Let’s All Go To The Snack Bar

by C.J. Henderson

 

“To eat is human, to digest, divine.”
–Charles Copeland

“You maniac, get that fire under control!”

In every family, in every land, there is at least one member who has… the talent. Oh, to be certain, it is not a singular ability—they are not, so to speak, the lone gray hair on an otherwise coal black pate. Many within each tribe, no matter how large or small, share to some extent in this most common, yet essential, of gifts.

“We need steam, chief—now!”

But, no matter how remarkably any number within a given group might wield this aptitude, there is always, ultimately one—and only one—who is recognized by all their fellows as the ultimate talent. The top dog. The big cheese. The grand high exalted poobah before which all others poobahs must bow.

“No, goddamnit—too much steam and it’s gonna crash—”

Their work is the best. And everyone knows it. And everyone knows why. It is because ultimately, in the end, they simply love what they are doing.

“But, chief—”

In the Pelgimbly Institute for the Advanced Sciences–home to not only time travel, but inter-dimensional gallivanting as well—there were many in competition for that slot within their particular field of endeavor.

“And for Christ’s sake, Buffalo, how many times do I have to tell you…”

Certainly young Wendel Q. Wezleski was acknowledged by many to be a genius without peer.

“Don’t call me ‘chief’!”

However, like any group, from the Praetorian Guard to your local high school’s marching band, while there might be any number of competent members ready to accept that top honor—

“My name…”

There is always that unsung hero with more talent than all his fellows combined, holding together the inner works of every army, family, or traveling circus through the simple power of their culinary genius.

“Is Cookie.”

“Yeah, okay,” answered Buffalo, his voice anything but contrite. “But the morning rush of the gang from the superconductor will be in here any second. 8:30—they want their frappuccinos, and their steamed milk, ready and waiting and you goddamned well know it.”

“Not today.”

From the tone in the voice of the Center’s head chef, it was obvious Cookie knew something his first did not. Such was not an unusual occurrence. Buffalo was a fine set of hands to have around a kitchen, but beyond his pastry ovens, his instincts did not extend much beyond the maintenance of grill temperature and a regimented routine so set in its ways as to make the workings of a four-thousand-year-old Buddhist temple appear flagrantly chaotic.

“Explain yourself, chi—er, Cookie?”

“Professor Trillingham sent a notice—the morning crew is being held on stand-by. Something about needing everyone on hand for when they change out the Josephson junction circuits in the superconducting computer. I had Drake run their frappuccinos, and their steamed milk, over to them.”

“I’ll send some muffins.”

And that, thought Cookie, was why he needed Buffalo. The two had rambled from one end of the food service industry to the other, perfecting their partnership over their eighteen years together. Meeting in the Marine Corp, the two served food in fourteen different combat situations around the world. After the awarding of their field commendations for original thinking during the little publicized Battle of Peru, where they jury-rigged their Gibson & Barnacle pressure cookers to stand in as mortars, not only turning the tide of the conflict, but also discovering a way to shave nearly fifteen minutes off their record for delivering battlefront meals, the vast and unusual world of international food service was theirs.

With the military behind them, the pair moved across the globe, bringing joy and efficiency wherever they set up camp—in the kitchen at Rue Chanel of Paris, the Mixologist Lounge in Baton Rouge, New York City’s Cobalt Club, the Olive Garden of Easter Island, Bim Shal’a’Bim’s Turkish Go-Go Bazaar, Bejing’s 10-Minute Duck House, the One-&-Only Spicy Meatball Hut of Rio de Janeiro—and a score of other exotic, outlandish, and ultimately questionable eateries in which the pair plied their trade over the years. At each venue they learned a bit more, mastering not simply the preparatory skills needed to turn out great meals, but the know-how that told a truly great restauranteur not only how to cook, but what to cook and when to do so.

Their efforts had been appreciated wherever they set up shop. Indeed, the walls of Cookie’s office were littered with citations and honors bestowed upon him by mayors and presidents, kings, emperors, tong lords, the heads of several library committees, numerous CEOs, eight amusement parks, two popes, one alligator farm, a half-dozen venerable charities, the confederation of riverboat captains, and one extremely grateful mariachi band whose members would have sworn on their mother’s mantillas it was absolutely impossible to find decent enchiladas in Smelterville, Idaho.

But, it was not until their only-whispered-about exploits in a small town in New England, where with nothing more than onions, mushrooms, flour, one red pepper, three cloves of garlic and a quart of beef pan drippings they stopped an invasion of the Northeastern American coastline by some manner of hideous sea creatures, the true nature of which has yet to be revealed, did they finally come into their own. Of course, the details of that event were documented in the independent film, “A Gravy Over Innsmouth,” starring Sir Lionel Briston, Dame Geraldine Clements, Soupy Sales, Larry Storch and Jules Munchin, with book and lyrics by Comden and Green, but the moviemakers interpretation of the known facts have always rung a tad suspicious, and should probably be ignored.

The long and short of it was, ultimately, that Cookie and Buffalo made a great team. Yes, Cookie was the master chef and organizer, the two-fisted businessman and the shrewdest judge of produce suppliers west of the Great Magellanic Star Cluster, but he lacked the one thing his partner brought to the table.

As impossible as it might seem, it was six foot three, two-hundred-and-eighty pound, scarred and tattooed Buffalo who remembered, in essence, the little things. He was the one who knew the names of each of the Institute’s fifteen mousers, which ones liked canned food and which preferred dried, where they liked to be fed, and how often he should sprinkle the hallways with the catnip he raised especially for them. He was the one who made certain that when Director Aikana’s niece visited that her ice cream cone received a generous dashing of jimmies, or who would think to supply the cafeteria with twisty straws on Right-Angle Extension Thursdays.

“Buffalo, have they started crisping the bacon for the inter-departmental BLT luncheon today?”

“Got everything lined up,” answered the world’s largest, hairiest pastry chef. Knowing that if the three-time winner of the Duncan Hines Peyote-Brownie Bake-Off said a thing was so, that if it was indeed not so, it was only a hairline from being there, Cookie moved on to the day’s shake-up list, announcing;

“Okay, we maybe got Trillingham covered, but we also got three more cracks in the armor of today’s routine that need welding. First, we’re gonna have to move up the liquid nitrogen ice cream social to noon—”

“Check…”

“Second, the director has moved the hosting of her ‘First Ladies Through Time’ garden social from next month to today—”

“Well, my goodness, how wonderfully challengin’ of her…”

“Er, yeah,” the head chef rolled his eyeballs slightly, allowing himself a chuckle before he began again, saying, “and third, somehow, our football team won another game—”

“Oh, don’t tell me, the Dodos are in the play-offs?”

Buffalo’s joy over the Pelgimbly Institute for the Advanced Sciences High School Annex’s varsity team’s unexpected triumph annoyed Cookie slightly—the head chef was much more a booster of their spirited rivals, Miskatonic’s Fighting Cephalopods. Still, not wanting to waste time, he merely nodded, explained that they would have to prepare two busloads of away game lunches by thirteen hundred hours, then said;

“Oh, and while you’re handling those little nightmares, see if you can figure out what’s eating Albert.”

Buffalo nodded back, his mind already certain how to handle both “first” and “third,” shuffling “second” to the that-one-we’re-gonna-have-to-play-by-ear category. As he moved forward to where he might be able to actually dispense with some of his duties, he also managed to steal a peek at the Albert in question.

Now, the Pelgimbly cafeteria staff actually had three Alberts, a coincidental sprinkling which had simply shattered the preconceived notions of both the Statistics and the Probabilities departments. Indeed, with only thirty-two full-time employees, to have three of them named Albert (and, oddly enough one of those a female), the Alberts-versus-every-other-possible-name ratio had sent several of each department’s leading people into early retirement. Still, Buffalo knew which of the Als Cookie had meant.

Albert Hotchbinkle had been in a funk of recent which had not been helpful to her or anyone around her. Albert, actually Alberta, named for Albert Einstein by her parents, was a lovely, if shy young woman. She was, of course, a scholar, as would be expected of any off-spring of a Nobel Prize winner and her astronaut/Olympic gold-medal-winning/rabbi husband. Like many a budding film director willing to take a job in the mail room of a major studio, much of the Pelgimbly cafeteria staff was made up of potential Majorana Prize and Harry C. Bigglestone Award winners.

As he headed for her section, however, Buffalo could not think of a single thing that could be bothering his favorite pinch hitter. Still, he had been tasked with uncovering the problem, and so, as he neared her station, working hard to approach some level of subtlety, he called out;

“Hey Al, how you feelin’ today, kiddo?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” answered the distracted brunette, nearly cutting off the tips of three of her fingers while evening the corners of a loaf of Andes Egg Bread. “All right, I guess.”

Somehow, Buffalo did not believe her. Deciding his first priority was to get her away from any assignment involving heat, electricity or sharp objects, he detailed her to handle the Dodo lunch assignment, both taking care of her immediate safety and checking off the #3 on his to-do list. After that, Buffalo did something he rarely had time for—something that bothered him greatly, taxed him mightily, and which throughout his years on the planet he had decided he might not have any particular aptitude.

He sat down to think.

What, he asked himself, was bothering Al?

For the life of him, he could not think of a thing. Yes, of course, Al was painfully shy. Which, oddly enough, was one of the things Buffalo found overwhelmingly endearing about her. But outside of that, he could not think of a thing over which she could be depressed.

Although somewhat reticent and—he was willing to admit, far smarter than the pastry chef—she was also friendly, wonderfully kind, and on those occasions when she remembered to put down a book and wash her hair more frequently than every three days, not bad looking at all. Sure, she was older than the usual kitchen help, but that often happened when one of the super-brains just kept racking up degrees without finally moving off into one field or the other. As far as Buffalo knew she did not have anything going on in the romance department, but again, often times the academic types never got around to such normal everyday pursuits. She certainly could not have been failing any of her classes—she was just too smart.

After that the pastry chef’s mind started rambling toward wilder and far more ridiculous scenarios. Drugs? Preposterous. Gambling debts? Oh, insane. Knowledge that the world was about to come to an end and not certain how to tell anyone?

“Oh, for god’s sake,” Buffalo growled at himself. Every other week one Pelgimblian or another created some sort of quantum accident that threatened all life as anyone knew it. The Institute had more protocols in place for delaying Ragnarök than politicians had excuses for infidelity. Like anyone there, she could just fill out a basic Armageddon Approaching slip and be done with it.

“This,” the big man sighed to himself, “is gettin’ me nowhere.”

Coincidentally enough, Alberta came up to Buffalo at that moment, looking for another task. The chef was amazed at her speed with preparing so many bagged meals, but she informed him that it had been a simple matter of grabbing a couple of fellows she knew were late with their supplemental proofs for their probability papers.

By allowing them to deal the ingredients for the necessary sandwiches like playing cards, the entire two busloads of sandwiches for the Dodos (“we’re not extinct!”), their cheerleaders (“two, four, six, eight, what kinda matter can we annihilate”) and the marching band (the only mobile orchestra in the world to incorporate not only bongos, zithers and air harps, but harmonic generators, symphoniums and the occasional bazooka), the pair had proved their theories on manual manipulation of spacial proximity and bagged all one hundred and eighteen point five (the tuba player was a midget) necessary lunches in a third of the time it had ever taken in the past. While Buffalo marveled at the newly set record, Alberta informed him;

“Oh, and I heard you had to reschedule the liquid nitrogen ice cream social to noon, so I got a few of the boys from transport to get the extra CO2 cylinders they needed up to the biogenics ballroom, as well as the right number of clean pillowcases.”

“Wha—CO2, pillowcases… huh?”

“Yeah, we would have never been able to get all the proper festival equipment moved in time, but really, if you just discharge a ten pound CO2 into a pillowcase for about ten seconds, you get a good couple pounds of totally fine powdered dry ice.”

“Really?”

“Sure. After that, just pour it into a bowl of ice cream ingredients—which yeah, I totally had sent up—stir until frozen, and voilà… you’re eating ice cream.”

Buffalo did not bother to question as to whether she had sent both half-&-half and heavy cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla and the assorted necessary flavors, cherries, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, butterscotch nibs, et cetera. With the woman before him, there simply was no need. Instead, all the chef said was;

“Al, you’re just amazin’.”

“Oh, go on, you big lug,” she responded, obviously embarrassed and yet still beaming with pride. Not wasting time with further flattery, Buffalo made an executive decision and threw his last remaining problem handed off from Cookie to Alberta as well. The First Ladies Through Time garden social was always a headache of massive proportions. Not only did he have complete faith in her ability to manage getting a menu spanning the taste buds of two-plus-centuries together in less than three hours (let alone juggling the seating arrangements (just try putting Jane Pierce and Hannah Hoes Van Buren at the same table—just try it), but giving her this job would allow him the time he needed to perhaps solve his last Gordian chore of the morning—

Figuring out what was depressing Al.

*****

“Yes, and you are…?”

“Uh, hi, Mrs. Hotchbinkle… my name’s Buffalo. I’m one of your daughter’s bosses down at the cafeteria.”

The eye-rolling response the chef received did not inspire him to think that perhaps he had made a good decision. Knowing that making any kind of intelligent deduction as to what might be ailing Alberta on his own was most likely a hopeless task, he had decided that since her mother worked in Pelgimbly’s own Disparate Mechanics Department, dropping in on her for a few minutes worth of conversation might help him along his way.

Hoping that he might be able to break through her obvious disdain for either himself or the idea of the cafeteria, Buffalo pulled the pack of Turkish Panamalerios from his back pocket. They were the most banned cigarettes in the country due to their overwhelming nicotine content and suspected variety pack of hallucinogens, but Al had mentioned her mother’s weakness for them, and thus the chef had hoped they might make a sufficient icebreaker. When her eyes riveted to the pack’s distinctive logo of a winged, skeletal iguana crossing blades with a comically drawn former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, her heart melted as she asked;

“Panamalerios… how ever did you know?”

“Al, er, Alberta told me you shared my passion for them. Since they can be a trifle hard to get—”

“Hard,” resounded Mrs. Hotchbinkle, already into the pack and exhaling her blessedly self-destructive second lungful of carcinogens and other related abominations, “they’re impossible. You bought yourself ten minutes, Mr. Buffalo. What can I do to earn the rest of the pack?”

“Oh, they’re a gift, ma’am. Your daughter, who told me about our shared love of these little devils, she’s why I’m here.”

“Alberta? What—” suddenly the woman’s tone went coldly serious, her scanning of the pastry chef a thing of microscopic inspection. Her eyes narrowing to slits, her third exhale steamed out of her then, flaring nostrils, she ordered;

“Speak.”

Knowing a command when he heard it, Buffalo told her;

“Well, I’m not sayin’ it’s serious, it’s just that we’re kinda worried. I mean… Al’s been sorta depressed and we don’t know what to do about it.”

“Why would you expect to do anything about such a thing? Are you her father, her guru, her therapist?”

“Jeez-it, lady—no… I’m just her friend.”

Mrs. Hotchbinkle’s eyes narrowed further, making them look like a cross somewhere between a particularly well-polished set of lynch pins and the out-lights marking the direct route to the underworld. Buffalo swallowed inadvertently, not certain exactly into what he had gotten himself. Determined to at least attempt to accomplish what he had come for, however, he kept himself as unblinking as Mrs. Hotchbinkle, until finally she conceded;

“All right, I believe you. So, ‘friend’… what next?”

“I was just hopin’ you could, like, give me some idea what the problem is so we could, you know, help her out.”

The woman lit her second Panamalerio, the look in her suddenly re-opened eyes letting the chef know she knew something he did not. And finally, after a moment, she revealed some of that knowledge.

*****

“Holy jumping cats,” yelled Cookie. “It’s going to be a blood-bath!”

Buffalo had returned to the cafeteria proper just in time to see the First Ladies Through Time garden social begin its predictable first step downward into madness. Why the institute’s Director Aikana insisted on making it an annual event, especially considering most of the presidential wives did not really seem to appreciate being jostled across the ages, neither of the cafeteria’s main chefs was able to fathom. Yes, there had been a certain publicity value to the whole thing during its first few years—

“At least,” sneered Abigail Adams to Jacqueline Kennedy, “my husband was content with what he had at home.”

But any such benefits seemed to be currently outweighed by the sheer damage to the Institute’s garden dining facility.

“Goddamnit it all,” screeched Dolley Madison, “I was concerned with a woman’s right to forge her own destiny, not the density of pound cakes!”

Buffalo ducked the flower arrangement thrown by the fourth First Lady, sad that its trajectory ended up with it taking out the generally congenial Ida McKinley, but he sighed sagely, “better her than me.”

“Lord, I always hated my time in Washington,” growled a semi-tipsy Margaret Taylor, “but being in New Jersey is certainly no improvement.”

“Buffalo!” Cookie’s scream of obvious joy at finding his second-in-command was instantly negated by his following order to—

“Goddamn do something!”

“I swear, Edith Wilson,” snapped Edith Roosevelt, “one more nasty word about Teddy, and I’ll cut you. And that goes double for you, Ellen.”

In every direction, Buffalo saw nothing but trouble. Every time, he thought, every damn time. The more all of the various first ladies found out about each other, the more their resentments grew. Bad enough every trip to the future—even the very-near future for the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt or Lady Bird Johnson—revealed more and more to them of how their ages had cheated what had once been known as the fairer sex. Each trip also condemned them to returning to those homes with no way of enacting any change—of making any difference.

And then, with that inspired observation, the big chef thought he might have an idea. Tossing caution, common sense, and any idea of maintaining a decent deductible on his insurance premiums, he dashed into the middle of the ever-escalating frenzy, threw up his arms and shouted;

“Ladies, please—if I could have your attention for just a moment.” Some inner sense causing him to step to the right just as a silk and leather pump sailed from Mary Todd Lincoln’s hand past his left ear, Buffalo pleaded;

“Ladies, please… I know just how you feel.” At the challenge of this over-sized menial, daring to infer that he might not only understand how a woman felt, but one of the small, elite handful of women that had been privileged to shield the presidents of the United States from the vulgar insanities of the not-so-free world, and the free world as well, a tenuous—if suspicious—calm came over the combatants as they waited to see what was coming next. Knowing the moment of slackened tensions was a fragile thing at best, the chef gave his audience a grateful nod, then said;

“I know what it’s like to not feel appreciated.” As several of the ladies took their seats, and—an even more positive indicator to Buffalo—several others uncurled their fists, he continued, saying;

“It’s a crappy world, pardon my French, and it always has been. Sure, some things have gotten better, but it always takes time. And, it takes somethin’ else.” Crossing his fingers, the pastry chef allowed himself one small gulp, and then said;

“It takes people willing to do the hard jobs. I mean, yeah, I could let one of the vegetable crew scrub my baking pans, but I’d be takin’ the chance on them scratchin’ a corner in a way that could never be repaired. I don’t use those crummy silicone liners—cheats for amateurs, that’s all they are, the… oh, well there I go again, gettin’ all passionate about my work when I’m tryin’ to make a point—”

With the tension dropping from the unbearable to simply the oh-my-god-what-next level, Buffalo pushed forward.

“What I’m sayin’ is, I clean my own pans so I know what to expect. I use parchment paper to line them because I know what works. And I’m the best damn pastry chef, well… in the room, anyway—”

“Young man,” called out Bess Truman, her voice a firm thing of hard iron, “are you the one, last time we were ‘invited’ here, who made those rum tarts with the sugar frosting and the chopped cherries?”

“Ah… yes, ma’am,” admitted Buffalo, “the Holiday-in-the-Bahamas Treats… yeah… th-that was me.”

“If you made those,” she said, a smile cracking her face, “then you’re the best damn pastry chef in the country. And I’ll wager there’s not a one of us that would disagree—not if they had one of your divine Bahamas.”

As more of the first ladies took their seats, Buffalo could see Cookie signaling the wait staff to start clearing the aisles of debris and to prepare to serve the first course. As he did, Buffalo did his best to wrap things up in a manner that would allow the luncheon to begin without further incident, saying;

“Well, thank you, ma’am. And look, ladies, all I wanted to say is, sure, it’s hard to deal sometimes when everyone expects everything out of you and yet someone else is gettin’ all the glory, but you know… sometimes, hey… that’s just the job. You all, when you get back home, you’ve got the most important job in the world. You’re the protectors of the free world. It’s like your hands are shapin’ the fate of the future of mankind.”

As eyes that had seen so much of the shaping Buffalo was only imagining began to rivet themselves to him, he plunged further, saying;

“No man could have ever been president without someone like you behind him. Yeah, I know Jimmy Buchanan was a bachelor, but he had to bring you in Ms. Lane, had to have family there to make sure he didn’t screw up. And Chester Arthur, yeah, he was a widower, but Ellen, you only died a year before he got elected, and I dare anyone here to tell me he could’ve been elected if he hadn’t had a wife turnin’ him into a decent human being all those years previous.”

There was no applause, but the crisis definitely seemed to be over. That was, until a sternly somber Martha Washington rose silently, waiting for the attention which was her due—which was, of course, every available bit of it—to be focused upon her. As one by one the other first ladies sat back, the waiters ceased their fumbling and removed themselves from the gathering’s line of sight—or line of fire, depending on how you were assessing the moment—and Cookie began holding the longest breath possible, the woman who had set all the rules in stone for holding one’s own against the greatness of another said;

“Your words are clever, my good baker, and as predictable, but I do believe honestly felt as they were, I would also offer that the person who runs this establishment of the sciences, your Dr. Aikana, a woman, has misused us, her fellow females, as much as any male.” Knowing in the face of such opposition, truth was his only shield, Buffalo admitted;

“She can be a bit, um… dedicated… when it comes to makin’ things happen for the institute, ah yeah.”

As a barely audible, but good natured titter buzzed through the room, the first of all first ladies bowed her head with the discretion of a woman who knew how to handle herself in the midst of kings, emperors and Baptists, then said;

“And do you feel she is right to do so?”

“Ummm, well… did you feel George was cool when he put down the Whiskey Rebellion?” Without missing a beat, Martha answered;

“More or less.”

“Yeah,” agree Buffalo, “I guess that’d be my answer, too.”

Sensing the rest of the assemblage was becoming more interested in what was about to be served than further violence, knowing an orderly retreat was in order, the one woman out of all those ever born who could go to bed each and every night knowing that humanity had made it to a point where it might leap past both serfdom and slavery because of her efforts to keep a happy home, said;

“I think it might well be time to surrender the floor in favor of seeing our first course served.” Noticing that despite her words, Mrs. Washington did not take her seat, all waited, not surprised when she continued.

“However, before I do so, I would like to pose one question to you, good sir.”

“Yes, ma’am…?”

“Do you think it possible we might finish today’s luncheon with some of those prize-winning… what were they… oh, yes… Duncan Hines brownies of yours?”

“Martha,” answered a dangerously familiar Buffalo, his smile spreading from ear to ear, “it would be my distinct privilege to make such a thing happen.”

And, that as they say, was that.

Within seconds the first course of cabbage/ham/turkey soup was being ladled at every table, Cookie was in his office trying to find a way to convince Dr. Aikana that the garden restaurant’s main chandelier having been brought down—again—was indeed her fault and coming out of her budget, and Buffalo was headed for the spices cupboard to make certain he had enough peyote to make good on his award-winning dessert promise when suddenly he spotted a dejected Al sitting in the corner, her eyes red and shoulders sagging. Recognizing a good time to use his new-found information, he crossed the room to her, calling out;

“Hey, why so glum? No time for sittin’ around, we got first ladies to get fed.”

“Oh, Buffalo,” she moaned dejectedly, “I let you down.”

“Awwww, no you didn’t,” he answered honestly, “this clambake is always a horror. Actually, the fact no one’s goin’ home with a scar might be a first.”

“Don’t try to be nice,” she countered, tears threatening to burst forth from both eyes, “they’d be going home with death certificates if you hadn’t gotten back in time.”

“Ah, now, don’t you go gettin’ all upset about it. Listen—actually, you shouldn’t be upset about anything any more.”

“Really,” asked Al, her eyes narrowing much like her mother’s, “why not?”

“Because I know what’s been eatin’ you.”

“You–you… do?”

“Yeah, sure, your mom told me. And I’m goin’ to take care of it.” As the young woman’s eyes went suddenly wide, the pastry chef smiled at her, saying;

“Look, I know now you got a thing for one of the guys here, so… like all you got to do is tell me who it is, and I’ll talk to them, and, well, you know… voilà!”

As Alberta face turned a shade of vermillion so intense there was thought that during that moment she might not have retained any blood below the knees, Buffalo stumbled his way forward, asking;

“So, you know… who is it?”

Embarrassment quickly swinging over into flabbergasted rage, Al snapped;

“Try looking in the mirror, you big galoot!”

“Why,” asked the pastry chef in honest confusion, “is he behind me?”

And then, Alberta Hotchbinkle, Ph.D twice over, merely sighed and decided that as in nuclear proliferation, the direct approach was probably best, leaned forward and whispered into Buffalo’s ear, explaining which member of the Pelgimbly cafeteria staff had captured her heart. Perfectly willing to be surprised, but not foolish enough to reject a premise which delighted him to no end, the world’s hairiest pastry chef did allow himself one last handful of seconds of freedom as he asked;

“Who, me?”

And then surrendered himself utterly and completely to whatever possibilities his Alberta might have for them both. Looking into her eyes, seeing the light there he had witnessed a thousand times before—always envying some other man he had never imagined might be him when he saw it—Buffalo shook his head slightly, conceding that he must be, indeed, the luckiest boy in the world.

And then, as Al reached for him, he reached for her, and their lips met in a passion formed equally of disbelief and rapture, even as two score feminine voices chanted in the background—

“Brownies, brownies… brownies, brownies… browniesbrowniesbrownies—”

And the A.I. controlled ovens of the Pelgimbly Institute for the Advanced Sciences turned themselves on in glorious anticipation.

 

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