Talk about your rotten luck. Talk about your unforeseen consequences. When things were going so good, too. Get a load of this!
Benny and me were going through one of our lean periods. Our last job didn't come off exactly as planned, if you'll excuse the understatement. We cased the Abacus Federal Bank for two weeks and knew exactly where the bags of money would be left long enough for us to scoop them up. We didn't know we'd hoist four bags filled with shiny, new pennies. And a lot of pennies is a lot of nothing. A lot of heavy nothing.
Things went downhill from there till we had no choice but to move in together while we looked around for something to get us going again.
Things got so bad we decided we might even have to take gainful employment to make the rent and keep the cupboard stocked.
"I ain't worked since high school," Benny whined.
"Me either," I answered him. "But working is better than starving."
Benny agreed this was true, and I went and bought a newspaper. The only jobs we qualified for were ones that really sucked, like cleaning up offices at night or stocking shelves in supermarkets. Benny thought the supermarket job had possibilities since we could eat all the food we could steal, but I reminded him whoever took the job would still have to do a lot of work or else get fired, and then we couldn't eat or steal anything.
Benny agreed this was true, and on we searched through the want ads. Benny noticed it first.
Wanted: Two bright young men willing to be involved in a scientific experiment. Good pay. Contact Professor Killbutton, in person. 147 Mercer Street.
"We're young and bright, ain't we?" asked Benny. He gave me a funny look. "We want to be part of a scientific experiment?"
"It can't be nothing dangerous," I said, "or they wouldn't let him put it in the paper. And it says 'good pay.' This could be the exact thing we're looking for."
Benny agreed this was true, and we were off to 147 Mercer Street, a street only couple of blocks long, south of Greenwich Village and lined with old factory buildings which rich people turned into fancy apartments they called lofts. We found Professor Killbutton's name next to 6B and rang him.
"Yes, yes? Who's down there? State your business."
I spoke up. "We're here about your ad in the paper, Professor. The one about two bright young men?"
"Excellent! Excellent! Come right up," he said. The front door of the old building buzzed, and we huffed and puffed our way up to the top floor of the building.
The Professor worked in one of those lofts I mentioned -- one big room filled with some goofy-looking machinery. Over in one corner the professor had a small bed and a couple seedy chairs even Benny and I would've thrown out long ago.
"Sit down. Sit down," the Professor motioned. "Do you want this job? Tell me now. Do you want this job?"
I swallowed hard. "What kind of job is it? Do you mind telling us first?"
The Professor ran his hands through his frazzled gray hair and fell backward onto the bed. He lay there for a moment, and Benny and I gave him the once over. He was an old guy, smaller than Benny or myself, dressed in old-fashioned pegged pants, a white button-down shirt, and tennis sneakers, the old low white kind, before they stared putting stripes and lightning flashes on them.
Suddenly, he sat up. "I might as well tell you," he whispered. "I've built a time machine."
Benny and I tossed each other a look. We'd really found ourselves a loony this time.
"You mean you can go back and forth in time?" I asked.
"NO! That is not what I mean. My machine can only go forward in time. Backwards! Bleech! A useless endeavor. The future, my friends; that is where the future lies."
Benny nodded, agreeing this was true.
"So what do you want us to do if we should take this job?" I asked.
"I need one of you," the Professor explained, "to take trips into the future. My machine has never been tested." Again he ran his fingers through his sloppy hair and swooned on the bed. This time he bounced right back up. "I need to test it. One of you will be my assistant, and one of you will travel into the future. I'll bring you back, and you'll report what you saw. I'll write the most marvelous scientific book ever." He smiled broadly and again went into a faint on the bed.
"What do you think?" Benny whispered, as we waited for Killbutton to recover.
I rubbed my fingers together, indicating we had not yet gotten to the important aspect of money.
The Professor sat up. "Will you take the job? Tell me now." He lowered his voice. "I fear I've told you too much already."
"We'd like to know how much you intend to pay us for this type of work," I said.
"Pay? Yes, you'll be paid. Of course, you will. I'll give each of you $100 a day for as long as I need you." He lowered his voice again. "Cash money. No IRS. Ha!"
Benny moved next to me. "A hundred dollars a day. That's five hundred a week. Times two."
My heart thumped happily.
"Could we have some pay in advance?" I asked.
I could see Benny cross his fingers behind his back.
"Every morning when you arrive I will give each of you five twenty-dollar bills. Here is today's payment."
Killbutton reached into his pocket, and good as his word, Benny and me were each a hundred bucks richer.
We began working right away. The Professor immediately ran some kind of "atomic molecule" test on us to determine who was more "synchronious" with the machine. It didn't bother me one bit when the Professor announced Benny, and only Benny, could time travel. Then he told us we could go for the day.
Well, you better believe Benny and me went out and celebrated. We didn't blow the whole two hundred, but we came darn close. The next morning we were back in Professor Killbutton's loft.
"This morning we will attempt our first trip," the Professor announced. He began barking orders at me and Benny. Turn the knob; pull the lever; turn the other knob; pull the other lever.
Finally, he told Benny to move into the "chamber," which looked like an old telephone booth to me, with about a million tubes and wires coming out of it connecting it to a large, blinking control board taking up one whole wall of the room. Benny looked doubtful so I reminded him we simply had to play along with the old coot to keep getting our hundred smackers a day.
Benny agreed this was true, and into the chamber he went. The Professor rubbed his hands together like a fly who'd landed on a piece of birthday cake; excited, like his nutcase idea really had a chance of working.
Then he climbed onto a high stool and started barking orders at me again about pushing buttons and pulling levers.
"The great moment!" Killbutton shrieked. He jumped off the stool, walked over to the control panel, and lifted a plastic cover to reveal a glowing red button. He told Benny he'd be off on a trip seven days into the future. I saw the Professor put his finger on the button and turned to watch Benny in the chamber. Before I could say jack rabbit, the professor pushed the button and Benny disappeared!
The Professor ran his hands through his tangled hair about a hundred times, stumbled to his bed, and fell down like he had a heart attack. I stared at the empty chamber. Where was Benny? The Professor sprang up and ran to the control panel. He popped another plastic cover from another button, this one glowing green, and pressed it. Quick as a flash, Benny appeared in the chamber, and the Professor pounced on him and asked him a million questions.
To make a long story short, the machine worked. For about two months the Professor whooshed Benny into the future a couple times every day and brought him back for long interviews. After a while I could operate the machine myself while the Professor kept busy writing his "epic tome." And every day Benny and I pulled in another hundred bucks.
One night when we were sitting home, I got the brainstorm of all brainstorms.
"Oh, baby! Are we saps! What dopes we are! Do you know just how stupid we been? No, you don't, but we been passing up the chance to become millionaires."
I had Benny's attention at the mention of being a millionaire, something he'd always wanted to be.
"You been going into the future a week at a time. Suppose you brought back a newspaper from then. It would have the race results, the stock market page, and who knows what else -- all stuff we could get rich from. We bet winning horses and buy stocks heading up. We can't miss. We'll be rolling in dough. A real cabbage patch!"
Benny agreed this was true, but he brought up a good point or two. Would the Professor let him bring back a newspaper? Would the Professor want to be cut in on the deal? This made me think.
"We could do it on the sly," I suggested. The Professor didn't live in the loft with his machine. He used the bed there for his "thinking fits' as he called them. He really lived two blocks away in a normal apartment. If Benny and me could get into the laboratory, we could use the machine at night. Benny could pick up a Post or a Daily News, and we'd go from there.
We decided to try. The next day Benny lifted the Professor's door keys and dashed out to make duplicates. The Professor, none the wiser, continued to slave over his "epic tome."
That night I sent Benny on his first trip a week into the future -- the machine wouldn't work for any shorter time -- and brought him home again in half an hour. There, folded under his arm -- the Daily News! We made sure we left everything as we found it and let ourselves out.
And then didn't the money roll in! We bet on the horses, and we bought surefire stock. Soon we had one of them swanky East Side duplexes. We had the money, and we had the chicks, and we had a ball.
Benny got bored going to work every day, especially since we didn't need the lousy hundred dollars any more, but I reminded him we needed to stay close to the Professor so as not to screw up our chances of using the machine at night.
Benny agreed this was true, and we continued to go every day and do the Professor's bidding, me on the controls and Benny traveling time.
After three months, though, I noticed a change in Benny.
"I think our new lifestyle's catching up with you, Benny," I told him one day on the taxi ride to Mercer Street.
He asked what I meant.
"You're getting kind of ragged looking," I told him. "I see lines and bags around your eyes, and you mentioned yourself the gray coming into your hair."
Benny shrugged it off. He just needed some sleep, he said, and the gray hair must come from his jeans, whatever he meant by that.
Another couple weeks went by, and Benny looked even worse, though he said he felt better. This was after the Professor sent him on a trip five years into the future. Benny came back flabbergasted. He poured out all sorts of things to the Professor for his "epic tome" and wouldn't stop talking to me later about the changes five years can make in things.
That night Benny made a strange request. He said he had a mad desire to see the future, and I should send him a hundred years ahead and leave him for three hours so he could have a good look around.
I didn't like the idea, but Benny wouldn't change his mind.
Well, let him get it out of his system, I thought, and so that night, at a little past one o'clock, I sent Benny one hundred years into the future. I settled myself on the Professor's bed to kill three hours, but I fell asleep. I dreamed of Benny, and when I woke up, it hit me. Hard! Benny didn't look tired lately. He looked older!
When Benny went into the future for a week, he got a week older, but when he returned to the present, the week's age didn't drop off him. I figured quickly. Why, Benny must have aged eight or nine years since he'd been going on all these trips.
I leaped from the bed and ran like an idiot to the control panel. I'd sent Benny one hundred years away. Oh lord!
I pushed the return button and stared at the chamber. Empty. I went and opened the door, and one look sent me out of the apartment and planning to get out of the city as fast as I could go. Let the Professor find the moldy, dusty, horrible old skeleton lying in the bottom of his chamber. Let him figure out what happened.
I packed my bags really disgusted it took me just a little too long to figure out what was happening to my good friend. That's what comes of rushing and not thinking through the consequences of your actions. As I snapped my suitcase closed and gathered up all the money we had left, I thought of an old saying, "Act in haste and repent in leisure." If Benny was here now, he would have no choice but to agree this was certainly true.
For more of John's wonderful work, visit his website, www.johnpaulits.com.