Back | Next


The building next to City Hall had once been a very small movie theater and had a stage in the back. City Hall itself was even smaller. “I wonder if the city will get the post office once the new post office gets built?”

“If you’d read the newspaper, you’d have a better idea what’s going on in town, Jack.”

“I’ve got you to read the newspaper and tell me.” Jack Naile drifted the Suburban into the left lane, still paralleling the railroad tracks as they passed the brand-new public-safety complex. He took a U-turn over the tracks at the next crossover, getting over into the right-hand lane. “God help us if that guy wins the presidency, Ellen.” He turned right into the diagonal. They were passing the Methodist church when he added, “I mean, I try and give people the benefit of the doubt, and he’s a convincing speaker. Sometimes I’ve gotta remind myself not to believe a single word he says. And I don’t buy this moderate Democrat crap. Thinking of him with the same title as Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt—ugh!”

There’s nothing you can do but vote for George Bush and hope the rest of the country has the good sense to do the same and reelect him, Jack, so wait until the election before losing your temper. Don’t forget to turn at the post office.”

Jack Naile made a left and turned onto the one-block long one-way street, the red-brick and gray stone post office at its corner. He parked the Suburban diagonally while Ellen took her keys from the cup holder at the front of the center console. “Bring back a check, kid.”

“We’ll see if it’s there.”

“Want me to get your door?”

“I’ve got it.” Ellen slipped out of the front passenger seat and closed the door behind her. Jack Naile hit the power button for the radio, hoping to catch one of his tunes. The station played what he mentally labeled as Afro-American elevator music, but he liked it. Ellen did not. Jack Naile watched Ellen as she walked up the steps. She was just as pretty as—really, prettier than—when he’d married her almost twenty-four years earlier.

It was the dreaded season—summer. Officially, it was still spring, but that mattered little in northeast Georgia. Summer temperatures had arrived in April, by May the humidity joining them. David and Elizabeth were out of school for three months, and that was great, but summer meant editors and everybody else he needed to do business with would be off somewhere frolicking in the sunshine while the usual nasty game of selling new projects and chasing the money owed for old ones became that much more difficult.

Autumn and winter were the best times. Their anniversary was in October. November meant Thanksgiving; Ellen was the best cook in the world, and he’d fight his way past a barbarian horde in order to eat a turkey she’d made—and considering some of the gatherings of relatives they’d had over the years, sword-wielding guys with a permanent case of male PMS would have been a snap to deal with. Just before Christmas, it was their nephew Clarence’s birthday. Clarence was like a son to them, raising him since his teens as they had. Right after Christmas came the kids’ birthdays, both of them born in January, two years apart. Between their birthdays, the SHOT Show, always an excuse to travel to some city or another. It would be in Houston in 1993, easy driving distance.

And just before Thanksgiving, of course, there was Halloween, which wouldn’t be anywhere near as spooky as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November might be. With all the negative talk about the economy, it seemed to Jack Naile that the press was building a bad situation that really didn’t exist, merely in the hopes of unseating the incumbent and electing—Jack Naile shuddered at the thought.

Ellen came down the post-office steps, her long auburn hair bouncing a little as she walked. The instant she opened the passenger-side door, he started to ask, but she answered before the words were out of his mouth. “A lot of junk mail, no weird bills—ohh! And we got the advance check.”

“Yes! Pizza for everybody!”

“Do you have to always equate celebrating with pizza?”

“Fine. Make a turkey dinner. I like that better anyway.”

Ellen waved the check in front of his face, got out the checkbook and started writing out a deposit slip.

“You never see the character on Murder, She Wrote chasing after publishers for a check, do you?” Jack Naile asked rhetorically.

“She makes more royalties than we do, so she probably doesn’t have to play chase the check.”

“Well, yeah. But we’re cool for a while, and all we’ve got to do is write the little sucker.”

“It should be a fun book.”

Jack Naile agreed with his wife. Of the dozens of novels they’d done over the years, they’d rarely been able to get some of their pet ideas in print—and this book was one of them. Ellen loved the research end of things and their current magnum opus was far more her idea than his. “Just think about it, kid. Pretty soon, we’ll be immersed in El Cid, the Cave of St. John the Divine in the Greek islands and the Great Pyramid at Giza.”

“I wish we could go to the Greek islands—nice sandy beaches. I wish we could go anyplace. Egypt would be nice.”

“Not in the summer—wrong season. Anyway, we’ve got some science fiction cons to go to over the summer.”

“No sandy beaches, just crowded elevators.”

Jack Naile started the car. “Bank?”


“Can you do those photos for me today?”

“This is another one of those roundup articles, isn’t it? Guns, holsters, knives?”

“Yeah, well, but the only way I can write it is having the pictures to work from. Only way to organize it.”

“I hate roundup articles.”

“Well, people like to read—”

“Hey, look at this!” Ellen was sifting through what she had labeled as junk mail. “You’ve gotta see this.”

Jack Naile put the car back in park, and he and Ellen leaned close together over the center console, their heads touching. In her hands she held a page from a magazine. Attached to it was a small piece of paper with a few typewritten sentences. “I see your articles in the gun magazines a lot. Thought you’d get a kick out of this. Looks like somebody in your family was gainfully employed at one time.” The note was signed with a name Jack Naile didn’t recognize.

“Look at the picture! Look, Jack!”

He didn’t have his glasses, but a little squinting helped a lot. A caption beneath a black-and-white photograph described a street scene from northern Nevada in 1903. The street was broad, unpaved, dusty, obviously the main drag. Horses and wagons were in the street, as were various pedestrians. On the far side of the street from the camera was a board sidewalk, several wooden storefronts adjacent to it, the buildings packed together like row housing. One of them, the far left edge of its sign almost obscured by a hanging advertising shingle, read “Jack Naile—General Merchandise.”

Jack Naile lit a Camel from a half-empty pack and took the Suburban out of park. He made a right, caught the traffic light and paralleled the railroad tracks, made a U-turn across them and then a quick right into the lot for the bank’s drive-thru. “How’s about a cup of coffee when we get home?” Jack asked.

“Sounds good.” 

They were able to pull up at the actual window, Ellen ready with the deposit slip. He signed the check and passed it to the pretty, smiling woman on the other side of the bullet-proof glass.

Jack Naile turned up into their steep driveway and, after stopping briefly to let Ellen out, put the Suburban under the portico; the passenger door couldn’t be opened once the Suburban was parked. Parking under the portico always reminded Jack of sticking a size-thirteen foot into a size-twelve shoe. Ellen was already unlocking the house. Jack crossed the broad front porch, and they let themselves in, Jack making a quick right off the shotgun hall and into the office. He wanted to be working on the book, but he had to finish the roundup article. The magazine piece was running too long, but that couldn’t be helped. Pretty soon he’d be stuck until Ellen got the rest of the photos taken and they got them back. That, of course, meant better than twenty miles each way to the only place around that developed black-and-whites. He heard the piss-poor excuse for a car that had at one time been a Saab pulling into the driveway. Without looking away from the computer screen, he called out, “David’s home, Ellen, Elizabeth. Ellen? You hear me?”

“I’m not deaf!”

The front hallway door was just outside the open door to the office. When Jack Naile heard the door opening, he called out, “Hi, David. Your mom’s got something to show you and your sister. Came in the mail. How was summer school?”

“Okay. I’m gonna be late for work, so I’ve only got a minute.”

Jack saved what he’d just written and got up from the creaky old swivel chair his father had given him when he was two years younger than David. The chair was used and looked it. Lookswise, it hadn’t changed much since he’d gotten it. But its creaking was getting ominous.

“Elizabeth? You dressed yet?” Jack Naile shouted up the stairs to his daughter. “Come on. See this thing we got in the mail!”

“Coming, Daddy! Just two minutes.”

“I don’t have two minutes, Dad,” David called back over his shoulder as he headed into the bathroom.

“You want a sandwich or something?” Ellen asked as David started to close the door.

David stuck his head out and said, “Yeah. But I’ve gotta hurry.”

“I’m making tuna salad. Want one?”


Jack Naile lit a cigarette. He could hear Elizabeth starting down the stairs. For a fifteen-year-old girl, she had the loudest feet. Maybe it was the shoes.

“When you finish your cigarette, you want a sandwich, Jack?” Ellen asked as he entered the kitchen.

“Sure, princess,” Naile said, leaning across the leg of the L-shaped kitchen counter and giving Ellen a kiss on the tip of her nose. “Smells good.”

“How can you smell anything with that cigarette? You should quit. David wants you to quit. Elizabeth wants you to quit.”

“You want me to quit?”

“Well, if you die because you keep smoking, I can always marry a rich doctor or something. Go ahead. Expose all of us to secondhand smoke. You don’t care.”

“Yeah, right.” Ellen had achieved the effect she’d sought. Jack stubbed out his cigarette.

“Okay, what’s this thing in the mail?” Elizabeth asked.

Jack turned around and glanced at his daughter. She was beautiful, just like her mother, even though she took after his side of the family more. Both kids did, really. Ellen had the gray-green eyes, just like her father and mother. David and Elizabeth had brown eyes, like his. All four of them had the same hair coloring, dark reddish brown, but David’s always looked black. David had curly hair like Tom Selleck, but used mousse and all sorts of other stuff to make his hair appear straight, whereas Elizabeth, of course, had straight hair and tried to make it hold a curl. 

“Well, what came in the mail?” Elizabeth repeated.

As Jack Naile was about to answer, he heard the toilet flush. “Give your brother another minute. We want to see what both you guys think.”

Elizabeth shrugged resignedly and sat down on the deacon’s bench at the kitchen table. Jack Naile started to light another cigarette, but Ellen said “Here” and put a dessert plate in his hand with a tuna-salad sandwich and half a kiwi on it.

After what was about two minutes—Elizabeth already had her sandwich and Jack Naile’s was half-consumed—David entered the kitchen. “Here,” Ellen Naile said, putting a plate in her son’s hand. “You want another one, the bread’s right there.” She took a bite of her own sandwich.

“Where’s the thing that came in the mail?” Jack Naile asked his wife.

“Right where you put it.” She took it off the kitchen table and handed it to him.

Jack set down his sandwich and sat down at the table. As he opened the envelope and extracted the page cut from the magazine, he declared, “This is really bizarre.”

“It’s a picture of an old town,” David announced, looking over his father’s shoulder. Elizabeth had come around to stand beside him. “What’s so amazing—”

“Your father wants you guys to look at the name on the store on the far side of the street.”

“‘Jack Naile—General Merchandise,’” Elizabeth read aloud.

“Ohh. Yeah, that is weird,” David announced as he sat down and started eating.

“How’s the math class?” Elizabeth asked her brother.

“I’m getting it. I think I’m going to get an A, whereas, if I’d taken it in the fall, well . . .”

“Have you got a store meeting tonight, David?” Ellen asked.

“As assistant manager, I’ve gotta be there.”

“No, I just wanted to double check. You going to have dinner with us?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Jack Naile swallowed the bite of sandwich that was in his mouth. “Doesn’t anybody have anything to say about the photograph? You guys realize how odd the spelling is for our last name? And then it’s even the same first name! I mean, this is really strange. And what an idea for a book!”

“A book?” Elizabeth repeated.

“Why did you ask that?” David asked his sister. “Now Dad’ll take the next twenty minutes—”

“Hey, think about it!” Jack insisted. “What would happen to a family just like ours if—somehow—we got thrust back in time to turn-of-the-century Nevada?”

“I’d be late for work,” David supplied.

“No, I mean we could have one hell of a book if we used ourselves as the basis for the characters and then worked out all the planning that would be involved and—”

David’s smile was indulgent as he told Jack, “It could never happen, Dad. What? Are they going to invent a time machine or something? Are they going to bump into some crazy professor with a DeLorean like Michael J. Fox did in the movies? Nobody’s ever going to believe it, Dad, because it couldn’t happen in real life. I’ve gotta go.”

David was up. Elizabeth said, “You don’t know that it couldn’t happen, David. And that is our name on that store almost a hundred years ago. I think Mom and Dad have a good idea.”

David didn’t say it, but Jack could read his son’s thoughts on the young man’s face: either “Suck-up” or “You shouldn’t humor Mom and Dad on stuff like this; they need to write something serious.”

David shot everybody a smile and started down the hall.

Jack was up, Ellen had never sat down for more than a second and Elizabeth was already following her brother down the hall. “We’ll wave at you, David.”

“Fine. See you guys.”

The practice of waving was a family tradition, so much so that anytime David or Elizabeth went out with their friends, all of their friends would wave as well. It went according to a well-established pattern; depending on the clemency of the weather it was conducted either wholly from within the house by the storm door (which also involved flashing the porch light) or from the front porch.

It was a warm—too warm to Jack’s way of thinking—and dry day, so the exterior wave option was automatically selected. As David was starting down the front steps, his sister was already saying “Give me a kiss, David.” David, of course, did not, but smiled.

David was getting into the Bondo-gray splotched Saab as Jack Naile closed the storm door.

David, an excellent hand with a manual transmission, was already coasting out of the driveway in reverse as Jack went for the customary cigarette.

Jack barely got the cigarette lit in the flame of his Zippo before it was time for the first volley of waves. Jack frequently waved with two hands. Elizabeth sometimes did the two-handed, and that was her selection. Today Ellen, sanest of them all, made her usual one-handed wave. This all transpired as David passed the house. David acknowledged with a gesture halfway between a wave and a salute, accomanied by a slight nod of the head.

Jack Naile took another drag on his cigarette as David made a full stop at the corner. David made the left. About thirty feet after completing the turn, it was time for the second volley. Jack again used the two-handed option, as did Elizabeth. Ellen one-handed it. David, in turn, acknowledging the second volley, honked the Saab’s horn.

Jack took another drag from his cigarette, walked down the front steps and dropped the filterless cigarette to the concrete, crushing it under his foot.

The wave was officially over.

“So, you want to help your mother and me with the book, Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth, already starting to go inside, responded, “Let me think about it.”

“That’s fair, Jack,” Ellen interjected.

“It’d beat watching Oprah and Donahue, kid.”

“If I were sixteen instead of fifteen, I wouldn’t watch that much TV.”

In fairness, she hung out with her friends a lot, read a lot of Danielle Steele and was waiting on word about a part-time job. Sometimes she even helped out in the office. Jack shrugged his shoulders and lit another cigarette. He could sympathize with Lizzie; not being old enough to drive had to suck . . . 

The scrunchy in her ponytail was giving Ellen a little headache, so she took it off, stopping in the downstairs bathroom to run a brush through her hair. That done, she continued on her way to the office. As she entered the room, Jack wasn’t writing. He was picking up the telephone. “What are you doing? I thought you were working on the book or the article or something. You’re trying to find out more about the photo, right?”

Jack looked up from the telephone’s keypad and their eyes met. “I’m checking with that little town’s chamber of commerce. For the heck of it. Wanted to, ahh . . .”

Jack had pretty eyes—so dark—even when peering out from within a sheepish smile. “Fine.” Ellen sat down at her desk. Their two desks dominated the center of the office, the fronts of the two desks facing, touching. Jack believed in UFOs, thought Bigfoot was the missing link and, every once in a while, got into serious discussions about the JFK assassination, about which he was actually quite well-informed. After over twenty-three years of marriage, dating four years before that and knowing each other as friends for three years before that, she was used to Jack’s penchant for going off on tangents.

Ellen picked up The Skeptical Inquirer and began looking through it. She could hear her husband talking, but wasn’t really paying attention until she heard him put down the receiver and say “Shit.”


“The historian’s out of town for a while and can’t be reached.”

“He’ll be back.” As she said that, her eyes drifted across the photos on the wall nearest the hallway. There was a big painting of John Wayne as he looked in Hondo and, next to it, a color photograph of Richard Boone as he looked in Have Gun—Will Travel, one of Jack’s favorite old television programs. Jack even had a hat like Richard Boone had worn, low-crowned and black; one of Jack’s holster-making friends had made an almost perfect duplicate of the hatband.

On other walls in the room there were pictures of Clint Walker, Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels—mingled with photos of David and Elizabeth. There was even a picture of Theodore Roosevelt, one of Jack’s big heroes, in his cowboy mufti, standing beside a large black horse.

Ellen wondered just what it was that her husband was hoping to find out about the photograph they’d been mailed? Did he really wonder if, somehow, they were—”No,” she said aloud.

“What, princess?”

“Nothing. Why don’t you get back to work, Jack? I’ll get out of your hair.” As she left the office and entered the hallway, her eyes flickered toward the hall tree. The black Stetson was there, lurking . . . 

Unlike departures, there was no arrival ritual, no waving at all. Ellen’s thirty-four-year-old nephew, Clarence, merely let himself in through the front door of their house with his own key and sang out his characteristic “Hi. It’s me.” “Hi” was Northernese for “Hey, y’all!” All of them were Illinois-born damned Yankees who came to Georgia in the late 1970s. Non-damned yankees, of course, were the kind who were merely passing through. Only Liz, who was less than two when they migrated southward, had what Jack Naile still thought of as a Southern accent. However, Elizabeth could turn it on and off like a faucet, as required.

Jack got up from the kitchen table, stepped into the hallway and responded, “Hiya, Clarence! Ellen’s got dinner nearly ready. Good to see you, son!”

For the time that Clarence was in Air Force Electronic Intelligence, in Greece for the last three-and-one-half years of his hitch, they had seen him precious little. Since then, after a year doing pretty much the same thing, but as a civilian, he had moved to Atlanta and taken a job managing a multiplex, which Jack had always thought was a waste of talent. However, it did allow more frequent socializing, for which he, Ellen and the kids were grateful.

Clarence was Ellen’s late sister’s son, after her death brought into their home in Illinois while still in his teens. They had pretty much raised him from then on, and looked on him as an extra son. Ellen, nine when he was born, had carried him home from the hospital. Jack had met Clarence for the first time—Clarence had punched him in the stomach—when Clarence was not quite seven years old.

“So, how’s the movie business?”

“I’ve got some posters for David and Liz. They’re in the car. Remind me to bring them in before I leave.”

“So, how you feeling?”

“My back’s bothering me a little, and I think I’m getting a cold.” With that, Clarence sneezed.

Ellen announced, “Dinner’s ready.”

“I’ll call the kids,” Jack volunteered.

Clarence ate as if food were about to be banned, as much as a pound and a half of Ellen’s homemade lasagna. After dinner, they would all probably play Trivial Pursuit, Clarence and David and Ellen on one team, Jack and Elizabeth on the other. Somehow, Jack knew, that was supposed to make it fairer, a more even match, which was not entirely true. Both Clarence and David followed professional sports, Clarence more so. Jack Naile had seen two broadcast television football games in his life and had no idea how the scoring was figured beyond the obvious thing that a touchdown was good.

After dinner, and saying the obligatory but sincere “Anything I can do to help?” Jack steered David and Clarence into the rec room, while Ellen put things away and Elizabeth helped her.

Jack had the photograph on the coffee table and showed it to Clarence.

“I agree that the photo is an interesting coincidence. That’s all that it is,” David announced, as if forming Clarence’s opinion for him.

Clarence, six foot two and named after his fourteen-inch shorter grandfather, plunked down on the far end of the sectional sofa. “It’s interesting. It’s also creepy,” he added with a laugh. 

Jack leaned back into the center of the sectional, feeling very pleasantly full, and lit a cigarette. “Creepy in what way, Clarence? You mean that it might actually happen?”

“He doesn’t think that. Do you, Clarence?”

“No, David. No. No, Jack. I mean, the same name thing.”

“He’s right, Dad. Nothing more to this than two men separated by almost a century who happen to have the same name. God knows, the guy who sent the picture to you could have doctored it just as a joke. There’s nothing to it.”

Jack Naile supposed that it was only fate that one member of the family had to be sensible.

Jack sat at his desk, but his eyes weren’t on the screen of his computer, nor did his fingers stroke the keyboard. In his hands, he held one of his most prized possessions, a Colt Single Action Army .45, a second-generation gun made in the early 1970s, worked on for him by the world’s fastest draw, and one of the finest trick shooters in history, Bob Munden. The revolver had originally been nickel plated, but after Bob’s work on it, the Colt was sent to another old friend, Ron Mahovsky, who had Metalifed it over the nickel, making it look like brushed stainless steel but more impervious to rust. The original checkered hard rubber grips were replaced with black buffalo-horn two-piece panels from Eagle grips.

The barrel was seven and one-half inches long. The trigger pull was fourteen ounces. It was the perfect Colt.

Jack Naile set the single action down on the desk and picked up the telephone.

“Hi. This is Jack Naile again.”

Jack recognized the voice on the other end, and the woman belonging to the voice recognized his. “Arthur Beach is back. I’ll connect you, Mr. Naile.”


After a moment, there was a voice announcing itself as that of Arthur Beach. Unlike the mental image Jack Naile had formed of a historian in a small Nevada town, someone old and perhaps a bit stodgy, Arthur Beach sounded barely thirty and seemed quite intrigued at the call. “When they told me about your calls, I did a little digging, Mr. Naile.”

“Ohh, wonderful! Who was this guy Jack Naile?” Jack asked.

“Well, understand I haven’t really been able to look into this too thoroughly yet. And, if you’d like, I’ll get you more information.”

“Anything you can dig up, yes. A photograph would be great, if one exists.”

“I’ll do my best. But here’s what I can tell you so far about your namesake, Mr. Naile. The original Jack Naile was a prominent citizen, not only owning the store but a large ranch as well. After a time, he became very influential behind the scenes in Republican politics within the state and at the national level. Jack Naile’s store became a Mecca for people from all over the area, people interested in the highest-quality products or just the unusual. As time went on, for example, Jack Naile’s store was the first in the area to offer phonographs, radios and the like. In that respect, the store was more of a hobby for Naile. Naile grew to be one of the richest men around, with an uncanny ability to predict trends in public interest.”

Jack Naile lit another cigarette. “What about Jack Naile’s personal life? Do you have anything on that?”

Beach told him, “Well, Naile and his wife—I don’t know her name off the top of my head—had two grown children, teenagers, I guess, when they first came to town.”

“So none of them were born there, then.”

“No. They just showed up in town one day, evidently coming from somewhere back East and en route to California. I understand that you’re thinking about using this information as the basis for one of the novels you and your wife write.”

“Yes, if we can dig up enough information,” Jack Naile responded, keeping his cards as close to the vest as possible.

“I’ll be happy to help all that I can. But you’ll have to promise me an autographed copy of the book if you write it.”

Jack agreed to that, he and Arthur Beach exchanged complete contact data and the conversation ended . . . 

Ellen waited as long as she dared before the answering machine would pick up. Jack wasn’t answering the telephone. She lifted the receiver, shook her hair back and put the receiver to her ear. “Hi. Can I help you?”

And Ellen almost passed out. It was their old agent, Lars Benson. A very nice guy, Lars had also been the most incompetent literary agent imaginable. “Jack around?”

“What’s up, Lars?”

“I got you guys a sale, Ellen!”

Ellen Naile thought that she’d heard Lars Benson, who, in the first place, hadn’t been their literary agent for more than five years and, in the second place, couldn’t sell a space suit to a naked astronaut, let alone a book to a publisher, say that he had sold something.

“Let me find Jack, Lars. Okay? Hold on.”

“Let me tell ya! I gotta tell ya!”

“Alright, Lars. Tell me.” Sometimes, she wished that she still smoked. A Salem at this moment would have cleared her sinuses and given her something to think about besides how dear, sweet, honest and ineffectual Lars had gone off the deep end. “What did you sell, Lars?”

“Remember when you guys wrote Angel Street?”

Ellen wanted to say, “No, I forgot.” Instead, she answered, “And?”

“One of the majors in Hollywood—and I don’t mean an indie—wants to option it for a western.”

Ellen Naile almost said, “shit” but didn’t. “Lars,” she pointed out, “that book was set in the present day—at least the present day in the mid-1980s.”

“Don’t you get it, sweetheart?! They’re movin’ it to the 1880s. Or somethin’. We could be talkin’ the Austrian Oak here makin’ his first western, or—”

“He made a western with Kirk Douglas and Ann-Margaret. It’s really funny, like a cartoon with people in it. It was intended to be that way.”

“Well, I don’t know who the hell’s gonna be in it, but they’re talkin’ twenty-five large up front—”

“You’ve gotta stop watching Miami Vice, Lars.”

“Twenty-five grand, alright?! And if they exercise the option and decide to lens it, we’re talkin’ major bucks city here, a hundred grand extra and a piece. A little piece, for sure . . .”

“Ohh, for sure. I’ll get Jack, Lars.”

Ellen pushed the hold button and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Jack! Pick up on line one! Now, Jack!”

Ellen had been on the kitchen telephone and ran toward the office, her fists under her breasts because she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath the loose-fitting T-shirt.

Jack was on the phone as she came in and they exchanged glances. His eyes mirrored her thoughts—poor Lars had finally gone off the deep end, withdrawn into a fantasy world.

Angel Street,” Ellen whispered barely aloud as she sat down at her desk. As a western? Angel Street had been a book Jack had liked a lot more than she had. The hero of the story had been a hard-as-nails P.I. named “Angela Street” who takes a charity case, going after the drug lord responsible for the death of a teenage runaway. The P.I. is closing in on the drug lord, about to get the goods on him, when the drug lord’s gang ambushes her and kills her.

An actual angel—her guardian angel—appears and offers Angela Street the chance to return to life long enough to get the drug lord and his gang. Angela agrees. The angel—a very good-looking male angel—stays with her, helping her. It is a risk for the guardian angel, because, in order to help her, he must take on human form. And, should something happen to him while in human form, he would die, would be unable to return to life as an angel. He’d be dead-dead. Angela and her guardian angel fall in love—which Ellen had thought was way too predictable. More predictable had been the ending. Angela Street triumphs against the drug lord, of course, and the guardian angel gets fatally shot. As he dies, she kisses him and, somehow, she doesn’t die as she should have.

Angela Street doesn’t know if she’s on borrowed time or has had life actually restored to her. But with whatever time she has left on earth, she’ll fight on the side of good, against the bad guys on the street. “Yada yada yada,” Ellen said aloud.

Jack, still talking with Lars, just looked at her uncomprehendingly. She smiled back and shook her head, hopefully signaling that she’d meant nothing.

“Okay, Lars. So, when do we see the contracts?”

Evidently, Jack had been sucked into Lars’ fantasy.

“FedEx today?” There was a pause. “Yeah, Ellen and I’ll read the contract as soon as it gets here and call you right away.” There was another pause. “Of course I’ve still got your phone number, pal.” Another pause. “Okay! Take it easy, buddy.”

Jack said to her, “Did you get the part about the twenty-five G’s?”

“I’ll believe it when there’s a check in my hand. Actually, that’s not true. I’ll believe it after the check has cleared the bank.”

“Come here, kid! Gimme a kiss!” But Jack didn’t wait for her to come to him. He was out of his chair like a shot and pulled her up out of her chair and kissed her so hard that her teeth hurt. “Twenty-five grand!”

“Wait to order the pizza at least until we’ve seen the contract, Jack,” Ellen advised.

They’d signed three copies of the contract, faxed one up to Lars Benson. He’d been a ten percent agent, but wanted fifteen, more currently fashionable. They gave it to him, feeling he deserved it just for breathing—all that he had actually done, in fact, to get them the deal. Lars was agent of record for a book that hadn’t sold very well at all; the rights had reverted from the publisher less than a year prior to Lars’ phone call the previous day.

Ellen had the Express Mail envelope with the signed contracts on her lap, her right hand clutching the seatbelt.

“This is great, isn’t it, Ellen? I mean, Angel Street as a western!”

“So, they’ll turn the drug lord into a corrupt town boss or rustling king-pin, Angela Street will grow testicles and become Tex Wannabe, bounty hunter, and the guardian angel sex changes, too.”

“Pretty much the way I figure it. A good, basic story has a lot of inbuilt versatility to it,” her husband told her. “Write that down, will ya?”

“Soon as we get home, Jack.”

Jack made the left and slipped the Suburban into one of the diagonal spaces in front of the post office. Ellen grabbed her keys and climbed out. She couldn’t quite figure out why, but for some reason she’d worn a skirt. Maybe it was because the weather was too warm for long pants, but not warm enough for shorts. The checkbook was in her left hand, her keys in the right patch pocket. An older man—she recognized his face, didn’t remember his name . . . if she’d ever known it—held the door for her and she smiled.

Inside, she went first to the post-office box. “Crap,” she said as she looked through its contents. Among the bills, the advertisements and the usual junk mail, there were three things that would grab Jack’s attention. One was the Museum Replicas catalog, full of swords. Jack liked swords. Another was the A. G. Russell knife catalog. Jack liked knives. What had prompted her single-word remark was the third item, a legal-sized envelope, its return address label revealing that it was from Arthur Beach.

Ellen closed the door to the post office box, went to the counter and didn’t even have to wait in line. The pleasant woman behind the counter weighed the Express Mail package and Ellen wrote out a check and left.

“Anything exciting in the mail?”

“Well, Museum Replicas and A. G. Russell.”

“Great! Let me see.”

Ellen Naile passed them over. “And an envelope from Arthur Beach in Nevada.”

“Open it, kid.”

Priority Mail. Why does the post office have to be efficient when you don’t want them to be?”


“This is really very creepy, Jack. This whole thing. For the first time in our lives, unless Lars really is whacko, we’re going to have some real money, and there’s this thing.”

Ellen opened the envelope. There were copies of documents, and newspaper articles and a copy of a photograph, just a Xerox, but remarkably—damnably—clear. It was a photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Naile and their two (unnamed) children.

“This has to be an elaborate practical joke, Jack.”

“Lemme see, princess.”

She handed it to him. She didn’t need to look at the picture anymore. It was burned into her mind forever and she’d probably see it in her dreams—the kind called nightmares. Despite the age of the photograph and the fact that it was a Xerox, the resemblance between the Naile family of nine decades ago and the Naile family of the present was enough to make her want to throw up.

Her own counterpart, and that of her daughter, wore their hair piled up beneath feather-festooned picture book hats. They wore long, uncomfortable-looking dresses, their hands clasped in front of them at their obviously corseted waists like singers about to hit a high note at the opera.

The older of the two men wore a black hat, its shape identical to Jack’s, even the hatband looking to be the same. He wore a vested suit, but it was, somehow, still casual looking. His mustache was identical to the one Jack had sported since he was twenty-two. He’d grown it because Ellen had always liked the look of Omar Sharif’s mustache.

The younger man, clean shaven but with a noticeable five o’clock shadow—David always had that—was the epitome of male fashion for the period, from derby to cravat to spats. David always looked as if he’d stepped out of the pages of G.Q. Ellen had helped her husband with enough firearms-related articles to spot a concealed weapon, and there was a slight bulge at David’s left side, as if his coat covered a handgun worn crossdraw.

And the older man also was armed, a gun on his right hip, what was perhaps the butt of a second one protruding from beneath his coat.

The gunbelt/holster was a Hollywood rig of the type worn in ‘50s and ‘60s television westerns, a style which didn’t exist almost a century ago. Ellen Naile had even recognized it as one that Jack’s friend Sam Andrews had made for him around 1990.

She’d been looking out the Suburban’s open window. She turned her gaze to the other items from the envelope. There was a summary of its contents typed on an old-seeming machine, Arthur Beach’s name scrawled at the bottom. She read it aloud to her husband. “‘The Naile family arrived in town in 1896. The Nailes were apparently on their way to California for some new business when their wagon suffered an accident and was destroyed. They were unhurt, according to accounts. Reduced to only a few personal belongings, the Nailes seemingly had considerable financial resources. There is no material yet available to me mentioning the fate of their descendants, nor concerning how or when Mr. and Mrs. Naile eventually died. The county medical examiner’s office burned to the ground in the 1940s, and all death certificates archived there were destroyed as a result. I’ll keep looking.’”


“Tell him to stop the hell looking, Jack!”

“Startling resemblance, that photograph. I’ll say that.”

Ellen nearly retched as she said it, but she said it anyway. “Jack, it’s you and me and David and Elizabeth, and the fucking picture was taken almost a hundred damn years ago! Get me home before I throw up!”

The Suburban lurched into reverse, which didn’t help.

Back | Next