3 August 1993
Jack Dunham banged his head against the tinted, plate-glass window and wondered how long it would be before he killed the son of a bitch. He could see it now, playing in his mind like a lurid, direct-to-video movie: He’d put on his jacket, reach into the bottom drawer of his desk, and pull out the .45—the one he’d kept handy ever since the riots a few years back. Slapping a round into the chamber, he’d shove it into his belt, leave his office, and stroll down the hallway, nodding and smiling to all the secretaries, letting his innocent-looking brown eyes and the “cute” dimples he’d always despised lull them into a false sense of security. He’d even stop a minute and joke with one of the art directors, never letting on, never letting any of them suspect a thing. Then he’d stride into the conference room, smile sweetly, and put a Black Talon hollow-point right through Reece’s fat, sweaty head.
It would be so simple, so unexpected, so final...
So much for cherished fantasies.
Jack returned to his desk and switched off the computer, consigning his latest rewrite to oblivion. He couldn’t stand to look at that drivel another minute. Squeezing his eyes shut, he leaned back in his chair and blotted out everything but the soft hiss of the air conditioning.
It had been a thankless day, a day of countless meetings with intractable clients who sat and listened to his presentations, eyeing all his hard work with the blank, shining orbs of mannequins. Sometimes he wondered what really went on behind those eyes. Were they thinking about what he’d just told them, or were they thinking about the great sex they had the night before, or the fight with their wives or lovers that morning, or the wonderful turd they just made? Sometimes he wondered if their minds were as blank as their eyes.
And then there was Reece.
Crude, profane, and totally without an ounce of creativity in that corpulent lump he called a body, Bryant Worthington Reece IV lumbered through life in wrinkled, ill- fitting Armani suits, acting as if everyone and everything owed him their obeisance. The man took perverse pleasure in taunting underlings about their inadequacies and toadying up to those who could pave the way to greater glories. Jack cracked a weary grin. “Toad” was the perfect word for Reece—his protruding eyes, fleshy face, and blubbery mouth, the perfect mask.
Jack drove Reece from his mind and returned his gaze to the office window. Out on Biscayne Boulevard the crime lights popped on, their harsh, peach-colored rays making the street look wasted and sallow, like an old man sick with jaundice. Rush hour traffic stood stalled for blocks, brake lights glowing, their horns the howls of angry dogs.
He smiled again. No doubt a few homicides in the making there. What time was it, anyway? All afternoon he’d tried to come up with ideas, ideas the clients would gush over, ideas Reece wouldn’t shit on, ideas that didn’t sound like a tired rehash of every other notion he’d already presented.
But the well was dry.
He stood up, pulled on his gray wool sport jacket and was about to extinguish the desk light when the phone purred. It was one of those modern phones, the kind the manufacturers hailed as “new and revolutionary,” with lots of confusing functions and presets, guaranteed not to jar the thinking executive. He thought the thing sounded like it had a head cold. Sometimes, like now, he felt like pitching it through the plate-glass. He debated whether or not to let the voice mail take it, but something made him pick it up. Maybe it was Leslie with some last-minute disaster.
“Hey, Jack. Is that you?”
The warm, nasally voice made him smile.
“Wiley! You old shithead!”
“How are you, buddy?” he said.
“I’m fine, Killer. How about you? You sound close.”
“I’m at the airport. Just got in. It was sort of a last-minute thing. I was hoping we could get together... and talk.”
Typical vintage Wiley. No thought of calling from home, no warning at all, just his deep, friendly voice on the phone announcing his arrival. As always, he assumed Jack would be free as a bird and ready for a night on the town. He should have been used to it by now, but he never got used to anything where Wiley Carpenter was concerned.
Jack thought of Leslie. He was torn between his friendship with Wiley and the date he very much wanted to keep. He and Leslie had been going out for two months—they spent nearly every night together—and he’d begun to entertain the notion of asking her to move in with him. Wiley’s voice receded to a soft murmur as Jack recalled her soft, voluptuous curves, jet-black hair, and those penetrating emerald-green eyes.
“Jack! Are you there?”
“I’m sorry, Wiley, what did you say?”
“I’m fine. Tough day. Usual crap.”
“I know what you mean,” he said, his voice edged with fatigue. “Look, you probably got something going, but I won’t be in town long. We need to talk. It’s important, Jack.”
What the hell, Leslie would understand.
“Sure, Wiley,” he said. “I’m free as a bird.”
“Let’s meet at Mike’s. I’ll be there by seven.”
“Okay,” Jack said, “the first round’s on you.”
Whenever Wiley blew into town, which wasn’t as frequent as it used to be, they always ended up at Mike Gordon’s. On the bay, nestled at the foot of the 79th Street bridge, Mike’s was the only place to go for the serious seafood lover. The portions were huge and the atmosphere convivial. And if Mike happened to be around with time to talk, so much the better.
But Wiley was never on time, and Jack was often half in the bag by the time Wiley casually strolled in, acting as if nothing was wrong. By that time, Jack would be ready to wring Wiley’s neck. But one “Hey, shithead!” and a slap on the back and all was forgiven.
Jack slid his red Alfa Romeo Spider into the parking lot and pulled up to the front entrance. He nodded to José, the attendant, and tossed him the keys.
“Buenas noches, Señor Jack.”
“You too, José.”
It was a hair before seven. The night air hung like a wet rag, smelling of salt and rotten fish. Pushing through the front door, Jack felt a blast of cool air hit him, making his nose tingle. He passed the gallery of boat-racing pictures and a small trophy case, making sure to duck under the fish netting he always managed to snag. A short line stood waiting for tables, and an elderly couple were leaving their names with the tall blonde at the reservations desk. Jack noted the crowd looked lighter than usual.
“Hello, Mr. Dunham, how are you this evening?”
“Fine, Marge. You’re looking great.”
Her face lit up as she smiled. “You keep that up and you’ll have to take me home.”
“And have Mike ban me?” he said, feigning horror.
It was a ritual they performed every time he came. Marge was happily married, had been for twenty years. Still, she was a hell of a good-looking woman, and Jack would have jumped at the chance had she been serious.
“Mr. Carpenter arrived ten minutes ago. He’s in the bar.”
“Wiley? Wiley is early?”
She smiled and shrugged, as if to say, “Ain’t it a kick,” and took the names of the couple behind him.
Mildly surprised, Jack pushed through the bar crowd and spotted his friend nursing a martini, a far-off look in his eye. The martini was the second surprise. Wiley never could hold his liquor, and he always drank a watery highball or, most times, a seltzer with a lime twist.
When Jack walked toward him, Wiley gulped the drink and signaled the bartender for another. My God, how he’d aged. His hair, a once luxurious black, had turned gray throughout, and had noticeably thinned. And in spite of a healthy-looking tan, Wiley’s face had a haunted look around the eyes where crow’s feet now spread from the corners, like cracks in a windshield. Seeing this, Jack couldn’t help wondering if he looked as old to Wiley.
“Hey, Jack, you’re lookin’ good” he said, patting him on the back. “Can I get you anything?”
“Scotty! A Sammy for my buddy.”
When the bartender returned, Jack waved away the frosted glass and took a long swig from the bottle. Wiley stared at him, his hands drumming on the bar.
“How are Ellen and the kids?” Jack said.
“Oh, fine. Ellen’s taken up ceramics. And John’s just starting fifth grade. Can you believe it?”
He toyed with his drink, staring into it as though it held some deep, dark secret. He twisted it around, leaving rings that reminded Jack of the Olympic emblem. He got the distinct feeling that Wiley wasn’t here to talk about his family. Something was eating at him, and whatever it was wasn’t coming easily.
“What is it, Wiley? Is Ellen sick? For God’s sake, spit it out. I know you didn’t come all this way to catch up on old times.”
Wiley looked up at him and, for the first time that evening, made eye contact. There was a drop of sweat that trickled from his right temple and hung poised on his chin, ready to drop. His left eye twitched, as it always did when he was nervous.
“I came down here because I discovered something.”
Jack leaned closer.
“I know why the Nine Old Men changed the name of the club,” he said.
For the last twenty years Jack and Wiley held memberships in The Anderson Club, an exclusive country club just outside of Ridgefield, Connecticut. Jack thought himself as good a clubman as the average guy, although, as a non-resident member who now lived in Miami, he’d been back only a couple of times. Even after all that time, nothing much had changed about the place. It was still the same comfortable bar with the hunting scenes on the wall, and the immaculate brass rail polished to a high gloss every two hours by old Swithington.
The small, green-shaded lamps that sat on the tables gave a soft glow at night, and even in the blistering sun of an August day, the bar retained a cool aloofness. They served big, reasonably priced drinks and a fair roast beef on Fridays. The golf course was the envy of the county, and the tennis courts remained solidly booked until well after the season. The Anderson Club—now The Normandy Club—differed in an odd sort of way from probably every other club in the country.
There were one hundred members, give or take a couple, most of them in their thirties. It amused Wiley and Jack that all the other members thought of them as the “old men” of the club, except, that is, for The Nine Old Men. Everyone called them that, though not to their faces. No one could remember who’d coined the nickname, but it stuck. It made sense because they were nine, they were old—by everyone else’s standards, anyway, and because they reminded everyone of the Supreme Court. They kept to themselves most of the time, only mixing with the other members during holidays and the occasional fund-raisers. To everyone they were “The Nine Old Men.”
And they ran the club.
There were the usual committees, but they were lightweight affairs that planned the parties and the yearly cotillion. The serious decisions were made by the Nine Old Men. If they felt the club’s name should be changed, it was changed. No member vote, no dissension, no objections. But for the most part, that was okay. The average member came to the club to play golf, tennis, and to drink, maybe covet his neighbor’s wife in the process.
But the oddest thing about the club was that no one ever had much curiosity about what the Nine Old Men did in “Their Room,” up on the top floor of the building. It took up most of the floor and lay behind a heavy, steel door that remained locked at all times. Jack and Wiley always figured they played poker or watched dirty movies, but no one really cared what they did. Someone once had the bright idea of bugging the place, just for fun, but nothing ever came of it. The steel door of the Nine Old Men’s room remained inviolate.
“I know why they changed the name of the club,” Wiley repeated.
“So do I. They told us.”
“They gave us a dumb-ass reason, Jack. Why the hell should a fifty-year-old club change its name because the Nine Old Men found out that Anderson’s son was killed at Normandy? That should be all the more reason to keep it The Anderson Club.”
“I never thought much about it, but they said something else at the time, about ‘how it honored all of the kid’s buddies who died along with him, and that’s the way he would have wanted it.’”
Wiley leaned forward, his thin face flushed.
“That’s a goddamned lie!”
For the first time since walking into Mike’s, Jack regretted not going on his date. He’d tried to call Leslie, tried to leave word at the restaurant that he’d be late, but the phone at Luigi’s had been busy right up until the moment he’d left the office. Now, the whole evening was going haywire. And this show of temper—if that’s what it was—wasn’t like Wiley. If anything, he was always a touch too phlegmatic. But when Jack looked into his face, he saw something else there—stark-naked fear.
“For Christ’s sake! You came all the way down here to tell me that? You could have told me when you called. What the hell difference does it make if they changed the name? Who the hell cares why they did it?”
Wiley leaned back and stared at the bar, as if debating whether to go on or not.
“Have you ever heard of Dr. Morris Chessman?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Jack said, hoping he didn’t sound too apathetic.
“Chessman’s an expert on parapsychology,” Wiley continued. “He taught at Duke for twenty years and researched everything from bending spoons to ghosts. But his real passion is telekinesis—moving objects in space by the power of the mind alone. He’s the world’s leading authority. Suddenly after twenty years and guaranteed tenure, he up and leaves on June sixth, nineteen ninety-two. Ring a bell, Jack, June the sixth?”
“No. Should it?”
“Chessman left Duke the day the Nine Old Men changed the name of the club.”
“Okay,” Jack said, “so it was the same day. So what? A million other things happened the same day.”
“Granted. And I didn’t think much about it, either... until the next week. I was sitting at the bar in the club waiting for Ellen, and who the hell walks in? Chessman. And, by God, he walks straight to the elevator, without looking around, almost like he was trying not to look around, and he goes right to the top floor. Just like that.”
Wiley was beginning to get his interest. A little, anyway. Why would a college professor out of North Carolina show up at the Normandy Club and sneak up to the third floor?
“Maybe he joined the club,” Jack said.
“Wrong.” Wiley leaned close again. “Dennis Whitney, who puts out the membership list, never heard of him.”
“All right, so what’s the point?”
“I know why he left Duke, and I know why he’s now living in Greenwich. That’s the point.”
“What, for Christ’s sake?” Jack said, ready to strangle him.
“The Nine Old Men hired him.”
“Oh, come on! Why would a big-shot professor quit a tenured position at Duke and come to work for a run-down club in Connecticut? Doing what? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“He had the best reason in the world—money. The Nine Old Men paid him a million up front.”
Wiley nodded. “A million up front, plus a quarter million a year for expenses.”
“You know this for sure?”
“Jesus, Christ. What’s he supposed to do for it, shoot the president?”
All the humor was gone from Wiley’s expression.
“Worse,” he said.
Jack signaled the bartender for another beer.
“All right, go on.”
“I’ll tell you what I found out. But first I’m going to tell you how I found out. That way you’ll believe me.
“Don’t count on it.”
“I hired a safecracker.”
“You did what!”
“Jack, I had to find out what was in that room upstairs. The club was closed for a week for some minor renovations and cleaning. It was the perfect opportunity.”
“So you burglarized the place?”
“Basically? Wiley, are you nuts?”
Wiley’s lips compressed into a thin, angry line.
“Shut up and listen, will you?”
“Just shut up and listen, Jack,” he said.
Jack’s beer finally arrived, and he took a large gulp.
Wiley calmed himself, but the impassioned glimmer in his eyes belied his excitement. Jack just wanted to go home, crawl into bed, and blot out the world, forget about that idiot Reece and everything else. But what Wiley said next drove all thoughts of sleep from his mind.
“The guy got us inside in about thirty seconds. All that shit you hear about locks and alarms is true, Jack. It was like nothing to this guy.”
“It’s a goddamn war room! I mean maps, aerial photos all over the walls, and one of those big tables like you see in the movies where they plot troop movements. And this’ll kill you—a big old Nazi flag on the wall.”
“Maybe that’s how they get their kicks—playing army.”
“Jesus, if you only knew how close you are. Everything in that room, the photos, maps, the table, it all ties into the Normandy Invasion.”
“So, they’re hooked on D-Day? What’s all this got to do with Chessman?”
Jack could see a small vein throbbing in Wiley’s forehead and his eye twitched like mad. Wiley took a deep breath.
“They don’t want the Normandy Invasion to happen, Jack.”
“What are you talking about? It already happened,” he said, his voice rising.
The man sitting next to Wiley turned and stared at Jack, making him feel like an idiot. He lowered his voice.
“It already happened, Wiley.”
“They want to change that.”
“What do you mean, change it? They can’t change it! Look, you’d better tell me what the hell is going on or I’m going to walk right out of here, so help me.”
Wiley reached inside his jacket and pulled out a wrinkled envelope bulging with photos. He spread them out on the bar, his manner becoming more urgent.
“You remember that little Minox camera you gave me a few years back? Well, I thought it would come in handy. Boy, did it.”
Jack stared at the photos, trying to take it all in. Wiley began to explain.
“What you’re seeing are original German documents detailing the positions of both German and allied forces.”
He pointed to another photo that showed a pile of what looked like currency.
“What is this?” Jack asked. “Money?”
Wiley nodded. “A lot of money, enough to choke a horse. And it’s German, nineteen forty-four issue.”
Wiley flipped to another picture.
“There were files in the safe too. Three of them. Files on Chessman, a guy named Werner Kruger—who also lives in Greenwich, by the way, and The Plan. I didn’t have time to photograph them, but I looked inside them.”
And then he told him.
“With Chessman’s help they are going to send Kruger back in time.”
The beer glass halted halfway to Jack’s mouth.
“What? Wiley, tell me you’ve come all this way to pull a joke on me. Tell me you haven’t flipped.”
Wiley stared at him.
“You’re not kidding, are you?”
Jack shook his head and decided to humor his friend. Maybe after the joke was over they could get down to some serious drinking.
“Okay, pal o’ mine, tell me why the Nine Old Men would want to do this?” Jack said, not bothering to hide his sarcasm.
“To stop the invasion, stop it dead in its tracks and let Hitler win.”
“What the hell for? What do they have to gain?”
“Power, old buddy... power.”
This was all coming too fast and furious. Jack shook his head.
“But wait a minute. The whole reason Hitler lost was because he wouldn’t believe his generals. What could Kruger do? Walk up to Adolf and say, ‘By the By, the Invasion is coming ashore at Normandy. Be a good chap and move your armies down from Calais?’ It’s crazy, it’ll never work—what am I talking about? This whole thing is nuts. You can’t go back in time and you can’t change history!”
Wiley looked at his friend, his gaze level and sober.
“They’ve already changed things.”
Jack just stared at Wiley, unable to speak. Wiley leaned forward.
“You ever wake up and feel something’s not right, that something’s different?”
“Yeah, it’s called a hangover.”
Wiley ignored the crack, his voice hushed.
“What if things were different? What if things had changed, only you didn’t know it?”
Jack lost his patience. “What are you getting at?”
“Chessman’s already sent Kruger back a couple of times. Once to nineteen sixty-three, the other to nineteen fifty-six. It was right there in the files. One of those times he changed something.”
“Oh, come on, Wiley, this is getting stale.”
“All right, I’ll show you.”
Wiley got up from the barstool and steadied himself. Jack decided his friend had been drinking far longer than he had. Reaching down to his trouser cuff, Wiley pulled up the left pant leg, revealing a leg crisscrossed with varicose veins and a very ugly knee. Jack was about to make a nasty crack until he saw the lost, frightened look in his friend’s eyes.
“What is it?”
“My leg, Jack. It’s okay.”
“Of course it’s okay. It’s always been okay.”
Wiley slumped onto the barstool, his pant leg sliding back down.
“No, it hasn’t. I’ve had a prosthetic leg since I was fifteen.”
“What— Wait a minute—”
“Listen to me. Think about it. Really think about all those years you’ve known me.”
Jack looked at his friend and let the years reel off in his mind: college, those first years at that tiny agency in Detroit, the good times, the bad times, even the times he’d have preferred to forget. After a moment, Jack began to feel hot all over. A sweat broke out and streamed down his face. Suddenly, the world went white as something snapped in his brain, as if a small bomb had exploded. He felt himself reborn, remembering people he never knew existed, moments recaptured, lives relived. He grabbed his head and groaned.
Wiley grabbed his shoulder. “Here, take a drink. You need it.”
Jack took the proffered beer and drained it. That quick, knife-like pain he’d felt a moment before subsided into a dull, throbbing ache. He now remembered two Wileys, one with a false leg, one whole. It wasn’t that he’d convinced himself. He really remembered. It was as if they’d lived two infinitesimally different lives.
“Oh my God,” Jack said, his heart pounding in his ears.
“It happened the same way with me. Almost as soon as I read the Nine Old Men’s plan. I don’t know what Kruger and Chessman did, but somehow, during one of his ‘trips,’ he set something in motion. One thing led to another, led to another, and so on. Like a ripple on a pond. Somehow the man who hit me ended up coming down that street a fraction later than he was supposed to.”
Jack had never believed the old literary cliché about someone’s blood running cold. But he did now. Wiley spoke in a low, matter-of-fact voice, but to Jack’s heightened senses, Wiley was shouting.
“But how do we know it, Wiley? How can we?”
Wiley shook his head. “I don’t know. I think something’s connecting us. Maybe, and this might sound far-fetched, maybe because we know about Chessman, and Kruger. Maybe the fact that we know they are changing things is enough.”
“So, the Nine Old Men figure they can send Kruger back and prevent the invasion? Convince Hitler to move his armies. That right?” Jack said, gripping Wiley’s arm.
“Yeah, but that’s not the worst of it. It’s a two-pronged plan. Convincing Hitler to change his mind is only the second part.”
Jack’s stomach twisted. “What’s the first?”
Wiley grabbed his drink and gulped it down, staring at the pictures laid out on the bar until Jack thought he would scream. Suddenly, Wiley turned, his eyes showing the depth of his fear.