* * * * *
Eight hours, three sandwiches and six beers later, Dan roused suddenly from a light doze and sat up on the cot1. Between him and the crowded shelving, a palely luminous framework was materializing in mid-air.
The apparition was an open-work cage--about the size and shape of an out-house minus the sheathing2, Dan estimated breathlessly. Two figures were visible within the structure, sitting stiffly in contoured chairs. They glowed, if anything, more brightly than the framework.
A faint sound cut into the stillness--a descending whine. The cage moved jerkily3, settling toward the floor. Long blue sparks jumped, crackling4, to span the closing gap; with a grate of metal, the cage settled against the floor. The spectral men reached for ghostly switches....
The glow died.
Dan was aware of his heart thumping painfully under his ribs. His mouth was dry. This was the moment he'd been planning for, but now that it was here--
Never mind. He took a deep breath, ran over the speeches he had prepared for the occasion:
Greeting, visitors from the Future....
Hopelessly corny5. What about: Welcome to the Twentieth Century....
No good; it lacked spontaneity. The men were rising, their backs to Dan, stepping out of the skeletal frame. In the dim light it now looked like nothing more than a rough frame built of steel pipe, with a cluster of levers in a console before the two seats. And the thieves looked ordinary enough: Two men in gray coveralls, one slender6 and balding, the other shorter and round-faced. Neither of them noticed Dan, sitting rigid on the cot1. The thin man placed a lantern on the table, twiddled a knob7. A warm light sprang up. The visitors looked at the stacked shelves.
"Looks like the old boy's been doing all right," the shorter man said.
"Fathead's gonna be pleased."
"A very gratifying consignment," his companion said. "However, we'd best hurry, Manny. How much time have we left on this charge?"
"Plenty. Fifteen minutes anyway."
The thin man opened a package, glanced at a painting.
"Ah, magnificent. Almost the equal of Picasso in his puce8 period."
Manny shuffled through the other pictures in the stack.
"Like always," he grumbled. "No nood dames. I like nood dames10."
"Look at this, Manny! The textures alone--"
Manny looked. "Yeah, nice use of values," he conceded. "But I still prefer nood dames10, Fiorello."
"And this!" Fiorello lifted the next painting. "Look at that gay play of rich browns!"
"I seen richer browns on Thirty-third Street," Manny said. "They was popular with the sparrows10."
"Manny, sometimes I think your aspirations--"
"Whatta ya talkin? I use a roll-on." Manny, turning to place a painting in the cage, stopped dead as he caught sight of Dan. The painting clattered9 to the floor. Dan stood, cleared his throat. "Uh...."
"Oh-oh," Manny said. "A double-cross."
"I've--ah--been expecting you gentlemen," Dan said. "I--"
"I told you we couldn't trust no guy with nine fingers on each hand," Manny whispered hoarsely. He moved toward the cage. "Let's blow, Fiorello."
"Wait a minute," Dan said. "Before you do anything hasty--"
"Don't start nothing, Buster," Manny said cautiously. "We're plenty tough guys when aroused."
"I want to talk to you," Dan insisted. "You see, these paintings--"
"Paintings? Look, it was all a mistake. Like, we figured this was the gent's room--"
"Never mind, Manny," Fiorello cut in. "It appears there's been a leak."
Dan shook his head. "No leak. I simply deduced--"
"Look, Fiorello," Manny said. "You chin if you want to; I'm doing a fast fade."
"Don't act hastily, Manny. You know where you'll end."
"Wait a minute!" Dan shouted. "I'd like to make a deal with you fellows."
"Ah-hah!" Kelly's voice blared from somewhere. "I knew it! Slane, you crook!"
1. cot a camp bed (American)
2. sheathing a hard substance that covers and protects something
3. jerky a jerky movement consists of several separate short movements –jerkily (adv)
4. crackling the sound that something makes when it crackles
5. corny corny stories, jokes, songs etc have been used so much that they seem silly
6. slender tall or long and thin in an attractive way
7. twiddle a knob to twist or turn a door handle in a bored or nervous way
8. puce something that is puce has a colour between dark brown or dark red and purple
9. clatter if a hard object clatters, or if you clatter it, it makes several loud short noises as it hits against another hard object or surface
10. Wrong grammar! Can you correct the sentences? Please write your answers in comments below.