‘Eliminator’ Scrooge was a tight-fisted, mean-hearted, cheating old slothead. He was strutting out of the Slotworld Racing Center with the arrogant saunter of a competitor who had swept all before him. No glance spared he for the poor and unfortunate who scampered out of his path. Which is why he crashed headlong into the shopping cart of a bent and solitary figure, wrapped in dirty rags, who had not yielded him way.
“Street person!”, he shrieked in anger, “Out of my way!”
“Do you not know who I was?”, asked the shrouded form, who, though bowed low with age and misfortune, yielded not an inch.
“Who are you... who WERE you then?”, yelled Scrooge, his anger not diminished a jot.
“You once knew me as Oscar Kovaleski -- the godhead of all things model car.”
“Oscar!”, replied Scrooge in alarm and wonder. “Bah, humbug! You can’t be Oscar Kovaleski! Out of my way you displaced person!”
“You don’t believe in me? Then look in my cart! Here are five AMT 3-in-1 model kits, mint in box. Here are fifteen Auto World Autocutters, brand new, never used. Here are a whole CASE of Aurora Dodge Charger Thunderjets, colored orange. And here is my lifetime membership certificate in the Polish Racing Drivers of America!“
“Stop, displaced person, stop!”, Scrooge cried in terror, “I believe! I believe! Tell me, O Great Oscar, why have you come to me?”
“I come to warn you Scrooge. If you do not turn from the path you now tread, you shall become even as I am, doomed to walk the streets and retail malls of this world, pushing a shopping cart laden with the barest leavings of former glory.”
“But I DOMINATE!”, said Scrooge. “I am untouchable in every class I race in! And my collection is the best in the world! I have EVERYTHING Aurora ever made!”
“Oh man”, said the twisted figure, “do you know how vain and empty those things will be to you in just a little while? You must think of more than yourself if you are to escape my fate!”
“No, I do not see the sense in that”, said Scrooge. “I pity you Oscar, but leave me be. Don’t you have a tin cup or something? I’ve got some loose change...”
“Wretch!”, cried the rag-swathed figure, suddenly drawing itself up to nearly Scrooge’s own height, “Without my help you have no hope! You shall be visited by three displaced persons! Expect the first when you get to 5th and Main! Abide them, pay them heed, or you shall be lost forever! Look to see me no more!”
And with that Oscar left him. In an instant he and his shopping cart disappeared in the crowd, as if they had never been.
“It’s, it’s humbug,” Scrooge said haltingly. Then with more conviction, “Humbug! An old bundle of rags claiming to be Oscar Kovaleski -- no, it cannot be. Still, he did have that case of orange Chargers... Damn! I should have asked what he wanted for them! Too late. He’s gone now...” And shaking his head, as if to clear it of unpleasant memories, Scrooge walked down the sidewalk, towards home.
“Fifth and Main”, said Scrooge as he looked about him. Nowhere did he see anything unfamiliar, anything amiss. “And no displaced person... I knew AHHH!”, he cried, startled by the sudden sight of a wizened figure that stood practically at his elbow.
“I am the displaced person of Slot Cars Past”, said the aged, white-haired apparition. “I was fortold to you, was I not? Come, touch my blanket, I will transport you to a time in your past.”
Scrooge wrinkled his nose, “Yech, your blanket is filthy! And it smells! Must I touch it?”
“You must”, the street person said evenly, but firmly.
Gingerly Scrooge fingered the tattered wrap, and instantly discovered himself indoors, in a dank, dimly-lit basement.
“Displaced person! This is my parent’s basement! This is where I worked on my cars, where I had my layout! Who... who is that... who is that over there?”
“Can’t you tell?”, said the old man. “Look closer. Your mind does not yet believe what your eyes are seeing.”
“Why it is me! That’s me! I must be, oh, twelve years old. Certainly no more... what am I doing? Stop! Oh, STOP! Don’t do that!”
“He cannot hear you, Scrooge. Nor see you. We are phantoms here.”
“Oh but displaced person, see what he is doing! That is a brand new orange Dodge Charger! And he is going to cut the wheel wells on it! Oh no! The knife! Oh I can’t look! Oh no, oh no. I couldn’t have, I couldn’t have!”
“You were young”, said the old man, kindly, “you wanted to put slicks on the car. You did that to all your cars...”
“No, oh no”, wailed Scrooge, “oh how could I have been so stupid, so utterly, utterly stupid. Spare me displaced person! Take me back, leave me! I don’t want to see any more!”
“There is more you must see, if you are to be saved. Touch my blanket, we go to another time.”
“What place is this?” Scrooge looked around him. Another basement, but well lit. Before him a four-lane layout of lock-and-joiner plastic track. Suddenly joyful yells and shouts reached his ears. A flock of exuberant youngsters pounded down the basement stairs and swarmed about the track.
“Why that’s Carl!”, cried Scrooge, “Carl Dreher! And Billy Frankenfield! And Ed Bianchi! My old racing buddies! Oh look how young we all are! And see, displaced person, see how happy and enthusiastic and joyous we are! These are happy times, displaced person, thank you for showing me this!”
“Watch, Scrooge, watch. I did not bring you here without a purpose.”
And Scrooge watched. And he almost burst with pride, for his young self was in top form, dusting the competition. Indeed, his car fairly flew around the track. None of the others could keep pace with him.
Suddenly, as if by silent agreement, the other cars stopped. “You’ve done something to your car”, accused a young voice. “I want to take a look at it.”
“No!”, cried the young Scrooge. “I won’t let you!” But he grabbed for the car too late.
“What is this underneath the car? It looks like, it looks like a magnet, like from out of a pot-holder.”
“That’s what it is”, young Scrooge said sullenly. “It holds the back of the car down.”
“No fair! There’s nothing in the rules allowing this!”
“And there’s nothing in the rules against it either!”, young Scrooge said defiantly. “So I can use a magnet if I want to. It’s perfectly fair!”
“Well I’m not going to race against you! What’s the point? I haven’t a fair chance, and I’m not going to run just so you can beat me!”
“Me neither! Me neither!”, cried the others. After a brief, stony silence they all gathered up their cars and left.
“Displaced person!”, cried Scrooge, “Call them back! I can take the magnet out of my car! They don’t have to leave mad at me! They can still have fun! Oh stop them displaced person, please call them back!”
“I cannot”, said the DP sadly, “and neither can you. This is done. This is all long past. Touch my blanket, there is more you must see.”
“This is a show”, Scrooge said.
“Yes”, the displaced person agreed, “Many years have passed. Do you see your former self?”
“There I am. I have a table. I must be in my thirties, by the look of me. Who is that I am dickering with?”
“We can see, Scrooge. And hear. Let us draw nearer. They will not notice us.”
And though Scrooge stood practically at his own elbow -- that of his younger self -- he was not noticed in the slightest. “That’s Vic Trayder! I know him well displaced person!” Scrooge listened intently to the conversation; peered closely at the goods being discussed.
“So”, said the younger Scrooge, “Isn’t this a fine piece? Certainly this is the Batmobile you’ve wanted for your collection. Look how the figures are painted, the detail! And do you notice how the rear wheel wells have been slightly enlarged? The real Batmobile had racing slicks, and this car has been fitted with them too! A fine collectors’ piece.”
“It is beautiful -- I’m afraid to ask you the price.”
The young Scrooge smiled, “I have another buyer who will give me $250 for it, but I know you’ve wanted this car. Give me $200 -- just don’t tell anyone I let you have it at that price.”
The buyer’s face fell, “I can’t afford that much. I’m behind on my rent as it is. Will you take a check?”
“Cash only. ESPECIALLY if you are behind on your rent.”
“I just don’t have that much right now. Damn I want that car! Will you take a deposit and hold it for me?”
Scrooge shook his head, “I told you, I have another buyer. Look, let me see what’s in your box. Maybe there is something I want.” The box was proffered; Scrooge opened it. His eyes scanned quickly, his expression edged microscopically downward in disapproval. “There isn’t much here. I’ll give you $50 for the lot.”
The buyer’s disappointment was palpable, “I’d need $100.”
“Right”, said Scrooge, “Look, I’ll give you $75 for the box. Give me $100 cash and owe me the $25.”
The deal was done. But as the buyer retreated with his prize Scrooge’s face underwent a slow transformation. It started with his mouth. A smile was born, a smile which broadened into a grin, his eyes flashed with glee, his eyebrows arched high. All his visage became a picture of wicked merriment. Soon a chortle escaped his lips. A chortle that grew to a full-blown belly-laugh.
“You have cheated that poor man -- don’t deny it!”, accused the displaced person.
“Yes, I have!”, replied the elder Scrooge, “I screwed, blued and tatooed him! The car I sold him wasn’t worth a tenth of the price I got for it, and every car I got in return was worth at least as much, or more! One was worth $150. I made money like a bandit on that deal, I’ll never forget it!”
“You are not ashamed at how you abused the trust of that poor man?”
“Not at all!”, gloried Scrooge, “I did him a favor! He eventually found out I had taken him, but he learned valuable lessons in return! Ones he will never forget! He learned to get his own facts -- to know what he is buying and what he is selling, and what they are worth. He also learned that a deal is a deal. He learned that lesson hard, but I made sure he learned it!”
“But you did not bargain fairly! You lied to him about another buyer. You misled him about the quality of the car. You told him the defects that made the car valueless were selling points!”
Scrooge was unrepentent, “I told him the condition of the car accurately. He chose to believe that it was worth the price I quoted. A thing is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. He paid for it willingly, even eagerly!”
“You indeed have much to learn Scrooge”, said the displaced person of Slot Cars Past. Disapproval was evident in its entire being. “My time with you is drawing to an end, and I’m not sorry. Come, touch my blanket one more time.”
“Yech”, said Scrooge, and suddenly found himself on the corner of 5th and Main.
Nor was he alone. Before him stood a youth, with bad complexion, scraggly hair, and a baseball cap turned backward on his head. “I am the displaced person of Slot Cars Present!”, the apparition said with a smile full of bad teeth, “I bet you’re Scrooge. Do they really call you ‘Eliminator’?”
“Yes, they do”, admitted Scrooge, “well, what do I do? You’re not wearing a blanket.”
“You can, y’know, take my hand.”
“I’d rather touch a blanket, to be honest”, but Scrooge complied.
“Oh displaced person of Slot Cars Present!”, Scrooge exclaimed in terror, “We are flying! Don’t let go my hand or I shall surely fall to my death!”
“You weren’t, y’know, hot to hold my hand a moment ago.”
“Forgive me! Forgive me! Only don’t let me fall! Wait, where are we?”, Scrooge looked around in wonderment. “Why, we are back inside Slotworld! Look, there are two of the guys I just blew off in the main! That’s... uh, Bob Scratchit, the tall guy. The shorter, younger guy is, um, Little Tim, I think.”
The face of the displaced person of Slot Cars Present broadened into a grin. Apparently he had had an idea, and the novel experience tickled him, “Hey, let’s listen in, they can’t see us, y’know. We’re, y’know, indivisible, y’know?”
“Uh, yeah, so I gather”, and Scrooge edged nearer to the pair of beaten competitors.
Bob Scratchit said, “Well, I don’t know. I probably should get a new chassis, and if I wanted to have a real chance, a new armature and magnets too. Comes to that, my tires won’t go more than another session. What’s left? I’m in for another car, and I can’t afford it right now. And there’s no guarantee I’ll be anything more than mid-pack.”
Little Tim said, “Could I buy your old car off you? It’s better than I have. What would you want for it?”
“More than you can probably afford. You were lucky to qualify for the main. You’ve got talent, kid. If you could get a decent car together you could do well.”
“I got my car from a guy who decided to get out of racing”, said Little Tim, “he sold it to me cheap.”
“Yeah, I know who you got it off of. He used to build good cars. If he sold it to you cheap he was making you a gift. It takes money to be competitive, and time. I’m getting short of both.”
“Would you sell me the car? Tell me what you’d want.”
“Look, kid, I’ll be straight with you. If you are really, really good, you could get a fifth place with that car. Not any better, and that’s this week. Next week, who knows? It takes money, kid. Money I ain’t got, and money you ain’t got either.”
“Fifth? No better than fifth?”
“I’m telling you straight kid.”
“Hell, I want to win!”
“Yeah, me too kid. I’ve been at it a long time. Winning is tough. Some guys win all the time, like ‘Eliminator’. Me, I’ve won twice. Twice in all the time I’ve been racing. That’s not much to show for a lot of money and a lot of effort.”
“Twice?”, said Little Tim, “In how many years?”
“Oh I dunno. Ten or twelve.”
“Geez”, the kid looked down, then looked up again, sideways, “Fifth you say?”
“If you could afford it, and you can’t.”
“Geez”, Little Tim shook his head, “Geez.”
The displaced person of Slot Cars Present looked at Scrooge, “Well, hey, whatdaya think? Think those guys will be back?”
Scrooge looked melancholy, he too shook his head, “No, I don’t think so. At least not much longer. It’s sad. Scratchit is a decent competitor. He’s always in the main, he just never has enough to run at the front.”
“It’s sadder about the kid, y’know. He would be a champion if he gets a break, and stays with it. But he won’t, y’know.”
“He won’t? He’d be a champion?”
“Yeah, Scrooge, a champion. But it won’t happen...”
“But displaced person, surely there is something you can do! Come, young talent like that can’t be wasted!”
“Humbug, Scrooge, like you, y’know, say. Talent like that gets wasted all the time! And who wastes it? Who Scrooge? Who wastes it?”
Scrooge’s face visibly sagged as horrible truth struck home. He looked down at the floor, “Take me back, displaced person, take me back. I think, I think there is something I can do... I think there is something I MUST do...”
“Not yet Scrooge old dude, we’ve got flying to do! Hold on...”
“NOOOOOO!”, yelled Scrooge as they soared out of Slot World, into the open sky.
“Oh displaced person”, gasped Scrooge, “if you do that to me again I shall need a change of underwear.”
“Chill, oldster. Look where we are now.”
“Trader Vic’s! This is Vic Trayder’s shop!”, cried Scrooge.
“What’s the matter Scrooge? You, y’know, don’t look so good.”
“Ah, it’s nothing. Nice shop. I should come back sometime. Well, where do we go next?”
“We just, y’know, got here. You getting to, y’know, like flying?”
“NO! DON’T TOUCH ME!”, wailed Scrooge, cringing in fright. Looking around frantically, like a trapped animal Scrooge talked desperately, “Ah, Vic is talking to a customer, I want to listen in, OK? Yeah, I feel like listening in, maybe for a long time!”
“That’s cool by me!”
Scrooge and the displaced person took up positions by Vic and his customer. Scrooge actually stood right next to Vic, leaning on the counter, but neither Vic nor his customer showed the slightest perception of his presence.
“I’ve had this piece for quite a few years. I don’t display it”, said Vic, “because I don’t want to sell it to just anybody. I’m a little sentimental about it. It was one of my first big buys. I wanted it to go to someone special, someone who would appreciate its finer points. Look, see how the figures are painted? Look at the detail! Go ahead, pick it up! Take a close look!”
“Yes, it’s a careful job of detailing!”, Vic’s customer opined.
“And see how the wheel wells are slightly enlarged? Just big enough to take the slicks -- the prototype was equipped with racing slicks, remember?”
“Yes, you’re right. I’m interested Vic, what do you want for it?”
“Well, I paid $450 for that, but that was a number of years ago. Yes, $450! You, don’t find a piece like that everyday! But, I’ll let you have it for, oh, $500. I know someone who would give me $600 for it, and think he got a bargain, but look, I know you appreciate this piece. I can’t stand the thought of it just being put in a box where no one will see it. I know you’ll display it. Give me $500 and the Batmobile is yours.”
“Displaced person!”, howled Scrooge in utter dismay, “Let us be gone!”
“Vic’ll, y’know, make quite a haul on this sale, won’t he Scrooge? More than you made -- jealous?
”NO! Disgusted, heartsick, outraged! That cheating, lying, swindler!”
“He learned his lessons well, didn’t he Scrooge? He paid a lot for them, but, y’know, I guess he’s made his money back over the years. Y’know I bet he’s grateful to you. You could be good friends. Even, y’know, best friends. Everyone should have friends Scrooge, y’know?”, the displaced person said with a smile.
“No, no, no. Oh no!”, Scrooge shook his head in his hands.
“So what’s the matter Scrooge? Does it disturb you to see others turn your vicious little prank into a way of doing business? Do you finally see that others may imitate you, adopt your methods for their own, and turn the market into a killing field for the trusting and the naive? What will that lead to Scrooge? Think, what will that lead to?”
“Displaced person of Slot Cars Present, do not say that this is my doing! Maybe I cheated Vic, but that does not mean I made him into what he is!”
Scrooge, you did not make him what he is.
He started with the inclination to evil, and you were just one person,
one critical person, who helped him down that path. Many better people have been cheated by
you. What happened to them? Shall we go see?”
“NO, NO, NO! Oh have pity displaced person! I have learned that my sins may influence others to evil, and that evil I helped spawn may return to me! I have learned this lesson, I feel it keenly in my heart! Spare me more suffering!”
“Well, y’know, time’s about up anyway, let’s...”
“Oh thank you displaced person, thank you. But please, PLEASE, can we take a cab?”
“Kewl! A cab! Hey, that would be neat!”, said the displaced person of Slot Cars Present.
Once more Scrooge stood at the corner of Fifth and Main. He scanned about him anxiously. He suspected once again he would be taken by surprise, but he didn’t relish the idea at all.
Sure enough, though Scrooge was certain he had left no approach unwatched, he suddenly found himself in the presence of another visitor.
The first thing he noted was the Stetson hat, since it was at his eye level. Although at first the hat appeared to be on fire, upon further investigation Scrooge found the smoke was coming from underneath. An acrid stench confirmed his suspicion even before the hat tilted up to reveal the face beneath it -- a stogie, of ill repute and worse lineage, was clenched in the teeth of that face. Scrooge tried not to gag on the fumes, or at the sight of the figure emitting them.
It appeared to be a man in his fifties, rotund, self-important, with a look of insincere joviality that further excited Scrooge’s queasiness. The Stetson was accompanied by a western-style shirt with button-down breast pockets, a string tie, a broad hand-tooled leather belt with a massive brass buckle. Tucked into that extensive belt was a device that filled Scrooge with loathing -- an auctioneer’s gavel!
“Dreadful apparition”, said Scrooge, barely controlling his terror, “for some reason I fear you more than any displaced person who has yet come to me. Tell me... am I in the presence of... the Displaced Person of Slot Cars Yet To Be?”
“That ya are, son”, said the fearsome visitor, “though I prefer to think of myself as between engagements”. The unnatural laugh that followed was like to freeze Scrooge’s blood. “We’ve got traveling to do, I don’t like laying about.”
“Can we... we need not fly... please, say we need not fly!”
“Nah, that’s for kiddies.” The cigar glowed hot as its owner worked it hard, volumes of smoke poured forth. Scrooge found himself wreathed in smoke. He soon could see nothing for the smoke. “This is how I prefer to travel”, came a hard, cold, unearthly voice from somewhere within the smoke.
The smoke slowly cleared. Scrooge found he had been returned to Slotworld. His escort strolled about, inspecting first one thing, then something else, appraisingly. Scrooge noticed that the premises looked down at the heels. The stock cases were all but barren, the tracks dusty.
Harold DiVictor, the owner of Slotworld was there, talking to a man Scrooge didn’t know. Scrooge had a dreadful premonition of the subject they were discussing, yet he sidled closer, to hear them better.
“I almost feel like I’m robbing a corpse”, said the man Scrooge didn’t know.
“You’re doing me a favor, Sam”, said Harold, “if I don’t sell this stuff it’ll be scrapped, I’ll get nothing for it.”
Sam looked at the merchandise, picking up a piece, turning it over, putting it down, picking up another. “There’s some good stuff here. I’m robbing you.”
“No one else wants it. Frankly I don’t know why you want it. If it makes you feel better, pay me more, I won’t complain -- I need the cash.”
“Good stuff. I could assemble a competitive car right out of this box.”
“Who will you compete with? Sam, the sport’s dead. No one wants this stuff anymore, ‘cept you.”
“Suppose you’re right. Well, just throw everything in the box. I’ll give you fifty for the lot.... no, I’ll pay fifty. I won’t be able to sleep otherwise.”
“Suit yourself. Are you going to come to the auction? You could buy yourself a track.”
“Well Harold, I don’t know. One of those tracks could be pricey.”
“Don’t kid yourself. Come to the auction, you might get yourself a bargain. I’m scared spitless that the tracks will be sold for scrap.”
“Scrap? SCRAP!!! No way Harold! Yes, I’ll come. Damn if I’ll let those tracks be scrapped!”
“Good man. See if you can get some other folks to come. I don’t care what the tracks sell for, I just don’t want to see them hauled away as firewood!”
Scrooge recoiled from the scene. He would as soon have heard an undertaker suggest that the butcher might have an interest in the deceased. “Displaced person!”, he wailed, “Surely this cannot be!”
“Oh it isn’t, not yet”, came the disinterested reply, “but it will be, soon enough. A poor lot it will be too. Hardly worth getting warmed up over.”
“But it can be stopped? Tell me it can be stopped! What can I do displaced person? Please tell me what I can do!”
“Why you can do lots of things. You can do anything y’all want to do. Will that stop this from happening...”, the displaced person left the thought unfinished. He took a mighty draw on his smoldering stogie, rekindling the tip to crackling brilliance. He gusted forth smoke like a Vesuvius.
“Oh but it must!”, choked Scrooge, caught in the pungent pall.
“Must it?” Another mighty draw, another eruption of smoke, “Well, maybe you can see farther into the future than I can. Do you think so?”
“I can’t (cough) see a blessed thing!”
“Well then look around you Scrooge. Perhaps what you see won’t be a blessing.”
And as the smoke cleared Scrooge knew he had been transported yet again. “This is MY house!”, cried Scrooge.
“Oh is it? Let’s listen in. You’ll find this interesting”, but the tone this was said in warned Scrooge. He looked on the displaced person as if upon Satan himself. Had his eyes glowed with the fierce fires of the underworld, Scrooge could not have perceived him as more demonic.
The two men in the living room were utter strangers to Scrooge. “Unusual?”, said one, “Nah, not unusual. I see cases like this too often. People get fearful and greedy at the same time. They can’t pass up a bargain. They can’t believe the prices are tumbling, that their holdings are losing value. As the prices drop they buy more and more. They go into debt because they think the market will turn around, and they’ll make a killing. Finally they see the market is collapsing and that they’ve waited too long, borrowed too much. Now they can’t sell because they can’t take the loss, so they hold onto everything as its value goes through the floor.”
“Surely the value of a collection can’t simply disappear?”
“Surely it can! These things go by generations. When the generation that collects kewpie dolls starts to die off, their kewpie doll collections begin to flood the market, and the prices head for the dumper. The smart investors bail, then the dumb investors. A few clueless souls end up holding the bag. Next its Lionel trains. A different generation, same story. What’s hot one generation is landfill the next.”
“Well it is astounding. This house is full of the stuff! I’ve never seen anything like it! It’ll take a week to clear it all out! What will they do with all of it?”
“Haul it away. Dump it. Nobody wants it. They haven’t made this stuff in years. Half of it nobody knows what it is, or why it was worth saving in the first place. Their wives don’t want it. Their kids don’t want it. It’s junk. Just junk.”
Scrooge turned a fearful eye on his companion, “Displaced person of Slot Cars Yet to Be -- am I right in supposing, I have, died? That these men are referring to my collection?”
“Oh no, Scrooge. Died? Oh no. Come Scrooge”, a puff of smoke hit Scrooge squarely in the face, “Come Scrooge, see.”
A dark, dingy, disreputable street. Cold air, frosty wind tore at Scrooge, who was not dressed for winter. He was aware of a figure, hunched against the wind, walking towards him, pushing a shopping cart. In the cart was a sleeping bag, a grocery bag which might hold a few provisions, dirty clothes, and, strangely, plastic boxes, plastic clamshell packs, magazines, books, other oddments.
Horror crept through Scrooge as that figure silently approached. Under the dirty knitted cap, deeply hidden in shadow, there was no feature he could recognize, yet with every step Scrooge grew more certain. His body began to shake, his hands trembled as they crept to his mouth. He wanted to cry out, yet he could not. There! Caught at last by dim light... There! Under the cap, framed by a threadbare scarf! His face!
His own face!
Scrooge collapsed as if all of his strength, and most of his bones, had suddenly deserted him. But if he had swooned, t'was only for an instant, for he buried his face in his hands and rocked back and forth on the icy sidewalk, the picture of despair. If a man makes a sound when his heart is physically torn in two, that is the piteous sound Scrooge made. The knowledge that all of his pride, all of his intellect, and all of his will had been bent on pursuits vain, venal and ruinous blew away his last defense, his final excuse. Peeled like an onion down to the core, what was left of Scrooge could only cry like a child that had lost its mother.
Whether he lay like that for a moment or an age Scrooge did not know. Plumbing the depths of his misery, time mattered not to him.
"Bud", said a voice, "hey bud, you all right?"
Scrooge spread apart the fingers covering one eye, to see who, or what, had spoken.
"C'mon bud, you OK? You need a doctor?"
Scrooge struggled to focus on the face above him. It was as if he had forgotten how to use his eyes. Slowly, with an effort, he perceived the missing teeth, the scraggly salt-and-pepper beard, the dirty coat that once might have been warm, but now was too threadbare to be effective. When his abused brain finally integrated what he had seen, Scrooge tried to speak.
"Which displaced person are you?", he managed.
"Hey bud, no need to call me names. I'm trying to help you!"
"I'm... I'm not hurt. I'm not... sick. Well, not physically sick. I'm heartsick. Give me a moment", Scrooge sat up. He sat with his head hanging down, it shook slowly, side to side. At last he looked up, tears still on his cheeks, still in his eyes. "You are not the displaced person of Slot Cars Anything?"
"No bud, and I wish you'd stop calling me that. Why do you have to call people that?"
"Please sir", Scrooge said, penitent now to the core of his being, "I did not mean to offend you."
"Aw that's all right. Look, you drink out of the wrong bottle or something? I know a place folks'll look after you."
"No, nothing like that. I'll be all right. Eventually. Perhaps better than I have been in years. WAIT A SECOND! We're on Fifth and Main!", Scrooge spun around, his eyes wide with amazement.
"Yeah, that's where we are. You're lucky a cop didn't see you."
"But, but -- what day is this... what YEAR is this?"
"Oh my sweet lord..."
"No please, tell me, tell me!"
The displaced person told Scrooge, who managed to express relief with every inch of his body. He threw up his hands to heaven, "I'm back! I'm back, and everything must still be as it was! That means the... personages of Slot Cars Past, Present and Yet To Be have given me another chance! A precious second chance!" In an instant Scrooge sobered, he looked up at the dumbfounded face of his benefactor, "I must not waste it."
"Bud, about those folks I know..."
"No. It's all right! I'm fine! I'm... giddy! Hoo hoo!", Scrooge bounded up from the sidewalk, "Another chance! A chance to make things right! And I will, I will! I swear by every slot car ever made I will my good man! Tell me, what is your name?"
"Call me Bill."
"Bill, then. Thank you Bill! Come on, help me celebrate! Have you eaten? I'm famished! Come on, join me! I feel like a good, huge meal! And beer! Do you hold with liquor?"
"I've been known to."
"Fine, join me! A celebration! It's on me! It's all on me!"
The next evening Scrooge was at Slotworld. It was a race night, and when Scrooge arrived most of the benches were occupied by competitors preparing for the event. Scrooge spotted Harold, the owner, and almost danced over to him. "Harold", he cried, "I made a terrible mistake last week. My car wasn't legal!" An active imagination would have heard the snaps as heads whipped around all over the room. "Oh, it's so embarrassing, but it's true! The armature was dewound, and the bearings had been counterbored. It got by tech only because the mods were so difficult to see. I had been testing the motor and forgot to replace it before the race, so I guess I have to forfeit."
To his credit, Harold did not merely stand there gaping like a goldfish, "There's a two-race suspension too. That puts you out of the championship this year -- you might as well go home."
"Oh, I can marshall. And I see a couple friends of mine here, I'll give them a hand." With that Scrooge made a beeline over to Bob Scratchit. When Scrooge put his arm around Bob the poor man jumped as if stung. "Look Bob, I won't be able to race for the next couple weeks, would you like to run one of my cars? I promise it'll be legal -- and fast."
Bob tried to speak, couldn't do it. Tried again, failed. Finally he managed, "Well, if you wouldn't mind. I know your cars are better than mine."
"Not so very much better, but I think you'll have a chance, a good chance, to win. You're a good driver Bob, I think you could win."
"Well, thank you, Scrooge. I had no idea you thought so highly of my driving."
"What you've done with the equipment you could afford is respectable, no, remarkable! I've always wanted to see what you could do with a first-rate car, now here is my chance! You will drive for me?"
"With pleasure Scrooge! It's an honor!"
"Oh tush, do well with the car and then it WILL be an honor, for both of us! Maybe we might come to some arrangement. Let's discuss it later. I see Little Tim over there! I want to talk to him too!"
Little Tim's racer's box was a small, meager looking thing. Yet it held a few treasured cars, and the tools within it were lovingly and carefully stowed. Tim was soldering a new set of motor leads, getting ready for the race when Scrooge approached him, "Mind if I look?", asked Scrooge politely.
From Little Tim's reaction Scrooge might have been an angel who had asked "Mind if I shed my radiance upon thee?"
"Oh not at all, sir! I'm so sorry to hear you were disqualified!"
"Don't be. I deserved it. Many times over. Could I see your car?"
"Yes of course!"
"Very nice work. You've done a lot of this yourself I see. Oh, what is this! Why that is a Beta Duper II motor isn't it? Gosh the great times I had with those. You know I don't have even ONE of them anymore? Hey, could I trade you a motor for that one? I'd like to have it just for old time's sake! We have time to make the swap before the race. Let's see what I've got --
would you take a Warp Core Breach Mark VIII in trade?
"Don't drool son, it makes the floor slippery."
The next day Scrooge was pacing back and forth in front of Trader Vic's. He was having a tough time of it. He was still on a high from his evening at Slotworld, and the thought of what lay ahead did not please him. Still, he made up his mind, and manfully strode into the store.
Vic looked about as happy to see Scrooge as he would a venomous snake. "Well, what are you here for? You got something you want to sell me?"
"No Vic, not today. I doubt that you'd ever be eager to do business with me. I cheated you a long time ago, and I suspect you never will forgive me."
"Well, God bless me, I never thought I would hear you say that! Now I'm doubly suspicious."
"I don't blame you", said Scrooge, "but I was wondering, do you still have that Batmobile? I'd like to buy it back from you."
"It would cost you. But sorry, I don't have it. I sold it."
Scrooge winced, as if at a painful memory, "Could you tell me who you sold it to? I'm serious."
"You been taking your medication Scrooge? Why should I tell you who I sold it to. I respect my customer's privacy."
"Then perhaps you could tell them, privately, I have an interest. In fact you could do me a favor. You could act as my broker. Would 20% be a fair cut?"
"It would be fair, more than fair, for anyone but you." Vic looked Scrooge squarely in the eye. You cheated me out of $265 when you sold me that car. I want that back, with interest."
Scrooge almost said, "And you made that and more when you sold the car to that other poor sucker", but he didn't. Instead he said, "Fine. I'll pay you that when I get the car. But I want to see the sales record on it -- what the last buyer paid you."
Vic chewed on that awhile. "All right. Since you've decided to make up for past misdeeds, I'll go that far."
Scrooge strode out of Slotworld with the air of a man well satisfied with the world. He was no longer known as 'Eliminator'. Little Tim had started to call him 'Uncle', and the name had stuck. Scrooge liked that. He liked a lot of things these days. And there were very few things he liked that he could not get a merry chuckle out of. Most of all he found he was liking people. And they were liking him back. It was a virtuous circle and he was loving it.
He was losing more races these days, but he didn't mind. When he lost he was losing to people he liked, and he cheered their victories as much as he did his own.
He was especially proud when Bob Scratchit won, or Little Tim. Little Tim was a comer, no two ways about it. He would sit with his 'Uncle' Scrooge and discuss cars and tuning and race strategy, eager for any little bit of knowledge Scrooge could pass on. Scrooge was free with his advice these days, but Little Tim still got more of it than anybody.
Yes, Scrooge was a happier man, a better man, and he knew it. And if ever a man was grateful, it was Scrooge. As he walked down the street that evening he reflected on the extraordinary events that had changed him, changed him down to his core. He could only shudder when he thought of what might have been, but for that bizarre intervention.
"Well Scrooge, you look happy this evening."
"Who? Oh my God! Oscar! You came back! I thought you said I'd never see you again!"
"Sometimes I don't stick to the script", said the wizened figure. "Rank hath its privileges. So tell me, how are you getting on these days?"
"Marvelously, thanks to you and yours! I suppose you've heard. I suspect you hear a lot of things."
"Oh I do. Good things too. I'm pleased. I heard about that business with Vic Trayder. I think you set the world record for a slot car sale."
"I probably did. Part of the deal was Vic wouldn't noise it about, but I suppose you have your ways of finding things out."
"That I do. Vic stayed tight-lipped. It's his nature. He won't give away information. But you paid him way too much you know."
"I know. That's the breaks. I didn't have to cheat him in the first place. I thought I made a whale of a profit, but its been solid loss ever since. It almost broke me."
Oscar nodded, "I think I know what you mean, and you're right. So, would you have the car with you? I'd like to see it."
"As a matter of fact, I do", said Scrooge. "Give me a moment, I'll fish it out."
"Ah, just as I thought", said Oscar as he examined the Batmobile, "this is one of mine."
"One of yours?", exclaimed Scrooge, "You once owned that car?"
"Sure did. See inside the body? The letters 'OKV' scratched there? That's how I identified my cars."
"Then YOU did the detail painting, YOU enlarged the wheelwells? Oscar, you mean that?"
"Sure, that's my work. I was proud of it too. I did I nice job, don't you think?" Oscar turned the car about, eying it critically, "You know, I'd like to buy this car off you. I have some cars I could trade you."
"Like a case of orange Chargers."
"Yeah", said Oscar, "Would that be fair?"
Scrooge was silent. You could almost see currents of emotion running under the skin of his face. Finally Oscar asked, "What are you thinking?"
"This is a test", Scrooge replied, "and I know how to pass it. But that isn't enough. I am trying to decide if I am honestly tempted, regardless of what I actually say."
"So, is it a deal?"
"Oscar, I might take one Charger, just to make it a trade. But if you want the car, its yours. It would be just the smallest token towards the immense debt I owe you. I would be proud to give it to you as a gift."
"So you're not tempted?"
"Not at all." Scrooge exhaled like a man who had put an ordeal behind him. He had. "Not at all, I can say that honestly. I am certain every one of those Chargers is a beautiful car, absolutely mint-in-box, but I already have one, and that is all I want or need."
"So what about the Batmobile?"
"It's yours Oscar. I'm proud to have owned it once."
"Naw, I don't want it. It's not a collectors piece."
"Don't be so sure, Oscar. I think it's more valuable than you might expect. Yes, I think it is a very rare and valuable collectors piece indeed."
'A Slot Car Carol' is the sole property of 'HO RacePro North America', and may be reproduced and distributed for free by anyone who thinks it's a hoot.
All events and characters depicted are fictitious, except for a few real characters, that is, characters who we suspect are real, and probably won't object strongly enough to hire a lawyer.
The producers wish to thank The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Janet Reno, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Interpol, America Online and Bill Gates, without whose lack of vigilance this story could never have been perpetrated.