Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser. However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.
“I For One Welcome Our New Computer Overlords”
Peter Lunsford woke up Tuesday morning with a smile already on his face. He had completed his arrangements; the final necessary package had arrived yesterday, and he’d already done what needed to be done at the bank on Friday. His lawyer had assured him that all was in order, and though Peter had misgivings about lawyers in general, he thought that Mr. Ryder—the partner who had worked with him—was competent and motivated to do his job well.
Peter rose from his bed and stretched, giving a slightly exaggerated yawn for no one’s benefit but his own. He strolled into his small bathroom, glancing down at his completed project. It was crude, but it should do the job. It was also not his current priority. He doffed his pajamas and turned on the shower, waiting for the water to warm up before stepping in. Thankfully, the late spring air in the apartment was pleasantly warm, even for standing around naked.
After showering and shaving, Peter put on his work clothes and headed out the door of his apartment, first picking up his worn, leather bag and slinging it over his shoulder. It was bulkier than usual that morning, but only slightly heavier; it was stuffed with a special cargo, something for the people at work and for one or two others he met every day.
It had taken Peter quite a bit of time and effort to decide how to carry out the day’s missions, and to choose to whom to address them. The preparations had at times been exhausting, occasionally frustrating, and often tedious, but it was all deeply important, so he had soldiered on, and now everything was ready. The arrival of the package last night—and its assembly into the rest of the device—was the last step before the execution of his plan.
Peter decided to use the stairs rather than the elevator, though he lived on the fifth floor. He wanted to feel his legs move, and the elevator just seemed too confining. Before beginning his descent, he checked his jacket pocket to ensure that he had his cell phone, which he did. Thus assured, he made his way down and out of the building into the pleasant, late spring morning.
His timing, as always, was excellent. Within five minutes of his arrival at the corner, the number 17 bus arrived, and its doors opened, allowing Peter to step aboard. The bus was crowded, but no more so than usual, and Peter was happy to see that his usual driver was present.
“Morning, Phil,” Peter said as he slid his monthly pass through the slot on the toll taker. “How’s by you today?”
“Pretty good, pretty good,” the driver replied. “I mean, it’s not Monday anymore, so that’s always good.”
Peter laughed and said, “I guess that’s true.” He stepped farther into the bus, allowing two passengers behind him to enter. He did not take a seat, but instead stood to the side near the front of the vehicle, placing his bag on the small luggage shelf near the doors so that he could open it with ease. Within, the contents were just as he had organized them, and there at the front was what he sought. He pulled it out, closed and latched the bag, and waited.
The ride to his destination took about twenty minutes. As the bus approached his stop, Peter stepped closer to Phil. He was the only one getting off.
“Have a good day, my friend,” said Phil, who never seemed to have picked up Peter’s name.
“I will,” Peter said. “But, hey…before I go, I want to give you something.” He held out his right hand, and Phil, clearly surprised, looked at it.
Peter had extended a simple, business-sized, non-see-through envelope. Phil eyed it with puzzlement. “What’s that?” he asked, looking more closely.
On the front of the envelope were the neatly printed words, “To Phillip DeSantos, from Peter Lunsford. Do not open until Wednesday.”
“It’s a little…well, a little thank you, I guess,” Peter said. “I wanted to let you know that the people who ride your bus appreciate you.”
The driver examined the front of the envelope but did not yet take it. “Why can’t I open it until Wednesday?” he asked.
Peter smiled and replied, “Because it’s sort of a surprise. Anyway, it won’t do you any good until tomorrow, no matter what. So please…don’t open it until then, okay?”
The driver shrugged, but he still looked nonplussed. “It’s not some kind of practical joke or something, is it?” he asked.
Peter chuckled and said, “Well, if it is, it’s a good one. But you’re not going to regret it, I’m sure of that.”
Philip still eyed the envelope dubiously, then looked back at Peter and said, “Well…thanks. I think.” He took it, folded it, and stuffed it carelessly into his uniform jacket pocket, drawing a slight wince from Peter. “You have a good day, okay?” He glanced meaningfully at the open bus door, which waited for Peter to exit.
Peter, taking the driver’s meaning, said his goodbyes and stepped from the vehicle. He strode across the parking lot and up the stairs into a hallway full of offices which lurked above a modest strip mall. When he walked through the door to his place of employment, he found as usual that only the manager, Mr. Singh, was present before him. Mr. Singh greeted Peter cordially, but was obviously preoccupied, so Peter just gave a quick wave, then went to his usual station. Placing his bag on his chair, he opened it wide, revealing a large stack of envelopes like the one he had given the bus driver.
Taking the stack in his hands, Peter began a walking tour of the room, delivering envelopes to various workstations. There were, technically, no assigned seats in the office—it was a call center that marketed diabetic supplies—but everyone pretty much always sat in the same seats every day. Many salespeople left personal items at their usual desks, and even pinned photos to the cloth-boards. Several used coffee mugs—some still half-full—and other remnants of the previous day’s activity were in evidence. Family pictures aside, the cubicle walls were mostly covered with information about the products being sold, and basic rebuttals to common objections.
Mr. Singh, evidently noticing Peter’s activity, approached him and asked, “What are you up to, Pete?”
“Oh, good morning, Mr. Singh,” Peter said. He was one of the few people who insisted on calling the manager by his formal name; he also tended to use only last names when calling potential customers. Other reps often used given names, but Peter was old-fashioned, and considered such familiarity presumptuous.
Replying to Mr. Singh’s inquiry, he said, “I’m just giving little…treats to everyone in the room, or at least to the people I know well.”
“Treats?” Mr. Singh asked, looking as puzzled as the bus driver had. “What do you mean?”
“Well…surprises, I guess,” Peter said, trying not to sound too cryptic, but not wanting to give anything away, either. He shuffled through his stack, adding, “I’ve got one for you, too.”
Peter pulled the object of his search from the bunch and handed it to Mr. Singh, who looked at the envelope, reading aloud. “‘To Vivaan Singh, from Peter Lunsford. Do not open until Wednesday.’” He looked up at Peter. “Why Wednesday?” he asked.
Peter shrugged and said, “Well, I want it to be a surprise, and I’d like not to be there when you open it…when anyone opens them.”
Mr. Singh tilted his head. “Why not?” he asked. “Is it some kind of joke or something?”
“No, no,” Peter replied, wishing he had said so to the bus driver. “It’s not a joke. It’s just a surprise.”
“But…what’s special about tomorrow?” Mr. Singh asked. “Aren’t you going to be here?” Then a mildly alarmed look dawned on his face, and he asked, “You haven’t gotten another job, have you?”
Peter laughed. “No,” he repeated, “not at all. I promise. I just…I just wanted everyone to open their envelopes in private. At home, preferably.”
Still looking puzzled, Mr. Singh was nevertheless clearly relieved. “Whew,” he said, “that’s good. You’re not our very best fronter, but you are one of the best, and you’re really good at teaching the new people. I’d hate to lose you.”
Peter smiled, though he felt rather melancholy in the face of the praise. “Well, don’t worry,” he said. “I haven’t got a new job. I probably won’t ever go anyplace else.”
Mr. Singh smiled broadly. “Well, that’s awfully good of you,” he said. “Loyalty is a rare thing these days, but it is appreciated.” He held his envelope up and said, “Well, all right, I’ll wait until tomorrow. But I can’t guarantee that everyone will.”
Peter, looking around the room, sighed and said, “Yeah, you may be right. At least I hope they’ll do things quietly. The envelopes won’t do anyone any good until tomorrow, anyway.”
Giving a mild and still dubious laugh, Mr. Singh said, “Very mysterious, Pete. I hope there’s nothing bad in here.”
Peter laughed in turn, no more forcefully than his employer, and said, “No, there’s nothing bad. At least, I don’t think it’s bad.”
Good opener sounds like a good story in the makings.
The book will be available Friday.