taken out and not brought in, although the thought provided little comfort. If it wasn't today, it could just as easily be tomorrow or the next day, if events continued to conform to the JFK-Oswald pattern.

Gibson and his escort sat in the car for a full five minutes, waiting for some kind of order to be restored. Finally one of the officers in the front of the car produced a blanket and threw it back to the cop sitting beside Gibson. "Put that over his head. "

Gibson immediately protested. "I don't want a fucking blanket over my head."

"You'll do what we say, boy. You're in no position to be arguing about anything anymore."

"Why do I have to hide under a goddamned blanket? I haven't done anything to be ashamed of."

"We don't want pictures of you in circulation until we're good and ready."

"Maybe you don't want pictures of me looking like I just went ten rounds with the heavyweight champ."

The cop didn't seem to be prepared to argue any more. He just tossed the blanket over Gibson's head and the world was black. With his hands cuffed behind his back, there also wasn't a damn thing that he could do about it. As they helped him out of the car, the press started hollering again,

"Did you do it?"

"Did you kill the president?"

"Who are you working for?"

"The Hind-Mancu?"

"Were you the only one?"

"Why did you do it?"

Gibson wasn't given any chance to answer the questions, although he was certain he'd be asked a lot more of the same once he got inside. He was hustled from the car and into an elevator. In some respects, it was almost like arriving for a concert at Madison Square Garden or London's Wembley Stadium when the Holy Ghosts were at the peak of their fame, except that he'd never done the run from the car to the stage door with a blanket over his head before. He grimly told himself that he'd always liked to be the center of attention and now he was undisputedly just that.

In the elevator, beyond the range of the photographers and TV cameras, they took the blanket off his head. Gibson and his escort rode the elevator up to the third floor, where a smaller circus waited for them. Up there, it was all cops. The media was mercifully missing, as was the pandemonium of the basement, and there was no elbowing, jostling, or shouted questions. The massed cops watched him in hostile silence and stepped aside as he was brought through. Doubtless, just about every one of them would have been more than happy to tear his head off on the spot, but discipline kept them in check, and he was taken to a secure interview room without incident.

The interview room was like something out of a forties gangster movie. A single hardwood chair was set up in the center of the small room. A metal floor lamp was positioned so it would shine directly into the face of whoever was sitting in the chair. His escort was now down to the three original uniformed officers who had been in the car with him. They removed his handcuffs and, without giving him a chance to massage the circulation back into his hands and wrists, had him empty his pockets out onto a table against the wall. The officers poked perfunctorily through the few odds and ends that the streamheat had allowed him to bring to the Crown building. About the only thing that held their attention was the wallet with Leh Zwald's ID in it, and they passed that from one to the other. The largest of the cops, the one who'd been sitting in the back of the car with him, pointed to the chair under the light.

"Sit."

"Can I have a cigarette?"

"Later. Sit."

Gibson seemed to have no option but to do as he was told. He sat and continued to sit, with the officers leaning against the wall, watching him in silence. After about ten minutes, a policewoman came in with a portable fingerprint kit and took a set of prints from him. She was fast and businesslike but avoided looking him straight in the eye and wasn't quite able to disguise her distaste when she had to take hold of his hands to roll the balls of his fingers and thumbs across the ink pad. The next visitor was a police photographer who showed up with a bulky flash camera and proceeded to take head shots of him from a dozen different angles. A new set of problems was unveiled with the arrival of the photographer. He set his camera down, looked at the cops, and men pointed to Gibson. "He's going to have to be cleaned up before I can do anything with him."

The largest of the policemen scowled. "Cleaned up?"

"I can't photograph him looking like that."

Gibson, who hadn't seen himself in a mirror since he'd been arrested, wondered just how bad he did look.

One of the officers left the room and returned widi a bowl of water and a sponge. As he went to work, none too gently wiping off Gibson's face, the truth quickly became apparent.

"He's a fucking albino."

The three other men gathered around him, peering at the white skin that had been revealed under the makeup.

"Dirty freak."

The big cop clenched his fists. "I ought to show you what we think about your kind, you bastard."

One of his partners put a restraining hand on his arm. "Leave him for the brass. It's your ass if you mess him up before they get here."

The big cop spat on the floor. "I hate fucking freaks. They disgust me."

Gibson sat very quiet, anxious not to do anything that might cause me big cop to break through his tenuous restraint.

The brass arrived about twenty minutes after the photographer was through with his business. Initially there were three of them. A short, fat individual in gray suit and white hat appeared to be in command. Flanking him was a tall thickset man in the uniform of a high-ranking police officer that was heavily decorated with medal ribbons and gold braid, and a worn-looking man in a rumpled suit who had the kind of deceptively lazy eyes that, while seemingly half-asleep, actually missed nothing. There were no formal introductions, but along the line Gibson discovered that the one in the hat was Luxor Police Commissioner Layen Schubb; the uniform belonged to Assistant Commissioner Lar Boveen, the head of the city's uniformed force; and the individual with the eyes was Chief of Detectives Revlich Valgrave. Gibson was certainly getting the full treatment. These three men ran the entire civil police force of Luxor, and they had come down to personally supervise his interrogation. As far as they were concerned, the crime of the century had been committed in their city and they weren't going to entrust the investigation to subordinates or turn it over to any of the half-dozen paramilitary national agencies. For almost a minute, they stood looking at him as though inspecting something so low and disgusting that it was beyond even their experience.

Finally Schubb pushed back his hat and shook his head. "You've really done it, haven't you, boy?"

Gibson avoided looking directly at Luxor's top cop. He stared down at the floor trying not to think about what might be going to happen next. "I really don't have anything to say."

Schubb walked slowly around Gibson's chair. "That's not a good attitude, boy. You've just shot the president of the UKR and a lot of people are going to want to hear what you've got to say for yourself and, I have to tell you, some of them are not going to be as patient as I am."

This time Gibson looked up at him. "I don't expect you to believe me, but I didn't shoot the president."

Valgrave stepped forward and turned on the light. Gibson closed his eyes, temporarily blinded. The lamp was a powerful photoflood, and it was only a matter of inches from his face. The three ranking officers and the patrolmen in the background were nothing more than indistinct shadows.

Valgrave's voice came out of the darkness beyond the light. "Let's start with some basic details. Your name is Leh Zwald, right?"

Gibson squinted into the light and shook his head. "No."

"It's not?"

"It's not."

"That's what it says in this wallet."

"I'm not Leh Zwald."

"So who are you?"

"My name is Joe Gibson."

" Jogibson? What kind of name is that?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Try me."

Gibson took a deep bream. He might as well tell them in front; it was going to come out eventually. "It's a name from another dimension."

Schubb broke into the exchange between Gibson and Valgrave. "What are you talking about, boy? If you think you can worm your way out of this by acting crazy, you can forget it. Nobody's going to go along with that."

"I said that you wouldn't believe it."

Boveen took a turn. "You don't know how lucky you are, son."

"You could have fooled me."

Schubb stabbed a finger at him. "Don't get smart, boy. We don't have much time."

Boveen resumed. "You don't know how lucky you are being held by us. The Luxor Police Department, unlike some of the national law-enforcement agencies, don't use torture as a routine technique in the interrogation of suspects."

Gibson took another deep breath. There was no answer to that.

Schubb nodded. "Not so cocky now, huh, boy? The mention of torture usually takes the wind out of the sails of little shits like you."

Boveen was looking at his watch. "The way I figure it, we have maybe ten minutes before delegations from State Security, the Treasury Police, and the Presidential Guard will be all over us demanding we give up custody to them. They want you badly, and every last one of them will be quite prepared to do their worst to get a confession out of you."

"And will you give me to them?"

"We don't want to. Right now you're in our jurisdiction. The president was shot in Luxor, and we want to be the ones who crack the case. The trouble is that you can't fight politics. Unless you've given us something to work on we may not be able to keep you. It's as simple as that."

Gibson nodded. Either the commissioner was telling the truth or it was one of the most elaborate Mutt and Jeff setups that he'd ever heard. "I see."

"You understand our position?"

It might be a Mutt and Jeff play but Gibson was still thoroughly intimidated. "I do."

"So shall we start again?"

"I'll tell you what I can."

Valgrave took over. "Name?"

"Joe Gibson,"

Valgrave sighed disappointedly. "I thought you understood your position."

Gibson was starting to get a little desperate. "Believe me, I'm trying to cooperate. I'm not Leh Zwald. My name is Joe Gibson. Joe, first name, Gibson, second name. Leh Zwald was originally supposed to shoot the president but he tried to back out and was killed. I was forced to take his place.

"Who killed this Leh Zwald?"

Gibson shook his head. "I don't know for sure. I do know who ordered it, though."

"Who ordered it?"

"Verdon Raus."

Valgrave's eyebrows slowly went up. "Are you serious?"

"Perfectly serious."

Boveen sharply sucked in his breath. "That's some name, boy. Are you sure you're not just using it to buy some time for yourself?"

"Verdon Raus was at the head of the whole conspiracy."

Schubb's eyes were narrow piggy slits. "Even assuming that there was such a conspiracy, why should a man like Verdon Raus use a piece of garbage like you to do his work for him? "

"I've already told you, I wasn't the assassin."

Vaigrave tried the kid gloves again. "So why were you selected to replace this Zwald?"

"Because I look exactly like him."

Schubb had the expression of a man who thinks he's just uncovered a conspiracy of mutants. "Zwald was another albino?"

"No."

"Then how could you look exactly like him?"

"We were identical apart from our color. That was the only difference."

Schubb rubbed his chin. "That's quite a big difference, boy."

Vaigrave eased back into the interrogation. "Explain your role in this, how you replaced Zwald."

"They told me that I was going to be a decoy. I was to go through the motions of pretending to be the assassin. I was led to believe that our purpose was to stop the shooting. It was only when I was actually inside the Crown building, I found that I'd been lied to. I found that I was being set up as the fall guy."

Even the low-key Vaigrave couldn't keep a certain mild excitement out of his voice. "You admit that you were in the Crown building? "

Gibson nodded. "I was beside French when he shot at Lancer."

"French?"

"This is where it becomes difficult."

Up to that point, Gibson had been feeling that Vaigrave might be buying his story. Then Commissioner Schubb stepped back in.

"Don't be telling me tales of other dimensions, boy. That would make me very unhappy."

"Maybe I should get a lawyer."

"You'd be better off with a priest if you start lying to me."

"If I tell the truth, you're just not going to believe me."

Valgrave stroked his chin. "I believe we've reached an impasse."

Schubb wasn't having any. "I believe we're dealing with a lying piece of shit who's trying to convince us that he's crazy."

Gibson tried a desperation play. "French wasn't the only shooter."

Now he had their attention. "What?"

"There was one, maybe two more."

Valgrave was leaning close to him. The chief of detectives' breath smelled of garlic. "In the Crown building?"

"No."

"Where?"

"I'm not sure, somewhere else on the square. Maybe the grassy knoll at the far end."

There was a long silence. Gibson had the impression that they might finally be taking him seriously. Valgrave walked over to the table where the contents of Gibson's pockets were still laid out. He picked up one of the packs of Luxor Camels.

He came back and held out the pack to Gibson. "Cigarette?"

Gibson took one. "Thank you."

Valgrave took one for himself. He put it in his mouth and lit it, and then he lit Gibson's with the same flame. "How many?"

Gibson was confused. "How many what?"

"How many other shooters?"

"I don't know. At least one more, maybe two."

"You know who they were?"

Gibson shook his head. "No."

Before Gibson could elaborate, there was an urgent rapping on the door of the interview room. One of the patrolmen opened it and looked out. After a couple of seconds, he closed it again and faced Schubb. "There are some men out there who want to speak to you."

"Did you tell them that I was interrogating a prisoner?"

"They seemed pretty fired up about talking to you. The word they used was imperative."

Schubb nodded. "Imperative, huh? That's what I hate about those college-boy, national-agency assholes. They've always got to use some big-ticket word when a simple one would do." He looked at Valgrave and Boveen, "You keep at our boy and I'll go talk to the assholes."

In fact, while Schubb was out of the room, the other two didn't keep at him. Valgrave smoked in silence, and Boveen watched the door. The cigarette smoke drifted lazily through the lamplight.

Valgrave smiled wearily at Gibson. "Better hope that the commissioner's feeling really feisty. He's going to have his work cut out keeping State Security and the rest of them off of you."

There was the sound of raised voices outside the door, and Schubb's was one of the loudest. After about three minutes, the door flew open and Schubb stormed back in again, slamming it behind him. "Goddamn it to hell!" He ducked into the lamplight and glared at Gibson. "You better be giving me everything you've got and no more crazy shit, you understand me? I've gone out on a limb to hold on to you, and there's three national agencies trying to saw it off right now."

Gibson looked straight back at the commissioner with a strangely detached tenor. "I can only tell you what I know."

"So tell me. Start at the beginning."

"But you aren't going to believe me. I'll get to the part about the streamheat and you're going to get crazy and call me a fucking liar and hand me over to State Security."

"I'm trying to avoid that, but you aren't making it any easier."

Boveen glanced at Schubb. "We could turn him over to a couple of my boys for a half hour to loosen him up a bit."

The three patrolmen at the back of the room looked as though they were ready to volunteer. Schubb thought about this. He stared hard at Gibson. "What's it going to be, boy?"

Gibson was desperate. "I'm trying to help you, believe me."

Valgrave motioned to Schubb that he wanted to take over the questioning. Schubb deferred to the detective and stepped back.

Valgrave looked almost sympathetic. "What are the stream-heat, Joe?"

"They're the ones who got me into this mess. They're the ones who set me up."

"But what exactly are they?"

Gibson shot a nervous glance at Schubb. "They're from another dimension."

Schubb didn't say anything but he appeared to be keeping his temper with some degree of difficulty. Valgrave went on. His voice was soft and calm.

"What do you mean by another dimension, Joe?"

Gibson nodded to Schubb. "He's going to kill me if I tell you."

To his surprise, Boveen came to his rescue. "Forget this crap about other dimensions for the moment. Tell me about how you came to kill one of my patrolmen."

Gibson swallowed hard. He had been hoping against hope that, since they hadn't so far mentioned the murder of Klein, they hadn't tied him in with that killing.

He heard his voice come out as a blurt. "It was self-defense. He was going to kill me. He was a part of it."

"Part of what?"

"Part of the conspiracy, part of the setup that put me here."

Boveen's face hardened. "Are you telling me that one of my men was in on this?"

"He wasn't one of your men."

"What?"

"He was streamheat. He was one of the ones who brought me here. He was only dressed as a cop. God knows where he got the car from."

Schubb looked as though he was going to work Gibson over himself. "You're starting with that shit again."

Gibson did his best to defend himself. "You must have the body in the morgue. Fingerprint it, run an autopsy. You'll find out that it isn't one of your men."

Schubb started to steam. "Don't tell us how to do our jobs."

Valgrave and Boveen, however, exchanged significant glances, but before anything else could be said there was a second knocking on the door of the interview room. Once again one of the patrolmen opened it, and a man in a dark civilian suit came in. Although Gibson was able to see past the blinding light a little better than when it had first been turned on, he still had to squint to make out any details of this new arrival. He didn't have to squint too long, however, before it became plain that the newcomer was a lawyer of some kind. He and Schubb fell into immediate head-to-head discussion, the gist of which was that they had troubles.

"I can't see any way that we can go on refusing to hand him over."

Schubb removed his hat and ran a handkerchief across his bald head. "I'm damned if I'm going to turn him over to those glamour boys in State Security. We caught him in our city and our jurisdiction and we're going to hold on to him."

The lawyer, who, Gibson was to discover later, held the office of city solicitor, the Luxor equivalent of the DA, shook his head. "You can't do that. They've been to a judge and obtained an order. They'll serve it by force if need be."

"They're that steamed?"

"They just lost a president and they want someone to hang it on personally."

"So what do I do?"

"You're going to have to hand him over."

Gibson didn't like the sound of this one little bit, but then Valgrave, who appeared to be by far the smartest of the three top cops, seemed to have an idea. "I take it that the order only refers to the murder of the president

The city solicitor bunked. "I only scanned the order and then came straight over here, but I believe that's basically correct."

"So there's no reference to the killing of the police officer?"

"None."

"Then we can go on holding him. Gibson has already confessed to that killing.

The city solicitor looked sharply at Gibson. "Is this true? You've made a confession?"

"I told them I shot him, but he wasn't a police officer and I shot him in self-defense"

The lawyer held up a hand. "That doesn't matter for the moment. You admit that it was you that fired the shot?"

Gibson nodded. "I already said that."

The city solicitor looked triumphantly at Schubb. "In that case, he's still ours, at least until he's had a preliminary hearing on the charge of killing the officer. "

Schubb smiled at the lawyer. "So why don't you go and politely tell our State Security friends to take their judge's order and roll it into a cylinder. I imagine they can guess the rest."

The city solicitor grinned at the commissioner. "It'll be a pleasure."

Schubb turned and looked at Gibson.

"I think it's time to consolidate what we've got. Let's give the media a good look at you."

Gibson sighed. He seemed to remember that, at one point, the Dallas sheriff had exhibited Oswald to the assembled press. "And what am I supposed to tell them?"

Schubb's eyes narrowed and he smiled nastily at Gibson.

"Oh, you aren't going to tell them anything. This is going to be strictly a photo opportunity. You can act as crazy as you want because, from now on, until a better idea presents itself, you're going to be the lone-nut gunman."

Gibson exhaled hard. The Kennedy pattern was still holding. Now he was the lone assassin.

While the press was assembled in a large conference room on the second floor of the police headquarters building, Gibson was put in a holding cell with two patrolmen acting as suicide watch. He remained there for over an hour. When he was finally brought in, the press conference appeared to have been in full swing for some time. Schubb was standing on a raised platform behind a lectern on which there was a battery of a couple of dozen microphones. He was flanked by Boveen and Valgrave and four other men that Gibson hadn't seen before. Two were in LPD uniforms, but the other two wore dark suits in the manner of national-agency men. Once again, icy fingers grabbed for Gibson's gut. Had some kind of deal been struck regarding his custody while he'd been locked up in a holding cell? Not that he was left with any time for conjecture. His entrance was the signal for an outbreak of complete bedlam. Gibson had been clearly held back as Schubb's piece de resistance. Boveen was displaying the rifle. The media had been told whatever official story Schubb had decided to go with, they'd been shown the weapon, and now, as the grand finale, here was the killer. The press conference had obviously started as a fairly well-organized affair. The heavy, old-fashioned TV cameras and the batteries of lights that went with them had been positioned in the rear of the room, while the print reporters and still photographers were given free range of the area in front of the speaker's podium. With Gibson's entry, however, all the organization went to hell in a basket. The reporters rushed at him in a solid mass while the TV cameramen became tangled in each others' leads as they tried to swing round for the shot. Flashbulbs went off in his face and everyone was yelling at once.

"Hey, Zwald! Did you kill the president?"

"Zwald! Were you on your own?"

"Hey, Zwald, look over here!"

"Over here!"

"Smile for the camera, you bastard!"

"Why d'yer do it, Zwald?"

"Are you working for the Hind-Mancu?"

Gibson could imagine how he would look when the photos were printed and the pictures went out on the air, scared, blinded, and dazed, handcuffed and helpless, not knowing where to look. A saint would look like a psycho killer in the face of that kind of mob. Mercifully, though, the madness was of short duration. He couldn't have been in the conference room for more than two minutes, although it seemed like an hour while it was going on. Schubb was as good as his word. It was strictly a photo opportunity. Even if Gibson had tried to answer their questions, the reporters were yelling so loud that they wouldn't have heard him anyway. All he could do was repeat the same thing over and over.

"I didn't kill anyone. That's all I have to say. I didn't kill anyone."

He doubted that there would be a person in the entire country who'd believe him. One reporter in the front row was holding up a 10x8, black-and-white glossy that showed Gibson posing with a rifle, one of the photographs that the streamheat had taken the day before the assassination. "Is this you, Zwald?"

"I didn't kill anyone. That's all I have to say."

He wondered if the reporter worked for one of Raus's newspapers. The odds were that he did. Obviously, the media campaign to make Gibson the fall guy had gone into full swing while he'd been in the hands of the cops.

It came as a welcome relief when the patrolmen escorting him turned him around and started to move him out of the room, while a flying wedge of cops fended off the reporters and photographers. Gibson was more than willing to go, but then he saw something out of the corner of his eye, a white face and the flash of round Himmler glasses. Rampton! What in hell was Rampton doing in police headquarters? Where did he get the gall from? Something inside Gibson snapped.

He turned quickly before his guards could grab him and started yelling at the reporters. "If you want to know who killed President Lancer, ask him! Ask that man over there in the corner! His name's Sebastian Rampton! The one in the glasses! Ask him! Ask Rampton!"

And then the cops were on him, dragging him to the door. Gibson didn't resist. He knew if he did, they'd only beat him up when they got him outside. The moment had passed.

As they led him away down the corridor, one of his escorts leaned close to him. "What was that last bit all about?"

"There's a guy in there who knows much more about all this than I do."

The cop obviously didn't believe a word of it. "Yeah, right."

"I'm not kidding."

"So tell it to the chief. All I have to do is stop you from cutting your own throat or hanging yourself. I'm not required to listen to no crazy bullshit."

"Whatever you say."

"You just remember that and we'll get along fine."

For a long time, Gibson was left to wait in an isolated holding cell. He wasn't quite sure for how long because it turned out that telling him the time was something else that the cops who were keeping suicide watch on him weren't required to do. Somewhere along the line, though, a patrolman brought him the evening editions of the city newspapers.

"So you made the front page."

Beneath screaming banner headlines that Gibson, of course, couldn't read was a large, black-bordered picture of Jaim Lancer. Inset at the bottom was a much smaller picture of himself, taken earlier at the press conference. His eyes were staring, bugged out like those of a violent lunatic, and his mouth was half-open, frozen in a silent scream. It was no exaggeration to liken him to a cornered animal. Gibson didn't imagine for a moment that the newspapers were just a compassionate gesture on the part of a passing patrolman. They had probably been sent down on Schubb's instructions, probably hoping that the shock of reading the reports might shake something loose. Unfortunately, Schubb didn't know that Gibson was a functional illiterate in this dimension and all he'd be able to do would be to look at the pictures.

There were more pictures on the inside, a very grainy amateur snap of Lancer in the act of slumping forward in the car, moments after the bullets had hit him, and several other pictures of Gibson at the press conference, along with a shot of Boveen holding up the rifle. Page three carried a very strange shot showing a surprised-looking Gibson, standing in Veidon Raus's target gallery holding a pistol. Nephredana should have been standing beside him but either she'd been edited out by a very skilled photo retoucher or idimmu really didn't come out in photographs. Now he was cursing the fouled-up dimension transfer that had left him unable to read. He would have dearly liked to know what was being said about him.

As he folded up the paper, one of the suicide watch grinned at him. "How does it feel to be the center of attention? "

"You think I'll get a book deal?"

The cop's grin widened at Gibson's remark. "Think you'll live long enough to enjoy it?"

His partner guffawed. After that, Gibson shut up. The time dragged on and nobody came to see him, which both surprised and disturbed him. He thought Schubb would have had investigators working on him around the clock. The suicide watch changed shift, but apart from that nobody came near him. He began to imagine the kinds of power politics being played out in other parts of the building and then wished that he hadn't made the effort. None of the scenarios that he could conjure up had anything like a happy ending for him.

As far as Gibson could estimate, it must have been around midnight when they finally came for him. "On your feet, you're being moved."

Along with Schubb and his usual entourage was a tall burly man in a dark suit. Schubb didn't introduce this new addition, and Gibson experienced a moment of panic. Had Schubb given up the jurisdiction fight and turned him over to State Security or one of the other national law-enforcement agencies? "Where are you taking me?"

"You'll find out when you get there."

Gibson was handcuffed for the third time, and this time a chain was put round his waist and attached to the cuffs so he couldn't raise his hands more than a few inches. With no further explanation, he was marched to the elevators. His mind was racing. It seemed that, if events were continuing to conform to the Kennedy-assassination pattern, he was rapidly approaching the point where Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, and there wasn't a damn thing that he could do to prevent it.

As they were riding down in the elevator, Schubb leaned close to him. "You look sick."

"I feel sick."

"How is it that you neglected to tell me that you also had a try for Verdon Raus?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"There's a report in the late editions of the papers that you went to the Raus Mansion intending to kill him but you chickened out. Didn't you read the papers I sent you?"

Gibson shook his head. "I just looked at the pictures."

"There was even a picture of you, boy, inside the mansion, waving a gun around."

"I was a guest at a party and the picture was taken in Raus's private shooting gallery."

"I wish you'd leveled with me."

Before the exchange could go any further, the elevator came to a stop. The doors opened on the same parking garage through which he'd entered police headquarters. A number of people were standing around, uniforms and plainclothes. There were even a couple of TV cameras. As he looked out into the garage, Gibson's stomach cramped and his legs threatened to give out on him. A patrolman pushed him forward, propelling him out of the elevator. He looked round desperately. Which one was going to turn out to be Ruby? Which one had the gun under his coat and was pulling his courage together to go for the shot? A man in a black hat was coming through the crowd. Gibson hung back. The cop behind him thought that he was just being difficult and forcibly pushed him forward, directly at the man in the black hat.

The man in the hat had a hand under his coat, but as far as Gibson could see he was the only one who had noticed. The gun came out in a slow-motion movement, and then the world froze as tires, screaming straight from hell, came down the ramp from the street. A 1951 Hudson-Yancey Slide's Hudson-howled into the parking garage, trailing sparks from its muffler and flame from its exhaust as it bounced onto the level floor of the garage. Cops were turning and guns were coming out. The man in the black hat was turning right along with them. The near-side rear door of the Hudson swung open. YopBoy was out and running. He swung up the fancy assault rifle that Gibson had seen in London and sprayed the cops around Gibson. They were instantly scattering in every direction. One was hit and went down with a look of dumb, outraged surprised on his face. Gibson stood and stared. He was in shock, but then he heard Yop Boy yelling.

"Get into the car, goddamn it! We're rescuing you."


The White Room | Necrom | The White Room