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Sixteen Hours

The receptionist, dressed in a prim white pantsuit, taps at her keyboard. "Yes. I see. If you'll just wait a moment Mr. Wodehouse, someone will take you to your father."
It turns out to be a long moment, more like twenty minutes, as I sit stewing over my current situation and rehash all the arguments I might use to convince dear old Dad to help me. His lawyer had expressly forbidden me to talk to him about money again. That was almost funny, coming from a professional leech like old McCann. I imagine ripping up the injunction, sneering back at him and saying, He's my father, I'll talk to him about money if I want!
A little man in an eight-hundred-dollar Armani suit escorts me to the solarium. As we pass between the neatly manicured hedgerows, walk up the half-flight of polished stone steps, through a gigantic archway, and down the long hall, I feel like a condemned man walking his last mile. My father is one of a dozen patients in the solarium, each seated in white wicker chairs at small round tables. The whole place is enclosed in glass like some kind of ersatz greenhouse growing a crop of old, sick people. On the table are a chessboard and a breakfast plate. Ham and eggs, hash browns, sausage--the whole works. It's late in the day for breakfast but of course my father's days are only sixteen hours long.
"That's some breakfast," I joke. "Watch out, all that cholesterol will kill ya."
My father smiles. "All my favorites. Well, it's only once in a while."
It's every fucking day, you idiot, I think unkindly. He holds his fork aloft, a greasy slice of sausage stuck on the end. He seems so diminished from the liver-and-lights go-getter I remember from years ago. Captain of industry and all that. Now he's so thin and fragile. But also, I have to admit, he seems calmer, happier.
"Maybe after breakfast, we'll have a game," he says, indicating the chessboard. I notice a book on the table, hardcover, real paper. It's Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
"I have all my favorite things here. It's really quite nice. A hearty breakfast, a game or two of chess, a walk in the garden, and a good book."
It's the perfect day for him, every day. An ideal retirement in every way, except for the brain tumor. But the Bodekker Institute has that under control.
I sit across from him. "Chess later, maybe. But first I want to tell you about an investment opportunity I've found."
He immediately shakes his head. "Another scheme?"
"This is different, Dad. This is the real deal. A new kind of processor. It's revolutionary. Ten times faster than what Intel is using. I can guarantee""
"You said that last week. 'No-call pizza' wasn't it?"
Actually the diet pizza shop had been six months ago.
"And what was the other one? A modular car?"
"Yes, and that one was a rocket. But I hesitated. If only I'd gotten in at the beginning."
He gives me a weary nod, looking completely disappointed. "Nobody ever got rich chasing schemes like that, Derrick. The world doesn't owe you a living. Hard work. That's the only way. You know how I did it. Nobody handed me anything."
"I know. I know the story. I don't want to hear it again. I need money. A seed for investment, that's all."
My father sighs, then smiles. "Okay. What do you need?"
"Half a million."
He shrugs. "All right. It's all right, Derrick. I'll have McCann send you the check this afternoon."
One thing about the old man, he always was generous.
"It's not quite that simple, Dad. You see, you aren't allowed to make any financial decisions within seven days of the chronotron treatment."
"Seven days," he mutters. "Oh. All right. When is my next dose?"
"You get them every sixteen hours."
"Sixteen?"
Am I going to have to explain the whole damn thing to him? "You don't remember. The chronotron treatment--it's sort of a cross between cell regeneration and time travel. Sixteen hours. They can only regress someone sixteen hours. That's the limit. They do it every sixteen hours. That way the cancer can't progress. But when you go back, you go back. Your body resets, your brain too. You don't remember anything of the previous day because, to you, it never happened."
"Yes. I know. How many times have I--?"
"We've been doing it for two years." Two years. Chronotron treatments every sixteen hours. And they don't come cheap, I want to add. But I don't. The Wodehouse fortune is vast, but it isn't unlimited. In the past two years Dad has gone through more than half of our principal. And at the current rate he'll deplete the rest in another year. And then--
And then I'll bury my father in a pauper's grave. McCann had all the money locked up in trust, after leeching off his percentage. We should have set up the account differently; I should have had access before the treatments started. But now it's too late. There's no way to get at the money, unless....
Dad gets the idea. "I remember, I remember. We've done this before. I postpone the treatments for a week. Is that what you want me to do?"
"It's the only way I can access the money." I almost can't believe what I'm saying. My voice sounds strange even to my own ears. I'd rehearsed this pitch so many times, trying to find the right words. There are no right words.
My father absently fingers one of the chess pieces. It's the black king.
"I... I'll do it. I'll just put it off for a week."
"You'll have to clear that with the doctor." We'd been through this several times before. But this time was different. "Without the treatments-- the cancer..." I can't finish the sentence. I can't say the words. You only have a year left till we run out of funds anyway, I had planned to add. But I don't. He probably doesn't know that. "You're spending down the money very quickly," I say.
"Whatever you want, Derrick. I'll sign the papers. I can go a week without."
No, he can't. I'd spoken to the doctors. This time, he'll surely die. He won't last the week. I'd never get the half-million check, but I would get the money--I'd get all the money. I wouldn't even need to bother with the damn computer chips. But if things continue this way--this way I am totally screwed. Dad would go on living the perfect day every day. Every sixteen hours. The same scenario, repeating in a pointlessly hedonistic loop.
He never needs to sleep because the treatment sends him back to his early morning self, well rested and ready for the day. So he eats his breakfast no matter the time, always the same breakfast, his favorite. The damn cholesterol doesn't matter; it all gets erased again when they send him back. Then he eats it again, he plays chess with an automaton, he reads a few chapters of an old book. The same few chapters every day.
"He confesses, in the end," I say.
"Who?"
"Raskolnikov. Crime and Punishment. The guilt gets to him."
"Oh." He looks surprised and disappointed, and I feel annoyed at my own childishness. Actually it doesn't matter. He'll soon forget I ruined the ending. In fact, he'll never finish that book.
He's running in the same loop over and over, and so am I. Coming here every six months, begging for money, another scheme, another chance. And it's all so pointless.
I don't feel like playing this game anymore.
"Chess?" he says.
"Dad, forget--forget what I said. I don't want you to miss any treatments. It's--it was a stupid idea."
I can't ask my father to die for me. I can't take away his final year of perfect days. After all, whatever else you want to say about him, whatever his life has become, he's earned it.
"What about those computer chips?"
"Don't need them." I try to smile. "I'll make my own way. You did it. I'll do it. Enough said." I wish I could actually believe that.
He smiles.
"How about that walk?" I help him to his feet.
"It's a beautiful day," he says. "They say the treatments are going well."
"You'll be fine."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 11th, 2017

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