e-mail Jonathan Vos Post

THE MONEY PIPE
by
Andrew Carmichael Post & Jonathan Vos Post
a short story of Approx 5,500 words

"Daddy," said Andrew, "please don't go to work." His three-year-old face was a masterpiece of pouting lips and nearly tearful azure eyes. There was a crumb of egg yolk on his chin, and a smear of cherry preserves on his dinosaur T-shirt. The syrup smell of pancakes hung in the suburban sunlight. "Darling," said his father, in Sad-But-Serious mode, "I need to go to work now. I don't want to be late again." He leaned over to pick up his attache case, and Andrew coiled about his arm like an affectionate python. "Don't go to work," he pleaded, "stay home and play with me." "I will play with you more when I get home," said the father, trying to pry loose and hug reassuringly at the same time, "but I need to talk to some people about robots and rockets." "Robots and rockets!" echoed Andrew "I like robots and rockets. Stay home and we can build a giant Daddy robot." "I'll be back this afternoon, after your nap. Now be a good boy, and help Mommy water the garden." He traded kisses, slipped out the door, tossed the daily paper onto the porch, and vroomed his yuppie-gray Subaru towards the freeway. Front yards with orange trees gave way to video rental stores. Gas stations' reek turned into the smog and rubber stink of freeways. Freeways away from home, freeways to other freeways, freeways to work, freeways to the airport, freeways grinding slowly home at close of business. The freeway giveth and the freeway taketh away. The next morning, after a wrestle with pajamas and spilled coffee, Andrew launched into the same battle. "Don't go to work, Daddy. I want you to stay home with me all the time." "Sweetheart, you know that Daddy has to go to work." "Why?" "Because I need to get some money." "Why?" "Because Mommy and I spend money at the store to buy food and clothes and toys for you." "Why?" "Because only bad guys take things from stores without paying for them." "I could hit bad guys with a big hammer!" "I'm sure you could, honey," said the father. "But don't hit Mommy while I'm at work. And remember to play Nintendo while Mommy does her work on the computer. Mommy earns money too, even when she stays at home with you." Kiss, kiss, door, paper, car. That night, over microwave-thawed veal cutlets and reheated broccoli, the father and mother rehashed the arguments for and against pre-school. The stay-at-home-for-now compromise was voted in again, narrowly. "I can't stand the way he begs me to stay home. It breaks my heart to step outside without him, but the bills..." Next morning was more of the same. "Please don't go to work, Daddy." Andrew had been able, since babyhood, to blast a coherent beam of cute-ons from his angelic face. The fundamental particles of irresistible charm. "I need to go to work, darling." "Why?" "You know, my little parsnip. Daddy needs to get more money." "But I have money, Daddy," said Andrew. "Here are two monies." He handed his father two shiny pennies. "Now you can stay with me and play tennis with a soccer ball." "Thank you," said the father, with that preacherly tone his wife found so insincere. "I will keep those pennies, and here, let me give you a nickel and a dime in exchange. I'll see you later, after you take your nap." Hug and counterhug. Workwards and anti-workwards. One odd moment while buying cardboard ravioli lunch in the company cafeteria. On closer scrutiny, one of the pennies from the boy was a 1914 penny in, numismatically speaking, very good condition. "Haven't seen one of these in circulation since I was a little kid," he thought. "Too bad it isn't a 1914-D. That would be worth a few bucks." He tucked it into the inner pocket of his vest, the one he'd kept tokens in before fleeing New York for the good life. So to speak. Again, next morning. Children never tire of repetition. That's how they wear us down. That, plus the ability to spring from bed at dawn when we're still in bleary half-focus. "Don't go to work, Daddy. We could paint nice monsters on big paper. I won't spill the water, Daddy." "Yes, honey. I know you are very careful, and I like the way you paint with two brushes at the same time. But Daddy needs to go to work, give some papers to his boss, swear never again to work a cost-plus-fixed-fee proposal, and bring home more money." "I can give you money, Daddy." "Yes, Andrew. I was very happy that you gave me two pennies yesterday. But Mommy and Daddy need more money than that. Do you still have the nickel and dime I gave you yesterday?" Andrew's face fell. "No, Daddy. I lost them." "Where do you think they went? "Down the money pipe, Daddy." "That's nice, son. I'll play with you when I get home. Be helpful to Mommy. Goodbye kiss? Oooh, that's nice. Bye-bye, now." He was almost to his exit by the time he thought "Money pipe? That's cute. Must remember to tell the wife." She was bathing Andrew when the father got home. The splashes and reverberating shrieks of laughter were unmistakable. Time to open the mail. You're invited. Save an additional 5%. Adopt a pet today. Dear Occupant. After tossing the bumph in the wastebasket, noting the lack of personal letters, there was no way to avoid the bills. Citibank Visa was dropping the interest rates on all new purchases. Great. If only there were some way to pay off the old purchases. American Express was adjusting the credit limit upwards, due to your excellent credit history. A cash-out second mortgage was proffered by two firms with generic names. Gas bill lower -- the solar water heater would pay for itself by early next year. Electric bill up. Got to turn that bathroom light off before going to bed. And the phone bill. Ouch. Wouldn't it be cheaper to fly the mother-in-law in every few months, and let the wife catch up on gossip then? He forgot to mention the cute "money pipe" anecdote that night. Next morning, into the breach again, good friends. "Don't go to work, Daddy. We could play Batman and Robin Hood. You could be Smee." "Daddy needs more money. These bills are getting to me." "I could shoot those bills with a machine gun." "They'd only send more. Here's a dime and a quarter for you." "A quarter?" "You remember, Andrew. A quarter is a half of a half. So four quarters make a dollar." "A diller, a dollar, a diller, a dollar, a dylan, a dollan. Thank you Daddy." "Don't lose your money this time, darling." "Don't worry, Daddy. I won't go near the money pipe today." "That's good. Give me a kiss. Thank you. And remember that you promised Mommy not to put Gigantor in the washing machine again." "Okay Daddy. You could be happy at work. See you later." Org charts all over the office. Another reorganization by the Division execs. Won't make a bit of difference when the annual report is printed. The venture capital boys will want their pound of flesh. They talk of "blood-letting" on Wall Street, and boost the stocks halfway back to where they used to be, when the inevitable layoffs come. People eye each other in the halls. Hope it's him, not me. Glad to get out alive, again. Carbon monoxide in car exhaust is sweeter than the invisible dust of dread that floats from filing cabinets. Next morning, after the ritual bottle of half-tap-water-half-apple- juice, now only used in morning, pre-bed, and car-trip situations, another round. "Please don't go to work, Daddy." "Believe me, Andrew, I would rather stay home and play with you. When the vice presidents run amok, the office is no fun at all." "I would crush those vice pelidents with a big rock." "Might boost productivity, after all. Kiss? Great. And one for you. Super. See you later, darling." "Wait, Daddy, I have money for you." This time it was an Austro-Hungarian gold piece, Emperor Franz- Josef looking smug. "You should never, never take things from Mommy's jewelry box," said the father, wondering why she'd never shown him this particular item from her stash. Probably waiting to turn two of them into earrings, or something. "No, Daddy. I got this from the money pipe." He turned it over and over in his hand all through the departmental meeting. Checked the price of gold on the spot market in the morning's Journal. $379.50 an ounce, and the Austro-Hungarian coin, hefty in his palm, weighed an ounce. Numismatic value above and beyond? No, they were all printed with the same mint year, only worth bullion. Pretty ritzy earrings. Or whatever. Hmmm. Extra half hour on the freeway; one Honda crushed like aluminum foil, and ten thousand lookie-loos slowing, craning necks for better view, accelerating away. Better him than me. "Honey, did you know that Andrew's been getting into your jewelry?" "No, but I have seen him push a chair into other rooms, then climb. Why?" "He gave me this 100 Kroner coin, must be one of yours." "I've never seen it before. Are you investing on the side? Getting bonuses in Krugerrands and the like?" "Bonuses? You've got to be kidding. They just laid off fifteen poor suckers in Yasmin's department. If it's not mine, and not yours, how the heck did he get his mitts on it?" Andrew looked up from his fish-sticks, which he'd been laying out on the table in a zig-zag line. "I told you, Daddy. From the money pipe." The father laughed and recounted their 3-year-old's story to his wife. "Oh, yes," she said. "What an imagination. Today he was telling me a story about Dog-Spider Land, where spiders bite dogs and dogs bite the spiders right back. I think we've got a budding magical realist on our hands. Trouble is, when I ask him if he's had a nap or needs to go potty, I can never get a straight answer. You sure it's real gold?" "I weighed it on the postal balance at the mail room. It's gold all right. Worth nearly $400." "Sell it tomorrow, during work," she said, setting the fish-sticks back on Andrew's plate. The plumber's been bugging me for the second installment on that toilet leak." "But where.." "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," she said. That night, around 3 a.m., when the only sound outside was the moonlit air rushing through the branches of the orange trees, and the echo of chained dogs, the Andrew Radio crackled. Out of habit, they'd kept the monitor turned on, still plugged in underneath his crib, although he'd shifted to his regular bed six months ago. The receiver on the father's bedstand creaked as Andrew rolled over in bed, just down the hall, and sometimes thumped if he rolled off onto his "Where's Waldo?" throw-rug. This time, the child was talking in his sleep, in a relaxed and cheerful tone. "Hello, my name is Andrew. I'm three years old. I can jump over oceans; I can climb higher than mountains; I can bash bad guys. How did you get here? Oh, yes, I know that money pipe. Okay." "So that's it," thought the father, rubbing his nose against the cool cotton pillowcase. A dream. Forget it." And then, just as he was sliding back below the meniscus of somnolence, "but that doesn't explain where he really got the coin." The next morning, after Andrew had held the TV ransom until allowed to watch Yogi Bear -- "Too much news is boring, Daddy!" -- and after Mommy had to take his pants off and turn them right-side-front -- "But you are a big boy to put on your own pants" -- the parting scene rolled by once more. "Please don't go to work, Daddy." "I wish I could stay, Andrew, But my boss would be angry if I didn't go to work." "Tell your boss he could stay home and play with his little boy." "My boss doesn't have a little boy. Rumor is, he does fool around with little girls, but I'd better not bring that up." "I have a girl friend, Daddy. She's twenty-thirty-hundred and has nice blue hair." "Good work, Andrew. I know that some lucky girl will be happy to marry a boy as handsome and clever as you." "Yes, Daddy. I will marry Mommy, and live with her in a house with a giant TV, and have a little baby who would be you." "But Mommy is already married -- to me." "That's okay, Daddy. We could take turns." "Fine with me, darling. You take good care of Mommy while I'm at work. Kiss? Very good. Hug? Wow, how strong you're getting. Hey, stay out of my coat pocket. I'll see you later." "See you later, Daddy. Have a nice weekend this Friday." "Bye-bye, my little Gummi-Bear." When the father groped in his coat pocket for a quarter's coffee money, he felt something oddly massive and un-round. In the flickering fluorescent, he ran his thumb over the tyrant's face stamped on an irregular planchet of almost reddish gold, with letters that looked halfway between Greek and the runes from The Lord of the Rings. What the hell have I gotten into now? When the boss slipped off for golf with Veep Spielvogel, the father blurted "got to check up on some metallurgy, real urgent, if I'm not back until tomorrow, just have the Brechner files ready for signature." "What number will you be at...?" went the secretary's voice, diminishing as the elevator doors clumped shut. His throat was tight, and his stomach was churning like a jacuzzi. "Something's very wrong at home. She can't be taking Andrew somewhere like a coin shop or museum, and not telling me, or him telling me. We don't have anyone I know over who carries heavy duty loot with him. Must be she's seeing someone else, Oh God, some bastard on the side, who's laying little trinkets on her after he lays her in my own bed." His fingers ached from clenching the steering wheel, while the red needle crept past 70, past 75, and he jerked one hand loose, made a fist, and pounded the dashboard right above the ever-slow digital clock. "How could she do this? I never betrayed her once, not even when Angelina came on to me so strong at Krzinski's party, shoving her cleavage in my face and all..." He forced a breath, his chest as stiff as fiberboard, and pried his foot from the accelerator. Needle over 80, needle down to 75, down past 70, while his heart still raced. "No, it can't be. None of the signs. No new hairdo. No new clothes. No specially cleaned up house. No phone calls at strange hours. No secret smiles and far-off gaze. Just a telecommuting Mommy consultant at home amid the stink of diapers and the cackle of Woody Woodpecker. You peckerhead. Get a grip, buddy boy, get a grip." By the time he coasted into the driveway, he was the very mask of rationality. But the armpits of his Arrow shirt reeked like week-old road- kill. He tiptoed through the front yard, creaked open the mid-garden gate, and peered in the back windows. The waste-water drip from the washing machine was drooling down below the water meter, and the neighbor's rotten amber cat had clawed another garbage bag open beside the recycling bin, but everything looked normal. Red-blue cartoon lights pulsed in the family-room ceiling to cartoon symphony-cum-sound-effects. The blue- violet irises had wilted, and laid their gray-brown heads mournfully on the dandelioned lawn. A basketball bounced several houses down, and a car ground uphill with more power in its boombox than in its engines. Not sure exactly what he'd been looking for, he walked forthrightly around to the front door, keys in hand, jingle, jangle, slip it in, twist, click, and opened the door wide. "Hi, honey, I'm home" he boomed in jocular forced normality. She padded downstairs in terrycloth and furry slippers, an odd scrap of computer printout shoved into the bathrobe pocket. "My goodness, love, you're home early. Is everything alright?" She tucked a wisp of wheat- brown hair behind one ear. "She can't be so good an actress as to look so ordinary and innocent unless she is," he thought. "You got all revved up over nothing. But still, the old coin and the even older one...?" "I asked you if everything was alright. Did something happen at work? Oh no, not a pink slip!" "No, no, no, nothing, nothing, it's alright," he said, taking her hand, peering deep into those bottomless eyes, "I just got, I don't know, into a panic over what Andrew poked into my pocket this morning. Look!" "What's that?" she said. "Looks Phoenician. Never saw that honcho before," "Phoenician? Who knows what's been stirred up with all the house- to-house use of anti-tank weapons in Beirut. I haven't stopped at a coin shop to sell the first gold coin, let alone this. Ought to be in a museum. Which brings me back to: where did Andrew get it? Have you taken him anywhere, met anyone?" "Other than Homer Burnett's for barbecued ribs the other day, the post office, Stop'N'Spend, the Old Park for swings and slides... nowhere. What, do you think I'm not working just because I don't have a fancy office and a secretary?" "I share her with three other guys." "I bet you do," she said, frowning. "Are you sure nothing funny's going on at work?" "Just the usual trickle-down recession-horrors," he said. "Let's get to the bottom of this once and for all. Where's Andrew?" "Upstairs, watching TV. I gave him some pizza-pods and green juice after his nap -- not long enough for me -- and he settled down after a few rounds of Sonic the Hedgehog." They went up the stairs together. The stairs they'd had carpeted before Andrew was born: quick image of toddler with bloody scalp, no way! Not-quite-wiped clean chalk scribblings on the veneer. Sucker-tipped plastic dart jammed through the bannister. The old light fixture, unrepairable, and the new one with the 150-watt bulb brighter than Alamagordo. "Andrew? Andrew? Daddy's home..." But no child's voice. No gleeful rush to leap into his arms. An empty house, inhabited by TV jingles, washing-machine in final spew, refrigerator shuddering, and someone's car scraping past outside like fingernails on chalkboard. They were in the nursery, and it was filled with teddy bears and squeezable dinosaurs, but no no no little prince enthroned before the boob-tube. "Andrew! Andrew! Andrew-boy, where are you?" Like a couple in a cheap ghost movie, they split up -- he took the upstairs, she scrambled downstairs, one furry slipper abandoned on the topmost stair, upside- down like a dead silverfish. "C'mon, honey. Daddy doesn't want to play hide-and-seek," he said, pushing through the wife-perfumed closet and the jumble of his own cubbyhole of abandoned college sports equipment and unwearable bellbottomed atrocities. Under the bed. Dustballs. In the bathtub. Shreds of soapscum. The forced gas-heater attic? No, the matchbook was still jammed between door and sill. Wife's office? Just the computer, diplomas, pictures of European relatives in stiff garb and quaint hairstyles. He almost fell, stumbling, rushing, grabbing the bannister, downstairs landing, behind the raincoats on the hatrack smelling faintly of rubber memories. "Andrew! Daddy needs you right now! Andrew, babe!" He checked the locked back door. "I already checked, you idiot," she shrilled. He checked his so-called office. Door shut, not room enough to swing a chipmunk between the leaning towers of overstuffed cardboard boxes. His bathtub. The kitchen cabinets. "I looked everywhere," she insisted. "You must have missed him upstairs," and she was off like a comet, terrycloth waving behind. He tore through the toybox, tossing butterfly-balls, Du-Plo castle- fragments, foam-bats, Halloween pirate swords, jig-saw Muppets, and broken Crayola crayons all over the parquet floor, imagining a delicate pitiful tiny body somehow jammed at the bottom like a broken Jack-in- the-Box. Nothing. Skidded on a day-glo orange superball, then ran back through the dining room to nearly collide with a wide-eyed gasping wife. "He's gone! My God, there's no place he could be!" Then, as they stood there, gripping each other like Sumo wrestlers, the washing machine spluttered to a halt and the refrigerator stopped its jagged hum. A small, pure, distant voice was calling from the master bedroom. Upstairs again, breathless, they crouched above the Andrew radio. "Mommy, Daddy, help... I'm stuck here and I want more pizza-pods right now." "Where are you!" the father howled, flapping his tears away with a windshield-wiper wrist. They swerved to the nursery, gaped at the hollow space below the crib, the transmitter light glowing like the ruby eye of a rat goddess. Not so much as a spiderweb. They flung themselves back to the bedroom. The father was squeezing the mysterious coin in his hand as if it would crack open like a walnut shell and divulge some reason in a world of sudden chaos. "I fell down the money pipe," he said, and they just stared at one another like beached trout, mouths working wordlessly. "Mommy, Daddy, get me out of here right now!" "There's got to be an explanation," said the father, his fingernail- bitten hands waving. "He must be at someone else's house, wedged in an awkward position, who has a baby radio with the same frequency..." "That's right, sure," she said, groping for reason, her body image distorted so that her hands and feet seemed to be miles away. "We used to hear dogs barking, and once even a parental argument, from someone else's transmitter." "They've got to be real close," he said, swept up in the hypothesis. "This sucker doesn't have much range. You stay here, keep looking, and I'll go door to door." "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?" she giggled, inappropriately remembering the phrase used by her grandfather at family holidays in the long-buried past. "I mean, what am I saying, go go go right now and I'll turn this place upside-down." As usual, half the neighbors weren't home at the time, and few of them, as best he could recall, had children and thus would not need baby radios. Art and Dixie, next door, kept offering him a glass of lemonade, as if his sweaty face and gasping presentation were no more than the symptoms of a dry throat. The Yeomans kept misunderstanding him, having interpreted his description as proof that Andrew had been kidnapped and dictated a ransom note on the phone answering machine. Mehregeny Jones opened his door no more than the span of its chain, apparently concerned by a Shuttle/Canadarm necktie askew and shirt-tails flapping in the chlorinated breeze. He sprinted home, convinced that he had done nothing but convince the neighbors that he was a demented perpetrator of child endangerment. "Have to have an open house, a garage sale, a barbecue, a block party, something to pass ourselves off as normal again ... after we get Andrew out of wherever he is," he thought, then nearly tripped on the welcome mat. His wife looked like she'd lost a wrestling match with a garbage truck. Every hair was out of place; a few strands of hair were twisted suburban dreadlocks. Her bathrobe seemed to have dried a load of greasy dishes. "I can't find him anywhere," she panted, "but he's still on the radio." He stumbled over the box of bills and bill receipts normally on the bathroom shelf, but now displaced by search. Papers spread like autumn leaves across the bathroom tiles. Pacific Bell, Southern California Gas Company, Southern California Edison, Alpha-Ralpha's, Los Angeles Times, Las Flores Water, Home Savings (our home sure needs to be saved, he thought), Trader Joe's, Shell Oil, Mobil Oil, Midnight Oil, Exxoff, Chase Visa, Citibank Visa, Diners Club, Poppy Cleaners, Active Electric Troubleshooters, Roto-Rooter, and all the rest of his paper trail sneered documentary disdain at his indebtedness, which was bleeding him through a thousand fiduciary cuts. Kicking through the rubbish, which remembered those last four pesky digits of his zipcode that he never could, he made it to the hall, accelerated like a dragster, dinged his knee on the bookshelves, and hauled himself upstairs, his heart trip-hammering. Light-headed, almost fainting, he suddenly saw the nursery from an unfamiliar mental angle. The National Geographic map above the changing table looked like a squashed orange encrusted with blue mold and spots of eggshell. The thread-and-photo mobile of the solar system Josh had sent became a dizzy juggling of knife-edged ellipses, throwing loopy shadows that pecked at his feet. Crumpled sheets on Andrew's bed rose and fell, entire mountain ranges of orogenic wrinkles and accusatory cliffs. Stuffed animal toys glared at him with malevolent eyes, poised to pounce, ready to rip. The ammoniacal reek from the diaper bag smote him with an olfactory punch. He reeled back against the closet door, totally disoriented, perspective all awry. "That's odd," he thought, surrounded by angles none of which were right, "I don't recall that corner of the room at all." He teetered across the rug, as if walking steeply uphill on the level floor. The corner, oddly behind the bed, pooled to a funnel of shadow amid the leaf-swirled sunbeams from the window. Now the floor was all downhill. A sudden flashback from childhood nightmare overwhelmed him for an endless moment. He'd been terrified by the fierce-fanged dancing crocodiles in capes that pas-de-deuxed with harmless hippos in Fantasia. Night after night, the scaly green monsters chased him, gibbering, through the corridors that led from dream to dream. Sometimes they tick-tock-ticked like the beast that relentlessly pursued Captain Hook. These toothy cousins had imprinted on his smell, and were hungrier each night for his flesh alone. Nightlights would not dissuade them, nor huddling head-under-blanket in the sweaty summer abyss. One night was the worst. He was in an infinite composite of Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station. Corinthian columns rose into the clouds that masked the miles-high ceiling. A myriad refugees, huddled masses clutching cardboard suitcases, milled in despair and confusion, howling in a thousand tongues. The boom and shriek of trains and tortured tracks shook the filthy marble floor, littered with ticket stubs to destinations forever lost. The smell of Sarbrett's hotdogs and sauerkraut, knishes and Nedick's, hot pretzels and chocolate eggcreams had putrefied to some unspeakable ooze from underneath a mummy's bandages. His hands had slipped from the warm hugeness of Mom and Dad; the crowd jostled him away from their horrified faces; he was lost in the mob, buffeted by the overcoats of strangers, trying to yell for his parents, but the words sticking in his throat. Suddenly he noticed that the endless thousands of ragged travellers were keeping near the periphery of the mile-square floor. They were staying far away from the center, which he now saw sloped further and further to a darkened hole at the very center. He knew, with gruesome clarity, that the monster crocodiles lurked at the bottom of that marble-walled well, and would emerge at random intervals to rend, claw, chew, and swallow the pulped bodies of hapless wayfarers. Now, by chance, none of the vast crowd was looking towards the central concavity but himself; only he could hear the scrabble of knife- sharp talons rising higher and higher in the floorwell. Soon, the crocs would clamber out, and fling themselves on gore-stained victims until sated. He tried to edge away, but gravity was twisted, and each step brought him closer to the hole. He tried to run, but his feet slipped on the marble. Helplessly, with agonizing inevitability, he skidded closer and closer to the pit. The floor was tilted more and more from horizontal; he was moving more and more rapidly for doom. Even now, he was far enough down the funnel that his hands would not be able to slow his heedless fall. The floor was spinning, the column-pierced clouds blackened, then parted, and the ceiling was revealed as an artificial sky with lightbulb stars picking out the traceries of alien and malignant constellations of monsters. He tried as hard as possible to scream, but no sound emerged, indeed, there was no sound in the Grand Central/Penn Station anteroom of Hell. Silently he spun towards the central throat of the well, spinning faster and faster, into the maw of perpetual black, and the eternal jaws of crocodilian death. The father stared, slack-jawed, at the funnel of darkness in the hitherto-unseen corner of his little boy's room. Some metaphysical barrier had been shattered between adult and child perception. Perception defines reality; reality had been short-circuited. From the rug-lined well a dulcet voice was echoing: "Daddy, get me out of here..." This was the entrance to the money pipe! Usually after someone performs an heroic deed, they tell reporters "I don't know what got into me." "I'm scared of fire," they'll say, after rescuing someone from an incandescent blaze. "I was only thinking about my buddies," they'll say, after throwing themselves on a battlefront grenade which proved a dud. "I have no idea why I chased that bank-robber down that alley," they'll say, as the reward is handed over in the flashbulbed auditorium. It seems that the ordinary man and woman has the makings of supreme heroism, if the opportunity arrives and they don't stop to calculate the odds. Sociobiologists say that altruism is in our genes, evolutionarily selected. Theologians say that human beings are perfectible, and partake of angelic nature. Buddhists say that each and every one of us is Buddha. The father performed no arithmetic, consulted no genes, prayed to no divinity. He just jumped down into the impossible rabbit-hole of the money pipe. Carpet gave way to smooth metallo-ceramic pipe. He fell, in strange slow motion, what might have been feet, fathoms, or furlongs, and jangled, legs buckling under, onto a pile of gold doubloons. In the light of gas-jet flames from ornate gargoyles set into a velvet-covered wall were boxes, bags, piles, and pirates' chests of gold and silver coins from every nation on Earth, plus jewel-encrusted crowns and swords and scabbards, breastplates, tiaras, necklaces, rings, earrings, chunky rock-crystal goblets, carved ivory triptychs, parchment books in pearl-besprinkled white lamb-skin, scrolls with the seal of the Library of Alexandria, statuettes of supernatural beauty, and ornate doo-dads that beggared all description. More valuable than all of that, he saw his darling Andrew, his belt- loop snagged on a massive silver hinge. "Andrew!" he cried, rushing to his son, gold coins flying from his lap like waterdrops from a shaking spaniel. "Daddy!" cried the 3-year-old, "You came down the money pipe to rescue me!" He slipped the beltloop from the intricately incised hinge, lifted the boy into his arms, and hugged his darling, weeping and laughing simultaneously. There was a flash of blueberry-colored light. A woman with blue hair, wearing a cross between a transparent nightgown and the wiring of a NASA control center appeared. "It's my girlfriend!" said Andrew, happily. The father stared at her, goggle-eyed. Then he remembered Andrew's throw-away comment days earlier. "My boy says you're twenty-three hundred years old..." "Close, but no guitar," she said, with a voice like silk. "I'm from twenty-three hundred. It's safe for me to talk to your son, but not to you, really. The risk of a paradox that can't be paradoctored...." She shuddered, rather attractively. "But how did you get here? And --" "No more questions," she said. I'm authorized to tell you only that, to avoid transtemporal chaos, only one family at a time can be aware of and have access to what your son calls 'The Money Pipe.' Now, before the suspenders of disbelief slip any further off your shoulders, I've got to split. Ciao, baby. Fare thee well." And with another flash, she was gone. After stuffing his pockets, his socks, his shirt, and after strapping several treasures to his right leg with a knotted necktie, the father found that Andrew was correct: gravity was circumvented somehow. They fell up out of the money pipe, Andrew in his father's arms, and lay there on the rug of the nursery, between the bed and changing table, just as Andrew's Mommy stepped into the room. He blinked his eyes, and the money pipe vanished, but out of the corner of his eyes, an ineluctable hint of non- Euclidean geometry remained. Andrew was not allowed to go down the money pipe again, unescorted, and it took months before the wife could initiate the optical illusion that made the entrance visible and tangible. It took not much longer to establish a very discrete relationship with a dealer in numismatic rarities, antiquities, and incunabula; none of their items were listed as missing from any registered collection, so the law was never on alert. The best tax attorney money can buy knew loopholes that gave birth to litters of new loopholes; the government knew that an obscure suburban family had catapulted into The Four Hundred families and individuals, but found no grounds to pursue the matter. In times of recession, Congressmen and Senators tend to stay bought for longer than they used to be. The little ten-room house in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains was maintained unostentatiously. Security was chrome-steel hard, but invisible to the naked eye. Neighbors noted that Andrew and his Mommy and Daddy travelled frequently, but never knew of the Villas, the Australian Gold-Coast beach compound, the restored hereditary Scottish castle, the sea-plane lagoon in Mustique, the converted Saudi mosque, the southeast Asian temple, or any of the other retreats. The parents' pursued their hobbies, but as world-class aficionados, and creative contributors that enriched whole fields of endeavor. They never again had jobs, as such, but did from time to time have to review the policies under which scores of workers labored to make the family's life elegantly complete. The rich usually have to work harder than normal, to manage their estates, attend to political affairs, supervise the supervisors of supervisors, and the like. But it's a well-kept secret that the super-rich can delegate even those concerns. Magazines like Forbes like to list the richest people in the world. Haven't you ever considered that there are people so rich that they can bribe their way off those lists? Even so, paradise on Earth is not the same as paradise imagined. Oh yes, they did live happily ever after. But the day came, by and by, when Andrew grew so fascinated by the literary and scientific worlds revealed by his imported tutors that he wasn't quite as keen to build DuPlo robots on the family room floor with his father, or to paint two-handedly while Mommy praised his every brush stroke. Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds, and let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment. And yet, and yet, the day dawned when Andrew popped the last fish-stick into his mouth, wiped his cupid's-bow lips on a silk sleeve and said: "Daddy, please go to work!"
*** The End ***
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