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He gazed across the street at a house indistinguishable,
except in detail, from the ones on either
side. It had a door of a green so dark that
it was almost black. To one side and above
it were symmetrically proportioned windows,
their light lending a haze of warmth to the
chill November dusk. Framed within them he
could see an interior of clean lines and
ordered spaces; from where he stood he had
an angular glimpse of paintings, furniture
and works of art arranged in what looked
like a pleasing mixture of the antique and
It was a prospect that he would normally
have found inviting, but all he felt now
was a profound apprehension, verging on dread,
of what and who he was about to meet in there.
Sam had spoken to Ralph Campbell on the
phone only once - less than an hour ago.
He knew nothing of him apart from what Joanna
had told him, which did not include the fact
that they were married. "My wife" was
how Campbell had referred to her. It made
no sense that Joanna and this man should
be married, and it filled him with an aching
sense of something far more disquieting than
jealousy, and to which he could not yet give
He noticed a couple of passers-by dart a
curious glance in his direction, and realized
that he had lost track of how long he had
been standing there. A few minutes at most.
He waited as a cab picked up a fare in front
of him and pulled away, then stepped off
The house seemed to grow, filling his field
of vision as he approached. He had the fleeting
impression that it was reaching out to him,
enfolding him, preparing to absorb him. He
felt a moment of irrational panic, but forced
himself on without breaking his stride.
As a scientist he was committed to a rational
response to all things. Reason and logic,
he believed, were the only tools at our disposal
in any attempt that we might make to penetrate
the mystery of our being; though how far
they could take us on that quest was becoming,
at least to him, increasingly open to doubt.
These past months had seen the widening of
a gulf between things that had happened and
any ability he may once have had to make
sense of them. It was a gulf into which the
shadow land of superstition had begun to
insinuate itself, spreading into every corner
of his mind like the gray mist of the Manhattan
twilight that settled all around him into
every crack and crevice of the city. Superstition,
he now knew from painful personal experience,
was the one thing against which reason offered
He climbed the stone steps and reached out
to push the bell, deliberately suppressing
any hesitation that he felt. He heard it
ring somewhere distantly, then waited,
forcing from his mind any preconception
of the man whose footsteps he half imagined
he could hear coming towards him.
A moment later the door was opened by someone
tallish with a well groomed mass of thick,
dark hair. His eyes too were dark, with an
inquiring, steady gaze. He wore a comfortable
tailored jacket in a good tweed, gray trousers,
a knitted tie. His shoes were polished wingtips
in a rich burgundy and looked handmade. Sam
would have put him in his late thirties.
"Mr Campbell? I'm Sam Towne..."
They didn't shake hands. Campbell looked
as though he might under normal circumstances
have had a pleasant smile, but at the moment
he was as wary of Sam Towne as Sam was of
him. When he stepped back from the door in
a wordless invitation to his visitor to enter,
there was an assurance in his movement that
was more than just physical; it spoke of
breeding, a sense of who he was - and probably,
thought Sam, of old money.
"As I told you on the phone, my wife
isn't here yet," he said, leading the
way into the drawing room.
It worried Sam that she wasn't there. He
wanted to ask where in God's name she could
have been since the events of that morning
- events of which, he felt reasonably certain,
this man in front of him knew nothing. But
he held his tongue. He must tread warily,
proceed with caution. As much as he needed
to know that Joanna was safe, he had to avoid
antagonizing Campbell. He needed to talk
to him, find out who he was, and many other
things about him; he had to ask more questions
than any stranger had a right to ask.
Sam knew he must have sounded odd on the
phone. Yet he could see that the other man
was at least initially reassured by his appearance.
There was nothing very threatening about
Sam Towne. Of medium height and build, about
the same age as Campbell, he looked like
what he was - an underpaid academic with
little in the way of worldly ambition or
material achievement. He glimpsed his reflection
in the big Venetian mirror over the carved
stone fireplace, and realized how shabby
he looked in these surroundings, with his
raincoat hanging open over a well-worn corduroy
jacket, denim shirt and jeans.
"I'm sorry," Campbell said, as
though correcting an omission of protocol
on his part, "can I take your coat?"
Sam slipped it off and handed it over. "I
don't intend taking up any more of your time
than I have to," he said, as though
by way of reassurance.
Campbell nodded and went out into the hall,
where he hung the coat on an antique iron
"Can I offer you a drink?" he
said as he returned, good manners not entirely
concealing the suspicion he still felt.
"No - thank you very much."
"Then why don't you sit down, and tell
me what this is about?"
Campbell indicated an Italian sofa in oatmeal
hessian, then sat in an armchair across from
it, and waited.
Towne leaned forward, caught himself twisting
his hands, and laced his fingers to keep
"This is all going to sound very strange.
I gather from what you said on the phone
that your wife has never spoken of me or
the work that I've been doing..."
"To the best of my knowledge she hasn't,
Mr Towne - sorry, Dr Towne I believe you
"I'm a research psychologist at Manhattan
University," he began. "I run a
project investigating various kinds of anomalous
phenomena." He felt his fingers start
to twist again, pulled them apart and made
an open gesture as he ran through the usual
brief litany with which he began any explanation
of his work. "Basically, we've been
looking into the interaction of human consciousness
with measurable physical devices and systems.
It covers fields such as telepathy, precognition,
psychokinesis, remote viewing..."
Campbell's eyes narrowed slightly. "You
mean you're some kind of psychic investigator?" he
"Broadly speaking, yes, though I dislike
the word 'psychic'. It's vague and implies
a prejudgment of the phenomena we're observing.
We're psychologists, engineers, statisticians
and physicists. Eight of us, though we work
with other departments in the university
as well as outside groups and individuals."
"What does all this have to do with
my wife? To the best of my knowledge she
has no experience of such things, nor any
interest in them."
Sam had to be careful here. He still didn't
know who or what he was dealing with. The
man across from him looked normal enough,
civilised, thoughtful. But he couldn't be
sure of anything any more.
"Someone with your wife's name, or
I should say using her maiden name, Joanna
Cross, has been involved in a program I have
been running for some time."
Campbell looked at him with a disbelief
that bordered on hostility. "That's
impossible. I would have known about any
such thing. You must have made a mistake."
"Perhaps. If so, I'm here to clear
Campbell got to his feet with a restlessness
that, it seemed to Sam, he was trying to
conceal. He walked over to the fireplace,
looked down into the empty grate, then turned
once more to his visitor.
"You mean that some woman has been
going around using my wife's identity? Is
that what you're saying?"
"I don't want to alarm you. I'm sure
there is some explanation..."
"Forgive me, I think this is very alarming
indeed," Campbell said, his tone hardening. "And
quite possibly a matter for the police."
"No, it's not something for the police," Sam
responded with more weariness than urgency,
as though such a course would merely be a
waste of time. "As a matter of fact
the police are already involved - in a way."
"How?" Campbell shot back, his
voice tightening with concern.
"Two men have died today."
Seeing the flash of alarm in the other man's
eyes, he added quickly, "Your wife -
or this woman calling herself your wife -
was not directly involved. She wasn't even
present when it happened."
"Then why are you here?"
Towne hesitated. How could he begin to explain
without sounding like a lunatic? His fears
for her, like his deep misgivings about this
man across from him, were not the kind that
could be summed up quickly or expressed in
any easily intelligible way. "I'm sorry," he
said eventually, "it's very hard to
explain without your wife actually being
Campbell frowned. "Look, Dr Towne,
my wife is an intelligent woman and a free
agent, but I'm not sure I can have you upsetting
her with a wild story about some total stranger
pretending to be her - especially at the
He stopped, as though deciding not to elaborate
on those last words, but his tone implied
that she might be in some particularly delicate
state: unwell perhaps; burdened by some problem;
or maybe simply pregnant. Whatever the reason,
Campbell made it clear that he was prepared
to defend her against any intrusion or unnecessary
"I understand how all this must sound," Sam
"Do you? I don't even know who you
are, apart from what you tell me."
"You can call up the university."
Campbell was silent for a moment. Sam felt
that he would make the call, if not immediately
then later. He hoped he would.
"Look," he said, attempting the
conciliatory tone of a reasonable man, "perhaps
we can clear this thing up without troubling
your wife. Do you happen to have a photograph
of her that I could see?"
"Of course I do. Though I'm not sure
what that would prove - except maybe to show
you that this woman you're talking about
is obviously not my wife."
"At least it would be a first step."
Campbell started across the room towards
an ornate chinese cabinet, but stopped as
he pulled open a drawer. They had both heard
a sound in the hall.
As she entered, Sam felt himself pulled
to his feet more by sheer nervous tension
than politeness. Campbell had already crossed
the room to kiss her lovingly on the cheek,
clearly happy and relieved to see her.
"Darling," he was saying, "this
is Dr Sam Towne of Manhattan University.
He's been telling me a rather odd story..."
He stopped because Sam had gasped audibly.
Both he and the woman who had just entered
turned their gaze toward the man who stood
with his mouth slightly open and his pale
blue eyes staring, unblinking, at her. His
face was white and he looked on the verge
of passing out.
Sam Towne had not been ready for this.
Something impossible had happened.