Be Careful What You Wish For
by: V.J. Miller, Sr.
Roger Conolly and Walt Regan were like two peas in a pod. Young, good looking, physically fit, both with curly brown hair; often mistaken for brothers, though their parents never met. Too often they were mistaken for each other. It was a running joke around the R&D Department of Lipton Technologies.
Roger, being the head of the Department and a glory hound, took most of the credit for the discoveries made by the people under him. This was the cancer that ate slowly away at Walt and the friendship he had had with Roger. Yesterday was the last straw.
Jim Bagley, the COO of Lipton, rushed up behind Walt in the lab.
"Roger, you've done it again! You're gonna make this company richer than ever!"
"Wrong again, Jim," said Walt, turning to face Jim. "What's Roger going to take credit for now?"
"Yes, what am I going to get credit for?' said Roger, entering the lab.
Jim threw his arm around Roger's shoulder and gave him a jubilant hug. "Why, for coming up with the alloy that will have NASA and the Military beating down our door to upgrade all their flying machines."
"Which alloy?" said Walt.
Walt tensed every muscle in his face. "Damn you, Roger. You did it to me again!"
"What does he mean?" said Jim to Roger.
"It's just a misunderstanding." Roger turns to Walt. "We'll discuss this later. Everything will work out. You'll see."
Agile as a cat, Roger ushered Jim out of the lab before he could ask any delicate questions.
Thirty, long, frustrating minutes dragged their feet in the mud while Walt waited for Roger's return. When he did, Walt was in his face in a shot.
"Now, easy, Walt."
"You did it again! You took all the credit for my work!"
"Not so. Not so. I talked to Jim and got it all straightened out."
"Yes, yes, yes. He's going to see that you get your fair share of the credit."
"You'll pardon me if I'm a little skeptical."
Roger puts his arm around Walt's shoulder. "Not to worry. Look. We're still on to go deer hunting this weekend?"
The afternoon of resentment clung to him like cheap cologne. It stunk even worse when Margy, the lab assistant laid the bomb on him.
"Hey, Walt. Didja hear? The Brass is gonna give Roger a big celebration for coming up with that new alloy."
"Oh, really... and when is this big shindig supposed to come off?"
"Thirty days from today out on the plaza. Isn't it going to be great."
"I'm all goose bumps," he said under his breath.
"What was that?"
"How did you find out about it?"
"Ginny, the Boss' secretary told me after she'd typed up the memo to the Home Office. Hey, look. I gotta go check on my experiment. Talk to you later."
Walt sat in wretched silence; seething within, ready to erupt but for his not wanting to make a bad scene worse.
That Saturday morning Roger and Walt were in the woods before dawn; hoping to nail a prize buck with a 12 point rack before breakfast. The two had been hunting together in these woods for so long they could walk the trail blindfolded. Roger took the point like he usually did after they'd scouted the area together. Splitting up increased their odds of bagging a deer. This time, Walt had other prey in mind.
He stood against a tree some 50 yards behind Roger. He brought the scope of the 30.06 Browning bolt action up to his well trained eye. The back of Rogers head sat squarely in the crosshairs. After disengaging the safety he slipped his finger inside the trigger guard; lightly touching the cold steel. Holding his breath to minimize movement he tightened the muscles that would launch the deadly projectile on its mission of death.
He wavered. Yanking the weapon down to his side, snapping on the safety. "Stupid! I'd never get away with it."
Abruptly, Walt wasn't alone. He jerked his head around to see an odd little man, mid 40's, mousy looking, out of place as a hunter though he was clad in the proper garb. Walt was flustered, ashamed and filled with dread.
"I-I wasn't really going to shoot," stumbled out of his mouth.
"But you wanted to, didn't you?" came from the little man in a squeaky trill.
"No... no, I... wasn't," said Walt, gripping and ungripping the rifle, feeling hopeless.
"Sure you were. You just haven't thought it through."
"Look. If you're going to turn me in I'll deny the whole thing."
"I couldn't care less what you do or don't do."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"You have a difficult choice to make and I'm here to help you make it."
"I don't need your help to pull the trigger on that asshole."
"True enough, but you'd like to do it with an ironclad alibi."
"If you weren't here I could call it an accident."
"Do you really think the State Police would believe that once they know what an expert marksman you are."
Walt took in a quick breath and let it out in a rapid blow, staring at the rifle that hung at arms length. "That's why I didn't."
"He must have done something awful to make you want to terminate him."
"He's a thief. He steals people's lives."
"Then let me show you how to achieve that which you desire."
Walt stared at the rifle then at the little man; a stern look washed over his face.
"Wait a minute," he said, turning and pacing away a few steps, grabbing at the back of his neck then retuning in the little man's face. "Wait a minute. You gotta be some kinda nut and I'm just as goofy for listening to you."
"All it takes is a little faith... and the will to act on your convictions."
"Sure. All it takes is faith. What am I supposed to do, wish him dead?"
"Almost. But you still have to pull the trigger yourself."
"Okay. Okay. Let's say for a second I believe you. How can you help me do it.
The little man reached out with his hand, palm up. "Give me the shell in the chamber of your rifle."
Walt stared at the weapon, pulled it slowly up to chest level, the muzzle above the stock. He glanced at the little man, his skepticism evident. Unlocking the bolt with a quick flip he then slowly retracted it to keep the shell from flying into the air. He picked the shell out of the breech, held it in his fingertips, looked it over from side to side then handed it to the little man.
"Thank you," he said, holding the shell by the bottom of the cartridge, the bullet pointing skyward. After a few seconds the shell began to glow then gradually subside. He handed it back to Walt who grasped it gently. After a long stupefying moment Walt broke the silence.
"So now what do I do?"
"When the time is right you chamber that shell and do what you have to do."
"You've lost me..."
"If your faith is strong enough that shell will take you anywhere... and any when. Think about it. An ironclad alibi. You can be in two places at once when you pull that trigger."
"It sounds too fantastic to be true," said Walt, staring at the shell. When he looked up he was suddenly alone again; staring out into the waist high mist. "Where'd you go?"
"Where'd, who go?" said Roger, walking up behind Walt.
"What? Uh, n-nobody."
"I could have sworn I heard you talking to somebody when I walked up."
"Just thinking out loud."
Roger looked at his hunting partner questioningly. "This is no place to let your mind wander. You could get shot or worse yet, shoot someone else." Roger walked on past Walt into the mist.
Walt stared at the shell in his hand. "I should be so lucky," he said under his breath.
"You coming or what," said Roger, calling back.
"Coming," said Walt, flipping the shell a few inches in the air and catching it firmly. "Maybe we'll still find something to shoot."
Monday morning arrived like it always had and always would, only this day Walt's head hung heavy on his shoulders. All the previous day he'd sat and stared at the shell given him by the odd little man, not sure he believed what he'd heard nor certain he had the will to make it work.
"Walt," chimed in Roger, breaking him from his stupor. "Sorry guy. I just came from the brass's office. Since they own all the rights to anything you invent they can do whatever they want and pat on the back whomever they please."
"And you being the head of the department they want you to get all the accolades."
"In a nutshell," he said placing a hand on Walt's shoulder. "I did what I could to get you even billing.
Walt gets up and paces a few steps away then turns to face Roger. "I'm sure you did the best you could," he lied, nostrils flaring.
"Look. If it makes you feel any better I'll have them allow you to stand on the platform when they make the formal announcement."
"You'd do that for me?"
"Certainly. What are friends for?" Roger said, then patted Walt on the back and hurried off.
"Yeah," Walt said under his breath. "What are friends for.
Shortly after, while Walt brooded, Ginny came into the lab handing out memos. On it was an announcement of the ceremony planned to present the new alloy and it's inventor to the public. In just three short weeks, between nine and ten in the morning Walt would have it rubbed in his face yet again. It was useless to try to work any more that day, so Walt begged off at noon and went home.
From the gun case he took his Browning bolt action and sat in the easy chair in his living room. From his pocket he pulled the shell touched by the odd little man. Staring at it it began to glow and pulse in a seductive rhythm. Walt chambered the shell, threw the bolt and locked it. From another pocket he pulled the memo about the celebration.
"To introduce to the public the inventor of alloy #EA3127," he read off the page then threw it aside. "Bullshit!"
He stood up and held the rifle to his chest. "Okay, shell. Do your stuff. Take me to the top of the building across from the plaza 21 days into the future and return me here in one hour."
The rifle began to glow and spread slowly until it engulfed Walt entirely.
Abruptly he was high on the roof across from the plaza. The air was chilly and damp; a light mist filled the plaza below. But not so heavy a mist he could not make out his target through the scope.
The ceremonies were just beginning as the CEO of Lipton Industries began his speech into the mike.
Walt talked to himself to keep up his courage while checking the range. "The perfect alibi, Roger. I'll be sitting on the platform just arms length away when you get killed. No one will ever suspect me."
"...and here he is," said the speaker. "the creator of EA3127."
Walt took deadly aim when his target took his place at the podium. He held his breath, squeezed the trigger and all hell broke loose in the plaza.
Scream upon scream echoed up the canyon of buildings. "Murder!" "It's murder!" came from several voices. Security personnel dragged people out of the plaza and shoved them into the buildings. The Police on hand scanned the upper floors of the buildings for where the shot must have come.
Walt lingered just too long to savor the moment and was quickly spotted on the roof.
"Up there!" shouted one of the officers. "He's on the roof!"
Walt, shocked out of his rapture, began to panic. Where the hell could he go. They'd be up here in a few minutes. He checked his watch. If he was going to return he'd have to hide for 20 minutes.
The roof was no place to hide; he'd have to get to one of the lower floors where the offices were and hope he could lose himself in an unoccupied room.
He hurried down the stairs and was about to open the door, stopping only because he heard frantic voices on the other side. The employees on the top floor were in a panic trying to exit the floor. Entering, rifle in hand, would only make it worse. The roof was his only viable means of seclusion.
On the roof once again he did his best to jam the door shut with some debris left there from a repair project. Scanning the roof there were few places to hide. The water tower was out. That'd be the first place they'd look. Running to the edge of the roof adjacent to the next building, a warehouse, Walt saw an expanse of ten feet. He could try to jump if he had to but doubted he could make it. Time was running out. He could hear the police pounding on the roof door. Sooner or later a police chopper would be in the air and could pick him off. He had to make the jump.
Running for all he was worth, he put one foot on the roof wall and launched himself into space. The world passed beneath him in slow motion and absolute silence. Half way to the next roof he knew he wasn't going to make it and he descended in a steep arc to the opposite wall; a wall of glass windows. Crashing through he cracked his head on the upper casing, flipped over backwards and landed heavily on his face.
The wind knocked out of him he lay dazed and confused on the bare concrete floor. Blood ran down from a gash on his head, across his face and into his mouth. Salty he thought while clinging barely to consciousness. Get up and move you idiot! Do you want to get caught? Do you want it all to be for nothing?
Staggering to his feet, the floor and ceiling attempted to change places without warning. The rifle, lost from his grasp when he crashed, couldn't be seen. Fighting to stay awake, he needed to hide for only a few minutes more before he was drawn back to the past.
Sirens wailed up and down the street. Rapid, heavy footsteps could be heard running his way. He got up and ran blindly for seclusion when they crashed in through the outer door.
"Halt!" shouted the police while Walt ran for his life behind a stack of crates. Staggering, he ran into the crates that immediately buried him underneath.
Digging through the avalanche of crates the police could find no one. The hour concluded, Walt returned to his starting point.
He awoke on his living room floor. Disoriented, he felt like he'd been beaten with a baseball bat. Worse. He had no memory of the past several hours. What had happened? Who did this to him?
Holding a towel to his bleeding, throbbing head, he called the police.
"And you have no memory of what happened or who did this to you?" said the officer to Walt.
"It's all a blank," said Walt. "I must have come home and caught someone in here and he attacked me."
"That's possible. Is anything missing that you know of?"
"Only my Browning, bolt action rifle. It was in the case in the den this morning."
"Obviously the perp must have stolen it for some crime he plans."
The paramedics were finishing up wrapping Walt's head and were preparing to leave. "You might want to check in at the hospital soon as you can to have x-rays taken."
"I'll make an appointment."
"We're about done here," said the officer. "If anything comes back to you, you give us a call, Mr. Regan."
"Certainly," said Walt, letting them out.
He stood in the kitchen making tea, trying to remember what had happened to him too no avail.
He called work the next day and begged a few days off after explaining. They told him to take all the time he needed and just get well.
Days later at work he was greeted warmly by his colleagues and Roger even more so.
"Have you been able to remember anything at all?" said Roger.
"Not a thing," said Walt.
"What'd they get?"
"Apparently all they wanted was my rifle. Makes no sense. It's not like it was a collectable worth something."
"Could be for a bigger robbery."
"A single shot bolt action? That's stupid. A semi-automatic with an eight shot clip would be better."
"Who knows what goes through the minds of potential killers?"
"Yeah," said Walt, tilting his head like he remembered a thought but it eluded him again.
"N-nothing. Something's just been nagging at the back of my mind. Probably not worth worrying about."
Roger took his leave while Walt went back to his research.
The days leading up to the big event passed uneventfully. Walt still stewed inwardly but the edge on his anger lost its sharpness. He'd made up his mind to finish the current project he was on and hand in his resignation. He'd offer his talents to some other research facility.
The night before the announcement Walt was jerked from a sound sleep by an incessant banging on his front door. Stumbling to the door he let in Jim Bagley.
"We're in deep shit," said Jim, walking in past Walt then turning to face him while he shut the door.
"What's so bad you have to wake me at this hour?"
"It's Roger. He got himself killed in an auto accident."
"Do I look like I'm joking?" A deeply concerned look on his face. "Of all the times to... Look, I don't have the time to go into detail but Roger confessed before he died that you were the inventor of EA3127. You're going to be on the podium tomorrow so you better get your speech ready."
Walt stood in shock. Yesterday he was Mr. Nobody. Now, suddenly, he was thrust to the fore. It was too much for him to comprehend.
"I know it's a shock," said Jim, "but you've got to pull yourself together. We can't postpone this thing. There's too much invested to stop now. I'll see you in the morning."
With that said, Jim let himself out; leaving Walt to cope on his own.
The next morning found a tired while elated Walt sitting on the platform going over his speech to himself. He'd been up all night working on it. He couldn't sleep anyway. Soon it was his time to speak.
"...and here he is," said the speaker, "the creator of EA3127."
Walt got up and walked slowly to the podium. He looked out across the crowd; their faces shrouded in the mist making those in the back difficult to see. He gazed at the buildings across the street, looking up to their roof tops. He cleared his throat, prepared to speak then abruptly stopped. His head snapped up to the roof across the street, his eyes wide, face ashen.
The 30.06 slug smashed through his heart and ripped open his spine. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Pandemonium blanketed the area while screams and shouts of "Murder" echoed from the walls.
Among all this helter skelter one person stood calmly. The odd little man from the woods now dressed in a business suit. He spoke softly and assuredly, grinning like a Cheshire. "It's not murder... it's suicide."