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But Wait.... There's More! #1

BUT WAIT…. THERE’S MORE! #1

 

by

HARVEY JACOBS

 

 

Produced by ReAnimus Press

 

Other books by Harvey Jacobs:

[+ Beautiful Soup+]

[+ Side Effects+]

[+ American Goliath+]

Coming soon: The Egg of the Glak, by Harvey Jacobs

Coming soon: The Juror, by Harvey Jacobs

But Wait…. There’s More! #2

But Wait…. There’s More! #3

 

© 2017 by Harvey Jacobs. All rights reserved.

 

http://ReAnimus.com/store?author=harveyjacobs

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

Table of Contents

JIGSAW MAN

THE BATTLE OF SANMERCI SAUVENION

THE MAN WHO CAME CLOSE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

[] JIGSAW MAN

 

He’d only known the girl in the black dress for an hour and they were already fused in a long, deep kiss. Joel Flak knew many things about himself, one being that he was definitely not the year’s sexiest man. He did project a quiet confidence and an aura of sincerity. Why not? He was certain of his abilities as a hedge fund director and he was sincere even when he sold some product to a client that he knew was far from a sure thing, a quality he thought of as sincere insincerity.

Joel could reverse gears in a blink. If he touted gold and the potential client said what he really wanted was a real estate trust, Joel would immediately enthuse and act as if real estate had been the obvious answer all along. His success in attracting investors was legendary. The man could shmooze with the best.

Joel met the girl, who called herself Sequoia, at an upscale bar, Boom & Bust, near Wall Street where Happy Hour always attracted a flock of bright beauties trolling for a stock broker or lawyer. He liked the place for its basic honesty. Everybody came to hook up quickly and smoothly. And here is was, sharing chemistry, with a gorgeous woman who’d chosen him from excellent crop of targets.

Sixty minutes later, after two martinis, their lips locked in intimate fusion, Joel was sure he’d caught lightning in a bottle. Sequoia made no pretense of being “hard to get.” He had no need to boast about his recent killing in bitcoins or his talent at milking honey from the new global economy. He actually felt deprived at not having a reason to crow about lining up deals with some of the planet’s major financial volcanoes. He didn’t have to inflate himself like a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in order to impress her. What a lucky catch she was; Sequoia’s signals were green and go with no posted speed limits.

Their kiss ended abruptly. He felt her lips crinkle like a sheet of aluminum foil. Sequoia noticed the look of surprise on Joel’s face. “It’s a new lipstick,” she told him. “From Madam Somebody-Or-Other. They must use airplane glue to make it.”

“No tragedy,” Joel said. He guessed she’d been using Botox. “I keep a spare pair of lips at my apartment. You’re welcome to use them.”

“Do you live in a penthouse with a fabulous river view? I hope so.”

“As a matter of fact I do,” Joel said. “Would you care to visit?”

“Aren’t we moving at warp speed?” Sequoia said.

“I’d love to see my air-conditioned wind toy with your hair,” Joel said.

“And I’d very much like to see your cabin in the sky, Mr…”

“Flak. Joel Flak. You?”

“Sequoia. Just Sequoia. I only have one name. We were very poor.”

Women interested in being an overnight sensation often preferred anonymity. Sequoia might be married or running for office. “One name is more than enough to work with,” Joel said.

She was obviously pleased when a quick cab ride took the couple to a high-rise on Sutton Place, looming over the East River. Joel exchanged nods with the doorman and a security guard in the lobby. He sensed them salivating over Sequoia. Their eyes glowed like burners on his electric stove. To the winner belong the spoils.

A private elevator whisked the couple to the Penthouse Floor. The elevator opened directly into Joel’s foyer. He led his magic lady through a sliding door that led to a huge living room, then guided her onto a balcony.

“A river view from a terrace wasn’t a bad guess about your nest,” Sequoia said. She took a deep breath, backed Joel into the apartment, then dropped onto a posh leather sofa and pulled him down beside her. “I’m an Upper East Side kind of girl.”

“I’m glad you like my zip code.”

“And the art. Is that a Picasso?”

“That’s what they told me.”

“This relationship is moving along nicely, Mr. Flak. Could I do another martini? I’m very demanding. High maintenance.”

“Done,” Joel said walking toward an Art Deco bar, a black marble crescent decorated with polished chrome stripping. He half-filled a shaker with chipped ice from a dispenser built into a miniature refrigerator, added a liberal splash of Tanqueray Gin and a whisper of dry vermouth. “Stirred, not shaken,” he said, mingling the contents with a glass rod, poured the drinks into frosted glasses and dropped in two olives with red Pimento eyeballs looking up at him through silver liquid.

“Stirred? Two olives? You must come from old money?” Sequoia said.

“Wrong. I’m self-made. But I do respect my ancestors.” He slid a gold box off a shelf and liberated a pair of neatly rolled joints. “Pride of Hydroponica, totally organic, gluten free,” he said, reaching into a jacket pocket for platinum Zippo lighter, snapping it open with a satisfying click, firing both joints and passing one to Sequoia along with her drink. She took a long, slow drag, kept the smoke inside herself for nearly a minute, let it flow softly out of her lungs.

Sequoia sipped her drink, went out on the balcony again. Joel watched her browse a trio of bridges spanning rippling water. Easy waves reflected the full moon. The wake from a passing ferry made the moon’s face frown, a tug’s comet trail gave it a grin. She came back to the sofa, laid her head in Joel’s lap, relaxed her body and whispered in a tiny voice, “I’ve wondered what the last piece would look like. I never imagined it would look like you, Joel Flak. No wonder it took me ages to find you. It turns out that your profile wasn’t enough. The catch is, they wanted a full body image. I scanned you back at the Boom & Bust.”

“Scanned me? Should I know what you’re talking about?” Joel said. “I’m a little out of focus.”

“Just as well,” Sequoia said, “Inhale as much pleasure as you can in what time you have left.”

Joel moved a hand to her breast. She opened a button at the top of her blouse. He leaned to kiss her neck. “That’s so nice,” Sequoia said, “Lord, I’m sorry it has to be you.” Her eyes seemed to stare at some far-away star.

“You’re looking very pensive,” Joel said.

“Pensive, intensive and expensive,” Sequoia said. “That sums me up.”

“I hope you’re not thinking of a long lost love,” Joel said. “I know I’m not.”

“I’m thinking of the prize,” Sequoia said. “Isn’t that crass? At the same time, I think I’m sorry that The Contest is practically finished even if I won.”

“Contest? Won what?”

“The Game. But let’s save the talk for later.”

In the bedroom they helped one another undress and came together under a feather down blanket. “Joel, I hate that you’re the Final Insert. I want you to know that.”

“Time to clarify,” Joel snapped. “Considering I’ve never been a final insert.”

“Please don’t growl at me,” Sequoia said. “Just hold me.” She wrapped her arms and legs around him. Joel felt that aluminum foil crinkle again, this time vibrating over all of her skin, and he heard what sounded like the hum of a motor. Joel pushed her away. For a few seconds Sequoia looked like a metal sculpture of herself.

“I upset you,” she said. “What did I do wrong? I’m trying to please you.”

“I’m not exactly sure of what just happened” Joel said.

“Is it the metallic thing? They told me makeup would cover it. But you can’t be angry at me for who I am. Don’t I make you happy?”

“Yes, you make me happy. But what you call “the metallic thing” and comments about “profiles” and “final inserts” and some kind of “contest” have me just a little confused. Even with martinis and weed stoking my brain, you owe me a few explanations.”

“You’re right, Joel. Back home we have these Contests. They’re a marvelous way to raise money for the tentacle-challenged.”

“Oh. That explains nothing. The tentacle challenged? Who’s ‘we?’”

“The we is me. On my planet.”

“On your planet? That explains everything. Maybe you should take it easy with the martinis, Sequoia.”

“I owe you an explanation.”

“Could we postpone the explanation until breakfast?”

“I don’t live here.”

“Correct. So far, so good.”

“I’m what you people call an Alien. From a planet past the range of your telescopes. But we can see you even if you can’t see us.”

“I have a pretty good view of you and I like what I see.”

“Joel, please concentrate. Where I live, we play The Jigsaw Game It’s like your lottery. The object is to complete a three-dimensional puzzle of some cosmic destination. Everybody plays. There’s one winner each moon swing, and the prize is astronomical.”

“Astronomical or comical? I’m tired of this surreal banter. Could we get back to simple English?”

“Each Jigsaw Game Model is perfect. The most minute details are included based on exhaustive research, all real and enhanced by imagination. Every continent, ocean, river, stream, mountain, city, person, pet, microbe, car ship, plane, atom, everything is built into the Current Model, down to a black-and-blue mark on a flea’s thigh.”

“I don’t think fleas have thighs,” Joel said.

“It costs a hundred klexines to enter. The winner gets a billion zorbles, tax free.”

“A billion zorbles? What’s that in American money?”

“Five trillion. Runners up get a season ticket to the Pincer Tournament.”

“On the fifty-yard line?”

“Don’t mock our culture. We’re sun swirls ahead of you Earthlings.”

“Sorry.”

“Each player gets a virtual image of the Master Model, complete except for one missing Insert. And a single clue that reveals which Celestial Destination is in play. If you guess the correct location, you’re transported there first class. Your mission is to find that last Insert, snap it into the Gap, complete the puzzle and claim Glorious Victory.”

“Now tell me you figured out that this month’s destination is Earth. New York, New York, USA.”

“The clue was PIG:Peace In Gotham. Most contestants guessed the Pig Nebula, a thousand light years from the star, Drako. I almost went along with them. Than it came to me that the word Peace sounds the same as piece in a language spoken on the Earth ball and Gotham is a nickname for New York City, usually taken to mean Manhattan Island. I aced the answer and became a finalist. So I was transported to right here. Well, just a cab ride away from where we entwined.”

“That is a worthwhile fantasy, Sequoia. But what has it got to do with Joel Flak?”

“When I saw your Profile at the bar, my hearts skipped. I couldn’t believe I’d found the missing piece. When I called the Judges they said I needed more proof, so I scoped your measurements five times before I claimed GVictory!”

“Glorious Victory?”

“Exactly. I mean, why me?”

“Why not?” Joel said, gently massaging her belly.

“I should have told you when I recognized you and that I’m your executioner.”

“Could you be a little more specific?”

“I’m obliged to kill you. After the Successful Shove into your Slot.”

Joel pulled the blankets over his privates, an action he ascribed to some ancient reflex. “Assuming that I am the missing puzzle piece, what happens after you ‘shove me’ into my ‘slot’?”

“I win,” Sequoia said. “The globe is complete. Perfectly round. Following official announcement that the puzzle’s been solved, this moon’s model gets recycled, except for the gold replica I get for a trophy.”

“And I get recycled along with the model?”

“Yes. Model Earth, and you are pulverized, diced. On live television. It’s our top rated reality show.”

“No wonder,” Joel said. Sequoia’s eyes spun like slot machine wheels. He was beginning to think the crazy girl might really be dangerous. “Tell me, how do you propose to execute me? Here in bed? There are worse places to die. If you’re hiding a gun or knife, since you’re stark naked, I can’t imagine where. And I doubt you had a chance to poison my drink since I mixed it myself. Did you skip your meds tonight? There’s a pharmacy two blocks from here and they deliver around the clock.”

“Ordinarily, if you decide to be uncooperative, Joel, I’d call for the Vanish Crew. They can get here in seconds. But they can be very brutal. In your case, I think I’ll use my own devices.”

“What kind of devices, if you don’t mind my asking.”

A flash of light made the room glow suddenly as if a flash bulb had been ignited near Joel’s groin. Sequoia, whose body felt soft as satin, transformed into a metal mannequin. Her hand grabbed the Smart Phone from Joel’s night table, made a fist, and turned the phone to dust particles.

“Don’t I get to call my lawyer?” Joel said. The joke fell flat.

“No time for comedy.”

“Can’t we be nice to one another? By morning, you’ll forget this contest nonsense.”

“You’re trying to buy time,” Sequoia said while she pinched Joel’s buttock. “You are a little chubby. Plugging you into the last open piece in the Jigsaw will take some effort and will be a tad painful. But aside from some crunching and leakage, it shouldn’t be too bad if you relax. Think pleasant thoughts.”

“Crunching of bone? Leakage of blood? Pleasant thoughts?”

“The Plug-In should be over in a trice. Joel, we do have a few hours before sunrise and I like cuddling with you so we could share a happy ending.”

“For the record,” Joel said, “if, for some reason, you can’t manage to jam me into place, what happens next?”

“I’ve already notified the judges that I found the missing plug. I have twelve hours to deliver absolute proof. It would be a sad turn of events if I couldn’t produce a finished globe. A false Claim of Solution is a capital crime. I’d be publicly disassembled.”

“In front of all your people in prime time? That’s barbaric.”

“Creatures from this planet have no right to call anybody barbaric,” Sequoia said.

“I can’t argue that,” Joel said laughing. “I hate to tell you, but plugging or slot-snapping Joel Flak is not going to happen, so don’t give up your day job.” He nibbled at Sequoia’s left ear lobe. “The good news is that you probably won’t have to be disassembled for making a fraudulent winner’s claim. Because I can probably talk us both off the hook. Not to be immodest, I’m easily the best negotiator in the Vega Galaxy and possibly any other galaxy. I wrote the book on deals. Trust me. If your Vanish Crew does shows up to get you, I can work out some sensible and profitable arrangement with them. Everybody has a tipping point.”

“It must be wonderful to have your ego,” Sequoia said, tousling Joel’s hair. “But Verifiers do not make deals.”

“There’s more. You say you’ve got only a dozen hours to certify your claim. You should have waited before crowing.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m owed at least one Earth day before I give up the ghost.”

“Who owes you a day?”

“The Universe. By the grace of the Multispan Treaty. When Earth became a signatory to that treaty, a time-space clause was cleverly inserted by Joel Flak who realized that Earth was vulnerable to a sudden catastraphobic whim by some destructive maniac. They all mocked me when I presented the concept of an Interverse Date Line. It mandates that any planetary aggression against a nation or foreign individual be put on hold for a full Earth day. The entire element of surprise was replaced by a window of opportunity for negotiation. Defusion. The clause was unanimously adopted and became what was dubbed Flak’s Paranoidal Proclamation.”

“What has that got to do with The Contest?”

“Terminating Joel Flak, by Insertion, or any other means, without proper procedure, would require massive retaliation by every celestial civilization, signatory or not. It would be suicidal.”

“Are you small minded enough to value one life against The Contest?”

“When it’s my life. Case closed. You’re finished back home, dear one. If you’re lucky I’ll get your Vanishers to spare you from evisceration on national TV, unless you’d like the exposure, no pun intended. Talk and a few perks should help change their minds or whatever it is you tin folks keep in your Brillo brains.”

“Nice try,” Sequoia said. “I figured you’d come up with something. Which is why I added a little going away present to your drink. Now, sleep well, my Piece on Earth.”

Joel was already yawning. His head drooped onto his chest.

Sequoia found her Model of Planet Earth and placed it on the bed. Next, she fumbled in her purse for the Subtract-and-Duplicate device provided to every Contest finalist. It hummed a soothing tune when she pressed the ON button, a feature designed to help tranquilize a potential Insert who might resist being snapped into the missing puzzle part. She straightened Joel’s body on his mattress, scanned Joel’s dimensions, then pressed the Reduction button, heard a whirring sound, and watched a little copy of Joel Flak come sliding out of a slot.

It was time for the Ceremonial Stuffing. She found the empty hole where the missing plug would go, and none too soon. There was a rattle at the balcony window and two formidable Vanishers appeared.

“Is it finished?” the ranking Vanisher said.

“In a trice,” Sequoia said. “Are we being broadcast?”

“Certainly. Now get on with it. And congratulations in advance.”

“Thank you, and to my friends, family, lubricators, all you fans of The Contest.” She chanted the ancient Prayer of Solution, lifted the tiny Joel over the Model which began to throb and make noises like a digesting stomach. “Humbly, then, the Snapping.”

Sequoia purposely delayed Completion by a few seconds to enhance the delicious suspense she knew the viewers were feeling, along with their envy.

“Quickly, please,” the dominant Vanisher said, “before the commercial.”

Sequoia said a silent goodbye to Joel Flak and pressed his miniature into the empty space. The globe flashed a rainbow of colors that made Sequoia’s eyes water. She heard an earsplitting groan instead of the expected national anthem.

“Press harder,” the Vanisher said. “It’s being rejected.”

“Impossible,” she said. “I did a scan when I met him and the measurements checked out.”

An alarm bell replaced the groaning.

“You know the rules,” the Vanisher said. “You’ve got two minutes to achieve Insertion before your claim of Completion is summarily rejected and we escort you home draped in shame instead of glory.” She heard the beginning of impatience in his rusty voice.

Sequoia repositioned the Joel miniature and pressed it with all her strength. She pressed again and again in frantic attempts to fill the Joel-shaped puzzle pothole. It snagged like a defective key in the wrong lock. The puzzle globe contracted and expanded, pushing back at her.

“This equipment must be compromised,” Sequoia screamed.

“I detect nothing wrong with the Profiler. Why fools like you keep trying to scam the most sacred ritual in our society, I will never understand.”

“He fits! I tell you he must fit. He’s doing something to sabotage my moment. I would never try to scam the Game. I play every week, religiously. I…”

Sequoia felt the swoosh of a sackcloth cloak drape over her head. She was lifted and carried, kicking and screaming, toward the balcony where the Vanisher’s transport hovered.

Joel Flak was waking from his stupor. He watched silently as Sequoia was being carted off. “How did you do it?” she yelled. “I know you did something, you SOB.”

“All I did was anticipate,” Joel said. “It’s why they pay me the big bucks. I read between your lovely, curvy lines and took some preemptive action.”

“What kind of action?”

“I took in a few extra calories. I never put two olives in my martini. I hate olives. Put on a few ounces. Changed my measurements.”

“You shifted shape?”

“When they get you back home, try to delay your punishment until I have a chance to negotiate. I might get away with extenuating circumstances. Have your crime blamed on hormonal imbalance. Get your sentence commuted from death to banishment. You can come back here and take the guest room until you find your own digs. Of course, in the meanwhile, you’d be responsible for retroactive rent, and, shall we say, other amenities.”

“Olives? That is so dirty.”

“Calories are calories. Have a nice trip, dear.”

The Vanisher’s ship detached from the building and blasted off in a splash of flame. Joel found a pad and began listing possible arguments that might convince a judge and jury to tilt their verdict in Sequoia’s favor and be satisfied to deport her back to Earth, a fate they well might consider far worse than death.

It was a longshot but he really liked the lady.

[] THE BATTLE OF SANMERCI SAUVENION

 

Somehow, my oldest friend, Marvin Gibitz, talked himself into a private room. He had entered The Gathering Place, a veterans’ hospice, a year earlier with an X on his chest, a doomed man given three months to live at most.

He was not only alive after four long seasons but showed every sign of improving.

His vitals were strong, he could lift himself into a sitting position, even manage to stand on his own and navigate his way to the bathroom. There was actually serious talk of discharging him, returning his leftovers to the nursing home that sent him to The Gathering Place, a lost cause.

As his only visitor, myself in fragile shape, I watched him gobble down his food with relish. He had a young man’s appetite that amazed the doctors, nurses and attendants, even gave a kind of comfort to the chaplain who visited him twice a week to help him prepare for death. Gibitz had better color than the chaplain who was as pale as his promise of a winged afterlife.

Gibitz was a few years older than me, a few months shy of his ninety-third birthday.

He was obsessed with giving himself a party to mark the occasion and asked me for all kinds of help. He had grand plans for a catered affair, special invitations for the staff and whoever was still breathing that he might invite, including a few very distant relatives who never came to see him or even telephoned. He wanted live jazz music and favors for the guests to take away from the celebration. I couldn’t keep reminding him that he was destitute; I felt compelled to communicate that reality whenever Gibitz added some frill to his birthday gala. He ignored me and went on with his excited vision.

If the medics were puzzled by Gibitz’ renaissance, I was not. Partly he persisted because he wanted to outlive me. Mostly because he loved talking about the miracle drug named Betty.

Betty Slide didn’t come wrapped inside a pill or swimming in a syringe. She was no drip through an IV tube or cod liver oil mixed in orange juice or something to lick off a teaspoon. Betty was a junior attendant beginning her chosen career as a palliative stripling. She was made of soft circles: a round head, a round face, round swelling breasts, a chubby round torso, a restful looking pillow-round belly, round arms, wrists and hands, heavy, round thighs and legs. Her behind reminded me of the hemispheres shown on schoolbook maps. Even her feet looked curved inside their white shoes. Her eyes were large and round, her cheeks puffed out as if she had a mouth full of eggs, her ample mouth offered delicious promise. Her cap sat on a hill of black hair, her white uniform pressed gently against her fleshy form but tightened into an agonizing triangle at her crotch. Agonizing was the word Gibitz used to describe the crotch tension. Talk about “mixing memory with desire.”

Betty’s manner was cheerful as a sparkler, always grinning or flashing a searchlight smile. Her voice rose and fell like surf on a warm beach. She helped Gibitz guide food from his plate to his mouth, from his cup to his lips, urged him to finish his glass of Ensure, patted away his debris with a paper napkin.

Gibitz really loved the girl. Who wouldn’t? Sometimes, when she gave him his daily sponge bath, his hands dove underneath his blanket jumping around like seal flappers while he moaned softly, eyes closed. Afterward she would manipulate his ancient limbs to keep his blood circulating, bending his arms and legs as if he were a marionette. Sometimes she sang I’m a Puppet while she worked. Gibitz was entirely content to dance at the end of her strings. He had already been warm blooded for nine-plus decades and was more than satisfied transformed back into a pliant Pinocchio.

If Gibitz appreciated how Betty took care of him, he was even more pleased with her attention to his Purple heart. He wore the medal on his pajama top with evident and deserved pride. Betty polished it every morning after checking Gibitz’ vitals, as if the metal heart was as important as the one that managed to keep beating in his caved-in chest.

It was.

Gibitz’ favorite subject was his service in World War II, more specifically during the epic Battle of Sanmerci Sauvenion in the early spring of 1945. He never tired of describing the day he was parachuted into a field of wine grapes a few miles Northwest of Limoges at the base of Mt. Blanc. He still whispered when he told me about that day, and the days that followed, as if lowering his usually robust voice honored his fallen comrades—those who died in action and those cut down by time.

Gibitz remembered every hour of that week-long clash, a gut wrenching house-to-house, man-to-man carnage. Somehow the crack Nazi troops had been warned of the attack; the blizzard of paratroopers landed in a lake of fire. The attackers managed to hang on, waiting for the weather to break and air superiority assert itself. Finally, the skies turned from dense gray to what Gibitz called “stained glass blue.” Air power and grunt courage tattered the German line.

The Battle of Sanmerci Sauvenion is another footnote to history, a footnote scrawled in faint pencil. Though the Allied victory broke the straw of any remaining enemy hope of stemming the tide of invasion, the battle hardly received any notice. There was good reason for the hush.

Keeping that triumph in shadow was a diplomatic necessity. American and British forces had not only faced (and defeated) the elite 4th Panzer Division, one of Field Marshal Rommel’s proudest units, but had also routed a secondary force of Russian commandos rushed to the site by air with orders to scoop up as many scientists and artifacts involved in the V1 and V2 rocket development program housed in a lab and bunker concealed underneath a local school.

Gibitz said, with enough emotion to flush his face, “Yeah, the Reds did manage to capture a few key brains and some vital info on coolant for the Wermacht’s new jet fighter engines, but the good guys got the best of the lot.”

There was no bragging. The Commies were destined to play a vital role in postwar politics; details of so prophetic and embarrassing a confrontation between “friends” were best kept under wraps.

There was another situation that never generated wide attention. When the most violent phase of the battle ended, a small village was discovered a few miles from the main theater. A group of scouts was sent to explore the hamlet, unlisted on any map.

Gibitz, was one of those scouts. He told me the place turned out to be more a concentration camp than a town. After interrogation of the few remaining Nazi guards (the key officers who ran things deserted their post for safer ground) it was determined that the camp held about 100 prisoners designated as Ersatz Jews.

Ersatz Jews?

The label began as a private joke coined by the camp commander. It caught on.

Since there were no bona fide Jews in Sanmerci Sauvenion, the SS marked the most affluent citizens as substitute Semites, wealthy surrogates who could then be robbed and tortured for profit and pleasure. The prisoners were forced to wear six-pointed stars sewn to their shirts and refer to themselves as Judenrats. The guards were ordered to play along. That game went on for four years.

Gibitz said that after their sudden liberation, many of the ersatz Jews seemed edgy and confused. It was a complicated transition from being numbered, tattooed and marked as one of the “chosen people”—chosen for extinction—to their former status as members of the “free French” community.

Rifles and automatic weapons were put in their hands and they were encouraged to take revenge for their humiliation. But something went very wrong. Several, having accepted the guilt of being labeled subhuman, couldn’t manage the abrupt role change. Several were intent on punishing themselves, having accepted guilt for the crime of birth.

Gibitz was also disoriented by the experience. Identity is a fragile thing even in the best of times. In war, the only tranquility lies in accepting the bizarre as normal. He was a soldier. A soldier accepts the whim of the moment. Still, there are echoes of gentler times and values, now obsolete and crushed to dust by a grotesque present. My poor friend’s head rattled somewhere between past and present; it never came back to full focus.

In deepest confidence, and under the spell of strong narcotics in the hospice, he described how the liberators lined the Nazi guards against a wall and blew them away in a single volley. Instead of cheering, several of their former victims protested. Things got so chaotic that a few of the protesters were dispatched along with their former oppressors; they insisted on execution.

Gibitz said he could smell a miasma of evil curdling the air in that place, diluting anything resembling morality. He swore he’d tried to explain to the self-proclaimed vermin that the Judenrats were nothing but an amusement for the bored SS brass assigned to such an out-of-the-way cull de sac. In crash-course German, he described how their homes had been plundered and their women used as disposable whores, but the message never got through. What was even more puzzling to Gibitz was that most of the men who insisted on death had never known a Jew.

It was the same day of those executions that Gibitz earned his Purple Heart. He would grab his chest and fall forward, describing how a single sniper’s round slammed into his chest, lodged less than an inch from his aorta. He said, “Hell, it was my own fault. I relaxed my guard.” He was hit during a futile attempt to delay the firing squad.

That part of Gibitz’ wartime history was never fully communicated to bouncy Betty Slide since he felt it might upset her fragile fulcrum, teetering toward the irrepressible belief that justice and goodness, or at least niceness, dominated our species and gave our planet its glow. Riding the other side of that seesaw was the reality Gibitz once inhabited—a damp cave where bats and dragons lived. He wanted his Betty kept happy at all costs.

“I’m sorry to tell you that the last series of tests didn’t leave much hope,” Gibitz’ doctor told me one evening in spring. “We were all hoping for the best but his kidneys and liver are giving out.”

“How long?”

“Not long.”

“He is so looking forward to his birthday. He’s filled a whole pad with a list of items, events and even music for his party. The man is in total denial about his financial situation. He’s got zilch. Not even funeral expenses. He can hardly lift himself onto the potty but he wants a dance band. However Gibitz’ brain works, I pray I feel the same way when my time comes.”

“Well, he won’t be doing much dancing or be plagued with money worries for long. As for funeral expenses, the social worker told me he was entitled to a military send off and a final resting place in Arlington or one of those freebie veterans’ cemeteries. Lord knows, he’s earned a resting place. He’s one of the last living survivors of the only war in the last two centuries that made any sense. He wears his Purple Heart as a proud badge of honor as well he should. You might try to get him talking about his life in the service. Do a video. Give it to some relative or archive or museum or someplace. Keep him alive, at least on the internet. What’s the phrase? The greatest generation? It’s disappearing fast.”

“Gibitz talks about nothing but his war given half a chance. But when it comes to writing memoirs or facing a camera, forget it. He refuses to go along with what he calls sealing the past in an airless coffin before the Dark Angel comes for him. He says he wants to take his personal baggage with him. Maybe Betty can get him to change his mind.”

“Who’s Betty?” the doctor said. “Whoever she is, don’t wait too long.”

When I went back into Gibitz’ room that evening, he looked into my eyes and knew that this time he wouldn’t dodge the final bullet. “Better cancel my party,” he said. “It’s a damn shame. Save me a few bucks anyhow, right?”

“Right. Listen, Marvin, if there’s anything I can do for…”

“Nothing. Maybe one thing. Make sure the Purple Heart goes to Betty.”

“Of course.”

“I have the original box in some drawer. On E-Bay, they’re more valuable with the original box.”

“She won’t sell it.”

“Not right away. Later probably.”

“No. She’ll keep it.”

“She might. When I tell her about my war her ears flap. Something else you can do for me. Tell Betty I want to lay naked with her. I want that for my birthday present. I want to lay buck naked with her and feel that furnace of a body roll against mine. Run my hand up her legs. Take my time with her tits. Spend a long time on the inside of her thighs. A long time. A year or two stroking that sweetness with my fingertips. Maybe with an occasional pinch. Then move up and over her fur and hang out around her bellybutton. And bang, I want to spread her legs and touch her thing. Trade souls for a few minutes. She don’t even have to wish me a happy birthday. In fact, I’d just as soon she didn’t. Explain to her I can’t get my dick to stand at attention but my tongue works fine. Explain that I want her to arch her back and come moaning or bluff it.” Gibitz choked on a glob of green phlegm. “Tell her I’m talking about a lousy hour or so of her time. Say my ghost would talk her up in the afterlife and make sure she’ll have a rousing welcome up there.”

“I can’t do it, friend. I can’t say those things to her. What she already knows is that if she did, it would probably kill you twice.”

“So what? Come on, old buddy. Give me a break. Give it a try. If I could ask her myself I would.”

“Why don’t you ask her yourself, Marvin? Just say you’re a dirty old man.”

“I’m too embarrassed. I love the girl.”

He went into another coughing spasm.

“Marvin, if that’s what you want, I’ll ask her, but don’t expect anything. I expect a slap in the face.”

“Try to put some feeling in when you drop it on her. She’s Betty. Let her know how much…oh crap, you know what I’m trying to get across.”

Just after shifts changed at The Gathering Place, I found Betty Slide at the water cooler. It wasn’t exactly the best place for an intimate chat but the hospice was not ideal for what amounted to a deathbed proposal.

I delivered Marvin Gibitz’ message while filling a paper cup. I watched Betty’s circle face twitch, then smile while I gulped down spring water. She patted my cheek. “They all want that,” she said. “Most of them want that. Sometimes they ask me to marry them. I say let me think about it. You seem to be apologetic for asking me. Please don’t be. If anything, I feel flattered.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Mr. Gibitz has the most respect for…”

“He thinks I can kindle some memories for him. Maybe keep him alive a few minutes longer. Keep him warm at a cold time. He’s right. And it isn’t a one-way street. It’s a fair exchange. I share my youth and heat, I get a lot of satisfaction feeling a special kind of relaxation flow through their bodies. And there’s the feeling of something like little bits of wisdom passing into me. Probably stupid. I can’t explain it.”

“You are very special, Betty.” I filled my cone-shaped paper cup again. “But does that come down to a yes? Can I tell Marvin…Mr. Gibitz that…”

“I would say yes to all of them if I had the time and energy. Which I don’t. And I do have a few appointments scheduled over the next few days. Patients leave us in clusters. One minute they seem to rally, then poof.”

“The doctor didn’t give me the feeling that Mr. Gibitz had long. Listen, I don’t want to pressure you but if you could manage to change your schedule, well, I have about six hundred dollars I can offer you in exchange.”

“Six hundred dollars? Wow. I usually work pro bono like the lawyers say on TV but you know what they pay attendants here. It’s an absolute shame. And it so happens that this month my expenses are…”

“I can have the cash for you tomorrow.”

“That would be wonderful,” Betty said. “Now tell me something. That Purple Heart he said he got from a sniper. There’s no scar and nothing on his record that says he was ever wounded in the chest. The only thing mentioned is removal of a lead fragment from Mr. Gibitz’ left buttock.”

“You are very observant.”

“I take my work seriously. I study every record in their folders.”

“My buddy was shot in the ass,” I said. “Three days before the war ended. He wanted to impress you.”

“He did. I was already impressed. He told me everything about the Battle of Sanmerci Sauvenion. Mr. Gibitz really was a hero. That part about parachuting into an ambush made me shake to hear about it.”

“Maybe I should keep this to myself,” I said, ashamed in advance. “It wasn’t him jumping into that ring of fire. It was me. My battalion of Rangers established the foothold, the rest of the troops came sailing in on the calmest sea you can imagine. And under an umbrella of P-38 fighters. It was a cake walk. The Panzer tanks all headed for the Normandy beachhead along with most of the soldiers occupying Sanmerci Sauvenion. There was virtually no resistance. The part about the concentration camp was all true except for Gibitz moving his slug from front from bottom rear to front and center.”

“The medic who stitched him up did a lovely job. There’s hardly any mark. And the part about killing the Nazi guards? In cold blood?”

“I can’t comment about that. I was looking the other way.”

“So many patients rewrite the past. Some forget what war they fought in or what it was all about. Others can’t remember anything else, not even tell you if they have wives in the waiting room or kids who just called five minutes ago. It usually takes me time to sort out who I’m dealing with and how close they are to the edge of the cliff. But I was skeptical about Mr. Gibitz’ story from the first sentence, don’t ask me why. Just a feeling in here.” Betty rubbed her lovely stomach.

“I think of rewriting my whole life almost every night. I give myself all kinds of medals.”

“Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself. I’m sure you’re still having a very nice life experience.”

“Betty, I should never have told you any of that stuff about Gibitz. You won’t mention it when…”

“Do I strike you as blabbermouth, Sir? Definitely not. As for tomorrow, I think between eight and ten would work out nicely. And you could meet me around seven-thirty. That would be wonderful. I’d be able to deposit the cash in my account first thing next morning.”

“One more thing.”

“What?”

“Call him Marvin.”

“I always call him Mr. Gibitz. It’s much more professional.”

“Not tomorrow night, Betty.”

“I’ll try to remember. Marvin. Marvin. Marvin.”

“God bless. Who knows? Soon you’ll have another pro bono client. Me.”

“Oh, not for a long time, Sir. Not you.”

“Please don’t call me Sir.” I poured a third cup of bottled water. “I am so thirsty. It’s so dry in here. This water is nice and cold. Diluting my head.”

“You know,” Betty said, “I’ve been trying to find Sanmerci Sauvenion in my atlas. I keep missing it. It must be there somewhere, but…”

I drained the water bottle. The last gulp made a sucking sound.

“Hydration is the best thing, Sir,” Betty said. “The fact is, we’re mostly about water.”

[] THE MAN WHO CAME CLOSE

 

Seymour Berman decided to speculate when he was convinced that survival, not greed, was the issue. Berman considered greed a sin but survival a virtue. His attitude was not religious but strategic. He looked for guidelines that were advantageous to the entire human race.

What finally clarified things for Berman was a confluence of forces: his thirty-ninth birthday and an audit by Internal Revenue. Himself a certified public accountant, he expected professional courtesy from the accountant who audited him. But he didn’t get it.

Time and government conspired to rob him in the same week. The tax investigator disallowed Berman’s deductions for three years of Yoga instruction; for psychic guidance by a brilliant seer who came east once a year from Big Sur to read the tarot, palms, and star charts; and for sub-rental of an isolation tank where Berman went to float in the dark, reduce stress, and connect with essential energy. Berman had listed these as medical deductions, nonreimbursed by health insurance. He felt his position was valid. His doctor told him he had to do something.

When Berman left his audit, he was changed. All he had wanted was to break even, to hold his own. Instead, he was slipping backward. His modest dream of owning a country house near a lake where deer came to feed and rabbits ate his carrots was fast fading. It came to Berman that he carried a large meter on his back that ticked off minutes and dollars. Berman cold not afford to ride his own taxi.

Until then, Berman had avoided speculation. He regarded speculation as gambling and gambling as immoral, not illegal. The idea of getting something for nothing struck him as enervating and corrupting. He prided himself on simple tastes and moderate habits. His work as an accountant was enough for him, he enjoyed manipulating other people’s numbers. When clients made huge profits, it did not bother Berman, because other clients suffered huge losses. For every one who made it to Westchester, another got cancer. The yin and yang of high finance amused him, but Berman kept his distance. The best things in life were free.

Now, with fresh insight, Berman frothed to enter the market. Even after paying the back taxes, there was a nice nest egg. Berman had been prudent and a saver. The question became, Where to invest and in what? There were conservative investments and aggressive investments. Municipal bonds, stocks, metals, grains, pork bellies, real estate, volatile schemes. There were deals to be made with prospective heirs willing to pay huge interest for loans against the imminent death of a father, mother, or uncle. There was oil drilling, coal mining, the money market. Berman studied them all, including mutual funds, load and no-load; stamps; coins; Ginnie Mae mortgages; franchises; silent partnerships; video-game routes; the whole spectrum. He read the Wall Street Journal; Barron’s weekly; Forbes, the “Capitalist Tool”; Money; U.S. News & World Report; and he watched Louis Rukeyser on PBS every Friday.

Berman quickly decided against conservatism. Investments that seemed the most secure proved the most treacherous. In the Great Depression, the Berman family had lost their savings with the failure of a bank as secure as Mount Rushmore. Besides, if Berman was to get really rich, there was no point in taking too much time. The great meter ticked endlessly. The future became yesterday much too quickly. And Berman was, by nature, not bullish on tomorrow. He was even suspicious of the past. His focus turned to speculations of the highest risk with the promise of enormous reward.

Since life had become a no-win proposition, a poor long-term investment at best, taking maximum chances was not really chancy at all. It was necessary.

What bothered Berman in advance of any monetary success was that success would steal time from him and the tax collector would reach deeply into his pocket. He would grow older as he felt the fingers of the IRS grab close to his scrotum. Berman wanted his money fast. He wanted enough to keep. His fantasies became more and more expensive. Short of crime, there seemed no way. And crime held no promise, because Berman was not a criminal—and if he were caught, it would mean trading one prison for another.

Berman confided his despair to Jane Forbish, his mistress of many years. Jane was a commercial artist who had no wish to marry. Berman had known her since public school. They had grown up together. One night, dinner and a Fellini movie ended up in Jane’s brass bed. Since that evening, every Thursday, Berman took Jane to dinner and a film. Afterward, they made love or something that approximated love. It was a comfortable, enduring relationship they both enjoyed. Neither kept secrets.

“I could go to Atlantic City or Las Vegas or Monte Carlo and roll dice,” Berman said. “But I would lose. I know it. I want a situation where choice replaces pure chance.”

It was Thursday and Jane was undressing in her bedroom. Berman already waited in his jockey shorts. “Seymour, I want to tell you about something interesting,” Jane said. “I’m doing a promotional folder for these peculiar people. They’re very hush-hush. But they might just be onto something.”

Hush-hush? I’m not interested in a scam. I’m willing to hit big or be wiped out but not robbed. Not that being robbed is so bad, and the loss is deductible. What bothers me is the thought of my robber gloating and counting in some beautiful place…”

“I don’t think it’s any scam or sting,” Jane said. “I think they are sincere people, just secretive. They move very quietly, if you get my meaning. I was pledged to silence about their pamphlet. Which was unnecessary, since I don’t understand much of the copy. Even so, I don’t hold back from you.”

Berman took off his jockey shorts and folded them. “Thanks for that, Jane. So tell me about your friends.”

“They’re not my friends, Seymour. But they are into megabucks.” Jane unclasped her bra. Berman watched her breasts fall free. Her breasts always surprised him when they made their appearance. They were hidden assets when she dressed in tailored suits. “The pamphlet is addressed to doctors, lawyers, senior executives. It suggests and invites personal contact and investigation with an eye toward mutual gain. It says that there is a new investment market with powerful potential, but the pamphlet never gets more specific. Maybe you should contact the company.”

“What the hell,” Berman said. He had forgotten to take off his watch. Jane hated it when he kept his watch on. “Should I say you sent me?” Berman put his watch on an end table near the telephone.

“Why not? They must realize I would tell my lover. They have to expect that. They seem sophisticated.” Jane switched on a Vivaldi tape and lay back on her pillow. “Lights off or on?”

“Lights on. Let there be light,” Berman said. The last time they had lain together in the dark, Berman had had the fantasy that he was penetrating Lady Luck. He kept thinking of compound interest.

Berman performed unusually well that Thursday. His new set of goals gave him a dividend of energy. He felt very tender toward Jane, even possessive. Before he slept, Berman considered that the spirit of acquisitiveness might affect their relationship in a dramatic way. Maybe he would get rich for both of them, maybe for sons and daughters and grandchildren. The thought astonished him. It was quickly erased by sleep, and the next morning he remembered it as fused to a dream.

On the following Monday at ten, Berman sat in a posh Park Avenue office watching an elderly receptionist with blue hair. He had telephoned Anatomical Ventures, Ltd., using the number Jane had given him. A Mr. Barn took his call, asked careful questions in a low, businesslike voice, then made the appointment. An electronic note sounded, and the receptionist smiled at Berman. “Please go right in,” she said. “Mr. Barn’s office is third on the right. He’s ready to see you.”

Mr. Barn’s office was warmly furnished in leather and wood. There was a soft beige carpet and several flower paintings in ornate gold frames. It seemed the office of a mature man, but Mr. Barn looked like a boy. He was younger than Berman by many years and probably had already made a fortune. Berman felt a spasm of envy. Mr. Barn grinned. “Do sit down, Mr. Berman. Would you care for some coffee or a cold drink?”

“Nothing, thanks,” Berman said. “What I would most care for is information.”

“A no-nonsense person,” said Mr. Barn. “I respect that.”

They began by speaking of Berman’s investment objectives. Berman was encouraged to be frank, and he responded. “I have $65,000 in a cashier’s check,” he said. “I have been looking for the right venture. I do not want to waste my life studying the Time’s business section or watching tickers. I want what can be best described as a clean, clear shot at a high degree of affluence with a fair promise of achieving that state in the shortest possible span of time. My final goal is freedom. I want enough money to totally change my life and outlook. Anything less is treading water. My cosmic goal is to defeat time by heavy spending. I want to indulge every whim without anxiety, guilt, or other concern. Just in case others become involved in my life, the amount must be expensive enough to include their present and reasonable future. We’re talking big bucks, Mr. Barn.”

“Tell me, Mr. Berman, is that $65,000 a substantial portion of your total assets?”

“Very substantial. I have some additional funds, liquid and temporarily frozen. Keogh. IRA. The apartment. Enough for medical emergency.”

“I want to dissuade you from excess,” said Mr. Barn.

“Define excess and you might dissuade me. Not easy. I am a certified public accountant, Mr. Barn. What life has taught me is that the greatest excess is too little when the final prize is the control of one’s destiny.”

“Loss is anguish,” said Mr. Barn.

“Negative. Loss is no more than breaking even. The real loss is linked to a life of predictability. I want to be able to afford surprise. I have nothing to lose except my chains, as Karl Marx said—or was it Engels, except he said it facing in the wrong direction.”

“Getting down to cases, Mr. Berman, we move in the fast lane at Anatomical Ventures. The original name for our organization was Anatomical Adventures. We were afraid that might put off a certain kind of investor. We are reputable. We have all the correct credentials. But trading with us is indeed an adventure.”

“Trading what?” said Berman. “I’m still in the fog as to what you people buy and sell.”

“I’m about to share that small detail. But I want you to fully understand that we are talking in confidence. In fact, we require all clients to sign a pledge of silence directly modeled after the documents signed by every potential member of the Central Intelligence Agency. You know, we were quite upset with Miss Forbish for giving you our phone number. She was out of line.”

“Jane? Please. It was totally innocent. And she knows very little even after laying out your pamphlet. The copy is obtuse. Tantalizing, I admit. It got me here. But murky. I gather that was intentional.”

“Here is the form. As you’ll see, it’s quite legal and binding. And not obtuse. It says that you are required to trade only on the premises, and that if you talk or write about any of your dealings with Anatomical Ventures, Ltd., you will be subject to very severe penalties, some of which are listed.”

“Some of which are listed? Ominous.”

“If you have any qualms, Mr. Berman, don’t sign.”

Berman signed with the pen he would have used to sign treaties if he were president. It had come to him from his father, a modest inheritence. The pen used ink. Mr. Barn watched the ink dry. Berman wondered if the man had ever seen actual ink.

“You have a very fine handwriting,” said Mr. Barn. “The letters are firm and well formed. That tells me you are not a nervous man.”

“I’m an apprehensive man but not nervous. Discovering black holes in outer space didn’t faze me. I suspected something like them. I am an optimist who anticipates the worst. And somewhere inside myself I sense there is a winner waiting to break free.”

“Anatomical Ventures, Ltd., deals in body parts, Mr. Berman.”

“Beg pardon, Mr. Barn. Could you run that past me one more time?”

“We’re in the Transplant Exchange. New York. Los Angeles. Chicago. Dallas. Paris. Rome. London. Berlin. Bern. Mecca. Tel Aviv. Rio. Mexico City. Soon others.”

“I didn’t know such a thing existed.”

“It was inevitable. Consider. People need transplants. Corneas. Livers. Kidneys. An occasional pair of lungs and a heart. All well within the realm of modern medicine. And future possibilities… unlimited. Oh, I know we read about mechanical devices to replace nature’s own, but what mechanical device is as good as the real thing?”

“I can’t think of any.”

“Exactly. And if some future technology comes along to put us out of business, I suppose Anatomical Ventures could always gear into fast foods.” Mr. Barn chuckled. It was a company joke. Berman managed a smile. “Right now, there’s tremendous opportunity in transplants. The Transplant Exchange is flourishing. Life and death are involved here, Mr. Berman. What has more value to a failing body than a pink, functioning organ? Nothing.”

“I thought people donated that sort of thing.”

“They do. It’s one of our major problems. But folks are wising up. They’re coming to realize that there might be a fortune in Aunt Irma’s container.”

“Container?”

“A euphemism. The word body is rather crude. And we are neither crude nor crass. We simply accept the fact that more and more donors are being listed by themselves or their relatives on the Transplant Exchange. We merely act as brokers, not judges.”

“Is any of this legal?”

“Perfectly. But in the current primitive climate, we think it best to be discreet. Mr. Berman, the bottom line is that you can invest in body parts and fill your treasury if you act wisely. The market rises and falls very rapidly. There’s the normal demand; sudden outbreak of disease; mass disasters; a variable accident rate, especially around holidays; and so forth. It’s an exhilarating roller coaster. And however you feel about dealing in the product, it can give you what you say you want.”

“Objectively, it’s not much different from buying shares in defense stocks. I can go along. How do I begin?”

“I’ll escort you to our trading center. But first, please sign your check over to Anatomical Ventures, Ltd., and we’ll establish a line of credit. Say, $100,000, all things considered.”

“Do I get chips?” Berman said.

“That’s amusing,” said Mr. Barn.

Berman followed Mr. Barn down a long corridor, past many doors, and finally, through a carved wooden door that reminded Berman of a cathedral. The room he entered was in violent contrast to the leather, wool, and wood world he had left. It was a large room, a crescent in shape. The crescent’s rim was made up of display screens flashing numbers in different colors. Below the bank of screens were rows of desks where at least fifty men and women shouted into telephones. The remainder of the room was a theater with splendid Lucite and fabric chairs rising on ascending platforms. Most of the chairs were occupied by men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. As the figures changed on the display screens, there were moans and squeals from the chamber, and from time to time one of the audience would jump screaming out an order to a clerk. In response, the clerk below would shout, “Done.”

Berman was led to an empty chair. One winged arm held a small computer with its own display panel. “There are pressers and yellers,” said Mr. Barn. “Actually, all that howling is amusing but anachronistic. Old habits die hard with some of our clients. All you have to do is use these keys to buy or sell. It’s quite elementary. The keys are clearly marked. For example, Mr. Berman, suppose you decided to buy a hundred livers. You would first press BUY, then LIVS, then 100, then AG for age group. Prices vary for youthful livers and old livers. That’s true for all organs, of course. So it would be key A for the 1-10 age group, B for 11-20, C for 21-30, D for 31-40, E for 41-45, F for 46-50, G for 51-55, and H for 56-plus. The current price of your trade, including our modest commission, will flash on your screen. Then you press CONFIRM, the red key, and your order is accepted and executed. Of course, if the gospel spirit moves you, you can work off tension by jumping up and yelling out your order to Clerk 16. Believe me, it can be fun to do things the old-fashioned way, Oh, at the end of each trading day, which is six o’clock sharp, you receive a full statement of your account printed out right at your place. And since you have established a line of credit, you may begin trading at any time. One other thing. The R key is for refreshments. An attendant will come to take your order. Your account will be billed for food and beverages, with an automatic 15 percent gratuity. Naturally, profits and losses are to be reported on your tax return, but since I am talking to an accountant, that information seems rather redundant. I’m sorry. I deliver this introductory speech by rote.”

“That’s quite all right,” said Berman. “Yes, I know about the IRS. In fact, I was recently audited. Valid expenses for specialized medical treatments were ignored. Despite my logical, reasonable, honest presentation of the hard facts….”

“Death and taxes, eh?” said Mr. Barn. He patted Berman’s shoulder. Berman pulled away. The gesture was too familiar. It was friendly, yet there was enough power in the pat to leave Berman sitting in his trader’s chair. “Good luck, Mr. Berman. There’s no substitute for luck.”

“Thanks.”

“Start slowly. Familiarize yourself. Feel your way. Wait until you are entirely comfortable. And you are entitled to a complimentary first cocktail.”

Berman settled into his chair. He noticed a curious contradiction about the trading room. While there was the terrific sense of energy in the place, as if the filtered air were stirred by the beating wings of large birds, the source of that energy was hard to pinpoint. Yes, the clerks on the phones were animated, and yes, the changing screens contributed something to the mood, but the cumulative effect, the silent, perpetual explosions, the core of fire came from the traders themselves. Apart from the occasional jumper, the traders were virtually immobile. They sat bent to the computers on their chairs or looked glazed at the large screens on the wall. They seemed frozen by sudden lava. Yet the amazing energy rose in clouds from their bodies and fused like an angry ghost that filled the crescent with malevolent glee.

Berman felt relief when a young, ball-shaped man whose face glowed with what could only be a torrent of sweat flew from his seat and yelled, “Buy 1,000 Corneas at $500.” A woman in her middle years stood in her place and faced the young man. “Sell 1,000 Corneas at $503¼.” Berman shifted his focus to the CORNEA screen. Corneas blinked at $499, then $500½, then $545. The man who bought Corneas bought more. The woman who sold Corneas sank back into her chair with a failed expression. Berman wondered why Corneas rose. He found the reason on the screen marked NEWS. A bulletin was being printed out about a killer smog in Los Angeles. Traders around the world obviously were betting on Corneas. They went to $590. The sweating man sold his Corneas and made $90,000. The woman who sold Corneas still had little faith in them. She shorted 800 Corneas and bought 200 Future Possible Eyes at $5,600. Berman looked at his FUT POS key. From what Mr. Barn had said, Berman assumed FUT POS designated transplants still in the experimental stage. On the EYES board, it was quite clear that the $5,600 Eyes were dated 12-31. Different Future Possible contracts were offered on Eyes. They varied greatly in price. Next year’s Eyes were dirt cheap, but the price rose rapidly after that, peaked a year later, then declined. The woman was betting on available Eye transplants near the end of the decade. The price held steady.

Berman made no trades in the first hour. Then he bought a few Corneas, which had come down again to $506, and one expensive Liver at $23,000. The Corneas did nothing, but the Liver spurted. Berman sold the Liver at a profit of $4,500. He kept his Corneas for the moment and concentrated on the NEWS screen.

The screen printed an item about research at Stanford University involving sectional brain transplants to a strain of white mice. A few cortices had survived for up to twelve days. Berman pressed FUT POS BRA. He bought ten Brain futures dated May 1, at a mere $4,788 each, and fifteen minutes later sold them at $11,322 1/8. Now Berman moved quickly into Kidneys, which he reguarded as the workhorse investment. He put $18,000 into Kidneys in the 41-45 age group. Berman fidgeted, watching the large KIDNEY screen. Then middle-aged Kidneys inched up and pulled the 41-45 AG KIDS along. Berman found himself in the air howling, “Sell three KIDS AG 4145.”

“Done.”

Berman sat back, pressed R, and got lunch and his free Bloody Mary. His sandwich, a grilled cheese with tomato, was excellent, served with delicious coleslaw and a sour pickle. A sweet waitress served Berman. He added 10 percent to her built-in tip. Anatomical Ventures, Ltd., was well run. The little extras were what made the difference.

After lunch Berman had the urge to concentrate in Future Possibles. He bought heavily into Limbs, Fingers, Toes, and Breasts. He broke even on those trades; then, on a whim, he bought Tongues and Teeth. Tongues were definitely FUT POS, but Teeth had a board of their own. Berman heard a radio dentist say that tooth transplants were catching on. Both the Tongues and Teeth did very nicely. Berman sold TEE and-TON and rolled over into HIR. Hair was volatile and only $257 a head. Berman bought two thousand heads. Hair began to drop. Berman flexed, sold, and moved into FUT POS OVR. He got his Ovaries for $34,000 even, and just as he Confirmed, the NEWS board printed out a report of a French atomic test in the Pacific. Since tumors result from such tests, Ovaries practically doubled. By three o’clock, Berman had a profit of nearly $135,000.

Mr. Barn came to see him. “I’m impressed,” Mr. Barn said. “Did you know something about Ovaries?”

“Just a hunch,” Berman said. “An educated guess.”

“Nicely done, in any case. Ovaries have been depressed for months. That trade took guts.”

Berman didn’t want praise, he wanted privacy. He knew he was on a roll. When Mr. Barn finally left him in peace, Berman plunged on Hearts. He had watched Hearts go up and down. It was evident that the imminent possibility of a mechanical substitute took its toll on the price. A young Heart was going for under $60,000, which seemed an astonishing bargain. Berman risked $200,000 on young Hearts. When they tacked on $13,000 each, Berman sold his Hearts and bought PUT POS GENS Males AG 21-30 for $750 a scrotum. Berman had read that trouble in the Middle East could involve many nations in a small but furious war, and that could mean either a sudden need for Genitals the minute they could be transplanted, or it could mean an oversupply of Genitals. Berman played both possibilities. When his GENS rose to $987½, he sold GENS and shorted. Sure enough, Genitals came under panic selling. Berman made $476,000 and put the bulk of it into good old familiar Kidneys.

By this time, Berman’s success was evident to others. He knelt over his computer to keep them from seeing his trades. Berman felt a delicious calm. He was as contained as an oyster.

While the war in the Middle East failed to materialize, it did rain heavily in the Far Western United States. Berman had a quick vision of mudslides, floods, and accidents. Brain-dead Californians would line the highways. Berman shorted Livers, Kidneys, ten Hearts, and a large block of Corneas. By five, Berman was a millionaire.

A few years ago, Berman could have called it a day. But now, after subtracting estimated tax, calculating the leftovers, dividing by what remained of his statistical seventy-five year life-span, Berman saw that he would have to do more trading, even with a controlled inflation rate. But he’d had a day’s work, that was for sure. Berman pressed R and ordered a dry gin martini. It was crisp as winter air. Even the olive was good. Berman decided to call Jane even if it wasn’t Thursday. She deserved a fine dinner.

Berman noticed the NEWS screen flash a bulletin. A scientist claimed that the meat supply might be tainted by insecticide. Berman responded by buying FUT POS BLAS in huge amounts. Bladders would certainly go up based on the news. They would surely pay for dinner.

But Bladders fell. A denial from the Meat Information Bureau was apparently believed by the naive traders. “How could they swallow such a pile of crap?” Berman muttered to his computer, watching Bladders dive. Bladders cost Berman $670,000 before he gave up on them, and he found himself with a glossy face. If only he had left when he planned to. But there was no use in dwelling on wrong decisions, and plenty of time to find right ones. He was still comfortably ahead on the day, and there was still nearly an hour of trading time. “No,” thought Berman. “Go home now. Come back tomorrow.”

Berman stood up to leave. But instead, he heard himself shout an order for $500,000 in FUT POS ELB. Everybody was playing tennis and they all screwed up their Elbows. Future Possible Elbows in the prime young-adult age groups, male and female, were certainly not expensive. They were too damn low at $453¼, so Berman bought.

He watched Elbow futures dive even as Knees and Hips achieved new highs. Berman bit the bullet and sold his Elbows, then went into older Intestines. They wavered but didn’t budge. Berman swung to Rectums, back to Genitals, then gave up on Future Possibles, which seemed under pressure. Bone Marrow, that was it. But Bone Marrow went down, so Berman bought into a falling Spleen market. Spleens were bound to turn up along with Gall Bladders. They fell.

Berman’s computer screen went blank. Mr. Barn came along soon after. “You seem to have had a bad run. You seem to be overextended, Mr. Berman.”

“It started with Elbows. Jesus, Hips, Knees, everything else went up, up, up. Elbows went down. Go explain it. How much do I owe exactly?”

“As you realize, since your account was so substantial, we opened the door on your credit rating. You dipped into a deep pool. I’m afraid you owe us $983,000 and change.”

“Well, keep the change,” said Berman, laughing. “Look, I need more credit.”

“Now that could be difficult.”

“But I told you I was loaded with assets other than liquid. No problem. I mean, in addition to the CDs, IRA, Keogh and annuities, there’s the condo.”

Even as Berman spoke, the NEWS screen flashed word of trouble at a nuclear power plant in Rangoon. He knew Bone Marrow would rise in response to a possible leukemia increase, but the smart money would go to Future Possible Stomachs, Larynges, and Esophagi. Ulcers and smoking-related diseases would be the quickest beneficiaries of the pending disaster, which could only produce stress. But Berman had no money. He couldn’t move to the moment.

“We will make a small exception in your case, Mr. Berman, and extend you a credit line not to exceed $100,000, at an interest rate determined by the day’s bank rate plus two little points. Is that agreeable?”

“Yes. Done,” Berman said, signing a paper. He immediately ordered STOMS, LRGS, ESOPI, and sat back to watch the numbers. As he anticipated, Bone Marrow went up a few points, then slid, while Stomachs, Larynges, and Esophagi rocketed. When he had a profit of $400,000, Berman pressed SELL, but then he pressed CANCEL SELL. Why sell on a boom? But the floor slipped badly under Berman’s holdings. First STOMS, then LRGS, then ESOPI lost heavy ground.

Berman was wiped out. If he were to liquidate everything including his mother, he would hardly cover his debt to Anatomical Ventures, Ltd.

In a small cubicle off the trading room, Berman told Mr. Barn, “I know it sounds dire, but you must remember that I not only have excellent earning capacity but an enviable tax loss. In a few years….”

“A few years? Mr. Berman, let me level with you. I am personally acquainted with a wealthy industrialist in urgent need of one perfect testicle. While testicle transplants are at a very early stage, he is willing to pay a fair price. And he wants a fresh one from a healthy donor. I could put the order on the board. On the other hand, we have a surgery on premises, and the procedure is quick and painless.”

“You want me to sell my balls?”

“Just one. Your choice. We are talking upward of six figures and a little more.”

“A little more? How much more?”

“Say, ten thousand over debt. You can walk out of here with something.”

Twenty minutes later, Berman was back in the trading room. His operation left small discomfort, but he could avoid that by sitting in a crouch. He still had one testicle, sufficient for his Thursday sex life. Mr. Barn had given him a credit line of $15,000, which was not very much but enough to recoup some of his losses. Unfortunately, Berman traded Kidneys, and it was as if nobody in the world needed Kidneys anymore. Kidneys collapsed.

That misfortune sent Berman back into surgery, where he sold a kidney of his own. That trade again broke him even and left him with a new credit line. On a hunch, after looking at the waitress who brought him another martini, Berman bought 282 Future Possible Nipples. Just as he finished programming his order into the computer, the NEWS screen announced the development of a polyvinyl nipple that was safe, durable, and easily affordable. Berman asked to be wheeled back into surgery. He negotiated a nice arrangement with Mr. Barn as he was anesthetized, and when he woke from his operation minus an eye and ten teeth, he was back in the trading room wired neatly to some kind of machine. He still had full mobility and bought Future Possible Lips. LPS went up six points. Berman sold and bought into Cervices. They rose nicely, and Berman was feeling more confident. It was nearly 5:35, but there was time enough. Berman invested in Duodena, and that proved a disaster. Mr. Barn offered a fair deal on Berman’s remaining testicle. Berman sold it on condition that it be removed at the chair with local anesthesia so that he could continue to trade. The surgical team accommodated him, and Berman traded Clitorises in a kind of bizarre gesture toward Joan. Their sex life would be severely modified considering, but there was always the chance that he might grow rich and buy himself a brand-new pair of balls. He punched in his order with fatalistic calm and blinked with his one eye as Clitorises bottomed out. Mr. Barn offered Berman a tremendous price for his second kidney. Berman took it, on the same conditions for removal. He was laid on his belly right in the trading room. Even as his kidney was taken, he bought into Inner Ears, but the whole market sagged.

After his bad run in INEARS, Berman bargained a package that included his scalp, pubis, a few yards of lower bowel, and his rectum. Prices had dropped with the market crash, but he was still in business at 5:55.

Berman’s last trade, the one that cost him his remaining eye, his limbs, and heart, was a desperate move into Thyroids, Epiglottises, and Adrenals. There was no demand.

At six, when the exchange closed with the sounding of a traditional bell, there was hardly enough left of Berman to cremate. What remained could have been carried in an ashtray. But instead, Mr. Barn personally authorized use of a carved Baccarat urn and arranged for a messenger to deliver the skimpy pile of Berman’s charred dreams to Jane Forbish. The messenger lost them on a crowded bus.

Berman’s organs performed perfectly for several grateful receivers. He won certain fame as a donor. Ironically, the mogul who got Berman’s left testicle met Jane Forbish at a dinner party quite by chance. They were married. Neither knew anything of the incredible coincidence, but Thursdays became important in their lives.

Jane thought of Seymour Berman from time to time. She assumed he had struck it rich, tired of her, and went off to some exotic place like Tahiti. At first she had been furious, then just angry, and finally, accepting and compassionate. And she was watched over by Berman’s ghost, in bits and pieces, which did its best to protect her from harm. From another world, Berman would sometimes yell like a trader at the Transplant Exchange, “I CAME CLOSE!” But there was too much interference to penetrate such barriers as exist.

 

 

[] ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

A Writer without Borders

 

Harvey Jacobs is the award winning author of seven books, including the novels Side Effects, reviewed by Kirkus Reviews as “A great comic novel … by one of America’s most accomplished authors“; American Goliath, called “the year’s best book” by Publishers Weekly, featured in Time Magazine, and a finalist for the World Fantasy Award; The Juror, exploring the flip side of 12 Angry Men; and Summer on a Mountain of Spices, about the heyday of a “Borcht Belt” hotel in the last week of WWII. The Egg of the Glak and Other Stories, his first story collection and still a cult favorite, was followed by My Rose and My Glove, containing stories real and surreal.

Harvey Jacobs has written widely for television, the Earplay Project for radio drama, and helped create and name the Obie Awards for the Village Voice. He was publisher of the counterculture newspaper, East. His short fiction has appeared in a wide spectrum of magazines in the USA and abroad including Esquire, The Paris Review, Playboy, Fantasy & Science Fiction, New Worlds, and many anthologies. He received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a New York Arts Council CAPS award for drama, a Playboy Fiction Award, and a Writers Guild of America script award.

 

More books from Harvey Jacobs are available at: http://ReAnimus.com/store/?author=Harvey Jacobs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this book we hope you’ll tell others or write a review! We also invite you to subscribe to our newsletter to learn about our new releases and join our affiliate program [_ (where you earn 12% of sales you recommend). _]

Here are more ebooks you’ll enjoy from ReAnimus Press (plus lots more on the web site):

 

[+  ][+Beautiful Soup,] by Harvey Jacobs        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Side Effects,] by Harvey Jacobs        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+American Goliath,] by Harvey Jacobs        [Author’s Official Site]

 

Coming soon: The Egg of the Glak, by Harvey Jacobs

Coming soon: The Juror, by Harvey Jacobs

  
But Wait…. There’s More! #2, by Harvey Jacobs

 

  
But Wait…. There’s More! #3, by Harvey Jacobs

 

[+  ][+Kafka s Uncle and Other Strange Tales,] by Bruce Taylor        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Edward: Dancing on the Edge of Infinity,] by Bruce Taylor        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories,] by Craig Strete        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Wyoming Sun,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Cinnabar,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Fetish,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Neon Twilight,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Predators and Other Stories,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Trilobyte,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Darker Passions,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Among the Dead and Other Events Leading to the Apocalypse,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Particle Theory,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Baku: Tales of the Nuclear Age,] by Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Phoenix Without Ashes,] by Harlan Ellison and Edward Bryant        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+In Hollow Lands,] by Sophie Masson        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
Journals of the Plauge Years, by Norman Spinrad

 

[+  ][+Fragments of America,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
Pictures at 11, by Norman Spinrad

 

  
The Men from the Jungle, by Norman Spinrad

 

  
Greenhouse Summer, by Norman Spinrad

 

[+  ][+Passing Through the Flame,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

 

[+  ][+Mexica,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
Songs from the Stars, by Norman Spinrad

 

  
The Solarians, by Norman Spinrad

 

  
The Void Captain’s Tale, by Norman Spinrad

 

[+  ][+Staying Alive – A Writer’s Guide,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
The Mind Game, by Norman Spinrad

 

[+  ][+The Children of Hamelin,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
The Iron Dream, by Norman Spinrad

 

[+  ][+Bug Jack Barron,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Experiment Perilous: The ‘Bug Jack Barron’ Papers,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde,] by Norman Spinrad        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
Agent of Chaos, by Norman Spinrad

 

  
Russian Spring, by Norman Spinrad

 

  
Little Heroes, by Norman Spinrad

 

  
A World Between, by Norman Spinrad

 

[+  ][+Anthopology 101: Reflections, Inspections and Dissections of SF Anthologies,] by Bud Webster        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Past Masters,] by Bud Webster        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Of Worlds Beyond,] by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, ed.        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Issue at Hand,] by James Blish (as William Atheling, Jr.)        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+More Issues at Hand,] by James Blish (as William Atheling, Jr.)        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Tale that Wags the God,] by James Blish        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Exiles Trilogy,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+The Kinsman Saga,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+As on a Darkling Plain,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Winds of Altair,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+The Multiple Man,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Escape!,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Forward in Time,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Maxwell’s Demons,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+The Astral Mirror,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+Immortality,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Space Travel – A Science Fiction Writer’s Guide,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells,] by Ben Bova        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+How To Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings,] by Robert Qualkinbush        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Ghosts of Engines Past,] by Sean McMullen        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Colours of the Soul,] by Sean McMullen        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Cure for Everything,] by Severna Park        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+The Sad Happy Story of Aberystwyth the Bat,] by Ben Gribbin        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+The Gilded Basilisk,] by Chet Gottfried        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
William J. Hypperbone, or The Will of an Eccentric, by Jules Verne

 

[+  ][+The Futurians,] by Damon Knight        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Shadrach in the Furnace,] by Robert Silverberg        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Xenostorm: Rising,] by Brian Clegg        [Author’s Official Site]

 

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[+  ][+Flies from the Amber,] by Wil McCarthy        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam,] by edited by Bernard Edelman for The New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+I’ve Never Been To Me,] by Charlene Oliver        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+Biff America: Steep Deep & Dyslexic,] by Jeffrey Bergeron (AKA Biff America)        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
Innocents Abroad (Fully Illustrated & Enhanced Collectors’ Edition), by Mark Twain

 

[+  ][+Local Knowledge (A Kieran Lenahan Mystery),] by Conor Daly        [Author’s Official Site]

 

  
A Mother’s Trial, by Nancy Wright

 

  
Bad Karma: A True Story of Obsession and Murder, by Deborah Blum

 

[+  ][+By The Sea,] by Henry Gee        [Author’s Official Site]

 

[+  ][+The Sigil Trilogy (Omnibus vol.1-3),] by Henry Gee        [Author’s Official Site]

 

 

Check out these and hundreds more great titles from ReAnimus Press! www.ReAnimus.com

 

 


But Wait.... There's More! #1

A trio of free stories from the genius of humorous, fantastical, surreal stories. But Wait #1 and #3 are free ebooks! Free! Yes, free, blatantly to get you hooked on Harvey's work. :) But Wait #2 has 8 more stories, which cost just a little bit, which, deliberately being in the middle of two free collections to tickle your OCD need for completeness to get you to spring for, you'll be glad you did. :) His novels have been called "A masterpiece...arguably this year's best novel" by Kirkus Reviews and "inspired" by TIME Magazine. His beloved short fiction has appeared in a wide spectrum of magazines in the USA and abroad including Esquire, The Paris Review, Playboy, Fantasy & Science Fiction, New Worlds, and many anthologies. He received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a New York Arts Council CAPS award for drama, a Playboy Fiction Award, and a Writers Guild of America script award.

  • Author: ReAnimus Press
  • Published: 2017-01-10 20:20:19
  • Words: 14601
But Wait.... There's More! #1 But Wait.... There's More! #1