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San Francisco, 1993
Two weeks of personal leave was more free time than Officer Kristen Ford could handle. A person could stroll down Pier 39 only so many times before feeling driven to leap off the nearest piling. The last thing she needed was to be compelled by sheer boredom into dwelling on her father's recent death. She should be on duty, barreling down Divisidero in a squad car, breaking up gang brawls, settling domestic squabbles.
She needed to work. It was all she had left, now that the last remaining member of her family was gone.
But yielding to the powers that be, Kristen spent her mornings reading and catching up on "All My Children." Inevitably, somebody from the station would stop by in the late afternoon to fill her in on gossip and sneak her any available paperwork on ongoing cases. Her nights consisted of reruns and microwave popcorn, tainted with a bitter attitude she couldn't seem to shake.
Late one night, a loud knock at Kristen's apartment door awoke her from a deep sleep. She opened her eyes to find herself staring up at the ceiling, her head thrown back over the couch. The theme from "Three's Company" wound its way into her slowly reviving consciousness. She glanced groggily at the clock. It was two in the morning.
Sitting up, she rubbed her hand over her eyes and yawned. Her visitor grew impatient and leaned on the doorbell. "This better be good," Kristen grumbled.
She dragged herself up from the couch. Without looking through the peephole, she turned the dead bolt and yanked the door open. A cold wind brushed her cheek as she frowned down at a tiny, unfamiliar woman standing on her doorstep in the glare ofthe porch light. "Don't tell me, I've won ten million dollars in the Publishers' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes."
The woman looked as though she might laugh. Then she seemed to realize Kristen's irritation and the bright smile melted away from her elfin face. "I've been sent to speak to you, Miss Ford."
Kristen's gaze drifted over the woman's stylish, charcoal-gray suit with matching shoes, the brightly colored silk scarf draped over one of her shoulders, and the strands of pearls around her slim neck. "Riecher sent you, didn't he?"
"Not exa -- "
"Look, I told him I don't need therapy. I went through all of this when my mother died. I can handle it."
"Of course you can," the woman responded seriously.
Kristen leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms. "Don't try to psychoanalyze me in my doorway, lady. I can tell when I'm being patronized. I know you've gone to a lot of trouble -- I mean, Jesus, it's two o'clock in the morning -- but, really, I'm just fine."
"Two o'clock?" The woman's small eyes widened as if she hadn't been aware of the hour. "The time of morning is of little consequence, Miss Ford. I am under explicit instructions to discuss this matter with you, on threat of dismissal."
Kristen smiled at that. She knew Sergeant Riecher could be insistent when it came to giving orders. The poor woman had every reason to be in fear of her job. If Riecher ever found out Officer Ford was keeping tabs on her work while she was on leave, Kristen would be canned faster than Grandma's peaches.
Tired of arguing in the doorway, Kristen decided it wouldn't do much harm to let the woman come in and ask a few questions about her childhood discipline and toilet-training experiences. By now she was wide-awake anyway. She certainly had no pressing appointments in the morning. "You can come in for ten minutes, that's all."
The woman slipped past her. "I'll have some tea and milk."
Kristen threw her an irritated look and shut the door. "I don't have any tea, any milk, or any coffee, for that matter. I'd offer you some cream-filled croissants, but the cook hasn't made any yet this morning."
The woman plopped down onto Kristen's threadbare couch, her mouth rounding in surprise. "I didn't know you had a -- ahhh. You're making a joke." She smiled. "I like jokes -- as long as they don't pertain to me."
Kristen began to regret her decision to let this strange woman into her home. She walked past the couch and stood, arms crossed, by the hearth. "Now you have nine minutes."
The woman gave her a look of displeasure. "I have a question to put to you, Miss Ford."
"I gather you have more than one." Kristen assumed the good staff psychologist was here to pick her brain and then report the findings back to Riecher, whether good or bad. This mouse-sized woman could very well hold Kristen's career in her hands.
"What would you say if I told you your entire life span is incorrect?"
Kristen narrowed her eyes. The woman's question was odd, and she'd spoken in little more than a whisper. "That's a figure of speech, right?"
The woman raised her dark brows. "I don't think so."
Kristen decided it would be best to play along. "I'd ask you what was so wrong with it." She thought of her father's death. "Besides the obvious."
"Everything!" the woman cried, with such marked enthusiasm that Kristen recoiled in surprise. "Your family. Your home. Your date of birth -- "
"My date of birth?" Kristen repeated. This was the damnedest first session she'd ever experienced.
"Most assuredly your date of birth! My dear, you are a walking anachronism."
Appearing disgusted with Kristen's inability to follow along, the woman said, "A misplacement in time."
Kristen held up a hand. "Wait. If this is going to be a lesson on reincarnation, you might as well control your vocabulary. I don't buy into that kinda stuff."
The woman sighed. "I wish it could be as uncomplicated as reincarnation. No, Miss Ford, this is a rare, and quite twisted case of a person being deposited in the wrong time frame. It's going to take the cooperation of at least one of the parties concerned. Since you have no further ties to this dimension, I chose to approach -- "
Kristen strode over to the couch. "Time's up."
"I gave you ten minutes, and your time is up." She took the woman by the arm and hauled her toward the door. "It's apparent to me you're not who I first thought you were."
"But I -- "
Kristen opened the door and deposited the woman on the step where she'd found her. "Go dig yourself up another sucker, lady. Or better yet, get yourself a good therapist. You need one more than I do."
The woman stood on the step, staring in shock at the closed door. "Well?" she demanded, looking up at the stars. "I did my very best. The girl didn't even seem to care that I was risking my occupational status." She paused. "Oh, don't give me that," she snapped after a moment. "Miss Ford only offered me ten minutes. I had no alternative but to get straight to the point. This isn't my mess, you know. I'm not the Guide who sent her to the wrong site in the first place. Oh, but I'm always the one who has to clean it up, aren't I?" She turned and began to walk down the sidewalk. "I always have to rush along behind all the incompetents, picking up all the bungled pieces."
Her voice faded, and before long there was no sign of the woman ever having been there.
The sun shone brightly into Kristen's window the next morning. She climbed out of bed and went into the shower, determined to wash away her dismal mood before it settled in for the day. Afterward she wrapped a towel around her wet hair, dressed in a pair of old jeans and a cream-colored sweater, and managed a smile for herself in the bathroom mirror. Her stomach growled brutally, and breakfast was now foremost in her mind.
Her refrigerated assets consisted of a bag of moldy cheddar cheese, a very old carton of strawberry yogurt, a half-eaten jar of Sweet Nubbins, and two sixteen-ounce boxes of baking soda.
The doorbell rang. She yanked the towel from her head and ran her fingers through her damp hair, hoping it wasn't her ex-boyfriend stopping by uninvited, as he tended to do.
She opened the door and glared at the last person she'd expected to see again, and with an armful of groceries to boot. "I thought I'd made myself clear to you last night, lady, I'm not interested."
Kristen moved to close the door, but the nervy little woman had the gall to block it with her foot.
"I understand your hesitation, Miss Ford." Kristen could barely see her odd face behind an inviting box of Crunchy Crumb Donuts. "As you can see, I am really making an effort to get on your good side. Let me in and we'll make breakfast." The woman smiled around the grocery bag, as if the offer of food made her intrusion perfectly acceptable.
Kristen pressed her hands against either side of the doorjamb, blocking the woman's way. "What is it that gives you the impression that I'm stupid?"
"Oh, you're not stupid, Miss Ford," the woman said. "I've never taken you for that. Even as a child you showed a remarkably sharp intellect and a keen eye for deception."
Kristen smiled cynically. "That's very good. I bet that little line's earned you a buck or two. Tell me, is marriage to Donald Trump in my cards?"
The woman frowned. "The first thing you need to know if we're going to get along is that I do not appreciate flippancy. My vocation is not an easy one, my dear, and your making fun of it does not rest well with me."
"Does this mean I don't get a fortune cookie?"
The woman's dark eyes rolled toward the sky, and she mumbled, "She's trying my patience."
Kristen stepped back. "Then let me end this difficult situation." She took advantage of the woman's mistake of removing her foot and shut the door.
Kristen walked back to the refrigerator, bent on scrounging up something for breakfast.
"I've gone about this the customary way, Miss Ford." Kristen froze to the floor, trying to make reason out of what she saw. "Time is too precious to waste any more of it evading your lack of faith."
"How the hell did you get into my kitchen!" As a police officer, Kristen had been trained to react calmly to surprise attacks, but she couldn't think of anything to do at the moment except stare.
"As I told you earlier this morning, I have something very important to speak with you about."
The woman dropped her grocery bag onto the countertop, grabbed the box of Crunchy Crumb Donuts, and tossed them to Kristen. "Here. I know they're your favorite."
Kristen stared blankly at the box. They were her favorite donuts. Coming to her senses, she slammed them down on the trestle table beside her. "I don't know how you got in here, but I want you out. And if you don't hustle your buns, I'm gonna have you carted out of here in a tight white jacket with very long sleeves!"
The woman's angry expression suddenly changed to one of pleading. "He needs you."
"Who?" "Your soul mate."
"That's it." Kristen reached for the phone.
"You're a disgraceful astonishment, Miss Ford," the woman said in a tight voice. "I've been around for a long while, but not once has anyone ever had me carried off from their home. I haven't done a blessed thing but attempt to help you."
There was something about the woman's reprimanding voice, a tone that reminded Kristen of her mother, that made her put down the receiver. She turned toward the woman and studied her for a good long while. "There's something I want to know," she finally said.
"And that is?"
"Why did you choose me?"
The woman laughed. "I didn't choose you. You're the product of an incompetent Guide. And I'm here to rectify the matter. It's my job."
"You probably saw the obituaries and figured I was a prime target, right? The grieving daughter with no living family to her name? Am I right?"
The woman moved closer. "I didn't have to read the paper to know your father had departed. Yes, I have waited until his passing before contacting you. You would never have agreed had you any ties to this time frame."
Kristen narrowed her eyes. "Agreed to what?"
The woman stood only inches away now. "A relocation."
"You mean a change of job, a change of scenery?"
"I mean a change of life."
Kristen tore open the box of miniature donuts on the table and shoved one in her mouth. "I suppose you have airline tickets and a passport for me in your purse?" she mumbled through her mouthful of food.
"Are you prepared to hear me out?"
Kristen's stomach growled noisily. She eyed the bag of food on the counter. "I'll tell you what. I'll dig through there and make myself some breakfast, and you go right ahead with your pressing explanations."
The woman paused, apparently deliberating about whether or not Kristen truly believed her. Then she nodded and began to pace the kitchen floor. "Do you agree that we all have an existence before achieving a temporal birth?"
Kristen lifted a carton of eggs from the bag, thrilled to find English muffins lying beneath. "Sounds good."
"Do you believe we're guided by a power greater than our own?"
"Uh-huh." Kristen dropped a muffin into her pastry toaster and reached into the lower cupboard for a griddle.
"What of a purpose? Do you believe that each individual arrives here with an intent in mind, a preordained destiny, so to speak?"
"Now, there I'll have to disagree with you." Kristen peeled herself a banana, took a bite, and pointed toward the woman with the remaining end. "Belief in free will has always had sort of a special appeal to me."
The woman pushed aside the piece of fruit. "I am not speaking of free will. I'm speaking of fate. Do you agree it's fate that you meet the people you come into contact with every day? That each step in your life brings you closer to your ultimate purpose?"
Kristen began to crack open some eggs to fry. "If you're telling me we all make free choices in our lives, but those choices inevitably lead us in one planned direction, okay. Yeah, I suppose I can handle that."
"Can you handle the idea that you live in the wrong time line?"
Kristen paused. "More reincarnation stuff?"
"It is not stuff, Miss Ford, and I've already told you reincarnation has nothing to do with this. If we don't act quickly, your soul mate will be forever lost."
"Soul mate. You mentioned that once before." Kristen returned to her eggs. "If you want me to follow this tale, you're going to have to explain that one to me."
"He's -- "
"Yes. You're a woman, he's a . . . he."
"Okay." Kristen flipped her eggs.
"He's your soul mate, the other half of you, the complement to who and what you are. As a rule, soul mates encounter each other during their mutual time frame and share their lives together. Each has specific qualities that balance the other out, like sweet and sour, light and dark, good and bad. Each set of soul mates has a Spiritual Guide such as myself. Naturally both members of the couple have to live in the same time and place. But, in your sad case, as in a few others, your Guide erred."
"Erred?" Kristen slipped her fried eggs onto a plate and topped them off with a buttered English muffin.
"Inept is the only way to describe your previous Guide," the woman muttered. "He sent you and your soul mate to different sites. You haven't had the chance to balance each other out, my dear, and I'm afraid your mate has suffered the most from the separation."
Plate in hand, Kristen sat at the table. "What's this soul mate's problem?" She blew on her steamy breakfast and picked up a fork.
"Well, he's a . . . um . . ."
Kristen glanced up. "He's a what?"
The woman gave her a direct look. "He's an outlaw."
Kristen choked on her mouthful of food. "An outlaw? An outlaw! Who's in charge up there? Wait, don't tell me. God is really Abbott and Costello. They take alternate days off."
The woman turned red. "That is certainly not the case."
"Somebody isn't too smart up there if they paired a copper up with a criminal," Kristen said, laughing.
"You weren't a copper and a criminal before this life. When you took him as your soul mate, you vowed to temper him with your goodness and guide him to a life of morality."
Kristen jammed another bite of food into her mouth. "Well, it sounds like it's too late for the guy now."
"It's not too late. That's why I'm here. You have no further bonds to hold you to the twentieth century. You need to take your proper place in time before it is too late for him."
Kristen finished off the last of her food and smiled. "I suppose you have a large, metal contraption with lots of fancy propellers waiting around the corner to whisk me back to where I'm supposed to be?"
"It's not that complicated," the woman responded. "All I need is your compliance."
Kristen stood from the table. "I'll get my purse."
She stifled spurts of laughter all the way into her bedroom and found her shoes and purse where she always left them on the floor at the foot of her bed. What an incredible imagination, she thought.
She pulled on her flat-heeled black boots. The Guide would make a brilliant science-fiction writer. Kristen decided she would drop the poor woman off at the nearest hospital and see if they couldn't do something for her.
Slinging her black duffel-style purse over her shoulder, she walked back to the kitchen. "I'm all set. What do you say we pass on the H. G. Wells model and take my car?"
The woman stood, her dark eyes wide. "So you're agreeing?"
"Sure. Why not -- "
Kristen didn't feel a thing. Nothing flashed or went black. She didn't pass out or even fall down. She doubted she'd even blinked. The plain fact was, she now stood in the center of a railroad track, a hot wind whipping through her hair. Three pairs of hard, menacing eyes stared coldly down at her from faces covered with faded red bandannas.
Copyright © 1993 by Suzanne E. Witter