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A Trade is in Order (1990)

A Trade is in Order (1990)

©1990, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (199). A trade is in order. Unpublished short story.






A Trade Is In Order

By Dallas Denny


22 October, 2033

Rafferty rang me again about the Hershey bars. The time differential makes for a blasted nuisance. Since Rafferty is a late riser, he rarely rings before eleven p.m. I told him, of course, the Hershey bars were completely out of the question unless he had managed to acquire some new merchandise or would add forty Havana cigars to his offer. Rafferty rather has the corner on Havana cigars. His reaction was typical. “Goddammit, you’re screwing me. He’s screwing me,” he complained to nobody in particular. “Me, Rafferty, who has been like a brother to him. Haven’t I been good to you?” It was more a demand than a question.

“Not particularly,” I replied. “I’m just the better trader.”

Rafferty lit a cigar dramatically, first snipping the end with his silver cutter, and then wetting it down with his short, thick tongue before igniting it with a candle. Rafferty has no matches, and I’m in painfully short supply. Weinstein, in London, has three cases of Blue Diamond kitchen matches, and is asking for two packages of Brewer’s yeast for each box. He has told Rafferty, who is in Paris, that he will trade him an entire case of strike anywhere matches for American Gothic by Grant Wood. Rafferty has the Wood, and I, in Washington, have yeast. I have quite the advantage, however. Weinstein needs that yeast to make alcohol, and he wants Wood’s painting only because it would give him something he knows I want. I’ve told Weinstein I’ll give him six packages of yeast for six boxes of matches. I’ll probably get the matches; Weinstein is an alcoholic.

I suffered through Rafferty’s display for as long as I could stand it and then punched the button that turned off, at my end, the video portion of the phone. The red light on the monitor winked out and Rafferty’s smug face dwindled, both vertically and horizontally, until he was a slowly fading spot in the middle of the screen.

Rafferty’s voice continued to blare through the speakers. “Listen, how about that Dago statue you’re always mooning about? It’s nothing to me except something to hang my hat on.” He was referring, of course, to Michelangelo’s David. “But a gentleman like you,” he continued, “A gentleman like you could use a statue like this. I’ll send it along instead of the cigars. How about it?”

“I’ll still want twenty Havanas”.

Rafferty harrumphed. Even though the video was off, I could see him grinning. “You know, this statue’s sort of in the way. I guess maybe I’ll move it outside. But, seeing as it’s as heavy as it is, I’ll probably have to bust it into chunks small enough to tote.”

He wouldn’t! I turned the picture back on.

Rafferty’s face swam into focus. He was wearing his stubborn look. He would at that. “All right, then, you thieving Yank.” I said. “You have a deal. The Hershey bars are on the way.” I flicked off the switch.


23 October, 2033

Enter following items into inventory:

1 gross Dill’s pipe cleaners

1 package Burpee seeds—cantaloupe (Spartan Rock)

1 case of 144 Ray—0-Vac “D” cell batteries

1 8 oz. tin oregano

3 12 ox. jars stuffed olives

1 Marquesa de la Solana by Francisco Goya

1 David by Michaelangelo

Remove following item from inventory:

1 case Hershey chocolate bars (Big Block, with almonds)

Rafferty certainly did want those Hershey bars.


27 October, 2033

Weinstein rang earlier today and informed me he is prepared to offer a box of matches for three AA batteries. I accepted his terms. By the time I need more matches, he’ll need more yeast.


29 October, 2033

It has occurred to me that if anyone is to write a history of the Earth since 2024, it will have to be me. Rafferty, Neanderthal that he is, never writes anything, unless one counts the notes he is constantly making; I think they may be ideas for the vulgar limericks he recites when he is intoxicated. Weinstein is too old and weak. And there are only the three of us left.


13 November, 2033

I’ve been working on a brief history of the world. There’s not really much to tell. Text follows:

In 1984 the Plath arrived and swept the planet clean. They took everything—people, plants, animals, buildings, water, manure—everything. In one fortnight they removed everything down to the subsoil, leaving a sterile, disfigured wasteland. As Rafferty says, they made the whole world look as if it had been bulldozed for a parking lot. Imagine: no oceans, no forests, no rocks, no water. They even took the Arctic and Antarctic icecaps.

But the Plath left portions of four cities—Washington, D.C., Paris, London, and Tokyo. I certainly can’t tell you why. Perhaps their holds were full. Perhaps they wished to leave some sort of monument. Perhaps they wished to play a game with the four of us, Weinstein, Rafferty, Honda, and myself.

The Plath plucked me from the streets of London and left me in Washington, within sight of the Library of Congress. They grabbed Weinstein from the gutters of New York and dropped him in London, near the British Museum. They grabbed Honda from Tokyo, and set him down in Tokyo; I’m not sure if they meant it as a joke or if it was a mistake. Rafferty claims he was picked up in Oregon; the Plath set him down on the steps of the Louvre.

The Plath! Curse their ineptness! They left each of us in just the wrong place. Rafferty is a vile hoodlum from California, an engineer by trade. Weinstein is a dour old French Jew who has never bothered to learn English. Even Rafferty has had to learn French in order to converse with him. I am—was, rather—a gentleman’s gentleman. A servant, I mean. I was originally from Devonshire. In my youth I gravitated to London. I loved that city. I loved Paris almost as well. Why, then, am I in this wretched place? Even Tokyo would have been better.

Koya Honda was a Japanese industrial magnate. He passed away several years ago, probably caught in one of the tremendous dust storms that now scour the planet. Honda was the only one the Plath left in the proper city.

The Plath left several square miles of each city intact. They took the people, the grass that grew between the cracks in the sidewalks, the trees in the parks, and even the cockroaches that lived under the sinks. But they left the buildings and inanimate objects. I shudder to think of a race that could be so thorough, so devastatingly thorough, with such a need for materials (and, I shudder to think, perhaps food) that they needed to and had the ability to raze an entire planet in only two weeks. Twelve days, actually. I don’t believe they left a single seed or a solitary clutch of insect eggs on the planet. Several times a year I drive out past the perimeter, but to the horizon in all directions there is only dirt.

The Plath took all the surface water, but subterranean springs continue to flow. There are occasional small pools. I bottle the water and store it in a room at the Treasury, where I’ve been residing since I moved out of the Library of Congress.

Weinstein installed himself in Buckingham Palace, and Rafferty at the Louvre. He tells me he uses a Peugeot to drive from room to room. I don’t doubt him.

We spend a good deal of our time maintaining our residences against the abrasive, pervasive dust; on the rare clear days we drive or walk about our respective cities looking for undamaged goods. The ravages of dust and time have managed to ruin most things. There is a surfeit of some items, such as tinned goods, but clothing, flour, sugar, batteries, and any number of other commodities are at a premium. Rafferty, additionally, has some of the world’s most precious art treasures. He doesn’t care one whit for them, and I must admit it sometimes gives him a certain edge in trading.

The three of us spend much of our energy contriving to supply ourselves with our needs, and yes, our luxuries, without relinquishing too much in return. Weinstein wants liquor, I fine foods, wines, and art treasures, and Rafferty comic books, tobacco, tools, and dirty videotapes. At first we exchanged items quite freely, but through the years we’ve become rather shrewd traders.

We communicate with each others through battery-powered videophones made by humans, but we transfer our merchandise through devices the Plath left us. Each device resembles a barrel hoop about two-and-a-half-feet in diameter. We simply pass objects through the hoops. Each of has a device for the other three cities. The hoops have no effect when we pass them over our bodies.

What kind of cruel game are the Plath playing?


7 February, 2034

Rafferty swears he saw a Plath scoutship yesterday. Here, let him tell it.

“I was near that castle in the middle of where the river used to be-— the one with the gargoyles-— yeah, Notre Dame. I’d just found a cellar with lots of that red wine you like so well and was lugging a case to my truck when I heard it. It was circling the island. There’s no use hiding from the bastards, so I went on out into the street. They saw me, but just waggled their wings at me and the gargoyles and flew off.”


8 February, 2034

I expected them yesterday, but they didn’t come. I imagine they were looking for Honda in Tokyo, or Weinstein in London. But they came today. I was sitting in the oval office, reading documents which had once been vital to the security of the United States, when I heard them land. I put the documents back on the President’s desk and went out onto the White House lawn. As soon as the Plath saw me, they left. I immediately rang up Rafferty.

“It’s like I told you,” he said. “I think they’re checking on us. All they wanted was to see we were still kicking, and they split. They’re gonna play hell finding Honda. He’s probably covered over by ten feet of dust by now.”

Say,” mused Rafferty, “do you think they’ll replace Honda?”


12 February, 2034

Rafferty was right. They did replace Honda.


13 February, 2034

I have an airplane—several in fact. They are stored at the Smithsonian Institution Aerospace Museum. Probably some of them would fly, with the skills of a mechanic and a pilot. Unfortunately, I am neither. Rafferty is both. If I were to disassemble an aircraft and pass it to him through the Plath device piece by piece—- assuming all the pieces would fit through—he could probably put it back together. But he can go nowhere without gasoline. And Weinstein has the corner on gasoline.

Weinstein and I have discussed the situation. Knowing Rafferty as we do, we’re fairly sure he could reach the woman—her name is Yumi-san, and she speaks no English. Rafferty does rather seem the likely one. You know, the race must go on, and all that. So the three of us—even Weinstein, bastard that he is—have decided to do away with our jealousies and our tendencies toward miserliness, and find a way to perpetuate the race.

A trade is in order.