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5.

Annelise and Rob no doubt discussed that question with Andre himself, in the room where they would let Andre crash until they were tired of him. On the roof, Lilah and George and Zinnia Rose were covering the same material.

“It’s not like I know,” Zinnia was saying, “but he’s some sort of amalgam. It’s as if he’s a mix of different Andres in different worlds.”

“Yeah, I agree,” said George. “Which brings you to the question of how that happened. It’s safe to say none of us has ever heard of meeting a guy who doesn’t have a single actual history but has like 40% of this history and 30% of that one and whatever.”

“I only see two histories here,” said Lilah.

“I see three,” said George.

“At least,” said Zinnia. “One, he meets her when she’s 35 and she turns him down. In the second, she meets him when they’re both 21 and she goes off with him. And then there’s this third one where he visits her at, what was it, Whistle Castle—!”

“Whistler Hall,” said Lilah. “That one’s the one we actually got. That one’s the, what you said, amalgam. Is there another one?”

“I think he was at Whistler Hall at some point,” said George. “I think he checked out the future she’d have without him. I mean, wouldn’t you? I kind of get the guy. I’ve been his age. I mean, before he became an, ah, amalgam.”

“So, still, what does that mean? Where’s he from and what is he?”

“He’s from Whistler,” said Zinnia. “That’s where we got him. There’s got to be a reason why he’s there, rather than somewhere else, because if he is some sort of ghost amalgam, he has to be formed from other Andres from other universes, and something had to have happened to them to leave just him, you know, you don’t get orange juice without pretty much wrecking the orange.”

“And it took at least three oranges in this case,” said George.

“But there’s a lot more we don’t know, of course, and in case you wondered, yes, this professor of the craft would very much like the opportunity to figure some crap out.” She rummaged in her voluminous bag. “I’m going to talk to ghosts, I’d best act the priestess,” she said, pulling out a twine necklace with woodland nuts and a pouch of herbs on it. She put it on. “For instance, what happened to this fellow’s various selves? Were they all squashed at the identical moment in their chronologies? If you and I travel into the past separately, and you buy a tomato and I buy a cucumber, and we both come back to the present, which of us gets here first? Can we ever be in the same kitchen again? Wasn’t there another question?”

“Yes,” said Lilah. “The original question. Why can’t Lucy of Endweith find Endweith?”

“And,” said George, “the first time you met Andre, he and Lucy were blowing up a bank. And those two had no past and only one stop in the future. They certainly didn’t just suddenly exist. They came from somewhere.”

“You don’t get to be like Andre,” said Lilah, “without having an interesting family history.”

“And that interesting history is hidden, and so’s the future, because all you could detect of that Andre and that Lucy together was those two stops, the Adari bank and the party under the Wall of Time. So how and why do you hide a history?”

“Did they hide it,” asked Lilah, “or did they destroy it? And if they destroyed it, whoever they are, did they murder the billions of people who will never have existed, or whatever? Can you get snuffed if you never got born? I want to know.”

“I do too,” said Zinnia.

“You’re hired,” said Lilah, “in case I forgot to say so before. How about this? You have tenure.” She looked at George. “Thanks for the tip, Georgie.”

“Is that what you’re going to call me?” he replied.

“Let’s go see what the other folks are up to.”

She led George and Zinnia back toward the stair door. They could see the dim floodlights through the mist, and then they could see Rob, Annelise and Andre standing just outside the door, sharing a pipe.

“Funny,” said George. “Talking about all the stuff we don’t know made me sort of feel like we’ve solved this situation. It’s like a midterm back at the Institute. We have one page of questions left, and once we figure out answers for those, we’ll be done. What are they gonna do, flunk us?”

“Whereas, said Zinnia, “the questions on that last page are killers.”

“No, but,” said Lilah, “it feels like we’ve drawn a big circle and all our problems are inside that circle. Somehow it’s contained. You know? I think we got this one. I really do. Just got to shade in the picture.”

The air had been still, but just now there was a cool downdraft and a gust of rain. A piece of parchment blew straight down out of the sky and bounced off Lilah’s head. She instinctively stuck out her hands and caught it. It was folded in quarters, then given another fancy corner-fold and wax sealed.

Lilah looked at the seal: a horned snake. She looked up into the sky as if to offer to return the letter. Then she looked at the seal again.

The horned snake was hardly a diagnostic trait: she knew at least a dozen people who used that as their symbol, some because it represented various letters or sounds in various worlds; in the language of the Northern Centaurs, the symbol just meant “wow” or “LOL.”

But it would be wrong to say that Lilah Bay did not have a prime suspect in mind, which is why, as she followed George and Zinnia, rejoining the others, she was saying to herself, “Elio. How you remind me of a horsefly.”

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