by Mike Murphy
Elias Farrell founded Look Ahead Enterprises—a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company designed to do the impossible—in 2027.
On the morning of March 8, he met with a potential client, Jeff Healy, in Farrell’s well-appointed office. He offered him a seat, which he took, and something to drink, which he refused. “Let’s get down to brass tacks then,” Elias said. “How may we help you?”
Healy was a bit nervous, like many new clients. He began, “I was referred to you by a—a business associate of mine, Charles Kilpatrick.”
“How’s he doing?”
“He’s fine. He said that you solved a tough problem for him.”
“He’s too kind,” Farrell smiled and replied. “We merely showed him the way.”
“How did you do that?”
“I can’t speak of specifics. Look Ahead Enterprises places great value on our clients’ confidentiality.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“What problem would you like us to deal with?”
“Anything you say here will never leave this room. I need to know what your problem is to see if we can help you.”
Jeff paused uneasily, but finally spilled. “It’s my son—Alex. He’s fourteen.”
“That’s quite an age: No longer a child, but not yet a man.”
“He’s starting to act—strangely.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Farrell. Alex is a good kid. My wife, Trish, and I raised him right—with love and discipline.”
“I don’t doubt that for a minute.”
“He seems to have fallen in with a bad crowd. He’s started skipping school, and talking back to Trish and me. We’ve done everything we can think of, talked to all kinds of specialists, but we’re at our wits’ end.”
“I can imagine.”
“Charlie said you give DVDs to your clients.”
“For a small fee, yes.”
“I thought that,” Healy went on, “if I could show Alex video proof of what he’s going to become if he continues down this road, it might straighten him out.”
“May I assume you’ve looked over our fee schedule?”
“I have. I’ve already filled out the paperwork too. I think the One Look package would be best.”
“From what you’ve told me, I agree.”
“Simply put,” Farrell summed up, “with the proper programming, our computer can momentarily subvert natural forces and the laws of physics to peek into the probable future of any person we choose.”
“Probable?” asked Healy.
“Our best estimate is 89.6%.”
“So what I’ll see here today—what I’m paying for—isn’t the definite future?”
“Most likely it will be,” Farrell said. “Some factors beyond our control make it impossible to reach 100%.”
“Such as?” Jeff prompted him.
“Free will, for one.”
“I don’t get it.”
“A fictional example: Walking home tonight, I cross the street and get hit by a bus. If I delayed crossing that street by even a minute, the bus would pass me uneventfully, and I would live to see another day.” He looked Jeff in the eye. “That percent,” he said, “is the absolute best we can provide. If it’s not sufficient for you, I can cancel your contract.”
“No,” Healy replied emphatically. “I’m going through with it.”
It took Elias Farrell ten minutes to ready Healy’s viewing room. He explained to Jeff that his look ahead would appear on the screen before him, unfortunately without sound—something his programmers hadn’t been able to work out yet. The computer would select what it believed to be the subject’s most important future day. The DVD recording would begin as soon as the video appeared on the monitor. The One Look would last approximately a minute and would be date stamped.
The monitor flickered to life: Healy’s house. The date stamp was a little over a year from now. The video moved inside the home to show his son and wife. They were talking about something while Trish put papers into her valise. He was nowhere to be seen. To Jeff’s shock, the on-screen Alex pulled out a gun and, after some heated arguing, shot Trish twice in the chest. Seconds later, the screen went blank. Healy sat staring at the monitor, slack-jawed. He couldn’t believe it. “Can this be changed?” he asked, hoping against hope.
“It’s possible,” Farrell told him. “Any actions you, Alex, or your wife takes mightinfluence the future.”
“To the point where that won’t happen?” Jeff asked, pointing disdainfully at the screen.
“Then we’ll do it!”
“Whatever keeps Alex from shooting Trish.”
Farrell was confused by his client’s words. “We have no way of knowing what actions to take.”
His client was dumbfounded. “Your computer can’t tell me what to do to set things right?”
“No, sir. It’s only a viewer.”
“So I can possibly save her life, but I can’t know how?” Healy asked, his face growing red. “By dumb luck, I might do something which will keep that from happening, but I could also bring it about quicker.”
“That is the paradox of time.”
Jeff rubbed his eyes for a moment, trying to keep all this information in his head. “Any advice, Farrell? Any at all?”
He paused for what seemed like forever and then muttered, “Well…”
“There is something?”
“It’s very expensive.”
“You must promise that my suggestion will go no further than this room. If it were to become public knowledge, my future…”
“I promise,” Jeff replied eagerly.
Farrell took the deepest breath Jeff had ever seen anyone take. “They do exist,” he began.
“I could set you up—with a fixer.”
“His name is Tomlinson.”
“What’s his first name?”
“No one knows,” Elias answered. “He goes only by Tomlinson.”
“What does he do?”
“You should know that fixers are outside the law. The Feds usually turn a blind eye to them—but not always to those who hire them. Our operations here are sanctioned by the government. We are answerable to the government. Tomlinson and those like him are not.”
“I understand,” Jeff said. “What does he do?”
“Fixers have equipment beyond ours. They’re able somehow to analyze a problem shown by a glimpse into the future and prevent it from occurring.”
“So Tomlinson can stop what I saw on that screen?” Healy asked hopefully.
“He’s the best chance you have.”
“How do you know about fixers?”
“Let’s just say that you’re not the first client whose One Look was negative.”
“Very good—and very expensive.”
“How do I contact him?”
“You don’t. He’ll contact you,” Elias continued. “A friend of mine knows how to reach him. I’ll have to give her all your information, including a copy of the video record. She’ll forward everything.”
“Whatever he needs. I definitely want to hire him.”
“You don’t hire him.”
“Huh?” a befuddled Jeff asked.
“He decides whether he’ll accept you as a client. If so, he’ll call you. If you don’t hear anything within a week, his answer is no.”
“A week! I don’t want to let a week go by!”
“I might be able to set you up with another fixer who may have more availability.”
Jeff tried balancing quicker help against skill in his mind. “You said Tomlinson’s good?”
“I want the best. How long before he gets my information?”
“I should be able to reach my contact tonight. Tomlinson will have your records within twenty-four hours,” Farrell assured him. “Do I have your permission to continue?”
“I would appreciate it if you forget who directed you to Tomlinson. If the government finds out about…”
“No one will ever know.”
Seven interminable days later, Jeff’s cell phone rang. “This is Tomlinson,” he heard.
“Yes?” he responded eagerly.
“I’ll take your case.”
“You can prevent the shooting?”
“I believe so.”
“You believe so?”
“Even my methods are not foolproof,” Tomlinson replied, sounding a bit annoyed. “You’re free to back out. Tell me now before I waste my time.”
“No, no,” Jeff added quickly. “I don’t want to back out.”
“Mr. Farrell spoke very highly of you.”
“I’m the best,” the voice proudly answered. “My fee is $25,000, up front.”
Jeff was taken aback by the amount. “Twenty-five—”
“Having second thoughts?”
“I’m used to paying for services rendered. It’s how I do business.”
“This is how I do business. Take it or leave it.”
“How do I get you the money?”
“I’ll let you know.”
“How do you keep the shooting from happening?”
“Simple: We alter the timeline.”
“The what?” Healy asked the voice on the phone.
“That’s what we call the order of time,” Tomlinson explained. “Think of it as a long, straight highway. Everything’s in order: Tuesday follows Monday, and Wednesday follows Tuesday. What I need to do is put an ‘exit ramp’ on that highway.”
“You realize there isn’t much time.”
“I know,” the voice assured him. “Starting tomorrow morning, I’ll need daily updates from you.”
“On what?” Jeff asked, confused.
“Everything you did the previous day—from what you had for breakfast to when you went to bed. The same goes for your wife and kid. The more information, the better. If you and Trish had pillow talk, I want to know about it.”
“For what reason?”
“Time is strange, Healy. We don’t know what might influence it. I need to cover every base. The slightest omission could cause trouble.”
“You haven’t shown your boy that DVD, have you?” Tomlinson asked urgently.
“No,” Healy answered. “I thought it best to wait and speak with you.”
“Good thinking. Don’t. It might give him ideas. Don’t show it to anyone.”
“How do I reach you?”
“I’ve downloaded an app onto your phone while we’ve been talking. Every morning at 9:00, call me at star 7809. Your words will be recorded, and I’ll expect a full accounting.”
“You’ll get it.”
“You’ll notice that your caller ID is showing this as an unlisted number.”
Healy glanced at the phone’s display and replied, “Yes.”
“Never call me beyond your updates.”
“What if something important happens?”
“It can wait for the next update. Any extra calls increase the chance I’ll be identified and caught before I can help you.”
“Have you told your wife about this?”
“Don’t,” Tomlinson ordered. “During tomorrow’s update, you’ll learn how to transfer my fee.”
“I’ll have the money ready and waiting.”
“You may not hear from me for prolonged stretches of time. You might think the period of silence excessive. I assure you it’s necessary. Finally, in order to save your wife’s life, I may need to make requests of you.”
“What kind of requests?”
“I may need you to do or say certain things.”
“Couldn’t we just keep Alex away from Trish?”
“Certainly not! Some major things will happen to you and your loved ones during this time. However, intentionally altering your family life will make our goal much more difficult to attain—perhaps impossible.”
“I’ll leave things be.”
“Good. Remember: Your first update is tomorrow morning at 9:00.”
“Well, yesterday I got a raise, so Trish and I went out for dinner at our favorite…”
“I had to go to Alex’s school. He got into some trouble with his…”
“Yesterday was our boy’s fifteenth birthday, so we all…”
“It being Black Friday, Trish hit the malls early. Alex and I stayed home and watched some football…”
“…and went to bed. Tomlinson, are you getting these updates? I haven’t heard from you in months. The day of the shooting is coming up. Have you done anything to prevent it? Tomlinson!”
“How about the two of us play hooky from work today?” Jeff asked his wife.
“What?” she answered, surprised.
“We’ll send Alex off to school and call in sick. We could go out to lunch, to a movie, to the museum. Whatever you like.”
“That’s a great idea,” she replied after a brief chuckle, “but I can’t. I’m showing the Cartwright place to three different couples this afternoon, and I’m told they’re all eager to buy. We could sure use my commission.”
“Maybe next week?”
Jeff sighed. “I suppose.”
“We’d better get moving,” she said, looking at her watch. “Could you please take out the trash? I’ve got some papers to get together.”
In his grungy T-shirt, jeans, and once-white sneakers, Alex was as dressed up as he ever got. “Hi, honey,” Trish greeted him from her seat on the couch, looking up only briefly before going back to collecting her notes. “Sleep well?”
“So-so,” he answered. “Mom, I—I need some money.”
“Would ten bucks do?” she asked, zipping up her valise.
He awkwardly pulled a gun from a pants pocket. “I was thinking more of everything you have.”
“Alex, where’d—What are you doing?”
“Don’t move,” he ordered. “How much money do you have in your purse?”
“I’m not—not really sure. About fifty dollars, I think.”
“I want it.”
Trish began doing as she had been told. “Okay, the trash is out,” Jeff announced, walking into the living room. “It looks like the raccoons…”
“Sit down, old man!” Alex exclaimed, pointing the gun at his dad.
“Put that down!”
“When I feel like it,” the teenager said. “Give me your money. Now!” Jeff slowly took his wallet from his back pocket, removed the bills, and handed them over. “That’s it?”
Alex counted it quickly. “That’s not even a hundred bucks!”
“How much do you need?” Trish asked.
“A lot more than this.”
“Who do you owe the money to?” Healy inquired. “A bookie? A dealer?”
“Shut up!” Alex yelled, sweat coming to his pimply brow. “We’re going to the bank, and you’re gonna get me the money I need.”
“There’s not much in the account,” his mother told him. “I paid the bills the other day.”
“When will there be money in it?”
“Friday,” Jeff told his son. “We both get paid on Friday.”
“He won’t wait until Friday.”
The doorbell rang. “Who’s that?” Alex asked Jeff nervously.
“How am I supposed to know?”
“It could be him.” The bell rang again. “You’re gonna take care of this.”
Healy stood on the threshold. Behind the open door, Alex held his gun to Trish’s right temple. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and she was doing all she could not to weep aloud.
The man on the stoop was about forty-five. He was short and a little chubby. Jeff had never seen him before, but he knew that voice. “Good morning, sir,” the visitor said in a friendly tone. “My name is Tomlinson, and I’m with the Your Opinion Matters Research Company.”
“I’m afraid that now isn’t a good time,” Jeff informed him.
“I only have a couple of questions to ask. Won’t take but a minute.”
“Answering them will qualify you for some valuable prizes, including a fabulous cruise to Alaska.”
“Answer the questions and get rid of him,” Alex whispered through his teeth.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Jeff said.
“Thank you, sir. With all of the crime in today’s society, do you own—a gun?”
“I do not.”
“If you were to purchase a weapon, would you have any preference as to the type? Say, a revolver, perhaps?”
“A revolver would be good to have.”
“Thank you, sir.” Tomlinson removed a bulky, unsealed envelope from his coat pocket and passed it carefully to Healy. They exchanged an understanding glance. “Here are your chances on the cruise,” the fixer said. “Good luck.”
“Good day,” Tomlinson said before turning and walking away.
Healy shut the door.
“Let’s get m—” Alex uttered before taking a bullet in his right leg, dropping his gun, and falling to the carpet.
Tomlinson called Jeff at the hospital. “Your case is closed,” he told his client.
“Didn’t you cut that rather fine?” Healy complained.
“Not intentionally. Working with the timeline, I realized there was no way to prevent the shooting aside from visiting your home and getting you a weapon.”
“Another minute or two and…”
“My attempts to prevent the problem must’ve jostled it to a slightly earlier time. It should not have been happening when I arrived. It should not have begun for another eleven minutes.”
“Your account is paid in full. Goodbye, Mr. Healy. Best of luck in your—future.”
“The doctors say he’ll be fine,” Healy told his wife as he walked back into the waiting room.
“He could have killed us, Jeff,” Trish said. “Our own son could have killed us!”
“I know,” Healy replied sadly.
“What do you think he needs the money for?”
“Not a clue, but I’m going to find out. Alex is getting his act together starting now.”
“Where did you get the gun?” his bride asked him.
“Tomlinson gave it to me,” he answered her.
“The man at the door?”
“He just happened to show up with a gun right when we needed it?” she said incredulously.
“It’s a long story.”
Later that night, Jeff noticed that Tomlinson’s app was still on his cell phone. He couldn’t resist.
“The number you have called,” he heard, “has been disconnected. No further information is available…The number you have called has been disconnected. No further information is available…The number you have called has been disconnected. No further information is…”
Mike Murphy has had over 150 audio plays produced in the U.S. and overseas. In 2016, he won two Moondance International Film Festival awards. Mike’s prose work has appeared in Dime Show Review, Gathering Storm Magazine, Zeroflash, Inwood Indiana Press, Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, With Candlelight, Asymmetry Fiction, Lyonesse Fiction, Communicators League, Theme of Absence, Visions With Voices, Fabula Argentea, and The Flash Fiction Press. In 2015, his script The Candy Man was produced as a short film under the title Dark Chocolate. In 2013, Mike won the inaugural Marion Thauer Brown Audio Drama Scriptwriting Competition.