... To Rust Unburnished,

A reader sat reading -- it was Mr. Harris with an old mystery. He sat in one of a million conceivable rooms of a city, bored witless.

One of the three 60-watt bulbs in his overhead lamp had burned out earlier in the week; every time he turned it on for reading he got the sensation that he was going blind.

"I'll have to buy a new one soon,"
he thought; but if he'd had a wife of ten years, she would by now have learned that he wouldn't buy any until they all burned out late one night.

It was the same with his television -- the tube had burned out, what, a year or so ago, and he never got around to having it fixed. A radio worked though.

"After all,"
Harris told Jones at work,
"I don't do anything when the TV is on, I just sit there."
"Ah, ya just sit there anyway,"
Jones replied.
"My kids watch it all the time."
He scratched his cheek, letting his eyelids droop.
"I don't see how they get their homework done."
"It's the schools, how do you know they even get homework these days."
Harris smiled.
"Who cares, eh?"

The mystery revolved around a book theft, some rare old Elizabethan folios. A literary scholar was called in to consult with the detective, they sat for lunch.

"Do you know,"
the scholar asked the detective,
"why the literary figures of the period are often shown with a human skull on their desks?"
"No, why, I never thought about it,"
Harris read.
"Well, because many of them did keep skulls around."
The scholar smiled.
"They were called a memento mori, a death reminder. The point being that we all end up there sooner or later, so why not live in the present, get cracking?"

The detective was alert.

"Seems like that wouldn't work,"
he said,
"for people who don't have any vision."
He sipped his coffee, the meal over.

"I mean, these guys knew their strength, when they looked at eighty years it was no time at all. Nowadays..."
He spun his hand at the wrist, trying to get the general picture.
"Well, with nothing but trivial concerns, all that time is just a cross to bear. You know."

said the scholar.
"But in those days you were an old man if you made forty-five."
He paused.
"You're right, though. It's easy to drift with external currents. And they were definitely not holding stopwatches against themselves."

He rose to leave, the detective was getting up.

"By the way,"
he asked suddenly,
"about the case. Can you find a clue in the world?"

"The possibilities are endless. All we have is an outline right now."
The detective brightened up and chuckled.
"You know why those guys died early?"
he said.
"I hear Marlowe used to drink wine the way we drink beer."

Harris looked up at the clock.

"A beer would be nice right now,"
he thought, putting down the book.

Just then a knock came at the door. Harris walked over and opened it, finding a man in a clown suit with a gun, who aimed and fired.

In Connecticut, at the Ruger Arms warehouse, a shipping clerk was talking to his girlfriend on the phone.

"The clinic said I was pregnant, Joey."
"Well, what do you want me to do about it?"
"I don't know,"
the doctor told his nurse.
"But I think we'll need the inventory sheets first so we can make out the claims for the insurance people to go over when they get here."
"It's a terrible time we're living in,"
she replied, shaking her head.
"No one pays attention to what our creator wants any more."

She glanced down at a copy of "Babelwatch" open on her desk. "Drug Scandal Rocks High Circles", it told her. The article's author was masturbating in Mobile, Alabama, the latest issue of "Spermbank" magazine lying spread-eagled before him on the bed.

The object of his attention, the Account of the Month, Miss May, was at that moment in class at the local business college in America, learning sales analysis, an eternal golden braid in her hair.

"The time preference factor serves to explain interest rates in micro-economies,"
the teacher told them, closing the book on his desk and standing up.
"The vendor of credit has to avoid the 'Scylla' of idle resources and the 'Charybdis' of liquidity problems, all the while seeking the highest rate of return."
He gave a start when the bell rang, and turned toward the wall.

"We have at least one person here who understands about making use of her god-given capital,"
he said, turning back and winking.

"There's a world of opportunity out there."
He wagged a finger at them.
"Potential waiting to be realized."

Gerry Reith