“A thousand bucks.”
Dave knows his marks. Ratface doesn’t flinch.
“Done deal. How long?”
Dave turns to me as ratface walks away.
“Go get started, I’ll back the truck up.”
I do a quick inventory, the bedsit isn’t big but it’s worth more. So much for respecting the elderly. A photo of ratface and a woman stare out from a cluttered table. The photo finds its way to my tin, the frame to salvage.
Two hours later we leave ratface and the real estate agent shrinking in the mirrors. Dave glances at the tin on my lap.
“Yeah. Photos, letters, junk.”
“Beats me why you want it.”
“Every man needs a hobby.”
He whistles happily, runs the red light. The Royal Doulton will make him a good return.
“Whatever. Pity the poor sod who cleans out your place when you’re gone.”
I turn out the tin at home. The letters, photos and ticket stubs will go to my sister at the local history association. Not that I care, it keeps her busy and me in her good books. I keep the old nib pen, a relic I know I can shift for a few dollars. And the watch. Dave’d nearly seen it but I managed to hide it under the letters. An old Timex digital, worn but clean with a dogeared leather band. I turn it over, wipe the dust off with my sleeve. The battery cover is still in place, an inscription ‘June ’59’ above it. I slip it into my pocket.
“You serious Erin?”
She takes the loupe from her eye, gives me a doleful stare.
“What else. It’s maybe worth thirty retail, parts or working, and it won’t shift for ages. I’ve gotta keep my margins. And the crap inscription don’t help.”
“Lookit. ‘June ‘59’. Timex didn’t do digitals till the seventies. Either someone got the year wrong by a few decades or your lady was fifty nine when she got it. Believe me, none of my customers wanna know how old their ladies are.”
“And it’s charity even if it works.”
She takes the battery cover off; a small rusted disc falls out. “CR92, CR92” she mutters, rummaging through a drawer until she emerges with the disc’s shiny twin. She replaces battery and cover to be rewarded by a gentle chime.
“So it works, but this,” she says, tapping a blue button on one side “isn’t standard and does nothing. Maybe now it’s worth ten.”
I snatch it back.
“No thanks, I’ll keep it. How much for the battery?”
“Like I said, I’m feeling charitable. Just come back with something valuable next time.”
I towel off after my shower, slip on my boxers and settle down for the game. I’m early so I put the panel on mute and pick up the watch. I put it on, thread the strap through the buckle. It feels solid, like it belongs. I still can’t figure out how to set the time so I keep playing with it. I push the blue button down and hold it.
The room implodes to a black and white checked cube, then to a glass tube. A surprised woman in a lab coat looks at me. She jabs a panel beside her. Something burns my nose and throat, the room melts to black. I wake to cream-lilac tiled surfaces, a desk, an empty chair on one side and me in another opposite. The chill through my boxers is intense. The watch is gone.
A gap in the wall closes behind a short man. He sits, places the watch to one side and a small box to the other. He points to the watch.
“Where did you get this?”
“I want my lawyer.”
“There are none.”
“I know my rights. Lawyer. Phone call.”
“You have none. Not here. Not now.”
“Worse.” He points to the watch. “Where did you get this?”
I’ve been in this position before, law in front and me on the wrong side. He’s too calm, too dispassionate. He wants to know about the watch? Fine. I tell him.
“Time, date you were there?”
“10 August, about 2pm.”
“Humor me. Which year?”
Like I can go anywhere. My feet are glued to the floor.
He comes back.
“It checks out.”
“Of course it does. Now what?”
He stays silent.
“When is this?”
“How’d you guess?”
“No one has walls that open and close and I’ve never heard of anyone’s feet being stuck down without cuffs or chains. How far?”
“Whose watch was it?”
“One of ours.”
“He’s stuck back there?”
“No. Sometimes we don’t place them properly. She’s dead. Waited too long to hit recall.”
“Must’ve liked it.”
“Perhaps. It happens.”
“Will I like it here?”
“Too different. You’d be useless.”
“Always room for someone who can push a broom, pull a beer.”
“Not here, not now.”
“A choice. You can stay, but for your own sanity we’d have to… reset… your memories.”
“You mean erase.”
“Send you back.”
“No memory reset?”
“No need. Who’ll believe you?” He slides the small box across. “Take one. When you get back you’re drunk. In a month it will all be a bad dream.”
“Option two then.”
The tube shifts rapidly to cube then pitch black. I take one step and fall face first into the soaking earth, rise to my knees covered in putrid mud. To either side faint clicks and rattles, metal on metal, the dull thud of boots on wood push through the darkness.
The sky turns phosphorescent as the first shells explode over Ypres.