Cover Image
Peter Schooff
Operation Sgt. Pepper

I'm funny looking. I can't throw a football, hit a baseball, and whatever it is you're supposed to do with a lacrosse stick. I'm short, I can't fight, and I'm pretty much anxious all the time. Basically, all the essential ingredients for a miserable high school experience.

     But I dated two different cheerleaders my senior year. How'd I do it? Well, put a wig on me and stick me behind a drum kit and I make a pretty good Ringo Starr. The broken nose helps.

     It was Zach's idea to start a Beatles cover band in high school. Zach, you see, was a dead ringer for Paul McCartney. So much so, it was rumored that his mother must have hooked up with McCartney when the Beatles came through Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

     But the Beatles never toured Urbana-Champaign in 1985. Neither did McCartney. What probably happened is Zach's mom hooked up with a 'Paul' from a Beatles' cover band. She loved the Beatles that much, and she passed that love onto the four of us.

     Which is why three of us were gathered near the back of a half-empty banquet hall on a Tuesday night in Zion, Illinois, in early November. We had come for Karen Sandberg's memorial service, Zach's mom, but her boy was nowhere to be found.

     "Where the hell is he?" Blake said. Blake was our John, and he still had Lennon's thin face and inquisitive eyes. But with his receding hairline and the fact that he'd traded in his granny glasses for contact lenses, he looked more like the overworked DC attorney that he was. "You can't miss your own mother's funeral."

     "It's not a funeral, it's a life celebration," I said.

     "Maybe he doesn't feel like celebrating," Todd said. Todd was our George, and he was a big, chubby guy with a full beard who now lived in LA recording music for video games. While Todd could play just about anything on guitar, he always looked like he belonged more with The Grateful Dead. "I just hope he's not bumming too hard. Either of you talk to him lately?"

<  2  >

     I shook my head. Zach had sent us each an email telling us of his mother's passing and asking if we would come home for her service. While I lived nearby in Chicago and still drummed in the occasional Beatles' cover band, Zach and I hadn't spoken in years. I didn't even know his mom had gotten cancer.

     Brad sauntered up. Big Brad, star high school linebacker until a knee injury got him into the starting lineup of the paint department at Home Depot. Big Brad, the ex-jock responsible for my broken nose and a hairline scar behind Zach's ear.

     "If it ain't the losers in the sky with diamonds," he said, repeating the same joke he used to say back in high school over a decade ago.

     "Yo Brad," I said, "you seen Zach around?"

     Brad shook his head. "Your boy's lost it. Word is he never leaves his basement. So what's up with you three? You still doing your shitty Beatles' impersonations?"

     "Nope," Blake said, "but I see you're still doing your spot-on impression of a giant sack of shit."

     Brad started to go red in the face, which was usually our cue to run away. Not anymore — now Brad was just big. "Remember when I kicked your asses," he said.

     "Remember when Zach banged Tammy," I said.

     "Tammy was a lying bitch," Brad said, trudging away. "Catch you losers later."

     Tammy was homecoming queen back in high school and Brad's girl. But the moment we struck the opening chord to a Hard Day's Night in the school gym and I saw her whip around to find the source of this joyous noise, I knew she was ours. Such was the power of The Beatles.

     "Guess he's gotta be home then," Blake said.

     "I'll drive," I said.

     Outside, the three of us climbed into my old minivan. As Todd slid into the back there was a loud clang as one of my cymbals tumbled off the seat. At least I'd managed to clear out most of my drum kit.

<  3  >

     "I'm not scheduled to head back until Sunday," Todd said, "what am I supposed to do until then if Zach's lost his mind?"

     "If he really has gone batshit, I'm bolting first thing tomorrow," Blake said.

     "Let's just see how he's doing first," I said.

     Back in high school, it seemed ideal Zach lived so far out in the boonies — the perfect place to practice loud. Now it just seemed like a long drive.

     With the leaves off the trees, I could see the low grey ranch house as soon as I turned up the long gravel drive. A hush came over the car as we drove toward the house. This was our hallowed ground: while The Beatles had their 10,000 hours in the clubs of Hamburg to perfect their sound, we had three nights a week in the Sandberg basement.

     The man himself stepped outside as I parked.

     "Hey mates," he said as we climbed out. My first impression was: he didn't look all that crazy. In fact, out of all of us, he probably looked the best. His hair was definitely longer, but that just made him look a 70s version of McCartney.

     "Sorry about your Ma, dude," Todd said.

     "I'm just glad her suffering is over." He looked each of us over. "You could still pass for Ringo, Spence," he told me, "but you two don't look anything like Beatles anymore."

     "Yeah, that's not exactly my focus these days," Blake said, "but damn, Z, you look more like Paul than ever."

     "Thanks," Zach said, but Blake didn't exactly intend it as a compliment. "We just came from your Mom's memorial service. Where were you, my man?" Todd said.

     "I can't leave," Zach said, "tonight's the night."

     "The night for what?" Todd asked, but Zach was already headed toward the house. Inside, the place was empty: no chairs, no tables, no carpet, even the light fixtures had been ripped out.

<  4  >

     "Yo, what happened here?" I said.

     "Sold the house to a gravel company. They're tearing it down. With my Mom gone, I figure what's the point of me hanging around here anymore."

     "You should move to L.A., dude," Todd said.

     "I'm going to London," he said "And guess what? You three are coming with me. We leave tomorrow."

     "Like hell I am," Blake said.

     "You gotta come, Blake," Zach said, "we can't be the Fab Four without John."

     "No can do. I'm proposing to Carol next weekend."

     Todd and I congratulated him.

     "But aren't you staying here until Sunday?" Zach said. He sounded desperate.

     "Nope, I'm flying back Saturday. I got way too much going on, buddy."

     "That still works. Our flight is due back from London Friday night. You brought your passports, right?"

     "Dude, you said we needed our passports because of something in your Mom's will," Todd said.

     "Right, she willed me the house and I sold it. How do you think I paid for our four round-trip tickets."

     "Goddamnit, Zach," Blake said, "you're not still obsessed with the whole Paul-is-dead conspiracy crap, are you?"

     "Of course not. I know Paul's still alive."

     The three of us let out a big sigh of relief.

     "But he has been cloned," Zach said.

     "Christ on crutches, Z!" Blake said, "I don't care if Bigfoot played with The Beatles. I'm not following you to London to chase phantoms."

     "Let me prove it to you," Zach said, starting toward the basement. The three of us glanced at each other until Todd shrugged and went after him.

<  5  >

     The basement was exactly as I remembered: the same unfinished ceiling with pipes running every which way, the same bare cement floor, and at the far end, the same flimsy plywood stage propped up on cinder blocks. The only thing left on the stage was my old kick-drum with the name of our band printed on it in peeling letters: The Zeetles.

     Everyone laughed when Zach first proposed the name. As he said back then, "Yeah, I know it's dumb, but our school mascot is the Fighting Zee-Bees. If we call ourselves The Zeetles, I bet Principal Kenney will let us play a school dance even before we're any good."

     He was right: we got the gig for the next sophomore dance. We sucked, but it was down here that we got good. Zach's Mom would come down to listen when she got off work. While she'd never say anything bad when we were struggling (and there's nothing worse than a Beatles' song that's a little off), she would get a sour look on her face and say, "You sure that's how it's supposed to sound?"

     I knew if I could get the tip of her cigarette bopping in time with the thumpity-thump of my kick drum, that we were on, that we had it. And if we could win over a Beatlemaniac like Ms. Sandberg, then the students at Zion-Benton High would be a piece of cake.

     "You want proof, Blake?" Zach side-stepped around the furnace. In the secret office he'd built himself behind the furnace, there was an entire wall papered over with maps of London. The maps were covered with multi-colored thumb tacks. It looked like he was tracking a serial killer.

     Zach flicked on the turntable. "Tell me, Blake, what do you hear?"

     The needle was nestled in the grooves of the first song on the fourth side of The Beatles' White Album: Revolution Number Nine.

     "Come on, Z, we've already been over this a million times."

<  6  >

     "Just tell me what you hear." Zach planted two fingers in the center of the record and urged it backwards, so what was Lennon saying number nine over and over again sounded much more ominous in reverse.

     "Want to know what I hear?" Blake said, "Zach is nuts, Zach it nuts."

     "He's saying 'Turn me on, Redmond.' Just listen."

     He played it again.

     "I hear it," I said. "Who's red man?"

     "Redmond. Professor Richard Redmond." He checked his watch. "We got six minutes."

     "Six minutes for what?" Todd said.

     "In six minutes it'll be Wednesday, 5 in the morning on Abbey Road. You know, like the song lyric."

     "So it's official," Blake said, "you're completely bonkers."

     "Don't believe me. See for yourself."

     Zach snapped open a laptop on his small desk. The screen brightened, revealing live footage from a gloomy British street. The camera looked like it was mounted halfway up a light post, and through the fuzzy cataract of a low-resolution webcam the iconic zebra crossing came into focus. It was Abbey Road, and a few cars and buses cruised back and forth on what looked to be a quiet, wet London pre-dawn.

     "What are we watching for?" I said.

     "Professor Redmond," Zach said.

     "Whoa, I just realized tomorrow," Todd said, "which in London is today, is November 9th. That's the day Paul McCartney was supposed to have died in the car accident."

     "Exactly. This only happens when November 9th falls on a Wednesday, which is about every seven years. So this is a first for me. Now shut up and watch."

     The four of us stood around the screen in silence. At exactly 11 PM our time, a male figure appeared at the top of the screen and moved toward the camera. He strolled straight at us and kept walking until he was out of sight.

<  7  >

     "I know how much you want this," Blake said, "but you gotta move on, buddy. Nobody gives a shit about The Beatles anymore."

     "Fuck you, lawyer-boy," I said, "Beatles are still king."

     "Who's that?" Todd said, pointing. A tall, stooped figure appeared at the top left corner of the screen. He wore a long dark raincoat and a black hood, and by his slow movements appeared quite old. The figure trudged across Abbey Road, stepping on each zebra stripe as if to make a point. Then he turned towards the camera.

     "That is Professor Redmond," Zach said.

     The professor shuffled up close to the camera and stopped. He pulled back his hood to reveal he was wearing a walrus mask. Hanging from the mask was a hand written sign that read: I Am Watching. With that, he was gone.

     "That proof enough for you, Blake?" Zach said.

     "Well goo goo ga joob," Blake said.

     25 hours later our plane touched down at Heathrow Airport. When I handed over my passport to the custom's lady she asked, "Business or pleasure?"

     My mind went blank. She asked again.

     "Beatles," I muttered.

     She gave me a wink and stamped my passport with a thunk.

     Zach had us booked into a hotel in Leicester Square. As we cabbed up to the grand white hotel, the ancient building loomed over us like a giant wedding cake.

     As soon as we'd cleaned up and wolfed down some breakfast, the four of us were seated side-by-side on a train clattering through London's underground. We were dressed in the only clothes Zach had packed in his suitcase. I had on a black suit with a red tie, Blake was dressed in his all white suit, Todd was wearing jeans from head to toe, and Zach was resplendent in a blue wool suit. We were on our way to Abbey Road to reenact the crossing.

<  8  >

     But we hadn't worn these outfits since high school, which meant Zach's suit was the only one that fit. Todd couldn't fasten a single button on his jean's shirt, and the only thing holding up Blake's white pants were a pair of lawyer's suspenders.

     The train screeched to a stop at St. John's Wood Station. Zach rose and, without a word, the three of us followed him off the train. Outside, the day was clear and cool, and we walked three blocks until we reached Abbey Road.

     As soon as I saw the crosswalk, I gasped. I couldn't help it. After seeing it in so many pictures and posters, actually seeing it in person took my breath away. The crosswalk was empty.

     Zach sat down and pulled off his shoes and socks. When he stood back up he dug into his backpack and pulled out a four walrus masks with long white tusks, one for each of us.

     "Dude, I am definitely not the walrus," Todd said.

     "That's the code," Zach said. "The walrus wasn't Paul or John, it was all four of them. Now put it on."

     I pulled on the heavy rubber mask. I could barely see, and breathing in sucked the mask tight against my face. This had better be quick, I thought. Zach immediately positioned me behind Blake, putting us in order of the album cover.

     "OK, Blake, lead the way," Zach said, and the four of us marched single file across the six zebra stripes of Abbey Road. It felt like we were walking across the Mona Lisa.

     When we reached the other side Zach moved toward the webcam. From behind I could see he was holding a copy of Sgt. Pepper's and was pointing at something on the album cover.

     I tore off the mask and joined him. "What are you doing?" I said.

     "See that? Right behind the tassel on Lennon's shoulder and between Oscar Wilde and the guy with the big cowboy hat. See that tuft of grey hair? That's the professor."

<  9  >

     "I thought that was Albert Einstein." He slid the album into his backpack.

     "Nope, that's Professor Redmond."

     "Now what?" Blake said.

     "We wait," Zach said.

     The four of us waited, watching cars and double-decker buses cruising up and down the street. Todd and I crossed Abbey Road four more times.

     "Dude!" Todd shouted.

     Zach turned. "That's him."

     A tall stooped figure approached us wearing the same dark raincoat.

     "Professor Redmond, " Zach said, "it's wonderful to see you."

     "You," the professor said to Zach, "after all these years, you're the only one to figure it out. Come with--"

     The professor's mouth froze into a hard oval. He was glaring at something over my shoulder. I whipped around. A wall of British bobbies were closing in on us, twenty strong. With their dark greatcoats and peaked hats they looked as formidable as a mountain chain.

     Turning back, I saw a second wave of bobbies advancing on us from the other direction. We were completely boxed in.

     "Oh lord, oh no!" the professor muttered. He started inching back until his foot slipped off the curb, throwing him off balance. Windmilling his arms, he fell backwards into the path of a double-decker bus.

     With a sickening thump the professor was flung into the air and came crashing down on the pavement. One leg was bent under him at a horrible angle and his raincoat was twisted around him. He looked like a busted umbrella someone had tossed aside on the sidewalk.

     Zach screamed and rushed to his side. The professor pulled him close. He mumbled something in Zach's ear before going slack. 

     Bobbies swarmed. One shoved me aside and said, "Move along, lad."

<  10  >

     Zach broke free and grabbed my arm. "Come on."

     Still in his bare feet, Zach speed walked away. The three of us fell in behind him, which must have made us look like a race walking version of Abbey Road. At the next intersection, Zach leapt in front of a cab. The black cab screeched to a halt and Blake yanked open the door and the four of us scrambled inside.

     "338 Broadmoore Court," Zach said as the cabbie sped off.

     "What's there?" Blake said.

     "The professor told me to go there. Look what he gave me." Zach held up a big brass key.

     "The professor...is he dead?" Todd said.

     "I think so," Zach said, glancing away.

     "I'm trying really hard not to freak out here, man," Todd said, his lips quivering.

     "Just stay cool, Todd. Everything will make sense real soon," Zach said.

     Todd blinked. "I could really use a joint right now."

     Zach turned to the cabbie. "Pull into the alley around back when we get there."

     I sat back and watched the ancient and modern architecture of London flash by. After a couple of minutes the cab cruised past a row a two-story brick houses and took a left into the alley behind. The area looked familiar. Even though this was my first time in London, I felt like I'd been there before.

     "Where you want me to drop 'ya?" the cabbie said.

     "See that doorway up there?" Zach said, pointing to a blue brick doorway up ahead. It looked like the same doorway the four Beatles had crammed into for that famous poster. Everything was starting to feel connected.

     The cab stopped and Zach paid. "Wait here, we'll be right back."

<  11  >

     The driver took a long look at us. "Good thing you're dressed like the Beatles. You looked anything like Coldplay, I'd leave 'ya."

     Approaching the doorway, I noticed it looked different from the poster. The door was much more solid, like something forged during the iron age. Zach slid the brass key into the lock and it opened with a click.

     Inside, the place looked like a modern day Frankenstein's lab. There were beakers and test tubes everywhere. Bolted high above us under the vaulted ceiling was a large generator that made a low humming sound. In the middle of the room, on a raised platform, was what looked like a high-tech stainless steel coffin.

     "Here it is. His cryogenic chamber," Zach said.

     "I...I'm not so sure about this, man," Todd said.

     "If anyone wants out, leave now. No hard feelings. But if you stay, I'll give you the rest of the money from my Mom's house. You can split it three ways. It comes to about 20 grand each."

     Todd paused a moment and said, "Fab Four forever, man."

     Zach and I climbed onto the platform holding the coffin. The temperature gauge attached to the chamber read -197 degrees Celsius.

     A beeping started, slow and steady. Zach rushed over to the alarm pad by the door.

     "Shit, the professor didn't say anything about this." Zach tried a combination on the keypad by the entrance. Nothing. He tried another, but the beeping only got louder. Zach hustled back to the platform where he started disconnecting all the cords and cables.

     "We've got to get this out of here. Everybody take a corner."

     I grabbed a corner. The metal felt ice cold.

     "Now lift," Zach said.

     In unison, we hoisted the steel box off the platform. Clutching it tightly, I crab-walked sideways toward the entrance. It fit through the door perfectly.

<  12  >

     Outside, the cabbie flung open his door. "You're not putting that in here," he said.

     "200 pounds says it will. Come on, give us a hand" Zach said.

     The driver rushed around the front and helped us angle it into the back. Lucky for us, he was driving an old style London cab big enough to fit six people, or in our case, four people and a coffin.

     "What the bloody hell is it?" the cabbie asked as he drove back to the hotel.

     Zach started to say something but stopped. The cabbie glanced back, an eybrow raised.

     "We're on our way to a Beatles sci-fi convention," I finally muttered.

     "Ha! Beatles sci-fi," the cabbie said, "that's gotta be the stupidest thing I've ever heard."Blake rested a foot on the coffin. Zach slapped it off. So the four of us rode in silence the rest of the way with our feet tucked under us.

     At the hotel, Zach leapt out and flagged down a bellboy. He told him we needed the coffin brought straight up to our room. Without batting an eye, the bellboy helped us transfer it onto a luggage cart and wheeled it away.

     An elevator ride later, the four of us were standing around the cryogenic chamber perched on top of the bed. Zach kept circling the thing trying to figure out how to get it open.

     "It's completely sealed. Anybody got any ideas?" he said.

     "Want me to go down to the front desk and ask for a big ass can opener?" I said.

     "Dude, what about all those secret Beatles' messages on the albums," Todd said, "you think one of those might open it?"

     "That's it! The song Let It Be, everyone assumes it was a dream Paul had about his mother, and it is, but it's also about his clone. Especially the backward section."

<  13  >

     Zach snatched his iPod off the night stand and plugged it into the clock radio.

     "You've got an MP3 of Let It Be playing backwards on your iPod?" Blake said.

     "Don't you?" Zach said.

     Zach played Let It Be in reverse, and it sounded like someone saying, "He'll be there, he'll be there."

     A pale blue light flickered around the seal of the chamber and brightened. There was a loud hissing as the top lifted off and a cool white mist drifted out of the opening.

     I leaned over the opening and peered inside. I saw him right away; the same arched eyebrows and sharp chin, it was a face I would recognize anywhere. It was the clone of Paul McCartney, and he was dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and skinny black tie. He even had on Beatle boots. He looked like he was ready to take the stage at The Ed Sullivan Show.

     Paul blinked several time and looked each of us over. "Hello mates," he said.

     Todd thrust out a copy of The Beatles' Rubber Soul. "Would you sign this for me?"

     Zach shoved him out of the way. "Help me get him out."

     Zach, Blake and I hoisted Paul out of the chamber. Once his feet were on the ground, he shook out his arms and did a couple of knee bends. The four of us watched, wide-eyed.

     "I could go for a bite to eat," he said, looking around. "You got a loo in this joint?"

     "Right there," Zach said, pointing to the bathroom. Paul stepped inside and closed the door.

     "Wow. Just motherfucking wow," I said.

     "Where should we take him to eat?" Todd said.

     "I could go for a big juicy steak," Blake said.

<  14  >

     "I don't think the real McCartney would appreciate us feeding his clone meat," I said.

     "First thing we gotta do is get him out of here," Zach said, "take him somewhere remote. And we're gonna need a disguise."

     Paul stepped out of the bathroom. I went to my suitcase and pulled out a Chicago Blackhawks cap. Blake handed him his fleece jacket. But even with those on, he still looked too much like the most famous living musician of all time.

     "Put this on," Zach said, producing a fake black beard. Paul hooked it over his ears and it did the trick: now he just looked like your average hipster.

     The five of us tramped out of the hotel and piled into a cab.

     "Where to?" the woman driver asked.

     "Just go," Zach said.

     The cabbie accelerated as the song Yesterday came on the radio. All four of us turned and stared hard at Paul. When the song reached the second verse, Paul started singing along. I don't think any of us took a single breath until the song was over.

     "That was me band, wasn't it?" Paul said.

     "Winner winner tofurkey dinner," Blake said.

     I checked the cabbie in front. She was paying us no mind.

     "I'm hungry," Paul said, "can we go to a place on the water?"

     "As soon as we get you somewhere safe we'll grab a bite to eat," Zach said.

     "Then can we go to the ocean?" Paul said, "I've never been there before."

     "You like the ocean, huh?" Zach said.

     "I'm going to live on it some day." Paul said, gazing out the window in wonder.

<  15  >

     Zach told the driver to take us to the most out-of-the-way hotel she knew, somewhere with a view of the water. The cabbie nodded and immediately U-turned, heading away from the center of London. The buildings became more industrial. We passed a sign for the London Gateway port.

     Finally, the cabbie turned right down a dark cobblestone street that dead-ended at the Thames. The hotel was at the very end, right on the river. Zach told us to wait in the cab while he went inside. He returned quickly with a key.

     "Let's go in through the parking garage and take the stairs. And keep away from the security cameras."

     The five of us climbed six flights of stairs and gathered in front of room 738, breathing heavy.

     "They'll never find us here." Zach said as he leaned into the door.

     As soon as I stepped inside I noticed the desktop lamp was lit. I saw his knee first, as he was sitting cross-legged. The crease of his Saville Row trousers looked as sharp as a razor blade. He didn't bother to get up, he just sat there, effortlessly calm and cool.

     "Gentleman. I'm Agent Poole, British intelligence. You and I need to have a chat, Zachary Allen Sandberg," he said as his eyes settled on Zach. He nudged his chin at Paul. "Without him."

     "Do I have a choice?" Zach said.

     "Not really," Poole said, "now have a seat."

     The door opened behind us and three agents clamored inside. "Trevor, Emmett, Gerald, please escort Paul upstairs."

     "No you don't," Zach said, moving to block them.

     "Settle down. I just want to talk. Then you can see him again."

     Zach turned to Todd. "Todd, go with Paul. Spencer and Blake, stay here with me."

     Todd nodded, and he and Paul swept out of the room with the agents close behind.

<  16  >

     "How'd you find us?" Zach said.

     "On the tip of Paul's right pinkie, embedded in the bone, is a tracking device. Face it, Zachary, you haven't a chance against us."

     "Then why haven't been able to locate him for all these years?" Zach said.

     "The professor knew exactly what he was doing with that cryogenic chamber. Once the temperature drops below negative twenty degrees Celsius, the tracker stops working. Now please, sit down."

     Blake and I plopped down on the couch while Zach sat across from Poole. "You can't keep him," Poole said, "he's property of the British Government."

     "He's not anyone's property," Zach said. "He should have the same rights and freedoms as any British citizen."

     "And what do you propose we do, Zachary. Should we just take him to Penny Lane and set him free?"

     "Why'd you do it? Why'd you clone him?" Zach said.

     Agent Poole settled back. "Would you like to hear about Operation Sergeant Pepper?"

     "I'm all ears."

     "You have to understand, the sixties were a different time. Until then, the Twentieth Century had been pretty rough on Great Britain. Sure, World War II was over, but now we had Russia, and the specter of communism, to contend with. Many questioned if Great Britain would even make it out of the Twentieth Century. Suddenly, along came The Beatles, and just like that, we were winning the most important battle of all: the one for the hearts and minds of the world's youth. So when Paul McCartney got into a rather serious fender bender on the night of November 9, 1966, it was decided the boys were far too valuable not to have some type of insurance policy. That's when a certain Sergeant proposed cloning the Fab Four."

     "Sergeant Ainsley Pepper?" Zach said.

     "That's correct," Poole said. "Right around the same time, at Cambridge, a group of biologists led by Professor Redmond made a breakthrough replicating walrus DNA. So we set Redmond to work cloning The Beatles."

<  17  >

     "What did The Beatles have to say about that?" Zach said.

     "They knew nothing. Paul was our test subject, and as you've now seen, it was a resounding success. But Pepper liked his porter, and once he had a few too many he liked to run his mouth. Before you know it, The Beatles found out what we were up to."

     "They weren't too happy?" Zach said.

     "All hell broke loose. Paul and John threatened to go straight to the press if the program wasn't terminated immediately. So that was the end of that. But one problem remained: what to do with the spare McCartney. The government wanted to dispose of him. But the band, and Professor Redmond, wouldn't hear of it. So the professor absconded with Paul's clone, and just like that, poof, he was gone."

     "Is that when The Beatles came out with Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band?" Zach said.

     Poole nodded. "Cheeky lads. They rather enjoyed thumbing their nose at the Crown. Where the professor took Paul's clone, we had no idea. And The Beatles wouldn't tell us anything. Several years pass, and word got out that the professor had a falling out with the band. After that, not even McCartney knew where his second was. I have to commend you, Zachary, we've had the finest minds working on this for years. You're the first one to crack it."

     "But why us?" I blurted out. "Couldn't the professor have found someone else? Someone more qualified?"

     "My thoughts exactly. From what I understand, the professor got a bit daft in his old age. I think he believed if he turned Paul's clone over to a true Beatles' fan, at least he'd be treated well. I'm sorry to inform you, but now you have to turn him over to us."

     "So you can just dispose of him?" Zach said.

     "Certainly not, we're not barbarians," Poole said. "It just so happens the royal family are big Beatles' fans. Paul will have his own palace, his own servants, hell, he'll even have his own personal valet. And if he has to give a private concert for the royals every once in awhile, I think you'll agree that's a fair price to pay."

<  18  >

     "Will he be able to come and go as he pleases," Zach asked.

     "We both know that's not possible."

     "Why is Paul so obsessed with the ocean?" Blake said.

     "Why, what's he said?" Poole asked.

     "He keeps asking us to take him there. Says he wants to live on the water some day," Blake said.

     "It's quite sad, actually. When we cloned him, the professor's method allowed us to choose whichever age we wanted to bring him into being. So we chose eighteen, McCartney's age when he went to Hamburg. The idea was we'd give him a year to learn how to be a proper Beatle. We even built duplicates of the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg and the Cavern Club in Liverpool for them to practice. So for the first three months of his life, Paul was mostly alone. Sure, he had his instructors, but they still went home at the end of the day. And once the operation was cancelled, even the teachers stopped coming. Now he really was all alone while the government decided what to do with him. His underground bunker had no windows, no sunlight, almost nothing natural whatsoever. The one thing he did have was a small saltwater tank with two orange clownfish. He named them Buddy and Bopper, and for a good six months, they were his only companions."

     "That's horrible," Zach said.

     "Like I said, it was a different time." Poole stood up. "Now, there is one thing I haven't told you. There is a reward for bringing him in."

     "How much of a reward?" Blake said.

     "Rather substantial," Poole said.

     "I could care less about the money," Zach said.

     "I don't see how you have much of a choice, Zachary." Poole said. "But I think it'd be best if we reached a mutual understanding. Take the night to think it over. We've booked the Queen Anne suite for you on the top floor of the hotel. Why don't you three go on up. First thing tomorrow, 7AM, I expect you to be down in the lobby ready to hand him over. If you try anything, anything at all, you will be classified as enemies of the British government. Now, here's your key card. Paul and your friend are already up there. So, boys, until tomorrow." Agent Poole turned and marched out of the room.

<  19  >

     Blake and I waited for Zach to say something. He sat there, silent, deep in thought.

     "I don't see that we have much of a choice, Zach," I said.

     "I don't care, I'm not gonna do it. Paul deserves to live his own life. It's not his fault he was cloned."

     Blake stood up. "Look, Z, I know I agreed to come to London with you, but that doesn't mean I agreed to let you drag me down into your shitty excuse for a life."

     Zach looked like he'd been punched,

     "Come on, Zach, be reasonable," I said. "You can't expect us to take on the entire British government."

     He swallowed hard. "You know what? You're right, you both are. I don't know what I was thinking. Let's go." Zach jumped up.

     Upstairs, we threw open the double doors to the Queen Anne Suite and my heart skipped a beat. Sitting in the middle of the massive room was a Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl drum set, exactly like the kit Ringo played. The suite was packed with amps, guitars, there was even a baby grand piano.

     The place had a large balcony overlooking the River Thames. It was dark outside, and I could see Paul out on the balcony staring at river traffic.

     Todd was over by the bar, and as soon as we were all inside he popped open a bottle of champagne. He poured five glasses. "A toast," he said as Paul joined us. "To Zach. While some of us thought you'd gone mad, you, dude, are one mad genius."

     We clinked glasses and drank. Zach smiled. He seemed to be warming up. Blake called down to room service and tried to order five of everything. Zach corrected him — vegetarian only.

     Todd picked up the Gretsch guitar and started in on I Want to Hold Your Hand. Zach strapped on his left-handed Hoffner Bass just like the one Paul played and joined in. I climbed in behind the drums as Blake strapped on a guitar and just like that, we were jamming to The Beatles.

<  20  >

     At first, Paul didn't seem to know what do with himself. He picked up a guitar, set it back down, fiddled with a bass, and finally slide in behind the piano and started pounding the ivories. I thought we might have a tough time playing Beatles' tunes with two McCartneys but The Zeetles never sounded better.

     We jammed all night, stopping only for food and drink. When the sun rose we started in on Hey Jude. By the time we reached the fourth chorus all three of us seemed to have the same idea and started singing Zach's name instead of Jude. We must have played that verse for over an hour before Blake finally checked his watch. "It's 6AM. One hour left."

     "Why don't you three go grab some breakfast. I'd like to spend the last hour with Paul," Zach said.

     "That's cool with me," Todd said.

     "Don't be late," Blake said as we headed out the door.

     At exactly 7AM, Blake, Todd and I marched into the lobby. Agent Poole was already there with what looked like a small army.

     Five minutes passed. Then ten.

     "They'd better show." Poole said. Three more minutes passed and I was about to go look for them myself when the elevator snapped open and Paul stepped out. He was alone, and he was dressed in his Beatles gear.

     "I thought Zachary might not come," Poole said. "Are you ready?"

     "Let me just say goodbye to me mates," Paul said in his Liverpool accent. "Boys, I will never forget you."

     Paul hugged Blake then turned to me. As he threw his arms around me I noticed something: a small scar behind his ear. The scar he'd gotten in his tussle with Brad.

     It wasn't Paul, it was Zach.

     Poole passed us each an envelope and gave two to Blake. "Give that to Zachary. Now time to go."

<  21  >

     Poole led Zach to a stretch limo waiting outside. Zach must have seen the look on my face because he gave me a wink as he dipped down into the dark interior.

     "Upstairs. Now," I said.

     Back in the Queen Anne Suite, we searched the place but Paul was gone. In the bathroom, buried deep in the garbage can, there was a steak knife wrapped in toilet paper. It was caked with blood. They must have used it to cut off Paul's pinky.

     "Dude didn't even write us a goodbye note," Todd said.

     "He couldn't. They might have seen it," I said.

     "He'll be back," Blake said, "he has to come back if he wants his money."

     A ship's horn blasted. The three of us raced out onto the balcony. Out on the Thames, a freighter was heading out to sea. Standing on the back was someone in a low hat with a big bushy beard. It was too far away to see him clearly, but when he saw us he waved. His right pinky finger was bandaged.

     "He's not coming back," Blake said.

     The three of us flew home that afternoon. Since then, nobody has heard a peep from Zach, or Paul, or the British Government. The checks cleared.

     Where Paul went, I can only guess. But if you're ever in a seaside town and you come across a musician who looks and sounds way too much like Paul McCartney, tell him I said hello. Better yet, ask him if he ever played in a band called The Zeetles.

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