The Strange Case of Cuthbert MacIntosh

I’ve always hated black tie affairs and frankly I would never have gone to the Vintage Automobile Club do if I hadn’t been on the list for an award. I went up by train and must have miscalculated because I got to town far too early. Faced with the prospect of hanging around for an hour or more, I decided on a gin and tonic and selected a pub some distance from the venue. I chose a quiet place that was unlikely to attract other club members or the usual noisy crowd. I had settled into a cosy corner before I recognised Cuthbert MacIntosh.

  I hadn’t seen him for some time and I thought he looked awful. We’d never been friends but our paths had crossed from time to time as we indulged our mutual passion for vintage cars. He too was alone and, if the empties in front of him were anything to go by, well on his way to a skin-full. On balance I would rather have drunk up and left but it was not to be. MacIntosh, at first oblivious of my presence and wrapped in some private reverie, suddenly looked up and caught my eye. He gazed across the room, trying to place me then rose and, with drink in hand, moved over unsteadily.

  I stood to greet him. “Hello Cuthbert,” I said. “How are you?” He seemed momentarily at a loss. “Terrence Wilkinson,” I prompted, helping him out.

  “Yes of course,” he recovered himself. “It’s good to see you. Still driving that demon Bentley of yours?” Before I could answer, he pulled out the chair opposite me and plonked himself down heavily. “Don’t mind me joining you, do you?” He seemed to take it for granted that I wouldn’t object.

  We were both silent for a moment then he noticed my evening attire. “Off somewhere special I see.” He was ill at ease and clearly making an effort at light conversation.

  I told him about the club dinner and he nodded. “Of course,” he responded. “I’d quite forgotten the annual bun fight. Usually good fun. Sorry to miss it this year but things have been a little ....” He paused, trying to find the right words .... strange recently.”

   He laughed, I thought a little hysterically, then fell silent. It was obvious that all was not well with the man. I considered excusing myself and leaving him to whatever was troubling him but walking out seemed a trifle unfriendly so instead, I asked if he wanted another drink. He asked for a scotch and I was halfway to the bar when he called after me. “Make that a double, will you?” I got back with the drinks and he’d swallowed half of his before I’d settled back in my chair. I waded straight in.

  “Look here, there’s obviously something wrong,” I said, “we don’t know each other terribly well but if you want to talk I’d be happy to listen and offer whatever help I can.”

  He looked at me and smiled faintly. “I could certainly do with a bit of help,” he said. “Things started out well enough, if a trifle bizarrely, but I’ll admit the turn of events rather has me rattled.” I risked a quick look at my watch but MacIntosh caught the gesture. “But you must get off to your festivities and I must get on with things as best I can,” with an effort of will he was suddenly bright and I, suffused with guilt.

  “I’ve got plenty of time,” I responded. “Anyway these affairs always start with a lot of hot air before one gets dinner.” MacIntosh didn’t need much persuading.

  “Well, if you’re sure,” he said, clearly pleased he had my ear. He told an odd tale. These were his words, as well as I can recall them.

  I had business in St Johns Wood and as usual I decided to take the underground. I was changing trains at Green Park and on the down escalator when a youngish chap, riding up on the other side, caught my eye. Nothing remarkable about him per se except he was the spiting image of a chap I knew called Roger Marston. No, not just the spitting image but Roger to the very tee, except thirty years younger. Roger and I had been at school together and although I hadn’t seen him for a month or two, I knew him well enough. If he wasn’t Roger then he must have been his son or maybe a younger brother. We went past each other and that was that. I wouldn’t have given it another thought except that when I reached the bottom, Roger Marston himself came through the entrance straight in front of me. This time there could be no mistake. It was certainly my old pal looking his appropriate years.

  Well, I can tell you it was damned odd and not a little eerie. We exchanged a few words but he was obviously in a hurry and I too needed to get on so I said nothing about seeing his younger alter ego, it didn’t seem the time or the place. We shared a few pleasantries and, as we belong to the same club, he mentioned something about meeting up for a drink and then was gone; I went on to my business meeting.

  I called into the club a couple of times in the next week but didn’t run across Marston and would have forgotten the whole incident but some days later I was again at Green Park and spotted the young Marston for a second time. On this occasion I was riding the ‘up’ escalator and there he was, standing about ten or so steps above me. Suddenly he turned and glanced down. For a moment he looked straight at me with a funny look on face as though he recognised me but didn’t quite know how to react. It’s possible he remembered me from when we crossed earlier but it hardly seemed likely. Then he turned away and started to run up the escalator, I held station and watched him go.

  He got very near the top and then seemed to loose his footing. He fell heavily and was only just saved from crashing to the bottom by a big, muscular man who grabbed him and held on; more than likely saving his life or at least preventing serious injury. He must have hurt his face quite badly however because by the time I got to the top he was being helped by three or four kind souls. Blood was pouring from a wound on his temple. There was nothing for me to do and in any event, before I could get my bearings, the station staff appeared and whisked him away.

  I had cause to lunch at my club a few days later and enquired if Marston was around but the concierge told me he wasn’t. It’s not my custom to over imbibe at lunch but after my meal I went into the bar for a brandy and soda. In truth I suppose I was dragging things out on the off chance that Marston might make an appearance. Before I left I chatted briefly with the new bartender who had only recently started at the club. I asked him if Marston had been about recently but he didn’t seem to know him. I described the fellow as best I could. The barman shook his head. “The only gentleman that looks anything like that is the one with that terrible scar. He had a drink here a couple of days ago.”

  “Are you sure he had a scar?” I questioned. “He must have been in a recent accident.” My mind returning to the dreadful fall ‘young’ Marston had experienced in front of me on the escalator.

  “Oh no sir,” the barman responded, “An old wound I’d say. An angry red line from his left temple right across his forehead. The gentleman’s not old enough to have been in the war but some nasty business has left its mark and no mistake.”

  For a moment I was nonplussed. I’d known Roger Marston since school and there had certainly been no scar. Of course, it was possible that the barman had been mistaken or had been describing someone other than my friend but I was beginning to have a strange feeling about the whole business. Young Marston, old Marston, accidents on escalators, mysterious scars; what on earth was going on I wondered.

  I left the club and set off home but the events of the last few weeks kept turning over in my mind. There seemed no logical explanation and as I’m not one to jump to outlandish and irrational conclusions, I was baffled. For some reason I held off telling anyone about my experience. Partly I suppose, because it seemed so bizarre and partly because I thought people might think me a fool. Instead I resolved to contact Roger Marston and, ignoring the fact that it was patently none of my business, have it out with him as soon as I could. Circumstances however, conspired against me. I could find no trace of Marston’s telephone number, apparently he was ex-directory. Other friends and acquaintances were unable to help so I left a note for him at the club. Two weeks later it had not been collected. Someone mentioned they thought he’d gone abroad on business but weren’t sure.

  I was beside myself with curiosity. I went several times to Green Park and made tube journeys that were not altogether necessary on the off-chance of running across one or other of the Marstons. It was more than a month later, on route to an appointment when I spotted Marston’s young double. I was walking up a crowded street and there he was, striding along in front of me, I was certain he hadn’t seen me. For a moment I was unsure how to proceed but while I was considering my options I didn’t want to lose him so I dropped back and started to follow at a discreet distance. He seemed unaware of my presence.

  We proceeded a short way and then turned, first into Cranborne Street and then into Madely Avenue. His behaviour became furtive. At first I thought that he must have been on to me but he wasn’t. He crossed the road a number of times and looked around him. He turned left into Minis Street and continued turning left at every opportunity until we were back in Madely Avenue, effectively doubling back on ourselves and coming out where we had been earlier. On several occasions I was forced to duck into doorways in order to stay out of sight as he stopped unexpectedly and scanned the street around him. He came once again to Minis, stopped and looked around. I managed to get behind a van parked at the kerb but kept him in sight the whole time. Young Marston looked about him once more and, seemingly satisfied he wasn’t being observed, began to slide up to the corner with his back pressed firmly against the wall of a tall building. It was altogether most odd. He moved quite slowly and then suddenly ducked down as if going under an imaginary arch.

  The effect was that of a rather splendid illusion. One moment he was crouching by the wall, the next he seemed literally to disappear. I supposed he had slipped around the corner but the result was most theatrical and impressive. Throwing caution to the wind I dashed from my hiding place and around the corner after him. There could not have been more than twenty seconds between young Marston’s apparent disappearance and my arrival but when I got there the chap was no where to be seen. A blank wall extended along the street for about thirty yards that then gave way to a row of Georgian buildings that were private offices of one kind or another. There was no sign of him. It was possible that he’d rushed up the street and through one of the office doorways, all of which, on cursory inspection, seemed to be locked and barred to unannounced entry. But why the charade? What possible reason could he have had for putting on his little show?

  I retraced my steps. Perhaps there was a concealed entrance I’d missed. I spent time examining the walls on both sides of the corner but found nothing. I went up and down the route we had taken a number of times but again, there was nothing out of the ordinary. There seemed to be no trace of the man or any clue to his disappearance; young Marston had made good his escape. I decided to give up and go about my business as I ought to have done in the first place. I’d gone only a few paces when it occurred to me that it might be worth attempting to mimic the young man’s actions. It was just possible that by sliding, as he had done, with my back to the wall I might gain some useful insight into the trick, if trick it had been. I felt a little silly aping my disappearing friend but determined to go through the motions before finally conceding defeat.

  With my back pressed to the wall, I shuffled forward, got to the corner and went around it. The exercise yielded no fresh insight. I felt like a complete fool. Then I remembered Marston had seemed to duck lower before he had gone out of sight. I went back to the starting point and tried again, this time taking up a more crouching posture. Suddenly, I was around the corner and facing up Minis Street, except that everything seemed at odds with the way it had been only minutes before. With a start I realised that everything was less pristine. The previously smart office doors were now a variety of garish colours. In many places the paint was faded and peeling. The overall impression was of an area far more seedy and run down than I remembered. A van turned the corner and passed me. It was an older model I hadn’t seen for years but it looked new. I stood still for a moment letting my surroundings sink in, trying to make sense of what had occurred. I would have been an idiot not to realise what had happened but surely it was too fantastic to be real. I needed time to take stock. I half expected to wake at any moment, either from a dream or in hospital recovering from an accident. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or disappointed.

  I walked around the block twice and then on to Piccadilly. I bumped into several passers-by as I gawped incredulously at my surroundings and received some rude admonishments from those I had inconvenienced. It was certainly the case that I was as real to them as they were to me. I spent an hour wandering around spellbound and amazed. Discounting a couple of plausible explanations, to wit that I was either dreaming or hallucinating, it seemed that I had crossed the celebrated frontier, much beloved of science fiction writers. I was strolling though a London that had vanished some thirty years before.

  It wasn’t long however before I was forced out of my reverie by the thought that I might be stuck in this past era. What seemed incredible and beyond my wildest dreams could quickly become a nightmare. I set off back to Minis Street. It took a little searching to find the ‘opening’, if such it was, but after a while, without too much difficulty and a little gymnastic manoeuvring, I found myself again in the version of Minis Street from where I’d started an hour before. I was quite worn out by the experience but at the same time wonderfully elated. I rushed home as quickly as I could to ponder what had been a most surreal experience.

  By morning I was no longer sure it had really happened. I made my excuses, put off the few appointments I had for the day and resolved to confirm or explode the idea that I had stumbled, with young Marston’s help, upon an opening into a past era. If this was the case then I had many questions. Although, I had to admit that some of what had occurred previously, like the appearance of the younger Marston and the strange affair of the scar seemed more explicable. I got to Minis Street easily enough but had some difficulty locating the opening. It seemed to have moved, not by a great deal, perhaps a foot or two but enough to cause me some trouble. At the time I was so pleased to have found it again that I paid the phenomenon little heed.

  During the following few days I went through half a dozen times. I wandered around unmolested in, what I discovered, was a period that was geographically exactly the same but twenty-nine-years, and ninety-four days earlier. I brought back several small objects in my pockets. Sadly, the size of the opening precluded anything of significant volume. I was pleased to find that everything I brought out with me survived the journey. My multiple visits convinced me however that the opening was in fact moving about, not by a great deal each time but enough to panic me once or twice about finding the way home. Notwithstanding this inconvenience, I realised that the possibilities were endless and I began to consider the implications of my amazing discovery.

  I told no one. At the best of times I’m a solitary type not given to sharing confidences and I certainly had no desire to reveal the details of my adventure. The thought that most occupied my mind was how I might use what I’d found for personal gain. I realised there would be difficulties. First, the practical impossibility of getting anything of substantial size through the opening. Second, there was also the problem of ensuring appropriate funds to pay for whatever I might wish to purchase. I went though several scenarios but always there was some difficulty that appeared insurmountable. I spent several days chewing over the problem, conscious that the opening may disappear at any moment (there was a possibility that I could be marooned in the past but it was a chance I was prepared to take for the right result). I finally decided on a plan of action.

  I scoured the second-hand bookshops and came up with copies of the National Hunt Year Book and The Sporting Life Results. Both volumes provided details of the winning and placed horses in every race in England that had taken place in 1965. All that was now required was the initial stake money, it had of course, to be in an acceptable form. All I needed was a couple of thousand to get me started but it wasn’t straightforward; I couldn’t just take a few thousand out of the bank.  I considered a number of options and in the end settled for high denomination US Federal Reserve Bank notes of the right period. I purchased what was required from a dealer in Dorking. I paid an outrageous premium but I was now equipped with the wherewithal to carry out my plan.

  I slipped though the opening and went into a branch of the first high street bank I came to. I told them I wanted to open a savings account for my son who was away at college and could not come in himself. They seemed happy enough to take my money. I supplied details of my son, which in reality were my own. I gave an address in South London and put a thousand of my precious dollars into an account. Feigning impulse, I asked them to open two additional accounts, also in my son’s name and put a hundred dollars into each. They made a bit of a fuss about my foreign currency and in the end charged me a small commission, which I was happy to pay. Satisfied with my morning’s work I came back into the present and went home.

  I planned the next phase most carefully. From copies of period Yellow Pages, I noted the addresses of a significant number of local betting shops in various London suburbs. Although I planned a short, sharp exercise it was important that no one in the bookmaking fraternity became suspicious and started refusing my bets. I need not have worried. Over a period of a month I placed about fifty forecast bets in about as many establishments, rarely using the same place twice. The stake was never more than a couple of hundred pounds and the winnings never too substantial. It went like clockwork and I had soon accumulated a nest-egg of more than £75,000 from an original outlay of about £1,500. It was all most satisfactory.

  At various intervals I popped into the bank and deposited the money I’d won into either of the latter two accounts I had opened. When the betting was complete, I wrote to my bank explaining that I was off on an expedition and would be out of communication for a while. I suggested that either myself or my son would be in contact at some time in the future and sent in a sample of my son’s signature. I also instructed that the sums on deposit should be allowed to grow with the accumulation of interest.

  I had done my calculation as accurately as I could and was keen to see if things had turned out as expected. Five weeks after the plan had been hatched and, back in my own time, I went into the Regent Street branch of Barclays Bank and presented myself as, well… myself. I took along my passport and for good measure, my birth certificate as well as other documents including the original paperwork supplied by the bank. I was seen by a junior manager who, courteous and helpful, at once began consulting various records. I was careful only to mention the account into which I placed the original $1,000 dollars. She seemed very surprised at what she discovered, the original £300 (which is what I’d been given in exchange for my US currency) had grown to just over £4,000. It wasn’t all plain sailing, I had to go through a few hoops but after about two weeks I received confirmation that they were satisfied that the four thousand was indeed mine.

  It was now time to discuss my other accounts. Having accepted my identity and thus my claim to the smaller sum, the bank had, as I had hoped, conveniently paved the way for me to collect the rather more substantial sums that had accumulated in the other accounts. My calculations of compound interest were more or less on target and it was with some satisfaction that I transferred just over two million pounds from Barclays to my usual account at another bank.

  I’d been so taken up with the execution of my money-making scheme that I’d quite forgotten about the Marstons. I now decided to try and make contact, if for no other reason than to get some corroboration of my theories. I left another message at my club.

Dear Marston,

You may already know that I have spotted young Marston several times as he is quite the spitting image of his alter ego. He led me to the opening and I must confess to having slipped through the crack (so to speak) once or twice myself.

I would de delighted to discuss my findings with you.

I am at your disposal to meet at your convenience.

With kind regards,

Cuthbert MacIntosh.

  I added my address and left the note with the concierge. My earlier missive, I discovered, had been collected some weeks before. I reasoned it was odds-on that Marston knew what was going on. It had obviously been a younger version of himself that I had led me to the opening and I was sure that, old Marston, must have first-hand knowledge of the whole phenomenon. I awaited a reply with eager anticipation.

  I should have been satisfied with my gains but humans are rarely content with what they have. There was no reason, I persuaded myself, why I couldn’t repeat the exercise, this time I concluded, on a bigger and far grander scale.

  When I next attempted to go through it was not quite so easy. At first I could not find the opening and it took a number of days diligent searching before I came across it once more. I very nearly gave up. It had moved a considerable way from where I last remembered. By this time I had developed the sensitivity to feel the edges of what I fancied was some sort of tear in the fabric of time. I know it sounds fanciful but what other explanation could there be? The movement this time had been substantial. I should have seen it as a warning but my greed overcame all other considerations. I slipped through a couple of times in order to ensure things were as I’d left them and, apart from the shifting entrance, found everything satisfactory. I began to make plans for a substantial haul.

  During the first week of planning I received a reply from Marston in the form of a letter to my home. It was short and to the point.

Dear MacIntosh,

We must talk.

Come for drinks on Thursday, 7:30 pm.


  He included a smart address in Cheney Walk, Chelsea.

  On the Wednesday before our meeting I went through the opening for a final reconnaissance before embarking on the first phase of my new plan. To my surprise I seemed to have been expected. At the other end was a gang of determined-looking types waiting for me as I stepped through. The exception was young Marston who seemed to be directing proceedings.

  “That’s our man,” he called as I emerged and before I could slip back they were upon me holding me fast. I was bundled unceremoniously into a waiting car and taken off to an unknown location.

  I didn’t  know what to expect although in the event I was treated well enough. After a period alone in a small cell I was ushered into a comfortable living room. Young Marston was seated on a lounge chair. He rose to greet me. I’d never seen the two other men before. “I’m Roger Marston,” he said, introducing himself, “but I imagine you already know that.” He introduced the others. “I’m sorry we took you off the way we did but it’s imperative that we have a chat with you before more damage is done.” He noted my look askance and studied me keenly for a moment before going on.

“Clearly you are an intelligent man and must have worked out the rudiments of what you have stumbled upon.”

  “I imagine I’ve discovered some sort of fissure in time which allows transfer between the past and present.” I offered.

  “You are of course quite right though in our case it is a passage between the past and the future,” he replied pleasantly. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad, I thought

  There was a lot I wanted to know and they seemed happy enough for me to put my questions. “I’ve always come and gone into the same time periods, is it possible to vary the time one enters and returns?” I asked.

  “There is a great deal we don’t know ourselves; anything is possible,” he said, “but for us the two periods have always remained synchronised. The difference is exactly twenty–nine years and…”

  “Ninety-four days,” I added before he could finish.

  “Yes,” he said. “That is correct.”

  “Surely with the opening so exposed, hundreds of people must stray into it by accident.” I said.

  “For some unknown reason not everyone is able to locate and go through the opening unassisted. We suspect it is something to do with personal frequencies. A few seem able to slip through as naturally as you but most need tuition and practice. For obvious reasons we have tried to restrict the number that are able to travel between times.”

  “Are there other openings apart from the one I’ve found?”

  “To our knowledge there is one other that has been found in India. There may of course be others that we don’t know about.”

   “How was the opening first discovered? Who found it?

  “It’s impossible to know who found it and when. It could have been discovered and rediscovered many times. But to answer your question more directly, I was the one responsible for finding the opening as we know it today, although it may surprise you to learn that it was not from our side but yours that it was discovered, purely by accident you understand. It was your friend, the Roger Marston you know, who first discovered the passage some years ago. We have endeavoured to keep it secret, particularly from those in your time.”

  I had lots of questions. “Exactly how many people know about it?” I asked.

  Marston held up a hand. “If we can persuade you of the serious repercussions that can be … may already have been … set in motion, there may be time to consider other questions.” He had a question of his own. “Have you noticed that the opening seems to move?” he asked.

  I told him I had.

  “Have you considered why that might be?” His manner was still friendly.

  I thought for a moment. The others in the room seemed intent on my response. “I imagine that each visit across time might cause some changes in the alternate world. I suppose that minor actions could have major effects both ways.” I fell silent, I could see why they might consider my previous excursions a little irresponsible.

  For a while no one spoke. Then Marston broke the silence. “I see Mr MacIntosh that you have considered the dangers inherent in moving between our respective times. Even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant alterations to the past could result in huge variations in the future. It is possible that a cup of coffee bought at a roadside café could, by a series on convoluted effects, mean the entire extinction of nations. We believe that the major risks are associated with movements from the future to the present, or as you might see it, from the present to the past, although I’ll readily admit that there are dangers both ways. You must see that it is vital for travellers to use the utmost discretion and restraint.” He paused to let his words sink in before continuing.

  “That is why a small group of us who know the truth keep it a closely guarded secret. For years there has been no trouble and I fear we have grown complacent, now it seems our inattention has caught us out with potentially hazardous consequences.” He gave me a long hard look. “How many others have you told about what you know?” He asked.

  I had not shared my secret with anyone else and told him so. He smiled faintly and nodded to the others. “At least we should be thankful for that.”

  “Do you believe him?” It was one of the others who spoke.

  Marston gave me another knowing look. “I rather think I do,” he responded. Then he changed tack. “Tell me, is it possible that you might be dissuaded from ever using the opening again or disclosing its existence to another soul?”

  Someone else cut in. “How can we be sure he’s to be trusted?”

  Marston thought for a while. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. His manner became grave. “I’m going to ask you some questions Mr MacIntosh, I urge you to answer them completely truthfully. Believe me when I say that much depends on your responses. Do you understand?”  I nodded.

  “Then tell us everything you have done since you first went through the opening. Leave nothing out.”

  I was in a dilemma. The story about my acquisitive scheme seemed to show me in a poor light. It was hardly likely that they could know anything of it. I decided to bluff it out. “At first I couldn’t believe what had happened and then I was bowled over by being able to wander around in another world.” I said.

  “How many visits did you make?”

  “About half a dozen,” I answered.

  “Did you take back anything with you?”

  I mentioned the few bits and pieces I’d brought back in my pockets.

“What did you do on your visits?”

  I sensed this was the critical question. “Just wandered about and took stock. I obtained some old coins and spent time in cafés and restaurants observing the past. I have to say I would love to have taken back some fine art. What a killing I would have made.” I chuckled softly hoping to throw them off the scent.”

  Marston sat forward in his chair. “And that is all you did, just looked around and took back some harmless souvenirs?”


  “Can you assure us of that on your honour?”

  “Yes, I can.”

  Marston looked around the room and sighed heavily. “Then you will of course deny that you have made more than thirty journeys. That you have operated an ingenious but totally unethical betting scheme and netted yourself a fortune. That the only consideration you have shown is for your own personal gain.” He paused and gave me a pitying look. “Don’t ask me how we know this, we have our methods,” he said.

  I’d made the wrong choice and realised I was in serious trouble. “What do you propose to do with me?” I asked bluntly, there seemed little point in beating about the bush.

  Marston was equally to the point. “Most of my companions are for disposing of you here and now but I was prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “Had we been able to establish that we could trust you, perhaps something may have been worked out. But I am afraid you have rather confirmed their opinion of you as an irresponsible and untrustworthy opportunist. I have to say that I can see no option but to solve the problem by simply removing you from the scene.” It was as I’d thought. He must have seen the look on my face. “Come, come Mr MacIntosh,” he went on. “What did you expect? Had you come into an earlier time perhaps the guardians of the opening may have put out your eyes, cut out your tongue and sent you home but we are not barbarians. Our approach will be more humane, I promise you a quick and painless death.”

  I considered confessing all and begging for mercy but doubted it would do much good; I suspected they’d planned to kill me all along.  I needed to think of something and quickly. “I assume that you haven’t found the other opening,” I remarked as casually as I could. I had everyone’s attention.

  “Do you mean the one in India?” Marston asked sharply.

  “No, I mean the one near Curzon Passage not half a mile from Minis Street.” The room was silent for a good half minute.

  “He’s lying.” It was a big, beefy man at the end of the room.

  I shrugged. “As you intend to kill me anyway I can’t see what possible difference it makes although I can tell you I have used it a number of times. You will know what I mean when I say one develops a sort of sensitivity, an ability to feel around the edges of an opening.”

  Marston nodded, I’d struck a chord with him. “I don’t suppose you would care to pinpoint the exact location,” he suggested.

  “You’re damned right, I wouldn’t.” I responded sourly.

  The beefy man spoke again. “We could make you talk,” he said menacingly.

  “You could try,” I retorted with a good deal more bravado than I felt.

  Marston once again held up a hand, this time stopping the headlong rush into threat and counter threat. “We might come to an agreement,” he suggested.

  “What kind of agreement?”

  “It might be possible for you to stay as our guest. Of course it would be on our terms and for the rest of your life, we couldn’t risk you going off and causing mayhem. We would make you as comfortable as possible. You would want for nothing,”

  “Except my freedom.”

  “Except your freedom.” Marston conceded the point and looked me in the eye. “Take it or leave it.”

  “What do you want from me?” I asked.

  “Two things. First, your word that you will never attempt to escape and second, that you will take us to the place where you claim to have found the second opening.” He paused for a moment and his manner took on a decidedly malevolent aspect. “Be aware my friend that we are talking about our future and potentially the future of our children and our children’s children. Make no mistake, we are in deadly earnest. If you are lying, you will wish that we had killed you as we had originally intended. For I shall personally see that your end is as painful and lingering as we can possibly make it.”

  It may have been a bluff but I had no desire to find out. I hung my head as if in defeat while my mind raced. “I accept your terms,” I said as meekly as I could manage. I would live to fight another day – I hoped.

  Marston got to his feet and the others followed his lead. “Well then, let’s get on with it. If it exists, take us to the other opening.” His companions took my arms and I was frogmarched behind Marston out of the room.

  We made our way first by car and then by foot to where I directed, my minders keeping pace beside me. I spent a few moments looking around, pretending to become more and more confused as if I could make no sense of my surroundings.  My companions seemed increasing agitated.

  “It’s no good,” I said at last, “it’s different than I remember. This building is gone and a new one has taken its place.” I pointed to an ancient-looking structure. “We’ll have to come at it from my time period. I can’t get my bearings from here.”

  The minders wanted none of it. “Lets take him back and get it over with,” one of them suggested. Marston was in two minds. I said nothing, quietly waiting for his decision.

  “All right,” he said at last, “let’s get to Minis Street and go over. We’ll get this done with, one way or another.”

  I was escorted to Minis in short order. We found the opening easily enough. Marston took a gun from his pocket and made to step through. “Push him through after me when I disappear,” he told one of the men.

  My minders seemed to be paying more attention to Marston than to me as he contorted himself in order to get through the low and narrow portal. I saw my chance. Using all my strength, I kicked out at the nearest fellow’s shin. I heard rather than felt my foot make contact. There was a cry of pain and the man fell forward, trying to regain his balance by clinging to his companion. They both crashed heavily to the ground. I seized the moment for headlong flight. Going like a bat out of hell I charged towards Piccadilly. I risked a look over my shoulder and saw that Marston had come back through the opening and was in hot pursuit, of the other two there was no sign;

  I ducked into a shop doorway and glanced up the street. There were people everywhere, I thought it unlikely Marston would use his firearm. He drew almost level and stopped at the edge of the pavement, looking around but failing to spot me. Even in the sixties it seemed that the buses moved too quickly down Piccadilly. The number 12 heading towards the Circus was no exception. As it drew close I rushed out of the doorway and cannoned into Marston. I sent him flying into the road, right into the path of the thundering Routemaster. Neither stood a chance, the bus to stop nor Marston to avoid its murderous wheels. I didn’t wait to find out what had happened, instead I headed at full tilt for Minis Street and the opening that would surely be on the move. As I fled from the commotion around me I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, Marston’s two companions come on the scene. They didn’t see me, occupied as they were by other events.

  I was lucky, although the opening had moved significantly, I found it, more by luck than judgement, and was able to bundle through. I half expected to be followed but no one came after me.

  On the following day I kept my appointment with Marston senior, unsure of exactly what I would find but gratified to discover that things were as I’d hoped. There was no trace of him at the address he’d given. At the club they assured me there was not and had never been a member by the name of Roger Marston. Further enquiries revealed no more information, all traces had, it seemed, vanished. I was however able to obtain an accident report from the archives of what had been London Transport. According to the records there had been, almost thirty years ago, a fatal accident in Piccadilly. It appears that a man had been run over and killed by a number 12 bus. They had failed to trace another chap, a possible witness, who left the scene. I think I recognised the description.

  I’m still not certain of my reasoning, I hope I have it right. You’ll recall that it was the older Roger Marston who discovered the opening and passed on the information to his younger self. Events of course were changed by young Marston’s premature death. So you see, old Marston would not have been around to find the opening, let alone tell anyone about it. If I have all that correct it follows that I’m the only one who knows of its existence. Of course there could be a flaw in my logic; it’s a damned difficult notion to get one’s head around. I’m at my wits’ end do you see. Either I’m completely in the clear or in the gravest danger. It’s not good for the nerves, I can tell you.

  At this point MacIntosh broke off his narrative and looked decidedly uncomfortable. I felt it incumbent upon me to make some comment after so long an exposition. I wasn’t sure what to say. “Well, it’s an odd tale all right,” was the best I could offer.

  He looked straight at me. “You don’t believe me do you?” He asked. There was a hurt look in his eyes.

  I chose my words carefully. “It’s not a question of belief or disbelief… and I have to say that all our past encounters have shown you to be a sensible and reasonable sort.” I tried to sound as placatory as I could, in fact our paths had crossed very little. “But you have to admit, it all sounds pretty incredible.”

  I needn’t have bothered, he wasn’t listening. “What do you make of my reasoning?” He asked. It was clearly the question dominating his thoughts. “Am I home and dry or am I a wanted man, awaiting execution by a mob of time travellers seeking retribution?”

  I had to admit it was an intriguing conundrum but as MacIntosh was probably as mad as a hatter it was really of no account. “Without knowing more about the rules of time travel it’s hard to say,” I responded with a smile, trying to make light of things. But he was having none of it.

  “It’s driving me crazy,” he said miserably.

  It was obvious that the man was in a bad way and I decided for the moment to play along. “But I understand from what you’ve told me that the opening is lost.”

  For the first time that evening MacIntosh gave me a broad smile. “I’ve spent the last two weeks looking for it,” he said, “and yesterday I found it again so now you will have to believe me.”

  “I’ll need to see the opening at first hand,” I responded, playing along. MacIntosh looked suspicious. “If I see you go through and return safely that would, once and for all, prove the veracity of your story. Perhaps I could even get through it myself.”

  He jumped out of his chair, scaring me half to death. “Come on, I’ll take you there now.” I looked at my watch. “Don’t worry about the time,” he called over his shoulder, “it’s on your way.” He hurried out of the door before I could say a word.

  It had started to rain when we got to where MacIntosh led us and I was already sorry I had played along with the man who, I was now convinced, was a lunatic. An opinion confirmed when he got down on his belly and made to crawl through an imaginary gap in thin air. Imagine my amazement when one moment he was there, wiggling about like a ferret, and the next he was gone. It was completely inexplicable. I’ll admit it was my turn to be in a bit of a state. My initial reaction was to run like hell but I hung around for a while trying to make sense of what had happened. If it had been a trick, it was a damned clever one. Then as suddenly as he had gone, MacIntosh crawled back, seemingly out of nowhere, gradually reappearing until he was laying full length on the wet and filthy pavement. When he got to his feet there was a look of triumph in his eyes.

  “I think I’ve proved my point,” he said. I readily admitted he had. “It’s your turn now,” he added, suddenly alarming me afresh.

  There was no way I was about to get down on all fours and attempt to replicate MacIntosh’s party piece. I started walking away, pointing out that this wasn’t the right time. I was certainly keen to make the trip to an earlier era I told him, although in truth it was the last thing I wanted. Such expeditions needed preparation I lied, stringing him along.  He remonstrated with me as we strode away, I in a dinner suit, slightly damp and the unkempt MacIntosh, horribly dirty, almost running beside me to keep pace We were soon in the hubbub of London’s West End. People were beginning to notice the tall, well-dressed fellow and the persistent derelict beside him. I made to cross the road then suddenly halted my stride as I saw the red double-decker come careering along. I don’t think MacIntosh saw it though for he just kept going. I expect he was killed instantly. In a moment there were people rushing to the scene from all directions. No one seemed to connect me with the grubby little chap under the bus.

  I checked my watch, I was already horribly late. If I hurried, I would just be in time for the main course.

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