Zack sat still, the white noise of the ceiling fan, rhythmic, clicking, blending in with the stillness and silence of the room. The brightness of the outside a contrast to the shadowed mahogany of his office; a shadow broke by the square of sunlight laying across his desk and onto the floor.
This was his space, his floor to ceiling bookshelf with barely a book on it, filled with boxes of case files, Manila folders all held together with string. Plush red carpet and a single cone light hanging from the ceiling, it's glow too weak to counteract the sunshine. The smoked glass door of his office open, with his name emblazoned in gold. Zackary Gumm, Private Investigator.
He had been here before, not distracted by the future or the past. A moment he'd experienced so often he'd learnt to savour it, to sink into it. It was the time between the methodical preparation for a stake-out. The checking of his weapons, the camera. The crawling into the hedges, or sitting in his car for hours, waiting, meditating into the stillness. Not knowing when or what would happen next.
A moment later he had his answer; in the form of a stunning brunette projected upon his wall. Standing atop the stoop, six foot tall, hair pulled back under a small tidy fascinator, pinstripe skirt suit and heels. He looked at his watch, it was 11:20 am.
Zack quickly shut the lid on his MacBook and slipped it into the top drawer. The Dame sailed into the room, an air of confidence about her that told him straight away; this was a broad to be taken seriously.
'Are you the detective?'
'Yes Ma'am, I surely am. Zackary Gumm at your service' standing to shake her hand.
'Good. I need your services. I need you to find out what my husband is up to.'
'That's direct, no small talk, no enquiries about how I work, who I am, my charges?'
'No I don't have time, I'll pay whatever you want. Now can you do it?'
'I need more details?'
'I'm Mary Anne Drumpf, my husbands Fred.'
Zack knew of Fred Drumpf, he was a player in every way. Everyone knew Fred, he was a big deal around Queens. He was tight with the Feds, the Mafia, the Klan; everyone. No one messed with Fred.
'I'm busy at the moment.'
'No you're not, I've had you checked out.'
'Why don't you go to the Pinkertons?'
'I thought of that, they won't touch a case like this.'
'Yeah, yeah, their code. Don't touch divorce cases or cases that initiate scandals.'
'So will you do it?'
'As I said I need to know more.'
Mary Anne sat on one of his leather wingback chairs. Not sinking into it, to the front of the seat, her feet tucked under, her clutch held in both hands on her knees. 'I need to know how far in with the Klan he is? I need to know if I have to protect my children from him; from them.'
She paused momentarily, looking pensive before she began again 'I know he has his faults; god I know his faults. I love him, and I can live with them; as long as it does not impact my children.'
'Ok, so you want me to follow him for a bit and report back, give you an idea of what he is up to?'
'It'll be $25 a day plus expenses; $100 up front.'
She stood, pulled a white envelope out of her clutch placed it on his desk and walked out the door; not looking back, no farewell. Nothing.
Zack watched the door shut behind her, a mix of thoughts running through his head. How beautiful and well dressed the women were in the 1950s. How direct, economical Mary Anne was in her dealings. The realisation, she'd told him nothing.
The rhythmic click returned, the stillness of the room closing in again except now the square of sunlight was all that brighter as the sun reflected on the dust she had stirred up.
It was as if she had not been there, so fast, so succinct; a whirlwind within his thoughts and now he was in the eye of the storm.
Zack fell back in his chair, the glow of the screen in front of him. It was amazing to sit here in 1954, watching the sticky legs of a Johnnie Black run down the inside of his glass, illuminated by the glow of his laptop.
Not much good to him though. Yeah sure, he had a good run down on Fred Drumpf. It didn't tell him where he was though.
'Enough of this shit.' Standing, Zack stretched. It was early evening, he'd started a few minutes after she had left, and hadn't moved since. Having sat there as the shadows lengthened and disappeared. He'd googled, searched Wikipedia, maps and street view. Made notes; none of this though would replace hitting the pavement.
A woman's voice projected from nowhere in particular 'I'm here Zack'
'What do you want to say?'
'Julie, find out as much as you can on Fred Drumpf. Who he was, what he did and anything on his descendants.'
Pulling on his trench coat, folding the collar up, Zack stepped out into the cold, placing his Fedora on his head. Hunching he lit a cigarette, the warmth of the match briefly counteracting the cold March wind.
The street; empty, black rain reflecting the street lights. It was amazing, for all the technology available, he still failed to get good weather forecasts.
Skipping down the stairs, he flicked his cigarette to the gutter, climbed into the driver's seat of his '54 Lincoln. The V8 roaring to life.
If Fred Drumpf was going to be anywhere, it would be Harry's Bar on the corner of 52nd and 7th avenue.
Julie barely paused as she slid the key home in the lock of her father's office. This was despite the wet boot print on the floor that told her someone was or had been here. Had they tried the door and simply left, or were they waiting for her on the inside. Either way, she did not want them to know she knew.
Opening the door stepping into the room she could instinctively tell she was not alone. The familiar stale wooden leather smell of the room had been destroyed by the cheap clinging smell of BRUT 33. Whoever was here was a lackey, someone who bought deodorant for function.
Deftly Julie lifted the taser she carried from the pocket of her jacket and slid it into her waistband as she turned. The absence of light in the room aiding her.
'Who are you?'
'You don't need to worry about that.'
Julie scanned the room, the desk appeared untouched, besides the voice, she was sure there were only the two of them in the room. 'What do you want?'
'We hear you can fix problems before they happen'
'How do you know that?' We? Julie glanced anxiously, was she wrong, was there someone else in the room?
'Oh we know Julie, we know a lot. We're not quite sure if it's true, we can't find your dad. We figure that is who you communicate with, this being his office.'
She could make him out now, a sizeable brutish silhouette sitting in the wingback chair. Dark suit, dark tie, the glint of a signet ring on his right hand. A Fed.
'What do you want?' The taser scratching the inside of her wrist, she'd have to be quick to reach his neck; it would be her only hope of overpowering him.
'We need you to take care of a problem.'
Julie hated working for the Feds, you could never trust them. Them and politicians; always out for themselves.
Standing, he stood a good six foot six, Julie's hand went to her taser. He held out a photo the size of a post-it note.'
The photo was of a small blond boy, hair coiffed in a 'Dennis the menace' type look. Purple safari suit, knee-length socks and black shoes. In front of a small red pedal car. A child from the '50s.
'I don't do children'
'I? You mean Dad doesn't.'
'Why don't you top the father before he gets some woman knocked up?'
'We can't go back that far, this kid was already eight in 1954, and your father is the only person back there.'
'Ok, so who's the kid?'
She was right, she knew these people where not to be trusted, as bad as the President was, this was large scale messing with time. 'That will cost you.'
'We know. How's three million to get you started.'
'You not worried about the outcomes, the impact of playing with time?'
'Not my business to care, just like it is not your business. Do you want the job or not?'
His demeanour told her he was done with the small talk, he passed her an envelope that he had been holding.
'USB with a BitCoin wallet on it. I'll message the key when you tell me you'll take the job.'
'Have you ever seen what happens when someone is erased?'
'No. I'm sure we will know if you succeed though.' the conversation was done, pushing past, he disappeared out the door.
The ripple effect on this was significant. There would be a mass effect, a whole burgeoning family would disappear; everything they knew, touched and influenced would change.
Julie turned and walked the length of the room, round the large mahogany desk, dropping the envelope on the table, slumping into the chair. There on the screen in front of her, 'Messages: Dad'
The rain streamed down the windscreen of the Lincoln making the neon Harry's bar sign illegible, it was more his local knowledge that told him where he was than the dim flickering sign.
Taking a final drag of his smoke, he got out of the car. Slamming the door behind him, flicking the cigarette to the gutter he strode across the street head bent, water falling from the brim of his hat.
Opening the door to Harry's, the smoke and clamour of the long room poured out onto the street. Down one side the bar, booths on the other. The damp of the patrons everywhere.
Shaking the water from his Fedora, Zack tossed it onto the bar 'Keep, whiskey neat.'
Taking a stool, he used the mirror behind the bar to scan the room, looking for his mark; looking for Drumpf.
A voice came from his right 'Hey stranger.'
Zack turned. He'd found Drumpf. There facing him was a man, big goofy, friendly smile, a smile betrayed by dark piercing eyes. Eyes that were not smiling.
'What brings you to Harry's on such a shitty night?'
Zack had barely been there two minutes, and the man he was looking for introduces himself. This was a little unnerving.
'Not a chatty fellow hey? I'm Fred Drumpf, I'm pretty big around here'
'Yeah I know, everyone knows you. Super successful real estate guy.'
Drumpf beamed, his goofy smile getting even bigger.
'You got it, pal. Barkeep another whiskey for my friend here. So who are you?'
'Zackary Gumm, Private Eye.'
'Hah! Gumshoe! Get it Gumm, Gumm shoe. How come I've never heard of you?'
'I'm like you, I'm good at what I do.'
'Yeah, so. Like I said why haven't I heard of you?'
'If you knew about me, I wouldn't be as good as I say I am'
Best to match a braggart with swagger.
'Oh you've got a point there'
Zack took in everything he could about the man in front of him. He was a charmer alright. Most definitely did not hit him as a klan bigot. He did not have the hick in him that was the stereotype for a Klansman. Then again that was the point, the powerful klansmen where unlike the redneck minions.
If this guy was Klan, he was going to be someone of note. The dark, bold suit. Groomed moustache, the look of a businessman or politician, of understated wealth. He was a man dressed to protect his own secrets and contradictions.
Zack's watch vibrated, instinctively he casually placed his hand over his wrist, to stop any glow emanating from his sleeve. After a moment he took the fresh whiskey from the bar and threw it down. 'I've gotta go.'
'But Zack we were just getting to know each other'
'Duty calls Fred, another time, thanks for the whiskey.'
Exiting Harry's bar, he spotted a large new model Cadillac with the plates' FCD'. Proficiently he pulled his iPhone from his jacket, switched it to silent and slid it into the recess behind the shaped chrome bumper, he would retrieve it later.
Striding across the street, he quickly glanced at his watch to see the message, 'History Hit'.
He had to get back to his office.
They both sat at the same desk, Skype chiming, each in their own thoughts, their own time.
A fleeting feeling of the other passing through them. Knowing they were both sitting in the same seat and space, just different times.
'Dad' her relief at seeing him emanating from her screen.
'Julie, gorgeous, how are you'
'I'm good dad, I miss you'
'I know Hun, I know. We will work it out eventually. What's this history hit?'
'Dad, they want you to kill the President!'
'What Eisenhower?' He fell back trying to get his head around how he would do this.
Leaning into the screen, Julie whispered in a conspiratorial tone 'No dad, Ronald Drumpf.'
Zack instinctively reacting to his daughter's tone leant towards the monitor 'That's big! Career criminals, mafia, Klan, psycho's all cool. There's nothing like weeding the garden, but the President! That's a whole different thing.'
'I'm torn dad, this President is a goose, he is going to devastate us all. If he doesn't send the economy spiralling out of control, or destroy democracy, he is going to start a nuclear war.'
'Ok. If you think about it, if we top him now, it simply means we have a different president in the future, right?'
'He says he is a billionaire. He's been a reality TV celebrity, all sort of other stuff.'
'Ok, so what is the real damage if we do this?'
'Not sure dad, there are lots of controversies, there are sexual harassment allegations, they're investigating him for collusion with Russia. There could be an economic effect, not sure how big. Maybe reality TV would wilt a little. How do you not know all of this?"
'Hun, I only look for what I need when I search the internet, I've learnt it's safer that way. Easier to do my job, not worry about you.'
'So is Ronald Drumpf anything to do with Fred Drumpf?'
'Yeah, his son.'
'Julie, we don't do children, you know that.'
'I know dad, but it seems to me, not removing this guy could cause the death of millions. Whereas removing him, well it's the normal cleaning. Making the world a better place.'
'Sweetie. I do not know if that is true. Look at it, we've been weeding for at least two years, you'd think we'd see some benefit by now.'
'Dad, I think you should.'
Zack leant back in his chair, looking at his daughter's face on the screen. Video Conferencing, as lovely as it was to see a digital representation of his daughter it was never enough.
'Dad, maybe this is the job you've been sent back to do, your destiny. Once you do this, you might get to come back.'
Zack sat and mulled over what Julie had said. Maybe it was. Possibly; probably not.
'Ok send me the picture, I'll sort out how to do the kid thing.'
He waved goodbye and shut the lid. The room plunged into darkness. A darkness that matched his mood. The plans he had to make.
Zack pulled up to the curve. It was still raining and dark. It was 2am, the streets were even quieter. Nothing moved except for a stray dog crossing the street half a block away.
A moment later the passenger side door swung open, a burst of fresh air preceding the bulk of his appointment occupying the passenger's seat. Zack silently passed his full flask of whiskey.
'Been a while, Zack.'
'You only get my help for the ugly stuff. It'll cost you.'
'How's ten grand'
Zack waited as his passenger took another swig from the flask. He wasn't so big for someone known as 'The Animal'.
Barboza was a Loan Shark; he was probably pulling five a week in interest, with 60 to 70 grand out and about. Getting an injection of ten onto his books, he'd more than double that in a few weeks.
'Ten grand you say. What have you got going?'
'I need something done fast. No mess, no noise. Just done and forgotten about.'
'What is it?'
'I need a kid to disappear. Forever.'
'Why don't you do it? The kid seems easy.'
'I don't do kids.'
'What's the terms?'
Zack reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow envelope. 'Five now, five when you confirm it's done, details are in the package.'
Barboza took the envelope and slipped it inside of his overcoat, took a swig of the whiskey, capped it, and got out of the car throwing the flask back onto the seat.
Zack pulled away from the curve, deal done. Looking in the rearview mirror, Barboza had melded back into the darkness.
Zack sat bolt upright almost headbutting Barboza leaning over him, a hand on each armrest of the wingback. His whiskey breath filling the air.
'So we meet again, my Gumshoe friend.'
Zack looked behind Barboza to see Fred Drumpf holding the photo of his son. Nonchalantly sipping on a glass of Zack's Johnnie black.
By the sunlight shining in the room, Zack could tell it was about 11 am. Pretty much 24 hours to the minute since Mary Anne Drumpf had appeared on his stoop.
His mind started to race. Trying to piece together what had happened. It wasn't the Dame, she'd not double-crossed him.
It was Barboza. The bastard had taken the five grand and had tripled it by dealing with Drumpf.
'I have to ask Zack. Who put you up to it?' It was Drumpf again, not as boisterous as at Harry's. Calm and composed as he wandered around. Exploring.
Zack knew if he didn't do something soon, Drumpf would find his secrets. He would find out, Zack wasn't a local. At least not from the perspective of time.
Zack shifted. Trying to draw Drumpf's attention.
Barboza reacted immediately, backhanding him. His head reeled with the impact. The metallic taste of blood instantly filling his mouth. He slumped back into his seat.
'Move again buddy, and I'll frikkin stab ya.'
'Nice digs Gumshoe, now tell me. Who's paying you? Why do they want my son dead?'
'I don't know.'
He wasn't lying, he didn't know. He had not seen any money, he was doing this for Julie, not anyone else.
'What's this then?' Drumpf didn't need to find his secrets, he had one already.
'This is flash Zack, Government flash. Secret government flash. I've not seen anything like this. This is smoother than a newly painted Buick.'
Zack's mind reeled, he had never really given it a thought, what if someone from the 50's found his iPhone. The Eniac had only been invented 11 years ago. Not many people knew of it. A computer 18,000 square foot, 50 tonnes in weight. What Drumpf now held was barely more than 6 ounces and more than 18,000 times more powerful.
'Fred!' It was getting worse by the minute, Barboza lifted Zack's left hand exposing the Apple Watch on his wrist, wrenching it so forcefully it snapped it free.
Again Zack tried to move. Barboza jumped on him, his knee crashing into Zack's chest knocking the wind out of him.
'Who do you work for?' Drumpf was starting to lose it.
Barboza already had, spittle falling from his mouth as he got more rabid, more the animal.
'I don't know.' his vision was filled with a single white dot, head ringing; his brain reverberated around his skull. Barboza had struck him again.
'Why? Do you know why?'
'He's going to be President.'
'What? What did you say? What do you mean?'
'They don't want him to be President' the white dot faded, the noise receded. Blackness, silence, peace, no pain, nothing.
Zack bolted awake, curling over first then slamming back into the seat. The pain was excruciating. All through his groin, his testis and lower abdomen. The pain mixed with a warm wet feeling, a feeling of blood.
'What the fuck did you do that for you idiot.'
'You said you wanted him awake.'
'I didn't say stab him.'
Finding it hard to focus. Zack knew he was dying.
'What else can you tell me?'
They'd get nothing more from him.
Waking again. It was cold. Smoke filled the room. The smell of burning wood, leather mixed with the metallic taste and smell of blood.
The office was on fire.
'Oh, God. Julie. Julie.' his eyes blurred.
This time not from a rattling brain, nor the smoke that stung his eyes, but from tears of sorrow. Of not knowing what would happen to his daughter. First, she had lost her mother, now she had lost them both.
There he was, the front page of the New York Times again, or was that as per usual. This confirmed for Julie that her father was yet to finish the assignment.
She was unsure of what to expect if Drumpf was dead. Was he such a significant creature that his removal in 1954 would cause drastic changes around her, or would everything appear normal?
She rounded the corner onto 52nd street. Her father had taught her to never approach the office in the same direction.
Don't be predictable, no schedules, no patterns of behaviour. It would give her an advantage over anyone setting up an ambush or trying to tail her. Enabling her to scope out the street before being scoped out herself.
At first glance, everything appeared normal.
Then she spotted them. Two guys sitting in a sedan opposite her father's office. An office that had changed overnight. Not drastically, subtly. Overall it was mostly the same building, except now it had bars on the windows and the paint was no longer peeling. It had a different sense to it.
Not missing a step she continued towards her dad's office, then immediately right and up the three steps to the door of a Brownstone Townhouse.
Fluently removing a metal shiv from her jacket. As quickly as someone getting their keys. She wedged it into the gap between the door and frame, sweeping downwards to release the lock.
Looking to her right as she entered she spotted more Feds.
Her father had explained everything he knew about FBI surveillance, static boxes, floating boxes, trigger's, command cars; everything. Right down to the pavement artists, the sacrificial lambs to make you drop your guard.
Shit! She was right, the guy yesterday was most definitely a Fed, and he was operating with the full support of the bureau. She now had at least one, if not two surveillance teams tailing her.
Stepping into the lounge room, she was relieved to note that the thick dark curtains had been drawn leaving a one-way sunshade in place, a blind that allowed her to observe the street without being seen.
Quickly removing her backpack and dropping it on the couch. She lifted her iPhone from her pocket, turned it off, popped the sim and dropped it into a vase filled with water.
Donning a ball cap, sunglasses and a flannel grey shirt from her bag, turning her jacket inside out. She had changed her look from a young woman in a red coat to a young man in a blue one.
Emptying the remaining contents of her backpack into her jacket pockets. A second iPhone, leather wallet, USB Key, iPad mini and power cable. All of which she would turn on later when she was clear of the Feds.
Leaving the backpack, Julie ran upstairs into the back bedroom, opened the bay window and climbed out onto the ledge. Shimmied her way across to the next house. Smashed a window with her elbow, reached in, unlatched it, jumped through landing smoothly.
Quickly down the stairs, pausing momentarily at the front door; a deep breath. Then out the door, confident, nonchalant, pulling the door closed behind her. Down the stairs, right onto 52nd and along the street, passing the two Feds sitting opposite the office.
All the way scanning the Feds faces, her spying hidden by the dark tint of her sunglasses. They continued to watch the first house she had ducked into, not moving, just waiting.
Confident that she had succeeded in the deception, Julie turned right onto 4th and disappeared.
Scranton, New York, a sleepy hodgepodge of Romanesque, renaissance government buildings surrounded by rows of Victorian houses rolled by the window of the greyhound.
Julie sat quietly, looking across the sleeping man between her and the window. The last thing she wanted was for a Fed to be able to see her from outside the bus.
She was clear of New York City. Her next challenge was the border crossing into Canada. They all had to get off the bus, collect their luggage, pass scrutiny at the crossing and then back onto the bus. Confident she'd eluded the Feds back on 52nd street she was hoping for a cursory control at the Canadian border.
Julie knew now, her father had failed. Everything on 52nd pointed at it, the office was not the same, the front door, the window's everything. When she tried the find my MacBook app, the computer did not show as she would have expected.
She had been grappling with this for hours. Did the Feds have the MacBook, did someone in the past now have it or did it simply no longer exist?
Yet she still existed. Which made sense, as her father was of the present, not the past. He'd had a life in the present, a life loving her mother and being her father. He'd died before he was born; after she had been.
So, if her father had died and something had happened to the office that would be the only explanation as to why that had all changed. They had spoken about this, yet really had never concluded what would happen. Now she knew.
What was worse than this was Drumpf was still President, had been for 24 months already; it was only a matter of time before his narcissistic sense of invincibility triggered something devastating.
The Feds may conclude wrongly that her father's death in the past meant her demise in the present. She hoped that was the case. Julie did not want to be the smoking gun of their conspiracy against the President.