We all knew there was something horribly wrong when the old man walked into the precinct covered in blood. It’s the sort of thing that only happens in bad detective movies; the killer, so distraught by what he’s done walks up to the first cop he sees and turns himself in, murder weapon and all. Professor Herbert Poe was seventy one at the time, his white hair wild at either side of his receding scalp line in tufts that looked like gull wings. Beady brown eyes stared wildly from behind thick glasses as paramedics determined the old man was uninjured. The blood he was covered in wasn’t his own. The desk sergeant took a statement from the old man before walking him over to the interview room.
That’s where it all got weird.
I had only been a detective for about a month and old habits from patrol that didn’t quite work in CID were hard to break. I went into that cold, sterile room looking at him as if I already had all the answers I needed. I dropped the new manila folder that would become the case file on the table between us and admired my reflection in the two way mirror. Tall and lean with a five o’clock shadow and a sharp gray suit; yeah, this is how a detective should look. I left my gun at my desk per the protocol but the shoulder holster was still slung around me… oh yeah, I had the look down.
The professor was unimpressed at the awesome show of criminal investigative machismo that was me. He just stared dumbly at the white wall behind me. I pulled out the chair and sat down across from him and looked at what I already had. The old man was a model citizen, not even a parking ticket to his name. He was a tenured professor of physics and worked in a lot of technical fields that meant less than nothing to me. I leafed through the statement next.
“So, why not tell me what’s going on here,” I suggested with a non committal sort of pleasantness.
He looked down at the case file, then to me.
“Didn’t they tell you already?” He asked meekly.
“Sure they did but I’d like to hear it from you.”
The old man sighed and leaned over the table.
“I killed him,” he said plainly. “I stabbed him in the chest and neck with a broken piece of copper tubing. I stabbed him until his blood siphoned out like crude oil then I overloaded all our equipment so the lab would burn down. Then I got in my car and drove here. I turned myself over to sergeant Thibodaux who was kind enough to bring me to you.”
“And what would you say if I told you I didn’t believe you?”
“Then I’d say, detective that you’re as arrogant and stupid as the grad student lying on my laboratory floor.”
“Yeah, so tell me about Randall Kim?”
The old man spit on the floor at the mention of the name.
“Smarmy bastard was going to publish a paper about my research,” he said venomously. “He was going to market it to the military as the greatest weapon since the hydrogen bomb. I couldn’t let him do that… those lives…”
He drifted for a moment, then: “One man’s death versus a billion at his hands. I should receive a medal for what I’ve done.”
“Problem is, professor, Randall Kim is alive and well. He said you called in sick today.”
The old man’s eyes went wide.
“That can’t be right,” he muttered to himself. Bony fingers began a rapid thumping on the cold, steel table that finally reached a crescendo as he slapped his wrinkled palm down on top of the folder. “What day is it today, detective?”
I checked the report in the case file. “Tuesday the ninth.”
He nodded.”Yes, I was ill Tuesday… stomach flu.”
“Professor Poe,” I continued. “Mister Kim is alive and your lab is still standing.”
“Of course it is,” he said cheerfully. “I won’t discover his treachery and kill him until Friday morning. Must have gone back when I fell into it.”
“Fell into what?”
“My machine, boy! My glorious god damned machine! I was studying wormholes and their frequency in our dimension. I wanted to make a bridge through time and space… time… but first I had to catch one. It must have sent me back.”
“It still doesn’t explain the blood on you.”
“No, it doesn’t,” I groaned. “You walked in here confessing to a murder that didn’t happen and now you’re saying it all makes sense. Who did you kill, professor?”
The interview ended there. The old man, pleased by whatever he’d done, wherever he’d done it would only laugh hysterically after that. I got him an armed escort to a padded room in the psyche ward downtown and decided I’d follow up in a few days. I filed my papers, stated that I believed he was crazy and had likely killed an animal since no bodies had been found and no missing person reports had turned up that would have coincided with his life. A search of his house turned up nothing but a housekeeper whose limited English suggested the doctor was at a conference and ill. A phone call to the hotel confirmed this but he was a smart man. He could have sent someone in his place. I was content to close the case after a follow up later that week. The problem was, by the next morning, the doctor at the psyche ward had called me. Professor Poe was dead, hanged himself with his scrubs.
I put the case aside. There was nothing to follow up with now. No missing persons or found bodies had turned up and without a solid lead I had nowhere to go. I moved on to something I thought might be able to be solved before I retired in another twenty years. By Friday I was listening to my radio and drinking my first cup of coffee all but oblivious to the case that wouldn’t be solved when the call came out from the college. A professor went nuts, murdered a student. He burned an entire wing of the school to ash before disappearing.
Witnesses swore it was Herbert Poe who arrived to his lab and committed the crime. Despite common sense and logic, the security footage seemed to corroborate it all. Then it showed something stranger.
Poe, wild eyed and blood saturated identical to how he had looked on Tuesday started up some god awful contraption made up of tubes and towers. Sparks flew, catching a stack of printer paper on the desk. From the two large, electrically arching pylons by the far wall, a strange white light began to glow. I watched as Poe, a coroner certified corpse lying on a slab in the morgue, stumbled and fell into the light. The camera went dark.
I looked through the case file again. Among all the degrees and studies he seemed to be a master of, two phrases appeared time and time again. The first was “wormhole.” The second was “time travel.” It seemed impossible, so impossible even that his colleagues seemed to agree that it was too farfetched to think of. I had the university check with the head of the physics department. Randall Kim had announced just before the professor arrived that he was ready to publish his first paper at the end of the month:
Time Travel and Other Impossibilities.