“I want a straight answer,” Thorne swallowed his anger as he sat across from me. “Leading John away from music would get rid of The Beatles, yes or no?”
“The Beatles, yeah,” I said, curling my fingers on the edge of the hotel’s dingy bed.
“But you’re saying it’s possible that Paul could be successful without him and still bring those songs to light.”
My knee bounced wildly. “I’m saying that I don’t know.”
Thorne pursed his lips so tight the skin around them turned white. “You were the one who should have studied this subject closely. And you’re the one who drafted this proposal.”
“I know,” I said pinching my lip.
“Well, which one is the driving force behind The Beatles. John or Paul?”
“I don’t know.”
Thorne looked as if he were about to implode. He couldn’t even find the words for me as he rubbed his hand over his mouth and sighed heavily. In my heart, I knew this was the beginning of something bad. At any point he could declare that the mission was a bust. And if the mission were a bust, he would expect me to kill.
“Listen,” I said, trying to salvage things. “I know you didn’t like the idea of changing things around for Julia. But, this kind of stuff comes up, right? Maybe we could change things around for this situation?”
“We don’t have a choice,” he spat at me. The dark angry gleam in his eye sent shivers down my spine. He rubbed his bottom lip and stared at me with his death glare. “We’ll have to adjust. Make McCartney the subject. Get the proposal from him instead.”
What? I blinked, processing what he was suggesting. “He’s just a kid,” I said.
“He’s only a year and a half younger than Lennon.”
“Yeah, but he feels a lot younger,” I said. “Marriage isn’t on the table here. And I have, what? Three weeks?”
“Killing him would be the easiest,” Thorne said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “But if you’re still so intent on not shedding a single drop of blood on this mission. This could work for our advantage. If we could get Paul involved in this, use him as some sort of a triangle. We could create friction between Lennon and McCartney and break them off permanently.”
“I can’t do that! After I’ve started to make such a stride with Lennon. I mean I finally got him! I can’t ruin that! And going after Paul? John will be crushed, he’ll be…” My eyes stretched wider. “He’ll be furious! Haven’t you heard the song, I’m a Jealous Guy? Haven’t you heard the lyrics to Run for Your Life for Galactica sakes?!”
“Then let him self-destruct and ruin his own chances for success,” Thorne said.
I shook my head slowly, regretting every inch of the moment I opened Paul’s notebook.
“I’m not sure if I can do it,” I said honestly. “This whole thing. This manipulative thing. I feel like this is worse than shooting him.”
“Since you clearly don’t understand the gravity of the situation, let me make it perfectly clear,” he said tenting his fingers. “You have two options. Option one. You trade McCartney for Lennon and you split the famous duo. Option two. You terminate both Lennon and McCartney. And you terminate Harrison and that other one they call Ringo, to ensure that not a single Beatle does anything to change this timeline. Now do you understand?”
Killing four teenagers. That was not the mission I had agreed to. George was still a schoolboy. Ringo had nothing to do with them at this point in history. And Paul. Paul was prolific and I couldn’t deny that after seeing his songs. But how could I get him to fall in love with me after everything? I didn’t know a thing about McCartney, I had spent all my time researching John. And John…
If I said no, Thorne would kill them. It would be better for them to live a life hating me, hating each other, then not to live.
My knee had stopped bouncing, it became too heavy to even twitch. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
“Alright,” I said. “I’ll make Paul the new subject.”
That night I returned to Mendips, wishing the portal would malfunction and suck me back through. As I passed the living room, Mimi called to me. I slunk over to her. She sat in the glow of the little TV which lit her sharp nose and cheekbones.
“John was asking for you,” she said. “I said you were out, but I didn’t know where you had been.”
“Oh.” I rung my fingers together keeping in my nervous shuttering breath. Weird, that she was admitting she had a friendly conversation to John about me. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was already planting the seeds of jealousy and distrust. Which was good, right? Ugh. I wanted to cry and hide away.
“I’ll talk to John tomorrow or whenever I see him next,” I said.
Aunt Mimi gazed at the television set with a stone expression. “You know, John is a lot smarter than he puts on.”
She finally looked directly at me, her face half lit with the black and white glow of the TV. “He puts on airs that he’s a certain way, but he really is very intelligent. He had a story published in his school paper.”
“I thought he started the school paper,” I said.
“I thought John started his own paper during school,” I said.
Aunt Mimi blinked in the glowing light. “You know, you think you can get to know a person in a couple of months, but you really can’t. You could take years and years and never truly know a person.”
“Sure, that makes sense.” It didn’t. It was pretty out of left field, but okay.
Mimi scratched the back of her hand. “The thing with John is that he’s been hurt. The death of his mother—” Her own voice crackled, and she cleared her throat. “I don’t want to see him hurt again. He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t need it.”
That one felt like a dagger through the heart. All I could do was give her a small little nod and then leave to go to my room. I pushed her words deep down inside and walked past the empty bedroom of the mouse I had in my claws.
I woke the next morning with a notification from Thorne on my IND.
‘Tell John about Paul. Today.’
I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. I was aching to see John, forget about the mission for point three seconds and enjoy a boy who loved me. I closed my eyes, trying to imagine how that conversation would go. ‘Hey, John, I decide I like Paul now, so awkward.’ And he would say, ‘Oh, okay. Cool. Go for it. You were dumb anyway and I’ll just focus tenfold on my music now. Thanks very much.’
I groaned and rolled my tongue out of my mouth. Then I threw my covers off and bounded for the door. I hadn’t even stepped out before I ran into John.
“Hello!” he said cheerfully. “I wanted to see you last night. Where did you go?”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, fixing my bed head and keeping an appropriate distance as per my morning breath. “Last night I was… I had to work late for my work study thing. I wanted to see you too.”
He gave a small little smile and nodded. “Alright, well look, I have a prezzie for you. So now, be a good girl and close your eyes.” He covered my eyes, and I pressed my hand over his. “No peeking now,” he said.
Finally, he let go of his hand and I opened my eyes. Half an inch from my nose was a flier with a colorful Ferris wheel. John made a big sweeping demonstration with it as if he were on a game show or something.
“What is it?” I asked.
“The fun fair in Brighton. And I want to take my girl.”
My hands curled by my cheeks. I had been dying to do something like this since I had gotten there. Explore the past, have fun, and forget about my horrible, terrible mission. John put the flier under his chin and gave me the most stretching childlike grin possible, which made my heart twang.
“I’d love to go! Thank you!”
I deserved at least one last hurrah with John. I needed it. I ran to my room and put on my best outfit that I could find. A black sweater with a pencil skirt, tight to match. Then John and I walked to catch the good old “seventy-two” that would take us to the boating dock in Downtown Liverpool.
We jumped on the ferry just before it left the dock. On board were hundreds of people all talking and chattering at once. A part of me felt jealous of the atmosphere. Hardly anyone gathered like this in 2109. Usually everyone gathered online or in cyber cafes or virtual worlds. I longed for the physical human connection of the past.
We joked nonstop with each other the entire journey. I couldn’t help noticing the way his mouth curled when he laughed. I loved it. It’s dumb, but I loved his teeth in particular. They were nearly perfect except for the way his two front teeth slightly folded in.
He reached over and held my hand as we slogged through the water, the boat rocking and churning through. There was something extra special about holding hands with John. He could be so cynical and wild, but I felt calm and secure with his warm hand on mine. I accidentally caught myself humming I Want to Hold Your Hand, which made me grin wildly and wish I could have let him in on my little joke.
As we were getting off the boat dock, swarms of people all pushed past each other, bumping, and grinding. It was impossible not to slam around into the hundreds of other people clamoring for the fun fair. John accidentally bumped into a shorter guy in front of him.
“Sorry, mate,” John said to him.
The shorter guy turned around and I almost swallowed my gum. He had large blue eyes and a recognizable bigger nose. It was Ringo Starr. The drummer John wasn’t supposed to meet.
“No need to be killing anyone now,” he said. “It’s just a fun fair.”
My stomach rolled. Ringo slipped into the crowd and I lost sight of him, but our chance run in brought the nightmare flooding back. He could be at the end of his life. And young Paul. And younger George. If I didn’t break John’s heart, it would stop beating. My hand slipped out of John’s.