IMPOSTER

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

The author makes no claims upon the Human Target characters and is humbly grateful for the opportunity to play with them.

The historic characters mentioned in this story are either fictitious, or portrayed in a fictitious manner.

The story takes place immediately after CHRISTOPHER CHANCE, JULIA THE WITCH, AND THE GUNFIGHT AT O.K. CORRAL. Familiarity with that story will lend continuity to this story.

IMPOSTER is dedicated to retired Secret Service Agent Clinton Hill, upon whom my Agent Cliff Hall is based, and whose tragic role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy pointed me in the direction this story follows. As of this writing, Mr. Hill is alive and well, and has published his own book, MRS. KENNEDY AND ME.

Feel free to skip the prolog for now and scroll ahead to Chapter One where our favorites step on stage. But please come back and read it before you read the epilog.


PROLOG

the Land of the Fae
[June, 1963, Mortal time]

"I want to return home," the man said.

And he was a man, despite the Little Lord Fauntleroy cut of his brown velvet coat and doeskin trousers. His feet were a dead give-away, large and somehow ungainly despite his otherwise masculine grace.

The woman he addressed - if woman she was - reclined beneath a weeping diamond tree on a silken pallet. Her tiny feet were bare, her garments more shadow than textile - sunlight filtered through flower petals.

She gave him a condescending smile. "Why ever would you want to do something so…injudicious?"

"Because it is my home."

"This is your home." Her arm made an encompassing gesture at the surrounding Faeriescape.

The glittering fairyland in children's tales and folklore no longer existed. At some point, the inhabitants grew weary of golden trees with emeralds for leaves, of silver grass meadows dotted with ruby and amethyst blossoms, with crystal palaces and black agate castles on the horizon. Combining their magic, they turned the whole of Faerie into a rustic Eden. True, the willows still wept, shedding diamond tears of no less than 3/4 carat, and the occasional sleeping-apple tree had to be chopped down and rooted out, but lightning-bugs no longer sparked St. Elmo's fire in the meadows. Sprites flitting over fountains to sip droplets of champagne spat out the plain water they discovered spraying forth, and swiftly learned to soar high above streams where multi-hued minnows had become voracious rainbow trout.

Milk-cows grazed in clover-filled fields. Wild brooms roamed the hills. Sheep browsed unfenced pastures with faithful Hellhounds or imported llamas keeping watch for the occasional marauding wolf. Hens clucked and grumbled, teaching their chicks not to swallow the twinkling gemstones scattered on the ground unless they needed grit for their gizzards.

A few crystal palaces remained, but for the most part such structures became quarried stone or annealed glass block. Farm cottages sported frumpy thatched or shingled roofs. Private dwellings in villages and towns assumed the appearance of any prosperous middle-class abode, little different from their counterparts in the Mortal world.

"It's not where I was born," he said. "My homeland calls to me."

She sighed. "I don't even remember where I was born. A cabbage patch, perhaps. But an enchanted one, mind you."

He said nothing. Merely looked. In truth, he would miss the privilege of looking at her. Of making love to her. The pleasures of her making love to him. But not enough to make him stay.

She sat up, reminding him of a cat which suddenly spied another, invading its territory.

"Your place there is taken. He has a mate. Offspring. An important position."

He'd seen them. A lovely wife. A girl and boy he already yearned to cuddle or swing high in the air. He said, "A position my father bought for him. Which he is eminently unqualified to fill."

"And you are?"

He touched the crimson sash crossing his chest from shoulder to hip, symbol of bestowed nobility gained through valor in battle. "I've survived here well enough. No easy task, you'll concede?"

The Seelie and the Unseelie Courts had been at each other's throats since before the first human ancestor ventured down from the trees. When warfare was not open, internal jealousies and strife, schemes, plots and counterplots made the days of armed conflict seem peaceful by comparison.

"He almost started World War Three," the man continued. "Ordered an innocent woman murdered to silence her - "

"Innocent? A prostitute?"

"A movie star! Even so, she didn't deserve execution. Bring him here where he can dally as he pleases and cause no further mischief. Or return him to wherever you found him. A cabbage patch, perhaps."

The woman didn't smile. "He has the right to stay. We found him there."

The man's head jerked. "How - ?" I thought your people had to be born in Faerie."

"Halflings are like lambs. Ewes birth them wherever they may be."

"He's a halfling?"

"Is that so surprising?"

"No…I suppose not. But I've always believed I was…exchanged for a Fae child. One from here."

"You were exchanged for a Fae. Just not a full-blood. You wouldn't have survived more than a few months on their - your - side. We substituted a child who could."

"He's not as robust as he appears. He suffers many ailments. Has since childhood. Hides them."

"The result of mixed ancestry, I suppose." She hid a yawn behind fingers too long and delicate for a human's hand.

"He'd be better off on this side. The Mortal world safer, too. I'm strong now. Healthy. I want my birthright."

"It's his birthright as much as yours."

"His! My parents aren't his parents - "

"One is."

For a moment, the man's lips moved, but no sound emerged. Finally he asked, "My father…sired him, too?"

The woman - if she was a woman - laughed. "Your mother is pathetically faithful to her vows. Your father makes no secret of his affairs. One of his was one of ours. Haven't you ever wondered why you and Jack Kennedy look so much alike?"


CHAPTER ONE

San Francisco, California
the present

"My name is Christopher Chance. Tell me how I can help."

The woman on the monitor screen started, then her gaze found the camera lens. "Thank heavens. You're the man I was told to find. I'd almost given up. Mr. Chance, my name is Jacqueline Kennedy. I believe someone is plotting to murder my husband, John."

The woman speaking was the wife of John F. Kennedy, America's 35th president.

Chance would have been far more astonished by this had he not just returned from Tombstone, Arizona. Arizona Territory - 1881, to be precise. There, impersonating Doc Holliday, he joined Town Marshal Virgil Earp, his younger brother Morg, and the flamboyant gambler/to-be-Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp to defeat the outlaw Clanton gang in the gunfight at O.K. Corral.

Not ten minutes ago, he had strolled into the conference room, to be confronted by Guerrero, mad as a scalded rooster over the malfunctioning computer system.

"I don't know what program you let your ladyfriend install, but it's over-riding anything I try to do."

The 'ladyfriend' was Julia Hastings, witch.

It didn't seem possible such creatures existed in the 21st century, but how else other than through witchcraft could someone explain being transported to a parallel universe more than 120 years in the past - on a broom.

Chance eyed the malfunctioning computer's monitor. He had wanted to research the gunfight where Wyatt Earp was killed, so Julia downloaded a program allowing him to access the Library of Congress records in the parallel universe where it happened. They didn't uninstall it. Now the program seemed to have monopolized the entire computer system.

"All it will let me do is this," Guerrero had told him, and pressed some keys.

After a moment, the screen cleared. A woman's face appeared on the monitor as if she stood before a webcam. "Please…I'm not certain I'm operating this…device correctly but the matter is urgent. If anyone can hear me, please answer."

Chance had stared at the short dark hair, the huge dark eyes. Her air of wealth and exquisite breeding was apparent even on the flickering monitor. The desperation in her voice compelled him to speak without considering the consequences.

"My name is Christopher Chance. Tell me how I can help."

... ... ... ... ...

"That was Jacqueline Kennedy," Ilsa said, now. She sounded as dumbfounded as Chance ever heard her. "How is that possible? She died in 1994. Didn't she?"

"Sounds right," Chance said. "But I shook hands with Wyatt Earp just a couple of days ago, and he died in 1881 or 1929, take your pick."

"Assuming we're not suffering a mass hallucination," Winston said, "how did she manage to contact us? What 'device' did she have that could reach us from…when? She must be speaking from the early 1960s. Were computers even invented yet?"

After a moment when no one answered, Guerrero said, "Kennedy's national defense team, especially McNamara, were way into computer technology. The RAND Corporation was the largest source for computer programmers. They were deep into planning defense strategy. They programmed the original automated air defense and radar systems. Probably through terminals in the situation room connected to serves at the Pentagon."

"Where did you come up with all that?" Chance asked.

"Dude, it's me."

"But were those computers sophisticated enough to communicate with ours?" Ilsa asked.

The words "even using witchcraft" hung unspoken in the air.

"It might not be RAND's equipment," Chance said, not trying to hide his excitement. "It might be something even earlier. World War Two. Tesla and Einstein collaborated on the Philadelphia experiment. Trying to make our warships radar-invisible. Maybe what she used was something Tesla designed to allow contact with the Eldridge while it was cloaked. She got us by accident."

"Someone just left it for her to find, I suppose," Winston said.

The computer chose that moment to emit a series of beeps and blurps, as if attempting to tell them about the 'device'. Maybe it was. The thought made the hair rise on the back of Chance's neck.

"It's not impossible," he said. "Roosevelt had a war to win. He would have wanted first-hand information on the experiment. He might have demanded a means to speak with the Eldridge's captain from the White House. When the experiment was abandoned, so was the device. Stowed away on a shelf somewhere. I've heard the White House is a labyrinth of forgotten rooms."

"Sometimes, Chance, you sound like a walking Wikipedia."

Chance gave Winston his hurt look. "No more than Guerrero does."

"Yeah, but he's talking computers. You're talking weird science. Or just plain weird."

"Listen, guys," Guerrero said, "I hate to break up this mutual admiration confab, but we need to get Chance's ladyfriend back and find out what she did to our computer system. Maybe then we can figure out how to un-do it, so we can all get some work done!"

Wish me luck, Chance thought, knowing how difficult contacting Julia could be. To his surprise, she answered her cell phone on the third ring.

"I can be there in 45 minutes," she told him. "Shall I bring lunch?"

"How do you suppose Jacqueline Kennedy knew to ask for you, Mr. Chance?" Ilsa asked when he'd hung up.

Chance dragged his gaze away from Ilsa's crossed knees. "It must have been one of the others she wanted to reach." Early on he had discovered obituaries for three prior men bearing his adopted name. To avoid confusion, he labeled them by location and year of their demise, or, in the instance of Minnesota-27, faked demise. Later he discovered two more. "Probably Reno-78."

"The next question is, who told her to ask for him," Guerrero said.

"A better question might be why," Ilsa said. "Kennedy was surrounded by Secret Service agents whose sole duty was to protect him."

"We know how effective they were," Guerrero said.

Chance's sympathies were with the Secret Service agents. Kennedy himself had said anyone wanting to kill the president could do so. He made it sound easy. Almost a dare.

"Besides, except for her own SAIC, she didn't trust them," Winston said. "Didn't know who to trust. Who could you turn to when rumors had it the Mob was after him, the CIA wanted to eliminate him, even his own VeeP hated his guts. She must've heard all that, and more."

"Of course there was a plot," Ilsa said. "I don't doubt it for a moment. I've never believed in that lone gunman rubbish. Neither did Marshall. He said the 'magic bullet' theory was nonsense. But she must have trusted someone enough to go to with her fears."

"That would've been Cliff Hall," Winston said, and every eye focused on him. "He was her Special Agent in Charge. The one you see in the Zapruder film, climbing onto the limo's trunk after Kennedy's shot."

They had all seen the film at one time or another. Chance, maybe Guerrero, too, had seen the other film, the one the Old Man possessed. It was Joubert's film that came to Chance's mind as Winston spoke.

"The Zapruder film is a sham," Ilsa said. "Designed to make it appear Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy from behind, when in fact two shots came from in front. The infamous 'grassy knoll' the Warren commission so blithely dismissed."

Chance eyed Ilsa with renewed interest. "I didn't know you knew so much about the assassination."

"Perhaps not so much the assassination - that was Marshall's pet bête noir. But I know a little about Jack Kennedy. He was one of ours, after all. He visited Ireland, you know, in 1963. Not long before he was killed. The people adored him, even in Belfast. It was hoped he might bring about a united Ireland."

Overshadowed by his Ich bein ein Berliner speech, Kennedy's stop in County Wexford to visit his ancestral homelands did not receive the publicity his visit to Germany garnered. Nevertheless, his stay in Ireland endeared him to the hearts of the entire country.

"Somebody didn't like him," Winston said.

Chance saw Ilsa bristle. Quickly he asked, "Why do you think the Zapruder film is a fake?"

"Marshall didn't think, he knew. He had a top laboratory examine a first generation copy. They could see where someone altered the original, transposing some frames, removing others, splicing in some from another film altogether. Zapruder wasn't the only one filming that day."

Tell me about it, Chance thought.

"And they got away with it for over forty years. Would have gotten away even longer if not for the phenomenal advances made in photography and computer manipulation. Computer enhancements bring clarity to details unimaginable only a few years past."

Chance wondered if the 'someone' who altered the Zapruder film had borrowed frames from the Old Man's film. Marshall's lab scored a bull's-eye with their conclusions. The shots came from behind the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll as witness after witness had insisted. The Old Man's film captured the shooters' every move, if not their individual identity.

"Isn't this wonderful," Winston said. "Welcome to the world of nut-case conspiracies."

"I do not appreciate being classified as a nut-case, Mr. Winston," Ilsa said. "The evidence is quite clear if one opens one's eyes to it."

"Sorry, Mrs. Pucci, I didn't mean to insult you. It's just that, if there really was a plot, why hasn't someone blabbed by now - a death bed confession or one of those 'tell all' books?"

Seeing Ilsa draw breath to fire off an answering salvo, Chance spoke first. "How did you remember Cliff Hall's name, Winston?"

"I used to be a cop, remember?" He leaned back in his chair, making it groan. "Besides, I got a cousin who was Secret Service. One of the first black agents. He wasn't on the Kennedy detail, he was a field agent. But they were so short-handed for the Dallas visit, he got called up. He met all the heavy hitters. He told me even though Hall was assigned to Mrs. Kennedy, it damn near killed him when the president was shot. He felt like he failed."

There was a long silence. Then the door buzzer sounded. Once again Chance saw Julia Hasting's image in the security monitor. She carried two huge boxes bearing Pizza Hut labels. No sign of Cedric that he could see. Good.

"I'll go let her in," Guerrero said, getting to his feet with a look of grim anticipation etched on his features.

"Must be hungry," Winston said and winked at Chance.

Chance hoped Julia had a 'save my ass' spell all ready to go.

"…so what I need to know," Guerrero said as the elevator door opened a few minutes later, "is what you downloaded to our computer."

His utter lack of rancor made Chance sit up straight in his chair. Guerrero appeared to have completely forgotten his pique. He all but tugged Julia along by her elbow as he ushered her to the conference room.

"Wha'd she do to him?" Winston stage-whispered. "When he left he was ready to rip her fingernails out one-by-one."

Chance shrugged. "Her save-my-ass spell must've worked."

"Her what?"

Julia deposited the pizzas on the conference table and blew Chance a kiss. "Go ahead and eat while it's hot," she said. "We'll just be a minute."

"It's called CrossTalk," Julia told Guerrero. "with the correct incantation, you can collect information from several neighboring universes. But it shouldn't act like this. Let me see what's going on…."

With Guerrero peering over her shoulder, she pressed a few keys. "Oh, here's the problem." She pressed a few more keys and the Windows start-up screen appeared. "I'll give you the code to deactivate the program when you don't need it." She whispered it, then added, "Remember, always cross your left index finger over the middle finger before pressing ESCAPE. To bring CrossTalk back, you cross them the opposite way and reverse the code. Got it, Sweetling?"

A dropped pin would have clanged like a gong as Guerrero's gaze swept the room, daring anyone to comment on what she called him. Then he smiled at Julia. "Got it."

As the team and Julia settled in to enjoy their pizza, Chance filled her in on what had transpired.

"I…kind of promised Jacqueline I'd help," he concluded.

"Kind of?" Julia echoed, looking very somber.

"Well, a little more than kind of."

She placed her half-eaten pizza slice on the paper plate in front of her. "Christopher Chance! You promised her, didn't you? Why did you do something so…so foolish?"

"He suffers from dissociative identity disorder," Winston said, wiping a bit of pizza sauce from the corner of his mouth. "When his Sir Galahad personality kicks in, common sense goes right out the window."

"Very funny." Chance gave Julia his most winning smile. "So, how 'bout it, Red? Can you take me there? To Dallas in 1963?"

"To prevent the assassination? That would alter history. It's forbidden." She gave him an as-you-well-know look.

"It worked for Wyatt Earp."

"That was a different set of circumstances. Saving Wyatt Earp was sanctioned before I contacted you."

"Sanctioned by whom?"

"Why, the Sisterhood, of course."

Then I need to contact the sisterhood. Suppose the assassination wasn't supposed to happen, and it did because we didn't act?"