Chapter Eleven

Mr. Crawley’s visit was gratefully equally as brief as the first one had been. Meeting these people, looking into their eyes and reaching into their minds as they lay there in front of me rapidly deteriorating and dying...let’s just say it made me hope I never live as long.

Mr. Crawley looked as though he had already passed on...fifteen years ago. His white skin reminded me of a bed sheet draped over furniture to keep the dust from accumulating. His eyes seemed to have shriveled back into his skull. He was breathing through an apparatus implanted into his throat. Yet, the second he laid his vacant eyes on me, his left hand shot up remarkably quickly to his throat and covered something there. The sound of his breath changed and a robot-like monotone voice said with surprising strength, "So you are the one who reads years. Have you ever been wrong?"

"Not that I know of," I answered. "But that’s why we are testing it out. I've only recently discovered this ability after I was in an accident."

His right hand suddenly rose with another amazing small burst of energy that didn’t seem possible from this skeletal looking form before me. "Go ahead and do me," the metallic voice said. "But prepare for your first failure."

Keeping my eyes focused on the sunken eyes of Mr. Crawley, I accepted his frail hand in mine and (48:1) instantly came to mind. But that couldn’t be right. He had to be at least eighty, maybe older. Maybe he had been purposely trying to send me the wrong number, knowing I was going to try to read his mind. I had no idea what Dr. James had actually told these people as to how I came about my guess for their age. Maybe Katelynn is fine? Maybe...

All these thoughts and more went swooping through my mind in the instant after the numbers had assumed center stage. During my brief-but-still-too-long hesitation due to my logical confusion of this illogical situation, Mr. Crawley snapped his hand back and the robot-voice said, "Told you I would be tough. So what is my age."

Above the sound of the voice, a smile spread across the lips which had somewhat eerily not yet even moved during this brief exchange.

I was just about to go ahead and state 48 as his age, that had after all been the first number, and that had been the instructions Dr. James had given me. "...let us know the first number, keep the second one to yourself." That was what he had said. The first number was 48, as remarkable as that seemed in itself since Mr. Crowley looked to be at least 80. It was the second number that was the key.


If I was right about what was going on with me, if I did actually own the rights to this unwanted talent, if Katelynn was indeed supposed to die in twenty-five days, then Mr. Crawley was only an unbelievable 47 years old unless today or yesterday was his 48th birthday. So my guess was 47. But I couldn’t say 47 because that would contaminate the test. That was not the number that came to mind. I was to report the first number that came to mind and keep the second number to myself. This was a scientific experiment and I can’t change the rules without altering the result. Either way, 47, 48, Mr. Crawley was certainly older than that.

"48," I finally said, staying faithful in the name of science. And as the monotone voice tried unsuccessfully to express glee in my failure by repeating "47" three times and "you are wrong" twice, the frown on my face was not because I had been wrong, but because all of a sudden, I knew I had been right. As if to confirm this, Mr. Crawley finished chanting ‘47’ and suddenly added...

"Knew I would be tough. My birthday is tomorrow."

* * * * *

In the hallway, Dr. James didn’t have to be told that my answer had been correct even though it had been wrong. Maybe Mr. Crawley's upcoming birthday had even been one of his wild cards for testing my validity. Certainly the fact that he looked 40 years older than he was weighed heavily in his choice. Then it struck me how difficult it must be at that moment for Dr. James as he handed me Mr. Crawley’s envelope and watched me pen down the day of Mr. Crawley’s death. Only I knew that he was going to die in two days. Maybe Mr. Crawley knew. But looking at Dr. James, I could tell that he wanted to know as he slowly slid the sealed envelope into his pocket with Mrs. Ikatsu's. He wanted to know and then he wanted to do something about it. Wherein after our visit to Mrs. Ikatsu, Dr. James had appeared almost anxious and giddy with the results, this time he seemed seriously concerned and had drawn his dark eyebrows in closer towards each other. If he were to open that envelope up early and find out when, he could be waiting, ready to dive in at the right time with life support to keep Mr. Crawley alive for even one more day. 48:2. He wanted to look. But I believe his high standards of ethics and science would not allow him to look.

Almost as though he had just traveled the same train of thought as I, coming to the same resolve at about the same time, he patted the outside of his pocket that contained the two sealed envelopes and relaxed the muscles that had tensed in his face.

"We’ve got a two for one deal in the last room here, John," he said, as we began to walk in that direction. "But I want to let you know what’s going on here before we go in." He stopped walking and stepped out of the flow of traffic and closer to the wall. I followed suit.

"This is the room of Benny Randall," he explained to me. "He is dying soon just as the other two are. He knows it, but won’t admit it. He likes to be called Benny and is much more affable. When I came in to see him this morning and mentioned this test, he was delighted to participate. A couple of hours later, I was checking in on him again and he informed me that he had told his old buddy about what you were going to do and invited him down to take part in it too."

Dr. James looked clearly agitated here. I think he was still trying to make a decision on something and couldn’t finalize it until he heard himself state it out loud.

"I met his old buddy just before you and Katelynn arrived," he continued. "His name is Harry. Just Harry. Harry is all excited about meeting you and having you guess his age. He was practically hopping up and down in his chair with anticipation. He said his mom used to read palms back when she was alive. I could hardly turn him away. The point being, John," he paused. I waited. "...after the first two, I believe you. I’m not sure how and I hope you are willing to work with me more on this, but right now there is no doubt in my mind that the numbers you wrote down for Mrs. Ikatsu and Mr. Crawley are correct. I know I shouldn’t believe that yet before the fact, but I do."

Again, in the pause, I think he was just then, as he stated it out loud to me, accepting this fact within himself. I waited.

"Give us the number that comes to mind for Benny just as you have, John," he said looking serious again. "But make a wild guess for Harry if you want to. You don’t need to write down a number on him or reveal how old he will be when he dies. We don’t need him for the test and his numbers can’t help Katelynn out. Who knows, maybe you can nail it on a wild guess and no one will be the wiser. You will get Benny’s right. Unlike Mr. Crowley, his birthday is not for a while yet. Do him first. For the test." A slight pause. "Then my advise would be to take a wild guess with Harry and forget the numbers that actually come to mind."

His logic made sense. I agreed. He knocked on the door. We walked in.

* * * * *

Benny Randall was indeed a jovial soul. The instant we walked in the room, having just left two that felt every bit as near death as their occupants, this room was filled with life. The lighting was just a little brighter. A radio off in the corner was softly playing golden oldies in big band style. There were colorful flowers in a tall vase on a table and an assortment of pictures of family and friends displayed on the white dresser as well as the small ledge of the window well. And there were two rather large grown men, both as bald as I was, one white and one black, and each with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. I smiled back. Couldn’t not.

Dr. James introduced me and I said hi without yet shaking their hands. Below the mile of smiles, both still had their arms crossed over their chests, hiding their hands in their armpits. Their postures were that of stubborn children refusing to be cooperative. Their faces were lit like their first trip to Disney World.

"So John," Benny said, after the round of verbal greetings, " want to put a little wager on this here age guessing talent of yours?"

The question sounded perfectly natural stated in the Texas drawl that came from Big Benny. A bettin’ man to the day he dies. Probably still wearing his boots down under the covers. A big white Stetson wouldn’t be far away. But you couldn’t help but to like him. His eyes were honest and friendly. His smile was contagious.

"I’m actually too new at this to start betting on it," I replied. "We’re still in the testing stage."

"Well when you get done testin’, I want to be your manager," he chuckled. "Yes sir, I could make you a rich young man."

"Stop teasin’ the poor boy, Benny," Harry chimed in, with an accent from a farther eastern deep south. "Don’ pay him no mind now, son. You jus go right on an’ do what ya need to do. Go on an’ shake Mr. John’s hand now, Benny. Let ‘im guess yer age fer ya."

Still grinning, Benny pulled his right hand out from his left arm pit and I stepped towards his bed. His handshake was firm and practiced, comfortable. (79:348) equally comfortably settled into my mind as if it belonged.

"You are 79 years old," I said.

Still holding firmly to my hand, Benny’s smile broke for the first time. "Well, I’ll be damned!" He exclaimed excitedly. "I'll be goddamned! He got it right, Harry. Harry, get me one of my cards out of the closet and give it to the boy. I’ll be damned!" He finally released my hand. "I mean it boy. You take my card. You give me a call when I get outta here, you hear? I'll be..."

"Calm down, Benny," Harry was saying. He was still seated in the chair he had pulled away from the wall to sit next to Benny on the other side of the bed, making no move to the closet to retrieve Benny‘s card. "He still gotta get me right."

Harry’s smile had never left his face. He had not looked all that surprised when I had gotten Benny’s age right. I had of course been looking into Benny’s eyes at the time I revealed his age but I had thought I could see Harry slowly nodding his head in approval in my peripheral vision, the grin remaining unchanged. Now he stood up to come around the bed to take his turn at shaking my hand.

The chair he had been seated in had not done him justice. He was a small mountain of a man. You wouldn’t want to run into these two in a dark alley, at least not until you got to know them. His black dome was as shiny and smooth as a polished bowling ball, his shoulders, though aged and with a slight lean to the right, still looked broad enough to cause him to turn sideways to get through narrow doorways. He only stood about 6’2", probably even a little shorter than Big Benny when back to back, but his bulk easily supplied him with ownership of as much space around him as he wanted to lay claim to. I quickly prejudged him to be in his late seventies. The tilt in his posture, the mixture of knowledge and understanding from a lifetime of experiences already evident in his eyes as he approached, I settled on 77. I wanted to pick a number to guess first before being influenced by knowing how old he will be when he dies. And I really wanted to be lucky and get it right. That would have been sweet. We take a bow and take our leave. I wanted to get back to Katelynn and see how she was doing. Today had not gone the way we had hoped, but I guess it had gone the way we had expected. I just wanted to get this test done with so we could start figuring out what we are going to do about Katelynn’s future. He was obviously still strong for an old man. At the last second I changed my guess to 75.

He stepped in front of me, I having to look up at a slight angle to meet his eyes, and his hand took mine in as I might a ten-year old child’s.

(..."4 days...6pm...14 crimson lane minnetonka...tell no one john...bring a dessert...see you then")

I yanked my hand free of Harry’s and took two quick steps backwards, still reading amusement in his eyes while feeling shock and confusion emitting from mine.

(..."4 days...6pm...14 crimson lane minnetonka...tell no one john...bring a dessert...see you then") still sat in the front of my mind just the way all the numbers always had. Yet it took me longer to think through those words sitting there in the front of my brain, to say nothing of understanding their meaning yet, than the handshake had lasted.

"Well?" Harry was asking, still the smile never losing its strength or its appeal. "How old am I?"

I didn’t answer immediately. I had totally forgotten what number I had decided on before he had...had what? I didn’t have time to think about that right now. They awaited an answer. I didn’t have one.


"72" I blurted out.

Harry raised one hand up and slapped his own bald head pretty hard causing a loud 'SMACK!' He could have been mocking surprise. It might have been genuine. I couldn't tell. It hadn't even registered yet that I had gotten his age correct. "On the money!" he exclaimed, much to Benny’s delight, who had also started up on his demands for a card out of the closet again.

Dr. James was watching me like a lab scientist watching his favorite test rat. He remained uninfected by the pair of contagious grins and the ensuing hoopla. He knew my reaction to Harry’s touch had been different from the previous three, and like any good scientist, made a mental note of said difference. His curiosity more than anything was probably why he came to my aid so quickly, I am sure.

"Okay, gentleman," he began, having to raise his voice a little trying to calm them down. "Thank you for your participation in our test. Benny, if John decides to take his act on the road, I’ll make sure he knows how to reach you. Right now, for your own sake, you need to settle down and maybe get some rest. Visiting hours might need to be cut a little short if you exert yourself too much there. Harry, you make sure your friend there slows that old heart down a bit and then you might want to say good night until tomorrow yourself. I’ll come back and look in on you in a little while. Got it, Benny?"

"Got it, Doc," Benny said. I didn‘t know how far along into his 79th year he already was, but I hoped it wasn’t far. He was still smiling as I thanked them again and made my escape.

* * * * *

Chapter Twelve


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The Master Plan

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine