Cliff accepted the Doubler with a confidence that surprised him.
The task and time frame seemed easy enough, especially after reviewing the in-app map directions. Three hours to get uptown from Union Square to Grant's Tomb, where it looked like he only needed to... Take photo of sarcophagi and upload. Weird, but doable. He made another promise to himself that this one would be his last Doubler on his current Streak. Things were getting out of hand.
He'd spent the last hour in the Barnes and Noble on the north side of the park, rifling through the acknowledgement sections of a bunch of kids books. He'd been tasked with assembling a list of literary agents for some presumably lousy writer who wanted to find an agent and probably never would. Writing seemed like a pretty tough way to make a buck. They should all just be Doubling like me.
He stepped outside the talismanic double doors of the book empire into blustery late afternoon shadows. December. Cliff shivered and stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets.
As he crossed 17th into the park, a frenetic cyclist nearly clipped his shoulder, probably on her own Streak. Cliff slipped into the smattering of vendors still closing up shop from the farmer's market. Beyond Honest Abe, on the other side of the park, was the recently re-conjured labyrinthine holiday market. Cliff avoided that side of Union Square, especially during Christmastime. Too much time spent in those weird colored cattle pen checkout lines at the Eagle Foods Marketplace. Wagon Wheel's was even worse. He never accepted a Doubler involving food anymore. You had to make rules for yourself in this game, or you'd never make it.
His phone buzzed twice. Two hours and fifty-five minutes left. He always set a 5 minute repeat alarm during a task. He gazed at the coffee shop to his right.
Let me get uptown, complete this Doubler, and I'll find somewhere good to eat, maybe pizza... or no, pad thai... no, no, chicken and waffles. And unlimited coffee.
The subway was an obvious choice, especially at this hour. The directions in DoubleDutch confirmed as much. Take the N to 42nd, switch to the 1, and just don't forget to get off at 125th St. In a stroke of continued luck, the N train arrived as he reached the platform.
Cliff slid into the puffy-coated sardines on the train and managed to wriggle his hand and phone high enough to tap out a search: Grant's Tomb.
Might as well learn something on the job. It wasn't like he was going to be a Doubler forever. What Cliff really wanted to do was coach high-school cross country. But he knew he probably had to be a teacher, too, to get a job at a decent school. History seemed like the best bet, though gym class was also tempting. His plans with DoubleDutch were temporary. Survive one or two Streaks into the teens, and he'd have enough dough to get an apartment somewhere in Jersey near a good school with a decent running program.
But then this Streak happened.
Cliff was now on his 18th task in a row, which meant he had $262,144 on the line. He could have easily -- probably should have -- stopped after the Barnes and Noble thing and walked away with $131,072, which was an insane, life-changing amount of money for anyone. Forget teaching, he'd be able to open his own running store. But this next task seemed so oddly do-able. Cliff could double his earnings for taking a photo of a dead President and his wife in their creepy cemetary museum thing on the Hudson River.
Every doubler knew their powers of 2 by heart. Two more tasks beyond this one and $1,048,576... Stop it, Cliff! He was also an active /r/double-dutch-app lurker. Nobody was getting Streaks anywhere near approaching double-digits. If there were no nearby tasks, you just had to accept your fee and wait for another task to start your Streak over at $2. You could also just decline the next task - the app gave you 30 seconds to review and either accept or not.
And nobody had ever been offered a Streak past 13. Sure, the company's website touted the possibility of becoming a millionaire in a few days work, which drew all sorts of strange souls to the app. Twenty tasks in a row and boom - you're rich! But Cliff had never seen or heard of anyone getting past $8,192 in a Streak.
But something was happening.
A glitch in their codebase? A Christmas miracle? Was Cliff the only Doubler with such luck right now? He glanced around the crowed, and squeezed his phone tighter.
When he hopped out at 125th Street, it was nearly nighttime.
What if Grant's Tomb isn't open right now?
Terror seized Cliff. He broke out into a dead sprint to the river. He took a left at Dinosaur BBQ and soon saw the back of the domed tomb in Riverside Park.
Thank you, Santa.
The tomb was still open.
Cliff hurried through its massive doors, still running, even though he knew he probably still had at least an hour and half left.
He found the coffins in the center of the dome, a floor below the main floor. Apparently this place was modeled off of Napoleon's tomb in France, per the Wikipedia article, which didn't make complete sense, cause wasn't Napoleon poisoned on some island in exile? But he'd lost service somewhere near Times Square and didn't have a chance to click through to the Napoleon article. Still, it was definitely a cool place to rest your bones.
Cliff laughed to himself about the Groucho Marx joke and snapped a photo of U.S. and Julia Grant, rest in peace. He was about to be rich, something that Pres. Grant would have appreciated in his final days, back when there was no federal pension for the ex-Pres's.
DoubleDutch took a moment to upload the photo. Cliff's current Streak now showed $262,144. All he needed to do was click "DONE".
But another task bubbled up, and it was located right here. The 30 second timer started.
Put on suit in the bag behind the podium at Grant's Tomb, meet SIMON WHEELER at ULYSSES Bar tomorrow at 11:23 AM. You must wear the suit so WHEELER will recognize you.
Cliff scanned the area and saw the podium. The bag was right there.
This one seems easy, too... and I'd get $524,288. A half million... his heart thrumming like a cash register.
Cliff clicked ACCEPT and opened the bag. The first thing he saw was a fluffy, white beard.
Oh god, no...
"Hey, look! It's Colonel Sanders!"
"He needs a red hat. Here take mine! There we go! It's Colonel Santa!"
Cliff was in a unfathomable sea of drunk Santas.
Most were standard drug store quality Santas, but the outliers included Batman Santa, Robot Santa, Jesus Santa, Sexy Santa, Sexy Elves, Sexy Batman Santa.
He ripped off the red hat and flung it on the ground of the cobblestones. It floated in a stream of stale beer. Cliff re-adjusted his white wig and white mustache just as two Making-Out Santas bumped into Bunny Santa, who spilled their Red Bull Vodka onto Cliff's white linen suit.
Where the hell is this Wheeler guy?
Cliff forced his way into the ULYSSES bar and nearly gagged at the smell.
This can't possibly be worth it, he thought for a second. But he knew it was.
How was he going to find this person? There were hundreds of horrible, blacked out Santas in this bar. The fire hazard status was out of control. At least that Kinks Christmas song was being blasted over the crowd noises.
A hairy, bare-chested, balding Santa called him over to the bar.
Cliff reached the man. "Are you Wheeler?"
"That's right, name's Simon Wheeler. Been a long time, old friend."
Cliff had no idea what this old guy was talking about.
"Is this it? Am I done with my task?"
"Task? Now, I recall there is a task for you. Take this here box."
The man handed Cliff a shoebox. Something inside jumped.
Cliff pushes it back to Wheeler.
"What the hell is this?"
"Smiley's frog. He ketched him good and trained him in jumping. Don't you remember nothing, Clemens? I told yer all about it once."
"My name is Cliff." Cliff forced the box into Wheeler's hands and opened the DoubleDutch app. The task was marked as complete now. $524,288 was waiting to transfer to his bank account in 1-3 annoying days. Time to get rid of this loser and end the Streak.
"Cliff? I heard you were going by a difference penname these days."
This guy actually thinks I'm Mark Twain.
Wheeler grabbed Cliff's shoulder.
"I ain't what I used to be, in terms of traveling. So, what I need of you is to take this fine creature back to Smiley in time to train it for the jumping competition. Jim'll be waitin' for yer at the tavern in Angels Camp in six days. You know the place."
The DoubleDutch app showed 23 seconds left in the current offer, with a map headed cross the country from New York City to Angels Camp, California.
"No way, man," said Cliff. This guy was clearly hammered out of his gourd. Cliff raised his phone to officially end his streak and collect his half-mil when a Wonder Woman Santa grabbed his phone out of his hands.
"Hey - can you take a pic of me and my friends with this? I dropped my phone in the toilet."
Cliff snatched the phone back from her with holy fury.
She'd clicked ACCEPT. She'd clicked ACCEPT. She'd... clicked... ACCEPT.
The DoubleDutch task timer now showed 5 days, 23 hours, and 56 seconds.
Cliff turned back to Wheeler at the bar.
"Gimme that frog."