Aw, heck: if Stephen King can do it, so can we.
MEMORANDUM FOR: Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
SUBJECT: Assassination of President Kennedy – Reported Anonymous Telephone Message
1. The following cable from the CIA Station in London was reported orally to Mr Samuel Pepich at 0930 on 23 November:
2. The British Security Service (MI-5) has reported that at 1805 GMT on 22 November an anonymous telephone call was made to Cambridge, England, to the senior reporter of the Cambridge News. The caller said only that the Cambridge News reporter should call the American Embassy in London for some big news and then hung up....
US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), docid-32389606
The date: 22 November 1963. The time: 1200 hours GMT. The place: a very grotty room in a Cambridge boardinghouse. It was the usual sort of thing for its time, a single room into which a small, slightly dirty window permitted a pallid light to filter through the grey rain outside. The cramped space was cluttered with second- – or, let's face it, fifth-hand furniture from the landlady's brother's basement, it was that, or add it to the Guy Fawkes bonfire – which were covered with throws of dubious cleanliness. The room, though shabby in the extreme, was only moderately dusty, as opposed to a full-out ecological catastrophe. That is because it had only been rented out this morning.
There was a rattling at the keyhole, the doorknob turned, and Trevor stumbled in, juggling a string bag and a hard guitar case. Human and objects sported water droplets from the drizzle outside, which were shaken off onto the grubby carpet as Trevor fumbled for the light switch. He glanced around. The room didn't look any better with the light on. But it was obvious that no one had been here in his absence. Setting the guitar case in a corner, Trev hung his damp anorak on a peg and crossed the room (two steps) to the wobbly table, where he began unpacking his string bag.
'You're back already?' came a raspy voice from the hallway.
'Er, yes, Mrs Hackett,' Trev called through the open door. 'Too much rain for busking. Thought I'd stop for lunch.' The guitar was Trev's cover to explain showing up in Cambridge at such an odd time of the term year. Mrs Hackett had smiled tolerantly at Trev's mutterings about the 'folk scene'. She'd seen them come and go, and offered the suggestion that he might have some luck in the new shopping district. But she took her week's rent in advance.
Of course, skiffle wasn't what brought Trev to Cambridge in 1963. He was here on instructions from the Temporal Monitoring Agency in the year 2442. They'd sent him to Cambridge precisely because it was far enough away from today's key events to avoid disrupting a nodal point in history.
'We don't want you anywhere near Dealey Plaza,' Colin had warned. 'Keep calm and carry on. Just do what we told you, and enjoy the ambience.' Colin hadn't said anything about the ambience being cold, damp, and tatty. Trev fished an odd-looking coin out of his trouser pocket and fed the ridiculous metered heater. A pitiful glow was his reward, but the chill in the room abated somewhat. Carefully locking the door, he set about making his historical 'lunch'.
First, Trev took a box labelled 'PG Tips' from his string bag. Ah, yes. Now, how do they make tea here? Trev found it helped to think of space/time loci as 'here'. Bravely venturing into the cabinet under the hotplate, he found a few mouse droppings, cheekily deposited near a set mousetrap loaded with near-fossilised cheese, and a battered teakettle. Trev took the kettle down the hall to the bathroom, rinsed it thoroughly in the sink, and filled it with water which he hoped was not from the River Cam. Back in his room, he set the kettle on the hotplate, which thankfully didn't require coins. Suppressing thoughts of Philip K Dick and other classical authors, he turned his attention to sandwich-making.
There was bread. At least, the cellophane packaging proclaimed it as such. Square machine-sliced tiles of thin, dessicated stuff unworthy of the title. Ah, well, thought Trev, When in Rome, hold your nose and try the fish sauce. With a bit of experimentation, he figured out how the toaster worked. This was a plus: he'd seen one in a museum once, and always itched to try it out. Soon, he would know if the 'bread' really flew out and across the room, as it did in vintage films. This took long enough that the kettle began to whistle – the first cheerful sound he'd heard today, and that included his attempt at rendering the 'Banana Boat Song' on Drummer Street. He fished out a PG Tip bag, plopped it into a chipped beaker, and poured in the hot water, feeling absurdly accomplished at doing something really 'period'.
The toaster was a qualified disappointment: the slightly-burnt bread (obviously, '7' wasn't the right setting) didn't so much fly out as sort of jump up, as if to yell 'Surprise!', but at least the 'bread' was marginally less unsavoury-looking. While it was still warm, Trev spread the butter on one side, and sat down, sipping tea, to contemplate the really adventurous stage of this time trip. For the next step, he needed help from the Future – not 2442, but the future, nonetheless. Glancing at the door – he'd locked it, right? – he produced from his back pocket what looked to denizens of the 60s like a cigarette case, but wasn't. Opening the case revealed a tiny, and completely anachronistic, computer screen. Trev punched a button, and a familiar sight appeared.
A quick search yielded the valuable information. Trev smiled. He'd been wanting to have this historical experience since he was a kid. In fact, it was one of his motivations for becoming a chrononaut, although he never told the Examiners that. Now, he was ready. He opened the jar cautiously, inhaling deeply. Yes! he thought exultantly. It's every bit as horrible as they said it was. Wow.
Trev followed the 400-year-old directions – 400 years old from his viewpoint, for 1963 they lay decades into the future:
- Apply the Marmite thinly at first, until the whole of the buttered area is coated. Leaving small gaps randomly is advisable.
- Continue to apply until the Marmite-saturation level is to your particular taste (this may take practice, but the rewards are great). In future preparation, you may wish to try adjusting the proportion of butter to Marmite, until the levels are to your satisfaction.
- Make sure you do not spend too long applying the Marmite to your toast: prolonged exposure to the butter will cause the toast to go soggy. You need to aim for a buttery top, but the toast must remain crisp.
- Do not, under any circumstances, apply the butter and Marmite to cold toast. Eating Marmite on cold toast with unmelted butter is quite, quite revolting.
In spite of the years he had spent anticipating this moment, Trev was unprepared for the overwhelming sensation of what he could only, for lack of a better term, call a 'burst of antiflavour'. He almost spat the first bite out, as his taste buds collaborated with his esophagus in an atavistic effort at self-preservation. But chrononauts are made of stern stuff: Trev overrode his own sense of survival, willing himself to experience a true Historic Moment. Eyes watering, he gulped down the Marmite and toast, rewarding himself with sips of what was really quite nasty tea.
'Lunch' over and the room, such as it was, tidied up, Trevor noticed that the rain had stopped, and weak sunlight was making insincere forays through the clouds. The heater had exhausted its shilling's-worth of warmth, and the room was growing chilly again. Trevor shrugged on his anorak, picked up his guitar, and headed out into exotic Cambridge once more. I'll try 'Blowin' in the Wind' this time, he decided. Peter, Paul and Mary have just recorded it. As he left, Trev checked the watch pocket of his (carefully) faded jeans to make sure he had the coins for the telephone call.
After all, that was why the Temporal Examiners had authorised this junket to 1963. 'Sow just enough doubt,' were his instructions. 'Be subtle about it. But if you and the others we send back plant enough odd coincidences here and there, it will make them think. We can't avert the Event: it's a fixed point. But we can mitigate the consequences, if we stimulate the curiosity of contemporary observers. It might be enough to avoid the worst in the 21st Century. So take your time, make your call, and don't get caught.' Trevor didn't intend to get caught. He was having too much fun.
It was long dark by the time Trevor returned shortly before 7 pm. He had another longed-for treat to try on his hotplate, purchased courtesy of the generosity of Cambridge citizens. As one fatherly man had explained to him, 'Look, lad, you can't play for toffee, and your singing sounds like a catfight at midnight. With a talent like that, I reckon you're going to need a good meal. Then take my advice and go home.'
Trev studied the heating directions with anticipation. If the Time Travel Corps could only see him now. Wet with 400-year-old rain, cooking pork bits of questionable provenance for his tea – in a 'Rich West Country Sauce'. He fed the meter to warm up the place, and put on the teakettle, whistling 'The Banana Boat Song' softly to himself.
The telephone call had gone about as he'd expected. Befuddled newspaper reporter, mysterious enough call to make him notify the authorities. MI-5 would be on it in the morning, but nothing could be traced to him. They didn't have that kind of technology in telephone boxes in 1963. Nor that kind of paranoia, either. His task was done, and they wouldn't pick him up for another 48 hours. Luxury.
Trev took his plate of Brain's faggots over to the saggy armchair and plopped in front of the telly. The telly was the real reason Trev had chosen this fleabag room as his safe house. Mrs Hackett's brother ran a radio and television repair shop, and could fix anything, even a 1956 Decca DM4 like the one he was sitting in front of. Which was just fine with Trev. He glanced at his watch, set to local time. 7.10: he'd missed the first announcement, a brief newsflash about the shooting, between Points of View and the start of Tonight. Now, Tonight was on, but Trev knew it would be a truncated broadcast. At 7.26, newsreader John Roberts would announce that US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was dead of an assassin's bullet. Then, lacking further information, the BBC would broadcast a revolving globe at bewildered viewers for 19 more minutes.
Trev was enjoying his Faggots. He didn't really care about the 'news', which for him was an old history vid from his schooldays. But he was looking forward to 7.45, when the BBC bosses would decide to 'cheer people up' – after all, they had no news to report – by running the regular Friday night schedule. They were about to receive over 2000 outraged calls and at least 500 unfriendly letters from appalled viewers. But Trev was delighted by the decision.
JFK was old news. But this particular broadcast of Here's Harry had been tragically lost in the Great Youtube Wipe-Out of 2178. Trev got his recording device ready in anticipation.
Tomorrow night, of course, was the really significant event. . . which was why the television set was so vital.