An odd offer


Three weeks later, John had a seat in a row to himself on a westbound American Airlines red-eye flight, en route to Los Angeles, and a spare bedroom waiting for him in Eric’s new apartment. As the plane reached cruising altitude at around 36,000 feet, John removed the weird watch from his pocket to study its odd features for the umpteenth time since he’d first acquired it.

It had the hands of a regular watch, but only in a small circle embedded in one quadrant. The mystery of the device, which he found harder and harder to think of as an actual watch, lay in its single large hand in the middle that jutted out to the edge. He suspected a compass hand, but it never moved. Frozen in place, it served no discernible purpose. John figured it for broken, and kept the thing in his pocket rather than on his wrist.

Also, the large white face had a single bone-colored band circling the outer perimeter. Upon closer inspection, he discovered many tiny bands, all concentric, and all white except for the outer one. They decreased in size from outer edge to inner core. Tiny strips of silver or stainless steel, no wider than a hair, separated each band from its neighbors. The device also had what looked like a small LED screen. Whereas the working clock occupied the lower right quadrant, the LED had the lower left. Finally, a stopwatch-style button protruded out from the rim, immovable, just like the compass hand.

John put it away, no closer to discerning its purpose than three weeks ago.

His parents had not made it to the graduation ceremony. After he received his diploma, and said goodbye to a few friends at Bucknell, John caught a car pool to Virginia. He spent a few weeks in his parent’s ancient home in Bentonville before finding it unbearable. John had no job, and dad wanted him to join the family trade as a carpenter, just like his two older brothers, the ones with no college education, no student loan debt, and no other prospects, as if four years of hard work amounted to a worthless waste of time, an indulgence, and now he had to re-enter the real world.

John fled from there as fast as he could. Even so, Dad had surprised him with a $1000 gift as a going-away present. John used it to buy a plane ticket, which left a little less than $600 in his pocket, along with the strange device from the young woman named Jill.


At cruising altitude with two empty seats beside him, John unbuckled his belt. He raised one, and then the other seat arm to create a space where he could lie down. Before he could kick off his shoes, however, and this seemed timed to perfection to thwart him, an old man in bluebird-colored sweater and slacks slid into the outer seat. He had a white beard and ponytail. He also had a cocktail in hand, something from First Class.

"Mind if I sit down?" the man said.

A useless gesture since he had already done so.

"I guess it’s okay. Are you from First Class?"

"I’m from everywhere."

"Can you get me one of those?" John pointed at the cocktail.

"You want me to pay rent. Fair enough." The old guy leaned into the aisle. "Miss," he said a little loud, and held up his drink, "Encore une fois, s’il vous plait?" He looked at John. "She’s French."

John realized in that instant he had received fair warning. What did Jill tell him? When the man with the white beard makes an offer, tell him no, and walk away. How could he walk away on an airplane? And how could she have known?

John didn’t want to get ahead of himself. First of all, lots of people had white beards. Second of all, no one had offered anyone anything, well, except for a drink to pay the unnecessary "rent" on a seat he didn’t own, which didn’t count as an offer one needed to walk away from.

The old man rubbed his beard, caressed it to a fine point. He grinned. "We’re all a dying mass of putrefying flesh. Diseased. Ugly. Full of rot, and rotting evermore every day. Mere mortals on a downward spiral to ignominy and oblivion. Then again, maybe I’m just an optimist."

"Excuse me?"

"Fires of Hell. Can you think of something worse?"

"If you offer me a deal at this point, I will assume you’re the devil, and walk away."

"She warned you. Jill I mean. Gave you that spotter too. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. A frightened woman feeling overwhelmed by her new world. Nothing more."

Confirmation, mind-boggling but incontrovertible. John kept his cool. "The way you describe it, who can wonder why?"


"How many languages do you speak?"

"That’s not relevant."

John remembered how fervent Jill had seemed in her warning, the way her eyes had pled for him to listen. "The devil, I’m told, knows how to deceive in many languages."

The old guy leaned forward. "The truth comes in every language known to the devil, but it travels a little slower. Do I appear in a hurry to you?"

"You’re paying rent. Why not tell me what you want?"

"For myself, nothing. I came to make you an offer."

John stared, then he frowned, on purpose.

"You won’t understand your choice, but you’ll have some time to think about it," the old man said.

"Alright. What’s my choice?"

"You like to base-jump, and you dream about flying, but in your dreams you never manage to stay airborne. Always crash landing into big bodies of water."

"You know my dreams?" John couldn’t believe it. "Or are you guessing? The symbology of dreams is quite common. I took a course."

"You have to stop base-jumping. That’s the only way to walk away from the deal I’m offering you."

"Walk away from base-jumping?"


"I already want to say no."

The stewardess arrived and set a fresh drink on an open tray table. The old man slid it across to John.

John picked it up, took a sip. "You’d better have something pretty spectacular to offer me, like a million dollars and a trip around the world spectacular."

"Travel, yes. All the money you need, more or less. Companionship, yes."

"With you?"

"Once in a while, maybe. It’s all been there, done that for me, you understand."

"To what end is all this? Are you a spy? Or a criminal?"

"I can’t tell you."

"If you don’t tell me, I can’t understand the choice."

"That’s why I can’t tell you. In this case, a little information is worse than none at all. Go with your gut. Do what you want. Or, listen to Jill." He grinned. "Excuse me. My time is up."

The old man slipped into the aisle, downed the last of his drink.

"What’s your name?" John said..

"Call me Cyrus." He returned to First Class.


John had three seats again, room enough to kick off the shoes, wiggle the toes, stretch out the legs, and get a little shut-eye, but not sleep. Something about high altitude flight filled him with such fear and adrenaline, such frisson, that he could never sleep, more so when the plane encountered turbulence, but he could shut his eyes, and let rest a portion of his brain, even while the other part flashed like wild neurons soaked in espresso.

He kept his eyes closed, and went over it in his head. They had known so much about him, both Cyrus and Jill. They almost knew more about him than he did himself, and it seemed as if they could anticipate where he would go and what he would do. Jill had waited for him in that church in order to give him the odd-named spotter and the warning that came with it.

Then again, he had told a few people about his plans to base-jump from Bertram Library. Perhaps someone blabbed. Although no one could have anticipated the precise place he would land, nor that he would enter the church on the spur of the moment, Jill could have guessed. Maybe she didn’t have to seek him out because he had come to her, a fortuitous accident from her perspective.

As to his recurring dreams, John remembered detailing them in a paper for a psychology course his junior year. A crack investigative team could have unearthed that essay and then briefed Cyrus on the details. After graduation, they could have followed him home to Virginia, waited three weeks, tracked his on line activity, and bought an airline ticket for this flight.

But why, he wondered, growing groggy. What did it all mean? The question itself made him more groggy. Did the waitress slip something in that cocktail? Rather than try to solve the unsolvable, he let the reasoning part of his brain shut down, and fell into a half-conscious sleep.


A few hours later as they flew over Las Vegas, mild turbulence gave John a jolt of adrenaline, and caused him to open his eyes. He had a ton of residual questions, but none so pressing as his curiosity about the spotter. He took it from his pocket yet again, and slipped it on his wrist.

One glance at the clock quadrant made him blink. The hands had adjusted from Eastern to Pacific Standard Time. Remarkable, that a watch with a moving hour hand could make such a change, but even more so that it knew when to do it.

John went hunting for Cyrus up and down the First Class aisle, then Business Class, then the main cabin. He waited outside the restrooms and watched people come and go, still no Cyrus. He kept at it until the order came over the intercom for everyone to buckle up for the final descent.

John touched the arm of a passing stewardess, "Excuse me?"

"The Captain has turned on the seatbelt sign sir. You need to sit down." She had a French accent.

"I know, but I have a question. I was talking earlier to an old guy with a white beard? He’s supposed to be in First Class, but I can’t find him. You brought us cocktails. Do you remember?"

"Perhaps he found another seat."

"I’ve looked everywhere."

"I’m sorry, I can’t help you. If you’ll please…" She extended a leading arm.

John went to his seat. Afterwards, the pilot delivered a smooth descent and landing.

Once on the ground, John rushed through the exit terminal at Burbank Airport. He searched for Cyrus in the baggage pickup area, and on the sidewalk where passengers met their rides. No way an old man could escape so fast on his feet, but try as he might, John could not find him anywhere.

At least Eric arrived on time.


[A note from Jim: thanks for reading Liberty Islanders! The full book for "Deadline 70 AD" is available for FREE at I hope if you download it you’ll give me a review on Amazon. That’s not too much to ask is it?Thanks for joining the Liberty Island community! Let’s make it something great and profound.]