Tell me about the cheeseburger


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"Danny," the investigator begins.

She turns pleasant, like some of the store windows do when you're walking along the street, not that that's recommended, looking for spare $10,000 bills people always drop and never pick up because they're pretty much worthless, and then some of the store windows, the few that still work, smile at you — always the face of a pretty woman teasingly warning you about those extra 40 grams you packed on today. Don't pretty women have something better to do?

"May I call you Danny?" the 'gator says.

"Well, my name is Edmund," Edmund says. Who's Danny? He wonders.

The 'gator consults the Podster in her palm. "No, Danny. The arresting officer says your name is Danny."

Edmund considers this. Authority is never wrong; that's why it's called "Authority." It's the Law of the Land, just as the Religion of 9-9-9 is the Religion of the Land. Just as Watch Your Grams is the Pledge of the Land. Edmund no more believes in the Religion of 9-9-9 than he does his name is Danny. Edmund seriously wishes he had never spotted that cheeseburger.

"Danny, tell me about the cheeseburger," the 'gator says in her soothing soprano. "You know that we scanned you twice, once in the police vehicle and once here; you're 101.37 grams overweight. That's why cheeseburgers have been illegal since anyone can remember."

The cheeseburger was lying in a pothole in the sidewalk where he was walking, scouring the angular light for fallen $10,000 bills because jobs were scarcer than temperatures under 90. Edmund knew, of course, that cheeseburgers were illegal, but he just wanted to dispose of it properly, and because there hadn't been any public trash receptacles since garbage was privatized, his only option was the soy shop behind him. So he carried the cheeseburger into the soy shop, and — wouldn't you know it? — sitting there were four cops on their soy-shake break. I only wanted to throw it away.

Edmund tells all this to the 'gator, trying to be so earnest but keenly aware of being 101.37 grams overweight. She sighs in a soothing soprano.

"Danny, you picked up a cheeseburger, right? Possession of a cheeseburger is illegal. You know that, right? Punishable by 10 years in Cleveland."

Ten years in Cleveland. No one ever returns from Cleveland. But the stories — they whip through the city faster than the daily wildfires zapping through the abandoned buildings.

"Or," the 'gator soothes, "if you're truly lucky, the magistrate might take pity on your worthless, cheeseburger, overweight soul and pack you off to the Army, where you'd undoubtedly end up in Ecuador. Ecuador — is that what you want, Danny."

Why was America fighting Ecuador? Edmund couldn't remember exactly, but it had something to do with Ecuador straddling the Equator, and true 9-9-9 believers believed no nation should straddle the Equator because it was shifting the balance of the Earth.

Barren corn ears and soy-less micro-dots of soybeans filled the Land. It was all so obvious.

Quito was rubble fit for a Moon crater, Guayaquil and Cuenca the same, the Gulf of Guayaquil was choked with the dead bodies of straddlers, and still, Ecuador stubbornly straddled the Equator.

Of course, Ecuador was also filled with the bodies of Amerian boys and girls who had foolishly been caught possessing cheeseburgers.

"Or," the 'gator says, "we could send you to the Mexican border moat to tend the alligators. Some people return from that."

The alligators kept dying, Edmund knew, because it had turned out they weren't all that well suited to a desert climate. The Border Patrolers had to swim into the border moat to retrieve the dead bodies; most did not swim back out.

"So tell me about the cheeseburger speakeasies you go to, Danny," the 'gator says. "Where are they? And I mean addresses."

"My name is Danny," he begins.

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