When Lucy woke up, she needed a moment to realize she had awakened. She’d gone to sleep or passed out or whatever it was so fast, she hardly even knew she’d done it. But the Asian man in the room with her and Paul sure hadn’t been there what seemed like only a few seconds before. He looked mad enough to bite nails in half.
“Hi,” Paul said. “This is Sammy Wong. He’s one of my friends from the Sunset District.”
“Oh. Hello,” Lucy managed. Did that mean what she thought it did? Was this furious-looking Mr. Wong from whatever other San Francisco Paul came from? If he was, Paul had said so in a way he wouldn’t know about. She nodded to the older man. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
“I’m not pleased to meet you, not even a little bit,” he snapped. The glare he sent Paul could have melted iron. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
That made Lucy squeak in surprise. “What about the Germans?” she asked.
“What about ’em?” Sammy Wong said. He walked to the door and opened it. Lucy and Paul followed him.
Feldgendarmerie men sprawled in the corridor. They weren’t dead—their chests were going up and down. But they’d passed out as fast as Lucy and Paul had. One of them had held a cup of coffee. He’d spilled it on himself, and all over the floor.
More Germans had dropped in their tracks, all through the jail. “How did you do this?” Lucy asked.
Sammy Wong gave her a smile that was anything but friendly. “I’m magic.”
She was tempted to believe him. She was also tempted to kick him for not telling her what she wanted to know. Paul suffered from that disease, too. But this Sammy Wong didn’t suffer from it—he reveled in it. He hustled her and Paul along as if every second counted. And every second probably did.
The guards outside the jail hadn’t been flattened by the magic, or whatever it was. When one of them asked Wong, “Was ist hier los?” he answered in fluent German. It wasn’t the bits and pieces of the language that most Americans picked up. He spoke German like a German—like a high-ranking German, in fact. He pulled papers from his pocket to back up his words. When he finished, all the guards came to attention and clicked their heels. “Jawohl!” they chorused. Wong led Paul and Lucy down the stairs and down the street.
“What did you tell them?” Lucy whispered once they were out of earshot.
He looked at her. “That I was the Kaiser’s cousin, and I wanted to play hopscotch with the two of you.”
She did try to kick him then. He sprang out of the way—he might have been good at hopscotch. Paul said, “He told them he was going to use us for bargaining chips to try to trap some of the men from the Tongs.”
Lucy hadn’t known Paul understood German that well. It didn’t surprise her. By that time, nothing much would have surprised her.
Had Sammy Wong really turned out to be the Kaiser’s cousin, she would just have nodded and filed the news away, like a folder back in the office.
Would she ever see the office again? How could she, when she’d just broken out of the Feldgendarmerie jail? The Germans and their American stooges were going to start turning San Francisco upside down and inside out.
“What happens now?” she asked, still in a very small voice.
“Now we have to get Dad out of his mess,” Paul said.
“And then we have to get out of here,” Wong added.
Paul’s we plainly included Lucy. Wong’s we, even more plainly, didn’t. Lucy called him on it: “What happens to me now? What happens to my family?”
He scowled. Instead of answering her, he rounded on Paul. “We ought to leave her in the lurch. You know it bloody well, too.” He sounded as furious—and as sure he was right—as anyone Lucy had ever heard.
Paul didn’t even blink. “Go ahead,” he said calmly. “But if you leave her, you leave me, too.”
“Wait!” Lucy exclaimed.
He shook his head. “I’m not waiting for anybody. We’ve been through too much together. I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you if I can stop it.”
“You blockhead.” Sammy Wong still sounded savage. “Half of what’s happened here—more than half—is your own stupid fault.”
“Some of it is, yeah. I made plenty of mistakes,” Paul said with a shrug. “More than half? No way, Jose”.” Lucy had no trouble figuring out what that meant, but nobody in this San Francisco would have said it. Paul went on, “I’ll tell you what the real trouble is— what we were selling. It was too good. It got us noticed.”
Wong said something about what they’d been selling that should have made the sidewalk catch fire. “Elliott didn’t have any trouble,” he finished.
Paul ignored the bad language. “No. You’re wrong,” he said, replying to the older man’s last sentence. “Elliott didn’t see any trouble. We had it from day one. That means it was here waiting for us ahead of time.”
“Any old excuse in a storm,” Sammy Wong jeered.
“Okay, think like that. Go ahead. But we can find out.” Paul turned to Lucy. “How long has your dad been wondering about Curious Notions and what it sold?”
“Quite a while now,” she answered. “At least two or three years. Maybe longer—I’m not real sure.”
“You see?” Paul said to Sammy Wong.
“I see somebody who got himself in trouble and who’s looking for a way out,” Wong said.
“I got myself into some of this trouble, yeah, but not all of it,” Paul said. “And the trouble between the Tongs and the Germans has been here since … for longer than we’ve been alive.”
Sammy Wong didn’t notice that he’d changed course there. Lucy did. He’d probably been about to say something like since before we got here. But if he did say that, it would give away that he and Wong had come from a different world. He might also have given away that Lucy already knew they were from that other world.
“When we get home—” Wong didn’t just change course. He broke off, and went back to nasty muttering in English and Chinese.
He led Lucy and Paul south, away from Market Street—off to an area not too far from where Lucy worked. Paul said, “Where are we going? This isn’t the way back to the Palace Hotel.”
Lucy started howling laughter. She couldn’t help it. It poured out of her, peal after peal, till she couldn’t even walk any more. She stood there, doubled over, tears running down her cheeks. Paul and Sammy Wong stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. So did people walking by on the street. “You were . . .” she started, and then had to stop, because another spasm seized her. Finally, she got it out: “You were staying … at the .. . Palace Hotel?”
“Yeah, we were.” Paul reached out. She had to lean on his arm to straighten up. He still looked puzzled, and almost angry, too. “What about it? You scared me half to death there.”
“When you disappeared—I guess that’s when Mr. Wong found you—the Triads were trying to figure out where you’d gone.” Lucy spoke carefully. Her ribs and stomach hurt from laughing too much. “Your father didn’t know, either. When he and Stanley Hsu were talking, he got rude and said he thought you were staying at the Palace. Oh, my.” She wiped her streaming eyes on her sleeve.
Paul thought about it. Then he said, “I guess maybe you had to be there.”
“I guess maybe you did,” Sammy Wong said. “Come on. In here.” Here was a not very fancy house in a not very fancy neighborhood. It had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a tiny living room, and an even tinier kitchen. Wong sighed. “I’ll sleep on the sofa. I didn’t expect to have more than one person along.” He sent Paul one more sour stare.
“Life is full of surprises,” was all Paul said.
“If you sit tight, that’ll sure be one,” Wong snapped. Paul turned a dull red.
“We’re all on the same side here—I think,” Lucy said. “Can we try to get along till we figure out what we ought to do next?” She had no idea what that would be. She had to hope Paul and Sammy Wong did. They’d better, she thought. They can do almost anything. But when it comes to knowing what they should do, they’re no better than anybody else—worse than some people. The thought was oddly cheering.
“You make good sense,” Paul said. “You usually do, I think.” “Thank you,” Lucy said. She looked toward Sammy Wong. The other man from that other Sunset District still seemed anything but happy, but he nodded. That made Lucy feel a little better. If only she’d had the faintest notion where they were going from here, she would have felt better yet.
Somebody shook Paul awake in the middle of the night. A bright light shone in his face. Panic threatened to grab hold of him. But it wasn’t the Feldgendarmerie. It was Sammy Wong in a flannel nightshirt. In its own way, that was almost as scary a sight as a big, beefy German in a trench coat.
“Listen, kid, we’ve got to talk,” Wong said in a voice that brooked no argument.
“Go ahead. I’m listening,” Paul said around a yawn. His wits slowly started to work. He pointed back behind Wong. “You closed the door.”
“You bet I did. This is Crosstime Traffic business, not stuff for the locals.”
Paul didn’t like it when Wong talked about Lucy that way. She was a local, of course, but it made her sound like part of the background in a movie. “Well, go on,” he said.
“You really know how to complicate things, don’t you?” Wong said.
“Things were complicated before I got here,” Paul said. “I keep telling you that, but you don’t want to listen to me.”
“Okay, fine. I’m listening now. Things were complicated before you got here. I even believe you, for whatever you think that’s worth.” Sammy Wong’s voice dropped to an angry growl: “But you sure haven’t done one stinking thing to make ’em any simpler, have you?”
Paul bit his lip. He couldn’t very well argue with that. If he said he’d just tried to stay out of jail and stay out of trouble, the man from Crosstime Traffic would ask him how much luck he’d had—either that or he’d just laugh himself silly. Quietly, Paul asked, “Where do we go from here?”
Wong pointed a stubby, accusing finger at him. “You made me show some of my cards getting you out of jail. The Germans will be having kittens trying to figure out how I did that. And now we’ve got your stray kitty in the next room.” He jerked his chin toward the bedroom Lucy was using.”
“It’s not like that,” Paul said wearily. He also thought for a moment about the marmalade cat that had started to adopt Curious Notions. He hoped it was all right, and that someone else was giving it handouts these days.
Sammy Wong snorted. “Yeah, yeah. But even if it’s not, it’s every bit as much trouble as if it were. The Germans and the Triads and her folks will all be wondering what’s happened to her.” Paul would have put Lucy’s folks first, but he saw Wong’s point.
“If we’d left her in jail, they’d know what was happening to her. And so would I.” He glared at Wong. “I bet you’ve broken all the mirrors in your house so you don’t have to look at them.”
With a shrug, the older man answered, “When you’ve got a mug like mine, looking in the mirror never was much of a thrill.” That made Paul glare in a different way. Wong ignored him and went on, “You really do complicate my life. You complicate things for the company, too. Lucy knows too much.” A stab of fear shot through Paul. Sammy Wong ignored that, too. He said, “Now we’ve got to do something with her. Probably with her whole blinking family, too.”
For a second, Paul thought he’d said do something to her. He braced himself to jump the man from Crosstime Traffic. He knew that would likely get him nothing but a set of lumps, but he was going to try it. Even if he did knock Wong cold, he’d stay stuck in this alternate forever—or till Crosstime Traffic brought in somebody else and hunted him down. All the same . . .
Then he heard what Sammy Wong had really said. He gaped. “What—what can we do with them?” he stammered.
“Get ’em out of this alternate, if we can,” Wong answered. He pointed at Paul again, this time with his thumb upraised to make his hand into a gun. “Kid, you would not believe the kind of forms you’re gonna have to fill out when you get home. Would not believe. Serves you right, too. When we have to extract somebody from an alternate, and especially when we have to extract a bunch of somebodies . . . You miserable nuisance.”
Paul went right on gaping. “You mean—we do that?” He shook his head in disbelief. “In all the training we got, they said we never do stuff like that. Never, with a capital N, no matter what.”
“Yeah, well, there are plenty of good reasons for that, too. I bet you can figure out most of ’em for yourself.” Sammy Wong proceeded to spell out what he meant in spite of what he’d just said. Grownups did that too often, as far as Paul was concerned. “Biggest one is, we want people to act like we never do it. If they thought there were times they could smuggle a boyfriend or a girlfriend— ’cause that’s what it’s usually about—back to the home timeline, they’d do it too often. People in the alternates would start wondering what was going on. And besides, not everybody from the alternates can fit into the home timeline. Most of the time, moving people is a lot—a lot—more trouble than it’s worth. Every once in a while . . .” He shrugged. “Every once in a while, you have to fill out all those stupid forms.”
“The Woos could fit in,” Paul said eagerly. “This alternate isn’t as far along as we are, but it’s pretty well up there. They work hard. They speak English. They’re even Americans, sort of.”
“Yeah, sort of,” Wong said. “And sort of not, too. To be real Americans, they’ll have to stop looking over their shoulders all the time. But I won’t say you’re nuts—not on account ofthat, anyway.” By the look on his face, not all was forgiven or forgotten. Oh, no. He went on, “Now we’ve just got to make it happen.”
He made it sound easy. Paul wished he thought it were. “How?” he asked.
“Way I see it, we’ve got four problems,” the man from Crosstime Traffic said. “We’ve got to get your dad away from the Triads. We’ve got to make the Woos disappear. We’ve got to get to the transposition chamber. And we’ve got to do all that so nobody—not the Feldgen-darmerie, not the Triads, nobody—is any the wiser about what we really are and where we’re really from. Am I forgetting anything?”
“I don’t think so.” Paul knew he sounded troubled. “That seems like enough all by itself.”
“One step at a time, that’s all.” Wong reached out and clapped Paul on the shoulder. Paul would have thought he’d resent the attention. Instead, he was oddly glad to have it. The man from Crosstime Traffic went on, “Anyway, I wanted to make sure we were on the same page. Now go back to sleep.”
“Yeah, right,” Paul said. Sammy Wong laughed. Ten minutes later, Paul was snoring.
Mr. Wong went out early in the morning. Before he did, he sat Lucy and Paul down on the sofa. He said, “Stay here, you two, okay?” He pointed to Paul and spoke in tones of heavy menace: “This means you.”
Lucy thought Paul would get mad. Instead, he just nodded and said, “Okay.” Lucy wanted to scratch her head. Paul didn’t usually take something like that from anybody. But she didn’t think he was lying.
Evidently, Sammy Wong didn’t, either. He nodded back and walked out the door. When Lucy looked over at Paul, she found he was looking at her, too. “Hi,” she said.
“Hi, yourself,” he answered. After a moment, he added, “I’m sorry we got you into this mess.”
She started to tell him it was okay, but she didn’t. That went too far. “At least you’re trying to get us out of it,” she said. Yes, that was better.
“Now I think we are,” he said, and glanced toward the door through which his—acquaintance? colleague? what was the right word? not friend, plainly—had just left. He hesitated again. His words came out in a rush: “How would you like to see what that other Sunset District is like?”
“That. . . other Sunset District?” Lucy said slowly. She’d figured out that Paul had to come from a different world. He’d admitted it, too. Now she discovered the difference between believing it and believing it. “You really can do that? You really do do that—go back and forth, I mean?”
“We can. We do. We have to,” he said. “We’re going to get you and your family out of here. Once you get used to things where I come from, I think you’ll like it a lot better than you like this San Francisco.”
This San Francisco. The words brought home his strangeness all over again. She wondered if he was strange because he was crazy. She shook her head. Crazy people didn’t have the kinds of things Curious Notions sold. Crazy people didn’t get you out of the Germans’ jail, either. “Can you really do that?” she whispered.
“I hope so. We’re working on it,” Paul answered. “Um, one other thing.” He looked a little embarrassed, or maybe more than a little.
“What is it?” Lucy asked.
“When you find out about other alternates—worlds where things didn’t happen the way they did in this one—act surprised, okay? You’re not supposed to know anything about that. You’re not supposed to know big time.”
That was one more bit of slang nobody from this San Francisco would have used. Lucy didn’t have any trouble figuring out what it meant, though. “I’ll remember,” she promised.
“Okay,” Paul said. Lucy wondered how many different worlds— alternates, he called them—there were where people said that. Then she wondered how many there were where people didn’t. And then she wondered which number was bigger. She had so many questions, so few answers. But now, if everything went right, she’d have the chance to find some of them, anyway. No sooner had that thought crossed her mind than Paul said, “Ask you something?”
Lucy laughed. “Sure. Go ahead. But I was just thinking about all the questions I want to ask you.”
“About alternates and things?” he asked, and Lucy nodded. He managed a laugh, too, but it sounded self-conscious. “That isn’t the kind of thing I was going to ask you.”
“Well, what is?”
“When we get this mess straightened out—i/we get it straightened out—and you’re all settled in the home timeline and everything, you still want to go to that movie with me?”
“Yes, I would like to,” Lucy said seriously. “It will probably take a while for us to get used to how you do things there, and it would be nice to know somebody who already knows his way around.” She frowned. That hadn’t come out quite the way she wanted it to. It sounded as if his knowing his way around was the only reason she would want to go out with him. She tried again: “It would be nice to be friends with somebody who already knows his way around.” There. That was better.
Paul tipped an imaginary cap. “Happy to play tour guide for you, ma’am. All tips gratefully accepted.”
“You’re ridiculous,” she said. He bowed sitting down, as if she’d paid him a compliment. One of her nine million questions came to the surface: “What are movies like in the—the home timeline, did you call it?”
‘That’s right. But that’s one more thing you can forget you ever heard, too, okay?” Paul thought for a little while. “They’re mostly dumb, but they’re not dumb the same way they are here. Here they’re kind of sappy, at least to me. Boy finds out he’s really a duke’s nephew so he can marry the countess he’s in love with, that kind ofthing.”
“Sure,” Lucy said. She’d seen at least four movies with plots like that. They were a way to kill a couple of hours. Her whole family could go for eighty-five cents—three quarters, plus a dime for Michael till he turned twelve. That was a pretty good deal.
“Well, when we make movies, what we mostly do wrong is use too many special effects—too much trick photography, you’d say,” Paul told her. “We can do more of those, and fancier ones, than you can here. And sometimes, if we see lots of things blowing up or funny-looking people from other planets or ghosts or werewolves or whatever, we don’t care if there’s any real story behind them. But what you remember is mostly the spectacular stuff, not the people.”
“People are what matter,” Lucy said.
“They ought to be, anyhow,” Paul agreed.
“How much does it cost to get into a movie in the, uh, home timeline?” she asked.
“Usually about 800 dollars,” he answered. She gave him a nasty look, sure he was pulling her leg. He held up his right hand— he might have been taking an oath. “It really does, so help me. But a dollar there isn’t like a dollar here. It isn’t even like a penny here. Dollars are teeny-tiny small change. Benjamins start to be real money. A benjamin is a hundred dollars, so a movie costs eight benjamins or so.”
Lucy thought about that. “So one of your benjamins—what you call a hundred dollars—is worth about three cents of our money?”
“Three cents, a nickel—something like that.” Paul sounded as if it didn’t matter much. To him, it didn’t: “What difference does it make, as long as people have the money they need to buy what they want? And they do, or most of them do. They’re better off than people are here.”
She wondered if she ought to believe him. To try to find out, she asked, “Can they afford the things you were selling in Curious Notions?”
Instead of answering right away, Paul broke out laughing. “Lucy, that stuff is junk in the home timeline. We make it for the export market. We don’t use it ourselves. We’ve got better—lots better—at home. You’ll see.”
Lucy had trouble believing that. To her father, what Curious Notions sold was far ahead of the state of the art. The Triads and the Germans felt the same way. Junk? But the way Paul said it make her take him seriously. And if he and Sammy Wong and their people could travel back and forth between worlds, what could they do when they stayed at home? Maybe, before too long, she’d find out.
The front door opened. In came Wong. He was carrying a great big sack. By the way he handled it, it was bulky but not heavy. When he dumped it on the floor, four tightly rolled sleeping bags spilled out. Lucy caught his eye. He nodded back to her. “Three for your family—and one for your dad, Paul.”
“How do we get him back?” Tension tugged at Paul’s voice.
Sammy Wong grinned. “I think I’ve got something worked out.”
Not long before, Paul had been wild to go out on the streets of San Francisco. Now he wished he could stay in. Whenever he saw a cop, he wanted to run. He didn’t—he knew better—but he wanted to. He and Lucy had to be hotter than a two-benjamin pistol. But as long as he acted as if he belong here, knew where he was going, and knew he had a right to get there, nobody paid much attention to him. Evening twilight helped make him harder to recognize from any distance, too.
Even though he had the address, he almost walked past Stanley Hsu’s jewelry shop. It didn’t go out of the way to call attention to itself. He paused with one foot in midair when he spotted the plain door with the right number on it. Then he opened the door and went inside.
The jeweler was working on something—an earring, Paul thought—behind the counter. He looked up when the bell above the door rang. “Young Mr. Gomes!” he said. “It really is you. I tell you frankly, I had trouble believing it.”
“I’m here.” Paul rubbed at his left upper arm. “Where’s Dad?” A scrabbling noise came from overhead. “And what’s that?”
Stanley Hsu shrugged. “A repairman on the roof. My landlord warned me he would be there. Not a Feldgendarmerie man, believe me. As for your father . . .” He went into the back room. When he came out, Lawrence Gomes was with him.
“Good to see you!” Paul exclaimed. A little to his surprise, he found himself meaning it. He and Dad were like cats and dogs a lot of the time. But they were still family. That counted. And, in this dangerous alternate, they were both from the home timeline. That might have counted for more.
Stanley Hsu studied Paul. “How on earth did you get out of the Feldgendarmerie jail? Do you have any idea how upset the Germans are?”
“I’ll tell you something, Mr. Hsu—I’m not very happy with the Germans, either,” Paul said. With luck, the jeweler wouldn’t notice that he hadn’t answered his questions.
But Stanley Hsu did. Paul wasn’t very surprised. The jeweler didn’t miss much. He said, “And is it true that you brought Miss Woo out with you? I gather she is also among the missing from the jail?” Paul’s father stirred at that. For a wonder, though, he kept his mouth shut.
“I don’t know where Lucy is.” Paul kept his eyes on some carved jade not far from Stanley Hsu. As long as he was looking at something like that, his face was much less likely to give him away in a lie.
Whether it did turned out not to matter much. Stanley Hsu’s smile stopped short of his eyes. “Do you really expect me to believe that?” he asked. “She could not have escaped if you did not. Will you try to tell me anything different?”
More rattling and scraping from the roof made Paul look up. The jeweler ignored the racket. He was good at ignoring anything that didn’t matter to him. That was part of what made him so formidable.
He went on, “We still have a bargain to finish, too, don’t we? Now you and your father are both free of the Germans. That means we have some talking to do, eh? I look forward to asking you a lot of questions.”
Paul believed that. He also knew he could afford to answer none of them—not with the truth, anyway. What had Dad said to the Tongs? For that matter, what had Dad said to the Feldgen-darmerie? Dad was looking back at him, but Paul couldn’t tell what his expression meant.
Dad yawned. So did Stanley Hsu. They both crumpled to the floor. The jeweler banged his head on the counter as he went down. Paul hoped it wasn’t. . . too bad.
A couple of minutes after that, Sammy Wong walked in the front door. He wore denim overalls and carried a tool chest. Except for the derby perched on his head, he could have been a repairman in the home timeline. ‘They out?” he asked.
“You better believe it.” Paul pointed behind the counter.
“Okay.” Sammy Wong went over there and gave Paul’s father the antidote for neofentanyl. As Lawrence Gomes grunted and sat up, Wong began breaking into jewelry cases and putting some of the best pieces in the toolchest.
“Hey!” Paul said. “What are you doing that for?”
“Let ’em think it’s robbery,” the man from Crosstime Traffic answered. “Let ’em think the whole thing with Curious Notions was just a setup to rip them off. They’ll want to kill us, of course, a millimeter at a time.” He sounded much too cheerful about that. “They’ll want to kill us, but they won’t believe in crosstime travel, any more than they believe in Santa Claus.”
“He’s right,” Paul’s father said as he climbed to his feet. He nodded to Sammy Wong. “Nice scheme. Do we know each other?”
“I don’t think so.” Wong gave Paul’s father his name and went on stealing jewelry. Paul didn’t need long to decide it was a good scheme. The Tongs might decide they’d been conned. That was okay, as far as Crosstime Traffic was concerned. While the Chinese in San Francisco might tear things apart looking for robbers, they wouldn’t look for people from a different alternate.
Sammy Wong straightened. “Have enough?” Paul’s father asked. Wong nodded. Dad said, “Cool. Let’s get out of here.”
“Second the motion,” Paul added.
“No arguments from me,” Wong said. Out the door they went. Paul worried. The police, the Feldgendarmerie, and the Tongs all knew what he and his father looked like. The cops and the Germans just wanted them back. Sammy Wong was right: the Tongs would want them dead.
The Chinese man from Crosstime Traffic strode along as if he hadn’t a care in the world. So did Dad. Paul did his best to imitate them. He’d seen for himself that acting normal helped fool anybody who might be after you. It wasn’t easy, though. He kept wanting to run, and to look down at the sidewalk so nobody could get a good look at his face.
When they turned on to Market Street, Paul let out a sigh of relief. True, Market was the main drag, and had more cops on it than other streets did. But it was also packed with people. As long as Paul didn’t do anything to draw policemen’s eyes, why should they notice him? He kept telling himself the same thing over and over.
They didn’t. He and his father and Sammy Wong got back to the little house south of Market with no one the wiser. They had one problem solved, maybe even one and a half. Too many still lay ahead.
“We have to be careful around here,” Lucy told Sammy Wong. “We don’t want anyone from the shoe factory to see me.”
“No, that wouldn’t be so good,” Wong agreed. “Okay, you lead the way around it so nobody’s likely to spot us.” Once they got up on Market Street, he nodded to her again. “Very neat. Very smooth. You know your way around, all right.”
“I’d better,” she said. “This is my city, after all.” How much longer will it be my city? How different will that other San Francisco be? Is that other San Francisco real? Sometimes, when she was feeling what she’d once thought of as sensible, she had trouble believing it. But nothing that had happened to her lately was even close to sensible. When common sense stopped making sense, you stopped using it, didn’t you? That was only . . . sensible.
She tugged at a wisp of hair that had got loose. She was wearing it pulled back into a ponytail, not falling free on both sides of her face. She had on more makeup than she usually used, too. It made her look older, and not much like the serf she was used to.
She remembered the not-quite-hidden-enough glances Paul had sent her way before she went out the door. She thought they meant he found the changes interesting. She hoped so.
Then she stiffened and worried about things that mattered right this minute. Here came a Feldgendarmerie man. People got out of his way, where they wouldn’t have for any American. He walked past Lucy and Mr. Wong without even seeing them. Sure as sure, to the Germans all Chinese looked alike.
The streets around her father’s shop had a funny kind of familiarity. When she was little, she’d come here all the time. Since she’d got a job of her own, though, she’d gone there instead. So she mostly remembered what things had looked like a few years before. Some of the shops had new owners now. Some had closed. A few had opened. Things weren’t quite right, but she wasn’t always sure just how they were wrong. She kept blinking and looking around, trying to figure out what had changed.
“You’re not going in,” Sammy Wong reminded her. “Too big a chance they’d recognize you. That’s one place they will be watching, to see if you show up.”
“I know,” Lucy said. “It’s okay. We’ll do it just the way you planned.”
“Good.” Wong eyed her. “You’re a solid kid. Paul was right about that much.”
With a shrug, she answered, “I know what needs doing.”
“I think maybe we both just said the same thing.” Wong chuckled. “One thing the Feldgendarmerie won’t be looking for is an old guy bringing in a radio to get it fixed.” The radio he was carrying really didn’t work. Lucy liked that. It showed attention to detail.
There was the shop. It looked exactly the way it was supposed to. The dragon with the electric-plug tail sprawled across the window. Sammy Wong steered Lucy to the little cafe across the street. The fellow behind the counter was new. She’d never seen him before. Better yet, he’d never seen her before. He didn’t know she was Charlie Woo’s daughter. She ordered fried rice with pork and sat down where she could keep an eye on her father’s shop.
A man in the cafe seemed to be watching the shop more than he was eating. Maybe she was imagining that. Then again, maybe she wasn’t. The man didn’t pay any attention to her.
She knew what Sammy Wong would be doing across the street. He’d wait till he was the only customer—he probably wouldn’t have to wait long. Then he’d show her father the TV pictures he’d shot of her. The camera was smaller than her closed fist. The screen was just a little square of plastic with some switches and controls on the back. Nobody in this San Francisco had anything like either one. They’d helped convince her that other Sunset District really was out there . . . somewhere. If they didn’t convince her father of the same thing, nothing ever would.
Mr. Wong came out of the shop as she finished the fried rice.
He looked down the street, as if towards a friend, and nodded twice. Lucy got up and left the cafe. This was the part that made her nervous. She crossed the street and walked by in front of the shop. She didn’t go in. She didn’t even look in the window. She just wanted to show Father she really was okay. But if that man in the cafe realized who she was . . . That wouldn’t be good at all.
She came up to Wong. “Everything all right?” she asked quietly.
He nodded one more time. “They’ll be there. Now let’s us disappear.”
They didn’t go right back to the house south of Market. They made sure nobody was following them first. But Sammy Wong was grinning before very long. So was Lucy. They’d sneaked right under the Germans’ noses, and they’d got away with it. How could anything go wrong now?