Max was excited. Months and months and months of scratching diagrams and formula on chalkboards had come to this, this object in his pasteboard box.
He was clutching it against his thumping heart. It could mean millions, he thought along with all the disbursements he’d make as soon as the first checks starting rolling in to his mailbox. Maybe (he suppressed a gasp) billions. The word rolled down his throat like whiskey on Christmas.
The muted gray of his comfort suit blended nicely with the charcoal tints of the office décor. Good, he thought, I fit in. Which was the best anyone could hope for.
The secretary clacked away on her Smith-Corona: he could see the flash of the silver arms striking the black ribbon. She was not waiting, excited. She was comfortably bored. She knew what to do and she belonged here. He did not, but – he consoled himself – he was much more important.
She did not look at him, pretty thing.
Her phone rang. She picked up, routinely, the Bakelite handle, her dark lipstick lips pursed and white teeth exposed over the words Yes I’ll Send Him In.
Mr. Max, she look at him for only a sentence, he’ll see you now, and her fingers clacked again.
Max stood up with his box and walked like on a tightwire into His Moment.
The Executive’s Office was three walls of curtainless glass, overlooking the overcast gray of the city. An ebony conference table was spotlighted, splayed under the muted glare of fluorescent hanging lamps.
Sitting behind the table was the VP of New Projects for GlobalTechMacro, Inc., an oyster-colored gauntness who spoke English as a second language in favor of flowcharts and spreadsheets: his face was clay-molded by decades of abstract nouns and gerunds, and, of course, acronyms.
Let me see the device.
Max showed it, with fear and trembling. The Moment was upon him, the hour of potential, his chance for millions.
Hmmmm. Activate, if you please.
Don’t you want to see the diagrams, the specs, the data for my Super X? I have video observations, animal testing series, even primates?
I’m sure everything is in order. Activate, now.
“Max, this can’t be a real deal,” you said, conscientiously.
Please tell your associate that I have time and attention for only one interview.
Don’t mind him, he is only my Punisher.
You will have to dismiss him. Activate.
So Max pressed the Big Button, which is found on all Super devices. The clacking continued at the desk outside. Nothing happened except for a cold shudder somewhere, and perhaps an extra gallon of gray poured into the room.
I would consider this demonstration a success. You will receive a generous offer and a contract in the post today. You may go.
But how do you know my Super X worked?
I know. The gaunt VP allowed himself a sardonic curl of his parchment lips. These things always work, he muttered, always in time.
Max gathered up his Super X Invention. Will the Defense Department use this?
Oh, yes, you can be assured of that. It will be put to good use. We are always looking for such devices. But more field trials are needed.
How can I help?
The best work begins at home.
Max shut the door behind him and looked for the secretary who should pay more attention, now, to a successful man. Her clacking, though, was slower, and she seemed more distant. Why hadn’t he noticed before that her right eye was larger, her left lower, and the left side of her mouth drooped down. A run in her hose disclosed a coal black varicose vein.
He remembered that he remembered, pressing the Big Button, her disregard. It must have worked. Well, he thought, she had her chance.
Max himself seemed further away as he descended down the elevator shaft, and as he exited the lobby, you saw a multiplicity of gray Comfort suits with pasteboard boxes. The Super X not only did its Death Ray thing, and deftly, but it also confirmed (or created?) the Many Worlds hypothesis. At least it seemed that way. Not, as if anyone cared, the Real Deal.
The mood music was playing from the tin klaxon overhead, and Max with his Super X sang, flatly, the words:
Just what you mean to me
and now, now that you’re near
promise your love that I waited to share
and dreams of our moments together …
He clutched his invention more tightly.
You tried to tell him and you’re further away.