“You didn’t pay for the kid too,” Graham informed the voice on the phone. The contact on his phone said “Work” but it was always a different “Boss” that called. He sat in his car in a grocery store parking lot looking over the file but stopped at the mention of a son on the first page.
“Clerical error,” his boss this time said. “Her kid died last week, this one should be easy, she’s probably ready to off herself.” That gave Graham a moment of pause; he knew he was being paranoid but it came with the job.
“If it’s so easy why aren’t you using one of your cheaper thugs?”
“Easy does not mean unimportant. It’s imperative that she disappears by tomorrow night. The peace of mind I get is worth your fee.”
“24 hours is pretty short notice too…,” Graham said. He hadn’t planned on renegotiating but he learned to recognize opportunities. This boss was in a hurry and Graham’s reputation was already worth a high price. Luckily the man wasn’t new.
“The sooner the better. Get it done today and you’ll get triple. Otherwise, you already agreed to the price.”
“Today it is,” Graham replied then hung up. He glanced at the time as he dropped his phone in the cup holder. 5:38 p.m. “Crap I didn’t know it was that late already,” he whined to himself as he started the car. He knew where to find her, but he had other details to sort out first.
Four hours later Graham was grateful his target was a waitress at an all-night diner. He hoped to get a meal and finish his job at the same time. He was surprised at how empty the diner was. He picked a booth and sat down to wait. After several moments a short, dark-haired, tired woman with dark bags under her eyes walked up to his table. She gave him a polite, forced, business smile.
“Evening.” she pointed to her name tag. “I’m Justine and I’ll be your waitress tonight. What can I can get you?”
“Oh,” Graham realized he hadn’t even looked at the menu yet. He had been trying to guess how many other people were in the restaurant that he couldn’t see. If it stayed as empty as it was he would have no problems. He decided to work first and eat later. “Actually, Justine, can I talk to you for a bit?” he asked. “I’ve got something on my mind and I think you can help.” He glanced around the mostly empty dining room. “If you’re not too busy,” he added with a smile.
“Sure, what’s going on?” she asked. Graham hoped she would slide into the seat across from him but she remained standing by the table.
“This is gonna sound weird, but I’m not asking you for anything,” Graham said. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a wallet. He thumbed through it to show her several hundred dollar bills. “I’m not crazy or poor or anything, I’m just in a unique situation. If you can’t, or don’t want to help me that’s entirely fine,” Graham shrugged. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you, really. I just feel like I have to.” Justine nodded obligatorily as she listened.
“So you gonna keep telling me about it or tell me what the deal is?” she asked.
“I have a special power,” Graham said. Justine’s eyes narrowed and she smirked but he kept talking. “I can travel to alternate universes.” Justine’s eyes lit up and she smiled broadly at him.
“And you came to this diner? Why thank you so much!” she said. It took Graham longer than he wanted to admit to realize she was mocking him. He expected it, but her tone sounded so sincere he almost fell for it.
“Well, that’s not the main issue anyway. It’s just to give you context. The trouble is I found an orphaned kid,” Graham said. He reached into his coat pocket for his cell phone. “Normally, I keep my nose out of the happenings on other Earths, but something about this kid made me want to help him.” Graham shrugged and took a moment to notice Justine. She was hanging on every word; she bought it. “Kind of the same feeling that’s got me telling you, I guess. I don’t question it much,” he rubbed the back of his neck for show. Graham saw the spark of hope in her eyes, he’d seen that hope dozens of times before. He glanced at the time: 10:03 p.m, then unlocked the phone. He navigated to the gallery then a young boy with dirty blond hair appeared on the screen. It was a video; he tapped the button to start it.
“My name is Jeremy Stevens. I’m nine years old and Mr. Graham…,” the boy pointed at the screen. Graham turned the phone around to wave at the camera then focused it back on the boy. “… said he could help me find a new mommy. He said he’s going to show this video around. Will you be my new mommy?” the boy asked. Justine fell to her knees and began sobbing on the floor. Graham rushed up to help her; he had to pretend he didn’t expect it.
“What’s wrong? You okay? He asked as he helped the trembling woman up and into the nearby booth. He glanced around the restaurant but no one noticed the commotion.
“I’ll do it. I want to be his new mom,” she said. Graham was thankful she did not start talking about what happened to her Jeremy.
“No, don’t worry about it,” Graham said as he sat across from her. She started wiping her tears as they came. “I know a place that can take him in.”
“Please,” she said. “You showed me. You said so yourself you don’t know why. You were supposed to. I can be his mom.” Graham shrugged.
“Well, that makes my job easy. Great. I guess you need, what… turn in your two weeks and pack and say your good-byes?” He said. Graham deliberately gave her a long time-line. She violently shook her head.
“Tonight. Can you bring him tonight?” Graham did not have to laugh. He was waiting for that question to move things along; but, he still wanted to get her back for her mockery earlier. He laughed obnoxiously hard in her face.
“He’s nine. He can’t travel between universes,” he lied. “You have to go to his Earth,” he waved at her. “Don’t worry about it. It’s just random kid from a parallel Earth. You’ve got a lot going on here, I’m sure. He’ll be fine.”
“I need to see him tonight. I don’t have anyone to say goodbye to. I don’t care about this job. Can we go tonight? Please?” Graham made a show of looking at the clock on his phone. then he turned to her.
“We’d have to go right now. I’ve got other plans later. If not tonight Then tomorrow, or whenever,” he said.
“Tonight. Right now,” Justine stood up.
“Right now it is,” Graham said. he stood from the booth and wiggled his fingers at the air. A tall black portal opened in the air and Graham gestured at Justine. “Ladies first.”