Time's EdgeBy: Rysa Walker
November 22, 1963, 12:05 p.m.
A pungent whiff of rotting fish hits my nostrils before my eyes open. I guess the stench explains the cats that wandered in and out of my field of vision each time I previewed this jump site over the past few days. Two of them, a scrawny orange tabby and a long-haired white cat with a torn left ear, hiss and watch me warily from the top of the large gray Dempster Dumpster directly behind me. A hand-lettered sign on the front reads “School Book Depository Use Only,” but the fish bones and vegetable scraps around the bin suggest that at least one local restaurant owner either can’t read or doesn’t care.
The awful smell is undoubtedly why CHRONOS made this a stable point in the first place. No sane person would willingly venture within a hundred feet. A historian or two appearing out of nowhere would be noticed only by the cats.
I scan the faces in the photograph one last time and then tuck both the picture and my CHRONOS key under my sweater as I hurry down Houston Street. Turning at Elm, I head toward the R. L. Thornton Freeway Keep Right sign. A crowd is starting to gather along the road. The motorcade is only about ten minutes away, which means this jump is cutting it much too close for comfort, but the minutes leading up to the shooting are the only time I can predict with anything close to certainty where my grandparents will be.
There are no fewer than seven stable points within a five-block radius, a testament to the enduring power of conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s assassination, even in the 2300s. I’ve tried three of those stable points already, and at this precise moment, three other versions of me are walking toward Dealey Plaza—one from Market Street, one from Main Street, and one from Record Street. The Kate on Main Street is even wearing this same sweater and blouse, with the silly Peter Pan collar, but about a minute from now, she’ll get hemmed in by the crowd, and at twelve thirty, when the shots ring out in the plaza, she’ll be a full block away. The other two Kates won’t find Timothy and Evelyn Winslow either.
As I near the plaza, which is really just a small park with a white pergola perched on top of the hill, a young couple and two small boys stop in front of me. The older child, who is maybe four, has a tight grip on the skirt of his mother’s red jumper. The littlest guy is sitting atop his dad’s shoulders, both chubby hands grasping the collar of the man’s plaid shirt. The boy leans his small blond head backward to view the world upside down and looks surprised when he sees me a few feet behind him.
His dad is nodding toward a triangular patch of grass in the median area across Elm Street.
“But . . . maybe we should just stay over on this side, Bill?” The woman appears to be in her early twenties, and her voice is squeaky-high, with a heavy southern drawl. “Over there, we got two streets to worry about them runnin’ into traffic. If we stay here, they can play on the grass while we wait.”
The dad swings the toddler from his shoulders in a smooth, practiced arc and sets him down on the infamous grassy knoll. He catches my eye as he stands up and gives me a shy grin, looking a bit like a shorter-haired version of the young Elvis Presley. A shiver runs down my spine. I’m not sure why, and then I realize these people are the Newmans, the family from the images and videos I’ve been studying online, who will soon have a front-row seat to the assassination. They’ll be swarmed by the media after the shooting, dozens of reporters snapping photos as the parents lie on the grass, their bodies shielding the kids from the chaos.
I’ve apparently stared for a moment too long, because Newman and his wife exchange a confused look. I give them a nervous half smile and then push past, hurrying toward the concrete steps that lead up to the pergola.
A picket fence and some large trees camouflage the much less picturesque view of a packed-dirt parking lot behind the plaza. Most of the trees are still green, even in late November, but a few are beginning to shed their reddish-gold leaves. Three or four people are walking around near the fence. I keep reminding myself to just look for the powder-blue Ford Fairlane. Still, I can’t help but notice a young guy with a thin mustache looking out over the grass embankment and staring intently toward the street, his left leg twitching slightly. He’s leaning against the fence and smoking a cigarette. It’s too warm for the jacket he’s wearing—could that bulge in his pocket be a pistol? And that shaded space between the tree and the fence could definitely hide a rifle . . .
I shake my head, pulling my attention back to the more important issue, and finally locate the car that I glimpsed briefly from the sidewalk on my last jump, just before shots filled the air and ended any chance I had of getting close to the plaza. The Fairlane is parked about twenty-five yards away, behind a dirty red truck with a flat front tire.
There are many powder-blue 1959 Ford Fairlanes on the road in 1963, so this might be another dead end. I shift my path to the right, hoping to slip around the truck and a few other cars so that I can approach them unnoticed from the back of the lot. Assuming my grandparents are even in the car, and not hanging out over near Zapruder, photo-bombing his home movie. Or up on the sixth floor of the Depository, watching for Lee Harvey Oswald. We’re putting a great deal of faith in Katherine’s memory of a brief conversation with Evelyn nearly fifty years ago.
Connor oohed and aahed over the images of this “classic” car when we were researching the vehicle online, but I’m sorry—cars from this era are major eyesores. The tail fins alone have enough metal to make a Prius or two. Aesthetics aside, however, I’m currently kind of fond of the fins, because they provide a bit of extra coverage as I move around the car in full crouch mode.
There are two people in the car, but they’re so entwined that I can hardly tell where one begins and the other ends, let alone be sure if they resemble the picture my dad gave me. If it is them, I know that this steamy embrace is mostly a cover. They’re hoping the guy at the fence, or any other potential “second shooter,” will ignore a young couple making out in the parking lot and they’ll have front-row seats for history as it happens. They probably aren’t even breathing heavy. But there’s still something distasteful about sneaking up to introduce yourself to someone who may be your twenty-five-year-old grandmother when her shirt is half undone and your grandfather has just made it to second base.
I pull out my CHRONOS medallion. The picture and my phone are in my other hand. While I’d never be able to pick up a signal in 1963, the phone will still play the videos that Katherine and Dad recorded to support my story.
I debate for a moment whether to tap politely on the window. Her hair is the same dark copper as the woman in the Polaroid, however, so I decide to just go for it. With a quick tug on the chrome handle, the door of the Fairlane swings open. I’m in the backseat, holding up my CHRONOS key like a police badge before they realize what’s happening.
Evelyn casts a furious glare at me in the rearview mirror and immediately starts buttoning up her sweater. Timothy looks back, and I have the odd sensation of seeing my father’s “angry” face, fifteen years younger and maybe ten pounds heavier. Dad’s really mellow, so I’ve only seen that face a few times—the occasion I remember most clearly was when I was maybe five years old and tried to see if the laser in a DVD player will heat up a Pop-Tart. (It won’t.)
“We. Are. In the middle. Of research.” He jerks his head angrily toward the guy at the fence. “That man might be James Files and—”
“And maybe he’s the second shooter. Yeah, I know, and I’m sorry. One of you can keep watching if you want.”
Evelyn slinks down in the seat so that she can keep her eyes pointed at the guy without being too obvious. “I’ve never seen you at CHRONOS,” she says, “so I’m guessing you’re from one of the earlier cohorts? Or later maybe?”
I hand the photograph to Timothy. It shows the two of them a few years older, laughing. He’s holding a dark-haired little boy high over his head. A partial view of the passenger side of this powder-blue Ford is in the background.
“It depends on your perspective, I guess. I’m Kate. I’m your granddaughter. The little guy you’re holding in that picture is my dad.”
Most people never have to introduce themselves to their own parents or grandparents, but I seem to be making a career out of it. Three months ago, I sat across from my dad at a picnic table and tried to convince him that I was his daughter from another timeline. Then I chased two different versions of Katherine, my maternal grandmother, around the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. I gave the same introduction to her on both occasions in order to prevent her murder and my subsequent total lack of existence. If I ever meet my other grandfather, Saul Rand, I’ll have a full set—but I really hope I never encounter him face-to-face. He’s the reason I’m in this mess to begin with. And if his people find out I’m interfering, all hell is going to break loose.
Timothy glances from the picture to me, then back to the picture, before passing it over to his wife. She looks at me in the rearview mirror for a moment, then turns her gaze back to the guy at the fence. “She has got your eyes, Timo.”