A Wishmaster’s Wish
The shirtless genie ducked his head as he entered my office. For a moment, I thought he wasn’t going to fit; he was large like a troll. He practically folded himself in half to fit on my sofa. When the springs groaned, he grabbed some throw pillows and sat cross-legged on the floor like an Arabian Buddha. He’d called ahead.
“Let’s go over it again,” I said.
“I need you to find my lamp.”
“Only to me.”
“Where’d you lose it?”
“Pine Point Beach. When Al made his last wish.”
“To me, they’re all ‘Al.’ It’s better that way. We’re not talking a long-term relationship. Then he tossed it in the sea. It’s possible he thought he was freeing me. Making a big gesture. But it was my home!”
“Why not tell him? Get him to jump in after it.”
“I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I’m not into confrontation. My kind’s all about service, you know?”
“Any chance it floated? Did you wait to see if it washed back up on shore?”
“Of course. And I got terribly sunburned. Living in a windowless lamp for a millennium, I’m not used to being exposed to the elements for long stretches.”
“Did you see it sink?”
“A lobster boat pulled it out of the water several hours later. They never would have heard my protestations over the sound of the surf, so I just watched, helpless, but I’d know the boat if I saw it: the María de Santo Domingo.”
“When they rub it, you’ll be united. Isn’t that how it works?”
“We’re shooting blanks here, Detective. I’m with you in your office. It’s there. Ergo, no fireworks. The ammo isn’t worth a tinker’s damn unless it’s in the chamber.”
“Go to a movie. Check out the boardwalk. You’re free.”
“I’m homeless, not free. In truth, I’d rather grant wishes. I’m good at it. I live for the reactions. Nothing like making somebody happy!”
“Smoke and mirrors. Isn’t it short-lived? Nothing lasts forever. Or the wish backfires, so I’ve heard! Most of us gotta make our own choices the hard way.”
“Doesn’t make it less exciting. I’m not curing cancer. I make someone’s day. What happens the next day, after they’ve used their three wishes –”
“You mean: ten minutes later.”
“I shouldn’t judge. I’ve had some tough times myself. So, when yee old magic lamp turns out to be a worthless dud, they’ll toss it back in the sea. And you’ll be waiting.”
“I can’t swim. I must have skipped that class in genie school. My point is: the next guy to come along will go through the same routine. Over and over. Get me the lamp, and I’ll grant you three wishes. No rubbing required.”
“I’d rather have cold hard cash, upfront. For all I know, it’s just a run-of-the-mill priceless oil lamp stolen from some museum in Cairo. And you’re late getting it to your fence.”
“Look at me!” said the genie. He sure dressed the part to perfection.
“Fine. How do we get you back inside?”
“Physical contact to six feet away. Believe it or not, it’s the first time this has happened. He meant well, I think.”
“People always mean well,” I said, “until they don’t.”
I made some calls and found where she was berthed. They weren’t unsavory, just roughnecks who’d enjoyed better years. We went for a visit. My new friend waited on shore, out of sight: no reason to advertise the true stakes. I’d heard their lobstering license had expired, but people were looking the other way. I offered sweet money for some off-the-books work, but they suspected I was too good to be true.
“I saw the lamp,” I reported later. “You’ve got classic taste. Looks a little cramped from the outside.”
“I’ve no complaints.”
“Come with me. Stay close. They’ll be shocked out of their socks. By the time they realize you’re who they’re looking for, I rub the thing and smoke descends.”
“There’s no smoke when I re-enter.”
“Why is there smoke when you exit?”
“Pizzazz factor, of course. I have to meet minimal expectations. Otherwise, I’d wear a nice tailored suit with patent leather shoes.”
I felt sorry for the guy. “I know the proprietor of a big-and-tall men’s dress shop. He owes me a favor. It’ll give them time to consider my offer.”
“Not to be ungrateful, but I feel tired and exposed. I’m not usually out this long. I can’t wait. I think I’m dying.”
“The truth is: they’re leaving in the morning. I didn’t want to add to your stress.”
I’ve always had a weakness for underdog supernatural players: victims of circumstance surrounded by an angry mob mentality.
We made our way back to the wharf. “You show up, and we lose all our leverage. I don’t have a good feeling here.”
We paused beside the gangplank, listening to the excited crew: “We could wish for our lobstering license. Or a bigger boat!”
I felt bad. “Finders keepers,” I mumbled to myself.
“Sorry?” asked the genie.
“Listen,” I said. “maybe we’re overthinking it. Let them rub the dingus with you in the room. Give them their wishes. It’s what you do. Then you’re back in action. Isn’t that the goal?”
“Simple and direct. What about you? What do I owe you?”
“That’s where you’re lucky: I’m the only man who’s never had delusions of grandeur. I’m like you: I like what I do, helping little guys out of tough spots. Refer some business my way. That’s payment enough. One thing that’s bothering me, though: If Al’s last wish was to free you…”
“It wasn’t. It was for a mouthful of gold teeth. Tossing the lamp was making sure nobody else could have the same opportunity.”
“I got a wish,” I said. “From now on, everyone makes their wishes on land.”
The genie took my tiny hand between his two giant mitts. “And I wish, Detective, that we meet again, under better circumstances.”