There were stacks of stolen library books, or more politely, as-yet-unreturned, desiccated food crumbs, piles of wrinkled clothes, a turned over floorlamp with a flickering bulb, and most alarmingly, little pieces of paper with cramped-written numbers taped to all the walls, including the inside of the closet, in layers an inch deep and from floor to ceiling.
Mabel the landlady stood just inside the doorway clutching her black purse, with her horn-rimmed glasses and thick lenses hiding the mild shock she was experiencing. A Virginia Slim burned by itself in her mouth. She took a step forward, her thick black industrial heels carried her heavy frame clear of the door and she slowly shut it behind her.
"Mr. Griffin?" she asked. "Your rent is past due and I'm here to collect. Mr. Griffin?"
She sucked down the last of the Slim then walked over to the kitchen sink and put the butt out in a slimy coffee cup. A peculiar stack of books on the counter caught her attention. She read the spines:
- Navigating Spacetime for Dummies
- The History of Stellar Cartography
- The Ethics of Quantum Computing: Yes, No, or Maybe
- Bring Your Dog! How to Travel Safely with Pets
On top of the stack was a clear sheet of plastic, the kind that went on an overhead projector. Mabel picked it up with her gloved hands and examined it. There was something oddly attractive about it. She pulled off one of her gloves and stroked the surface. It lit up, and Mabel threw it back on the stack, her heart racing. It was opaquely white with six black boxes in the middle. It glowed for a full minute before winking back to clear, and Mabel jumped again. With a trembling hand she stroked it again and it did the same thing. She did not know what to make of it.
"Oh this is very strange," she said to herself.
She shoved her gloves back on and turned her attention to the numbers on the walls. The bits of paper were from various things--newspapers, notepaper, magazines, and even wallpaper samples, and the numbers were written, scored over and over, in different types of ink.
Mabel whirled around and faced Mr. Griffin. He was several days unshaved, his suit was rumpled, he smelled of sweat, and he carried a carton of eggs. He stared at her expectantly.
"I've come to collect the rent," she said, her voice oscillating.
Mr. Griffin looked at his watch, which appeared to be set to the wrong time.
"What day is it?" he asked.
"It's the twelfth of March, Mr. Griffin. Your rent was due on the first. You owe me sixty dollars."
Mr. Griffin snickered.
"What?" asked Mabel.
"Nothing...nothing," said Mr. Griffin.
He walked past her and placed the eggs on the counter. He produced a wad of cash and flipped through it.
"It looks like you have a lot of odd bills there," said Mabel, straining to get a closer look at the multi-colored bills.
Mr. Griffin turned his back to her and rolled his eyes. He picked out three green bills and checked them over, then turned around and handed them to Mabel.
"Foreign currency," he said as she accepted the money.
"Do you travel a lot Mr. Griffin?"
"Not at the moment," he replied.
They stared at each other for a moment. Mr. Griffin rubbed his nose and Mabel twitched her fingers and pursed her lips.
"That's all I guess," he said, nodding his head towards the door.
"You know, you ought to keep this place up a little better. This isn't a slum."
"I'll be sure to take your concerns into account," he said.
Mabel shifted her weight but made no move for the door.
"What is all this?" she asked, pointing at the paper on the walls.
"Isn't it obvious they are numbers?"
"Well, yes, but what are they for? Why did you have to put them up on the walls?"
"I don't know what they are for, and I put them up to see them better."
"Mrs. Kozlow, haven't you ever heard the expression, 'curiosity killed the cat'?"
Mabel frowned, and snapped open the purse. She plunged her hand in and pulled out a revolver, pointing at Mr. Griffin's chest. He immediately raised his hands.
"What are you doing?"
"In America, we don't take kindly to your kind."
"What?" he backed up against the sink as she waved the gun around.
"Communists!" she hissed.
Mr. Griffin laughed out loud then quickly tried to look serious.
"You think this is funny you pinko!" She pressed the gun to his shirt button.
"I'm not. I'm really not a communist!" he said breathlessly.
"You think I don't see the signs? Mysterious comings and goings, that foreign money you have there, the strange devices. All these pieces of papers--these are drops! Yes I figured that much out. You may think I'm just a quiet widow, but I'm not! I've got a mind for figuring these plots out, and I've uncovered you, and when I turn you in I will get a big reward!"
"Oh, no dear Mrs. Kozlow, that's not...what do you mean by drops? Oh you're quite deluded."
"Drops? Well communicating with your fellow spies. I've followed you, you see. You meet with other long-haired weirdos--"
"They're just beat poets. I'm just interviewing them for a--"
"Don't try your mind control tricks on me!" she screamed.
Mr. Griffin pressed his lips together and his eyes widened.
"Now you listen to me!" she said, "We're going to down to the police stat--"
Mabel toppled over. A man stood over her, a brick in his hands.
"The cavalry is here," said the man. He looked identical to Mr. Griffin, but shaved and with a new suit.
"Is she dead?" asked Mr. Griffin.
"No," said the other Mr. Griffin.
He knelt down and pulled a small device from his pocket and held it against her temple.
"Good idea, bone growth enhancer. I'll have to write that down, I can never remember what to bring."
"She won't remember this, so you won't have to worry about reprogramming."
"Good, that's always a hassle."
"I've got to get better at blending in or I won't pass the exam."
"So you haven't taken it yet?"
"NO. Sheesh, stop asking."
"I didn't....oh. I wish I could just shortcut to the future. You know, where I've got a license already. No more itchy suits...access to the internet...a cure for cancer."
"Yeah, wouldn't that be nice. Try to stay out of trouble will you? This crap brings down my grade point average."
The first Mr. Griffin grimaced back at his future self. The second Mr. Griffin stood and adjusted his vest.
"Yes. Yes I know that," said the first Mr. Griffin.
"I'd best go. It's never good to talk to yourself."
He left quickly, and the first Mr. Griffin set about dragging Mrs. Kozlow down the flight of stairs to her apartment.