Duties of the Wind

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by Dan Crawford

Duties of the Wind

by Dan Crawford

Dan Crawford wrote three novels in the Nineties which led to a lot of “Whatever became of this guy” posts online.  His short stories are often to be found in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and his poems, alas, can be listened to on YouTube.

 

 

All good?” called the captain.
“All is good,” Waldo replied. Freddy had doubts about this, but kept them to himself.

Saturday at midnight, right?” The captain’s inquiry was not a question but a reminder.

Correct,” said Waldo.

The barge began to move from the dock. “Good luck,” called the captain, turning his attention to the dark waterway.

Waldo raised his eyebrows at Freddy, and turned without a word for the warehouse. Freddy followed quickly. Without the captain’s armed assistants, the dock was no place to linger.

Once inside, Freddy locked the door, and looked out across the array of skids, most of them empty now, and their car. Waldo’s footsteps echoed through the dim acreage as he hastened to check the locks on the other doors.

Satisfied, he returned to the car and Freddy. “I believe we have been earning a fine dinner, Frederick. This might not, however, be the best time or place to be seeking a secluded café.”

Freddy nodded. He had spent a lot of time in such neighborhoods. Human predators would prowl now until one or two in the morning. Much better to dine within the walls of a good, tight warehouse. He opened the front passenger door and reached into the glove compartment for rations. Two salted peanut rolls would have to do. Freddy preferred Baby Ruth, but this was not the kind of weather for chocolate storage.

He handed one to Waldo. “Thank you, Frederick. I am hoping we have not been working for peanuts.”

Waldo’s ability to establish a (fictional) right to unload the warehouse, brandishing an old document, two baseball cards from 1973 and a scurrilous postcard from 1911, had impressed even the captain of the barge pirates. The pirates had provided security for the loading of their rather large share of the old hoarders’ treasures. Now relieved of the edgy presence of professional large-scale hijackers, Waldo and Frederick were in command of a vast warehouse

filled with wooden pallets, most of them now empty. Freddy felt that having parted ways with the pirates while still alive was a fair reward on its own.

Waldo swallowed the first bite of his dinner. “And so we are having custody of this space until Saturday. I am believing we had best prepare for departing by Friday at noon.”

The pair of them had done as much moving of skids as the pirate’s regular crew. Freddy ached to lie down, but as he consumed his entrée, curiosity overcame weariness. Putting the last of his supper in his mouth, he got up and pulled one of the small ladders over to a pallet with boxes on it.

The warehouse’s last legal tenant had been a speculator who bought large lots of “new old stock”, store stock which had sat neglected in other warehouses or shop basements until they passed from obsolescence to collectability. Comic books, action figures, even greeting cards had been identifiable by their cartons and crates as they were loaded onto the barges. The five pallets of stock which had been set aside for them held two different designs of crate, as far as Freddy could tell. Their payment for unobstructed use of the warehouse during looting was a good quantity of two somethings. The plan now was to sell enough in the next few days to pay for a truck to take the rest elsewhere and finish selling it.

Long old cardboard boxes labeled with a row of figures which meant nothing dominated four of the skids. From the top, after he’d gone six steps up the ladder, Freddy could see a new row of letters and numbers on the lids which meant as much as the ones on the sides of the cartons. At a nod from Waldo, he took out his knife and opened the top of the carton on the corner.

Inside the box, as he had expected, he found smaller boxes. These were also undeniably old but cleaner than the outer carton, each about two feet square by a bit less than that deep. He eased one out from among its brothers, noting with approval that there was no dampness or mold sticking them together. The knife slid carefully along the tape, in case the box itself should be collectible.

Ragged paper met his eyes. He pulled this aside. “And the prize inside, Frederick?” called Waldo, from the base of the ladder.

Antique kitchen bowls, Waldo. Metal ones.” He steadied the box on those underneath and used both hands to bring the bowl fully into view. “With one handle.”

Waldo, frowning, reached up to take the grey antique from Freddy. His frown deepened. “These are being chamberpots, Frederick.” He flicked the rim with a finger. “Tin chamberpots. Not an attractive material for so common an object and not….” He held the pot away from him and eyed it critically. “Not a very effective or elegant design. But sometimes the unsuccessful is being the more collectible.” He looked back up at Freddy. “There might be a matching tin pitcher and basin.”

Freddy opened two more boxes. “I think they’re all pots.” He looked at the other pallets, with their boxes bearing identical numbers. “I think these will all be pots.”

I am thinking the captain may well have had an inventory he was not seeing fit to mention to us, Frederick.” His eyes turned to the fifth skid, with its newer cartons. “And perhaps our fortune is still awaiting our attention.”

Freddy climbed down and dragged the ladder to the last skid. These cartons were bigger than the others and, as it turned out, contained many much smaller boxes. He brought one carton down to floor level, where it would be less awkward. The little boxes were of flimsy green and yellow cardboard. Freddy deftly pried up the lid of the first without tearing it where it fitted into the sides. This was certainly some collectible knick knack. Rustling the inner paper aside, he raised a small statuette.

Oh!” said Waldo. It did not sound to Freddy like a “Good job. Frederick: you found our millions!” oh.

The statue showed a small round-cheeked, open-mouthed boy falling off a pony. His waistband had gotten caught on the saddlehorn, and he was struggling, upside-down, to pull his pants back up over his exposed buttocks. The box, now that Freddy could slide it out and read the side, declared this to be Drawer Droop 131: Pony Ride.

The one next to it said Drawer Droop 132: Picking Apples. This contained a small girl, falling off the branch of a short tree. Her jeans were caught on the limb and, upside-down, she was struggling to pull them back up over her bottom. Like the boy, her mouth was open in a huge O.

I am having a sad, sorry feeling those will all be turning out to be Drawer Droops, Frederick,” sighed Waldo.

Freddy tucked the boxes away. “I never heard of Drawer Droops,” he noted.

Not a matter for astonishment. Once on a time, these were numbered collectibles. But the world is always turning around, Frederick. Now, as well be handing yourself in as a sexual predator as trying to sell one.” He put his hands on his hips. “Chamberpots and carved buttocks: it is a world, Frederick, which is valuing its own cheap sense of irony over the ingenuity of human beings.”

Waldo reached into a pocket and brought out a small phone in a tattered rubber case. “How much easier selling was before the days of the Interwebs, Frederick! The treasure map, with its coded message being so impossibly hard to read we were reduced to selling it for a pittance to some sympathetic soul who had no wish to embarrass us by pointing out the letters were backward. Five of those we were selling in a week. Now the customer googles and tweets and gives us a complete translation, wishing us luck.”

Maybe they’re expensive online, Waldo.” Freddy nodded to the phone.

Waldo, having settled onto the floor, his back against the cardboard boxes still stacked, tapped at the screen. “Here we are finding an optimistic soul who thinks he can sell a tin chamberpot for $20.” He tapped some more. “And we find two which actually sold, one for $3 and one for $2.”

Freddy reached for his own phone. “If we started listing on every site now….”

Waldo shook his head. “We are having only a few days, Frederick. Flooding the market is only depressing prices while increasing our labor, if any, in packaging and mailing. And we have only, as I am remembering….” He patted his pocket. “Three dollars and twenty-seven cents. That might be purchasing tape and labels for a few packages, of course.”

He rested the back of his head on the cartons. “Ah, the days before the Interwebs, Frederick! Are you recalling those baseballs signed by legends of the past: small names, names hardly remembered, so the suspicion that we were carrying pens ourselves would make the public laugh.” He sighed again. “Now they can be quick at once looking up each player’s website, his autograph, and his fan club.”

He looked into his phone. “One Drawer Droop has sold in six months, for fifty cents. And no doubt the buyer’s name and address are on some government list now. And here….” He tapped the phone and frowned. “Or….” He tapped some more. “There are no other listings. On the Interwebs, Frederick, where everything is for sale at once and so little sells.” He set his phone on one knee. “All one can be selling efficiently online today are rumors and conspiracy theories.”

His optimism fading fast, Freddy really needed eight to twelve hours of sleep now. “Maybe in the morning we can find a way to sell them, Waldo. You could start a rumor that Drawer Droops have a treasure map inside.”

Waldo closed his eyes. “Do not make me think of where I would be inserting such a map, Frederick, I beg of you. Selling tin chamberpots as Steel Drum Learning Kits is seeming equally attractive.”

Freddy nodded, but reminded Waldo, “You always say ‘Value is in the eye of the customer’.”

“If we can attracting that eye, Frederick. By Friday. There are so many….” He raised his eyes from the phone, and his voice changed. “We have been doing much work this long day, Frederick, and we must not forget that we are breathing still, which was causing me some concern earlier. Why not sleeping a bit, Frederick, while I see what we can be making of these treasures?”

Freddy, suppressing a yawn, walked to the car. He always slept in the front seat on these occasions, in a position from which he could slide into a driving position if emergency overtook them. “You need sleep, too.”

It is being unhealthy, Frederick, to nap so soon after a large meal.” Waldo nodded to the car. “I will be seeking answers among the Interwebs a little while longer.”

Freddy was a little tall for their current vehicle, but, having squeezed himself into the seat and pulled the door shut, found no difficulty in dropping into oblivion. Always on the alert, he woke up at the sound of the back door opening. He thought he heard Waldo chuckle. It was a comforting sound, and he slept without further disturbance.

In the morning, he found Waldo awake again, sitting near an outlet with the phone plugged in. Freddy stretched some of the kinks out of his compressed muscles and asked, “Should I go out and find breakfast, Waldo? There could be a store with yesterday’s bakery on special.”

Waldo glanced up and then turned his eyes back to the little screen. “Be lingering longer a while yet, Frederick.” His voice was dreamy, soft. “Bring viands from the car, Frederick. I believe we shall be dining more sumptuously by dinnertime, if not at lunch.”

Freddy ate his salted nut roll with some enthusiasm. Waldo’s voice told him the solution had been found, and they would get more for yesterday’s work than a snooze in the old warehouse. He was nearly awake enough to inquire about details when there came a knock at one of the doors away from the dock.

Waldo rose. “This may be lunch money calling. Accompanying me, Frederick, please. You are acting as security for this highly valuable inventory.”

The knock, which involved three short knocks, two long ones, and a short one, sounded again, more loudly this time.

By now Waldo was at the door. “And the password?” he called.

Alligator Repellent!”

At Waldo’s nod, Freddy opened the door to a man wearing overalls with a plaid shirt. From his chin drooped thin wispy whiskers, though he didn’t look to be more than forty or so.

His air was that of a man whose time was not to be wasted. “I’ve come for the…you’ll know.”

His eyes threw a challenge at Waldo. “I do,” said Waldo. “Following me to our discovery, if you please.”

The man followed Waldo. Freddy locked the door and followed in the rear. The man’s head turned a little, taking in the vast emptiness of the warehouse as they walked to the skids.

These have, as I said, been lost to history through neglect, and this is why they are waiting here to serve our needs.” Waldo took him to the open carton of chamberpots, and lifted one of the tin bowls from its box. “This is of course, by way of being a floor model. You will receive an unopened carton from stock.”

It looks good.” The man looked from the pot to its box and, without warning, threw out a hand to the paper that had wrapped the chamberpot. “And that isn’t new. I believe you’ve found the genuine article.”

I am believing it,” Waldo told him.

The man handed the pot back to Waldo and reached back to draw out a worn leather wallet. “Let me have one. I may be back for more.”

Freddy could not see what the man handed Waldo, but it looked nice folded together. Waldo took an unopened box from the carton. “Do not be hesitating long, sir. We must be disposing of these quickly, ere the authorities are learning about this.”

Too true,” said the customer. A cautious man, he pulled open the top of the box and shifted the paper to make sure he was getting a tin chamberpot. “Ah! Thank you!”

Freddy followed to let him out. Climbing into the front of a battered station wagon loaded with what seemed to be scrap lumber, he settled behind the wheel and then, to Freddy’s surprise, took the chamberpot out of the box and settled it upside down on his head. Tilting it back at a rakish angle, he grinned, waved at Freddy, and drove away toward town.

Locking the door again, he returned to Waldo, who held up three twenties. “As you were saying, Frederick: the value is in the eye of the customer.”

It was on Frederick’s lips to inquire what was in the customer’s eyes that Freddy wasn’t seeing when that peculiar knock came at the door again. It was a gentler knock now, not so demanding.

He unlocked the door to a short, middle-aged woman. She looked up at Freddy, a little breathless. “I need five,” she announced. “I’ve got a husband and kids.”

Not so loudly, madame,” warned Waldo, from inside the warehouse. “One 9s not knowing who may overhear.”

She followed the voice, and Waldo took two steps forward to meet her and hand over the sample chamberpot. She turned it left and right. “Do they come in different sizes?”

Alas, madame. The manufacturers were not foreseeing our desperate need.”

“Well, we need them,” she replied, and brought up her purse to count out a number of bills.

Waldo handed one back to her. “We are having a quantity discount: Service, not profit, is being our goal.” Freddy was impressed. Waldo knew his business…whatever it was today.

Waldo,” he said, after helping the lady to her car with the five boxes. “What are we selling?”

“The most profitable merchandise one is finding on the Interwebs, Frederick: rumors and theories.” He handed Freddy his phone. “A tweet here, a text there, a small website, and business is bustling to our door.”

Freddy peered at the little screen and learned to his amazement that the Bottrill Chamberpot was not obsolete but suppressed. The manufacturers of an unsuccessful tin chamberpot did not realize what they had done, being unaware of the quiet alien invasion of Earth during the First World War. But those pioneer aliens quickly realized that this particular combination of material and design would guard human brains from all their telepathic commands, and, further, reveal them through their assumed humanoid state. Moving quickly, the secret aliens bought up the stock and salted it away.

But with the passage of time, and competing strains of alien invaders, the cache had been forgotten until rediscovered by benevolent humans. For a short time, until the secret reptilian immigrants saw the website and realized what had happened, the vigilance of the alligator-like dictators had lapsed. For only a few days, a few speedy earthlings could take advantage of the longlost technology.

“Bottrill,” said Freddy. He couldn’t remember the name on box or pot.

“A gentle remembering of a high school government teacher of my bygone days.”

Waldo nodded as Freddy looked up from the page. “Tell them a story they are already knowing and wanting to believe, Fredrick. That is being the key.”

The phone chirped. Waldo took it back and tapped at it. He studied the screen. “An email about selling in bulk. Is it being too soon for that? But we must be gone by Friday.”

He began to tap. “Regrettable it would be, surely, to be allowing one group to be hogging all this equipment.”

The phone chirped again not long after he had sent his message. “He is wishing to see the merchandise, Frederick. And seven or eight other members would like to be….”

Waldo looked up from the screen to the warehouse. “Certainly having the space.”

He set the phone down and took the wad of bills from his pocket. He looked them over for a moment, and then held them out to Freddy.

You had best fetching refreshments whilst I am about straightening things up here.” He waved a hand in the air. “You will be understanding the sort of thing, Frederick: the manner of reception we were hosting in enviable old Bozeman, Montana. Beverage, a cheese tray, some brie, a sausage tray, crudités, perhaps shrimp, if ice is available and perhaps, for us, under the napkin, a hot pastrami sandwich.”

Freddy took the money and nodded. He had done this often enough to know the rules. No alcoholic beverages, though these might increase the take, because one could never be certain of all the local laws. The smell of the dock inclined him against shrimp trays, though, ice or no ice. “Sheet cake?” he inquired.

A good thought.” Freddy started to go, but Waldo put a hand on his arm. Reaching into a pocket, Waldo produced the rest of the change in their treasury. “And filling the gas tank first of all, Frederick. In case these turn out to be busybodies from law enforcement.”

Freddy had to drive for a while to find a more gentrified neighborhood, but parts of the waterfront were being developed for tourists, and he was eventually able to locate a gas station and a grocery of decent size. There was time, on his return, to enjoy his sandwich before anyone else arrived.

While he was away, Waldo had rearranged a number of the cardboard cartons, making a row of open ones for easy access (and to some degree forming a wall between customers and sellers). Somewhere, he had turned up reasonably clean white plastic sheets to use as tablecloths atop a stack of empty wooden skids.

Soon the buffet was assembled, beverage cans and bottles in a big bowl of ice. “Now,” said Waldo, tossing the wrapper from his sandwich into a cardboard box he had selected to be the wastebasket, “We shall be seeing what is showing itself. If a customer is arriving before our main party, Frederick, we will not wrestling them away from the cheese and cauliflower.”

But there were no knocks at the door for nearly an hour. Freddy started to wonder if some part of the plan had miscarried, but was much encouraged by the first arrivals in very expensive suits. “Protective League,” they whispered, once they had gained admittance with “Alligator repellent.”

Freddy had some experience with men in suits, and could not believe these suits went even with high-level law enforcement. A slight disdain showed in their faces for the non-alcoholic beverages, but the quality of the cheese seemed to cheer them, and they commented to Waldo about the freshness of the vegetables. For some time, Freddy had to keep hurrying back to answer knocks at the door. He was surprised to recognize one or two faces he had seen on television but did not allow any other than an expression of welcome to show on his face. Waldo had taught him to treat a customer as a customer.

Waldo, however, was less than pleased. When more than a dozen guests had gathered at the buffet, he stepped aside to murmur, “Being on alert, Frederick. There are appearing faces here which should not be here.”

One man greeted the guests as they arrived; he had been about the fourth to come in himself. Freddy was sure he had seen this tall man with wavy hair and a white suit, but couldn’t quite place him. His cheerful, booming voice was perfect for a late-night infomercial or a Sunday morning sermon.

The buffet was considerably emptier by the time this fellow walked over to Waldo and said, “I believe everybody who’s coming is here. Want to tell us what we need to know?”

Waldo bowed a bit, and stepped to a spot behind the buffet and the row of cartons where the bare bulb overhead highlighted him.

Good people of Earth!” he called, his voice echoing around the roof. The audience was hushed at once by the boom.

We are gathering here to discuss the discoveries we have been making in the matter of the Bottrill Chamberpot!” he called, and raised one from its box. He held this aloft for the audience (most of whom had been picking up chamberpots since they arrived and started to eat at the buffet) to admire. The audience duly admired it as Waldo shifted it on his palm until the handle had gone all the way around once.

Never once were the manufacturers guessing what a weapon of resistance they were producing,” he said. “But we were learning this, alas, too late to prevent their suppression! Now the dreaded invaders forgetting their plans have been allowing us access once more. And we can be exploiting this moment of weakness!”

He brought the chamberpot down and took the handle with his free hand. “I could challenging the identity of many a supposed citizen walking the sidewalks. I can be checking now!”

He flipped the pot over and raised it to his head but, as the audience watched, spellbound, he drew it away again.

But I am seeing you for what you are, without this device!” Even Freddy could hardly have taken his eyes from Waldo’s face now. “True patriots I am seeing, not fooled by alien schemings or dreamings! You do not need such things!” He thrust the pot out of sight into the box, and the audience shifted its feet a bit, as confused as Freddy by this declaration.

Waldo turned away from them, but came around to face them once more. “What you are being, my friends, is men and women who care! Though you do not need help in seeing through disguises, you care what your friends and families can see. And you welcome this opportunity to show them!”

Freddy, as was his wont, looked around the audience. The leader of the group was grinning approval and appreciation. The others watched nearly unblinking. Waldo had done it again. He saw no doubt in any face, nor any sales resistance.

Fellow protectors!”

Waldo appeared to welcome the interruption by the group leader, who stepped around the buffet to join him.

What our friend and guide tells us is the truth! You know what must be our response to his offer of assistance!” And from a pocket of his big, loose suit he drew what looked like a large green lemon juicer. Freddy felt certain it was not a lemon juicer. Another appeared from a purse next to him, and he could feel the point of a third in his back.

We had not heard of these tin helmets before, but our mission is only a few years old, so we had no notion of the visitors who were wise enough to hide these away. What those who came before us did, we also can do.”

The room went out of focus for a moment; when he could see clearly again, Freddy knew the customers had assumed their true forms. They were not at all reptilian. The faces reminded Freddy of the time he and Waldo found they had bought boxes of crushed rabbit hand puppets: huge noses, flattened foreheads, ears hanging back down behind them. They had made a modest profit rebranding them as Flurpy Bunnies.

All we need do is neutralize these threats.” The leader seemed suddenly a little less confident—or maybe it was just that Freddy didn’t know how to read those huge brown eyes. The big rabbitish man looked across the audience and then to the pallets. “Our mission is nonviolent, but we cannot afford witnesses to our identities.”

He seemed to be looking for approval. Frederick thought he saw concern in the furry faces, and heard no cheers of acclaim.

We must….” The leader looked around the big room once more. His head stopped moving abruptly. Big eyes grew bigger, regarding an open carton. His mouth dropped open. “D-d-drawer Droops!”

The audience, which had been intent, lost its focus. Some faces turned toward the exit. A few aliens staggered back under the impact of the words.

What?”

Real ones? Not those knock-offs?”

The leader pocketed his weapon and, forgetting Waldo, ran to the box on the floor. He pulled out the smaller boxes, shouting, “Pony Ride! Picking Apples! Penny Lost!”

Freddy watched the crowd rush to the carton. Checking left and right, he walked, utterly unopposed, over to Waldo, who had been watching and waiting on events.

There’s no one between the car and the door if we can get….”

Waldo shook his head. “Being patient, Frederick. Survival isn’t the sole goal/”

The leader was the first to remember Waldo existed. “How did you know about our mission?” he demanded, that boom in his voice now including a tremble.

Your mission,” Waldo replied.

There are as many here as we’ve collected in five years! How could you….” The lemon juicer weapon came up again, but the fuzzy hand that held it was shaking.

It is being quite clear, good friend.” Waldo walked over and thrust out a hand. The alien commander had to put away his weapon to shake it. “We were knowing nothing whatsoever of your desire for Drawer Droops. I brought just this one skid of them from our other warehouse to offer as….”

The big fuzzy alien seemed likely to hyperventilate. “You have…more?”

At a remove of some years, I was buying the worldwide rights to sales, and the entire unsold supply,” Waldo informed him with the same confidence had had announced the usefulness of tin chamberpots. “Had I known you were seeking….”

The woman who had turned her lemon juicer on Freddy nearly shrieked, “You have….”

A warehouse this size filled with them.” Waldo waved a carefree hand. “If we can pursuing this nonviolently, selling you these and the address of the warehouse….”

The leader looked from the carton to the skid of similar cartons, and then back to Waldo. Freddy was happy not to see the lemon juicer. “And…and we could take the hats as well?”

To think I planned to be giving Drawer Droops to customers with bulk purchases of the helmets,” sighed Waldo. “I can doing it the other way just so easily.”

The woman leaned over to the leader. “If they’re warehoused, leave them for a while and just take these to start. Better not to flood the market.”

Yes, and if there are copies of The Marooned Pirate in the warehouse….”

Waldo, meanwhile, had brought out some papers he had already prepared, and was crossing out certain lines to write in others. He had to rattle the pages near the lop ears of the leader.

Big eyes skimmed the contents. “And a confidentiality clause.” The leader nodded at the papers, and, declining Waldo’s pen, brought out his own extremely expensive one. “Very good. Now, to payment. We have learned to duplicate your money.”

Waldo raised his hands. “Not to insulting anyone, but we are not accepting paper currency under those conditions.”

No.” The leader chuckled and raised a hand. “Bring the box.” Two of the aliens stepped outside and brought in an obviously heavy cardboard box. “Had there been more of you than of us, we planned to try purchase. I apologize for the temporary threat of violence. But we have studied your money and this is negotiable anywhere.”

The top of the box was open. As the men lowered it carefully, Freddy could see the glimmer of gold. He wondered how much just the top layer would buy, if a trick was waiting below.

The leader had either thought of that or was reading Freddy’s unpotted mind. “And this is no frosting of coins with foam underneath,” said the leader, regaining his game show host voice. He reached a long arm in among the coins and raised it, showing a flash of gold wherever his hand passed. Freddy had seen tricks like this before, and watched closely. He saw no sign of

cheating, and heard no sound. The warehouse was silent, as all the aliens watched for Waldo’s response.

All is good.” Waldo waved a hand toward the skids. “You shall be having all the Drawer Droops I own, these first and the rest when you are returning.”

Soft applause from the fuzzy hands of the visitors filled the room. The leader, his face glowing, announced, “We now own the rights to all previously unsold Drawer Droops on the planet, friends! And since we need not hide our identity now, we can do this the easy way.”

He raised his arms. Waldo and Fredrick stepped back as a hot curtain of shimmering silver surrounded the guests and the five skids of their purchases. This grew bright enough to force them to cover their eyes. When it was gone, so were guests, chamberpots, and Drawer Droops, leaving empty skids, a nearly empty buffet, and one large box of gold coins.

Waldo blinked, and then stepped to the cheese tray for the last crust of brie. “It is nice to be selling the Brooklyn Bridge once again. Before they are returning for this warehouse of Drawer Droops which does not exist, we can be sending….”

Freddy came over for a cracker and a slice of sausage, smiling at Waldo’s triumph. He glanced toward the box of gold.

Waldo!”

A large brown stain had developed along a bottom corner, and something brown was spreading in a puddle on the floor. Waldo stepped quickly over to their payment, and lifted the lid. It seemed to Freddy that the level of gold had dropped.

Waldo closed the box, his voice dreamlike again. “I am wondering how business is conducted on their planet, Frederick. The coins were being chocolate ones, in foil.” He looked at the blank space on floor where once there had been cartons of chamberpots. “And their…advanced transportation is generating too much heat for that. They may not even have been understanding these things, Frederick. They never intended to cheat us.”

He sounded grieved by this. He studied the top of the box, and the leak at the corner, and made a swift professional evaluation. “Gathering what remains of the refreshments and put them into the car, Frederick. Best going before the aroma of chocolate can attracting rats.”

Freddy needed only a few of the bags he had used to bring the groceries in. Their guests had partaken freely: not a bit of cauliflower nor a single carrot remained.

Did we…make any money, Waldo? On the first sales?”

He knew the answer, for he had given Waldo the change after buying gas and refreshments. And they did still have a full gas tank and some food to go on. But he waited in hopes while Waldo counted,

Three dollars,” said Waldo. “Twenty-six cents.” He settled into the passenger seat. “We were at least lightening the planet of some cheap collectibles. Perhaps a power somewhere shall awarding us credit for that.”

Freddy wondered if that credit would buy any gas, but said nothing. He knew Waldo was thinking the same thing.

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