April 24

“You shouldn’t mess too much with that money,” I say. “You put it there for a reason. This might be it, or you could be wrecking a scam you’ll run later on.”
“How could I run another scam?” he asks, incredulous. “Once I get back, the Order’s gonna bust my license. I’ll be stuck in that hellhole you call a future.”
“Not my problem,” I say. “Still, just watch your step. Mind the butterflies.”
“Whatever,” he says. “Look, I have another claim to handle. She called me just before I got here.”
“Really?” I say. “Where?”
“Top of the stack,” he says. “Topeka. She ordered a combine harvester. Who the hell steals a combine harvester? How do you steal a combine harvester?”
“You need a really big box to switch it with,” I say, deadpan again. “Just be back at the apartment in six hours. We’ll talk more then.” He nods, and stands. I glare at him. “Forgetting something?”
“What?” he snaps. “What more do you want from me?”
“Pay the bill,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I’m not letting you add dine-and-dash to your list of sins. Besides, I already told Lou you’d pick up my tab.”
Bert glances at the cashier’s counter, where Lou is waiting. He seems to consider the merits of slipping past the counter. I can almost see the wheels turning in Bert’s brain, as he calculates just how far Lou can reach, not knowing that from my perspective I can see the aluminum baseball bat he keeps under the counter. Bert also doesn’t know that Lou used to be in the Marines, nor has Bert heard the countless stories about how he won the home-run derby against the Air Force guys out in Robinson a couple years back. I grin, and Lou nods solemnly. “This day just keeps getting worse,” Bert grumbles.

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