Sunday, January 30, 2005
Looking into his office, the only lighting supplied by a small swing lamp next to the computer monitor, Henry wondered if his idea would work. He held a manila folder, clutched under the stump of his left arm, while pressing down on the stainless steel lever of the door knob with his right hand. In his younger days he would enjoy speeding down the highway in his red '67 GTO, windows down not caring what the posted limits were. A tire had blown out, the car went into a drainage ditch and rolled over several times prior to coming to rest in a shallow pool of muddy water. Most of his left arm was crushed and the doctors could only clear away the fragmented bone and muscle. His wife had never been comfortable in his " muscle car " or the way he would literally fly down the road while he was showing off. The officers who investigated the scene never found his hand. The wedding ring would have little meaning to him now that she was dead. She had been knocked unconscious and drowned that day in the ditch.
" I must try it before anyone else gets here this morning. ", quietly talking to himself as the rows of overhead fluorescent lights sequentially marched over him. He had never liked the pale white cast, favoring instead the incandescent lamp which supplied a warmer more natural illumination. He entered his password to gain access to the main computer. Upon opening the folder that he carried, his eyes showed a glimmer of his hope. It was more than hope, closer to verification of a foregone answer as he entered the data through the agile fingers of his right hand. He only had a couple of hours before his fellow workers would arrive. He could not sleep and so it made no difference where he spent his time, at home or at his work station. He leafed though the pages one after another as the data fields were completed.
" That should be enough for a small test. " Henry sat back for a few moments as he pondered what he was about to accomplish. His pinkie finger slid over and punched the Enter Key. Henry had wanted to try his idea out on a simple project to make sure that it would work. He had always wanted to catch a foul ball at a major league baseball game. It had never happened. The past few days he had gone over the specifications of a major league baseball; its every detail down to the kind of thread used to stitch the seams. If he could replicate a baseball by entering the details of each individual component so that they could be assembled then there would be no limit to the items that could be reproduced. He watched as the monitor's images momentarily flashed and then disappeared. It was searching the related fields and compiling the data files that Henry had entered. He could hardly contain his excitement as he briskly walked to the far end of the office and entered the assembly area.
The electronic key was scanned and he waited for the double wide doors to let him pass. The assembly area was not much different than a large hanger such as one would find at any airport. There were large conveyor belts that reached from the center of the room out in all directions. In this way the raw materials which might be needed for any given task could be accessed with relative ease. Henry walked up a small flight
of stairs and onto a suspended platform. He was not surprised to see a baseball in the middle; ecstatic would better describe his feelings as he reached down and picked it up.
" Henry, is that a baseball you have? ", he heard a familiar voice call to him from out of the shadows. It was Josette from systems analysis. Her primary job was to make sure that each mechanical operation was properly documented. Many of the small jobs would never show up on the cost sheets and over a period of time there would be an accumulation of unexplained losses. Josette's ability to stay on top of these minor expenditures did not set well with most of the other employees. Henry was different; having sort of a boyish crush on her.
" Yes, ahh, its a baseball. ", holding it up into the air as he turned toward the direction from which her voice had come from. Henry enjoyed looking at her face; soft skin with creased dimples on either side of her warm smile. She was not in a position of meeting the public and often wore loose fitting jogging suits that were attractive and yet never revealed anything other than that she enjoyed soft fleecy type clothing. Henry often wondered if the skin underneath would be as soft . . .
" I didn't know that the company was into making baseballs, Henry. " Her voice was playful and she was aware that he had a crush on her. She knew that he was too much of an introvert to ever mention it; just the way he acted when he was around her.
" Oh, no, uhmmm. Its just something I was working on my own; looking at his wristwatch as if to demonstrate that it wasn't even six o'clock in the morning yet. He made a few awkward steps toward the stairs as he put the baseball to his side.
" Did you list the materials on your job sheet? You did fill out a job sheet?" Josette took over as she met him at the bottom of the stairs. She was wearing a deep crimson sweatshirt with white sweatpants that looked like they had just come out of the dryer along with some fancy cross training sneakers. With her hair up in a large pony tail, Josette looked too good to be real as Henry attempted to get a better view.
" No, I mean, not yet. " He knew that she would have him fill out the form prior to leaving as he put the ball down on a table and started the process of listing each item on the standard form. Josette stood next to him, teasing him even more as the scent of her perfume took away even more of his ability to concentrate.
" Is that really Mickey Mantle's autograph? ", holding the ball to the light. The leather appeared to be aged and the stitching frayed in places.
" Yes and no. I mean, the ball was created by the " machine " and it would be as authentic as any made during that time period. Henry was not sure how to explain what he had done. " I had the computer analyze and then create this baseball from data that I entered this morning."
" Then the company isn't going to start marketing baseballs? Why would the company authorize a job like this? " She pretty well knew the answer; but, enjoyed the predicament Henry was in.
" Well, they haven't authorized it. If it will make things right, take the cost of materials out of my payroll check." Henry felt slightly annoyed at the idea of having to explain away less than a dollars worth of materials. It never occurred to him that he was using a machine that cost millions of dollars for his personal use.
" Don't worry about it. I was just curious, that's all. ", handing him the ball and tearing up the form that he had just finished. " You don't do baseball cards too, I hope?" The corners of her mouth smiled back at him as the dimples in her cheeks became even deeper. She'd put some kind of blush on her cheeks that made them stand out. Henry noticed the angular arrangement of her face, her full lips that seemed to pout and smile all at the same time as he swallowed to clear his throat.
" Its something else that I'm working on. This was just a test of my program to see if it would work. I promise that when I'm ready for something bigger that I'll make sure to fill out the proper material request form."
" Hey, its okay. I was just seeing who was in here so early and anyway. . .", stepping back half a step so that Henry could breathe again. " I was out all night with my boy friend. He drives a repo wrecker and we had fun chasing down some leads. " Her facial animation displayed a higher level of excitement as imaginary lightning flashed from her eyes. Henry had a hard time wondering what kind of fun might be derived from the possibility of getting shot at while hooking onto someone's car in the middle of the night. It was almost time for the shift to begin. Henry knew he was supposed to be at his work station, trying not to let her see that he was blushing.
" I hadn't planned on having to explain this to anyone. I'm sorry if I sounded . . ."
" Like I said; its okay. Now, if you want to run a program that makes diamond jewelry . . .? " She let him move away with his prize in hand. It was fun to have power over someone as she considered his rather unpretentious nature. She was more bold and enjoyed a little more excitement than Henry was capable of entertaining. It was still fun
to tease him along just a bit; lighting a cigarette, the trail of smoke left in the air as if from a gun that had just been used.
" I have to go clock in now. ", walking backwards as he extricated himself from her proximity. She continued to smile in his direction until he bumped into the door. He clumsily gathered himself around the door and into a less threatening reality. As soon as the door swung closed he began to examine the baseball; forgetting about how awkward he had felt only a few moments ago. It were as if the ball had been transported through a time portal rather than being concocted by the data in his computer. He placed it on his desk and thought about the next stage of his project.
" Hey Henry, morning." George Frumley who had the work station next to his greeted him. " Nice ball you have there. Did you buy that from the Home Shopping Channel. I saw those last week; they wanted one seventy five for an autographed Pete Rose. I'll bet they have a room full of old ladies who sign those things." George would never have bought one anyway, wondering out loud if Henry was that dumb.
" No, George, I didn't buy it from the Shopping Channel." He was about to explain how he came to be in possession of the ball when he was interrupted.
" So that's a real one then? ", picking up the ball and asking if it was okay to do so all at the same time. " Okay? " Henry nodded as if it would have made any difference.
" The ones on T. V. looked too new. They must think we're all a bunch of saps. Look at the way real leather gets yellow like on this ball. " George went on and on while Henry listened to the verification process. " That's a real Keeper you have there Henry. How much did it set you back?" George kept on talking without ever waiting for an answer. " Hey, that's none of my business. Sorry I asked. ", putting the ball back on Henry's desk. " Thanks for letting me hold it. "
" Anytime George, really, anytime." George disappeared behind the partition with a wave of his hand leaving Henry quietly amused. He opened his brief case and withdrew yet another manila folder. On the top edge of the label, " GTO " had been written over some white out. He turned on the flatbed scanner and waited for a few moments while it went through it warm up. Henry was talking to himself as he placed the first of many data sheets onto the glass window of the scanner. " Here goes nothing ". The pages being scanned were saved into a directory that he had set up, " GTO ", like it would take a rocket scientist to figure that out. He had taken every specification sheet that had ever been printed about the car, the shop manual, pictures of the interior, the original paint numbers, Thrush pipes, Hurst shifter, and down to the last piece of chrome so that the computer would be able to assemble or reconstruct one of his dreams. One of the last items of information that would be scanned was a copy of the accident report which had the vehicle identification number and the registration tag number that was on the car when he owned it. Those numbers would identify a specific make and model to include the size of the engine, and transmission so that it would be exactly like the original.
" 1967 Pontiac GTO serial number 242677P230814. " Henry figured that by doing it that way he would be sure that he got his own vehicle back on the outside chance that there was another GTO that had been restored. He didn't want to get into any trouble with the authorities. He knew that his GTO had been destroyed and turned into salvage. He still had the original owner's manual and bill of sale. He had purchased it used from Pye's Auto Sales over on the Eastex Freeway. The envelope still had the stock tag with the little throw away key ring so that in the event he had lost his keys; replacement keys could be made from the numbers stamped on the knock outs. Henry clutched the small pieces of metal in his hand as he silently wondered whether or not such a grand thing could be done.
On the way home that evening Henry stopped off at the locksmith shop and had them make a set of keys for him. He knew the owner of the shop and explained that he wanted to have original key blanks, not that it would matter, for sentimental reasons.
" I thought you said that the car was totaled out years ago? Why would you need keys for it now? " It was a logical question.
" I don't know, call it silly if you want. Can you do it? " Henry handed him the small pieces of metal with the imprinted key codes.
" It's a waste of money; but, its your money.", smiling as he looked the information up in his code book. It only took a few minutes and the job was done.
" That's it? ", looking at the two keys all shiny and new.
" If you like I can make it look harder; yes, that's all there is to it. I have a special today on keys that fit cars that no longer exist. Two Bucks and we're even." There was a light hearted laugh in his sarcasm.
" Here you are and I'll be back if they don't work as nice as the originals did." , grinning back with a boyish smile. Henry put the keys in his pocket; the locksmith laughed and shook his head, placing the two dollars in the register.
" Josette, here's a list of materials that are to be billed out of my next month's pay check. Its already been authorized by accounting. You can check if you like." Henry left the statement hanging in the air as he handed the form to her.
" It looks okay to me. Why would I need to check on it? You've never given me a reason to doubt? Have you checked to make sure that all this is available? " She went down the list with her finger, not looking at any item in particular; but rather the lengthy catalogue that he had itemized.
" I checked this morning and the raw materials are already in the staging area and ready to be loaded onto the conveyor tracks.", pausing only to take in a full breath and look at the inside of his eye lids, " I want this job to go off without a glitch."
" Then its all yours. ", placing the job sheet in a stack with others that had been done that day. " I've never seen you so on edge, except maybe that day with the baseball. You're up to something; aren't you? " She flashed a wicked smile as if by doing so she would become a part of whatever plot he had cooked up.
" Can you keep a secret? " Henry was not the kind to go around blabbing his stuff around.
" Its not anything illegal is it? ", half hoping that it might be.
" No, I told the Machine to rebuild my old '67 GTO. " Henry whispered even though they were alone in the fabrication room.
" I never would have pegged you for a muscle car type; no offense." Josette added as she tilted her head five degrees to look at him from a different angle.
" I may be getting older; but I still have a few years left. " Henry was old enough to be her father. " I wasn't always fifty three. "
" So what's taking so long? You activated the job order, didn't you? "
" Yea, it shouldn't take that long. " Henry walked to the computer terminal and asked for a progress report. It showed that the work was in progress and that some items had not been logged onto the request form; but that the delay would not be long. He could not think of what had been left off; scratching the back of his neck, a puzzled look momentarily coming from his normally sure demeanor.
" What did the computer say? " Josette wanted to see the finished project.
" It will be done soon, its going over the original data sheets to make sure all the raw material is being assembled as per spec's."
" How much longer? Did it say? " Henry punched in a few commands and found that the data from the police department's traffic accident report was the focal point of the computer's processor.
" Its going over the details of the vehicle identification now; should be anytime now. I guess its making the license plates. ", Henry threw in as he shrugged his shoulders. The conveyor belt jerked into motion; alerting them that the product was completed and would come from the heart of the Machine as soon as it cleared the protective nets. Henry leaned forward as if by doing so he would see it sooner. He reached into his pocket and felt for the set of keys as the heavy flaps of plastic began to submit to the large object coming down the large conveyor belt.
" Oh my God! " Josette put her hands up to her mouth as she gasped.
" Nooooooooooooo!! It can't be " Henry sank to the floor; unable to support himself in an upright position. The finished order arrived at the end of the conveyor belt and stopped. The Machine had assembled Henry's 1967 Pontiac GTO exactly as it looked on the day of his tragic accident. It was mangled almost beyond recognition. The digital photographs that the computer had accessed from the police departments files were very detailed. There were pieces of bent metal which once had been fenders, jagged shards of glass from the windows, and even large splatters of blood on the upholstery. The Machine had gone through every single detail of the accident report and then arranged the information so as to come up with a perfect reproduction. Henry held onto the railing as he gathered the strength to stand. Off to the side of the heap of twisted metal; and several feet up the conveyor belt were some more pieces of broken glass and a glob of limp flesh. It had generated Henry's left hand, complete with wedding ring.
( The vehicle Identification Number in this fictional story belongs to a well taken care of GTO that belongs to Pye's Auto Sales in the Houston area. The "tease" photo was obtained from the internet and is actually a 1965 GTO )