Thousand Words a Day for August 15, 2017

“The name I used in those days was Westerlake, Norris Westerlake, middle initial T, born June 17th, 1901 in Cleveland.” He stopped abruptly and looked around the restaurant nervously. “That’s a small city in Ohio. Are you getting all this?”

Soren’s puzzlement at this strange little man was growing by the second. “Yeah, sure. Cleveland. Everybody knows where Cleveland is.”

A moment of surprise flashed across Westerlake’s face, then he recovered. “No kidding? I never thought–” He picked up his coffee cup, seemed uncertain about what exactly to do with it, and put it down again. “Anyway, that wasn’t my name and–”

Soren interrupted him. “What is your name, then?”

“My name?” The man snorted. “I can’t tell you that. I can’t–” he cast his gaze around again and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I can’t,” he said firmly. “Just call me Norris, for God’s sake.”

“Norris.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

Soren picked up his own cup and took a sip; Norris watched with more attention and interest than the ordinary little action deserved, then he mimicked it–and seemed surprised that the coffee was scalding hot. “Jesus!” he sputtered. “Does it have to be so damn hot?”

Soren shrugged. “Something to do with the release of oils from the bean, I understand. Listen, just who the hell are you?”

“I’m an ordinary guy.”

Now it was Soren’s turn to snort. “I’ve talked to you for ten minutes now, Mr. Wester-whatever. There’s nothing ordinary about you.”

“Really?” he asked, his face scrunched up as a child’s might.

“Really.”

Norris looked disturbed for a moment–then he visibly changed: his facial expression went blank, his body seemed to relax, his gaze unfocused, his eyes moved jerkily. The effect lasted just a moment, perhaps half a second, just long enough for a quick-witted observer to notice, then he seemed to come to himself. “We have to hurry,” he said.

“This photograph,” Soren turned it around on the tabletop between them. “It was taken at a very specific event in 1971, in October of that year. Forty-four years ago. And yet, is that not you?” he pointed, and Norris peered at it.

“Where did you get this?”

“Is that you?” Soren pressed. It was clear to him that the man whose image was captured 44 years prior and which appeared in this photograph–a high quality copy of a print that was itself made from an original slide–was, impossibly and yet in fact, sitting before him at Table 28 in the {i}Mon Ami Gabi{/i} restaurant in the Paris Las Vegas Resort and Casino looking none the worse for the passage of those 44 years. He was wearing the same clothes, for crying out loud–or at least the same checkered shirt. The photo showed him only from the waist up, his lower half obscured by the roulette table against which he, along with a tight row of fellow gamblers, was pressed.

“This was taken at the Sands,” Norris said.

“I know where it was taken. And when.”

“It was taken this morning.”

Soren had thought there was nothing the man could say that would throw him. Criminals, in Soren’s experience, were surprisingly obtuse when it came to inventing plausible cover stories. Soren had no reason to believe the man was engaged in illegal activities, but he had acted peculiarly in the casino that day, when Soren first noticed him. Had he not pretended to look at his watch? Had he not sat down at the slot machine before digging out a coin? And now he appeared to have taken the first step down the road of criminal confusion by claiming something that Soren knew could not be true. “This morning? How’s that?”

“I was on the Strip, the old Strip, the real one, you know. And there was laughing, a girl’s voice. I turned and looked through the open door and there was a girl standing there, a pretty girl. So I found myself moving in that direction, and then I was inside,” he said. There was a poster, Sonny and Cher, and she was standing next to it.”

“Yeah?”

“She moved away, toward where there were people with cameras, reporters, I think, and I slipped around the corner of a roulette table, that table,” he pointed at the photo. “There was a flash and a click, and someone, a man’s voice, said ‘Thank you,’ He almost yelled it.”

“It was the opening of a new wing of room, quite an innovation at the time.”

“No kidding? Well, I didn’t stay the night,” Norris said. “There hasn’t been a night. It was just this morning.”

“How is that possible?” Soren asked.

“Haven’t you guessed?” Norris asked. “I’m a time traveler.”

“Ah. Time traveler,” Soren repeated, his derision restrained only with great effort.

“You don’t believe me.”

Soren spun the photo around and looked at it, then looked up at Norris. “There is no doubt that this photograph was taken in 1971. It appeared in the Sun, the newspaper, on Thursday, October 21, 1971.” He leaned over the table and thumped it. “This really is you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. That was taken this morning–from my point of view.”

Soren leaned back in his chair and there was a pause. “Look, I’m faced here with something I don’t understand.” He paused again, his fingers toying with the corner of the photo that lay between them. “I’m willing to consider, to accept, a lot. But time travel? The idea that you were captured in the photo in 1971 this morning and you’re here having lunch with me now? Forty-four years later?”

Norris looked like he understood; he nodded. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. “You want me to try?”

“Sure,” Soren said.

Norris’ affect suddenly changed. He seemed to go from nervous, somewhat bumbling and uncertain to fully in command of himself and the situation in the space of a single moment. He straightened up in the chair and, in a deft movement, removed the glasses he’d been wearing, the ones he was wearing in the photo, and laid them on the table next to it. “I don’t really move in time any differently than you do,” he began. “What I am able to do, what all of–” he paused, seeming to struggle for the word. “–my kind can do, is move between all the possible futures from any particular now moment.”

“Now moment?”

“Yes, that’s what we call the instant you’re living in, the one you’re trapped in. We’re not trapped in it.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Aren’t you conscious of being trapped?”

“No,” Soren replied.

Norris stared at him for a moment, eyebrows raised. “That always surprises me. Anyway, I’m not restricted to your now moment. From my point of view, I can see the events that led to you being right here, right now, and the many that flow from it.”

“Many?” Soren repeated.

“Yes. Very many, as a matter of fact. The difference between the past and the future is choice. You have no choice about the past. You have complete choice about the future. Don’t you?”

Soren shrugged. “I guess so,” he said.

“Come now, Mr. Roshwald. Don’t you believe in free will?”

“Free will?”

“The idea that you choose your own path, from moment to moment,” he said. “That’s really what it comes down to.”

“Yes, free will. I guess so, Mr. Westerlake,” Soren said, returning the formal address. “Although I understand that experts disagree, it certainly does appear that I have at least some small degree of free will.”

“You do, but it goes much further than any of you realize. The fact is that your free will is absolute,” Norris returned.

“Absolute? No. I can’t do everything.”

“No,” Westerlake said. “But your free will is absolute, even if you can’t do everything. The thing is, you can do anything. ” Norris said.

“No. I can’t choose anything. I can’t choose to get in my car, drive to Washington, and sleep in the White House tonight.”

Norris was quiet for a moment. “No,” he said. “That you cannot do. However, there are many futures in which you could end up sleeping in the White House eventually.” Once again, he blanked–and when the stare extended beyond several seconds, Soren became concerned.

 “Are you all right?” he said.

 No response. Only the blank stare. Then he came back. “Actually, you could have if you had started this morning, but–” then the blank stare was back. In a moment it was gone. “Do you speak German, by any chance?”

 “German? You mean as in the language?”

 “Yeah.”

 “No,” Soren said with a little snort.

 “Then in that case, we’d have to go back to last Wednesday, about lunchtime, and you’d have to go to New York.”

The door slammed and Westerlake’s head spun around. His gaze fastened on the figure standing at the door. He was a large man, a biker type, complete with a patches – laden leather vest over a white tee shirt covering, with some effort, an expansive beer belly; he wore a blue bandanna on his head, tied up Aunt Jemima-style. After a moment, to Soren’s surprise, he strode directly to their table and came to an abrupt stop, staring at Westerlake. “Norris,” the man growled. “What are you doing?”

The door slammed again and a thin man, bald, a closely cropped Van Dyke under a well manicured handlebar mustache stood for a moment, as Beer Belly had, and then marched over to their table.

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