Prologue

“How are you holding up, Dot?”

“I’m doing fine, you just keep your eyes on the road, Paul.”

“Okay, I got it.”

Paul Bennett was driving faster than he generally did, anxious about the impending arrival of their first child. His wife Dorothy was breathing slowly and deeply, her eyes closed. She’d slipped out of bed at 1:27 AM and gone into the bathroom, returning moments later to wake Paul and tell him it was time to go.

It was late September of 1951, and not even the upcoming subway series in New York between Stengel and Durocher could divert Paul’s attention from worrying about his wife and their first child, despite their doctor assuring him that everything was progressing very well.

He blinked a few times to clear his eyes and stared ahead down the dark road to the highway ramps. He just wanted to get them safely to the hospital in Providence and let the doctors take charge. He’d purchased Doctor Spock’s book, read it cover to cover, but the reassuring words on the printed page paled compared to the reality of what was about to happen and all the questions that came to mind.

Sensing his growing anxiety, Dorothy rested her hand on his leg as he drove. A comforting touch, a silent reassurance that everything would be fine. Paul drove in silence, the car radio playing softly in the background, and relaxed a bit, her touch calming him as she’d hoped it might.

It was 2:19 AM, the night air carrying a chill through Carson’s Mill, the dark sky above cloudless and clear.

The tall man in black stood on a corner in front of the Old Stone Safe Deposit and Trust Company and looked up into the night sky. He saw far more than the twinkling stars, admiring the multitude of shades and textures within the inky darkness above as they ebbed and flowed…

He turned his head sharply to the left, his attention diverted by what was about to happen a few miles away. He knew there was a car on the main road and another on a side street that would intersect with the main road after a long, blind curve. He also knew that the driver of the car on that side street was drunk, was speeding, and would enter that intersection at high speed without slowing down, hitting the other car broadside and killing the passengers within.

He did not know why, as he was generally amused by the stupid things people did to themselves, but he instinctively understood he had to prevent that crash from happening so he closed his eyes and took a deep breath...

Harry Carter was tooling along at 50 on the dark road, his ’47 Chevy Fleetline weaving erratically back and forth. He was shouting, cursing his luck, cursing everyone he knew, and cursing the world in general. He’d gone in for his second shift job at the paper mill, and found a pink slip waiting in place of his time card. He took the meager severance check they’d given him, cashed it at the bank just before they closed, and proceeded to drink as much of it as he could before the bartender finally cut him off.

Remembering that now, he cursed him too.

As he was ranting and shaking his head, he happened to glance at the rear-view mirror and yelped when he saw someone staring at him from the back seat. The tall stranger sitting there was completely bald, with a trimmed black goatee and thick brows over his piercing dark eyes.

“Hey, who th’fuck are you?” he slurred.

The stranger said nothing, staring at the back of Harry’s head in silence.

“I asst you a questun, asshole!” Harry bellowed as he turned in his seat to face the man sitting in the back. He turned easily, never bothering to wear a seat belt.

The stranger reached into his jacket pocket and removed a worn metal cigarette case. He extracted a jet-black cigarette from the case, returned it to his pocket, and lit the cigarette with the spark created by clicking two long, thick fingernails against each other. His eyes never left Harry’s as the car filled with a pungent, sulfur like odor that made Harry’s scowl deepen.

Glaring at the intruder, his vision now blurry and doubling, he didn’t notice the start of the wide curve in the road until he felt the car bucking and heaving when it left the smooth asphalt and careened onto the dirt and grass leading to the huge oak tree overlooking the road.

As Harry was turning back to face forward and regain control, the massive car plowed into the trunk of the oak at 58 miles per hour, launching him up toward the windshield. His head smashed through the thick glass as he was violently pitched forward.

His momentum was abruptly stopped when his Western belt buckle caught onto the steering wheel, pivoting his neck downward onto the jagged glass, the force completely severing his jugular. A thick branch in the old tree, cracked at its base by the impact, dropped down on the back of his head, completing his decapitation. Harry’s severed head fell onto the crumpled hood and slowly rolled over, staring up with wide eyed surprise at the dark sky above.

On the main road, just a quarter mile ahead, Paul and Dorothy Bennett drove through the intersection, completely unaware of what had just happened.

The tall man opened the back door and stepped out of Harry’s demolished Chevy. He smiled at the confused expression on the head lying on the hood and looked toward the main road where the Bennetts had just passed by. He didn’t know then why the accident had to be prevented but was certain he’d find out in due time.

Lights in nearby houses were coming on as people stepped out to see what had happened to cause that loud noise, gasping and commenting to each other about the severity of the crash.

A woman who was a nurse rushed over to offer help, stopping short when she saw the head lying on the ruined hood of the car. She turned back to her neighbors, calling out.

“Has anyone called the Sheriff yet?”

“Yep, I did,” came a reply from the darkness.

“Well, he doesn’t need to rush. This one’s a goner.”

The crowd edged closer for a better look, the tall man no longer there. The ruined engine ticked as it cooled, like a death watch beetle not yet satisfied.

Sixty-three minutes after Harry’s decapitation, John Paul Bennett came into the world at 8 pounds, 7 ounces and got his first lesson about the unfairness of this strange, cold place he’d been thrust into by virtue of a slap on the ass from the doctor.

His protesting cries were loud and clear, music to the ears of the doctor and his nurses. The doctor cut and tied off the umbilical cord and left the nurses to clean and swaddle the child while he went to the waiting room to congratulate and reassure the new father that his family was fine and healthy. Paul’s eyes welled up as he enthusiastically pumped the doctor’s hand, thanking him profusely for everything. He was so overcome with relief, he nearly forgot to ask the doctor about the baby.

“You have a son, Mister Bennett, a happy, healthy baby boy. Congratulations again.” The doctor grinned. No matter how many children he delivered, he never tired of the look of wonder on the faces of new parents, their lives about to take an entirely new direction.

A keen observer, he also frequently noted that moment of realization when the burden of worry over something going wrong with the delivery shifted to the worry about how this fragile infant would fare in the world as the years passed by. He didn’t see that now, though. Mr. Bennett’s worry relaxed completely upon hearing the good news, somehow knowing that this child had a good life ahead of him.