“So there I was, working construction, doing site cleanup work where a new office tower was going up, okay?
“And I came across this little bottle buried in the mud. Nothing special to look at. Little brown bottle with a cork in. Pretty well buried when I came across it. Who knows how long it’d been down there?”
I nodded at the rough, heavyset guy in jeans and a dirty Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt on the next barstool who’d decided, lacking any other obvious targets in the all-but-deserted bar, to honor me with his life’s story. Since he hadn’t yet tried to wheedle a drink out of me, I let it go. It could’ve been worse. I’ve known a lot of rambling drunks; he could’ve been drooling, or worse, drooling on me.
“So I pulled the cork out. Not like I expected anything to be in it, but someone’d taken pains to jam the cork in there pretty good, so I figured something had to be in there.”
I nodded, following him so far. “You weren’t worried that it might have been something bad? Poison? Something toxic?”
He glowered down at his beer. “Buddy, I wish I’d been so lucky.”
“No, what was inside was like outta one of those movies or fairy tales. Some sparkly, shiny smoke, and then a little guy about six inches tall dressed in pajamas and wearing a little helmet. Shiny little gold helmet. Little orangey-yellow guy. Damndest thing you ever saw.”
I turned and stared irritably at him, wondering where this was going. This was a bit outside your normal late-night drunken bar rambling gibberish, although to be honest, I guessed I owed him a point for originality, if nothing else. “An actual genie? Came right out of a little bottle you found in the mud?”
“I guess. Only this genie didn’t give me any three wishes or nothin’ like that. He said thank you, and he said that as a reward for freein’ him he’d give me all the talents and abilities of the next seven people to walk by on the street.”
Frowning at the strange direction this odd story had taken, I motioned him to go on.
“So he did. Only the first six guys to come by were all accountants from the same company down the street, all heading out to lunch after a hard morning doing revenue projections and audits and tax preparation and so on and so on.” He made little “blah blah” motions with one hand while gripping his beer with the other.
For a moment there he sounded like he was channeling one of those guys you meet at Rotary who hangs on your lapels wanting to talk investments and tax preparation. Not what you’d expect, looking at him. Nodding, I said “And the seventh?”
“He was a mortician.”
“Yeah. An undertaker. A funeral director. One of them guys.”
“Yeah, so now I’m sitting here, never done anything but construction and demolition in my life, an’ I’ve got my head crammed full of every damn number-crunching concept invented since Adam ‘n’ Eve got kicked out of the garden, with no sort of professional documentation nohow. I know how to do all that stuff, but who’s gonna pay me to do it?”
I had to agree he had a point.
He glared back down at his beer. “But the worst part is I keep looking at people and imagining what they’d look like stretched out all naked on the embalming table.”