Following is the first chapter from my novel, Corrupting Dr. Nice, published by Tor Books in January of 1997. This work is copyrighted.

Hope you enjoy.
 
 


Corrupting Dr. Nice

a novel
by John Kessel

Chapter One: It's a Wonderful Life

As Sloan unlaced the bodice of Genevieve's peasant's dress all she could hear was his breathing, fast and light. It showed how thinly his gentleness lay over his lust, and it was all she could do to keep from running from the room.

"You'll have to excuse me," Sloane said. "I'm not used to these antiquated fastenings."

Genevieve pushed his hands aside and unlaced herself, slowly, turning it into a performance. Sloane tore at his own clothing, hopping up and down on one foot as he tugged at his breeches. Through the tiny latticed window to the courtyard came the smell of rotting vegetables and the voices of the concierge and his wife arguing in eighteenth-century French. Before Genevieve could shrug out of the sleeves of her dress Sloane had launched himself at her and they fell together onto the bed. He reeked of cologne and antibacterial soap. Gen forced a giggle and began to wonder how long she was going to have to keep this up.

At last the door burst open and in rushed August, wearing a dark blue frock coat over knee breeches, black buckled shoes, and a cocked hat with tricolor cockade. He flashed the sigil of Saltimbanque Corporation security. "Sloane," he said. "You're under arrest."

Sloane jerked back. Gen acted as if she had never seen such an apparition in all her life. "Who are you, sir?" she asked August. She let a quaver come to her voice.

"Never you mind, madame," said August. He approached the bed as if to soothe her, and she clutched her disarrayed clothes to her breast. Sloane cowered beneath the counterpane.

When August reached the bedside, in a single swift motion he pulled a stunner from his pocket, held it to Genevieve's head, and discharged it. The stunner was powerless, but Genevieve collapsed among the bedclothes as if she'd been knocked out. She listened.

"Okay, Sloane. Time to go."

Genevieve felt Sloane stir beside her. "Is she dead?" He sounded terrified.

"Unconscious. She'll be out for a half hour or so. Time enough for me to book you."

"I didn't plan this. It just happened. She came on to me in the restaurant..."

"I don't care if she tackled you around the ankles. This isn't an unburned universe. We plan to be here a while."

"What difference does it make?"

"We have to deal with these people. The Committee of Public Safety's idea of freedom wasn't to have us come in and sleep with their women. You know the rules."

An edge of calculation crept into Sloane's voice. "Give me a break. They've seen plenty of changes. One more will hardly be noticed. What would it cost to make this right?"

August made him wait. Genevieve wished she could open her eyes to watch. Her father was good. "Can't do it, friend. My movements are logged more tightly then yours, even. If I'm here preventing interference my bosses are going to want to know what happened to the interferer. To say nothing of keeping this girl quiet."

"This tramp? She's nobody. If she disappeared today it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Gen hoped August would make him pay extra for that. Forget the money--she hoped he'd rip Sloane's lungs out and leave him for dead. Instead August said, "How much cash do you have on you?"

"About seven hundred francs--"

"Not currency, idiot. Eurodollars." Genevieve had reported to August that Sloane typically carried access to more than a hundred thousand in electronic cash on him at all times. He'd sashayed into the 1790s Hyatt like he was going to buy the place, sporting a fashionable rotund physique of 2060s wealth, dropping hundred-dollar tips and expecting to find the Eiffel Tower.

"I can slip you fifty thousand right here," Sloane said.

August snorted. "Pull your pants up and let's get you booked."

"Eighty."

"When is your wife expecting you back at the hotel? Did you tell her you were running down to Notre Dame for a quart of milk?"

"A hundred. A hundred ten!"

Another silence. At last August said, "Let's have it then."

A rustle of clothes, the tap of code on a wallet keypad.

"All right. You do three things, Sloane. One, you wait here in this room while I dispose of the girl. You don't make a move until I come back. Two, when you get back to the hotel you go to your room and check out immediately, then head back uptime. Three, you keep your mouth shut, and you never try anything like this again."

August was so good when he was playing a cop. Just the right mix of arrogance and corruption.

"Believe me, I will," said Sloane. "You won't regret giving me a break."

"I won't regret it because I'm never going to see you again. Right?"

"Right, right."

Genevieve felt August lean over the bed and pick her up. He grunted. He was getting a little old to lug her around. He carried her out the door, kicked it closed. She opened her eyes and mimed a kiss at him. He scowled. At the head of the stairs he gave up and set her down, winded. "You're no slip of a girl anymore," he said.

They snuck down the back stairs, avoiding the concierge, and out of the Hotel des Balcons. The 1793 Paris lane reeked of piss, horse manure and fresh-baked bread from the patisserie on the corner. Outside the shop a couple of Swiss hussars in brilliant blue dress uniforms loitered talking to a girl in a mob-cap. A beggar wearing a tricolor on his filthy hat and a silkscreened T-shirt of Humphrey Bogart clutched after Genevieve's skirts as they passed. "Alms, citizen?"

To the beggar's astonishment, August gave him his frock coat and hat. "Liberte, egalite, fraternite!" August said. Gen pulled him away down the street.

She was still upset. "What kept you so long!"

"Nothing kept me. You know as well as I the game works better when the mark's nervous. I don't want him clearheaded. I want him too surprised to see straight."

"And how long did you expect me to keep him off me?"

He patted her arm. "Don't pretend you can't take care of yourself."

She supposed it was the truth, but it was not what she wanted to hear. "I'm tired of being the badger," she told him. "Next time you do it."

"You find the mark, my dear, and I'll badger her to death."

"We need to get out of this stinking century. Let's do ancient Rome again. We'll sell pieces of the true cross. We'll offer army blankets as the Robe."

"Anything you like," he replied. He stopped, looked directly at her. He had let himself age in recent years; his hair was gray and his brow lined. "You know I wouldn't let anyone hurt you, Genevieve. The man who tries it is history."

Genevieve leaned on his arm, overwhelmed with sudden sadness. It was her day for being emotional, she guessed. "History," she said. History was their business.

A portable plastic sign on solid, rubber tires in front of the Odeon Theater proclaimed, Cette Nuit, Vivant--Edith Piaf! The historicals were all a rage for the twentieth century chanteuse, and for her part, she seemed to like the past better than the future. She was carrying on a famous affair with Danton, who thanks to Saltimbanque had managed not to get himself executed this time, negotiating himself into a position of de facto rule over the city. Though conspirators in coffee shops swore he was in the pocket of the multinationals.

August and Gen ducked down a blind alley across from the theater. A cat, crouching over a mangled rat, watched them warily. At the back of the alley August retrieved his twenty-first century dress coat. Gen discarded the peasant's dress and threw on her yellow frock and her wristward. They hurried past the Luxembourg Gardens to Montparnasse. As they approached the wall surrounding the time traveler's quarter, historicals in the street crowded around. "Have pity on my poverty!" a young woman holding a baby to her breast cried. "Chocolate bars, bacteriophage, TV!" a boy shouted. This time August tossed them a handful of coins and they pressed on through the crowd of hangers-on around the Notre Dame des Champs security gate. Saltimbanque security in blue, carrying rifles, manned the checkpoint.

"ID, s'il vous plait," the guard said.

August and Gen ran their wristwards over the reader, which identified them as Mr. and Mrs. Knox Cramer of Hong Kong. The guard passed them through and they headed down the boulevard to the Hyatt Regency, towering over the eighteenth century French buildings like some glittering glass tumor.

No one in the lobby paid them any attention; for all they knew August and Gen were just some tourists back from the catacombs. They stopped in their room only long enough to pick up their bags, already packed.

"Did you have a pleasant stay?" the desk clerk asked August.

"Most profitable," August replied, paying with Sloane's cash. "There are things to do here we could never find back home."

"Well, you must visit one of our other temporal resorts. We've just settled a new universe at twelfth-century Angkor Wat. You should check it out."

"I'm certain we will."

After checking out they headed for the time stage in the hotel's basement, where they purchased tickets, in three jumps, for ancient Athens. The steward took their bags and directed them to the departure lounge. They sat and watched through the window to the chamber. The hotel's Gödel stage was of moderate size, five meters across, surrounded by a field delimeter of stainless steel that looked like a guard rail. In the dim air above the stage hung the subtly warped geometries of the singularity emulator, and off to the side, behind their controls, were the technicians. The lights in the chamber were kept low, though the moments of shot and arrival were accompanied by flares of radiation that their window compensated for. A dark couple with their child--Amerinds, perhaps?--were being helped onto the stage. The woman looked nervous, but the kid was babbling excitedly.

The stage was not busy at that hour, and Gen and August had only to wait twenty minutes. Still, Gen got nervous thinking about Sloane. The secret to this business was giving the mark what he wanted. They'd given Sloane what he wanted: escape from a scandal. But suppose he chafed at August's orders? Suppose, after he'd calmed down, he figured out he'd been scammed? If he'd hurried, he could already be back at the hotel. He wouldn't want to alert his wife to his playing around, but on the other hand, he was a wealthy man, accustomed to getting his way. He probably did not let his social inferiors get the better of him in a deal, and if he ever did figure out what they'd pulled, he'd be a dangerous man.

Gen could still smell a whiff of his cologne on her skin. If they'd had the time, she would have taken a shower. But they didn't. This was the cost of their line of work, and as the window blanked and the Indians disappeared she began to wonder if it was worth it. On the other hand, there was a satisfacton to getting the best of a character like Sloane. She imagined him sitting on four directorships, and three committees of public morals, accompanying his virgin daughters to their debuts and cutting anyone whose income was less than his. You could pretty much count on the New Victorians to be the most ready to take advantage of a situation--which made it easy to take advantage of them.

The steward finished locking their baggage down and escorted them into the chamber, through the barrier to the stage. They stood at the center of the pastel bull's-eye. "Have a safe and pleasant trip," the steward said. August handed him a fifty-dollar coin and the man retreated beyond the rail.

At the control panel, the shaven-headed technician played with his keyboard, then looked up at them, smiled and raised his hand to wave. Before he had completed the gesture he and the panel and the walls of the room receded with astonishing speeds in all directions. Gen and August fell into a dark space. Then the walls of a similar chamber rushed forward to surround them, and they came to rest on a stage eight hundred years further into the past.

On the wall across from them, beyond the delimeter, "1,000 C.E." was set in an elaborate Byzantine mosaic. The technician at this panel, a woman, was blonde and blue-eyed. Without stopping they made their second jump, to first-century Jerusalem.

Time to throw off any pursuit. Before the technician could set up the third jump to 400 B.C.E. Athens, August spoke up.

"Excuse me," he said, touching a hand to his head, "but I'm feeling a little indisposed--that last translation was difficult. Might we stop here for a while?"

"Certainly, sir," the tech's voice came back. A steward came from behind the rail to help them off the stage. He gave Genevieve the eye, and she smiled back at him.

"There are vacancies in the hotel?" August asked. The control technician was watching them.

"Yes, sir."

"What do you say we stop over for a bit, daughter? Athens will still be there when we choose to go, won't it young man?"

"Sure. Always was, always will." As the steward started them toward the lounge one of the men at the control board frowned. "Jim, take a look at this." They huddled over the controls.

The room was getting dark. Behind them the Gödel stage hummed. Genevieve turned and watched as, within the delimeter, from a knot of darkness, a man expanded into shape. But instead of arriving stationary, when he reached full size he surged forward off the stage, frantically trying to keep his balance. Flailing his arms like a windmill he fell toward her, his face contorted into a mask of dismay. A metal case he'd carried tumbled forward as if it had been tossed from a moving train. The case bounced and skidded across the tiles. Genevieve danced out of the way and the man flipped over the railing, did a neat tuck-and-roll, and ended up crouched on his haunches, fingers touching the floor, nose inches from her legs.

Slender, about thirty years old, he wore a dark green jumpsuit and hideous purple boots. His light brown hair was too long. A label on the front of his case repeated over and over, in red: CAUTION! CONTENTS--LIVE ANIMAL.

One of the transit technicians rushed to help. "Something's wrong with the momentum compensator," his partner behind the board said.

"You made me let go of the case!" the traveler gasped. "Wilma!"

Genevieve righted the carrier. The animal inside thumped against its sides. "The name is Genevieve."

The man looked up toward her in dismay. "Excuse me." After a moment he muttered, "Will you please be quiet? I'm not an idiot."

She couldn't decide whether he was homely or cute, in an ungainly way. She helped him to his feet. "I don't doubt it," she said. "But we have to stop meeting this way."


Corrupting Dr. Nice is © 1997 by John Kessel