The world is very quiet before sunrise, especially in the colder months. I will never be a morning person, but with a cup of coffee to focus my senses I can admit to finding serenity in the time before everyone else is awake. It’s an oddly Zen counterpoint to my daily job in construction, which is loud noises and physical action all day long.
I wonder sometimes if the other guys on the site enjoy the morning stillness the same way I do. Then I never ask, because that is how you get made fun of at work. Even if it were true, no one there would admit it to each other, me included. Besides which, when you’re hauling metal beams and buckets of rivets up temporary elevators, it’s hard to ask questions like, “Do you ever stop to contemplate the beauty of life?”
That said, there’s a lot of beauty in construction, and a whole lot of satisfaction. Every job I had before this was behind some manner of counter, and while they paid the bills, there was nothing I looked forward to about them. Customer service is about bending yourself to do what others want. Construction is about bending the world to do what you want. At the end of the project, you don’t just have a building. You have a soaring structure torn from the ground and stretched toward the sky. You have a triumph over gravity itself.
These are also thoughts I don’t express at work.
The point is that although I come home filthy and sore, it feels good every day. Plus I’m in the best shape of my life, which is another thing that store work doesn’t get you. And showers have never felt so sinfully refreshing.
Which is why it’s all the more annoying when my phone rings during my post-work shower today. I groan and consider letting it go to voicemail, but it’s almost certainly my parents, since no one else calls me. They have a knack for calling during my shower, too. But they don’t call all that often, and if I don’t answer it, I’ll have a guilt-trippy voicemail to listen to when I get out about how they was just wondering what I’ve been up to and they’d love to hear from me if I can find the time.
Construction, Mom. I’ve been up to construction. It doesn’t change. I like it, but that doesn’t mean that it makes for a gripping serial drama.
Reluctantly, I clamber out of the shower and dry off one hand to fish my phone out of my pants pocket. Surprisingly, it is not my parents; the phone screen declares it to be Dr. Simmons. I swipe to answer the call.
“What’s up, Doc?” The classics never get old. The doc’s excited, though, and brushes right past my reference.
“Dan! Good. I had a look for your Dr. Acharya, and he paid with a business card.”
“Oh. So no real name for him, then?”
“No, but this is just as good! We have the name of his business. Rossum Medical Supply.” She gives a short laugh.
I turn the name over in my mind for a couple seconds, but don’t see anything funny about it. “Okay, got it. What’s the joke?”
“It’s the same thing as Acharya, basically. Not the same meaning, of course, but the same idea. He’s making a reference that he thinks is too clever for other people to get.”
“Boy, I sure hate people who drop references into casual conversation,” I say blithely, but Simmons still shows no sign of noticing my opening line. “Full disclosure: this is too clever for me to get. What’s it mean?”
“It’s from a Czech play from the ’20s –”
“Right, a topic popular with today’s youth,” I interrupt.
The doc barrels over me. “–WHICH was the first time the word ‘robots’ was used. So, Rossum Medical Supply? He’s basically advertising that he’s got nanobots.”
“Nice! Have an address? How do I get there?”
“Just take a left turn at Albuquerque,” Simmons says.
“Wait, you DID get my joke!” I accuse.
“Dan, you think I caught a reference to Rossum’s Universal Robots, but I missed one about Looney Tunes? ‘Nice boy, but he’s about as sharp as a sack of wet mice,” she says, dropping her voice to do a creditable Foghorn Leghorn impression.
“You have hidden depths, Doc.”
Half an hour later, I’m at the bus stop for the third time that day, reflecting on the fact that I really need to hurry up and get a car. It’s not strictly necessary to get around in the city, but this trip would take me only ten minutes by car, and is going to take almost forty minutes by bus, counting waiting at the stop and the walk at the end.
On the one hand, I wasn’t doing anything with the rest of my day anyway. On the other hand, waiting at a bus stop is not really better than not doing anything.
Fortunately, we live in modern times, so I pass the time by browsing local car dealerships on my phone. By the time the bus arrives, I’ve found a couple that seem worth visiting to go test drive a few used cars, and have scheduled vague mental plans to go to one or more of these tomorrow. In fact, they’re pretty near each other. Maybe I can take the test drive from one dealership to the other, try out one of their cars, then drive back. Shoot, I could drive the one there, leave it, and test-drive the other back. They can swap them back later, or just wait for someone else to do the same test-drive in reverse. I bet they’d appreciate the innovation in forced partnership.
By the time I get off of the bus, my mental schedule for the rest of the week looks like this: today, corner Dr. A at Rossum Medical Supply and force him to admit his dastardly schemes. Tomorrow, new-to-me car and creation of a brilliant car-swap program. Day after: ticker-tape parade in new-to-me car.
This might seem a bit unlikely, but I’ll point out that even in these fantasy scenarios, it’s still a used car that I’m driving. I’m trying to keep things realistic.
On the walk to Rossum, I picture how things will go there. Inside, Dr. A hunches over a microscope behind the counter. Racks of packaged nanobots line the walls, all labeled with different superpowers. Dr. A looks up as the door dings, and stands up in shock to see me in the doorway.
“I’ve found your secret lair!” I proclaim, striding boldly into the shop.
Dr. A cringes back and points one broomstick arm at me, and a cloud of nanobots swarms forth to attack. I laugh and raise both hands, generating a weak but effective magnetic force that scrambles the tiny machines’ instructions. Dr. A looks on in horror as his nanos are magnetically drawn into a baseball-sized lump, which I catch out of the air and throw at him, knocking him out.
“Good has triumphed!” I declare, holding his unconscious form up by the collar outside of the shop.
If you aren’t picturing this in sepia tone with the dialogue on intertitles, with photoplayer accompaniment, go back and try it again. It’s better that way.
My dreams are dashed before I can even stride boldly into the shop, though. The outside windows are dusty and dingy, showcasing wheelchairs, crutches and adult diapers. Inside, the walls are not lined with futuristic tech in vacuum-sealed packages, but instead have canes, walkers, ointments and countless rows of various boxed supplies.
Topping it all off, the counter is not staffed by the skeletal form of Dr. A, but rather by a nondescript guy in his early twenties. “Welcome to Rossum,” he says unenthusiastically. “Let me know if I can help you with anything.”
Swallowing my disappointment, I walk up to him. “I need to see your boss,” I say.
“I’m the manager on duty at the moment,” he says, straightening up. Sure enough, beneath the NATHAN on his name tag, it says MANAGER. “What do you need?”
“No, not the manager, your boss. Who hired you?”
“What, Jules? Jules Dupont?”
“Describe him! Wait, is that a guy or a girl?”
“Yeah, he’s a guy,” says Nathan. “I don’t know. Like, mid-fifties, brown hair? Glasses?”
“Is he abnormally tall and thin?” I press.
“What? No, why? Are you looking for someone?”
“Yeah, I’m looking for the guy who owns this place. Who owns this shop?”
“Dude, I don’t know. Did he do something?”
“We have reason to believe,” I say, leaning in conspiratorially, “that this store is being used in the production and trade of some illicit substances.”
I was hoping to take the guy in with my pseudo-Fed lingo, but he pulls away from me, shaking his head. “No way. There’s nothing like that going on here.”
“You don’t even know the owner. How can you be sure?”
“I’m basically the only employee. If I’m not here, the shop’s not open. If it were going on, I’d be the one doing it. And I’m not.”
“What about when the shop’s closed?” I think this is a fairly clever question, but Nathan looks at me like I’m an idiot.
“Do I think the shop has a thriving drug trade when it’s closed? No, because someone would notice the lights on and walk inside. Have you ever worked retail? If people can get in, they will, and then demand that you sell them something. Anyone who tried to sell drugs in an open storefront like this would get noticed immediately.”
“Who said it was drugs?”
“You said ‘production and trade of illicit substances.’ What else could it be?”
I don’t have a good answer for that. I mean, I have the real answer, but that’s not a good one. Instead, I just say, “Can I have Mr. Dupont’s number, please? We’d like to get in touch with him.”
Nathan obligingly passes me a business card. I thank him for his time, and then leave. While waiting for the bus, I compare the actual scenario to my imagined one, and find that it falls rather short. Good did not even come close to triumphing today.
I check my phone, and sigh when I see I still have twelve more minutes until the next bus. Good really needs to get a car again.