Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008
I’m sitting in the Grandview Grill, having a late lunch with Rob Zink. We go on duty in an hour. The Grandview is nothing fancy, just a neighborhood place that’s been around since the 1940s. I like it because it’s not a franchise, it’s low-key and the burgers are the best in town. Some old blues—Louis Prima, I think—is playing in the background.
My morning has been a whirlwind. I didn’t sleep more than an hour the entire night. My mind racing, it wouldn’t give into the physical tiredness and let me drift off. The implications of what happened are staggering to comprehend. The first question to resolve is basic: did it really happen?
I have to believe it did. Despite the high strangeness of being transported to a week back in time, it felt real. All my senses told me I was there in that moment and not dreaming. There weren’t any of the usual characteristics dreams have. Often there’s intense emotion present in my dreams, such as fear or embarrassment. Knowing the way my mind works, if I had been dreaming I would have shown up naked in front of the crowd. Many of my dreams are not logically organized and randomly shift settings. That wasn’t the case at all, as I found my way out of the alley, was swept up with the crowd and listened to the reporter. The other thing about dreams is how you usually accept the content without question. I had been questioning throughout the experience. Many times dreams include some strange sensations such as falling or the inability to move. Other than the vertigo that led me in and back out, I felt nothing beyond my confusion. After I wake up from a dream, the memory fades remarkably quickly. Not this time. I know I was there.
Everything was 100 percent normal after I was returned to my squad. I finished out the rest of my shift, answered calls, talked to both citizens and fellow cops and completed my shift paperwork with not a single hint of the earlier strangeness. It has to be the phone. And I am using the term quite loosely. It may resemble a phone, but it clearly has other things going for it. I looked it over closely after I returned home after my shift. To tell the truth, I was not comfortable pushing any of the buttons again. I wasn’t ready to take any further unplanned trips. However, a planned trip might be completely different. I probably lost easily two more hours of sleep considering that possibility. Where would I go?
After giving up on sleep all together, I drove back to downtown St. Paul and circled the Excel Center thinking I might find the odd man wandering aimlessly. After several trips around the block, I ditched the car and went inside. I found the lost and found department, inquiring to see if anyone had been searching for a missing cell phone in the last week. The woman—who looked remarkably like Barbara Walters having a bad hair day—said she had worked five out of the last seven days and though several phones had been turned in, no one had come in and left without theirs. I described the odd man to Barbara, however she didn’t think he sounded familiar.
After that, my mind raced through the possibilities. What happened to the man? Where would he go without his ride home? Had something happened to him after leaving the convention?
My next stop was the precinct house. I wanted to go over the police reports filed in the last week. No small job considering the staggering amount of arrests made during the protests. The first thing I searched for any John Doe reports. Surprisingly, there were zero dead bodies found in the last week. I say surprising, because St. Paul, like most cities of its size, has issues with gangs, drugs and street crime. After all, that’s what gives me my job security.
After an hour of combing through the arrest reports, I did find a reasonable possibility: a man who had been arrested the afternoon following my trip. While the suspect was found with identification, there was some question as to his true identity. This John Doe was being held at the Ramsey County lockup. When I arrived, I found the shift supervisor, telling I wanted to have a look at the man, as he fit the description of a missing suspect in my case. Uninterested, he waved me through. I found several officers gathered around a cell. It’s not like in the movies; there aren’t any bars, just a metal door with a sliding window. I could see an Asian man pressing his face against the reinforced glass window. “What’s with him” I ask.
“Remember that asshole that threw his girlfriend’s dog off the second story balcony last month? We just arrested him again, this time for a domestic.”
If there’s one thing I love, it’s dogs. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s animal abusers. I walked up and slammed my fist into the window, startling him away from the door. “Asshole,” I spat at him as I head for my original destination. My knuckles sting, but it was worth it. I ignore the positive affirmation I hear from the other cops and look in at the John Doe. No luck, this guy is completely different looking. Okay, so now I am left with a dead end on the odd RNC man and last night’s events. Maybe lunch with Rob with jog something loose that can help.
Rob and I have been working the same shift since I transferred over from the Payne-Phalen precinct two years ago. Rob’s a good cop, however there are times she can be a little too by-the-book for my tastes. But his cop instincts are dead on. We get together for lunch before most shifts and just talk about life as I totally respect his worldview.
I look over at Rob; he has a handful of French fries protruding from his mouth. This is a man who clearly loves to eat. He notices my gaze, “My wife always warns me about all the cholesterol in the French fries I eat. I just laugh at her though, because I know with all the salt I put on them, my blood pressure is high enough to push through any clogged arteries.”
I laugh; Rob always comes up with something unexpected. My turn. “So, what would you do if you found a time machine?” I ask Rob between bites of my burger. No topic is too esoteric or too off-the-wall for our lunch conversations.
Rob pauses; giving it some consideration as he thoughtfully chews his fries. “I think I would go forward, rather than go back in time. I’d look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.” I get a smile while he waits for me to acknowledge his wit.
I give Rob the thumbs up sign and he continues. “It wouldn’t be about the money—though just think of the money you could make if you knew which company would be the next Apple or Google.” Existing on a cop’s salary means you’re comfortable, but that’s it. Nothing fancy for us police folk. “Actually, I would want to know what law enforcement would be like in the future. What new technology, what new gadgets would be used in the future. And I would like to know that my family is doing well, and especially that Ariel has stayed out of trouble.”
Rob had a fifteen-year-old daughter, Ariel. It’s an age-old problem for us men: we want to keep our daughters away from the kind of boys that we were. To make matters worse, she had developed early and looks like a twenty-year-old—a very well built twenty-year-old. Rob is quite protective and has chased off a number of potential suitors. He’s told me it’s both a blessing and a curse that he carries a gun.
Taking another bite, Rob offers, “You know, time travel can’t exist. Where are all the time travelers?”
“The absence of proof is not proof, though.” I was clearly running circles around him logically and told him so. He held up his middle finger. Very nice.
“But if time travel existed, wouldn’t we see them?” Rob asks. “Wouldn’t they come back for the major events in our time?”
“Like the RNC?”
“Exactly. Maybe they might come back for Superbowl games, go to a Beatles concert or even to witness a great disaster. So where are they?”
I venture a guess, based on my limited knowledge. “Maybe they’re just very sneaky. They study the time period, disguising their futuristic technology to fit with ours, dress like us, get currency from our time period. Maybe there’s even an organization that watches over time travel and enforces strict rules that keeps the traveler out of trouble. Or, on the other hand, maybe there are only one or two people that have access to the technology, and the chances that we might notice them are slim to slimmer.”
“You make a good point. So, how about you? I’m guessing the future doesn’t interest you so much as the past.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You have an old soul.”
“You’ve been watching too much Oprah. Honestly Rob, we’ve talked about this before. You’re a cop, you don’t need to get in touch with your feminine side.”
“If I had a feminine side, I’d be touching it all the time,” Rob says. “I’d never leave the house.”
“Right,” I laugh, “big talk for a married man.”
“Tell me about it. The only thing standing between me and total happiness is reality.”
I laugh and Rob continues. “So, am I right? Would you go back?”
“Yeah, you’re right. I have been giving this a lot of thought, you know.”
Rob’s eyebrow rises a bit.
“I would go back,” I continue. “As much as I’d like to be sitting on the grassy knoll to see what really went down, I think on the first trip I’d want to go back to see my dad.”
I had lost my dad when I was relatively young; I was only seventeen. It had been a cold winter and the month of January was absolutely brutal. Minneapolis had 23 straight days where the temperature never got above zero. On January 10, temperatures went from –27 all the way up to a high of –2. It was ten days before my 18th birthday when my father died unexpectedly. He had been at a meeting in downtown Minneapolis. They found him in his car, the engine still running, his inhaler clutched in his hand. The official cause of death was a heart attack triggered by an asthma attack.
As with most teenagers and their dads, we had not seen eye-to-eye on a lot of issues. However, in the months before his death, we both had come to realize we had common ground. We had started to do things together, even attending a jazz concert. It had deeply hurt me to lose him at that stage of my life and messed me up for a long time. In fact, it has been just during the last few years that I feel like I have it together.
Going back to see my father seems the natural choice.
“So when?” Rob pulls me from my thoughts.
“When?” I ask, no doubt my confusion is written all over my face.
“If you have a time machine, you can visit him at any point along his life.”
“Ahh.” I get it now.
Rob continues, “You could go see him as a child, party with him during his college years or just go sit in on one of his concerts. You know, hang out, soak up the music and the ambience.”
Knowing Rob, by ambience he meant checking out the women at the concert. Maybe I should back up again and explain. My father was Doc Evans, a renowned jazz musician. He had started playing the cornet and trumpet in college and had turned professional shortly after. When he moved to Chicago to headline at a new jazz club, Jazz Ltd, he made quite a name for himself. After five years of playing all the top Chicago jazz clubs, he went on the road touring from one end of the country to the other. These concerts in New York, Boston, Cleveland, New Orleans, Denver, Hollywood and San Francisco had grown his reputation even more. His forty recordings were well reviewed and soon gave him an international following as well. After the tour, he moved to Minneapolis and his band was busy until his death 25 years later.
As ever, Rob poses a good question. “I suppose it would be awkward for me to show up—ten years older—to say goodbye just before his death.”
Rob nods, “Yeah, it might raise a question or two for him.”
I have to agree. “And I think what I’m really looking for—hypothetically speaking—would be the chance to spend some time with him. It might be nice to meet him when we are around the same age. It would give us some common ground, which I will need because I would be a complete stranger to him. I wouldn’t tell him who I am.”
“You couldn’t really,” Rob adds. “So where was he when he was your age?”
“He was in Chicago, headlining at the new Jazz Ltd nightclub. That was where he became famous.”
“What was the year?” he asks, plopping the last of his burger in his mouth.
“1947,” I say.
Rob stands up grabbing his coat; it was time to get to work. “Sounds like it would be a fun trip. Just watch out for the Chicago mob.”
Continue reading with CHAPTER THREE.