Friday, December 6, 2019

The Winding Lounge

by Bill Adler

When I walked into the century-old building near 64th Street (they’ve asked me not to reveal the exact location) with its rusting fire escape and crusty brick exterior, my expectations of a wonderful experience evaporated. The lobby was a landscape of peeling paint and burned out incandescent bulbs that smelled of bleach and insecticide.

But when the door to the Winding Lounge opened, I understood that what I had seen was camouflage. Like Shambhala, the Winding Lounge wants to remain hidden. I’m fortunate that I know someone who knows someone who knows the where and how of this place — and that I could get an invitation.

I was greeted in silence by a god and goddess, a man and woman in their mid-twenties, both blondes with coral blue eyes, who motioned me in. He was wearing a Credor Eichi II, a sublime contrast to the black t-shirt and jeans that clung tight against his muscular body. Strapped to the wrist of the female greeter’s flawless body was a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute with a burgundy dial and deco tones that made me feel as if I was wandering through the 1920s.

I showed them my Grand Seiko Red Flake, which was my sole identification. The man with the Credor examined my watch, then consulted his iPad. After the woman nodded to him, they wordlessly escorted me to a plush, velvet chair with expansive arm rests and deep cushions. I was expecting leather, but as soon as my body melted into the chair I realized the Winding Lounge selected soft fabric furniture rather than leather because leather squeaks. The room reminded me of my Snowflake’s dial, a hushed vista devoid of sound other than slight wisps of snow flowing over a snow covered field. The room’s subdued lighting came mostly from hidden floor lamps. A thick, cerulean carpet with an enigmatic Asian pattern covered the entire floor.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Plot to Destroy the Watch Industry

a short story by Bill Adler

The plot was as devious as it was destructive — or would have been except for a brave whistleblower at Nation Shield, a cyber security company.

The whistleblower, Anthony Gardner, will tell his story exclusively on 60 Minutes. Here’s a preview:

In late 2019, major smartwatch companies, including Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, and Xohi conspired to introduce a computer virus into the photo storage services operated by Google, Dropbox, Flickr, SmugMug, Imgur, and, ironically, also Apple. The virus was designed to replace images of wristwatches with black circles. Using AI, the virus could adapt to recognize all watch brands so that no image would escape its wrath. Only the watch would be affected; the rest of the photo would remain unaltered.

Gardner informs 60 Minutes this virus was created to decimate the mechanical watch industry, boosting smartwatch sales. As Garder tells our correspondent Halli Patel, “If people can’t take wristshots, why would they buy watches? Almost nobody takes smartwatch shots, but virtually the entire watch collecting community lives for mechanical watch photos. No wristshots equals no more traditional watch sales.”

Gardner came forward because, as a watch collector himself, he believed this virus would annihilate the watch industry. “I’ve got a Rolex Pepsi, two Grand Seikos, a Spring Drive and a 1960s model, a vintage Bulova Spaceview, an Omega Speedmaster, plus another dozen or so watches. I try to give my watches equal wrist time, even though nobody at work notices them. The women I’ve dated don’t notice my watches. Restaurant hosts don’t care about what I’m wearing and usually seat me near the kitchen no matter what’s on my wrist. Airline flight attendants don’t bat an eyelash at my watches and never upgrade me, even if I’m wearing my Rolex. I was audited once and the IRS agent noticed, but he’s the only one.

“My watch buddies like seeing photos of my watches, and vice versa. Sharing photos is one of my favorite evening activities. Some evenings it's all I do.

“I have my eye on a JLC Reverso moonphase, but wouldn’t consider buying it if I can’t post a photo of it online.

“So, yeah, when I found out about the plot to destroy the watch industry by negating watch photos I blew the whistle.”

Friday, November 22, 2019

Why Calvin Hughes Suddenly Left the Grand Seiko Owners Club Dinner

a short story by Bill Adler

“How do you know all this?” Calvin Hughes continued the conversation he and Alberta Singer started online. Alberta had been explaining to Calvin and ten thousand other members of the Grand Seiko Owners Club the logic behind Grand Seiko’s serial numbering system. “Not only how do you know, but how do you remember?”

Calvin rested his frothy beer on the table. He lowered his voice to within a few decibels of the din inside Calvin’s Cottage (no relation), an expansive restaurant serving burgers and similar comfort foods. The group of twelve watch collectors had selected Calvin’s Cottage because it offered large, round tables, suitable for conversation and displaying watches. Alberta brought three watches, a Grand Seiko Spring Drive with a blue blizzard dial and matching strap, a classic 56GS, and a diver, also a Spring Drive, that despite its substantial diameter didn’t look large on Alberta’s thin wrist. Alberta Singer was the first person Calvin had met who owned a dive watch they actually scubaed with. Calvin imagined Alberta in a wetsuit, an image that pleased him.

As Calvin and Alberta chatted, the other ten group members were busy biting burgers, passing watches (thoroughly wiping the grease off their hands first), drinking beer, and having the kind of nerdy fun that watch collectors enjoy when they breathe the same air. A cacophony of colors reflected off the watch dials.

Alberta clasped her hands together. Her cheeks rose as she smiled. “I know it seems hard, but didn’t trigonometry seemed hard when you first learned it?”

A pain poked Calvin’s brain. “Trigonometry is still hard.”

“Let’s dial it forward in small steps, shall we?”

“That sounds like a good idea. You’re the teacher, I’m the pupil and I’m all ears.” Despite Calvin’s jocularity, he was serious about learning everything there was to know about Grand Seikos, especially if that meant spending more time with Alberta.

“In 1966 Seiko started using six-digit serial numbers on their cases, except for when they didn’t. Before then, they always used seven digits, but there’s overlap, so some years you’ll see both six and seven-digit serial numbers. This is just for the caseback numbers; there’s a different system for the movement numbers.”

Calvin’s headache returned.

“But you don’t need to know it all to make sense of what Seiko’s doing. Think of the numbering system not as a code that somebody’s using to keep a secret. Instead, think of the caseback numbering system as a way Seiko communicates with you. It’s not classified; it’s an announcement. Once you think of the numbers that way, that Seiko wants you to know what they’re up to, it becomes easier.”

“Gotcha.” Calvin waved to the waiter. He wanted to have another beer on standby.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Day History Will Remember Forever

a short story by Bill Adler

Aimee Morrison walked from the bar to the table, balancing her beer like she was a living gyroscope. She sat down on the tall stool while simultaneously lifting the fully filled glass to her lips and drawing a long, satisfying drink. “How do they get this stuff?” she asked. “The beer is amazing.”

“Right,” Harlan Ellis replied. “I guess this is what happens when you have an Irish bar owned by a Japanese couple — anything is possible.” He raised his glass high, confident that gravity would keep the beer in his now half-emptied glass from spilling out, no matter how fast he moved his beer arm. “There’s no better place in town to relax after a long day.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Peter Kam added. And he did, downing half a pint in under ten seconds. “Man, my dogs are killing me.” He glanced around the table at Aimee, Harlan, and Davenport to his immediate left who was scarfing down a plate of fish and chips.

A pleasant hum filled McKenna’s Pub. Although every table was occupied, the decibels didn’t stifle conversation. While there was a television above the bar, a requirement for all pubs, the sound was muted. There was no music blaring from overhead speakers. The only extracurricular noise came from the dart game to the bar’s far side. A cacophony of barley, corn, rye, and wheat aromas filled the air with hypnotic scents.

Davenport Green looked at his friends, his face bearing a sheepish look, and said, “You guys probably got fed by your owners, but my owner is on the go all day, like a perpetual motion machine. She doesn’t eat, so I don’t eat. I’m famished. Go ahead and order if you’re hungry.” He resumed attacking his fish and chips.

“I was saying,” Peter continued, “I thought all your masters were office bound, but it’s good to know that there’s at least one other person in our drinking circle who’s on his feet all day.” Peter looked across the round table at Davenport. “Remind me, your master’s a —?”

“Comedian, if you can believe that.” Davenport juggled talking while eating. “When she’s not performing, she’s writing, and she writes while standing up. So I have to stand up, too. And when she’s not writing, she’s bouncing in between television stations and theaters. Siobhan O’Donnell.”

“I’ve seen her on TV. She’s hysterical,” Aimee said. “You’re lucky your master isn’t a dull businessman.”

“At least he’s in one place and probably has few deadlines. Mistress O’Donnell snaps at me if she isn’t where she needs to be at least five minutes before the scheduled time,” Davenport said. “And worse, she insists I wear an indie brand, a Konstantin Chaykin watch with a joker face, because she’s convinced it helps with her image. Have you ever tried to service something like that?”

“Never heard of Konstantin Chaykin,” Peter said.

“My point exactly,” Davenport replied, his hand cupped over his watch to protect it from beer spills or an off course dart.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The End

a short story by Bill Adler

Lionel Jones leaned back against the thick, leather chair, the fabric squeaking as he settled in. He noticed his shoelace had become untied, and took a moment to retie it before taking a sip of coffee. “The coffee’s good,” Lionel said. “I can’t drink hot beverages, but it’s the perfect temperature now.”

Mark Halperin waited until Lionel was done tying and drinking before continuing. “I'm not sure why you came to me, Mr. Jones.” Mark cocked his head to the side, sizing up his potential client. “With what you’re saying, I don’t think any lawyer could get you off. The statutes involved — destruction of property, computer invasion, information security damage, computer hacking, denial of service attack, cyber terrorism — those are just some of the crimes I’m sure you’ll be charged with.”

“And the penalty?”

“This would be a prosecutor’s field day. The number and magnitude of these crimes would add up to multiple life sentences.”

“But not the death penalty.”

“No, not the death penalty.” Mark narrowed his eyes. “But something tells me you already know that. Something tells me that’s not why you’re here.”

“Hmm.” Lionel took another sip of coffee and set the cup aside.

“BA from Harvard, PhD from MIT in physics, a professorship at Stanford at the age of thirty, the bestselling “Small Rules: Quantum Physics and the Nature of Time,” which Netflix made into a feature film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Ryan Reynolds — not even a documentary — though I think Reynolds was too old to play Lawrence’s lover. You parlayed the proceeds from that film into building a quantum computer, beating Google and IBM to the miracle finish line.”

“Hmm.”

“It puzzles me, too, why you made an appointment with me. I’d have expected you’d use a five-name law firm on the 30th floor of the Transamerica building and not an attorney who’s one step removed from an ambulance chaser.”

Lionel swiveled his head to the side. “I like your taste in art.”

“Ukiyo-e. Japanese, depictions of people and life in old Japan. The past is another planet. There’s nothing about the seventeenth century world that bears any resemblance to today.” Mark got up from behind his desk. He pulled the chair that sat to the side of the room in front of Lionel so he was only a foot away from his would-be client.

“Why are you here? You know I’m legally required to report crimes that are going to be committed. As soon as you leave I have to pick up the phone and report our conversation to the FBI.”

“I see.”

“Of course you see.”

Lionel balled his hands into fists. “Marcie Davenport.” Lionel leaned forward so he was eye to eye with Mark. He spoke slowly. “Marcie Davenport.”

“The Golden Gate Park Murderer.”

“No, she’s not. She’s innocent.”

Friday, November 1, 2019

Are We Home?

a short story by Bill Adler


“I’m tired.” The words slipped past Angie Bard’s lips like air from a deflating balloon. Angie tucked her head on top of Brian’s shoulder. She pressed so closely that their cells nearly merged into one.
“I’m cold, babe. I’m very cold.”

Brian pinched the opening in the gray, wool blanket that enclosed them. His exposed fingers felt like they had been dipped in a frozen pond.

Angie forced her lips into a half smile. “And my ass hurts from sitting on this park bench for six hours.” Her teeth clattered.

They watched the moon dip below the horizon, taking with it the last light, and though it shouldn’t have been, the last of the day's relative warmth. Shivers cascaded along Angie and Brian’s bodies like earthquake aftershocks. “How can the moon make us warm?” Angie asked. “The moon only reflects light, not heat.”

“I don’t know. Physical laws are different on this Earth, in this universe.” Brian wished that his watch's luminous glow could warm them, too, but they had yet to encounter a world where wishing changed reality.

“How much longer?”

Brian slipped his arm out from under the blanket. Between his shivers and icy drops around his eyes, it was almost impossible to read his watch. Brian brought his wrist closer to his face. The bluish, yellow glow of his Grand Seiko dive watch’s hands read 3:09.

“Four minutes.”

“Okay.” Angie’s teeth tapped against each other. “Thanks for looking at your watch for me. I think if I pulled my arm out of the blanket it would freeze and fall off in an instant.” Angie shivered again. “How much cold did you say a Spring Drive can withstand? I don't want my birthday present to be ruined."

“It’s fine to plus five Celcius. Below that, all bets are off when it comes to accuracy.”

“What’s the temp?”

“Dunno. But around that I’m sure. I think my lips are blue.” Brian's teeth sounded like they were communicating directly with Angie's in Morse code.

“I’d kiss you to warm them up, but I can’t move.”

"Next world will be warm, I'm sure." Brian slid his arm forward again. “Three minutes till 3:13.”

"Just promise me that the next world won't be one where blood sucking bats have replaced birds like three Earths ago." Angie sighed, exhaling ice clouds. "Maybe the next world will be home. I miss my bed and our cat."

Friday, October 25, 2019

Those Damn Elves

a short story by Bill Adler

“Dervish, why?” Aethelu smiled. Aethelu always smiled. So did Dervish. It was the elvish way to constantly smile, like a sculptor had molded their faces into canoes. But their smiles could never be interpreted in the same fashion as a human’s, and to do so would be to put yourself at risk. “What’s wrong with just slipping frogs into women’s handbags, tying men’s shoelaces together while they wait at crosswalks, or dabbing fish oil on the faces of cat owners while they sleep?”

Tonight’s moon was a quarter full, letting starlight fill the dark spaces around their campfire. A faint breeze rustled the tops of the trees, making the flames dance while fireflies zigzagged above. A white deer circled their camp before bolting into the deep woods.

Aethelu twirled a marshmallow on a crooked stick over the open fire. The fire cracked as it drew moisture out of the wood and small drops of marshmallow fell into the flames. Dervish licked his lips as he watched the white puffs turn golden brown. “Your favorite food, I know,” Aethelu said as he grinned. “Premium marshmallows. I got them from a house seven hascams from here. Somebody’s going to be upset when they get home tonight and find a bag of dried sardines instead of marshmallows. That’s going to make for strange s’mores.”

Aethelu ran his forefinger along the exterior of his ear. “Tell me why you have to invent a new prank when we’ve had perfectly good ones for years — for centuries — and I'll give you a roasted marshmallow. Maybe even two. Mmm. They smell delicious.”

“Variety is the spice of life,” Dervish answered.

“What does that mean?” Aethelu shook his head so profoundly that his whole body twisted. The marshmallow flew off the stick into the dark woods behind their camp. There was a crunching sound, no doubt caused by a chipmunk running across the fallen leaves with a marshmallow in its mouth.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Morpho

a short story by Bill Adler


Jason Chien was walking south on Third Avenue between 56th and 55th Streets when he went blind. A bright blue and green light that appeared to have been fired from a laser cannon destroyed his eyes.

Jason had never thought about what he’d do if he suddenly couldn’t see, but today he found out. Jason froze in place. The sidewalk was crowded with office workers on the hunt for lunch, and Jason fully expected somebody to crash into him. Jason’s last sight was of tattooed blond woman in her twenties walking two border collies, closing in at a fast clip, which made him think that if he didn’t get tackled from behind he would become entangled in the retractable leashes and face plant onto the pavement.

Morpho photo by Ricky Wong. This is the same Morpho
as the one in the photo below. 
After standing still for about thirty seconds — Jason couldn’t tell exactly how long because he couldn’t see his watch — he concluded, happily, that he wasn’t going to topple over. Jason extended his arm and took a tentative step forward. When he didn’t collide with anything or anyone, Jason braved another step. He detected light leaking in from the sides of his eyes, a gray glow that resembled a thick, nighttime fog illuminated only by a weak streetlamp. Jason took another step. Jason could make out shapes, and while the forms were only rectangular slabs, being able to see anything at all offered hope. Jason shuffled forward another meter.

Same Morpho as above - hard to believe, but that's the
magic of the Seiko Morpho. Photo by Ricky Wong.
Though motionless, the rectangular slabs jingled like windchimes in an approaching storm, but with the sound coming from all directions at once.

A shadow to the right followed him. Jason told himself that the shadow was just an aftereffect of temporary blindness, that nothing was there. But with each step the shadow stalked him. Jason sped up his pace. He wasn’t ready to run lest the shadow attack, like a leopard chasing an impala that suddenly darts, but he tensed his leg muscles just in case. Jason maintained a steady pace, his arm still in front of him.

Jason glanced to his right. The shadow still followed. Jason darted his eyes toward the left where he saw another ghostly phantom tracking him. He slid forward faster, lowering his arm in case he needed it to defend himself from whatever was pursuing him.

A man jumped toward him.

Jason screamed.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Mr. Gold's Cold

"Seymour, waddya up to next weekend?"

"What what? Can't you see I'm busy with a patient?" Seymour hunched over the rigid body on the table.

"They're not patients, Dr. Seymour Haas, and you're not the kind of doctor anyone wants to see."

"Yeah, well, pathologists go to med school just like every other doctor."

Mike Angelo revved his bone saw to maximum. He did his best to spray bits of tissue and blood Seymour's way like the spitballs he used to toss in class in middle school. "Say again! I can't hear you," Mike shouted over the machine.

"What I want to say..." Seymour yelled back. He paused to wipe something sticky off his goggles, but ended up smudging his left lens with a mucus sheen. “...is that this one definitely died of the common cold. Lungs and air passages stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. Rare for a thirty’s guy, but given the number of people on the planet, even the unexpected and rare will happen. The younger the patient, the more their immune system’s counter attack doesn’t just kill the invading virus, but mortally wounds the victim, too.”

“You're a poet,” Mike said.

“I'm not sure why they bothered to have his body exhumed. There's no foul play, no drugs, no impalement or bullet holes, no exotic diseases, nothing that required calling me in and missing a Friends rerun. God, that Jennifer Aniston is hot. It was just a cold. Poor guy. I bet when he went to CVS for Nyquil he never expected it would be his last drink."

“Who wanted Gold’s body exhumed?”

“Dunno, like I said.” Seymour bent down and peered into Gold’s eyes, the light from his halogen headlamp absorbed by the opaque orbs.

“'You said you didn’t know why. I asked, ‘who?’”.

“The exhumation sheet doesn’t say. The requesting name was blank. Somebody’s lazy. But we have a job to do, even when our bosses don’t do theirs,” Seymour said.

The overhead fluorescent light cracked. The crackling reminded Seymour of when he was little and the wind rustled the venetian blinds in his bedroom, amplifying the ghosts that he already knew lived in those blinds, and sending him deep under his blanket. The autopsy room’s pale blue and white tiles were interrupted by a single, faded poster of a cat doing a chin up with the words, “Keep Your Chin Up” printed on it. None of the city’s seven pathologists liked that poster, and nobody knew who hung it. But after a time it became invisible to everyone who worked in this basement room, so there it stayed. A bank of numbered, steel-clad lockers spread from floor to ceiling along the side opposite the doors. On the adjacent wall were a cluster of sinks and basins for washing hands and tools. The room held twelve tables. It used to have thirteen, but a former Chief Medical Examiner had ordered one of the tables removed. “We need more walking around space for cops and such,” he had said.

Mike dropped his instruments next to his patient, and sallied over to Seymour's table. “They should tell us what the deceased did for a living because that would give us more insight into what killed them. Like if it’s a lawyer, it’s going to be a heart attack, or if it’s a race car driver and the body’s 2D, we can surmise he wasn’t pushed off a building. Maybe your guy was a professional ice diver and caught a really bad cold that way.” He surveyed Mike’s patient and asked, "Gold’s been dead about two weeks, right?"

Seymour took the clipboard at the foot of the autopsy table and flipped to the second page. "Yeah, that's what it says."

Mike lifted the dead man's arm, a stiff, rotten branch, tapped around the elbow and forearm, squeezed the upper arm, and said to himself, “Does feel like two weeks.” He turned back to Seymour. "Answer me this. How can it be two weeks if his watch is ticking and showing today’s date?" Mike ran his fingertips along the watch’s crystal like he was polishing it.

“You’re not going to steal a dead man’s watch, are you?” Seymour held the clipboard in his left hand and the pencil attached to it by string in his right, as if he were about to give Mike a demerit.

“So what if I am? He’s not going to need it.”

“Maybe he does. Like you said, it’s ticking.”

“That’s exactly why I want it.” Mike offered Seymour a wide, toothy smile. “I’ve never seen a watch that’s still going strong after a body’s been in the ground for two weeks.”

“You’ve been sniffing too much formaldehyde, Dr. Angelo.”

Mike sneered. “Tell me you’ve never stolen anything off a corpse.”

Before Seymour could complete a sentence, stuttering his way through a seemingly random set of consonants and vowels, Mike interrupted, “I saw you slip that diamond ring off a dead lady and pop it into your pocket the week before last.”

“I...I…”

“You thought I didn’t notice? You’re so clumsy, so obvious. You may be an okay pathologist — and I’m not saying you are — but you’re a lousy thief. Make a note of that on your clipboard: Seymour Hass will never be a competent thief. So I’m keeping this watch and you’re not going to tell a living soul.”

Friday, October 4, 2019

Alternate Reality

a short story about watches by Bill Adler

"Are you sure you won’t press charges?" The young cop straightened his shirt with a quick tug. He would have smoothed his collar, too, but was already feeling self-conscious about his stiffly starched uniform.

"It's certainly your privilege, but I've never known anyone not to." The cop neglected to mention that he’d only been on the police force for a week and this was his first investigation. "A crime's been committed, and justice should be done." That’s what they taught him at the Academy.

The cop’s name tag read Fitzmond McElroy, but he liked to be called Fitz.

Fitz stood just inside Stan Harwood’s apartment. Fitz had also been taught that a cop can learn more from what you see where somebody lives than by what they tell you. The essence of a person is in their furniture, art, decorations, style of living, and the other artifacts of their life. Stan’s apartment told Fitz that whatever Stan did for a living, Fitz would never know such opulence even if he eventually became a police captain. Fitz patted his Timex.

“Officer —” Stan glanced at Fitz’s name tag. “McElroy. I appreciate your concern and I appreciate your coming so quickly, but I just wanted to report the crime for statistical purposes. I believe crimes should be reported regardless of anything else.” Stan brought his arm to his face and coughed into it.

“Are you okay, sir?”

Stan continued to cough for the remainder of the minute. “I’m fine. Just allergies.” As if on cue, a tuxedo cat strolled over, rubbed against Stan’s leg, and then retreated back into another room. “Cat allergy. What can I do? I love Alley.” Stan looked at his watch. “Where were we, Officer McElroy?”

“We were talking about you pressing charges.”

“Ah, yes. But no.”

“May I see your watch?”

“Of course.” Stan unfastened the metal clasp, snapped it back together, and gently placed his gold Grand Seiko in the policeman’s outstretched palm. With his right hand, Fitz pulled a magnifying loupe out of his pocket and scrunched it with his eye. He rotated the watch through all possible geometric angles. Fitz returned the loupe to his pocket.

“May I?” Fitz asked.

“Of course.”

Fitz ran his fingertips across the watch’s crystal. “Oh, lovely.” He then held it to his ear. “Hi-beat. There’s no more beautiful sound.”

“I agree.”

Fitz retrieved his phone from his other pocket. He tapped the screen, opened an app, and placed the phone’s microphone next to Stan’s watch, silently holding it there for a full two minutes. Red, yellow and blue lines wobbled up and down on the screen in a graphical dance. Below the graph was a digital display that flashed a pattern of numbers: +.01/+.085/+.072/-.0036/-0052. Finally, his phone beeped a long, mellow tone, and the top half of the screen displayed OK in green. Fitz aimed the screen at Stan, who nodded and smiled.

“While the injuries are just cosmetic — it looks like everything’s fine on the inside — that’s still aggravated assault. Plus Diamond Kerr — we caught him thanks to street cameras — ran away, which adds a charge of hit and run. He’s looking at five to ten years. We’re holding Kerr now at the Twenty Second Precinct, but will have to release him in the next seventy-two hours if you don’t press charges.”