Yep. More of the November novel. You get three parts right in a row. I am so far past this section of the story now, it seems funny to me, as in the old days when I started posting bits of “Mantorville.” Therefore, I will get you all a little closer to the end of Chapter One.
The door was open. I hadnʼt locked it when I came griefstricken into our place. There were lots of nights it remained unlocked. It wasnʼt like, even with the college in town, that Pashitakua was a hive of criminal activity. Small Wisconsin towns are pretty quiet places.
Birch slammed it open and shut and charged right up the stairs to our place, bursting through the door, while I was still registering the bell.
His neurasthenic, skimpily-bearded face was aghast or terrified. Or something. Whatever was going on, that was more emotion than I had ever seen him express. “Terry! Mʼman. You wonʼt believe whatʼs happened to me.”
“Dude. Whatʼs going on?” Terry asked instantly. I didnʼt care.
“Valjeanʼs gone nuts, man.” I had learned some time ago that his pet name for Dr. Fairchild put a (mispronounced) literary pun on her first and middle names. “Plumb crazy. Nuts.”
Which probably just meant that his month of work building whatever contraption she had required was clearly the waste of time that every one of her projects was. I got up, carefully, slowly, to find the refrigerator and grab one more Keystone. Maybe, when I located it, I might ask the bearded wonder if he wanted something. And I wondered, just how many cases of beer had we bought last time? If Terry and I both had just drunk twelve-plus, that meant one dead boxful. Didnʼt it?
I barely heard them talking as I drifted the twenty steps through the kitchen. I did hear Birch selfishly plop himself in the chair I had vacated. Nothing for him, then.
“Short meeting.” Terry observed thickly. “Whatʼd she do? Terminate your assistantship? Again?”
“She wants me to test the machine, man.”
“Test the machine. Whaddaya mean…?” Obviously Terry hadnʼt understood whatever Birch meant as closely as Birch had assumed.
“Test the machine. Test the machine! She wants me to be her first live test on the machine.”
“What machine?” I wondered as I tried to stride manfully back in the living room without either hitting the kitchen doorway or the sofa or the big chair. Or spill my fresh beer. I had forgotten already that Birch had taken my seat. I tottered to a stop behind the sofa.
“Donʼt tell him,” Birch snapped. “Not a word.”
“Tell him about what?” Terry was puzzled. He had, after all, drunk more than I had.
“Fairchildʼs theory?” I asked. “Didja build a machine to test her time breakthrough?” I wanted to say “temporal” but the word eluded my consciousness, and my mouth would probably have never been up to that many syllables anyway. I also wanted to laugh, like I was too cool for their nonprogress at physics.
Birch cut me short. “Whatʼs he know, Terry? It sounds like he knows. What did you tell him!”
“About what?” Terry was looking seriously confused now. “His girl dumped him tonight.”
Thanks, Ter, I thought. Just the guy I did not want to know all about my stuff. But clearly Terryʼs mind was wandering down some drunken corridors of its own, far from our little discussion just minutes earlier. He was back on my personal problems. And now that he had brought it all up again, so was I.
Big warm tears were building up in my eyes, but I didnʼt want to cry, not in front of Birch.
“The redhead? About time. Sheʼs got another guy back in her hometown. Has had all year.”
I wanted to punch him. How could he be so right? I glowered wetly over him, one hand still on the sofa. “How did you know, Birch?”
“Bah. Everyone knows, Hunter. She told people. Besides, it was obvious from the start of the year.” He was right, although I hated to admit it. Somehow I had known from the first day we had seen each other after summerʼs end that something was different, wrong. I knew but hadnʼt wanted to explore the intuition. Still it enraged me that this jerk knew, but fume as I might, I had no clever quip to impact what I felt was his smug satisfaction.
Then he gave me the opening I had forgotten: “What do you know about the device?”