Emporium of Awesome – Chapter One

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CHAPTER ONE – INTRO

James had been working for his best friend Tommy for just over three years now at his shop.  The Emporium of Awesome was a Geeks paradise. Tommy had a knack for not only finding older collectibles of pop culture past, but in the best of conditions and at very reasonable prices.  He was so good at it that people would just tell him what they wanted and how much they were willing to pay and he would go on the hunt.

The day had ended and James had just finished locking up the front doors of the Emporium.  It was a nice place by most standards, especially those of a hobby/game shop. At two stories is was a large structure in and of itself.  The fact that it housed a large nerd habitat was a bonus. He turned and walked past the large row of counters and display cases that lined the front of the building, only breaking for the doors and the restrooms in a far corner.

He made his way towards the center, where the only separate room stood, aside from rooms on the East side for storage.  The retail area looked like chaos but was actually quite organized. Tommy had done a lot of research on retail layout. It was set up based on genre, that meant the old and new things were together.  Sci Fi, Fantasy, Video games, whatever it was, it was next to its brethren. Almost 4000 square feet was designated to the array of merchandise, and in some spots almost all twelve feet to the ceiling was full as well.

More than once each day a sales associate had to bring the ladder out to accommodate a customer’s desire to get some obscure piece that was high up.  Even Andre the Giant would have a hard time getting the authentic WWF Heavyweight Belt that was hanging from the ceiling in a glass case. They had joked on several occasions that they should clear out the area and have an actual ladder match for it.  But the price said no, as it was signed by over a dozen greats who had actually held the title.

James reached the structure in the middle.  It was the small diner Tommy had installed to cater to the mobs that frequented their establishment for events.  Hungry geeks could get restless and it was a good revenue stream. The usual prepackaged food was fine, but Tommy wanted to stand apart so he had an actual kitchen put in and hired a real cook.  No one along the lines of Gordan Ramsey, but someone who could make damn good burgers and other comfort foods.

James entered the diner, which could seat just over twenty in the dining space.  He went behind the counter and grabbed a couple of beverages from the cooler. He had a long night ahead of him.  It was the end of the month and he had to do the books. His favorite time. The exit at the back of the kitchen led him to the area where all the wargamers played their chosen battles.  To his right was a large area for the card gamers to throw down, at its peak it could hold one hundred of them.

That was one reason that he brought James on, to do the actual day to day stuff.  James had no problem with it. Tommy was good at the hunt and it took a while to do just that, or so James assumed.  So he ran the actual store and corresponded with the customers to hand off the request off to his boss so he could go forth and find the treasures in the world.

It wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but the pay was good and he had benefits, which was unusual for a job at basically an oversized game shop but he wasn’t complaining.   There was a lot of stuff going on that James didn’t really understand though. Then again, he came on kind of late in the game. Tommy had started the business about ten years earlier as a seller on ebay, then moved to the internet where he exploded.

Then he got a small area to keep his stuff and ship from.  He had added the storefront just over five years ago and was doing very well.  James’s job was to run the store and ship items out all over the world to people that wanted the nerdy items of yesteryear.  They really didn’t deal in newer items, since Tommy didn’t really see them as collectible or worth the effort since all the other shops in the world had access to them as well.  With no room to negotiate price he felt it was better to stay with the older stuff as long as he could find it.

They were current with a lot of the games though.  TSR’s Dungeon’s and Dragon’s was the top RPG and had been running on its 3rd edition from 2001.  The Open gaming license idea was brilliant and a whole sub-industry of companies had started around it.  Magic the Gathering was still huge as well. The start up Wizards of the Coast had a nice robust program for stores that carried their product.  Both of the men were fans of the game and had picked it up shortly after it had come out. James had taken a few years off when he went to college, but Tommy had given him a playset of everything when he came to work for him.

It seemed Tommy had done well for himself in the realm of geek.  He was also a Nerd though. The two had known each other almost forty years.  They had grown up living next to each other and even gone to school for a few years.  That all changed one day when Tommy’s parents decided to let him skip a grade. They still hung out all the time after school though.  This lasted a couple of years before Tommy ended up going to some magnet school for smart kids. He graduated high school at 16 and went to college.

They still kept in touch and hung out a lot when he was home from school, which wasn’t often though since he went all year long.  So just his breaks. Tommy went on to graduate school for computer stuff at 19, but then they lost touch. James had lost track of him for a few years after that as he finished school and went to college to get a business degree.  He ended up teaching though when his aspirations to take over Wall Street didn’t manifest though.

In truth he did have a bit of success, but the high stress level was not his thing.  So h had packed it in and moved back home to manage a small branch of a local bank. It wasn’t fancy, but it paid the bills and wasn’t going to give him a heart attack anytime soon.  It was around that time that he found Tommy on social media and they began to reconnect. Tommy was out on the West Coast doing freelance work for some of the newer tech companies as a fixer.  He would come in when they were stuck on projects and help them work through it.

He had been offered a number of nice jobs but said he liked working as a tech gun for hire.  It made him feel important. But he was getting sick of it. A couple of years after that he moved back home.  It was the same time that he decided he needed a home base to operate his growing online enterprise. From there they hooked back up in real life and that led to James getting hired.  It was nice actually. The two of them spent many a night sitting around being nostalgic for the past and playing games way to late over a couple of beers.

The job wasn’t that difficult, but there was a lot going on, not to mention he oversaw a staff of about twelve.  That might seem like a lot for a game store/comic store, but they did a lot of business online, so they had 5 people in the warehouse shipping alone.  An IT guy to keep up the site, two that listed things in the system and four that worked the actual store. The facility itself was two stories. The store area was almost 10,000 square feet, and half of that was dedicated to display space for all the regular product.  Play space made up the rest. Their events were usually large. The daily games had a lot of people too, but they ran about half a dozen events a day.

Tommy believed in large payouts so they usually took a loss on the daily events, and especially the big ones.  His philosophy was simple though, take a loss on the events and the people will love you and do most of their shopping there.  Not to mention they would be in the place for a while and Tommy had added a small café to the place, so all the snacks and drinks more than made up for any losses they incurred.

Most of the income came from online though, or the rare occasion that someone came in and picked up one of the high-ticket items.  Tommy usually had a few display cases filled with top notch nerd relics. He hunted for the requests that he received, but he also found good deals all the time as well and showcased them in the store for all to gawk over.  There had been much debate over the years as to what his own personal collection might look like. It was also usually on James mind, as he had never seen it. The second story of the building was apartments, where Tommy and James both lived, and James knew that there wasn’t a lot of room in any of the units for a huge collection.

What he did know was that aside from the additional 10,000 square foot warehouse attached to the place, which Tommy had custom built to his own specs, there was a basement as well.  The thing was, no one was allowed down there and the door had more locks than the bank he used to work at. It was either a huge nerd collection, a CIA black site, or Nuclear Silo. But it was where Tommy spent a lot of his time when he was there.  In any case the business was thriving and James wasn’t going to complain.

It was nice to work there and he was even getting a bit more active socially than he had been before.  There had been plenty of girlfriends over the years, but they were mostly in the circles that he traveled, which until he worked here had been in finance.  They were nice, but there was always something missing. He grew up a nerd and still loved all the things that he did as a kid, plus so much more. But he wanted that same love of geekdom in anyone he was with.

Sure they had some fandom in common with him like a trekkie or a star wars fan, but he wanted them to like them all, just like him.  Maybe his standards were too high, or he was just scared to end up like his parents. Amanda had started coming to the shop within the last six months.  She was a graduate student at one of the local colleges. She was getting her Masters of Fine Arts there. She wanted to be a writer, to be more exact a Sci-Fi writer.  That caught James’s attention as soon as he heard it.

Later this night they were supposed to go out on their first date.  He was hurrying to get all the paperwork done so that he would have time to get ready.  He would even if he took his normal amount of time, but he wanted to make sure he looked his best.  He felt this was the one. At least he thought so, or hoped so. In any case he didn’t want to blow it because of something stupid like BO.  He was wrapping up the ordering for the week when a knock came at the door. It was Tommy.

“What’s up boss?” James said.

“I told you not to call me that.”

“I know, but I like to rub ya the wrong way from time to time.”

“I have some bad news.”

James paused a moment to assess the look on his friend’s face to make sure he was being serious.  He saw nothing to indicate he wasn’t. His stomach started to kick in with butterflies. Tommy was never too serious, he was a jovial guy.  A little bigger than he should be, but always in good spirits. When he said something was bad news the only thing James could do was prepare for the worst.  “What is it?”

Tommy walked over to the desk and places an article that had been clipped from the paper on it.  James picked it up and looked:

SILICON VALLEY PIONEER TODD MATHERSON DEAD AT 74

Inside his mind, James breathed a sigh of relief.  Not that he didn’t have a twinge of sadness at the news, but it wasn’t really that bad.  “I’m sorry man.”

“Well he was getting older, it was bound to happen.”

Todd Matherson had been Tommy’s idol from an early age.  The man was a legend in the tech industry. Rumor had it he attended Cal Tech in the late 70s and got his PhD in computers in less than two years.  He had been given his BS when, in a gathering of all the computer department, he built a state of the art system (at the time) in front of them and then proceeded to give the University the patent.  He just asked them to award a scholarship to 5 up and coming computer majors each year and let him have the chance to hire them first when they graduated. The school agreed and netted over one billion dollars from the tech before the patent expired.

There were many more stories about the man through the years as well, he always seemed to be at the right place at the same time.  James quickly scanned the rest of the obit before looking back at Tommy. “It says here he had no family. That is kind of sad, a man that accomplished.  No picture though, that is weird.”

“Yeah, there are no known pictures of the man.  I was actually wondering if you wanted to join me for the funeral.”

James looked at him oddly.  Had Tommy reached out and befriended the old genius? “I guess, I mean I know he was your idol and all.”

“He was more than that.”

“A mentor?”

“This may sound weird and totally out there, but he was actually me, or more like I was him.  I invented Todd back in 1974 and created his legacy.”

James took another moment to see if Tommy was being serious.  No signs that he wasn’t. But he must be. Todd Matherson was born in 1953, Tommy in 1974.  There was no way…….

“Before you even ask, yes I invented a time machine and used it to do what I just said.”

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