Classes Tuesday were even more of a blur. I met Judy Blue Eyes at the cafeteria for a sandwich and a Coke (her treat) and somehow made pleasant conversation with half my mind elsewhere. My afternoon tutorial was treated to ten minutes of Cup-assisted eloquence on the causal correlation between the decline of nations and their diminished interest in the history of any country other than their own. Then I released them to renew their affection for the chronicles of the past in their own fashion while I hurried to The Hill, Houston’s own grassy knoll on the backside of Miller Outdoor Theater.
The peak of spring had slipped past while I was out stalking the Vulture and trying to track down The Cup. The sultry mugginess of Houston, with its promise of the humid misery that would be our common mistress for the next several months, was already creeping into the spring air. But Hermann Park was still full of people who were happy to be out in weather that Californians would have thrown stones at (if there were any who still believed in Yahweh).
The Boomer and I parked our butts near the crest of The Hill for a while, watching the ebb and flow of humanity and getting the feel of the crowd. It was a diverse group. Kids shrieked engine noises for their XF-99 Astrofighters, zooming in and out of a slalom course made up of lovers paired with one head in one lap each. Rich moms, poor moms, beggar moms, and maids yelled at them to no avail, unappreciative of the bold statement that the indifference of their children’s spirits to class boundaries made. Students easily identified by their cutoff-and-T-shirt uniforms read, talked in small groups, or quietly contemplated their oneness with the outdoor universe. A handful of refugees from the military-industrial complex in pin-striped suits had succumbed to the ancient tug of the season and abandoned the thick rugs in their paneled offices for the clover carpet of the park. Most had loosened their ties, and one heretic had even taken his wingtips off. A predator or two prowled the edges of the herd, seeking out the weak for a handout.
Finally I shrugged and nodded my head toward the crest. Then, while The Boomer hooked up his Sure-fire Attention Getter, I charged The Cup up with my handy-dandy aspirin bottle decanter.
Hey, will you relax? I can make this crowd believe yon cigarette lighter is the Hindenburg disaster. What you’re asking is a piece of cake.
Well, she certainly was confident, even if I wasn’t. However, before I had time to come up with a snappy reply, The Boomer did his thing, which consisted of a mechanical voice shouting “Alert, alert, alert,” followed by seven seconds of a Police siren that seemed more like thirty, and then the boom of a cherry bomb. He could have sold a gross of them to the rich moms etc., because it sure shut the kids up.
But I was on, and I stepped up into the silence, put on my most sincere expression, and started.
“Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of Houston and of the earth, I need your full attention for a few minutes to address a momentous concern. Please, come forward, gather round.”
Shit, it was scary how readily they did it. The future CEO—a descendant of Old Gabe had made it all the way to Texas, I suppose—picked up his wingtips and began stealing quietly away. A couple with a blanket covering their illicit state of undress didn’t even look up—the sound of blood rushing in their ears had doubtless kept them from hearing the siren, much less my summons. But everyone else hurried up the hill toward where I was standing. Even the predators shifted their hunting grounds to the slopes. I felt like Jesus beside the Sea of Galilee.
“I have this very morning, quite by accident I must confess, discovered the cure for West Peruvian encephalitis.” I had suggested that we claim cancer as the disease, but The Boomer said that would constitute fraud and wouldn’t budge. “It seems so simple in retrospect, and yet had I not carelessly shattered a flask and sprayed a few globules of highly purified fluorized entropy onto the cat, I would never have found it either. Praise Franca for her infinite mercy and the mystery of her ways.
“Just think of it. A single pill, smaller than an aspirin, taken once in your life, and you will never get West Peruvian encephalitis. Undoubtedly Mindy—that’s the cat, you see—will be engraved right beside Schrodinger’s pet on that honor roll of great feline assistants who pushed back the boundaries of fear and disease.
“Now, all that I need from you is a little money. A small supply of additional entropy, a patent fee, a modest expense here and there. A mere pittance when compared with the billions of your hard-earned tax dollars that our irresponsible government will ultimately waste on charlatans claiming to be researching West Peruvian encephalitis. They are the true cancer on the economy.” Even if The Boomer wouldn’t let me claim to cure cancer, I was determined to get that magic word in somehow. “Fortunately, we will soon drive them out of business and taxes will be a fraction of what they are today.
“I don’t merely ask, I implore. Reach into your wallets and take out one bill for me. The largest bill will be fine. If that will make you go hungry tonight, than another bill will do. Don’t give away the rent money. But you mustn’t leave without doing something for the glorious freedom that this will bring you, your families, your nation, and all mankind.”
Then I reverently placed a box on the ground in front of me and waited for the cops to arrive.
What came wasn’t the cops but a flood of greenbacks. Rich moms gave twenties; poor moms gave singles. Students pulled crumpled bills out of jean pockets, evidently eschewing wallets just as I did. The refugee businessmen gave with rapture on their faces (except for the escaped CEO, who probably gave at the office), just as the predators donated with pain. But as far as I could tell, they all filed by and filled my box up. They even dispersed when I gently suggested it without causing a riot or asking for my autograph.
It was the most painless $1467 I’d ever made, all in an hour on a Tuesday afternoon. If it had been Saturday, we’d have had to hire a Brinks truck.