Art by Jason C. Eckhardt
by Michael Sears
“Jason! Come here, please,” the love of my life called. Skeli’s voice, though controlled, revealed a nervousness bordering on panic.
Skeli rarely succumbed to panic, though there were, and had been, any number of instances that might have warranted such a response. There was my career investigating financial fraud, which had often led me into life-threatening situations; our daughter, two months past her first birthday and frighteningly mobile; and there was my beautiful eight-year-old son, Jay, a.k.a. the Kid, whose life was always in a state of chaos. I was betting on the last of these.
“Coming,” I yelled before rinsing the last bits of shaving cream from my face and racing the length of our apartment to the kitchen table where Skeli was feeding Tessa, and Jay was, one hoped, feeding himself the scrambled eggs (no spots!) which were the only food he allowed on a Saturday morning.
“What can I do for you? How can I help?” The scene before me was ordered and surprisingly peaceful, but I knew that cataclysms could be lurking just beneath this tranquil surface.
Skeli shot a quick glance in my direction and smiled. I was wearing a towel around my waist and nothing else. It was an appreciative and alluring smile—one that recalled our few moments of stolen privacy that morning—that disappeared even as it registered. There were important matters that took precedence.
“Sit down and listen. I want you to hear something.”
I sat. I listened. Hearing nothing—our apartment building had once housed musicians and opera singers and had been built with extremely thick walls—I raised both eyebrows and widened my eyes in the facial expression universally indicating the question, “Well?”
Skeli pointedly looked at my son and then back to me. I nodded and waited.
The Kid and I had a date for a Yankees game that afternoon. It was a working date for me and I would have appreciated another few minutes in the bathroom to make sure I looked my best. Virgil Becker, my employer, had asked that we join him and a baker’s dozen top traders and salespeople—and their children—in a skybox. The only reason I would have been included in such an august group was because Virgil suspected one or more of them of some kind of unlawful dealing. He had not provided me with any clues or even hints. I was going in blind, which made me uncomfortable. But I was going to a Yankees game.
The Kid finished eating his eggs and swallowed all of his meds, washing them down with the thimble-sized glass of orange juice. This was not normal, but hardly cause for concern. Quiet celebration, perhaps, but not panic. He was now staring intently at his computer tablet. He gave it a swipe and frowned, apparently waiting for a video or sound bit to reboot.
Skeli shot me a message with her eyes. The moment was upon us.
“Mmmm,” Tessa said around a blueberry, while reaching for another. Without constant monitoring, she would have continued stuffing berries into her mouth much faster than she could possibly chew and swallow them. Coughing blue explosions often followed. Skeli moved the bowl just out of reach. READ MORE
Art by Ron Bucalo
by Dave Zeltserman
“Put Katz on the phone.”
I felt my processing cycles flutter, which I’d experienced one other time and knew was a sensation akin to shuddering. It wasn’t hard to understand why I felt it again given that the voice I’d just heard belonged to Desmond Grushnier, someone Julius once called the most dangerous man alive. I told Julius that Grushnier wished to speak to him.
Julius, at that moment, was leaning back in his office chair reading an article in the current Wine Spectator about underrated Bordeaux vintages. A slight flicker showed in his eyes, otherwise nothing for the next 2.8 seconds.
“Archie, if this is some sort of crude joke—” he began.
“No joke. The devil’s on the line and you’ve been keeping him waiting. What do you want me to do?”
From the way Julius’s eyes slitted, I wasn’t one hundred percent sure he believed me, but he straightened up in his chair, lifted his cell phone, and commanded me to patch Grushnier through.
“Yes,” he said gruffly.
“Katz, you’re meddling where you shouldn’t be.”
“Where exactly is that?”
“You know damn well!”
“Interesting,” Julius said. “At the moment I’m reading about several Bordeaux blends that I’m considering purchasing. Later today I plan to be sampling cognacs at the Belvedere Club. I don’t see how either of those activities could possibly be of interest to you.”
Housed within my one-inch by two-inch titanium shell, which Julius wears as a tiepin, are audio and visual circuitry that allow me to “see” and “hear.” I also have a highly sophisticated neuron network that’s twenty years more advanced than anything thought possible, and that allows me to “think.” What I’m lacking are circuitry to simulate olfactory senses and feel environmental conditions, so the concepts of smell, as well as heat, cold, and humidity, are foreign to me, even if in the past I’ve imagined my processor generating excess heat while experiencing something that could best be described as anger. Still, during the 5.2 seconds we waited for Grushnier to respond, I could’ve sworn the temperature in Julius’s office dropped ten degrees, even though I have no idea what that would actually be like.
“Play these games at your own peril,” Grushnier warned, his voice icy enough to cause another shuddering sensation. “I could’ve let you blow up with your townhouse. Next time I just might.”
The line went dead.
The incident Grushnier referred to did indeed happen. A bomb had been planted in a crate of wine that was brought into Julius’s wine cellar, and Grushnier called Julius twenty-three seconds before the bomb was set to explode. While the call didn’t allow Julius time to rescue family photos or other heirlooms, nor his prized bottles of 1971 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache, it did allow him to escape with his life. The townhouse has since been rebuilt and Julius’s wine cellar restocked. READ MORE