“Eddie” A stand alone short story




Mackey Chandler

            I remember the first time I saw Eddie. We didn’t really meet. I was in the cafeteria trying to eat breakfast and there was the usual parade of people with problems, or petitions, or just trying to suck up to the boss, all clueless to the fact that the boss just wanted to eat her English muffin in peace and let the coffee slowly boost her brain into some semblance of function. If they could just wait until 0900 my office officially opened for business and we’d have a whole long shift to sort out the problems.

Eddie was reading the news on a hand com and chatting with a bunch of outside workers. He seemed the sort who listened a lot and laughed easily instead of dominating a conversation. The yard dogs were running close to the clock. They needed to get in the locker room and suit up. That wasn’t something you rushed, but if you had too much suiting up time versus work time the foreman would start to bitch about the ratio, no matter that the safety regs said you couldn’t impose a time limit for suit checks.

There was one of those lulls in the noise level you’ll get in a big room, and I heard Eddie tell the boys, “You guys run along. I’ve got plenty of time and will clean this up.” He didn’t get any argument at all, just a few muttered thanks and the half dozen men at the table were happy to hurry out the door.

Eddie shuffled a few plates around consolidating them on a stack of trays and made a trip to the trash bin. When he returned he made up another final stack to finish the clean up, but settled back in to finish reading the news. The first time I looked he was sitting with just coffee in front of him, but now he seemed to be eating breakfast. I saw him spreading jam on toast and wondered, just a little put off, if he was eating after somebody.

I’m a bit fastidious I admit. My mother constantly warned me not to share food with kids at school when I was growing up. Of course in the 20’s that made sense, it wasn’t just excessive mothering. There was the mouse flu out of Africa, and that especially nasty form of Norovirus that showed up in Toronto, and others I can’t remember by name. But even considering how my mom trained me I’d take toast if a friend offered it. It’s hard to see it as unsanitary to share somebody’s untouched toast off a separate plate.

I should have been glad it wasn’t wasted, because no matter how we urged people to only take what they would eat, there was always food thrown out. A damn shame when you consider what it cost to lift. Still, it made me notice him, and Eddie isn’t a very noticeable guy. He was older than most Loonies, but the buzz cut many wear for inside a helmet looks about the same whether it is blond or white.

That was the same week in 2048, right at the start of the year, that the Chinese and Israelis got nasty. So I wasn’t thinking about Eddie or any trivia once the crisis gripped us. We were all dealing with the fact nobody was lifting much off Earth as long as the those idiots were lasing each other’s satellites and using kinetic weapons in LEO. Nobody wanted to get caught in the cross fire and lose a shuttle or crew to mistaken identity. Later I found out what was a big problem for us was a godsend for Eddie.

Armstrong was hovering around two thousand population then. That doesn’t sound like much now, but it strained our supply lines at the time. Our shipping schedule was very firm for about six months ahead, with about a five percent margin for shifting loads to accommodate unexpected needs or badly estimated usage. We had a little production of salad greens and

sprouts and even an experimental fish tank. But nobody had yet seriously considered raising corn or wheat, or bringing chickens or rabbits to the moon. We were way too dependent on lifted supply.

Well, the flare up, or whatever euphemism you want to apply to a Sino-Israeli space war shot the hell out of all our plans. A week may not sound like much of an interruption. I’m sure nobody went hungry. Nobody died because the surgery or pharmacy ran out of supplies. But we didn’t know it was only going to last a week and the stress of not knowing had an amazing effect on morale. People were glued to their screens watching the news blogs and commercial channels. Not just on their free time either.

If we punished people for taking shift time to watch the news we’d have had to punish everybody. Even the outside workers in suits and rovers would clear their official traffic with the dispatcher and then ask, “Anything happening with the Earthies?”

When things settled down quickly everybody heaved a sigh of relief. But we were a week out of synch and had to make it up somehow. Dated medicines and such got priority. I was administrator so I caught the blame for the worst screw up, even though it was a food service tech who made the actual mistake. Just let me say that you may think you know what is important to people but you are probably wrong. Having nineteen hundred people pissed off at you because they ran out of coffee can set your thinking straight in a hurry. Being one of the caffeine deprived drudges yourself doesn’t help.

Of course one of the other things bumped off the first few supply ships, besides the unfortunate choice of coffee, was the usual two percent or so capacity that was allotted to private shipping. FedEx, RightNow/PayPal, and UPS all contracted space on an ‘as available’ basis. Suddenly “as available” meant none

Having nineteen hundred people e-mail orders to Earth for instant coffee, brewers, espresso makers, gourmet beans and such, on top of all the normal commerce, had to produce an impressive backlog in the shippers holding bins.

Just as we didn’t know when the Chinese and Israelis would stop bashing each other, the shipping companies undoubtedly had no confidence in when we would get our act together and have excess capacity to sell them again. If administrators will cut off nineteen hundred caffeine addicts with whom they are sealed up in an intimately close environment how much confidence would you have in their judgment?

All that apparent demand lead the shippers to quickly acquire their own lunar spacecraft. Something they had all avoided, despite having fleets of conventional aircraft on Earth and shuttles for LEO. UPS won the race to land the first private cargo craft on Armstrong field. They had an orbit to orbit maintenance scooter outfitted with extra big tanks and landing jacks. They cut it in half and stuck in a cargo module in complete with brown paint and a gold logo slapped on just like their trucks have carried on Earth like forever. It wasn’t very efficient and it didn’t have much capacity, but nobody was arguing with their rates either.

The next time I saw Eddie was in my own office. Valentine’s day it was, 2048. My assistant Cheryl was talking to him as I came past returning from a meeting. He immediately excused himself and disappeared. Cheryl followed me into my office and offered me a piece from an open box of chocolates, the sort shaped like a heart and covered in gold and red foil. It was at once familiar and as foreign as a horse standing in my office. The sort of little thing from Earth that you didn’t realize how much you missed until you saw it again. The absence of all those small comforts was why it was a hardship post more than any real danger.

“He seems a little old for you,” I said around a mouthful of chocolate. I got a nut fudge, which was fine with me, “but if the man can score chocolate on the moon he’s a keeper.”

“Oh, that was just the delivery guy,” Cheryl informed me. “The chocolates are from Bob Hanson who is with the MIT team. The ones who take turns going around to the backside observatory. I guess it gets pretty lonely over there with three guys on separate shifts and hot bunking over a long dark lunar.”

“What happened to Chris the rover driver?”

“Oh, I still see him now and then. You know how it is, kind of like the chocolates, it’s nice to have an assortment,” she said smiling.

Back then Armstrong had about three men for each woman, so there really was an assortment. For some, like Cheryl, it was a veritable smorgasbord. There was no comparison to Earth; only the best got sent to the moon so the box was full of ‘good ones’.

“Here, if you need chocolates this is his card. I already put him in my address book.”

You didn’t see many business cards on the moon. In fact it was pretty much a sign somebody was an Earthie or at least a new arrival. “Love Sent” it said on hot pink over a heart. “Discreet and affordable, personal gift shopping, candies and love tokens, delivered with your message – Eddie – comcode 2222.”

I tucked it in the crack along the edge of my monitor where the bezel didn’t fit. There was a line of AVOs, job tickets, and personal appointments. I read once that when computers were new people thought paper documents would disappear. How foolish.

The comcode bugged me. I was sure we didn’t have 2,222 people. And as people rotated back Dirtside the numbers were reassigned. I called the radio shack and asked our head techie how she came to issue a number ahead of the current usage range.

“Oh, Eddie came in and asked if he could have that one. He explained he wanted something easy for people to remember. As far as I could see it wasn’t against any rule, and I didn’t see what it could hurt, so I changed it for him. Is that going to mess up something?” she asked worried.

“No, I don’t see how it could. I was just curious how we got a comcode higher than our population. It jumped out at me. I don’t want us to get like Earth with senseless bureaucratic rules about everything.”

That summer, yeah we were all so tied to Earth thinking and North America so we still thought of June and July as summer, we had a big increase in tourists. The cost dropped down to where we had ten or twelve at a time. That was all our new Holiday Inn could accommodate, even at double occupancy. Before that two or three a shuttle stayed in transient bachelor quarters.

I was running to a meeting at environmental, and there was Eddie standing in the commons with a group of six that were visibly tourists. You don’t even have to see them walk; they stand different. The way he faced the group and his gestures pointing out things made it obvious he was giving them the nickel tour. There was a paper laying in the corridor, and I immediately blamed the tourists in my own mind, sure they were bringing littering along with every other form of Earth sloth and rudeness to the Moon. I was right, sort of. I scooped up the

offending paper, but didn’t throw it away. I have learned the hard way never to throw away a piece of paper until I was sure what it was.

The meeting in environmental had already started. I didn’t get chewed out for being late, only because I was Chief Administrator. The Department Head John Yoho still looked daggers at me as I slid into my seat, but it was quickly obvious I wasn’t missing anything. He was still rambling over a rehash of our last meeting before he got around to any new business. The man was as boring as watching moon dust fall.

I looked at the paper I’d scooped up under the edge of the table. I knew when John finally got around to saying something new he’d pause dramatically and say – “Now, that brings us to the present.”  It was as set in stone as a religious ceremony.

The paper was an advertisement. Quite a nice piece of printing, good color in a trifold brochure on glossy paper. Nothing you couldn’t do in a good printer, but somehow I suspected it was Earth work, commercial printing at that. It said -“Take a Day Tour on the Moon. Do you or your small group want to see something not on the official tour? Do you want to visit with natives in their home and meet like minded Loonies with the same interests and hobbies as you? Any interest that can be safely accommodated is available. Do you want to ease the expense of your vacation? We buy unused luggage allowance, either way, or leave your dirty laundry on the moon after wearing it, and receive typically 3x the retail price of your items left behind. Exclusive picture files available for tour members only.” The pix in the brochure were pretty good. He’d managed to make our commons look about the size of a football stadium, and I’d never seen the cafeteria looking so neat and uncluttered. “Call Eddie – Armstrong comcode 2222.”

John still hadn’t recounted all of the department’s history from its founding so I folded the brochure closed and over again and slid it in my pocket. The question briefly worried me that Eddie must be so busy with all these entrepreneurial pursuits that I didn’t see how he could attend to a day job. However, even then, most of the activity in Armstrong was private sector. We set it up that way from the start. The people like me, who were public servants were only about forty out of two thousand.

John Yoho, just mentioned for example, was not my employee, but a contractor hired to keep our air and water services running. He was nice to me not so much because I ranked him as because I was outside his chain of command entirely. The air would have to be pretty nasty before I could think about terminating John’s contract. I mean, everybody goes home from the moon. We even send our dead back to bury. But we’d do a lot to avoid sending somebody back early. It made everybody look bad and was expensive. So if I thought Eddie was short changing his boss, it really wasn’t any of my business.

That year was different for a lot of small reasons. We had some businesses display small pumpkins and gourds for the season, and they just smiled when you complimented them on it. One day in the fall there were suddenly autumn leaves mysteriously scattered on the deck in the auditorium. Maple and Oak, Aspen and Hickory. Bright red and orange and yellow. People took them home and they ended up decorating apartment doors and monitors and bulletin boards. Not a few ended up woven in people’s hair like a pagan fairy crown. There were none left for Housekeeping to clean up so how could anyone complain?

In the winter suddenly there were greens displayed and wreaths hung on business entries. A few businesses started putting out a dish of mints or hard candies. Things were slowly getting – comfortable.

* * *

            It isn’t often a subordinate comes to me with a problem they can’t handle. I have good people and give them lots of freedom, so it really bothers me when they have an ugly problem and I don’t see any way to help.

Aerron Fisher came in to see me about March of ’49. He looked upset and hadn’t e-mailed me or called so I knew it was bad. He walked in and flopped in an unruly heap in my chair.

“I have a girl in my programming section. Nice kid. Delores Bray. Everybody calls her Faye though. Does good work. But she has a real problem and I don’t know how to solve it. She’s so upset she can’t work. I wouldn’t trust her work if she tried, and I might have to send her back home on disability leave.”

“For emotional distress? Is she treatable here, so we don’t have to transport her?”

“No, I don’t think there is anything we can do. It’s not like it’s unreasonable distress. Something would be wrong with her if she wasn’t upset. Her mom has one of those fast growing brain tumors. The sort that only give you about a two week window to start treatment. They have an orphan disease treatment but it’s not covered by public medicine, and it costs fifty thousand up front for the injections.”

“She only makes thirty five-k a month and sends three or four home to Mom every month to help her. She spends most of the rest for cafeteria fees and cubic. The couple thousand a month leeway she has she just pisses away. She’s young and I don’t think anybody ever showed her anything about managing money. I talked to payroll and there is no way we can advance her that much against her salary. She can’t get a loan down below because her credit and her mom’s before she got this job were horrible.”

“Aerron, I found out quite a while back that private charity to your subordinates can be a disaster. Invariably others find out and resent it as favoritism or you get buried under requests.”

“I agree, and frankly I’d probably never get it back as a loan. The girl isn’t evil, but I’d hate to count on her suddenly becoming competent financially. It wouldn’t ruin me, but that’s more money than I can comfortably throw away.”

We sat there looking at each other, unhappy and not seeing any solution.

My secretary Cheryl came to the door and cleared her throat. “I know you didn’t ask me, but with the door open I could hear, and half way down the corridor to Engineering probably. I don’t know for sure if he can help, but you might want to give this guy a call.” She handed me a small neat business card on plain white stock. “Payday Loans – reasonable rates – small personal items bought and sold – pawn for jewelry and precious metals, Eddie – comcode 2222.”

“This is getting ridiculous,” I objected, and handed the card to Aerron. “Is there anything this fellow doesn’t dabble in?” I’m not sure we really need loan sharks on the moon. Next he’s going to open a pleasure palace with him as head pimp, or get a bootlegging business going.”

Aerron squirmed around all uncomfortable and looked down at the floor.

“What? If you tell me he opened a hook shop I’m not going to be amused. And you sure as hell better not whip out a business card offering a free one to new customers!”

“Houses of ill repute are traditionally run by women, a madam, not men, and I really doubt with two thousand people here that somebody isn’t pursuing the world’s oldest profession at least on a part time and unofficial basis. There are several, uh, clubs, of people with very

exotic tastes in personal relationships that have formed. I’ve even had a few subtle hints that I could join in at least enough to find out if it worked for me.”

“Really? I don’t know whether to be insulted or complimented I haven’t had an such an invitation.”

“Sharon, you are a sweet lady. And your sort are the backbone of the race as far

perpetuating the species. But reports are that you are totally oblivious when seriously flirted with. You might as well have ‘mundane’ tattooed across your forehead. You’re just fine for an administrator. Not too radical, not too smart. Stable above all. But don’t expect this bunch to be as plain vanilla as you. We have swingers and swappers, hell I know for sure we have a scene and even furries. Just be happy the natives aren’t running up and down the public corridors in paint and feathers scaring the tourists.”

Not too smart? I didn’t care for that. And yet I’d made the same observation about geeks and academics failing to connect with others. “Meet like minded Loonies with the same interests and hobbies,” Eddies brochure had said. It made me wonder if that was code for something more.

“Which leaves the bootlegging.”

“What?” He grabbed me right out of my introspection. “You can’t be serious.”

“He didn’t offer. I approached him.”

I wanted Aerron to wilt under my gaze, but he looked back unashamed.

“You know alcohol is one of the few items absolutely prohibited from being shipped up. Well, they make no more exception for ceremonial use than they do for casual consumption. I wanted Kosher wine for my Seder. Eddie seems to fulfill every other need people approach him with, so I asked if he could help me with that.”

“Is he a smuggler on top of everything else?”

“Probably,” he said with a dismissive wave, “But no need. Alcohol is prohibited. Grapes are not. Now somebody else would have just supplied the grapes, or worse raisins, and told me to look up wine making on the net. Eddie affirmed he was not an idolater and otherwise was qualified, and arranged for a machgiach to supervise his wine making by video conference, made sure there was a teshuvah to validate that process, and got his product certified with a proper hechcher. He had bottles hand blown and printed a rather nice private label. It was a very pleasant dry red with a nice nose and we enjoyed four glasses of it with Seder dinner and set the usual cup for Elijah.”

“Now if you don’t approve Madam Administrator, I have to warn you I can get very nasty about religious freedom and civil liberties. If you have never studied the American period of Prohibition I suggest you call it up on your screen and consider the lessons learned from that farce. Fermentation is too common a natural process to outlaw. You might as well outlaw gravity to make coming to the moon cheaper. I strongly urge you not to make the same error of judgment the Prohibitionists made.”

As a matter of fact,  history was my first major and my real love in school. I was very aware what a failure Prohibition was but I still parroted the official line to Aerron.

“Yes, but the moon is a hazardous environment. You don’t make mistakes in a spacesuit or you end up dead very quickly. Alcohol has no place in that kind of situation.”

“This is dishonesty.” He waved the rule aside with another flip of his hand. “For an exploration crew living in a hut or a rover yes. But we are way past that sort of frontier living.

When was the last time you were out in vacuum with a suit on?  On Earth people who fly planes, police and firefighters and hospital workers all know they can’t drink for a set period of time before coming on duty. Yet Earth abides somehow,” he allowed sarcastically.

“There are only a couple dozen people here who need to be on call to get in a suit and go outside at any moment who should never have a drink. It’s a holdover from when public money lifted everything we needed. Nobody wanted some reporter announcing how much a bottle of Bourbon cost to transport to the moon. And they were trying to give us a squeaky clean image. Well it’s way past time to dump that crap.”

It had been over three years since I put a suit on and went outside. They do it for you at your orientation when you first come up. Since then I’d only unrolled and pulled on an emergency suit annually, before it was inspected and rolled back up.

“I agree. I’ll make a note of it to publish a rule change. We’ll strictly limit restrictions to rational safety considerations.” When you are wrong you are wrong. Better to say so early and get started fixing it, than to resist change long enough to prove to everybody you are an ass.

“If you guys are through arguing do you want me to call Eddie or not?” Cheryl asked.

“If you want to call Eddie in I should get my programmer to come sit in at the same time.” Aerron said.

“Why don’t we do it over lunch tomorrow?” I suggested. “I’d rather do it in a more relaxed atmosphere than over my desk. The poor girl will feel like it’s a trial in here instead of a chance to get some help.” I also wasn’t sure I wanted to promote Eddie’s loan service in an official way either. Something doing it in my office would suggest.

“Now that’s the kind of idea that makes you good at what you do,” Aerron allowed.

Once Aerron was away, and Cheryl was calling Eddie with a lunch invitation, I opened the public files and looked for Eddie. I didn’t have a last name, but there were only five Edwards in residence. A glance at their official images told me none were our Eddie. Interesting. I thought about running it as a middle name, but it could just as easily be a nickname.

* * *

            I brought Cheryl along. I’m not sure why. It just felt right. Maybe having another woman so it didn’t appear so male dominated. Maybe for me instead of Faye if I were honest. We got there early and went off to the back wall. Everybody normally clustered close to the coffee pot. Only one person was too dense to see we went off by ourselves for privacy, and Cheryl waved him away with a emphatic gesture that seemed very out of character for her. There was more steel there than I suspected.

Eddie arrived before Aerron and Faye. He got a cup of coffee and sat down smiling and looking too damn innocent for my taste.

“We’re all going to eat Eddie. Why don’t you get something too? It will help give it a less formal set to the meeting. The young woman we are trying to help needs all the tact and soothing we can manage. That’s why I didn’t have it in my offices where she might feel more like it was a disciplinary hearing than an attempt to help.”

“Well,” he smiled and hesitated.

“Tell Marcy to put it on the Director’s account.”

“Well, that’s different. I was taught never to pass up a free feed. Do we have lobster on the menu today?” he joked.

“When we can pull lobster pots up from the depths of Mare Tranquillitatis. But I know somebody who can probably get them with a few days lead time,” I said pointedly.

“Ah, it’s handy to know a fellow like that,” he said, and went off to the serving line with a smug little smile.

Aerron came in with Faye and she was about what I expected, the name already told me she was a twenty something. I never knew a Delores or a Faye growing up. Names wax and wane in popularity and shift from group to group. We had several girls named Edna and Eunice in my class, but not a single Betty or Alice which my mom found strange. And when my friends Ruby and Queena came to take me along to a concert mother was surprised they weren’t black.

Faye however, looked like her mother had already died. She wasn’t just worried, she was grieving already. You could forget being on the moon how many people below have no resources and no hope. It wasn’t nice to see it here. At least Aerron made her pick out  a meal with him and guided her over. Eddie was actually ahead of them but fussed around with the condiments and such until he was on their heels coming over.

I spoke right away, not wanting any awkward silence or Faye getting twitchy. “Faye dear. Aerron and I are both concerned and feel terrible for your mother. We’ve been searching for some way to help you get the funds you need. There isn’t much here on the moon to work with, but we’re given to understand Mr. uh, that is, Eddie here, will make small loans. We don’t really have any rules about personal loans between people. I’m just concerned nothing develops where anyone is taking advantage of our people. Loan sharking and such are usually covered by state laws, and we only have Federal law. I imagine it will be awhile before we have a real bank office in Armstrong. Doing your banking online is so easy, and nobody really needs cash for anything.” Eddie gave me an amused look at that, but what surprised me was how Aerron scowled at me clearly unhappy at what I’d said. I made a mental note to find out why they both disagreed so strongly.

“Would you explain what you need and Aerron and I will listen and advise you if you don’t mind our input in your business.”

Faye explained her mother’s medical condition. The details were irrelevant to whether Eddie would write her a loan, but he didn’t tell her that, patiently listening to all the details and even asking a few questions with seeming genuine concern.

“Miss Bray, I certainly see your concern and it seems a worthy reason to indebt yourself. May I ask you a few questions in front of the others?”

“Sure, I don’t really have any secrets. Aerron and Ms. Hadley know everything.”

“Very well. I get the impression from what you say that your mother is an intelligent and forceful person, but that being from a rural upbringing she may have difficulty dealing with an urban sort of attitude and a bureaucratic maze. Does that seem like a fair statement to you?”

“Yeah, I think you understand just fine.”

“Then if we can reach some sort of accommodation on terms I’d like to suggest we have a professional patient’s advocate follow her through the medical procedure and validate everything the hospital does. They not only can demand to see the medication wrappings used to check their authenticity, but are familiar with the treatment codes and normal availability of services. They make sure the patient gets what she is paying for and often a patient with a visible on site advocate seems to spend less time waiting out in corridors and such. The advocate standing there

with the well known purple cap on seems to be have an amazing clarifying effect on the mental processes of doctors and nurses.”

“That sounds really nice if I could afford it,” Faye agreed. “It sounds expensive though. How much would it add to the hospital bill?”

“I’d write it off as an expense just to know my money loaned was being well spent. It would be a shame to see your mother treated less well than she deserves. Now, the question of loaning you the funds needs to be addressed separately from your need and the appropriateness of the purpose. I hope you understand. That’s how business is done.”

“Oh I do. I’d take charity in a minute, if that’s what it took to keep her alive, but if I can pay for it I’ll actually feel better, and if you knew my momma she would too.”

“Very well. What sort of monthly payment do you feel you can afford to repay me?”

“I make about thirty-five thousand. My cubic and air-fee and cafeteria fee, and water all add up about twenty-eight k. A hair more with com fee and power. So I have about six k a month I can do with as I please. I send maybe half of that to momma to help her support herself. It doesn’t sound like much but it goes far down there. She has a ration allowance and gets the negative income tax every month. She plants a huge garden and keeps chickens, but that feeds half the neighborhood as well as her. I have to have a little for personal items like soap and toothpaste. So I could give you five thousand a month until I’m paid up. Does that sound like enough to you?”

“While I admire your spirit in the matter, that doesn’t sound practical to me. Do you really want to stop sending the extra money each month to your mother right when she needs it perhaps more than before? If she feels ill from the treatment she might need some help around the house instead of being out in the garden fussing and weeding. And can you really go a year without a new blouse or shoes, or something to keep your spirits up like a video or some fresh music?”

“It would be hard,” Faye admitted. But it seemed little enough if we both sacrificed.”

Eddie shook his head disagreeing. His mouth was full of burger and we waited for him to clear it so he could continue.

“What I’d suggest is you pay me back fifty payments of a thousand dollars a month principal plus fifty dollars interest. Fifty months may seem forever to you, but if it leaves you enough to live on comfortably you can sustain it. However, I’ll only do it if you agree to save a thousand dollars a month into your own account for as long as you are paying me off. Once you see what it is like to have some money sitting there as a protection I believe you will like it and perhaps even continue to save after our business is done. Could you also write down your mother’s address and contact information?” he asked. He shoved a small pad across to her.

I saw a huge problem there so I butted into this conversation.

“Eddie, that sounds easier, but paying less than the full interest means you have a big balloon to pay off at the end of the loan. How do you think Faye is going to deal with that?”

“I did not intend to write an amortization schedule and shift the unpaid interest to the end. I will be happy in her case with the set fee each month. If she pays it off early I intend to still ask the fee considering it is modest. After fifty payments of a thousand-fifty she will be free and clear.”

I couldn’t believe it. Faye was so ignorant of financial matters she didn’t seem to twig to the fact it was barely disguised charity. It was certainly a kindness. I wondered if it was a give-away to make sure I didn’t come down on his other activities? If so, he was going to have a rude awakening if I found him charging some other Lunnie a usurious rate, or any other scheme I thought injurious to my people.

“Faye honey, it’s a real good deal,” I told her, “I’d take it myself in a heartbeat. Why don’t you have Eddie write it up and we’ll all look at it tomorrow and you can sign it?”

“I’m rather busy, and I don’t have the luxury of a personal assistant like you do,” Eddie said. “Why don’t you have Miss Polzinsky,” he nodded at Cheryl, “write it up and you can be quite confident of the wording and accuracy?”

“Did you follow everything well enough to write it up?” I asked her. From all appearances she was busy eating lunch and not listening at all. I should have known better.

She gave me a wry look that asked if I really thought she was an idiot.

“Fine then. Lets meet again tomorrow and finalize everything.”

“Same place – same time?” Eddie asked.

“No, let’s make it after lunch tomorrow in my office.” I wasn’t going to let him put the old soft touch on me for lunch again that easy, and I intended to make him stay after and answer some questions about who he was and just how far his business dealings extended.

“Why don’t I come back to your office right now,” he suggested, surprising me. “I’d like to use your com and get the ball rolling. I’d just as soon you know it’s taken care of also.”

“Sure, come on back with me,” I agreed. “That way you’ll be around if Cheryl has any questions writing the contract.” I noticed he wrapped up his uneaten fries and a dessert in a napkin and slipped them in his pocket.

Back at my office Eddie seated himself in my chair with an ease I found disconcerting. The screen quickly showed a live receptionist and surrounding graphics for a legal firm. Harold, Green, Harmon and Greyhawk it said in gold letters on the wall behind her. There were forms across the bottom of the video window for file transfer and encryption selections.

“EP here Toni. I need to talk to Al Green right now.”

“Yes sir, paging him,” she agreed with no argument at all. The receptionist’s office made mine look like the janitors closet. Green’s office when it appeared looked suitable for royalty to hold court. I thought the city outside his window was New York, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure. Wherever, it was mostly down from his vantage point.

“Al, I have something I want you to take care of today. You don’t have to do it personally, but check back and make sure your people got it all right before you go home.”

“Hello Eddie. I’ve missed you too. Don’t you want to know how everything is going? I’ve been using my power of attorney right and left in your absence. Aren’t you a bit concerned?”

“Nah. The market has been in the pits. Wouldn’t matter what you do. Everybody lost a ton of money the last few months unless they held a narrow range of issues. What the hell do I care for a number anyway? Am I too broke to pay your billings?”

“I think you can still cover a couple hours. You look friggin’ weird with that gorgeous mustache gone and your hair all mowed off. Quite a lag in transmission I’m hearing. You’re on the moon aren’t you Eddie?”

“Yes, and that’s privileged information. I’m calling on borrowed com so don’t bother the nice lady and call back here looking for me. Now, I want you to have a patient’s advocate contact this lady,” he gave Green the data for Faye’s mother, and outlined the problem. “I want her walked through with an advocate at her elbow all the way, not just a daily check up. She’s rural and poor and I don’t want to hear she was treated with any lack of respect because of that.

There’s a lady I used before, she should be in my personal records, Marta Singh. She’s not only a certified patient’s advocate but an attorney also. I liked that combo. She’s her own expert witness. See if she’s free to work a client right now.”

“Is this associated with any particular corporation?”

“No, but you can pick anything remotely connected to health care and have an associated  charitable foundation pick up the funding. Put ten million or so in a irrevocable Visa card and give it to the advocate. Make sure the patient has support after treatment and is stabilized back in her home environment before everybody walks away. If she needs somebody to clean house or do her shopping for awhile see to it. If that means somebody to tend her garden you find a gardener, or a farmer I guess since she raises vegetables.”

“Okay. Can I run what’s brewing past you before you hang up?”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m just not interested. You can have one of your clerks write a summary for me. I do want to know what is required to open a community based Federal credit union and a list and samples of what forms need filled out. You can expect I’ll be drawing funds to start that, and send it to me general delivery, Armstrong. Anything else?”

“No, it really is nice to hear from you. Don’t be such a stranger is all.”

“Thanks Al. If I’m back on the Dirtball for any reason I’ll stop by. Maybe even get away for a couple days and fish or chase the little white ball around. My love to Dorothy. Bye.”

“Goodbye Eddie.” The lawyer looked dismayed to be losing him already.

“Eddie Peterson,” I accused him before he could even turn away from the screen.

“Yeah, notorious weirdo and wannabe hermit, if there was anywhere left for a hermit.”

“Reclusive Billionaire is how the newsies usually describe you.”

“Nowhere left to recluse yourself either. If you get lucky and draw a permit for a wilderness area you can sit on a mountaintop and pretend you are a guru for two weeks, then the entry permit expires and you better be leaving. If not they send a chopper in and charge you for kicking you out.”

“So which company here in Armstrong do you own that you are secretly lurking around running?”

“That’s the funny part. I have an interest in several, but none of them are aware I’m here. I’ve been inside Selene Survey to deliver chocolates, I’m happy to see it seems to be well run with lots of bustling activity and camaraderie. The fact it makes money is nice too. I’ve sold autumn gourds and mini-pumpkins to We Can Do That Personnel. They seem to run a tight ship too. They certainly keep a close watch on petty cash, and although they saw the wisdom of catching the public eye with seasonal decorations they were modest in their choices and didn’t pay to put them where the public wouldn’t see. I’ve been my own secret shopper survey. I haven’t named any of my new businesses or even used a DBA. I just sold things as Eddie. Nobody ever pushed to know Eddie who?”

“But we don’t have open immigration. You must have come in on a business authorization. You have to buy a return ticket as a tourist with a thirty day maximum turn around. I know I’ve seen you around for a year.”

“Yeah, well you know now I’m not poor, so it wasn’t that hard to write off my return ticket. I found I really liked it up here. I thought about it the night before I was supposed to go back and dropped an e-mail to the shuttle service that I was indisposed to fly and would take a flight back when I felt better.”

“You can’t do that Eddie. If we let anybody come who simply wanted to what would it be like?”

“Hmmm,” he seemed to consider. “No more labor shortage? Well, less of a labor shortage for sure. I doubt there are enough who could afford to come to swamp you. Just as I doubt if I am a vanguard of thousands of illegal billionaires who will end up sleeping in the corridors for lack of cubic within their budgets. More business as the market determines who succeeds or fails? Right now your conservative analysis of which businesses to allow in means you have to pretty much see a guaranteed success to consider it, and any you let in are then shielded from competition. Even the Soviet model of a centrally controlled economy wasn’t set up for such certain failure.”

“Why didn’t you propose a business and come in the conventional way? There are lots of open slots in our economy you could have filled.”

“I did. Are you really too bureaucratically blindered to see that?” he asked irritated. “Oh, none of them were anything you and the development board would have approved. Heavens no! They were all service companies that wouldn’t be a poster child for your administrative skills. None were mega-projects worth calling a press conference to announce. I made a game of it really. I decided I’d limit myself to the funds I already had in my debit card I use traveling. I had a bit less than thirty k on it the morning I called and begged off my return. I decided if I still had the touch, if I still could make something out of nothing and a little hard work I’d allow myself to stay. I was sort of pretending I was stranded and gamed how I’d survive if I really didn’t have a fortune backing me up on Earth. If I couldn’t survive and thrive on what I had and make my way locally then I’d buy my passage back and give up on the idea of staying.”

“And you’ve survived for over a year on thirty k? I find that hard to believe.”

“No, no. You underestimate me. I’m hurt by how badly. As of this morning,” he flipped open his small computer and checked the screen, “I survived and have increased my bank roll to  Eighty-Seven Thousand, Seven-Hundred and Sixty-Two dollars. There are so many people who desired my services I can’t keep up with the demand. I wish I were twins. You’d be shocked at the list if I showed you everything I’ve done in the last year. I could have handled Ms. Brays loan from local funds, but I stopped my game this morning. I think I made my point, I can survive quite well here on my own, and once you knew about me the game was pointless, since part of the challenge was hiding.”

“So, you are ready to buy that return ticket, and end your extended vacation?”

“Whatever gave you that idea? No, I live here now. I may go to Earth for a vacation sometime, but this is my home. I intend to continue much as before. I find it really pleasant to be able to deal with people without being surrounded by security. I was concerned what would happen when somebody did recognize me. I shouldn’t have worried. Loonies are basically different from Dirtsiders. When I’d been here about a month I ran into a former employee, Red Harman. He saw me and just said, “Hi Eddie. Good to see you.” That’s it. He was deep in another  conversation and kept on going. There’s nowhere on Earth I can get treated like that.”

“I don’t see how I can let this arrangement stand.”

“I’m pretty sure you can’t stop it. Not only have I stopped playing the game with just my pocket money, but I already have a lot of people who depend on me now for services. If you send me packing to Earth you are going to piss off a lot of your own people. And it would be for a very limited benefit. It might inconvenience me for a week or two. I can spend twenty billion or fifty billion or whatever it takes to put myself back up here, and then you’d have thrown away my goodwill as well by playing the evil bureaucrat with me. Are you really foolish enough to want me as an enemy?”

“I’ll think on that,” was all I agreed. He was wise enough to just nod, satisfied.

I simply didn’t bring any of it up when Eddie came to sign the Bray papers. He’s not stupid, neither did he.

* * *

            I saw him a lot more after that, but spoke to him infrequently over the years. When I retired I realized that it was Eddie who had made it possible for me to stay in Armstrong. Otherwise I’d have been back on the Slime-Ball hunched over a walker in a crushing full G. That’s what moved me to go acknowledge it to him, and offer thanks, when I heard he was dying.

“I’ll open up another door for you before I’m done,” he said with that devilish look of his.

I didn’t know what he meant, but now I do. It’s been a long time since I wore a suit, but it was important to come out here. His lone headstone is turned so the sun never degrades the carving, but it’s easy to read in the backscatter. It says “Eddie Peterson  1979 / 2071- a rich guy from Earth – first man to come to the moon and stay.”


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