Jack had laid out the terms for the lopsided bet with the Beer Czar and the Czar accepted. The wager was whether or not Jack would accept any price the Beer Czar offered for the supposedly magic Ragbrai beans Jack was trying to sell for $500. The stakes were the Czar’s spare bus tire against then entire Short Bus and all its contents.
They begrudgingly shook hands with each other and then while everyone waited, Jack made one last arrangement. “Bring your spare bus tire and set it right out here between us and I’ll set the keys to the Short Bus right next to it for everyone to see.”
The Czar motioned for his crew to oblige while Jack turned to Kelby and held out his hand for the keys. Kelby refused at first, but Jack had such a blaze of fire in his eyes that finally, Kelby reached into his pocket and reluctantly dropped the bus keys into Jack’s hand.
When both prizes were placed on the ground between Jack and the Czar, Jack said, “Well, sir. I advertised the beans at $500. Make your offer.”
A single beer ticket for the entire bag,” came the offer. The Czar pulled a red ticket from his pocket and held it up for all to see.
Jack hesitated for just a moment and stared hard at the beans as a hush ran through the crowd. Then he looked back at the Czar and after another long pause, finally said, “Sold!”
The thugs standing behind the Czar gave a rowdy cheer while Jack’s friends let out a collective moan. The Czar was very pleased with himself and reached out a greedy hand to take the bag of beans from Jack. In exchange, he dropped the beer ticket at Jack’s feet.
“Thank you, sir,” said Jack while tipping the spare bus tire upright. “We’ll just take our spare and be going.”
“What?!” roared the Czar.
“Those were the terms of the bet,” answered Jack as he rolled the tire back toward the eager hands in his group. “We bet whether or not I’d accept any price you offered me for the beans. You offered one beer ticket and I accepted.” Jack bent down a second time and picked up the keys to the Short Bus, tossing them to Kelby.
The Czar turned a bright shade of red and clenched his fists. He turned to his thugs as if to order them into battle, but they were laughing so hard they could barely stand.
Jack could hear the sounds of friends rolling the tire away toward Kelby’s bus, but he kept his eyes on the Czar, who had managed to regain his composure. “There is still one more matter to settle,” said the Czar. “According to our computer audit, you have $120 that belongs the Des Moines Register, and for that, I’ll have you arrested.”“Actually, sir,” a smallish, bookish voice sounded from inside the bus. Jack and the Czar turned to see an accountant, complete with a bow tie and an adding machine, leaning through the door of the command center bus. “I’ve been going over the figures in this most recent computer printout of the Register’s audit. The $120 that supposedly went to Jack Piper has somehow been cancelled out.”
“How can that be?!” roared the Czar in a new fit of rage.
The accountant turned to Jack and asked, “Evidently, Mr. Piper, you delivered the Des Moines Register newspaper to a customer in Colorado last winter. Is that true?”
Jack was caught completely off guard. “Uh, yes, I did. But I only made four deliveries.”“This was billed to the Register’s customer service with their approval at $25 per delivery,” said the accountant.
“But I thought Mr. Karras was only joking when he said that paperboys would charge that much,” stammered Jack.
The accountant shook his head. “No, that was the going rate.”
“But that only adds up to $100!” shouted the Czar. “What about the other $20?”
The accountant took one last look a the printout and said, “Evidently, Mr. Karras added a $5 tip for each delivery. That adds up to $120, which Mr. Piper was never paid. It exactly cancels out the previous discrepancy. There is no more reason to pursue Mr. Piper.”
At these words, the Beer Czar let out such a blood-curdling yell that the thugs standing behind him stopped laughing and nervously filed back onto the bus. The Czar was quaking with rage as he turned to Jack and hissed, “You haven’t won yet.” He jumped to the first step of his bus and screamed, “I’ve got an entire raccoon army on board, crazed by an addicting mix of hops, barley, and newspaper ink. I’m going to feed them your magic coffee beans and turn them loose. When they find you they’ll tear you to pieces.”
The door to the bus slammed shut and Jack remained frozen in place. Behind him, he could hear Mahk’s familiar South African accent saying, “Let’s go Jack. We’ve got the spare installed and we’re ready to leave.” But Jack didn’t move. His eyes remained fixed on the black command center bus in front of him.
Strange howls and yelps were starting to come from the Czar’s bus. The growls and yelps were getting louder moment by moment as the bus began to shake and tremble. The tinted windows were impossible to see through, but the cries of the men on the bus started to blend in with the screeches of the raccoons until they were impossible to tell apart.
Mahk said one more time, “Come on Jack, it’s time to go,” but just as he finished his sentence, the engine of the Czar’s bus roared to life. The sounds of grinding gears were mixed with the sounds of carnage, and the bus suddenly jolted forward, charging out of the parking lot and onto the lonely county road that ran past the parking lot of the abandoned gas station. The bus careened wildly to the left and right as it shot down the road and out of sight, with the sounds of yelling and gnashing teeth fading away into the distance, hopefully never to be seen again.
Jack blinked and turned to Mahk, as if waking from a trance. “Yeah,” he said, “It’s time to go.”
to be continued...[a serial by little orphan dbax]