Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
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Nightwatch:  The Kindness of Strangers

By Jeff Williams


Nightwatch created by Jeff Williams

Developed by Jeff Williams and Robert Moriyama


"Whoever you are, I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers."


Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire



Part One



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 Moon's specialty.


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 not yet.


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 produce.


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 2AM!"


"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 shoulder.


"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 sign."


"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 grinned.


"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 a glass."


"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.


"So, Ian," 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 this."


"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?"  Simon nodded.


"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 of it.


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.


"Eckert," Simon 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."


"We?" Litchfield 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.


"Difficult," he continued, "though not impossible.  And I did order many spares."


"Simon," Callow chimed with a voice that almost seemed to possess genuine pity, "are you planning to rip the device apart bit by bit?"


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!"

"Truthfully speaking," 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 about this?"


"Directly? Including 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.


"Third," Eckert 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 bars.


"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 before America's 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 asked impatiently.


"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 crisis."


"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 properties?"


"Truthfully," Eckert 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 advance.


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 voice.

"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 standing there?"


"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 itTry 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.


"How fucking 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."


"They're comfortable 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 murmured.


"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 charm.


"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 now."


"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 little difficulty."


"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 between them.


"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 hearty laugh.


“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. 


“…collector interception 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.


“Subject acquisition…subject 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 hearing.


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.


“Buddy…listen <umph>,” 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 his eyes.


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, Pops?"


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 undisguised contempt.


"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 Buddy?"


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 urgent problems.


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 composure.


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 and there.


“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 from...uh...Baltimore."


"Baltimore!" Eddie said excitedly.  "I know a fella up there!  Real good egg.  Gives good credit too."  Simon smiled.  "What you down here for anyway?"


"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 pulp?"


"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."


"What is?"


"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 getting at?"


"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 chuckled.


"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 doubtfully.


"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 up!"


"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."  Simon sighed.


"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 corner.




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 replied. 


"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 said winter.


"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 service."


"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 smile. 


"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 cents."


"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.


"Washington Times," 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..."


"Well-deserved," Simon 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 are."


"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 you..."


"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 of now.”


“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 blinked.


“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 sleeve.


“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 tell. 


“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 of sunlight.


“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 seen. 


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.


"When the...regular...passengers 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 to ask.


"Karl, please.  Karl."


"Karl," Simon asked, "what's going on here?"  Karl laughed lightly.


“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 “train.” 


“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 in line.


“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 return.”


“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…”


“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 somehow normal.”


“Instead of Charon collecting pennies,” Litchfield said, “it’s Karl Emit collecting tickets.”


“Pardon me?” Karl said quizzically.


“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 ruefully.


“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 asked.


“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 conversation."


"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 are."


"Do you want the long answer or the simplified version?"


"Simplified will suffice," Karl said.  Simon nodded and put his hat back on.


"Okay," Simon 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."


"Possible," Emit 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.


"Karl," Litchfield 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 train.


"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 himself laughing.


"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 impending panic.


"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 quizzically.


"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 wheels...Atlantic...  No!  Pacific!  Baldwin 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 of drivers."


"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 Simon’s hand.


“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 laughed.


“I understand,” Karl said.  “Goodbye, doctor, and good luck.”  Simon just had time to wave before Karl disappeared.


“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 Naval Hospital.


"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’ Workshop.

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