Ronald Bridges was just about to pop the thick witted fleshy stooge handling reservations for the season’s stakeout. Twelve spots had already gone; only two remained active, und so ein idiot moved with deliberate attention to smudges of grease on the glass countertop, apparently entranced by the prospect of wiping the counter clean. “Gotta be careful,” he cautioned himself. The last round of testing had cleared him, but just barely; the evaluator had noted his short fuse and ready flashpoint. “Could be impulsive,” the pencil necked doctor had warned, as if Bridges had actually reached across the desk and squeezed his larynx until it split in the large man’s fingers, as Bridges had imagined doing. Head down, fingers glued to the keyboard, the doctor had not noticed the balled fists or the vein throbbing in Bridges’ forehead.
The intelligence test had gone well enough, and the results from the firing range were remarkable; Bridges had demonstrated his ability to shoot the ash off a cigar at a distance of two hundred feet, not that he would have to set up at that distance. No, the outcome of the shot was a certainty. Once again, for the three hundred and thirty fifth time, Hitler would be dead on the floor of the small balcony outside the Reichstag, Tyler, or Cooney, or one of the other guides would drag the corpse back inside, and the history of the world would remain unchanged.
The first trips were sold as sightseeing excursions into the recent past, holiday jaunts to see Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey in the flesh, entirely non-participatory, but it hadn’t been long before clients wanted a bigger bang for their many bucks The bedroom trips satisfied the voyeurs, but the action minded wanted to get in on the action, and the hunting trips were born. It took more than a decade for agents to map out opportunities for hunters to stalk and kill without changing the past and so contaminating the future/present; nothing was touched in any way until the agents had created a map of events so detailed that the entire trip could be repeated and replicated over-and-over.
There were adjustments, of course; the Hitler trip to Berchtesgaden had inadvertently revealed that the commonly accepted account of Hitler’s death, the final hours in the fuhrerbunker, Eva Braun’s cyanide capsule, all of it, was pure wienerschnitzel. A thorough sweep of the bunker produced no Hitler, no Braun. It took more than a dozen subsequent expeditions to the final days of the Reich to determine that a Soviet soldier had polished them both off in Berlin without the slightest knowledge of their actual identity.
One of those wrong place, wrong time mishaps.
Which actually made things much easier for the time sweepers and the clean up crew. Trying to wedge patrons into and out of the fuhrerbunker would have been a royal pain in the ass, exactly the kind of nasty duty that made it so hard to find time sweepers who would just do the job, keep their mitts to themselves, and accept a crappy wage for the wear and tear of shuttling back and forth. “Keep It Simple” – First line in bold caps of the Sweeper Manual. “Timing Is Everything” – Chapter I of the instructions page. The rest of the instructions were obvious to anyone with half a brain – “Don’t Touch Anything Except The Shell Casings!” The patrons had an even easier mantra – “One Shot, That’s It!” To be fair, the Reichstag hit involved two shots, and the timing was a bit trickier than plugging a dinosaur at the moment it was meant to die. Everyone knew to look for the Dino with a big yellow X on its neck; even a poor shot was ok, as long as it hit the beast somewhere a sweeper could get at. It was work to dig out the actual bullet, but the team packed in a projectile the size of a football, so hard to miss.
Most hunters were willing to take any assignment and to follow the rules without complaint. Most, but not all. The self-styled expert hunters and assassins often tried to free lance, which was why the Hit Trips demanded a double casting of sweepers: One to control the scene and the other to control the patron. For obvious reasons, the Hitler Hit was the most sought out, the most expensive, and the most carefully managed. In its earliest days, descendents of Holocaust victims found the experience overwhelming. They weren’t alone; Feelings ran high on that trip. Now teams of counselors met clients before and after the hit, and, for the most part, the enterprise was almost on automatic.
None of which was of concern to Ronald Bridges. He’d made his money the old fashioned way: Bullying clients into over-paying for the work his construction company monopolized, and investing the profits in the management of low-income housing, nursing facilities, and prisons, all of which had brought him riches and power. He hired people to soften his edges, gussy him up enough to pass as a man of wealth and refinement, but he remained, at his core, a brute.
Bridges hated waiting for anything; he had people to wait for him. Shooting Hitler was an exotic diversion, however, and one for which he was willing to summon a show of patience. The paperwork finally done, the moron at the desk left behind, Bridges left the Time Compound in order to prepare for the trip. He had received permission to bring his own rifle, an Alpine Shooter Sako Finnlight, a relatively light rifle with superb accuracy. He maintained his own weapons; he didn’t trust anyone to keep his rifles ready and predictable. The rifle prepared, Bridges sat down to the meal that had become his accustomed fare on the eve of a grueling hunt, grilled salmon with a blueberry sauce, roasted root vegetables in season, and a fresh green salad. No coffee, cigar, or sweet for Bridges as he played out the upcoming adventure in his imagination.
The Time Capsule itself was surprisingly roomy; Bridges, a large man, sat on a well upholstered couch. The guides, Tyler and Cooney, sat at the controls as expected. Bridges had worked with them before and trusted them as much as he trusted anyone. Extra sweepers were on board as well, as the clean up process had to happen quickly. As it had on previous trips, the capsule shook slightly as it powered up, kept a steady low frequency hum for the ninety seconds needed to return to April 30, 1945, quieting as the panel’s warning lights turned green. The main hatch slid open revealing the exterior of the Reichstag. Walking gingerly, the guides led Bridges to the balcony on the second floor, all three standing behind a balustrade, protected from view from within. The sweepers remained below, ready to jump into action as they had for more than a hundred outings.
Adolf Hitler and his bride, Eva Braun, emerged from the double doorway leading to the balcony. Eva held the sleeve of Hitler’s Alpine jacket; they spoke softly. As expected, a Russian soldier of indeterminate rank burst through the doors, waving his Tokarev TT-33 semi-automatic pistol. Shouting in Russian, the soldier rushed toward Hitler and Braun. As he lowered his pistol, Bridges released the safety on his rifle and fired one shot.
A red hole blossomed in the middle of the Russian’s forehead. Hitler and Braun recoiled, Braun screaming. Tyler and Cooney rushed forward, but there was little to do. Grabbing Bridges’ collar, they dragged him down the stairway to the capsule while the sweepers did what they could to sanitize the scene.
The capsule doors closed as the sweepers ran in. Bridges chuckled during the ninety seconds of panicked conversation among the guards and sweepers. As the door swept open, Bridges was pleased to see a poster on the far wall.
“Achtung! Gefahrenstelle! Betreten verboten!”