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A Question of Time

Chapter One
If she had ever hated anyone, it was that man.

book cover       A dead man was walking down Canal Street.
     He scurried along the sidewalk like a beetle seeking the shelter of a rock, shoulders hunched against the cold wind, hands stuffed in the pockets of a black overcoat falling to his boot tops. The brim of his top hat was pulled down over his forehead.
     Caroline Llewellen was not a person who declared something impossible. She had had experience with the impossible, and so she decided, impossible or not, Rasmussen must not be as dead as she had presumed. Obviously, she had been wrong, because here he was in Washington, DC.
     He had somehow returned from the dead or from the dark tunnel where Nathan had sent him in eighteen ninety-five, three years earlier. She had imagined him tumbling there endlessly and had to admit that the thought had never caused her the slightest distress.
     What distressed her now was his apparent return.
     "Jim! Stop!" she said urgently, leaning forward.
     "Ma'am?" The chauffeur slowed, but was unable to halt the steam carriage as quickly as his mistress demanded.
     "That man!" She shrank back as the object of her concern looked up and directly at her, as if he had heard her voice. She knew he couldn't have over the chugging of the engine, and even if he had he would not recognize her with her lower face swathed in a woolen scarf and her wide hat brim obscuring her eyes.
     "No, never mind. Go on, Jim," she said, hating the quaver in her voice. She was shaking and her limbs felt weak, as if the mere proximity to sheer evil had affected her physically as well as mentally.
     Jim nodded, blinked his faded blue eyes, and sped on. A wiry man in his mid-sixties, he knew better than to question his mistress.
     She gazed at the gaily wrapped packages on the seat next to her, all joy gone. She knew she had to tell Nathan and felt an icy cold in her veins that had nothing to do with the weather. They had seldom spoken of the day Rasmussen had trapped them in an old warehouse with the intent of murdering them and then burning the building down to hide the evidence of his crime. Nathan had, with her help, broken free of his bonds and pushed the man through the gate into the dark tunnel that led to another reality.
     She had never quite understood how it worked, although Nathan had tried to explain it was something that had first appeared to him as a child. He did not know why or how it appeared, only that it came when he needed it most.
     Their hope was that Rasmussen had stayed in the tunnel, or, at worst, had landed in an alternate world where escape was impossible.
     Yet here he was.
     She clutched her hands in her fox-fur muff and wriggled her feet in fur-lined leather boots, grateful for the warmth provided by the coals that fueled the steam engine propelling the vehicle. Still, her nose was cold and she knew it must be as red as an apple. Winter in the District of Columbia was different from winter in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she had grown up. Here, the icy dampness crept into your bones and stayed there. As they sped along the city streets, the late afternoon dusk giving way to the new electric lights at every street corner, she anticipated sitting before a cozy fire, sipping a cup of hot tea, and discussing the day's affairs with Nathan. Only now, instead of a cozy chat, she would have to tell him about Rasmussen. No matter how she phrased it, the knowledge would still be a shock.
     She was brought back to her own particular reality when Jim pulled up in front of an imposing brick house and halted the steam carriage. He hopped out and opened the door for Caroline, touching his cap in respect as she climbed down. "Shall I take your packages in, ma'am? Then I'll fetch Mister Llewellen from his office."      "Yes. Thank you. I mean, yes to the packages, no to fetching Mister Llewellen. He told me he would take a cab home since he didn't know how long he'd be."
     Jim nodded and followed her inside. Mrs. Porter, a tall woman with a long, narrow face and keen brown eyes, took her cloak and bonnet. Then the housekeeper bustled off on some errand of her own.
     Caroline turned from the wide entry hall into the parlor. Jim followed with his arms laden with her purchases. She motioned for him to put them on a table. After he left, she stared at the boxes and bags. The trip to the bookstore in downtown Washington had allowed her to cross several names off her Christmas list. A recent shipment from England resulted in a book on the history of mathematics for her stepmother, Matilda Featherstone, and an illustrated volume on the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci for her father that should delight Dr. Featherstone's scientific bent. For Nathan she had selected the latest in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's mysteries featuring the sleuth Sherlock Holmes. And last, but not least, was a picture book for Sophie.
     She hoped Sophie would look at the pictures and not eat the pages as she had done with her last book.
     She sat and stared unseeing as the dusk closed in, her thoughts tumbling through her brain. There was not a doubt among them. I know it was him. Unconsciously, her fists clenched. If she had ever hated anyone, it was that man.