PREVIOUSLY: Julie is secretly rebuilding the time machine. She hoped Tim would pick up a microchip, to keep it away from Glen.
PART 77a: DOUBLE BLIND
Tim looked up to see Theresa, the redheaded waitress for the cafe, next to his booth. “You c-could say that,” he said glumly.
He saw Theresa glance quickly around the area; there weren’t very many customers at the moment, which apparently convinced her to slide quickly into the seat across from him. “Seems like I’ve got a second. Want to talk about it with someone impartial? Some of your friends, Clarke in particular, have found that such conversations help.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Tim’s lips. “Better I don’t. It’s not possible to s-stay impartial on THIS subject. I know from experience.”
Theresa chuckled. “Sounds like you’re trying to assimilate something big all at once. Maybe you can break it down into more manageable portions?”
Tim fiddled absently with the straw in his milkshake for a moment, before glancing at his watch. It had been less than an hour since he’d left Julie’s; just over three hours remained before he would be making the pickup for her. As agreed.
‘Clarke wants me to help Julie,’ he thought to himself once again. ‘He’s always saying how pleased he is that I’m still able to look out for Julie on his behalf. I only hope I’m not playing into her delusions. Or setting myself up for some retaliatory action by Glen.’
The thought brought to mind an additional problem. Clarke would be expecting a call from him soon… as would Chartreuse. He couldn’t tell them the truth, not yet, not tonight. Julie had suggested deflecting, claiming to be tired, and leaving any discussions for tomorrow. But saying that was a half truth at best, and the more he thought about it, the more picking up this package all by himself made Tim uneasy.
What if Julie really had come unhinged, and had concocted this crazy plot in order to get rid of him, thereby preventing him from getting her the help she needed? Or what if she was telling the truth, except Glen knew exactly what was going on, came after him, and then completely altered his memory of events?
“H-Have you ever suddenly found yourself not knowing who to trust?” Tim finally asked of the redhead.
Theresa cocked her head to the side. “Actually…. yeah. Big time.”
Tim focused his gaze on her. “When? What did you do?”
The waitress smiled once more. “Instead of boring you with a long, complicated story, how about I just give you a few words of advice…”
Ten minutes later, Tim headed out of the cafe, a plan forming in his mind.
He was at the train station with only two minutes to spare before the train pulled in. Their small station wasn’t a major hub, it was a stop by request only. Fortunately, Julie’s description of the man with the package had been accurate, and Tim had him pegged almost immediately after he poked his head out of the train.
The guy gave him a skeptical look as he approached. “M-M-Mr. Piquaud?” Tim asked. He cleared his throat to try and remove the stutter. What was it Luci had told him on occasion which helped with that? Confidence. It made his talking more like singing. “I’m here for the item.”
“Okay, good. I was told a blonde named Tim might be the one to hand off to. Got some ID to prove that’s you?”
Tim fished quickly in his wallet for his health card. Piquaud glanced at it, nodded, then pulled a small square box from his jacket pocket. He handed it to Tim, then turned around to presumably resume his seat on the train. Tim swallowed. “That’s… it?”
“I’m not being paid to stick around,” Piquaud retorted. “You’ve got the electronics, bring ’em to LaMille. Oh, tell her next time she makes a request of the company, none of this cloak and dagger routine, okay? Extra pay or not, it’s just stupid. Why would anyone even WANT to intercept a normal FedEx shipment of a single microchip?”
Tim puzzled over how he could answer that, but it seemed like he wouldn’t have to – the man had already boarded. Either way, it didn’t really matter… so far everything was happening just as Julie had said it would. It remained to see whether her concerns were legitimate.
As the train pulled out, Tim slipped the box into his jacket pocket and headed back for the front of the station. Which was where he spotted a familiar person waiting for him.
“Clarke!” Tim called out, hurrying to meet up with his friend.
The taller boy smiled back at Tim. “Hey there… you know, your phone call was kind of cryptic. Are you going to tell me yet what it is Julie has you doing?”
Tim paused as he got within arms reach of Clarke, glancing around for anyone who might be observing them. “N-Not yet,” he said after a moment. “Just thought it might be best to have you around as we head back to the mansion.”
Clarke nodded. “Alright. Though I can’t think Julie will be pleased to see me.”
“She might be once I tell her you helped me,” Tim assured. He glanced around the area once more, which prompted Clarke to do the same.
“Expecting someone else?” Clarke wondered. “Or just having a paranoia attack?”
“M-Maybe a bit of both,” Tim admitted. “Sorry. Let’s just go.”
“Sure,” Clarke said with a shrug. “Though if you’re real creeped out, I could carry the package for you.”
Tim froze in his tracks. “Package?”
Clarke nodded. “Yeah, the… hey, Tim, you okay?” He reached out for the other boy’s shoulder, but Tim sidestepped him.
“I never mentioned any package on the phone.” The parcel wasn’t that large either, so Clarke shouldn’t have noticed it in his pocket.
Tim’s friend frowned. “Stands to reason you have one though, right? I mean, why else would you be here?”
“Might have been to talk with someone. Or to send something off on the train. Or to look something up. Why do you think I have a package?”
“You… you just have to have one… or else… why would I know about it?”
The two blondes stared at each other quietly for a moment. Then the side of Clarke’s mouth twitched, and he extended his hand. “Give me the chip, Tim. Destroying it is the only way we can help Julie.”
“That’s what Glen wants you to think,” Tim said, regarding Clarke’s outstretched palm with more than a bit of apprehension.
“Is it? Why would he lie about that?”
“Because he doesn’t really care about what Julie wants. Only stopping what she’s doing,” Tim shot back. He exhaled in relief as he saw the other person running towards them. “Now please, Clarke… if you really trust me, don’t do this. Let me get to Julie’s safely.” He tried to move around the taller boy, but Clarke blocked him.
“I… I can’t let you go,” Clarke said, a pained look crossing his face as he curled and uncurled his fingers. “Not until…” It was like he was undergoing some sort of massive inner conflict. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand why…”
“I do,” Tim whispered. He turned. “Stall Clarke,” he requested of the new arrival.
“Huh?” Chartreuse said, trying to catch her breath. “Look, sorry I’m, like, a bit late, but…”
“Keep Clarke here,” Tim reiterated, moving so that the pink haired girl was between Clarke and himself before heading away as quickly as he could. “Please, Chartreuse – I’ll explain later!”
“Eh? Uhm, ‘k,” Chartreuse said, blinking. As Clarke attempted to pursue, she threw himself onto his arm, preventing him from leaving. “So, wait, hey, do you know anything about, like, the big Julie-Glen feud??”
“I…” Clarke shook his head. As stood there in confusion, Tim hurried out of sight.
Trust yourself. That’s what Theresa had said. Put trust in your family and your friends, yes, but above all, you needed to have trust in yourself in order to accomplish something.
As Tim continued on towards the LaMille mansion, he reflected again upon those words, and how his faith in Clarke had been counterbalanced by giving the same information to Chartreuse. Allowing him to keep his promise of a call to both of them… albeit, leaving him with only himself to trust once more. He would have preferred bringing one of them along, as backup.
Oh well. He looked again at the small package before replacing it inside his pocket. It would take a while for him to walk the rest of the way to the LaMille mansion, but Julie had been wary of trusting a taxi, or even having Jeeves drive him. And, conspiracy crazy or not, it was starting to look as if at least some of her concerns had been valid. Tim took a deep breath. For a moment, he thought he saw someone following him, but when he turned around there was no one there.
For the next several blocks, Tim half expected to be accosted at any moment, but the few people he saw strolling around seemed more intent on enjoying the evening than taking notice of him. At least, that was the case until he reached the closest bridge leading over the ravine that cut through town.
“Tim!” Luci said in surprise. “What are you doing here at this hour?”
Tim smiled, feeling relieved at the familiar company. “I c-could ask the same of you,” he pointed out.
Luci glanced to the left and right, then took a couple steps closer to him. “Honestly?” she muttered. “I got this weirdo call from Chartreuse less than ten minutes ago, saying something about you walking to Julie’s from the train station.” She shrugged. “I was nearby, thought I’d see if she was being serious. Guess so – is this related to what we all talked about the other day?”
“Y-Yeah… kinda…” Tim admitted. He was starting to feel conflicted. There was really no reason to doubt Luci’s story, but if Glen WAS trying to come after him, the two best people to use would be Clarke… and Luci. The ones he talked with on a near daily basis. Could Glen have done something to not merely Clarke, but both of them?
‘Julie’s paranoia is rubbing off,’ he chided himself. ‘Careful, or you’ll turn into a recluse like her.’
“Okay,” Luci was saying, dropping into step next to him. “I’ll bite. Did Julie lock Glen up in a trunk and ship him out on the train?”
Tim shook his head. “Actually, it’s about this chip,” he said, pulling the parcel from his pocket again. “We have to make sure it–”
He never got any further.
As soon as Luci’s eyes alighted on the parcel, her hand flashed out, tore it from Tim’s grip, and she threw it off the bridge.
NEXT: Timeline Five?
ASIDE: Got a 2016 toonie in my change this past weekend. Just a bit too late!