PART THREE: WHO KILLED KENNEDY
14 September 1971
‘Mr Stevens? Mr Stevens, are you there?’ I cursed and put the revolver back in my jacket pocket. The voice was female and sounded like the chatty receptionist from the hotel's front desk. I went to the door and opened it a crack. ‘Mr Stevens, the soldier who dropped you off earlier came back and left this envelope for you. He said it was urgent.’ She passed the white rectangle of paper through the gap in the door.
‘Thank you,’ I said and slammed the door shut on her. Returning to the bed I sat down and looked at the envelope. Made of plain white paper, it was sealed at the back with red wax, an elaborate ‘D’ pressed into the melted seal. I broke open the envelope and removed the contents, a single sheet of white paper. On it were scrawled four words - ‘Call me, The Doctor’ - and a telephone number.
Picking up the receiver by the bed, I dialled the digits on the note. It was answered after three rings by an imperious voice. I recognised the haughty tones from his heckling at the demonstration of the Keller Machine at Stangmoor Prison: it was the Doctor.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘I thought I recognized you at Auderly House. I've been meaning to get in contact with you for some time but you're a very difficult man to pin down.’
‘Speak for yourself.’
‘Quite. Look, first of all, I wanted to give you my condolences for the death of Miss Chaplet: I know the two of you were very close. Dodo was a friend of mine a long time ago, and I still feel responsible for her in a way. Anyway, she died before her time and I'm very sorry.’
‘Fine. You've said you're sorry, now leave me alone,’ I said. Despite everything I had been through, despite the fact that he had saved my life only hours before, I still found it hard to trust the Doctor.
‘I'm afraid I can't do that, Mr Stevens. You see, I need your help. I was very interested by what you had to say on that wretched television programme, The Passing Parade.’
‘Oh really?’ So much had happened to me since my humiliation live on national television that it seemed like something from decades ago rather than just a few months.
‘We know for a fact that the Glasshouse was real, it did exist. In fact several UNIT soldiers were sent there for treatment, including your Private Cleary. All of them had been suffering from mental or nervous breakdowns. Life as a UNIT soldier is stressful and highly dangerous, like no other job, as you no doubt saw today.’ I murmured my agreement, so the Doctor continued.
‘It seems the Glasshouse was a front for the Master, or Victor Magister as you know him. You were absolutely right - he has been using it to mentally re-programme UNIT soldiers to do his bidding. Can you tell me anything that Private Cleary said after you escaped from the Glasshouse together? Anything at all?’
I described our argument on the train to London after escaping from the Glasshouse, how we had talked about going back in time to kill Hitler.
‘Who suggested killing Hitler? Was it Cleary?’
‘No, I made up that example. Cleary seemed more obsessed with the assassination of John F. Kennedy,’ I explained. ‘He kept going on and on about how everything would be different if only Kennedy had lived, about how he had been given a special mission -’
‘That's it!’ exclaimed the Doctor. ‘Of course, that explains it all!’
But the Doctor only answered my question with another question of his own. ‘Did Cleary bring anything peculiar with him when you escaped from the Glasshouse? Anything out of the ordinary?’
‘Yes, a metal bracelet,’ I replied. I had been carrying the bracelet around with me since discovering it near Dodo's body. I went to retrieve it from my jacket, which was draped over a chair. As I crossed the hotel room I caught sight of myself in a mirror. My face was haggard with dark circles beneath my eyes and a few strands of grey visible in my hair. I looked a wreck. Having recovering the bracelet, I went back to the phone and described the metal circle to the Doctor, mentioning the intricate wiring around its exterior surface.
‘A Time Ring! That clinches it!’
By now I was becoming exasperated. ‘Would you mind telling me what the hell all this is about? I think I'm entitled to know.’
‘Yes, of course you're right. You'll need to know where you're going. A Time Ring enables the person holding the device when it is activated to travel through time and space,’ the Doctor said, his voice entirely matter of fact.
‘You've got to be kidding me.’
‘Look, I don't have time to explain this properly,’ the Doctor replied, ‘but I believe the Master is brainwashing UNIT soldiers to turn them into assassins. He plans to use primitive Time Rings to send them backwards and forwards in time to kill key figures in your world's history. My guess is he's out to destabilize the space-time continuum on this world to such an extent that it collapses in on itself completely. Or maybe if he changes one recent event enough, he can trigger a worldwide nuclear war and destroy the human race altogether. Either way, Cleary is almost certainly the prototype for an army of time-travelling assassins.’
‘You can't expect me to actually believe any of what you're saying,’ I protested.
‘You probably didn't believe in the existence of aliens until that Ogron attacked you this afternoon either.’ His voice had the smack of authority, despite the fantastic things he was saying. The Doctor truly believed what he was telling me and I quickly found myself believing too.
‘Mr Stevens, we're already starting to get strange anomalies in the space-time continuum - reports of cavemen on the streets of Croydon, Elizabethan noblemen winking in and out of existence around St. James' Park. Unless you can put a stop to this, the problems will only escalate.’
‘Why me? How?’
‘By going back and stopping Private Cleary,’ said the Doctor. ‘You're the only one who can recognize him in a crowd, the only one he might listen to. And you're an expert on that time period - I know, I've seen your book about it.’ My Kennedy had been published just before my shaming on BBC3 and was immediately withdrawn from sale. Obviously a few copies had been sold before the book was pulped.
‘You really believe he's going to Dallas in 1963 to prevent the assassination of JFK?!’
‘Either that, or alter the circumstances of the killing to change history. The Master will have brainwashed Cleary into believing what he is doing is for the good of mankind - that's typical of the Master, twisting people's good intentions to suit his own evil goals.’ I found myself nodding in bitter agreement. I had too had been a patsy for the Master, thinking my crusade to expose UNIT would help the world when in reality it only aided the Master's evil goals. Still, I had my doubts about the Doctor's theory and gave them voice.
‘But Kennedy is already dead, surely that history can't be altered?’
‘I used to believe the same thing but now I'm not so sure. Perhaps free will is not an illusion after all. If that is the case, then history can be changed - or, at least, it can be perverted.’
‘Why Kennedy? Why not assassinate someone else?’
‘I'm not sure. His murder is obviously such a key event in history that if it were changed the ripple effects could be enormous. There was a lot of tension between America and the Soviet Union at the time. But there's more to it. The Master and I have a personal vendetta against each other. That moment in Earth's history is a crucial one in my own personal history. By this manipulation he hopes to destroy me.’ The Doctor fell silent for a minute, obviously thinking to himself - perhaps remembering whatever had happened to him on 22 November 1963. I ran a hand over the stubble on my chin and realized I had not shaved for several days. Finally, the Doctor spoke again.
‘I can't use the Time Ring myself, but you may be able to safely go back to 1963. Where were you on the day Kennedy died?’
‘In New Zealand - it was my eighteenth birthday.’
‘Perfect! All you have to do is use the Time Ring to get back to 1963 and make sure history follows its proper course. But you'll have to be careful - the Time Ring you have is almost certainly just a prototype, so there's no guarantee it will work. You might die in the attempt.’
‘I've got nothing left to lose,’ I said, looking at my revolver on the bed. Its dull-black metal offered a quick solution to my problems but I knew I still had work to do.
‘Cleary will probably already be there when you arrive - you have to stop him intervening in history. But don't attract the attention of anyone else, or you might make matters worse, not better. And beware the Master - he's a very persuasive fellow. He's bound to be there as well, exerting his will over Cleary. He'll stop at nothing to make sure his plan succeeds.’
‘Even if I believed a word of this, which I don't, why should I help you?’ I asked.
‘You're not doing this for me, you're doing it for yourself. Remember everything the Master has done to you. This is your chance to lay to rest the ghosts of your own past. Your chance for redemption, Mr Stevens. Your chance to avenge the death of Dodo.’
I remembered the smiling face of my dead lover, remembered her bloody body sprawled on the floor surrounding by policemen who did not know her and did not care about her. The Doctor was right - she deserved better than that and perhaps by doing this I could finally put her murder behind me.
‘How do I know where and when I'll turn up?’ I asked.
‘The Master will have thought of that. The Time Ring will have pre-set coordinates built into it. If you're lucky, there'll be enough power in the ring for the return journey. It should bring you back to the same point in same and time where you first activated it.’
I looked long and hard at the metal bracelet in my hand. This was supposed to project me across time and space? A ridiculous notion. And yet, after all I had seen and experienced, what right did I have to be cynical anymore? That cynicism had cost Dodo her life, and had cost me my job, my reputation, everything. I had just been about to commit suicide - what did it matter what happened to me now?
‘All right, what do I do?’
‘Look at the inside of the Time Ring. You'll see a series of hollows in the metal. Press your fingers into the hollows. Whatever you do, don't lose the Time Ring - it's your only way back. And be careful!’ the Doctor said, genuine concern in his voice.
‘All right, I'm pressing them now but nothing's happ -’
As I spoke the room began to spin around me, fading away into blackness. I felt the phone slip from my fingers as all strength left my body, with just a disembodied voice hanging in the cold air whirling around me:
‘Good luck, Mr Stevens. You're going to need it!’
Then, just darkness...