Jerrick scrubbed his hands over his slick scalp then over his face. He looked at the glowing screen of the laptop, the spreadsheet with its neat rows and columns. Numbers. Jerrick knew numbers. Numbers were his livelihood and his love, but if he didn’t fix this…this huge screw-up, they wouldn’t be for much longer.
This is what he got for buying a second-hand laptop. This is what he got for thinking for one second he was smarter than a djinn. Tricky bastard, he thought.
Now, he understood the look in that girl’s eye, that skinny white girl who came charging into Happy Pawn, babbling about a microwave and wriggling anchovies. He’d eavesdropped on that conversation enough to decide the girl was half out of her mind. He knew better now, just like he knew that if he went back and complained to the old man that there was something not right with his laptop, the old man would give him the same speech. Besides, he’d taken his chances on other purchases that had turned out to be not so great, although a different kind of not so great. The old man stuck to his policies: no returns, no refunds. You buy it; it’s yours.
The calculator was his first purchase. The plus sign was broken. Jerrick didn’t have the skills to repair it, and it would’ve been almost cheaper to just buy a new one rather than pay someone to fix it. He worked around it by subtracting negatives. Annoying, but it worked.
The laptop…that was a completely other type of broken.
Ctrl+Shift+G. A simple typo was all it was. Jerrick intended to use his shortcut for inserting the clip art of the company logo, but hit “G” instead of “F.” He couldn’t even remember what he’d been working on when the smoke spewed from the innards of the laptop. He remembered thinking the thing was melting itself and all his data, and then suddenly he was pushing up from his desk chair, staggering back as the smoke coalesced into a heavily muscled, bluish man with small golden horns and a long black ponytail. The man stretched out his arms and tipped his head to Jerrick.
“How may I be of service?”
A simple question really, and one that Jerrick had answered in various ways. The first was to ask for infinite wishes. The djinn had reassured Jerrick that there was no need for this wish. “As long as you hold the vessel,” the djinn pointed at the laptop, “I am yours to command.”
Jerrick scrolled down on the spreadsheet, seeing red, red, red. He fallen into the trap, hadn’t he? He watched those damn Wishmaster movies. He’d read “The Monkey’s Paw.” He knew there would be a catch, but he also assumed he could be smarter. He could be careful.
Now, his superior’s secretary was dead, and he owed his accounting firm 2.6 million dollars. He’d considered going to the CEO, trying to explain where the money went and promising to pay it back, but Jerrick knew he could work overtime every day for the rest of his life and not pay off that debt. Not at his salary.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d realized where the money came from before he’d spent so much of it. He hadn’t expected the djinn to be able to transfer money from one bank account to another. What had he been expecting? That some long-lost rich relative would die and leave him a boatload of money? Sort of. Okay, yes. But that didn’t happen. And then there was Leisha.
All Jerrick wanted was for her to notice him, to notice him as a woman notices a man and not just someone she saw every day at the office and spoke to because it was polite and expected. What she’d become…Jerrick blinked back tears as he remembered those first few nights together. Those nights turned into weekends, and then suddenly Leisha wouldn’t leave. She didn’t want Jerrick to leave, not even to go to work. He had taken a few vacation days, a sort of dating honeymoon, and by the end of it, his entire body hurt from bites, bruises, and overuse.
Jerrick wiped away the tear that slipped down his cheek. Until he made his stupid wish, she had been a lovely woman. Now, she was six feet under, after having thrown herself off the top of his condo building.
Jerrick knew better than to try to fix dead. He couldn’t take back what happened to Leisha, and he would bear that mark on his soul for the rest of his life. Which wouldn’t be much longer if he didn’t figure out what to do about the missing money. He couldn’t hide that much longer, and he didn’t think he’d survive long in a federal penitentiary.
He’d already tried bargaining with the djinn. “Put the money back!” He screamed that sentence again and again, but what was spent could not be unspent. Besides, didn’t his mother love her new house? She deserved it, after raising five kids on her own. Even so, Jerrick had proven, once again, that you can’t get something for nothing.
He ran his damp fingers over the keys of the laptop. With a deep frown on his face, he typed Ctrl+Shift+G. The scent of the inferno filled his nostrils. The smoke stung his eyes for a moment before it swirled into a column and produced the djinn.
“How may I be of service?” it asked.
“I don’t know.” Jerrick looked into its strange black-on-black eyes. “How do I fix this?” He gestured at the screen then spread his arms wide.
“It is not my place to advise, only to grant what your heart desires.”
“Yeah, and how many lives have you ruined granting wishes?”
The djinn tilted its head in consideration. “None. No life is beyond repair.”
Jerrick laughed bitterly at that. “Right. I brought all this on myself. I suppose you’re going to tell me that you have no control over how the wishes are granted. Like there’s some sick, twisted god in control of it all, and you’re just the messenger.” When the djinn gave no reply, Jerrick squared his shoulders. “Well, you can tell whoever is in charge that my heart’s desire if for someone to fix this! Fix the money. Fix Leisha!” Jerrick’s face crumpled, and he pressed his hands to his eyes. “She didn’t have to die.”
“No, she didn’t,” the djinn said. “Very well.”
Jerrick jerked. The movement dragged his steering wheel sharply to the left and sent his car swerving into oncoming traffic. Belching curses, he yanked hard the other direction, overcorrecting, but managing to get the car going straight and in the proper lane.
How…what? He couldn’t think. Hadn’t he just been in his empty living room, arguing with a djinn? He wasn’t anymore. From the looks of things, he was on the expressway, somewhere between the exit for work and the exit for home.
He let out a breath, eased back into the seat. Something dark in the passenger seat caught his attention, and he glanced that way. Then, he took a longer look. There it was: the laptop. It sat there, the receipt taped to the case. But that meant…that meant it was August, three months before he’d been sitting in his condo and demanding the djinn make things right.
Well, things are right now, Jerrick thought. I can’t return it, but I won’t use it. I won’t even turn it on. “Yeah,” he said aloud. He nodded in agreement with himself. He took the exit for home with a renewed sense of hope. He drove past the corner gas station, the old falling down houses. Sure, he’d be back in his crappy apartment in one of the worst parts of town, but he would have his old life back. “Yeah, you sneaky sonofabitch. Won’t get me this time.” He grinned down at the laptop, and the laptop was the last thing he saw.
When the cops interviewed Muriel Shipp, she told them it was the oddest thing. She hadn’t heard a whistle blow. The lights hadn’t flashed, and the guardrails hadn’t come down. But sure as there was wreckage all over her lawn, the train had blown through and smashed that poor man and his car to nothing.
Long after everyone – police, media, nosy neighbors – had gone, Muriel went out into the yard. There was debris everywhere, and she wondered who she was going to get to come clean up the mess. Couldn’t count on her no-good grandkids to do it. Well, she was old, but she could do a few things. She went around with a garbage bag, praying to God that she didn’t find any parts of the man. She was pretty sure the police had gotten all they could of him. What a way to go.
Muriel was at the edge of the yard when her foot rapped against something. Begrudging her hip, she bent down and picked up a flat, black object. She lifted a pair of half-moon readers to peer at it. Why, it was one of those computer things. Muriel knew this one must have come from the man’s car, but there wasn’t a scratch on it. She had no use for it, but the things were worth a pretty penny.
Muriel made her way back inside her house and slipped the laptop into a plastic grocery bag. She’d take the bus into the city tomorrow. She knew just the place to take it to get the best price with no questions asked.