Standing there, holding the phone, she had thought, Here is the chance my husband and I have talked and prayed over for so many years. We don’t like this world of 2155. We want to run away from his work at the bomb factory, I from my position with disease-culture units. Perhaps there is a chance for us to escape, to run for centuries into a wild country of years where they will never find and bring us back to burn our books, censor our thoughts, scald our minds with fear, march us, scream at us with radios . . .
They were in Mexico in the year 1938.
She looked at the stained café wall.
Good workers for the Future State were allowed vacations into the Past to escape fatigue. And so she and her husband had moved back into 1938, a room in New York City, and enjoyed the theaters and the Statue of Liberty which still stood green in the harbor. And on the third day they had changed their clothes, their names, and had flown off to hide in Mexico!
“It must be him,” whispered Susan, looking at the stranger seated at the table. “Those cigarettes, the cigars, the liquor. They give him away. Rememberour first night in the Past?”
A month ago, their first night in New York, before their flight, drinking all the strange drinks, savoring and buying odd foods, perfumes, cigarettes of ten dozen rare brands, for they were rare in the Future, where war was everything. So they had made fools of themselves, rushing in and out of stores, salons, tobacconists, going up to their room to get wonderfully ill.
And now here was this stranger doing likewise, doing a thing that only a man from the Future would do who had been starved for liquors and cigarettes for many years.
Susan and William sat and ordered a drink.
The stranger was examining their clothes, their hair, their jewelry—the way they walked and sat.
“Sit easily,” said William under his breath. “Look as if you’ve worn this clothing style all your life.”
“We should never have tried to escape.”
“My God!” said William, “he’s coming over. Let me do the talking.”
The stranger bowed before them. There was the faintest tap of heels knocking together. Susan stiffened. That military sound!—unmistakable as that certain ugly rap on your door at midnight.
“Mr. Roger Kristen,” said the stranger, “you did not pull up your pant legs when you sat down.”
William froze. He looked at his hands lying on either leg, innocently. Susan’s heart was beating swiftly.
“You’ve got the wrong person,” said William quickly. “My name’s not Krisler.”
“Kristen,”corrected the stranger.
“I’m William Travis,” said William. “And I don’t see what my pant legs have to do with you!”
“Sorry.” The stranger pulled up a chair. “Let us say I thought I knew you because you didnot pull your trousers up. Everyone does. If they don’t, the trousers bag quickly. I am a long way from home, Mr.—Travis, and in need of company. My name is Simms.”
“Mr. Simms, we appreciate your loneliness, but we’re tired. We’re leaving for Acapulco tomorrow.”
“A charming spot. I was just there, looking for some friends of mine. They are somewhere. I shall find them yet. Oh, is the lady a bit sick?”
“Good night, Mr. Simms.”
They started out the door, William holding Susan’s arm firmly. They did not look back when Mr. Simms called, “Oh, just one other thing.” He paused and then slowly spoke the words:
Susan shut her eyes and felt the earth falter under her. She kept going, into the fiery plaza, seeing nothing.
They locked the door of their hotel room. And then she was crying and they were standing in the dark, and the room tilted under them. Far away firecrackers exploded, and there was laughter in the plaza.
“What a damned, loud nerve,” said William. “Him sitting there, looking us up and down like animals, smoking his damn cigarettes, drinking his drinks. I should have killed him then!” His voice was nearly hysterical. “He even had the nerve to use his real name to us. The Chief of the Searchers. And the thing about my pant legs. My God, I should have pulled them up when I sat. It’s an automatic gesture of this day and age. When I didn’t do it, it set me off from the others; it madehim think, Here’s a man who never wore pants, a man used to breech uniforms and future styles. I could kill myself for giving us away!”