TWENTY-FOUR

14 September 1971

I awoke on the floor of my hotel room. My head ached and pain seared my wrist where the Time Ring had burnt the flesh it touched. Looking around me, the room was exactly as I had left it. I could almost believe the whole incident had been some waking daydream but for the young soldier lying on floor next to me, a trickle of blood dripping from his left ear.

I had seen injuries like this before. He was suffering from some kind of decompression, like a diver who comes up to the surface too fast. But that was impossible, wasn't it? Unless it was a side-effect of using the Time Ring to get two of us back to our proper era. I phoned down to reception and demanded an ambulance immediately.

While I waited for its arrival, I removed the Soviet uniform Cleary was wearing and dressed him again in the clothes he had worn over the uniform. Explaining his injuries was going to be difficult enough without trying to account for why he was wearing a Soviet soldier's uniform.

Once the ambulance had taken Cleary away, I sat on the bed, staring at the note I had received earlier. Before 1963. Before I saw the face of the assassin. ‘Call me. The Doctor’. I dialled the number and it was answered after three rings.

‘Yes?’

‘I made it back.’

‘Tell me what happened.’

I described the trip back to 1963, the confrontation with the Master, the fight on the sixth floor, the limousine coming around the corner, the smell of cordite after I fired the bullet, the face of the assassin -

‘Who was it?’ he asked. I was about to say the killer's name when he stopped me. ‘No, don't tell me, it's better that I don't know. I'm sorry, but that's a burden you'll have to carry alone. What else?’

I described my panic and shock after the shooting, and then the final steps to get Cleary and myself back to 1971. Now, Cleary was on his way to hospital and the ambulance medic who examined him briefly in the hotel room had said the young soldier could have brain damage.

‘Lack of oxygen to the brain, probably,’ the Doctor agreed. ‘It's incredible the two of you made it back at all. You should destroy the Time Ring - certainly never use it again, otherwise you could suffer the same fate as Private Cleary.’

‘What about the Master?’ I asked.

‘He knows I'm on to him, so I doubt he'll continue with this plan,’ the Doctor replied. ‘But if you saw him in 1963, it strikes me that the Master's so-called incarceration at his private island prison is not having much effect on stopping his scheming. I think it's time I paid him a visit.’

‘What about me, what do I do?’

‘Look, I've got to go. Thank you for all your help, Mr Stevens. Sadly, I doubt you will ever get the credit you deserve for this. Goodbye.’

The receiver went dead so I placed it back on its cradle. So that was it. I had saved the world, saved history itself, and now I was back where I started - a discredited journalist facing several major law suits that would probably bankrupt me. Nobody would ever employ me as a journalist again, even if I wanted to start my career afresh. Dodo was still dead, and the only person who could ever testify to what I had done was in hospital with brain damage. I was alone again. Alone with the awful knowledge about who really killed President John F. Kennedy.

I picked up the revolver from beside me on the bed and looked into the barrel, my left index finger toying idly with the trigger.

[ Intro Preface | 1 2 3 4 5 | 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 | 22 23 24 | Epilogue April 1996 Postscript 25 August 1971 Afterword ]

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