A/N: Many, many thanks to the lovely reviewers of Chapter 6. Your kind words are all that alleviates the guilt of knowing that I really ought to be working instead of writing fanfic. My guilty pleasure is made much more of a pleasure when I know that other people enjoy the result!
"I'm so sorry, I don't, I mean I, well, I didn't want to interrupt. I did see the Closed sign. I don't mean to disturb you during your leisure hours. I'm sure those are few and far between when you run a business like this one." Surprise had Mr. Smith almost babbling at first but his sentences quickly became smooth and coherent as the shock wore off.
Amy ignored him as she towed him back to the booth where she'd been sitting with Rory, midway down the restaurant. "Sit," she ordered, giving Mr. Smith a gentle shove into the booth next to Rory, before she took the seat opposite them.
Rory slid over obligingly, but his eyebrows raised. Amy shook her head at him, just a trifle, just enough to let him know that she really wasn't sure what she was doing.
"Oh, we're happy to have you join us," Rory spoke up hastily. Without looking at Amy, he tilted his arm upward. She glanced at it as well. No black marks. He hadn't seen the Silence.
"I—well—I—," Mr. Smith sighed. "Yes."
For a moment, there was an awkward pause. Then Amy took the initiative. "Why are you here?"
"I—," Mr. Smith shook his head. For a moment, the desperation showed in the lines around his mouth. Then he smiled, and said, almost cheerfully, "I'm afraid that my job is sending me to London. I'll be leaving next week, so I'm …" He paused, and smoothed his hair. "Well, I have limited time in which to make my good-byes."
Amy bit her lower lip, eyes intent on the mild-mannered man. She tried to picture Imogen. She'd thought of the woman as mousy, but did Imogen have the same invisible quality as Mr. Smith? As if she could disappear whenever she wanted to?
"Well, we appreciate you coming by?" Rory said. Amy could hear the question at the end of his sentence. He didn't understand why Mr. Smith was here. And neither did she, not really. But she had a feeling that she was missing something, something that she ought to be able to figure out.
"If you're leaving…" she started.
"Yes?" Mr. Smith asked.
"It's, I'm sure, obvious, that we're strangers here," she said. Then she paused, waiting for his response. He glanced at Rory, who nodded encouragingly, even though it was clear that he hadn't the faintest idea where Amy was going.
"Well, yes." Mr. Smith chuckled. "The accents, the clothes, the, er, rather different philosophy. Yes."
Amy's mouth twisted. Did she want to ask? But she ignored the temptation to find out more about what he'd noticed. "If we have questions, do you think – could we ask you about some situations that we don't understand?"
"Certainly." Mr. Smith sounded almost jovial.
Amy's lips twitched. She could see that he was relieved that she wasn't going to ask him personal questions, but she had every intention of getting there eventually. She was just going to take the roundabout route. "The boy that was here a few days ago," she said bluntly. "He had this crazy story about getting caught kissing a girl but the bank manager accusing him of robbing the bank to cover it up. What was that about?"
"Oh." Mr. Smith leaned back in the booth, not quite recoiling but withdrawing from the question as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. "In the south, was it?"
"Alabama," Amy confirmed.
"A white girl?"
"I think so, yes."
Mr. Smith nodded. "Here, well … " He looked as if he were trying to find the words to say what he wanted to say, but then he shook his head. "I wish I could say it was unusual, but there are still a few boys lynched down south every year. Have you ever heard of James Irwin?"*
Amy shook her head mutely. Rory did the same.
"Fingers and toes cut off, teeth pulled out, castrated, burned alive," Mr. Smith said brusquely. "Just a few years ago. Needless to say, he didn't have a trial, and no one knows whether he actually did what he was accused of. Not that it matters. A court of law might have hung him, but they wouldn't have tortured him the way the lynch mob did."
Amy swallowed hard, feeling a surge of nausea as she pictured the boy, her boy, suffering that fate. No wonder River had sent him to them.
"It's better up here," Mr. Smith said. His gaze dropped to the table and he folded his hands in front of him. "Although not…"
Amy blinked. She wanted him to feel free to speak. Tentatively, she asked again, "You do understand that we're not from around here, right?"
"Oh, yes," Mr. Smith responded, his smile looking only a little forced.
"What happens to black and white people who, um, get involved here?"
His smile turned into a bitter stretch of his lips over his teeth. "They don't."
"What does that mean?" Rory asked. "Surely people fall in love? That can't be illegal."
Mr. Smith's chuckle was dry. "Forty-one of the fifty states have or have had anti-miscegenation laws that make it a crime for people of different races to marry. The government legislates love in this country. In Alabama, well, it'll probably be the 21st century before Alabama lets blacks and whites marry." **
"That's crazy," Rory muttered, but Amy's eyes were steady on Mr. Smith. She had an idea. An idea about Mr. Smith and his search for Imogen. And an idea about what had happened to the boy, whose skin had been more the lovely coffee tones of a mixed-race child than Imogen's darker hue.
"It bothers her more than it does you, doesn't it?" she said gently.
"I think it's stupid," Mr. Smith snapped. "What difference does it make? In every important way, we're alike. We understand each other. She could be purple and I'd still …" He let the words trail off.
Amy nodded, not saying anything. Rory's eyes had grown wide. "I forgot the most important thing he said," she told Rory, inwardly cursing herself. "When he got here, he told me that River had sent him here to find his mother."
"His mother?" Rory looked from Amy to Mr. Smith and back again. "You think … ?"
She nodded. She did think. Suppose that their arrival had disrupted the time stream. Somehow actions they'd taken had reverberated into the future. River, by sending the boy back to them, was trying to clean up the mess they'd made. And she'd succeeded – maybe.
The fact that the boy had disappeared had to mean that the timeline had changed again. Either it had gone back to its original form – in which the boy grew up with parents instead of in an orphanage and never wound up in trouble for kissing a white girl – or maybe, he'd simply stopped existing at all. Maybe in this new timeline, he had never been born. Amy didn't like that option much.
Mr. Smith was looking confused. "He?" he asked.
"It's a long story," Amy told him, hoping he wouldn't ask more questions. "Not important." She waved her hand as if dismissing the details. "Tell me more about Imogen."
Maybe it was none of her business. Okay, it was definitely none of her business. But if Mr. Smith and Imogen should have had a baby, she was going to make it her mission to see that they did. And the slight pang at the thought of the babies that she would never have had nothing to do with it.
Mr. Smith sighed. "It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm off to London next week. I'll be there for years most likely. This business with Hitler – it's going to get ugly."
"Do you work for the government?" Amy asked, startled.
"No, no." Looking surprised and somewhat uncomfortable, he picked his words with precision, as he said, "Our government is strictly neutral in the European situation. I work for a private party."
Amy nodded. "Who is that?" she asked, trying to make the question sound casual, but really desperately curious. She knew almost nothing about America's early involvement in World War II, but she'd thought they'd mostly tried to pretend it wasn't happening for a few more years. Who could be planning ahead?
"Bill Donovan," he said. "Are you familiar with him?"
Amy exchanged glances with Rory to see if he recognized the name, but he looked as blank as she felt, so she shook her head.
"Mr. Donovan's a lawyer. Ran for governor of New York a few years back. I assist him with … inquiries. And business matters. Paperwork, that sort of thing."
Amy nodded, disappointed. That sounded boring, but who was she to criticize?*** Back to the important point. "If Imogen had been here, what would you have done?"
"Asked her to come with me," Mr. Smith said simply. "I'm from the north. My ancestors fought on the right side of the Civil War. When I say it doesn't matter, I truly mean it. But she's from Alabama, so she worries. In Europe, though—why everyone knows how popular Josephine Baker is over there. When she married a Frenchman last year, no one thought a thing of it."
"And you don't have any way of getting in touch with her?" Amy asked.
Mr. Smith shook his head. "She was always very careful. She didn't want anyone to see us together so she never let me see take her home. I know she lives somewhere near 7th Avenue. We've met at some of the jazz clubs before. But I can't ask about her. People down there are … careful. About strangers, I mean. No one would tell me anything. And—,"
"I could, though," Amy interrupted him.
"Ask about her, I mean," she told him. "She worked here. I could look for her. No one would be surprised. I've even got a great cover story – I just want her to come back and work for us again." And frankly, if it didn't work out for Imogen and Mr. Smith, that solution would be fine by her.
"You'd do that?" Mr. Smith asked, his expression half grateful, half stunned. "Even though—,"
"Anything we can do to help the cause of true love," Amy said cheerfully. "Rory, darling, jazz club tonight?"
"Absolutely," he said fervently. "I can't believe I didn't realize this sooner, but we're in New York City. In the 1930s. Seventh Avenue, that's got to be the Savoy Ballroom, the Cotton Club, the Apollo. We could hear Ella Fitzgerald. Live. Live! Or Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman. You know, Jimi Hendrix won first prize at the Apollo's amateur night. I can't believe I haven't thought of it before. This is like—like—amazing. What an opportunity!"
"Jimi Hendrix?" said Mr. Smith. "Is he a saxophonist? I don't believe I know him."
"Ah, yeah, something like that," Amy said quickly, kicking Rory under the table. She didn't know squat about old music but she was pretty sure Jimi Hendrix wouldn't even have been born yet in 1938.
They quickly made plans to meet, later that night, Amy feeling relaxed and optimistic and grateful that she might be able to stop worrying about what had happened to the boy. But then as Mr. Smith prepared to leave, she realized she'd forgotten the most important question of all.
"Oh, wait," she called after him.
He turned in the doorway, looking back at her.
"What should I wear?"
*True story. Honestly, I don't recommend you read this site – I think it'll give any sane person nightmares – but legendsofamerica dot com has extensive information on lynchings in the United States. They were horrifying.
**Wow, Mr. Smith must have been able to see the future! In fact, it wasn't until 2000 that Alabama finally decided to revoke its law making interracial marriage a felony. We ought to be horrified by that, but in fact, it was only in 1967—45 years ago—that the Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional.
***Joke. She's wrong to be disappointed. And I hope this doesn't feel like a Wishbone episode, but every name apart from Mr. Smith and Amy and Rory belongs to a real human being!