Hunched over with tatters of blackened skin peeling off my mug, I had to ask myself, what did I expect? Certainly not what I got. A rush of adrenalin set my heart to hammering, gnawing over how I’d let myself be taken in. I slammed my open palms against the steering wheel in impotent rage, stirring to life the demons in my shattered flesh. For the longest time, I just stared out the windshield at nothing while the agony took a hike.
Jeez, my car was a mess. It’d take hours to wipe up the mud. Wasn’t likely the cloth seats would ever come clean. Then there was all that grunge caked up in the undercarriage, and the body and chrome to wash and polish. Maybe I could get the neighbor’s kid to do it for a sawbuck. Heck, I could just trade the damn thing in for a new Hudson.
“What the hell was I thinking,” I mumbled through gritted teeth. “Oh yeah. See exotic places, sample the best wines and check out the sexiest babes anywhere in history, and make a fortune to boot.” Like a sap, I bought the jive.
The places that scumbag Angelo took me weren’t all that exotic, and the wine and women thing didn’t happen either, but holy smoke, the fortune was mine all right. Solid platinum ingots, gold bejeweled trinkets and a king’s ransom in gold doubloons so heavy the butt end of my ’43 Plymouth was dragging the asphalt. Dollar to a donut hole, first thing Deb, my main squeeze, would think was that I’d clocked somebody for it.
Truth is, me and that future man, Angelo, and his twenty-ninth century tin man, Raz, jumped about in time to steal the kind of loot nobody would miss. First off, Angelo took us to Cartagena de Indias. That’s modern day Cartagena, Columbia. Crates of booty ripped off from the Incas were sitting on the docks to be loaded aboard the Nuestra Senora de Begona. That was in 1605. Bet some heads rolled when the goods came up missing. Not that it mattered any. According to Raz, the Begona set sail with a merchant fleet for the old world the next day, but those wooden boats met up with a hurricane and most of the wrecks have yet to be found. Anyway, that’s what I pinched from the tin man. Angelo was light on speaking. Kept things close to his chest. Raz, his humanoid robot, did most of the talking for him and there were times he wouldn’t shut up. Made me want to pull his plug, so to speak.
Next off, we jumped into the twenty-fifth century where, with my luck, I picked up a virus. Nothing contagious, but Raz laid out that by fifty or so, I’d be half-rotten and wheelchair-bound. I couldn’t tell Deb that right off, but sooner or later, I’d have to.
The bitch of it, seven days later, just before Angelo off-loaded me, the left side of my mug got burned away in a plasma blast. I learned the hard way why Angelo decided to take me along.
I’d have to shell out a lot of moola to get me fixed up. That and more for plastic surgery, though I palmed no fantasies about being a pretty boy again. You bet I planned on setting back a big chunk of the dough to track down and burn that glib-talking time-jumper who bought me, then left me near dead. But, right now, I had to square with Deb. Damn it to hell! Even though I never messed around on my gal, I’d been a babe magnet, but not a chickie alive would take a second gander at me now. Most likely they’d cross the street or turn around just to get me out of their sight.
Wallowing in remorse and unrequited rage, I slammed the car door open, and nearly got slammed back. Quick as all get out, I caught the boomeranging door with a muddy wingtip, smearing the gray felt panel with black muck. Pain tearing up my legs, I grabbed a burlap sack off the floor and jiggered out, leaving behind bits of flesh and bloody fingerprints. Still enraged, I slammed the door shut, but wasn’t quick enough to get my mitt out of the way. I nearly screamed when the steel bit into my fingers, but clenched my jaws and popped the lock. My knuckles were scraped, but my digits hinged okay. Besides, it got me off of thinking about what that future fella did to me.
Limping and bent over like I was carrying all that gold on my back, I dragged myself through the carport, jimmied the screen door latch, then staggered down the hallway to the bathroom. Didn’t want Deb to see me until I washed some of the grunge off. Figured I’d be easier to take that way. She’d be plenty ticked as it was. Best I could figure, I’d been gone a whole week.
Before I left, I’d tossed her a fib about camping over to do some dawn fishing, but I really planned on getting snockered with the guys at a fish camp out west of Deerfield. Had no intention of laying a hand on a rod and reel. As luck would have it, I got lost out in the glades, turned down a dirt track and slued into a freshly plowed cane field. And there was Angelo, climbing out of this shimmering bubble. I was scared at first, thinking it was a nightmare or I was dead, but this tall, slim cuss in a black body suit came out next. Angelo called him Raz and they dickered for a bit, then Angelo invited me to go with them. I’d be an asset, he said. I could tell Raz didn’t seem to think it was a good idea, but he didn’t outright disagree.
The agony in my hand backed off a bit and the burns to my face and left arm had numbed up again. I set the sack beside the sink, gathered up my courage, flicked on the light and stared at my ugly mug.
Yessiree, my pretty boy days were over. Half my head was grimy, but normal, the rest a charred mask with bits of shredded flesh dangling. Where my left ear ought to be was a blackened lump. Maybe they could save my peeper, but for now, I couldn’t see much more than shades of light and dark through it. Should’ve been horrified, but I’d worked at the VA hospital during the war and seen lots of guys shot up pretty bad.
No matter what part of me I moved, the rest of me pitched a fit. So I just stood there looking back at me and flashed back to Siberia, 1890. Jiminy criminy, 1890! The place stank of sweaty horses and human filth even though it was cold enough to set me to shivering. Course, for a Florida guy like me, the ice age is anything under sixty degrees.
Here I have to admit I’ve got a greedy streak, but that Angelo... you could see the lust in his eyes. So I kind of expected trouble when Angelo ignored Raz’s warning, then zapped him when Raz tried to stop him from yanking a half ton of platinum bars right through four feet of stone brick. Me being naïve about this kind of stuff, I did what Angelo told me to do, which was slip through the weak spot his hand gizmo created and plant a red disc on the loot. We got the bullion out okay, but the kickback torched Raz, blew off his noggin and fried the crap out of me. My thinking was, Angelo shouldn’t have brought me and the gold through together. While I was still conscious, I glommed onto the tin man’s head and refused to let go. The next thing I knew, I was laying on my back in the muck beside my Plymouth with a chunk of the loot and Raz’s noggin.
“That’s your share,” Angelo barked. “Keep it in good health.”
“You just going to leave me here to die?” I cried.
“That’s your choice.” With a dismissive wave, Angelo stepped back into the great shimmering bubble and was gone. I should’ve figured that’s the kind of guy Angelo was. Not that he was a cold-blooded killer or anything, but he could’ve taken me up-time to get fixed before dumping me off. I guess it was like Raz told me: being as Angelo was from the future, everybody down-time to him was already dead. Both knew the Siberian heist would be dangerous, and right when they needed a victim, there I was.
I just laid there, wondering if I was gonna die. Thinking about all that, I got madder and madder. Revenge fired up my soul, gave me the gumption to peel my mangled carcass off the ground. No idea how I got all that loot into my jalopy, and most of the drive home was a blur. I remember that old blacktop along the coast was mighty light on traffic. I think I blacked out a couple times, and I sure as heck had a time of it staying on the road.
But I couldn’t stop thinking, ain’t nobody with a working noodle going to buy my tale as anything more than addled ravings. Providing I was stupid enough to tell anybody. Well, I’d have to tell Deb. After eleven years of sometimes tough going, we had that kind of trust between us.
I got the shower going and struggled out of my wingtips, socks, slacks and jacket. I’d need the water to loosen my tee shirt, it being stuck to my charred shoulder.
Trembling from shock and exposure, I tottered over the tub edge, away from the showerhead, and pulled the curtain shut before easing into the water. Mud cascaded off my legs and I was doing alright until I ducked into the spray. It was like millions of hot pokers. I bawled some, but the pain washed away with charred bits of me.
With that wonderful warmth melting away the chill in my bones, I just stood under that showerhead, ignoring the slew backing up to my ankles. Like that, my legs gave out and I sagged into the cruddy water and just lay there, hoping after all that, Deb wouldn’t come in there and find a corpse.
That’s when she showed up. I squinted up at her and made to say hi, but a burbled croak was all I got out. She didn’t scream like I expected, but when I raised my head to show her I was still kicking, I could see she was terrified.
“Holy Toledo, Wayne! What hap... no, you can tell me later. I’ve got to call the hospital.”
“Deb,” I croaked. “There’s stuff in the trunk you need to hide first.”
“Is it hot?”
“Not that anyone could find out.”
“What kind of crap did your friends get you into this time? Are you in trouble... with the police?”
“Naw. Noth... nothing like that.” Everything was getting fuzzy and my tongue felt like a wad of peanut butter, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“Fishing, hell.” She lingered for a sec, looking kind of confused, then left the shower curtain pulled back and disappeared. I must have dozed. When I came to, I was still naked, but lying on the convertible sofa in the guest room, covered with a sheet, wet in spots. She hovered about looking scared and like she was waiting for someone. So beautiful: mussed up auburn curls, fall-tanned oval face, almond eyes, a perky nose and freckles. I’d teased her about the freckles before I left. Suggested if she got a dark enough tan hanging out at the beach with her friends, the spots would all run together.
While I was down for the count, she ditched her pyjamas for a simple yellow summer dress: square cut throat, broad shoulder straps, and tight at the waist. I bought it for her birthday a few weeks back after she modeled it for me. My Deb’s a real hot momma, if you catch my drift.
But liking all that, didn’t matter right then. Even though I was hurting, I had enough wits to feel bad for her, especially when she started crying. She jumped when she caught my good peeper staring, then ran from the room when the doorbell rang. Can’t recall much else... white uniforms and white walls, and lots of mechanical noises and antiseptic smells.
At the hospital, I didn’t know what to tell the cop that came by, so I pleaded amnesia. When he was gone, I cobbled together the gist of the tale for Deb. She listened without asking anything. Right off, she knew I hadn’t enough imagination to fib that big.
“You were gone two days, Wayne,” she said after a long pause. “Long enough to scare the bejesus out of me. I called all your buds and our relatives.”
“You get the stuff stashed?” I whispered.
“Yeah. In the compost heap. The cops searched the Plymouth because they figured you were the victim of a crime, and found a handful of gold coins I missed.
“That head you left on the sink? Ugh, yes. It’s in the garage rafters.”
“Good. No way we could explain away that little trinket with any kind of a cover story.”
Must have shook her up a bit. I mean, until you looked at where Raz’s noggin screwed into the neck and seen it wasn’t human, you’d think I’d hacked off somebody’s head. But I had to give Deb credit. She had more wits in her pinkie than I had in my whole noodle.
“Okay, Wayne. You’ve got to stay focused and work with me so you can ad lib if you need to. Here’s what we tell the cops.” She pushed back into that cheap vinyl-padded recliner that came with the room and checked past the screen, then came up close and spoke softly.
“You met a couple local divers at a Boca Raton bar, got drunk then went diving for lobster. You found a gold doubloon under an overhang at the reef. There was more, so you went back the next day, borrowed a skiff from the guys and dug up the treasure. You brought up a couple sack-fulls of doubloons, but nothing else. You gave the boat back, but didn’t say anything about the gold. You don’t remember anything after that until I found you in the tub.”
“No problem,” I whispered. “It’s an easy story to remember.”
We went over my cover story for a while, then she stood and stretched. Reminded me of the first time she caught my eye. I copped a feel just to let her know it was still me under all those bandages. She gently pulled my hand away, kissed me on my good cheek and headed home for a few hours.
Took the detectives only a few days to establish that the handful of doubloons Deb left in the trunk came off a Spanish shipwreck, and therefore, was considered salvage. But on account private citizens couldn’t own gold, Florida kept the coins.
Months blended one to the next while the docs did what they could to salvage my mug and arm before the plastic surgeons started on me. Long story short, I converted and invested most of what jewels Deb had hidden, buried the gold she managed to stash until I could move it, then bought a hideaway on a back road outside Lakeland. Thanks to all that loot, I could pretty much work without telling anyone what I was up to. Deb was all the time driving off here and there to buy books and lining up this specialist or that, or helping me with correspondence courses.
My health got worse by stages, but after a couple dozen surgeries, Deb could at least look at me without cringing. I’ve got to hand it to her, she’s a trouper. Never thought she’d hang with me. Never gave it a thought she might be doing it out of greed. She was a real good cookie. Too good for the likes of me. But I did keep to the straight and narrow for the most part. Last thing I needed was to get drunk and start shooting off my mouth. I’m kind of weak that way. Know what I mean?
Though I gave it little faith, the best medical minds of the twentieth century were sucking blood out of me by the bucket to come up with a cure for my ‘disease’. They weren’t having much luck, but they did manage to slow it down a bit.
Still, that wasn’t enough. Revenge was my game and the object in that sack — Raz’s noggin — was the gizmo that could make it happen.
The tin man’s head was so near to human-looking, it was gruesome working with it. Took the better part of three decades, lots of mail order engineering courses and tons of research, but my sweet Deb and I finally put together a compatible power source and got the thing talking to us. Sure could have used Angelo’s time-jumper when we filched the nuclear isotopes.
Raz was bummed out a bit when he found out his body was buried somewhere in the Siberian tundra, fried to a crisp, but he gave me what I needed and then some. With a rundown machine shop I bought and renovated, Raz helped me and Deb shrink his power source from car-size to a football, then machined up a working transport for him: eight spindly, double-jointed legs and a small platform to mount his noggin and rack his power supply. It was all he asked for, but it had to be done before he would help me figure out when and where Angelo would be within reach. I was sure I’d managed to keep my true intentions from Deb. She thought I wanted to find that scummy little weasel to get the antidote for my condition. Raz knew better, but I’d sworn him — couldn’t think of him as an ‘it’ no matter what — to secrecy.
With a thermos filled with rich black coffee and sandwiches wrapped and bagged, Raz and Deb packed me into our modified Chevy step-side and headed for an out-of-the-way spot near the southern end of Key Biscayne. By then, I was strapped in a fancy, motorized wheelchair, but I wasn’t paralyzed. Just that my legs and hips wouldn’t hold me up no more.
Out of the Chevy and at the edge of a palmetto dotted scrubland, Raz guided us right to where Angelo would appear.
Soon as Angelo’s time jumping ‘porter’ showed up, Raz tried to zap him with an immobilizer, but Angelo was too quick and leaped back inside. Before he could time jump, Raz connected with the porter’s bioputers and shut it down. The techie gadgets of the twenty-ninth century are something to behold, I tell you. Like magic.
Pitiless, I stared that snaky slime bucket down when he eased outside, slower than snot on a cold day. I relished the moment, gloating like I’d never done before. Of all the times I’d been conned, I’d never had the satisfaction of getting the one up on any of them sleazebags.
“I brought you wealth beyond anything you ever dreamed,” Angelo stated flatly, “so what do you want from me now?”
“My health. For one.”
“I’m not a biomed,” he snapped.
“Take me up-time. Fixing me would be easy for a future doc.”
“Can’t. The time streams are being watched that way.”
“You don’t and Raz will blast your time porter.”
Angelo reached for his wrist con and right at the exact sec, Raz hit him with the immobilizer. Frozen stiff, Angelo couldn’t even try to smooth talk his way out. Using a remote, I sent his porter ahead a few minutes. Raz spider-danced up to Angelo and stuck him with an atomizer.
“Since you won’t help, I guess we’ll just steal your porter and leave you here, like you did to me, buddy boy.” I smirked. “You’re stuck here until you die. Raz just gave you what I’ve got, and worse, for you, I’m going to fry your butt, just like you fried me.”
Raz released him.
Angelo laughed that fake kind of chuckle he used, but I could see he was bent bad. He knew what I knew. Raz could counter any of his tricks.
“You infantile barbarian,” he said, “It cost a fortune, and I was nearly captured, but I succeeded in procuring the antidote. I returned specifically to find you, but you dolt, you just sent it away.”
I stared, blissful glee dispersing like a morning mist. What kind of mind game was this? Nah. He was just trying to save his own skin. Cut him some slack and he’d be gone, leaving me no better off. Made me angry he could be so cold-hearted. Then I grinned. Angelo’s porter would show back up in a few minutes.
“No,” Deb said so soft I almost didn’t hear her. “No,” she said louder.
“No what?” I asked. My anger melted.
“I can’t stand by and let you blast him. You’ve stranded him in the past and he’ll have to live with the disease you gave him. That’s enough. Don’t be vulgar.”
“I guess you’re right. Besides, if he does have the antidote, which I doubt...”
“Too Late!” Angelo bellowed, grinning like a mad clown. “My porter has a tamper program. You just sent it to a time and place of my choosing. Too bad.”
“Well, that just jinxes it, doesn’t it?” I grumbled. “You messed up my life and here you are trying to do me in again. Name your price. What do you want for the antidote?”
“Like I said, Mr. Wayne Parker. It’s too late. You had the opportunity to make peace, but instead of thanking me, all you had in mind was revenge.”
Now I was riled! “You thieving, low-life, bottom-feeding...”
“Names! Just Names!” he chortled. “Is that the best you can do?”
My mind was in chaos! In my decades long hunt for revenge, I’d maybe just done myself again. He could be fibbing, of course, but either way, it seemed like I just couldn’t win. Not in this lifetime anyway.
“Not just names. You’re sick and there’s nothing you can do about it, short of going back to your own time. Raz says they’ll put you in a forever deep freeze.”
“You’ve taken on the wrong man, Parker. I’m not about to content myself with being the object of your revenge. In fact, I will spend the rest of your days plaguing your every move. You won’t have a moment’s respite, never knowing when and how I will strike!” He chuckled, his lips twisted in a self-congratulatory sneer. With that, he touched his wrist and blinked out.
“He telling the truth?” I asked Raz. “You think he’ll make good on his threats?”
“It is a reasonable assumption,” Raz said.
“You think he had the antidote?”
“I detected biomatter in his porter, but that is not conclusive.”
“Where did he go?”
“I cannot say, but you are right. He cannot travel into the future.”
“But he can still make good on his threat.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Crap.” I scrubbed my brow, thinking hard. I still had Raz and lots of bucks. I could hide, but with Angelo’s resourcefulness and with that bioputer buried in his brain, it would be child’s play for him to find me. Too single-minded, I’d underestimated his know-how and super abilities. With no options of any account, I wallowed in self-pity and outrage. Fear, anger, spite, loathing, remorse. Screwed once again, but this time, by my own hand. My fortune would be worthless trying to fend off Angelo and I had no doubt he would make good on his threat.
“Sweetheart.” Deb touched her lips to my forehead. “Are you finished with Angelo now?”
Caught up as I was, I’d forgotten she was even there. “Oh, baby. I’ve been a fool. I’ll bet you saw it coming.”
“Fool, and a jerk.” Gently, she took my hands in hers. “But you are my fool. I wouldn’t have stood by you if I thought you were as horrible or stupid as you think you are. This whole thing with Angelo kept you alive. The doctors told me you should have died years ago, but something inside you kept you fighting. I feel blessed for that.”
“We may as well go home,” I whined. Where did that come from? Was I finally beaten? Was death now pounding at my door?
“Not yet, dear.” Deb turned to Raz. “Bring it back.”
“As you wish,” he answered in his mechanical kind of baritone.
Angelo’s time-jumper reappeared, shimmering in the yellow dawn. I about bugged my eyes out. No kidding. My sweetheart outclassed me in every way I could think.
“Don’t be upset, but Raz told me you planned to get back at Angelo.” She gazed into my eyes and her quirky little smile told me I’d been deceived, again. “The future waits for us.”
There were so many new emotions churning up inside me, I didn’t know how to act, or what to say. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I gripped her hand so hard, I felt the knuckles crunch.
* * *
With Angelo trapped in the twentieth century without his porter, the temporal enforcers cornered him with little effort. Oh sure, he had a few more tricks, but while I had kept him occupied with my drivel, Raz linked with the bioputer in Angelo’s head and tinkered with it some. The lousy bum hadn’t stood a chance.
Right off, we zipped on up to the 29th century. As per the rules of temporal mechanics, I was refurbed, then Deb and I were sent home to our time. Raz got a new body and a new mission. As to Angelo, well the temporal enforcers decided against permanent stasis. They took all his toys away and now he does something like community service. It’s a life sentence.
Out of all this, I did learn something. Sometimes revenge does pay, and the love of a good woman is the best treasure of all.
Copyright © 2003 by by David L. Erickson