Authors: John A. Heldt
A novel by
John A. Heldt
Copyright © 2013 by John A. Heldt
Edited by Aaron Yost
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author, except for brief quotes used in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
NOVELS BY JOHN A. HELDT
Northwest Passage Series
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To Heidi, Amy, and Matthew and in memory of Doug
Be careful what you wish for
. – W.W. Jacobs,
The Monkey's Paw
We all have our time machines. Some take us back. They're called memories. Some take us forward. They're called dreams
. – Jeremy Irons
Home is where the heart is
. – Pliny the Elder
CHAPTER 1: GRACE
Seattle, Washington – Sunday, December 7, 1941
Grace allowed the tears to run their course. For five minutes she did nothing but stare out a window and weep. She knew that crying wouldn't change a thing, but she also knew that she needed to cry. The best way to put an awful experience behind you was to sob it out of your system. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and read the letter again.
I can't imagine anything more difficult than writing this letter. Saying goodbye is never easy. Admitting to lies is even harder. But today I have to do both.
For six months I have passed myself off as someone I am not. I have changed lives and altered events and made messes I cannot possibly clean up. I did so knowingly and willingly and with little regard for anyone but myself.
I'm not from Montana. I'm not even from this time. I'm from Seattle and a future so distant that I have yet to be born. I am the grandson of Virginia Gillette.
I can't explain it. I don't expect you to believe it. But it's the truth. I entered a glowing room in a mine in 2000 and walked out in 1941. I knew war was coming, just as I knew about Conn and DiMaggio and Williams. I knew Tom would enter the Army. I know his fate. I know how the war will end and how the world will evolve.
Grace tried to process the information as she sat dumbstruck in the kitchen of her rental house. There was a lot to process. Joel Smith was a time traveler. A time traveler! Not a cowboy from Montana. Not a silver-tongued con man who had charmed his way into her life. Not even someone from her own time but rather an honest-to-goodness time traveler – one who had decided to return to his world just as hers was falling apart. She read more.
On December 8, I entered the same mine and returned to my time. I wanted to take you. I agonized for days. I never wanted to leave you. But I knew I did not belong in your world, just as I knew you did not belong in mine.
I'm sorry I lied to you. I'm sorry I left. I'm sorry I could not have been the man you wanted. You deserve better. Just know that my feelings for you are real and that I will never forget you. I will never stop loving you.
Grace wanted to crumple the letter but couldn't. She knew what Joel had written was true. A golden coin enclosed with the letter, a U.S. dollar stamped with the date of the second millennium, all but proved it was true. And so she tried to digest a bitter dose of reality: the man who had taken her heart and virtue, and convinced her to break off an engagement to a wonderful Navy officer, was gone – and he wasn't coming back.
The college senior glanced at a radio at the end of the kitchen bar, listened to yet another news report, and sighed. A bad day continued to get worse. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, where her former fiancé was stationed and hundreds of Americans had reportedly been killed. The U.S. would have no choice but to enter a war that had raged across the planet for more than two years, a war that would undoubtedly take a high toll on the people she loved.
Grace turned toward a dark dining room and saw one of these people stare out her own window. Katherine Kobayashi had been her housemate for six months and a close friend for three years. Grace could only imagine the hardships that awaited Katie and other Japanese Americans in the weeks and months to come. They were in for tough times.
She thought also of her other housemate, Virginia Gillette. Ginny had not been the same since the Army had drafted her fiancé Tom Carter in November and had not been seen since joining Grace and Katie for breakfast the previous day.
Grace glanced at the letter. Could it be possible that her oldest and dearest friend was the future grandmother of the man she loved? The man who had left her so abruptly? Did Joel really know Tom's fate? Grace pressed her fingers to her temples. This was simply too much to bear.
"Are you all right?" Katie asked as she entered the kitchen.
Katie too had read Joel's letter, a letter that had been entrusted to Ginny and one that Grace had not been supposed to see before December 25. Grace had accidentally discovered the letter, contained within a Christmas card, as she searched Ginny's roll-top writing desk for a pen.
"I'm managing. How about you?"
"I'm worried about my family," Katie said.
Katie's parents, immigrants from Yokohama, operated a fish market in Portland. She had not been able to reach them by phone despite repeated attempts.
Grace got up from her chair and faced her friend. She smiled through tears.
"Come here, Katie. I think we both need a hug."
The two friends embraced. When they separated, Katie stepped toward the bar and picked up the letter. She looked at it for a moment, put it down, and returned to Grace.
"Are you going to be OK?"
"What choice do I have? There's nothing I can do. He's gone."
Katie picked up the letter again.
"What do you mean?" Grace asked. She wiped away her remaining tears.
"Read this. Joel wrote that he entered the mine on December 8. December 8 hasn't happened yet. It's tomorrow."
Grace grabbed the letter out of Katie's hand. She reread the key passage and returned the sheet to the counter. Joel had left behind an important clue. He had not yet left 1941. But without more information, the clue was worthless.
"It doesn't matter. He didn't say
he went. He just mentioned a mine. There are thousands of mines in this part of the country. He could be anywhere."
"He could be," Katie said, "but I think he's in Montana. He spoke very knowledgeably about the state the other night. He's either been there or he's read a lot of travel brochures. Think hard, Grace. He must have told you something that will allow us to narrow the possibilities."
Grace closed her eyes and searched her memory but came up empty. Joel Smith had been very guarded about his past, something that now made all the sense in the world. He had said only that he was a rancher from Helena, Montana, who had hopped a freight train in May in search of opportunity. Nearly everything about him had been a mystery, if not a lie.
Grace tapped her fingers on the bar. There had to be something. Then she saw the Sunday paper near the radio and stepped toward it. She turned to a feature story in the
, a story she had read before events in distant places had destroyed a peaceful day. The article, about a local girl fighting polio, offered no answers. But a large advertisement on the opposite page, touting a new Buick dealership in Seattle, did. She turned to Katie.
"I know what I have to do. I have to go to Montana, and I have to go there tonight."
"But how?" Katie asked. "You can't drive there. You'd never make it on these icy roads, even if you knew where to go. The train's out too. All the eastbound trains are morning trains. They've already left. You couldn't possibly leave until tomorrow."
Grace glanced at Katie, looked away, and then returned to the newspaper. She grabbed the business section and flipped through its pages until she came to a cluster of travel ads. A moment later, she pointed to one of the ads.
"Here," she said. "This is how I'll get there – if I can find the money."
Katie smiled faintly at Grace.
"How much do you need?"
"I don't know. A hundred dollars, maybe more," Grace said. She sighed. "I have the money in the bank, but there is no way I could get it before tomorrow. The bank is closed."
Katie put a hand on Grace's shoulder.
Katie walked out of the kitchen and headed down a hallway toward her bedroom. When she returned a minute later, she held an envelope in her hand. She opened the envelope and pulled out what looked like a stack of one-hundred-dollar bills.
"Where did you get that?" Grace asked.
"Never mind where I got it. Do you want it?"
Grace stared at Katie with eyes that betrayed affection and admiration. Somehow, someway, her friend had come through.
"I'll take only what I need, and I'll pay back every penny."
"Don't worry about it, Grace. Just go. Go to Montana."
Grace stepped toward Katie and gave her a hug. Her eyes again brimmed with tears.
"I will, Katie. I will," she said. "But first, I have to make some calls."
CHAPTER 2: GRACE
Three hours later Grace found herself staring through the living room window of a two-bedroom rental on East Fifty-Second Street and saw nothing except dark rooms and unoccupied furniture. She had expected as much. Tom was still in basic training at Fort Lewis and Joel was halfway to the Treasure State, if he wasn't already there.
Grace turned away from the house and walked back to a coupe she had parked in front. She looked at Katie, who sat in the passenger seat, and motioned for her to roll down her window.
"I'm going to take a look around. I won't be long."
"Take your time," Katie said.
Grace returned to the residence and commenced a thorough inspection of its perimeter. She searched high and low for clues to Joel's whereabouts but found nothing even remotely helpful.
The time traveler had picked up his yard, locked his doors, and closed the shades on almost every window. He had left quickly but not carelessly. He had abandoned a tidy ship.
Joel Smith had not, however, given the same consideration to Tom's 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe convertible, which he had driven Friday night, the last time she had seen him. He had parked it in the driveway and left the passenger door unlocked.
Grace opened the door and found the vehicle much as she had remembered it: clean, cold, and smelling like a showroom. It was mostly empty but not entirely empty. When she stuck her hand under the front seat she discovered a red envelope that contained a Christmas card.
She didn't need to examine the card to know its contents, but she examined it anyway and saw the handiwork of two women. Edith Tomlinson, a renowned local artist, had drawn a snow-covered cabin on the front. Grace Vandenberg, a not-so-renowned education major, had drawn two stick-figure skiers on the inside panels.
Grace had given Joel the card Friday night when she had announced her plans to take him skiing at Timberline, a new resort on the slopes of Mount Hood. She had saved for months to give him a Christmas present that he would never forget. She had hoped that a weekend in Oregon would further strengthen a relationship that seemed on a fast track to marriage. Now she wondered whether that relationship had been nothing but a sham.
She battled mixed emotions as she put the card in her purse. She felt sad about forfeiting a dream and angry about forfeiting a deposit on a cabin, but she did not allow either sadness or anger to distract her. She was on a mission and that mission was just beginning.
Grace rejoined Katie, started the car, and pulled away from the curb. Five minutes later she drove the 1936 Ford Deluxe V-8 coupe, once her Uncle George's pride and joy, onto a busy arterial and made a beeline for Edith's house in Madison Park.
Grace considered the sporty red automobile her car, even though her aunt, a non-driver, still had the title. She drove it, maintained it, enjoyed it, and would definitely miss it, even if it could be temperamental at times and hard to start in the winter.