Drumbeats: Boom—boom, boom—boom.
Pulling harder and faster on his oars, Ben grunted, “I can do it.”
Ben liked to see himself both as Jack Hawkins in Roman battle dress and as sweaty Number Forty-One, Chuck Heston, straining behind an oar below decks. Jack’s imperial aura matched Ben’s status as chief designer at Lifecizer, one of San Francisco’s hottest hi-tech lifestyle firms. Chuck’s hard, glistening muscles were, Ben thought, just like his own.
“Crap!” Ben released his oar handles and poked PAUSE on his thirty-two-inch touchscreen to stop his HD video of Ben Hur. When he hit DOORBELL CAMERA, he saw on the screen a young man wearing a hoodie. “Yes?”
“Delivery for Ben in Suite 1207.” The man held up a silver designer bag.
Ben recognized the bag and touched CLOCK. “You’re two hours early!”
“I do what they tell me.”
“Wait.” Ben climbed off his Lifecizer R500 prototype rowing machine and grabbed a towel on the way to the door. He opened the door to the security chain’s limit.
“What’s going on? Eric knows how I want my delivery. Not late, not early.”
“I’m Kevin. All new management and staff—no more Eric.”
“Another change—they say you pay up front now. They told me to collect the thirteen-hundred on your tab this month, plus three-hundred for today’s bag.”
“Three-hundred? It was always one-fifty.”
“Not my prices. You want the delivery?”
“Okay.” Ben released the security chain and opened the door. He led Kevin to his desk and pulled a fat envelope from a drawer. He counted out $1600 in hundred-dollar bills.
Kevin lowered his hoodie and watched, then swapped the silver bag for the bills.
Ben opened the bag. “What’s this? This isn’t right.”
“They fill the bags. What’s wrong?”
“These are not my brownies. Mine are a special low-sugar mix of gluten-free flour with Maui buds, a mix Eric and I developed years ago. These look like some cheap microwaved brownie mix, and I see stems sticking out.”
“You should talk to the boss. Call him.”
“You bet.” Ben sat down on his rowing machine and touched PHONE on his screen, then CONTACTS, then ERIC. “Hello, Ben calling.”
“You’re Ben in Suite 1207?”
“Yes. Where’s Eric? My delivery is wrong. I row an hour, uninterrupted, take a shower, and then answer the door at the scheduled time to enjoy my brownies. These are early and are not my brownies.”
“Sorry, Ben. Eric’s gone. We have a new plan for you. You order what we have, no specials, and you pay our price on delivery. Understand?”
“Wait a minute. Eric started this service after we founded Lifecizer. He was number one from Tiburon to Palo Alto.”
“No more. He sold his customer data and remaining product to me. Said he dumped his Lifecizer stock, too. For land in Maui.”
“I’ll go to another service.”
“Awesome. Tell Kevin. I have other calls.” Clunk.
“He hung up on me.”
“He does that.” Kevin looked down through Ben’s picture window. “Is that Orkle Park?”
“Or-a-cle Park, yes. I can watch the Giants games from up here, but Lifecizer has a double luxury suite above third base. Custom outfitted with leather recliners and wide-screen TVs. Super hot cocktail waitresses serve drinks, garlic fries, crab sandwiches, everything.”
A seagull landed on Ben’s balcony railing and sat watching them.
“Your rowing machine, I never saw one like it before.”
“That’s because it’s my new design. It’s just a prototype now, but as soon as it’s released, it will easily outsell our Lifecizer stationary bikes.”
“How’s it work?”
“Like a high-end rowing machine, except it has the largest touchscreen, suspended right over the oars, real wooden oar handles, not cables. People will love it. You’ll have Netflix, podcasts, instructional videos, music with Dolby sound, YouTube, even your choice of live personal trainers when you subscribe and pay the monthly fees. Special videos, too, like from all over Oracle Park. You can row around the bases, or from home plate to the centerfield wall, or even race the kayakers for a splash home run ball in McCovey Cove.”
“Cool. What about virtual reality?”
“No. It was too realistic for some of our test subjects. They’d get sweaty and dive off the machine onto the floor. They saw the floor as water. Lots of injuries.”
“Awesome.” Studying the touchscreen, Kevin asked, “What are these other icons?”
“For machine-paced rowing. You can choose the rowing resistance, or the rowing speed. The oars and slide seat will move faster than you’ve ever rowed before. See the resistance and speed symbols?”
“Hard for me to see. Let me get behind you.”
Kevin pocketed the fat envelope from the desk drawer and Ben’s roll of duct tape, pulled his hoodie back up, and set the lock on the door. He turned toward the unconscious Ben, still rowing at max speed.
“So Ben, I’ll put you down as a ‘no’ on the new plan. Cool.”
Ben woke up sweating with a headache. Smoke! The motor powering his machine was burning up from running all-out. He made a mental note to add limits to the motor control software before he saw his hands were duct-taped to the oars and his waist to the seat. Ben was rowing faster than he ever had, too fast to loosen the duct tape with his teeth. Pecking at the touchscreen with his nose didn’t stop the motor.
Exiting the elevator, Kevin stepped into the path of a firefighter.
“Stand clear, sir. Smoke alarm up on the twelfth floor.”
“I can’t believe I might die taped to my oars!” Jerked back and forth like a rag doll, Ben frantically pecked his nose at his touchscreen. Finally, he hit TEXT. Then, ALL. After defeating autocorrect, his text went out as BEN HURT!
About the author:
Jim Guigli retired after a design/engineering career at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and lives near Sacramento, California with his wife, Fran, and two Labrador Retrievers.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.