the right, and they proceeded
down the road with the setting
sun at their backs.
“What line of work you in,
mister?” asked the old man.
“I’m a lawyer,” he replied.
He vented about his lousy day.
“What line of work you in?”
he asked the old man.
“Rocket science,” the old
man said. Degrees from Harvard and MIT. Worked for NASA.
“So what brings you out here?”
“Long story and a short story,” the old man said. “Married,
child, nice house, had it all. Child became sick, died. NASA pro-
gram shut down. Lost the house and the wife, found the bottom of
the bottle.” They continued down the dark road.
“I need money,” the old man said, “but I can sell you this.” The
old man pointed to the bag. “It’s my own invention.”
“What is it?” he asked.
The old man said, “It will tell you when you’re going to die.”
He paused, then slowed his car and stopped on the shoulder of
the road. The old man withdrew a grey metal box from the bag. On
the top of the box was a half-dollar sized red dome. “See this light?
It will come on a minute before you die.”
They sat in silence for several moments. After another pause he
said, “Um, okay. And how does that thing work?”
“Unless you have degrees in advanced math and theoretical
physics, I couldn’t properly explain it to you. It’s all about cones,
convergences, waves, intersections, and a lot of other stuff. See, the
universe is an infinite number of points. From each point, there’s a
line. Some lines curve. Some lines move together and form planes.
Some of the points are points of life, and the lines that extend from
them are living. Some of the points are death. That’s the way of the
universe, life and death. And when a life line crosses a death line,
whatever is living dies.”
The old man stopped to let this sink in, then went on.
“This box has sensors. One of the sensors now knows your life
line, which is different from anyone else’s. And when the sensor sees
a death line coming toward your life line….”
The old man pointed to the light, then opened both of his hands
to mimic a flash.
“When that happens, you’ve got to get ready, you’ve got to do
something, something different, change the direction of your line,
He told the old man he was skeptical. That was the lawyer in him.
“Look,” the old man said, “do you ever wonder when a lot of
people die in a disaster how it is they all happen to be in that place at
the same time? It’s their lines. All of those lines converge on a point
that intersects with death.”
He thought about it, but not so much about the science part: If
the old man was right, he could become a zillionaire. If the old man
was just putting him on, he’d
put the box on a shelf in his of-
fice and tell stories about it to
amuse his clients and colleagues.
“How much?” he asked the old
“Five hundred,” replied the
old man. “I’m desperate for a
He opened his wallet and
saw a hundred, a fifty, and two twenties, not counting the hundred
he tucked behind his driver’s license for emergencies. “Here,” he
showed the old man, “$190. It’s all I’ve got.”
“Not good enough,” said the old man, eyeing his watch. “190
plus the watch,” said the old man.
He had paid $200 for the watch. He could always get another
one. But his lawyer instinct prevailed. “$150 and I’ll throw in the
watch. I’ve gotta keep 40 for gas. Final offer.”
He slipped off the watch and removed the two large notes from
his wallet. He held them out toward the old man. The old man
returned the gesture with a hard icy stare that lasted through a very
uncomfortable and total silence.
Then the old man took the watch and the money and opened
the door. “Hey mister attorney,” the old man said through the open
window before fading into the night, “Watch out for your karma!”
As he returned to the freeway, he felt elation at his negotiating, and
at the same time, a chill despite the warm evening air.
It was almost midnight when he arrived back at his townhouse.
“Hey mister attorney,”
He left the brown bag on the entryway table. He lay down on the
couch and drifted to sleep.
It was still pitch dark when he woke up. Someone was bang-
ing on the front door. He went to the door and looked out the
peephole. There were two men and a woman, maybe in their early
“We got car problems, could we please use your phone,” the
He was about to open the door when the light in the bag went
off. Bright red light flooded the ceiling of the entryway. He was
“What the…,” he said to himself, and then a second later, in the
direction of the door, he yelled, “go away!” A minute later, after the
light went out, he noticed he was hyperventilating, and his hands
were trembling. He lay back on the couch, dizzy from the experience.
The knock on the door several hours later wasn’t banging, but
it was sharp. Half-asleep, he looked out the peephole again. There
were two people outside, a uniformed police officer and a middle-
aged man in a white shirt and tie. He opened the door.
the old man said through
the open window before
fading into the night,
“Watch out for your karma!”