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Be Careful What You Wish For – Ch. 3

Two days pass before the Machine flags another number. This one is fairly straightforward — a scorned wife has hired two hit-men to take care of her cheating husband. Beats a messy divorce, I suppose. My first thought is to call him, warn him, but that approach has met with limited success. I could arrange an impromptu business meeting with a wealthy potential new client to disrupt his routine and foil the hit, but that would just be delaying the inevitable. I need to stop it from happening.

I sit and stare at the card catalog for over an hour, feeling the time tick away, like hourglass sand falling in the pit of my stomach. I haven’t let myself think about Reese since he disappeared, not even when I read about Diane Hanson’s arrest in the papers. I don’t want to believe in him, I don’t want to put my faith, my hope, into something as enduring as a soap bubble. The man is a myth, a fantasy, a daydream, and I don’t want to be disappointed by reality when I finally wake up.

I can’t wait any longer. I open the drawer and take out the lamp. It feels warm in my hands and I can’t swear to it, but some of the tarnish seems to have faded, letting the gleam of the brass shine through. I hold my breath, ready to feel like a colossal idiot if this doesn’t work. I rub my hand over the side of the lamp, startled when it feels more like rubbing skin than metal.

The lamp shakes and that dark blue smoke roils out of it.

“How may I serve you, Master?”

I turn to find Reese standing behind me. “That’s Mr. Finch, if you don’t mind, and I have a wish for you.”

“A new car? A supermodel? A million dollars? Decided to do something about that limp?”

“No,” I say, my tone short. “I have another number I want you to help.”

“C’mon, you used your first two to help someone else. Do something nice for yourself. You deserve it.”

“You don’t know anything about me and I’d appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself. Now, the man who needs help is William Henderson.” I explain the situation, show him the man’s picture, and give him the address. “I wish you would stop this man from being murdered.”

“Your wish is my command,” the genie says, but unlike before, he doesn’t immediately disappear. He regards me for a moment. “I may not know everything about you,” he says at last, “but I do know that in three thousand years of being a genie, I’ve never had anyone use all three of their free wishes to help other people. You are a good and rare human being.” He bows and vanishes in a swirl of smoke.

Three thousand years? He looks good for his age.

I wait for him until after dark, but I can’t afford to stay up all night again. I have work in the morning. I prepare to leave the library for the night, making sure the hotplate, lights, and monitors are turned off. Before I send the computer to sleep, I check the Machine one more time and discover a new number. I make a note of it in my phone, power everything down, grab my coat off the rack, and head out.

I take a cab to one of my residences. I hesitate to call any of them ‘home’, since I’m more comfortable and spend more time in my library, but if I’m going to Harold Finch’s job in the morning, I really should sleep in Harold Finch’s bed. I only have a few identities that I bother to maintain. The rest are disposable, ready if I need them and easily erased afterward. I always imagined that when I found a partner, I’d use them to help research the numbers, to access secure locations to gather information. None of the dangerous legwork, of course — I hate firearms — but whatever I could do to help.

I draw up short at the sink, kettle in hand, struck by a sudden thought. Why couldn’t I wish for a partner? I could wish for Reese to find me someone with a particular skillset and disposition, someone without psychological or substance abuse problems. I fill the kettle and put it on to boil, then head into the bedroom to make the bed. What if there isn’t anyone? What if I couldn’t find a partner because I’m asking for too much? What concessions am I willing to make? How far will I let my standards fall?

I spread a sheet, watching the fine linen settle over the mattress. Do I even have to settle? Think about it. I have a genie at my beck and call. A genie. That’s got to be better than any CIA sniper or Navy Seal. And it’s not like I won’t be able to pay for as many wishes as I need. I spent the first forty years of my life making myself very rich. Obscenely rich, really. What better way to spend it than on helping people?

Speaking of people who need help…I finish making the bed and set up my laptop at the kitchen table. I make a cup of tea and sit down, putting my newest number into the search engine I created. While the program runs, I sip my tea and stare out the window. This all still feels like an elaborate dream, too good to be true, or like a cosmic joke and I’m the punchline.

My laptop chimes, letting me know that the search has finished. I skim through the information, a frown creasing my brow. This can’t be. The Machine is pointing me toward a girl who is already dead. If anyone else had written the code, I would say there was a bug in it, and a substantial one at that, but I had programmed every variable, every line, tested and retested every function. There is nothing wrong with it.

Which means that Theresa Whitaker is still alive.

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One Comment
  1. NOW you’re thinking, Harold! 😀

    Fave line: “Three thousand years? He looks good for his age.” Indeed! 😉

    And I forgot to mention this earlier, but I love the quid pro quos reminiscent of Disney’s Alladin!

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