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The Tide Rises

Monday, November 27, 2023
From our vantage point on the cliff, the agents were small and foreshortened. They were looking for the sizemickerator, but we hadn't hidden it there. They turned over rocks and dug holes aimlessly. Two of them had metal detectors. Fools. The device wasn't made of metal, not any that can be so easily detected. I looked at Conrad. He nodded. I nodded back. I looked at Stephanie. She nodded and I nodded back.
We sat down on the bench stiffly. My wig itched. I worried that I had picked one with lice. Unable to resist any longer, I scratched my head. Conrad frowned at me and pushed the wig back into place, off my forehead. He had a gentle touch. I wondered if his wife missed him. My brief, frantic scratch had made the itch worse. I shoved my hands into my pockets. Oh, there was the detonator.
Stephanie cleared her throat and checked her watch. She looked uncomfortable. Was she having second thoughts? Did she think it wouldn't work? No, it was probably just her disguise. Hers must be itchy too. It probably wasn't a good time to ask. She nodded again. Conrad, cool as ever, began tapping out a metronome with his Oxfords.
Ten. Would it work? Would it matter? How many extra people would die? Nine. The idiots down on the beach, sure, but they had signed up for their jobs. They knew the risk. Well, sort of. Eight. But what of the people out on their boats? Or on little islands farther out? Who cares? Seven. We had already crunched the numbers. A few excess here and there, but we would save millions more. My conscience--six--my conscience was clear. Or as clear as it could be. I don't think I will ever atone for the last experiment. It's past. It's past. Five. A sunk cost. And I had lost my Sara. I had paid the cost too. Four. Did I remember a snack? It was going to be a long bus ride. If we made it out, of course. Three. Focus. Focus. Conrad's foot hesitated.
Oh, pull it together, tough guy. I stared at him side-eyed, a look that I hoped was equal parts exasperated and encouraging. Stephanie once told me that all my facial expressions seemed exasperated. I hope Sara didn't think so. I hope she knew how much I loved her. Conrad's foot finally fell. Two. He hadn't seen me looking at him. He was intent on the beach. They'd spotted us. They were yelling. One drew his weapon. One.
I pressed the detonator firmly. It gave more resistance than I had expected. Conrad and Stephanie must have pressed theirs too because from far off at sea, we could hear a low rumble. It was working! A bullet whizzed past my ear. Shit! It needed to work a little bit faster. Ducking low, Stephanie grabbed me by the arm and started to pull me into the woods. I turned to get Conrad too, but he was already dead. It didn't affect the math, of course it didn't, but it still hurt to see him lying there like that, knowing I would never hear his crazy laugh again. He would never adjust my wig again, never graze my forehead. The damn thing still itched. I yanked it off as Stephanie and I plunged into the treeline.
We ducked behind a thick trunk to catch our breath. At last, we could hear the screams from the beach. And then, soon enough, the rumbling and grinding drowned out the screams. It worked! It worked!
I glanced back and smiled with satisfaction at the receding waves and the beach rising to meet the cliff. We'd bought ourselves another 40 years, at least. I grabbed a clementine from my backpack. Stephanie and I started jogging towards the bus stop. Take that, Longfellow, I thought. The tide falls, the tide falls.