Nightwatch: The Kindness of
By Jeff Williams
Nightwatch created by
Developed by Jeff Williams and Robert Moriyama
"Whoever you are, I have always
depended upon the kindness of strangers."
Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named
Dr. Simon Litchfield, Ph.D Civil
Engineering, stood on the shore of the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, watching
as the brown waters sloshed against the remains of an old wooden lock. Though
it was early February, an increasingly common spurt of warmer air had moved
through the Washington, D.C./Georgetown area, and the weather was
turbulent--thundershowers, heavy downpours, steady and occasionally fierce
winds. Litchfield, one hand grasping a safety railing and the other
clutching an umbrella that was doing it's best to haul him into air, was
alone. Those who weren't at work were simply staying put where they were.
For Simon, however, there was no
staying put. In fact, he had a strong desire to leave the city, but at
the moment that wasn't an option. Not wanting to remain in his office at
the Nightwatch Institute for Strategic and Economic Studies, he'd taken his new
Saturn VUE to the canal.
This, Simon thought as he watched the roiling waters, is
what an engineer should be worrying about. As always, he marveled at
the canal, at the work that had gone into creating something that to the
layperson would seem incredibly mundane. Taming a river, any river, and
harnessing it was anything but mundane. However, as he thought of the
massive amounts of earth that had to be moved, of the retaining walls that had
to be constructed to bear both structural loads and the power of water, he
found those thoughts being crowded out by more pressing matters. He had
other things to think about, frightful things. There was too much at play
in the world and elsewhere, and there were too many decisions to be made, about
things both close to home and far away. One, in particular, loomed the
largest—or at least the largest now—and Simon didn't like what he saw.
"Sword of Damocles," he
said as thunder rolled over the canal. "Damn Sword of
Damocles!" When the cold air hits tonight, he thought,
there'll be thundersnow for sure. The rain, moving into one of its
temporary spells of simple drizzle, afforded Dr. Litchfield the chance to fold
up his umbrella, and as he walked towards a cluster of red-brick and wooden
buildings, he converted the umbrella into a makeshift walking stick.
There was someone he wanted to see, and he hadn't much time.
The Cannon Moon Cafe sat on a
corner of a quaint area near the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. While
certainly not large by any stretch, the restaurant nestled behind the
brown-brick and oak walls could handle virtually any reasonably sized crowd,
and reservations were rarely required in order to be seated. Simon
approached, opening his black umbrella emblazoned with Nightwatch's logo to
deflect the rain which started falling torrentially again. He approached
the wooden door and grabbed one of the brass handles, but the door wouldn't
budge. Sighing, he felt in his pocket and pulled out a
key-ring. Carefully, he picked through each one, laughing quietly as he
pulled up an old-fashioned looking gold key. "Found you," he
said as he headed for a side entrance.
Reaching the door, he inserted the
key and turned it, jiggling it several times to keep the balky tumblers
moving. Finally, he heard the click as the lock released, and he let
himself in. The inside of the cafe was dim, and Simon waited for his eyes
to adjust to the off-hours lighting. During the lunch and supper hours,
the place was a vibrant mix of yellow-white light, clinking dinnerware, and a
heady aroma of steaks, vegetables, and, especially, lobster bisque, the Cannon
Now, however, the restaurant was
quiet save for the occasional sounds coming from the kitchen or the rustling of
waitstaff preparing silverware and yellow-cloth napkins for the dinner
rush. As Simon's eyes adjusted, he looked to see if the cafe's piano was
still in place. Every time Gillian Eckleberry, the head-chef and
proprietress of the Cannon Moon, received the tuning bill for the Baldwin, she threatened to sell the thing on e-Bay.
Simon, however, was pleased to see that she hadn't carried through, at least
Making his way passed the tables,
Simon sat down on the black piano stool and lifted the lid, revealing the
exquisite black and white keys. Then, he took off his khaki hat and placed
it on the top of the instrument. Quickly, he massaged his fingers, which
were aching terribly in the stormy weather, and then he fanned out his hands
over the keys. The opening notes of Mary Catherine Stockdale's
"Catch and Release" wafted softly into the still air. As played
by Simon, the song was thin, missing some significant parts, but serviceable,
and his well-scarred hands moved with some grace on the keyboard.
Simon cringed as he momentarily
produced a sour note, but as he corrected himself, he heard the opening of a
door behind him and to his right. Smiling, he slid over to his left and
began playing more of the song's bass notes. A few seconds later, a
figure (who from the periphery appeared like a white angel) sat down next to
him and began playing the treble notes. Simon looked to his right and
smiled at Gillian, who returned the smile before focusing on the piano.
From the corner of his eyes, Simon noticed Gillian's hands, hands that, like
their owner, showed the beauty and grace only time and experience could
The two of them came to a very
tricky part, a section of the song requiring them to reach over each others'
hands to hit the proper notes, and while a flat harmonic rose up in the
background, it was quickly drowned out by the notes the two of them managed to
sound correctly. From the shadows, various waitstaff gathered to watch
the players. Those who had worked there the longest simply shook their
heads and smiled before returning to their tasks, but the younger ones stayed
and watched with equal parts amusement and bemusement.
"What the hell fun is
that?" one said with disdain, and Simon couldn't help but chuckle.
"I heard better playing down at Ringer's the other day, and that was
"Son," an older waiter
said, "you're just not old enough to understand. Make sure you get
those napkins fluted. Make...aw, damn, Billy! That's not
fluted. That's poofy! Here, let me show you...."
The song played to its
conclusion--"Catch and Release" running just over three minutes--but
the final notes lingered, and Simon's and Gillian's fingers remained resting on
the keys. Finally, as the remaining tones faded, Simon took his foot off
of the sustaining pedal. Then, he turned and placed a hand on her
"Last time I was in," he
said, "we didn't have a chance to talk. If you're not
busy..." Gillian smiled and then finally laughed out loud, her
blue-gray eyes widening.
"Not really," she said,
"just the dinner rush to get ready for, a couple of pots of bisque
simmering away." Simon smiled and nodded as he stood up, looking at
her as he did. Gillian, as always, was thin but not skinny, her frame
never seeming to carry either too much or too little weight any time he'd seen
her, something he'd always meant to ask her about but never had. (While
Simon made a point of staying in shape, his irregular hours and ever shifting
locales caused his weight to fluctuate, and lately it had been fluctuating
higher more often than lower.)
And, as always, the air around her
danced with a most intoxicating perfume. Mixed in nearly equal measures
were the aromas of the kitchen, steaks and chops, basil and olive oil, lobster
bisque. But, what really set Simon's senses on end were the hints of rose,
musk, and jasmine, the ever present remnants of the Norel she would have put on
before coming in that morning.
But, what always drew him to her,
even on the days when he didn't want to burden her with yet more complaints
about Callow or about some bureaucrat in Papua New Guinea, was her face, the
way her delicately sculpted cheekbones and slender lips perfectly accented her
light blue-gray eyes. Nothing, not even the inevitable (though relatively
small) traces of age on her face, could do anything to dampen those eyes.
"In another life," he
said, "you must have been a comedian." He paused for effect
before smiling, "or a psychiatrist! Oh well, I figured as
much," he said as he stood and grabbed his hat. "I was down by
the canal and thought I'd take the chance, but I really didn't expect..."
"The canal?" Gillian
asked as she too stood. She ran her hand over her gray-brown hair and let
her long fingers fall to the pony tail. "That's never a good
"This time's no
exception," Simon added. "Difficult days ahead. Difficult decisions yet to make. Really tough
adjustments to be made...stop me when I've played the sympathy card enough to
warrant a drink." Gillian was laughing even before he finished the
thought, and she grabbed him by the arm.
"Come on," she said,
"I can't just send you out like a lost, wet puppy. The least I can
do is see if there's anything to tempt you in the wine cellar!"
"That," he said with a
satisfied sigh, "would do the job nicely." Gillian walked over
and pushed open the oak and brass door to the bar, hitting the light switch on
the way in.
"Let's see," she spoke
as Simon took a seat on one of the black-leather covered barstools. As
she walked behind the polished oak counter, a pile of cocktail napkins fell to
the floor. "I'll have to pick that up before Jiggy gets back."
"Jiggy? What kind of
name is that?" asked Simon.
"'Gettin' Jiggy wid
it,'" Gillian replied as she looked under the counter. "Some
line from an old song. He said it went over pretty well with, uh, with 'de
chicks' before he decided to cross over to this side of the tracks. Ah
hah!" Simon heard the sound of a bottle being pulled from the
holding rack below. "Before he came here, he worked in the seediest
little dive you've ever seen, out by the docks in Baltimore."
"Where in Baltimore?" Simon asked, his eyes
perking up with interest.
"That's right," she
said, placing two wine glasses on the bar. "You once haunted that
quaint little burgh, didn't you?"
"Lived there for awhile as a
child," Simon spoke as Gillian poured two glasses from a scarlet-glass
bottle. "Went to Johns Hopkins for my undergrad work. I just
might have gone to that seedy little dive in my younger days." Simon
"Oh, I bet you did,"
Gillian spoke with a knowing voice. "Try this," she said as she
grabbed her glass. "Picked it up from North Carolina." She took her first
sip, and while Gillian never went in for the full "performance" as
she called the actions of those who treated every sip as a professional wine tasting,
she did savor both the aroma and the
flavor of the drink.
Simon drank, and then he swirled
the wine around in the glass, increasing the reactions that would help it age
into its full potential. "North
Carolina winery?" Gillian nodded as she
took another sip.
"Hinnant Farms," she
said. "I don't believe it'll ever have the prestige, but I really
like some of their basic blends." She drank again. "I'll
admit it. Some of the wines my sommelier brings in are for the price
alone. I've got customers who won't respect anything below eight dollars
"It's good," Simon
said. "Fruity but not overly sweet. Hint of banana, almost. Good
tannin content." Simon finished the glass. "Heaven knows
there are expensive wines I truly love, but I'll never turn my nose up at
something like this. Besides, it's not like this was a glass of Boone's
Farm." Gillian laughed and finished her glass.
"As if I'd waste any of my
slim profit margin on that," she laughed, and then she finished the
rest of her drink. "So," she said after pouring a second glass
for each of them, "are you going to tell me why you're down here, on the
crummiest day I've seen in a long time mind you, standing by that
canal?" Simon smiled and took a full sip from the glass.
"Gillian," he said, and
he locked his eyes onto hers, "I've never wanted so badly to tell someone
something in my life, to really make someone understand what I'm going through,
what I'm feeling." Simon slowly reached down and touched his chest.
"But," she said as she
looked at him with sympathetic eyes.
"But," Simon continued,
"I can't. As bloody usual, I can't. I just...I just
can't." Gillian leaned down onto the counter, placing the glass to
her left and clasping her hands, letting her long fingers interlace.
"So it is work,"
she said. "Don't you ever wish you were building a shopping mall
like any sensible civil engineer would be? At least someone like Callow would
be in some glass corporate office instead of hovering around you all the
time!" She smiled widely, and Simon couldn't help but follow.
She lifted her hand as if to reach for him, but a sous-chef entered and called
for her attention. "Wait here," Gillian said to Simon,
"I'll be right back."
Simon sat and stared into his
wine, and as he did, images of the rushing water of the C&O Canal entered
into his mind. Quickly, these were replaced by other images, other words,
other thoughts that he wished he could simply forget...
The day before, after coming in
from field work, and before being able to return a .44 Magnum Melvin Squibb had
given to him as protection from a nasty group of rebels, Simon's vid-phone had
relayed a text message at 5:30PM, just as he was about to leave for an evening
at the Cannon Moon. After cursing his luck, he grabbed his hat and coat
and headed for the library, the public lair of Ian Callow, a man who on the
surface seemed relatively unimportant but who, in fact, controlled much more
than most ever knew. As Litchfield entered the little-used popular culture
section, he found Callow sitting at his usual table. Unusually, the
representative of Nightwatch's Lower Echelon had nothing with him--no laptop,
no strange yet sophisticated equipment, no packets of microdots. Instead,
Callow sat there with a smile on his face, a look that filled Simon with a mix
of dread and disgust. He hated it when Callow knew something Simon
didn't, something that occurred with alarming frequency.
"Simon," Callow said,
"you're punctual as usual. DON'T sit down," he said as he pulled
the chair Simon had grabbed back under the table.
Simon tsked tsked tsked Callow.
"Well," he said, "that wasn't very polite."
"We aren't staying
here," Callow said as he stood up and straightened his gray coat and
tie. "There's something I want to show you. Something,"
he paused as his smile widened, "something I just know you're going to
love. If you'll follow me." Callow headed into the stacks, and
Litchfield followed and then made sure to pace himself so that he walked
exactly beside the Lower Echelon functionary.
Litchfield said, and, as usual, using his first name severely annoyed Callow,
"just where are you taking me? That little science project down in
the sewers finally starting to bear fruit?" Callow shook his head,
his slightly graying hair glinting in the light of the library.
"Nothing so crude,"
Callow half spoke, half hissed. "And you berate my sense of
humor? Besides you're closer than you think to the truth."
"If you weren't so
smug," Simon spoke as he tried to ignore the implication in what Callow
had said, "your lack of human warmth wouldn't be an issue. Might even make you an excellent agent for
the IRS." Callow smiled a cheerless smile as he stopped and began
fishing in his pocket.
"It never ceases to amaze,
Simon, you know," he pulled out a small, copper-colored keychain,
"the things we've accomplished, the good we've done, and yet you show such
an astonishing lack of appreciation." Simon watched as Callow
inserted the key into the binding of a book on one of the shelves, a book that
appeared to be a copy of Herman Melville's Clarel.
"Callow," Simon spoke
with a mixture of amusement and confusion, "I believe the expression is
'turn the page.'" Callow, looking directly at Simon's face,
grinned widely, a grin that seemed to tell the engineer I know something you
don't. Callow then withdrew the key and pulled on the binding of the
book, which opened to reveal a series of buttons. Quickly, he tapped a
complicated sequence, so quickly in fact that despite his best efforts to keep
up, Simon wasn't entirely sure that, if the occasion warranted, he could repeat
the code. Then, just after Callow replaced the binding, that section of
shelving withdrew into the wall.
"You really do enjoy cloak
and dagger, don't you," Simon muttered as he followed Callow into the
chamber beyond. As Callow pushed the shelving unit back into place, he
turned to look at Litchfield.
"No more than you do,
doctor," he said as the locking mechanism clicked. "Not one
single atom more than you do, and," he smiled, "you know
it." Simon stared at Callow, something gnawing deep inside
him. A quick succession of memories flashed through the engineer's
head: a set of knives imbedding themselves in the ground around him, a
guard just barely eluded, a lock being thrown open surreptitiously by an
electronic device. "Admit it. The guns, the madmen, technology
run amok, a new identity every week. You live for this."
Callow put the keys back into his pocket. "You live for
"So," Simon said after a
long, heavy pause, "where the hell are we?" Simon looked around
the chamber, a small room with unpainted walls and a small yellow light
dangling from the ceiling. Callow reached up and released a catch.
This, in turn, allowed a steel door to drop in front of the bookshelf exit.
"Did you know," Callow
said, "that the Nightwatch Institute has a fallout shelter?"
"Sure," he said,
"everyone does. They converted it into C Building's cafeteria.
I think they even used some of the old rations for the entrees."
Callow reached up and tugged on the light, and, suddenly, the room began to
descend. Simon watched as the metal door disappeared and as rough,
concrete walls passed by.
"Some of us wanted another
one," Callow said proudly over the hum of an electric motor.
"Some of us had the power to budget for, what was it, ah yes, worldwide
fleet renewal, and then build," the elevator stopped at another metal
door, "a new facility without anyone noticing." Simon was
barely able to contain his disgust at Callow's pompousness, but as Callow
lifted the door, the engineer was able to speak.
"Impressive," he said
mockingly, "your own private doomsday cellar." Callow cocked
his head and smiled.
"Doomsday cellar," he said,
allowing the words to roll gracefully off of his tongue, "I like the sound
of that. Very good, Dr. Litchfield!"
"Are you going to get to the
point some time?" Simon asked. "Don’t you have better things to
do? Aren't you still trying to find someone,
anyone, who can sell us JP-88 for Nightbird 5?" Callow just smiled and
walked into the next room, and it was at that moment that Simon saw something,
something he'd had a feeling he'd meet again.
Simon grabbed at the door frame,
his knuckles turning white. "Well, I can't say I didn't expect to
see it again." Before him, surrounded by an array of flat, shining
panels, and sitting on what appeared to be a rotating pedestal, was something
that had come to be known as "the egg." The object, which was
substantial enough to require a large crate when transported, was discovered
buried in the dirt in Afghanistan. It then perplexed the best minds on
the planet with the apparently indestructible nature of its milky-white
shell. Finally, Simon had made the most significant discovery, that the
object actually affected time if it was properly "stimulated."
Representatives of Russia, China, and the United States had then taken the egg
and dumped it into Mount Erebus in Antarctica so that no one would have possession
Except Simon knew the truth, that
Nightwatch, or at least Callow's part of Nightwatch, had managed to switch the
real egg for a fake. Ever since that discovery, the thought of the egg
had rested uneasily in the back of his mind, like an old nightmare.
"Well, well, well,"
Simon spoke as he tried to put on a brave face, "just what have you been
doing down here?"
"You mean, what have we been
doing," Callow corrected as he looked with awe upon the egg. It was
then that Simon noticed another person in the room, a man facing a bank of
computers and various instrumentation monitors, some of which beeped
rhythmically as if they had jumped straight from a 1950s B-movie.
"And who is this?" Simon
said as he tried to ignore the egg and machinery surrounding it, machinery that
appeared to have been purposely built around it. The man flicked a few
toggle switches, which caused a wave pattern to appear on one of the monitors,
and then he turned to face Dr. Litchfield. He was a relatively small man,
about 5"9' and seemingly weighing less than 200 pounds. His
red-brown hair, which he appeared to have wet down and then lifted with his
fingers, rested in uneven spikes on the top of his head. Gold-rimmed
glasses, which covered dark chestnut eyes, rested securely on the bridge of his
slightly hooked nose. The man's smallish mouth curled into a tight smile
as he extended his hand towards Simon.
"Dr. Lyman Eckert," the
man said in an even, clear, almost melodic voice. "At your service,
Dr. Litchfield, unless you attended Yale, of course." Eckert shook
Simon's hand with such vigor that his blue lab coat started to flutter.
"No self-respecting Harvard and MIT grad would ever shake the hand of a
Yaley." Simon smiled despite himself, particularly when he realized
that Eckert's hair had been colored, and that the doctor had apparently had
Botox injections, the skin of his face being unusually tight and wrinkle free.
repeated. "Why does that name sound..."
"Dr. Eckert," Callow
interrupted after the closing the metal door, "is the scientist in charge
of this little project." Simon struggled to keep a smile on his
face, and as he made a show of looking around at the equipment, he tried to
think of everything, anything other than the likely purpose of what was
happening in the basement of the library. "We were very lucky to
have secured his services."
asked. "And just who might we be?" Litchfield
caught site of large door on the other side of the room, and he immediately wondered
where it led to.
"Aren't you the least bit
curious what we are working on down here?" Dr. Eckert asked, his face
clearly displaying a look of disappointment even without the presence of lines.
"I imagine,” Callow said as
he carefully watched Simon’s face, “that he is uniquely interested in denying
the reality of what we've accomplished." Litchfield, after carefully
examining the nearest panel, which looked almost like a photoelectric solar
cell, nodded and then firmly grabbed the edge of it. For a moment he
hesitated before fury welled up suddenly, like a pressure cooker improperly
opened. With terrific violence, he ripped the panel off of its hinges, in
the process feeling the heavy metal object--the gun--still in his coat pocket.
"You just couldn't leave well
enough alone, could you?" Simon said, quietly but menacingly. Callow
walked in a semi-circle, his movements measured like that of a cat on a
hunt. "It wasn't enough to steal the egg, even after we promised the
world that we'd do the exact opposite." He grabbed a second
panel, looking at it so intensely that someone just entering the room would
have assumed he was admiring the craftsmanship.
"Would you mind," Eckert
said as he inched closer to the machine, "not doing that again? Those
connections are difficult to align correctly"
"Oh really?" Simon said
just before ripping it off. "I'm terribly sorry about that.
God knows I wouldn't want to cause any inconvenience." Dr. Eckert
shrugged his shoulders.
continued, "though not impossible. And I did order many
"Simon," Callow chimed
with a voice that almost seemed to
possess genuine pity, "are you planning to rip the device apart bit by
Simon smiled again, and Eckert
looked unnerved even as he started for a storage cabinet. "Oh, let's
call a spade a spade, shall we? I mean, we're all adults
here." Simon looked around, and finding a glass-covered instrument
cover nearby, he turned and smashed it with his elbow. "In true
understated fashion, you're calling this a device. Surely we can
spare the actual words." He kicked at some wires on the floor,
successfully pulling two of them from their connections. "You...gentlemen,"
he said through clinched teeth, "have built a time machine!"
Callow said, "whoever created the egg built the machine. Dr. Eckert
has simply crafted the method of harnessing it for productive purposes."
"We aren't ready for
this!" Simon said in a measured but none-the-less angry tone of voice, and
he started walking, slowly, towards Callow. "Not now, and I don't
know if we ever will be. A time machine?" He laughed lightly
at the idiocy of what was around him. "It's obscene! What
right do we have to do anything with the past? With the future?
What right does Nightwatch have to possess something like this?
Especially when we’re dealing with that thing out—"
“Ixnay, ixnay!” Callow muttered
quickly. “Our friend Dr. Eckert isn’t briefed on that particular
subject.” Simon calmed down long enough to nod knowingly before he began
scanning for other machinery to break apart. "In any case,” Callow
said calmly as he straightened his tie, “I didn't think you'd understand.
At least not right away. But, once we've gotten some practice, I think
you'll see the real value of the device, the real good we can do."
"There's that we
again," Litchfield growled. "Just exactly how many people know
yourself," Callow said, "five. Dr, Eckert, myself, plus two
technicians. I think they've gone home." Simon nodded.
"But you and Eckert are the
brains behind the operation," Simon muttered. The weight of the gun
in his pocket seemed to double, and a thought, terrible and desperate, began to
take root. Simon shook his head to clear the thought out, but it wouldn’t
leave, not completely. Simon, slowly and calmly, walked towards
Callow. Callow, in turn, backed up against the cinderblock wall.
Callow smiled, though the corners
were turned down slightly, as he stared into Simon’s eyes. "Simon,"
he spoke softly after a long pause, "you aren't that
cold-blooded." Litchfield jumped slightly. He wondered just
how obvious his thoughts at that moment must have been.
"Whatever I may be thinking,”
Simon spoke with eerie calmness, “whatever I might do in any situation, it
would never be in cold blood. This is cold logic. This is
marble-smooth pragmatism." Simon cocked his head towards the time
machine. "Have you considered the harm that thing could do?
You and the good Dr. Eckert may just be the next Robert
Oppenheimer’s. Have you considered
that?" Simon looked hard into Callow's eyes. "You of all
people should know that Nightwatch does everything, everything, in its
power to stop those who threaten lives, who threaten the good of the world as a
whole." Callow nodded and seemingly truly understood Simon's logic.
Eckert opened the cabinet and
calmly if quickly took out two new panels for the machine, all the while
casting sideways glances at Dr. Litchfield.
"Well, Simon," Callow
said as Simon turned and faced the machine, "I guess you'll do what you'll
have to do.” Simon, while he was turned away from Callow, quietly reached
into his pocket and released the safety on the gun. “I wouldn't have
brought you here if you were any different. I would, however," he
said as he reached into his coat, "like you to make a fully informed
choice." Simon, hearing the sound of paper, looked back at Callow as
he slowly slid out a white envelope, and Simon had a sinking feeling that he
knew what Callow was going to say.
"Go on," Simon said,
moving slowly towards the envelope Callow was now holding in his fingertips
"Well," Callow continued
after a brief cough, "just so you know the facts, if I give the word, or should
anything out of the ordinary occur, I've left instructions for copies of this
document to be sent to the Attorney General, to the Secretary of State, and to
the heads of the FBI and CIA." Callow grinned. "They
would, I think, be very interested to know about some of your, um,
extracurricular activities." Simon nodded. "And, before
you go seeking out Ms. Keel's help, understand that these documents will be
delivered in analog form, if you follow me."
"What if I told you that
sacrificing my life and career was a price I was willing to pay to get rid of
this thing you’ve built?"
"I'd say that was a very
noble gesture on your part," Callow said as Eckert started attaching the
first replacement panel to the array. "However, if you'd like to
take a look at this," he said as he slowly handed the envelope to Simon,
"you'll find reference to Ms. Keel as well. You wouldn't want her to
spend decades of her life in prison would you? And what about Mr.
Weldon? That practice of his seems to be..."
"Enough," Simon spoke as
he nearly crumpled the envelope. Callow
brushed a speck of dust from his gray jacket.
"And think about this,"
Callow said with increased seriousness. "If you go down, you'll take
Nightwatch with you. I don't even want to imagine what would be left by
the time all of the investigations and the dust had settled." Simon
looked coldly at Callow, and then he opened the envelope and pulled out the
sheath of papers it contained. A cursory examination was all it took, all
that was required to see that Callow hadn't been bluffing about the contents of
this document, that more things than Simon ever cared to remember were
there in sterile 12 point Arial.
The most damning items concerned Simon, of course, but
Stephanie was nearly as damned as well.
At the very least, her indictment would cause a rash of scandals in the
government, particularly in areas that were responsible for guaranteeing
national cyber security. Because he was
an accessory to many of the items mentioned, Tom was liable as well to spend a
good portion of the rest of his life in a Federal penitentiary.
A fist balled itself in the pit of Simon's stomach. Already tired from his excursions into the
field, his day had steadily gotten worse.
Everyone, today, seemed to be getting the better of him, and Litchfield
wasn't one to simply accept that fact with anything other than disgust. Briefly, he
wondered if Callow really would go through with it, if he really would allow
Nightwatch to be sacrificed just so he could punish Simon. The reality,
he knew, was that Callow would.
Litchfield placed the contents
back into the envelope. He placed into
one of his coat pockets and then rubbed his wrists and his fingers, trying to
ease the discomfort of his arthritis. "What do you want me to
do?" he asked with as much confidence as he could muster in the face of
everything that had happened.
"We've discovered many, many
things," Eckert suddenly spoke as he finished securing the connections on
the new panel, "many wonderful, many amazing things since the device
became operational." Again, Simon cringed inside. Just call
a spade a spade, he thought angrily. "First, we've discovered
some key restrictions. For now, we can send nothing at all into the
future. We don't know the reason, but the collectors simply won't process
the egg's outputs in that manner. Second, experimental data have shown
that we cannot go back farther than, say, 1900. Again, the outputs beyond
that are too unpredictable."
"Lucky 19th century,"
Simon spoke cheerlessly. His fingers, thanks to the chill of the
basement, were now hurting him terribly.
continued, "the range of the machine is limited. In fact, we can
only read and reach the Washington, DC metro area. However, it is the
last thing we've found that is of greatest interest, and it is this that has
caused us to bring you in."
"Do you have any ibuprofen
down here?" Simon asked as he touched his temples. What he really
wanted was a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label, but he'd never admit that.
"When we first began
operating the machine," Eckert continued, "I noticed something odd in
the data." Eckert walked over to a monitor, flicking it on and then
inserting a disk into a nearby CD-Rom drive. "They were indicating
something extremely anomalous. At first, I had to assume the machine
wasn't functioning optimally. When I eliminated that as a possibility..."
An animated bar graph of data
points appeared on the monitor, and Callow walked over, pointing at two of the
"These," Callow continued,
"are, for lack of a better term, oscillations, and over the last hundred
years, over the absolute range of this machine, they have appeared at very
specific points in U.S. and world history."
"Here," Eckert added,
"is the Bonus Army's march on Washington. And here is the depth of
the Great Depression."
"This shows the period just
entry into World War I," Callow added, as the images on the screen flipped
from the results of one temporal scan to another.
"And the point is?" Simon
"The point," Eckert
said, a slight trace of a New England accent coloring his voice, "is that
every one of these oscillations can be tied directly to a period of tremendous
uncertainly in the Washington metro area--the Kennedy assassination, for
instance--almost as if the sheer number of possible outcomes literally cast
ripples into the ocean of time." Eckert paused and smiled as if he'd
been very pleased with his metaphor. "The greatest wave amplitudes,
as you might imagine, occur during World War II and the Cuban missile
"All of the sources can be
identified," Callow said.
"All," Eckert continued,
"but one." Simon looked at the two of them, a wry if somewhat
bitter smile crossing his face, and he began shaking his head.
"No," Simon said
firmly. "The answer is a definite no. There is no way I'm
trusting you to fling me back in time. Outside of my principles, do
either of you actually know what the egg is made of?"
"That," Callow added,
"is still a matter of conjecture. It is, however, under study.
Some very fine minds are analyzing the data even as we speak." Simon
shook his head.
"Well," he said
dramatically, "you at least know how the egg manipulates time,
then. You've identified its...oh, what the hell...its temporal
said cheerfully, "we haven't a clue! Much of that will have to wait
until the composition of the outer shell has been identified. However, we
can say with certainty that whatever may be driving it, the outputs can be
controlled through the device."
"The time machine!"
Simon screamed, and then he shook his hands and head as if trying to restore
his composure. "You can't expect me to seriously consider doing
this! You want me to trust my life to a damn enigma?"
"Simon," Callow said in
his most serious tone of voice, "this is important, and this is serious.
Despite your views and misgivings, this machine..." He stopped and
looked at the egg and then at the surrounding equipment. "This
wonder, this marvel, brings with it the responsibility, the power to do real
good. Something is going on in the winter of late 1939, something
with the potential to undo everything we know to be reality. And that
something is growing in intensity." He looked Simon squarely in the
eye. "We must find out what that is, and, if necessary, we
must stop it. That is what I am asking you to do."
"The first recorded
oscillations," Eckert added in an equally serious tone, "were
comparatively minor. Puzzling, but minor. But we've checked many
times, Dr. Litchfield, many times. The oscillations are getting
worse. Something is changing in that time, something potentially
dangerous, something that, if it continues to grow, could cascade into the
total unraveling of everything we know to be history."
"Hyperbole?" Simon asked
as he stared into an empty point in space.
"He knew how you'd
react," Eckert said, pointing at Callow. "How long do you think
we've been at work down here, Dr. Litchfield? How many times have I
pleaded for someone, you for instance, to be assigned to check this out, to see
with his own eyes what is happening?" Eckert absently picked up a
pen and twirled it rapidly in his hands. "Today, he came to
get you. Is that hyperbole?"
Simon, unblinking, scanned the
room, staring alternately at Callow, then Eckert (where did he know that
name from), and then the machine. He removed his hat and ran his fingers
through his thick, white hair. Then, slowly, he put the hat back on and
scratched the silver stubble on his chin.
"And if I still say no?"
he asked, though his tone was really that of a man knowing that answer in
Callow nodded, his face seeming to
acknowledge that Simon was only doing what he had to do. "You
know about the letter. You know about the consequences."
Simon shook his head and uttered a
curse beneath his breath. "I need a little time to
think." Callow looked towards Eckert, who nodded in assent.
"Two days," Callow said
as he walked over and released the catch on the door, opening the way to the
elevator. Simon walked into the lift and turned around, in the process
noting a set of double doors on the other side of the room. "When
you get to the top, lift the door. That will release the lock."
"Thanks for the tip,"
Litchfield said flatly.
"Oh," Callow added,
"don't bother trying to sneak back in here later. I'm turning off
the lift just as soon as you reach the top." Simon reached up
for the door. "Simon," Callow called.
"Yes, Ian," Simon spoke, trying to hide notes of dejection in his
"For what it's worth," he said, "what you were thinking of
doing--and I know what you were thinking, there are times I can read you
like an old, familiar book, my friend--what you were thinking of doing was very
noble in its own, misguided way." Callow looked down and allowed a
smile to cross his face. "You never would have gone through with it,
though. It's not your nature."
Simon grinned. "Maybe," he said, "but ask yourself this
question." Simon quickly reached into his coat and pulled out the
Magnum, unlocked the safety, and fired several shots into the bank of machinery
opposite the elevator. During the
gunfire, Callow and Eckert had dived for cover.
Very casually, Simon reset the safety and put the gun away. He started
pulling down the door. "Was it six shots, my friend, or was it only
five?" The door slammed shut.
"I couldn't tell,"
Gillian said suddenly, breaking Simon's reverie, "if you were deep in
thought or just really enjoying that wine." She smiled, and
Simon blinked, hard.
"How long have you been
"About thirty seconds,"
she said and then playfully ruffled his hair. She cocked her head towards
the kitchen. "Jack says the lobsters are, how did he put it, 'tre pathetique'
or something like that." She smiled and looked down at her
fingers. "He's young." She reached forward and proudly
cracked her knuckles. "He's never seen what a true wizard can do
with 'em, I guess."
Simon smiled back and put his hat
on. "I'll take that as a polite 'get thee lost, errant!'"
"Sorry," she said,
"one of these days I'll find someone who can make the bisque
properly." She tapped the counter and then started for the
kitchen. "Today, obviously, ain't the day."
Simon started for the side
entrance after watching Gillian disappear behind the kitchen door.
Shaking his head, he reentered the dining area, stopped long enough to bow
towards an extremely confused Billy the waiter, and then departed quickly
through the side door.
Outside, the rain poured down, but
mixed in here and there were snowflakes, and as he walked back to his car,
umbrella against the wind, they began outnumbering the raindrops. A
crackle of lightning surged overhead.
She's been here for years, Simon thought. What is it? Ten, fifteen?
He turned into the parking lot, looking through the flying flecks of water and
snow. She still can't find anyone who can make the bisque as good as
she can. He stopped and sighed, shook his head, and moved forward
again. That's me too, isn't it. Try as I might, try as
Callow might, in the end I am the only one at Nightwatch who can make
the damn bisque. In Gillian's case, her efforts meant the dinner
crowd would not go hungry. In Simon's case, it meant lives would not end
unnecessarily and that chances for better futures would be guaranteed.
Never success, he could never guarantee success, but sometimes the chance was
all anyone needed. Ah hell, he thought as he pulled the keys from
his pocket and opened his car door.
Simon jumped into the Saturn,
shook out the umbrella, and closed the door. The die was cast; the choice
had been made for him, and only anger and pride had allowed him to hold out as
long as he had. "Damn you," Simon whispered under his
breath. His satellite radio immediately picked up strains of an old song.
appropriate," he thought as the Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime” played
on the station. Thinking on the offer from Callow and Eckert that he knew
he couldn’t refuse, he laughed grimly and then said, “Damn Sword of Damocles.”
"The trick with time
travel," Dr. Eckert said as he double-checked the fitting on Simon's new
suit and cloak, "is finding things which match the period. While it
is highly unlikely that someone would test the fibers of your," he made
quotation marks in the air with his fingers, "futuristic garments,
we can't take that chance."
enough," Simon said without much enthusiasm. The outfit, while
similar in many ways to his normal attire, was somewhat heavier and also
somewhat more formal. The cloak itself was made of heavy wool and was a
brown-checked color. Simon, feeling like the main attraction in a freak
show, placed his new tan (or at least somewhat darker than khaki) hat on his
head. In the background, two technicians finished attaching wires to
something that looked uncomfortably like an electric chair.
"And then," Eckert
continued, "we have these. This fine, period appropriate wallet
filled with $200 in period appropriate currency and period appropriate
identification. Small leather pouch with period appropriate
currency." Simon blinked, smiled, then looked down at the floor.
"All borrowed from one of the
period appropriate exhibits in storage at the Smithsonian," Callow
"You didn't have a premade
rulebook for this sort of thing," Simon spoke with some degree of disgust,
"so you rented Somewhere in Time, didn't you." Simon
visualized the document Callow had in his possession. It was the only
thing that kept him from running away for his life. Eckert walked over
and conferred with Callow, who, to Simon, looked positively giddy, something
that was disturbing both for its unusual presence in Callow and in the
strangely demonic creases that appeared at the corners of his eyes.
Simon closed his eyes and tried to meditate as best as he could. Within
the last year, Simon had seen three time machines, and two of them had produced
nothing but sorrow for the lives they touched. And now, albeit unwillingly,
he was getting ready to see if the third time was, indeed, a most unlucky
"I know this is going to seem
a laughable question, to you two anyway," Litchfield said, "but, how
are you going to bring me back, find me in the past for that matter?"
Eckert and Callow looked over at him.
"You're marked, Dr.
Litchfield," Callow stated, and he walked over to look closely into
Simon's face. "You don't, strictly speaking, belong anywhere but
"You will appear very clearly
on the next temporal scan, I can assure you," Eckert continued.
"When you are ready to return, we'll be able to home in on you with very
"According to you
anyway," Simon spoke blackly. "You're not going to sit in that
chair, over there. In a similar vein, just how am I supposed to tell you
I'm ready to come back?" Eckert walked over to a table and
picked up a copy of the Washington Post.
"Place an ad in here,"
Eckert said. "We'll see it and initiate retrieval procedures
immediately. I can't guarantee you'll come back immediately, but
certainly within a few hours..." Litchfield held up his hands.
"This is getting more surreal
by the second," Simon hissed. "First, Somewhere in Time.
And now, Time Cop!"
Eckert shrugged his head
apologetically. "My specialty is the mechanics of time, Dr.
Litchfield. As for the actual procedures involved in time travel, there
is precious little out there upon which to draw!" Callow walked
"Time is literally wasting,
gentlemen," he said as he turned to Eckert. "Didn't you tell me
this morning's scan showed more instability?" Eckert nodded and
smiled his creaseless smile.
"Are we ready?" he asked
one of the technicians. The man raised his thumbs.
"Good! Dr. Litchfield, if you'll follow me." Simon, his
expression sinking into one of general disgust, reluctantly followed Eckert to
the chair. Sitting on the aluminum seat, Simon placed his hands on the
points indicated by the technicians. He sat perfectly still as a large,
fishbowl-like object was placed around his head.
“And just how many volts will you
be sending through me?” Simon asked when he finally couldn’t stand the tension
any longer. Eckert looked at him quizzically before breaking out into a
“No, no, no, you misunderstand,
doctor,” Eckert laughed as he adjusted a few knobs on a wall panel.
“Truthfully, the chair has nothing to do with time travel. I’m just
gathering some physiological data. No, you could be hanging from a
chandelier for all that the machine would care!” Simon shrugged. “All right,” Eckert continued, “let’s get
started, shall we. Places, everyone.” The technicians moved to
different monitors and reduced the lighting over their areas. Callow, who
was watching with great interest, moved to the main station and stood behind
Eckert. “Directional focusing. Main bus alpha. Main bus
beta. Signal integrity booster, on. Phased pulse integrity booster,
on…” Callow held up a copy of the checklist and followed as Eckert
whispered to himself.
“What should I expect?” Simon
asked after a long pause during which the room was quiet save for a vaguely
disturbing humming noise. Various lights on the array around the egg lit
up in unison, and the egg began spinning on its pedestal.
signal…good. Time setting…positive signal! Subject
acquisition…” Eckert continued.
“I said,” Simon muttered in an
irritated tone, “what should I expect?” Eckert still didn’t look up from his
check list and from the panel he was standing in front of.
acquisition… Positive signal, Callow. Positive signal!”
Eckert looked towards Simon as the egg began spinning so quickly that its shape
was no longer defined to the naked eye. The humming noise grew
louder. “I’m sorry, Dr. Litchfield. What are you talking about?”
“What the hell should I expect,”
Simon yelled, “when I start to travel! It’s a reasonable question!
What did your previous subjects experience?”
Eckert looked at Callow and then
at Litchfield. Shrugging his shoulders, he looked down and flipped a
toggle switch. “I really can’t answer your query,” Eckert said.
“You’re the first!”
Simon’s eyes compressed to slits,
and he prepared to spring out of the seat. “Oh, like hell…”
“…I am!” Simon shrieked as he
stood up. As he did so, however, he was overcome by a terrible sense of
vertigo, and he fell down hard, vomiting into the snow and just barely avoiding
soiling his new clothes with it. The dizziness was the worst he’d ever
experienced, worse than the time he’d picked up an ear infection while working
deep underground. The snow, which was already clinging to his hands and
clothes, couldn’t be said to be helping matters. Turning over onto his
back, Simon tried to focus on the sill of one of the buildings surrounding the
alley, using it as a sort of artificial horizon. He concentrated
carefully and tried to will the nausea and dizziness into abating.
“Snow?” he said as an invisible
hand began braking the spinning world. “Alley?” The spinning motion
reduced even more. When he was certain that there would be no more
vomiting, he sat up, his breath condensing into white puffs of vapor. Well,
he thought, at least it’s done. At least I’m there. Or was
he? It occurred to him that the contraption might have hurled him
spatially, but there was no guarantee of his having actually traveled in
time. The first thing he’d need to do would be to look for a newspaper.
The second thing, providing he
felt up to it, would be to find something to eat.
Simon sat, cross legged, and tried
to gauge whether or not he could stand. He looked forward and saw the end
of the alley, saw a horse and buggy as it scooted by. Finally trusting
that his legs wouldn’t give out, he stood, dusted off the snow, and smoothed
out the wrinkles in his clothes. As he started to leave, however, he
heard something in the alley behind him, and he turned to see what it
was. The alley behind came to a T-intersection. Moving towards it,
Simon listened over the crunch of fallen snow, trying to figure out what he was
It didn’t take long to recognize
the sound of someone having the breath beaten out of him. Simon crouched
low as he continued moving forward and tried to muffle as best he could the
sound of his feet.
Simon stopped and listened.
“…thought you could <umph> cheat Whitey out of <umph> his
dough. Let me tell ya, in another <umph> couple of minutes, you
ain’t gonna cheat nobody again <umph>.”
Some sort of deal gone wrong, Litchfield thought, and he started to leave. This
isn’t my affair.
another more distressed voice said. “Please…please stop...
<umph>…I’m not kidding, I’m not doing <umph> so well.”
Another man started to laugh.
“That’s kinda the point, don’t you
think Eddie?” the other man said. “Go on, Mitch. Keep at him till
you get tired, then finish with the knife.” Simon stopped, closed his
eyes, took in a deep breath, and turned back towards the sounds. As he
turned his head around the corner, Litchfield saw exactly what he’d expected to
see given the fragments of conversation he was hearing. A man in his
mid-thirties was slumped against a pile of empty brown and beige crates, his
Irish cap hanging from a shard of wood. His gray pea coat was stained
with drops of blood, which was dripping down from his nose and mouth. The
white collar of his shirt was stained as well.
Standing in front of him were two
men. One leaned against the brick of one wall, his gray business suit
crumpled and wrinkling from the way he pressed himself against the
building. A gray fedora was pushed forward on his head and nearly covered
Another, larger brute stood in
front of the bleeding man. The goon (Simon couldn’t think of a more
appropriate appellation) had obviously taken off his coat and rolled up sleeves
before commencing work on his victim. As Simon watched, the goon
delivered another hammering punch.
Simon tensed up and then relaxed,
loosening muscles that really weren’t in the mood for what he was about to
do. The stomach he’d have to deal with later.
"Excuse me -- Mitch, was
it? I think Eddie, there, has had enough."
The goon straightened, glanced
over at his fedora-wearing companion.
"Better mind your own
business, Pops," the man in the gray suit said. "Turn around
and walk away, unless you want some of what Mitch is sellin'."
Litchfield shook his head.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," he said. "Especially not if
you insist on judging me by my age."
"Ignore him, Mitch. I
can handle this old fruit myself."
"'Kay, Buddy. I'll just
keep talkin' with Eddie, here," the goon said, his oversized fist
pistoning into Eddie's ribs.
Buddy strutted toward Simon, hands
in his pockets. "Sure you don't want to change your mind,
Simon unfastened his cloak and let
the heavy woolen garment slide off his shoulders and onto the wet, filthy
pavement. Callow could bloody well pay to have the thing cleaned before
it went back to the museum or wherever he'd 'borrowed' it from -- assuming, of
course, that Eckert's machine really could retrieve him.
Buddy stopped within arm's length
of the man he insisted on calling 'Pops', looking him up and down with
"I'll say this for you,
Pops. You look like you're in okay shape for a geezer," Buddy
said. "I'm giving you one more chance to keep it that way."
Simon shook his head again.
"I am giving you -- and
your large friend -- one more chance to walk away."
Buddy sneered. "I
warned ya --"
Buddy grabbed the lapel of Simon's
coat in his left hand and drew back his right fist.
Simon's right hand snapped out in
an atemi strike to Buddy's face -- little more than an open-handed slap, but it
startled the man and left him vulnerable to Simon's next move. Trapping
Buddy's left hand, Simon twisted it back on itself, putting painful pressure on
the wrist and elbow. Buddy yelped in surprise as Simon pivoted, pulling
Buddy off his feet and hurling him against the wall.
"Shit! You're gonna pay
for that one, you old bastard!"
Buddy peeled himself off the wall
and leaped headfirst at Simon. Simon sidestepped, caught Buddy's arm, and
again pivoted in place, this time redirecting the momentum so that Buddy's face
slammed into the pavement. Buddy grunted, then went limp.
"Not the cleanest technique,
but I think sensei would be satisfied with the result," Simon said.
"What did you do to
Simon looked up in time to see
Mitch's scarred boulder of a fist rocketing toward his face. He managed
to twist enough to turn a knockout punch into a graze, but even so, the impact
threw him off balance and he fell to one knee, the metallic taste of blood
making his already-abused stomach churn. The cold and damp of the
pavement wasn't doing his arthritis any good, either, but he had much more
Mitch followed up by trying to
land a solid kick to Simon's ribs, but Litchfield deflected the blow with a
sweeping motion of one arm and drove one knuckle into Mitch's ankle joint.
Mitch howled and pulled back,
favoring his injured ankle, giving Simon time to regain his feet and his
Mitch shook himself and worked his
shoulders and arms. He glared at Litchfield, obviously offended by
Simon's use of trickery and 'dirty fighting' -- which, by 1939 standards,
classical aikido certainly was.
Simon could see now that the big
man wasn't just a mountain of muscle and bone -- he was both faster and more
skillful than he looked. Still, Simon had seen the aikido o-sensei handle
a drunken sumo five times his size, in spite of the much larger man's
surprising speed and agility, and he was eighty-three years old at the time.
This time, Mitch attacked like a
boxer, with flurries of punches that Simon deflected with high and middle
blocks while circling the big man. Mitch was confused and frustrated by
Simon's defenses, and it made him careless, swinging harder and wider.
Finally, Simon saw an
opening. He slipped another open-handed atemi strike between Mitch's
raised fists, followed with a snap kick to the big man's knee, then executed a
jiu jitsu throw that had been prohibited in competition because of its
potential to do permanent damage. Stepping in so that his right leg was
behind Mitch's, he tugged at the back of Mitch's shirt with one hand, driving
the other hard against Mitch's upper chest.
Mitch's legs flew out from under
him, and his upper body pivoted on the fulcrum of Simon's hip, then fell at
bone-crunching speed to the pavement. Amazingly, the big man did not lose
consciousness, although the look on his face suggested that he wished he had.
Simon finished the job with a
shuto strike to the temple, leaving the goon snoring like a buzzsaw.
"I see adenoid surgery in
your future, Mitch," Simon said, shaking his head. He looked over
toward Buddy's crumpled and still-unconscious form. "Plastic surgery
for you -- damn, do they have plastic surgery yet?" Simon walked
over to the bleeding, beaten, and dumbfounded man sitting crumpled on the
ground. “Come on, Eddie,” Litchfield said as he helped the man out of the
alleyway. “Let’s find some place a little safer, shall we.
“Geez Louise, oldtimer,” the man
sputtered as more blood dribbled out, “where’d you learn to fight like
that?” Simon cringed and fought the urge to drop the man in the snow then
“I’m not old,” Simon hissed, “and
I learned it far away from here.”
They hobbled along the snow-covered street, the two of
them ducking into doorways to avoid more than cursory glances from
pedestrians. Finally, after moving
roughly three blocks, they slid into another alley. Simon propped Eddie against the wall and then
scouted out the area. Satisfied that
there were alternate escape routes should any more of Eddie's friends arrive,
Litchfield returned to tend to his patient.
"You have a name?" Simon asked while looking
into Eddie's eyes to see if the pupils were dilated.
"E-E-Eddie," the man stammered. "Eddie Winter." Eddie reached up
slowly to touch the left side of his jaw.
"You think it's broken?" Eddie asked. "I don't
think I could handle getting my jaw wired shut." Simon shook his head as
he scooped up some snow and moved it to the center of a handkerchief.
"Oh, you're hurt all
right," Simon said as he placed the snow against the bleeding gash on the
side of Eddie's face. Eddie winced and let out a yelp of pain.
"I don't think anything's broken. You'd better get to a doctor,
though." Eddie nodded as he let himself slide to the ground.
"You from around here?"
Eddie asked as he took over handkerchief duty from Simon. Litchfield
laughed, shook his head, and then sat down on a small wooden crate marked
'Cleaned Canned Peaches Packed In Syrup.'
"Uh, no," Litchfield
finally said. "I'm not from here. I'm
"Baltimore!" Eddie said
excitedly. "I know a fella up there! Real good egg.
Gives good credit too." Simon smiled. "What you down here
"I'm applying to work with
the PWA," Litchfield said quickly. "This fellow in Baltimore, he's your
bookie, is he?" Simon asked. Eddie gave Simon a thumbs up
sign. "Is he the one who sent the goons to beat you to a bloody
"Naw," Eddie said as he
waved his right hand. "Naw, this ain't his style. These are
Whitey Rueger's boys." Simon arched his left eyebrow.
"So," he sighed,
"you've got more than one bookie."
"Sure," Eddie said,
wincing as he removed the now bloody handkerchief. He felt with his hand,
found that the bleeding had indeed stopped, and gave a nod of
satisfaction. "Got about six or seven I work with each
week." Simon laughed.
"Wouldn't you say that's a
bit excessive? One, I'd think, would generally suffice." Eddie
laughed but then started to shiver. Simon took off his cloak and layered
it over the injured man.
"Thanks, buddy," Eddie
finally said after calming the shaking. "Nah...nah...see. It's
all part of my system."
"All the bookies," Eddie
said. "They're all part of my system. See," he said as he
held up his right hand, "you place your bets with one man, and all your
bets lose, you're out a bundle. What I do, see, is spread the bets
around." He spread the fingers on his hand. "Let's say I
placed bets with Rueger, Penn Wittington in Baltimore, Richie Green, Bixby's
House, and the Ballroom Boys. If Old Lady Luck is with me that day, then
I can clear a big bundle. I mean a BIG bundle. See what I'm
"I see what you're
about," Simon continued. "You're about to get yourself killed
because you're addicted to gambling." Eddie shook his head and
"You don't gamble, do
ya," Eddie stated. "No cards, no dice, no nothing, I
bet." Simon smiled and tried not to burst into laughter.
"Well," Simon spoke,
"I wouldn't put it that way. To be honest, I gamble all the
time," he smiled wickedly, "one way or another." Eddie
eyed him quizzically.
"Well, okay then," Eddie
said, "but you don't know nothing about it. You place all your bets
with one guy, see, and you're out everything, maybe more than everything if you
lose bad enough." Eddie tapped the side of his head and
smiled. "My way, now, my way is better! I place a bet here, I
place a bet there. Even if I strike out with four, the fifth one's gonna
come in big, big enough to cover everyone else, see? Even on a bad week I
break even. Then, you dump the fire and start again. It's fool
proof!" Simon grinned, shook his head, took the handkerchief from
Eddie's left hand and put more snow it. Then, he applied it to another
cut that had started bleeding on Eddie's neck.
"Sounds good," Simon
muttered, "but it didn't work out this time, did it?" The smile
on Eddie's face slowly collapsed.
"Um," Eddie grunted as
he cleared his throat, "well, it was just one of those fluke things, you
know? Ain't nothing I coulda done about it." Simon stared at
him with a look of pity. "Look, I caught a bad break on Golden Hands
Lucas, all right. He was a shoo in, a shoo in! No way Bricks
McGhee was gonna win that fight."
"Uh-huh," Simon said
"Look, chum," Eddie said
with a degree of irritation, "it just wasn't my fault! How was I
supposed to know he'd hire a lousy cut man for his corner? Lucas shoulda
known better. Same guy shitted up the Wilson fight last year!"
"Ah, I see," Simon
intoned as he removed the handkerchief and examined the cut. It, too, had
stopped bleeding. "And what about the others then, the ones that
Golden Hands Lucas' cut man wasn't involved in?"
Eddie stared into Simon's
eyes. "Fuck," he said quietly. "Nothing I coulda
done about it. Just a damn fluke." Eddie's face brightened
up. "Next week, though, next week I got some hot tips cooking
"Next week?" Simon said
incredulously. "Two men just tried to kill you! You know that,
don't you? They weren't," Simon laughed, "they weren't coming
to ask you to dance!"
"But I got a system,"
Eddie said enthusiastically. "What were the odds? No chance
all of 'em are gonna blow back on me this time! I can pull in a full car
load, pay off Rueger, and have a stake left for the week after."
"Eddie," he said, "you
need to get to a doctor, now." Eddie shook his head.
"No sawbones for me," he
said as he started to stand, using the wall for support until he was back on
his feet. A little wobbly but still upright, he handed back the
cloak. "Couple of BC Powders, and I'll be good as new."
"You're crazy," Simon
spoke, a wry smile on his face, "you know that don't you."
Eddie touched the side of his
nose, cringed as this caused him pain, and then smiled again. "Like
a fox," he grinned. He reached out to shake Simon's hand.
"Lemme tell you. I ain't never seen someone fight like that, and I
really appreciate what you done. You need help with anything, anything,
just ask around for Eddie Winter. I'll be there." Almost
despite himself, Simon grabbed Eddie's hand and smiled.
"Okay," he said.
"Don't be surprised if I take you up on the offer. By the way, do
you know of a good place to eat around here?" Eddie nodded.
"Sure thing," he
said. "Up the street," he said pointing with his thumb,
"turn left, walk a block. Philby's Drug. It's got one of them
grinding bowl things on the sign."
"Okay Eddie," Simon
spoke. As Eddie turned to leave, he pulled out a pocket watch and checked
the time as Simon called out. "Hey," he said, "take care
of yourself, okay, and take my advice. Lay off the gambling for
awhile." Eddie just smiled and shook his head, and then he limped up
the street, placed the watch back into his pocket, and disappeared around a
Simon sat at the counter of
Philby's Drug, slowly eating his cheeseburger and thinking about his
circumstances. As he'd walked the streets of Washington, he'd realized
very quickly that he had, indeed, traveled to the past, and the realization
that Eckert's machine worked had been extremely unsettling. While he'd
never admit as much to Callow, the fact that the machine had worked
frightened him. The only thing that frightened him more was the fear
that, having been sent back, Eckert and Callow wouldn't be able to return him
to the present. Quantum Leap, he thought. Oh well, at
least Beckett seemed to have sex quite a bit.
"I still don't know when I
am," he said to himself just as a waitress in a white cloth hat and
blue-checked serving outfit refilled his cup of coffee. "37 and
McGregor," she said cheerfully, and then she walked off to attend to other
customers. Simon watched the appealing way her healthy rear-end swayed as
she moved to the opposite end of the counter. He arched his eyebrows
before shaking his head. "Can't think about that now, Simon,"
he whispered. Smiling, he said, "Maybe later. Maybe
later." This is a damn good burger, he thought as he took
another bite. Something, somewhere in his mind began griping about the
lower health standards of the day, but he quickly decided to adopt a don't ask,
don't tell policy concerning anything pleasant that he ate. Besides, the
coffee tasted real, which was better than he could say about the instant
junk he had to make do with most of the time.
"Can I get you anything else,
shug?" the redheaded waitress asked as she put Simon's ticket on the
counter. Simon smiled and again had to remind himself that now was not a
good time to think about that.
"You can, actually," he
said charmingly. "My mind's drawing a blank all of a sudden. Can
you tell me what the date is?"
"December 11," she
"1938, right?" Simon
spoke as if he was being playful and joking.
"Stop that," the
waitress said with a giggle as she lightly slapped his hand. "1939,
and you know it! Hey Jim, we got ourselves a joker, here!"
"Everyone's a joker,"
the fry-cook said cheerlessly as he flipped several hamburger patties.
The waitress shook her head.
"Depression's letting up,
Joe," she said sarcastically, "you could try cracking a smile once in
a while." End of fall '39, Simon thought as he winked at the
waitress. Was it supposed to be this early? I thought Eckert
"Don't get fresh with me,
mister," the waitress said, and though she was laughing, Simon could tell
from the slight edge in her voice that she was probably a force to be reckoned
with if she was crossed. She left to fill up another customer's cup, and
as she did Simon picked up his ticket and pulled out his wallet. He idly
dropped two dollars on the counter and then headed for the cash register.
The register was large, brown, metallic, and generally clunky compared to
anything Simon had seen in recent years though he had seen this kind before
during his childhood. The waitress walked up and pushed down on the metal
keys as numbers on metal strips popped up in a display window. "42
cents," she said. Simon, momentarily shaken by the realization that
years of inflation had melted away, suddenly couldn't figure out what to give
her. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out two
quarters. She pushed another button and the cash drawer popped out,
accompanied by a loud bell sound. She handed 8 cents back. Simon
tipped his hat, smiled, and then headed for the exit. As he passed the
shelves of phosphates, potions, and the ever popular Castor Oil, he remembered
the two dollar tip he'd absently left.
"Well," he said as he
laughed, "I hope she's happy with a 300% tip!" As he opened the
door to the cold street, a loud bell clanged above him.
A doorway opened into a dark space,
throwing illumination from a paper-shaded light in the hallway onto the
dark-stained pinewood floors. A portly woman in her early to mid-fifties
entered, her blue dress with a white flower pattern on it swaying around her
frame. As the floorboards creaked, Simon followed behind her. The
woman stopped by a small end-table and turned on a yellow lamp.
"Bathroom's down the hall to
your left," she said. "Mister Griffith and myself just ask that
you limit the time you spend in there, as a courtesy to others. You can
change your own bed linens," she continued. "A fresh set will
be dropped off at your door every mornin'. Warm-bed heater's in the
corner, and you'll get a new bucket of coal every mornin'. If you need more,
don't hesitate to ask, but Mister Griffith and myself will charge extra for the
"Don't worry madam,"
Simon spoke, "I can conserve heat with the best of them." Mrs.
Griffith, while still smiling, cast a reproachful look upon Litchfield.
"Young man," she
said--she called every man other than her husband 'young man' as far as Simon
could tell--"please call me Mrs. Griffith. I do not work in
the tenderloin district."
Simon bowed respectfully.
"Mea culpa," he said, and Mrs. Griffith smiled, revealing three missing
teeth on her lower jaw.
"Ahhh, Latin," she said
wistfully. "The younger generation is sadly lackin' in the classics,
don't you agree, Dr. Litchfield." Simon turned on his most charming
"I do indeed, Mrs.
Griffith! I do indeed!"
Mrs. Griffith laughed an airy
laugh and then resumed her tour of the room. Once she had finished, she
started for the door. "Remember, Dr. Litchfield, that Mister
Griffith and I expect prompt payment every Monday. Three dollars and twenty-five
"Would you like for me to pay
now?" Simon asked as he reached for his wallet, but Mrs. Griffith shook
her head and jutted her lower lip. Then, she started to close the door
with her left hand.
"No need," she
said. "You look like an honest man." The door clicked
shut. "I serve dinner, promptly, at 6PM," she said
through the closed door. Simon took off his cloak and let it fall onto
the plain beige covers of the single bed. As he looked around, he took
note of his Spartan surroundings, particularly the lack of any pictures on the
wall. To Mrs. Griffith's credit, however, the room was impeccable, and
Mr. Griffith apparently saw to it that all the cracks in the plaster were
filled in and that the off-white paint was kept in good shape. Simon touched
the wall and then quickly pulled his hand back.
"Probably lead paint,"
he said to himself. You have to eat it for it to hurt, he thought but no need to take chances. "Probably lead pipes,
too." He made a mental note to not drink the water until he absolutely
had to do so. Walking over to the closet, he pulled open the door and
found a man's pullover night shirt. Good, he thought, this'll
tide me over until I can buy a few things tomorrow. Walking over to
the warm-bed heater, he opened the grating, found some matches, and prepared to
start a fire. Might as well go to bed, he thought. Long
day ahead. Lord knows where it'll take me.
The sun shone brightly in the cold
morning air as Simon sat upon a bench reading the Washington Post.
There was, of course, international news, particularly reports from Warsaw
concerning the fate of the Poles under NAZI rule and reports from Helsinki
about the Red Army's march on Finland. There were others as well,
including an ominous warning on the editorial page that it would be impossible
for the US to stay out of Europe's war forever. While Simon was
fascinated by the history unfolding before him, he quickly started digging for
local news. After all, Callow's pet project couldn't see beyond a certain
area, and Europe was definitely out of the picture. He looked for
anything unusual, anything that screamed this is important, this is vital,
and he found nothing. Not even in the police blotters. Forlornly,
he folded up the paper and tossed it into a garbage can.
"I didn't suppose it would be
that easy," he said under his breath. "Would have been nice,
though." As he walked along the streets, saw the hats and clothes
and fashions of "yesteryear," the open-bed trucks with parcels tied
down carefully onto their flat beds, the horses and buggies still quite common
on the streets, another layer of denial stripped away from him, and as it did,
the enormity of what was being asked of him sank in further. As he looked
around, he realized that he had the same task as someone looking for a
proverbial needle in a haystack. Even in 1939, the DC metro area was
relatively large; with so many centers of power and so many people, whatever
was occurring could be happening to anyone, anywhere. What he needed was
a plan of attack.
"Okay," he said to
himself, "check the other newspapers, as many of them as you can get your
hands on. Then, the areas of transportation--train stations, airport, bus
terminals. Then, the major monuments. The seats of power."
This could take forever, he thought as he reentered Philby's Drug.
He wondered, if he didn't find what was going on, if Callow and Eckert would
even bring him back to the present.
the clerk said as he rang it up on the register, "Alexandria Gazette Packet,
Arlington... You've got five papers here, Mister."
"Six," Simon spoke,
"I've already looked over the Post." The clerk finished
and Simon paid his money. As he was heading for the door, however, he
suddenly felt a hand pulling on his arm. He turned and came face to face
with the redheaded waitress. "Hello again, my dear!" he said
cheerfully. While the waitress was smiling, however, it was also clear
that she was holding back tears.
"I just wanted you to
know," she said quietly, "that that was the sweetest thing anyone's
ever done for me. That tip was....was..."
added. Simon shook her hand, let his fingers linger on hers for a few
seconds, smiled, and then headed into the cold air. Walking quickly towards
one of the busier streets, he flagged down a yellow Mayflower cab and got
in. "Farthest away train station in town you can think of,"
Simon spoke. Might as well start from the outside and spiral back
inwards. As the cab pulled away, he was already busy scanning the
front page of the Times.
As the cab left in a swirl of
noxious emissions, Simon stood before a large granite and marble edifice, its
large federal style windows gleaming in the sunlight. Men, women, and
families scurried in and out of the building, either on their way to a train or
coming in from a trip.
In truth, Simon was a bit confused
by what he'd found. The cabby had dropped him off at a place called
American Gateway Station, which was serviced exclusively by the Union & Indianapolis
Railroad. However, Simon had never heard of either. Many railways
had come and gone over the years; Simon knew this better than most,
particularly since he had been a fan of railroading for many years, but this
line had apparently disappeared totally, its rails either pulled up or merged
into others like BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Kansas City Southern.
After dropping three of his now read papers into a garbage can, he climbed the
four marble steps to the brass main doors. A station official,
resplendent in blue uniform, shining gold buttons, and white cotton gloves,
held open the door as Litchfield entered.
Once inside, the station opened up
a bit, and as the people dispersed, the crowded feeling of the steps quickly
subsided. The station's visible structure appeared to be dominated by
brass fixtures, highly polished white granite and pink marble walls and floors,
and brown-stained furniture. On the floor in the center of a main
rotunda, a circular U&I logo carved out of black and white granite rested.
Litchfield moved forward and
entered an expansive waiting area. In the center of the room were several
rows of pew-like seating, and nearly half of those available seats were
taken. On the right side of the room, several plush leather chairs were
occupied by women dressed primly in dark gray outfits topped off with tasteful
fur stoles and gray hats with small flowers spread around the brims. On
the left was a long wooden counter, and behind it sat ticket takers and other
agents of the railway. Forward, beyond large glass partitions, were the
actual platforms and railroad tracks. Looking above one of the doors to
the platform, Simon saw a sign indicating that the next train was due to depart
in forty minutes, the number 10 Ohio Express, followed by the arrival of the
number 20 Appalachian Mountaineer thirty minutes later. He continued on,
mentally recording the lay of the land—an empty alcove, restrooms, closets,
stairs to an upper area (and a note saying ‘Railroad Employees Only’), a door
to a small dining area and soda fountain
Simon backtracked and walked over
to the nearest empty leather chair, sat down, and unfolded the Alexandria
Gazette Packet. As he scanned over the pages, he periodically looked
up, trying to find anything that seemed strange, unusual, or otherwise out of
the ordinary. When he reached the social registry—“Mr. Glenn Towell &
Family, Arlington, Announce Engagement of Louella Gwendolyn Towell to
Washington Birch Klapsaddle, Hampton Roads”—he felt one of the veins on his
neck start to throb. Great threat to time or no great threat to time,
this was extremely boring work. And he had no plans, none at all, to show
up at the Towell/Klapsaddle nuptials on March 30th.
It was then that Simon felt
something strange. It was a feeling that he couldn't easily define.
It was almost as if he was simultaneously experiencing deja vu, vertigo, and
paranoia. His senses immediately driven into fight or flight mode, he
looked around rapidly for whatever it was, whatever he'd sensed, that had
triggered the feeling. At that moment, he wouldn't have been surprised to
see a deranged ax-murderer, a lost demon, or even a pulsating mystery egg
standing menacingly before him, but, instead, he was greeted by the sight of an
eighty-year-old woman trying her best to adjust a stocking without drawing
attention to herself.
Sinking back into the chair, Simon
noticed the rapidness of his heartbeat; the deep, shallow breaths he was
taking; the sweat forming on his palms. He blinked, hard, rubbed his
hands over his eyes, and then looked once more. It must be a side
effect of that damn machine again, he thought with a great degree of
disgust. Laying his papers down on an adjacent seat, he stood up and
walked towards where he expected the restrooms to be located and found them
with little difficulty. Still, even as he walked, Simon couldn't get over
the feeling that something in the station was different, that there was
something he should be seeing and wasn't. He looked around again, saw the
ticket counter, saw the exits to the rail platforms, saw a black grandfather
clock in the alcove, saw a policeman on his beat as he walked by. Shaking
his head, Simon forced himself to move on.
Pushing open the black door of the
men's restroom, he headed straight for the sink. Cold water poured from a
heavily curved, art deco style faucet and fell into a stainless steel
basin. He cupped his hands under the liquid and then splashed water onto
his face and forehead several times in quick succession. Finally, he
turned off the tap and lifted his head, droplets of water falling from the brim
of his hat. As he ran his right thumb and index finger over his nose,
Simon looked into the mirror. "Pull it together," he said reproachfully
to his reflection. "It's still Washington, no matter where you
"I told my regional
supervisor something like that," a deep, raspy voice said from
behind. Simon spun around, his chest
heaving. This odd level of anxiety was rapidly getting old, and Simon
made a mental note to skip Mrs. Griffith's coffee when he had his next meal at
her boarding house.
"Told him something like
what?" Simon asked as he looked at the person who had spoken. He was
a short, chubby man, probably in his mid to late 40s, and he was sitting on one
of the marble benches lining the sides of the bathroom. His white shirt,
which was partially hidden beneath a black, unbuttoned vest, appeared stained
with sweat, and beads of perspiration were rolling from the top of his balding
head and down over his full, pasty cheeks. He blinked his green eyes as
he stared, not at Simon, but at a spot on the otherwise white walls. His
right hand sat on his chest, and his left hand rested under a black overcoat.
"Told him," the man
said, "that no matter where he sent me, it'd be home to me." He
raised his right hand and then let it fall at his side. "I said,
'Mr. Washburn, just send me anywhere. Any old place. Send me to Kansas, I've always
wanted to see the prairie. Send me to Indiana, I've never seen an oil
field.'" Simon looked carefully at the man.
"Um, are you all
right?" Simon asked as he started to walked towards him.
"Because you look a little like someone's who's having a heart
attack." The man shook his head weakly.
"Broken heart, maybe,"
he said, but he waved Simon off when he started to move closer.
"Hell... I'm sorry, do you mind if I swear?" Simon shook
his head and crouched on his knees so that he was at eye level with the man.
"Hell, I told Mr. Washburn, 'just send me any old damn place, I don't
care.' I said it exactly like that." He turned his head and
looked vacantly at Simon. "You know, I started with them in
'28. Wore a Hoover
button and everything so that the bosses would take notice of me. Crash
came, everything went into the crapper, but I still had my job. 'Good ol'
Charlie Cooper,' Washburn said. 'Don't know what we'd do without Charlie
Cooper. Charlie’s got the keenest
instinct for a sale I ever saw!'” The man’s eyes returned to the spot on the
wall. “I've been all up and down the eastern seaboard,” he said, tracing
the East Coast’s outline in the air. “New York, Boston, Portland.
I've even been to Miami. You...you been to Miami?"
"Oh yeah," Simon said
quickly, "several times. It's not my favorite place.
Listen," he spoke as he moved closer to the man he assumed to be Charlie
Cooper. "Listen, Mr. Cooper, I think there's something wrong.
I think you might be very sick, so I'm going to find someone..." At
that moment, however, the grandfather clock began chiming. Simon looked up and
wondered why the sound was so loud in the bathroom. Then, however, he
remembered that its alcove would abut with the restroom's outer wall. He
looked back at Charlie Cooper and was about to speak when he realized that the
fellow had a look of sheer terror on his face. "Charlie, are
"I've got to go,"
Charlie said as he stood up. His legs seemed about to give way, but
finally he steadied. Looking down in his right hand, he noticed a train
ticket, and the look of horror gave way to one of dazed recognition.
"I've got to go," he repeated, and he held up the overcoat, slid his
arms into the sleeves, and headed for the bathroom's exit. Simon watched
as he left and then shook his head in wonder. In his travels, Simon had
seen things so wondrous strange that it was a wonder he could sleep--and sleep
well, at that. But something about this man, this Charlie Cooper, at that
moment seemed to trump them all. Shaking his head and laughing lightly at
the silliness of it the feeling, he stood and turned back towards the
sinks. His hands were still dripping, and he needed a hand towel.
As he started drying his hands, however, he noticed something sitting on one of
the adjacent sinks.
It was an old style pill
bottle. Well, just a pill bottle, Simon thought, correcting
himself. He reached for it, found that it was empty, and held it
up. While the drug's name was unfamiliar, the typewritten instructions
were clear enough: "Take One Pill In Evening As Needed For
Sleep. Do Not Take More Than One Pill During Twenty-Four Hour
Period." Lowering the bottle, Simon placed it into his coat pocket
and headed for the door.
Simon burst into the lobby and
looked around for Charlie Cooper. The level of activity had increased
considerably, and passengers scurried about, looking for some indication of
where they should go. Simon twirled in place, scanning the crowd for
Cooper’s head. Just as he was about to notify someone at the ticket
counter, Simon felt a tapping on his shoulder.
Spinning around, Simon found
himself looking at a middle-aged man. He wore a gray, pinstriped suit and
looked like any normal businessman of the day would, but there was something in
his eyes that set him off from everyone else Litchfield had seen so far in the
station. The man’s brown eyes radiated kindness, but at the same time,
they were piercing as well, and at that moment Simon could feel himself being
mentally taken apart and put back together again.
Finally, the man spoke in a pleasant,
even tone. “You don’t belong here,” he said matter-of-factly, but as he
looked over Simon, an extremely inquisitive look took root. “You’re not
from here.” Simon looked, shook his head to clear it, and then nodded.
“No, I’m not,” he said quickly.
“I’m from Baltimore, and, actually, I have something I really need to
take care of, so if you’ll…” The man looked over his shoulder.
“If you’re talking about Mr.
Cooper,” he said reassuringly, “there’s nothing to worry about. I’ve
directed him where he needs to go. Don’t worry. It’s all taken care
“You’ve gotten him to a doctor,
then,” Simon spoke as he took out the bottle. “He’s very sick. I
very much suspect he’s trying to commit suicide.” The man smiled and
“He succeeded,” he said plainly,
“before you ever went into the men’s toilet. He simply hadn’t finished
making the transition yet. But, he knows now, and he is, sir, on his
way.” Simon stared at the man, an uncomprehending look in the his eyes. However, Litchfield’s expression quickly
changed, and he walked rapidly back to the bathroom. Pushing open the
doorway, he burst in and looked at the bench.
Charlie Cooper sat against the wall, his skin ashen, his
body completely still. Simon moved quickly and
left the lavatory, pushing past the man who was insisting that Litchfield
“didn’t belong,” and headed for the ticket counter. The Western Union
telegrapher was the only one not busy helping anyone.
“Pardon me,” Simon spoke,
“there’s a sick man in the bathroom. I
think he’s dying, might already be dead, and someone needs to get him to a
doc...” Simon stopped when he noticed
the telegraph operator walk over to take down a message that was being
transmitted. “Hey!” Simon yelled. “I’m serious!
He's dying!” The telegrapher
began scribbling on a note pad as the telegraph clicked away. With a dismissive waive of his hand, Simon
moved over to a now free ticket agent, but he did no better at getting his
attention, and he was about to try one of the porters when he felt a tug at his
“Can you tell me where’m I
supposed to go?” a very small and very frightened little girl asked. Her brown eyes stared hopefully at him even
as she shivered in her blue checked dress--whether from cold or fright, he couldn’t
“I’m sorry, honey,” he said as
he kneeled down. “I don’t know. But,” he pointed at one of the porters, “if
you show him your ticket, I’m sure he’ll be able to help. In fact, I’m going over there now…”
“Let me see your ticket,” Simon’s
mystery man said kindly. He held out his
hand. The little girl did nothing at
first, but then she felt in her dress pocket and pulled out a ticket, one that
Simon noticed was identical to the ticket Charlie Cooper had been
carrying. “Sussanah Pauline,” he said,
“my name is Karl, Karl Emit, and I’m here to help you.” He reached down and picked up the girl, who
immediately hugged him tightly around his neck.
“Mr. Emit,” she said quietly,
“where’m I goin’?” Karl smiled and
pointed towards a line of people heading out onto one of the platforms. His gold cufflinks glistened in a stray ray
“You see those good people over
there?” Emit asked, smiling. "Yes,
those right there. That's the line for
your train. Just go right on over there,
and one of the nice porters will help you to your coach." Sussanah pulled back from Emit and looked
into his eyes.
"Where's Mommie and
Daddie?" she asked, tears starting to well up. Karl hugged her again.
"Now, Sussanah, don't you
worry. Don't you worry at
all!" He lowered her to the floor
and gently took her hand as he led her towards the line. "They'll be here soon. They'll be on the very next train. I promise you. You just had to leave a little sooner,
remember?" Sussanah nodded.
"Yeah," she said
weakly. "Where'm I
goin'?" Karl smiled, but there was
a flicker of sadness in it.
"Honey," he said
pleasantly, "that's a surprise.
That's a surprise." They
reached the end of the line. Simon,
who'd been following, listening, noticed that Charlie Cooper was just walking
out onto the platform. Running forward
quickly (and noticing that people were moving around him even if they didn't
seem to actually see him), he made it to one of the glass
partitions. The passengers walking onto
the platform were walking towards a train.
The coaches looked normal, and there was a steam engine at the head, but
the more Simon looked at it, the less it looked like a real steam engine. There was smoke coming out of the chimney,
but it looked almost artificial. Simon
scanned his memory, and he realized that the engine matched nothing he'd ever
And there were the rails the
train rested on. There appeared to be an
extra track, one that seemed to run into the distance in a direction that
didn't seem logical at all. In fact,
Simon suspected that if he had looked earlier, before his meeting with Charlie
Cooper, he wouldn't have seen the track, only the stone and grass of
right-of-way. Karl Emit stepped up next
to him and watched the passengers boarding the train.
"How do you know I don't
belong here?" Simon asked quietly.
arrive," Karl said, "they don't look real to me. They almost..." Karl paused, and Simon turned to look at him,
catching that wistful sad expression in mid-transit across Emit's face. "They almost shine with
life. I've heard people here say that
they have a fire burning inside of them.
They don't understand how true that is." Simon nodded.
"Mr. Emit," he started
"Karl, please. Karl."
"Karl," Simon asked,
"what's going on here?" Karl
“Some years ago,” Emit said,
“right about there,” he pointed to the leather seats, “I saw a woman. She was reading a book, or perhaps
cross-stitching. I’m not really sure,
tell the truth. You see, Mr…Mr…”
“Simon,” he said. “Dr. Simon Litchfield.”
“Dr. Litchfield,” Karl
continued, “I really didn’t have a frame of reference yet, for it was the first
thing I’d ever seen.” Simon nodded.
“You were blind before that?” he
asked. Karl continued looking out at the
“It was,” he said quietly, “my
first conscious thought. Prior to that
moment, I don’t believe I was…was real…in any true sense of the world. Maybe I had been here for awhile. Maybe I was a little like I’ve heard children
described. Perhaps any experiences
before that point simply went unrecorded.
Have a pleasant trip, Sussanah!” Karl spoke, his eyes and face sparkling
warmly as she passed by in line. “And
don’t worry, my dear, they will be on the next train.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Emit,” Sussanah
said, uncertainly but with more calmness in her voice than she’d had before.
“I’m not following," Simon
said. "What do you mean your first
conscious experience was over there in the chair?”
“Precisely that,” Karl
stated. “There is no deception here, Dr.
Litchfield," he said earnestly.
"No attempts at skullduggery.
I looked around me and tried to take in where I was, who I was, what I
was. I didn’t have a body yet. That came some time later. It was as if I was a mind, free to roam where
it would, except I couldn’t leave the confines of this railway station. Any time I drifted too far away, I felt as if
I were being drained, literally drained, of whatever vital energies I
possessed.” He waved as the last person
in line, a confused looking baker, passed through the door onto the
platform. Karl then waved at the
conductor, a kindly looking old man in a white and gold conductor’s
uniform. The man followed the passengers
“Wait a minute,” Simon spoke as
he pointed at the conductor, “everyone else here is wearing blue and gold. Who’s he?”
“He,” Karl said, “is the
conductor for this train. It is called
the number 10 Twilight Special, or the number 20, or 30, whichever is scheduled
for that day.” Karl looked at Simon. “Even if I could leave here, and I’ve no
doubt that I can’t, I don’t think I’d want to.”
Simon placed his hands together, his forefingers coming together in a
steeple, and he raised them to his lips.
"For whatever others may think of this place, it is my
bower, my home."
“What did you notice after you
‘came to,’ in that seat?” Simon asked, a
thoughtful expression taking over for the confused one he’d had before.
“I think you may finally be
understanding,” Karl said as he looked into Litchfield’s eyes. “It’s okay, doctor. It took me awhile to understand as well. I’m still not sure I really do, not
fully at least.” Karl crossed his
arms. “That the woman I saw wished that
her children would write more often,” Karl said, “and she wished, in her darkest
moments at least, that her husband would just not come home one day. Not that he would die, exactly. Not that he would be injured. Only that he would simply disappear and never
“And you could pick up what
other people were feeling as well, couldn’t you,” Simon spoke. Karl nodded.
“There was a man,” Karl added,
“grieving for President McKinley, in despair because he thought the new
president would replace him with someone else.”
Karl looked down. “I didn’t even
know who President McKinley was, but at that moment, I grieved for him as
well.” Simon nodded and stared out onto
the rails. The train was moving now,
only Simon noticed that the coupling rods on the engine’s wheels didn’t seem to
be in synch with the train’s actual speed.
“Somehow,” he said, “the
emotions of the people passing through this train station…collected… here. Lingered.”
He looked at Karl. “Somehow, out
of all that…”
“Came me,” Karl finished. “That has always been, at least, my
understanding of the situation. Some
time later, maybe a few years, I noticed that I had a body, and that certain
people in the station could see me.
“Only,” Simon continued, “they
weren’t alive, were they. They were
dead.” Walking forward, he sat down on
one of the pew-like seats, and Karl followed.
Simon took off his hat and slowly fanned air towards his face with it.
“At first,” he said, “I didn’t
know what I could do for them. I didn’t
really understand what alive meant, much less to no longer be
alive. It was only later that I saw that
some shown with an inner light, and some looked like a light extinguished. I was, however, quite relieved when I was
given this job.”
“What is all of this?”
Simon asked, pointing out at the now vacant extra track. “I have a disturbing feeling that I know what
your answer is going to be.” Karl sat
down next to Simon.
“I don’t know, truly, what I
am,” Karl said with some degree of sadness.
“I don’t know if I had some intended purpose, some part in some larger
plan. In any case, either by design or
out of pity, someone gave me something to do with myself” Karl scratched his chin. “One morning, I saw a man, the conductor you
just saw, actually, beckoning to me. He
told me what my role was to be.” Karl
paused as a newlywed couple walked by.
“My job, my purpose, Dr. Litchfield, is to show the newly dead where
they should go.”
“The Twilight Specials,” Simon
said quietly, and Karl nodded.
“Many of them are frightfully
confused,” Karl continued. “Many of
these individuals don’t even understand what is happening, what has
happened. Perhaps, because it was by his
own hand, Mr. Cooper understood almost as soon as he saw me.” Karl sniffed and lifted up his head. “Poor Sussanah, though. She doesn’t know. Someone must have pulled out her parents in
time to resuscitate them, but it is only temporary. They will be here soon
enough. Sussanah never made it out of the Potomac
after the accident. And here she is,
alone and very frightened.” He looked at
Simon again. “I can feel what they feel,
Dr. Litchfield. Do you understand what
that means? Really understand? I can, I do, make it as easy for them as I
possible.” He pointed out at the extra
track where the Twilight Special had sat moments earlier. “All of this helps make it easier. They can make the transition easier when it
is something like a train station. It
makes sense to them, you see. It seems
“Instead of Charon collecting
pennies,” Litchfield said, “it’s Karl Emit collecting tickets.”
“Pardon me?” Karl said
“Mythology,” Simon spoke. There was a long, awkward silence. “So,” Simon finally asked, “do you know where
they're going? Do you know the answer to
the great question?” Karl shook his head
“I only know that I help ease
their transition to the next world,” he said quietly. “I know nothing of what that next world
is. Perhaps I’m not meant to. Perhaps, I’m simply an accident of nature…a
nobody in the scheme of existence.” Karl sighed. Simon moved uncomfortably in his seat, and he
took off his hat.
“Um, Karl,” he said, just before
breathing in sharply. “I have something
to…” He stopped, seemed to fish for the
right words. “If I look in my coat
pocket,” he said, “am I going to find a train ticket with my name on it?” Karl looked over and didn’t seem to
understand at first. Finally, his face
bloomed with a wide smile, and he started laughing heartily.
“No, no, no,” Karl said
reassuringly, “nothing of the kind! How
can I say this?” Karl scratched his
leg. “You’re an oddity, something I’ve
never seen before. You don’t belong
here. That man over there,” he said
pointing to the Western Union telegrapher, “is
literally beaming with life. However,”
he pointed to the alcove where the clock was located, “there is a red-headed
gentlemen standing there. See him?” Simon nodded that he did. “Nothing.
Instead, there is…I guess, an emptiness is the best way to put it. As I said before, just like a light recently
extinguished. I’ll have to talk with him
in a few minutes.”
“What about me?” Litchfield
“You’re different,” Karl
spoke. "You have light, but it
flickers, fades in and out. You
are..." Karl stopped as he tried to
think of the right words. Finally, he
shrugged and resorted to what he'd been using all along. "You are out of place. You don't belong here. Truthfully, you don't belong here
either." Simon looked around at the
passengers and workers milling around in the room.
"Here meaning," Simon
paused, almost not wanting to continue.
"Meaning with the dead. How
did you do that?"
"Pardon the morbid nature
of what I'm about to say," Karl stated, "but you're close enough to
dead to fall under my jurisdiction. In
all honesty, Dr. Litchfield, I was overwhelmed by curiosity. Wonderful feeling, curiosity! And I'm glad that I did. It is rare for me to have meaningful
"But, uh," Simon
murmured as he sat forward in his seat, "well, not to put too fine a point
on it..." Karl smiled.
"Don't worry," he said
reassuringly, "I can send you back. Whenever you're ready. But, if you don't mind indulging me a few
moments longer. I've told you who I
am. Now, I want to know who you
"Do you want the long
answer or the simplified version?"
suffice," Karl said. Simon nodded
and put his hat back on.
said. "To put it succinctly, I'm
from the future. Thanks to a pompous ass
and a mad scientist, I've been sent back to 1939 to investigate...something That's my great mystery. They have no idea what I’m supposed to be
investigating, only that the future is at stake." Simon thought back on what Callow and Eckert
told him just before he left for the past.
That they'd be able to see him on their temporal scans because Simon
didn't, strictly speaking, belong anywhere other than the present. "I'm guessing I don't look right to you
because in 1939 I haven't been born yet."
replied. "I wouldn't have the
answer to that one, having never met a time traveler before." He looked genuinely thrilled to have even
said the words. "This is
fascinating, you know! Just like one of
Mr. Wells' creations!"
"You know about H. G.
Wells?" Simon asked.
"One of the porters, many,
many years ago," Karl replied, smiling brightly, "liked to read
during his breaks. Most of what he
brought was light fare, Detective Comics and such. But once, once he brought a book The Time Machine. He left it here on several occasions, and
after hours I was able to read it."
"You could turn the
pages?" Simon asked, surprised.
"You have form in my world?"
"Limited," Karl spoke,
"very limited. But, some things,
like the pages of a book, I can handle if I'm given sufficient time to
concentrate." A train whistle blew
as a steam locomotive pulled into the station, and many of the people in the
waiting area began gathering their things and heading for the platform. "Ah, the Ohio Express! The second longest trip you can take from
here. The Union Comet is the longest
one. Goes all the way to Indianapolis, I've been
told. You're too late, though, for the
westbound departure and the eastbound arrival." Simon stood up and stared at the steam
engine, a boyish expression washing over his features.
said in a somewhat higher-pitched voice than usual, "you said that you needed
to talk with that man. Would you mind if
I..." He pointed to the
platform. Karl nodded.
"Be my guest," he said
warmly. "In fact, I'll join you in
a moment." Simon wasted no time in
going through the door, passed porters and conductors who never suspected he
was there, and out into the cold air.
He stood on the platform and
marveled at the locomotive, his eyes wide, his hand clutching the lapel over
his heart. Pullman porters ran in a
carefully orchestrated ballet, helping passengers onto the westbound passenger
"The westbound Ohio
Express," Emit said a few moments later, using a voice that was a mixture
of the blasé and the amused. "The
eastbound came in earlier this morning.
There's a roundhouse about two miles down. The morning locomotive is there being readied
for tomorrow's run." Simon heard
"Karl," he said,
"it's real! The one this
morning didn't trigger these feelings I’m having now. This is a...a real, honest-to-god,
steam engine. A working steam
engine!" Karl looked at Simon in wonder.
"Have you never seen one
before?" he said, a touch of alarm in his voice. Simon nodded while never taking his eyes from
the locomotive, which was hissing like a cornered animal. The station master carried a note suspended
in a net-like device and held it towards the engine cab.
"Well, I've seen a few,
but," Simon smiled, "never like this.
They only pull tourist trains, meaningless excursions over a few
miles. There just aren't many left that
work." The brakeman reached out of
the window and grabbed the paper, which was fluttering in the breeze.
"They've gotten rid of
trains by your time?" Karl questioned, and his tone indicated a sense of
"No, we have trains. Just not these types." Simon walked towards the engine, getting
close enough to feel the steam coming from the pressure valve. He was thankful that whatever 'dimension' he
was occupying, physical sensations were still possible. "Steam was outmoded a long time
ago. They use diesel engines now...then."
"I've heard of them,"
Karl said. "Someone from the
U&I central office came through talking of a demonstration he'd seen. I'd simply assumed they were discussing some
kind of new steam locomotive."
"Look at it!" Simon
exclaimed. "I had a few layouts
when I was living in...in Chicago."
"Layouts?" Karl asked
"Model railroads. I'm a hobbyist, a rail fan. More when I was younger of course, but...
Karl," he said, looking at the strange man, "it's a Mikado isn't it." Litchfield looked at the wheels. "No wait...four wheels, six wheels, two
built it, I bet."
"It is a Pacific,"
Karl said. "4-6-2 Pacific," he
said like a child reciting multiplication tables by rote memory. "That I know. I'm afraid that I have no idea who built
it. I hear so many things; it's hard to
tell what's truly of importance. I heard
someone talking about American Locomotive Company the other day, but that could
have just been idle conversation."
He stood before the engine, suddenly looking upon it with a sense of
wonder and admiration. "I've seen
so many, Dr. Litchfield, that I've never really taken the time to look at
them." He scratched his head and
then straightened one of his sleeves.
"Can you tell me what this means?
The U&I man who was here the other day, the one who mentioned
diesels, said they wouldn't need the Mallet up in West Virginia if they changed locomotives
for the Union Comet."
"It means," Simon
said, "that these Pacifics need help getting through the mountains. They can't do the job on their own. I'm not sure what a Mallet is. They might have meant articulated...two sets
"All aboard!" the
conductor called, and the porters jumped onto the train, grabbing stepping
stools from the platform and loading them onto the train. The conductor was the last to board. A second later, the engineer gave two blasts
of the steam whistle, and then, bell clanging, the Ohio Express began moving,
slowly at first but quickly gathering speed.
Smoke and steam billowed into the cold morning air.
Simon sighed, his own steam
quickly evaporating. "That almost
makes this whole thing worth it. Almost.
All right...enough of the sight seeing."
Simon turned and extended his hand to Karl. “You said you could send me back when I was
ready?” Karl smiled widely and shook
“Indeed,” he said. “Dr. Litchfield, it has truly been a
pleasure. I regret any confusion I may
have caused, for I assure that I meant no harm.”
“I know,” Simon nodded. “You’ve answered some questions for me, and
raised a ton more. But, I’ve got to
figure out what’s going on over there.”
“Time,” Karl sighed. “I don’t envy you your task. In many ways, trying to alter what is done is
the hardest thing in the world.”
“I don’t envy me either,” Simon
“I understand,” Karl said. “Goodbye, doctor, and good luck.” Simon just had time to wave before Karl
“I’m sorry, sir,” a stunned
looking porter said. “I didn’t see you
on the platform. You weren’t waiting for
the Ohio Express I hope.”
“No sir,” Simon said, and he
turned for the door. “I was just getting
a bit of fresh air.” Simon wandered in
and stood watch for an hour longer.
Outside of his excursion to the other side of the mirror, nothing of
note happened at all, and he stepped out to the curb and hailed a cab, heading
on to the next train station the driver could think of.
Two days later, Simon sat in his room at Griffith's Boarding House, looking over a
stack of newspapers and chewing on a roll he'd snuck away from Mrs. Griffith's
table. He pulled at the collar on his
new white cotton business shirt and wondered how anyone--past or present
(relative)--could stand the feel of such heavy starch. Mrs. Griffith was an excellent cook; her
skills as a laundress, however, left much to be desired.
Snowflakes tapped against the windowpane, and Simon stood
up to watch the snow as it danced under the weak white street light. The scene was peaceful, serene. Bucolic, Simon thought. How perfectly bucolic! Truthfully, he'd hated that word for as long
as he could remember, but somehow it seemed an appropriate one for a winter's
scene circa 1939.
I'll have to get a job soon, he thought. Whenever anyone had asked him about his
reason for being in the District of
Columbia, his answer had always been the same--to
find a job with the Public Works Administration. That may indeed turn out to be the truth,
he'd started to think. The good news was
that few serious questions about his identity would be raised. Very few records could be confirmed in this
pre-Internet era, at least not without a considerable and inconveniencing
amount of work. Simon felt something
like a literal pain when he thought of the Internet, how much easier his
present assignment would be if he had a computer, if he had Stephanie to plumb
that computer for all the hidden information in the city.
While finding a job wouldn't necessarily be a problem, his
Ph.D would, however, probably have to be left off his
application. No way to verify the academic credentials of someone who hasn't
been born yet, he thought wistfully.
Simon sat down again on the bed and resumed his scanning
of the Post, all the while thinking of the day's tour of the Mall, of
the pristine view of the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial, a view
still unobscured by the well-intentioned but poorly
placed World War II memorial. How
many, he wondered, how many of the young men I've seen are going to
sacrifice everything in a few years?
"Local Attorney Indicted for Abuse of Public
Trust," Simon spoke quietly. He
scanned the article but, as expected, found nothing. "FDR Mulls Run for Third Term."
One of the younger residents of the boarding house was a
player for the Washington Senators, a man currently spending his offseason trying to earn enough money to make it to spring
training. Cecil Travis, Simon
thought as he read another headline, 'Restriction Sought for Use of Carriages
on Penn. Ave.' Will he go? And Joe at Philby's? What about Eddie? The magnitude of what was to come was
almost more than he could bear, and the worst part of it was that there was no
one he could truly talk to about it.
Except, perhaps, Karl. Even that
Simon wasn't sure about. Could a ghost--if
'ghost' is even an appropriate word, Simon thought--change the future? When he made it back to his present, the first thing he'd do would
be to deface, dispose of, or discredit every ad he could find for palm readers
and phone psychics. Despite what many
thought, knowing the future was no blessing, far from it indeed.
The future, Simon chided. Clearing his mind, he put his full attention
back on the paper.
"'Vice-President in Good Condition After
Accident,'" Simon muttered.
"Well, good for you.
'Bituminous Coal Worries for Georgetown.' How tragic." Simon turned the page of the newspaper, but
his arm froze in mid-turn. Something, a
memory, tapped urgently on his conscience.
"What is it? What is it?" he asked out loud as
he looked over the previous pages. As he
mentally ticked off the headlines, he suddenly stopped on "Vice-President
in Good Condition After Accident."
"That's not, that's not right," Simon
spoke. "'John Nance Garner,
Vice-President of the United
States, was involved in a single-car
accident yesterday afternoon around 4PM.'" Simon continued reading. The front tires had burst after striking
debris on the road. The article went on
to state that the Vice-President's injuries were minor though he had stayed
overnight for observations at Bethesda
"That's not what happened," Simon muttered, and
his mind drifted over his high school and college history courses. It was a tragic if ultimately minor event, a
simple illustration of the sometimes extreme anxieties brought about by some of
the more radical of President Roosevelt's New Deal policies. In this case, a minister from Suffolk, Virginia,
convinced that FDR's policies were literally leading the nation to the Devil,
attempted to assassinate the president.
However, through bad information and poor planning, he'd assumed
Vice-President Garner's car would be occupied instead by FDR. It was a simple but effective plan. Place debris on the road, disable the car,
and then fire two shotgun blasts at the first important occupant the minister
saw. Garner, being Vice-President, was
relatively easy to reach, and the minister had shot him before realizing his
mistake, giving tragic irony to Garner's earlier public disparagements that the
office of vice-president wasn't worth a warm bucket of spit, or any other
noxious bodily fluid for that matter.
At the Democratic Convention of 1940, Roosevelt had paid
tribute to his slain vice-president but promised that the tragedy would deter
neither him nor his new running mate, Henry Wallace, from working to keep America
on track both at home and abroad. FDR
easily defeated Wendell Wilkie, and soon thereafter the second World War came
to dominate the scene.
Then time moved on, and the tragedy became a footnote.
Only, the tragedy hadn't happened. "It's starting," Simon
whispered. Whatever the original source
of the disturbance was, the changes had begun.
As far as Litchfield could remember, Garner had never contributed much,
and the feeling during FDR's second term was that he would replace Garner in a
third Roosevelt Administration. The
overall effect of Garner's surviving would probably be minor, but it was still
very different from what history had originally recorded.
Simon walked to the window and placed his hands on its
frigid surface. Outside, the storm had
worsened, and the snow was falling in near white-out conditions. First, he thought, it would be small things
like an obscure vice-president getting to live.
The divergence would still be close to the original stream. But then, what would be next? What would be the first major event to change
completely? Which important person would
live or die in defiance of everything that should have happened, of everything
that Simon knew should be happening?
In the hall, a cuckoo clock began chirping insistently,
counting down each hour in a melancholy song.
"It's begun," he said solemnly and with a hint
of desperation, "and I have no idea how I'm going to stop it."
To Be Continued…
© 2004-2005 by Jeff Williams. Having once herded a sturdy diesel across the
coastal plains, I am now an English teacher at a community college. “Nightwatch: The Kindness of Strangers” is
brought to you by the letter H, the number 3, and the Nightwatch Writers’