MR. TWELVE I. M. Gardner Copyright © 2016 by I. M. Gardner This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. For permission requests, please contact the publisher. I. The Silver Bullet Sept 23rd. Some said we have killed people here. I’m not sure. It’s certainly possible. I think it adds to the mystic though. After all, business is booming. We are not liable for accidents. I have read about liabilities and lawyers from the past eras. But, lawyers went extinct, along with tigers and elephants and hundreds of other things. My heart saddens for them. Not for the lawyers,… for the elephants. Anyways, everyone takes their own chances now with the risks. We are still here, risky as hell, willing to satisfy a serious thrill. And it pays well. But I digress, It’s my job that I want to describe for you. My schooling is very expensive, so I operate this famous thrill ride for the bucks. Not just any thrill ride, but the biggest, hippest, most fantastic ride around. The official name is “Sky Slide”, but for those of us that work here, there are less flattering names for it. It’s very ingenuous. Try to imagine two long, parallel walls separated by twelve feet of openness. These mirror–image walls start high on a peak and run downhill for sixty yards to the drop off…that being an abrupt cliff that overlooks the valley, two thousand feet below. The walls are thick, full of apparatus that make the rides possible. High inside of each wall is a slot, or channel, in which rides a long bar. This is the sailing bar. People pay good money to ride this bar down the long groove in the walls, building speed like a jet, only to go launching off the cliff with the bar. Most all of the time, the soaring sails deploy from both ends of the bar. It’s the wildest six seconds to be had. Part of the thrill is wondering if the sails will really deploy. They almost always do. People try it and scream and cry and then bring others to do it all over again. It’s a crazy thrill like no other. I ought to know, I’ve done it thirty seven times now. Each time, I wondered if my ride would be the one in a thousand that malfunctions. Today though, I was just operating it. No riding for me. What I do appears easy at first. I sit just to the side of the wall entrance at a station full of buttons and levers. I don’t take money, that’s handled far up the line. My job is to customize the set up for each rider as they approach the breach. First, they step on a remote scale. I use their true weight to safely set the internal sail pressure. Next a sexy voice recording requests them to stretch their arms up and grab a squishy foam roller. This gives me their torso and arm length and records their hand size. I use this data to pre-load the locking gloves and trike seats. After this, the real flight bar comes up from underground and stops at just the right stretch for their height. The rider then reaches up into the hand gauntlets and hears a hiss as the bar gloves secure their hands in high-pressure molten gel. They can’t let go now. I’ve seen many panic at this point, but it’s for their own good. The ride doesn’t rely on each rider’s strength, it secures them to the bar for their own safety. This is where I try to support them a little. That’s really why I’m here. Most any of our technicians can adjust the buttons and levers necessary for a safe ride, but I help them when they need it most. I talk to them. I’ve learned to read each type of person and what they need, right then, in their point of no return. They range from totally terrified, to…I’ve got to show I’m not scared, to…rad man, hit me with everything you got! It’s my job to know who is which type. For those riders that are terrified, I usually ask them their name. I repeat it back to them calmly and tell them I’m personally allowing them to close their eyes. I tell them to open them when they feel like they are softly floating on a cloud. They usually nod and try to smile. For those that are scared, but aren’t allowed to show it, I usually give them a thumbs up. Then I tell them they look good doing this, like they were born for this. Then I add a “You’ve got this Sir, (or ma’am)”. It works. For the head bangers, I just say something like; “Make me proud bro.” And flash them the cool thumb swivel. Then I watch the bar slowly elevate to lift them as they settle into their trike sling. I watch to make sure all the stress points are correct, then push a final lever. The bar climbs up over an oval curve, clicking smoothly into the long slots on each inner wall. It jerks softly once, then takes off down the slots, gaining speed from the mechanized launcher inside the walls. The rail slots end when the bar and rider reach exactly fifty two miles per hour and they shoot out over the valley with nothing but two thousand feet of thin air under them. As soon as the smart bar detects the actual launch, balanced sails are deployed in sequenced bursts, slowing the rider’s speed. Within six seconds, the rider is gliding softly in a slow turn, headed safely to a landing spot, complete with a smiling hostess to offer them the pre-determined beverage of their choice. All this costs quite a bit, but they get their money’s worth. I had just safely launched a manic, young head-banger type when I noticed a ruckus up the line. I spotted a man in our official blue “Sky Captain” coveralls. He was pushing into the crowd. I knew right away it was Bill Planter, the trouble-maker. Bill had been demoted more times than I can remember in my short job here, but he was related to the owner. Hence he was still here. I watched for a second, then threw a lock lever, pulled my smart chip from the console and started back that way. Bill had a bad habit of flirting with good looking women and then insinuating that everything would go be better if they did a “tandem run”. The veiled threat was that everything might not go well if they turned him down. It was a cheap trick, preying on their insecurity to verbally molest them the whole, slow ride down. I didn’t tolerate it on my crew and he knew that. As I approached, I saw the target of his scam. She was striking; a brunette, tall and stately. She had on a form fitting jump suit of satin silver and she made it look good. Everything on her that had curves seemed to stretch the suit just a bit. She had on aviator shades and her long hair was tied back in a ponytail. Her tanned face had just a hint of Eurasian to it. Her eyes remained a mystery. She was obviously with someone. Standing between her and Bill Planter was an older, distinguished looking man. He had the look of wealth. He was right at home in $200 khakis, a golf shirt and a blue-faced Rolex Oyster. His wavy hair was blond with grey tints nicely blended in. He shared the same healthy tan as his attractive date. “Sir, leave the lady alone, she has already turned down your offer.” The gentleman was explaining to Bill. I was walking quickly now, I could smell trouble. “Hey now, you need to think about this. How could you even allow yourself to risk such a fine squeeze like this without professional assistance. I think you are making a big mistake old Geezer.” Bill lashed back. The woman pushed Bill away now in disgust. I was almost there. I saw Bill double up his fist and glare at the gentleman. I didn’t have to guess at what was coming next. I just got there in time. I shoved Bill sideways as I came in hard, shoulder first. He staggered and hit the ground. “Back to the souvenir shop, Captain Planter.” I pointed up the hill. He looked at me with murder in his eyes. Finally, he stood and glared at the three of us. I stepped forward between Bill and the two guests. He broke his stare and dusted off his coveralls. “Have fun Kimber, consider this your last shift.” He threatened and turned away. “Yeah, who died and made you boss?” I asked. He kept walking, but spit on the ground like he was actually tough. I let it go. “You guys ok?” I asked, as I turned back to the handsome couple. “Yeah, we’re ok I guess. Wasn’t really expecting a ruffian to besiege us, but you seemed to straighten things out nicely.” The man said. He held out his hand. “Nathan Wright.” “Pleased to meet you Mr. Wright. I’m Arron Kimber and I apologize for that.” I smiled. “This is Ana Regrasso.” He offered, waving his hand across her shoulder. “Pleased to meet you.” I smiled at her to see my teeth gleam back at me from her $300 shades. “We really appreciate you stepping in to help Mr. Kimber. I’d hate for Nathan to get all scuffed up on his birthday.” She offered her hand in the international dip. She had a stirring accent, but I couldn’t quite place it. I gently clasps my hands on her own. It was sleek and warm. “Let’s hope for a scuff-free day then.” I laughed. There were beginning to be cat-calls as the people nearest the breach were getting impatient. “Well, off to work, I’ll see you two in about eight minutes, if I do my job correctly.” I let go and started to turn. “Nathan gets anything he desires for his birthdays, you know Mr. Kimber.” She added. I paused. It was the way she had said it. It sounded very wealthy. Or very sexy. Maybe both. “Well this should be a good start then. See you at the launch.” I offered and turned, hoping I could tear myself away. Even as total strangers, I felt like I had spent hours with them. But work was work. These people in line depended on me. I escaped to resume my launches. I made sure to put extra effort into my personal support of these frightened and anxious patrons. Before long the familiar silver curves moved patiently into my peripheral vision. I took just a little extra care with these two. I successfully launched Nathan Wright with the scared, but can’t show it routine and he seemed to fly away in the best of moods. Next, Ana Regrasso stepped on the scales…a perfect 117 pounds. Then she pounced off like a cat and sauntered over to my console. She handed me a small business card. I tilted it in the sunlight. It was parchment yellow with only two tiny lines of print. “Wright Enterprises Ltd.” Below this was a single international phone number. On the back was the number “12”, hand scrolled with a ball point. “Your talents are wasted here Mr. Kimber.” She said. She lowered her shades and met my eyes. I’ve never seen such perfect eyes. There were browns and ambers and a darkness that seemed to look right through me. I found myself staring back into them. The few brief seconds that she held my eyes seemed like hours. Finally my brain seemed to respond. “And who’s going to answer?” I managed to get out. “Does it matter Mr. Kimber?” she purred. “Just tell them you are Mr. Twelve. That’s all.” She smiled. “Um, ok, thank you Ms. Regrasso.” I tried to smile. Not sure I pulled it off. “Please now, just call me Ana.” She said with one last stare to sear my eyeballs. With that she pounced back in line and reached up for the foam bar. The jump suit seemed to stretch nicely for her. She had me. For the first time ever, I couldn’t decide what pep talk to give my customer. I just focused on double-checking all the safety parameters and pulled the big lever to let her fly. She looked like a silver bullet streaking away. * * * * I lay in bed watching my wrist phone glow in the dark. Chunky, my black lab, lay across my feet. Sigh…this used to be so cute when he was a puppy. Eighty eight pounds later, it was just slow torture. I had the business card from today setting next to me on the night table. It would be so easy to pick it up and dial that tiny, un-assuming little number there. But, what was it all about? They seemed so friendly, so alluring. Almost too good to be true. The perfect front for something illegal,…like stealing internal organs. I shivered and had just decided to toss the card when my wrist phone lit up. It was from the Sky Slide office. “Hello?” I asked. “Arron, this is Mr. Miller, hated to call so late.” He said rather briskly. “It’s all right Mr. Miller, is everything ok?” I asked, hoping no one had died since I got off shift. “Well no, there is a problem. I heard you assaulted Billy today.” He sounded pissed. “Well, Billy was accosting a couple of paying customers today. I sent him back up to the shops. No one was hurt.” I offered honestly. “Arron, that’s my nephew, you can’t be bullying him. You’re half a foot taller and got forty pounds of muscle on him. I won’t have it!” He stated, obviously still upset. “Yes sir, I understand your concern. I would think the customers come first Sir. Isn’t that what you’ve always told me?” I spoke honestly. “They do, damn it! And Billy comes second, he’s family for Christ’s sake. You, Arron Kimber, are a distant third. Do I make myself clear?” He was almost screaming. “Yes, I can hear you, no need to yell.” I offered calmly. “Fine.” He sounded quieter. “We’re going to have to address this. I want you to take a week off. Without pay. Think about things.” He said slowly, like it was the end of the world. “That’s fine Sir, no problem.” I offered, not feeling at all like it was the end of the world. “And don’t go looking for a job, I need you.” He added. “I know sir. Don’t let Billy kill anyone while I’m gone.” I said bluntly. “Damn it Kimber!” He started yelling again. I laid my arm under the pillow and tickled Chunky’s broad head with my right foot. Chunky stretched his legs out stiff, and acted like he might get up, but just fell back into an apparent coma. When the ranting stopped under my pillow, I brought my wrist phone back near my face. “Ok, look, sorry to keep you up with all this.” He finally offered, sounding burned out. “No problem Sir, I don’t have work tomorrow.” I said evenly. I thought I heard a faint growl as he hung up. Poor guy, he was caught between a rock and a hard place. I wasn’t worried. I knew he was over-worked when I wasn’t there. And Karma would catch up to Billy Planter, not a doubt in my mind. …now, what to do tomorrow… I got up and went into the kitchen. I noticed Chunky managed to recover from his coma and met me in the kitchen. I made cereal and took it back to my bedroom. Chunky slobbered at his water bowl and then followed me back. I could hear sirens down at the waterfront. Probably another paid “hit”. They were legal now you know. If you knew what you were doing and could afford the price, it was all quasi-legal. I tuned the sirens out and reached for the card. What the hell…why not? I slowly clicked the numbers into my wrist phone. I hit “send”. It rang for six or seven times before I heard it pick up. “Wright Enterprises, how may I direct your call?” said a stiff female voice. “Yes good evening, Mr. Wright gave me a card with this number on it. He asked me to call it.” I said simply. “Sir Mr. Wright is unavailable. May I connect you to a certain division? Perhaps voice mail? She offered it like she had said it half a million times. “Which division would be interested in a call from Mr. Twelve?” I asked, taking a chance. There was a long pause. “Oh I see, stay on the line, I’m going to transfer the call. Can you hold for one minute Sir?” She asked nicely now, with concern in her voice. “Sure, I’m not going anywhere.” I said. I felt the bed jolt as Chunky leaped back into his favorite spot. He was on his own, …no warm feet to crush. This was kind of exciting. I was either going to get a job offer or lose a kidney. I figured it was about 60/40 odds on the kidney. “Thank you for holding, I’m going to transfer you now.” said the same female. There was a pop and a half-ring. “Who’s speaking please?” said a new female voice. “Hello. This is Arron Kimber.” “Pardon?” She said with an arrogant tone. “I’m Mr. Twelve.” I added. There was another pause. “You have a Nathan Wright business card?” She asked like she didn’t believe me. “Yes I do, I’m holding it.” “Can you turn it over, read me the back please?” She asked. “Twelve.” I answered. “In digits or cursor?” She asked like it was a test. “Digits.” I said, standing and walking to the window. It was a beautiful night; no more sirens. “It is underlined,… correct?” She asked. Somehow her voice urged me to say “yes”. “No, there is no underline.” I said simply. “Thank you Arron Kimber, please hold.” She said a bit more pleasantly. I felt odd that she had just said my name like it was etched in stone. Almost as if it was too late to hang up. ..what have I done? There was another click. A new voice, female. “Mr. Eleven?” The new female asked. Another test I suppose. “No.” I said back. “Tell me who you are then.” It was a command. “I’m Mr. twelve?” I asked. “You don’t sound very sure.” She said. “I’m not sure about this call, no. I’ve been quite patient actually. I met Nathan Wright and Ana Regrasso today. They gave me a card and told me to call. I was to say I’m Mr. Twelve. I’ve done that to my best abilities. If there is a mistake, we can stop right here. I have grown tired of convincing you I am Mr. Twelve, especially, given the fact I’m not even sure if I want to be Mr. Twelve.” I asserted myself. “Yes, understandable, Mr. …Arron Kimber.” She agreed pleasantly. There they go with that full name again. “I am so sorry for the inconvenience. Mr. Kimber, I am totally convinced you are Mr. Twelve. Forgive our inquiries. We must be thorough here at Wright Enterprises. Hope you understand.” She sounded sincere this time. “Thank you, now can someone please tell me what Mr. Twelve even means?” “Well of course. Hang on for one more transfer. You will be speaking to Ms. Fleming next. Ok? Last transfer tonight Mr. Kimber, you have my word.” She said warmly. I felt a little better. I’m not sure I should feel better. Click… “Arron Kimber? Hello?” Another female voice. “Yes this is Arron Kimber aka. Mr. Twelve. Whatever the hell that even means. And that’s my first question, Ms. Fleming. If you can answer that, I’ll stay on the line.” I rattled off, meaning every word. “Well, we certainly want you to stay Mr. Kimber. Let me explain to you what is going on. Mr. Wright and Ms. Regrasso have started a new division. A new enterprise, as it were. It is in the developmental stage. There is room in this new enterprise for twelve employees. Well, more specifically, twelve field technicians. You, my assertive friend, are the latest to be recruited.” She offered in a cheerful voice. “No offense Ms. Fleming, but I feel like I just won a trip to the Bahamas and I’m waiting for the fine print.” I said honestly. She laughed. It sounded genuine. “Mr. Kimber, oh, and by the way, you can drop the Mr. Twelve, we are finished with that nonsense. Mr. Kimber, I assure you, Nathan Wright and Ana Regrasso are not in business to push time shares. They are very successful and selective in their endeavors and personnel. I can assure you this is a legitimate offer of employment and, rather you chose to believe it or not, you are very fortunate to receive it.” She managed to say it all in one breath without even sounding condescending. She was good, I’ll give her that. “How do I know you are not just after my kidney?” I asked. “What blood type are you Arron?" There was a pause. “I’m KIDDING Mr. Kimber. Goodness you are a hard sell young man.” She laughed. It was genuine again. “Repeat after me, we are NOT after your body parts.” She instructed. “Um, we are not after your body parts.” I repeated. “Close enough, are we done with the gloomy talk Mr. Kimber?” She was light and warm. “For now, yes. So what else can you me tell about what I’ve gotten myself into? I asked. “What did you do today to impress Mr. Wright And Ms. Regrasso?” She asked. “Have you noticed, when I ask you a question, you ask me one back?” I said. “What question did you want to ask?” “See, just like that.” I said. “I see your point Mr. Kimber. Tell you what, there’s only so much I can divulge. In fact, there’s only so much I am privy to. Let’s do this. Let me send a car for you tomorrow. You can start the candidate application process right away. Maybe you can ask lots of questions in the process. What do you say?” She sounded final. “How long is the process?” I asked. “About three days.” She said. “Three days?” I asked. “Was that a question? Should I ask one back?” She joked. “You just did. Alright, look, I’m going to need a day to square things up.” I asserted. “Fine we’ll send a car in two days. Black SUV, 9:30am, at your front steps.” She rattled off. “How do you know where I live?” I gawked. “Mr. Kimber, how long have you been on the phone with us?” She asked. “There you go again. I’ve been on the phone about twenty minutes Ms. Fleming.” I said. “We ran your address in the first four minutes, knew your work schedule by seven. We know your GPA in grad school and I can even tell you your dog’s name.” She laughed softy. “Can you tell me my blood type?” “NO!” She said and then laughed. I laughed finally. “Alright, but I’m having a neighbor take down the license plate of the car I’m getting into.” I bluffed. “Here let me get that for you Mr. Kimber. Ready to copy it down? It’s NATHAN 12. Want me to spell it for you? She said seriously. “No, that’s quite all right. What’s your first name Ms. Fleming? After all, it only seems fair.” “Would you prefer my extension Mr. Kimber?” She asked. I just paused and bumped my head against the window. “Oh that was a question again wasn’t it?” She said sweetly. “Here, my extension is 7516 and my first name is Wendy.” She offered. “Thank you Ms. Fleming.” I etched the extension number into the window haze “I can tell you my dog’s name too if you like.” She offered. “Will that be on the test?” I asked in humor. “Do you desire a test Mr. Kimber?” she asked. “Goodnight Ms. Fleming.” “Goodnight Mr. Kimber. Can you hug Chunky for me ?” I smiled and clicked off the call. She was good. I picked up my empty cereal bowl and wandered around the house thinking. Chunky followed me. Was this for real?...Why did they decide on me?...Why did the application process take three days?...Where the hell was I going? I rinsed my bowl and gave Chunky a chew bone. I’m pretty sure he just swallowed it whole. Finally, I turned off all the lights and crawled into bed. I took my wrist phone off and powered it down. Chunky and my numb feet fell asleep long before I did.