Available in e-format from Kindle, iTunes, and Nook.

by Fred Saberhagen
Published by JSS Literary Productions
Copyright (c) 1983 by Fred Saberhagen

WHAT IF someone offered you a job fighting an exotic war?

WHAT IF she told you she could save your granddaughter's life if you took the job?

WHAT IF she proved she could do it?

WHAT IF your new job meant fighting in a war of the future?

WHAT IF yhour new enemy was Hitler's Reich, one thousand years old, and thriving on destroying its own enemies?

WHAT IF you were now embroiled in the darkest, bloodiest and nastiest war you had ever seen?

For all of the thrills , fears and dangers of that experience, read A CENTURY OF PROGRESS!


Enjoyable time travel novel with interesting insights into the reaction of the characters to 1930's and 1980's America. A lot of fun to read, well written, with a pretty good plot. It easy to see other authors have been influenced by Saberhagen's work here and none have duplicated his style, wit, and characterizations. [Amazon, Hope for the Best]

A brisk, classical adventure of time travel, compiled by an expert in short novels. [Amazon, Solipso]

CHAPTER 1-- 1984

      Norlund hadn’t killed anyone for decades, but he was getting in the mood for it today.
      He came out of the hospital’s main entrance, a compact, crag-faced, gray-haired man wearing the rumpled trousers of a gray suit, and a mismatched old corduroy jacket over a white shirt. After standing for a moment he crossed the street to the little park and sat down there in the mild spring sunshine of Chicago. He moved with a slight limp because the old leg wound was bothering him a touch today. But it wasn’t his leg that made him feel like killing.
      Before he had been sitting on the park bench thirty seconds he had an impulse to jump up and move on to somewhere else. The trouble was the kids playing in the park. They were healthy kids, all up on their feet and running around, and all Norlund could think of, looking at them, was that he was never going to see Sandy doing that again.
      But he didn’t jump up from the bench and move on, because it wouldn’t have helped. Instead he continued to sit there, trying not to think about choking the children who shrieked with their good health and not from pain. He watched the hospital entrance, and he wished, darkly and selfishly, that today Sandy’s mother might leave her slowly dying child a little earlier than usual, and come across to the park to comfort her aging father who couldn’t take it any more…
      Norlund, held in isolation by the ugly gray fog of his own feelings, wasn’t really aware of the brisk footsteps as they came close to him along the paved walk, then stopped.
      “Mr. Norlund?”
      “Huh?” The voice of the young woman did get through to him, and he looked up, relieved at any interruption of his thoughts. She was standing almost directly in front of him, almost within reach, wearing a light spring coat. Dark hair and blue eyes; a pretty but completely unfamiliar face. Without really thinking about it, Norlund assumed immediately that she must have some connection with the hospital.
     Her smile was businesslike, pleasant but impersonal—it might certainly have been that of a hospital administrator. She spoke to Norlund in a low, attractive voice. “I’m Ginny Butler. I’m so sorry to hear about your granddaughter’s illness, and I very much hope to be able to do something to help.”      After that many words were out, Norlund thought he could detect just a hint of something British in her tones.
     Whatever she wanted, he continued to feel grateful for distraction. “There’s not much anyone can do, I’m afraid…will you sit down?” And in a symbolic gesture of welcome he slid over a little on the bench, though there would have been room enough anyway. Meanwhile he squinted up into the sunshine at his visitor. Now that he had had time to think about it, he decided that the hospital probably wouldn’t have sent anyone across the street to talk to him. Therefore this young woman must be some friend of Marge. Or possibly one of Sandy’s teachers. The number of cards and phone calls Sandy received in the hospital had convinced Norlund that his granddaughter was a popular girl at school.
      But his visitor, whoever she was, remained standing. In a voice touched with elegance she replied: “No thanks, I really can’t stay now. But I wanted to assure you that I do expect to be able to do something for Sandy. Something that will make her, and your daughter, and you, all very happy.” The young woman’s tones were forceful, her trim figure erect and full of purpose. Whatever she really meant, it was something more than polite well-wishing.
     Already Norlund’s original relief was starting to shade into wariness. The last thing he wanted or needed right now was a confrontation with some kind of crackpot, faith-healer or whatever. Not now on top of what he was already going through.
      He could hear his changing attitude reflected in his voice. “I don’t think I understand. Are you a doctor, Miss? Connected with the hospital in some way?”
      She started to confirm Norlund’s suspicions by ignoring the question. She had one of her own, which she now put to him very solemnly: “Mr. Norlund, do you know how to drive a truck? I don’t mean a very large one necessarily, but an older type. Say one that might have been used around nineteen-thirty, with that kind of stick shift?”
      Norlund could feel his newly aroused wariness already flagging. The sheer irrelevance of the question was disarming. It seemed unlikely to form part of any sales pitch or swindle worth bothering about. But it did touch his curiosity, and he answered patiently: “Yes, I know how to do that. I did it often enough when I was young. Why?”
      “I expect to be able to offer you a job.” This too sounded supremely irrelevant to Norlund, who hadn’t known that he was looking for one. But the young lady was still utterly serious, and went on:       “We can talk about that later. Right now I have some good news to give you about your granddaughter. During the next few days Sandy’s going to experience a dramatic improvement.” The announcement was delivered with the calm certainty of a judge awarding a prize in a contest. “And one week from today, after you have witnessed this improvement for yourself, I want you to meet me again.”
      The attractive blue eyes lifted away from Norlund’s face, to gaze around the park and its surroundings. “I think right here would be a good place. If it should be raining, you can wait for me in one of those doorways across the street—the apartment building, or the drugstore.
      Automatically Norlund followed her gaze, then frowningly returned his eyes to his visitor. “What are you saying about my granddaughter?”
      The question was received with perfect patience, as if the young woman had fully expected that her announcement would have to be repeated. She said, quietly and distinctly: “I am saying that not only will Sandy be alive one week from today, she will be much improved. Very much improved indeed. There is only one condition: that you say nothing to anyone about my speaking to you, nor repeat what I’ve said. Not to your daughter or Sandy or anyone else. Is that agreeable?”
      “Wait a minute. Wait. What did you say your name was?”
      “My name’s Ginny Butler. But I can’t wait now. Remember, meet me one week from this hour, right here at this bench. Across the street if it’s raining. And meanwhile say nothing to anyone.” With a last momentary brightening of her smile the young woman turned away. Her retreating heels made light, brisk sounds on the paved walk. Her dark hair—Norlund noticed now that it was somewhat curly—bounced a little as she walked. She moved steadily away from Norlund, not looking back, heading for one of the side streets bordering the park.
      “But you…” Norlund had risen to his feet at last, and was standing there with one hand raised. For a moment he even thought of chasing after her.

      That was on Friday afternoon. By Saturday evening, Norlund had all but forgotten his strange encounter in the park. Because all through Saturday Sandy had been obviously sinking. The little girl was now more often unconscious than awake.
      No one, no doctor or nurse, had yet come right out and told Norlund that his only grandchild was on the brink of death. Not that there was any need for them to do so.
      All through Saturday, Sandy’s mother and grandfather—there were no other relatives in visiting distance—spent most of their time in her room. Norlund and his daughter took turns dozing in chairs, spelling each other for occasional leg-stretching walks down the corridor or visits to the coffee shop.
      It didn’t help Norlund’s weekend at all to be treated to a preview of how his daughter was going to look as an old woman. Marge’s hair hung in odd neglected waves; her eyes looked more dead than alive. Her face seemed to have collapsed, as if it were compelled to mimic Sandy’s sunken features.
      Then, almost imperceptibly at first, starting Sunday evening or Sunday night, the tide somehow turned. Probably the first change that Norlund noticed was that Sandy’s breathing had grown easier. A little later, when he looked at her closely, he got the impression of someone sleeping—resting—rather than sinking into death. She was clearly in less pain, even when her prescribed drug dose was accidentally delayed.
      On Monday morning Sandy opened her eyes at something like a normal wake-up time. She looked about her and talked; she said she didn’t hurt. In general, she was fully conscious for the first time in several days. She was still painfully weak, and appeared somehow diminished, younger than her twelve years. But Norlund, no matter how fiercely he cautioned himself against starting to hope, could not help seeing what he saw; that life was returning to Sandy’s face instead of passing from it.
      By breakfast on Tuesday, Sandy was eating again, with almost her normal appetite. She was talking freely, making jokes, telling everyone that she felt better. And on Tuesday afternoon the oncologist, after taking a close look at the patient, pronounced the first official notice of change. “There’s been a certain improvement, I think. Looks like the chemotherapy may be taking hold at last. I don’t want to get your hopes up unjustifiably, but—”
      Things had already gone too close to the brink, reality had been engaged far too deeply, for mere words from anyone to have much effect now on Norlund’s hopes.
      But when he looked at Sandy, he could not help seeing what he saw.
      And by Wednesday the change for the better was so obvious that hope could no longer be denied. Sandy was sitting up in bed, taking every chance to get up and walk, eating ravenously, and wondering aloud how much school work she was going to have to make up. Sandy’s mother, her hair newly styled, was walking about I a lightfooted daze, as if uncertain whether she was going to collapse or dance.
      And it was only on Wednesday that Norlund remembered, with a small private shock of fascination, the odd event that he had so completely forgotten: that peculiar interview with the young woman in the park across the street. He happened to be shaving when he first remembered it, alone in his small apartment condo in a moderately expensive area of the North Side. With razor in hand he paused, looking at his angular face in the mirror and wondering if that odd event might have sprung completely from his imagination, a kind of hallucinatory memory provoked by stress.
      At Thursday morning’s chemotherapy session, Sandy complained more than usual about the discomforts of the process. But it was less an invalid’s protest than a well person’s energetic crabbing. On Thursday afternoon, sitting in Sandy’s over familiar hospital room while his daughter and grand-daughter walked the corridors arm-in-arm, Norlund found himself staring out the window. But instead of the apartment rooftops opposite he was seeing himself and the young woman talking in the park across the street.
      He tried several times to recall exactly what she had looked like, and all the words of their brief dialogue. Most of it was pretty hazy. The name had definitely stayed with him, though: Ginny Butler. He couldn’t remember ever knowing anyone by that name. Which didn’t prove, he realized, that she wasn’t someone he ought to be able to remember. Norlund had never been good at keeping track of marginal relationships, nor did this faculty, at least for him, tend to improve with age.
      That young woman had talked so strangely. Unless he had somehow misinterpreted her words…But no. He probably wasn’t remembering all the details correctly, but the strange prophecy had been there.
      On Thursday morning, immediately after the chemo session, and again on Thursday afternoon, Norlund found himself on the point of mentioning the park incident to Marge. Both times he refrained. Maybe it was just that he didn’t want to burden his daughter right now with anything remotely disturbing. Or maybe…maybe he was afraid of sounding like he’d had some kind of hallucination, as if he might be cracking up under the strain.
      Which last explanation, Norlund had to admit to himself, was for all he knew quite possible. There was no way to be sure. No, there was probably one way.
      The patient was doing so well by Friday morning that Marge went back to work. There was talk of Sandy going home in another day or so, barring complications. Norlund had no such clear-cut decisions as Marge’s to make about work; he was three-fourths retired now anyway. He had been manager and part owner of a small firm wholesaling electronic and electrical parts, and though he still kept his hand in as consultant and stockholder the business could go on quite well without him, and left him a lot of flexibility in his schedule. After looking in on Sandy at the hospital Friday, he came out and stood gazing across the street. He was coatless today, it was warmer now than it had been a week ago. Norlund stood there with his hands in his pockets, gazing toward the park.
      One week from this hour. That was what she had said. And exactly what hour had that been? A week ago, Norlund had made no effort to fix the time, but now he considered that two o’clock had to be approximately right.
      He looked at his watch: one thirty. He strolled left toward the corner, where a traffic light periodically jammed the continual creep of hospital traffic looking for a place to park. Norlund strolled across the street, across the grass, then along the paved path to the same bench he had been sitting on a week ago. A shower seemed imminent. If it’s raining, you can stand in one of those doorways. Norlund looked toward those doorways, again involuntarily, but she wasn’t waiting for him there.
      A few drops were coming down now, but it wasn’t raining all that much. Belatedly, as so often, Chicago’s spring was arriving. The park flowerbeds, largely dormant a week ago, today were blooming gorgeously. Sitting on his bench again, Norlund would have been quite willing to accept an hallucination or two as a trivial price to pay for the glory of Sandy’s resurrection…
      The young woman, wearing the light spring coat he remembered, was walking toward him, coming from the direction in which she’d disappeared last Friday. As she drew closer Norlund could see that the dark hair and the blue eyes were as he’d remembered them.
      She approached Norlund directly, smiling as she drew near. It was a more relaxed and friendly smile, he thought, than it had been a week ago—almost as if they had somehow spent the week in contact, getting better acquainted. The young woman’s shoes clicked on the walk as they had last Friday. And now she was stopping directly in front of him, just as she had before.
      Norlund got slowly to his feet, and said: “I wasn’t sure just exactly what I remembered from a week ago.” He had a momentary impulse to reach out for a handshake—but he didn’t.
     The young woman nodded, unsurprised. Her smile faded now, but not grimly; only with the sheer urgency of the question she now asked. “You didn’t mention me to anyone? I must be sure of that before we can discuss anything else.”
     Norlund looked around; it would be hard to imagine a more public place. He gestured expansively. “Our meeting is supposed to be a secret? Anyone could see us talking together now.”
      “Of course. But that’s one thing, and your telling someone is something else. For now just take my word for it. Have you mentioned me? If so, I’ll find out later anyway; but it will save us both time and effort if you admit it now.” She halted, obviously in great suspense as she waited for his answer.
      Norlund drew in a breath, to let it out again in a kind of sigh. “No, actually I haven’t mentioned you to anyone. Or your prediction about Sandy. I’m not sure why I haven’t. For a while there I simply forgot—”
     “Good.” The clear relief in the young woman’s face showed how strong had been the tension before it. “Then today I will sit down and talk with you for a while.”
     “Sure.” Norlund sat, then, as before, moved over minimally. Looking at his companion carefully as she sat down, he estimated that she was six or seven years younger than Marge’s thirty-two. “Ginny Butler, is that right?”
      “Quite right.” She nodded, waiting, willing to be questioned.
     Now he was sure of the faint British flavor in her voice. “I’m sorry,” Norlund said, “but do I know you? Should I?”
      “No, not apart from our meeting last week. I do have the advantage of you, as they say. But I think that you are going to get to know me fairly well.”
     “You’re not asking me how Sandy’s doing.”
      “I didn’t ask you about that last week either, did I?” Ginny Butler continued to be pleasantly business-like. Definitely a salesperson, thought Norlund. Big-ticket items. She went on: “We both know that Sandy’s doing very well right now. So today we can start talking about a certain job that you can do for me, in return.”
     Norlund cleared his throat. “Wait, now, just a moment.” He was interrupted by kids shouting and speeding past them on roller skates—just as, thank God, Sandy ought to be doing again soon. If…“Let me get this straight. It sounds to me like you’re claiming to be responsible for Sandy’s improvement. And you’re saying you want me to do something for you in return.”
     The woman nodded. It was only a slight movement of the head, but it was very firm. “Yes, absolutely, Mr. Norlund. I—or the people I represent—have helped Sandy. And I think you do owe us a return favor now.”
     Norlund thought that hallucinations would have been relatively easy to understand. He crossed one leg over the other. “I don’t even know who you are.”
      “I’ve given you my name,” the young woman answered patiently. “Telling you my life story wouldn’t help right now. I think that by helping your granddaughter we have established a perfectly legitimate claim on your friendship.”
     “Who’s ‘we’? Who’s this group you say you represent?”
     “We ask only for a day or two of your time, time that I know you can well afford to spare. You will not be asked to do anything illegal during that day or two, I promise you that. But at the same time I must continue to insist on secrecy.”
      “Lady…” Norlund paused, sighed, shook his head and tried again. “Look here, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t admit that you’ve established any kind of claim on me.
     Ginny Butler remained patient. “Mr. Norlund—may I call you Alan?”
     “Why not?”
     “Alan, then—I certainly wouldn’t expect you, at this stage, to completely understand what I’m talking about, as you put it. But I really think we have established a claim. Just think back seven days. You sat here on this bench, and you knew that your granddaughter was dying. And she was. The funeral would have been over by now.”
      “Just a minute.”
     “Please, let me finish?”
     “A week ago, as I recall, you made no claim that you were going to be responsible for curing her.”
     “Would you have believed me for a moment if I had? You would have been angry instead of only puzzled. We preferred to make a demonstration instead. I’m sure you remember what I did tell you a week ago.”
     “Not word for word.”
     The young woman waited silently.
     Norlund muttered something like a curse. “All right, you told me she was going to get better.”
     “And what happened?”
     “I don’t care for catechisms, lady.” Norlund was starting to get angry. He supposed it was largely something bottled up from when Sandy had seemed to be dying. “You come here and talk to the next of kin of all the cancer patients, is that it? And when one of them does get well, you try to cash in.”
     Ginny Butler did not appear surprised or angered. “No, that isn’t it. Have you seen me talking to relatives of any other patients? And I haven’t asked you for money; I’ll turn down money if you offer it, I say again, I’m asking only for a small amount of your time. Perhaps two days.”
     “My time, doing what, driving an old truck? You could hire a lot better drivers than I am.”
     The young lady leaned forward a little on the bench, eagerly, as if she felt that she was starting to get somewhere. “Driving a truck is only part of it. But nothing about it will be very hard for you. You have all the qualifications that we want.”
     “Such as what?”
     “We’ll discuss the details when you’ve told me that in principle you agree. Two days of your time?”
     Norlund thought that he would eventually say that he agreed, just to see what came next. But not yet. “No, lady, I just don’t buy it. You really claim that this mysterious group of yours is responsible for Sandy’s getting well?”
     “Yes, I do.”
     “And how did they work this miracle cure?”
     “When you’ve agreed to give us two days, a lot of things will be explained to you.”
     “And so I should go and drive your antique truck. And stand on streetcorners and hand out pamphlets for your cult.”
     It was Ginny Butler’s turn to sigh; it was a sound that spoke of disappointment, but not surprise. And now she surprised Norlund. “All right, Alan, I see we can’t get anywhere just yet. You’ll be able to meet me here.” And she stood up quickly from the bench. Again her dark curls bounced as she walked away, not looking back. This time she left the park in a different direction.
     If she was expecting Norlund to come chasing after her, she was disappointed.

     That afternoon Norlund went to see Sandy again. They discussed her hopeful plans of being able to go home soon, and tried to figure out how many doctors might have to give their approval. Norlund also had to come up with an opinion as to which of Sandy’s girlfriends she ought to telephone first upon her release; this subject took up more time than the question of the doctors, as there were social intricacies involved. Then, with her grandfather’s prodding, the patient even summoned up strength enough to write two brief notes in reply to get-well cards.
      On Saturday morning Norlund, for some reason feeling newly edgy, was back in Sandy’s room. He was early, but the oncologist had been in already, and had ordered another scan. Sandy was once again experiencing some pain and swelling.
     Norlund, looking closely into his granddaughter’s face, made sure to keep an encouraging smile on his own. Even when he saw signs that the bad days had come again. There was a change around the eyes, the reappearance and waxing of the evil shadow.
     He phoned Marge from the hospital, and talked to his daughter gently, trying to prepare her for the setback when she came in later. He repeated the latest hopeful words of one of the doctors about chemotherapy.
      And once again, at one thirty in the afternoon, having just seen Sandy ask for and receive her first pain-reliever in almost a week, Norlund was back on the park bench. He waited there through a mild shower, hardly aware that he was getting wet.
      This time he didn’t notice from which direction Ginny Butler came, but here she was again. Today she had on a translucent plastic raincoat, over jeans and a dark sweater. It was colder again today, but Norlund hadn’t noticed till now.
     He found himself standing. “What have you done to her?”
     A momentary flash of triumph showed in the woman’s eyes. She flinched a little from Norlund’s anger, but continued to confront him. She said: “We’ve done nothing to harm her. Nothing at all.”
     “She’s had a turn for the—”
     “Refusal to help someone is not necessarily a crime.”
     “Oh no?” His throat felt tight.
     “Mr. Norlund. If you were to walk off in that direction, in maybe half a mile you’d come to a neighborhood where you wouldn’t have to look very hard to find someone who needs help. Some alcoholic passed out in a gutter or a doorway. A life that might very well be saved with some effort on your part, if you were to see that such a man got food and a decent place to sleep and some routine medical care. But you’re not going over there to find that man, are you?”
     “I’m talking about my own—”
     “Yes. Exactly. You concentrate on fighting for your own causes. You can’t do everything, save everyone in the world. Besides, maybe that particular man will make it anyway. Well, maybe Sandy will make it anyway, now that she’s had some real help for a few days. I wish her well, I really do, and maybe now the hospital’s chemotherapy will work.” Ginny Butler paused. “If she were my kid, I wouldn’t want to bet on it.”
     Norlund stood there, staring at the young woman in front of him. The two of them were just about of a height. He could imagine himself clubbing her to the ground, or reaching out to choke her. He could imagine himself forcing a laugh, and turning and walking away. No, he couldn’t really. Not with Sandy…
     The young woman, as if perceiving that he had passed some interior turning point, softened her voice. “Now, what do you want to do? You could make a fuss, perhaps try to report me to the police. But I haven’t asked you for any money; I repeat that I wouldn’t take it if you offered it. I have nothing to fear from your going to the police. But it would end our relationship.”
     Ginny Butler paused at that point, as if to give Norlund time to consider the implications. Then she went on, in a more optimistic tone: “Or are you ready to do me the favor I requested, and grant me a couple of days of your time? I promise that if you do, Sandy will recover.”
     Norlund only stood looking at her.
     She put a hand on his arm, tentatively, almost timidly, and said: “I swear it solemnly. We want to help her. I want to. If you help us, she will not die of this bone cancer. No tricks, no catches. She’ll go home in a short time, happy and healthy.”
     Norlund heard himself asking: “She won’t die?”
     “Not in the immediate future. No one can promise immortality.”
     “She’ll be healthy?”
     “Just like them.” Ginny gave a confident nod toward the noisy skaters, who were now off on a far loop of the walk.
      Norlund had the sensation that he and Ginny Butler were utterly alone, the rest of the surrounding city far away. “Something legal, you say? Driving a truck?”
     “As I told you, there’s a little more to it than just driving a truck. But it’s better than just legal, Alan. In fact it’s for a very good cause.”
     “Ah. I’m not so sure that’s a good selling point with me. You ought to use that ‘good cause’ bit only on your younger clients.”
     “I didn’t want to emphasize it with you. But it is the truth.” Ginny Butler had a very winning smile when she turned it on.
     “You sure you got the right man, lady? I mean, I’m just an ordinary guy. Getting up in years. There’s nothing in my background…”
      “I know all about your background.” Her smile had turned impish. “More than you can imagine.” And Norlund could suddenly imagine the possibility of trusting her.
     “And when,” he asked, “do you want me to start on this job?”
      “I want you to come with me right now. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be finished. If you like we can stop at a phone somewhere, and you can call your daughter and tell her that you’re off on a short business trip. Which will be the truth. Marge won’t be particularly surprised. You still do go off on business trips once in a while.”
      Someone had certainly gone to a lot of trouble to set this up. What did he have that could be worth it? “And what about Sandy?”
     “You can call the hospital tomorrow morning, and find out how she’s doing. Tell you what, Alan. If she’s not doing well tomorrow morning the whole thing is off, and you don’t owe us anything.”
     “Tell me how you work the miracle cure.”
     “We’ll go into that at the proper time. Along with other explanations.”
     “If I do go with you now—” But the young woman had already turned and was walking away. Limping slightly, mumbling swearwords under his breath, Alan Norlund hurried after her.

     Ginny Butler’s car, one of a solidly parked line on a street a couple of blocks away, was a commonplace, year-old Datsun. Norlund made a mental note of the Illinois license number as he got in on the right side.
     She maneuvered the Datsun neatly out of the parking space. “I assume you do want to stop and call Marge?” Ginny was gazing at traffic as she spoke, and her blue eyes were far away, as if she might be thinking two or three moves ahead. “I know where there’s a handy booth.”
     Norlund asked: “You know Margie?”
     “Only as I know you.”
     “You’ve talked to her?”
     “No, I didn’t mean that.”
     Ginny drove in silence for a few blocks. Then she pulled into a small shopping center where there was a large drug store. “There’s a public phone in there. I’ll wait in the car.” She smiled at Norlund’s puzzled expression. “I’m assuming that you’re with me willingly now, Alan. I’m not kidnapping you, I’m not going to listen to your call. You’re keeping what we’re doing secret because that’s the only way you can help Sandy. Right?”
     Norlund got out, then hesitated again before closing the car door. “Two days, you said. Should I buy a toothbrush?”
     “No need. We’ll provide everything.”
     Almost to himself, he asked: “Do you think I ought to tell her that Sandy will get well?”
     “She will get well. My promise stands. Tell Marge whatever you like, as long as you don’t mention me or what we’re doing.”
     Norlund gave her a long look. The blue eyes looked back at him, and he read both sympathy and amusement in them. Then he turned away and went into the drugstore, found the booth and made his call.
     He was faintly surprised at how readily Marge accepted his story about a business trip—he supposed that his daughter’s attention and energies were focused elsewhere. For a little while he talked with her about Sandy. Norlund was optimistic, but made no direct predictions. Tomorrow morning, he told himself, he would call the hospital from wherever he was. Then he would know…
     Walking back through the drugstore to the parking lot he felt light-headed, a little crazy. But there was the Datsun waiting for him, as real as any other car. Somehow Norlund could not generate a great deal of worry about himself personally in this situation. He wasn’t wealth enough for anyone to concoct an elaborate plot to kidnap him. And now he was at least doing something, which was a hell of a lot better than simply sitting in the hospital waiting for a little girl to die.
     He got back into the Datsun, and with an energetic movement closed the door. “Ginny, you say. Short for Virginia.”
     “Yep.” His guide, employer, whatever she was, drove out of the parking lot and slid expertly back into the street’s traffic. Now they were heading west.
     “Where we going, Ginny?”
     He had expected more mystery, but her answer was frank, or at least sounded that way. “Out near Wheaton. There’s an old house out there, a former farmhouse actually, that we use as a kind of base. We’ll put you up there for tonight, and tomorrow you’ll be on your way. Meanwhile, the rest of this afternoon and this evening will be spent largely in explanations.”
     “Hooray. I’ll be on my way where?”
     “That’s one of the things the explanations are going to cover.”
     “Do you suppose we could start them now?”
     She glanced sideways at him. “It’ll be much easier if we do it at the house, believe me. It’ll be a sort of show and tell.”
     “Okay. As long as you guys understand I’m not worth kidnapping, I give the plan a tentative okay.” Norlund sat back, watching the passage of ordinary houses and humdrum people. Then he turned to Ginny. “You know, right now I feel like thanking you. I don’t know what this is going to turn out to be, but at least it’s something. Know what I mean? At this moment for me, life is not terminally dull and grim.”
     Ginny showed him her best smile yet. “Now that’s the kind of man I like.”