Tanner on ice, p.3
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       Tanner on Ice, p.3

         Part #8 of Evan Tanner series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 3

  “That’s good. ”

  “Yeah, it’s great,” I agreed. “But I’ve got a few questions of my own, and if you don’t mind-”

  “I’m sure you do,” he said. “But let’s take mine first, shall we?” He brandished a clipboard. “Forms to fill out, you know. And once that’s out of the way I’ll be better able to answer your questions. ”

  I nodded.

  “Can you tell me the date?”

  “Today’s date?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Well,” I said. “The last I knew it was Tuesday, October fifth. I drank a glass of brandy. It wasn’t enough to get me drunk, so my guess is there was something in it to knock me out. And it feels as though it all happened an hour or two ago, but in that case I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be making a fuss over me. I’d have to guess that I’ve been unconscious for several days, so… do you want me to take a wild guess? I’m going to say it’s Friday, Friday the eighth of October. ”

  “And the year?”

  “The year?”

  “If you don’t mind. ”

  “That’s the sort of thing they ask people who’ve been hit over the head, to find out just how scrambled their brains are. Mine aren’t scrambled at all, or even shirred or poached, as far as I can tell. It’s 1972. ”

  “ 1972. ”

  “Uh-huh. Next I suppose you’re going to ask me who’s president. ”

  “And what would your answer be?”

  “The trickster himself,” I said.

  The woman looked puzzled. “The trickster?”

  God, were they Republicans? But even a Republican would have had to have heard that sobriquet applied to our Gallant Leader. “Tricky Dick,” I said. “Richard M. Nixon. Only… wait a minute. ”

  “Yes, Mr. Tanner?”

  “There’s an election coming up next month,” I said, “although the result looks like a foregone conclusion. But have I been out of it for a full month?”

  “Does that seem possible to you?”

  “No,” I said, “but neither does having a quiet drink with a friend” – I almost said comrade, but how would that go over with a pair of Republicans? – “and waking up here. Did they have the election already? And did McGovern somehow put it all together and come out on top?”

  They looked at each other again.

  “Just a few more questions,” the doctor began, but I wasn’t having any.

  “No,” I said, “you answer a question for a change. Did they have the election?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Jesus God. Did McGovern win?”

  “No. Nixon carried every state but one. ”

  “Which one?”

  “ Massachusetts. ”

  “God bless Massachusetts,” I said.

  The woman said, “Do you feel all right, Mr. Tanner?”

  “You people keep asking me that. I feel fine. ”

  “You’re holding yourself,” she said, “as if something’s wrong. ”

  I hadn’t noticed, but she was right. I had my arms folded, with each hand fastened on the opposite upper arm. For warmth, I realized.

  “Now that you mention it,” I said, “I’m a little chilly. ”

  “The room’s quite warm,” she said.

  “The room’s warm,” I allowed, “but I’m not. I feel chilled on the inside. ”

  “On the inside?”

  “My bones feel cold,” I said. “The rest of me feels warm enough. ”

  “Have you ever felt like that before?”

  “Not that I remember,” I said, “but then I don’t remember the presidential election, so who’s to say what else might have slipped my mind? He’s still president, is he? Dick Nixon?”

  They hesitated, and that was answer enough. “My God,” I said, “he’s not, is he? Don’t tell me there’s been another assassination. ”

  “No. ”

  “Then what happened to Nixon?”

  “He resigned. ”

  “He resigned? Presidents don’t resign. Ohmigod. If he resigned, that means Spiro T. Agnew is the president of the United States. ”

  They exchanged significant glances again. I was really beginning to wish they wouldn’t do that.

  “Agnew resigned as well,” the doctor told me.

  “They both resigned? Hand in hand, they kicked up their heels and quit?”

  “Actually, Agnew resigned first. Gerald Ford was appointed to replace him. ”

  “The congressman from Michigan?”

  “That’s right. Then Nixon resigned, and Ford took over, and he pardoned Nixon. ”

  “Pardoned him?”

  “Yes. ”

  “For what?”

  “For Watergate. ”

  “Watergate,” I said. “You mean that burglary? That blew up into something big enough to make Nixon and Agnew resign?”

  “Agnew resigned because of something else. Some scandal, payoffs and kickbacks while he was governor of Maryland. Nixon resigned because he was about to be impeached, and that was because of Watergate. ”

  “I don’t know how you can remember all that,” the nurse said admiringly. “They taught us all that, but I can never keep it straight. ”

  “They taught you?” I said. “Who taught you?”

  “You know. In school. ”

  But why would they have had to teach her? Wouldn’t she have lived through it?

  Wait a minute…

  “Wait a minute,” I said. “Ford’s not still the president, is he?”

  “No, I’m afraid he’s not. ”

  “Who came after Ford?”

  “Carter. ”

  Carter? Who was that? Aside from the fact that he was now president of the United States -

  “And Reagan followed Carter, and-”

  “Reagan? You don’t mean Ronald Reagan. ”

  “Yes, that’s right. ”

  “The actor? He’s the president?”

  “He was. ”

  “Was? Who’s president now?”

  “ Clinton. ”

  “ Clinton? DeWitt Clinton was governor of New York State back in the nineteenth century. He dug the Erie Canal. Well, not personally, but you know what I mean. ” They were exchanging glances again, and I began to wonder if this place was in fact a mental hospital. If so, maybe it was where I belonged.

  “And there was a George Clinton,” I said. “I think he was a vice-president, but I can’t remember who he served under. Has this Clinton got a first name?”

  “Bill. ”

  “Bill Clinton,” I said. “Never heard of him. ”

  “He was governor of Arkansas,” the woman said, “before he was elected president. ”

  “And he succeeded Reagan?”

  “First there was Bush,” the man said.

  “Bush?”

  “George Bush. ”

  The name was familiar, though I couldn’t think why.

  “Bush followed Reagan,” I said, “and Clinton followed Bush. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “And Clinton ’s in there now. ”

  “That’s correct. ”

  Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. What did that add up to, twenty years? And any or all of them could have had more than a single four-year term, and-

  I looked at the backs of my hands. They looked just as I remembered them. No liver spots, no signs of age since I had looked at them last. I looked down at the rest of me and saw that I was wearing a hospital gown. I had somehow failed to notice this until now, but it didn’t come as a great shock. I was, by the looks of things, in a hospital. What else should I be wearing?

  I said, “I want a mirror. ”

  “Mr. Tanner, if you’ll just-”

  “No, dammit, I won’t just. Bring me a mirror. ” They looked at each other again, damn them. “The hell with it,” I said, and swung my legs over the side of the bed. The doctor moved to support me if I fell, but I waved him aside. There was a bathroom, and I walked to it,
and there was a mirror over the sink, and, not without trepidation, I looked into it.

  And there was my own face staring back at me, looking none the worse for wear. No older, and certainly no wiser.

  “No dizziness,” the doctor was saying, “even in an upright position. No problem with motor skills. ”

  “We noticed his muscle tone was excellent. ”

  “True,” he said. “Still and all, it’s quite miraculous. Theory is one thing, but when you see it right before your eyes-”

  I turned on him. “All right,” I said savagely, “who’s the president?”

  “Mr. Tanner, I believe I told you-”

  “I know what you told me, and I know what the mirror’s telling me, and the two don’t go together. ”

  “No,” he said. “I don’t suppose they do. ”

  “Who’s the president?”

  “William Jefferson Clinton. ”

  “And what’s the date?”

  “March fourteenth. ”

  “Well, that’s good. I haven’t missed St. Patrick’s Day. What year?”

  “Mr. Tanner-”

  “What year?”

  “ 1997,” he said.

  “ 1997. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “March 14, 1997. ”

  “Yes. It’s a Friday. ”

  “I drank a glass of brandy on Tuesday and woke up on a Friday. That would be remarkable enough, but this particular Friday happens to be twenty-five years later. Well, twenty-four and a half, anyway. It’s like Rip Van Winkle, isn’t it?”

  “Sort of,” he said. She looked puzzled, and I wondered if she knew who Rip Van Winkle was. She was young enough to have trouble remembering who Nixon and Agnew were, so how could you expect her to cope with Washington Irving?

  “Except it’s not,” I said. “He slept for twenty years, and he woke up with a long white beard. I don’t even need a shave. Or have you people been shaving me?”

  “No, we haven’t. ”

  “So presidents have come and gone, and my beard hasn’t grown at all. That’s hard to believe. As far as I can tell, I’m not a day older than I was when I drank that brandy. I gather there must have been a drug in it, but was there also an eyedropper’s worth of water from the fountain of youth?”

  “Not exactly. ”

  “Not exactly,” I echoed. “Is this all some mind-control experiment? It’s not really 1997, is it?”

  “I’m afraid it is. ”

  “I was born in 1933,” I said, “so if it’s really 1997, I ought to be sixty-four years old. Do I look sixty-four years old?”

  “No,” he said without hesitation. “You look about thirty-nine. ”

  “I am about thirty-nine. And it’s 1972, isn’t it?”

  “No, it’s 1997. ”

  “It’s 1997 and I’m thirty-nine. ”

  “According to the calendar, you’re sixty-four. But yes, I’m going to agree with your last statement. It is indeed 1997, and you are indeed thirty-nine years old. ”

 
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