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Angus McKeefe grinned. It had been one smooth heist. Jimmy Peters, who sat beside him in the hijacked Brinks truck, whistled merrily. McKeefe steered the truck into an alley between some warehouses.
"Almost home free," he said.
"Man, I ain't never been rich before," said Jimmy. He shrugged his skinny shoulders. "I dunno what I'm gonna do."
"Buy yourself an island in the Caribbean. That way I can come visit you in my new yacht."
Jimmy giggled and slapped McKeefe on the shoulder.
They pulled up behind a ramshackle warehouse and McKeefe let Jimmy out by a corrugated metal door. Jimmy opened it, and directed McKeefe as he backed the truck in. After the door clanged shut, McKeefe tapped the horn, a signal to the two men in the back of the truck that it was safe to come out. Another truck, with the logo "Golden-Bake Bread" on its side, was parked nearby.
The four of them gathered behind the truck, gazing at the gleaming cargo stacked neatly inside.
"Oh, you ever seen anything so pretty?"
"Man oh man, it's gorgeous. I think I'm going to keep me a bar."
"No way. You know it's all gotta be melted down so it can't be traced."
"Let's get it into the bread truck and get out of here."
"You sure it'll hold the weight? That's a lotta gold."
"It should. We paid Wiley's auto-shop buddies enough to reinforce the frame, suspension and--"
A marble-sized silver sphere arced through the air and struck the concrete floor at their feet. There was a flash of light and a pop like that of a flashcube. They found themselves enveloped in a thin, bitter-smelling vapor. As McKeefe reached for his holstered .38, he fell to his knees, and then collapsed to the floor.
"Oh, you're awake."
McKeefe looked up to see a tall man with a prominent nose and jutting chin. He wore black coveralls with no buttons, pockets or zippers. A cord hung around his neck and from it dangled a transparent tube containing more of the silver spheres. He smiled. That's a bad sign, McKeefe thought. The stranger spoke again. "Are you Angus McKeefe?"
McKeefe thought of his grandpappy. He had been one worthless sonofabitch, but he'd taught McKeefe one useful thing: always answer a question with a question. Helps you get the upper hand. "Who are you?"
The tall man chuckled. "I'm sorry. My name is Willim Benlee Solomon. Am I correct in assuming you're Angus McKeefe?"
McKeefe looked beyond Solomon and saw four others dressed in the same featureless coveralls moving toward the armored truck -- toward the bars of gold bullion stacked in it. "Are you a cop?"
"No more so than you and your men are Brinks guards."
"Shit," hissed McKeefe. The one thing worse than having the cops screw up the heist was to have other criminals screw it up.
"Are you McKeefe?"
"How do you know my name?"
"Well, I know all your names, although it's difficult to match names with faces. There's Angus McKeefe, Wiley Adams, James Peters and Jesus Hinojosa. Mr. Hinojosa is the Spanic fellow there, I'd guess." He pointed toward Jesus.
McKeefe noted that his men still hadn't come to. As if anticipating his concern, Solomon said, "They'll be fine. Sleepmist affects some more strongly than others."
"How did you find out about our plan?"
Solomon chuckled again. "You won't believe me."
McKeefe was getting fed up. Bad enough that they'd been jumped by these assholes, he thought, but the jerks had to gloat, too. Well, as long as Solomon kept volunteering information, it might pay to keep him talking. He bit his lip and said, "Try me."
Solomon gestured toward his companions. "My associates and I are from the future. From the year 2068, to be exact."
"Oh, bullshit!" McKeefe spat.
The tall man laughed. "I knew you wouldn't believe me."
Wiley Adams, who lay sprawled next to McKeefe, struggled against the papery strips binding him and said, "What the hell's going on?"
McKeefe nodded toward Solomon. "We're being ripped off."
"Ripped off? These guys aren't cops?"
McKeefe shook his head. Wiley's normally wolfish features went pale and he struggled madly against the bonds. "Mac, they're gonna kill us!" His voice was high and tinged with panic. "They ain't gonna want no witnesses! We're dead!"
"Shut the fuck up, Wiley," McKeefe commanded. Wiley flopped like a dying fish on the concrete floor, screaming as he tried to free himself. Solomon touched the tube which hung around his neck and a silver sphere dropped into his hand. He bent near the screaming man and pinched the sphere. It emitted a small puff of vapor which enveloped Wiley's head. His eyes rolled up in their sockets and he stopped struggling.
McKeefe shook his head. "God damn."
"He's only asleep, Mr. McKeefe."
"Are you planning to kill us?" McKeefe asked.
Solomon replaced the sphere in its tube. "Of course not. I can assure you that you and your men will survive. We're just here to 'rip off,' as you put it. We'll take the gold and then return to our own time. No killing is necessary."
McKeefe hoped Solomon wasn't lying. Grandpappy had also said never trust crazy people.
"I can tell by your expression, Mr. McKeefe, that this is all a little hard to comprehend. You can rest assured that, in spite of our taking your gold, you will profit from today's events."
"It's a rather involved story. I'll tell you in just a moment."
Solomon called out to his henchmen, who loitered over by the trucks.
They walked up, and McKeefe studied them as Solomon issued orders in a low voice. The group consisted of a tall, dark-eyed woman, a thin, balding black man, an oriental who wore a tool belt of some kind around his waist, and an elderly white man wearing a green plastic headband with a small wire antenna over his right ear. They listened attentively while Solomon spoke, and then they laughed as though he had told them some sort of joke. Then the man with the headband turned and went back to the truck. The other three disappeared behind some nearby crates and reappeared pushing a large object which sat on metal rollers.
It was an oblate platform, roughly fifteen feet long and seven feet wide, constructed of a bluish metal, which glinted in the dim light from the fixtures above. Rising up from either end of the platform were two gleaming glass cylinders which contained a network of gold wires as fine as strands of hair. Electricity, or something like it, sparked and flashed at intervals across the gaps between wires. Each cylinder was capped with a small box constructed of the same metal as the platform, and both boxes had what looked like a security keypad set into them. It was like nothing McKeefe had ever seen.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" said Solomon as his cohorts rolled it past.
"What is it?" asked McKeefe. His anger and frustration had been washed away in a flood of curiosity.
"Seventy-eight years from now, the world's first bipolar Time Distortion Field Generator -- we call it a TeeDee -- will be built. In short, the first fully functional time machine!"
McKeefe nodded silently. He felt that this was getting a bit elaborate for some kind of gag or trick, and opted to listen.
Solomon went on. "Like you, I'm a criminal. In your future, and my present, law enforcement has improved, but not to the point that intelligent, careful criminals cannot become quite wealthy. So my friends and I, being intelligent and careful types, became wealthy."
"If you're rich, why are you taking our gold?"
"For the sheer thrill and prestige of it. This is a historic event. The first use of the TeeDee to commit a crime!"
"You said we'd profit from this. Are you going to leave us a share of the gold?"
"I'm afraid not. Actually, I said you would profit from today's events. I can't say how your companions will fare. I'd like to show you something." Solomon reached behind his back, and from a hidden pouch in his coveralls brought out a tattered paperback book sealed in a transparent plastic sleeve. He leaned down and handed it to McKeefe.
Handling it awkwardly because of his bonds, McKeefe examined it. The title was Time Heist. The cover art was a crude painting of Solomon and the platform. He gasped when he saw the author's name on the cover.
McKeefe shook his head in disbelief. "I'm no writer."
"You'll learn while you're in prison for hijacking the Brinks truck."
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Sorry. You'll be better for it, though."
Solomon suddenly chuckled.
McKeefe looked up from the book. "What's funny?"
"So many historical things happening today," the tall man said. "And the ironies! Don't you realize it? You're the first author in history to see a copy of your book in print before you've even written it!"
McKeefe shook his head. He felt confused. Solomon reached down and plucked the book from him. "I found your book quite by chance. I happened to be browsing through an old bookstore, and I was shocked to see that this paperback had my likeness on the cover. After skimming a few pages, I nearly fainted. Imagine it! A book about time travelers who commit the perfect robbery. We planned and executed the theft of the prototype TeeDee, as your book had predicted, and we prepared for the cross-time robbery.
"One worry occurred to us. There are dangers to time travel. There is a phenomenon called the 'grandfather paradox,' in which altering the events of the past alters the events of the future. If you travel into the past and kill your grandfather before he conceives your father, you cannot come to exist. But if you never existed, how could you kill your grandfather?"
Solomon chuckled. "Yes, it's confusing. The binding glue of your book had loosened by the time I found it, and several pages were missing throughout the text, especially near the end. Our concern was that, not knowing the whole story, we might accidentally violate the paradox. But my associate Chiang pointed out that since the book had been published, we had, in effect, already robbed you in the past, and since our present was sound as far as we could tell, we hadn't violated the paradox. We had only to come here and proceed as we saw fit, taking care not to harm anyone.
"Just to be certain, I looked up newspaper articles from the year mentioned in your book, and they confirmed the robbery, and how the gold disappeared without a trace. The articles scoffed at your stories of time travelers, but you knew better, Mr. McKeefe. You published the true account after getting out of prison. And, sixty years later, I found your book."
McKeefe's mind was still staggering. "Is it a good book?"
"I found the writing capable enough, and even though some parts were missing from this copy, the story was exhilarating! After reading it, I felt like I'd traveled in time before I ever set foot on the TeeDee. I was reading about my own future in a book which had been written more than thirty years before I was born!
"Needless to say, my companions and I located this warehouse, which will still be standing in 2068. We moved the TeeDee here and programmed it to transport us to your time. We arrived here while you were out hijacking the Brinks truck. The rest, if I may hazard a pun, is history."
Willim Benlee Solomon laughed loudly. McKeefe glanced over to the trucks, where the others busily stacked gold bars onto the platform. There goes my yacht, McKeefe thought gloomily. Then he noticed an almost imperceptible shimmering in the shadows near the Brinks truck. A cluster of shadows resolved, and McKeefe strained to see what they were.
The shadows condensed into figures astride a low platform. Solomon wheeled, saw the intruders, and shouted, "Weapons!"
Before Solomon's cohorts could react, two of the figures held up slim glowing rods. McKeefe felt a prickling sensation and his muscles went rigid. He could still breathe and look straight ahead, but that was the limit. Solomon stood frozen with one arm upraised. His companions were likewise immobile.
A tall man stepped off of the platform and strode up to Solomon. He wore a close-fitting garment of what looked like spun silver, and strange tools or objects hung from the sash about his waist. From his features, McKeefe guessed who he might be, but the stranger spoke and removed any doubt.
"Permit me to introduce myself," he said, smiling. "I am Willim Benlee Solomon III."
Copyright 1996 by Dan Perez. All rights reserved.