Drunk on Time
by J. H. Malone
Saul is a 20-something computer expert. He’s somewhat undisciplined and drinks too much, but he is charming and has a soft spot for older people and for his love interest, who is a brilliant but enigmatic researcher. They unlock the secrets of parallel universes with unexpected results for themselves.
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6
Mildred McGarvey ate a muffin while working on her memoirs in the activity room. Crumbs fell from her lips and gummed up her keyboard. The t and h keys. She brought the laptop out to me in the Center’s office with an embarrassed look on her face. I turned it upside down and shook it. Crumbs fell out. Others stayed put. I picked up my can of compressed air.
Just then Valeria Garza appeared at the Center’s double doors. She banged on one of them and Fred Barnes hustled over to pull it open for her. She pushed past him with a grunt, spotted me in the office, and hobbled for me on her bad hip.
I dislodged a crumb with a blast from the can. Valeria tapped me on the shoulder.
“Saul,” she said.
“No tapping,” I said.
“I’ve gotta talk to you.”
“Soon as I’m done with this laptop,” I said.
“He’s helping me,” Mildred said.
“Wait outside,” Valeria said to her. “This is personal.”
Mildred stepped out and Valeria pushed the door shut. “Get done please,” she said.
I held up my hand. She took my sleeve between thumb and bony forefinger and gave it a tug.
“You’re the big computer expert,” she said. “I need your help and I need it fast.”
I blew crumbs.
“I’m gonna tell you something,” Valeria said, “which is strictly between you, me, and the bedpost. Understand?”
“My lips are sealed,” I said.
“My granddaughter Julieta, she’s seventeen. She’s seeing a guy who’s trouble.”
I put down my can.
“His name is Tommy Link,” Valeria said. “Julieta thinks she’s in love. Tommy is nineteen, maybe twenty.”
“Her dad told her to stop seeing the boy, but she just left the house with him. She had an overnight bag. They got in his car and took off.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“Running off with Tommy is the worst thing she could do. My son has a temper.”
“Have you tried calling her?”
“She doesn’t answer.”
“So why tell me?”
“I want you to find out where she’s gone and what she’s doing.” She pointed at the laptop.
“Valeria,” I said, “this is Mildred’s computer. She’s waiting for it. And how am I supposed to find out what your granddaughter is doing on a laptop? I don’t know her, and I don’t know the boy. I’ve got nothing to go on. I can find you a good surgeon for that hip, but your granddaughter’s social life is something else entirely.”
“Use Facebook,” Valeria said. “Use Twitter. Use those other things the kids use. SpotAndFly. Google her. Google Tommy’s license plates. Email her. Text her. Do like they do on TV and hack her. Hack them both. What are you asking me for? You’re the expert. Everybody says you can find anything on the computer. You’ve got a gift. Track her down. Go on now.”
She pulled out a picture of a teenager and waved it in front of me. A pretty young woman.
I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I wanted to say no, but the woman was desperate.
“You helped Malika Tory find her cat,” she said. “You told Agnes Chang whose dog was pooping on her lawn.”
I kicked myself for those mensch-like actions. No good deed.
“I know you’re a slacker,” Valeria said, “but show some gumption for a change. Quit lollygagging and get busy.”
“I just fixed this laptop,” I said. “What about that?”
“I’m sorry. Your lack of ambition is none of my business.”
“I’ll look into it,” I said, “but I can’t do anything on this machine. My search tools are on my computer at home. Mildred wouldn’t want me snooping around your granddaughter on her laptop anyway.”
I stood up.
“What can you tell me about Tommy?” I said.
She grabbed my hands. Hers were cold, despite the warmth of the day.
“He’s a nice kid. He met Julieta when he was doing some business with Tony, my son. They hit it off. Tommy is okay but he’s having some serious business problems with Tony. I don’t know where Tommy lives. I think he works at the IKEA in Burbank. He used to.”
“What kind of serious business problems?”
Valeria rubbed thumb and forefinger together.
“Something’s going on you’re not telling me about,” I said.
She stood looking at me, listing to the left.
“I’ll see what I can find out,” I said. “I’ll be here for a while tomorrow before I go over to Hesby Seniors in Sherman Village.”
“Call me as soon as you know something. I’ve got to talk to Julieta before she does something stupid and her dad finds out.”
After showing Valeria out of the office, I gave Mildred her restored laptop and sat down to look up the Garza address. At five o’clock, I rolled out of the Center’s parking lot in my Jeep. I considered driving straight home and finding the missing couple but, instead, I headed over to The Studio, a dive on Magnolia in North Hollywood. I parked on the curb and swung my door open when the traffic was clear.
The Studio was my bar of choice when I wasn’t in the mood to drink alone. It was located a couple of blocks from my apartment, which made it convenient when I was too impaired to drive home at the end of an evening.
The smell of stale beer greeted me at the door. I stood inside for a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the gloom, and then I walked over and sat down at the end of the bar. Walt brought over a bowl of pretzels and a draft. Several of the regulars lifted their glasses and I toasted them back. I was the only one in the bar under sixty. Like at work.
“How’re the old folks?” Walt said.
“Most of them younger than you are,” I said.
I drank off half the beer. In back, Abe and Jose, both over eighty and arthritic, were playing a game of foosball that progressed at the speed of a zen exercise.
Mimi came in through the back and put on an apron. Walt waved us a goodbye, gave his daughter a hug, and went out the way Mimi had come in.
She rubbed down the bar with a rag.
“You want a sandwich?” she said to me.
“Just an egg.”
She brought over a bowl of hard-boiled eggs. I took one.
“How was your day?” she said.
“Valeria Garza wants me to find out what her granddaughter is up to. You know Julieta Garza?”
“I know her sister Mariana. We were in high school together. Julieta was just a kid at the time. What’s Valeria worried about?”
“I think Julieta is hanging out with a kid who owes her dad money.”
“Why does Valeria think you would know anything about Julieta?”
“I’ve used the Internet a couple of times to help her friends at the Center. Apparently I have a reputation.”
“I’m older than Valeria Garza,” Keishi Suzuki said, down the bar. “Why don’t you ever help me?”
“What do you need?” I said.
“Another drink, but I’m tapped out.”
I nodded to Mimi. She set Suzuki up with a shot.
“Nurse it,” she said to him.
“We’re drinking my rent money,” I said to Suzuki.
“That’s why it tastes so goddamned good,” he said. “Always better when you don’t pay for it.”
“You know he’s not broke,” Mimi said to me.
I peeled and ate my egg and washed it down with the rest of the beer. Took a second egg from the bowl and got off my stool.
“Good luck with Julieta,” Mimi said.
“Give me one more shot and put it on his tab,” Suzuki said to her.
Outside, May twilight softened the urban scene with purple. Down the block, a homeless guy named Jekell sat with his back against the brick front of a laundry, his dog Bush beside him. Bush wagged his tail. I walked over and gave him the egg, which he wolfed down shell and all.
Magnolia Boulevard was still busy with folks heading home from work. I waited for a guy on a bike to whizz past, then climbed into the Jeep and fired it up.
I turned off Magnolia at Vineland. My apartment was a fifth-floor walkup in a vintage structure built long before the Metro Orange Line began gentrifying the area.
Inside, I broke open a fresh bottle of cheap bourbon and sat down at my work table in the apartment’s second bedroom. I began my late-night granddaughter search by hitting the switch that powered up the scanner’s server in its rack against the wall. Its auxiliary unit woke up on the floor next to it.
I filled a water glass with bourbon and took a sip. Turned on the console and typed in the Garza address I had looked up in the Lankershim office. Took a sip. Settled the controller on my lap. One more sip and I pulled on my VR headset and snugged up its straps. My mouth was left free for my drink.
Inside the headset, a virtual 3D view phased in. I saw myself from behind. I twitched the joystick and the view drifted up to the ceiling, backing away toward the door.
I kept a list of bookmarks on the scanner. Before tracking the Garza girl, I took a minute to hop back for the thousandth time to the day I first laid eyes on Liesl.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2020 by J. H. Malone