Part 1: The Inheritance
I learned of the death of my uncle, Darby Morton Hanswatter, by letter from the law firm of Bindle and Snipe. A certain Mr. Felix Bindle, LLB, wrote advising me that I was the only living heir of the deceased, and would I kindly respond so that they might effect the reading of the will and proceed with probate of the estate. I was shocked and surprised that I had been named in his will, but I supposed it was a case of being the last one standing.
My name is Oswald Charles Hanswatter. My friends call me "Ozzie" or sometimes just "Oz." I am forty-one years old and once again a bachelor. It would appear that whatever inheritance would fall to me from my uncle's estate would end with me since my ex-wife and I had no children.
It set me to thinking. I wondered what the old man could possibly have that would enhance my life. He never appeared to have much money and he lived in such modest circumstances that it was unlikely he had squirreled some substantial nest-egg away in secret.
I too lived modestly. I was the county assessor for Tinsley County, Idaho. As such, I was one of the most misunderstood people in town. It was my department that determined just how much property tax landowners should be responsible for each year. Default, and the county would seize property to resolve the tax liability. I had a number of other responsibilities, chief of which was to cover my boss's ass, Revenue Commissioner Milo Selwind. It was a job that neither boosted one's ego nor made one popular in your own community.
I believe I am a rational, methodical type personality. Perhaps boring to some, but it helps me keep perspective with what's going on around me. I don't tend to over-react in a crisis. Then again, my job seldom presents crisis situations.
My personality was, I believe, the principal reason for my renewed bachelorhood. My wife ran off with a somewhat questionable land developer in the thought that he could provide her with a better, more exciting life. Perhaps he has. I have neither seen nor heard from her in four years. The divorce had been quickly finalized.
As is common with lawyers, you are expected to go to them rather than they come to you. The letter was quite specific that I should meet Mr. Bindle on his turf. It would mean almost a day's drive to Paramount, my uncle's hometown, and I certainly hoped it would be worth the time and expense. I telephoned the gentleman, and together we set a time for our meeting and the reading of the will. It was to be on the following Wednesday, five days hence.
Mr. Bindle offered to make a motel reservation for me, a service for which I am sure his firm would charge the estate. I agreed and spent the brief balance of the call trying to wheedle more information from the man about the inheritance. I got nothing for my efforts. I would just have to wait for the Wednesday meeting.
I hadn't been in Paramount since my teenage years and my arrival on Tuesday afternoon reminded me why. It was a lifeless little settlement, with nothing whatsoever to recommend it. There was no dominant industry, and thus there was nothing to support growth. It was just a place to live. It had the requisite grocery store, gas stations, hardware and building materials stores and two old-fashioned motels, one on each end of Main Street.
I checked into the Paramount Arms Motor Inn just before the supper hour. Despite the upscale name, the fifteen units were nondescript and quite dated -- the nightly rate of $29 reflecting that. I looked about the town for a likely restaurant, but found only a pair of small diners, one at each end of the street. I wouldn't be spending any extra hours in Paramount once the will had been read, that was certain.
I appeared at the front door of Bindle and Snipe promptly at nine the next morning as requested. I was greeted by a middle-aged woman with 1950's attire and a hairdo to match. I began to wonder if I had accidently stepped onto the set of some low-budget movie. She courteously showed me into a large, paneled office, and a tall, thin, balding man rose from his outsized leather chair and held out his hand.
"Mr. Hanswatter, I assume," he said in a deep, rumbling voice.
"Yes ... you must be Mr. Bindle," I replied.
"Yes indeed. Please have a seat, Mr. Hanswatter. I'd like to get this underway as quickly as possible. I have a very busy day ahead of me," he smiled without humor.
I sat down and we began. He handed me a copy of the will and we went through it line by line. I thought I might nod off if he didn't get to the point of the whole exercise soon. His voice had an almost hypnotic effect. I wondered if this was his principal tool in the courtroom; numbing the jury.
When he got to the meat of the issue, I nearly fainted dead away. My uncle's net worth was something on the order of thirty-seven million dollars. For a brief moment, I had a vision of me swimming in dollar bills, wondering what ridiculous excesses I could spend them on. That all came to a crashing halt when he read the next sentence. The man had left every last dime of it to charity; specifically shelters for the homeless in a variety of cities around the country.
I sank back in the chair. I had driven all the way from home to Paramount to listen to the unctuous blatherings of some lawyer playing this enormous prank at my expense. I was beginning to get angry.
"Mr. Bindle, do you mean to tell me I spent all this effort to come here to find out I am to receive nothing?" My voice was rising as I went along.
"No, no, of course not, my dear man! Nothing of the kind!" he exclaimed. "Your uncle has left you this letter and this small carton. Perhaps the letter will explain his actions more clearly. I can tell you that when he wrote this will some years ago, he thought it would be very controversial, but he assured me that it wasn't some cruel hoax being perpetrated on his heirs.
"He changed the will on the death of your mother, the only other remaining Hanswatter besides yourself. He was very serious about this, I can tell you as a certainty. He was sure you, of all people, would recognize the significance of this gift."
I looked at the tall, gaunt figure of Felix Bindle and saw nothing but clear-eyed sincerity. I was reasonably convinced that he was giving me the straight goods. I accepted the letter and the carton, shook his hand and left the office, not a little mystified at what had taken place.
Thirty-seven million dollars, dangled briefly in front of my nose and then snatched away in an instant. I wondered vaguely if I should contest the will. Even if I could pry loose only a few million, I would be set for life. A very happy and luxurious life at that.
When I returned to the motel, I sat down at the aging desk and carefully opened the letter. It was hand-written very nicely in ink with an old-fashioned script. I turned on the desk lamp and began to read.
My dear nephew Oswald.
It's been quite a long time since I've seen you. I know that you have had a busy life in Little River, but I miss the happy times your mother and I shared with you those lovely summer days so long ago.
I'm sure you must be shocked at the choice I have made in the distribution of my wealth. It took me some time to know what I could do with all that money that would actually benefit people who truly needed my help. I hope I have chosen wisely, but I will never know. Perhaps you can check up on the recipients and see for yourself if I have helped make their lives better.
As for you, I am handing you a puzzle. You may do with it what you wish. I do hope that you think about it very carefully before you either discard it or use it. If you choose to take advantage of this gift, I ask sincerely that you do so carefully. You will understand my admonition as you attempt to solve the puzzle.
Just one final thing to remember. What you hear may be more than you understand, but it is worth listening to.
With love, respect and best wishes,
I sat looking at the flowing penmanship of the old man. I was conscious of the curiosity he had now kindled in me. What had he left me in that small carton that might solve this puzzle? What puzzle? I reached for the carton and broke the seal on the top flap and peered inside. I reached inside with my fingers and extracted the contents.
I appeared to be an old transistor radio. It was housed in a pale blue plastic case with a small chrome aerial and a tacky fabric cover over what presumably was the speaker. The case was the shape of a medium sized pocket book and I guessed the radio's age to be at least forty years.
I was reasonably confident of its age because it had only an AM band on the simple rotary dial. Aside from a small volume control which probably included the on-off switch, it was as basic as it could be. I looked to see if it had any batteries installed, but on cursory inspection, I was unable to find any hatch or opening that would contain a power source. In addition, there was no AC cord or receptacle for a DC transformer. Was this the puzzle?
I looked at the device carefully, but could see nothing that indicated frequency numbers or a manufacturer's brand name. Perhaps it wasn't a radio. Perhaps it was some other type of receiver; short wave or CB or ... what? Only one way to find out. I turned the small black knob clockwise. Hearing a click, the sound of static was immediately forthcoming. I raised the aerial and turned the radio in several directions, but still heard nothing but static.
I began to turn the tuning dial slowly clockwise. When I had moved it only slightly, I could hear a voice. It was a man's voice. I turned the volume knob and the voice came clearly through the speaker.
"President Barnaby has signed the controversial housing bill that narrowly squeaked through Congress. The signing ceremony was held on the White House lawn in brilliant late winter sunshine in the presence of the Secretary of Urban Housing, Elijah Mellor and a host of advocates for low-cost urban shelter and homes. The landmark legislation will provide ten billion dollars per year for the next twenty years to fund construction of thousands of houses in the poorest sections of America's largest cities."
I set the radio on the desk in front of me, barely able to concentrate on that simple act. Who the hell was President Barnaby? What Urban Housing bill? Two hundred billion dollars dedicated to housing? This must be some kind of hoax ... or have I been living in a cave for the last few years?
"In other news, pitchers have begun reporting to the World Champion Washington Nationals at their new training facility in Sarasota, Florida. The defending champs are expected to field an equally strong lineup this year with the addition of free-agent veteran reliever Tom Lumpkin and perennial all-star, slugger Mort Sidle."
Now, this was getting crazy. I knew baseball like I knew my own family. I had never heard of "reliever Tom Lumpkin" or "slugger Mort Sidle." I'd heard of Sarah Sidle, but not Mort. Could I be that out of touch with my all-time favorite sport? No ... no way! And, on top of that, the Washington Nationals! Who are they trying to kid? The last I looked at the standings, they were over twenty games out of a wild-card, much less the division title.
Someone was playing a joke on me. I stopped to think for a moment. There was another issue that suddenly hit home. My meeting with Mr. Felix Bindle was held at nine in the morning on Wednesday, August 12, 2007. The housing bill was signed in "late winter" and the baseball report was about pitchers reporting for spring training — a mid-February event. I reached for the little black knob and turned the radio off.
I leaned back in the chair and stared at the little device. "What the hell was going on?" I asked myself for the fourth or fifth time. Was this the puzzle? It seemed like it, but what kind of a puzzle? Why did Uncle Darby think I was suited to solving this puzzle? I got up from the desk and walked around the motel room aimlessly as I tried to think what was going on.
It was a waste of time. My mind wouldn't comprehend what was happening with this "radio." It was talking about a fictional president, a fictional housing bill, and just as equally fictional, the World Champion Washington Nationals! I sat looking out the window of the dreary motel room and promptly made a decision. I carefully placed the little blue radio in its carton and prepared to leave for home.
I was packed and checked out within fifteen minutes and on the road toward Little River. I'm not absolutely sure why, but I had a sense of urgency about my return home. It felt important that I get there as quickly as possible. In the confines of my modest little bungalow I could dedicate myself to unraveling the puzzle of the powder-blue machine. As I drove, I began to plan my method for solving the unexplainable message the radio delivered.
I wondered if this radio may have been a source of Uncle Darby's wealth. In some way, he may have been able to use the device to make money ... a very large amount of money. Although there had been no outward signs of his financial wellbeing, the money was real enough and Bindle made no bones about the fact that the money and the radio were somehow tied to each other.
I arrived at my house just after ten that evening. I was weary from the long drive, but excited about solving the mystery of my inheritance. I dropped my bag in the bedroom closet and returned to the kitchen table where I had left the carton on my way through. I sat looking at it for a few minutes as I tried to organize my thoughts into a coherent plan of action.
My first decision was to investigate the radio more closely. What was its power source? How many stations would it receive? My hands shook slightly as I extracted the little plastic device from the carton. I turned it over and over, looking at all sides and edges. There was absolutely no sign of any opening for batteries or any other power source.
I went to my "junk drawer," took out a small magnifying glass, and revisited my examination of the case. It appeared to be seamless. I briefly thought of removing the tacky fabric cover over the speaker, then changed my mind. The last thing I wanted to do was to damage the little machine before I understood it.
I sat staring at it once more before I reached tentatively for the little black knob and turned it gently clockwise. Again, only the sound of static. I carefully moved the tuner dial clockwise and soon found a station. I turned up the volume.
"In local news, Saddlebrook County Zoning Chief, Carlton Shambles, was arrested this afternoon on charges of accepting bribes and breach of trust. Also arrested were local property developers Burk Dunkley and Martha Lashem. Both have been charged with offering bribes. An anonymous tip from a well-placed source led to police undercover operations, revealing the illegal activities. The trio will be arraigned on June 19th in County Court."
I was in shock. My wife ... my ex-wife, Martha, was arrested with that scumbag she ran off with. But she was no more a property developer than I was German royalty. She was nothing more than a pincushion for Dunkley. This didn't make sense. Nothing coming out of that radio made sense. And, once again, the timing didn't make sense. It was August and they wouldn't be arraigned for ten months? And since when did that little shit Shambles get to be the head of Zoning? He's nothing more than a file clerk.
I had to get control of this somehow. I had a hunch what I might be hearing, but it was so bizarre, so preposterous, I couldn't get my head around it. I had to find a way to figure out what was going on with this radio. My thought was to revert to my original plan formulated on my way home. I would get one of my big legal pads and start writing down what I was hearing. Then, I would systematically tune the radio to various stations in sequence, noting what I heard as I went along.
I started with what I could remember from this morning's broadcasts, then the one I had just heard. I listed all the names and specifics I could remember on the pad. When I had written what I could recall, I sat looking at the pad and wondering what next? An idea that came to mind was to Google some of this and see if anything came up.
I took the pad into the office that I had created from my second bedroom. I sat in front of my computer screen for a couple of minutes with my mind wandering in twenty different directions. I had to start somewhere, so I began with typing in Elijah Mellor. It was the only complete name I could remember from the housing story.
It was a minor item on page three of the Google listings, but it caught my eye.
"Elijah Mellor tosses hat in ring," the headline read. "Elijah Mellor, well known local builder and philanthropist, has revealed he will stand for election to the State Senate in Sacramento. Mr. Mellor cited his desire to promote the concepts of urban renewal through low-cost housing and low-cost lending to first-time buyers."
The story went on to describe Mellor's activities and political leanings, although the story made it clear he would stand for election as an independent.
I leaned back in my chair. It fit. It was a perfect fit with the radio news story, but... ! I checked the date of the story and found it was published May 20, 2007, only three months ago. Not much time to launch a campaign and still have a chance to raise the funds necessary to get elected.
Little River, Idaho, was my hometown. I was born here and I suppose I'll likely live here for the rest of my days. There are 4,883 people living here at last count, almost one thousand of them property owners. I like this town and I like Idaho. If my wife hadn't run off with that greasy asshole Dunkley, I'd have a damn nice life.
Martha and I had been married just over ten years when she surprised me with her departure.
"Ozzie, I want you to know that I think you're a fine man and a caring husband, but I'm afraid that just isn't enough. I'm leaving you. I've found someone who can give me all the things that you are unable to. I'm sorry if this is hurtful, but I'll never be happy with this life the way it is. It just isn't exciting enough for me. I wish you well."
She said all this as she stood in the kitchen one morning, wearing her coat and holding two suitcases. She turned and left without saying another word. I was dumbfounded. She had never hinted that she was unhappy or unfulfilled in our marriage. It would be several days later that I discovered the truth.
Martha worked part time at a local real estate office and met Burk Dunkley when he was looking for some property for a small housing development. Burk was nothing if not self-confident and he gave Martha the impression that he was a substantial "wheeler-dealer" in the property world in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. In fact, he was a small-time hustler with a reputation for shady land transactions, often featuring elderly widows.
Burk was a handsome man in his late forties, with wavy black hair and a big toothy smile. He wore expensive suits with flashy ties and drove a fancy car. In Martha's eyes he oozed success. She found out later that it was all an illusion. As the local saying goes: "Big car — big cigar — no gas!"
Since Martha had abandoned me, our divorce was uncontested and I was unburdened with either alimony or property settlement issues. If Martha had come back to me after discovering how hollow Burk was, I might have considered taking her back. After all, we're all entitled to one mistake. Instead, she decided to reform Burk. She would turn him from a small-timer into a big-timer.
I was lost for quite a few months. I got up in the morning, ate breakfast, made my lunch, went to work at the county office, came home, ate dinner, watched TV or read, and went to bed. I had no sense of purpose during that time. I was just filling the hours. During the spring and summer, I would often drive around looking for a baseball or softball game I could watch. I loved that game, and it was my only relief from the dreary passage of each day.
Finally, I began to realize that what had happened wasn't my fault, so why should I continue to languish in the morose wilderness I had created for myself? I decided I needed to change my life.
I started by taking some night-school classes on computer software applications. I had a good understanding of the basics to start with since all of my work and records were computerized. However, there were a number of interesting programs that I wasn't familiar with and the courses would be helpful. It would also be handing me something to do with my spare time.
In addition, I started to think about finding another relationship. I had been badly burned by Martha, but I concluded that it shouldn't mean I couldn't find another woman who might be more compatible with my ambitions. The big question, of course, was who? And what did I want to do with my life. Aside from my job and my love of baseball, I really didn't have anything interesting to offer a woman.
For the first time since I had met Martha, I began to look around me. At my office there were a number of women, but most were married while others were too young or simply unappealing. On top of that, although my plight was well known around the small town, I had not been inundated with offers from single women. Apparently, I wasn't very attractive to the opposite sex.
I gave myself a critical review one Saturday morning. I was slightly overweight — perhaps fifteen pounds. My skin was a pasty white from being indoors far more than outside. My hair was a very conservative close cut. I wore horn-rimmed glasses to read. My clothes were ordinary in the extreme. I wore a dark suit to work each day with a white shirt and a nondescript tie. My shoes were polished black wingtip brogues.
On the weekend I went crazy. I wore tan or navy khakis, a checked shirt, usually buttoned to the neck, and either brown walking shoes or sneakers. My windbreaker was tan to match my personality. If you were going to define a boring, middle-aged man, I would be the poster boy.
My self-examination might have sent me back into my depression, but instead, I resolved to change. I had no other responsibility than to myself. I drove to the community recreation center and asked about their adult fitness program. The young girl at the counter smiled and handed me a brochure. The center offered an exercise room with a trained attendant as well as an on-going fitness program. I enrolled immediately.
My clothes were another problem. I really didn't know what I could change that would still be appropriate for my job and my age group. I had never really paid much attention to how I looked other than to follow my mother's admonition to be neat and clean. I would need some help with this next step.
I went to high school with Ernie Gent. We were pretty good friends, but after high school I went on to college in Pocatello and Ernie went to work at his dad's clothing store. I bought both my suits from Ernie, but in truth, I couldn't remember the last time I'd been in his store. When I left the aquatic center, I headed directly for Gent's Fine Clothes. Might as well get on with the program.
"Jesus Christ ... I don't believe it! A visit from Ozzie Hanswatter!" Ernie proclaimed loudly as he spotted me. There was no one else in the store besides his dad and the elderly woman who did the alterations.
"Nice to see you too, Ernie," I smiled.
"Don't tell me you need a new suit. Why it seems like only yesterday that I fitted you with that nice charcoal two-button," he laughed, slapping me on the shoulder. Ernie always did like to needle his friends. That's how you knew you were a friend.
"Yeah ... well ... actually I need some advice ... in private," I stammered.
The look on Ernie's face told me that he took my request seriously.
"Let's go in the back," he said, turning toward the small office. He held his hand up to his father as they passed, clearly not about to say anything.
It was time for confession. I laid out my plan for personal reconstruction and Ernie listened with a slight smile and the occasional nod. I needed his help and he was more than willing.
"OK," he said seriously. "I know what you need, but I don't know what your budget is."
"Why don't we start at five hundred and see what it gets me," I suggested.
"Yeah ... well ... a couple of new suits for sure, some shirts and definitely some new ties. That's about it for five hundred," he concluded.
"Uhhhmmm ... let's get started then. I'll tell you when to quit," I grinned. I got a big smile in return.
"This is going to be fun," he said, shaking his head. "I get to remake Ozzie Hanswatter into a new-age man. Who'd have thunk?"
I spent a lot more than five hundred that afternoon. Closer to nine hundred. But when I walked out of Gent's, I had two stylish new suits, five button-down colored dress shirts, and five colorful silk ties. I also had four new sport shirts, two pair of dress slacks, new belts, socks and a wide brim fedora. Ernie said I needed to make a statement, and he talked me into the hat.
It was almost closing time when I walked into Farnsworth's Footwear. Ernie had called ahead to let them know I was coming and two hundred dollars later, I had new dress shoes, new loafers and a pair of Topsiders.
The suits and slacks remained at Gent's for hemming and minor adjustments. I made sure Ernie understood I would be going on a fitness program and I might need adjustments. He was so happy to have me back as a customer that he offered the alterations for free.
I'll admit I was apprehensive when I had tried on the new office attire. It was so radically different from my old style that I worried I might be laughed at.
I sucked it up when I went to work that first day with the full complement of new stuff, including the hat. When I walked into the foyer of the county offices, I got a double take from Barney, the security guard and a wide-eyed look of shock from Sharma, the receptionist. Neither, however, said a word.
By coffee break, the news was out. Someone had kidnapped Ozzie Hanswatter and replaced him with a look-alike. I had to smile. I looked over at the hat hanging on the coat rack. Ernie was a genius. Not only had I caught everyone's attention, I felt great. It really was a "new me."
Three months later, I returned to Ernie Gent's store for some alterations to my pants. While the suit jackets still fit, my waistline had contracted by almost two inches and my weight was down thirteen pounds.
"Ozzie, you look fantastic!" Ernie grinned as he marked the slacks and pants. "I'm just proud to have you wearing our clothes."
"Well, you gave me a hell of an incentive. Once I got started, I couldn't let all the free alterations go to waste. I'm glad I took your advice."
"Yeah ... you sure the hell did! And the new hairstyle looks great too." Ernie was nothing if not enthusiastic and I remembered why I enjoyed being around him.
He had married his high school sweetheart, Pearl Standfast, and she bore him three children, all boys. It dawned on me that Ernie and Pearl would be celebrating their twentieth anniversary next year. Where had the time gone?
My change in attire and physique was noticed by a number of single women. I began to get the idea that several of them would be happy to date me. I felt it only polite to oblige them. Over the next years, I dated several different women and enjoyed each of them for their company. I had no intention of getting involved in a long-term relationship. My wounds from Martha were still somewhat raw, and I made sure the women I was with were aware I was not ready for anything permanent.
My life went on this way for the next four years. I was popular around the office because I was so upbeat and "cool." Or so they said. I saw Ernie regularly to make sure my wardrobe was complete and contemporary. He invited me and my current girlfriend to his house for a dinner quite regularly and I responded by taking Pearl and Ernie to dinner at one of our better restaurants on more than one occasion.
My dating had led to a renewed sex life and I know that it contributed to my self-confidence. I wouldn't say I was developing a swagger, but I certainly wasn't shy around the ladies. What changed my lifestyle once again was the death of my uncle. The aftermath of the reading of the will turned my life upside-down.
When I finally slumped back in my chair, I looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost five thirty, Thursday morning. I had been working steadily since arriving back from Paramount at just after seven. I had carefully recorded the information coming out of the little radio in front of me. My neck was stiff and my eyes were tired. There was no way I would be capable of work today. I walked to the phone, punched in the main switchboard number, then the office extension of the Revenue Commissioner and left a message. I would not be in today and would let them know if I was fit for work on Friday.
My head was spinning. Not just from the fatigue which threatened to overwhelm me but from what I had learned. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that I had in my possession a device that was the key to Uncle Darcy's riches. Uncle Darcy was right. This was truly a remarkable little "radio" and I would have to guard it with my life. I would also have to keep its existence a total secret. From everyone!
I looked down at the pages and pages of notes I had made in the past seven hours. It had taken a while to determine the pattern, but eventually, I had figured it out. Earlier I had guessed I was listening to the future. But not only that, each individual station was at a different time in the future. Some as near as a few days from now while others were as far distant as years away. Only one question remained. How could I take advantage of the information?
It was a question for later. I was falling asleep just sitting in the kitchen chair. I stood and dragged myself to the bedroom. I had no recollection of getting undressed and into the bed, but when I awoke, I was under the covers and wearing only my jockey shorts. I looked across at the clock radio and saw that it was nearly two. Since it was broad daylight outside, I deduced that it was two in the afternoon and it was probably still Thursday.
It took me twenty minutes to summon the energy to get out of bed and head for the shower. I gradually began to recall what I had learned the night before and I remembered that my first objective was to protect the little "radio" from unwanted discovery. I would have to find a secure place to keep it safe from intruders and accidents.
I chose the fireproof vault I had invested in several years earlier in a moment of paranoia. It was built into the floor of my office closet and tied into the cement foundation. For the life of me I couldn't remember what the source of my fear was, but just the same, I was grateful for its existence as it met my needs.
As I looked at my inheritance, I saw the small felt-tip pen marks I had made on the case at the location of each of the stations I had been able to discover. I had logged each location and an estimate of what place in future time it represented. So far I was guessing, but I was reasonably confident that I wasn't radically wrong in my estimates.
By five that afternoon, I realized I was too tired to concentrate on the radio and I phoned my boss to advise him I would be in the office at the usual time tomorrow. I had an interview with a prospective employee scheduled for ten Friday morning and I wanted to clear my desk completely before I left that afternoon. I wanted a totally free weekend to dedicate myself to solving more of the puzzling, mysterious device.
I'm not sure how I made the leap, but I had accepted that this "radio" could give me tomorrow's news. Better yet, it would give me the news from much further ahead than tomorrow. It should have been a mind-bending experience, but for some reason, it wasn't. I think I had come to the conclusion that Uncle Darby knew it worked and therefore, why would I question it?
I had already decided that I would need to test it in some tangible way. I would extract some information from it about the near future and test it against the actual results. The first thing that sprung to mind was baseball. Games were being played every day. It would be simple enough to compare the results on the "radio" to the results in the sports news on TV.
I looked at my notes and turned on the radio. I had recorded the approximate location of the three day forecast station and carefully tuned it in. Shortly after six, the local Sunday sports weekend roundup came on the little device and I dutifully recorded the scores as they were reported. I knew the schedule and had listed each game, only needing to write in the numbers as the announcer read them out. It was just a case of waiting for Sunday evening to determine if I had the mechanism that might open the doorway to create wealth.
My appetite was making a forceful appearance by then and I decided to drive to the local Pizza Shack for beer and pizza. As I sat in the booth nursing my beer, I knew I was right; I had in my possession a radio that would tell the future and allow me to take advantage of the information. No one else on earth would have any such thing, I thought. Where did it come from and how did Uncle Darcy come into possession of it? With his death, perhaps I would never know.
I went to bed at nine that night, exhausted and yet excited as well. I had trouble falling asleep as my mind was full of confusing thoughts about the little blue box and what it might mean to my future. Finally fatigue won out and I fell asleep.
I awoke at my usual time, seven am, and went through my usual routine. The extra hours of sleep yesterday and last night helped restore my usual fresh start to the workday. I had two objectives today. Participate in a "team interview" of a prospective employee for the County Clerk's Office and clear all the accumulated paperwork from my in-basket.
Some years earlier, the County had decided to use a new hiring procedure where at least three department managers of approximately equal status would individually interview a prospective candidate and then compare notes afterward. One of the interviewers would be the manager of the department for which the candidate was applying. It was a good system and forced us to carefully evaluate people and helped eliminate a variety of biases and oversights in the interviewing process. It worked very well.
Today, I noted that the candidate was one Leticia Darling, a graduate of Eastern Washington State College in 1997. By my estimate, she would be approximately thirty-two to thirty-four years old. By law, her application would not require her age, but ultimately, when group insurance and medical applications were made, her date of birth would be "available."
I had reviewed her C.V. and saw that she was well qualified for the position of Assistant to the County Clerk. I wondered why she had left an equivalent job in Blanchford. It would be the subject of questions by all three of us I assumed.
Promptly at ten, Sharma announced Ms. Darling, and I walked out to the reception area to greet her. She was standing at the reception desk chatting with Sharma as I approached. She turned to me and smiled.
"Good morning. Mr. Hanswatter?" She had a voice that was both low-pitched and silky smooth.
I stumbled for a moment. This was no ordinary candidate. She was extraordinary.
"Yes ... yes, that's me." I tried manfully not to gawk.
She was dressed in conservative business attire. A white short-sleeved cotton blouse, a snug black wool skirt that fell a couple of inches below her knees and black low-heeled shoes. She wore no jewelry, not even earrings. A simple small analogue watch on her right wrist was the only adornment. She was gorgeous.
As I got closer, I noticed how tall she was. We were almost eye-to-eye. Her combed-back short blonde hair was neat and very attractive in what appeared to be natural waves. Later, I would realize that she wore no makeup. No lipstick, no eyeliner, no mascara, no nail polish — nothing! Yes, she was gorgeous. Naturally beautiful. She needed no help at all.
As I guided her to my office, I thought that this might be the most difficult interview I had ever conducted. I was already corrupted. I was prepared to recommend her without her even uttering a word or answering a question. I wondered if the other two interviewers would succumb to her this easily.
My usual technique was to engage in some small-talk for a few minutes to let the candidate relax a bit and feel less threatened in the strange surroundings. Today, the small-talk was for me! I needed to recover my wits and at least not act like a complete buffoon in front of her.
"Did anyone explain our interviewing procedure, Ms. Darling?" I began.
"Yes. I understand I will be interviewed by three different department heads today and then I will be notified next week if I am the successful candidate. I think it's a very clever idea, by the way," she smiled.
"Ahh ... well ... the idea is to eliminate biases and oversights. It's worked very well for us over the years."
"I'm sure it has," she smiled again.
It took me a couple of minutes and some background questions to get going with the interview properly, but finally, I managed to concentrate on the things that were important to the man would ultimately be hiring the candidate for his department.
"What prompted you to leave Blanchford, Ms. Darling?" I asked directly, hoping she wasn't expecting this question quite then.
"I was fired. I was accused of sexual harassment by a junior employee. It was a false accusation and I was later able to prove that, but it was too late then. The County settled with me and I decided a change of scenery was necessary." She spoke without hesitation or emotion. It was as if she was reciting her educational background.
"That's quite a traumatic situation. Do you mind telling me how it came about?" I probed.
She looked at me squarely for several moments.
"A young man in the records department became ... infatuated with me. I had no idea, of course. He began stalking me and when I confronted him about it, he became quite angry when I told him I wasn't interested in him. I was quite abrupt with him, I realize, and that probably inflamed the situation. He filed a sexual harassment suit and without bothering to determine the facts, my supervisor fired me."
I nodded. Fear of this type of problem wasn't unknown in our office and Ms. Darling's case was an object lesson in getting the facts first.
"That must have been very stressful for you," I suggested.
"Yes ... yes it was. I felt I was defenseless. Luckily, I was angry enough and determined enough that I consulted a lawyer and he took my case on a contingency basis. It took five months, but we proved to the County that I was innocent when the little shi ... uhhhh man confessed.
"They were embarrassed of course and even more so when they had to pay compensation to me. They also provided me with a very glowing letter of recommendation, as you have probably seen. It's been over a year since I've worked and I wanted to get a fresh start somewhere. I hope this ... revelation ... won't harm my chances," she said, her voice clear and unequivocal.
"Of course not. You were innocent and a victim. What counts in our eyes is your ability to do the job. I hope you believe that," I said sincerely.
"I certainly want to. From what I've seen of Little River, it's a lovely little town with wonderful scenery. I could be very happy living here," she smiled.
"I'm pleased to hear that. It's important that our employees are comfortable in their surroundings as well."
I carried on with the interview for another fifteen minutes, concentrating on her responsibilities in Blanchford and any special assignments or skills she might possess. At the end, I decided she was fully qualified for the job and could probably handle even more responsibility if she were ambitious. I would give her a positive review and hope that the other two supervisors felt the same.
"Where are you staying at present, Ms. Darling?" I asked as we walked out to the reception area.
"I have some friends in town and an aunt in Coeur d'Alene. I've left my cell number on my application if you wish to contact me," she said, her eyes turning to me as we reached the reception desk. "I hope to hear from you."
Was there a message in that final comment? I asked Sharma to let the next interviewer know Ms. Darling was available. I turned back to her.
"It was a pleasure meeting you. I wish you good luck. I think you would be an asset to our office and the county." It was easy to smile at that point and I could see the sparkle in her eyes as I held her hand briefly. I walked back to my office wondering what could possibly make this woman anything less than the ideal candidate.