They went in dressed for battle. The daughter-in-law washed and ironed the gray skirt and blazer she had last worn on an interview four years prior. An intensive search revealed that every article of non-pajama clothing belonging to the old man had been thrown out when he was sent to the home, so they raided a Target on the drive over. When they arrived they were neither of them comfortable, but they were presentable; the old man had managed to acquire a jacket and trousers, also in gray, a white button-down and all the other appropriate accouterments.
After two hours on the road they reached the address. Industrial gates opened automatically onto a wide swath of land, most of which was unmowed and left to the whims of grass and scrub. The driveway led to a far corner of the plot where a long, low warehouse squatted by a mostly full parking lot. Neither the gate, nor the building had a sign, business name, or other identifying feature.
“I hope this isn’t a murder house,” the daughter-in-law said. The old man shrugged.
There was only one door visible from the parking lot, it led to another door which in turn led to a small, neat, but bland waiting room. Behind the reception desk stood a tidy young man, nervously smoothing down his shirt and slacks. He jumped as they entered and rushed to them.
“I can’t believe it’s really you. Actually here. Oh! Please have a seat. Can I get you coffee? Tea? A soda? Have a seat. You’re really here. Wow. Just, just make yourselves at home and Bob will see you shortly.” He fled the room.
“Wow is right,” the daughter-in-law said.
“Good thing I didn’t want a coffee.” the old man grunted. They each claimed a seat. The daughter-in-law hunched over her knees, hands knotted. The old man leaned back in his chair, becoming more and more aware of the ticking of the wall clock as the minutes rolled by.
“Why was it, anyway, that the whales are all so depressed but not on 9-11?”
The daughter-in-law swam up from her reverie. It took her a moment to recall the conversation. “Oh. Um, there was a halt on all sea travel while authorities figured out what was going on. For the first time in basically ever, they didn’t have a lot of excruciating motors blaring in their ears nonstop.”
“Ah.” He considered this. “So, what you’re saying is I just have to outlive all the people?”
“What? No! But if you want to meet happy whales, then maybe.”
The flustered young man returned with a flourish. “Please come with me, Bob is ready for you.”
He led them through a labyrinth of hallways, gushing nonstop all the while. When they arrived at a set of double doors with a brass nameplate that read Robert Carlson, their guide ushered them in with a wide wave of his arms.
The office of Robert Carlson was industrial and undecorated, unless countless stacks of paper and a sprinkling of computers and tablets could be counted as adornment. A lone beta fish circled a plastic twig in a small bowl amid the detritus of the desk. A man in jeans and an impeccably ironed dress shirt met them with vigorous handshakes. “I’m so glad you came,” he said, “I’m Robert Carlson, but please call me Bob. I co-chair our little establishment.” His grin looked to the old man like a little boy getting away with something.
“Bob, are you knocked up or something?”
“You’re glowing, boy,” the old man said. Next to him, the daughter-in-law straightened a little, cleared her throat. The old man waggled his eyebrows at her and she had to smile a little.
Bob blinked, but rallied quickly and shoved some papers off of chairs so they could all sit. The old man sank into the chair with a sigh. The two hadn’t been able to fit his wheelchair in her little car and he was feeling the effect of the long concrete corridors.
Bob opted to sit in front of the desk with them, rather than behind it. He rested his elbows on his knees, steepled his fingers and drew a breath. “Now, tell me about yourselves. Why are you here and what do you think I can do for you?”
The old man snorted. “Don’t blow smoke up my ass, boy.”
The daughter-in-law translated quickly, “He means you must know already, the way you contacted us. Why should we go through it all again now?”
“Because to draw a circle, you have to put the pencil down somewhere.”
“Just humor me”
The daughter-in-law looked to the old man. His face was carved in stone. Apparently, she was still front man. “Yeah, no. Maybe we want to deal with you, maybe we’re three seconds from walking out of here. Stop jerking us around and make your pitch.”
The old man pointed a gnarled finger at her, smirked at Bob. “That’s my girl.”
Bob took in the bristling woman and the decrepit man. He sagged, “I’m making a mess of this.”
The old man watched the youngster sweating and pitied him. He had no clue what this Bob was driving at, but clearly he felt caught between a rock and bad licking. It reminded him of himself at that age; ignorant and in over one’s head.
Bob said, “I’d like to put you on the line with someone who might be able to gain your trust. Is that acceptable?”
The old man crossed his arms, the daughter-in-law uncrossed hers to get a good, steadying grip on the armrests. Bob fiddled with a box on his desk. It looked like an external hard drive in that it was a box with various plugs for power and data. It had a small speaker on one side. Bob fiddled with a dial, then prodded a wire, shifted the box a couple inches to the left and fiddled again.
A voice burbled from the speaker, “Never did know what was good for you, you old fool.”
The old man and the daughter-in-law started, and Bob grinned, because though it was distorted the voice sounded like the old man’s. “And I know you don’t believe it’s me because I’m stubborn as hell so to prove it I’m going to tell you that you like that one nurse, what’s her name? Jane? Janet? It was Janet, yes. You like Janet the best because her hands are soft and she lingers.”
The old man blushed.
The voice continued, “So. You’ll have made your mind up by the morning, now just get yourself back, wrap up your loose ends and Robert here will have a car collect you in the morning. Now stop wasting my time and I’ll be you later.” The voice cackled, “Oh yes, we make it, and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth it once you get here. Now talk to Robert and quit wasting my time.”
The line went dead. Bob fiddled again, hopelessly, and then shrugged. “OK. Not as helpful as I might have liked. You’ll have to excuse him, uh, you. He can get impatient when he’s waiting for the rest of us to catch up. Which is most of the time.”
The daughter-in-law breathed out, trying to devise a diplomatic phrasing. “So how, exactly, was that supposed to make us trust you?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Bob’s shock was clearly unfeigned. He turned to the old man, “You want to live in the sea and that’s not possible now, but in time, in lots and lots of time, that’s just the start of what we can do.”
“If I’d known we were coming for a Marvel movie I’d have stopped on the way for snacks. Give me a break.” The daughter-in-law snapped.
Bob fussed with his perfectly straight collar. “Not time travel as such, but the effect is the same. You’re aware of cryogenics, yes?”
“Like Disney,” said the old man.
“Oh for God’s sake!” said the daughter in law. “That’s just expensive embalming.”
Bob smiled an I know something you don’t know smile. “We’ve got a new technique that you could say is really sweet.” He said it like there was a joke somewhere, but if there was then he was the only one in on it. “Usually freezing causes irreparable damage to tissues, but with a pretty simple sugar we can avoid cellular damage. It will be common technology soon. What’s more important is that we’ve developed a system of communication with our operative in the future. He’s the one who guided our cryogenic research, as well as the investments that keep us funded. Basically, sir, we put you in a time where your dream can be reality and in exchange you become our informant, telling us exactly how we can shape the future for you and for ourselves. What to invest in, which sciences to invest in, as well as a general idea of the culture to come so we can be on the forefront of advertising and the like.” The old man had never been money in his life and yet he still thought new money as Bob preened. “I have to say, we’re only just up and running but it’s been a fantastically lucrative partnership so far.”
The daughter-in-law jerked to her feet, “I think we’ve heard enough. Really I should have known better.”
Th old man knew from long experience never to let an ally retreat alone. He stood too. “Thank you for your time, Robert,” He offered a calloused handshake. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” The daughter in law was already opening the door to go.
All three jumped as the speaker crackled to life again. “Hah! I almost forgot you were going to walk out, firecracker. You’re being scammed, sure. Just remember this: Townline, raccoon, heel. Say it with me now.”
The old man chuckled. “Piss off, you old fool.”
Arm in arm, the two left. Despite a few wrong turns nobody tried to stop them or to guide them out. Finally they found a door out, it was on the exact opposite side of the building but the sun was warm and cicadas were screaming from the woods on the edge of the strange property.
It was five minutes into the drive back before the daughter-in-law even realized she was crying.
End Part 2
Guys, I thought this was gonna be a two parter but it’s just too weird. It needed another break. To the best of my knowledge there’s only one more installment. But I said that last time. So for anyone still around, thanks!