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The fARM

The Big Plenty

By Matt Sharkey

The Big Plenty

ONE: LYLE AND WALTER

Lyle and Walter were printing money in their apartment. The reproduction was abominable, but one has to start somewhere. The syndicate was on their ass.

"This isn't going to work," Lyle said. "These are terrible."

"This green of yours is much too dark."

"I'm talking about the whole enterprise, but if anything is particularly to blame I'd say it's that ridiculous portrait. Were you even looking at the money when you did that?"

"Perhaps one might not have cause to scrutinize the portrait if one was not made so suspicious by the fact that none of the bills are the same size."

There was a furious pounding from above. It was that old hag upstairs, goes to sleep at four in the afternoon but has enough strength to stomp on the floor whenever the noise disturbs her.

"Old hag," Walter said.

"This isn't going to work."

"Not right now, no."

"The syndicate is on our ass."

"I know."

"They're really after us. I mean, they're really out to get us."

"Right, yes. Well, what are our options? Setting aside counterfeiting for the moment."

"We might flee."

"Hmmm. I'd rather not."

"Fleeing is pretty much all I can think of off the top of my head."

"There's got to be another option. One that doesn't involve packing. Do you know how many boxes I have for that stereo system?"

"I thought you sold the stereo."

"Yes, I did, but I still have all the boxes. They're completely wrong for clothes or dishes and whatever. We'd have to go get boxes, and that's another hassle completely."

"My feeling was that we'd minimize the packing."

"That's my feeling as well."

"Travel light, so to speak."

"But here we're back to fleeing again, and I still suspect there's another option."

"You'd better come up with it soon, what with the syndicate—"

"—on our ass."

"So it seems."

They left by the window, taking the counterfeit money, just in case. One never knows.

 

TWO: THE SYNDICATE

It took fifteen seconds for the syndicate to get through the door: five to jimmy the lock and ten for Les and that huge goddamn magnet to shiver open the chains, the fucking thing plugged into a hall socket and roaring like a sawmill, chains crackling against the door on the other side. Finally, after ten seconds of him shoving that thing around with this puss on like he's a surgeon, Les cut the juice and the silence rang like a bell. The first of them swung open the door and crashed into the room, crouching low behind an armchair. The rest were inside in an instant and the place was soon quiet, except for a stomping noise from above.

"I swear to Jesus if you bring that fucking thing along again."

Les looked a little hurt. The magnet hung at the end of his arm like a suitcase. "It's just as loud as if you kick it in."

"Only if you take a day and a half to do it."

"I think they've fled."

"Yeah." Donald made a brief tour of the apartment, ducked his head into the kitchen and bathroom and under the beds. "Shit," he said.

The other members of the syndicate were waiting by the door.

 

THREE: THE PIRATE

Lyle and Walter moved in with the pirate, who had a one-bedroom apartment across town, as well as a couch that folded out into a bed.

"Have ye brought back me printing press?" the pirate asked when they arrived.

"Rats," Lyle said. "I think we left it at the apartment."

"Aarrr! I be needing to run up more leaflets."

"We might be able to get it back," Walter said.

"Just as soon as we get the syndicate off our ass."

"Have ye a plan?"

"We've decided to flee."

"Tentatively. We've tentatively decided to flee."

"Ye lily-livered bilge rats!" The pirate clanged his hook against the hilt of his sword, then drew it with his good hand. "Are ye running from a fight?"

"I told you so," Walter told Lyle.

"We've no other option."

"Aarrr." The pirate scabbarded his blade. "I suppose so. Ye're welcome to lodge here. The sofa becomes a bed. Have ye any cargo?"

"Just what's in these trash bags."

"I'll work ye," the pirate said. "I'll work ye hard. Ye'll earn your keep."

"Or," Walter offered, "we could give you money."

 

FOUR: THE BARTENDER

Lyle and Walter did scrub the kitchen floor and fix a dripping sink, but not because the pirate commanded them to do so. They did it out of gratitude and obligation and because they knew such chores were difficult for the pirate because of his hook and his eyepatch and his pegleg. To reward their hard work, the pirate took them out to a Chinese restaurant and then to a sports bar in his neighborhood.

"A bottle of rum for I and me mateys!" the pirate ordered while the bartender checked his driver's license. "And two glasses for the landlubbers!" The pirate had been drinking steadily for most of the day and was quite intoxicated.

"Do you two have ID?" the bartender asked. Lyle and Walter knew at once that the man worked for the syndicate.

"We've left them at home," Lyle said.

"I commute by public transportation," Walter said, "and don't have much cause to carry my license with me."

"You have my word that we're of age."

"I'm afraid that isn't good enough," the bartender said.

"Damn!" said Walter.

The pirate had already drunk half the rum and was wandering around the bar. He stopped in front of a big-screen television, on which a football game was playing. His wide frame and large hat blocked the view. "Boys!" he shouted across the bar to Lyle and Walter. "Methinks we need a woman!"

"Without IDs," the bartender told them, "I'm afraid you'll have to leave."

They told this to the pirate, who did not wish to leave and gave Lyle and Walter his keys. "The first one frees the deadbolt and the second opens the door. The wee one opens the mailbox, but ye won't need that. If ye get into me closet, ye'll walk the plank!"

Lyle and Walter promised they would not.

 

FIVE: DIANE

There were no bodies in the closet. "I told you so," said Walter.

There was no gold in the closet either. "I told you so," said Lyle.

"Well, now I'm bored."

They found a deck of cards in a drawer in the kitchen. They split it and each played solitaire.

"I think you have the seven of diamonds," Lyle said.

"I need the seven of diamonds," Walter said.

The pirate came home several hours later. He had a woman with him. She wore a university sweatshirt and said her name was Diane.

"Hello," Diane said.

"She pleasures no man but me!" The pirate got a bottle of rum out of his refrigerator. "To me cabin!" he said and they went into the bedroom.

Lyle and Walter decided at that time to get some sleep. The rigors of life on the run had made them very tired. Walter did not pull out the bed but stretched out on the sofa and fell asleep. Lyle slept in a chair.

"Tonight I get the couch," Lyle said the next morning. "My neck is killing me."

"Tonight we'll pull out the bed."

They made a pot of coffee. The smell drew Diane out of the bedroom. She was wearing a T-shirt. "Do you live here too?" she asked.

"Just for now."

"We're from out of town."

"Oh," she said.

Lyle poured her a cup of coffee. "Do you go to the university?"

"I did," she said. "Did you see the game last night?"

"The football game?"

"It was awesome." She gestured toward the closed bedroom door. "How well do you know him?"

"Not well."

"Well enough," said Walter.

"I had to bail him out of jail last night," Diane said. "They said he was passing counterfeit money."

"Good lord!" said Lyle.

"We don't know him that well," said Walter.

"How much was the bail?" Lyle asked. "We can reimburse you."

"Yes," Walter said. "Can you break a thousand-dollar bill?"

"Don't worry about it," Diane said. "I have plenty of money. My husband is a millionaire."

"Hmmm," Walter said.

"What does he do?" asked Lyle.

"He's a scientist," Diane said. "For the government."

"You don't say," Walter said.

Lyle and Walter considered this information very useful.

 

SIX: DONALD

The members of the syndicate were feeling lazy. They ordered pizza. The bartender brought beer.

"The reproduction was abominable," the bartender said.

"I should have guessed they'd be involved with that fucking pirate," Donald said. "I've had my eye on him for a while now. He prints leaflets."

"He lives in an apartment across town."

"Let's roll," said Donald, and they rolled.

They took two cars over to the pirate's apartment, and when nobody answered the door, they opted to kick it in. They searched the place very quickly and discovered the pirate in bed.

"He's dead," somebody said.

"I'll be the judge of that," said Donald. Bursting into an empty apartment for the second time had made him very mad. He pulled out a gun and shot the pirate in the leg. There was no movement.

"He's dead," Donald said.

"That doesn't prove anything. You shot him in the pegleg."

"I'm pretty sure the noise would have woken him up," Donald said, but he shot the pirate in the head just to be sure.

"Now he's dead," somebody said.

"Maybe there's a treasure chest somewhere."

"There might be bodies in the closet."

Donald was still very angry, and considered shooting somebody else in the head, but decided against it.

 

SEVEN: BURT

An envelope arrived at the Chinese restaurant at exactly sixteen minutes after eight. It was brought to Burt, who was stirring a pot of wonton soup.

"This just came, Burt," Harvey said. "It's got your name on it."

Burt took the envelope and told Harvey to scram. Inside was a note which said, The Pirate Is Dead. Burt chopped up the note and stirred it into the shrimp with lobster sauce.

 

EIGHT: THE SCIENTIST

Lyle and Walter needed a secure public place to meet with the millionaire scientist. They decided upon the housewares section of Montgomery Ward. They arrived early and found him inspecting a blender.

"The syndicate is on our ass," Walter said.

"The syndicate," the scientist said. "I've had my share of run-ins with the syndicate. We should go back to my laboratory. I suppose Diane told you that I work for the government."

"She did."

"Well, she shouldn't have. It's very top secret. Confidential. I suppose she told you about my work with monkeys."

"No, actually."

"Well, it's good that she draws the line somewhere. Anyway, I don't work with monkeys. I just say that to Diane so she doesn't get suspicious. When people ask me about monkeys I know she's been talking. That's how I got involved with the government. It seems they caught word of my work with monkeys and thought I might assist them with their own monkey project. That dame sure has a big mouth."

"What is the government monkey project?"

"There is no government monkey project," the scientist said. "That's just something I say to my wife's friends so they don't get suspicious. To tell you the truth, though, I think that there is a government monkey project. It seems reasonable enough. But it's nothing I've ever been involved with. I work with the doomsday device."

"What's the doomsday device?"

"We don't know yet. We're still in the prototype stage. We'll know more once we've worked out some of the bugs. What do you have in those trash bags?"

"Clothes and dishes, mostly," Walter said.

 

NINE: THE RESISTANCE

The food arrived at resistance headquarters exactly seven minutes before ten. The driver was tipped, and the leader of the resistance stuck his fist into the garlic chicken.

"Sir!" said Jennings.

"Just a moment."

"I think you want this one here, sir."

The leader of the resistance slid his hand out of the garlic chicken. "Terribly sorry," he said. "I'll eat that one." He stuck his fist into the shrimp with lobster sauce.

"Good god" he said. "The pirate is dead."

 

TEN: ROGER AND JONES

Roger bought two ham sandwiches at the sandwich place, two cups of coffee from the coffee shop, and a newspaper from the newsstand, and then climbed back into the nondescript government van parked across the street from the millionaire scientist's laboratory. He gave one sandwich and one cup of coffee to Jones, who was operating the ultra-sensitive microphone and high-powered camera equipment.

"Did I miss anything?" Roger asked.

"He just came home," Jones said, "with two other people."

"Excuse me a minute, fellahs," said the millionaire scientist, and he sprang from his chair and zipped into the bathroom.

"You know," Walter said, "I didn't want to say anything while he was in the room, but I think I've fallen in love with Diane."

"Funny that," Lyle said, "because I've been waiting until you weren't in the room to say that very thing about Diane."

"You love her too?"

"I'm almost certain."

"I think she may have killed the pirate."

"Oh, without question."

"Yes, it seems pretty obvious."

"But also a bit of intrigue, yes? It's a bit dangerous now."

"And she seems to know much more about this government monkey project than her husband."

"Great heavens!" said Jones.

"How much could they know?" said Roger.

"How much might he have told them?"

"What are they doing now?"

"They're looking through his dresser."

"Best not to take chances."

"Yes," said Jones. They flipped a coin. Jones radioed headquarters with the information.

 

ELEVEN: JENNINGS

The resistance arrived at the pirate's apartment exactly twenty-two minutes to eleven. The door was open. They sent Herbert in first.

"There's nobody here," Herbert reported.

They entered the apartment quickly and quietly and discovered the pirate's body on his bed.

"He's been shot."

"He's been shot in the pegleg," Burt pointed out. "That's very strange."

"There's nothing strange about it," said the leader of the resistance. "They knew exactly what they were doing." He unscrewed the pegleg and a roll of microfilm dropped to the floor. A bullet was lodged in the center.

"Blast," said the leader of the resistance.

He removed the pirate's eyepatch. Inside was a smaller roll of microfilm with another bullet in it.

"Blast!" he said. "They knew exactly what they were doing," he said again.

"They took his printing press, sir."

"Of course they did," said the leader of the resistance. "That's what they do. They infiltrate and reconnoiter. They gather information. They disseminate falsehoods. They keep secret files. They peer into confidential databases. They read diaries. They spy with high-powered cameras and ultra-sensitive microphones."

"There were two people with him at the restaurant," Burt said. "I'd never seen them before."

"Of course you hadn't. That's how they are. They travel in shadows. They blend into the background. They lurk in the dark corners. They hide in the recesses. They reside in the crevices."

"I didn't think much of them at the time."

"Of course you wouldn't. That's the way they work. They could be anyone. The man in line behind you at the bank. The guy in front of you in traffic. The girl at the front desk of your office building. The woman behind the window at the movie theater. Your plumber. Your orthopedist. Your branch manager. Your tree surgeon."

The leader of the resistance drew his sidearm and shot Jennings in the chest. Jennings dropped to the floor, dead.

"Jennings!" said Burt.

"A spy," said the leader of the resistance. "I've had my eye on him for a while now."

"Are you certain?"

"It could only have been Jennings. We can assume they know everything. Is the doomsday device ready?"

"Do we have a doomsday device?" Burt asked.

"If the government has a doomsday device, then we must have a doomsday device. Even things up, so to speak. I just pray that it isn't too late."

He was just then beginning to have his doubts about Burt, and kept his sidearm handy.

 

TWELVE: THE GOVERNMENT

The head of the government called Diane into his office. His walls were covered with photographs. She was wearing her government uniform.

"Who are they?" he asked.

"They were friends of the pirate," she said. "They were at his apartment."

"They know about the monkey project."

"There is no monkey project."

"But your husband—"

"My husband works for the resistance."

"By god I'll appreciate it if you don't interrupt me." He allowed a moment for this stern reprimand to sink in.

"I'm sorry, sir."

"Oh, it's alright. I was just going to say that your husband works for the resistance. If they have a monkey project, then by god we'll have a monkey project of our own. Sort of balance the scales, as it were."

"But I thought he worked with the doomsday device."

"There is no doomsday device. That's just something we tell him so he doesn't get suspicious. We've known for quite some time where his loyalties lie, the treasonous scoundrel. The more we give him to keep him busy, the less we have to worry about him interfering with our monkey project."

"What is the monkey project, sir?"

"I'm afraid that's classified."

"Oh."

"Don't feel bad, Diane. I'm not quite sure myself. But rest assured it's every bit as good as any resistance monkey project, and by god I won't have its progress threatened."

"I found this in the pirate's apartment, sir." She handed him a leaflet. It said, Stop the Government Monkey Project.

"By god this is exactly what I'm talking about."

"Yes, sir. You reminded me of it."

 

THIRTEEN: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WINDOW

Lyle and Walter decided to go to the movies and lay low for a few hours. They bought two tickets to a movie starring Clint Eastwood. The woman behind the window waited until they were out of sight, then called the head of the government. "They're here, sir."

 

FOURTEEN: THE KID AT THE CONCESSION STAND

"I'm starving," Walter said.

"Me too," said Lyle.

They were going to order a popcorn and soft drink, but then noticed an advertisement for a combo. "It seems like a very good deal."

"It's highway robbery," said Walter. "But I'm starving."

"Can you break a thousand-dollar bill?" Lyle asked the kid at the concession stand.

After they'd gone into the theater, the kid at the concession stand called the leader of the resistance. "They're here, sir."

 

FIFTEEN: THE USHER

Lyle and Walter took a seat in the back row of the theater. The floor was very sticky, so they set their trash bags on the seats next to them. The film had already begun.

"Nuts," said Walter. "Did we miss anything important?" he asked the gentleman two rows up.

"Please keep your voice down, sir," the usher told him.

The usher then dashed to a corner and called Donald. "They're here, sir."

SIXTEEN: CLINT EASTWOOD

Lyle and Walter kept their voices down. "I'm going to ask Diane's to marry me," Walter said.

"Is that a fact," Lyle said.

"We'll honeymoon in Bermuda."

"I was thinking Paris myself. For our honeymoon, that is. Diane and mine."

"This presents a problem."

"Hmmm," Lyle said. "Well, what are our options?"

"I think we might ask ourselves what Clint Eastwood would do in this situation."

"I feel certain he'd recognize the magnitude of my love for Diane and shoot you in the face."

"My feeling is that he'd realize the depth of my devotion to Diane and shoot you in the gut."

"Sssh," said the gentleman two rows up.

"Reach for the sky," said Clint Eastwood, "you lily-livered varmints."


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Copyright©2001 by Matt Sharkey.

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