“Over the course of human history on Earth, there will be over four hundred billion people living and dying there, Bob,” the small man said, drumming his fingers on the table. “We can’t chart out all the small and large decisions of each person.”
“No, I guess not,” the man across the table from him responded.
“And yet, we have monitored certain lives, certain individuals, certain important decision points.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Sure. When were you born?”
Bob loosened his tie. “Nineteen sixty-one,” he said.
The small man gazed for a moment into the middle distance; his eyes moved back and forth briefly as if he were reading something, which in fact, he was. One of the several brain implants that was under his conscious control fed him information on events of the year 1981. “Okay, you remember when an assassination attempt was made on President Reagan?”
“Yeah, I remember that,” Bob said.
“There were a number of Secret Service men with the President that day. One of them was a man named Delahanty. We monitored him closely for a period of about three hours a couple of days after the event. He was wounded in the attempt, and he was recovering in the hospital during that time.”
“Three hours?” Bob said.
“Yeah, that was the critical period,” the small man responded. “He made a couple of phone calls during the critical time, and had to be prevented from making one.”
“How do you do that?”
“In a hospital, there are lots of ways. In this particular case, we arranged to have a nurse administer a sedative to him about twenty minutes before he would have made the call which we were concerned about. He fell asleep and did not make that call.”
“Who would he have called?” Bob asked.
“Ah,” the small man hesitated, “I think telling you that would be a mistake. Suffice it to say that you would recognize the name were I to tell you who it was.”
“What would the man have said that was so dangerous?”
“Dangerous?” the small man wiped his lip with his napkin, looking around nervously. “Everything’s dangerous. So many of you making so many decisions moment after moment. Our job is to find the critical decisions and concentrate on those. We–” he stopped suddenly as the door to the bar swung open and a man wearing a leather jacket entered. The man was wearing a bandanna on his head, he worn sunglasses despite the fact that it was night, and he carried a motorcycle helmet under his arm. “We steer decisions and try to keep this universe in the right place, that’s all.”
“What would have happened if Reagan had been killed?” Bob asked.
“George Bush would have been president,” the small man responded.
“Well, he was anyway, wasn’t he?”
“Sure. But 1981 wouldn’t have been his time. If Reagan had died, Bush would have served out his term, then would have been defeated in 1984.”
“The Democrats ran Mondale in ’84,” Bob said. “We would have had a President Mondale, then?”
“No. Listen, I’m ready to leave.”
“Who would have been president in 1984, then?”
“Nobody. Come on, let’s go.”
“Nobody? It’d have to be somebody. Dukakis?”
“Nope, not Dukakis.” The small man stood up and as he did, the bandanna-wearing man noticed him–and turned to approach. “Oh, crap,” he said under his breath.
Bandanna Man walked straight up to the small man and took off his sunglasses, staring at him with doleful gray eyes. “Maxim, what have you been doing?” he asked.
“Nothing. Bob, I want you to meet a colleague of mine. Bob, this is Victor Valentine. Vic, this is Bob Foster.” Bob remained seated and nodded at him.
“Mr. Foster,” Valentine nodded back. Then, returning to the small man, he repeated his question: “Maxim, what are you doing?”
“Bob’s a research psychologist, I’m interviewing him for the book,” Maxim responded. It was his cover story: he was a freelance author developing material on the psychology of criminals for a supposed book on the subject.
“Uh-huh,” Valentine responded, unconvinced. Suddenly, Valentine sat down in the booth, right next to Bob. “Listen, Maxim, why don’t you sit down for a moment?”
“Actually, we were just leaving,” Maxim responded.
“No, have a seat.” It was an order. Not knowing quite what else to do, Maxim sat down. “Now, about 1981,” Valentine said to Bob. “The attempt on Reagan was unsuccessful, right? So you could speculate anything if it had turned out the other way, right?”
“I suppose so,” Bob responded. “But how did you–”
“I’ve excellent hearing,” Valentine said. “Quite abnormal, really. I always could hear everything.” He put his sunglasses back on. “In fact, I can almost hear what you’re thinking.” Bob wasn’t watching Maxim and so he missed the small man’s gaze into the middle distance, and the side-to-side movement of his eyes as he seemed to read something that only he could see.
“Yes,” Maxim said suddenly, “Bush would have lost the election in ’84 to Gary Hart. Hart would have been elected twice, and then his VP, Bill Bradley, would win on his own in 1992.”
“He’s a nut,” Valentine said to Bob. “You can imagine anything.” But he wasn’t smiling, and he shot a hard look at the small man on the other side of the table.
“Bradley dies of an aneurysm in ’94, pushing Vice President Joe Addabbo into office. He chooses Austin Murphy as his VP then when Addabbo is impeached in ’95, convicted in the Senate, and removed, we end up with Murphy as president on December 2, 1995.” Maxim said rapidly.
“President Murphy?” Bob said.
“He’s a nut,” Valentine said, but still, he was not smiling.
“December 2, 1995,” Maxim repeated. “That was an important date, Bob. Go look it up, see what happened on that day. Think about it.”
Suddenly the small man rose from his seat. He stared at Bob for a moment, looking like he was going to say something–but then he turned on his heel and walked directly to the door of the bar, disappearing through it.