Stuart looked furtively around, fingers dancing on an invisible piano as he nervously drew his keys from his pocket. He ran a hand under his toupee, scratching his prickling scalp. He could feel eyes on him from the shadows, separate from the ones he had brought with him, and his head snapped round, practically breaking his neck as he flashed his gaze from side to side. He hunched over the door handle, listening carefully for anything above the low hum of the generators.
‘Come on. Come on!’ He beckoned to his companion, a tall, imposing man who remained in the shadows. ‘Quickly, quickly, quickly. Time is ticking. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.’ The tall man looked in disdain at the wretch before him before sighing heavily. He gave a single brief nod as he stepped across the corridor behind the nervous man, following him into the dark room beyond the door.
Stuart scuttled around, fighting to find a chair for his mysterious patron. ‘You see, you see, I have finished it. It is right here, right here. Please sit down, sit down. A drink? You will not believe your eyes, my friend.’
‘I’m not your friend, Mr Walker. Get on with it, please. I’d like to go home to my wife.’ he sighed, pulling off a pair of black leather gloves.
‘Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I just need… Moment.. And… Voila.’ Stuart drew the black cloth from over the object, and the tall man leaned forward expectantly. And stopped.
‘Mr Walker, what am I looking at exactly? This looks like somebody reassembled a clock following instructions given by a blind Amazonian pygmy. Who’s never seen a clock.’
‘Oh, it’s simple. This lever is used to release water through to the wheel, which then turns the activation paddle, releasing this weight, which opens this doorway which opens this box. Which is empty.’ Stuart beamed at the tall man. ‘But that’s the beauty, anything could be inside! You don’t know until you pull the lever!’ He always lost the stutter when he was explaining things.
‘Walker, you’ve made a needlessly complicated machine where the only thing it does is lift the lid of an empty box. We perfected this art a long time ago, through evolution. We call them hands.’ The tall man reached towards the box, moving to open the now-closed mahogany lid. He wrapped his hands around the handle set into the lid, and lifted.
Nothing happened. A storm of doubt appeared on the tall man’s face, full of thunder as he found that he couldn’t open it.
‘Yes, yes. Now you see! The machine doesn’t just open the box. It keeps it closed. It actively resists until you pull the lever. The needless complication you state? The activation mechanism changes every time. I know which lever activates the box. Either I tell you, or you spend a very long time working it out by trying every option. Sometimes, you’ll find it quickly and the box opens. Sometimes, you get frustrated before you find the lever and the box stays closed. Then you find the person who is curious enough about what you keep inside the box to go through every lever, again and again, until they get the box open.’
The tall man let go of the box and reached toward the levers.
‘Mr Walker… I think we can work with this. Come by my office tomorrow. Bring the box.’ The tall man reached out a hand and Stuart took it. ‘Mr Walker… Call me Thompson.’
The Idiot in Tin Foil