“How do you lose a time machine?” Burt was trying to remain calm, upon hearing the unthinkable. The time machine. A gift from Herman. He’d had it with him since the 1930’s. Not that that mattered. Burt was born in 1921. The year was 1984. Burt was 23 years old. He’d done a lot of time traveling.
“You know that was one of the originals, right? It was the January 8th ”, Burt Lamented. How could Marilyn be so careless. “You’ll be the ruin of me, woman,” He said with a little bit of a grin as he pulled Marilyn close, moving her out of the way of his best friend, the bottle of Gin.
“Listen, when I saw Duvall coming, I panicked. I’m pretty sure we can get it back. I put it in your friend Boomer’s pocket,” Marilyn hoped.
“I hope so too,” Burt said, reading Marilyn’s emotion, “Want some gin?”
Herman Johnson was born in 2321. He invented the time machine in 2361. He did a double feedback loop trick on himself and created a couple of traveling companions that were also him at different ages. Boy was he surprised by this every time he introduced himself to himself. The original Herman Johnson had been injured in one of his first time travel experiments leaving him with a slight limp. All the others had a surreal way of gliding when they walked. Johnson was sure that it had something to do with dicking with the time/space continuum, but he really had no good explanation, so neither do I.
Once he perfected the machine, He waited for a year before doing anything. Then he went back to each day after the invention (in reverse order) and grabbed the time machine off of the table. That’s how he collected 365 of them. Also, how the sperm whales went extinct.
Next, he went back to himself at age 16 and explained how time travel worked to himself. “Inside this here Zippo lighter is a time machine. The date stamped on the bottom is the date this machine first left its own time. The 16 year old Herman Johnson casually looked at the bottom of the Zippo to see the date “Jan 2, 2362”. “Uh huh,” he said, hardly interested. Old people gave him the creeps. Especially old people that were him.
“Anyway, this is the second copy of the original. It’s yours. There’s an instruction manual on a chip inside the lighter. Do whatever you want, but kid …”
“Yeah,” young Johnson replied without looking up from the lighter.
“Go easy on the whales, would you,” Johnson looked serious.
“Whatever gramps,” insisted young Johnson.
When Marilyn lost Burt’s lighter, well she didn’t really lose it. When she dropped it into Boomer’s sport jacket pocket to save herself from Robert Duvall, she was sure she was going to get it back. She thought her friend Laura knew them pretty well. Also, she was pretty sure Janer knew them so it seemed like a safe place for the time machine. At least, temporarily.
She had been so disoriented after coming back to 1984 that she was forgetting things. And the headache. Time travel had no ill effects for most, but for Marilyn, it was like getting really shitfaced – complete with hangover. When she bolted the scene at the outdoor beer garden last-night she thought ditching the lighter was the safest course of action… Now what would she do? She had to face the music and tell Burt. His lighter was one of the original time machines. The story was that Richard had made several time machines, but only one worked. He was never able to get any of the others to do anything but light cigarettes. He did not know why. That’s when he decided to just gather a few hundred of them from their past. For some reason, the January time machines worked the best. And the first 10 or so used way less whale oil than the later incarnations. Any time machine after September was too expensive to even run. But if you did use it, you were likely to get some nasty burns holding the thing during travel. No matter how bad it got though, Every time machine, all the way to the despised December 31, 2362, always always lit a cigarette flawlessly. That’s because they were Zippos as well as time machines.
Burt woke to the sound of frantic knocking at the front door. Who the hell could that be? What time is it anyway? Where am I?
Burt was at Dr Johnson’s house. The year was 2012 and he was 52 years old. Also, he was a hobo. Johnson was his lifelong friend who had told him he’d be out of town a few days and asked Burt if he’d watch his place while he was gone. Yeah, it was charity, Burt knew. But he wasn’t going to pass up a chance to sleep inside. He was so filthy though that he had slept at the kitchen table so as not to mess up any of Johnson’s nice stuff.
Stretching his old bones and looking around, he saw that the table was now a slobbery greasy mess. Great. Burt was going to have to shower and clean his clothes or he wouldn’t be able to clean up the mess he’d made.
Another frantic knock reminded him what woke him at this early hour. Burt had no intention of answering the door. It wasn’t his door. Besides, then he’d just have to clean off the door handle.
Then he heard it. The voice he thought he’d never again hear. The voice from his real childhood. Marilyn’s voice. “Rasson! Let me in. I know you’re in there. Herman told me.”
Too surprised to be overcome by the emotion, Burt hobbled as fast as he could to get the door and see his wife. He had to take a couple of breaks to get his wind back on the way. He really was in sorry shape.
Opening the front door, Burt was stunned. This must be some sort of trick. This can’t be Marilyn. She hasn’t aged at all in 20 years. Oh wait - the time Machine. Of course … No. Wait, There’s a little grey poking from under the nurse’s hat. Maybe some light creases around her eyes. Oh lord, she’s gorgeous. Burt wanted to take some time to weep at the senseless loss. As he scanned her from head to toe, his sense of dread and utter regret increased to unbearable levels. Good thing the Dr’s liquor cabinet was well stocked.
“Gin?” He asked, then immediately regretted it, seeing her frown. How could he be so foolish. She always drank vodka. No wait. Not at 8:30 in the morning. “Sorry, I um …”
“Coffee would be great,” Marilyn said, always helpful.
“What are you reading?” Burt asked, pointing to the mystery novel Marilyn held, wanting to avoid whatever the point of the visit was.
“Never mind that. You want some coffee?” Marilyn asked as she walked past him into the kitchen.
“Ewww. What happened in here?” she said upon seeing Burt’s mess.
“No coffee, hon.” Wow. Old habits die hard, “I’ll just stick to my morning Gin,” I mean they really die hard.
“Yeah – you might need it. I think Butch and J are going back,” Marilyn just wasn’t one for small talk. Burt didn’t know what she was talking about. “Going back” could only mean one thing, but it was forbidden after the thing with the cats. Besides where would they get the whale fat?
“You know there’s a Chico’s in Japan,” Marilyn said, answering a bunch of Burt’s questions all at once.
“It will be good to get back there,” Butch was reminiscing as he drove Dr Johnson out to Chico’s west. They had just left the original Chico’s and had to meet Richard at the newer location.
“We’ve got to make a quick stop in Japan first,” Dr Johnson said quietly, looking out the window, not wanting to see Butch’s reaction. Butch didn’t say anything, but the Dr. swore he could hear Butch’s grip on the wheel tighten as he took in this news.
“You sonofa …” So they were really going to go to Japan to get the whale oil they needed for the trip to 1927.
“Butch. It’s clean stuff. Marilyn vouched for the guy we’re meeting. She’s had him keeping the stuff over there for years. It’s some of the good old stuff. Japan is just the safest place to keep it. You remember the Blubber raids of 1987, right? We didn’t know how far it would go. Marilyn took a few tons of the stuff from the warehouse and shipped it to our contact in Japan.”
“Not that son-of-a-bitch Takashi?”
“Not that son-of-a-bitch Takashi?”
“Of course. Whatever went on between you two has nothing to do with what is going on now. We need him and I don’t care what you think of him, he’s pretty good,” The Dr. could see that Butch was softening a little. In this game you couldn’t keep everybody playing nice all the time, but there were some people you could always count on. Butch knew Takashi was one of those people.
“Believe me, If I could think of any other way, we wouldn’t need to do any of this. If you’ve got any ideas, I’m open. How are your synthetic time machine juice experiments coming along?”
“Yeah, just twist the knife, doc. Feels good,” Butch said. He had been working on a safe alternative to blubber for fueling the time machines since the blubber raids and the Duvall trials. So far the result had been a lot of dead kittens. He had been working with a sharp kid from the veterinary school to see if they could find some sort of way to reverse the effects of the juice. So far, no luck.
“No, I guess it’s just real honest to goodness blubber for now.”
“Stop worrying Butch. You know Takashi. You remember how he was before you guys had your little falling out, right?”
“Yeah, pretty good,” Butch joked. That’s better, thought the Dr. If Butch Lightens up a little, maybe we can save Marv. And Lenny.
As Butch brought the old Buick to rest in the parking lot of Chico’s West, a voice from the back seat made both men start with shock and exasperation, “Hey mind if I come with you fellas?”
“Eek!” Both men shrieked as they turned to see a fully dressed Charlie McCarthy sitting between them. He was, as always, dressed impeccably. Black Tuxedo, top hat, monocle over his eye and everything. He was missing a shoe though.
“No fucking way, monopoly guy!” Butch started, but he didn’t understand how dangerous Charlie could be. Johnson had had a couple of close calls with the dummy and knew the inherent dangers of offending the soulless chunk of wood. Placing his hand on Butch’s shoulder to get his attention, Johnson said, “Charlie, do you have a spare set of clothes in Tokyo?” Johnson’s play was that the teleporter did not allow clothing and Charlie always insisted on the finest dress. It backfired on him a little though.
“Well, Johnson, I’m sure you know my cousin Mort. He’s over there doing his one man show. They love him over there. I personally don’t get it. But The Snerd is big in Japan.”
“So you don’t mind going back to 1927 dressed like a farmboy?”
“Oh you’re funny Johnson. No I will not wear Morty’s clothes, but he begged me to visit him like 6 months ago and I left one of my wardrobes at his place. I just need to call him and he can drop the suit off at Chico’s for me. Besides, I’d love to see Edgar again,” Charlie said, taking an eyedropper and dripping a little water on his cheek so it would look like he was crying.