it was getting just a little chilly in the alley where he was waiting for the aliens calling themselves "burgoyne" and "o'toole" to emerge from the prince hal room of the venerable hotel st crispian.
mack felt his trans-time messager hum in his pants pocket. another message from the professor. the professor was getting to be a real old woman, calling him every five minutes. could this job really be that important?
as there were no mid-twentieth century humans in view, mack immediately took the messager out of his pocket .
"so how's it going, mack?"
"great, professor, great." he called to ask him that? "i got everything under control. i decided to wait outside for our friends." of course the professor could see that for himself. "getting a little nippy, though."
"aww! poor mackie! you want me to bring you back so i can kiss your little tootsies and make them warm again?"
mack rolled his eyes. he didn't care if the professor saw him. "did you have anything to tell me?"
"ha, ha! don't be so sensitive. i was just yanking your chain a little bit, buddy, that's all. but i do, in fact, have something to tell you."
"and what might that be? don't kill me with suspense here."
"the mission is off."
"yes, off. you never had a mission called off before?"
"any reason?" mack looked around the alley and down to both ends of it. no sign of life.
"ours not to reason why, mac. but i gather that one of these guys, unbeknownst to the other, is actually a double agent for the aldebaran rebels. and the council has just signed a secret pact with the aldebaran rebels, so we are going to give them a little rope."
"oh. and what about the whole course of future human history?"
"what about it?"
"i was just asking."
"do you care about the whole course of future human history, mack?"
"um - "
"i didn't think so. prepare for recall, soldier. do you read me?"
"i read you." mack pressed the messager off and put it in his pocket.
he took a deep breath.
he could feel the light surround him.
shirley was flying. it wasn't the best dope she ever smoked, not by any means, but the price was right. like absolutely free, no questions asked.
these two guys from duquesne, iowa - or was it dubuque, iowa? - wherever - were a hoot. they acted liked total squares from squaresville in some ways, but they weren't cheesegrinders, giving their dope away like that, and if you asked them anything they gave you a big smile and an answer.
"so what did you guys say your names were again?"
"mister burgoyne," mister burgoyne responded with a big smile, "and mister o'toole."
"i got that part, i meant what are your first names? besides mister? i mean, now that we're the best friends in the whole wide world, we ought to know each other's first names, right?"
mister burgoyne and mister o'toole looked at each other.
harold p sternhagen, who had inhaled a little less than the others, felt a little resentful that shirley - the light of his life - was paying so much attention to the two strangers. he knew it was stupid - it was their dope, after all - but he couldn't help it.
at first he had been euphoric just to be in the same room with her. now he wished she would look his way just once.
"johnny, " said harold. "all burgoynes must be named johnny, right?"
"ha, ha," burgoyne laughed happily. "that's me - johnny."
"and o'toole - let me think," harold continued. "what's a good name for an o'toole? how about - pete? pete o'toole. no, that's a little too thuggish. how about peter o'toole! that's got a nice ring to it. a nice manly ring."
"yes, peter o'toole," mister o'toole agreed, and they all laughed.
shirley looked right at harold and laughed at his sparkling wit.
the heavens parted for harold and the angels sang. shirley was starting to appreciate him!
"so," shirley looked at burgoyne, "if it's not getting personal - even though we're best friends - how did you guys come by this good shit?"
burgoyne launched into a long rambling description - leaving out the part about landing on the roof to begin with - of how they had encountered sniffy and rooster, and how they had arranged to purchase even more good shit from them.
shirley's mouth was hanging open when he finished. "are you shitting me? oh my friends, my dear dear friends, they saw you coming! what a couple of lowlifes! i tell you, cheap chiselers like that make me ashamed to be a member of the human race. don't you agree, harold?"
"absolutely." words failed harold. "it's - it's an absolute disgrace."
"you guys can do better than that," shirley told burgoyne and o'toole. "you just stick with me."
suddenly the door started to open.
raoul, the bartender, poked his head in. "time to wrap things up here, folks. it's after four o'clock and the cleaning people must be on their way." he came in and closed the door behind him. "and - uh - maybe we should air the place out a little bit."
"aww," shirley protested. "the party was just starting. we were just starting to have fun."
raoul went over and stood on tiptoes and opened a little window just below the ceiling. "i'm glad you were enjoying yourself, shirley. but there's a big city out there, and a big world, and i am sure you can find some place else to have fun."
raoul turned around. "the night is still young," he told them. "in fact, if you don't mind my joining you, i know a place we can have some delicious fun."
a few minutes later, the five best friends found themselves outside in the alley, letting their eyes adjust to the darkness.
"whoa! i thought i saw something," said shirley. "like a light go on and then disappear."
"i didn't see anything ," said raoul. "or hear anything."