at this time tomorrow, whitey thought, i will either be dead or the richest man in the world, maybe the richest man who ever lived.
and if i win, if all goes according to plan, i will have earned every penny, after seventeen years of planning and waiting.
seventeen years since he first got the idea.
three years of scouting out the seven specialists he would use for his clockwork plan.
another three years of contacting them, while staying in the shadows and staying anonymous.
persuading them to go along with his plan, convincing them it would be worth the wait.
carefully giving them the code their instructions would be sent to them in.
none of the seven knew each other, or if they did, knew exactly who was in on it, or knew that whitey was the mastermind at the center of the web.
so it was all set up - ten years in advance.
the hardest part was the waiting. because you had to wait.
you had to wait out the web of surveillance that covered not just the planet but the whole solar system.
the interplanetary police tracked everything. every communication that took place between two or more entities anywhere in the solar system.
but whitey heard, from a reliable guy, that they had an eight year rotation of their data. after eight years, anything they had not flagged as suspicious got wiped out.
so if whitey sent the codes, and then sent the instructions ten years later - waiting an extra two years just to be safe - the messages would not be connected up to the original codes and it should be smooth sailing.
the seven had received their codes. as instructed, they had not responded to them. and when they got the messages ten years later they did not respond to those ether but committed them to memory and deleted them as spam.
the seven were -
marco, the magician, who would create the diversion.
margo, the babe, who would use her ancient powers of sorcery.
rube, the human cannonball.
harry, the hypnotist for the east side.
wanda, the hypnotist for the west side
alberto, the assassin, who would cover the rear.
danny, the driver.
they all knew exactly what to do,
would they do it? you had to have faith.
the hour finally arrived, and whitey entered the front door of the casino and headed for the roulette table, where he would set the whole thing in motion.
when he was twenty feet from the roulette table he was stopped by two guys in blue suits and red ties.
are you whitey lincoln? the bigger of the two asked.
what was the point of denying it? that’s me, whitey admitted.
i am agent carter and this is agent little. i think you know what we want.
what went wrong? whitey asked plaintively. i heard i had eight years before my codes got scrubbed.
you got told wrong or heard wrong, agent carter said. it is eighteen years, not eight.
i guess that explains it. say, guys, i only got twenty dollars in my pocket. can you let me have one spin at the table with it? just one.
sure, why not? i guess you want to buy yourself some snacks when you are breaking rocks on jupiter. but just one spin. we have a timetable here.
whitey put it all on red. the black came up.
as he was being led out the door, whitey said, i guess you guys must have a real sense of satisfaction nailing me, with a plan like i had.
no, said agent little, we pick up guys like you every day. real smart guys with real big plans.
a poor peasant named peter lived a long time ago in the old forest.
he lived with a cow, named elizabeth, a rooster, named ralph, and three hens, named faith , hope and charity.
one night the archangel jehudiel appeared to peter and told him he had only a short time to live.
this was not a surprise to peter as he was not so young as he had been, but he took the heavenly messenger’s words to heart.
he decided to take elizabeth the cow, a faithful beast who had served him well, to market, and attempt to trade her for a young wife.
he found a surprising number of young women available, as times were hard and poor folk were divesting themselves of extra mouths to feed.
but despite this, peter found no takers for elizabeth, who, like peter himself, was no longer young.
peter finally found a menacing looking fellow, named moloch, with a supposedly young woman for trade. the woman had a bag over her head and was wearing a baggy garment that completely covered her body.
moloch agreed to trade for elizabeth, but stipulated that peter must take the young woman sight unseen.
when peter objected to this condition, moloch grew angry and asked if peter was impugning, his, moloch’s honor.
frightened, peter agreed to the exchange. he led his new bride back to his hut, as darkness fell.
when they reached the hut, the bride pleaded that she was tired after her long journey, and she retired to a corner of the hut to sleep on some straw, without taking the bag off her head.
peter dozed off.
when he awoke in the morning, he discovered that the bride had turned into a toad, which was staring at him sullenly from a corner of the hut.
peter attempted to trap the toad in the bag the bride had worn over her head, but it evaded him and hopped out of the door of the hut and into the forest which surrounded the hut and peter’s small patch of land.
after he had done cursing his fate, peter decided to take one of the three hens, faith, to the market to see if he could trade her for a young bride, or any kind of bride.
moloch was again at the market, and when peter upbraided him, moloch not only laughed at him, but invited the other denizens of the market to hear the tale and join him in his laughter, which they were happy to do.
but look here, my friend, moloch addressed peter, after wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, i am a just man and will do what i can to make it up to you. here is another bride, perhaps a little less comely than the first, but i will take your scrawny hen in exchange for her, to show you i mean you no ill will.
the second bride, like the first, had a bag over her head and loose garments covering her body, but was much thinner than the first and had a bent back.
wishing to escape the continued laughter of the marketgoers, peter agreed to the exchange, and made his way back to the hut with the second bride, this time with a heavy rain adding to the falling darkness.
the second bride, like the first, made her excuses, and retired to the corner of the hut. peter was too wet and tired to argue with her, and quickly fell asleep himself, expecting the worst in the morning.
his fears were realized when, on awakening, he discovered the new bride had turned into a large spider, which he made no attempt to prevent from leaving the hut.
peter decided to give it one more try. he took the two remaining hens, hope and charity, and set out to the market, under a blue sky.
moloch was at his accustomed spot, and greeted peter like an old friend.
i know i have had my fun, he told peter, but i am ready to make amends. i will happily take these two plump chickens off your hand, and here is what i will give you in return.
a third bride appeared, again with a bag on her head, but at first glance shapelier than the first two.
go ahead, my friend, moloch exclaimed. i have no wish to cheat or deceive you. take the bag off her head yourself.
with trembling hand, peter did as moloch bid. he plucked the bag off the bride’s head, and beheld -
a young woman of radiant beauty, with a pink complexion and long soft blonde locks, who smiled at him enticingly!
what monstrous magic and trickery was this? peter’s blood froze, and he turned and ran back down the road to his hut as fast as his old legs could carry him.
ralph, the rooster, was waiting for him and the two of them escaped into the forest, where, according to different versions of the tale, they either joined a band of wolves, or were devoured by those same wolves.
the planet revolved around its sun in the same orbit and at the same speed it always had, even though all life on it had been destroyed in a great war, except for two creatures…
it had all begun a few hundred revolutions of the planet before…
i do not understand you, arabella. you are the most beautiful girl in the empire…. you can have your pick of rich old men, who will die after a few years and leave you rich and free… or of handsome young wealthy men, if that is your fancy… but instead you wish to become an assassin!
i wish to undergo the rigorous training of an assassin, my friend, because that is the only way i can hope to penetrate the heavily guarded fortress of prince d—————, who has wronged me so grievously, and take my terrible and righteous revenge against him.
very well, if you insist, i will use my influence with the vizier to have you admitted to the imperial school of assassins. but it seems a terrible waste to me. and you know, of course, of the rigorous training of the school, which spares none, and destroys so many…
i know of it, and i look forward to it!
but it was not to be thought that arabella’s beauty would pass unnoticed at the school of assassins, either by darl verloff, the master of the school, or by the vizier himself.
arabella was set aside for special training for a single mission - the assassination of the heir to the rival empire, which assassination would plunge the two empires into the war which had been the studied aim of the vizier from the time he had assumed power, many years before arabella, and most of the imperial subjects, had been born.
the heir to the rival throne was, darl verloff and the vizier assured arabella, an empty headed young fellow susceptible to the wiles of women much less alluring than arabella, and his dispatch would prove sufficient training for arabella, who would then be allowed to proceed with her vengeance against prince d————.
the planet was no different from any other in its galaxy, or any planet around any sun in any galaxy in any universe.
nothing went as planned.
the war erupted in a concentrated fury that neither side had anticipated, and the elaborate plans and stratagems that the generals and admirals of both sides had spent tens of thousands of days perfecting, went up in smoke and flames with the rest of the two empires.
arabella never got to take her revenge on prince d———-, but she was one of the two creatures on the planet to survive after seven days.
the other was a poor peasant named willy, from the other side of the planet. willy was undersized and half blind, and had been expelled from his village into the deep woods for beating a pig, a creature the villagers held sacred. willy had protested that because of his poor eyesight he had thought he was beating a porcupine, but his excuse was not accepted and he was banished.
now he found himself alone on the planet with the beautiful arabella.
eventually their paths crossed.
beautiful creature, willy exclaimed when he glimpsed arabella, fate has brought us together to start civilization anew. surely you will be mine.
of course, arabella replied, how could it be otherwise?
but i see you are carrying a sword, willy answered. throw it aside, please, that i may approach.
i will keep the sword, arabella said, gripping the weapon tightly, and trust that you will trust me. if you can not trust me on this, how can there ever be true love between us? come, come closer.
a little longer, i want to make sure he feels completely safe, like he does not have a care in the world.
except that he might have a heart attack, or die of old age.
a little longer.
all right, i will be happy to just take my advance, if he just drops dead. it is up to you.
it is up to me, and i say wait a little longer. i will let you know when it is time.
you know where to find me.
with that, mister a (for assassin) got up and left, leaving mr p (for powerful) to his thoughts.
it had all begun several light years before, when mister p had been plain joe potts, dreaming of starting his own convenience store and asking cynthia carter to make him the happiest man on earth.
joe and cynthia both worked at burger king and had just finished the thursday afternoon shift and were sitting at a table in the front of the store sipping cups of coffee before heading home. it was the first time joe had ever found himself alone with cynthia. joe was trying to make small talk to prolong the encounter when the door opened and nick narwhal, marshall high’s quarterback walked in.
nick looked displeased. what are you doing talking to cynthia, joe? he asked. she just happens to be my girl.
we were just talking, joe replied.
i have been practicing my butt off all afternoon getting ready to lead the team to victory on saturday, and this is the thanks i get? nick continued.
i am sorry, nick, joe stammered. it won’t happen again.
joe got up and left, without looking back at nick or cynthia.
in the years that followed, joe became , if not the richest and most powerful person on earth, one of the four or five richest and powerful.
nick narwhal was third on the depth chart on his division ii college team, and never took a snap at quarterback, although he played on special teams and suffered an injury to his leg which left him with a permanent limp.
after college, nick got a job selling cars at beat my price billy’s. selling cars came natural to nick, and he stayed at it for forty years, before retiring and moving to arizona with his third wife.
nick could not help but be aware of joe potts’s rise in the world, and occasionally wondered if joe ever gave a thought to himself, nick, but always concluded that he did not.
he has got better things to worry about, nick would say, like how to spend all those billions.
cynthia disappeared after graduating from high school. nick never thought about her, but joe never forgot her, and when he began to rise in the world, spent what most people would conside fortunes to have her located , but without success.
and joe kept a constant surveillance on nick, never forgetting the humiliation he had suffered at his hands, and never wavering in his resolve to have his revenge. he was also convinced that nick was responsible for cynthia’s disappearance and might have murdered her, though none of the people he employed could ever find any evidence for either supposition.
after mister a left him, joe went for his afternoon walk.
he usually just walked around his spacious grounds, but on this day, as he occasionally did, he decided to walk into town, and he did, followed discreetly by some of his bodyguards.
the town consisted of a gas station, a post office and library, two restaurants, and a few dozen gift shops.
joe walked down the main street.
an elderly woman whom he did not recognize approached him.
they left him for dead, and the stars disappeared from the sky.
it began to rain, and the wind whipped the rags he was wearing.
he tried to get up, and he could not.
he fell asleep and dreamed.
or was it a dream?
he walked down a street of gold in a great city in a burning desert.
a jade palace stood at the end of the street of gold.
the jade palace was guarded by a hundred hooded swordsmen on ebony steeds.
and by fifty silent white lions.
and by fifty silent green dragons.
and by twenty sabre-toothed tigers whose roarings ripped the sky.
and by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, astride a red dinosaur, and wielding a sword that flashed in the sun.
but they all stood aside and let him pass.
he entered the door of the palace.
and found himself in a long, windowless corridor lit by a single sputtering lamp.
at the end of the corridor was a room, furnished only with a large bed.
on the bed lay his enemy.
the enemy had shrunk to the size of a child’s doll, and his face was the face of a spider.
he put his hand on the throat of his enemy.
spare me! cried the enemy. spare me and this kingdom is yours!
his hand began to tighten on the enemy’s throat.
listen! the enemy cried. i have only one hour to live! i have died nine hundred and ninety nine deaths, and this is the thousandth snd last! spare me this last hour - one hour! - and the kingdom is yours!
the two friends expected their old latin teacher to arrive at the station.
but the train passed through without stopping.
it started to rain.
the two friends, whose names were bradley and charles, repaired to the oyster bar where they had intended to entertain the latin teacher.
after eating too many oysters, they crossed the street to a low tavern where they got drunk.
did you see the dog run down the street? bradley asked charles.
no, charles replied, but i saw the lightning hit the old house.
lightning is always hitting old houses.
not as often as dogs run down the street.
but that is not as often as before, when dogs were not required to be kept on leashes.
you are not taking into account the millions of dogs living in the wild or in the streets.
you fool, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
how dare you speak to me in that fashion.
all right, let’s step outside and settle this.
which way is outside?
a waitress was passing by their table.
excuse me, miss, charles asked her. which way is outside?
stand up, the waitress told him, turn 360 degrees to your right and walk straight.
charles got up unsteadily, but bradley made no move to follow him.
now the dog, who had not caught the car it was chasing, took shelter inside the entrance to the tavern, and sat looking hopefully at the entering and exiting patrons, in hopes of being let into the low tavern.
pete grady, a drifter, looked at the sky and thought it looked like the rain would continue for a while, so he decided to enter the low tavern and spend his last few cents on a drink.
the hopeful countenance of the dog aroused his naturally sympathetic nature, and he opened the door wide enough for the dog to enter before him.
meanwhile, mr endicott, the latin teacher, who had exited the train a stop too soon, was trudging wearily down the road between the town he had mistakenly got off at, and headed at a measured pace to markville, where he had agreed to meet his old pupils charles and bradley, and savor the oysters they had talked so glowingly of.
mr endicott usually enjoyed brisk walks in the rain, but this one was proving a bit too long for his taste, especially as no cars or trucks came up the road behind him, which he might have attempted to flag down.
how he wished he were back in his cozy study, nursing a stiff drink in front of a blazing fire, instead of walking forlornly in the rain to make an appointment with two old students whom he did not even like that much or find very interesting.