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When he felt sufficiently claeaned and composed, he emerged from the bathroom.

"All fixed up?"

"Yeah, thanks. The cut wasn't as deep as I'd thought."

"Good." She motioned him to the Rubber Maid container in the kitchen's corner to dispose of his blood-soaked T-shirt and then to the table where the light was brighter. Her concern over, she said, without emotion, "John - I'll be calling you that for the moment, though I'm nowhere near convinced you are who you claim to be. So, who are you? Really?"

"I've told you the truth," he said, his voice calm again, "unbelievable as it may seem."

"And totally implausible, I might add. Improbable, too. And damned imPOSSIBLE!"

"Why?"

"Because it's...well, something like this simply can't...be happening! Nothing like this has ever happened before...in all of recorded history!"

It was her turn to babble.

"And how do we know that - for certain, I mean?"

Without a ready answer, she fell silent, dimly aware John Palomino used to argue like this, when an electronic buzz from a small unit on the table broke the lull in the conversation.

He jumped. "What's [i]that[/i}?"

Reaching for it, she said, "A BlackBerry. I think my son or grandson just texted me."

"Did what?"

Sent me a message. All part of the marvels of our modern technological age, I guess. It's my little grandson Donnie. And that boy is up past his bedtime - again. He wrote, "I luv u, gramma.' Sweet."

John's face took on a blank stare. "Maybe if I had a little time to ease into all of this..."

"Let's get down to brass tacks, John," she said, allowing the earlier vocal arctic chill to return as she set aside the BlackBerry. "Back home, I have the scrapbook I kept of all the news clippings from the Long Island Press, the Daily News and Newsday surrounding my former boyfriend's disappearance. Police found his car totaled on the first night of what ended up known as 'Lindsay's Storm,' but not John Palomino. They were unable to find him."

"Find me? Have you been listening? I've only been gone a couple of hours!"

"Right. Uh-huh. As I was saying, all storm preparations and subsequent clean-up were handled poorly . Tracking him - my Johnny - you, as you've been proclaiming - was made so much more difficult because all of Queens got snowed under for a solid week, but they did find bloodstains at the scene."

He held up his hand.

"They saw," she continued like a disrtict attorney on a roll, "from tramped on snow near the car that he had managed to climb the fence and headed east, toward here. And then his footprints and blood drippings stopped dead in that cemetery. No tracks beyound that point. No further trace could be found. Nothing whatsoever. So what's the story here, John? I think you need to explain to me, if you really can, what happened that night forty-one years ago. I'm in need of answers. Dammit, I deserve those answers! And a stiff drink. You want one?"

"Coffee would be fine, if it's no trouble."

"Yeah, I'll put some on, but not until I hear what you have to say. And none of that 'One Step Beyond' gibberish, if you please."

She went into the next room and poured herself a shot of Jack Daniel's, bypassing the Red and Black Label Johnnie Walker bottles. Too many goddamned Johnnys tonight.

"Whatever happened to Mayor Lindsay, anyway?"

"How does a young kid like you know about John Lindsay's being the mayor? Anyway, with all his colossal screw-ups and gross government mismanagement, would you believe that fair-haired boy actually managed to to get himself reelected later that year? Barely snuck in as a fourth party candidate. But he's gone now. Died around Y2K."

"Huh?"

"Sorry. That meany 'Year Two Thousand.' Everyone panicked that all our computers weren't programmed correctly and would end digital life in cyberspace as we knew it. Didn't happen, though, not at all, and Lindsay died by year's end."

The young man was rocked, buffeted by all this information. "I'm the one who's sorry. I feel as if I'm being buried alive under an avalance," he mumbled to himself.

"All right, let me ask you this, something only the real John Palomino would know. If you and I were all that close and dating, tell me about the first time we made love."

"Trick question," he said without hesitation. "We never have. So many gals have been giving it away these days, but not you. I was hoping the upcoming ski weekend would finally break down that ironclad will of yours, Dottie.

"We were sure tempted more than a few times, weren't we? And there's a small, od-shaped birthmark resting just under your left breast."

Dorothy's faced flushed bright scarlet. Only her husband and Johnny had known that!

He felt for an envelope in his inside overcoat pocket and withdrew two items. The first was a pair of round-trip Delaware & Hudson train tickets with a stamped departure date of February 14, 1969. Destination: Vermont. he slid them toward her.

She read them and began to cry softly. It was beginning to dawn on her that this young man had not been lying to her, but she stubbornly refused to give in, just like she did whenever he was in the mood for love-making years before. As she pushed them back, he handed her the ski lodge confirmation.

"I showed you my driver's license earlier, and here's the reggie for the car, too."

"I haven't seen one of these little green ones for over a quarter-century."

"And if that's not enough, here's what I picked up and paid for this afternoon - in 1969 currency. It was to be a Valentine surprise for you at the lodge next weekend."

She opened the small, elegant case. Inside was a stunning one-karat diamond ring in a platinum setting. As her emotional armor began to fail, he said, "Try it on."

Dorothy shook her head and said, "It won't fit now. Look at these swollen knuckles of mine. Blasted arthritis. But in my mind, I still think I'm too young for stuff like that..." and she turned away.

"Dammit, what happened that night? How did this horrid set of events ever come to be?" Her voice, barely a hhisper, was filled with heartache, old and new, and he cringed within. Dottie Gilliland realized the truth. She knew.

Accepting it, however, was too much to expect yet. "How, mister?"

"Call Mr. Wizard. Ask some other science expert because I don't know."

A curtain of silence fell over the room.

John was having a difficult time sneaking sideways glances at the future version of his beloved. He was not prepared in any way to deal with her advanced age, her once-radiant blonde hair now a stringy gray.

Dottie blinked often, as if trying to bring this ageless John Palomino into proper focus. And there was no need to search for and to check old photos at home to compare them against this dark-haired, enigmatic young man sitting across from her in the kitchen. He looked like she had remembered back in the sixties. He sounded - and argued - just like he used to.

Oh, my God, she thought. Have I gone nuts? How can I deny this any longer. He is Johnny!

***

[To be con't.]

Copyright 2010 James D. Young


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