They raced down the nearly abandoned street, flowing in normal time since Lester needed to use his radio.
“I’ve got that address for you, detective,” Mary from dispatch said across the police channel. “1108 South Street, Apartment D. ‘Kay?”
“Copy that, Mary. Send the boys. Send anyone you got. I’ll meet them there,” Lester said and slammed down the mike. He forced himself to slow down as he pulled onto South Street. If Clarence was still alive, he didn’t want to spook the old guy. If he wasn’t… if he wasn’t, Lester didn’t want him to see him coming.
1108 wasn’t hard to find. The detective had probably driven right by it a hundred times. The three story brick apartment building was just landscape to him until that night. Lester bolted from the car not bothering to shut the door. Behind him, he heard Gallowglass vomit into the gutter.
“You alright?” he asked, not really caring, but needing the stranger’s talent.
“Car sick, detective,” Gallowglass answered. “It is my curse. You drive like a madman in any case.”
“Can you do your time thing?”
Gallowglass drew a deep breath, wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his coat, and the city around them froze. Lester waited as he caught up, and the two men entered the building together.
Inside, the stair rails were run in iron and pine nearly as dented and scratched as the green linoleum on the floor. A variety of bicycles crowded the already narrow hallways, and Lester had to turn sideways to make it to the stairs.
“We got time?” he asked. His heart was fluttering like a squirrel’s, and Lester remembered the images of his dying before saving the boy.
“I’ll see to it, detective,” Gallowglass answered. They climbed the steps at a reasonable pace, giving Lester’s heart and Gallowglass’s stomach a chance to calm down.
“What’s this kid mean to you?” the detective asked. “I mean, people go missing everyday. Six people died on my beat this year so far, and two of them were kids. Where were you then, pal?”
“This wasn’t always a city. When I was a boy, it was just a town outside of the city proper. I lived here. I was married in that church just down the road. My wife and son died in a flood not a mile away from here. For all my power, for all my gifts, I could not undo their deaths. Time flows ever forward, detective. It is like a river I can speed up or dam for a time, but never reverse.”
They paused at the second floor landing. Lester made eye contact with the stranger and finally recognized the blank expression. He’d seen it on fathers and husbands when he’d had to tell them their loved one wasn’t going to be coming home again. It was the stoic mask of a strong man in unbearable pain.
“Everything reminded me of them,” Gallowglass went on in his relentless drone. “I entertained thoughts of my own death. But I have my talent, you see, so instead, I went into the hills and found a deep cave, and I sat in the darkness and slowed time around me. I sat there while every trace of my wife and son washed from this planet. That was 18 months ago to me detective. To the rest of the world it’s been two hundred years.”
He crossed the landing to the door marked “D,” Lester trailing a step behind. They stood waiting in the silence, staring at the brass letter and thinking of what they might find on the other side of that door, frozen in time.
“It didn’t work, you know.” Gallowglass’s eyes fixed on the door as he spoke. “I came to my home and found the big city had overgrown my little town. I found a world full of amazing machines and a nation where I had known a wilderness. I had to relearn to speak my own language. And still, everything reminds me of them. My talent won’t heal my heart, detective, but I saw your flyers and hoped I could make another use of it. I’ve read your file. I’ve been to Clarence’s house. His mother is a good woman who doesn’t deserve to loose a son and a husband. I can stop that, detective.Wecan stop that.”
Lester didn’t know what to say. There was nothing to say. He nodded, drew his gun, and kicked at the door. It didn’t budge. It was like kicking a brick wall.
“Jesus,” he said wincing. “That damned thing’s steel reinforced oak. It’ll take a battering ram to get through.”
“Allow me, detective,” Gallowglass offered. “I know a little trick. I must collapse the larger sphere to do this, so time will flow normally. Be ready.”
There was a popping sound and the susurration of city noises began again.
The stranger put his hand in front of the doorknob and Lester watched as a circle of discoloration appeared in the door and frame.
The brass coating on the doorknob flaked and fell off. Rust grew from a scratch in the deadbolt and quickly overwhelmed the mechanism. As the detective watched, it crumbled to dust. The wood itself sagged and melted away. It was like watching a timelapse film of a rotting jack-o’-lantern. In moments, there was a perfect hole and the door swung open on creaking hinges.
The loud crack of a gun came from inside the apartment, and Gallowglass was down on his back, blood pouring from his chest. Lester moved out to the line of fire, but everything went silent as the world around him froze. He ducked around the corner and saw the old usher standing with a gun pressed to Clarence’s head. The boy, gagged and bound to a chair with duct tape, was trying to scream. Both were lodged, unmoving, in their respective moments of terror.
“Detec…tive,” Gallowglass moaned. Lester rushed to the fallen man and began examining the wound.
“No…time,” the stranger said. “I am… going to pass out. When… I do… the pocket will collapse.” He drew a deep, ragged breath, and his emotionless face finally broke as the pain hit him. “Save…the boy.”
Lester stood up. There was a frantic desperateness in the old usher’s eyes, the detective could see it from the doorway. When the pocket collapsed, the sick old man would shoot the boy. Lester could never get there is time to stop it. He could almost see the hammer on the old man’s gun fighting against Gallowglass’s will.
Blood ran out from under Gallowglass’s coat, and with it, time. Lester had to find a way, and scant few seconds to find it. A boy’s life hung in the balance.
His heart told him there was only one answer.
Lester raised his .357 without the slightest hesitation, took careful aim of the usher’s head, and fired a round. Three feet out, the slug hit the edge of the sphere like a dart into a sponge, hanging there. Unable to adjust or regret his actions, the detective lowered his gun and waited.
Gallowglass passed out three seconds later and time resumed its unrelenting flow. The usher blinked and Lester’s shot hit him just above his left eye, making a circler spatter pattern on the apartment wall. Clarence, to whom the detective’s movements must have looked like a badly spliced film, passed out.