WHO DEFINES HAPPINESS?

Saturday February 19, 2011

"Pirates!" Lennie said loudly.

"Ninjas!" Tim returned just as loudly.

The two friends glared at each other in earnest disagreement. They'd had this very same argument countless times before, and of course would continue despite the fact that the other refused to be converted.

"Ninjas are better because they're all sneaky," Tim continued. "They could creep up on us right now and take us out before we knew what hit us." Tim Mitchell was 19, short and chubby with dark shaggy hair and black-framed eyeglasses. He was wearing a pair of jeans that badly needed to be washed, though that wouldn't fix the threadbare spots, ragged hems, or torn hip pocket. His equally dirty and well-worn black T-shirt proclaimed, "There's No Place Like ".

"Where's the fun in that?" Lennie asked. "Pirates, now, they're bold and brave, they love a fight for its own sake. They'd just bust through the door and cut our heads off with their cutlasses." Lennie Donovan was also 19, but tall and almost skeletally thin with long lank dirty-blond hair. His jeans and T were just as disreputable; his shirt read "$DO || ! $DO ; try" and below that "try: command not found".

"Hah!" Tim responded. "Your pirates wouldn't get past our security. Besides, ninjas dress way cooler."

"Your ninjas wouldn't get past security either," Lennie said. "You designed it yourself. My pirates would just barrel in without worrying about details like security. And you wanna talk about cool, Man. They got hats and earrings and treasure and swords."

"We'd smell 'em coming for miles," Tim insisted. "We'd be out the back door an hour before they got here. And they couldn't get through that door with swords, it's solid steel. Who wants to wear an earring, anyway?"

"You'd look better in an earring than one of those skin-tight suits," Lennie returned. "You wanna dress up like that, you oughta lay off the pizza." He gestured to the many greasy boxes strewn around the huge room.

Tim in turn pointed to a three foot high wall of aluminum cans. "You and your Red Bull. I'll take out my trash if you'll take out yours," he said. "Do you really think security's good enough here?" The continuing fight was suddenly forgotten.

"Screw the trash. We've got way worse problems than getting rid of it; makes the place look like home," Lennie told him. "And yes, I do think our security's good enough. It's all we can afford right now, but you're a genius, Dude. You've done some amazing things with what we could get."

"You helped," Tim allowed. "But I'll feel a lot safer when we can get some better equipment."

"Yeah, me too," Lennie agreed. "One thing at a time! Look what we've already done. Nobody'd believe it, even if we told 'em."

He turned to look fondly at the control panel in front of them. It was cobbled together out of bits and pieces they'd salvaged or bought. Disparate pieces of sheet metal had been crudely welded together to create a horizontal surface with a back attached at an angle. Roughly-cut holes contained hundreds of dials and gauges, and several monitors were inset. All were currently unlit, the board being powered down.

Both took a moment to gaze at the mass of machinery that covered most of the available floor-space in the old warehouse they'd rented. There were metal boxes of all shapes and sizes and equipment originally intended to be rack-mounted, now propped on squashed cans or boxes so it sat level on whatever surface it rested on. In places the equipment was stacked three high, often on bent racks or rusty shelving that they'd been able to buy cheap or rescue from someone's trash. Each piece had a hand-written label containing a cryptic code number, and the whole mess was tied together with a spaghetti-like tangle of wires of all colors and sizes.

"We can't tell anyone, Lennie. They'll take it away from us and we'll never get a chance to work out the kinks."

"I don't wanna tell. Well at least not until we get it working for real," Lennie assured Tim. "But we can't do that if we don't find a way to get some more money."

"Yeah, I know," Tim said. "I mean, we're already living in that roach-trap of a garage apartment, and we put every dime we can spare into this thing. There aren't any better jobs to be had. If we quit eating we could maybe save a couple thousand dollars by the end of the year. It's not enough, Man; we need a large infusion of cash."

"Hey, maybe we could live here!" Lennie suggested. "You know, put up a wall in that corner over there, bring in cots and a hot plate. That'd save us the rent money."

"Bad idea," Tim said shaking his head. "For two reasons. One – there's no plumbing, Dude. I don't mind catching a shower at the folks' house, but I'm not goin' outside to take a whiz. And two – we can't afford to have people asking where we're staying and risk finding out about this place."

Lennie nodded in reluctant agreement. "Think we could get a government grant without telling them what we're really doing?"

"Yeah, and when they do they'd own it and we'd be out in the cold," Tim replied. He sat in his battered office chair, staring at nothing, apparently deep in thought. "Treasure," he said finally.

"Yeah, Dude. Treasure, that's what we need here," Lennie agreed.

"You said it a few minutes ago – pirates have treasure," Tim said thoughtfully. "Buried treasure, that no one's found in like 300 years."

Lennie perked up. "And even with our current limitations, we can use this to find out where it's buried." He pointed with his thumb at the pile of electronics.

"Exactly," Tim said happily. "It'll take us some time to check and make sure we can find it after so long, but I think it's doable."

"Landmarks would've changed, the place where X marks the spot could be inland by now – or underwater," Lennie mused.

"It'll take a lot of work, but I think we can do it," Tim said confidently. "We'll start by doing some basic research on pirates to find some likely candidates."

"There's a little problem though," Lennie said cautiously. "We're talking gold bars and jewels here, how are we gonna convert that to cold, hard, US currency?"

"Oh, that's easy!" Tim enthused. "Pry the jewels out of their settings and melt down the precious metals."

"It'd be worth more if we sold it to collectors," Lennie said. "I hear those guys pay big bucks for, um, 'historical objects'. We couldn't exactly put it on e-Bay, but surely we could find some way to contact some of 'em. I mean, everything's on the web, Man."

"Well, I hear the cops take a dim view of that kind of thing," Tim responded. "We won't be able to improve our invention with gold bars if we're behind steel bars."

"So we just take a little at a time," Lennie suggested. "Sell a few things and go back for more when we need it. I know this guy, Dave. He's into all that financial stuff, bet he could help us set up some kind of fake company, maybe use foreign banks or something."

"Hey, that's not a bad idea," Tim laughed. "Kind of ironic to use a Caribbean bank for stolen pirate loot! I like the idea of just taking what we need; I mean, after all it's not that we wanna get rich, we just need it for R&D."

"You could rig up some kind of locator," Lennie said. "Some kind of transmitter we could bury with the rest of the treasure so we can find it again real easy."

"Hmm, yeah. It'd have to be battery-powered, and it'd need a remote-control switch. That way we could turn it on when we got close and no one would be likely to stumble across the signal. Easy enough to do. We'd have to leave the antenna on the surface, but we could probably disguise it and if it's a remote location it should be safe enough."

"So that's another criterion," Lennie said, beginning a written list on the back of a computer print-out. "I'm thinking we should take more than we plan to sell right off, so we don't have to go back too often. All the pirates I ever heard of were in the Caribbean or at least the east coast, and here we sit on the Pacific coast. Don't forget travel costs."

"Sounds good," Tim agreed. "Except I still don't like the idea of selling to collectors. Too risky. We'd be way out of our league, Man. Better to sell the gold and jewels for their own value, it's safer that way. Even then we'd have to be careful – but look at it this way! Those stones aren't gonna be on any list of stolen jewelry, and how would anyone trace a melted lump of gold?

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Lennie admitted. "We've got a lot of work to do. I'm hungry, let's go get a pizza and then we can start surfing the web for pirates and how to melt gold and all that good stuff."

"So what are we gonna call this dummy corporation, or whatever it is?" Tim asked.

Lennie was busy stuffing papers into his backpack, but paused a moment to think. "How about LTD, Inc.?"

"Cool, I like it," Tim said. "'Limited'. Sounds classy."

"Oh yeah, hadn't thought about it that way," Lennie said. "I was thinking 'Lennie and Tim's Development'".

Tim stopped in the middle of looking for his car keys amidst the mess on the control panel. "Hey, Dude! First it's your pirates' gold that's gonna pay for all this, and now you want your name first? Just for that, I think we oughta name this thing the 'Ninja'. It's only fair."

Lennie slung his backpack over his shoulder and considered the suggestion. "Well it certainly qualifies as sneaky," he admitted. "Even if we ever get it to do everything we want, it'll still be stealthy. Works for me, 'Ninja' it is."

Saturday June 4, 2011

"Hey, Derek!" Lennie cried. "Look who's home from college. You're lookin' good, Bro."

"Good to be home for the summer," Derek said, unsure how to return the compliment. Derek Donovan was the polar opposite of his younger brother; he was 21, buff and handsome, with a head of blond hair that would've done a movie star proud. While Lennie was a geek, Derek was a jock and they'd always ragged good-naturedly on each other over their differences.

"How's the big football player?" Lennie asked. "Or did you forget the folks sent you to college to try to learn something."

"Ha, ha," replied Derek. "Maybe you forgot that football's paying for college. I may not be as smart as you, but I'm smart enough to learn how to make money at doing what I do best."

"Hello. You must be Lennie, Derek's told me all about you. I'm Susie."

Susie was cute, a petite girl with long dark hair and plenty of personality. Her smile said she was genuinely pleased to meet Lennie.

"Yeah, hi," Lennie managed. Belatedly he stuck his hand out to shake.

"Aren't you going to ask what he said about you?" Susie inquired in a teasing voice.

"Uh, nothing good, I'm sure," Lennie replied.

"Don't sell yourself short," she told him. "Derek says you're the brains of the family, you'll end up doing something really clever and make millions."

Derek put his arm around Susie's shoulders and drew her closer to him. "Yeah, so when are you gonna get started?" he asked.

"Well, uh, as a matter of fact I've got an idea," Lennie began. "I wanted to talk to you about it."

Susie laughed happily and said, "I'll leave you two to talk about it then. I'll go help your mother in the kitchen, it's a lot of work to put together a family dinner!" She kissed Derek's cheek and gently wiggled out of his embrace before leaving the room.

"She's something, isn't she?" Derek asked. From the look on his face he was completely smitten.

"Yeah, she's, uh, nice," Lennie said lamely.

"I'm gonna ask her to marry me!" Derek told him. "Don't tell her yet, it's a surprise."

"Wow, Man, that's cool. Uh, congrats."

"So what's this scheme you've got going?" Derek asked. "And why are you asking me for help? I don't know the first thing about computers, except maybe to play Solitaire or send e-mails to Susie telling her how much I love her."

Lennie cocked his head to the side, trying to figure out what to say. "I thought you were the confirmed bachelor type. The big jock who can get any girl he wants. Preferably blondes with small IQs and big boobs."

Derek smiled a little ruefully. "I was, until I met Susie. Suddenly I can see myself spending the rest of my life with her, raising a bunch of kids, living happily ever after."

"Yeah, I get it," Lennie said. Though in fact he didn't really understand at all, he could see that his brother was quite happy with the decision. "How'd you like to go on a treasure hunt?"

"A treasure hunt!" Derek said. He gave Lennie a look that said he was quite possibly crazy. "Isn't that a little too much like work for you? Or is that why you're asking me, because you need my brawn for a change?"

"Tim and I can do it alone, but we figured it'd be easier if we had a little help. It'll be an adventure!"

"Oh, I should've known Tim's in this with you," Derek said with a chuckle. "It's just that I would've expected anything you two cooked up to be so highly technical a rocket scientist couldn't follow it. You guys aren't the adventurous types, what's the deal? It's gotta be connected to computers somehow."

"We, uh, used computers to find the trail," Lennie explained. "We're pretty sure we know where the treasure is buried, and we wanna go dig it up."

"Tell you what. Why don't I put you in touch with one of the history professors at the college," Derek suggested. "He can set up an expedition, and you guys can go along. You'll still get credit for the discovery."

"Well, see, we kinda need the money," Lennie said. "It's for our project. We need to make improvements, and that takes cash."

Derek pursed his lips in thought for a minute. "The same 'project' you guys used to have down in Dad's basement?"

"Yeah, that's the one. We, uh, moved it last year." Lennie suddenly realized he shouldn't have mentioned it, and was afraid Derek would start asking questions he didn't want to answer.

"I know Mom's certainly glad it's gone; she was always afraid that mess would start a fire and burn the house down. You and Tim have fun with the treasure thing, but I'm not interested."

"You're not?" Lennie felt relief that his brother hadn't been curious about the Ninja, but was nonetheless disappointed in his refusal to help.

"I've got the whole summer ahead of me. I'm looking forward to fun and games, not hard work." Derek grinned. "I'd rather stay here and spend my time with Susie. You guys go have your adventure, and tell me all about it when you get back home."

Tuesday December 25, 2018

Tim sat in the passenger seat of the car, making no move to get out even after Lennie shut off the ignition. "I've got a bad feeling about this," he said.

"It's just a family Christmas party," Lennie told him. "We've known each other since grade school, you know my folks consider you part of the family."

"Nah, it's not that," Tim said. "Somethin' just feels off somehow. I'd rather be working on the Ninja, I guess."

Lennie laughed. "I know, me too. We've made so much progress, but it still won't do everything we'd like. But Dude! We deserve to celebrate, and besides, you know Mom'll have lots of stuff to eat."

Tim patted his paunch. "Like I need more. This isn't the old days when we'd take home doggie bags so we'd have food for the next week."

Lennie considered his own frame; though he had too much energy to gain much weight he'd filled out considerably since they'd been able to afford food as well as components for the Ninja. "Come on, they're expecting us. We'll only stay a couple of hours. Have dinner, watch the rug rats open presents, then we'll skip out."

Derek opened the door at their knock; he waved them in and called out "Hey kids! Uncle Lennie's here with Tim."

Immediately they were surrounded by three noisy young girls, all holding their arms out and begging to be picked up. Tim and Lennie grinned at each other and yelled "Group hug!", then bent down to grab all three squirming kids at once. The little ones were used to the ritual and clung, giggling, to the young men to help make the task easier. The boys carried the tots into the living room, carefully dumping them onto the couch.

Susie came in from the kitchen. "I might've known it'd be you two causing all the noise!" she said. Her smile said she was teasing. "How've you been? Do I get a hug, too?"

The next few minutes were taken up with hugs and handshakes, warm greetings and assurances that everyone not only looked good but were doing well too. Mom and dad were clearly happy that the whole family was together. Tim seemed to have lost his initial reticence, and Lennie briefly wondered what had been bugging him. Whatever it was, he seemed to have forgotten it.

Mom and Susie outdid themselves with dinner, both in taste and quantity. Once everyone was stuffed to the gills they retired to the living room. Dad opened a bottle of wine (grape juice for the kids) and the gifts were handed out and unwrapped. Tim and Lennie both got new jeans, something they rarely bought for themselves. Besides, Tim's old jeans were uncomfortably tight and he was amazed that "Mom" knew what size he needed.

Lennie found himself studying Derek and Susie as they sat side-by-side on the couch, his arm around her shoulders, watching their offspring open presents. They looked so comfortable and happy together. Susie put her hand on Derek's knee to clue him in that the next gift would be a special one and they both leaned slightly forward in anticipation of childish glee.

The light glinted on Susie's engagement ring. Not a traditional round diamond, but a square ruby. It didn't have as many facets as a newly-cut stone would, marking it as very old if you knew anything about gems. Lennie remembered how surprised Derek had been when he'd given him the stone, and wondered how he'd explained it to Susie. Lennie was glad to have pleased his brother, though Tim hadn't been too thrilled at parting with even a small piece of their treasure for less than scientific purposes.

The girls shrieked with pleasure at their new toy, a huge dollhouse. Derek and Susie smiled happily, enjoying the kids' reaction. It occurred to Lennie to wonder if Derek had wanted a son. Perhaps so, but you certainly couldn't tell by the way he treated his three girls. He was just as likely to play dolls with them as Susie was, or patiently submit to a 'makeover' complete with baby-pink nail polish.

It was Susie who got up now to drag the dollhouse to the girls' bedroom and help them arrange things. Derek refilled wineglasses and the adults settled into conversation about the current details of their lives. They told stories of successes at work, things that irritated them, and events that were funny. Another bottle of wine was opened and the stories seemed to get a little funnier.

Derek told a good one about a mishap on the set at the TV station where he worked as a sportscaster. It was one where error piled upon mistake and the punch line had the entire family roaring with laughter and suggesting even worse possibilities.

When the laughter finally died down Lennie asked a question. "Do you ever miss playing?"

Derek looked at him a little oddly, as if he didn't quite know how to answer. "Well, sure I do," he finally said. "I thought my life was over when the docs told me the knee couldn't take the punishment of football ever again."

"I remember how you swore you'd work hard and get it back in shape," Mom said. "You tried, you really did. You did everything the physical therapist suggested. If anyone could've come back from that injury you could have."

"What frosts my flake is that they never caught the SOB that ran you down that day," Dad said vehemently. "I mean it was bad enough that he wasn't watching where he was going, but then he drove off and left you lying in the street!"

"Right before Christmas," Derek said. "Right before the big game. I was really looking forward to playing in that one, too. I still think I would've been signed with a pro team if I'd played well that day. They were watching me, my stats were good. They were just waiting for the end of the season to make their choices."

"They were," Dad agreed. "They were interested enough to keep checking on your recovery. I really thought for awhile they'd pick you up anyway, they wanted you so bad. From their point of view I guess they were smart to wait and see how bad you'd been hurt."

"Yeah, well, who'd have thought going for a little jog could've changed my life so drastically," Derek said with a shake of his head. "You know, it's funny. I remember getting this weird feeling as I was tying my shoelaces, like this was somehow significant." He shook his head again. "Guess I was right," he said with an uncomfortable laugh.

A meaningful look passed between Lennie and Tim. "Sorry, Derek," Tim said. "Lennie didn't mean to bring it all back."

"Yeah, sorry Bro," Lennie added, a little embarrassed. "Guess we'd better go, huh? Enjoyed it folks, catch you later."

Derek escorted them to the door and waved as they drove off. As he walked back to the living room he felt a little odd. Kind of like he was suddenly standing in a pool of water up to his neck, and he could feel – and almost see – ripples moving away from his head as if he'd somehow disturbed the placid surface. He'd probably drunk too much wine…

Tuesday December 25, 2018

Derek circulated through the party, stopping to talk to first one group and then another. He'd lost count of how many guests had arrived, must be at least two hundred he thought. Across the huge living room he could see his wife moving through the crowd playing hostess; chatting, telling jokes, offering drinks and canapés. Damn, at least Mandy was good for something. With her long blonde hair in a classy French twist, twinkling blue eyes, sparkling smile showing perfect white teeth – and especially with that low-cut form-fitting sweater showing off her big hooters and slim waist – she charmed every man there.

He snagged another champagne flute from the tray of a convenient waiter and paused to survey the scene. This house in Aspen had been a steal at only $5 million; the modern décor reeked of success and yet contrasted nicely with the snow-covered pine trees seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Derek's eyes were drawn to the bookcase beside the fireplace; its shelves were full of trophies, autographed footballs, and pictures of himself in action on the field. He decided he'd better have another built before next season, or he wouldn't have room to properly display the new awards he was sure to receive.

Suddenly he felt a little funny, as if the room were flowing around him somehow, like ripples were spreading out from his body. He shook his head to clear it, then drained the champagne. The doc had told him not to drink on the pain meds, that's probably all it was. With a last glance at his wall of fame he joined a group including one of his teammates just in time to hear an uproarious joke. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Mandy flirting with one of the team's big supporters.

By the time the party was over Derek was drunk. As the last of the guests left Mandy twittered about the mess. "We have people to clean it up," he said. "C'mon Baby, forget about it and let's go to bed." He reached out to embrace her.

"You're drunk!" she said sharply, as she backed away from him. "I need to stay down here and make sure things are done right. I'll use the guest room tonight, so you just go sleep it off."

Mandy turned on her heel and marched off towards the kitchen. Derek went upstairs and took another pain pill. It wasn't that he really hurt, his last injury had been minor and had long since healed. In fact, he'd never had a serious injury which was something of a miracle. He was vaguely aware that he took the pills more to shut off his mind than anything. He peeled his clothes off and passed out on top of the bed in his underwear.

Wednesday December 26, 2018

The sun shone brightly in Derek's eyes. He rolled over away from the windows and spied the clock on the bedside table. It was 10:00am. He sat up and rubbed his face; he didn't feel so very good. He'd pulled the bedspread over himself sometime during the night, but the other side was still in place so Mandy had made good her promise not to join him.

He threw on a robe and went downstairs. The housekeeper informed him that Mrs. Donovan was out (though she didn't say where, probably shopping) and bustled off to make his breakfast. Derek ate in silence, not even caring enough to read the sports page.

As he walked back up the stairs to dress he realized he felt out of shape as well as out of sorts. He headed for the bathroom and reached for the bottle of pills but as he did so he caught sight of his sweat suit hanging on the back of the door. Very deliberately he put the pills back in the medicine chest.

"What is wrong with you?" he asked his face in the mirror. "You've got everything you ever wanted – fame, fortune, and glory. So why aren't you happy? Mom and Dad didn't teach you to handle your problems with booze and drugs. You need to tackle them head-on." He pulled on the sweat suit and headed out for a run to help clear his head.

An hour later Derek stepped out of the shower, feeling much better. He was trying to figure out what to do about the rest of his problems, but wasn't quite sure where to start. For one thing, he couldn't quite pinpoint when and where things had started going wrong. Having earlier thought of his parents he wondered if they'd have any words of wisdom.

He realized it'd been months since he'd even spoken with them, and suddenly missed them terribly. Even his geeky little brother. They'd all be at work in the middle of the day, but he could call this evening. In his current maudlin mood he wanted some contact immediately. He remembered that Mandy had relegated all family photos to a drawer in the den and resolved that he would spend the afternoon going through them and putting some on display, maybe that would help warm the house up. In a charitable moment he decided he'd put out some of Mandy's family pictures as well just to be fair.

Derek found the pictures and piled them on the coffee table to start the sorting process. It was slow going, as each photo seemed to bring back memories of happier times. He was nearing the bottom of the pile when he saw a slip of paper with Lennie's handwriting on it. Again he had that swimming sensation, the air seemed to ripple away from him.

"It's been hours since I had one of those pills," he muttered to himself. "Must be feeling a little funny because of that." He picked up the note and read it.

"Hey Bro," Lennie had written. "You were out. Haven't spent any time together in awhile, what say we spend the afternoon at the beach? Susie doesn't have to know you were babe-watchin'! I'll bring the beer – ah, it's water for you isn't it? You can go for your run there if you want, I'll watch. I'm always afraid you'll get hit running in the street. Call me!"

The air around Derek seemed to flow and undulate even more. He wondered if he should taper off the meds instead of going cold turkey, and decided he'd go take another one when he was done here. He had an image of himself lying in the street, unable to move, and watching a car speed away. But it hadn't happened; he remembered that day at the beach with Lennie, they'd had a great time.

Was his brother prescient? Lennie was prone to saying things like, "Wow, Man, what if (fill in the blank with the appropriate crisis) had happened?"

What would've happened if he had gone for his usual jog that day? If an inattentive driver had clipped him he could've been hurt – maybe even badly. Broken leg, twisted ankle, busted knee, even a back injury. Any one of those would've kept him from playing in the next game. A serious enough injury and he might've been benched permanently. He wouldn't be the big football hero he was now.

Derek wondered what would've happened to him, what he'd be doing today if he'd had to stop playing. "One thing's for sure," he told himself. "Mandy wouldn't give me a second look. Would Susie have stayed with me if I hadn't been gallivanting all over the country to training and games?"

He got up and put the pictures back in the drawer; somehow he didn't feel like messing with them right now.

Tuesday February 27, 2019

"Hi Dad, how're you doing?" Derek asked. He'd been making an effort to talk to the folks more often of late. He couldn't believe he'd stayed out of touch with them for so long, and this was one way he was trying to make his life better.

"Well, better than can be expected, it seems," Dad replied cheerily. "How about yourself?"

"Mandy and I are still trying to work things out," he said. "Though I'm not sure how hard she's trying, half the time she 'forgets' about the counseling session."

"Give her some time, son," Dad counseled. "It took you seven years to get here, it'll take more than a couple months to sort through the problems. Speaking of which, how are you doing with yours?"

"I've weaned myself off the pain pills, haven't had one in a couple weeks now," Derek said proudly. Then a little more candidly, "But I'm having a little more trouble with the alcohol; sometimes it feels like my only consolation when we have a big fight. I'm workin' on it, I'll get there, I promise you Dad." The last was said with sincerity.

"I know you will, Derek," Dad said confidently. "Again, give yourself some time. I was real worried about you there for awhile, but you're gonna get better now, I can feel it."

Something nagged at Derek's mind. "Hey, what did you mean when you said 'better than expected'? Did you get that promotion?"

"Not exactly," Dad replied. "I'm just having a good day, that's all I meant."

"OK Dad, come clean," Derek said seriously. "I can tell by your tone of voice that you don't want me to worry, except that makes me worry more. Spill it!"

"OK, guess I kinda spilled the beans, didn't I? Went back to the dermatologist today for my 6-month checkup, and got a clean bill of health," Dad told him.

"Checkup?" Derek asked in confusion. "Dad, have you been holding out on me? Is there something wrong?"

"Not now, thanks to your brother," Dad replied. "I saw the doctor last October and he froze off a mole on my arm. Told me it was a good thing I'd come in when I did, because he didn't like the look of it one little bit."

"Dad, are you saying it might've been cancerous?"

"That's what the doc said, all right," Dad replied. "But he caught it in time, and didn't see any more that looked suspicious. I'll be darn sure to go back on a regular basis after that! I'm thinking Lennie saved my life. Sure am glad he left me that note instead of waiting to talk to me later."

Dad's words triggered a faint memory. "A note? Lennie left you a note saying he was worried?" He began to feel odd, like the air was flowing away from him, undulating as it moved. This time there were no pharmacological influences to blame, he hadn't had a drink in two days.

"Yeah. Said he always worried that I spent so much time out in the sun," Dad said. "Funny thing is, I don't remember him ever saying anything about that before. It was bowling night; guess Lennie'd come by to see us and forgot we wouldn't be home. Anyway, he left me this note that said he was worried about me and begged me to see the doctor. Left it on the kitchen counter by that ceramic Jack-O-Lantern your mom always puts out for Halloween."

"I'm really glad you took care of it, Dad." Derek found himself so choked up that this was all he could say. The air seemed to ripple a little more, and for a moment he had a mental image of attending Dad's funeral.

"I'm just fine now," Dad assured him. "It was the damnedest thing, though. When I read that note I felt real funny, like the room was spinning maybe. I felt like I could almost see the results of my choices kind of floating away from me where I stood. Guess it was the shock of thinking about my possible mortality. You ever feel like that?"

"Yeah, I have, Dad. Several times. Like I was caught in some kind of flux and whatever I did next was really important somehow, even if it was just a little thing."

"That's it, exactly," Dad agreed. "Well, all's well that ends well. I'm sure we've both made the right decisions."

Thursday May 10, 2019

"What do you mean, you don't know what it is?" Derek asked in surprise. "I paid you to find out what my brother's up to and all you can tell me is it's some kind of big machine? What kind of Private Eye are you?"

"Mr. Donovan, you saw the pictures I sent you, can you tell me what it is?" replied Bill Stone.

"I'm sorry, Stone," Derek replied. "You came highly recommended and I did say it would be a weird job. How'd you find out about the warehouse, anyway?"

"Oh, that was the easy part!" Bill said. "I just put a GPS tracker on your brother's car, led me right to the place. Seems he and his buddy Tim spend most of their free time working on that whatever-it-is. The problem was not tripping their security. Whichever one of 'em set it up, I'd like to have 'em on my payroll, they're good."

"But you didn't get caught, right?"

"No, but it wasn't easy," Bill said. "I've got my tricks. Pretended to be delivering a package; you know, knock on the door and then walk around peeking in a few windows like I'm trying to see if anyone's there to sign for it. Really I was checking out the cameras and wires, taking pictures. Spent a couple days watching those cameras from a distance and working out the coverage. They're supposed to look like they move at random, but there is a pattern and a narrow window of opportunity to slip between their fields of vision."

"Look, Stone, I don't care how you did it, I just want results," Derek said. "Could you tell what they were doing in there at all?"

"Mr. Donovan, if you ask me they were looking at videos on a huge TV screen," Bill said. "Probably had it hooked up to a computer. I blew up a couple of those shots to show you. I think maybe they were taking a break from the mad-scientist work, just having a little fun. I could see lights blinking on that pile of equipment behind them and heard some kind of electrical hum, but you wouldn't need all that stuff to surf YouTube. I watched 'em for an hour but that's all I saw. Do you want me to go back again?"

"No, thanks, I doubt it'd do any good," Derek said regretfully. "You tracked 'em down and gave it your best shot. I appreciate that, sorry if I sounded angry. I'm just not really sure what I expected you to find. I'll get a check right out to you – and really, thanks for your help."

Derek hung up the phone and drummed his fingers on his desk. What had he expected, exactly? Lennie and Tim had been working on this big project of theirs for years, but they'd never say much about it. He couldn't even be sure it had anything to do with his weird feelings either, though he couldn't help but think somehow it did. Lennie seemed to know too much.

He pulled up the pictures on the computer again and looked at them more carefully. He could see the boys' backs as they sat at some kind of, well, control panel for lack of a better word. Masses of what looked like electrical equipment covered the floor in front of them. And Stone was right, it did look like all they were doing was watching videos on a giant monitor.

There, that was one of the close-ups that showed the big screen, the edges of which seemed oddly fuzzy. Derek leaned forward trying to get a better view. Lennie was standing beside the screen pointing at something, a trick of perspective making his arm appear to be embedded in the picture. Looked like the folks' kitchen on the screen. He looked at the other photos the PI had sent. Maybe they were just looking at old pictures they'd scanned into the computer, but what was of so much interest in the kitchen? There weren't even any people in the shot. The picture had been taken during some October as he could see a grinning Jack-O-Lantern on the counter.

Something caught Derek's eye and he went back through the pictures in order again, little slices of time captured on film. Lennie approached the big screen, pointed something out, then walked back to the control panel where Tim sat. No, wait. Near the beginning of the sequence Lennie had a piece of paper in his hand, and it was gone when he sat down again. An overflowing trash can sat at the end of the Mission Control board, he must've added it to the heap between frames.

Perhaps irrationally, Derek felt like the answer was in front of him, if he could just see it. He wished he were more computer-literate and knew how to enlarge all the pictures. As he stared at the screen he noticed a small magnifying glass at the bottom of the viewer software – would that do the trick?

Five minutes later Derek sat staring at the computer screen which showed an enlargement of one of the later photos in the sequence. He could clearly see a small piece of paper on the counter next to the fake pumpkin. It hadn't been there in the earlier shots. It couldn't possibly mean what he was thinking, could it?

Saturday June 9, 2019

"Hi guys," Derek said. "Good to see you! I'm all packed and ready, but why are we driving? Why can't we fly to one of the big east coast airports and drive from there?" He'd met the 'boys' at their ratty apartment, where they would put their gear in his SUV before they all started out.

"Security," Tim said. "We can't exactly take our souvenirs through the X-ray machines at the airport!" He placed a backpack carefully on the back seat, as if its contents were precious.

"I thought you weren't interested in treasure-hunting," Lennie said in a teasing tone. "Or more likely you just didn't believe us the first time."

"I didn't!" Derek exclaimed. "I thought you were crazy, looking for buried treasure. But that ruby you brought back – I told Mandy it was an old family heirloom – was real enough. I know you found something. Do you have any idea which pirate it was?"

"Sure – it was Captain Kidd," Lennie said smugly.

"How do you know for sure?" Derek countered with a grin. "Did the treasure chest have his name on it?"

"We researched the clues," Tim told him. "Dates, the known history, old maps of the area, charts of the currents, uh, the speed and capability of his boat. That sort of stuff."

"OK, OK, I'm impressed already!" Derek said. "You've managed to do what hundreds of other people couldn't. Let's go, I wanna see it for myself."

"I'm glad to have you along, Bro. But I'm curious why you want to go now? I mean, you're the one called me up asking about it," Lennie said.

"Been trying to fix some things in my life, Lennie. I decided it would be nice to just get away for a few days, do something fun for a change. Though I'd really like it if I could take just a little something for myself, like you said, a souvenir."

"OK with me. What'd Mandy say about you taking this trip?" Lennie asked.

Derek grinned a bit ruefully. "Not a damned thing – she left me last week."

"Oh, wow. I'm sorry Derek," Lennie said contritely. "Anything I can do to help?" He shot a covert look towards Tim.

"Letting me come with you guys will help, trust me."

"Sure thing, glad to have you," Tim said. "We're all ready, let's get on the road."

The three young men had a great time on the road. Three days driving gave them plenty of time to get re-acquainted and caught up on the details of their lives and Derek was pleased they'd become friends again. He enjoyed it while it lasted, unsure what the future would bring. And if the younger guys saw him sneaking a nip from his flask now and then they didn't mention it.

The site of the buried treasure was singularly un-impressive to look at, Derek thought. Tim and Lennie just laughed when he said that. When they'd gotten close Tim had pulled some kind of radio out of his backpack and used it to locate the site. No one objected when Derek asked if he could do the digging, and he had to admit it was fun even knowing something was really gonna be there.

After 300+ years there was nothing left of any wooden chest, if there'd ever been one, but the treasure was still there. The boys had buried a car battery along with their radio locator; one of their tasks was to replace it since it was getting old. They all oohed and aahed at the riches they'd uncovered, then spent some time deciding on what to take home with them. Derek settled for a small coin, with a date in the late 1600's.

Derek dug the old battery out, then settled back to rest while Tim got to work re-wiring the locator. He took a quick swig to settle his nerves and pulled the GPS device from his pocket, turning it on and then placing it in the sand by his side. Tim was still lying down head-first into the hole, intent on his work. Lennie had his back to him, busily loading their booty into cardboard boxes. Derek pulled a piece of paper and pencil from his pocket and copied down the coordinates, then put everything away before they noticed what he was doing.

A few minutes later they called on Derek's muscles once more to fill in the hole, Tim holding the antenna while Lennie carefully packed sand around it. Once the treasure was re-buried they piled some leaves atop the mound and weighted the end of the antenna with an old dead tree branch.

"Not perfect by any means," Tim declared, eyeing the results critically.

"Good enough, Dude," Lennie pronounced. He waved his arm to indicate the remote area. "It's not likely anyone would just happen to run across this spot, and after a few weeks of rain and wind the wire will be the only indication that anyone's been here in years."

Derek stabbed the shovel into the sand and pulled out his flask. "A job well done. Gentlemen, let's celebrate!" Whereupon he took a long swallow before handing the flask to Lennie.

Lennie eyed his brother with some concern, but decided this wasn't the time to spoil his fun even if real pirates didn't drink Scotch. He and Tim both indulged in a small taste, then they capped the celebration with a three-way high-five.

Having accomplished their goals they set off for home that afternoon. They'd intended to drive straight through since they were all a bit nervous about carrying gold of questionable origin. Unfortunately by the second night Lennie was tired and Tim still asleep in the back seat – and Derek was drunk as a skunk.

Derek magnanimously offered to pay for a hotel, though everyone was happy that he requested a room to himself. Tim and Lennie assumed he was in there drinking himself into a stupor at the prospect of having to return to an empty house. They had no way of knowing about the letter he was writing, which included both driving directions and precise GPS coordinates. Nor could they see him carefully wrap the small coin and add it before sealing the envelope and addressing it to the Smithsonian Institution.

Sunday June 17, 2019

As they drove into the outskirts of the city Lennie began to relax. In theory there was very little risk in this venture, but he always felt better when they arrived home safely. After all, it wasn't like he could see into the future! Having Derek along had been fun at first, but now his big brother was merely a brooding presence behind the wheel. He had hardly spoken all morning though he didn't otherwise act like he was hung-over. Lennie would be glad when they parted company, though it made him sad to think so.

"Hey, Dude! That was our exit," Tim exclaimed from the back seat.

"You feeling OK, Bro?" Lennie asked. "Take the next one, we'll take the scenic route home."

"Change of plans," Derek replied gruffly.

"I bet he's taking us to some fancy restaurant," Tim said with enthusiasm. "It'll be a great way to celebrate the end of our successful adventure." He mimed tipping a flask to his mouth so that Lennie could see. Derek said nothing.

As the miles passed Lennie began to get nervous. What had gotten into his brother? If he was gonna turn 'em over to the cops why hadn't he done it at the treasure site? And if he'd needed money he could've asked for more than one little coin. He was still trying to figure it out when he heard Tim's gasp.

Lennie looked up to see that Derek had pulled the car into the parking lot beside their warehouse. He shut the engine off and stretched as if merely glad to be at the end of the drive.

"What're we doing here?" Lennie asked, trying to sound like he'd never seen the place before.

"It's time you told me all about your project," Derek replied. "I know this is where you work on it, you bought this warehouse eight years ago. That's why you needed the money from that first treasure hunt; that and components and probably to pay the electric bill, that thing probably takes a lot of power to run. So unlock the door and let's have a look."

Tim and Lennie looked at each other in wordless shock. They climbed out of the car and Tim pulled a key ring from his pocket and let them in. He flipped the light switch and heard Derek's appreciative whistle. Neither offered any explanation, hoping they could think of some suitable alternative filled with enough techno-babble that Derek couldn't possibly understand. Maybe he'd be satisfied with that.

"So this is what a time machine looks like!" Derek said.

"Man, you told him!" Tim accused.

Lennie shook his head frantically. "I didn't, I swear."

Derek walked over to the control panel and ran his fingers along the surface, stopping to touch some of the gauges and switches. Lennie flinched, afraid Derek would start messing with them; but his brother's actions had stunned him to the point he could barely speak.

"Uh, Derek, please don't touch any of that stuff," Tim said cautiously. "It's a little delicate, ya gotta turn things on in the right order."

Derek jumped back as if he'd been shocked. "Okay, gotcha. I sure don't want to break it. You want to tell me about it?"

"Well, uh…" Lennie began.

"Whadda ya want to know?" Tim asked. "We call it the Ninja," he added.

"You can't see the future, can you," Derek said. It was not a question.

"No, just the past," Tim agreed. "But Man, that's so cool!"

"Yeah, I bet it is," Derek allowed. "That's how you found the treasure, isn't it? You watched William Kidd himself bury it."

"It was a little more complicated than that," Lennie finally spoke up. "We did have to do some research to figure out when and where to find him. Then we had to check on the site at intervals, we did every 25 years, so we'd know what it looks like today. The, uh, landmarks changed quite a bit over time. We'd have never found it if we hadn't done that."

"Makes sense," Derek said nodding his head. "So that means you can control not only the time you go to but the place as well."

"Right," Tim told him. "It took a lot of work, but we've got that part down now."

"It still needs some work," Lennie protested. "We can't cut it any finer than one hour, though the lat/long controls Tim figured out are pretty precise."

"You don't use GPS?" Derek asked in surprise.

"We could use it on this end," Tim replied, "but there aren't any satellites in the past to get coordinates from. We think this will be better in the long run."

"Hadn't thought about that," Derek said a bit sheepishly. He looked around at the piles of equipment. "I can see that you guys have done an amazing job, but it's not done yet, is it?"

"No, there's still a long way to go," Lennie said. "Derek, you're not gonna tell anyone, are you? The scientists – or the government…"

"Or the military would take it away from us," Tim finished the thought. "Not only would we never get the credit we'd never even see it again."

"No, I promise I won't tell anyone," Derek assured them. "I just wanted to see it for myself. So what is it that needs improving?"

"When we first got it working, all we could do was watch," Tim told him. "Which was pretty astounding by itself. But we couldn't interact at all."

"We thought we knew how to do that, but it would take a lot more money than we had," Lennie continued. "So, yeah, we got the idea of digging up the treasure. I mean, it hadn't been found so it wasn't like we were changing anything by taking it."

"That gave you the resources to allow you to interact with history," Derek said as if making sure he'd understood.

"On a limited basis," Tim qualified. "We made the breakthrough in last December, but we think we can still do even better. Right now all we can do is kinda slip in and leave something there. We can't take anything away, or talk to people or anything like that."

"Show me how it works," Derek said. It really wasn't a command, more of a pleading request.

At this point Lennie felt there was no reason not to acquiesce. "When and where, Bro?" he asked.

Derek made a pretense of looking off in the distance as he thought of all possible options. "How about the campus, say May of 2011."

Tim shrugged as if to say that sounded safe enough. He and Lennie began powering up the equipment. They explained that it took some time, so Derek upended the trash can and used it as a seat while he watched their every move in fascinated expectation. They pretended not to notice when the flask made its appearance; let Derek drink, he couldn't hurt anything as long as they were in control.

Finally the big "screen" lit up, and Derek could see that it was more of a portal than anything; a doorway into the past. He could see the familiar college campus filled with students walking by his vantage point. Flowers were blooming in their beds and the sun was shining brightly. "Are you sure it's May? 2011?" he asked.

Tim pointed to one of the monitors that showed the date. "Besides, isn't there something missing from the picture?"

"Oh, right – the new science building!" Derek said. "They didn't get started putting it up until the summer of that year. I never had any classes in it." This last was said in a tone of slightly embarrassed explanation as to why he hadn't made the connection immediately.

"You satisfied now, Bro?" Lennie asked.

"Can you move around some, let me reminisce a little? I know it takes a lot of juice, I'll give you a grand to pay for the power. I just wanna pretend for a little while that I'm back there with my life ahead of me," Derek said wistfully.

"No problem," Tim said. "Go stand next to the portal, it makes it seem more real that way."

Derek took a final drink, capped the flask, and walked to the rectangular light, swaying only slightly. "OK, let 'er rip!" he commanded.

For the next few minutes he took them on a tour of the campus, telling them stories of his exploits both in sports and romance, and making light of his less-than-stellar academic record. Before long they were all laughing uproariously and having a grand time. There was no danger here, Derek just wanted a walk down memory lane and he could be really funny when he wanted to.

The view moved past a mailbox in front of the student union and Derek asked them to back up to it. "I want to try something," he said. "So far all I've done is look. You said I could interact – can I stick my hand in that mailbox?"

"Sure," Tim said. "It's the kind that's meant for packages, so you don't have to pull down the flap. We can't do that yet."

Derek turned away from the younger men so they couldn't see him pull the letter from the breast pocket of his jacket. He grasped the short end of the envelope with curled fingers and turned his arm so it would hide the length. Lennie and Tim saw Derek's hand disappear inside the open chute of the mailbox. All three men felt the air begin to ripple with dizzying possibilities.

Sunday June 17, 2019

Derek and Susie settled down on the couch after supper. The girls were happily playing with their dollhouse across the room, unaware that the arrangement allowed their parents to keep an eye on them. He put his arm around Susie's shoulders, pulled her close and kissed her cheek.

"What's on tonight, Sweetie?" he asked. "Anything worth watching?"

Susie was scanning through the on-line cable guide. "How about the History Channel?" she asked. "There's a show on about buried pirate treasure."

"Well shiver me timbers, let's watch!" he replied.

Though the show was interesting, after half an hour Derek's attention had wandered. He was paying more attention to the girls than the TV, thinking how nice it was to be sitting next to his true love and watching their children play.

"Oh, wow, can you believe it?" Susie cried in wonder.

Derek turned his attention to the TV set. There was a picture of gold bars, jewelry, and old coins piled up on a beach somewhere; the narrator was gushing about Captain Kidd's buried treasure having been found eight years ago. Something about an anonymous letter leading them to the discovery.

He suddenly felt a little odd, as if he was standing in a pool of water up to his neck, and he could feel – and almost see – ripples moving away from his head as if he'd somehow disturbed the placid surface. Yet in some way it was a pleasant experience, as if the ripples were carrying away his fears.

He pulled Susie closer to him and bent to whisper in her ear, "I will always love you."

Friday June 17, 2011

Lennie tossed a can at the wall of empties he'd so carefully built over the past year. The resulting crash and destruction mirrored his feelings exactly. "Damn, Dude," he said. "I can't believe someone else found our treasure when we were so close."

"Chill out, Man," Tim replied. "There's plenty of bank robbers rumored to have hidden cash that's never been found. Maybe we could watch Jesse James or somebody."

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