Chapter Four

It turns out that there are a few constants in the universe. Nature does not abhor a void, as Aristotle theorized. Oh, no, Nature loves a void and will create one wherever there is an open purse or a cause.


A yellow Volkswagen Beetle pulls up outside a very large but curiously well-kept tobacco barn. It has been freshly painted, red of course, and the roof is brand new. The roof is painted with the nearly familiar words, “See Ork City” and a Chinese dragon has been painted across the gable as if it is sleeping. The driveway is a mixture of gravel and broken river rocks – every last one of the river rocks has been broken approximately in half or shattered into three or four pieces. A large pile of whole river rocks is stacked behind the barn near a raised garden. An old windmill stands in a field nearby, not like the new ones that are all sleek and modern, but a Don Quixote style windmill. (The windmill does generate electricity, though.) Inside the barn is an Airstream trailer perched on concrete blocks.

Gwen bounds out of the Volkswagen wearing her award-winning (if there were such a competition) Daisy Duke short-shorts and red “I am the grammar snob about whom your mother warned you” T-shirt, tied off so her midriff is exposed. Her flaming orange pony tail bounces along behind her as she leaps onto the workbench where Puzzle has been going through the day’s mail.

“What’s up, Daddy Warbucks?” ask Gwen mischievously.

“I am thinking of getting a wood burning stove. At the rate I am getting mail from people wanting money for this thing or that thing I may never need to buy firewood again,” Puzzle replied. “I thought for a while about sending them all forty cents, but I think they would take it as encouragement.”

It turns out that when you win a big lottery there is no shortage of ostensibly charitable organizations with some strong opinions what one ought to do with the money.

“Nice problem to have,” said Gwen, “and you didn’t even have to prove you can sing. Now what are you going to do? Quit your job? Become a philanthropist?”

“Oh, no, you know I am not married,” said Puzzle.

“You are thinking of philanderer, someone who cheats on his wife. A philanthropist is someone who gives money to improve other people’s lives,” she corrected.

“Hmm. Okay, if you are sure. It appears that Oprah was right. In this country there are plenty of people who need help, but there are also plenty of people who are in the position that they are in because of the choices they make. It is difficult to sort out which ones can be helped by money and which ones would just be right where they were or worse as soon as the money you gave them runs out.”

Gwen interjected, “So figure it out, Puzzle-man. What can you do for the most people that they cannot do for themselves, but that they cannot undo by making bad choices?”

“Rats!” exclaimed Puzzle.

“Where? Or what’s the matter?” asked Gwen, looking for furry movement near ground level.

“It is a letter from Oprah. I have been asked to butt out of South Africa.” Puzzle hopped up on the workbench next to Gwen, opened a root beer, and slumped, staring at the sawdust on the floor.

“It’s okay, P.” Gwen said, wondering what you have to do to get thrown out of a country without ever visiting it.

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