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Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 2

(Continued from part one)

I cracked open the door to the hallway and stuck my head out. Seeing no one, I moved quickly to the stairway and then from the 9th floor to the 1st. I emerged from the stairwell into the commercial lobby on the north end of the hotel and took a few seconds to orient myself, but I needed to keep moving; if Reynolds was to walk by he might recognize his clothes.

And so I took a couple of deep breaths, pulled up my collar and stepped through the doorway into a bitterly cold day. It was well below zero Fahrenheit, with harsh winds. So cold that my face hurt.

Out of raw instinct, I started running. I made it across the street, around the corner and onto Wabash Avenue, then ran as hard as I could safely (there were patches of ice and snow on the sidewalk) until I found a carry-out restaurant. I shuffled in and tried to warm up. But the people behind the counter would be asking me for my order pretty soon, and so I re-gathered my courage, curled back toward the door as slowly as I could and ran back into one of the bitter winters that engulfed Chicago between 1975 and 1983.

I made it to the next corner and into Garrett’s Popcorn, where I was able to mill about without attracting attention. After five minutes of appreciating their various caramel corns I was warm enough to consider my assault on the next block, which would take me to Marshall Field’s, a place that I knew very well… a place I could get lost in for hours. And in that race against the elements I got lucky: The wind was mostly at my back and the traffic light was with me.

I was something in-between sweating and shivering as I walked into Field’s, but I had made it intact. I headed slowly downstairs to the cafeteria for some hot coffee, taking in the displays and products. Unlike the things I saw in 1963, I precisely remembered nearly all these things. I never would have thought of them otherwise, but seeing them instantly refreshed my memories.

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I didn’t remember the price of coffee in this era, but I knew it would be well under a dollar for a “bottomless cup.” And so I sat down at the counter in Fields’ basement and turned up the cup that was sitting in front of me.

Forty cents is what the lady charged me, saying nothing about the fact that I was the only customer without an overcoat. I asked if she had a newspaper laying around. A minute later she returned with a copy of the Sun Times. It was dated Wednesday, February 8th, 1978.

And so here I was, back in a frigid winter with no coat, all but broke, and with no clear direction. But it was most definitely an adventure, and that cheered me. I felt the coffee warming me from the inside and I found myself smiling. Even in the worst case I wasn’t going to freeze, and I knew what was about to happen in the world. I had lived through 1978 as a young adult, after all.

And so I sat, smiling at my waitress, going through three cups of coffee, feeling fully warmed, and reading a newspaper. As in 1963, I was taken with how trivial and boring current events were, once you weren’t caught up in them. The story of the day was that some US Senate hearings were being broadcast on the radio. Big whoop, as they use to say.

I started running scenarios through my mind. What I needed was room and board. My best option seemed clear: To find my old boss, Jack, then convince him to hire me for a pittance and let me sleep in the back of the shop. The Madison bus would get me to within half a block of his office, and knowing him as well as I did, I was pretty sure I could pull it off((I worked for Jack through the early 1980s and had a strong grasp of what he’d respond to.)). More than that, I had enough time to get back to Field’s if I failed. At closing time the cops would cart me away to some charity place.

But as I sat at the counter, considering how best to convince Jack and gathering my resolve to head back outside, I had one of those strange feelings… that I should go to the subway entrance at the back of Fields’ basement. In another situation I would have questioned the feeling more strenuously, but given that this one appeared in the midst of a truly otherworldly experience, I let myself follow the hunch. Beside, how much trouble could I get into, just walking across a store?

And so I thanked my waitress, left her two quarters and another few stray coins, and walked to the subway.

The closer I got, the more certain I was that something was afoot. I turned into the steep little stairway between Field’s and the subway, and there, at the base of the stairway and out of everyone’s view but mine, was a 30ish man who looked the same kind of sick as my previous companion.

“Here, take this,” he said, tossing me a plastic store bag then stepping to the first set of doors and gesturing for me to take his spot.

I glanced briefly into the bag and saw packets of money in it. Then I glanced at him… he was carrying a bright red bag, seemingly with money in it as well.

“I’m your friend’s parallel,” he said.

I thought I understood his meaning. “Parallel… you mean like husband, or mate?”

“Yes,” he said, “though things change a bit over a century or two.” Then he pointed at the bag he had given me. “There’s a note in there explaining things,” he said while hurriedly looking up the stairway. 

I nodded my understanding and appreciation, then waited for him to continue.

“I got here the same way you did and I robbed a bank for you, the one with the lion.” That made it the Harris Bank, a Chicago institution. “We don’t have time,” he said, as I heard the sound of police sirens pouring down the stairway on the other side of the doors. “You take the train out of here and I’ll get myself caught. Then I’ll die with the enforcers as they take me away. Reasonable?”

I found it hard to tell someone to die, but given that this was a time-critical situation I was able to respond with “Reasonable” almost instantly.

He walked through the doors, headed up the stairs and into a police chase. But before the doors closed he slowed for a second and said, “I wish I could have spent time with you. Now hurry.”

“Me too,” I said, hustling into the subway, where I paid my fare and jogged down to the Howard-Englewood train. Northbound.

All of Book Two on Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082GGSTS6/

Book One on Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KDQSBGZ

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Paul Rosenberg

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