A little something for your weekend fun. This is a story I wrote back in 2012 that takes place in my Future LA universe. The story is about the effects of technological change in the work place. Since I’ve lived through a massive change like this in my profession, I can appreciate both what it is like to be the new kid who rides his way up the corporate ladder by embracing the “new tech”, and yet also feel for the older guy who finds himself intrenched in the “old ways” and isn’t able to make that leap. Sometimes the new guy can appreciate the knowledge and skills of the old guard, and sometimes you can teach the old dog a new trick.
At 6400 words its simply too long to sell in most markets. Its a good story, just not a sellable one, which is why I’m putting it up here. Enjoy.
Richard Credo walked past the long row of empty repair vehicles, and let his mind wander.
The underground parking structure showed its age. The grey walls were splotchy with dust and grime. Occasional cracks and hasty repairs marked the odd accident. The smooth floor was stained with a stream of dark spots and spills. In an effort to save energy, the maintenance system only turned on the overhead fluorescents that were nearby. As he walked, each light would flicker and sputter to life at his approach, then go off in eerily silence as he passed. The effect was like a miner traveling down a dark tunnel with a host of invisible companions lighting torches in front, and dousing them behind.
Each burst of light showed another bay, each like the last; two repair vans on either side, identical except for their bold black identification numbers and the odd scratch or dent. Every vehicle bore the logo for Grace Electric and Power on one side, and a smiling guard dog on the other, happily barking the company’s motto: “Safe, and Secure.”
Years ago Richard had walked this route every day, one of the hundreds of crews repairing and maintaining the millions of homes that contracted with GEP for their power. Today those homes were still safe and secure, a fact in which he took a small amount of pride.
Every time he started walking towards the garage Richard did so with the idea of visiting his old vehicle, maybe sitting down in the driver’s seat again just to see what it was like. But each time he made it down several flights of stairs the vehicles all started to jumble together, their numbers flashing across his mind, until he could not tell one van from the next, let alone recall which van was his own. He supposed there was something about the building with its rows and rows of identical vans that made it easy to forget, or perhaps it was the ghostly way the lights followed him around. Maybe it was the deep chill from being so far underground. In any event, he found the temporary forgetfulness soothing, like a cool drink on a hot summer’s day. Now that he was a busy department head with hundreds problems needing his attention day after day, the deep cool parking garage had become a blessing to him, a secret refuge.
Behind him, Richard sensed the lights come on at the end of the row, immediately followed by the tap, tap, tap of wooden high-healed shoes on bare concrete. He knew that sound. It was his assistant, Amanda. He stopped and watched the lights between them suddenly all came on at once, ending his ghostly reverie. He leaned against a nearby wall, and waited patiently for her arrive.
“Running silent again?” she asked when she got close enough to speak. It was an old joke between them. In all of the sprawling GEP complex, only the walls of the underground garage were not covered in smart film, and the parking structure played havoc with the network access. It was the only place a person could turn down their tablet and not be bothered by the outside world.
“Its been a busy morning,” Richard said as if this explained anything. Then changing the topic he said, “Your friend, Diana, from that museum. What’s it called?”
“The Antique Electrical Society?” she asked.
“That one. She kept calling this morning. Asking for our for help. Practically begging. And then, then…” he trailed off.
“I know,” she said in quiet sympathy.
“You know what’s funny?” he said. “In all of the time I’ve worked here, I never thought I would have to fire a friend, let alone my best friend.”
Amanda let out a sigh, but wisely said nothing.
“I kept telling that stupid cabrón to move to another division, to get out of field service, but he wouldn’t listen. We used to go camping together, fishing together, raised our kids together,” he spoke to the dark purple vehicle bay, his anger still fresh like an open wound. “And now…” he trailed off.
There was nothing more to say.
He let out a sigh and turned to face Amanda, ready to focus his attention back on the real world. “Sorry about that. What ch’a got?”
Amanda held in her hands a rolled sheet of what looked like paper. In reality it was a thin flexible screen; smart film. At Richard’s question she flipped her wrist and the film unrolled into a flat sheet. The surface filled rapidly with figures and blocks of text, each stacking on top of the next, vying for the busy executive’s attention. It was an exact copy of what the wall over his desk looked like, only this time there was something different. The upper right corner flashed the bright red of a high priority message.
“Some old man just went loco on one of our crews,” Amanda said.
“Anyone hurt?” he asked automatically taking the film from her.
“Not yet,” she said. At this he raised an eyebrow. She continued, “its on-going. Or at least was when I came to get you.”
Richard quickly brushed the upper corner of the film. A Video of a grey haired man in a bathrobe angrily gesturing at the camera filled the screen. He stood on his porch yelling at something or someone. Richard was trying to make out what the man was saying when he remembered he had turned down the sound on his tablet. Another brush from his hand filled the empty garage with garbled anger. It was gibberish. Not words. An untapped geyser of rage suddenly let loose. Richard noticed the old man’s eyebrows were gray and bushy, his face contorted, blue eyes menacing. In his hands he held a shotgun.
Richard was moving before he realized it. “The vans are still functional here, aren’t they?” he asked. His hand quickly found the answer on the screen before Amanda could reply. Behind him he could hear the tap, tap, tap of her shoes as she vainly tried to keep up with his long strides. Seemingly at random he entered a bay and placed his palm on the side of a van near the door. Almost immediately he heard the loud click of the locks disengaging. As he opened the door he handed Amanda the film. The lights inside the cab blinked on, and the tri-tone from the dashboard told him the van was operational. Closing the door, he lowered the window as he fastened his seatbelt. Only then did he notice the number on the dash. He had found his old van.
Years and years of old habits gave his hands something to do while his mind focused on bigger problems.
He turned to Amanda who stood outside the door, her arms wrapped around herself. “Looks like my day just got worse,” he said.
Amanda shrugged her shoulders, her wide face giving no emotion. The tires squealed on the smooth surface as he shifted into reverse. He opened his mouth to say something more through the open window, but all he could do was sigh.
As he drove off, he saw Amanda wad up the smart film into a ball, and toss it into a nearby trash can.
By the time Richard arrived, the LAPD had locked down the neighborhood and carted the old man away. Richard’s GEP ID got him past the first roadblock, and took him to the sergeant in charge. He stood around watching a few cops while they took statements from his crew. The sergeant stood under a tree pulling the feed from the smart film on the work van and all the houses around. Most people forgot that smart film was both a screen and a camera. In theory only the cops were supposed to have access the feed from your own film, but in practice it was pretty easy to find. Nowadays most people didn’t bother to change the factory password. The cop kept watching the old man step onto the porch over and over, looking to see if he actually pointed the gun at anyone, or was just threatening in general. He ran the image back and forth in slow-motion, looking at it from several angles before he finally dumped a chunk of data into a security file.
The old man’s wild eyes, his frayed and ancient bathrobe, the way his jaw worked when he yelled, all painted the same picture: Someone cut lose from the ties of society by age, and the death of friends and family, locked tight into the only place he could control, a tiny kingdom, and too stupefied at the thought of his coming demise to feel anything but rage.
When the detectives were done talking to his crew, Richard went over to see them. As he crossed the lawn he noticed the cops were already picking up their equipment.
Outside the GEP work van stood two men: Johnston and Alverez. Johnston was the younger of the two; tall and thin with light hair and mean eyes. He rarely spoke, but when he did it was with the thick accent of the east LA barrio. Alvarez was older, thicker. He’d been in field service for almost 40 years. The two had been partners for the past 10, and worked well together. They had to. Competition was fierce for the few remaining positions.
Alvarez spoke for the two of them.
“Don’t know Jefe. We got a tip last week, so we came to do an inspection. He went loco on us before we could even open the box. But it wouldn’t matter anyway.”
“We got the wrong van. That house doesn’t need a repair. It needs a refit.”
“A refit?” Richard asked. “Are you sure?”
“Just look at that panel. Its got circuit breakers. Dumb ones!” he added with obvious disgust as he shook his head. “Thing’s older than I am. Hell, its probably older than you are Jefe.”
Richard scratched his chin as he thought about the scene. Then he turned back to the crew. “You two done with LAPD?”
Johnston gave a grunt. His idea of laughing. Both men rolled their eyes, but said nothing.
“In that case, I’ll finish up here. You up for the next call, or do you want me to get another crew to cover your shift?”
“Naw. We’re good.” Alverez said immediately.
“You sure?” Richard asked kindly. “It’s up to you?” Even as he said this Richard could see the men’s eyes silently calculating the cost of missing half a day’s pay. They glanced quickly at each other.
“We’re fine Jefe,” Alverez said without emotion. “Just shook up. That’s all. Loco bastard.”
“Yes,” Richard readily agreed. “Crazy.”
With the cops gone, and the neighbors back in their homes, Richard walked over his the van and pulled out his tool belt. Putting it on was like putting on a different person. Like stepping into the past; back when driving to the next repair was his biggest concern, and complaining about management was a competitive sport. He cinched the buckle, and checked all the pouches. Everything was still there. Closing the van’s door he quietly walked up to the house.
12378 Miranda was old. One of the many post-war houses thrown up in the San Fernando Valley after WWII. The plaster on the walls bore the pock-marks of past repairs, but the paint was still good. He reached out and touched the wall. Unlike the rest of the houses in the neighborhood it was the real thing, not an image on smart film. It’d been a while since he seen a wall that wasn’t screened.
The door on the electrical service panel in the back was still open, the screw used to secure the access cover laid carefully on the bottom. As Alverez had said it was full of circuit breakers. Dummy switches, as the crews liked to call them. It wasn’t the six breaker panel of the original 50 amp service, so sometime in the past the panel must have been upgraded, but still it was very old. Richard carefully checked the box to see if it was live–one never knew when dealing with equipment this ancient–then he pulled off the access cover and looked inside.
What he found was not what he was expecting. He looked at the circuits, and then at the house, and back at the circuits again. Then cursing under his breath, he put the access cover back in place, careful to secure it with the screw, and then closed the door. He was already making calls before he got back to the van.
That evening Richard was sitting in his living room going over the video of the old man again and again. His wife, Patricia, sat on the couch watching TV on the opposite wall.
At some point she turned off her show to stare at him, although he didn’t notice when.
“What?” she said.
“Huh?” he said looking up from his screen.
“You. You’ve been looking at the screen wearing that sad-sack face all night. If you do it any longer I think I’m going to scream.”
“Sorry,” Richard said, self-consciously putting the tablet down, “I didn’t realize…”
She waved her hand, “Oh don’t get in a huff about it. Its not a big deal.” She patted the seat on the couch next to her. “Come over here and tell me about it.”
Getting up from his chair, Richard sat down and told her about his day.
“So he’s just some old nutter then?” she said when he finished his story.
“Is that a technical term?” he asked innocently.
“Don’t you start,” she said.
“Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m not the one who’s a Psychologist here.”
She smiled at his banter. “Okay, so do you really think he’s mentally incapacitated?”
“That’s the thing. He isn’t.”
“What do you mean, he isn’t? Waving a gun and yelling like a fool is now considered sane?”
“No,” he said, “Its not that. In fact, I thought the same thing until I saw his access box.”
“Yes. It was immaculate. Not just clean. Perfect.”
“I’m not following you here. What does his box have to do…”
“With his sanity? That’s the thing, it doesn’t. I keep looking at the events, trying to find some clue. Everything I see shows him to be a crazy old man. A nutter, like you said. But his service box was so nicely put together that it couldn’t belong to the same man. A man could not be that crazy and yet still have a box so tidy like that. Something doesn’t add up. It just doesn’t makes sense.”
“Did you check with his psych at the hospital?”
“As much as he could tell me, patient privacy and all that.”
“What’d he say?”
“He’s a she, and she said he was perfectly fine. He’d just forgotten to take his meds.”
“Hum,” Patricia said. “The classic non-answer. Do you think it might be true, at least in this case?”
“Judging by his access box, I’d say yes. But I’m not a psychologist.”
“Yes I know you’re not dear. Someone had to be the sane one in the family,” she said with a smile. “Can’t you just send in a repair crew while he’s still in the hospital?”
“It’s more complex than that. Alvarez was right. He doesn’t need a repair, he needs a whole replacement.”
“And you can’t do that while he’s in the hospital?”
“Not without his permission, no.”
“Hum,” she said starring off into space in thought. “Did you ever think that maybe you’re trying to fix the wrong thing?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well it seems to me you’re looking at this as if it is an electrical problem.”
“Well, I do work for Grace Electrical and Power.”
“I know, silly, but you’re the President of Customer Support, not the head of field service.”
“And you have a customer that needs support.”
“Okay,” Richard said sounding skeptical. “If that’s true, then my ‘customer’ is in the mental ward at the local hospital. How am I supposed to support him?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “How should I know. I’m not the one with the 192 empathy score.”
“A point which you seem to remind me of, every day,” he added dryly.
She snaked her arm around his shoulders, and brought her face close to his. “That’s because its your best trait,” she whispered softly into his ear, “after your taste in women.”
“Woman,” he said. “Not women. I got lucky enough with the one, and I’ve worked hard since to keep it that way.”
“Good answer,” she said nuzzling his ear. He was still staring at his tablet when she added, “Don’t worry honey. You’ll think of something.”
“You think so?” he asked, the problem still obviously on his mind.
“Of course, honey. You always do,” she said with surety.
He set his tablet down on the floor. “Thanks honey. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Probably just starve. That or be a nervous wreck.”
He laughed at her joke. “Hey don’t you want to go back to your show?”
“No,” she said looking him in the eyes. “I’ve got a better idea. I’m going to hug my husband. He looks like he could use one.”
“Oh my God. Is he here?” Richard asked in mock fear.
“Oh yes,” she said as she turned into him, sliding one arm behind his back and wrapping her other arm around his shoulder. “He’s here all right.”
For the first time that day, Richard truly smiled.
Late the next morning Amanda walked into Richard’s office to find him hunched over in his chair, head in his hands, and practically every flat surface in his office layered with electronic files.
“Wow,” she said, more in surprise than anything else. “I love what you’ve done with the place. Is it Early American Tornado?”
“Did you know,” Richard said without looking up, “That HB 1615 was proposed by 136 Representatives, but only passed by 128?”
“Hum,” Amanda said. “Been at it long?”
“All morning. I skipped the gym to come in early,” he said as he pointed to a rather stupendous stack of legal files on his desk, “and then fell into that mess. Do you have any idea how many aides worked on this legislation?”
“More than five?”
“More than 100. And each one wrote worse legalese than the one before.”
“That bad, huh?”
Richard gave a groan and sat up. “Worse. I’m telling you, their should be a law against lawyers.”
“Like that’d work,” Amanda said with sarcasm. “By the way, Patty called me this morning to tell me you were in a tear. I can see she didn’t exaggerate.”
“So my wife’s minding me again,” he said.
“Someone has to,” she replied. “I can see I waited too long to intervene. Its going to take me hours to get the place back under control.”
“Hours?” Richard said, “for e-files that go back where you want them to like that?” He touched a button on his tablet and in a flash every surface of his office was clean. “Now who’s exaggerating?”
Amanda stuck out her tongue at him. “Show off. I just came to tell you I’m going down to the cafeteria to pick up some lunch. Want me to get you something?”
“Sure,” Richard said distractedly, “why don’t you…. Wait a minute. What did you just say?”
“I’m going down to the cafeteria…”
“No, no,” he said waiving his hand. “Before that.”
“You mean about it taking hours for me to get this place under control?”
“That’s it!” he said.
“Control. That’s it.”
Amanda looked him funny. “Why do I get the feeling, that I walked into a conversation you were already having with yourself?”
“Because you did,” Richard said good-naturedly as he got up and grabbed his suit coat. “Where did you say Mr. Souter was?”
“I think he’s still at Cedars.”
“Do you know what their visiting hours are?”
“No, but I can look them up.”
She looked confused. “I don’t understand. So you don’t need a repair crew?”
“For this job? No.”
“Are you sure? Alvarez said he could do it.”
“Oh I’m sure he could,” Richard said. “I very much doubt there’s a maintenance issue that man could not solve. Him and Johnston, that is.”
“You see, it’s not a maintenance problem, Amanda.”
“Its not?” she said, sounding surprised.
“Not at all. His electrical system is just fine. In fact its absolutely perfect.”
“So twentieth century electrical wiring is now perfect? Um, Boss. Are you feeling okay?”
He turned to her and smiled, his arms going wide as if to encompass the entire office. “Never felt better,” he said, and suddenly he realized it was true.
Richard knocked on the doorframe outside the hospital room. The door was open, but Richard preferred to be polite. A bored looking cop sat in a chair by the nurse’s station, otherwise the hall was empty.
“Come in,” said a shaky voice.
Richard entered the room to find a man sitting in a chair, the nearby bed lay empty but jumbled from recent use. The curtains on the window behind the man were open, allowing the bright afternoon light to fall inside. Richard had to squint to see.
“Are you Mr. Souter,” he asked.
“Who wants to know?” said the man.
“I’m Richard, Richard Credo. From Grace Electric and Power.”
At the mention of Richard’s company the man’s face turned dark. “Look Mr. Creapo, or what ever it is,” the man said as he started to get up, “If you’re here about the wiring you can just forget it. I’m not letting you guys near my house. Do you hear me?”
“Good,” Richard said firmly.
There was a pause. This was not the answer the old man had been expecting. “Good?” he asked.
“Let me be frank with you, Mr. Souter,” he continued before the old man could say more. “Some of my technicians are pretty sharp, but they don’t know shit about old electrical systems like yours. Truth is, if they tried to do anything to your wiring, chances are they’d screw it up, and likely get injured in the process.”
Mr. Souter stared at Richard mouth agape, as if he had grown a third arm. Then he remembered to speak. “Darn straight,” he said with conviction. Then he stopped. “Wait,” he said confused. “I don’t understand. You say you’re not here to convert my wiring?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Richard replied.
“Then why the hell are you here?”
“Well,” he said with a shy smile as he reached over and pulled out the second chair in the room, “funny you should ask. You see, Mr. Souter, I have a problem.” He drew the chair up near the old man, and sat down across from him. The old man waved his arm for him to continue.
“I take it you know about our PTPI systems?” He pronounced the acronym tee-pee.
“Point-to-point intelligence,” the old man said.
“And about HB 1615, the Electrify America Act?”
“I should think so,” he grumbled. “It’s what put me out of a job.”
“That’s right,” Richard said, ignoring the comment as he pretended to search on his tablet for some information. “You’re an electrician by trade aren’t you?”
“Used to be,” the man responded. “Before them damn computer things took all the smarts out of it.”
“Smarts,” Richard said. “I don’t follow.”
“Back in my day,” the old man said, “you had to be smart to be an electrician. Make a mistake and you get more than shocked. You could get killed.”
“I’ve seen it happen. Its not pretty. But now, with all those computerized panels, receptacles, and such, all the smarts are now in the wires.”
“Well not to defend it,” Richard said, “but I think that was the idea when congress passed the act. To make it so no electricity flowed except where it was wanted.”
“Well they got that alright, and I can see how it helped out the boys trying to manage things on the grid, but it also made your guys stupid.”
Despite himself, Richard felt his anger start to rise. “Stupid?”
“Now don’t get all bent out of shape. I’m not talking about you. Just take a look at your technicians. Time was when each one of them had to be an electrician to do their jobs. It was a craft that they had to master, tests that they had to pass, information that was handed down from father to son. I know, I used to teach them.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Yes. And all that skill, all that training, all that knowledge, that represented a trade. And it was a good one. Good enough that if a man was sharp he could buy a house, maybe have a wife and a family.”
“And that’s gone now?” Richard asked.
“You said it yourself. Your crews can no longer manage electricity. All they can do is lay cable, and plug stuff in. They’re no longer smart about electricity. Why? Because they don’t need to be. All the smart is in the wires.”
Richard said nothing, sitting there and staring off into space. The old man was right of course. It was the same old argument he used to have with Hector, back before he went into management while Hector stayed in the field. Hector used to swear that the company preferred the PTPI system because it saved money by hiring cheaper less experienced service techs. And he was right. Right up until the day they let him go for being too experienced for his job.
Richard let out a weary sigh. He turned to see Mr. Souter was staring at him.
“You’re right, of course,” Richard said waving a hand as if in surrender.
“But that’s not why I came,” Richard continued.
“Then what is it you need?”
“You see, HB 1615 specifies that our computerized systems need to be tested every 10 years against a standard electrical system, to make sure they match or exceed its performance.”
“There’s no standard electrical systems left to test against.”
“They’ve all been converted over.”
“Is that a fact?” Mr. Souter said looking thoughtful as he crossed his arms. “Are you telling me you need a control to test your fancy tee-pee system against?”
“Yes. That is exactly the word for it. I need a control.”
“Then why didn’t you say so? I’ll be happy to pit my wiring against anything you’ve got, any day of the week. Heck, I’ll be looking forward to it.”
“Really,” Richard said, not believing his luck. “You will?”
“Sure,” Mr. Souter said holding out his hand. “When do we start?”
The next Saturday found Richard and Mr. Souter (“call me Lee”) pulling off the access cover to the service panel.
“Wow,” said Richard. “That sure is clean.”
“Yep,” said Lee. “Had to be. I told you I used to teach at the local college right?”
“Well, I used to use my house for the final exam. I had them go over everything; from checking every circuit, to testing for grounds.”
“Is that why everything is labeled so well?”
“Had to be. Half of them would get it wrong otherwise.”
Both men laughed at this.
“So,” Lee said pointing to the complex device in Richard’s hand. “How’s this thing work?”
“Simple enough,” Richard said as he dusted off the main testing rig. “First we pull all the breakers here, and set this thing in their place. See these brackets? They go right in the spaces for the breakers. Then we go around the house, and replace all the switches and receptacles with these,” he said as he held up a bag of smart switches.”
“And then what?”
“Then we power it up, and let it do it’s thing.”
“That’s it, huh?” Lee said.
“Hum,” Lee said. “Its not permanent, right?”
“Oh, no. That’s the beauty of it. We can pull this thing back out just as fast as we put it in. You can keep it, or take it out. Its up to you.”
“So, there’s no basic changes to the electrical plan?”
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t even know how to do that. Remember, ‘Your crews can no longer manage electricity’?”
“I said that?”
“Yes you did.”
“So, you want me to install this testing rig?” Lee asked.
“What I want you to do,” said Richard, “Is manage the project. I don’t care which of us does the work. I only care that the guy who knows the most is the one in charge. ¿Comprende?”
“Gotcha,” Lee said. “In that case, the first thing we do is cut the power to the panel.” Lee reached up and flipped the main breaker at the top. “Cause if I’m putting my hand in this box, then I’m darn well going to be sure its safe first.”
Richard handed him his father’s old multimeter. “Lets test to see if its hot, just to be sure.”
Lee smiled. “Good idea.”
A few hours later all the parts were in place and the test rig was turned on. Richard was running through the read-outs while Lee was checking them against an old notebook.
“Okay, circuit twelve,” Richard said.
“It says there are 4 receptacles on this circuit, with 12 meters of AWG 14 wire to the first receptacle, and 5 meters between the others.”
“Anything else?” Lee asked.
“Yes. Its telling me that the wire to the last receptacle is not 14 gauge, but 16. Is that so?”
Lee looked down in his notebook. “Check.”
“You must have been one right bastard of an instructor.”
“Lets just say the kids had to earn their As in my class.”
“Okay, last circuit.”
“Ah, it says this powers four lights fixtures with six different switches. Is that so?”
“And, wait a minute. It says there’s a problem with the ground on the first switch.”
“It does?” said Lee innocently. Then he reached into the service panel and flipped a small switch almost hidden in the wires. “What’s it say now?” he asked.
“Tricky, tricky. How many students did you get with that one?”
“Almost all,” Lee said.
“Wow. Well, that’s it, then. How’d we do?”
“I’m impressed,” Lee said. “Your tee-pee box got one hundred percent on my final exam. That’s pretty darn good.”
“One hundred percent? Really? I think that calls for a celebration. I’ve got a cooler in the van. Fetch you a cerveza?”
“Maybe just the one,” Lee said.
The men moved to the porch where they rested, tired and dirty, sipping their beers. After a long pause Richard finally asked, “So what do you think of the tee-pee? Not bad for a dumb computer system, eh?”
Lee took a log sip, tilting his bottle back before answering. “To be honest, it worked much better than I thought.”
Richard was careful not to smile. Lee continued, “I don’t know what I was expecting.”
“The fifth horseman of the apocalypse, maybe?”
Lee laughed. “Maybe. I don’t know. It just seemed to come on so fast. One minute everything was normal, the next…”
“… you’re suddenly looking for a new job,” Richard finished soberly.
“Yeah. Happen to you too?”
“No. Just my best friend.”
“And the worst thing is, I’m the guy who had to fire him.”
“Really? That must have hurt.”
“So, your friend,” Lee said, “didn’t he see it coming?”
“Yes and no,” Richard replied taking a sip. “He saw it coming. He just didn’t want to do anything about it.”
“Wanted to ride the lightening all the way into the ground?”
“Something like that,” Richard said bitterly. “And there wasn’t shit I could do about it.”
“Yes. Some things you just gotta live with, you know.”
The two men sat together in silence, sipping their beers.
“Uh, let me ask you,” Lee said staring off into the distance, “Your friend. Do you think he was a fool, too proud, something else altogether?”
Richard finished his beer with a long swallow. “Does is matter?”
“I suppose not.”
There was a long pause as both men stared into their bottles. “Look,” Richard said breaking the silence. “Do you mind if I ask you something?”
“Let me guess? Is it about the other day?”
“So, what happened?”
“Those dam pills the docs give me. They work just fine. The problem is I can’t seem to remember when to take them.”
“Oh,” Richard said thinking quickly. “And all the pill reminders they give you only work on a tee-pee system, right?”
Lee nodded his head. “I must be getting old, I can’t seem to remember anything.”
“Well,” Richard said, “I think I have one of those old converters in the truck. You know the ones that allow a tee-pee device to run on a dumb system.”
Lee looked off into the distance again, thinking. “No,” he said after a while. “Its okay. I proved my point.”
“Lets leave the new panel in.”
Richard looked at him, surprised. “Are you sure, Lee?”
“Sure I’m sure. If you can live with it, I guess I can live with it too.”
“You make it sound like its a horse pill. Its not as bad as that, is it?”
“It is if you ride it all the way in. Believe me. I’m just happy I don’t have to make the same mistake twice.”
“Is that a fact?” Richard said, unsure quite what to say.
“Well,” Richard said. “You wanna see how these new receptacles work?”
“I don’t know,” Lee said with a smile. “Are they difficult to use?”
Richard laughed. “For some maybe, but I doubt they’ll prove a problem for you.”
“That easy are they?”
“That, or you’re especially smart. Take your pick.”
“In that case, I’ll take what’s behind door number one.”
“Never mind,” he said. “It’s an old joke.”
The next week was a busy one for Richard, but he still found time to make one call. Amanda, his assistant, discovered this when she entered his office.
“No Diana,” Richard was saying, “he isn’t the least bit dangerous. The police told me there a mix up with his meds. Nothing more. But you know me. I went and checked him out personally. Even spent a day talking with him. He’s sober as a judge, and twice as sharp.”
Richard waived Amanda into the room while he continued to talk. Diana appear in a large window on the wall opposite his desk. Under her image were the countless emails and notes of a busy executive. The sound was set to his earpiece. Richard switched the audio to the room speakers so Amanda could hear as well.
Diana was asking, “…he knows antique electrical systems well? We may be private funded museum, but we’re also open to the public. We can’t afford to injure anyone, especially with a new exhibit.”
Richard smiled, as he caught Amanda’s reflection on the wall. “You can ask Amanda here if you like. I went over to his place myself just to check out his qualifications.”
“And he is by far the most knowledgable person about old style electrical circuits I have ever met. His work is quite incredible.”
“So you’ve seen it?”
Diana looked relieved, but then glanced over to her notes and read something else. “But can he deal with a mixed electrical system as well? Some of our circuits are the more modern ones. What do you call them?”
“Tee-pee,” Amanda said. “P-T-P-I. Its an acronym that stands for point-to-point-intelligence.”
“Point to point?” Diana said looking confused.
“It just means,” Amanda explained, “an electrical system where every receptacle–you know the socket you plug your hair dryer in–is smart enough to ask for the electricity you need before you use it.”
“Really?” Diana said. “It asks first?”
“Sure,” Amanda continued. “And if the main box–the place where the wires come into your house–if it doesn’t like what it sees, then there’s no electricity.”
“None at all. That’s why its so safe.”
“And why,” Richard added,” its so simple to use.”
“So this Mr. Souter can do these kinds of electrical circuits too?”
“In his sleep, Diana. Trust me. He’s the best.”
“Well thank you then Mr. Credo. I can’t tell you how much this recommendation means to us.”
“Think nothing of it Diana. Just doing a favor for an old friend.”
“Well, thank you again,” Diana said. Turning to face Amanda she added, “and you too, Amanda sweetie. I’ll call you tonight. Good bye now.”
“Good bye,” Richard said.
“Good bye,” Amanda added.
The window closed up, and the busy wall quickly reordered itself for the next item.
Richard sat at his desk, looking up into Amanda’s eyes. “What ch’a got?” he asked.
“Nothing important. Just some things for you to sign,” she said as she slid a small pile of documents from her computer onto the corner of his empty desk.
“Hum, I see,” Richard said, already distracted by his ever changing wall.
Amanda got up and was almost out the door when she stopped. “Do you think he’ll be okay?”
“Who,” Richard asked still looking at his wall.
“That old guy. You know, Mr. Souter.”
“But isn’t he a lot like Hector?”
Richard turned away from his wall long enough to look into her eyes again. “Yes. No. Lee, he’s…”
“Different?” Amanda offered.
“Sure. Different. He’s a tech, just like Hector, and he thinks like a tech, but there’s something else about him. Something different.”
“He can be wrong,” Amanda suggested.
“Yeah,” Richard said nodding his head. “He knows how to be wrong, and yet still be right. If that makes any sense?”
“Sure,” said Amanda. “It does. And thanks,” she added.
“Helping my friend. For helping both of them really.”
“Eh, Its nothing,” he said.
Amanda closed his office door gently, but by then his attention was already back on the wall.