The Greyhound bus comes to a shuddering halt at the 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal, rocking slightly in place before the bus doors open and passengers shuffle out one by one. CB steps down on to the curb, rubbing his neck as he tries to work out all the kinks that come from sleeping hunched over on a bus bench. He waits silently as the driver opens up the baggage area, then joins the mob of other passengers as they fish through the luggage, finally picking up his own: an old green army bag. He throws the bag over his shoulder and makes his way down 8th Avenue, grateful for a chance to stretch his legs.
It’s the middle of the day; the street is filled with people. It’s a far cry from Farraday City, where almost everything important happens at night. But he knows it will be just as busy at night as it is during the day. There’s a reason it’s called “the city that never sleeps.”
He stops at the corner of 8th and 42nd a moment, taking everything in. He was right on the corner of the Theater District; to the west, eventually, was Hell’s Kitchen. That didn’t mean quite what it had in the 80s and 90s. Even then, it didn’t mean what had in the 70s.
He hears a loud thooom in the distance, followed by the sound of sirens. The people around him don’t break step, don’t look up. They’re used to it by now. It was probably a “spandex fight” and would cost New York City a small fortune to clean up after it. CB looks at the locals and grins. They’d be a lot less jaded if it was happening right in front of them, but the one thing you have to say about New Yorkers is that they’re adaptable.
He adjusts his duffel bag and steps off the curb, intending to head to one of the hot dog stands on the other side of the street. Instead, he feels something twist and fold over on to itself—a familiar sensation—as reality rearranges itself, ever so slightly. A second later he hears the screech of tires and frantic honking.
CB looks to his right and sees a Silver Toyota stopped mere inches from him. The driver-side door opens, and an agitated woman climbs out.
“What the hell is your problem?” She sounds more alarmed than angry. “Didn’t you see the light?”
CB looks up and sees the pedestrian light is green, the letters WALK blinking above it. The woman, a blonde-haired, pretty twenty-something sees it as well, and shakes her head in confusion: her traffic light is also green.
So that’s the way it’s going to be then.
“Sorry,” CB says. He frowns. She looks vaguely familiar. “Have we met?”
The woman narrows her eyes. “Nice try, creep. Why don’t you take your retro-stalker self and go—CB?”
CB cocks his head to one side and studies her more closely. “Jenny?”
The woman colors slightly. It is her. For a moment CB actually feels his age.
They stare at each other in shock. A car honks impatiently behind hers.
“Get in,” Jenny says. “I’ll give you a lift.”
CB doesn’t hesitate. As Jenny climbs back in to the driver’s seat, he jogs over to the passenger side, throws his bag in the back, and climbs in.
The car behind them honks again, but the light has already turned red. He hears someone swearing at them. Jenny doesn’t react.
“I didn’t think you were going to come,” she said. “Nobody did.”
“Of course I was going to come.” CB sounds a little hurt. “He was my best friend.”
“Funny way of showing it,” Jenny says, then blushes. “Sorry.”
CB shrugs. “It’s fair.”
“You stopped visiting.” She sounds angry and hurt.
“Yeah,” he says. “Figured it was for the best. And for the record, your great-grandfather agreed with me.”
Jenny looks like she doesn’t believe him. CB shrugs again. “What happened, anyway? When did you grow up? I mean… when did you lose your braces?”
Jenny laughs. “I’m out of college now, old man.” The light turns green and they set off down 42nd Street. “I have a job and everything. And why don’t you have the decency to look your age? Mom is going to be pissed about that. How is that even possible?”
“Hell if I know,” CB says. “Alex was 91 and he looked almost exactly the way he did when World War II ended. How does that work?”
“That’s the Paragon Program,” Jenny says. “We have an explanation for him. Nobody even really knows what it is you do.”
CB grins. “And for the record… ‘retro-stalker self?’ What the hell.”
Jenny’s grin looks a little bit like his. She drives much faster than the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic with expert precision and control. They turn right on Park Avenue, and she glances over at him, expression unreadable.
“Something wrong?” CB asks.
“Depends,” Jenny says.
“Should I have stayed away?”
“No.” Jenny frowns. “It’s not that. I mean, we’ll all be glad to see you. And apparently he wanted you to deliver his eulogy.”
“Yeah…” CB stares out the window and absently reaches for a cigarette.
“Don’t even think of it.” Jenny’s voice is sharp. “And while you’re at it, put on a seatbelt. We get fined now.”
They cross 17th Street. Park Avenue becomes Union Square East. The light is green.
CB puts the cigarette away, but makes no move to buckle up.
“Jesus, CB, what’s your problem? Death wish? Nobody smokes any more. It’s not even considered cool. And do you want to go hurtling through a windshield at 80 miles an hour?”
“Not really,” CB says, “it hurts like hell.”
Jenny snorts. They cross 14th Street. Union Square East becomes Broadway. The light is green.
“So what is it?” CB asks. “Do I have a kid?”
Jenny laughs. “Not that I know of. Were you expecting one?”
“I don’t know,” CB says, “but the way you’re looking at me, I figure it’s something bad.”
“Not bad,” Jenny says, “Just weird. I haven’t seen you in ten years. You look exactly the same now as you did then, and then you looked fifteen years younger than you should have.”
“How do you think I feel?” CB asks. “Ten years later and you’re not a kid any more.”
“I’m supposed to get older, CB. You’re not supposed to stay young.”
“Guess so,” CB says. He stares out the window, brooding.
They turn left on to Canal St. The light is green. Jenny takes them across the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn.
“The government’s here,” Jenny says.
“Ah.” CB’s mouth twists into a bitter smile, then he shrugs. “Well, that makes sense. And it’s not like I’m a fugitive or anything.”
“Pete Travers is here.”
“Pete? Damn.” CB sighs, starts to reach for a cigarette, and stops. “Well. That makes sense. It could be worse.”
“Could it?” Jenny looks at him curiously. “That’s not the impression I got ten years ago.”
“I was really pissed off ten years ago. Ten years ago the government tried to eminent domain my ass and turn me into some kind of goddamn… I don’t know what. It wasn’t Pete’s fault. He was just the messenger.”
“Is that why you broke his jaw?” Jenny asks softly.
CB sighs again. “Like I said. I was really pissed off.”
Jenny turns sharply into a private alley, and comes to a sudden stop alongside a familiar-looking brownstone town house. CB looks at it in surprise. “I thought your dad was going to sell this thing.”
“He couldn’t bring himself to do it,” Jenny says. “Come on, everyone should be inside.”
CB leaves his bag in the back. The gravel crunches beneath his boots as he stands in front of Jenny’s car and stares at the house.
“Well?” Jenny waits expectantly. CB doesn’t move.
Jenny frowns slightly. “You OK?”
CB doesn’t answer. He stares at the house.
“They’re going to be happy to see you,” Jenny says reassuringly.
“Yeah,” CB says. “I guess.”
“Maybe I should go in first,” Jenny says. “Tell everyone you’re here.”
CB nods slowly. Jenny stares at him a moment longer, then turns to the front of the house. She disappears around the corner, leaving CB alone with his ghosts.
CB pulls the cigarette out of his pocket. His hands tremble as he lights it.
They’re going to be old.
He hadn’t expected that. He feels stupid for not expecting that. He stares down at the gravel and smokes in silence.
The sound of a car coming up the gravel drive breaks him out of his reverie. He looks up to see a charcoal gray Subaru Forrester come to a halt just behind Jenny’s car. The door opens almost before the engine is turned off, and CB hears a strangled yell of surprise and excitement as a well-polished, leather shoe sets down on the gravel from behind the door.
CB looks up sharply as the figure gets out of the car. A young man with short cropped blond hair and ice blue eyes stares at him, grinning in astonishment.
CB blinks twice, then puts a name to the face. “Andy? Dammit, you got older too?”
Andrew Stuart Forrest, Jenny’s older brother, slams the door shut and barrels toward CB, crushing him in a massive bear hug. He laughs as he lifts CB a full foot off the ground.
“I didn’t think you were coming!” Andy says. “I mean, we hoped. But we figured you wouldn’t want to. When did you get here?”
He sets CB back down on the ground, and CB tries to remember how to breathe. Eventually he notices Andy’s wearing the dress blue uniform of an Army Captain.
“What are you staring at?” Andy asks, looking defensive.
“When did you enlist?” CB asks.
“ROTC in college,” Alex says, “just like I always said I would.”
“You look just like your great-grandfather,” CB says. “Just damn like him.”
“And you have his grip, too…”
“When did you get here?” Andy asks. “How long are you staying?”
“Just got here,” CB says. “Ran into your sister getting off the bus. Almost literally. She’s inside telling your folks I’m here.”
“And you’re smoking up the courage to go in after,” Andy says. Andy was good at noticing things like that.
CB shrugs. “At any rate. I’m here for the service, at least. I might stick around a little after that.”
“Are you going to look into who did it?” Andy asks.
“I think it’s probably better for everyone if he doesn’t answer that question,” a voice behind CB says.
CB turns. A slightly overweight, balding man in a cheap gray suit looks at them both, a polite, slightly friendly, carefully neutral expression on his face.
Andy coughs, and shifts uneasily. CB and the other man stare at each in silence.
“Pete Travers,” CB says finally.
“CB,” Travers says.
The silence that follows is even more awkward than the first. Finally, Travers sticks out his hand. CB takes it, and they shake.
“You’re pretty quiet for an old fat guy,” CB says. “You managed to get right behind me. And I didn’t even see you come round the corner.”
Travers barks a laugh. “There’s a back door, remember? Asshole.” His hand goes up to his jaw. It’s an unconscious gesture, but CB looks away.
“There he is!” Another familiar voice booms out from the front of the house, and CB turns to see Martin Forrest, Alexander Morgan’s favorite grandson-in-law, step around the corner, grinning wide.
“Heya Marty!” CB drops the rest of his cigarette and grinds it into the gravel with the heel of his boot.
Martin is taller than CB and wider—built like a linebacker. He’s still in pretty good shape for his age, but he’s softer around the middle than he was ten years ago, and his hair is mostly white. He still has the briskly cheerful no-nonsense demeanor he had when he was on the force.
Martin claps his son on the shoulder as he passes, then shakes CB’s hand warmly. “When my daughter told us you were outside it caused something of a stir. The Junior Senator from New York finds himself in a dilemma.”
“Ah,” CB says. “I was hoping Toby wouldn’t be here.”
“Well the feeling is mutual,” Martin laughs. “He wishes he wasn’t here too. But…” he sobers for a moment. “He loves his grandfather too.”
CB sighs. “Yeah.”
“Anyway,” Martin says, “I’m damned glad to see you, and you need to pick up that bag out of the back of Jenny’s car, because you’re staying here.”
CB starts to protest, but Martin waves him off. “Get the bag. And hurry up. It’s cold out here, and Juliet wants to see you.”
CB laughs and gets his bag from the car.