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Guido Gaglio knocks on the door a second time, more firmly than the first. A scraggly dweeb opens the door. He looks like a guy who would hock his education and then fall behind on the payments. The dweeb cranes his neck to look up at Guido.
"Dr. Maurice Jennings?" Guido adjusts his tie. His blue suit tightens across his shoulders. He stretches his neck and arches his chin to relieve the tight discomfort about his throat. Next time he'll buy a fifty-centimeter collar.
"That's me, Big Dude, I don't need any life insurance, electronic magazines, or missionary spiels." The little man has the look of a ferret. He holds a TV remote in his hand. His wall monitor displays the friendly financing banner for PIE, Personalized Instant Education. No credit checks.
"My name is Guido, and this is my associate, Juan." Guido points to his mustached companion who grins like he don't need no stinkin' badge. Sweat beads on Juan's forehead as if it fears to roll down the acne-pocked face.
"Yeah? Hurry up, Dude." The TV distracts the ferret, and he ups the volume with his remote. "I got stuff to do."
"Big Willy sent me and Juan to find out why you didn't make no payment on your education loan for the last six months. Still Doctor Jennings, right? You still got the collateral? The title goes with the education, ya know."
"Oh that." Dr. Jennings pales. "Yeah, I'm real sorry. I've been out of work since January, but this fall I start teaching chemistry at the local university. Tenure track. I get my first check at the end of September, so I can start—"
"We was afraid you might say that." Guido's heard such excuses before. "Aint nobody hiring no new teachers. I already checked with the university. They don't know you from Shinola."
Juan pulls a baseball bat from behind his back and smacks it against his open palm a couple of times. He smiles and squints.
The dweeb backs away from the door and searches his pockets like he's looking for misplaced change. All he drags out are car keys. He looks at the keys, then his eyes beg Guido. "Please. What are you going to do to me?"
Guido applies a one-handed push to Jenning's chest, and the dweeb stumbles backwards until he falls across the couch. Juan hefts the bat with an easy wrist rotation and follows Guido into the apartment.
"Unless you got a better suggestion, Dr. Jennings." Guido assumes his practiced look of sincere disappointment. "I'm gonna have Juan repossess your education."
Rather than repo Jennings 's education, Guido takes the little weasel's classic T-bird for the missed loan payments. Juan complains about the bargain when Guido opens the door of the convertible.
"You crazy, Guido? That patsy is behind three grand on a forty G balance. Big Willy ain't gonna like you taking no red jalopy for the payments. Big Willy likes cash."
"Red car, huh? Just my style." Guido slips the title transfer into his pocket and slides behind the wheel. The fit is tight, but with the top down, the feel is open. His forehead juts above the windshield. He imagines the wind through his hair. "This is a classic. Not in great shape, but likely worth twenty large ones after I fix it up. I'll give Big Willy the three grand in back payments plus an extra G for interest. That'll make him happy. For four thousand bucks I get a car with potential. I sink some hard work and a few grand more and I got a collector's piece. What's the problem, amico? Can't you see I'm ready for something different?"
"I don't like it." Keeping a firm grip on his bat, Juan folds his arms across his chest. "And Big Willy ain't gonna like it neither."
"Hey, paesano." Guido winks and pulls out his wallet. " I ain't gonna leave you out. I got an extra five Cs for your troubles today. That little dweeb don't appreciate what he's got. Next month, he'll fall behind again. We'll repossess his education then, the right way, without no bat. The patsy's got a good education—should bring eighty Gs on the second-hand market, and Big Willy slips us a nice bonus to boot."
"Second-hand market." Juan spits and fondles his bat. "Used education. Puta. I like the old-fashioned way when you didn't need no stinkin' computers and weird machines. A guy knew when you broke his leg. What's he gonna know after you take his smarts?"
"Times change, Juan." Guido puts the T-bird in gear. The engine grumbles. "We got to change with them."
Marilyn kisses Guido's nose and shakes him. He squints through his right eye.
"Wake up, you lazy horse." She shakes him again.
He opens the other eye and wrinkles his forehead.
She flashes her good-morning-love smile, then smacks his face. "Big Willy left you a message on my machine. My machine. I don't like that stuff coming into my house."
Still groggy, Guido sits up. He's naked, his feet hang over the end of the bed, and he untwists the sheets from about his legs. His face stings. How does such a little woman pack such a big wallop?
"You know I'm on call." He extends his hands in apology. "I'm a pro, like a doctor. Wouldn't you like to marry a doctor?"
"Doctor?" She folds her arms and taps her foot. "If you're that busy, then maybe you should forget about the sleep-overs and stay at your own apartment."
Guido stands, yawns, and stretches. His fingers touch the ceiling, and he contorts to be sure she doesn't miss his morning salute. That usually provokes a smile.
Not this time.
"I'm not demanding you become a professional man, Guido, but you need a respectable job. Then we can talk about marriage and even children—that is, if you want this relationship to work."
Guido grimaces. She's been browsing the relationship blogs again, probably filling out those compatibility questionnaires. A respectable job? What with Big Willy's legal problems, he can't disagree. He's not sure what else to say, so he tilts his head and gives her his loveable, lopsided grin.
"I'm serious, Guido." She slips out of her robe and pulls a fresh dress over her head. "You may look like the Incredible Hulk, but you ain't no dumb mountain of muscle. You got a good head on those broad shoulders. And you got a good heart, even if you keep showing off that other stuff." At last she giggles. "Would you put that away and get dressed? I got other things to do today. I got a real job."
He gives her a peck on the cheek. "Yes, Ma'am."
She smiles and strokes his face. Joy refills his heart.
"I put out socks with your shirt and suit." She turns around so he can zip up her dress. "You wore green socks with your blue suit yesterday."
"I did? No biggie." Guido wraps his arms around her. "Who notices?"
"I notice." She wiggles loose. "My friends notice. People know I'm taking care of you now. How you dress reflects on me, so I'll be checking the color of your tie, too. You want breakfast?"
Guido arrives at Eddie's Pawn Shop before noon. Juan is elsewhere because Big Willy wants muscle with finesse at Eddie's—and no accidental deaths, not with the Feds nosing about.
Big Willy owns fifty-one percent of Eddie's Pawn Shop. Three years ago, Guido convinced Eddie that partnership with Big Willy would be a good business decision. He didn't enjoy applying the muscle because Eddie is a good guy, but business is business.
Guido ducks beneath the three-globe pawnshop light and into the store. The shop is chromed and spotless. Eddie caters to an elite clientele, who pawn only first class merchandise.
"How's it hanging, Ed."
"Fine, Guido. I'm glad Big Willy sent you. Got a dubious customer last night at closing—not legit if you get my meaning. I convinced the little sneak to come back after noon today. Told him my transfer machine was down until then. He wants to pawn his education."
"What's he pushing, counterfeit Memory Rights Management?"
"No, his MRM tag looks legit, but his ID—he claims to be George Washington Jones—don't match up with the knowledge holder's license of record."
"An education don't make you smart, Eddie, ya know. The idiot likely never registered the purchase of his second-hand education . . . or do you think he stole it? Big Willy don't care if it's stole so long as the MRM is legit. Just keep your books straight in case someone comes round asking."
"I don't think he stole it. I think he's lying about who he is because he wants to hide his assets from somebody. Maybe from Big Willy."
"Hide his assets? You think he's trying to con us?"
"Yeah, he wants to pawn an expensive education, but he don't want much money. Until he redeems the pawn, he wants an inexpensive placeholder education. You know, the fizzy kind the mugwumps rent to wear to a party—makes them feel like they got an opinion. You gonna lean on the jerk to make him talk, Guido?"
"Huh. Let me think a minute. He's leaving an expensive education on deposit while he takes a few bucks and a cheap temporary for a few weeks. Looks to me like we got the better security on the deal. Why don't we do the trade, and we'll let this play out for a day or two to see where this guy takes us. We don't want the Feds running no sting. Should be interesting."
"You're the man, Guido. I'll play it straight up."
"That mirror still a one-way glass to your back room?"
Eddie nods. "I got a couch in there for naps."
"Okay." Guido glances across the street. "I'm gonna get some Chinese take-away and wait for this mug in your back room. You want lunch? I'm buying."
"You're buying? Geeze, I never hear that from that schmuck Juan. He always makes me buy."
"Juan ain't so bad. Just had a tough childhood. Come to think of it, his adulthood ain't going too good neither."
An hour later, Guido finishes off the honey walnut shrimp and eats the last pot sticker. He takes the e-reader from his shirt pocket and slouches onto the couch. The couch don't fit him, and he shifts about until he's comfortable.
He don't feel like finishing his history book or starting the psychology text, just something light. So he picks a sci-fi novel, Wobbling Star. He could have had a memory implant for the text of the novel at half the price of reading the electronic copy, but canned memory plants don't never feel the same. Your juices don't pump up the same way when they upload all that crap at once.
Half-way through the chapter, the dweeb enters the pawn shop.
Guido smiles when he recognizes the little ferret. So, Dr. Maurice Jennings is gonna use a cheap educational substitute to defraud Big Willy of his rightful repo. Maybe Juan will get to use his baseball bat after all.
Guido tails Jennings for the next couple of days until he's sure the termite don't work for the Feds. He should stop, but he got a sports car out of the first collection effort. Maybe something else will fall his way.
Jennings don't do nothing more interesting than make bets with the neighborhood bookie—a bookie which Big Willy owns. In only two days, Jennings squanders all his pawnshop cash. Jennings is a money sieve, and somehow loose money always flows to Big Willy.
On the third day, Guido thinks about backing off again, but he follows Jennings to the university campus. Classes have already started, but not many students haunt the halls, not when they can buy a canned education implant. For about the same price, they can skip over four or five years of study and still post a degree on their virtual wall.
Although Jennings owns a Ph.D. in chemistry, he passes the science building in favor of mathematics and computer science. Guido quits concealing himself. The dweeb is so self-absorbed he wouldn't notice King Kong on his tail.
Jennings enters the office of Dr. David Shimano, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Information Science. Guido waits near the door. He reaches for the snoop concealed in his pocket, but shouts erupt from the office, and he hears the conversation fine without the amplifier.
" . . . No more money."
"They'll take everything I own, Uncle Dave. Please . . . ." That thin whine had to be Jennings.
"Despite my reservations, I bought you a hundred-thousand-dollar canned education, but you never made it your own. You never earned it. How could you be stupid enough to borrow against it?"
"I couldn't get a job . . . ."
"Because your head is filled with facts that you haven't organized into knowledge. You have recall but no understanding. No. Let them take everything. Start fresh. Come here and study with me from the beginning. Build the knowledge for yourself. I'll get you a scholarship. Do it right this time."
"I just can't."
"Because it's too hard? Make the effort, Mo. If you make the effort, you may be astonished at the reward."
"You won't give me the money?"
"I will not. I've made you my only offer."
Jennings storms out and leaves the office door open. Guido doesn't bother to conceal himself, but the dweeb doesn't notice.
Guido decides not to follow Jennings. He knows everything he needs to resolve the repo problem—Jennings is not a shill for the Feds, and Eddie already holds the collateral for the loan—but the old professor's moxie caught his attention. Guido saunters to the open office door and looks in.
Shimano sits behind his desk. He is thin and lanky with jutting cheekbones that give him a skeleton-like appearance. Probably in his late seventies, his lower lip has a blue tinge, and he looks drawn and wasted. His eyes glisten but no tears track his wrinkled cheeks.
"Sorry to disturb you, Prof." Guido grips the door knob. "But I heard a ruckus. You okay?"
Shimano looks up. "I'm fine, young man. How can I help you? Are you a student here?"
Help me? He don't look in shape to help no one. Why would he think I'm a student?
"Naw." Guido fidgets with the knot in his tie. "I wanted to come here when I was a kid, but I couldn't pay the freight. My old man skipped when I was in high school, and I dropped out my senior year to get a job. Too bad, my old lady would've liked her son to have a degree, and my girlfriend wouldn't take it so bad neither."
"You can buy a degree, if that's all you want."
"Ma's dead. That part don't matter now."
"An education is different." The old man folds his hands atop his desk. "An education always matters. We get one whether we want it or not, indeed, whether we deserve it or not. The difficult part is to earn a good education."
"Yeah. I guess so, Prof." What's this old fossil talking about? "You want I should close the door?"
"Well, okay then. You take care, hear? If I can do something for you, you let me know." Why had he made such an empty promise? He never promised anything he couldn't deliver.
"Thank you, young man. You too."
Guido nods and closes the door. He stands in the hallway for several minutes, then he pulls his pE-pod. A quick query shows his bank account is in good shape, maybe even good enough shape. He'll need to talk with Marilyn first, but he's sure she'll like any plan that gets him out the collection business, especially with things getting uncomfortable at Big Willy's.
He runs through the possibilities again and then knocks on Shimano's door.
"Excuse me, Prof, but if you have a minute could you tell me how I can take some courses here? I bought a high school degree a couple of years back, but lately I been reading the books they implanted with the degree. Somehow reading fits the pieces together a whole different way."
"An interesting observation, young man." Shimano appears to measure him before a thin smile crosses his face. "Please sit. I will be happy to advise you."
"You're serious?" Marilyn steps from the shower. Her toes turn out, and she firmly plants her fists against her hips. "You gave Big Willy your notice?"
Guido nods. She looks formidable even with her wet red hair strung across her face, and her naked body glistening from her shower.
He hands her a towel and then her robe. "I know you want me to quit the collection business." He reaches past her and turns off the shower.
"I do." She wraps her wet hair with the towel and hugs him before she puts on the robe. "I do, honey. But I'm worried. Will Big Willy let you quit?"
"Well, I wanted to give him two weeks notice, and he didn't like that. Then Professor Shimano—"
"Prof over at the university. Anyway, Professor Shimano told me it was too late for me to enroll in college this semester anyway . . . ."
"Wait. You're going to college. When did this all happen?"
"Today. Well, mostly this morning. So anyway, Professor Shimano said he'd give me some books to read and tutor me this fall, but I'd have to make other arrangements for the spring. So I told Big Willy that I could only work for him part-time, 'cause I need study time."
Marilyn folds her arms across her chest. "And what did Big Willy say."
"He offered to lend me money, eighty Gs, to buy a used Ph.D. at a big discount."
"My God, Guido, you didn't take a loan from Big Willy."
"I ain't no Ph.D., but I ain't stupid enough to do that. I did tell him I'd take a pay cut 'cause I'd only be working part-time."
"And he agreed?"
"The Feds keep him occupied these days." Guido smiles. "Besides, who's he got what could persuade me otherwise?"
Dr. Shimano rests a hand against his desk to steady himself. "You've finished those last three books in under a month, Guido? You know I plan to discuss them with you?" He smiles, but his thin hands shake, and his lips look bluer than usual.
"They weren't as hard as the first five." Guido shrugs. He enjoys the freedom of no starched collar or tie, but he flexes his neck out of habit. He holds up his electronic scroll. "Physics is tough. You got to play with the formulas and numbers to get a feel for what they mean, what they represent, ya know. I got a long way to go on that."
"What about the maths?"
"I ain't sure yet. Some stuff that I didn't know I knew came back with that limit business, and now derivatives is making sense. I think I like it, and it makes the physics go better."
"Very good, Guido, which book would you like to discuss first this afternoon?"
"Uh, well, none of them, Doc." Guido swallows like his collar just tightened. "I got another week working part-time for Big Willy. Meanwhile, I've been taking it easy on your nephew, ya know.
"You didn't tell him I made some back payments to get his education restored?"
"Naw. I wouldn't do that after you asked me not to. But it's a couple of weeks to Christmas, and I'd like to finish that business before I leave Big Willy. Ya know, tie up loose ends so's nobody don't get hurt."
"I'm afraid Maurice squandered our efforts. He's accumulated more gambling debts on top of what he already owes. Not that it matters. He is clueless on how to use the information in that canned education. I don't think he has the will power nor the ambition to structure it so that the knowledge becomes meaningful to him. I've given him too much. My father always said 'Make a chicken scratch for dinner if you want to keep him healthy.'"
"Uh huh. Healthy chickens. Well, I only handle the loan collections, and he's behind on his payments again. Big Willy insists that me and Juan foreclose. I thought maybe you could talk with him, get him to cooperate, ya know? Maybe we could repossess his education without having to hurt him."
"I appreciate your kindness, Guido. I know it's not good for Mo, but I feel guilty not bailing him out. He's the only child of my younger sister."
"Guilt. Dr. S.? I wish I had an uncle like you. I'll never forget this chance you's giving me. First tutoring me, and now that scholarship for the spring . . . that'll be a big help for me and Marilyn. I don't know what you gets out of all this."
"You mean what's my motive? Well, I could tell you that every teacher yearns for a student whose desire to learn exceeds expectations rather than a pupil who wants facts dumped into their brain. Or maybe, an old fossil like me hopes some young stalwart will pick up his torch and carry it further. Pretty outdated motives amidst the sterile harvest of embedded education."
"Those are metaphors, right? I don't think I get 'em."
"They are metaphors that simply mean 'you're welcome, Guido.' Working with you is a pleasure and small penance for my sins. Unfortunately, I'm the dimwit whose basic research made embedded education possible. At first I thought I had done something good, that people would have the energy and determination to remold the raw information loaded into their brain into a usable knowledge structure, but most recipients turn passive and let the information decay along with their thought processes. I've had a long life and some success, but enabling educational implants is my biggest regret . . . . I'm sorry, I'm exhausted. Could you help me get home?"
"Sure, Prof, and I'll delay my associate Juan from foreclosing, at least until you gets a chance to talk with your nephew, maybe convince him to cooperate."
Jennings cringes in the corner of the room. Juan stalks the dweeb, playing on his fears. Guido quickly unpacks the education extractor from its case. He knows that Juan prefers to use a baseball bat to repossess Jennings 's education.
"Calm down, Juan," Guido sets up the extraction cap and extends his hands palms down. "He ain't going nowhere. Big Willy won't like it if we don't get a clean extraction. A doctorate in chemistry is worth a lot of money on the second-hand market."
"Oh yeah?" Juan slaps the bat against his palm. "I'm running the show, now, Guido. You ain't Big Willy's favorite no more."
"Maybe not, but Big Willy likes eighty big ones better than he likes either of us." Guido points at Jennings, but he doesn't look away from Juan. "We collect the collateral, nobody gets hurt so long as they cooperate—all legal-like and above-board process so's we don't attract no extra attention from the Feds."
"Puta. You gone soft, hombre." Juan stalks off. "Okay, do it your own damn way."
After extracting the chemistry degree, Guido escorts Jennings to his uncle's house as Shimano requested. Jennings looks pale and drawn, but otherwise unharmed by the loss of his doctorate. Amidst a light dusting of snow, they stop outside the old Prof's door.
"You feeling okay?" Guido attempts to straighten Jennings 's collar and brush some snow off the shoulder of his jacket. "Look, I'm sorry about all this, but at least you didn't get beat-up. Your uncle's been good to me, so I done what I could for you."
"Get out of my way." Jennings tries to shove past Guido, reconsiders when Guido doesn't budge, and goes around. He pounds on Shimano's Door. "Uncle Dave. Let me in."
"Come in, Mo. " The door opens, but no one waits inside. "You too, Guido. I'm in the basement lab." The disembodied voice is weak and difficult to understand, but Guido recognizes it as Shimano's.
Jennings rushes in. Guido adjust his tie and business collar and follows.
Shimano waits downstairs. He sits in a wheel chair in the shadows. A tangle of computational machinery covers the opposite wall.
"This goon . . . " Jennings points at Guido.
Shimano raises his hand. His voice is weak. "Please. I haven't much time. I've decided to execute part of my will myself. Afterward, the probate paperwork will be a simple formality. There's a helmet for each of you. Please put them on."
Guido shrugs and puts on the indicated helmet. The jury-rigged machinery reminds him of an educational implant and extraction cap, but is far more complicated. Jennings snarls and starts another tirade. Guido grabs the twerp's arm and offers him the remaining helmet. "Your uncle wants you should wear this. I want that you should listen."
"Thank you, Guido." Shimano tries to maneuver his wheelchair, but hasn't the strength. Guido takes the chair handles and steers him towards the equipment. Once they reach the console, Shimano attempts to operate the controls, but he lacks the energy. He sighs and settles into his chair.
"Every man hopes to leave a legacy, some part of themselves for the future. Mo, you are my last living relative. Guido, you are my last student."
Guido releases the chair and pats the old man's shoulder.
"I've a gift for each of you." Shimano smiles. "I hope you'll both be pleased. Guido, take a seat at the left console. Mo, you sit at the other . . . Don't argue with me. My research in embedded education made me very wealthy, Mo, and I know you don't want to see all that money go to charity."
Jennings curls his lip and sits at the indicated monitor. Guido glares at Jennings. He nudges the old man nearer the console, then takes the chair next to him.
"I'm sorry for my weakness." Shimano's voice fades to a whisper. "We must hurry. Guido, select the green icon followed by the download one button. Then choose the red icon and download two."
The control screen displays seven icons. Guido hesitates. "I'm sorry, Prof, which one is green?"
Shimano smiles. He closes his eyes. His lips move feebly, and his head droops. An alarm beeps from the wheelchair's medical status display. The old man's pulse is erratic and his blood pressure spikes, but he is still alive.
Guido reaches for Shimano's hand. "We need to call medical assistance."
"His chair has already called the medics, you stupid man. Select the icons. Never mind I'll do it." Jennings leans towards the console and presses the touch screen.
Both screens clear, and two narrow bars measure the download progress. Shimano's image appears at the upper corner of each screen.
The image speaks. "Mo, Guido. I've used most of my assets to create scholarships for non-embedded education, and yes, Guido, that includes your scholarship. And you, Mo, may have one too if you want it. What remains includes my house, which goes to Mo. I also leave a personal lifetime trust and a recorded partial engram of my knowledge base. You may each choose one of these two items as my final gift to you. The knowledge engram is my final experiment with embedded education. Usually, embedded education transfers raw data directly from e-books to the subject's brain. My knowledge engram is my only attempt to copy the knowledge structure from one brain for direct transfer to another. Except for what he's shared with others, a man's knowledge, all that he's learned, all that he's built dies with him, and so my recorded engram will be destroyed after you've made your choices. As for the lifetime trust, in my opinion, it provides generous support for one person with modest needs."
Guido can't focus on the video image's words. He's concerned about the real Shimano. The old professor is still unconscious, but the monitor indicates better stability. Guido takes a deep breath and wonders what's delaying the emergency medics.
The on-screen Shimano continues. "Each of you may choose one of these gifts. Make your selection on your own touch screen. You'll also be able to see what the other person chooses. However, all my instructions will be verbal."
Two button icons appear on Guido's screen.
"Press an icon once to select, and a second time to deselect." The virtual Shimano smiles. "Choose the red button to share in my memory engram. Choose the green button to share in the lifetime trust."
Red or green? Guido can't tell them apart. As if he were in a race, Jennings immediately selects the icon on the right side of his screen.
Shimano continues his explanation. "You have two minutes to decide, and you can change your mind as often as you like until the time limit expires. The trust will be assigned and destructive download of the engram will happen immediately after time expires. If you both choose the same gift, then that gift will be split equally between the two of you. "
Jennings 's head snaps towards Guido as if he dares him to select the same icon. Clearly, he doesn't want to share. Guido extends his hand towards the screen, and then he hesitates. He glances at the real Shimano, who seems to be resting comfortably. Where are the medics? What can he do but follow the Prof's instructions? He looks to the virtual professor for additional clues.
Almost on cue, the screen Shimano offers help. "Guido, I know that you can't distinguish red from green, but that's an advantage in some situations. A color-blind person may see past camouflage. Mo has his own blind spots."
"You old fool," Jennings mutters.
Guido contemplates slapping Jennings silly.
The screen clock shows one minute remains. Guido runs his fingers across his mouth. Jennings picked the right icon, so obviously that was the green button for the trust. The icon on the left must be the red button for the embedded education. Which to choose?
Marilyn would appreciate a steady source of income, but they would share half with Jennings. Guido could earn a good living with Shimano's knowledge embedded in his skull. What could be better than organized facts straight from Shimano's own brain?
Guido wrinkles his forehead. Which would Marilyn want? The green button for half the trust money or the red button where valuable knowledge would be his alone?
An ambulance siren grows louder outside.
The clock ticks down. What would the Prof advise? Red or green?
Guido unwrinkles his forehead. Of course. Camouflage. With a determined smile, he makes his choice and then watches the last seconds tick away.
"Where have you been?" Marilyn waits just inside the door. A threatening storm flickers on and off her brow. "I've been worried sick, what with the Feds arresting Big Willy for racketeering. I thought they arrested you too, or worse . . . Guido, honey, are you okay?"
"I'm good, but a beer wouldn't hurt none." Guido plops into his favorite chair while Marilyn scurries to the refrigerator. "I should've called. I was at the hospital with the Prof."
"Dr. Shimano?" Marilyn returns with an open can and hands it to Guido. "Is he ill?"
"He died an hour ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Marilyn hugs Guido neck and sits on the arm of the chair. "I know you liked him."
"The old guy had a good run, a full life, ya know." Guido takes a sip of beer. "He gave me something—a legacy, he called it—maybe even better than the scholarship he got me."
"What was it?"
"Get comfortable, 'cause this is gonna take time to explain. I had to chose. I hope you won't be mad at what I picked. Here's what happened."
Still sitting on the arm of the chair, Marilyn clasps his hand to her lap and listens while Guido explains.. The sincere concern on her face is a constant distraction from him telling the story. He wants to sweep her up, to carry her . . . but no, that has to wait until she understands his choices between red or green, between colors he can't distinguish and equally confusing gifts. He pauses after describing how quickly Jennings 's chose the trust fund.
"So then, it's up to me." He hesitates. "Which do you think I should have done? What would make you happy?"
"What would make me happy?" A tear glitters in her eye. "The fact that you worried about making me happy makes me happy, you big ape. I trust you to choose what's best for us."
"I didn't want the green dough for the same reason I didn't want Big Willy's loan—I make my own way. I didn't want the red herring because I want to build my own knowledge like the Prof taught me. The old guy was testing me, that's why he hid the third choice, my choice. I picked none of the above."
"So you took nothing?"
"I took his best stuff. Not waiting on somebody else's dough like Jennings does. Not pumping stuff straight into my brain from ebooks—I'd rather read them myself, have a chance to think about 'em, ya know. The Prof gave me confidence. I don't have to be stuck with just the choices what the other guy gives me. So's now I'll build my own learning—not take what's easy. That way, I ain't just renting my education, I own it. What d'ya think? I done good, huh?"
Marilyn kisses his cheek. "I'm so proud of you."