By Russell Huneke

"It's astonishing, Tiffany. Absolutely amazing," he stopped and took in an ample breath before continuing.

"Go easy," she said, realizing how anxiously he was breathing.

"I have actually developed a process," he began, gesticulating his large, vein prominent hands around, "where I am able to transform any tangible object, living or inanimate, into a computer program on my FLC datacom deluxe computer system."

"Run that by me again," she said with a queer look on her face.

Harold repositioned himself closer to her, putting his arm around her in a half-loving sort of way. His big awkward hands helping to paint a vision of understanding in the air.

"I can actually change objects, people, into a computer program. Tiffany, in all my forty years of research and design, this is the biggest stride I have ever made. Just think of the possibilities. No more packing suitcases when you go away on vacation. Just zap it into the computer, store it on a disk and then rematerialize it at your convenience." He paused a moment to gather his thoughts. "Of course," he admitted, "that would all be a ways in the future. I only have the prototype. There would have to be other units built and installed; I don't even have a patent on the thing yet!"

"Sounds wonderful," said Tiffany, doing her best to feign excitement. "Sort of like Star Trek, isn't it."

Harold laughed out loud with a brazen chuckle, his large hands leaping from his lap and waving uncontrollably in the air. He had always had a fondness for Tiffany's somewhat quirky sense of humor; her ability to inject such comical comments into a serious conversation while never really intending for them to be funny.

"Yes," he said, squeezing her knee lightly with affection. "Yes, I guess you could call it something like that."

A pregnant moment of thought. Then: "Oh, Tiffany, I've missed you so!"

He paused a second, looking vacant. Then he said, "Tiffany, why did you take that money from the company, anyway?"

The question came right out of the blue, and it startled her at first. Then she said, "I did it for you, Harold. You were so desperate to make your inventions work, and I wanted to help you somehow. I didn't think I'd get caught. It was small time. And you seemed so desperate for money."

"But I had savings. I wasn't broke."

"Yeah, but you were doing all the work and I felt so totally useless. I had to do something!"

"But embezzlement just isn't the moral way to help," he said, suddenly becoming earnest for a moment-then sympathetic. "But I suppose you thought you were helping."

"Then you aren't mad at me?" she asked imploringly with wide brown eyes of hopefulness.

"How could I stay mad at you?"

Silence pervaded in the atmosphere for a moment. Then Harold said, "Tiffany, you know this isn't a safe place for you to be. The authorities must be out on the march for you by now. They know I'm your husband. This is the first place they'll look. I'm afraid you're gonna have to leave-for your own sake."

"Oh, Harold," she said offhandishly. "You worry too much, honey. Trust me. I got a big jump on them. They won't be onto me for days."

"I don't know, Tiffany."

"Hush," she said, and fell mute for a moment, transfixed in thought.

"Harold....Do." she stammered a second. "Do you ever regret having married me?"

Harold was shocked. "Of course not!" he said emphatically. "Why should I?"

"Oh, come on, Harold. Look at me. I'm a jailbird at thirty. Besides that I never was the intellectual equivalent of you!"

That was an understatement. A big one.

"Oh, Tiffany," he said reaching his long arm around her and coddling her close to him. "You just make mistakes, that's all. And as for intelligence, you've got plenty-if you apply yourself. Besides, I fell in love with you, not your I.Q."

Now Harold was still; thinking.

"What about you?" he asked. "Any objections to marrying a man twenty five years your senior?"

And it was one of those big age gaps, too. The kind that draws stares in the streets. She was a buxom, thirty year old blond, with a body to kill for. And he was a fifty five year old man, greying sharply at the temples with a spindly rail of a body, premature age spots, and a set of dentures that always gave him the unsettling smile of a corpse.

"Never," she said, firmly while rubbing his knee. Her hand crept slowly toward his crotch making his big, white dentures form the cadaverous grin. And as she looked into that gaunt face of his with the disturbing dentured smile she could see only the man that she loved; the man that had always made her happy.

Barking suddenly interrupted the moment and made Tiffany arc her head sharply toward the sound. Harold followed her gaze, realizing it was the barking of Heinz, Harold's faithful golden retriever. Harold had named him Heinz because once when Heinz was a puppy Harold spilled catsup on the floor. By the time he had gotten back with a mop to clean it up, Heinz had licked the floor spotless of the spilled catsup. Harold then deduced that the dog was fond of catsup and mixed it in with every serving of his dog food. From that day on Heinz had never failed to lick his food bowl clean.

"Is that Heinzy I hear?" she asked in an excited, squeaky voice.

Heinz came bounding into the parlor, his golden, short cut fur beaming with a healthy shine. His long, droopy tongue hung from the corner of his mouth, wet with drool. The dog leaped up onto the couch and mounted his big, manicured paws in between Harold and Tiffany who jubilantly began to stroke his carpety golden coat.

Heinz licked both their faces alternately as he panted in a steady rhythm. Tiffany pulled him close to her with unbridled exuberance. Heinz let out a small yelp and then licked her face again. She clasped the dog's snout firmly in her dainty hands and gave him a big kiss on his slightly greying muzzle. To this Heinz responded with three more quick licks to her face with his long, drooly tongue.

"I hate to interrupt the re-acquaintances," said Harold, with a slight, jovial laugh. "But would you care to see my new invention, Tiffany?"

"Sure," she said, stroking Heinz's head and playing with his ears. "You look as though you may bust if you don't show someone soon."

He burst out in more strong chords of laughter. "I very well may," he said as he began to rise from the couch. "I very well may!"

Patting Heinz gingerly on the bottom he said, "Come on, Heinzy. Let's go show Mommy our new invention. C'mon, boy!"

Heinz bounded down from the couch with enthusiasm. Harold grasped him gently by the scruff of his neck where his collar was, and the three of them went to the downstairs laboratory to see the great invention.

She was enveloped in awe when she saw the big room, congested with a mass of machinery. Positioned at the front of the big room was a standard computer console which seemed to stand ostensibly away from the bulk of the other machinery. At the rear of the room was a pedestal. Around the pedestal there was an encasement of glass with a silver, dome-shaped apparatus at the top. Leading out from the glass, tube-like device were appendages of heavy cabling which linked into some sort of main CPU. Control panels were scored with various blinking lights and switches, so many it didn't seem possible to count them all.

Emitting from the belly of the large computer control panel was an eerie droning sound that went in sync with the pulsing of lights in the tube-shaped apparatus and around the control boards.

(Wumpthum. Wumpthum. Wumpthum.)

The sight held her captive in wonder. And she thought to herself that it didn't only sound like Star Trek, it looked like it too! All this gadgetry and power, but what could it really do?

"You like it?" asked Harold, ebulliently as he cast a hand over the room like some sort of grand unveiling.

Heinz was whimpering and squealing, brushing against Tiffany's legs over and over. His tongue swinging limply from his mouth like a piece of long, red licorice. As Tiffany began to approach the machinery, Heinz began to squeal louder, as if he didn't want her to leave him. Heinz didn't seem to care much for the invention, in fact he appeared very frightened of it.

"Beam me up, Scotty," she said, looking transfixedly at the high tech marvel in front of her.

"Not far off," said Harold, giggling slightly.

"How does it work?" she asked.

"Oh, I'll show you."

He was only too happy to show it off. He went the console and sat down. To the right of him were four large power switches. He flicked each one on, one at a time, in the order of their position on the board. With the flick of each switch came more blinking lights, more rapid clicking like angry crickets, and the heavy wumpthum sound sped up, like the steady beating of some gigantic heart; the machine's heart. It was coming to life. In a cacophony of thronged lights and noises, this incredible machine was coming to life.

It was at maximum power now, all warmed up and ready to go. Harold flipped on the monitor and CPU of the small computer that sat at the helm of the machinery and waited for it to warm up as well.

"What is that?" asked Tiffany, pointing to the small, personal computer Harold sat before.

"This is the command console of the whole operation. Any command I want to give to the computer, I enter it here. It then gets transmitted to the mainframe which boosts the necessary power needed for a given command to be executed. The PC acts as a sort of computerized liaison to the mainframe. One computer carrying commands to another. Understand?"

"Not really," said Tiffany in a meek and confounded voice as she bit nervously at the cuticles around her nails.

"Don't worry. You don't need to," he said, putting his large, vein stripped hand over hers. She looked down at the hand, faintly polkadotted with brown liver spots and then back into his eyes, and there was a warmth in his face that she recognized and loved. Although she didn't think much of his work, she knew it made him happy. She would put up with this for only that reason.

"Well," he said as the monitor on the PC's screen flashed to life. WELCOME TO THE FLC DATACOM SYSTEM the screen read. PLEASE ENTER YOUR COMMAND AT THE PROMPT. "What do you say we start with something simple?"

He looked about and then spied an old, lyre backed chair in the corner. He rose and went to it.

"This will do good enough for starters," he said, hefting the chair and walking it toward the rear of the room to the rapidly pulsing glass tube. He pushed a button on the tube and it hissed obediently open. He put the chair on the pedestal, pushed the button again and the tube hissed closed. Then he walked to the front of the room and commandeered the console.

He sat down and began to punch in a myriad of commands with his nimble, yet somewhat arthritic fingers. Tiffany watched him go, void of any understanding of exactly what he was doing. Then something began to happen. All the lights stopped flashing and stayed solidly lit. With that was the accompanying sound of a high pitched whir, developing into an ear piercing shrill.

Tiffany cupped her ears against the shrieking and clenched her eyes shut. It was a horrible deafening sound.

She turned to Harold who seemed almost grossly enthralled at the sight and said, "What's that whining sound?"

"That's the power kicking up. It's almost ready!"

Inside the tube, bright lights began to flicker and scatter. The lights were somewhat irritating to watch, so Tiffany began to turn away from them. Then Harold suddenly snatched her arm, urging her to keep watching the tube. It was important that she see it for this was the best part.

"No no no!" he said, frantically drawing her attention back to the tube. "Look! Look! It's about to happen!"

Now the pulsing lights that radiated from the tube were almost blinding. They eddied around the chair like floating sparklers. In the midst of the lights a slight foggy sort of haze began to appear. It surrounded the chair, seeming to consume it. Now they could only see the fog, the sparks had died away. Then suddenly their was a loud, sharp SNAP, and the machine began to die down. The control boards began to blink normally again and the shrieking stopped. The machine settled down to its slow-beating wumpthum again.

Both of them looked entrancedly toward the tube. They watched, awestruck as the fog began to dissipate. When it was fully gone they saw that the tube was empty. The chair had vanished!

Tiffany clasped a shuddering hand over her mouth for a moment, disbelieving. She walked forward for a closer inspection. Harold's eyes followed her in fascination. His smile was one of a satisfied ego as he wallowed in his self pride.

She squinted into the tube, seeing nothing and yet still not totally convinced. She turned incredulously to Harold who was smiling smugly, his age spotted hands folded confidently over his stomach.

"It's a trick," she said in a challenging voice. "Magic, that's it, right. Just a big magic show. Oh, Harold, you rascal you almost had me believing..."

"It's not a trick!" said Harold, tersely. His words were earnest, his expression was unquestionable. And if she doubted him in the least, he was prepared to prove himself.

He rose from his chair and moved confidently toward the tube. Tiffany gaped at him eagerly, waiting to see what he would do. He went around to tube, rapping on it with his fist. It was still slightly hot and it burned his hand a little.

"You see," he said, confirming the tube's integrity. "Solid all around."

"What about the inside?" she persisted skeptically.

He nodded, understanding her reticence to believe and then pushed the button at the side of the door. With a whoosh of escaping steam the door slid obediently open. He gestured for her to come and inspect it for herself. She readily obliged him.

"See," he said, standing inside the tube while she looked on scrutinizingly. "No false floor. No way for it to have dropped underneath." He jumped on the floor to confirm this.

Now it was becoming evident to her. This was serious. He wasn't joking. He had actually made the chair disappear!

"Harold," she said and then stopped. She was lost for words. There were endless thoughts stirring in her head, but somehow she just couldn't manage to verbalize them.

"I know," said Harold, amused by her speechlessness. "It's kind of hard for me to swallow sometimes, too. But it works, Tiffany. By God it works. The first thing I've ever made that actually does work-properly."

"What are you going to do with it-sell it?"

He mused a moment. He'd posed that question to himself many times. And he was still never sure of a definite answer.

"Well," he began, his thoughts sort of muddy and unclear. "I have thought about marketing it to the general public. I really believe it would prove to be boundlessly beneficial. The question is..." he seemed to hesitate.

"Is what?" Tiffany prompted him.

"The question is can mankind be trusted with such a device? True if I were to sell the marketing rights I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams. But would it be a sell out? Can I just simply hand over a device of this power, a device that can be so easily perverted and corrupted, and simply wash my hands of whatever others see fit to do with it? That is the question I have been struggling with all along."

"Then what will you do with it?" she persisted, querulously.

"I don't know," he said, looking glumly around him at the work he had labored over so arduously for the past few years. "Maybe it was never meant for mankind per se to fool with. Maybe after all is said and done it is and should remain just an experiment, and nothing more. At least that way no one could get hurt."

"But it can't hurt anyone here," she said.

"No it can't. Not as long as I'm in control," his attitude seemed almost conceited, as if he regarded himself as a God of sorts. He was after all its creator. In truth he was absolutely right. As long as he didn't fall victim to subversion he was the only one who could be trusted. And he was sure that that was the way it should remain.

"By the way," she said, seeming to maneuver the conversation into a different direction. "Where is the chair?"

"Ah," he said, holding up a knowing finger. "Come with me, malady."

She followed him back to the console and he popped a three and a half inch floppy disk out of the drive. He held it up to her. He had written the word "chair" on the label of the disk in his broad, flamboyant script.

"Two point zero megabytes. All the structural integrity of the chair, its dimension, weight, atomic makeup and so forth, are contained on this disk as an elaborate computer program. I could show you the text of the program but I think it would bore you. But I do have another tantalizing demonstration that I think you'll find most interesting."

"What's that?" she asked.

"A living being."

She looked at him starkly, fearful of what he might be suggesting.

"No," he said, allaying her fears. "Not you. I'm going to use Heinz for the test."

She looked at him with a certain disturbance exuding from her simple, guileless eyes. This was getting a little bit too morbid now. It was starting to unfold like one of those cheapy B horror flicks she used to watch on the late night movies. The ones with the mad scientist and his gruesome monster. And to her unease it seemed as though Harold was casting himself in the role as mad scientist.

He began away from the computer when Tiffany halted him, looping her hand around the crux of his arm. He turned around, looking at her curiously.

"Harold," she said, measuring her words tactfully and cautiously. "Do you really think its such a good idea to play around with things like this. I mean suppose something went wrong, suppose something happened that you couldn't fix. A chair is one thing, but Heinz is another. He's a living being, Harold!"

"What are you saying?" he asked with an even temper.

"I'm just concerned," she said, consolingly. "This just seems too much like playing God. You yourself said maybe it wasn't meant for mankind to fool with!"

He smiled with an understanding intended to evaporate all of her concerns. "But it's different with me," he insisted. "I know the limits. I would never let so much as an ant get into that tube if I wasn't one hundred percent certain that it was safe."

"Really?" she asked, a twinkle of doubt still slightly evident on her face.

His smile widened, sending ripples of wrinkles up the corners of his mouth and under his baggy eyes. "Would I lie to you," he said, gripping her by the sides of her upper arms. She looked at him and saw complete and unconditional sincerity. If he was a liar, he was a damn good one.

"No," she said, seeming to relent. "I don't think you would."

"Then, may I proceed?" he asked, soliciting her approval.

She nodded meekly.

"Thank you."

He turned to Heinz who was laying peaceably in the corner, his head resting on top of his paws and his ears droopy. Harold called to him, but Heinz only rolled his sleepy eyes up to acknowledge him.

"Here, boy. C'mere, Heinzy. Let's show mommy the trick we learned. You wanna show mommy the trick? Huh? C'mon, boy."

Heinz only whimpered, licked at his paws and remained in his lazy position, lying on the floor.

"Awe, c'mon, Heinz. You can do it," goaded Harold, looking down at the dog, legs bent and large hands clasping at the knobby knees beneath his slacks.

"Maybe he's scared to do it?" interjected Tiffany from behind Harold.

"Oh, he's just being stubborn," grumbled Harold, straightening up. He thought for a moment, then a notion came to him. "I know," he said with a certainty. "He just needs a little incentive. I've got just the thing!"

With a vigor in his step, Harold retreated briskly to a small, offshoot room just adjacent to the lab. He was gone but only a moment before returning with a bottle of Heinz catsup clasped tightly in his bony hand. Bringing it over to Heinz he popped the plastic top off of the squeezable bottle and held it down near the dog's snout, letting Heinz get a good whiff of his favorite condiment.

"Here, Heinz," said Harold, waving the bottle underneath the dog's nose to entice him. Immediately Heinz's ears shot up and he lifted his head, a low grumble emitting from his throat. His tongue began panting out of his mouth with titillation. With a jingle of the tags about his neck, Heinz got to his feet and began to walk toward the bottle that Harold was baiting him with.

"That's the boy," said Harold, gently praising him as he led him toward the rear of the room to the tube. "C'mon, boy."

When they got right to the tube, Heinz paused, as if wary about getting into the tube. Harold realized his reluctance and poured a small dollop of the catsup onto the pedestal of the tube. The dog broke for it and as soon as he was inside Harold hit the button and the tube slid shut with its familiar hiss sound.

Smiling, Harold galloped toward the front of room and eagerly manned the computer console as Tiffany, feeling unsure and helpless, looked on.

"Harold," she said, putting her hand on his shoulder as he feverishly typed away. "Are you absolutely positive it's safe?"

"Absolutely," he confirmed, though with almost dry indifference. "He's been through this a dozen times. He'll be fine."

Her hand slid limply off his shoulder and she looked forward into the tube where Heinz was. The dog was still licking at the pedestal, seemingly oblivious to whatever else was going on. She looked at him, feeling sympathetic; hoping nothing happened to him.

Just as before, Harold flipped the four switches to his right on, one by one. The power kicked up, the lights steadied into an even glow, and the high shrilling sound began to scream throughout the room. Harold watched with a wonder that never seemed to diminish. Tiffany could only bite her cuticles in nervousness and pray.

The sparks began to swirl inside the tube again. Heinz looked up briefly, and although it is known that animals can't show facial expression, he appeared to have a look of confusion on his face. Then the foggy haze began to encompass him.

SNAP! And he was gone.

Harold waited for the hazy mass to totally clear before giving himself kudos. But it was empty all right. He cocked his head back at Tiffany with a beaming grin. The smile was not infectious. She only stood there, solemnly, looking at the tube with vacant eyes.

"Where is he?" she asked impatiently.

Harold popped the disk from the drive on the PC and held it up to her. "Right here," he said pointing to the 3M diskette that bore the legend "HEINZ" in Harold's unmistakable script. "He's all here, safe and sound."

"And he didn't even feel anything?"

"Nothing whatsoever. A complete loss of consciousness. It's just as if he'd gone to sleep."

Tiffany stood in disquiet, her eyes held fixed on the empty tube. Her skin prickled up with clammy goosebumps as she began to attack her cuticles more viciously than ever before.

"Bring him back!" she insisted, strongly. "Bring him back right now, Harold. Please!"

Harold took hold of her shaking, nervous hands and insisted that everything was going to be all right.

"Yes, yes, of course, Tiffany. I'll bring him back right now."

He turned the rotating chair back to the console again. He put the disk marked "Heinz" back into the computer's disk drive. Again he began, feverishly pecking at the keys.





And finally the fog.


And Heinz was back, eagerly scratching his manicured paws at the inside of the tube.

"Oh thank God," muttered Tiffany in earnest, heartfelt relief. The tingling goosebumps began to recede back under her skin as the tempo of her heart returned to normal.

Harold made quickly for the tube, pressed the button and Heinz anxiously rushed out, breaking into an ample stride he landed into the waiting arms of Tiffany.

"Oh, I'm so glad to see you too, Heinz!" she said, embracing the dog, letting him lick at her face with his salivating tongue and dog-fetid breath, and not seeming to mind in the least.

Scrunching the dog's face up in her hands she said, as if he could actually understand: "Don't you ever leave us again!" Her tone took on an almost commanding aura. And to this command Heinz could only pant and look about the room in a mechanical sort of curiosity that was always his exclusive domain.

"Well," said Harold a bit pompously. "You've seen it done with an actual life form and as you can see," he gestured toward Heinz, "there's been no harm done. What do you think of the invention now?"

"I-I'm not really sure. I suppose it's a good thing, but..."

"It is a good thing," said Harold, seeming slighted.

"Yes-I mean it is. It's just a lot for a person to handle, that's all."

A look crossed Harold's face. Yes, he had been stunned by the awesome power of the machine, too. And hadn't he also found it hard to put his evaluation into words?

"I guess I understand you're reluctance to fully critique. It does boggle the mind somewhat, doesn't it?"

"Yes," she said, monotonely. "It does." Pausing for a moment she finally insisted: "Harold, can we leave now. I think I've seen enough."

Harold looked at her, his face wry, his emotions seemingly undefinable. He only stared at her with a mysterious, blank gaze. Then he snapped out of it and his thin mouth twitched with the effort of his affable smile.

"Of course, my dear," he said sweetly. "Let me just..."

Harold's sentence was snapped short by the sound of Heinz's forcible barking. The dog was growling and barking away with a stern insistence that something was wrong.

"What?" asked Tiffany to Harold, clueless.

Harold only shrugged his shoulders in befuddlement, at a loss for what had disturbed Heinz.

"Why is he barking like that, Harold?" reiterated Tiffany more emphatically.

"He seems to hear something. Look at his ears!"

Heinz's ears were perked up, as if acutely attuned to a certain sound.

"What could he be hearing?" wondered Tiffany, aloud.

A look of deep fear suddenly fell over Harold's face like the shadow of some dark, malignant storm cloud. It was with dread realization that he was finally able to whisper: "The same thing I'm starting to hear."

"What?" demanded Tiffany.

"Sirens, Tiffany. Police sirens. And they sound like they're heading this way."

Tiffany almost passed out cold. Heinz was still barking. He'd put his paws up onto the ledge of the cellar window and was looking out. Barking and barking relentlessly he had firmly pressed his nose to the pane of glass which was beginning to fog over with his breath.

"HEINZ. SHUSH, BOY!" lashed Harold in a stern command.

The dog muted to a whimper.

"Oh, Harold," said Tiffany, panic-stricken. "What'll I do. If they catch me they'll send me up for even longer. They'll take me away from you. I don't want to leave you, Harold. I don't! I won't!"

"You're not going to leave me, Tiffany. I can assure you of that!"

"Gotta hide," she said looking about feverishly with wild, desperate eyes. "I'll have to hide someplace!"

"If I know the authorities they'll have search warrant in hand. Besides, there's no place to hide."

"Then what do YOU suggest?" she scoffed with venomy sarcasm.

Harold said nothing. He only glanced at the machine, then back to her. He didn't need to breath a word, it was obvious by the look on his face what he was proposing she do.

"You mean?" she asked, stupefied.

He only nodded.

"Oh no, Harold. I couldn't do that. I-I'm too scared!"

"It's the only way," he insisted, placidly.

"But I'm frightened. I-I'm... fright-tttten---ed!"

She began to blubber on uncontrollably in a petrified, frenzied state. He grasped both her wrists hard. His huge hands clamped around her wrists like tight manacles. And he looked into her eyes with the most dead-serious expression he could muster and said, "Do you trust me?"

She stammered and stuttered like a basket-case, tripping over some words and slurring others.

"I-Iye ya duhnno."

"DO YOU TRUST ME!!" he demanded.

"YES!" she finally screeched through tears that coursed down her cheeks in hot, searing streaks. "Yes! YES! YES!!" she screamed over and over with burning conviction.

The sirens were coming closer now. Their wails cutting into the silence as they oozed nearer. Their threat becoming more real with every passing moment.

Harold grasped her by the arm and led her to the tube. She complied somewhat reluctantly. At one point she had a surging urge to bolt from his grasp and run, but it passed and she found herself entering the tube.

"Don't worry," said Harold, opening the tube door. "I wouldn't let you do this if I weren't positive you'd be safe. I'd sooner let them have you if I had any doubt."

She was in and now he was closing the tube. The barrier of plexiglass that walled up between them seemed to put them worlds apart. And soon they would be even further apart than that. She'd be a computer program on a disk and he'd be a living breathing creature of flesh and blood. The distance between them then would be insurmountable. The only comfort in her mind came from knowing-hoping-that she would soon be back with him when it was safe again; when the cops were gone. Then they would go some place far away and live alone, with no one to bother them. That was the dream.

They looked at each other for a long time, each caring immensely for the other. Then Harold put his hand up as if to touch her, but only being able to reach the cold, unfeeling plexiglass. She put her hand up to his and pressed it against the glass, pools of tears still evident in her eyes.

As he looked at her a flicker of thought passed in his mind like a shooting star. Maybe this wasn't the right thing to do. But then it vanished, and he knew it was the only thing to do.

"Don't worry," he said with reassuring compassion. "It won't hurt. It'll be just like going to sleep, that's all. Just going to sleep."

She smiled weakly and nodded.

His hand slid away from the tube and he turned, partly to avoid looking at her pleading and sorrowful face. Then he walked back to the control console. He sat down and stared bleakly for a moment. Then the approaching sirens cut sharply into his consciousness. He looked down at the keyboard. And now, knowing what he had to do, he began to type.

He wasn't at all sure that he was doing the right thing, but his fingers, despite his conscience, kept right on typing; as if they had a mind of their own. She'd said this thing was like playing God, and now those words were the ones that chimed most resonantly in the recesses of his mind. His fingers, nonetheless, continued to flow fluidly over the keyboard.

Playing God. Was he?

He didn't think so, not a bit. It was his firm opinion that this was the only way out for...

His thoughts stalled for a moment with brief skepticism, as if someone else, someone much wiser, was beginning to question his motives.

Was he in fact doing this for her? Or was it the frantic reaction of a man who was about to lose the only thing he'd every really loved in this world? Wasn't he being selfish? Wasn't this more for his own good, and not so much hers?

These questions surfaced in a cesspool of thought, threatening to mar and mutilate all of his pristine morals. All of his lecturings and warnings of who could not be trusted with power were going out the window. If he did this for purely his own self gratification then he would be a hypocrite.

But his fingers hadn't slowed, and the thoughts he had against it whooshed through his head in a flash. He barely considered them. He was in a more visceral state of mind, a cottony womb of self assurance fueled solely by his desires. There was no time to weigh pros and cons now. They were coming. It had to be now.

The screeching of the sirens was rising up toward him now, the sound so crisp and real that he felt sure a patrol car was going to crash through his front door and track its way down to the basement where it would park itself right alongside Harold's face; its cold metal bumpers protruding into the good scientist's ear. Then two mindless, apathetic officers with flat, stony faces would leap from the vehicle and take him down with whatever measures were necessary. Clasping at him like preprogrammed robots they would toss him carelessly into the car and dutifully tote him back to whatever destination had been instructed them.

But the encroaching threat made him work through a steely panic. It was one worry mounting itself upon another. The sirens, seeming to press down sternly on his shoulders with the seeming weight of heavy boulders. Also, due to Tiffany's complex biological makeup and considerable mass (he had never used a human being before), he had to run a compression program in conjunction with the data transfer to be sure all of her biological make-up would fit on the disk. Lastly, he was operating on a wing and a prayer, hoping he hadn't made any mistakes in his vast rush to complete the procedure.

The front doorbell rang, his head snapped back frantically. He needed only to throw the last lever and it would be done. He grasped it and flipped it up quickly. He sat there, wishing and hoping. His nerves in a tangle like a string of twisted Christmas lights; they were knotted and hard to smoothen out.

"C'mon. C'mon, you piece of junk, hurry up!"

The doorbell rang again, more stridently and impatiently than before.

"Damn!" he cursed, looking up toward the basement door.

Then he saw the sparks, and the fog coming up in the tube, and the faint clouded vision of Tiffany's obscured face, smiling and waving at him with one last trusting communication. He waved back and then there was the snap.

Above him the doorbell was ringing in quick, frenetic bursts of three and four chimes at a time.

He sat there at his console for a moment, sneering into the haze of the tube for a protracted last moment to make sure it had worked. He checked the disk's directory for the file and found it. She was safe and intact on the magnetic disk. He breathed a sight of relief. He had been so tensed up and rigid. He had felt as if every bone in his body was a heavy metal rod, tight and rusted and resisting free movement. But now it was as if someone had loosed all the bolts in his body and he was beginning to fall apart. It was easier to move now, and despite the virtual pounding upon his front door, he felt at ease and free. He rose from his seat and mounted the cellar stairs on his way to answer the door.

He opened the door with such abruptness that the rapping, white knuckled fist of the man sliced past his face in a tightly cutting arc. Harold flinched back from it, duly startled and flickered his eyes into somewhat forced and phony composure.

"Really, sir," he sniffed at the man who owned the intrusive hand. "I suppose maybe the battering ram would be next. What is the cause of your urgency, if you don't mind my inquiring?"

Two men in uniform stood stolidly in the doorway, blinking with all the emotion of totem poles. Their eyes sincere with deadly earnest and seeming to probe through him with an intent of possible intimidation to evince only what they needed from him. The one to his left, with the fist that had nearly grazed him, wore a gray, charcoal suit that evoked the very feeling his rigid features exuded. He had an expression like a dark storm cloud that seemed just waiting to rain down upon him. The other was dressed in constables' habiliments with an equally wry, though slightly less stolid expression.

"Mr. Frankfurt, I presume," said the hardscrabble gray suit in a monotone droll.

Harold nodded confirmingly. "Yes, I'm Harold Frankfurt. How may I be of assistance to you gentlemen?"

The gray suited man remained stoic and immobile, with only his mouth forming his words with a harsh mechanization. "Mr. Frankfurt, we are here on a matter of great importance. It seems as though your wife," the gray suit glanced down at a manilla folder he held spread open in his large hands, "one Tiffany Frankfurt, has escaped from incarceration. I think you know why we're here."

Harold kept cool and rolled with the punches.

"Oh my God," he said feigning ignorance, though not too successfully. "This is horrible. And she had been doing so well." He turned to them with a dismal attempt to procure their sympathy for her. "You know she would have been up for parole in about a year. Maybe less with good behavior. Oh, this is so like her to ruin things! She was almost home!"

"Yes, sir." said the gray suit with a dead roteness. The uniformed officer beside him simply looked on, observantly.

Suddenly Harold felt as if he were in Dragnet, discoursing with Friday and Gannon who always used those trademark "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" remarks.

"But with regards to your wife, sir."

"Oh yes, of course, gentlemen....Iya, didn't catch your names."

"I'm detective Sikes," said the gray suit gesturing to himself with his pushbutton pen and then to the uniformed police officer that stood beside him. "And this is sergeant Fuller of the county P.D. Mr. Frankfurt, we'd like to search the premises if you don't mind."

"Ah," said Harold, raising his head up in a knowing fashion. "I see. And if I do mind?"

"We have a warrant." said Sikes, flashing a piece of paper from his folder with flat inarguability.

"Well then," said Harold, running a cold finger around the rim of his collar. "I guess I shan't dispute you on that matter. Please, come right in. Would you like to start with the upstairs, or the down?" he said, seeming slightly overcooperative.

"You and I can take the downstairs," said Sikes to Harold. "Fuller, you check upstairs."

After Fuller left to attend the upstairs, Harold led Sikes through the parlor first, and then into the den that looked out upon the back yard from the sliding screen door. Sikes checked these rooms thoroughly before proceeding on to the basement.

Sikes was duly surprised at the sight of the computers when they came down into the basement. Sikes seemed to shudder just a tinge, showing probably the first real evidence of emotion since he'd arrived. His eyes turned wide and curious as he looked about in fascination.

"Quite fond of computers I'd say, Mr. Frankfurt," said Sikes.

Harold rolled his eyes behind Sikes' back.

"Yes yes," he said jovially. "It's my work. It's what I do for a living. It's also my passion."

Sikes began tapping and rapping on the panels of the machine with rude and detestable interest. "This stuff must have set ya back quite a bundle, huh doc."

"PLEASE!" blurted Harold with uncalculated volume. Then, regaining his eloquent tone he said, "Please, don't touch the equipment-very sensitive. You understand."

Sikes looked up at him, gravely. The rough terrain of his face mapping out a slight indignance. Then he compliantly removed his hand from the panel and strolled around the room, his footsteps slow, heavy and methodical. His eyes rendered a subtle inspection and judgement over the vast apparatuses. They lingered befuddledly over the odd pedestal with the glass encasement; studied it; tried to figure it out, and then, after much consideration, finally abandoned it.

As Sikes rounded the room, Harold chanced to glance down at the disk drive. The disk with Tiffany on it was still in the drive. He didn't think Sikes would question it, but detectives could tend to be abhoringly intrusive-no stone unturned. He might want to know what's on the disk. He might think it had some sort of correspondence on it. And if he asked to see its contents he would see the word "Tiffany" inside one of the directories. That would be very hard to explain, if not impossible.

Sikes was coming toward him now. Harold felt for sure he'd come his way and he wouldn't have time to hide the disk, but suddenly Sikes pivoted on one heel and swung around for another sweep of the room. Sikes continued away from him, one arm folded behind his back. In his other hand he held his black, pushbutton pen that he pressed pensively to his lips.

Seizing the moment, Harold furtively popped the disk from the drive and whisked it away into the inside pocket of the tweed sportsjacket he was wearing. He then stood patiently and waited for Sikes to finish his look around the room.

"What do you do with all this stuff anyway, Mr. Frankfurt?"

Harold rolled his eyes and thought stupidly. "Uh, formulas...equations...complex logarithms. I don't mean to insult you, but I think you'd find it difficult to understand my work." He was growing impatient. When was this annoying man going to stop nosing around and asking stupid questions and get the hell out of his house?

Sikes raised his brows and nodded slowly, seemingly unoffended by what could be considered an intellectual affront.

"Well," he said, submittingly. "I don't see anything down here that indicates anything unusual."

An errant thought lodged in Harold's head for a moment. Good thing I had Heinz down here, he thought, greatfully. The smell of his flea powder must have masked the scent of Tiffany's perfume.

"Then shall we catch up with Mr. Fuller?"

"Yeah," said Sikes, approvingly. "I guess I should go check in with him."

They made their way up the steep cellar stairs with its long, wood carved balustrade and up into the main foyer. Fuller was coming down the stairs from the kitchen just as they arrived.

"Anything?" asked Sikes to Fuller as he mounted the foyer.

"Nothing at all. I even checked the attic. It's clean..." he looked at the dust about his lapels and brushed it off. "Well, not exactly clean," he corrected himself, "but no one's up there."

Sikes grunted and turned to face Harold who was smiling at him mirthfully while pumping his weight up and down on the balls of his feet; his arms crossed confidently behind his back.

"Well, gentlemen, I guess it is clear to you by now that I'm not aiding and abetting a fugitive. Now I dare say you're anxious to get on to finding her. Even though she is my wife I must confess that I would much rather see justice be done. I'm a strict believer in that. I hold no bias because of sheer nepotism you see. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, I always say."

His words were rolling off of his tongue with an ornate majesty about them, like finely honed pieces of art. And those little sayings were always a favorite of his. Good for the goose and the gander was high on his list of catchy little sayings.

"May I show you the way out, gentlemen," said Harold, obligingly.

"Well, Mr. Frankfurt, I'm afraid its not gonna be that easy." said Sikes.

Harold's face deflated, his complacent smile melting right off of his face and sagging down into a deep frown of both surprise and sour resentment.

"What do you mean?" he complained emphatically. "I've let you search the house top to bottom. It should be clear to you by now that she isn't here!"

"Oh, we know she isn't here. The question is now: where is she? I'm afraid we're going to have to take you down to the station with us for some questioning, Mr. Frankfurt. Nothing too involved, just standard practice when things like this happen. We have to question ALL possible suspects."

"But I tell you I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!"

Sikes' body seemed to ooze like a conglomerate of heavy lava and he put his large finger into Harold's frail and bony chest. "Fine," he said calmly. "If you don't know anything then you have nothing to worry about. Just tell the truth and it'll all be over, lickety split."

His heavy hand fell from Harold's chest and he walked suavely past him. Fuller followed behind, obediently. Like his pet dog or something. Once outside they turned around and looked expectantly at Harold who still stood, jaw clenched, in the foyer.

"Coming, Mr. Frankfurt?" asked Sikes in and unsettling tone that seemed to indicate that he could also be made to come.

With the greatest of reticence Harold finally traded his stern reluctance for common sense. Pulling his house keys from his sportsjacket pocket he then stepped out onto the porch, pulled the front door shut, locked it and followed Sikes and Fuller to the squad car that laid below.

He had been sitting behind the small, wooden table for at least three hours now. As he looked up he saw that the impending faces of Sikes and Fuller were showing no hint of relenting. They had been interrogating him ruthlessly, as if he were a common criminal. He looked across at Sikes' sturdy, luring face and felt complete and undiluted disdain for him.

"Gentlemen," he said, seeming to use the word as a euphemism. "I believe that I've fielded all the insinuative questions that I care to. And as a law abiding tax payer I feel it is my just right to be relieved of this...what do they call it?" He thought for a moment. "This THIRD DEGREE of yours!"

"Not yet! You still haven't given us a straight answer to the most important question." demanded Sikes as he erupted from his seat like Mount St. Helens.

"And exactly what question was that, detective?" said Harold, pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing above his wearied eyes.

"The question is," began Sikes in an incipient tirade, his raw-skinned fist leveling on the table, causing it to jump slightly, "why do we have an eyeball witness that says she saw a woman, fitting the description of your wife, at your front door this morning, just after the escape took place?"

"I haven't the foggiest. Perhaps it would help if you would tell me who this eyeball witness is."

"Mrs. Huntziger, your neighbor down the street!" blared Sikes down at him through a fan of light thrown between them by a small tensor lamp at the side of the table. The light played awkwardly over Sikes, digging deep shadows into the crevices of his face, making him look meaner; more threatening.

"Mrs. Huntziger down the street?" said Harold with delicious amusement. He threw his head back and laughed out loud. "Mrs. Huntziger is eighty-five and has glaucoma! If that's your eyeball witness, my friend then you're in sorry shape indeed." Harold rose from his chair, readying himself to leave.

"Just wait a minute, Frankfurt!" commanded Sikes in his raspy, braying voice. "I don't know what's going on here, but I intend to find out. Now I can't book you because, technically, I can't prove you've done anything wrong. But I've got a very reliable itch that tells me you're mixed up in this somehow. I'm gonna be watchin you, Frankfurt, bare that in mind. I'm gonna be watchin you GOOD!"

Harold only looked at him exhaustedly. His fatigue numbing his emotions he simply said, "May I please leave now?"

Sikes looked at Harold dubiously for a moment.

"Yeah. Get outta here!" he grumbled with reluctant consent.

"Good day to you then Mr. Fuller." he said on his way out. "Mr. Sikes." He paused on the other side of the door and said to Sikes: "Take care of your itch." He smiled faintly as he pulled the door shut. In the flash before the door erased his face, Harold saw a brief look of stun register on Sike's face. With mild satisfaction he turned and walked away, smiling.

His heart was racing, he felt for sure he was going to pass out. And as he stood there by the coat rack, dumbfounded and frantic, he could not figure out what had happened to his coat. There was another here, a bit larger, but it had black plastic buttons and his were made of white jade.

He scanned the station in a frenzy, looking for some sort of clue as to what had happened to the jacket. He knew he shouldn't have taken it off in the first place. But that damn Sikes had gotten him so flustered that he hadn't been thinking straight.

Suddenly his eye caught and snagged what he'd been looking for. Across the room was a big, burly looking man standing at the "Violations" desk, balling out a meek looking police woman as to how he "wasn't gonna pay this damn ticket" and he "hadn't been speeding at all" and that the officer who had serviced him with it just "had a bug up his ass".

Draped over the thick forearm of the beefy, disgruntled man was Harold's jacket. He would recognize the shiny jade buttons anywhere. With impatience he hurried over to the violations desk where the hefty man was still busy thrashing the small recessive-looking woman who kept insisting that he could contest the ticket if he was in objection to it.

"You're damn right I object," seared the man, waving the ticket violently in front of her face. "And you're damn right I'm gonna contest. Seventy five bucks my hairy butt!"

The man turned sharply and bumped right into Harold who had been standing nearby, nervously awaiting to inform the man that he had taken the wrong coat.

"Hey, watch where the hell you're going, buddy!" he scowled at Harold and brushed past him abruptly.

"Sir," said Harold, pursuing him desperately. "Sir, if you'd please wait just a moment. I believe you have something of mine."

"I ain't got nothin of yours, man. Now get outta my face!"

Desperation building up in him like a time bomb, Harold grasped at the man's elbow with unintentional strength. The big man reeled around savagely, a ferocious expression loading up in his stormy eyes.

"I'm sorry," beseeched Harold. "But it seems you have my jacket. You must have taken it by mistake."

"You think I don't know my own jacket? Look, buddy, I've had a real bad day. My wife's on my case about my gambling, I get a seventy five dollar speeding ticket that I don't even deserve. And right now I'm just about two seconds away from hitting something, so why don't you just take off or you might get hurt."

Harold reached into the pocket of the coat he was carrying and withdrew an envelope he had found when he had absently put his hand into the breast pocket before. Withdrawing it he showed it to the stormtrooper of a man and said, "Then I guess this isn't yours."

The envelope was loaded with fifties and hundreds, gambling money the big man had won at the track. The man's eyes ogled at the envelope, nearly falling out of their sockets. How could he have been so stupid as to have left it in his breast pocket? If the little woman had ever found it he'd've gotten it with four shades of PMS style bitchin. And if he'd gone and lost it he would have really been fit to be tied.

"Well," said the man, his temper beginning to ease. "Maybe we do have a little mix up here after all." He reached out and grabbed the envelope impetuously from Harolds's grasp.

"Yes," said Harold, his voice slightly edgy with fear and nerves. "You see, my jacket has the shiny jade buttons. That's how I knew." He was almost going to add the fact that the jacket was considerably larger than his, but good sense prevailed.

"By Joe, I believe you're right," said the big man, realizing the obvious mistake. "Good thing you found that envelope first, before the little woman. I plumb forgot to take it out." They swapped jackets and Harold immediately reached for the disk, felt it was there and breathed a small sigh of relief.

"Sorry about that," said the man with a rough contriteness. "Thanks. See ya later."

Harold thought he could do without that, but he had the disk back at least. That was the important thing. He only prayed that it wasn't damaged. The cops had descended upon him so fast he hadn't had time to make a copy. He would do that as soon as he got home. No-better yet, he would just bring her back and never use that damn computer for such a purpose again.

Hastily, he started home.

Constables' hospitality hadn't bothered to offer him a ride home, so he had to take the bus seeing as though he was too broke for cab fare. More people brushing up against him, against the disk; risking its damage and loss of its irreplaceable contents.

Please, just let it be all right, he kept praying over and over.

Finally the bus came to his street. He brushed his way up the aisle of thronged bodies that clotted the aisle and briskly descended the stairs. But in his rush he tripped on the last step and fell flatly down onto the macadam. Somehow the disk flew from his pocket and skidded across the gravel, nearly falling into a nearby sewer drain.

Harold watched in horror as the disk came frightfully near to falling into the grating of the drain. His panic evaporated once he saw it hadn't fallen in, but he wasn't safe just yet.

"You okay, mack," asked the bus driver with mild concern.

"Yes, I'm fine," said Harold dismissingly as he picked himself up off of the street. The driver shrugged and pulled the flaps of the bus doors closed. The bus hissed its brakes and took off.

Don't rumble so much, thought Harold, cursing the bus. It may knock it in.

Mercifully, the disk did not fall. Now it was only a matter of gently pushing it off of the grating it so delicately balanced on. Gingerly he reached down, wary of his own balance as to not fall over and knock it in. With his thumb and index finger he cautiously pushed it to safety, fingers trembling threateningly all the while. When it was safely away from the grating he picked it up with exhausted relief. He would hold it tightly in his hand until he got into the house. It would not leave his sight for a second, that much he was intent upon.

Upon his approach to the house he saw Billy Asten, his ten year old neighbor who had developed a liking for Harold and his cool computers. Billy was wistfully unaware of Harold's presence as he intently rollerbladed up and down the good doctor's lengthy driveway.

Though Harold was anxious and weary, he was never one to lose track of his manners. "Hello, Billy" he said, trying his best to raise a faint smile.

Billy skated excitedly over to him, a khaki green backpack mounted on his back.

"Hi, Mr. Frankfurt. I've been waiting for you. I got some wicked new computer games I downloaded from the Internet. Wanna play some?"

Harold's expression waned as he looked at the boy sympathetically. Ruffling Billy's bowl-cut blond hair he said, regretfully: "Not right now, Billy. I have something very important to attend to."

"With the computer?"


"Wow, can I watch?"

"I don't think so, Billy. This is important."

"Oh, please, Mr. Frankfurt." he begged. "I won't touch nothin. I'll just sit and watch you. I promise."

Harold sighed one that came right from his soul and said, "Okay, I guess you can, but then you'll have to leave."

"Okay." said Billy, without argument.

Harold walked to the front door with Billy in tow on his rollerblades.

"Skates off in the house," said Harold, authoritatively.

Billy took them off on the front porch, then followed Harold down to the basement.

He wasted no time, but went directly downstairs. Billy came down belatedly, wondering what all the rush was for and looking at Harold with a sort of uncertain feeling in his gut. Harold seemed different-tired and worn out, as if he'd just finished some sort of difficult task.

Harold flipped on the computer's main power, then the PC's. It took a moment for the machines to warm up and this he bore with an aching annoyance. After a moment or so the panels began to blink and the PC booted up. He took the disk that was virtually locked between his tightly clamped fingers and inserted it gently into its drive. It seated well and with a prickle of warm, rushing dread he checked the directory for the file. To his relief it was there. Texting the programs first few pages, it seemed to be fine. But he couldn't know for sure until he actually ran it.

Crossing his fingers he flipped up the four power booster switches and the machine escalated into its familiar quick wumpthuming. He began tapping away at the keyboard, expecting to see the lights on the panels go a steady solid and hear the ripping dissonance of the squeal as the machine prepared for rematerialization. But to his greatest fears he did not get either. Instead he got a cold, boldfaced error message blinking in a severe crimson red on the PC's screen.


Impossible, he thought. The disk was contaminated with those damned computer viruses that unscrupulous programmers infect disks with. He ran a scan to clear the virus. Another message flashed upon the screen now, this one was even less encouraging.


In frantic desperation he called to Billy, who was bouncing a tennis ball off the wall in the corner. Billy knew a lot about computers for his age, but not more than he did. Though he knew it was futile, he was grasping at straws, anything. Maybe the kid would know something he didn't.

"Billy!" he called in almost a sobbing shriek. "Come here!"

Billy caught the ball off the wall, held it in his hand and walked over to the computer where Harold sat.

"Do you know what this is?" asked Harold, his finger trembling as he pointed to the screen.

"Yeah," said Billy, confidently. "It's a disk virus."

"I KNOW THAT!" he blasted hysterically. "But can it be removed?"

Billy bent over the screen, pondering it thoughtfully. Harold's eyes flicked in sharp, quick scans as he studied the boy studying the screen.

"No," said Billy with an unquestionable certainty on his face. There was no doubt whatsoever in his mind about the verity of the call. "That's that new Amoeba virus. It corrupts the entire disk. The only way you can clear it is to reformat." He looked at Harold who's face seemed to have gone pallid. He wasn't sure but he thought he saw a faint tear welling up in Harold's eye. How oblivious he was to the utter tragedy of the situation. Turning away he walked back to the wall and began throwing the ball back at it.

Harold sat in the chair, numbly. His brain felt like it had ground to a halt. His gut was pitted and seething with burning nausea. As he sat there crumbling over his computer in bereavement he heard Billy, talking casually in the corner. His words just barely breaking the skin of his conscious attention.

"Too bad, Mr. Frankfurt. I hope it wasn't a good game. I mean, I hope it didn't cost a lot."

As he began to break into tears he thought about what Billy had just said. It had cost a lot! And he would be paying for it the rest of his life.


Copyright 1997 by Russell Huneke

Russell Huneke lives in New Jersey and has been an aspiring writer for nearly 10 years, but has been seriously committed to writing for the past 5 years. He works as a full time computer operator, but has always had a fascination with fantasy and science fiction. His biggest influences for aspiring to be a writer were: Richard Matheson, Stephen King, John Saul and classic Edgar Allen Poe. He loves movies, especially Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick films. He was tremendously influenced by Rod Serling and his 1959-1964 sci-fi television anthology THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He has true aspirations of one day possibly transforming his short stories into teleplays and would appreciate ANY AND ALL feedback and criticism on this short story. All comments are welcome.


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