REPLAY
by Ken Grimwood

 

SIXTEEN

This time there was no need for the global-saturation coverage they had employed with their previous ad, the small one with which they had hoped to attract the attention only of other replayers. Also, both the ambiguity and anonymity of that first notice were unnecessary for their present purpose.

The New York Times refused to carry the one-time-only, full-page ad, but it ran in the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.

DURING THE NEXT TWELVE MONTHS:

The US nuclear submarine Scorpion will be lost at sea in late May.

A major tragedy will disrupt the American presidential campaign in June.

The assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr, will be arrested outside the United States.

Chief Justice Earl Warren will resign on June 26th, and will be succeeded by Justice Abe Fortas.

The Soviet Union will lead a Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21st.

Fifteen thousand people will be killed in an earthquake in Iran on the first of September.

An unmanned Soviet spacecraft will circle the moon and be recovered in the Indian Ocean on September 22nd.

In October, there will be military coups in both Peru and Panama.

Richard Nixon will narrowly defeat Hubert Humphrey for the presidency.

Three American astronauts will orbit the moon and return safely to earth during Christmas week.

In January 1969, there will be an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

A massive oil spill will contaminate the beaches of Southern California in February.

French President Charles de gaulle will resign at the end of next April.

We will have no further comment to make on these statements until May 1, 1969. We will meet with the news media on that date, at a location to be announced one year from today.

Jeff Winston & Pamela Phillips

New York, NY, April 19, 1968

Every seat of the large conference room they had rented at the New York Hilton was occupied, and those who could not find a chair milled impatiently in the aisles or at the sides of the room, trying to keep their feet from becoming entangled in the snaking microphone and television cables.

At 3:00 P.M. precisely, Jeff and Pamela came into the room and stood together on the speaker’s platform. She smiled nervously as the blinding lights for the TV cameras came on, and Jeff gave her hand an encouraging, unseen squeeze. From the moment they’d walked in, the room was a hubbub of shouted questions, the reporters all vying at once for their attention. Jeff called several times for silence, finally got the level of noise down to a dim roar.

‘We’ll answer all your questions,’ he told the assembled journalists, ‘but let’s establish some kind of order here. Why don’t we take the back row first, one question per person, left to right. Then we’ll move to the next row, in the same order.’

‘What about the people who don’t have seats?’ cried one of the men at the side of the room.

‘Latecomers take their turns last, left side of the room first, back to front. Now,’ Jeff said, pointing, ‘we’ll take the first question from the lady in the blue dress. No need to identify yourselves; just ask anything you like.’

The woman stood, pen and pad in hand. ‘The most obvious: How were you able to make such accurate predictions about such a wide range of events? Are you claiming to have psychic powers?’

Jeff took a deep breath, spoke as calmly as possible. ‘One question at a time, please, but I’ll answer both of those this once. No, we do not pretend to be psychic, as that term is commonly understood. Both Miss Phillips and I have been the beneficiaries – or the victims – of a recurring phenomenon that we initially found as difficult to believe as you undoubtedly will today. In brief, we are each reliving our own lives, or certain portions of them. We both died – will die – in October 1988 and have returned to life and subsequently died again, several times over.’

The noise that had greeted them as they entered the room was nothing compared to the pandemonium that ensued at this statement, and the overall derisive tone of the cacophony was unmistakable. One television crew shut off its lights and began packing away its equipment, and several reporters stalked out of the room in an insulted huff, but there were many others eager to take the vacated seats. Jeff signalled for quiet again, pointed to the next journalist in line for a question.

‘This one’s obvious, too,’ the portly, scowling man said. ‘How the hell do you expect any of us to believe that crap?’

Jeff maintained his composure, smiled reassuringly at Pamela and calmly addressed the scornful crowd. ‘I told you before that what we have to say will seem barely credible. I can only point to the complete validity of the “predictions” we published a year ago – which were already memories, to us – and ask that you reserve judgement until you’ve heard us out.’

‘Are you going to make any more predictions today?’ asked the next reporter.

‘Yes,’ Jeff said, and the uproar threatened to begin anew. ‘But only after we’ve answered all your other questions and feel that we’ve told everything we need to tell.’

It took them almost an hour to give the essential, sketchy outline of their lives: who they’d been originally, what they’d done of note in each of their replays, how they came to know each other, the troubling fact of the accelerating skew. As previously agreed, they left out a great deal about their personal lives, as well as anything they felt might be dangerous or unwise to reveal. But then came the question they’d known would be raised and still hadn’t decided how to handle: ‘Do you know of anyone else who’s … replaying, as you call it?’ asked a cynical voice in the third row.

Pamela glanced at Jeff, then spoke up emphatically before he had a chance to answer. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘A man named Stuart McCowan, in Seattle, Washington.’

There was a momentary pause as a hundred pens scratched the name on a hundred note pads. Jeff gave Pamela a warning frown, which she ignored.

‘As far as we know, he’s the only other one,’ she went on. ‘We spent most of one replay searching for others, but McCowan is the only one we ever verified. Let me tell you, though, that he has some ideas about all this with which we strongly disagree; that’s why he’s not here with us today. But I think you might find it very interesting to interview him, even keep close track of everything he does, to see how he deals with this situation that the three of us find ourselves in. He’s an unusual man, to say the least.’

She looked back at Jeff, and he complimented her with a pleased smile. She’d said nothing libellous or incriminating about McCowan but had made sure his background would be thoroughly investigated and his every public move watched from now on. He’d kill no more, not this time.

‘What do you expect to get out of all this?’ asked another reporter. ‘Is this some kind of moneymaking scheme you’re launching, some sort of cult?’

‘Absolutely not,’ Jeff said firmly. ‘We can make all the money we need or want through ordinary investment channels, and I would like each of your stories to include our specific request that no one send us money, not in any amount, not for any purpose. We will return all such gifts. The only thing we’re seeking is information, a possible explanation of what we’re going through and how it will all end. We would like the scientific establishment – particularly physicists and cosmologists – to be aware of the reality of what’s happening to us and to contact us directly with any opinions they might have. That’s our sole purpose in making this phenomenal situation a matter of public record. We’ve never revealed ourselves before and wouldn’t have now, but for the very real concerns we’ve outlined.’

The room buzzed with scepticism. Everybody was selling something, as Pamela had once pointed out; it was difficult for this collection of hardened journalists to accept the fact that Jeff and Pamela weren’t pulling a scam of one sort or another, despite the couple’s apparent sincerity and the irrefutable evidence of their inconceivably accurate foreknowledge.

‘Then what do you intend to do, if you’re not trying to capitalize on these claims?’ someone else asked.

‘It depends on what we find out as a result of having announced ourselves this way,’ Jeff replied. ‘For the time being, we’re just going to wait and see what happens when you make our story known. Now, are there any further questions? If not, I have here a number of copies of our newest set of … predictions, as you think of them.’

There was a scramble for the front of the room, a multitude of hands grabbing for the xeroxed sheets of paper, a new outburst of more pointed questions.

‘Is there going to be a nuclear war?’

‘Will we beat the Russians to the moon?’

‘Do we find a cure for cancer?’

‘Sorry,’ Jeff shouted. ‘No questions about the future. Everything we have to say is in this document.’

‘One last question,’ called a bespectacled man in a fedora that looked as if it had been sat on. ‘Who’s going to win the Kentucky Derby this Saturday?’

Jeff grinned, relaxed for the first time since the tension-filled news conference had begun. ‘I’ll make a single exception for this gentleman,’ he said. ‘Majestic Prince will win the Derby and the Preakness, but Arts and Letters will beat him out of the Triple Crown. And I think I just made my own bet worthless by telling you that.’

Majestic Prince left the gate at 1-10 odds and paid $2.10 to win, the lowest return permissible under the laws governing pari mutuel gambling. After the story on Jeff and Pamela had hit the networks and the wire services, almost no one had bet on any of the other horses in the Derby. The Kentucky State Racing Commission ordered a full investigation, and there was talk in Maryland and New York of cancelling the upcoming Preakness and Belmont.

The phones in their new office in the Pan Am Building began ringing at 6:00 A.M. on the Monday after the race; by noon, they had hired two more temps from Kelly Girls to handle the calls and telegrams and the curiosity seekers who walked through the door without an appointment.

‘I have the list from the past hour, sir,’ said the awestruck young woman in the pleated midi-dress, nervously fingering her long strands of beads.

‘Can you summarize it for me?’ Jeff asked wearily, setting aside the editorial in that day’s New York Times, the one calling for ‘rational scepticism in the face of would-be modern Nostradamuses and their manipulation of coincidence.’

‘Yes, sir. There were forty-two requests for private consultations – people who are seriously ill, parents of missing children, and so on – nine stock-brokerage firms called, offering to take you on as clients at reduced commission; we’ve had twelve calls and eight telegrams from people willing to put up money for various gambling schemes; eleven messages from other psychics wanting to share –’

‘We aren’t psychics, Miss … Kendall, is it?’

‘Yes, sir. Elaine, if you like.’

‘Fine. I want that clearly understood, Elaine; Pamela and I don’t claim to have any psychic powers, and anyone who makes that assumption should be informed otherwise. This is something very different, and if you’re going to work here you have to know how we choose to be represented.’

‘I understand, sir. It’s just that –’

‘It’s a little hard for you to accept, of course. I didn’t say you had to believe us yourself; just make sure the basic elements of what we’ve had to say don’t get twisted around when you talk to the public, that’s all. Now, go on with the list.’

The girl smoothed her blouse, referred to her steno pad. ‘There were eleven … I suppose you’d call them hate calls, some of them obscene.’

‘You don’t have to put up with that. Tell the other girls they can feel free to hang up on anyone who becomes abusive. Contact the police if any one caller persists.’

‘Thank you, sir. We’ve also had several calls from some futurist group in California. They want you to go out there for a conference with them.’

Jeff raised an interested eyebrow. ‘The Rand Corporation?’

She glanced back down at her notes. ‘No, sir; something called the “Outlook Group.”’

‘Pass it on to my attorney. Ask him to have them checked out, see if they’re legitimate.’

Elaine jotted his instructions on her pad, went back to the list. ‘As long as I’m talking to Mr Wade, I need to tell him about all these airlines that are threatening to sue: Aeronaves de Mexico, Allegheny Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Air France, Olympic Airways … also both the Mississippi and Ohio State Tourist Boards, their lawyers called. They’re all very angry, sir. I just thought I should warn you.’

Jeff nodded distractedly. ‘That’s it?’ he asked.

‘Yes, sir, except for a few more magazines, all trying to arrange an exclusive interview with you or Miss Phillips, or both.’

‘Any scholarly journals among them?’

She shook her head. ‘The National Enquirer, Fate … I guess you could say the most serious of them was Esquire.’

‘Still no word from any of the universities? No research foundations other than this outfit in California, whatever it may be?’

‘No, sir. That’s the whole list.’

‘All right.’ He sighed. ‘Thank you, Elaine; keep me posted.’

‘I will, sir.’ She folded her pad, started to go, then paused. ‘Mr Winston … I was just wondering …’

‘Yes?’

‘Do you think I ought to get married? I mean, I’ve been thinking about it, and my boyfriend’s asked me twice, but I’d like to know … well, I’d like to know whether it would work out or not.’

Jeff smiled tolerantly, saw the desperate desire for foresight in the young woman’s eyes. ‘I wish I knew,’ he told her. ‘But that’s something you’re going to have to discover for yourself.’

Aeronaves de Mexico dropped its lawsuit on June fifth, the day after one of its jetliners crashed into a mountainside near Monterrey, as Jeff and Pamela had predicted. Mexican political leader Carlos Madrazo and tennis star Rafael Osuna were not on board the plane in which they had died five times before; only eleven people had seen fit to take the doomed flight this time, not seventy-nine.

After that, of the remaining airlines for whom disaster had been foretold, only Air Algérie and Royal Nepal Airlines chose to ignore the warning and not cancel the flights in question. Those two companies suffered the only fatal accidents in all of the world’s commercial aviation for the rest of 1969.

The US Navy refused to bow to what Defense Secretary Laird called ‘superstition,’ and the destroyer Evans proceeded on course in the South China Sea; but the Australian government quietly ordered its aircraft carrier Melbourne to cut engines and drop anchor for the first week of June, and the collision that had always sliced the Evans in half never happened.

The death toll in the Fourth of July Lake Erie floods in northern Ohio was down from forty-one to five, as residents heeded the highly publicized alerts and sought higher ground before the storms hit. A similar situation prevailed in Mississippi; tourist bookings at the Gulf Coast resorts of Gulfport and Biloxi were down to almost nothing for mid-August, and the local populace fled inland at a rate never before achieved by mere civil-defence warnings. Hurricane Camille struck a nearly deserted coastline, and 138 of her previous 149 victims survived.

Lives changed. Lives went on, where they had never continued before. And the world took note.

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