On a large monitor, the image of a bellhop stands on a downtown rooftop and uses both hands to raise a golf club over his head. Two wide-eyed technicians wearing white coats in a darkened laboratory watch the young man bend and stretch. Mouths agape, they take notes and wipe their brows.
"This is your candidate?" the taller researcher says. "This golfer? Crik Duvall?"
The shorter one nods. "He's a bellhop, too."
~ * ~
At a railing atop the city's tallest hotel, Crik in the hotel uniform lowers his club. The height does not frighten him, rather, the view always intrigues him. Far below, the people look like a school of minnows flitting across the downtown central plaza. Others resemble tufts of beach grass clumped around street performers break dancing or juggling. People sure look little, Crik thinks. Must be how landlords see us.
Lifting his bellhop cap, Crik runs his fingers through bleached streaks. He takes a few practice swings. Yo-yo golf will challenge enthusiasts of all nations, even become an Olympic event. I could pay down my tuition. Even help Randy with his debt. How dumb, messing with dudes from the vodka importers convention. What'd he know about ostrich racing anyway?
Steadying himself, Crik cocks his club. The word "Fore!" rings out from a phone in his pocket, but he drives a Wiffle golf ball into the air without a hitch. The headwind blows the hollow ball back to him – yo-yo golf.
Crik's knuckles are tattooed with esoteric symbols. A stud twinkles in one ear but no weighty choker worries his swing. He's up to twenty-three straight successful drives-then-catches, closing in on his personal best.
He blinks. The plastic dot sails past him, into the void. Zippers.
"Whenever you don't answer your phone, I know where to find you." Randy, also a bellhop, lets the door close behind him. As he crosses the roof, his body lags behind his head, his neck nearly level, as if offering his melon to a guillotine. He sidles up to Crik.
Crik takes out a twenty-dollar bill. "Another big date before next payday, bro?"
"Man, you are like family." Randy takes the note.
~ * ~
"Family's a thing of the past, bro," Crik's image says. In the gloomy laboratory, tall Dr. Alvin Ultra and his short assistant Yuri Ivanov, both middle-aged, emit gasps and wag their heads, jotting down notes.
The monitor, thin as a sheet, hangs from a ceiling in a high corner. It's cabled to a device shaped like an oversized dog biscuit with a sharp point like a syringe, big as a sled, some parts shiny, some opaque. Colored wires twist and run to other odd-shaped devices that whir and jerk.
Crik hides his club on the ledge beyond the perimeter wall.
Dr. Ultra glances at Yuri. "Neither of these two has indicated any interest in social evolution, never mind founding an entirely new way of viewing the world."
Under his beret and bushy eyebrows, Yuri shrugs. "Destinon said to check out this moment."
~ * ~
"'Crik'. That short for cricket?" People always ask.
No, Crik was named Crik because Brook was already taken; his older brother got named that.
"Oh, I get it," the hotel manager said when interviewing Crik, "Creek."
Crik nodded. His hair waved, didn't curl, despite him being the black sheep of the family. "Yeah, Crik."
Crik is too busy to finish college. How many decades would it take to pay off the student loan – a necklace of stone – anyway? Especially with good friends unable to budget themselves. Better to have a fun job. Make money and enjoy life.
The two bellhops enter the hotel's darkened conference hall. It's packed like a tent revival on the eve of the Second Coming. Of course. Who hates money?
Strains of Wagner's majestic movements accompany the big-screen video of unabashed luxury: Acres of vineyards remind Crik of the south of France where he'd backpacked one summer. A sleek car barely looking street-legal swerves through hills.
"Tesla Roadster," Crik whispers to Randy. "0 to 60 in 3.7."
On the screen, a limousine grand enough for comfortably hosting small celebrations sits in the driveway of a mansion with the long lines of Frank Lloyd Wright draped over a seaside cliff. Inside, fashion models adorned with jewelry befriend vain hosts sipping champagne. Famous paintings hang on the walls.
Crik leans over to his pal. "I've a print of that Van Gogh."
"With his autograph?" Randy whispers.
Crik frowns. "Ethics teaches us virtue is its own reward."
Randy frowns. "Economics teaches that reward is its own virtue."
My reward would be to never get another bill, late notice, or harassing phone call.
A sharp-dressed salesman in a flawless Armani suit strides onstage. His shiny hair neatly styled, Julian Seizure keeps his posture erect and full-chested, as would a cocksure general before his troops. His blistering smile stretches his narrow-featured face.
Seizure fires his words forcefully and pounds the air with a fist timed precisely to each syllable. "Andrew Carnegie, a billionaire back when a dime bought you a complete breakfast, noted, and I quote: 'It takes hard work to amass a fortune in industry, but any fool can get rich in real estate.'"
Perking up, Randy whispers to Crik, "Did he say any fool?" His eyebrows bounce up and down.
The big screen shows slender beauties gliding in Olympic-size pools and robust businessmen driving golf balls a mile down the links. The pitchman exhales. "The old boy nailed it. Nothing else comes close to how much people pay over the course of their lives for a place to live. Directly or indirectly, a big part of everyone's spending goes to a lease or mortgage."
The sea of heads nod in assent. The speaker opens his hands in empathy. "Since all of us have been foolish at least once …"
Amid the sea of heads, only Randy bobs agreeably – until he sees nobody else owning up and slinks lower into his seat.
"Why are we not all very well off?" The instant-riches guru taps his skull. "Foresight." Seizure stares down his audience. "It's not speculation when you see what's coming."
Crik snorts. Too good to be true.
"I believe!" Randy says.
"Time to go, bro." Crik tugs his friend's sleeve. "I've a better idea. You think Seizure plays golf?"