Chapter 1 (Audiobook Preview)

Chapter 1 (Audiobook Preview)
Chapter 1 - Lunch and the HFM (Time Travel for Fun and Prophet)

Lunch and the HFM

For humanity, it was time for regression or for enlightenment.

For nations, it was time for reconciling differences or for waging war.

For the planet, it was time for insanity or for reason.

For Dan Baker, it was time for lunch.

It was lunchtime in the valley and the restaurant was humming.  Not just busy, but humming, an annoying hum that was pushing Dan to an unpleasant place.  The hum would have been offended by that, as they thought it was quite musical, but they were not a telepathic hum.  Luckily the smell of fresh baguettes soothed him slightly, even though the baguettes were not even trying.

Dan was sitting at lunch with his best friend Ambrose.  Ambrose wasn't his legal name, but that's the name he insisted everyone call him.  Until he was twelve Dan knew him as Jim, but Jim thought that name was dull and so Ambrose was born.  This made it easier seven years later when Ambrose came out to his parents---Jim wasn't gay, Ambrose was.

No surprise there for Dan; he figured that out when he was six.  He had watched an old movie and wanted to play "Knights of the Round Table" with Jim.  Jim wanted to be the beautiful princess.  If Dan was Aquaboy, Jim was Aquagirl.  By the time Jim became Ambrose, the only question Dan had was whether Ambrose was gay or trans.

Dan shook his earlobe.  "Can you hear that?"

"I swear the waiter is flirting with me."  Ambrose glanced at said waiter.

"No doubt."

"Because I'm so hot."  Ambrose really was hot.  Cary Grant hot.

"Or because he wants a big tip."

Ambrose smiled.

Dan clarified.  "A gratuity."

"What do you know?"

"I know waitresses."  He had attempted to date quite a few that had been friendly.

"Yes, but you're not me."

"The hotness factor."

"Yes, I am hot and you are not."

Dan was not unhot---but not actually hot either.  He was the kind of guy that people have a hard time identifying in a lineup.  He was 30's (32) with no observable scars or tattoos.  He did, however, have a smile that made women melt---if they were close to the sun.

"I'm not saying you couldn't be," Ambrose said, "but you don't take my advice."

"I like my look."

Ambrose gestured to the world.  "You want them to like your look.  No one is looking for a man in coveralls."

"Unless they need their toilet fixed."

"Yes, but if you looked good while you did it...  Could you imagine how the ladies would fall for a gorgeous 30-year-old man making plumber money?"

"And alimony payments."

"They'll settle."

"It's not a romantic job."

"The hot waiter's looking at me."

"He's not that hot."

"What do you know?  You don't have a gay bone in your body."

"I gotta get back to work.  Don't let him break your heart."

"Worry about his heart."

Dan tossed money on the table to pay his tab.  He hated leaving the quaint sidewalk café where he and Ambrose met for lunch on irregular occasions.  The café had the ambiance of a Parisian bistro right in the heart of a bustling American cosmopolis.  Dan knew this because Ambrose had been to Paris and told him so.  One day Dan hoped to go to Europe, but probably not this decade.  Maybe in the 1940s.

Dan climbed into his car and headed to his next job.  He had to fix a toilet.

Typical job---broken ball cock.  He hated to tell her the diagnosis as he always felt like he was sexually harassing women when he mentioned it.  And he had heard every comment every man, or occasionally woman, would make.

On the other hand, it was an easy job, a cheap part, and ultimately the customer was very happy.  He'd just replace it with a fill valve and avoid the language issue.

When he got to his car, he found he had gotten a text from Ambrose.  "Are you okay?"

He texted back.  "Why?"

"You were acting weird."

"That's just me."

"True.  Oh wait, the waiter's calling.  Call me tonight, bye."  Ambrose hung up before Dan had a chance to respond.

Dan couldn't remember a call with Ambrose when he had a chance to say "bye."

Next up:  clogged drain.  Simple, but messy.  The hard part was listening to the man explain why he hadn't fixed it himself.  This was nearly universal.  Men needing to reclaim the masculinity they had lost falling before the mighty drain.

Dan used the words, "Uh huh," here a lot.  For the ones who really needed an excuse he'd explain:

"Modern drains are made with inferior metal, so they wear quickly, break easily, and clog impossibly.  A homeowner just can't afford the tools to handle a job."

Just like cars.  Way too complex with computers and hybrid systems.  Most men can't even change their own oil.

Rationalization makes them feel better.

Now he was on to his last job of the day, and of course being the last job of the day it was also the most annoying.  Although to be fair, the work was only mildly annoying---the annoyance came primarily from the well-dressed brunette who had hired him.

The work involved replacing a calcitrant kitchen faucet in a rather calcitrant kitchen sink belonging to a recalcitrant hedge fund manager (HFM).  He considered the sink merely calcitrant, due to his only having the urge to hit it with his wrench one time.

The HFM's expert supervision of his work was impeded by her inability to disconnect from her assistant.  Her cellular umbilical cord kept her constantly in contact with the beleaguered Chuck.  And since she was yelling at her assistant more than Dan, he was grateful for the distraction.  From underneath the sink he could see her $500 designer shoes pacing angrily through her perfect kitchen.

"NO!  I said the Armbruster account; Hollingsworth can wait.  Chuck, if you don't give me those numbers in the next ten seconds, I swear I will...  Oh...  Then give me the Hollingsworth numbers NOW!!"  She pushed the off button of her phone with an unsatisfying deliberate tap.

She paused to breathe and placed her phone in her holster.  With Chuck sufficiently abused, she would turn elsewhere.  Dan readied himself.

"How much longer is this going to take?  Just being here to make sure you do this job correctly has cost me at least twenty thousand this afternoon."

"Why didn't you make Chuck do it?"

"Because Chuck doesn't know shit about plumbing."

Dan had a hard time not laughing to himself as he had been done for twenty minutes and was deliberately wasting her time.

Dan was dark haired, average height and weight.  He was pretty much average everything.  You could say he had a large nose, except for the fact that he didn't.  But in order to give him a distinguishing feature, we'll say it anyway.

He had a large nose.

Or not.  Make up your own mind.

Dan began to slowly put away his tools.

The HFM tapped her foot.  Not in the cool Fred Astaire way, but like a rabbit signaling the herd of approaching danger.  "It's about time.  I should have just done it myself."

Dan turned to wash the oil and grime, and for some reason sardine, off of his hands, which left a considerable layer of filth on the pristine white sink.  Interestingly, there was no grease needed for the job, so he was forced to grab some from the can he kept for just such emergencies.

The HFM thrust a wad of bills forward.  Interestingly, all of the bills in her wallet were crisp, right side up, and sorted numerically by worth and serial number, so she was forced to wad them up for just such emergencies.

Dan grunted and walked away.  He grunted because he had learned if you engage certain people with actual language, they will invariably speak back and this was not ideal.

He stepped across the porch and down the steps toward the sidewalk of a nondescript upper class neighborhood of identical townhouses.  Only the street numbers and colors of the BMWs were different.

As he hopped into his Toyota, Dan checked off the last box on his job sheet for the day.  Being the last job, he didn't really need to check it off, but it felt so damn good doing it.  Normally he would have pulled off his tool belt before driving away, but he couldn't risk the HFM finding some reason to stop him in her driveway.

Dan's Toyota was a lot like Dan:  it was the first new car he'd ever owned and had aged into mediocrity.  When it was new, it was marginally above average.  Dan had promised himself his first new car would be American made, but he wanted a car that was better than average, so that didn't happen.

Driving home, Dan felt good.  Very good.  It was a beautiful September 27th at 5:27 p.m. (this will be important later).  He'd had six calls, all resolved---people could go on with their lives unhampered by flood or dehydration.  The reason Dan felt so good was, in fact, that he was not average in one area---he was a very good plumber.

He was listening to Procol Harum and all was right with the world---other than an odd odor of gunite.

The next thing on Dan's agenda was to think about all the things he was not good at, like spelling, making curry, and marriage.  While this may not seem like the best use of one's time, it is, nevertheless, quite human.

Dan's mind went to a series of inedible meals, failed tests, and one spectacularly unsuccessful relationship.  While he and Jeneane had been hopelessly in love, they were also hopelessly mismatched.  Several shouting matches and a visit from the local constabulary were enough to convince the couple they would be better off living in separate cities.

At 5:32.05, as Dan was preoccupied with making his formerly high self-esteem plummet to its usual depths, he noticed something seemed to be slightly off in that he was no longer in his Toyota but rather outside of it looking in.  The visual of his vehicle, driverless, beginning to slow in traffic and veer to the right, was the last thing that he saw  before winking out of existence entirely.

And that's when time began to turn inside out.