“Time and I against any two.”
– Baltasar Gracidn
“You have to take me back. I can’t stay here.”
Christ: Would she still love you, do you think, if you told her the truth?
“Is it because…,” Dain said.
When Britney said nothing he added, “You said you loved me.”
“People don’t just fall out of love.” Dain’s statement lacked much in the way of conviction.
Britney looked at Dain. “Don’t they? Isn’t that what happened to you when you found out Betty was sleeping around on you?”
“That was different.”
“Different? Maybe. But the principle is the same.” Britney took a deep breath. “I was as much to blame as you for Betty’s death.”
“No, you weren’t.”
“I was, Dain.” Britney looked as if she were trying to comprehend what she’d done to her daughter. “I was Anne Bancroft to your Dustin Hoffman. We never should’ve –”
“That’s in another reality.”
“It happened nevertheless.”
Dain paused, searching for something to say. Finally, he said, “He was a different Dain, and you were a different Britney. She was only ten years older than me.” As if that somehow mattered.
“I should’ve known better.”
“It was my fault. If I hadn’t seduced you eighteen years earlier.”
“You can’t seduce the willing, Bronson.”
“Maybe my motives weren’t pure at first, but they are now.”
“You came back for me and I turned you away. It was only after you stopped coming that you were sincere in wanting to take care of me. When I… When I first saw you, so many years later, I couldn’t know you were the same man. You hadn’t aged. They say everyone has someone walking around who looks just like them.”
“A doppelgänger,” Dain said, recalling the day another Britney had called him a “double-ganger.” He put his arm around Britney’s shoulder. “I should’ve –”
“Should’ve what? Abducted me then? Brought me here? Raised your future wife as your own daughter?”
“I would never have thought of her as my wife.”
“Really? Even when she became seventeen – the age at which you first met her?”
“No, I wouldn’t, because by then I’d have been forty-six years old.”
“And I’d be fifty-five. Can you honestly say that you wouldn’t reminisce about the days when she was your wife?”
“Yes, because I loved you. I love you now.”
Britney was chasing other timelines. “We made love in another reality, after you’d learned Betty was cheating on you.”
Dain looked away.
“Was it revenge?”
“Maybe it was, initially. But I’ve come to love since.”
“How can I be sure?”
“Betty was the catalyst for what I should’ve done sooner. I love you, Britney. You have to believe that.”
Britney wiped away a tear that had fallen to streak her cheek. “You love my body.”
“Yes, but I’ve come to love you, too. If only I’d met you before I met Betty.”
“But you didn’t. No amount of time travel, and no number of alternate realities can change that.”
Dain didn’t hear her. “Love is finding someone you can’t live without. I can’t live without you, Britney.”
Britney ignored him. “I was foolish then.”
“No more foolish than you were eighteen years later, when you gave yourself to me, or ten years after that.”
“That was wrong of me.”
“No more so than it was for me to make love to you back in eighty-four.”
“Not just because of how it turned out.”
Dain’s panic rose. “We can still make this work –” because he didn’t know what else to say, how to further his argument. “We can still make order from chaos.”
Britney shook her head. “You said you can’t live without me. I think you just fear my abandonment.”
“My taking you back to 1980 isn’t going to change anything. You’ll still have the memory of what happened to Betty in that other timeline.”
“But at least I won’t have to look at you every day.”
“Do you so hate me?”
“No, Dain I don’t hate you. If anything, I still love you. You awakened in me – in us, me and my other selves – what love should be, how wonderful sex can be.”
She seemed to leave something unsaid, so Dain ventured, “But you don’t want to love me.”
A tear fell from Britney’s other eye; she was quick to wipe it away.
“What about Jeff?” Dain said.
“What about him?”
“Will you go back to him?”
Britney shook her head.
“You know you risk him not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
“He will, in time.”
“If he doesn’t hurt you first.”
“You can’t protect me, Dain.”
Dain only stared at Britney. She left unsaid that she never wanted to see him again.
“Please,” she said. “Take me back to where I belong, and don’t ever come back.” Now she’d made it clear.
Dain didn’t argue against Britney’s final directive. He was already plotting to once more bring order to the chaos in his life.
When the knock sounded at his door, Dain didn’t hear it; it was only when Britney said, “Dain, aren’t you going to answer the door?” that he realized someone had knocked.
Curious as to who it might be, unprepared for any more chaos that might be added to the healthy measure that already comprised his life, he strode across the living room to open the front door.
On the stoop stood a man in a Honolulu blue and silver Detroit Lions hoodie. Dain despised the Detroit Lions. In his eyes the franchise was hapless, an embarrassment not only to the city of Detroit, but to the NFL. They’re the only team in history ever to go winless for an entire season, and hold the worst eight-year record in the history of the modern NFL, 31-84 between 2001 and 2008. The players come and go – they had arguably the best running back to ever carry a football in Barry Sanders and were no closer to winning a Super Bowl in his tenth season than any other season under William Clay Ford’s ownership – head coaches are fired, never to work as head coach elsewhere in the league, and the team has made the playoffs just ten times, winning once, and have compiled a 310-441 regular-season record during Ford’s fifty-year tenure. Every year is a rebuilding year for the Lions, and yet the fans continue to support the team. So it was no surprise that Dain already didn’t care for this stranger before him, clad in Lions attire, his hands pushed into the pockets of the hoodie, who might’ve been in his early fifties.
Not terribly overweight, he had that horseshoe thing going on on the top of his head, his scalp mottled with sun damage. Eyes red and a bulbous nose just as red betrayed a bad case of bottle abuse. It took Dain a moment to recognize in this little gargoyle Jeff, thirty-four years older than he’d been the last time he’d seen him, in 1980.
“You!” Jeff said. He appeared startled, probably because Dain didn’t look a day older than the last time they’d squared off, when Jeff was an adolescent punk. Then he pushed past Dain and into the house.
“Jeff?” Britney said. She’d followed Dain to the front door and now stood beside him.
Jeff gaped at her, still the beautiful teen from more than three decades past. He looked from Britney to Dain, then back to Britney. Finally, he said, “What is this? How is it you haven’t aged?”
“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me,” Dain said.
Jeff fixed his hatred on Dain. “For more than thirty years I’ve waited for this moment, looking high and low for you.” He spoke as if that were something of which to be proud – wasting the better part of a lifetime seeking a woman who’d broken up with him in their youth. “You abandoned that house on Linden Street, and like that, poof, you were gone.”
A credible impersonation of Kevin Spacey, Dain thought, recalling the line of dialogue in The Usual Suspects when, in the role of “the gimp”, he explains to the detective the disappearance of Keyser Söze.
Jeff turned his gaze on Britney, looked her up and down, and Dain saw the hunger in his eyes – at last she would be his.
“And you disappeared with him,” he said to her. “The police found no trace of you; eventually they gave up looking. Your mother assumed you were dead; but I didn’t. I never gave up looking for you.”
Jeff looked back at Dain. “It took me years to find this address, but you were never here.”
Still a punk, Dain thought.
Dain understood that, until he and Britney traveled forward in time to 2014, they didn’t exist in this timeframe, created the moment they appeared. Jeff continued with his diatribe.
“But I came here every day, morning and night for years. Always you weren’t here. Until today.”
Jeff looked at Britney again, then back at Dain. “I’ll ask you again, why is it neither of you look a day older than you did thirty-five years ago?”
“It’s very simple,” Dain said, grinning. “I built a time machine.”
“Yeah, right,” Jeff said. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve got what I came for,” he added, glancing at Britney. Then he pulled a .38 Special from the pocket of his hoodie.
“Jeff, don’t,” Britney said, stepping in front of Dain; but it was too late: Jeff pulled the trigger.
“No!” Dain shouted as Britney fell back against him. He gently lowered her to the floor, holding her head in his lap. He saw where the bullet had penetrated – her left breast.
Britney’s breathing came in short gasps as she looked up at him through tears.
“Dain,” she whispered. “My Bronson.”
“Shhh,” he told her. “Don’t talk.”
“It’s okay,” he told her. “Don’t try to talk.”
She ignored him. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to be.”
“I turned you away a second time. I shouldn’t have.”
Dain pushed a strand of hair off her forehead, stroked her cheek.
“I love you,” she said.
“I know. I love you, too. I always will.”
“Don’t,” she whispered.
“Don’t try to undo what’s been done.”
Dain waited for her to bleed out, expecting, wanting, needing the second bullet to penetrate him, wondering if it was true, that you never hear the bullet that takes your life.
Britney’s breathing slowed; finally she took a breath – and never let it out. A moment later he heard Jeff’s voice.
“Is she –?”
Dain gently laid Britney’s head on the floor and leaned down to kiss her on her lips, softly, as if he feared he might wake her. Then he slowly stood, fists clenched at his sides, to face his old nemesis. Jeff still held the handgun, but it hung down, by his side.
“You idiot,” Dain said.
“I didn’t mean… It was an accident –”
“You didn’t mean,” Dain said, and punched him in the face – a solid jab that staggered Jeff. Then he launched a roundhouse right that sent him to the floor. Dain heard the gun skitter across the hardwood floor.
Straddling Jeff’s chest, Dain pummeled his face with lefts and rights that sent him into oblivion. After thirty seconds Dain stopped to catch his breath; but he wasn’t finished.
After a moment’s respite, he went back to using Jeff’s face as a punching bag.
When finally he finished, Jeff’s face was a bloody pulp.
Dain was alone for the second time, his knuckles bloodied and aching. Betty didn’t exist in this timeframe, so he didn’t spare a thought for her and her duplicity and all that she’d unknowingly set into motion. He’d won that battle, but without Britney, he’d lost the war.
Not yet, I haven’t, he considered. I still have options.
“None of them are good options,” Christ said, startling Dain from his revelry.
“Then I’ll choose the best one.”
“The best of the worst, eh?”
Dain said nothing.
“She gave her life for you, Dain, so that you might live.”
“It should bring you great solace. That she offered her life for you is the ultimate act of love. She has gained a great reward in Heaven. Have you forgotten her last words, that you shouldn’t try to fix what has been done?”
Dain ignored Christ’s question. It may have been her final request, but he had no intention of abiding by it. Instead, he asked, “And Jeff?”
“He lies in the other room, soon to follow her in death. His reward will not be what she has won.”
Dain took greater consolation in that. “This isn’t my fault.”
“Dain, I tell you the truth. Betty may have been the instigator of all that has transpired, but she is not at fault for your actions. I tell you again, you cannot undo her sin by sinning yourself. You must refrain from taking further action.”
“So I should wallow in self-pity? Play the role of victim?”
“Why did you marry Betty?”
“I loved her.”
“Like Britney, you only loved her body.”
“So what if I did? I shouldn’t find my wife desirable?”
“Desire stems from love, Dain. You put the cart before the horse.”
Dain sighed. “And what about Betty? Why did she marry me?”
“This isn’t about her.”
“The hell it’s not. It’s all about Betty.”
“Your eternal soul is at stake, Dain.”
“Oh, and Betty is going to spend her eternity at the right hand of God?”
“That is not your concern.” Christ peered at Dain. “I’ll ask you again: Why do you think Betty took another lover?”
“I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader. She experimented with lesbian sex in high school. Maybe she couldn’t resist the touch of a another woman.”
“Always denying your accountability.”
“Didn’t we have this conversation already? If she wasn’t getting from me what she needed, wasn’t she accountable for telling me?”
“If Betty loved you, Dain, she would not have taken a lover.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“Betty only thinks she loves Rachael. It, too, will come to an end.”
“I’m supposed to take comfort from that?”
“Your marriage was not based on love.”
Dain only stared at Christ.
“Love is a choice, Dain. It is not about what happens in the dark, under the blankets.”
Or in the shower, Dain thought, reminiscing about the glory of Britney standing under falling water. Or in the mud at Ford Field.
“Or in the kitchen, or in the back of a car,” Christ said.
“Dammit, I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“The communion of bodies is an expression of love, Dain, not love itself. You were obsessed with Betty’s body, as you are obsessed with Britney’s. You told Britney that people don’t just fall out of love. Two people who fall in love often fall out of love, when the reality of who they are sets in, because that is not true love. A couple who choose to give their love to one another will not fall out of love. An obsession such as yours is not love, nor can it withstand the test of time. When Betty’s obsession waned, she found she had fallen out of love with you because she did not love you. What do you think will happen when your obsession with Britney’s body diminishes?”
“It won’t.” Because Dain didn’t believe it could.
“Or hers for yours?”
Dain didn’t wish to consider that possibility.
Christ added, “I tell you the truth. Your affair with Britney can only end in a similar fashion.”
“Don’t talk to me about truth. Truth doesn’t exist in the world. It certainly didn’t exist in Betty’s mind.”
“Your truth doesn’t equate to truth, Dain, simply because you wish it to.” A moment later he added, “What will you do with the bodies?”
“Nothing. There’s nothing I can do for Britney. She’s gone. And Jeff can lay there until he rots for all I care. I’ve got work to do.” When he returned they’d be gone from Dain’s newly created timeline.
Christ laid his hands on Dain’s bloodied and bruised knuckles. “I can see you must find out the truth for yourself.”
It was only after Christ was gone that Dain realized his knuckles no longer ached. His skin was completely healed; the only remaining evidence of his dark deed was the dried blood.
Dain found it child’s play to trace Jeff’s roots.
What did we do prior to the Internet? he wondered.
It would’ve taken him days, even weeks, working with third parties to discover Jeff’s family tree. But using the Internet, he was able to accomplish his goal in minutes, before Britney’s and Jeff’s bodies finished cooling.
Names, a marriage certificate, an address: Andrew Crogan; married to Millie nee Parker on November 4, 1961. Dain was grateful the last name hadn’t been Smith or Jones. Crogan, Rollen Frederick “Rock ’n’ Rollen” Crogan notwithstanding, was one of the least common last names in the country.
A few mouse clicks revealed the next bit of important data: Son, Jeff, born June 13, 1962.
So Andy knocked you up, eh, Millie, and had to marry you, Dain reasoned. And you, Jeff, born on the thirteenth, a bad omen to be sure.
Andrew graduated from Northville High School in 1960, a year after the building opened. He’d attended school in what became, after the new school opened, Hillside Middle School. Millie graduated a year later.
Dain wondered if Millie had been a cheerleader. He doubted she looked as hot in her cheerleader outfit as Britney had. He was convinced no one could.
Andrew and Millie apparently met in school, and the timeline of their marriage and Jeff’s birth indicated that they’d likely celebrated her graduation in bed. Andrew had done the noble thing, probably at the dangerous end of a shotgun held by Millie’s daddy, making Millie a respectable woman.
Jeff’s parents lived in a house on Walnut, not far from Hillside Middle School, just a few blocks away from the home in which Jeff and Britney would live as husband and abused wife two decades later.
Dain should’ve targeted Millie. By targeting Andrew, Dain risked the chance that he wasn’t Jeff’s father, but another Britney outcome was too hazardous. What if she, too, when he came face to face with her, was as hot as the sun? Seducing her wasn’t a sure thing, and it might not prevent her marriage to Andrew and the resulting birth of baby Jeffy.
No, it’s you I want, Britney; it’s you I love. I’m doing this for you – for us.
Removing Andrew from the equation before he could impregnate Millie with Jeff was a risk worth taking. Besides, if he was wrong and Jeff’s father was someone else, say the Mustangs’ star receiver or middle linebacker – Millie had another year as a Mustangs cheerleader after Andy graduated to a job on the assembly line at the Rouge Plant, where eighteen years later he’d get his son a job – Dain could always go back for another hit and get it right.
Dain was chagrined when he couldn’t find Andrew on Facebook.
A few mouse clicks using Google Search brought him to a website called Northville High Alumni. It didn’t cost him anything to create a profile.
A couple clicks and he found Andrew Crogan. He’d played the quarterback position on the Mustangs’ football team. He found a senior class picture of him: crew cut, no smile, just the grim determination of the position he played, as if he had, like his boy after him, something to prove to the world – that he was tough. Dain was gratified that, although Andrew had a slightly rounder face, and he likely was bigger and more muscular – Dain guessed the result of playing football – he’d passed down to his son enough DNA to enable Dain to recognize Andrew as Jeff’s father.
After making his time travel calculations for a Thursday night in November, Dain returned to the past. Unsure how it might play out, he thought of it as a dress rehearsal. He needed to watch Andrew’s routine: a Friday night would be a game night, and Dain figured it would be busy; too many people would be around. Did he hang out at Cloverdale Dairy Farms with his teammates after football practice, or someplace else? Or did he go right home? Did he have a car of his own or ride with a buddy, or did he simply walk to and from school?
Once he got a sense of Andrew’s routine, Dain would return to 2014 where he’d formulate his final plan, return to the same day in 1958 – it would be like watching a summer rerun of Person of Interest, knowing the story line and how it’s going to turn out – and bring final order to the chaos Betty had wrought.
That’s right, he thought to no one in particular. It’s her fault, she’s to blame that it’s come to this.
He donned a University of Michigan Wolverines hoodie, blue with maize trim, retrieved Jeff’s .38 Special to stuff into the kangaroo pocket of the hoodie, set his time machine for the future site of the pitcher’s mound at Ford Field circa 1958, then a mere field.
When he arrived he found the sky overcast, with the scent of rain in the air. Walking at a brisk pace, Dain covered in ten minutes the little more than half-mile to what would next year become Hillside Middle School. On the football field he saw the Mustangs going through their drills. Dain took a seat in the bleachers and caught sight of Andrew loosening up on the sideline. He wore the number 16.
In 2014, a middle aged man sitting alone to watch teen boys practice football would likely draw attention – he might be considered a pedophile, and someone would come by to ask him what he wanted, and probably suggest that he leave.
Dain thought of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal at Penn State in 2011. Sandusky was convicted and imprisoned, the NCAA heavily sanctioned the football team, and Head Coach Joe Paterno’s legacy as one of college football’s greatest coaches was ruined.
Paterno’s staunch supporters believed he was framed; but Dain, who wasn’t a judgmental man until he discovered Betty’s cheating ways, always felt that if Paterno was revered for the success of the Penn State football program, he should be held accountable for the scandal that took place under his watch.
Like the statue of Saddam Hussein that was toppled from its pedestal shortly after Iraq was liberated, Dain recalled Joe Paterno’s statue being removed from the Penn State campus.
An independent investigation of the incident later confirmed Dain’s belief, revealing that Paterno had participated in a cover-up to conceal Sandusky’s actions in an effort to protect Penn State’s celebrated football program.
But this was 1958.
Not that it mattered, but Paterno wouldn’t take over as head coach of Penn State’s football team for another eight years, and he had no clue that he’d later be fired in disgrace; Dain had little to fear from being accused of nefarious intent.
Glancing at his watch, he saw it was 4:15.
Dain watched the players go through their drills and run a number of offensive plays. Andrew had a decent arm, but never pursued a college football career, or failed to get a scholarship from a university.
Practice wrapped up shortly after five o’clock as the daylight began to fade. Dain followed the team from a safe distance, across Baseline Road to the main building, where the young men filed through the entrance to, he guessed, shower and change.
Twenty minutes later, as Dain paced along Baseline Road, the players began to funnel out the door. Andrew was one of the last to exit the building, and Dain watched him chatting with a teammate as he approached a pickup, a late forties Ford F1.
A moment later, Andrew and the teammate got into the F1 and left. As the F1 passed Dain, he noticed a For Sale sign in the back window, and Dain began to formulate his plan. He could end this tonight, without having to return.
Dain quickly made his way to Andrew’s parents’ house. He arrived just as Andrew was pulling up in front of the house. He was alone. Apparently he’d dropped off his buddy at his house.
“Excuse me,” Dain said as Andrew got out of the truck. “How much are you asking for your truck?”
Andrew looked at Dain’s hoodie. “Go Blue,” he said.
“Always a wolverine,” Dain replied, forcing a grin. He had his hands in the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie, his right hand grasping the .38 Special.
“You looking to buy her?”
“I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t.” Dumbass, he thought.
“Two hundred dollars or best offer.”
“Mind if I take her for a spin?”
“Sure.” Andrew tossed him the keys and made his way around to the passenger side.
Dain slid behind the wheel and fired her up, noting it had a three-speed automatic transmission. He put it in drive and pulled away from the curb.
“How come you’re selling her?” he asked. He didn’t really care, but if he did he’d hope to dupe the seller into revealing that the vehicle was perhaps burning oil or had an engine knock, or maybe that the transmission was slipping.
“My dad’s selling her. He’s getting a new car and I’ll inherit his old one.” Andrew sounded self-important.
Dain nodded. “She’s in good shape.”
“My dad’s a mechanic. Changed the oil every three thousand miles; kept it in good running order, tune-ups and all. Washed it every week, and waxed it twice a year.”
Dain pulled into the school’s parking lot and into a parking space away from the building. He put the truck in park and turned to face a puzzled Andrew. “I know who you are,” he said. “I know you’re dating Millie Parker.”
“What? How –?”
“Never mind. I’m here to tell you to stay away from her.”
“What? Why –?”
“Because I said so.” Then Dain pulled out the .38 Special and shot Andrew in his left shoulder – his throwing arm.
“You fucking shot me!” Andrew cried.
“Oh, shut up. Be grateful I didn’t kill you.”
Dain drove back to Andrew’s parents’ house, while Andrew, clutching his shoulder, cried like a little girlie boy.
As Dain wheeled the F1 onto Walnut, Andrew managed to say between sobs, “I’ve got a game tomorrow night.” He was trying to regain his sense of self-importance, that the team needed him. “What am I going to do?”
“I don’t know. Not play?”
Andrew went back to crying, wiping a sleeve across the snot that ran from his nose.
Parking in the street, Dain told Andrew, “Remember what I said.”
“Stay away from Millie.” Andrew sniveled.
“Atta boy. Stay away from her or I’ll be back to finish you off.”
Dain stepped out of the F1 and ran full speed to the corner, slowed to a trot to the next corner, and then took long strides back to what would, in 1972, become Mill Race Park.