On a cold February morning in the East Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago, a young man is standing at a bus stop, waiting for his ride to work from a coworker. He’s talking with the regulars at the corner about the unbelievable start the Blackhawks have had since the lockout ended and hockey resumed play. Two of the regulars include a young mother and her four-year-old son. As usual, she’s on her way to the hospice where she is a caregiver for a terminal cancer patient. Bringing her son with her helps twice; first, because she doesn’t have to fork over half her pay for childcare, and second, because the dying man does better when her son is there.
As they’re talking and trying to stay warm, something at his left catches the young man’s attention. As he turns, he sees a car sliding on the icy street and heading towards the mother and child; he steps in front of them and tells them to run. Then the impossible happens. The errant car almost hits the young man, but he doesn’t move. Rather, he puts his gloved hand on the hood of the car and it comes to a halt, releasing the driver’s airbag. The young man gives the vehicle a slight nudge and moves it back into the street. He walks over to the driver’s window and sees a startled woman who seems to be going into shock. He pulls out his cell and dials 9-1-1.
Within minutes the ambulance, with a fire engine and police escort, arrives on the scene. The young man explains what happened. It’s cut and dried. No crime was committed and the only person affected was the woman in the car. The young man’s friend arrives and he drives away, off to work. Then the boy points at the hood of the woman’s vehicle.
“Look, Mommy. Stoney left his handprint on the lady’s car.”
The mother looks, but she doesn’t believe what she sees. ‘Handprint’ doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s a three-quarter-inch deep imprint of Stoney’s gloved left hand.
The next morning, for the first time since the mother and son first met Stoney McGee, he failed to show up.
= = =
“Come on, Gary! The boy and his mom didn’t have a chance! What was I supposed to do?”
“I know, I know… it just ticks me off that your cover was blown after all the effort you spent trying to keep your power secret. So what do you do now?”
“Well, I called in sick this morning. I found at least three cell phone videos on YouTube, so I didn’t want to go back to the corner. I can’t quit my job. I’m going to have to move or something. I’m glad the newspapers are treating this as a hoax.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. Have you seen Sneed in the Sun-Times? She was hinting towards it being real. She said she got a copy of the police report and found the car with the handprint.”
“Crap! Why is this happening? All I did was protect Rachel and her son.”
“Look, man, this might work out OK. If they find you, tell ’em you don’t know how you did it. Equate it to a mom lifting a car off her son. We hear those stories every once in a while, so it should make sense.”
“Yeah… you might be right. I really don’t want to move again.”
= = =
In a secure facility, two hundred feet below the streets of Chicago, less than five miles from the site of Stoney’s heroic act, Gil Iverson gets a hit on one of his bots. As per Standard Operating Procedures, he runs a background check on Brian McGee. He finds nothing dating back more than five years. He runs it again. Same results. He searches for Stoney McGee. Again, he can find nothing older than five years.
“Hmmm… is Mr. McGee hiding something?”
Gil checks Cook County Court records and gets a hit. It seems that Mr. McGee got a court order to change his name when he was seventeen… the same court order that granted him emancipation from his parents. Gil starts a file on Stoney and adds his name to the list for Dave Taylor.
= = =
It’s lunchtime at Lombard High School and Ed, Tim, Jerry and I are sharing a table.
“Mike, have you guys finished planning the GSA Dance yet?”
“Pretty much, Ed… you should tell your parents that it’s just a school dance. It really is. The entire school is invited to it, so it’s really not a gay dance. As far as the name of the dance goes, GSA won’t be mentioned in it so we can get a better turnout.”
“What’s the theme of it?”
“We haven’t decided yet. It’s going to be in March, so we were thinking of either basketball for March Madness, or Saint Patrick’s Day. If it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, it’ll be a costume dance.”
“Haha! What self-respecting guy would wear a costume to a high school dance?”
“I think they’d be the same ones who dressed up for the Halloween Dance last October,” I said.
“Yeah,” Jerry said, “there were more than five-hundred students who attended and almost all of them wore some kind of a costume. If it’s a Saint Patrick’s Day Dance, everyone has to wear something that’s green.”
“And if it’s a March Madness Dance?”
“We haven’t decided about that yet,” Tim said.
“Look, Ed,” I continued, “your folks wouldn’t have trouble with either a basketball or a Saint Patrick’s Day theme, would they? What the heck, your dad loves sports and your last name, Kirby, is Irish. What’s not to like?”
“You might have something there, Mike. When is the dance?”
“We have the gym reserved for Saturday, March 16.”
“Heck! That’s perfect, the day before Saint Patrick’s Day! I think I’ll let Mom know I’m going to it when I get home this afternoon.”
“That’s great, Ed!”
Ed sighed. “I still wish I could dance with you there.”
“Maybe you can, Ed, maybe you can… let me think about this a bit more.”
For the first time since we got to lunch, Ed was smiling.
Eventually, the bell rang and we moved on to our afternoon classes. At the end of the day, Ed went home with the good news, and Jerry, Tim and I went to the GSA meeting. When we gave our reasons for wanting a Saint Patrick’s Day theme, all the girls and most of the boys agreed with us. No one could think of any fun things that we could do with a basketball theme… not even the two guys who wanted it. It looked like we won and Saint Patrick’s Day it was. The next order of business was to appoint a decoration committee, who would beg for decorations and funding from the school.
For the rest of the meeting we designed posters and notices to put up around the school. Mr. Harper took the designs and told us that he’d get school approval before we made the final product. Our resident artists said they’d check with him on Wednesday after school. Jerry and Tim volunteered to type up the email that we’d send to all the students and Megan and Amber volunteered to type up the bulletin board notices. The hour was up and we felt good about our accomplishments. Jerry’s mom picked him up and offered to give us a ride, too. As cold as it was, we gladly accepted.
= = =
Pete O’Brien was looking through the list of names for Dave Taylor when Brian McGee’s name caught his eye. For some reason, the name seemed familiar to him, but he couldn’t quite place it. He pulled up Gil’s notes and it all came back to him. Patrick Moran was a sixteen-year-old boy who had challenged his parents in court. He had created a search algorithm that was so unique that he was awarded a patent for it. His parents, who had barely provided for him, decided to take over the business account that Patrick opened and they began squandering all his money. He sued them for embezzling and filing false reports. When that was won, he sued for emancipation. Part of the court order decreed that Patrick could change his name. He also requested, and was granted, a restraining order to keep his parents away from him.
Gil’s searches found that Patrick Moran was now Brian McGee. He was trying to keep a low profile since graduating from the University of Illinois, Chicago with dual bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. He was working in an entry-level position for a telecom company in the Loop. Pete went to discuss it with Gil before going home for the day. It was time that Stoney earned what he was worth.
Pete knocked on the door to Gil’s office and waited for the invitation to enter. Once Gil called out to him, he opened the door and stepped in.
“Hey, Boss, haven’t you left yet?”
“In a minute or two. Gil, that kid you got the hit on, Stoney McGee? We have an opening for a lab tech. Do you think he’s qualified for the position?”
“Yeah, but hiring him away from the telecom company might be a bit costly. Can we afford it?”
“Gil, he’s making forty a year and doing grunt work. With the income from his patent, he’s probably not impressed by the salary, but we could double his pay and give him a much more challenging job. I think a dog and pony show would impress him. I know we haven’t met him yet, but from what you’ve seen on paper, is there any reason we wouldn’t want him on board?”
“Judging by his patent, his skillset is perfect for us, and we could easily afford $80,000.”
“So you agree?”
“Good. I’ll call him tonight and set up an interview. Don’t stay too late, Gil. I don’t want you to burn out.”
“Hehe. Thanks, Pete. I’ll be leaving in about twenty minutes. Goodnight.”
= = =
Matt Spencer Skyped Tim just after we got home. This time I was there and we moved Tim’s laptop to the kitchen so we could start preparing supper. Matt told us that his dad stuck up for him and his sister and they could still go to their regular school. To placate Mrs. Spencer, it was decided that their security people would drive them to school and other security people would monitor all entrances to the building. Matt didn’t know what that was costing, but he was sure that his dad could afford it… easily.
Tim told Matt about the GSA Club and the Saint Patrick’s Day Dance they were holding. Then, as we knew it would, it happened.
“Tim, Mike, are you guys gay?”
I spoke up first. “I am, Matt. But Tim’s not.”
“Matt, I’m bi,” Tim added.
“I’d have never guessed! I hope this doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.”
“Haha! That was supposed to be MY line, Matt!”
“Hehe. Sorry, Tim. Look. You guys are thousands of miles away, so neither of you is going to want to date me, right?”
“It’s not likely, Matt, and besides, we each have someone lined up already. So you’re out of luck.”
“Aww… now I’m hurt. But seriously, guys, it doesn’t matter. You two are still my favourite Americans. That’s ‘favourite’ with a ‘U’.”
“Don’t try to trick us, Matt. We have analog voice filters that pull the superfluous ‘U’s from your words.”
“Haha! OK, you got me. I’m going to bed. Goodnight, guys.”
“Goodnight, Matt,” we said in unison, and then we ended the call.
“That was kinda good news, Mike.”
“Yeah, it could have been a lot worse for Matt and Meg. Mr. Spencer came to the rescue.”
We went back to preparing supper. Tonight Tim was making Fish & Chips. I think he was influenced by talking with Matt two days in a row. The portions were prepared by Gorton’s and Ore-Ida. The desert was from Jell-O… we made butterscotch pudding. Since the fish and the fries both bake in the oven at the same temperature, all we had to do was put a sheet of aluminum foil on each of two cookie sheets and, after lightly coating the foil with vegetable oil, lay the fish out on one and the fries on the other. Once that was ready to go, I fixed the salad and Tim made the pudding. It was easy, actually. Put two cups of milk into a quart Mason jar, add the instant pudding mix, cover and shake for about a minute or two. Then, before it started to set up, Tim poured the mixture into desert dishes and put them in the refrigerator to chill and thicken.
We had a bit of a wait, so Tim and I started our homework. The timer sounded just as Uncle Pete was walking in the door. Tim does a great job of timing things. We each gave Uncle Pete a hug and he rushed off to wash up. When he returned, we sat down to supper.
We told Uncle Pete about the Saint Patrick’s Day dance and how Ed was excited that he could probably go to it. Then, uncharacteristically, Uncle Pete told us about his day. He and Gil thought they might have found the perfect fit for their data mining project. He seemed pretty excited about it. So much so that Tim and I were finished with our meals long before Uncle Pete. But we sat there quietly listening and asking questions. Finally, Uncle Pete finished his meal and I removed our plates while Tim brought out the pudding. Then Uncle Pete told us that he was going to call the guy at home tonight and set up an appointment with him, hopefully for tomorrow.
When supper was over, Tim and I started the dishes and Uncle Pete excused himself to make his phone call. We loaded the dishwasher and cleaned the stove, counters and the kitchen table, and then we started the dishwasher. Then we went back to our homework. Just as we were starting, Uncle Pete came back in the kitchen to tell us that he’d be arriving late tomorrow night and not to make anything for him; he’d eat downtown.
“Sounds like you have an interview coming up, Uncle Pete. Good luck with the guy.”
“That’s exactly what it is; thanks, Tim. I should be home around ten tomorrow night.”
= = =
“Gary, that was some guy named Pete O’Brien at Chicago Binary Investigations.”
“Whoa! Is he investigating you? That could really suck.”
“No! He wants me to come in for an interview! Somehow he found out about my patent and he said he has a position open that I’d be a perfect candidate for! Do I sound excited? I should! I am! Haha!”
“Take it slowly, Stoney. And for God’s sake, don’t wear that silly grin in there tomorrow! What time is the interview?”
“I told him I get off at five so he said to be there by six. It’s on the way home, at Milwaukee and Augusta. I better call my carpool and let them know I’m driving tomorrow.”
“Stoney, don’t fall in love with the job until after you get home and talk with me about it. Check on medical benefits and make sure they support domestic partners.”
“That’s a good point, Gary. Let me jot down some notes here so I don’t forget.” And Stoney took out his notepad and began writing. After a bit, he looked up and said, “I should probably update my résumé, too.”
He went to his PC, opened the document and brought it up to date with his most recent accomplishments. Then he printed five copies. When he was satisfied that he was ready, he joined Gary in the living room and watched TV until it was time for his shower. He went to his bedroom, stripped and wrapped a towel around his waist before walking to the bathroom. He was just settling into the warm spray of the water when Gary stepped in with him.
“I love you.”
“I love you more. Hehe.”
= = =
The next morning Stoney drove to his Loop office and grimaced when he saw how much the parking was going to cost. His cost was one quarter as much with his car pool friends. If he took the new job, he already knew that he would take the bus back and forth every day. He also knew that he didn’t have to work, but that was never an option for him.
His day passed more slowly as he tried to imagine what the position would be. He was also curious as to how O’Brien had found him. ‘I guess I’ll find that out at six,’ he thought to himself.
Finally, the day was done and he followed the directions that he had written down the night before. The GPS in his phone got him to the address quickly enough, now all he had to do was pull up to the parking lot gate and enter the six-digit code he had been given. Once he parked his car, he walked over to the non-descript entrance and pushed the doorbell button, as he had been instructed to do. Almost instantly, he heard an electronic voice asking him to face the security camera. He complied. Next, the disembodied voice requested that he open the door and step in. Again, he complied.
After the door closed, he heard the voice yet again. “Welcome to Chicago Binary Investigations. Please hold the handrail as we descend to the complex.”
‘Great! They’re working out of the basement of a messenger service,’ he thought, and he wondered if he was making a mistake.
After the first fifteen seconds, he started to wonder where he was descending to… he was much farther down than the basement level and he was still going down. Finally, after about twenty seconds, the elevator halted and the voice asked him to face the rear of the car for exit. As he turned around, the rear wall raised up. He found himself facing what looked like an ordinary office building hallway that went on much farther than he thought the property would allow. Two men were facing him and the one on the left spoke.
“Thanks, for coming, Stoney. It’s good to meet you. I’m Pete O’Brien and this is Gil Iverson. We’re the ones who will be interviewing you. I’m sure you have questions after descending to our complex, and all of them will be answered in due time. But first, let’s go to the conference room.” Then they turned and started to walk away. They didn’t even shake his hand.
As he stood there dumbfounded, Gil turned and said, “Please follow us.” This was unlike any job interview that Stoney had ever been on. He took a deep breath and followed the men to the conference room. Once inside, he was offered a seat and asked if he would like a cup of coffee or tea, or possibly a soft drink or water. He chose the water.
Pete began. “Stoney, make yourself comfortable and relax. Let me tell you about the company…” For the next ten minutes, Pete gave Stoney the short version of the company’s history. When he was finished, Stoney attempted, unsuccessfully, to hide his surprise and wonder. He had never imagined that a civilian company would be so involved with data mining… or on such a large scale. This place seemed like a civilian version of the NSA as far as monitoring communications went, yet, if he could believe O’Brien, it was being run by a handful of people.
“Pete, that’s an incredible story. Pardon me for being skeptical, but do you have any proof that it’s real; that this is what you do here?”
O’Brien looked at Iverson and nodded. “Let’s go with Gil and he’ll take you on a tour of our facility.” Thirty minutes later, they returned to the conference room and Stoney’s head was swimming with all the things he saw on the tour.
“Wow! I can’t believe only four people do all of this!”
“Well… we actually have six people. We have an investment advisor. He’s paid on the success – or failure – of his investments for our 401(k). For the last three years, even with the economy as it is, our 401(k) has averaged eighteen percent per year.
“I also have a secretary who keeps all the paperwork and makes sure we get paid. There’s one thing she doesn’t do though… she doesn’t make coffee. So when the pot is empty, whoever took the last cup has to make the next pot. Hehe.”
“Haha! I could do that much, I’m sure.”
“Stoney, I think you can do that and much more for us. The work you did on your algorithm is proof enough. I want to challenge your brain every day and I want you to come to work because you want to, not just because you need something to kill time. At the end of each day, I want you to feel as though you’ve made a difference.”
“That’s all well and good, but what about benefits? What’s the insurance like?”
“Unlike most companies, we have fully paid medical, dental and eye care coverage. We don’t deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and there is never a copay. We handle everything and we encourage all employees to see their doctors and dentists at least twice a year. And this free coverage is extended to all family members, whether married or domestic partners.”
“You cover domestic partners?”
“Sure. Domestic partners need the help as much as a spouse does. Even their kids are covered, and from birth. Stoney, if an employee of mine has a problem at home, he’s not going to be totally here; a part of him is going to be worried about his problems.
“As I said before, we have a 401(k) plan and for every dollar you put into it, we will add a dollar, up to the yearly limit set by the government.”
“Pete, how did you come about looking for me originally?”
“It was your incident on Monday that caught the attention of one of our bots. It spends the day searching for people with extraordinary powers. Trust me, Stoney, you are not alone.”
“Why were you looking?”
“The short story is that a friend of mine has a network of people like you; people who have powers and use them to help others. Your selfless act let us know about you. You didn’t have to step in, but something wouldn’t let you stand idly by and do nothing. You were the kind of person that we were seeking. As we ran a background check on you, we saw that your history started only five years ago. So Gil looked further and found your case in the Cook County Court records. We decided that your skillset was something that we could use here. We’re still going to let my friend know about you, so when Dave Taylor calls you out of the blue some day in the future, listen to him.”
“What if I don’t take your job offer?”
“Not a thing. You’ll still be working at the phone company and some day they might even have you doing something interesting. You’ll walk out of here with no animosity on our part, but I’d request that you still listen to Dave Taylor when he calls.”
“And what are you offering me if I accept the job?”
“How much are you making at the phone company?”
“Good. That’s about what we figured. We’d like to offer you forty-two as well… $42 an hour.”
“Geeze! That’s more than 87K!”
“$87,360, to be exact.”
“I-I-I have to think this over. Can I call you tomorrow?”
“This is a pretty big step for you, so please do. And talk it over with your partner.”
“You knew? And you still asked me in?”
“We saw your Facebook page. Don’t worry. Dave Taylor found that almost all the guys with special powers are gay… the rest are bi.”
= = =
Stoney couldn’t wait to get home. He put on his headphones and dialed Gary. “DUDE!!! THEY OFFERED ME 87K!!!”
“Haha! Are you shitting me?”
“That’s not all! They have great medical, dental and eye care, too! Their 401(k) is averaging eighteen percent and they match me to the max that I can contribute!”
“Well get home now! This calls for a celebration! We’re going out to dinner and I’m buying!”
“Nothing expensive, Gary. I haven’t accepted the job yet.”
“We can talk about it at D.S. Tequila on Halsted. I’m up for one of their burgers. I’ll see you shortly.”
= = =
“For a rich kid, he seemed impressed by the salary. I wonder why that was.”
“I checked his finances. He supports himself on his salary. His money is invested and he set it up so he can’t touch it. He’s rich on paper, but he and his partner both have to work to make their expenses. This was just what he needed. I expect him to accept tomorrow, Pete.”
“I’m hungry. C’mon.”
“What? Didn’t Tim cook today?”
“Hehe. Nah, I told them I’d eat in the city tonight. I wasn’t sure how long the interview would go. Let’s get a steak.”