I’m trying to make a profit. I’m using batteries, toilet paper, and paper towels as currency. Each is something that will eventually be in short supply.”
“You’re trying to get all the toilet paper in town?” Astrid shrilled. “Are you kidding?”
“No, Astrid, I’m not kidding,” Albert said. “Look, right now, kids are playing with the stuff. I saw little kids throwing rolls of it around on their lawns like it was a toy. So—”
“So your solution is to try and take it all away from people?”
“You’d rather see it wasted?”
“Yeah, actually,” Astrid huffed. “Rather than you getting it all for yourself. You’re acting like a jerk.”
Albert’s eyes flared. “Look, Astrid, now kids know they can buy their way into the club with it. So they’re not going to waste it anymore.”
“No, they’re going to give it all to you,” she shot back. “And what happens when they need some?”
“Then there will still be some left because I made it valuable.”
“Valuable to you.”
“Valuable to everyone, Astrid.”
“It’s you taking advantage of kids dumb enough not to know any better. Sam, you have to put a stop to this.”
Sam had drifted away from the conversation, his head full of the music. He snapped back. “She’s right, Albert, this isn’t okay. You didn’t get permission—”
“I didn’t think I needed permission to give kids what they want. I mean, I’m not threatening anyone, saying, ‘Give me your toilet paper, give me your batteries.’ I’m just playing some music and saying, ‘If you want to come in and dance, then it’ll cost you.’”
“Dude, I respect you being ambitious and all,” Sam said. “But I have to shut this down. You never got permission, even, let alone asked us if it was okay to charge people.”
Albert said, “Sam, I respect you more than I can even say. And Astrid, you are way smarter than me. But I don’t see how you have the right to shut me down.”
That was it for Sam. “Okay, I tried to be nice. But I am the mayor. I was elected, as you probably remember, since I think you voted for me.”
“I did. I’d do it again, man. But Sam, Astrid, you guys are wrong here. This club is about all these kids have that can get them together for a good time. They’re sitting in their homes starving and feeling sad and scared. When they’re dancing, they forget how hungry and sad they are. This is a good thing I’m doing.”
Sam stared hard at Albert, a stare that kids in Perdido Beach took seriously. But Albert did not back down.
“Sam, how many cantaloupes did Edilio manage to bring back with kids who were rounded up and forced to work?” Albert asked.
“Not many,” Sam admitted.
“Orc picked a whole truckload of cabbage. Before the zekes figured out how to get at him. Because we paid Orc to work.”
“He did it because he’s the world’s youngest alcoholic and you paid him with beer,” Astrid snapped. “I know what you want, Albert. You want to get everything for yourself and be this big, important guy. But you know what? This is a whole new world. We have a chance to make it a better world. It doesn’t have to be about some people getting over on everyone else. It can be fair to everyone.”
Albert laughed. “Everyone can be equally hungry. In a week or so, everyone can starve.