‘Mrs Fishbein. What a pleasure to see you again. When would you like to go today?’
‘Dinosaurs. I want to see the dinosaurs.’
‘Mrs Fishbein, you know that’s not possible. There were no people at the time of the dinosaurs. Now, I can offer you the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, either I or II, we’ve got great views from courtiers at both. Or newly available, we can give you a box at the theatre in 1843 to see Charles Dickens reciting A Christmas -’
‘Dallas,’ interrupted Mrs Fishbein. ‘JFK. I want to see the assassination.’
‘Dallas,’ repeated Jeffries. ‘22nd November, 1963. Yes, that’s a surprisingly popular destination with our more discerning clients. Leave it with me, Mrs Fishbein, I’ll sort out the arrangements.’
‘Another one for Dallas.’
‘Another? Jeez, Jeffries, these people are gruesome. You offered her the coronation?’
‘Both. And the Dickens. But she wants to see blood. Last year she did Ford’s Theatre in 1865.’
‘She took the box next door. So, who do we have in Dallas?’
‘The best view is from a bystander called Irwin Rudd, in the second row. We’ve used him before. Very amenable.’
‘OK, get it set up, I’ll prep Mrs Fishbein.’
* * *
‘So you understand, Mrs Fishbein, this is a viewing-only experience. You are not permitted to speak to anyone, you are not permitted to touch anyone, you are not permitted to leave the scene for the duration of your hour-long trip. You are absolutely not permitted to interfere with the action in any way. You will be occupying the body of a Mr Irwin Rudd, and in so doing you agree not to use that body for any purposes other than the passive viewing of the scene you have contracted to see. In addition – ’
‘Enough of the legal already, Mr Jeffries. Where do I sign?’
* * *
Irwin Rudd wasn’t a great fan of the president. He’d voted for Nixon, despite the sweaty TV debate. But hell, a president is a president, and this was the first time he could remember a state visit to Dallas.
He ironed his best shirt, the one with the silver collar tips, and added a shoestring necktie with a buckle that represented a gushing oil well. He polished his oxblood boots to a high shine, set his hat at a rakish tilt, and set off for the centre of town.
The wait seemed interminable. An hour and a half in the wintry sun – a cool 67 degrees, but at least the rain had dried up – and Rudd was ready to call it a day. But a frisson ran through the crowd, and he sensed the distant rumble of the motorcade approaching Dealey Plaza. A sudden bright light to his left caught his attention, and he glanced to see the source of it –
– and suddenly, without warning, felt a wrenching sensation as if he were being lifted bodily by the collar. He felt suddenly dizzy, and blacked out.
* * *
When Rudd awoke he found himself strapped to a padded table in a small, bare room. A steel cage was attached to his head, wires snaking off to a junction box. In the corner sat a Martian, idly filling in a word search in a cheap puzzle book.
As Rudd looked his way, the Martian jumped to his feet.
‘Mr Rudd,’ said the Martian, ‘please don’t be alarmed. You are quite safe. We will detain you just a short time, while we perform certain, er, experiments. You will feel nothing. You will not be harmed.’
Rudd gazed around the room, looked down at the leather restraints that held him, and finally stared at the green face that loomed over him. A huge chin, pointed ears, and eyes that seemed to reside in sockets set deep behind the skin.
‘I’ve… I think… I think I’ve seen you before,’ he said ‘And this room… it looks familiar.’
‘Oh no, Mr Rudd,’ said the Martian. ‘We are most careful not to inconvenience our guests more than once in an Earth lifetime.’ He glanced at the watch on his wrist. ‘But Mr Rudd, it seems your stay with us is nearing its end. We are most grateful for your cooperation, and wish you a pleasant trip home.’
Rudd felt a faint tingle in his head, and blacked out again.
* * *
When Rudd awoke, he found himself lying on the ground in Dealey Plaza. He was being shaken by a policeman.
‘Come on, buddy. Nothing for you here. You got to clear the scene.’
Rudd got groggily to his feet. ‘What’s going on, officer?’
‘We aren’t sure. Someone’s shot the president. You didn’t see?’
‘Uh, no, officer. I was abducted by aliens.’
‘Sure, buddy, sure. On your way. And easy on the liquor now, y’hear?’
* * *
Jeffries peeled off his mask as he left the room, wiping sweat from his face with the back of his six-fingered glove.
‘Everything go OK?’
‘Kind of,’ said Jeffries. ‘Some seepage from previous experiences. I think we’ve maybe used Rudd too many times. We may have to find another host.’
‘Damn. Rudd was good. Hard to find someone with the right sort of character, the right level of education and persuasiveness.’
‘You’ll have to look again. It’s a popular destination. Luckily stories of alien abduction rarely get in the press.’
* * *
‘Mrs Fishbein! What an unexpected pleasure to see you again so soon. I trust you enjoyed your previous trip. When would you like to go today?’
‘Back to Dallas, Mr Jeffries.’
‘Again, Mrs Fishbein? I’m not sure we can offer you the same -’
‘I don’t want the same, Mr Jeffries. I want to be in the book repository.’
‘Ha ha, Mrs Fishbein, but you know there was no-one in the book repository.’
‘But you’re wrong, Mr Jeffries. Lee Harvey Oswald was in the book repository.’
Jeffries stared at his client.
‘Surely, Mrs Fishbein, you’re not suggesting -’
‘How much will it cost, Mr Jeffries? I’m a wealthy woman. I can pay. It will be the trip of a lifetime.’