CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

I ushered the four pre-rock stars across the narrow road toward the truck. The buildings on either side of us darkened the road, peppered with a thousand windows and a thousand eyes ready to stop us. But the truck had gone through the portal. It had somehow! That key information in my back pocket piqued my confidence.

 “Won’t someone tell me what the bloody hell is going on?” Ringo hissed from behind us.

“I’ll explain everything once we’re safe,” I whispered. “We just have to get out of here in this truck.”

“What? All five of us crammed into the cab at once?” George asked.

“No, you guys will be hidden in the back,” I said, bouncing on my feet. “C’mon, let’s go!”

The Beatles exchanged worried looks between themselves.

“You’ve done it before,” I reassured them.

 “What does she mean by that?” Paul whispered harshly to John.

“Just trust her,” John said, turning Paul around by his shoulders. “We don’t have much time.”

The driver unloaded the last box and then left his truck unattended as he spoke to the plump shop owner accepting the delivery. He took off his cap and wiped his brow.

I gave the signal and we snuck around the side keeping an eye on the driver. John held the doors of the meat truck open and turned to the other boys.

“Alright. In you go, then.”

“Now, hold on just a minute!” Paul grabbed John by the elbow. “I’ve followed you this far, but this all seems very wrong to me. Stealing a working man’s truck like this, it’s no good.”

Down the street The Cavern doors burst open with a loud crash and Thorne hobbled out holding his gun.

 “After you, George.” Paul gestured to the open truck.

“Much obliged,” George said, piling into the back.  

Ringo stepped in, still as confused as ever of having casually breezed into a perilous getaway. John tried to follow them, but I yanked him by his shirt collar.

“Wait, not you,” I said. “I need someone to drive the truck.”

His eyes widened. “I’ve never properly learnt to drive, Em. You’ll have to do it.”

“I’ve never driven a car in my whole life!”

We stared at each other in shock for a minute or two, until my IND buzzed sharply.

I grabbed him and ran to the right side of the truck where there was no steering wheel. I opened the door and not so politely shoved John all the way over to the driver seat. In the rear-view mirror, I watched Thorne pull a helpless motorist out of their car and get in.

“Start the car! Go!” I said shutting the door behind myself.

John whimpered to himself, started the car and hit the gas.

We rolled down the street at the same pace as a bicycle. Maybe slower.

“John! Drive! Get out of here!” I yelled.

“I’m trying! I’m trying! I’m trying!”

The car made a series of crunching sounds as John slammed repeatedly on the gas, still we went no faster than fifteen miles per hour. Thorne was closing in on us.

“Let out the clutch mate!” Paul yelled from the back.

John pumped the clutch and shifted gears. The truck pitched forward with the forced momentum. A collective loud bang came from inside the truck as three young bodies slammed against the wall.

“Oy!” Ringo yelled, followed by a string of expletives that I couldn’t hear over the roar of the accelerated truck.

John now had more of the speed but navigating the narrow Liverpool streets wasn’t an easy task. Thorne caught up quick and bumped into the back of the truck. More expletives sounded from the boys.

A police officer was directing traffic ahead at a roundabout. He whistled for us to stop. John didn’t stop.  He whistled harsher. John didn’t slow down.

“Clutch mate!” Paul yelled again.

John took a deep breath closed his eyes and blew into the roundabout. The cop dove out of the way, with screaming staccato whistles as he went. A car honked and veered as Lennon cranked the wheel and fishtailed into a lane.

Thorne followed after, nearly knocking over the same policeman who had barely gotten back onto his feet. He swerved sharply around an elderly couple in a Buick and got on our tail.

“Go to the dock!” I cried. “The portal is across the river at New Brighton!”

“Cars don’t swim yet, Em,” he said. “We’ll have to go to the Birkenhead tunnel.”

John made another turn past the irate policeman, starting a second lap around the roundabout.

“There! To Birkenhead!” I cried, pointing to the exit sign as it sailed past. “You missed it!”

John growled as we made yet again another turn on the roundabout. Thorne was still hot on our trail trying to get around the side of the car. The policeman ran for the blue telephone booth across the way.

“Right… There!”

John pulled the steering wheel, starting to exit one turn too soon.

“Not that one! The next one!”

“Grr! Em!” John wrenched the steering wheel around and flew over the sidewalk into the next exit. More thuds, bumps and expletives sounded from the boys in the back. Thorne got off on the too-early exit and slammed his breaks so hard they screamed.

We swung around and dashed for the Birkenhead tunnel. Right into the log jam of motorists in line to pay their dues at the toll bridge. John slammed on the breaks which choked and stalled the engine stopping us just before we crashed into the car in front of us. Thorne’s breaks squealed as he came to a sudden stop somewhere in line behind us.

“Oh, come onnnn,” I urged the other cars under my breath as Thorne opened his door.

John started the engine, ducked around the line of cars and pulled up to the window of the only lane that was closed. The toll operator leaned out the window with a frown under his bushy mustache.

Thorne leapt back into his car to follow us. When the other motorists saw our truck in the other lane, they too tried to jump behind us, nearly knocking into an erratic Thorne and honking at each other.

“You’ll have to go around son,” the toll booth operator said to John. “This gate is closed.”

“Right, sorry. It’s just we’re a bit tied down at the moment. Car chase and time travel stuff. Very serious business.”

“Eh?” The operator reared his head. “What’s all this about? How old are you? Is this even your truck?”

Ringo’s voice piped from behind. “This isn’t even me band.”

The operator’s mouth seemed to drop to the street at the mysterious passenger voice from the meat compartment. John banged on the back of the cab with the side of his fist.

A shot rang and echoed as it pinged the side mirror of the truck. The operator leapt into his booth in fright.

“Ope. Sorry. Gotta go. See ya.” John accelerated and smashed through the flimsy arm of the gate.

Lennon sped into the tunnel, shifting correctly for once.

The lights on the Birkenhead tunnel swished past one after another. Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. John messily wove in and out through cars so sharply it made me feel sick. Or maybe the stress of what was happening made me feel sick. Either way, I was holding a churning puke.

Thorne was a much better driver than poor John learning to shift in a meat truck and he caught up to us with ease.

John swerved in front of a double-decker bus that honked loudly at him. “Where is the portal Em? I don’t know where I’m going!”

“It’s off the cliffs just beyond the funfair.”

“Oh, brilliant. Would’ve been a whole lot easier if we had gone then.”

“Hindsight, Lennon.”

A familiar sound filled and echoed through the tunnel. That old European siren. WEE OH. WEE OH. WEE OH. Red and blue lights flickered on the tunnel walls.

“Uh, oh.”

“Is that for us?” George asked from the back.

“Keep. Driving.” I told John.

PING. A bullet punched a hole through the middle of the windshield. John yelped. 

“That one nearly had my name on it.”

I leaned my head out the window and yelled. “Dammit, Thorne! Don’t you know ‘assassination requires a healthy dose of subtlety’?!”

Thorne sped up and re-aimed his gun. I reached over and grabbed the steering wheel, jerking it hard.

“TURN NOW!”

We veered into a separate tunnel on the side. The truck lost control and slid until John could regain control with the steering wheel again. But it was too late. The quick and sudden turn had killed the engine and sent us spinning and sitting backwards.

We heard brakes screech loudly from the tunnel. Car lights approached as Thorne spun around and drove head on through the stream of traffic toward us.

“Where does he think he is? America?”

“Just get us out of here!”

John turned the key into the ignition and straightened the car. A loud rev burst into the side tunnel followed by the growing sirens in pursuit.

We rushed through the tunnel and out the side exit into the sun. Four men in business suits cross the road in a line right in front of us. I covered my eyes and screamed as John cranked the wheel and turned sharply.

There was a significant crunch and thump that threw us forward. John’s glasses knocked off his face and clattered to the floor. Suddenly, we were on the pier.

“Em, my glasses!” he said leaning over the steering wheel. “I can’t see!”

“Oh, John!”

Pedestrians shrieked and ran. One man with a bulldog on a leather leash almost didn’t make it and had to pull his dog out of the way at the last split second.

The same crunch and Thorne had followed us onto the pier. Two more crunches and the cops followed close.

John squinted desperately as he drove. I leapt to the floor to feel for the glasses with my hand. A woman screamed from outside and the truck swerved, throwing my head into the bottom of the dashboard. I may have had an armor mod, but my head still throbbed and the welt from the bullet stung under my collarbone.

“Em! Help!”

I felt the plastic frames under my fingertips, grabbed them by the lenses and hopped up by John. I tried to stick them on his face but somehow jabbed him in the eye instead.

“Watch it!” he yelled.

“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know how these work! We don’t have them in 2109.”

“They sit on your nose, it’s not brain surgery.” He grabbed the glasses, flicked them open with one hand and put them on.

Around the bend, a tall and menacing shadow came into view. A dark structure akin to the Eiffel Tower loomed over the colorful attractions of the fairground.

“There’s the Ballroom Tower and the fair!”

“But how do we get to the portal?”

“John!”

Right in front of our path was a giant cement barrier marking the end of the board walk and the beginning of a sharp drop into the sea. John twisted the wheel and dodged the barrier but not soon enough and scraped the side of the truck.

We crashed through a wooden fence right into the fun fair. The dense crowd of fair goers shouted and parted as the meat truck slammed into a tent. The canvas ripped off and draped across the windshield. More people screamed as Thorne in the second car careened into the fair. One of the cops didn’t quite get the sharp turn and the Wee Oh of his siren crashed with a sad groaning “woop”.

The tent canvas completely covered the windshield and sounds of crashing and gasping were all around us.

“Get it off, Em!” he yelled.

I leaned out the window and reached for the canvas. The tent edge was flapping wildly in the wind and I barely grazed it with my fingertips. I had finally grabbed it when suddenly the truck smashed through a planter box. The bump knocked the canvas off but also knocked me further out the window. The glass of the window dug into my hips, as I was face to face with the rolling tire.

Thorne took another shot at the truck and the bullet dinged against the metal siding.

I hoisted myself back into the cab of the truck and huffed a lock of hair off my face.

“Gee thanks for the help,” I said to John.

“I don’t dare take my hands off the wheel!”

“I could’ve rolled to my death!”

“If I take my hands off the wheel you will.”

We exited the funfair on the other side of the Tower Ballroom and around the coast to the cliff where the portal secretly hung in the sky. Thorne followed us. The police followed Thorne. An old man in Wellingtons stood on the beach, puffing his pipe, and calmly watched the parade of frantic drivers.

“There, there! Turn!” I yelled.

Another whip of the wheel. The Beatles in the back were complaining less and less, I hoped John’s desperate driving hadn’t knocked them all unconscious.

We drove up the hill the truck straining with the sand and the grass. Thorne followed and at least two other cop cars, their lights whirling and spinning. I activated my IND to get the exact coordinates for the portal.

“Alright, stop!” I yelled. The car came to a jolting halt. “Now back up a little.”

“I- uh…”

John shakily put a hand on the gear shift, keeping an eye on the fast-approaching Thorne. He started backing up.

“Okay! Stop, stop, stop!” I yelled.

Another slam of the breaks.

“Right here! Perfect!”

“It didn’t work, Em!” he yelled. “We’re still here! Where’s the portal?”

“Yeah…” I grabbed the steering wheel and yanked it a full 90 degrees. Twisting the wheels until they faced the edge of the cliff.

“Are you completely mad?!” John asked.

CRUSH! We both jolted forward. In the side mirror I saw the hood of Thorne’s stolen car crumpled under the bender of the truck. Then his door opened, and he got out, gun in hand.

“Get down!” I took John by the shoulders and pushed him further into his seat. “Drive! Drive!”

Thorne power walked to the driver’s side. I climbed into John’s seat and sat right on his lap. I put my foot on the lever thingy that I assumed was the gas. The truck, still in reverse, whirred against Thorne’s car, the wheels sinking into the muddy hillside.

“Make it go forward!” I screeched, grabbing John’s hand, and trying to get him maneuver this machine I didn’t understand.

“You mad woman! You’ll kill us all!” he said resisting me, pulling, and fighting.

As Thorne got to the window I laid my entire body across John covering at least the most vital parts.

“Get off!” Thorne yelled at me gesturing with his gun.

I opened the truck door and smacked Thorne’s arm. Ping! A bullet, which I hoped was the last, shot through the roof of the car.

A megaphone sounded from behind. “Lower your weapon! The lot of you, get out of the car!”

I kicked the gun out of Thorne’s hand, and it clattered to the floor of the cab. He growled and grabbed me by my shirt sleeve.

“John drive! He’s going to kill you!”

Finally, John shifted the truck and inched slowly to the edge of the cliff.

Thorne kept pace, jogging next to the car pulling me by my shirt. I tried to roll the window up on him, but it was one of those stupid hand cranks that I had to wrench around while struggling out of his grasp.

“Stop! Get out of the car!” The megaphone shouted at us.

“John! Go!”

He shut his eyes tight and shifted again. The car sped toward the cliff. Thorne couldn’t hold on. He dropped off the car and rolled behind us. Closer the edge of the cliff came into view. My stomach pitched, as I hoped to Galactica that the portal would catch the entire truck. And not just half of us.

“No, no, no, no, no!” John screamed, each ‘no’ more panicked than the last.

The wheels sailed off the edge and we were in free fall. The last thing I remember was a half a yelp from John, cut off by a blinding light.

Again, the feeling of slow motion. John’s arms raised slowly to the roof by his wrists. Everything inside the car seemed to float up with us. Papers from the floor of the truck. A hot dog bun from the fair. The weight of three more Beatles that I couldn’t see.

My neck slowly cranked to the left. Where in the void and the light and the space I saw myself. A fresh nervous self. Mid jump, clutching to the straps of a parachute with Thorne at my side.

Clunk! Smash! The wheels hit the hard floor of the sterile travel room. I slammed on the brakes, but it wasn’t in time. We skidded, fishtailed, and slammed into the wall.

A low blaring alarm rang and scientists from all around ran for us. I saw Thorne sitting on the edge of the hood. He wore an entire padded suit like what a crash dummy would wear. He wasn’t chasing us anymore, he was calmly undoing the strap from his helmet.

John lay limp against the driver’s seat, his neck stretched back. I didn’t even know my heart could beat any faster, but when I saw him, I really thought that he hadn’t made it. No one had ever brought a live person through the portal before and I wasn’t sure if it were possible to live through that.

I grabbed him by his shirt and shook him, until finally he let out a loud shuttering breath and opened his eyes.

“I went out,” he said quietly.

I couldn’t help but laugh and pulled him in for the hardest smooch I’ve ever given anyone.

“We did it,” I got out frantically. “I love you!” The door opened wide and a team of travelers snatched me away from John

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