…at a local pharmacy where he went to get some pills to treat a minor case of dyspepsia which had been bothering him for the last few days.
The pharmacist, named Jay Habash, took 77R out of the till and reolaced it with some smaller bills that took up too much space in his wallet. That evening he was playing poker with several friends, including a slight fair-haired fellow from California named Bob Blonda, a pharmaceutical broker on a business trip. Blonda won about $540 from Habash, including 77R.
When he got back home (He lived near Lodi, California), he met his wife Mary, his teenage daughter April and his pre-teen sons Bobby and George at the airport. He…
…at a local pharmacy where he went to get some pills to treat a minor case of dyspepsia which had been bothering him for the last few days.
…handed over the gifts he had bought while on his trip, in response to the expected chorus of, “Did you bring us anything?” Bobby and George both got Pokemon plush toys, which Bob had found at the Pokemon Mecca of the East, the Nintendo store in mid-town Manhattan. Interestingly enough, as he left the store he had passed Sarah, Gladys, Leah, Susan, and that awful brash Gina on their way to lunch, not sparing them a second glance as he did so. April got a purse that looked remarkably like a Coach, but was in fact a counterfeit knock-off. And he had a bottle of Armani Mania Femme for Mary.
He drove the family minivan out of airport parking, where he surrendered 77R to the parking attendant for the privilege of having parked for two hours at Sacramento International Airport.
77R stayed in the cash drawer for the better part of the day, and was finally called on to help break a $100 bill offered by …
…Nash the Slash. Or possibly Steve Jobs. One of those famous people, anyways. The parking attendant has a bad case of face blindness and couldn’t recongnize anyone on first or second meeting if his life depended on it.
Nash (or possibly Steve) accepted 77R and drove out of the parking lot, turning towards San Francisco. About an hour later he was reaching the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, when…
…he saw a homeless man by the side of the road. Traffic slowed to a crawl, and then stopped. Steve Jobs (for it was indeed he) rolled down the window of his BMW sports coupe and called out to the homeless man. “Here, this is for you!”
The homeless man, Roger Woods, shambled over and the Apple visionary handed him 77R, being careful not to actually touch him. “Thanks, man,” Woods said, touching his forehead in an odd kind of salute.
“Don’t mention it,” Jobs said. “Have a better one.” Just then the traffic cleared, and Jobs eased his car forward, accelerating away from Woods and back to his life of fabulously electronicized ease.
As the cars roared by and the sun beat down on him, Woods looked down at the $20 bill, rubbing his dirty finger thoughtfully over Andrew Jackson’s face. He picked up his rucksack and sleeping bag, clambered over the nearby cyclone fence (cutting his right index finger slightly as he did so), and headed for the 7-11 on Chamberlain Street.
Fun game! I moved it over to the Game Room where more of the fun crowd would see it
When he reached the 7-11, Woods walked through the door, holding up 77R like a press pass, showing that he could actually buy something. He paused in front of the donuts, pondering the sugary goodness, but then his eye was caught by something on the next shelf. Something he simply couldn’t resist. As he stepped around the donuts, the $20 bill slipped from his fingers…
…as he slipped on the wet floor. A terrified store employee with mop in hand leapt backward, tangling with the DANGER: WET FLOOR sign, and landed hard in a heap against one of the store’s two rows of shelves. The row of shelves tottered sideways and collapsed against the other row, blocking the central aisle and spilling bread and candy and Chef Boy-ar-dee brand canned pasta everywhere.
The clerk at the cash desk hit the panic button in panic; a silent alarm was triggered at the local office of 7-11 Corporation’s alarm-monitoring sub-contractor. Shutters came down over the windows and the doors closed and locked, trapping several disoriented customers. A mighty voice brayed over the store’s ceiling speakers: DO NOT MOVE. REMAIN CALM. THE POLICE WILL BE HERE SHORTLY.
Woods cowered in terror on the wet floor, his mind far away on a distant battlefield. “Incoming! I’m hit!” He thrashed and brought down a display of prepaid cellphones. “Everyone out the back!” One of the other customers screamed.
And 77R sat in the corner, utterly forgotten…
…until the resident packrat poked his whiskered nose out of his hole under the cooler and saw the bill on the floor. He ran into the now-empty store, grabbed 77R in his sharp little teeth, and skittered back into his hole just as the police cars screamed into the parking lot with lights flashing.
The noise and turmoil in the store increased. Terrified, the packrat raced through the walls of the store to one of the other exits, which gave onto a nice quiet alley. Banknote clenched between its teeth, the packrat dashed out into the alley–to suddenly feel the claws of a pouncing cat in its back. It shrieked, a high thin wail of despair, releasing 77R.
77R was caught in the gusty wind blowing towards the 7-11 store, which was now on fire, and wafted high into the air on the updraft from the fire. Bouyed by the warm air, 77R drifted far across the city…
and was about to fly out over the ocean before it got snagged on the branches of a manzanita growing on the edge of a cliff. There, 77R remained unnoticed until late in the afternoon when it was spotted by…
The People’s Republic of China autonomous spy satellite, unit designation AX-0077R. Which was, all things considered, quite shocking really, as nothing really interesting ever happened on AX-0077R’s watch, which comprised 24/7 surveillance of this particular small, mostly empty, and quite dull 1km square unit of the US western coastline.
Immediately, AX-0077R’s main circuits powered up from sleep mode and into full cycle to get a better look at this curious anomaly that had blown into “his” turf. He switched lenses over to forensic fractal-scan zoom, his monitor screens filling up with various images of this manufactured paper. “Interesting” he thought to himself. “US currency – 20 dollar denomination. Signs of rodent mastication, some human blood traces, fermented malt beverage stains. Some signs of deliberate defacement – ‘Siraj’ (now searching… Walmart…cashier. End search.). Where’s George sticker. Serial no 77R….
His circuits froze.
“77R! That’s my designation!” He exclaimed. “Someone’s trying to send me a message! What the hell, this is getting creepy - I’d best report this to Central, ASAP.
I’ll alert one of our assets on the ground to come and pick it up. Maybe Xue would be the best person for this job. I want to get to the bottom of this. And anyway, we could always do with a little more US currency, he thought to himself.
Just minutes later, a dark blue Mercedes four-wheel drive pulls up next to the manzanita. Agent Xue climbs out of the front and…
…mutters to himself, “Why don’t they give us real Mercedes? This business of rebadging Jialing Auroras has got to end! Er, not that they aren’t good cars and everythng. But I’ll be glad when they’re sold here officially.”
He went over to the cliff. “‘Retrieve paper asset’? What the frack does that mean?” He looked out over the ocean. Nothing. Then he looked down. The manzanita was just below the edge of the cliff. And yes, there was some paper caught in its branches.
Xue reached out and grabbed the paper. He looked at it quizzically. “Lost dog? Call 415-555-0199?”
“Oh. That must be the new Agency contact number.” He went back to the car. “But why go to all this effort to give it to me here?” He did not notice 77R, still stuck to a slightly-lower branch.
At the same time, Xue noticed a manilla envelope with a piece of paper and a video tape. The note said: “You’ve now seen the tapes. You know we’re aware of what you’ve been doing. You know what we want, and you know how to give it to us. Do so by five o’clock tomorrow, or someone else will see these tapes, someone you really don’t want to see them. This is not a joke.”
With a sense of deja-vu, his palms began to sweat.
“Frak! I forgot to tell Linda about the last batch of reports to mark!” (And yes, he used the Chinese equivalent of ‘frak’.)
For all that Xue used the name Xue in his duties as an intellgence-gathering agent of the Agency for External Affairs, Ministry of Security, he was a very unremarkable-looking Caucasian man, a teacher in the public school in Half Moon Bay. His wife Linda was another teacher, and had no idea of his activities on the behalf of the People’s Republic of China; she knew him as Tom. The best spies don’t look like spies.
And this spy remembered that there was a stack of tenth-grade homework from his class to go over. They’d been exploring the techniques of horror films in Media Studies, and the manilla envelope was a perfect example for the class. He grabbed it and jumped back into the Agency car and drove away in a hurry, back to the school.
77R, forgotten, remained on the branch of the manzanita.
The sun set and darkness fell over the manzanita and 77R. During the night, a few faint breezes threatened to dislodge the bill but it remained securely stuck. Then, as the first rays of daylight emerged out of the east, 77R was spotted by a …
…small bird, a Lesser tufted twit. The bird tugged at the bill, but the tough paper resisted it. It tugged some more. No movement. The bird fluttered up and tried pulling from another direction. Movement… and then the banknote was free! The bird flew away towards its nest with banknote in beak. Then, as it cleared the lip of the cliff…
it let out a mighty cry of victory! Mackaaaaww! And the bill slipped from his beak, falling back into the needle-like branches of the manzanita.
Fuck me, when am I going to learn to stop doing that, the twit thought to itself as it flew back to its nest, determined to cut its losses for today.
Then, as luck would have it, a park caretaker came by with lopping shears and heavy gloves, used to clipping manzanitas and bougainvilleas for years. He had spent most of the day trimming shrubbery in the park; the manzanita was the last item on his agenda.
The gardener, named Emil Guzman, spotted the bill and lunged for it and snagged it. Reasoning that money doesn’t grow on trees, and finders-keepers-losers-weepers, he pocketed the bill, finished his shift and punched out at his work station, and went home.
Emil was having dinner guests that evening; his wife cooked a scrumptions chile relleno. His guests were an assorted group indeed: Dr. Tim Werdin, a widowed nuclear physicist; Harriet McKenna, an insurance adjuster; and Emil’s own niece Lupe Guzman, who cooked for a wealthy family named Sharp but was off for a few days.
When the guests arrived for dinner, Emil…
When the guests arrived for dinner, Emil… reached in his pocket and noticed, the bill was not there!
He probably had dropped it at the park when he had reached in to pull out his snot rag to wipe off his brow after a hard day at work! Damn - he was going to pay back Lupe for the snort of coke. This was going to be awkward.
However, five minutes after that bill had fallen once again on the grass in the park, Fluffy - an obnoxious poodle owned by a rich celebrity who shall remain anonymous, but is a closeted Gay scientologist, picked it up and ran to master. Master, rich as hell, still grabbed the 20 and pocketed it.
He figured it would be a good Christmas tip for his doorman, who was used to getting stiffed by this creep every year.
The Celebrity walked across the park with Fluffy, pleased at his good fortune and didn’t notice the pit bull running towards them without a leash.
Suffice it to say, blood was involved, Fluffy turned into lunch and the Celebrity was mauled.
Seeing the celebrity lying sprawled next to his dead dog, a concerned citizen immediately took a picture with his cell phone, then dialed 911 to call the police (after checking the pockets) and took the Rolex, Blackberry, wallet (with no money or credit cards) and a single $20 bill in the pocket.
The concerned citizen decided not to wait for the police to arrive.
He left the park with all of his goodies and…
He left the park with all of his goodies and… rushed home to his apartment at 77 R street to share the good news with his submissive partner, Emil, still in the latex oxygen-restricting bag. Emil had joined the “Breath-a-thon” at the last minute, and this $20 would help pay for the pledge of 8 hours at $5 an hour. However, after opening the door to the basement “theme room,” he was shocked to discover…
…local Mafioso Bruno “One-Thumb” Mascagni standing there, looking cross. “You gonna pay me that twenty bucks you owe me?” he asked. “I’m not a patient man, not a patient man at all, Emil. You know that.” He gestured to the row upon row of Ken dolls that decorated the basement theme room. “It’s be a shame if anything were to happen to all of these… y’know… dolls.”
“Sure, One-Thumb, sure!” Emil said, panicking at the thought of anything happening to the collection it had taken him a lifetime to assemble. “Here’s your $20! I was just going to call you and bring it over. I swear!”
One-Thumb snorted and took the bill from Emil’s trembling fingers, sticking it in the pocket of his silk shirt. “Yeah, I’ll bet you were. Well, I was in the neighborhood anyway. No harm done. All right, I’ll be seeing you.” He clomped upstairs, his six-14 shoes shaking the staircase as he went, and let himself out by the front door, leaving Emil to wonder how much it would cost to fix the window through which the gangster had forced his way into the basement.
One-Thumb looked up and down the street, got in his brand-new Cadillac, locked the door and pulled out his cellphone. He punched in a number he knew by heart…