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Back Home Again

I awoke once more in my flat – to find all was just as I had left it.

I rose slowly and looked through the window. I could see the backs of the houses on the next street and they appeared to be unchanged. Their square BBC dishes were still there.

I moved to the TV and switched it on. I turned it to the news channel – and nothing. There had been no apparent change from the world I had left, the previous evening.

How could that be? I had killed Hitler, for chrissakes – that had to change something.

I sat down at my computer and BBC History-searched my nemesis, Adolf.

There he was, same as ever. Bastard. And WW2 had ended the same way I had left it – with Berlin decimated by a British nuclear bomb.

I needed to go deeper. After a long search, I managed to locate the online version of a newspaper that might help. Ranshofen was only a village, but the nearby town of Braunau Am Inn had a local daily that covered Ranshofen – and went back centuries.

Using my computer’s translator, I hit the archives and scanned the issue from the day in question. I almost missed the story I needed – it was only a small entry on page five.

A Greta Schröder had reported her baby missing. Missing? I read on: Greta had taken her baby Wolfgang to the local food shop and had parked the infant outside in his pram. Upon returning, only a couple of minutes later, the pram was empty. Police enquiries were continuing.

I read the rest of the issue, but that was it.

So I checked the next day’s edition – and this time, the story was on page one.

A man walking his dog in a nearby wood had found the corpse of a baby, nestled in some undergrowth. Given the previous day’s event, the police had sent for Greta to attend the morgue and identify the remains.

The coroner had pulled the sheet back, at which point Greta had became hysterical, screaming that the tiny body was not that of her Wolfgang.

Given that Ranshofen was a small town and only one baby had been lost and the next day, one found – the police came to the logical conclusion that Greta was in denial. So they insisted the woman’s husband, Günther, view the body.

He did so, but said he could not be sure. The small, carnivorous animals in the wood had done what came naturally to them – and anyway, his contact with the infant had not been as intimate as his wife’s had been.

In those days, this was not unusual – the baby had only been a few months old and fathers rarely had intimate contact with their sons until they were old enough to converse. And even then, father-son relationships were pretty formal.

Inevitably, the police turned their attention to the couple (since they were right there in front of them) but an independent reliable witness had met the woman outside the shop and seen the baby in the pram. And she had been with her when Greta had left the shop and found Wolfgang missing.

And so the police questioned Günther. But he had been at work, several kilometres away, at the time in question – and there were a number of independent reliable witnesses to that.

Furthermore, the Schröders had no other children – or obvious enemies. They were just a poor, honest, nondescript couple, whom no-one had a problem with.

Thus, the crime being seemingly motiveless and all leads having been dutifully followed, the police announced that they were satisfied the body found had been that of Wolfgang Schröder and would search relentlessly for the killer.

This of course meant that while the file would be left open, nothing further would be done – unless another baby went missing or turned up dead. There were no Central Criminal Records in those days.

I had my suspicions about what might have happened, but I needed confirmation. And the only way I could obtain it was to observe what had happened after I had left the scene.

Which meant I needed to go back.

But this raised a new issue. My previous excursions had led me to believe that two versions of the same person could not exist in the same time line. But whilst that appeared to be true of the present – would it also apply to the past?

There was only one way to find out.

After dinner, I returned to my flat, put my period clothes back on, made sure my money, The Device and – in case of trouble – my stun-guns were in place. Then I erased “10:00” on the whiteboard, replaced it with “09:50” and lay down waiting…

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