Conner slumped at one of the lounge tables, holding a bar towel full of ice against his forehead. A slight knot from when his face had kissed the floor.

The bartender, security guard, and busboy who'd gang-piled him had been persuaded not to call the police by a fistful of Professor Dan's money. It wasn't out of kindness. Dan didn't want to be taken downtown for disturbing the peace and destruction of property. He'd given Conner one last warning to stay away from Tyranny before he left.


Conner couldn't sort through all the jumbled feelings in his gut. All he could do was sit there and hang his head and feel like a world-class sucker.

Adding insult to injury was the Captain Kirk costume.

Conner's shirt and jeans had been soaked with beer during his fight with Dan, a big rip in the shirt too. He'd reluctantly agreed to change into the dry Kirk costume. What did it matter now?

Randy entered the lounge, sat at the table with Conner. Randy lifted his hand, spread his fingers in Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Captain."

"It's too late," Conner said. "And don't call me Captain."

"Just trying to cheer you up."

"In case you haven't noticed," Conner said, "I'm having a shitty day. So I'm not really in the mood."

Randy looked away, drummed his fingers on the table. Finally, he said, "Let me tell you your problem, Conner."

"I can't wait."

"Your problem is that you fail to comprehend some universal truths. Truths that are so true they're clich¨¦ but true nonetheless."

"Is this going to take long?"

"If you want a ride back to Pensacola, shut up and listen."

Conner shut up.

"Here are a few examples," Randy said. "What goes around comes around. The pot calling the kettle black. Takes one to know one."

"You forgot Be Kind Rewind."

Randy went on like Conner hadn't said anything. "I see how you look at me, how you look at all these people around here. We're big dorks, right? Geeks. Let me tell you something. I wake up every day just fine with who I am. I don't have to apologize to the cool people. What you don't seem to realize is that you're getting the same treatment. Professor Dan thinks you're nobody. He thinks less of you than you think of me. You're just shit he's trying to scrape off his shoe. If you want to live in a world where everybody has to look down on somebody else to feel good, then that's your world. That's where you live. Count me out."

Conner didn't say anything, closed his eyes, held the ice tighter against his head.

"Here's another thing," Randy said. "I fell in love with Tyranny too."

Conner's eyes popped open.

"She's one of those people with a magic light around her. And she doesn't treat me like a comic-book geek. You're lucky to even know her. But you're not grateful. You think you've been slighted. You think you've been robbed. You're one of the lucky ones, and you don't even know it because you're so good at being a sarcastic, miserable bastard."

Randy stood. "By the way, I arranged for Jerry to come out and talk to you on his dinner break. Oh, and you're welcome."

Conner watched Randy leave. At first, he was angry at the kid. What did he know about anything? What did Comic Book Boy know about Conner Samson? But Randy's Universal Truths echoed between Conner's ears for the rest of the day.

In the hotel restaurant, Jerry ordered a cheeseburger (hold the lettuce, pickle, onion, or anything resembling a vegetable), a double order of fries, and a Dr Pepper. Conner sat across from him, sipped a cup of black coffee.

Jerry was tall, skeletal thin, hunched over, blond hair thinning and brushy. Nose like a beak. He mistakenly believed he was growing a beard, but to Conner it looked like patchy blond fungus under his lip and along his jaw. Jerry ate like a condemned man, smacking lips. Little noises of desperate enjoyment. Occasionally, Jerry even chewed once or twice before swallowing.

Conner let him eat, waited until Jerry was ready to talk.

Jerry belched, shoved fries into his cheek like he was a chipmunk storing up for winter. "You wanted to know about Teddy Folger's Joe DiMaggio card."


"You're lucky I'm talking to you," Jerry said. "I'm an expert. I know everything there is about baseball collectibles. I have special knowledge. Don't people with special knowledge get a consulting fee or something?"

"I'm paying for your cheeseburger."

Jerry shrugged. "Well, you're a pal of Randy's, so I'll help you out. What do you want to know?"

"All I know is that it's an autographed card," Conner said.

"Was. It got destroyed in a fire, so if you were thinking about buying it, you're out of luck."

"I'm just curious why it's worth twenty thousand dollars."

Jerry scoffed, looked at Conner like he'd taken stupid to a new level. "More than that! Try a hundred thousand smackers. At least that's the insurance amount."

Conner blinked, realized his mouth was hanging open. "It's a fucking baseball card! I put them in the spokes of my bike when I was a kid."

"Well, that's your dumb luck, isn't it?" Jerry gulped Dr Pepper, burped again. "If you'd archived them properly, they might be worth something now. Like I said, a hundred thousand is just the insured amount. Any collectible is really only worth what somebody is willing to pay."

"But..." Conner shook his head. He was still in shock. "So if I went back in time, bought twenty cards, found Mr. DiMaggio, and made him sign them all, they'd each be worth a hundred thousand dollars?"

Jerry barked laughter, bits of half-chewed french fry flying halfway across the table. "Jesus, no offense, but that's a dumb thing to say. You don't know how this works at all, do you?"

"Maybe you'll explain it to me." Asshole.

"Rarity is always a consideration with something like this. If there's a million of something, then they won't be worth so much. One of a kind, worth more. It's just common sense."

Conner actually did feel a little dumb not realizing this. It was obvious.

"It's not just the DiMaggio autograph. Lots of those around," Jerry said. "It's the other signatures that make it worth so much."

"What other signatures?"

Jerry rolled his eyes. If he was about to call Conner dumb again, he mercifully changed his mind. "You really are at square one with this card, huh? Marilyn Monroe and Billy Wilder also signed the card. It's a famous damn card. You didn't know? It's like one of the Holy Grails of collectibles. Sports collectors and film buffs would both kill for it. It's like if you found an ancient autographed picture of Moses, and Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille had signed it too."

Conner was beginning to understand. It still seemed an outrageous amount of money, but he was getting the idea now that collectors took this kind of thing very seriously. He remembered that DiMaggio and Monroe had been married. Right before she was married to the playwright. Or was that after?

Conner asked Jerry who would buy such a card, how would somebody find them. Jerry told him collectors came from all walks of life. There were trade magazines and Web sites that put collectors in contact with each other. And conventions. Lots of conventions.

"By the way, I brought you this book." Jerry picked his backpack off the floor, found a thick hardcover book, and slid it across the table to Conner. "If you're interested in Monroe and DiMaggio, this is the best one. It's half pop culture analysis and half biography."

Conner took the book, read the cover. The King and Queen of America by Adam Oppenheimer, Ph.D. "Thanks."

"It's thirty bucks." Jerry held out his hand.

Conner almost threw the book back in the jerk's face but decided he was curious. He kept the book, gave the money to Jerry.

"I don't see why you're this curious," Jerry said. "It's pointless now. The card burned up with Folger's shop. Damn shame."

"Did you ever see the card?" Conner asked.

"Sure, lots of times. He had it hanging behind the counter in his shop. I'd see it anytime I went over to trade some cards. It was about so big." Jerry spread his arms up then down to indicate poster size. "It was all framed up along with Monroe 's letter. Shit, I almost forgot about the letter. He had a personal, handwritten letter from Monroe too. It was all set up just beautiful. Before he put it in the frame, he used to take it out of the safe to show me."


"Yeah, Folger had a safe built into the floor, hidden behind a secret panel under the register. I think he thought it was cool or something. But I guess he was too proud of the card to lock it away and liked to have it on display instead."

Conner only half listened. He thought about Joellen Becker. She either didn't know the card's actual worth, or she was taking him for a ride. And Conner Samson was getting a little sick of being pushed around and lied to.

Jerry had demolished his burger and fries. He looked around the table in case he'd missed something. "Say, how about some dessert here?"

Conner stood, dropped a twenty on the table. He didn't know if that would cover dessert or not. "Thanks, Jerry. You were helpful. I have to get going." He walked away.

Jerry called after him. "I can get you a signed DiMaggio in mint condition for a good price. It won't have the other signatures, but it's a good card."

Conner didn't even look back.

As they'd arranged, Conner met Randy at the Geo. Randy had a pair of shopping bags with him and looked pretty pleased with his purchases. They got in the car, headed south.

Conner stared out the window, plans coming together in his mind. It didn't take him long to decide what he was going to do. It was clear, so very clear and obvious. He wondered if this was what people meant when they talked about inspiration or the muse. As soon as he returned to Pensacola, he'd get started.

His new copy of The King and Queen of America wasn't an easy read. He flipped to a spot in the middle, had to read it twice to get anything out of it. The author talked about Jacques Lacan and some kind of fake persona Marilyn Monroe put out for the public and how deep inside there was the "real" Marilyn that maybe got lost somehow. Conner wondered which persona DiMaggio loved, if he'd ever caught a glimpse of the girl who'd been Norma Jean. He closed the book, put it away.

He decided he needed to say something to Randy. "You were right." He cleared his throat. "All that stuff you said about my attitude and everything. You were right. I was out of line, and I'm sorry."

Randy didn't say anything for long seconds. Finally, a sly smile spread slowly from ear to pointy ear. "You can't help it. You illogical Earthlings are all governed by your human emotions."

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