Upstairs Library — 1955
“Pardon me,” the ghost said, “Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein.”
Electricity surges through the air and wraps me in a current of excitement. The papers on my desk flutter though the window to the library is closed. “But you are Professor Einstein, aren’t you?”
The old man shrugs. “Professor Einstein passed away.”
“Yes, I understand,” I say. I stand up. My fingertips hold the papers down, keep them from drifting to the floor. “But you’re him. You’re Albert Einstein.”
“Whatever makes you think that?” That white shock of hair is distinct. Who else could this be?
A woman wearing a black suit is pointing a ray gun at Professor Einstein. I wish I hadn’t seen all those science fiction B-movies now, they didn’t mix well with the whisky. She’s almost as tall as me and her suit was tailored, her shirt open to show some cleavage. She had bracelets on her left wrist that clattered against one another and she was wearing two-inch heels. “Who are you?”
She turns to me, completely surprised. “Who are you?”
There was a loud popping sound, like a balloon exploding. Another rush of wind throws all the papers on my desk to the floor.
Professor Einstein is gone. “Huh?”
“Damn it,” the woman syas. She holsters the ray gun inside her jacket and if I didn’t know it was there, I wouldn’t have seen it. “He’s gone.” She brushed back her long dark hair with a casual move that drew my attention to her chest again. I looked away then looked at her face. She wore more makeup than my wife who is the most vain creature I’ve ever known.
“I’m confused,” I say.
“Yes,” the woman says and goes to the sideboard. She picks up the decanter and pours three fingers of whisky. “That’s normal.”
I open my mouth and then shut it. When I’m quiet I learn more.
The woman sipped my whisky and made an approving sound. “Nice. You have a refined palate.”
I’m not doing very well at avoiding staring at her cleavage.
She finishes the whisky and pours some more. “Would you like a glass?” She held up the decanter. I nod and she poured. The way she moved – it’s hard to describe. She was smooth, flawless, totally a part of the room and yet somehow not. She set the glass on my desk and waited for me to join her in a toast.
“To the living,” she said and clinked her glass against mine. I sipped and watched her over the rim of my drink.
Her smile was a reward, I suppose. “You’re patient,” she said. “Most people would be assaulting me with a billion questions by now. I like that.” She winks at me.
“I’m Steven Mencken,” I say. “This is my house.”
“Doctor Steven Mencken, I know,” she said. “Nohemi Bryan, Parcae Institute.”
I let my puzzlement show. Women don’t behave this way in my department or dress like that. I didn’t know what to do so I sipped my whisky again. I would have to get out more if the world was moving on this way. Fanny would just have to understand.
“You’ve never heard of us,” Nohemi said. “We don’t exist.”
“No, no. The Parcae are the Fates from Roman mythology. Also equivalent to the Norns of Norse myth or the Moirae from the Greek. I’ve heard of them but not your Institute.”
Nohemi smiles at me, not quite condescending but certainly patient. I found myself very attracted to her. She sat on the front edge of my desk and I looked at the curve of her leg and hip for too long before I found her face again. “There’s no fooling you,” she said. “I’m not one of the Three, in case you were wondering.”
“You could be Clotho,” I say without thinking. “You’re beautiful enough.” I saluted her with my glass and took another sip before I set it down.
“Thank you,” Nohemi said. “You don’t really mean that, though.”
“No,” she said, a little firmer, “you don’t. You’re feeling the effects of an inhibition field. We use them to influence people in our immediate vicinity to get what we want and leave you without a memory of ever having met us.” She reached into the right inside pocket of her jacket (opposite the impossible raygun) and pulled out a small rectangular object, the size of a Zippo. The silvery thing blinked two green lights at her and she pressed on it.
Immediately I feel different, as though I just dropped three feet straight down. My stomach lurches and I grab the edge of my desk.
When I look up again, her demeanor was sympathetic. “You’ll be fine in about thirty seconds.”
I sit hard in my chair, bewildered. I take a deep breath and count ten then down the last of my whisky. “God,” I said.
I see her looking down at me. “Why are you here?”
“I’m waiting, right now,” Nohemi said, “for the ghost you were talking to.”
I took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “What’s he doing here?”
Nohemi crossed her wrists in her lap. I can smell her perfume now, a subtle mix of primrose and sandstone and something else. Something that reminded me of somewhere else. Asia, maybe. “What’s your field of expertise, Doctor?”
“Electromagnetism,” I say. “I like the ideas of quantum electrodynamics, too.”
“QED,” Nohemi said.
I brighten. “Yes,” I said. “Are you familiar with the subject?” This woman was more interesting by the minute.
“Not beyond a basic acquaintance with some of Dr. Feynman’s ideas,” she said. “Only enough to do my job.”
I sit back and consider what I know. A woman who calls herself Nohemi appeared from nowhere in pursuit of the ghost of Einstein. She carries a raygun and works for a group named after the ancient Fates. She’s patient, doting, almost. I notice she checked her watch, but it was unlike anything I’d seen with a wide band… Something clicked and I a connection was made.
“That’s it,” Nohemi said. “In a nutshell. I didn’t mean the Professor any harm but he goes wandering and this house…” She looked around the room as her voice trailed off. “There’s something here that attracts the weird stuff. The things polite society doesn’t want to talk about.”
She stood and smoothed her jacket down, then brushed her forearms, pulled on the cuff of her shirt like any man. “And here we are,” she said, “waiting so I can do my job.”
“What makes you think he’s coming back?”
Nohemi held her arms out wide. “The house.”
“What has this got to do with me?” I hate the pitch of my voice. I sound like a simpering school boy. It’s been too long since I’ve wanted the attention of a beautiful woman and I want this woman’s attention.
“Not a thing,” she said and looked over the desk at my lap. “Hm.”
I spin in my chair with a creak of springs and look around me. “What?”
“You’re right around fifty, aren’t you?”
I’m stunned. I shouldn’t be, she knew who I am, but still. “Next month,” I say.
“I like older men.” Her smile confirmed what I thought: she was interested. Maybe that inhibition field thing was working on her, too.
“Pardon me,” Professor Einstein said.
Nohemi whirled around with speed I’ve never thought possible in a human. She was so fast I didn’t see her draw the gun but there it was in her hand and less than two feet from the ghost of the physicist. “Professor,” she said, her voice commanding and scary, “I need you to come with me. I’m authorized to use force if I have to but I don’t want to hurt you.”
Yes, that’s exactly what she said. The raygun is glowing now and there’s a low hum in the room. Einstein holds out his hands in surrender. He was holding a hat in his left hand that he didn’t have before.
“Always I am being mistaken for the great Einstein,” he said and gave a mischievous smile. “He has passed on.”
“Don’t play dumb, Professor,” Nohemi said, her eyes narrowing. “I’m not in the mood. Planck is looking for you.”
Einstein waved a hand at her, looking every bit the little old Jewish man. “I am tired of him and his arguments,” the professor said. “Give me Heisenberg or Schrodinger.”
“They haven’t passed,” Nohemi said. “Are you coming with me nicely or do I have to get rough with you?” She waggled the raygun at him. “I haven’t used this yet today.”
The professor nodded. “Ja, I am coming. Open the way.”
Nohemi reached into her jacket and pulled out the Zippo again. “Five seconds, Professor.”
I stand up when I see a disc pop into existence near the french doors that lead onto the veranda. Yes, right there, well – a little to your right next to the settee. Yes. There.
Anyway, this disc appears is made of shifting light from blue to white and it’s getting larger with each second. The papers that had been on my desk are flying around my feet and Nohemi’s hair is swirling in the current from the disc. It only takes half a minute for the disc to be man-sized and the wind is steady, a stiff breeze, now. Einstein looks at me and nods. “You are on the right track, my boy,” he said. Then he put on his hat and walked into the light. The disc closed behind him.
The woman tucked the raygun back inside her jacket in the becalmed library.
“That’s that,” she said and came around the desk to face me. I didn’t know what to do. “You should kiss me,” she said, “so I have a safe journey home.”
She melted into my arms and since Fanny is the only woman I’ve held like that for nigh on twenty years, it was strange and thrilling and wonderful and I want it to last forever.
And it did. I tumble and fall into a whirlpool of desire as we kiss.
Until Nohemi breaks the kiss and strokes my cheek. “That was hot,” she said. “I bet you’re something else.” She looked closely at me and I wish I could have read her mind just then.
“Who are you?” I can’t resist asking. I need to know.
“I told you.”
I won’t let go of her. My hands are on her hips and she’s closer to me than she should be. Her breasts were firm and warm. “No. Really.”
She patted my chest and pulled my hands off her. “I can’t tell you now,” she said.
“Implying you might be able to tell me another time,” I say. “When might that be?”
Nohemi is wistful then she turned reproachful. “Another time, as you say.” She stepped back and straightened her jacket and sleeves as before. “Now it’s time I left.”
“Don’t take the memory with you,” I say. She stopped and looked over her shoulder at me. “You said you could do that before,” I say, more plaintive than I want to be. “Please don’t take the memory.”
Her smile is warm, endearing. She’s twenty years my junior and I want her like I’ve never wanted anyone else. “I turned the field off earlier,” she said. “Remember?”
I relax. She took one step back toward me, then another disc opened behind her, this one shifting green to blue. “I asked for this assignment,” Nohemi said. “I wanted to meet you.”
“I’ll tell you next time,” she said. “Your wife is coming up the stairs.” Nohemi Bryan of the Parcae Institute blew me a kiss and stepped into a disc made of light and was gone.
When I hear your knock on the door to my private library, Fanny, I am thinking of a woman from somewhere else and the brief moments we had in this room. The feelings that have been stirred in me, the desires. Just before I unlock the door, I can smell her perfume. Faint. Disappearing.
And there you are, Fanny. My wife of nineteen years, who I think of as the love of my life, in your dressing gown, come to tell me goodnight.
“What’s been going on in here? This place is a mess.”
“I’ll tell you another time,” I say but I’m not sure I will. I’m not sure at all.