Calli took the book from Table 6 to the register. She’d be sure and wash her hands after taking it back. That diner looked like he had the plague. She felt sorry for the old man, but she couldn’t afford to get sick. Inside the book was a twenty dollar bill. The total was nine and change.
She tossed the bill on the back of the open drawer and started pulling out the change. She glanced at the twenty while she cracked open a roll of quarters. Something about it looked odd. Funny money? she wondered. Their manager was always warning them to be on the lookout. After dumping the quarters, she picked up the bill and looked closer. The series number was five years in the future.
Calli put the change back and closed her drawer, canceling the transaction. Looking to make sure her manager wasn’t around, she returned to the table.
She sat in the chair next to him. Leaning closer to speak quietly, she said, “Sir, this money is fake.”
His watery eyes looked up at her with terrible sorrow.
“You probably didn’t even know. But do you have something else? There could be a lot of trouble if someone finds out.”
He stammered and shook his head, like he was put out. Or stressed. It was hard to tell. He was sweating terribly.
“I’m going to have to call my manager over.” She started to get up.
His hand snapped out and clamped down on her wrist.
“Wait. Please,” he said in his thick accent.
The desperation in his eyes sat her back down.
“You must help me. The world needs your help.”
“I wish I could,” she chuckled, trying to lighten the sudden serious mood.
“If you don’t let me go everything will end.”
Whoa. A real crazy. “That’s really something, sir, but I need you to pay with real money.”
“That is real money,” he forced out between his teeth. “Listen! I’m only thirty-four. Here, look at my ID.” He threw his open wallet down on the table.
She studied the picture, the date, then back at the man at her table.
“The future is in peril. Nuclear war will devastate the world. Those not lucky enough to die—” He waved his hand up and down his body. “Radiation,” then he coughed into his napkin, like he should have been in a hospital. “The EU—what’s left of it—sent me here from the future. It started here.”
“That’s crazy,” she laughed.
He didn’t. “The future rests in your hands. Don’t detain me. Please.”
She stood. “Just go. I’ll take care of this. Please get help.”
The next morning, a news alert beeped on her phone. The “old” man’s face was in the headline. One of the presidential candidates had been assassinated. The one who was always talking about nuking anyone he didn’t like.
She pulled the fake twenty from her pocket. And she wondered if she’d just helped the world.
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