Forty-five minutes later, I stumbled into our favorite coffee shop, mumbled something barely coherent to the barista, grabbed my iced tea and tucked myself into a corner seat at the back. A rather loud group of Russians – maybe Polish, I couldn’t make out the language – erupted in laughter, which snapped me out of my daze ... and that’s when my eyes widened. Number Nine ambled through the door and wove his way toward me.
“Trenton, my friend, nice to see you,” he started graciously. “Although I must admit, it is strange not talking to you from the other side of the chop suey counter.”
“What are you doing here?”
“This is a coffee shop, isn’t it?” he asked facetiously while looking around. “And I just happen to drink coffee.”
“Is Allison really in danger?”
“To the point, I see. It’s been one of those days, has it?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Mind if I sit down first?” I shrugged and he slithered into a seat. “Before I answer that question, I must first know what your answer is to our scholarship offer?”
“So it isn’t a coincidence that you and I happen to be in this place together?”
“My guess is that you’re too smart to believe in coincidence.”
“It doesn’t really matter now does it?” I replied, growing tired of his games. “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“And you haven’t answered mine ... however, by the look on your face, I think I know which way you’re leaning, so let me shed a little more light on your question before you make a final decision.”
“Sounds like a trick statement. Who do you work for?”
“You haven’t let me finish.”
“Is Romulus Incorporated a real company?”
“International, Mr. Locke, but please, let me continue-”
“Are you what they call Big Brother?” I asked, continuing my tactic.
He smiled, trying to contain his growing agitation and leaned closer. “My employer – Romulus International – is aware that the U.S. government is sending someone back in time to retrieve Crimson James’s wormhole theory.”
“Okay, score one for the good guys then.”
“Good guys is a very relative term, don’t you think?”
“Not unless your employer is on the wrong side-” I stopped suddenly, realizing this could only mean one thing. “Then your employer must be the Chinese because only the U.S. and China have the capability to travel in time.”
“Very good, Trenton,” he said, lips curling satisfactorily. “My employer, at this time, only has the technology to travel back in time.”
“You mean they can’t travel forward?” I knew the answer, but had to ask.
“Correct ... and you can imagine the ramifications for the other side if the U.S. were to successfully acquire the wormhole theory.”
“Sounds like you bet on the wrong horse.”
“Don’t be so sure. My employer can still send an agent back to ... let’s say, prevent the U.S. agent from successfully returning with the wormhole theory.”
“That’s murder,” I exclaimed. “On top of that, the Chinese agent wouldn’t be able to return, which is like committing suicide.”
“Not exactly. Knowing the outcome of historical events before they happen could prove profitable if one makes the right investments. The agent could live out the rest of his life like a king.”
“But still back in time, away from friends and family.”
“There is such a thing as duty to one’s cause, you know.”
“Can you cut the crap and tell me what you’re getting at? What does this have to do with Allison?”
“I think you know exactly what this has to do with her.”
“If you touch her...”
“Please, I’m offering you a way to save her.”
“And how’s that?”
“Simply persuade the young Ms. Montgomery to return without the wormhole theory.”
“I tried to warn her this morning, but she won’t listen. Besides, she’s not in charge. The people she’s traveling with will bring it back even if she insists.”
“Allison holds more sway than you think,” he replied and I remembered that she was supposedly an historical figure. Was she who I thought she might be?
“Why is she so important?”
“Isn’t it obvious, Allison was Crimson James,” he said bluntly. “But I’m pretty sure you already knew that.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Yes, you do, Mr. Locke, and you’re going to prevent her from bringing back that theory. In fact, if she insists on going on her little trip, then you’re going to convince her to destroy his writings on the matter ... if they actually exist.”
“And how in the world am I supposed to do that?”
“By going back yourself and preventing it from happening.”
“That’s insane,” I exclaimed.
“Nothing’s impossible. Besides, it’s either you do it the nice way or our agent takes care of business the hard way.”
“You must be out of your mind. You’d be forcing me to commit –“
“Treason,” he said suggestively. “We both know it’s something you may be … let’s say, predisposed to.”
In my mind, he had already choked on my fist. I wanted to kill him. However, my glaring had no effect on the calm, cool and collected Number Nine.
“So this entire time that you’ve been coming into the restaurant was to butter me up for this?”
“The world is on a precipice, Trenton, and only one side can win. I know which side I have an allegiance to. You, on the other hand, have a family history that fits nicely into our plan. You’re almost eighteen ... it’s time to grow up and face reality like an adult. Either you save the girl or save the country. Tough choice, I know. But no one ever said life was going to be easy. If you had actually opened your Past Lives Letter, you would know that. So buck up, son, and make your choice. You have until midnight.”
I really thought about throwing my drink in his face. Instead, Number Nine walked out the door. The Russians erupted in short bursts of laughter and I wondered if they were mocking me.
How could this be my life, I asked, and decided fresh air would help … but it didn’t. I was a prisoner of fate - a cruel, sinister demon poking my voodoo doll and laughing the whole time.
What to do … what to do, I kept asking myself while wandering aimlessly. I desperately wanted to retreat to a safe haven and hide. Maybe if I did nothing, nothing would happen. But that was just a fool’s defense in an untenable situation. I decided to go home and talk to my dad.
He would know what to do.