Coal Blackstone was browsing through the morning paper, cozily nestled back onto the warm, hairless chest of her photographer and sometime lover, Lincoln Ford.    
     “I see his lardship, Heavyweight Mayor Cass, finally let it drop that he’s been receiving death threats,” Coal told Linc.
     “Does he sound scared?” Linc wanted to know, carefully negotiating a second demitasse of espresso over and around the mellifluous landscape of Coal’s golden torso.
     “It’s sort of hard to read between the lines,” she told him.  “You know that calculated blandness politicians employ.  But offhand, yes, I’d say old Cass sounds a bit shaken.  You can almost feel a tremor in the type from time to time,” she added gaily.
     Linc drained his coffee and put his cup down on the night table.  He put his arms around Coal’s waist and then, after gently removing her paper and folding it up next to his cup, lifted his arms so that they encircled her just below her breasts.
     “Did I ever tell you about the beauty of your ribcage?” he asked her.
     “My ribcage?  No, I don’t believe you have,” she replied dreamily, wriggling herself down a bit so that his arms were now confronted by the responsibility of her breasts.
     “Well, smiled Linc, “I was going to tell you about the beauty of your ribcage, but now you’ve gone and distracted me with bosoms!”
     “Oh come on, Linc, say things about my ribs.  Everything’s already been said about breasts, but nobody 
ever talks ribs.”
     “Okay, well I was just going to say that the ribcage is sort of like a rigid lampshade, protecting the heart and the other vital organs that are housed inside it–which are fragile, like the lightbulb in the lamp!”
     “Why Linc,” Coal said, swallowing the last of her coffee, “you clever thing!”
     Linc grinned.  “And you have a very pretty lampshade,” he told her, gently cupping her left breast in his hand.
     She smiled an almost over-dazzling smile and, gently disengaging his hand, pointed sweetly at the Michael Graves clock they kept on her side of the bed.
     “What’s wrong?” he asked her, trying as hard as possible to rise above his disappointment.
     “The siren song of high fashion,” she told him, laughing, “I have a shoot!”
     “You do?”
     Coal leapt delicately out of bed.
     “Yes, dummy, I do.  An hour from now.  And guess what?  It’s with you!!”
     “O god I forgot!  The Tom Ford thing!”
     “Yes,” Coal smirked. “You know, Linc, it’s a good thing you sleep with me or you’d never make any of your appointments!”
     But he was already off to the shower.
     It had been agreed that Michael would meet in a few days with Homer, Bliss and, inevitably with Fish—at Homer’s studio, if a studio was indeed what he had—and he was now heading home, strolling east along Bloor Street, towards High Park.  He had decided suddenly, despite the diet to which had realigned himself earlier that same morning, to take up the offer of sudden 7-Eleven store, an offer emblazoned on a banner stretched taut over its wide front door: Large Brownie and Coffee for $1.19.
     Why do they use the number “7” and yet spell out “eleven”? Michael wondered idly as he entered the store.  Probably, he thinks, because “Seven-Eleven” would be too cumbersome, and “7-11” was now impossible because of “9/11.”
     He finds a clerk in an absurdly red coat pretending to sweep the floor behind the cash register.  “How much is a brownie all by itself?” Michael asks him.  “I don’t want the coffee”
     “Just the brownie alone?” Disbelief widens his eyes.
     “Yes”, Michael repeats, “just the brownie.  I don’t want the coffee”.   
     The guy busies himself with the computer, as if launched upon a thorny problem in astrophysics.  He shows little sign of answering Michael’s question, apparently more intent upon ringing up this suddenly complex new coffee-brownie sale.
      “I asked you how much for the brownie alone?” Michael repeats.  The clerk glances up, as if surprised.
     “$1.59,” he says, looking sort of smug about it.
      “$1.59?” asks Michael, certain he must have heard wrong.
     “Yep,” says the clerk, “$1.59.”
    “You mean that having just the brownie alone costs forty cents more than having a brownie with coffee?”
     The clerk looks surprised, as if this were an entirely new way of looking at it.
     “Yeh”, he says, almost abashed himself at the sudden absurdity of it.
     “But that’s stupid,” Michael says.  “That’s ridiculous.  The coffee alone is worth—what?—a buck?
     “So?” says the clerk warily, as if being led into a trap. 
     “So why wouldn’t the brownie alone be cheaper than the brownie with the coffee?”  The clerk looks both perplexed and malicious at the same time.  Michael can see him beginning to form the conventional answer to all questions of this sort.  He can see the standard words taking shape in the clerk’s mouth.  And out it comes, sure enough.
     “Company policy”.
     Michael cannot believe he is suddenly getting as angry as he is. 
     “Then you can shove your company policy up your ass!!” he yells at the clerk and storms out into the descending twilight.
     A few days later, he is passing the same store.  The sight of the place makes him angry all over again.  But he goes in.  The clerk eyes him warily—the way you’d keep tabs on a puma somebody brought into the store on a leash.
     “I’ll have a brownie and a coffee,” Michael says carefully.  The clerk punches it all into the computer, and goes slowly to get the coffee and the cake.  He plunks them both distainfully on the counter.  Michael fishes out a toonie and gleefully pockets his change.  And leaves the coffee on the counter.
     “Hey, you forgot your coffee”, the clerk calls after him.
     “I told you before, I don’t want the fucking coffee!” Michael tells him, triumphantly ushering his brownie out into the crepuscular evening.
     He feels good.  Great.  Revenge is sweet—literally, in this case.  He takes a big salacious bite of his brownie.   
     And it’s stale.
     Naturally it’s stale. 
     Of course it is
     “Too bad Fish isn’t here,” he thinks to himself, tossing the dead brownie contemptuously into the gutter. 
      The clerk grins at him all the while through the plate glass window.  Then he began mouthing something through the streaky glass.  “Company Policy” is what Michael thinks the clerk is saying.  What else would he be saying?
     Michael began thinking how much Homer Rubik was like the clerk.   And the mountainous Bliss Carmen too.  And her grotesque little dog.  Not that any of this made sense.  What did he mean by this dreadful, shared clerkness, he wondered, this horrifying clerkitude?
     He only meant, he quickly realized, that they were all standing contentedly, triumphantly, on the wrong side of the chalk-line.  And he couldn’t understand anything on that side of the line.   
     “I won’t get angry,” he said out loud, to nobody.