rating: +65+x

Darkness, near-total; lights out, curtains drawn, faintly illuminated from outside.

Tranquil. Not silent – muffled, distant sounds of a pre-dawn city. The quiet hum of a ceiling fan. The steady, faint breathing of sleep.


Of course, this is all ruined when the lone occupant’s phone rings, its screen shining like a floodlight, rattling loudly on the nightstand as it vibrates, blasting out an unwelcome, artificial ringtone.

Grimsley growls, pulled unwillingly from euphoric sleep back into his tired body. The memory of his dreams evaporates, replaced by numerous complaints and vulgarities directed at the unthinking, uncaring phone. He reaches for the nightstand, his hand searching the surface for the phone; a small coin falls to the floor before he finds it.

‘Yes,’ he growls, answering the call.

‘I’m sorry to wake you Mr. Trudge,’ his assistant says, ‘but we have a case.’


‘Death Valley. The details are in your inbox.’

Grimsley sighs, rubbing his eyes with his spare hand – Death Valley is at least two hours away. ‘Fine. Thank you.’

He ends the call, tossing the phone back onto the nightstand. For a few moments, he stays in bed, simply staring up into the pervading darkness; his mind locked in a battle, simultaneously trying to organise itself for the day ahead, and return to sleep. The comfort of the mattress, bedsheets and pillows encourages the latter to win; so, Grimsley uses what little motivation he can muster to toss the sheets aside, sitting up and turning on his bedside lamp.

The room is mostly taken up by Grimsley’s queen-sized bed. A television is mounted onto one wall, situated so it can be watched while reclining; beneath it is a set of double-drawers, a small stereo system, and an unused scented wax warmer. A single, large window – hidden behind the curtains – dominates one wall; the opposite is adorned with an oil painting of several dogs playing poker (fake), with the bedroom door to one side.

Grimsley stares blankly ahead for a moment, then vigorously rubs his face with both hands. He picks up his phone, briefly noting the time – ten past four in the morning – then unlocks it, navigating to his e-mails; a slew of unread messages greets him, the topmost of which is dated to only five minutes prior, which he opens. His eyes glaze over the regurgitated spiel (‘there’s been an oopsie, fix it’), going straight for the GPS co-ordinates of the accident, which he pastes into a navigation app.

It's three hours away, in the centre of a desert. One of the hottest deserts in the world.

In the middle of summer.

Grimsley sighs. ‘Just my luck,’ he mutters.


The word stirs a memory; his eyes shoot to the nightstand, barren excepting the lamp. Grimsley puts his phone down, his eyes scanning the blue, carpeted floor for a minute before getting down and reaching under the bed. It’s a tight fit – but after a moment of searching his fingers find a metallic surface, dragging it out into the light.

The Coin is old – older than Grimsley by two decades – and shows clear signs of its age; but over the past four decades since he found it, Grimsley has become adept at caring for it, preserving the remaining vestige of silver it retains from its minting in 1959. He still remembers that discovery, too – seven-year-old Grimsley was given a handful of coins by his mother so he could buy a pair of Coca-Cola from a vending machine. In went the coins; out came the Coin, rejected.

At a glance it had looked like an ordinary quarter – silver colour, about the right size, with an eagle dominating one face. But after two more rejections, a closer inspection revealed the animal was strange – smaller, less realistic – and the writing encircling it was gibberish except for a misspelled ‘Republic.’ The opposite face was completely wrong; gone was the profile of George Washington, replaced by a simple ‘1’ between two leaves, the year ‘1959’ below, and something about someone named ‘Mark’ in-between.

Grimsley had had no explanation for the Coin’s strange appearance, and neither did his mother. It captivated him; the mystery fuelled his childhood imagination, and within an hour he was convinced it was a one-of-a-kind treasure from another world. In later years he learned it was actually just a common, single Deutschemark that had found its way to America from West Germany – but by then he was attached to his lucky coin, and kept it nonetheless.

Grimsley turns the Coin over in his hand, admiring the German eagle adorning the back. Had it come from eastern Germany, there would be a hammer and protractor instead; twelve years older, and the eagle held a swastika. Grimsley’s mother would have recognised either – even she could have recognised communist and Nazi symbolism – and immediately confiscated it, throwing it away and completely changing the course of her child’s life.

Without the luck it seems to bring, he never would have paid any interest in probability and statistics; never would have found his way into insurance; never proceeded into investigative services, starting his own company; never noticed the abnormal trends, spread across countless insurance agencies, but always related to the same, vague businesses.

He never would have dug in to find the truth; never would have found the Foundation; never given the choice. Amnestics – to forget the truth, have the trails explained by some normal means and buried, leaving Grimsley to continue on with his normal, comfortable, profitable life… or, to accept a new job, doing the same work for different reasons, given greater pay to make up for the business he would inevitably have to sell… but to delve into another world, look for improbabilities hidden within impossibilities, blending in like a foreign coin among a pile of quarters.

Indifferent to the options, Grimsley had thought it fitting for the Coin, his gateway between the two worlds, to choose which way to go.

Now, at the age of forty, wishing he’d drunk less cola to keep more teeth, he is one of the assistant directors of the Department of Logistics, overseeing the Investigations Division, responsible for finding out the cause of every accident and disaster related to transportation, and duty-bound to ensure they never recur. Sometimes, even with his best efforts, they do nonetheless.

Grimsley closes his hand around the Coin, picking up his phone with the other and looking at the route once again. Estimated time of arrival, twenty past seven; then a solid twelve-hour workday, with only five hours of sleep behind it. All for something that didn’t even need Grimsley in person…

A name on the map catches his eye. He zooms out, spotting a small town to the north-east of his destination – Beatty.

George should be in Beatty still, he thinks, idly rolling the Coin across his fingers. That’s only half an hour away. He could do the preliminary work, and I can catch up later.

It takes a few moments for Grimsley to find George’s phone number – but he stops, finger hovering above the dial button.

He needs a break though. He’s been working overtime for the past week, trying to finish that Walker case – has he finished it yet? I could be dropping another case on him before he’s even finished the last…

A pause.

I wouldn’t be asking him to do the whole thing, though, just fill the gap until I get there. I could sweeten it with double-and-a-half pay… but still, I’d be getting him up now. He might need the rest more than I do.

… or he might not…

He needed a tie-breaker.

With a quick flick of his hand – practiced over several decades – the Coin sat atop a curled finger, his thumb primed beneath it, ready to launch the coin into the air.

‘Heads, I send George,’ he said. ‘Tails, I go myself.’

The Coin rapidly spins as it shoots straight up into the air, barely missing the ceiling before it comes back down; Grimsley grabs it with the same hand, slapping it down onto the back of his other hand, then slowly removing his hand…


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