THE MESSENGER WEBISODES
Episode 1.2: Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Well, fuck me. There’s no way I can drive to Boston in less than six hours.
It troubles me that I’m given so little time for this assignment, particularly because driving is my preferred method of transportation. Turns out, even in good weather, it’s a nine-hour drive, and winter on the Eastern Seaboard does not qualify as good weather. With so little notice, this feels like an afterthought, or even as if it caught my overseers off guard. Given my beliefs about who that is, I find myself more than a little surprised.
Fortunately, there is time for me to drive to Baltimore and catch a 2:30 p.m. flight to Boston Logan. On the drive to the airport, I ponder the details of the assignment. Three children, none older than ten years old, will go sledding on the frozen Charles River late this afternoon. Frozen, but not frozen enough. Unknown to them or to the woman watching them from the riverbank, they’ll encounter a thin spot on the ice, and they will fall through. In the fading light of day, panic will set in, and they’ll be unable to find the opening they broke through. Saving them isn’t an option; I have to be there in time to prevent this, or the three of them will face a cold, watery death.
This knowledge sends a chill of its own through me. This level of gravity should make the situation easy. What parent, faced with this knowledge, would risk letting the children go out on the river? But always comes the complicating factor, the question I can seldom answer truthfully: How do you know this? In fairness, it’s a reasonable question, because the world doesn’t work that way. You know the stove is hot because you touch it, and it burns your hand. You generally don’t know the stove is hot six hours before you turn the damn thing on.
So I’m always left with two choices: honesty or deception. I prefer honesty, but I’ve yet to find the ideal way of telling people that I receive visions about their impending death—without sounding like an escaped mental patient. Sometimes I have to lie; I’ll make them believe I’m in some official capacity that would give me access to knowledge about an issue of safety. It works occasionally, lending credence to my impossible tale. More often than not, I don’t stick around to see if they listen, to see if my warning actually saves a life. I know I should, but I think it would dispirit me too much if people ignored my efforts and died anyway.
I don’t yet know how today will play out. It’s always difficult when children are in the equation, especially when a parent is around. Thanks to our understandably suspicious society, a single man coming up to a parent and saying, “Hey there, you don’t know me, but your child is going to die horribly in thirty-one minutes,” is seldom greeted with, “Thank you, kind stranger! Here’s tuppence and a shiny apple for your efforts!” More often, the actions (and often the words themselves) are closer to, “Get away from me and my family, crazy person, before I use this pepper spray/knife/blunt instrument/handgun to alter your physiognomy in some unpleasant way.”
Call it chapter twenty-five of “Why Altruism Sucks.” As a species, we have become so inundated with deception and selfishness that genuine care and assistance automatically triggers people’s suspicions. They see no way for someone to benefit from an act of kindness, so the default question becomes Why is he doing this? Followed closely by What does he want from me? This is magnified greatly when a child is in danger.
Which brings me to my next valid issue: children are stupid. No offense to anyone out there who has a child or, worse, is a child, but let’s face it—most of them are pretty dumb. It’s a wonder they survive to adulthood in the numbers that they do. Ever see a child run forward while looking backward? No other creature on Earth does that. How is that a biological ticket to success and safety? Still, my employer must have a fondness for the poor creatures, as he’s frequently sending me to get them out of one scrape or another.
The flight from Baltimore to Boston is short, less than an hour and a half, and not expensive, as I’m not concerned about business class or any such foolishness. Yes, it’s a business trip, but for eighty minutes, I can find comfort in coach. With no checked luggage and no carry-on, I can bypass one hassle at Boston Logan, but there’s still the fun of obtaining a rental car. After deplaning and making my way through the terminal to Ground Transportation, I look for the first company displaying a “Cars Available” sign, and they get my business.
I ask for a compact, something small and practical. As luck would have it, they’re out of that class of car, so for the same amount of money, I’m given a new Mercedes. Can’t complain about that, certainly. Our acquaintance will be brief, but in the time it takes to get me to my destination, I’ll have no shortage of comfort.
I don’t know Boston very well, but the river is hard to miss. The area I’m looking for is in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, in a park right on the river. In my mind, I know what the three children look like—two boys and a girl, all carrying sleds. Proper sleds, too, wooden ones with metal rails; not these glorified plastic bin lids they’re passing off as sleds. Kind of ironic, really. The extra weight of the proper sleds is likely what will cause these poor souls to crash through the flimsy ice layer.
Unless I have something to say about it, that is.