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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 13… in which I confront Michael

Picking up from Part 12, in which I learned a great about what was happening to me.

“Hi,” I said in as friendly way as I could, “if you’re 309, I’m the guy you’re looking for.”

I smiled and extended my hand. He shook it but seemed too nervous to speak. I sat across from him.

“I know this is a wild situation, and I suppose I have a lot to explain to you, but I want to put you at ease first. I’m human just like you, and if you sensed us driving past your window, as I think you did, then we’re neighbors of a sort. I spent nearly all my early life within a few blocks of Touhy Avenue.”

I smiled again, and this time he smiled back slightly. He was starting to relax.

Step one, I thought. I sat back and waited for him to initiate something.

“I’m Michael,” he said after a bit.

“And I’m Paul.”

We both smiled again, but he still seemed too nervous to open up.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where exactly is the window I drove past?”

“On Rockwell, just north of Touhy.”

“Oh, the apartment building that faces the park?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve lived there for many years.”

“What a nice spot,” I went on, trying to comfort him by recounting things that only someone from the neighborhood would know. “The park right in front of you, a big Jewel [that’s a supermarket] not far past the school, dozens of shops on both Touhy and Western, and a quick jump to either Lake Shore Drive or the Edens.”

“You really do know the place,” he said.

“Oh yes, I do. I’m a little out of date, maybe, but I definitely know Rogers Park.”

Then I slid to the edge of my seat, as if getting ready to stand.

“Hey,” I said in the same way I spoke to my friends in Rogers Park when I was young, “I’m kinda hungry. You wanna get something to eat while we try to make sense out of what’s happened to us?”

Michael was still a bit hesitant, and I couldn’t blame him. But he agreed and we walked into the street, as I told him about a restaurant down the block that I liked.

* * * * *

I decided right away that I couldn’t tell him this was a virtual world. That would mean telling him that he was a temporary and essentially fake Michael Burroughs. And that, I was sure, was a step too far.

But still, I didn’t want to stray from the truth any farther than I had to; that’s no end of trouble. And so I decided to say that I was from 2016 and leave it as close to that as I could. With any luck he wouldn’t be a physicist.

But first, I wanted him to understand that I had been thrown into something utterly unexpected, just as he had.

And so, after we sat, discussed food for a moment, and ordered, I said, “You wouldn’t know this, Michael, but when you felt me driving past, I had just fallen into this situation… maybe 10 minutes before. So, while I got a little bit of advice as I started, I’m still getting over the shock of it.”

“And where did you come from?” he asked.

I looked at him and smiled.

“That’s the big question, then, isn’t it?”

He smiled too, and for the first time treated me as a fellow being. That is, he had compassion for me.

“If that’s too much of a question,” he said with concern, “you can answer later.”

“Thanks, Mike… do you mind if I call you Mike? I’m more used to that.”

“That’ll be fine,” he said.

“Thanks. The thing is this: my guiding star for everything I’m doing here is, ‘Will this cause more benefit than harm?’ So, I have to guess at whether spilling my guts to you will create more improvement on Earth than damage.”

He nodded his understanding.

“Now, you’re very clearly a very special guy, or you never would have noticed us… and you certainly wouldn’t have been able to track me down. So I think I have to answer your questions, even though I hardly know you.”

“What kind of harm are you worried about?” he asked.

“Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m probably being overcautious, but I’ve never done something like this before… I guess my concern would be that the information would be too much for you, and you’d freak out somehow.”

He nodded, but then looked at me quizzically and asked, “Freak out?”

Immediately I realized that this term wasn’t used until the 1970s.

“Sorry, that means something like ‘come unglued.’”

This, he understood.

“Well, let me just tell you that I’ve been through a lot of surprises and tough moments in my life. I’m relatively sure I can handle it.”

“Okay, Mike, I’ll give you the short version. Then we can pick it apart piece by piece slowly, okay?”

“That will be fine.”

“All right, then.” I leaned in and smiled. “I really am from Rogers Park. And I came here directly from the suburbs of Chicago. But I came here from a different time. I came from 2016.”

To my relief he seemed to handle it well, then came back at me with, “So, you know the future?”

It was a child’s question, asked in a child-like tone of voice, but what else could be expected from such a piece of news?

“I do. From my perspective it’s the past, but I have a good memory and I remember a lot.”

“How far back?”

“Really till just about now. I turned five in ’63, and that’s about the beginning of my conscious memories. Now, my early memories are those of a boy, not a man, so I really can’t tell you a lot of details about this year or the next few. But after that I can recount a lot of things.”

“Like?”

I laughed. “Give me a second to think, okay?”

“Sure,” he said just as our food arrived.

We both started eating and I thought about what to tell him, quickly deciding that I couldn’t tell him about anything he’d be tempted to change, like the Kennedy assassination. That could make a mess, and I couldn’t really ask him to refrain from stopping a murder. And so I decided to go for a few mundane things.

“Okay, let’s do a few near-term trivialities. Next year a movie, called Mary Poppins, will become a big thing. Kind of a children’s movie but fun and pleasant, with good music. I remember that because my mom took me downtown to see it… neither the Cubs nor the Sox are gonna win a World Series for a long time… Oh! And you’ll never guess who’s going to be governor of California in a few years.”

He guessed a few names, then gave up.

“Ronald Reagan, the actor.”

Michael got thoughtful for a moment.

“You know,” he soon enough said, “I can see it. He’s kind of leading up to it.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right… I remember people talking about it after the fact.”

Then we talked about Reagan and the political machinations of the 1950s. It kept us away from heavier subjects.

* * * * *

To my relief, we spent the remainder of our lunch and a walk through a shady park talking about small things: him filling gaps in my boyhood memories and me telling him about cellphones and computers, “sci-fi” things that I didn’t see causing any real disturbances.

After a while, both of us silently understanding that we had done this to become comfortable with one another, we headed back to the hotel. I was still in need of naps and decompression, and Michael seemed to be feeling weak. That brought back Jim’s brief comment about Michael’s health being fragile. I pushed the idea of long naps, then a slow dinner. Mike agreed.

Ten minutes later, we were back in the hotel.

“Shall I call you after a few hours?” I asked him.

“Actually, just come up and knock on the door.”

He was opening his world to me, which I took as a warm compliment.

“Then I shall. I’m guessing that it’ll be three or four hours. I’m ready to sleep.”

“That sounds good.”

* * * * *

While I napped, and mostly as I slowly woke up, Vegas again came to mind, but this time as a staging area for the Kennedy assassination. I would need cameras, and I’d need to learn how to use them and to practice with them.

I’d need to learn to develop my own film (I certainly couldn’t give such photos to a commercial service), and I’d need to make several trips to Dallas to scout locations. This was a serious undertaking. Things would have to be put carefully into place.

I could very much use help for this, but I also felt clear on the fact that Michael shouldn’t – couldn’t – be part of this. I’d either have to hope Jim and Robert made it or find local help, which would be quite a trick.

I got to Michael’s room as he was getting up. I offered to come back, but he directed me to sit in the chair and wait. And so I complied.

Once he was through washing up, he sat on the bed and said he had more questions. But before the conversation went any further, the phone rang. It was his son calling from Chicago.

“I should take this call,” he said.

I began to stand, saying, “No problem, I’ll give you some privacy.”

But he waived me off, pointing back to the chair. And so, again, I complied and sat.

Michael’s son – Michael junior – was concerned about his father’s health and rather upset that he had run off on a spur-of-the-moment road trip.

“No, son,” I couldn’t help overhearing, “I didn’t hear back from the doctor… Oh, I see. Then I’ll call him momentarily.”

Mike finished the call and turned to me.

“Maybe I should come find you once I’m done with this.”

“No problem, Mike. I’ll be in the lobby. I’ll see if I can find a newspaper and familiarize myself with 1963 a bit more.”

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)

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