GIBSON, WHO HAD never in his life been in combat, instantly discovered that it wasn't in the least like the movies or even the TV news. Combat happened all at once, and so fast there wasn't enough time to take it in or even to be specifically frightened, just a dry-mouthed, unfocused terror and a gasping, sobbing need to scramble away, out of the line of fire. Beneath him, in the inhabited valley of the Hole in the Void, buildings and vehicles were burning. As far as he could tell, one of the structures on fire was the Rearing Eagle.
The sky was a dull gunmetal-blue streaked with rushing parallel lines of gray interference that provided little light by which to see. Two large aircraft, black shapes above the glare of the fires, hovered over the valley, filling it with the high-pitched siren wail of their engines. They were like big helicopter gun-ships, but without rotors, and of a design unlike anything Gibson had ever seen in his own world. They were pouring fire into the village, both conventional tracer and the jagged beam of some advanced energy weapon. Small dark figures were moving around among the flarnes, and Gibson could make out the repeated pinpoint muzzle flashes of weapons. He wasn't, however, allowed the luxury of wondering what was going on in the valley. Other dark figures were coming over the crest of the hill above him. To his relief, he spotted Nephredana, still in her armor, among their number, and he realized that they had to be a group of defenders. The bad news was that they were in full retreat.
Gibson yelled and waved his arms, even though he realized the gesture was probably pointless in the gloom. "Hey, over here!"
Nephredana spotted him. "Gibson?"
She hurried to where he was standing. There were scorch-marks on her armor and her face was streaked with dirt. She smelled of smoke and sweat. "Where the hell did you spring from? What happened?"
"He heard about the attack and sent me back here."
He realized that he wasn't saying the name Necrom any longer.
Nephredana glanced over her shoulder. "We've got to get out of here. They're coming up the other side of the hill."
Her voice was momentarily drowned out by the nearby chatter of automatic weapons. "They Pearl-Harbored us right out of nowhere. We never had a chance to get organized. They've got these fucking weapons…"
In the next second, he was able to see these fucking weapons firsthand. A horde of what Gibson instantly recognized as streamheat assault troops from their helmets and uniforms poured over the top of the hill. A number of them seemed to be armed with what looked a great deal like World War II flamethrowers. Tubes were attached by hoses to heavy backpacks. When they opened fire, though, they proved to be flamethrowers from some future hell. Streams of dazzling light danced and shimmered, now spasming along the ground, now juddering through the air, jumping and twitching like a set of random lines in a flick book. When they reached an obstacle they either arced over it or skittered around. Each streamheat trooper appeared to control the lines of energy flowing from his weapon by means of a twist grip behind the trigger mechanism.
Gibson stared open-mouthed until Nephredana grabbed him and dragged him to the ground. "Get down, you idiot!"
They pressed themselves flat as one of the streams of light cracked over their heads. "Holy shit! What are those things?"
"The swine have come up with something that can finish us idimmu."
Nephredana shook her head. "It can't terminate us, only the Maker or a direct ground-zero nuclear blast can do that, but they can fuck us up good."
"What will they do to me?"
"Turn you into a fucking grease spot."
A defender was caught by the blazing lines of energy, a hulking brute not unlike Rayx. He screamed horribly, became one with the energy stream, retaining his own basic shape as a burning outline for a few seconds and then vanishing.
Nephredana's eyes were an iceburn. "It's some beefed-up version of the regular streamheat return-gun. It's capable of burying each of us at the fucking heart of nickel-iron planetoid and we'd never get out." She was now looking anxiously for an escape route. "We're in deep shit here."
Gibson could only assume that what Nephredana called a streamheat return-gun was the original weapon that he'd seen Smith; Klein, and French use all the way back on the Jersey waterfront, the same one French had turned on himself in Luxor.
The weapons swallowed a second and third of the defenders and Nephredana was off at a crouching run, ducking and dodging the energy streams as they slashed across the hillside like electric whips. Gibson didn't hesitate; he was right behind her. A gully ran down the hillside a little to their left, and Nephredana dived into it, taking advantage of the momentary shelter. Gibson all but rolled in on top of her. He now had orange stains on his white suit and was gasping for breath.
Nephredana shook her head. "Don't know. We were separated."
She quickly fumbled in a pouch at her belt and pulled out a small metallic object. "Quickly, take this!"
It looked like a small pistol.
"What is it?"
"Don't you recognize it?"
Gibson looked at the multibarreled configuration and realized that it was a pocket version of one of the streamheat return-guns. "What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Use it on yourself."
"I thought these things could bring you out five miles up in the air or a mile under Mont Blanc."
"That's a chance you take. If you stay here you'll be killed for sure, or taken alive and that would be even worse."
Gibson looked at the thing in his hand as though it were a poisonous snake. "I can't do that,"
"Do it, damn you. You have to get out of here, you've been to Him."
Gibson was shaking his head. "I can't do it."
Energy streams danced along the edge of the gully.
"There's no time! Use it!"
"Then give it back to me, damn it, and I'll use it on you."
"What about you and the others?"
"We'll take our chances. Now give me the damned weapon."
Gibson passed the gun back. Nephredana went into her pouch again and tossed something else to him. "These may help."
It was a small leather pouch. He found that it was heavy. "What…?"
A third gunship came over the hill, laying fire. Tracers flashed along a section of the gulley. Nephredana pointed the small streamheat weapon at Gibson and fired.
He was running down a long white corridor. It was tilted over on one side and he had trouble keeping his feet. There was fire behind him and a golden light ahead of him. He had to reach the golden light to be safe, but the white corridor was very long and he was very tired. He wanted to lie down and rest, but, if he did, he would be consumed by the fire. It was then that the thought struck him. A white corridor, a golden light. He looked down at himself and found that he seemed to have vacated his body. If he'd had a physical form to groan with, he would have groaned out loud. "Don't tell me I'm fucking dead!"
The inward groan seemed to trigger something. His body came back with a vengeance. He was falling. He fell about twelve feet, hit the ground, and blacked out.
He opened his eyes but he had no idea where he was. He had been dreaming, a long, intense, and complicated dream, a terrible dream in which he'd constantly been running, a dream full of demons and monsters and death and pain. He had only woken from the dream because he imagined that he was dying. He shivered, he was cold. Had he taken something? What the hell had he taken? He couldn't remember. All he knew was that he was glad to be back in his own bed.
Except, although it was dark, he wasn't in his own bed.
He was sprawled on hard, muddy, cold ground that was littered with garbage and dead leaves, and he could see the lights of what looked like apartment buildings beyond the branches of sooty trees. Rain was falling on him and, worst of all, he was naked. Groggily he raised his head. The question was no longer what the hell had he taken but what the hell had he done? He'd never woken up in a state like this before. A bundle was lying beside him. He reached out. It was his clothes. The moment he touched the sleeve of his jacket, it all came back to him: Nephredana, Yancey Slide, and the saucers. And, before that, Gideon Windemere; Christobelle; Smith, Klein, and French; and the Nine, It hadn't been a dream. It had been an insane reality, and it was still going on. Instantly he was up. Mercifully his suit and shirt had turned black in the trans. It saved him from the added absurdity of running around in the dark dressed like John Travolta. Trying to get into his pants in a half crouch before someone spotted him, and not to get too much mud on them while he was doing it, was no easy trick, but he struggled. The last thing he needed was to be arrested for public lewdness. There were too many questions that he couldn't satisfactorily answer for himself, let alone for a bunch of suspicious cops. Besides, he had seen quite enough of cops in Luxor.
As he slipped on his jacket, something heavy in the pocket bumped against his hip. It was the leather pouch that Nephre-dana had given him. He pulled it out, loosened the drawstring that held it closed, and shook some of the contents into his palm. He could scarcely believe what he was seeing. The pouch was full of large gold coins.
Nephredana really had taken care of him, if indeed gold had any value where he'd landed. The first problem was to find out exactly where that was. If the streamheat had been telling him the truth back in Jersey, he ought to be in his own dimension. That was supposed to be the function of the weapon and why the idimmu called them return-guns. To his surprise, he accomplished the task of orientation by simply standing up. He instantly recognized where he was. He was back in New York, in Manhattan, back where he'd started or, to be exact, a ten-dollar cab ride from where he'd started. Unless he was badly mistaken, he had fallen out of the void and into the Lower East Side. He'd emerged into the world in, of all places, Tompkins Square Park, behind the bandshell. In some ways it wasn't too bad a place to materialize at random from another dimension. If any of the denizens of the ravaged little park had noticed him suddenly appearing out of thin air and dropping to the ground, they'd probably only have shaken their heads and wondered about the quality-to-quantity ratio of the stuff they were drinking, smoking, or shooting up. On the other hand, it was a bad place to be lying around unconscious. He was damned lucky that someone hadn't stolen his boots, the rest of his clothes, and the bag of Krugerrands, It would have been a cool score for a junkie.
Gibson straightened up and slowly looked around. From the lack of activity in the park, he guessed it had to be four or five in the morning. The homeless were stretched out on the benches or sleeping in makeshift cardboard shelters. Somewhere someone was playing rap music on a boom box. The bars on Avenue A were closed, and he had to assume that it couldn't be all that long till dawn. Even though he wouldn't have chosen the manner of his arrival, it was good to be back somewhere familiar and, by the standards of his recent adventures, relatively normal.
The question was what he should do next. His instinct was to go back to Central Park West, to the seclusion of his apartment to fix himself a drink, take a hot bath, and sleep for three or four days. The kind of prudence that he'd learned in recent days stopped him, however. Maybe he should go to a hotel. He couldn't be sure that there wasn't something unpleasant waiting for him at home. It would be better to hang on until daylight before investigating the apartment, and even then it would pay to be a little circumspect. He started walking toward Avenue A, but after the first couple of steps, he had to stop and stand very still to prevent himself throwing up. His system had taken such a beating in the last couple of dozen hours that it was now in open revolt. Gibson badly wanted a cigarette, but a search of his pockets revealed that he didn't have any. The lack of cigarettes brought his first problem home to him. He might have a pocketful of gold but he didn't actually have any American money. He couldn't very well walk into the Warwick or the St. Regis without even an overnight bag, slap a couple of Krugerrands on the desk, and expect them to give him a room. He doubted that he could even try a stunt like that at the Chelsea. Damn it, the way things were, he couldn't so much as hail a cab.
There were at least six all-night bodegas within easy reach of the park and, in the second of these, he was able, after a great deal of very suspicious negotiating, to sell one of the coins to the Lebanese behind the counter for fifty bucks. He knew that this was only a fraction of its real value, but his need for a little operating cash made it more than worthwhile. As soon as the stores were open he'd make his way over to the jewelry strip in Chinatown and sell the rest of the coins for a much more realistic rate. Now all that remained was to decide what to do for the rest of the night, fifty bucks was by no means enough to get him a room in anything but the most raunchy of flophouses or hot-sheet hotels, and that was almost worse than staying awake. He knew an after-hours joint on Third Avenue just by Fourteenth Street that went by the name of the Candy Box. He'd go there.
With a coupte of drinks inside him, he might feel a whole lot different about the world.
As soon as the cab he hailed on the corner of Avenue A and Sixth Street hit Third Avenue, he knew that there was a problem. The traffic on Third Avenue was going the wrong way. When he'd left, Third Avenue had been one-way uptown, and now it was running in completely the opposite direction. He couldn't imagine how, in the comparatively short time that he'd been in London and in other dimensions, the City of New York might nave been able to completely reverse its whole Manhattan grid system. Just to be sure, he checked the street signs. They were tired and rusted and looked as though they'd been there since the fifties. It made no sense except to worry the hell out of him.
To his infinite relief, the Candy Box was still there, and open to him, subject to a little bargaining with the gorilla on the door. He realized that he didn't look like much: his Suit was rumpled and covered in purple stains, probably the translation of the orange stains that he'd got on it during the hillside firefight in the Hole in the Void. The Candy Box was filled with a typically representative cross section of those who couldn't find a reason to go home that particular night. Drunken rock 'n' roll musicians rubbed studded-leather shoulders with the silk suits of off-shift dope dealers, while nervous coke whores chain-smoked Marlboro Lights and waited for their next invitation to the bathroom. Wired leftovers from downtown discos, and alcoholics who hadn't quite drunk themselves into zombiehood, tried to keep the party alive long after all the vital signs had ceased, Gibson put away two cognacs in quick succession and felt considerably better. He even made a trip of his own to the bathroom to buy a beat quarter of a gram from a tall black man who went by the name of Elk. He told himself that the cocaine was purely for medicinal purposes. He needed something to keep him going until he'd completed all that he had to accomplish. He was a little surprised to see that there was no one he knew in the place, and even more surprised that no one even recognized him. He told himself that it didn't really matter. His ego could take a backseat for one night. He was more than happy to sit on a bar stool with a drink in front of him and his elbows propped up on the bar. The last things he needed were recognition or conversation.
Nine o'clock the next morning saw Gibson on the corner of Canal and Mulberry, waiting for a Chinese jewelry store to open. The owner, after a good deal of haggling, offered him two hundred an ounce for the coins, and Gibson accepted. The net weight was close to seven ounces, and although he suspected that the Krugerrands were probably worth close to twice that, it was a comforting sum to have in his pocket. Outside on the street, he flagged down the first cab that he saw and rode it uptown, having it stop a block short of his building on Central Park West. He stood for a full five minutes, observing the comings and goings to and from the building, satisfying himself that there was no one keeping watch on the place, before he risked approaching the main entrance. To his relief he saw that Ramone was the doorman on duty. A large weight fell from his shoulders. He was all but home tree.
He grinned at Ramone, as he walked in the direction of the elevator. "How you doing, Ramone? What's been going on while I've been away?"
He knew in an instant that something wasn't right. Ramone's face was a semihostile mask. It was the expression reserved for the most dubious visitors. "Can I help you with something?"
Gibson blinked. Ramone didn't seem to know him. Admittedly, there had been times when he'd come home roaring drunk and acting up, and Ramone had been needed to coax him into the elevator, but he'd always tipped the man very well after these incidents and Ramone had never been the kind to hold a grudge after money had changed hands.
"Hey, Ramone, what's going on here. Don't you know me?"
Ramone's eyes were narrowed and he looked at Gibson with practiced suspicion. "You sure you have the right building, my friend?"
Gibson wished that he had a mirror in which he could check himself. Had there been some weird change in his appearance during the transition back to Earth? "Ramone, don't you know me? It's Joe Gibson. I live in 10-E. What's going on here? Did the IRS put a padlock on the place or something?"
Ramone positioned himself between Gibson and the elevator. "I don't know what your problem is, pal, but I think you'd better get out of here."
Ramone was talking to him as though he was some crazy who'd wandered in off the street, and panic was rising in Gibson's chest like a flood, "I'm Joe Gibson, damn it. I live in this building, in apartment 10-E."
"I never heard of any Gibson. Dr. Cohen lives in 10-E. I think you'd better go now. We don't want any trouble, do we?"
Gibson made a desperate lunge for the elevator. "I want to get to my apartment, okay? I live here."
Ramone headed him off, ready to get physical if need be. Gibson knew for a fact that Ramone carried a blackjack in the hip pocket of his uniform pants. "You got keys for this apartment of yours?"
Gibson shook his head. It was getting worse and worse. This was like fucking Kafka. "No, I had a bit of trouble…"
That did it for Ramone. "Piss off, okay? Just piss off before I call the police."
Out on the street again, Gibson hailed a second cab."Twenty-third and Seventh. Chelsea Hotel."
At the Chelsea, they didn't want to know anything about his business except that he had the money for the room and a deposit for the phone, and the phone was the first thing he headed for when he was through the scant formalities of checking in. His first call was to Tommy Ramos. Back in the seventies, Ramos had been in the punk band Grim Death, and he and Gibson had been firm friends for longer than either of them, now they were in the nineties, cared to remember. The number rang four times and then an answering machine picked up. "Hi, this is Wilson…"
"… and this is Kimberly…"
"… and we can't come to the phone right now but, if you leave a message after the tone, we'll get back to you as soon as we can."
It sounded like a pair of goddamned yuppies. What the hell were yuppies doing at Tommy's number? Tommy lived in a cheap, rent-controlled apartment on Seventeenth Street that he'd had since Sid Vicious was alive and stumbling. It was full of as much junk as Gibson's place, and there was no way that Tommy was going to give it up. He tried the number again to make sure that he hadn't misdialed, but all he got was the same annoyingly cheery message for a second time. Could Tommy have had his number changed? He tried 411.
"I'm sorry, we have no listing in that name."
First Ramone didn't know him, and now Tommy Ramos seemed to have vanished off the face of the Earth. He called the desk. "Could someone get me a couple of drinks from the bar."
He tried three more numbers that he had committed to memory. None of them answered. Fear of the unfathomable was starting to gnaw at his brain. One more number remained that, if anything was weird when he called it, he'd know for sure that he and the world were seriously out of whack. He was reluctant to use it, however. He'd only talked to Desiree maybe a half-dozen times since she'd walked out on him, and all of those conversations had finished on notes of petty and wretched acrimony. By this point, however, he was sufficiently disturbed to resort to his ex-girlfriend. At that moment, though, the drinks arrived, giving him the chance to delay the call for a few moments. He'd ordered two double Scotches and four bottles of Amstel Light and the porter looked round for the other person.
Gibson grinned. '"There's only me. I came a long way and I was thirsty."
The porter nodded. "Been thirsty myself a few times."
Gibson drank one of the Scotches and half of the first beer, and then he picked up the phone again and dialed Desiree's number. Desiree was now living with an entertainment lawyer whom Gibson considered to be one of the worst examples of primordial slime that ever walked on legs. She answered on the second ring. "Hello."
At least she hadn't vanished into limbo.
She sounded puzzled. "Who is this?"
"It's me, Joe."
"I'm sorry, Joe who?"
Gibson didn't like this at all. "How quickly they forget. "
Puzzled changed to nervous. "Who is this?"
"We only lived together for two and a half years."
"I think you have the wrong number."
"For Christ's sake, Desiree. It's me, Joe-Joe Gibson."
"I think you have the wrong Desiree."
Gibson felt himself losing his temper. "What the fuck do I have to do, repeat intimate details of our sex life?"
Nervous was replaced by angry. "Listen, you sicko creep, I don't need this shit. I'm hanging up right now."
New York women knew how to hang up a phone. Gibson sat holding the thing until it made the reproachful beeping of a receiver off the hook. It was only then that he hung it up and reached for the second Scotch. What the hell had gone down? It was as though he'd become some Orwellian nonperson, expunged from record and even memory. His mind started searching through some of the available options. The first to present itself was that he had really died when Nephredana had shot him with the streamheat return-gun, and now he was in some custom-tailored hell. He put that to one side as too absolute and went on to the next. The idea that he was still in the region of Necrom, and all this was just one more illusion, maybe some grandiose, rat-maze psychology test, just didn't hold water. When he'd been in the primal world with Necrom's messenger, a certain disconnection and detachment had prevailed, making him aware that his surroundings weren't strictly real. It wasn't the case now. All this was too damn real.
After a lot of thought, he narrowed the field down to a pair of theories in which he couldn't find any truly gaping holes. The first was that there had been some glitch in the transition and he wasn't in his own dimension at all. Instead, he'd landed in one that was incredibly close to his own, separated by only the smallest of details, like the one-way streets of New York going in the wrong direction and the fact that he'd never been born. The second theory was a little more complicated. He was actually back in his own dimension, but, since he had been gone, some subtle but deeply weird change had taken place, maybe because of a print-through from the nuking of Luxor. His only problem was that he hadn't been here to go through the change along with everyone and everything else. He was less successful at thinking up ways to confirm or refute these theories, and inspiration was a long time coming.
"In times of crisis, turn on the TV."
He turned on the TV and flipped round the dial. It looked like perfectly normal afternoon programming: the regular soaps, Donahue doing a piece on women who married Satanists, Oprah sobbing along with the mothers of child prostitutes. There were kids' cartoons on channels five and eleven and a rerun of Cannon on nine. Nothing amiss on the tube. It was only him that was out of place. Maybe Phil or Geraldo should do a show on him: "Men Who Never Were."
Since the TV was of no help, he returned to the phone. There was one very obvious call that he could make. He dialed the desk to get the correct time. It was 3:45, and that meant that it was just before midnight in London,. He was back on the phone again getting UK information.
"I'm sorry, sir. There is no listing in the Greater London area under that name."
Damn it to hell.
"Are you sure about that? It's not just an unlisted number?"
"I'm quite sure, sir. I have no listing under the name Gideon Windemere."
The booze seemed to be loosening up his brain, because a new idea immediately presented itself. Maybe he should have another shot at trying to find Tony Ramos. Even if his memory had somehow been expunged from Tony's brain, Ramos was quite crazy enough to at least listen to his story. Ramos had a longtime, on-again and off-again girlfriend, Cupcake DiMaggio, a short, feisty, and very unpredictable little spitfire of a woman with a beehive hairdo straight out of the Shangri-Las and a tattoo of a black panther licking its paws on her left shoulder. If anyone knew what had become of Tony Ramos, it would be Cupcake.
Back to 411. "Do you have a listing for a Lois DiMaggio?"
The computer came on the line. "The number is 718-555-5678. The number is 718-555-5678."
Gibson dialed the number.
"Yeah?" It was Cupcake.
"I don't know if you remember me, my name is Joe Gibson."
Cupcake was suspicious and hostile, her regular demeanor with strangers, except Gibson had known her as long as he had known Tony. "I don't remember you. Should I?"
"I was a friend of Tony Ramos."
"Is this some kind of fucking joke?"
"I'm just trying to get ahold of him."
Now Cupcake was angry. "What are you, pal? Some kinda ghoul? All of Tony's friends know that Tony died eight months ago. So unless you've been out of town or something…"
Gibson felt ill. "Yes, yes, I've been away. What the hell happened?"
"The asshole OD'd on dope."
Gibson could see why her voice was so full of anger and bitterness. Cupcake had never made any secret of how much she loved Tony Ramos. It was one of those Sid-and-Nancy things. "I'm sorry."
"So am I, pal."
Gibson called for another Scotch. He needed it. Tony had always gone in for bouts of dopefiending, and, eight months ago, Tony Ramos had indeed OD'd, except that he had OD'd at Gibson's apartment, and Gibson had called the paramedics and Tony had pulled through. In this new world, where Gibson didn't seem to exist, he hadn't been there when Tony had scored the ultra-pure, miraculously uncut China White that had fucked him up, and Tony Ramos had died. Gibson couldn't shake the sick feeling that somehow he was responsible.
The porter came by with more booze. "You're drinking heavy."
Gibson nodded. "Yeah, I got problems."
"Take it easy, okay?"
Gibson nodded again and tipped the man. "I'll do my best."
He had to get out of there. The hotel room was getting claustrophobic, and he knew he wasn't going to learn anything more or come up with any solution by just sitting on the bed, drinking, watching TV, and making phone calls to people who couldn't remember him.
Out on the street, he took it into his head to walk down to Tower Records. The record store should show if any trace of his music remained. He started down Twenty-Third Street until he reached the Flatiron Building; then he turned south, heading downtown. He also stopped at a couple of taverns on the way. He realized that he was building to a full-scale drunk and that might not be such a smart idea, but a certain recklessness had come into the picture. What did he expect from himself? He'd lost his past, his history, his home, and he had found out that one of his best friends was dead, and he certainly had reason enough to get as disgustingly drunk as his mood indicated and damn the torpedoes.
It was with much the same attitude that he entered Tower Records. The uniformed security guard just inside the front door gave him a hard look, but Gibson walked the walk with such stunning arrogance that, despite the fact he looked like some ten-day drunk out of a Charlie Bukowski story, the man backed off. Gibson went straight to the Rock H section and found, with the feeling of a drowning man who can't even find a straw, that there was no subsection for the Holy Ghosts and not even any of their recordings in H General rack. That did it. He was beginning to lose it. His music was gone and that was too much. When he'd set out, he hadn't imagined he would feel it so strongly. The controls were snapping and slipping away. The newly acquired strength that had been maintaining him intact since Slide had pulled him out of Luxor was draining out of him. He wasn't even aware that his fists were clenched so hard that his nails were cutting into the skin of his palms and he was muttering to himself under his breath.
"I don't fucking exist, I don't fucking exist."
Shoppers around him were beginning to tense. In New York City, the individual who talked to himself was treated like an unexploded bomb in a crowded store.
He moved on for one final try. His solo albums had sold nothing like the numbers of the ones with the band, but it was worth checking. There was nothing under G, either. Gibson looked around the store. Some of the names were comfortingly familiar: Lou Reed, Miles Davis, Cher, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis, The Who, and The Clash. They were all there, just as they should be. There were others, however, that meant nothing to him. Who the hell were Belinda Carlisle, Stevie Nicks, or Page Seven? None of them had existed when he'd left for Luxor, and now they seemed to be established stars with long careers behind them.
"Now it's me that doesn't exist."
He was most upset by a band called the Rolling Stones. Before all this, there hadn't been any Rolling Stones. He went to their bin and found that they had dozens of records on sale, records going back to the early sixties. It was insane. They had taken his slot in history. The look, the image, the attitude, it was pure Holy Ghosts. The only difference seemed to be that the Rolling Stones had kept it together while the Holy Ghosts had fucked up.
It was while he was looking through the Rolling Stones records that the tilt sign lit up in his brain. He had no clear memories of what happened next. He knew that he had started screaming and people had stampeded away from him.
He screamed at a blond girl behind the checkout. "Where are my fucking records? What happened to my fucking music?"
The security guard had attempted to subdue him and Gibson slugged him. At some point he'd also been throwing records and CDs around. "What happened to my fucking music?"
Along the line, the police showed up, and he could vividly remember the firm hand on his head, stopping him hitting it on the doorframe as they lowered him into the blue-and-white.
They put him in a holding cell on his own. This was probably because he'd had over a thousand dollars in cash on him, which separated him from the average, run-of-the-mill drunk. He sat in the corner on the floor, feeling completely drained and mindless. The sooner they took him across to Bellevue the better.
A lot later, an NYPD detective came to talk to him. "Do you realize that you don't exist?"
Gibson, who had recovered a little by that time, looked up, slack-faced. "That's what I was trying to tell them in the store. I'm not even history anymore."
"You're not in anyone's files, either. We've run you through both local and federal. You don't show up anywhere. You care to comment on that?"
Gibson shook his head. "Not really."
"Have you ever been fingerprinted?"
"Dozens of times."
"So why is it that they aren't on record anywhere? Do you have a driver's license?"
"Haven't had a driver's license in years. I used to be driven everywhere."
"That must have been nice."
"You get used to it."
"So life was good for you?"
Gibson nodded. "Sure, life was good. I was a big-ass fucking rock star."
"So how come no one has ever heard of you?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"I went off to another dimension and when I came back things were different. Not very different, but different enough that I didn't exist."
The detective's face didn't even flicker. "And what did you do in this other dimension, Joe? It is Joe, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it's Joe."
"You want to tell me what you did there?"
Gibson's voice was flat. "I shot the president, narrowly avoided a nuclear war, and talked to a god."
"It's sounds like you had quite a time."
"It was actually very stressful."
"You take drugs, Joe?"
Gibson nodded. "Sure, all the time."
"What kind of drugs, Joe?"
"What've you got?"
"You want to tell me about the money you had on you?"
"It's legit, my money."
"Where did you get it?"
"A friend gave it to me."
"This friend have a name?"
"Her name's Nephredana. She's an idimmu, a minor demon."
She looked at him long and hard. "You're a weird one, Joe. You ever kill anyone?"
Gibson shook his head. "Not in this dimension. Not yet."
He threw in the "not yet" as bait. He was quite ready to go to Bellevue. They'd knock him out there and he'd be able to sleep. The detective didn't rise to it, however, and just kept on asking routine questions, mainly about the money and what drugs he'd been taking.
Finally she stood up. "You're lucky you have rich friends."
"I don't have any friends, rich or otherwise."
"You may not know it but you do. They're paying to put you in this private clinic."
Alarms went off in Gibson's head. "I'm not going to any private clinic. I want to go to Bellevue."
"You don't have any choice in the matter. Your friends went in front of a judge and got a temporary order on you."
She tapped on the inside of the cell door for it to be opened. When it swung back, she beckoned to two burly men in hospital whites. "Okay, guys, he's all yours."
Gibson didn't resist as the two male nurses put white canvas restraints on him and led him through the precinct house and out to a private ambulance. He didn't resist because he was through. All the fight had gone out of him. He was burned-out. The drive was a short one, and inside of a half hour Nurse Lopez was shooting him up with his first cocktail of tranquilizers.