Notes: Thank you all so much for your interest! I wasn't expecting this story to get so much attention, so I'm thrilled. The story I promised that this one was leading into will be started soon. As of right now, I'm unsure whether it will be a full-blown crossover with Perry Mason or not, but if it is, I'll need to put it in the Crossover section. Please either check there for it or put me on Author Alert, so you'll know when it goes up. Thank you again! I've had a blast writing this.
Los Angeles, California, late autumn 2012
He came to the 14th hole and stopped, gazing across what he could see of the rest of the property. The golf course sprawled out around him, big and beautiful and mostly dark at this time of night.
He was alive. He was free. And now, after long months of treatment in a sanitarium to restore his mind, he had that mostly back, as well.
But Ray Norman was a changed man. He had meant what he had said in his anguish about desiring to repent. Blackmail and other crimes held no interest for him now. He was sickened by the very thought of any of them.
Had God been watching out for him after all, as Captain McVey had said upon rescuing him? He was unsure. He realized now that the visions and conversations he had thought he was having with the Divine Creator had been engineered by Dr. Portman—who was locked away in an institution for the criminally insane without much hope of ever getting out. But he had been trapped for over two years. Why wouldn't God have tried to help him escape sooner than that, when he had pleaded and begged for so long?
"Perhaps He helped sustain and support you until the right time for you to escape," a nun visiting the sanitarium had suggested once. "The doctors have all agreed that it's a miracle of some description that you kept hold of enough sanity to be helped now."
Well, maybe so. He remembered thinking that he had to keep hold of his name, if nothing else. To him, his name was proof of overall identity, proof that he had retained some of himself.
"Why wouldn't it have been the right time before?" Ray had muttered.
"Maybe . . ." The nun had regarded him thoughtfully. "You said that you have been more compassionate since this happened to you. Maybe this was the only way for you to gain such compassion, and you will need it in the remainder of your life."
Ray did not like the thought that such a horror might have been the only way to make him turn his life around. But in any case, it was true that he was more compassionate and kind than he ever remembered being.
Oh yes, and then there were the charges against him for his formerly blackmailing ways. The judge had not been quite sure how to handle the problem at all. It was not every day that a once-dead man was to be brought into court. And the torture Portman had piled upon him had to be considered too. The judge had consulted at length with Ray's doctors at the sanitarium before arriving at what he felt was the most humane decision.
The doctors felt there was no way Ray could be locked behind bars without losing his still very fragile mind. He could not so much as go past the cages in a zoo without it triggering a panic attack. And after two years of being made to fully believe that he was in Hell itself, wasn't that surely enough to pay for the wrongs he had done?
The judge was satisfied of that. He had placed Ray on probation, just for several months. It would not be long and those would be up. Meanwhile, with the doctors feeling he was well enough to be released from the sanitarium, he had set about getting his affairs in order.
Including the reclamation of the Oak Bridge Golf Club. It had been his legitimate business during the last years of his life, but it had stood abandoned since his death. With some money he had stored in hidden bank accounts he had taken control of it again, fixing it into the decent place it had once been.
He had added extra security guards when he hired a new team. And he was seeing to the installation of more floodlights and alarms. One thing that the doctors had not been able to fully erase was his paranoia that Dr. Portman would escape and come after him again. They had told him that if the added measures made him feel safer, he should go ahead, even though it was unnecessary and Portman would never get out.
How could they know? Ray still argued in his mind. How could anyone know what a madwoman like that would or could do? They had only vicariously encountered what she was capable of through Ray's tales of his imprisonment. They could never know what it felt like to be tortured, to have the very life sucked from their veins, unless they experienced it firsthand. And Ray would not wish that on anyone.
Who really could know what it felt like? There was fellow prisoner Captain Caldwell, but he was working at Vandenberg Air Force Base now, trying to put his own shattered life back together. And there were likely other victims of Portman's elsewhere in the country. But right here, in Los Angeles, there was no one.
It was a lonely feeling. Ray could not help wishing that he could find someone, anyone, who would understand what it was like.
He was still alone, really, just as he had been before his death. The acquaintances he had known tried to be kind, but they felt uncomfortable around him. And Ray did not want to push it. He felt uncomfortable around them now, too.
Reporters were always after him for one reason or another. He was big news in Los Angeles, the dead man who had survived two years of torture at Dr. Portman's hands. He had to throw nosy and unkind employees of the fourth estate off his property most days. They did not really care about him, after all, just their stories. And he was not keen on helping them get any from him.
The sound of something moving over the grass brought him sharply to attention. "Who's there?" he snapped. No one should be at this part of the property at this time of night. He drew his flashlight, beaming it towards the noise.
A man threw up his arms, trying to shield his face from the bright glow. His sleeves were torn, revealing various cuts, bruises, and . . . was that a burn from an iron?! Ray's jaw dropped.
The man lowered his arms, limping in desperation towards Ray. "Help me," he begged. Losing his balance, he tumbled at Ray and grabbed him, shuddering with pain.
Ray took hold of him, fearful of damaging some of the wounds. "Of course I'll help you," he exclaimed. "I'll get you back to the office and call an ambulance. . . ."
The other's eyes fluttered as he battled to keep them open and focused. "No ambulance," he retorted. "No hospital. Please . . . just help me. My name's Rodman. Coley Rodman. I . . ." He sank farther against Ray, his consciousness almost lost. "I'll pay you. This thing alone is worth a lot here. It'd pay you several times over."
Ray supported Coley as best as he could. This stranger was dressed rather oddly for this time and place. He could have come from a cosplay convention or be part of the steampunk sub-culture. Well, of course, those were the only logical explanation for his wardrobe.
But the coin he was holding out looked unlike anything Ray had ever before seen. It wasn't mint, per se, but as though it had seen everyday wear and use. And it was dated 1874.
"What did you do, rob a coin store?" Ray exclaimed as he tried to walk his new charge to the nearby golf cart.
Coley managed a weak smirk. "No. I robbed a lot of things in my time, but never that."
"In your . . . time?" Ray blinked, situating Coley in the passenger side of the vehicle. He got in the driver's side and started it up. The man was delirious. His eyes were glazed and his speech slurred. And yet he sounded completely sure of what he was talking about.
"I was a pretty notorious character in 1874," Coley said with the same, shaking smirk. "I don't know what's happened back there now, though. They probably all think I'm dead. Unless they came here too."
"West and Gordon. Secret Service agents. And that crazy female doc and her assistant." He closed his eyes wearily. "But not Lucrece Posey's gang. I know they're here. And they know I'm alive. I was being tortured by Little Pinto."
Ray was chilled. "Tortured," he repeated in horror.
Had a lunatic been sent to his doorstep? He certainly spoke like he was out of his mind. Anyone else would immediately call for the little men in the white jackets.
So why was it that Ray was fancying the idea of caring for this fellow himself, if the wounds were not too serious for him to be able to treat?
Did he not want this man to be put away for insanity, as he surely would be if he got into any hospital and they heard him talking?
Did Ray just want a companion who understood pain and suffering, even if he wasn't all there in the head?
Did Ray possibly believe, even just a little, that Coley Rodman was telling him the truth?
Right now he was not that interested in self-analysis. He just wanted to get Rodman back to the office, where he could see the full extent of the damage. Whatever else Rodman said, the torture was clearly legitimate.
And Ray would not let anyone suffer at the hands of a true lunatic, ever again.
"It's going to be alright," he promised. "I'll take care of you. I'll nurse you back to health. You'll see."
Coley managed a tired nod. "Thanks." He sank out of consciousness, slumping back against the seat.
Ray glanced at him while driving. He looked so weak and pale and helpless.
And the gun in his holster looked like an old piece too, from what little Ray knew of guns.
After he cleaned and bound Rodman's wounds, he was going to get on the Internet and look up the name, as well as those other names Rodman had thrown at him. The results wouldn't necessarily mean Rodman was telling the truth, even if they checked out.
But then again, they wouldn't necessarily mean he wasn't telling the truth, either.
Jim and Arte tumbled out of the light and to the ground. They lay still for a moment, stunned and surprised. Recovering first, Arte pushed himself up. "Jim?" he exclaimed. "Jim, are you alright?"
"Yeah," Jim mumbled. He brought a hand to the back of his head as he tried to push himself into a sitting position. "What happened?"
Arte shook his head. "I haven't the faintest idea. I thought we were all going to be vaporized for a minute there."
He looked around. It was nighttime and they were on a grassy curb at the edge of what seemed to be a park. A strange sort of a lamppost was nearby, shining a bright beam of orange light on them. Nearby, buildings taller than any that either of them had seen stood against the sky, lights twinkling in some of the countless windows.
"Holy . . ." Arte gaped at the scene. "Jim, I don't think we're in Nevada anymore."
A strange metal vehicle swept past on the road in front of them, leaving a breeze of cool air that blew their hair about.
Jim stared after it. "What was that?!"
Arte watched it, and others that came after it, in awe. "They look a little like the transportation devices I've wanted to invent for some time," he breathed. "A little more streamlined, but still."
"What?" Jim paid close attention to the next one. "You're right, Arte. They kind of do. But what does that mean?"
Arte leaned back. "Jim . . . there were all kinds of electrical forces at work in Faustina's lab. What if she overloaded everything so much with that last experiment that she tore a hole in the fabric of time and space?"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Arte, are you trying to say that . . ."
"Yes!" Arte gave a firm nod. "Instead of being vaporized, we were all sent to what must be the future of the United States." Hope glistened in his eyes. "And maybe, just maybe, that means that Coley isn't dead. Maybe he's here too."
"That's logical reasoning, I suppose," Jim agreed. "And Miss Posey's gang is probably here as well. Maybe even Dr. Faustina and Miklos."
Arte cringed. "We'll have our work cut out for us," he said.
"You're not afraid of a little hard work, are you?" Jim quipped with a smirk.
Arte's heart twisted. He had missed bantering with Jim, so much. "Oh, it was horrible when I thought you were dead," he choked out.
It was unusual for him to speak about his deepest, most painful feelings like this. Usually, both he and Jim felt they did not need to say much, if anything. They often conveyed their friendship through what was not said.
But this time Arte had not been able to hold back. And Jim fully understood.
"I know," he said seriously. "I'm sorry, Arte. I would have come sooner if I'd been able to get away."
"Of course you would have," Arte nodded.
He gave a weary sigh, running a hand through his hair. "I think that, if Rodman hadn't been there and I hadn't had him to talk to, not to mention needing to concentrate on making sure he didn't get away when I thought he was going to, I would have gone out of my mind. And then I probably would have ended up dead."
Jim stared. "Arte, do you mean that Rodman saved your life?"
"Yes, he did," Arte nodded. "And he told me a lot of things about the Dr. Kirby case that neither of us knew. Oh, I didn't know whether to believe him or not, but in the end I think he was telling the truth.
"He was loyal all the way along, Jim. And I don't think he did everything he did just to try to get the best record possible when I made my report. He still had good in him." Arte clenched a fist. "He didn't know you wouldn't have died if that beam hit you. None of us did. And he protected you anyway, in spite of the risk to his life. If he's still alive, here in wherever and whenever this is, I'm going to find him and make sure he's alright."
Jim laid a hand on Arte's shoulder. "We'll find him, Arte," he promised. "And round up Miss Posey's gang, too. Then we'll just have to figure out how to get back home."
"If we even can," Arte said quietly, gazing into the stars.
Jim was right—it would take a lot of work. But they were up to the challenge. And right now, they had the most important thing in any time or place going for them.
They were taking it on together.