Free Time

by Richie

Copyright© 2022 by Richie

Time Travel Story: A CIA employee collects interesting souvenirs during time travel trips to the past.

Tags: Time Travel  

The best thing about this job, thought Gloria Marquardt, is the free time at the end of each assignment. The Apertures were always sized generously (at least in the time dimension) to avoid the embarrassment of an agent’s disappearing right in the middle of a job. Gloria usually had a day or so to kill after she completed an assignment.

She looked out the taxi’s window for a few minutes at rain-soaked Los Angeles. Then she looked down at herself. Still trim at 47, she wore an expensive tailored suit. Her pumps had ridiculously high heels, but that’s what 1964 called for. Although mini-skirts were coming into fashion, Gloria’s skirt extended conservatively to just below her knees. That might make the rest of the day rather uncomfortable, she thought.

The radio in the cab was playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The cabbie turned slightly and asked, “Ya think these Beatles will go anywhere? They’re all my kids talk about.”

Gloria answered, “Oh, you never can tell.” She reflected that in 1964, all cabbies spoke English. This particular one, by his license, was of Italian extraction. What a difference a few decades would make!

The assignment had been easy. A visit to a clean but rundown little house in East LA, and presentation of a Cal Tech scholarship to a surprised black teenager. The kid had thought it was a honky trick, but his sensible and careworn mother had convinced him otherwise. One brilliant kid on his way to becoming an engineer. One fewer angry radical. And the great riot of 1972 averted. Thirty square miles of downtown LA and 657 lives saved. All in a day’s work. How the scholarship was to be funded wasn’t Gloria’s concern. That was someone else’s mission.

The cab pulled up to the door of the Chevrolet dealership. The cabbie asked, “Ya sure ya want me ta just leave ya here? I can come back later.”

Gloria said, “I’ll be fine. I’m here to pick up a car.”

The cabbie said, “OK lady.” He escorted Gloria into the showroom, carrying her small suitcase. Gloria paid him, giving him a generous tip, and he was gone.

A salesman approached Gloria. He wore a loud plaid sport coat, had a pencil moustache, and was chewing on a toothpick. “Can I help you, little lady?” He was at least ten years Gloria’s junior.

“I’m here to buy a car,” said Gloria.

The salesman looked behind her. “Will hubby be along soon?”

“There is no ‘hubby’,” said Gloria, testily. “I’m here to buy a car. Today.”

The salesman took a breath. “OK. Let me show you our Impala. It’s an upscale model of the Biscayne.”

“I want to buy a Corvette. Right now. Cash.”

The salesman’s mouth dropped open. He lost his toothpick. “We have one right over here,” he said, weakly.

Gloria was already walking toward the car, a gunmetal gray coupe. She sized it up quickly. Four-speed transmission, 327 cubic inch engine, AM radio, no power steering or air conditioning. It would do just fine.

“Care to take it for a spin?” asked the salesman dubiously, sizing up Gloria’s suit and shoes.

“No, I’d like to buy it. How much?”

“Uh, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $5817.32,” said the salesman, quickly consulting a small notebook he had taken from the pocket of his hideous coat. “I’ll have to figure prep, tax, and license.”

Gloria did some rapid mental arithmetic. “I’ll give you fifty-two hundred, cash, right now for the works.”

The salesman was clearly on the defensive. “I have to check with my manager.”

“Make it quick. I’m in a hurry.” That wasn’t quite true, but it got the salesman moving.

He soon returned with his manager, a slightly older version of himself. “Well, little lady, what do we have to do to sell you a car today?” He said it like he had said it ten thousand times, which he probably had.

“I already told this guy,” said Gloria, jerking her head toward the salesman. “And before you ask, I don’t want coffee, a donut, or a pat on the ass. I want that car, but you want my $5200 more.”

The manager swallowed hard and dragged the salesman off by the arm. They conferred heatedly for about three minutes. The manager composed himself and walked back to Gloria. “You got a deal,” he said. “We can prep the car and have the paperwork done by this time tomorrow.”

Gloria narrowed her eyes. “Just gas it up. There’s 50 bucks in it for you if the paperwork is finished in 20 minutes.”

The manager gulped again and scurried off. He returned with a sheaf of papers and got Gloria’s real name and a fictitious address. Gloria took a heavy-duty envelope from her purse and counted out 52 hundreds, which she placed in a pile on a table, and a fifty, which she laid next to the hundreds. The money was technically counterfeit, but very good counterfeit, since it had been counterfeited by the US government. While a clerk madly typed forms, and a mechanic hurriedly took the car to the gas pump, the manager carefully counted and examined the hundreds.

The mechanic was installing the plates as the manager delivered the title to Gloria. Gloria looked at her watch. “Eighteen minutes,” she said. “Not bad.” The fifty disappeared into the man-ager’s jacket pocket.

Gloria grabbed the two sets of keys and the paperwork and headed for the door. The manager called after her, “A pleasure doing business with you. I think.”

Gloria picked up her suitcase and walked to the car. She opened the suitcase and changed into a pair of deck shoes. Rather have my Nikes, she thought, but they haven’t been invented yet. She tossed the case behind the seat and climbed into the Corvette as demurely as she could. She hiked up her skirt a little so she could manage the clutch and drove out of the dealership, the legal owner of a 1964 Corvette. And they didn’t even ask for ID.

She headed north on the Hollywood Freeway, driving conservatively just under the limit, shifting low in the rev band to take it easy on the new engine. Even so, a tap on the gas pedal in high gear produced neck-snapping acceleration. What a car! Too bad I won’t own it long.

She passed through Burbank, thinking of the young black man who would be a freshman at Cal Tech in nearby Pasadena in a few months. She drove into the San Fernando Valley and pulled off the freeway in Santa Clarita. Entering a large municipal park, deserted on a rainy day in the middle of the week, she found her way to the end of a long dirt maintenance road. She turned off the engine, shielded from view by trees. The Aperture planners had done a great job picking a miserable stretch of road and equally miserable weather to ensure no one saw the transfer.

Gloria checked her watch. Still 45 minutes until the transfer. For the first time in several hours, she had nothing to do but think. She turned on the radio, aware that she could drain the old technology battery. Oh, well, she could always get a jump on the other side. A lot less embarrassing than the time she arrived minus the bottom few inches of four tires. She had been a lot more careful estimating the Aperture dimensions since that had happened.

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