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24 Hours



Belinda Bennett

Copyright © Belinda Bennett

Published by BB Digital, March 2019



All rights reserved by the author. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the publisher, except where permitted by law.

 

24 Hours is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

This book uses British spellings and punctuation throughout.





Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

About This Book

Books By The Same Author



 



Chapter One



A visit to Victoria Coach Station isn’t on my bucket list. Let’s get that clear. Neither is mingling with hoards of lost-looking day-trippers and those bogged down by the daily grind in Westminster. But, here I am - and thirty years late. Too bad if I’m in a rush.

Nobody appears to notice that I look out of place, and I can’t quite fathom it. I feel out place; a bit like E.T. auditioning to be in a beauty pageant. Two hours ago, I envisaged being mobbed by complete strangers - all vying to paw at my heavily embroidered faux leather jacket and pose the question: “Are you an alien?” I am not, by the way.

Now that I am actually here, meandering between distinctly art deco columns coated in god-awful turquoise-green paint, it’s all rather…normal. Except for the occasional padded shoulder and acid washed denim jeans, of course.

“Nobody will even know you are there,” Giles, a sleek geek in a designer suit, assured me before pressing a wedge of crisp banknotes into my sweaty palm. And he was right. The buzz of this burgeoning metropolis they call London seems to thrive on anonymity.

It is 1988, I have to keep telling myself. Right now, it is April and the Pet Shop Boys have just topped the charts with Heart. We are a whole two weeks away from Whitney Houston achieving a similar feat in the US with the breathtaking Where Do Broken Hearts Go? - quite ironic when I consider why I am here.

Ronald Reagan is the President of the United States of America and the most kick-ass video game on the market is Carrier Command. Don’t remember that one. The one pound note is no longer legal tender, as of last month, and there’s talk of Europe’s tallest skyscraper being built somewhere in Canary Wharf.

Commuters are out in force. It was the first thing I noticed, followed by a woman’s voice penetrating the whir of the masses, “It’s been such a mild winter.”

How could I forget that? I break the pace of my stride. I have never been very good at remembering the seasons. I acknowledge cheeky glints of sunshine casting beams of pale yellow across the columns. Mother Nature must be feeling generous today. If I was her, I would not throw a spotlight on architectural gems ruined by such a ghastly shade of aquamarine. They don’t warrant the attention.

A blasted nervous twitch in my right eye is producing a strobe effect. It’s blinking annoying - literally. Giles warned me this might happen. Only I didn’t pay too much attention to his explanation. It was probably very ‘medical’ and way above my understanding of how the body reacts to certain situations. It is, quite frankly, not on.

I need near-perfect vision to be able to recognise Josh when I see him. It’s not like we were in each other’s company yesterday. And that is a tragedy in itself. The new calamity is that I have only been given a measly twenty-four hours; precisely one day and one night. In that time, I am going to attempt the impossible - to change the course of history.

Mind you, I’ve got to find him first. And then I have to convince him that I am really me, Linda Grace - his first ever girlfriend. I hope the Botox I had last week has reversed some of the telltale signs of my advancing years. I don’t want to look fifty-two when I am talking to someone who is still in their twenties. He’s got to trust me.

 

Josh works in one of the fast food outlets at Victoria Coach Station. At least, that is what his father told me at his funeral. He appeared comforted by the thought that he was gainfully employed before his somewhat untimely demise. He had always worried that his youngest son wouldn’t amount to much. A job, any job, was better than no job at all.

That is all I know about where Josh was before his life was cruelly snuffed out. And that is why I am here, thirty years after the fact. To save him. Hold on to that thought, because I am.

In 1988 he had been dossing down with a friend in London. The same ‘friend’ who failed to appear at his inquest and whose address has been lost in the annals of time. If I want to find Josh, this is my best shot.

There is a row of steel shuttered commercial premises to my right. The tattered posters people have stuck to them lower the tone of the place.  Why do external security features always look so urban? To my left, I can see bright red double-decker buses. They are illuminated by streetlights and lined up like cinema-goers in bays. It is dusk and barely any of the retailers in this superstructure are still trading. I am banking on a burger bar being an exception to the rule. After all, there are plenty of people around to grab a bite to eat.

This time tomorrow, I will be back in 2018. Soon after, I will be waiting for a knock on my door and hoping that what I set out to achieve today is fully realised in that moment. I want to open the door and know beyond any doubt that the risks I am taking now were worth it.

When I replied to a curious one-line question in an internet forum, I never thought for one moment that the poster would want to converse with me - a granny, of all people. “Fancy going back in time?” I may have hesitated if I’d thought it even a possibility. I mean, ‘time travel’? I didn’t think it was viable - not yet. And, if it was, drawing on the storylines in Doctor Who, I certainly didn’t think changing history would be allowed.

“You’re perfect,” Giles told me. They were the first words to came out of his mouth when we finally met. Does that smack of desperation? He spent a full ten minutes waffling on about my body weight, talking about arranging a medical and jotting down notes on a clipboard before he thought to ask, “Why do you want to go back in time?”

I was trembling. The notion of ending up a victim on Click for Murder sprung to mind. In my head, I could hear Donal MacIntyre saying my name over and over again. I mean, I was meeting a stranger I’d met on the internet. And not just any old stranger. Someone who claimed to be able to send me back to 1988. Gullible or what?

Of course, I am still a potential ‘victim’ in one sense. I am a guinea pig for emerging technology that promises to change the way everyone lives and dies. I could be dead myself in twenty-four hours. The top secret Virtual Galaxy Project, the brainchild of an elite group of undergraduates at Bristol University, is still in its infancy but, clearly, showing promise. I only hope this step up from holography and radio waves leaves me in one piece.

“Why do you always have to be different?” mum used to bicker. I can still picture her, hands on hips. “You need to slow down and stop showing yourself up.” She was always saying that about me. That I ‘showed my self up’. Wonder what she would say if she could see me now? Actually, I can guess. “Trust you to do something like that.”

I don’t think Giles cares about my reason for wanting to be part of his experiment. I didn’t say I wanted to stop the political skullduggery that led to misery in the trenches during World War One, assassinate Hitler before the rise of Nazism or save all the souls lost in the sinking of the Titanic. He hardly batted an academic eyelid when I told him it was because I wanted to stop a single person from dying. Perhaps that is because he doesn’t think I will find Josh or survive what I am putting myself through. I am determined to do both.

I did ask Giles why he, or indeed other members of his small team, needed me. If they were developing technology that really made time travel possible, why weren’t they exploring history themselves? Why invest in a total stranger? He said everyone was needed in the lab. All hands to the pump, so to speak, to record the results of my journey. Essential, he told me, for scientific purposes - and to ensure my safety.

Let’s hope that is true because, right now, I am not overly sure I am going to find what I am looking for. This coach station is quite literally enormous. It’s going to be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.



Chapter Two



It’s Josh. I know it is. His distinctive bent nose and trademark long hair - tied back for a change - are dead giveaways. I have watched him from a safe distance for twenty minutes. From my vantage point, between the columns, I have seen him serve thirteen customers. Or was it twelve?

Right now, there is a lull in trade. I can spy him chatting to a colleague, occasionally taking a swig from a can of Coke. This is my moment. The event in history I have dreamed about for so long.

“A cheese burger, please.”

“Relish?” asks a middle-aged man in a grubby white apron. His face is flecked with grease. Enough to make me think twice before answering.

“Please, and onions.”

I rifle through my pockets, searching for the wad of notes Giles gave me, carefully prising one away from the others. This is not a place I want to be seen flashing the cash. Josh, I can sense, is looking me up and down. Please recognise me.

‘Thanks.’ I remove the burger from the counter deliberately slowly, careful not to shift my gaze from Josh. The napkin my takeaway is bundled up in is almost level with my breasts when we lock eyes. I smile, in a nervous way. He looks agitated. Just like he did when I told him I’d developed a crush on a sixth form prefect when we were fifteen.

He hasn’t changed one bit. But, then, he is still a young man. On the other hand, I am thirty years older than the last time he clapped eyes on me.

There is a bench about twenty yards away. I decided the moment I saw it that I would sit there, in plain sight of Josh, until he recognises me - or I have to resort to Plan B. Don’t ask me what Plan B is. I haven’t decided yet. I can imagine myself endlessly scissoring my legs out of boredom. Waiting. Wondering.

“Miss…”

I swivel ninety degrees.

“Your change.”

My face is burning as I retrace six steps. “Thank you.”

“Excuse me.” Josh replaces his colleague at the counter.

“Yes?”

The furrows etched into his forehead are more pronounced than I remember. I wouldn’t say he has aged. He just looks ‘different’. A bit rough around the edges, if you know what I mean.


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