Read The Brahms Deception Online

Authors: Louise Marley

The Brahms Deception (10 page)

BOOK: The Brahms Deception
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“We don't have authorization yet,” Max said.
Elliott said, “And there's the problem of layering.”
Kristian looked at Frederica's father more closely. Deep lines bracketed his mouth, and he needed a shave. Despite his first-class flight, Kristian felt certain Frederick Bannister was at least as tired as he had been when he first arrived, and he must feel infinitely worse. It was his only child lying on the cot before him.
“Mr. Bannister,” Kristian said. “I want to transfer to the moments before your daughter arrived in 1861. That way I can assure you she reached the right time, that I'm looking in the right place.”
From the far end of the room, Bronwyn Bannister fixed her husband with a look Kristian could have sworn was one of accusation. Bannister wasn't looking in her direction, but the lines around his mouth deepened even more. He said, “I was assured by the Remote Research Foundation that the process had been comprehensively analyzed. That there was no risk!”
Max said, “We have a perfect track record.”
“Until now.”
“We don't know yet what went wrong,” Elliott put in. “The programming—”
Bannister growled, “There had better not be any further risk to my daughter, or I'll—”
Kristian put up a hand. “Enough. Let me go, and then we'll know more.”
Bannister eyed him. “Kristian North,” he said. Something obscure flickered behind his red-rimmed eyes, making Kristian's instincts prickle.
“You were the runner-up.”
Kristian drew a breath.
The loser
. “Right again.”
“Why did they call you for this?”
“Because I was ready to go. Vetted, mapped, tested. I'm sure you're happy there was someone they could call on.”
There was a long pause, Bannister and Kristian staring at each other. Bannister's mouth twisted. He looked anything but happy. “This could be you,” Bannister said, nodding toward the still form of his daughter.
“I suppose,” Kristian said. “That depends on what happened.”
“You're willing to go?”
“More than willing. Eager.”
Bannister searched Kristian's face, and Kristian gazed back at him. There was something in the older man's expression, something hidden, masked by the set of his mouth and the droop of his eyelids. It wasn't just that he was a worried father. There was something more—shame? Guilt? Kristian couldn't put his finger on it.
“Look,” Kristian said. “Send me back for—another hour, say. Then, when we know everything is all right with Frederica's arrival, I can go back for a longer period, try to figure out what happened, and why she doesn't come back.”
Elliott chewed on his lip, and Max began, “That's a lot of transfers. I'm not sure—”
Frederick Bannister said, in a voice that clearly was accustomed to being obeyed, “Do it, gentlemen. Do it now. With every minute that passes, the Foundation is getting closer to a very big lawsuit.”
“One hour, Kris,” Elliott said as he placed the cap on Kristian's head. “No longer.” Elliott's hands trembled slightly.
Kristian said, “Take it easy, Elliott. Everything's going to be fine, just like last time.”
“I don't like this rush. All it takes is for one set of coordinates to be off by a fraction—”
“They're not,” Max said, from the other side of the cot. He taped down the electrodes to Kristian's right wrist, and straightened. “You said it was simple. You substitute Kris's mapping for Frederica's, and adjust for five minutes earlier. There's no problem.”
“But the layering—”
“It's okay,” Kristian said. “I know the math, and I understand the physics, at least as well as a layman can. I won't come near her.”
“Most of the transfers don't understand the process.” Max spoke to Elliott above Kristian's head. “If we have to take a chance, Kris is the best subject we've had.”
Elliott said, “You said we're not taking a chance.”
Max shrugged, and grinned at Kristian. “You wouldn't cost me my job, would you?”
“Nope.” Kristian closed his eyes, and settled his shoulders into a comfortable position against the pillow. “Ready to go, guys.”
“See you in an hour.”
Kristian breathed in, filling his lungs with the faintly metallic air of the clinic, and closed his eyes. When he opened them, it seemed unfair that he couldn't taste the air of 1861. It must be sweeter, fresher, must be full of the scent of the roses that grew on every wall.
As before, he found himself just outside the low stone garden wall, a day earlier than his first visit. The French windows stood half-open, and the sun shone gaily on the tumbled roses and the longish grass. There was no cook in the garden today. Kristian was amused to see the weeds sprouting bravely among the basil and parsley and lettuce. Their time was short! Tomorrow the gray-haired woman in the printed apron would pull them out, toss them over the wall into the field.
He moved swiftly away from his vantage point, slipping behind the corner of the house to watch for Frederica to arrive. The view was different here, looking up into a dry meadow dotted with rocks. The road, impossibly narrow, rutted by carriage wheels, fell away to the right. Above him, the roof of Casa Agosto was steep and covered in glowing terra-cotta tiles, something he hadn't noticed before. The houses nearest it, Casa Luglio and Casa Settembre, boasted lush gardens. People moved behind their windows, and children played in the street below.
Reluctantly, he turned his gaze away from the scene and fixed his eyes on the spot where he had first arrived. He didn't have long to wait. It was precisely five minutes. Elliott had done just as he promised.
She wasn't there, and then she was. It was as simple as that.
It wasn't as if he could see her, actually.
would not be the right verb.
was better, but even that wasn't quite adequate. It recalled to him the strangest experience of his life, one he had never spoken of, one he was never completely sure had actually happened.
It had been the night of his mother's death. She was only forty-two, and Kristian was fourteen. Erika, eighteen and beginning to have health problems of her own, had stood dumbstruck in the living room of their apartment, stunned, as people came in and out. There had been the doctor, the ambulance, the sudden and shocking absence of their mother's body. A priest made a hasty call, though he barely knew the North family. Kristian stood beside Erika, trying manfully to speak for them both, but he felt as if he were walking through a nightmare, one of those dreams in which everything seems broken, in which legs don't move and words don't come. He tried, in an awkward teenage way, to comfort his sister, but when he put an arm around her shoulders Erika pulled back, staring at him as if she had never seen him before. He didn't blame her. It didn't feel natural to him, either.
Everyone left, the doctor, the neighbors, a man from the funeral home where their mother's body had been taken. The priest lingered, awkwardly, trying his best to offer words of comfort. When he, too, finally departed, Kristian and Erika had stared at each other across the kitchen table. He couldn't remember either of them saying a single word. Even then, it seemed to Kristian, Erika had felt the mantle of responsibility settle on her shoulders. She was white lipped and stiff—just as he felt himself.
Kristian gave up trying to compose himself. He escaped even from Erika. His control shattered the moment he closed his bedroom door. He threw himself onto his bed and gave in to a storm of weeping, something he hadn't done in years. He cried for a long time, muffling his sobs in his pillow until he was spent. He fell asleep like that, his face in his sodden pillow, his arms wrapped around it. He startled awake, sniffled, and wriggled up onto his elbows to turn the pillow to the dry side. He felt heavy with sleep, as if his tears had drugged him. He thought of getting up to brush his teeth, but the futility of that pressed him back down.
He curled on his side, hoping to escape again into the oblivion of sleep. Just as he laid his head on the pillow, he felt—
. He couldn't have named it. It wasn't physical, and yet it made the back of his neck prickle. He rolled onto his back, and sat up.
She was standing beside his window, looking down on the street. His mother had sometimes done that when she was thinking, or when some sound or light distracted her. He always noticed it, because at every other time it seemed she was in constant motion, cleaning something, fixing something, cooking, answering the phone. Now she stood still, his dead mother, gazing peacefully out into the night as if she hadn't anything else she needed to do. Her empty hands were clasped in front of her.
He said, in a choked whisper, “Mom?”
She turned her head, but lazily, as if there was no hurry now, nothing to worry about. Her face and form were perfectly distinct, but the light from the streetlamp shone through her, as if she were illuminated from within. She smiled at him, and one hand drifted toward her lips, then opened toward him.
She hadn't done that since he was a little boy, when she used to blow him kisses as the school bus bore him away.
He was young enough to wonder if it had all been a mistake. Had she gotten up, when they carried her to the funeral home? Had she climbed out of the casket, surprised everyone, gotten the funeral director to bring her home? All those people today, the doctor, the priest, the neighbors—they were all wrong! Everything was going to be fine, and she—
He cried, “Mom!”
Her smile grew, and she inclined her head to him. Then she was gone.
Just like that. She was there, and then she wasn't. There was no warning shimmer, no flicker or shift. She just ceased to be there. Fourteen-year-old Kristian, throat aching from his bout of weeping, stared dry-eyed at the empty space beside the window, willing her to return.
Kristian never saw his mother again after that night. But this experience—seeing Frederica Bannister appear in 1861—was more like seeing the ghost of his mother than anything that had happened to him since. It was as if his mind responded to a different set of stimuli than simply the visual ones. In a way, he
Frederica's presence, even to the prickle on the back of his neck. He took a deep breath of relief. Whatever else might have happened, Frederica Bannister had arrived safely in 1861.
She looked very much as she must have when she first lay down on the transfer cot. Her hair was pulled neatly back into a thin ponytail. She wore slacks and a loose blouse. She wore glasses, which he hadn't seen in the clinic or in her photograph. They had thick lenses and black plastic frames, the sort worn by people who couldn't use contacts or have laser surgery.
Her thin lips curved in a smile as she looked around at the Castagno of 1861 for the first time. Kristian was sure he had smiled in exactly that way.
She drifted through the garden gate, and began a circuit of the garden. Kristian followed at a cautious distance. His impression of her was more intense than if he could merely see her with his eyes. He
her. Her delight in the setting, in having arrived, was palpable. When she completed a circle of the house, and hovered outside the French windows, he recognized her delight in the pretty little salon, the antique fortepiano. She would know what that instrument was as well as he did, and take pleasure in it. He hung back, watching as she ducked behind the olive tree, remembering he had felt that same urge to hide when he had seen the cook come into the garden.
Brahms came down the stairs, and then Clara. Frederica moved forward, to peer past the fluttering curtains at the sight of the two of them, seated together on the green brocade bench of the fortepiano. The intensity of Frederica's feelings imparted itself to Kristian, so that his heart seemed to lurch, his breath to come faster. The cook arrived, and called out. Clara and Brahms rose, went together into the kitchen, and Frederica followed them.
Kristian went after her, but he was running out of time. He should have insisted on a longer transfer. Frederica had been in no hurry. They had given her eight hours to explore, to observe. If everything had gone well, no doubt they might have allowed her to transfer a second time. It was what he had expected and hoped for, when he thought the prize was to be his.
It had been a crushing blow, learning that someone else had been chosen for the transfer. Only his mother's death and Erika's diagnosis ranked higher on his list of life's worst moments. Neither the shattering breakup with Catherine nor the blowup in the dean's office at Juilliard had sent Kristian to his knees as had the phone call from Gregson. It was the event that had sparked the disasters to come. It felt to him as if his future vanished in a puff, destroyed by a few words that began with, “We're very sorry, Kris, but . . .” He would never forget the sensation of that moment, that feeling that the floor had dropped from beneath him, all at once.
There had been no warning, no intimation that there was anything amiss. The sudden heartache shocked him. It was followed by a rush of anger that held him in its grip for weeks, spilling over onto Catherine and, eventually, onto his work at Juilliard.
Poor Erika! While he had tried to hide his despair from her, she had tried everything she knew to comfort him, to offer alternatives, to create hope where there was none. She tried to persuade him to go to another school, U Mass or even Boston Conservatory, but he wouldn't do it. For her sake, he pretended he was over it, pretended he was happy to go back to Angel's, pleased to be back in Boston in their little apartment, sharing chores and expenses. He knew she watched him sometimes, worrying, wondering, but he grinned at her, made lighthearted comments, tried to act as if he were his old self. He didn't think he would ever be that insouciant young man again, but he could hardly indulge in self-pity. Erika's burdens were far heavier than his own.
He thrust that memory aside. He was here now, and he had to make the most of it. He followed Frederica into the kitchen of Casa Agosto, and was struck to the heart by the charm of the homely scene. He hovered in the tiny foyer, watching as Frederica moved around the table, peered over Brahms's shoulder, floated behind Clara as the two spoke to the cook, to each other, drank wine, ate what looked like marvelous ravioli and a salad of brilliant greens and radiant tomatoes.
When he felt the slight quiver, the shift, he knew his time had come to an end. Frederica was still in the kitchen observing Brahms and Clara at their leisurely lunch. She must have been as surprised as Kristian had been to discover Clara Schumann in Brahms's Italian summer retreat.
He felt the tiniest jolt, like being wakened from sleep by a touch, and he opened his eyes in the transfer clinic.
They were all there, the Bannisters standing behind Max and Elliott, Chiara on the other side of the cot. Elliott looked both strained and relieved. Max was nodding satisfaction. “We got it right, didn't we?”
Chiara said, “How do you feel?”
Frederick Bannister said, “Was she there?”
Disoriented, his mind still in Casa Agosto, Kristian said, “Yes! She's beautiful!”
They all looked at him strangely. Chiara put out her hand to take his wrist, and Mrs. Bannister said faintly, “What? What did he say?”
Max and Chiara exchanged a glance. “He's time-lagged,” Max said. “Let's give him a moment. It can be confusing, right after a reversal.”
He and Elliott bent to begin detaching wires and tubes. Kristian sat up as soon as he was free, and swung his legs over the edge of the cot. Chiara, wordlessly, handed him a glass of water, and when Frederick Bannister began to speak she threw up a commanding small hand. Kristian grinned at her, drained the glass, and gave it back. He stood up, and turned to the Bannisters.
“Your daughter arrived at just the time she was supposed to,” he said. “Five minutes after I did.”
“Then she's still there?” Bronwyn Bannister said.
BOOK: The Brahms Deception
3.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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