“Just suppose,” said Morgan, “that I did believe you. Just for argument.” He glanced up at the man across the restaurant table. “Where would we go from here?”
The man shifted uneasily in his seat. He was silent, staring down at his plate. Not a strange-looking man, Morgan thought. Rather ordinary, in fact. A plain face, nose a little too long, fingers a little too dainty, a suit that doesn’t quite seem to fit, but all in all, a perfectly ordinary looking man.
Maybe too ordinary, Morgan thought.
Finally the man looked up. His eyes were dark, with a hunted look in their depths that chilled Morgan a little. “Where do we go? I don’t know. I’ve tried to think it out, and I get nowhere. But you’ve got to believe me, Morgan. I’m lost, I mean it. If I can’t get help, I don’t know where it’s going to end.”
“I’ll tell you where it’s going to end,” said Morgan. “It’s going to end in a hospital. A mental hospital. They’ll lock you up and they’ll lose the key somewhere.” He poured himself another cup of coffee and sipped it, scalding hot. “And that,” he added, “will be that.”
The place was dark and almost empty. Overhead, a rotary fan swished patiently. The man across from Morgan ran a hand through his dark hair. “There must be some other way,” he said. “There has to be.”
“All right, let’s start from the beginning again,” Morgan said. “Maybe we can pin something down a little better. You say your name is Parks--right?”
The man nodded. “Jefferson Haldeman Parks, if that helps any. Haldeman was my mother’s maiden name.”
“All right. And you got into town on Friday--right?”
“Fine. Now go through the whole story again. What happened first?”
The man thought for a minute. “As I said, first there was a fall. About twenty feet. I didn’t break any bones, but I was shaken up and limping. The fall was near the highway going to the George Washington Bridge. I got over to the highway and tried to flag down a ride.”
“How did you feel? I mean, was there anything strange that you noticed?”
“Strange!“ Parks’ eyes widened. “I--I was speechless. At first I hadn’t noticed too much--I was concerned with the fall, and whether I was hurt or not. I didn’t really think about much else until I hobbled up to that highway and saw those cars coming. Then I could hardly believe my eyes. I thought I was crazy. But a car stopped and asked me if I was going into the city, and I knew I wasn’t crazy.”
Morgan’s mouth took a grim line. “You understood the language?”
“Oh, yes. I don’t see how I could have, but I did. We talked all the way into New York--nothing very important, but we understood each other. His speech had an odd sound, but--”
Morgan nodded. “I know, I noticed. What did you do when you got to New York?”
“Well, obviously, I needed money. I had gold coin. There had been no way of knowing if it would be useful, but I’d taken it on chance. I tried to use it at a newsstand first, and the man wouldn’t touch it. Asked me if I thought I was the U.S. Treasury or something. When he saw that I was serious, he sent me to a money lender, a hock shop, I think he called it. So I found a place--”
“Let me see the coins.”
Parks dropped two small gold discs on the table. They were perfectly smooth and perfectly round, tapered by wear to a thin blunt edge. There was no design on them, and no printing. Morgan looked up at the man sharply. “What did you get for these?”
Parks shrugged. “Too little, I suspect. Two dollars for the small one, five for the larger.”
“You should have gone to a bank.”
“I know that now. I didn’t then. Naturally, I assumed that with everything else so similar, principles of business would also be similar.”
Morgan sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Well, then what?”
Parks poured some more coffee. His face was very pale, Morgan thought, and his hands trembled as he raised the cup to his lips. Fright? Maybe. Hard to tell. The man put down the cup and rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. “First, I went to the mayor’s office,” he said. “I kept trying to think what anyone at home would do in my place. That seemed a good bet. I asked a policeman where it was, and then I went there.”
“But you didn’t get to see him.”
“No. I saw a secretary. She said the mayor was in conference, and that I would have to have an appointment. She let me speak to another man, one of the mayor’s assistants.”
“And you told him?”
“No. I wanted to see the mayor himself. I thought that was the best thing to do. I waited for a couple of hours, until another assistant came along and told me flatly that the mayor wouldn’t see me unless I stated my business first.” He drew in a deep breath. “So I stated it. And then I was gently but firmly ushered back into the street again.”
“They didn’t believe you,” said Morgan.
“Not for a minute. They laughed in my face.”
Morgan nodded. “I’m beginning to get the pattern. So what did you do next?”
“Next I tried the police. I got the same treatment there, only they weren’t so gentle. They wouldn’t listen either. They muttered something about cranks and their crazy notions, and when they asked me where I lived, they thought I was--what did they call it?--a wise guy! Told me to get out and not come back with any more wild stories.”
“I see,” said Morgan.
Jefferson Parks finished his last bite of pie and pushed the plate away. “By then I didn’t know quite what to do. I’d been prepared for almost anything excepting this. It was frightening. I tried to rationalize it, and then I quit trying. It wasn’t that I attracted attention, or anything like that, quite the contrary. Nobody even looked at me, unless I said something to them. I began to look for things that were different, things that I could show them, and say, see, this proves that I’m telling the truth, look at it--” He looked up helplessly.
“And what did you find?”
“Nothing. Oh, little things, insignificant little things. Your calendars, for instance. Naturally, I couldn’t understand your frame of reference. And the coinage, you stamp your coins; we don’t. And cigarettes. We don’t have any such thing as tobacco.” The man gave a short laugh. “And your house dogs! We have little animals that look more like rabbits than poodles. But there was nothing any more significant than that. Absolutely nothing.”
“Except yourself,” Morgan said.
“Ah, yes. I thought that over carefully. I looked for differences, obvious ones. I couldn’t find any. You can see that, just looking at me. So I searched for more subtle things. Skin texture, fingerprints, bone structure, body proportion. I still couldn’t find anything. Then I went to a doctor.”