Originally published in The Weekly Knob
“Hello, this is Friedrich Wissenschaftmann. Am I speaking with — eh, am I speaking with Yane Armschtrong?”
“It’s pronounced Jane Armstrong, but yes this is she,” I said. I didn’t recognize the frantic voice on the phone but as you can clearly tell this man was severely German.
“Ah, yes, tut mir leid — eh, I’m sorry, Chane,” close enough, “I’m calling from the European Centre for Nuclear Research, I hope I’m not calling at a bad time.”
I checked the clock. It was 2 am. It wasn’t the best time. “Um, it’s a little early here in New York, but how can I help you?” All the knowledge in CERN and he can’t figure out time zones.
“We are having trouble with our Large Hadron Collider, and we would like you to come and fix it.”
“I’m sorry, is this a joke?” I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. I rolled over in bed and rested my phone on the side of my head.
“No I’m very serious. Our collider has been having trouble running. The problem is, we can’t figure it out. We’ve been running diagnostics for days and we’re down to two options: lose the biggest research grant we’ll ever likely have, or call in a hail Mary, as the Americans say,” he said, nearly whispering that last bit.
“CERN is awfully far away,” I groaned.
“We have a private jet waiting at the airport to take you to Geneva,” he said sounding more adamant.
“I don’t know, Mr. Wissenschaftmann. I don’t know a lot abou-“
“Name your price.”
“Name your price, Ms. Armstrong. We’re giving you a blank cheque,” he sounded very serious, yet still very German.
I sighed, “A million.”
“What? Two million then.”
“Deal. There will be a taxi waiting outside in a half hour. Please hurry,” and he hung up.
I rolled over and looked at my clock, 2:10. Well I didn’t expect this. I rolled out of bed, still not understanding the situation I had just agreed to be paid two million dollars for. What’ve I got to lose, right? I grabbed a few pairs of clothes, my toolbox, a bagel, and went downstairs. Before I left the garage, I left a note for Harry, the mechanic who works for me.
Cancel all appointments, gone to Switzerland — J
There we go, that should be enough explanation. The cab rolled up outside and a sleepy looking driver was rolled down the window and called out, “Armstrong?” I nodded and got in the back. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking through JFK headed straight for the runway. These private plane gigs are awesome. No security? I’ve got to get me one of these. I fixed planes in the past, but never rode one. Never left the country either. This was the first outside job I’ve done. Heck, it may even be my last with the payday I was offered.
I got to the runway and saw the plane. It was one of those supersonic ones, the ones they’re just prototyping out in Europe. Not supposed to hit the market for another five years probably. If I didn’t think the situation was urgent before, I definitely understood it now. I climbed in and the pilot told me to buckle up, we’d be in Geneva in three and a half hours or less or the flight is free. I must’ve had a puzzled look on my face because he said that the flight was already free. He sounded French. The plane took off with such force, I thought we were going to space. I reclined in my seat and tried to catch some sleep.
I guess I should tell you who I am now. I’m Jane Armstrong. Yes, the Jane Armstrong. The fix-all lady. You got a problem, I fix it. Two taps with my special pipe wrench and it’s good as new. Only works on electrical or mechanical things. I can’t fix that broken iPhone screen. Had to turn away bunches of people with that one. Really the wrench would make it worse.
Yeah, the wrench is pretty special. I got it when I was maybe five years old. My dad gave it to me as a gift, I wanted to be just like him. He was a mechanic in the Bronx and I grew up right beside him as he fixed everything from a burnt out Model A to a fired up Ferrari. This wrench though, oh boy. I discovered it was special when I was six and was having a tantrum. I swung at our busted up TV with it and miraculously it turned on again. My dad was amazed. Since then I’d be fixing all sorts of things. Guy comes into the shop with a blown out engine. We wait until he leaves, I tap it a few times and the car starts up like it was fresh out of the shop, so we’d take the afternoon off. I took over the business after pops died, and I kept fixing things, but expanded from just cars. I can fix almost anything with my trusty wrench.
A few years later, word gets out that I can fix anything in under two hours (I let them think that; I don’t tell them it takes me two seconds). People from all over town, even out of state, start bringing me their broken stuff. I got wise that sometimes things would be intentionally broken or missing something crucial like an old TV without the tubes. I grab my wrench and tap-tap and the tubes are back. Another year and people across the country are sending me their stuff asking me to fix it. I’d become the most famous fixer in the fifty states.
It’s not without its troubles though. Some people don’t believe I’m that good and they insist on watching. I don’t let ’em. I even had two old guys try to steal it from me. They were all over the news for getting caught though — Olivier and Raddimus, I think they were called. High profile guys. I heard one retired and became an art dealer. Anyway, over the years the wrench started to grow old. In the beginning it used to be one light tap, then a heavy tap, then two taps, then three or four, but it still works. I just hope it never craps out on me.
We landed in Geneva at 1 pm. A car was waiting for me at the airport and I got to CERN around 2. We would have been there earlier but I insisted we stop for food. When I got to CERN, a thin, bald man with round glasses met me as soon as I got out of the car. I recognized the voice as Mr. Wissenschaftmann.
“Hello Jane, I’m so glad you made it,” he shook my hand, turned, and practically yanked it off as he led me to the LHC building. We entered the building and got into an elevator. He gave me a lab coat (monogrammed with my initials), a pair of latex gloves, an air mask, and safety goggles. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a hazmat suit came next.
We exited the elevator and I saw a sea of stressed out scientists all sweating and stirring, and staring at me as I passed them on the way to the control board.
“Now,” Mr. Wissenschaftmann said, looking through the big glass windows into the eye of Atlas, the main detector on the Large Hadron Collider. “The problem we are having is that the power cuts out.”
“Is it plugged in properly?” I joked. Nobody laughed. I heard someone sigh within the crowd.
“What have you checked?”
“Everything. We had our engineers tear the machine apart and put it back together and it still has the same problem. No error messages, nothing. The power cuts out, and turns back on. Normally we have a generator that runs in case of this, but it doesn’t come on,” Mr. Wissenschaftmann said. He wiped a tear away from his eye, “We’re stuck.”
I looked around the room. Everyone looked nervous. I asked everyone to clear the area, and for unrestricted access to the facility. They said yes except for one room: The Room. They told me it was an environmentally controlled room that had the most powerful computers on the planet, and the main power cable coming from the grid. Before everyone left, I asked that the LHC be turned off. If my wrench worked its magic, I’d give it a few taps and it would turn itself back on. The room became very quiet once the LHC was turned off. I waited for the door to close, and opened up my toolkit which contained only my wrench. I tapped it on the giant control board. No power up. I gave it a few more taps. No power up. It’s fine, this had happened before. I decided to wait for the wrench to warm up.
After a few minutes, I looked down at the wrench and thought I’d give it another try, so up I went to the control panel and gave it a nice tapping. Nothing. The wrench should have worked by now. I began to sweat. There was no way I could get out of this. In all my years as a mechanic I’ve never actually fixed anything. I’ve relied on the wrench for everything. They agreed to pay me two million for this gig. I have to solve this. But how? They said it was a power interrupt. What about that room that nobody goes into? Maybe the problem is in there?
I called Mr. Wissenschaftmann into the room and asked him to take me to The Room to see if the problem was there. He hesitated, and I said the problem wasn’t with anything in the control room. He shuffled nervously and finally agreed on the condition that I made precise notes of all things I touched. The room has an airlock, because of the environmental control. I went into the first room, and the door closed behind me, then the second door opened and I immediately saw the source of the problem.
A large, clearly mutated rat was gnawing at the main power cable. I was tapping the wrong thing. I quietly took my wrench and walked at a snail’s pace up to the rat. It must not have heard me because of the loud fans in the room. I gave it a tap-tap on the head and it rolled over dead. Through the noise, I heard the LHC start up. I grabbed the rat by its rope-thick tail and dragged it out of The Room. Mr. Wissenschaftmann nearly went as white as his lab coat when he saw it.
“You could’ve saved two million dollars and just called an exterminator,” I said dropping the large rat in front of him.
“This was the problem? How did this rat get so big?” he asked.
“Must’ve been hit by too many particles. I’d suggest regular maintenance of that room. You should go in there at least once a month to check on everything. All that cable needs is some electrical tape and you’re good to go,” I said.
Mr. Wissenschaftmann pulled a cheque out from his lab coat. It was for the two million I had sleepily bargained for earlier that morning. The entire process had taken me not even an hour. Easiest two million I’ve ever made.
Thanks to Aura Wilming