The story so far: Eddie was bored in history class and writing poor research papers but then his teacher Mrs. Finster gave him a subway token and told him to use it on the way home. He did use it and when he came out of the subway he saw a man reading a newspaper that had a headline about Roosevelt winning the election. Eddie Barnes braced his legs against the sway of the downtown local and stared at the headline of The New York Times. He hadn’t imagined it. Roosevelt Winner in Landslide! it said, the type sharp and black and freshly printed. Maybe it’s some souvenir thing, he thought wildly. Maybe he bought it on eBay.
“Excuse me, sir,” Eddie said. “Is that today’s paper?”
“Nah,” the man said. “Wednesday’s. Just got to it. You want a piece?”
“Yeah. Finally got rid of that crumb-bum Hoover. Prosperity’s just around the corner,” he said sourly. “Maybe for him— say, pal, you don’t look so good.”
“I need to sit down,” Eddie said faintly.
“Hey, you palookas,” the man called out as he put a hand under Eddie’s elbow. “Give us some room.” He drew Eddie across the car, motioned for the passengers to move over, and lowered him to the seat, which was narrow and covered in slick wicker-patterned upholstery.
“New York. Where’d ya think, Rangoon? Kids,” he grumbled as he went back to the center of the car, snapping open his newspaper with a sharp gesture.
Eddie leaned back, and a strip of brightly printed advertisements above the windows caught his eye. He’d never heard of Ipana toothpaste or Camay Beauty Soap or Moxie, which looked like a kind of root beer. He searched the car for something — anything! — he knew, but only the The New York Times was the least bit familiar. The other newspapers he saw people reading were as bizarre as Moxie, and the people were the strangest of all. In their curiously cut clothes and low-brimmed hats, the women reminded Eddie of The Grapes of Wrath or one of the old Jimmy Cagney movies his dad had been so crazy about. Maybe someone’s shooting a movie, he thought. Maybe that’s what this is.
He sat numbly as the subway train rattled along. When it pulled into the Times Square station, he impulsively sprang up and bolted from the car. Times Square he knew. He and his best friends Josh and Trevor spent Saturdays there just wandering around, sniggering at the tourists and, as Josh, who wanted to be an actor, liked to say, “observing the swelling scene.” Please, God, please, Eddie prayed silently as he stumbled across the platform and up the stairs to the street. Let Times Square be the same.
But it wasn’t.
Eddie stopped at the top of the stairs and just stared, his eyes wide, a roaring in his ears. This couldn’t be Times Square! Where was the looming canyon of office buildings and enormous flashing billboards, the whole awe-inspiring carnival of light and noise and fast food? Nothing looked taller than ten or twelve stories, and only the Times Building where the ball dropped every New Year’s Eve was recognizable. The west side of Broadway between 43rd and 44th streets was taken up by the Hotel Astor, an elegant brick building with a roof garden, and the Astor Theatre, which was showing a movie called Strange Interlude with Norma Shearer and Clark Gable. Running north along Broadway were two solid blocks of theaters with plays and musicals Eddie had never heard of: Dinner at Eight and The Good Earth and Of Thee I Sing. With a sense of relief, he spotted the New Amsterdam Theatre, where he’d seen The Lion King on his twelfth birthday. It still looked the same, although its vertical neon sign was missing and the eight-story office tower atop it dwarfed the buildings on either side. He squinted at the marquee: The Band Wagon with Fred and Adele Astaire. Fred Astaire he’d heard of, but who was Adele?
Eddie sank to the curb, his head in his hands. After a dazed moment, he scrabbled in his backpack for his cell phone, flipped it open, and gazed hungrily at the little bluish screen: No service available. Yeah, right, he thought glumly. Not for about seventy years. No cells, no computers. No Internet, no Google. Mrs. Finster would love that. “If I ever see you again, Mrs. Finster, I’m going to tell you what I really think of you,” he muttered. What had she gotten him into? Who did she think she was — some goofy wizard out of Harry Potter, doling out magic tokens like cough drops?
“I need to think,” he said, and got to his feet. He walked away from Broadway down a side street until he saw an empty alley. He went in and sat on a garbage can and closed his eyes, trying to blot out images of a Manhattan as alien as the moon.
He heard her before he saw her. A door banged open and she came flying out, clattering noisily down the metal stairs in bright red tap shoes, a slim girl with platinum blonde curls and cheeks streaked with tears and mascara. She dashed across the alley, skidded to a stop, and grabbed his arm.
“You’ve got to help me!” she cried. “I’m in the most terrible trouble.”