36. Help Wanted
Last year, on an otherwise completely uneventful evening, I bowled the first, the only, 300 of my life. Spliff was late, because he agreed to help these two underage girls look for a rave that they ultimately never found. So it was just me and the early-rush drunks, who wouldn't have cared, even if I unzipped my pants to mow the pins down with a laser-precise stream of urine. No matter - and no 'mind' (see what I did there? The 'Lama - he'd appreciate that). The ball, the pins, the Joel - a unified symphony, calling one-perfect note into existence, as if...
Alright, yes. Yes, that really is all I could come up with.
I am So. Fucked.
Twelve hours, six vodka tonics and one-whole lifetime ago, I found Tim in his office, clutching his hands to the edge of his desk, the way you would a toilet seat at the end of a long, sad night.
"Oh - you're here already. Little early...." he squinted hard at his watch, like he was trying to stop the flow of time.
"Maybe a hundred and twenty seconds, I guess. Can I close this?"
"No!" he yelped, snapping up from his chair, "No, really busy today. Not a lot of time. To talk." He approached, edging me away from door. He glanced outside, then threw in another "Busy" for good measure.
"Alright, but there's some things I wanted to talk about, too."
"Well. Yes, we do have some things to talk about," He was cordial, but curt. Stern but apologetic. And staring out the door the whole time. "your sick day a couple weeks ago..."
"My vacation day. Yeah?"
"Your vacation day was Thursday... you called in sick on Friday."
"Yeah, right. Whew. Goin' around. Call centers, man... one big giant petri dish." Stupid Buddhist ritual that can only be performed with the rising sun. "Maybe I should start taking some vitamin C." I nodded at the pharmacy's-worth of bottles filling the cabinet above his monitor.
"Alright, " he said, hopping over my transparent segue, "the thing is, that's considered a 'no-call, no-show'. Plus a tardy last month. Together with your write-up..."
"Write-up? But that was forever ago -"
"I know," he said sympathetically, "I know it was. And you've been doing really well on your calls lately..."
"Thanks. I promise I'll - "
"...but I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go."
I was halfway through my next apology before it registered. "Wait, hold on... you're firing me?"
"I know. I'm really sorry, but it's not my decision..."
"Oh, really? Well who's 'decision' is it then? Huh? Let me guess... straight from the top?" I said, using my middle finger to indicate 'upstairs'.
There was a friendly knock - shave-and-a-haircut - from behind me. "Are we all set here?"
The Mullet leaned casually against the frame, a self-satisfied grin stretching across her jowls.
I was mere seconds from a display of full-on belligerence and righteous indignation, but I noticed her adjusting the newest feature of her uniform: a not-small holster, velcroed to her belt. The sight of it brought our meeting to an abrupt, unquestionable end.
I yanked a fistful of bic pens out of a coffee cup as I was marched to the elevator - 'clearing out your desk' being the corporate equivalent of a last meal. The baited breaths, being held for when I was out of ear-shot, were vacuumed from the room when the silver doors split open.There, with head bowed, eyes peeking out from beneath that craggy brow - stood Alton Vaig.
I watched my shoes. Then the Mullet's holster. Then my shoes again. But I could tell he was looking at me from the directness of his voice. "Taking an early day?"
"Yeah, sorta..." I stammered. Then we all just stood there in that box: a diorama of class warfare in contemporary society. Me, the downtrodden 'have not', beside Vaig, the all-powerful 'have'. I'm not sure what the Mullet represented. Something real bad.
"Ah, I see..." he said, getting it (assuming, that is, that he wasn't already aware of my fate). "Joel, did you go to your high school reunion? You really ought to, some day. As far as 'reality checks' go, it's pretty painless. Though, if you've only seen them in the movies, you're in for a shock: captain of the basketball team? Just as fit as he's ever been. Oh, the prom queen? Contrary to the gossip, she isn't, in fact, an alcoholic who had a kid right after graduation. And if anything, she's an even bigger bitch since she retired from modeling to finish her PhD in medieval literature." - the doors split open with a ding, but he was on a roll, now - "Not everyone in this world has a destiny. But the truly great men? Nothing the world throws at them can keep them from reaching their station in life." he considered this for a moment, then added, "of course, those other kids... drama club set-painters, and the school newspaper reporters - "
The elevator began buzzing impatiently, as the doors bounced repeatedly against the Mullet's forearm.
"Well," Vaig digressed, "just something for you to think about."
He didn't get off with us. He wasn't quite where he wanted to be.
Where u at? COME DOWN HERE!! when you have a break. You won't BELIEVE the size of the gat there giving me! - Spliff
Sitting at the bar of the Lancer, I pecked out a response on my phone.
"Dude, I can't believe they actually escorted you out. I hate that bitch. Hey, you know what? We're still lookin' for..." he caught my expression over the rim of my glass "...oh, yeah. Right. Sorry."
I glanced at my phone, annoyed. A call from Gwen's mom's house. I was supposed to go there for dinner tonight. I couldn't even face Gwen after my day today - much less her family.
Spliff continued on, raving about his firearm - and I was actually listening to it. Or at least, I didn't stop him. Because, what else is there? Girls, Guns, music. Tall tales of drunken exploits past. It's not like this is the first time that Vaig would hold the world hostage. In the end, some hero always rises up to save the day.
The truly great men... nothing the world throws at them can keep them from reaching their station in life - On some level, I thought maybe even Vaig knows it.
"-we had a crash course today in shooting. They've got a firing range and everything, right down by the 'collider."
"Wait," I interrupted, "the 'hypercollider', collider?"
"Seriously - you've actually seen it. And all you want to talk about is your stupid gun? Tell me! What does it look like?"
"Huh. Not like much. Totally old-school. Ancient. Glass beakers and tubes, zig-zagging around two huge tesla coils, if you can believe it. Arcs of energy crossing each other. Obviously, there is an alloy plated corridor circling the parameter under the building, or they'd never be able to isolate the particles that have been causing the anomalies."
I stared at him, amazed. "Dude, what do you do for a living?"
"Uh, hello?" he made gun with his hand, cocking his thumb up-and-down. "Anyway, they want us to feel confident with our weapons, at Vaig's news-thing tomorrow."
Press conference? That's new. And with a full-guard to protect the prize.
Sometimes - pretty much all the time - I think Spliff is full of shit on the whole 'knowledge of science' thing. But every now and then, it seems like he actually knows what it is he's going on about.
"So - let me ask you: you know the whole wormhole-theory of malphysics?"
"A'yup," he said, taking a swig of beer.
"Okay, well, let's say that there was another event, another wormhole created, with the same conditions of the -"
"Reboot metaphysics," he said, anticipating the rest of my question.
New one on me. "Like, another Big Bang, or what?" I shrugged.
He rolled his eyes at my ignorance. "No, man... a reboot... of the entire space-time continuum, starting from precisely the point of the original malphysical event. A do-over. Back to the 'original system configuration'. But the original, original... it would cancel out the first wormhole. No warping of the laws of physics."
"No more superheroes..." I mused - not a question.
"But, is that the accepted theory? Like, the Theory of Relativity, or Macguffin's 8 Known Forces? Does everyone pretty much know it?"
He shrugged, "Everybody but you, looks like."
I focused, collapsing the double-image-Spliff back to a shaky almost-normal. "Wait, though. Wait -- why would anybody even want to do that?"
"Who says anybody did? But, whatever, its not like you can go to Home Depot and pick up everything you need to build a wormhole. And even if you could, nobody knows the specs of the original. Besides, it's not time travel, where you know what you're trying to change. It's right back to the start. I mean, if you were conceived after the original wormhole - well, who knows if you would be again, in the new timeline."
Slowly but surely, my universe was shifting back to normal again; meaning, I had the answer that Spliff was ignorant of.
- nothing the world throws at them can keep them from reaching their station in life -
Can that really be right, though? And how can he be so confident that his very existence is such a sure shot?
But then I realized - his statement wasn't some testable hypothesis. This was something that runs way deeper than that -
The gall. The balls. The grade-A, uncut megalomania.
Pure Alton Vaig.
When we left the bar, all I wanted was to sleep it off. Hell, first morning after getting fired? Most people wouldn't blink if they found out you slept right through to the next day. Wake me up when they save the world. Or don't, if its gonna end.
Spliff and I were just about to go our separate ways when I checked the time on my phone. One new voicemail.
It was Gwen's mom in an absolute panic. Gwen never made it there for dinner. I was about to call her myself, when I noticed a text from earlier that I missed.
J, will pick you up late. Think i'm getting really close to something here -- <3, G.
Yeah - close.
Seriously, I don't know what I was thinking. I should have yanked her out of IT the second I found her. Or stayed with her. Or at least called her after I was out of the building to make sure she was okay. But now, I'm left watching the clock until go-time, wondering: if she was caught snooping around, would Vaig keep her on hand, to witness the execution of his master plan? Or would he not even bother, just-
-no. Nope. Not even gonna go there.
Twenty-four hours before the police will file a missing persons report. And they seem really annoyed when you ask, like you should have known better, for how many times it's been mentioned in the movies.
Spliff and I headed back to my place, where I filled him in - at long last - on everything. It took a couple of hours, but - we've come up with a plan. And we've got it down pat. And the plan is... good. I mean, its not one of those plans that's all based on 'split-second timing', or anything like that. We don't even know all the details of the press conference tomorrow.
But I do know this: Vaig won't do anything without the requisite speechifying. And threats. And the standard declaration of 'I've got the upper hand, all the cards, and the biggest wiener'.
So yeah. The plan makes sense to us, anyway.
Though, it is 4:30 in the morning.
Next Ish: Showdown at 5280 Feet!