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Instant Gold

In 1933 FDR took America off the gold standard and locked the price at $35 per ounce. At that time the government forbade private citizens from owning any bulk gold, beyond the jewelry they wore.

Should anyone come into possession of any gold, via prospecting or other means, they are required to sell it to the nearest bank or Federal Reserve immediately, at the earliest possible time. Failure to do so would result in a rather lengthy prison term.

Our story takes place in 1964 when gold bullion was still illegal to own.

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Early one foggy November morning a small shop opens for business in the fashionable shopping district of downtown San Francisco. Showcased in their window is the one thing they sell. A small, nondescript can with simple lettering. Etched clearly on the plate glass window was...

instant gold

A mysterious salesman opens shop selling "instant gold," a fine gray powder that isn't gold, but when mixed with equal parts of common sea water, and left to sit for one hour, miraculously transforms into solid 24-karat gold -- and now everyone wants a piece of the action. From common citizens, to big business, to the mob wants to get it, control it, and make a quick fortune from it. The government scrambles to control it while the public lines up wanting their eight ounces of fine gray powder and eight ounces of sea water to turn into one pound of solid gold, earning them a hefty $60 an hour profit -- which, in 1964, was a small fortune!

Could it be real?  Could the age-old alchemy dream of creating gold have come true at last?  And who are the mysterious inventors of this wondrous concoction? The world needs to know!

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Instant Gold is a modern day fairy tale that satirizes human greed and lays bare the whole paradox of free enterprise capitalism, all the while thumbing a symbolic nose at big government.

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Frank O'Rourke

1916-1989

In a career spanning four decades, Frank O'Rourke published more than sixty works of fiction. The versatility which became a hallmark of O'Rourke's writing was demonstrated in more than one hundred short stories which appeared during the 1940s and '50s in The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Ladies Home Journal, and Esquire.

From 1948 to 1956, O'Rourke published seven sports novels, two mysteries, one under the pseudonym Frank O'Malley, and industrial novel, and twenty westerns. Since the early westerns were continually reprinted, O'Rourke was generally categorized as a western writer. He wrote several contemporary satires on modern society's worship of money including Instant Gold in 1964.

In 1988, in his early seventies, O'Rourke began to write children's books. There stories are an expression of rare strength, an imagination as fresh in the last years as it had been in the beginning years. It's all the more remarkable when one considers that during the twenty years from 1969 to 1989, he was struggling with bronchial asthma, and was treated by doctors who prescribed the steroid drug prednisone; they neither monitored nor limited the amount. As a result, the long-term use and large amounts slowly destroyed his body. And on April 27, 1989, after finishing a final story, he ended his own life by gunshot.

"As I remember him, he was one of the most engaging, energetic, and alove people I ever met. To try to think along with him, or to follow him through a conversation, about anything, was like trying to flap your arms and fly behind a rocket borne for the edge of the universe." —Carroll Ballard, director of The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home.

Reviews

This is the hilarious story of how a chemical discovery upset the whole financial balance of the world. The first hint was in the discreet name of the shop: Instant Gold. The salesman claimed that if you added sea water to the powder in the can you would get gold. The can cost $500--the gold was worth $560. Nobody believed him at first, and it was a professional doubter, testing in order to expose, who found out the incredible truth: the claim was one hundred per cent accurate!

As the word got round, potential buyers lined up outside the shop, and then outside the tens of others that opened up all over the city. Government officials went crazy trying to prevent sales. Nobody understood what the people behind Instant Gold wanted: the method of distribution puzzled the business tycoons who realized that more profit could be made out of sales in bulk. And other nations of the world clamored for an allocation of the powdered wealth.

As the story develops, the reader gets more and more fun out of the situation, for how many of us do not get a laugh out of bureaucracy confused? But the best jokes of all are saved for the end, when, with a satiric scalpel, the author lays bare the whole paradox of free enterprise capitalism. Your money will never be the same again!

Tom Boardman, Jr.

When Adrian Ericson opened a small elegant shop in a trendy area of San Francisco, his neighbors, Sweater, Books, and Tea, were immediately curious. All Adrian had in the window was a small can and the words "Instant Gold" gracefully etched in the window. It appeared he'd spared no expensive in renovating the small shop. The three shop owners visited Adrian trying to discover what he was selling. Perhaps they were concerned that he would be competition.

Soon Mr. Sweater, Mr. Books and Mrs. Tea call in "experts" to determine if "Instant Gold" is real. Then the Feds become involved, as did the mob. Could "Instant Gold" work? Could it be illegal to sell? Could it be a scam? The answer to all these questions seems to lie in the answer to a different question, "Who is Adrian Ericson?"

Most people are looking for an easy way to "get rich quick." The lottery is only one example of our greed. If we each pay one dollar for a ticket perhaps we will be the one that wins the prize. "Instant Gold" by Frank O'Rourke is a fairy tale. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite movies/fairy tales, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Greed is rampant; everyone wants a "Golden Ticket," even Charlie who lives in extreme poverty. His family draws hope from a "Golden Ticket." Mr. O'Rourke is very talented and has a fascinating way of showing readers how greed affects each person. He shows readers how we are our own worst enemies and are willing to believe in anything, snatching hope from anywhere. I was reminded of a recent weight-loss ad, "This is not for you if you only need to lose a small amount of weight." Of course the company was betting on people rushing out to buy their product. Can we be so gullible that we will buy anything? This book really made me stop and think. I will also hesitate before I invest money in the next weight loss or get rich scheme that comes along. I highly recommend "Instant Gold."

Debra Gaynor -- Reader Views


I first read this back in the 1960's when I stole the book from my older brother. Then came a career in economics and finance, with an occasional reread of this wonderful book to regain my perspective. I was amazed to see that this is still available. It is a book of dry wit and humor that should be better known. I recommend it highly. Get the hardcover. Mine is black with discrete gold letters.

Susan Feinberg -- Amazon Reviews


Classic old sci-fi from a writer of cowboy stories. The storyline is great, though the characters are a bit overblown and overly competent. That said, I would like the recipe for the instant-gold-in-a-can please.

Phillip Armour "malicorneus" -- Amazon Reviews


So glad to see this republished. Read this many years ago and then lost it in a move. Highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Funny and painlessly educational.

Elizon -- Amazon Reviews


Originally my older brother's book, I read it many times until it was given away by our parents when we moved. I searched for a copy for many years without success, hoping to share with my own children. This simple little book presents an overview of economics, capitalism, politics and how they all intertwine, in a sassy story understandable by younger readers. They will find the characters strange and dated, but the message is timeless and the writing entertaining. I am buying another copy today to share with my grown son, an economist working for the US government! Maybe I had better buy two copies - I'm not likely to get one back.

Marsha D. Benshir "DrMom" -- Amazon Reviews


I'm thrilled to find this old favorite on Amazon. It was out of print for decades. Now Amazon carries a new edition, but for sentimental reasons, I prefer this old edition with the original jacket. I discovered it back in 1967, as a teenager on my first job as an assistant at the local branch library. My taste in books was adult then, and I relished this story of three eccentrics who come out of nowhere to sell Instant Gold. The effects on the government, free enterprise, and the global economy are amusing, to say the least. This short novel has a little romance, a little mystery, and lots of dry wit. Treat yourself to it! Enjoy!

A2girlon -- Amazon Reviews
Excerpt

Chapter 1

One foggy Monday morning in November the proprietors of three shops-books, tea, and sweaters-on Billman Place, a cul-de-sac lane off Grant Avenue between Post and Sutter streets in the fashionable downtown San Francisco shopping district, discovered that the vacant shop previously occupied by an art gallery had been renovated over the week end. Number 16 Billman Place was a tiny jewel box twelve feet wide and twenty-four deep, with a rear staircase ascending to the storage loft and quarter bath. The window formerly showcasing objets d'art was now backdropped in royal-blue velvet which framed a sixteen-inch shadowbox of polished walnut containing one small yellow can. Discreet lower-case lettering etched upon the plate glass stated simply: instant gold.

"Instant gold?" said Sweaters.

"How mysterious," Tea cried.

"We want no pitchmen on Billman Place," Books said. "This bears investigation."

And led his neighbors into the shop. Accustomed to bare floor, walls of action painting, and the pervasive odor of oil and incipient bankruptcy, they sank sole-deep into lovely gray carpeting and were soothed by walls newly papered in rich blue. The anterior part of the room offered four large leather chairs and a teakwood coffee table laid with Steuben ash trays, Kreisler lighter, and fresh magazines. Across the rear was an austere ten-foot walnut desk, shining bare but for a black marble pen set, one bud vase stemming one red rose, and behind the desk, a high-backed leather chair. In the chair was a man who rose smiling and greeted them in a soft, deep voice.

"Good morning, madam, gentlemen."

Tea giggled nervously. This was no pitchman.

He was a compact young man whose short-cut yellow hair and heavy buff brows accentuated warm blue eyes and a high-prowed nose that swept downward through generously scalloped wings into a wide, firm mouth and strong, square jaw. He wore a dark blue suit of unfinished worsted with muted stripings over a blue English cotton broadcloth shirt and a vest securing a hand-blocked maroon tie of Maddar silk. Sweaters could not see his feet but presumed (correctly) that he wore navy Scotch wool hose and Peal & Co. straight-tipped black calfskin oxfords.

"You are my new neighbors?" he asked.

Books said, "We are."

"My name is Adrian Ericson," he said. "Will you have coffee?"

He extended a large, strong hand that engulfed Books and Sweaters, and lingered intimately on Tea's slender fingers for the polite interval of three seconds. He repeated their names resonantly, emphasizing the vowels with the solicitude of a man respectful of others' only lifelong attribute.

He waved them into the leather chairs and brought an English silver service and handsome hunt cups from the buffet built into the staircase.

"Sugar?" he invited. "Cream? I am delighted you stopped by on my first morning in trade. Do you approve the shop?"

"Yes," said Sweaters.

Tea sighed, "Divine!"

"Instant gold?" Books said. "You have me stumped, Mr. Ericson."

"But it is so simple," Adrian Ericson said. "Allow me-"

He stepped behind the desk and returned with a duplicate of the small yellow can in the window.

"A can?" said Sweaters.

"A serviceable can of tin alloy," Adrian Ericson said. "Quite similar to the ordinary one-pound coffee can. As you see, it is sealed in the same vacuum-packed fashion and is opened with the key attached to the bottom. Directions are printed on this side."

"May I?" Books asked.

"Please do."

Books hefted the can gingerly. "Light."

"The contents displace eight ounces."

Books nosed his reading glasses and read the directions aloud: "Open can with key. Pour eight ounces sea water into can, mix thoroughly with small spatula or tablespoon. Replace lid tightly, store in cool, dark place one hour. Open and use" -Books glared- "use for what?"

"At the discretion of the purchaser," Adrian Ericson said. "It is a universal substance."

"Do you mean," said Sweaters, "that you have something in this can to which you add sea water, mix, store one hour, and get-oh please, Mr. Ericson!"

Adrian Ericson said, "Yes."

"Impossible," Books said. "Utterly impossible!"

Sweaters took the can from Books and shook it gently. "I hear something."

"A susurration," Adrian Ericson said. "It is a fine powder."

"Mr. Ericson," Books said. "Surely this must be a practical joke."

"Practical, yes," Adrian Ericson said. "Not a joke, I assure you."

"Am I to believe," Books said, "that you have leased, redecorated, refurnished, and opened this shop, in this district, for the alleged purpose of selling something you call instant gold, a substance you claim becomes real gold by adding sea water and storing one hour in a dark, cool place?"

"Yes."

"And what," Books continued relentlessly, "are you retailing this-this can for?"

"Five hundred."

"Five hundred dollars!"

"We deem it a fair and equitable price," Adrian Ericson said. "Study of current prices will bear me out."

"Now wait," Books said. He was an avid reader and, encouraged by a specific friend, had delved considerably into the study of minerals. "Gold is pegged at thirty-five dollars an ounce."

"It is."

"And sixteen ounces-one pound-of gold is worth five hundred and sixty dollars."

"Yes."

Books stared. "If I am to believe you, the customer may purchase and mix a pound of gold for an outlay of five hundred dollars, then resell for a sixty-dollar profit?"

"Quite correct," Adrian Ericson said. "We are content with a fair return. The purchaser thus benefits, if he so chooses."

"And you will sell to anyone?"

"Yes, with prudent reservations. I refer to the mentally incompetent, the odd drunkard, and children."

"But this is impossible!" Books said. "Man has tried for centuries to-no, it can't be done!" And remembering, "Gold! Federal law! All gold must be sold to legally designated agencies. You cannot sell gold over the counter to the general public."

"We are not selling gold," Adrian Ericson said gently. "We are selling instant gold. Our own product, our own trade name. More coffee?"

"Thank you," said Sweaters weakly.

"Please," Tea smiled.

Books said, "Trade name?"

"Yes," Adrian Ericson said, pouring. "The problem of product name gave us many weeks of thought. In final summation, civilization itself determined the choice. Our modern age demands modern terminology; we were inexorably drawn to the infinite variety of trade names instantly and favorably identified with a host of worthy products-instant bread, biscuits, cake, pie, cement, soup, soap, all the riches of the earth. We perceived that instant gold was the only possible trade name. As you so aptly pointed out, gold per se is legally entangled by a web of laws that makes its sale to the layman absolutely illegal. But we are not retailing gold. You appreciate the technicality, the fine point-of course you do."

"Instant gold?" Books said. "Gold? One is not, one is."

"Precisely."

"You've got a legal opinion?"

"Yes."

"Based on precedent?"

"There is no precedent."

"My God!" Books said. "There can't be, of course not. Just supposing-mind you, just supposing-I buy a can, mix, and take the result to the Federal Reserve on Sansome. Will they buy it?"

"They must," Adrian Ericson said. "They are enjoined by law to purchase."

"But wait-instant gold! Let me understand you. I mix, I store. Then I have sixteen ounces of-?"

"Yes."

"Pure?"

"Oh no," Adrian Ericson said. "Metallurgy has not yet solved that final challenge. The manufacture of perfectly pure metals has not been attained. The so-called commercially pure metals contain tiny but significant impurities. 'Pure' gold contains as much as four-tenths of a percentage point of copper, plus other substances. However, according to all standards, you will have sixteen ounces of twenty-four-carat fine, acceptable to all authorized agencies."

Books gulped. "Thank you for coffee, Mr. Ericson."

"You are welcome," Adrian Ericson said. "Immediately I have affairs running smoothly, I will visit your establishments."

And rising, he ushered them to the door, bid them good morning, and closed it softly. They stood in a runner of sunshine cast earthward between the tall buildings; it was proper the sunbeam bathed them in a yellow glow. Books shook himself like a shaggy old hearth dog given one forgotten whiff of wildness from his ancient past.

"I'm sane," he said. "In good health, breathing familiar air. I'm not dreaming, I haven't stepped through a crack into some fiendish fourth dimension. And yet! You saw him, you heard him. We know what that shop leases for, we saw the furnishings, the remodeling, cost a pretty penny-and him, we saw him!"

"So young," Tea said. "So handsome!"

"He talks a blue streak," said Sweaters.

Tea sighed. "Like poetry."

Books pondered. "If he was about to pull some new variation of con, gold brick, or what-have-you, would he invest several thousand dollars? It takes time to catch a sucker and recover that much investment. No, it doesn't make sense. I must be crazy."

"Sixty-dollar profit margin," said Sweaters.

"Stop it," Books said sternly. "I'll not have you swallowing a fairy tale until I investigate it thoroughly."

"Don't worry," said Sweaters. "I wasn't."

"But he is so handsome," Tea said. "How could he be dishonest?"

"Harrumph!" Books snorted.

"What are you going to do?" asked Sweaters.

"Never mind," Books said. "We'll soon get to the bottom of his scheme."

And bidding them good morning, he hurried through his shop to the telephone and dialed a Palo Alto number. "Hello," he said. "Dr. Dibblekorn."

"One moment, please-" and soon came the voice of his old friend, the eminent scientist "-yes, yes?"

"Henry," Books said. "I've got to see you."

"I'm busy," Dibblekorn said. "Extremely busy."

"Tonight!" Books said. "Don't ask questions, this is beyond belief-"

As Books talked, Adrian Ericson was making a phone call to a Ross number in Marin County.

"Adrian here," he said. "We are launched, Oscar."

"They called?"

"Yes," Adrian said. "He reacted violently. I've no doubt he is phoning the good doctor this very moment."

"It begins," Oscar said. "As all works of genius, in obscurity, with immodest modesty. Will you be home on time?"

"Barring premature development."

"Drive carefully," Oscar said. "Watch that bridge traffic."

"I will," Adrian said. "Goodbye, Oscar."

Replacing the phone, Adrian ascended the stairs to the storage loft. Removing his coat and rolling his sleeves, he took a clipboard from the adjacent stack of cardboard boxes and continued his stock invoice. The loft was filled with boxes containing eight thousand yellow cans, packed two dozen to the box. Adrian finished his count, put on his coat, and descended. He made a fresh pot of coffee and settled back with the latest issue of Scientific American. He passed a quiet morning, undisturbed by customers; at twelve o'clock he donned a light gray topcoat and gray small shape felt, locked the front door, and walked via Post Street, Union Square, and Geary Street to lunch at O'Doul's. He took roast beef rare, green salad, and custard, and ate in a booth beneath the assorted portraits of sinewy baseball players, posed forever young and omnipotent on their fields of honor. He returned to the shop at one o'clock and spent the afternoon reading; at four he snapped certain switches concealed within the desk and departed. He went up Post to Mason and down to the O'Farrell parking garage. He drove a yellow Ford sedan to Van Ness and hence by Lombard into the Golden Gate Bridge traffic; crossing the Gate, Adrian drove swiftly through Marin County to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard turnoff, followed that artery into Ross, and moved sedately south on tree-lined avenues to Number 716 Upper Road where he garaged the sedan and entered the house. Exquisite odors quivered his nostrils; and the concocter of those smells shouted a greeting from the kitchen.

"Good evening, Adrian!"

"Hail, Great Chief!"

Oscar Pitchfork appeared, apron snug across his capacious stomach, brown face glistening with stove heat. Oscar was a man of huge parts, so deep of chest and stout of thigh that his stomach, rather than offending, seemed the only appropriate size for such a gargantuan frame. His coal-black hair shocked thickly over his great head from low widow's peak to the nape of his size-twenty white shirt collar. He wore white Taos moccasins, charcoal wide-walled corduroy trousers, and a red-black-checked Pendleton shirt.

"Any more customers?" he asked.

"None."

"Good," Oscar said. "Slow but sure. Hungry?"

"Starved."

"We are having roulade of beef," Oscar said. "Tiny onions, braised asparagus tips, and a nice Krug cabernet. I'll give you thirty minutes to bathe."

Adrian laughed and went upstairs on the run. Undressing, drawing his bath, he glanced downward into the backyard at pool, trees, and twelve-foot wall festooned with ivy. Oscar had spent six weeks ferreting out a house in this unchanged, very private residential area. San Francisco was a splendid place to dwell but its exits were limited and easily corked; in Ross one enjoyed a wider choice of routes. Adrian again commended Oscar's infallible taste.

Chapter 2

At nine-fifteen on Tuesday morning Dr. Henry Dalton Dibblekorn, carrying an equipment case, strode regally into Billman Place and entered the bookshop. Dr. Dibblekorn was lean and cantle-cheeked and fiery-eyed; his red squirrel hair was barbered cleverly rampant to intensify the nonconformist swash of unpressed tweeds, rumpled shirt, and scuffed shoes. Dr. Dibblekorn entertained, by deliberate dress and toilet, the illusion of dedicated genius. Impressionable people with birdseed craniums saw in him the wunderkind who vaulted Olympian peaks of scientific impossibility with casual disregard for gravity; even among his close friends—laymen all, and not by accident—he maintained his aura of invincibility. In the scraggy flesh he was a journeyman scientist who labored expertly over the bottle racks, centrifuges, and sinks, mixing and testing and bottling the rare vintages brewed by others. Dibblekorn was that breed of egoist who forever seized opportunity by the hindlock and shook forth great volumes of afterfact. Where Langmuir filled a tungsten globe and solved the mystery of the shortlived wires, ignoring the jibes of wiser peers, Dibblekorn would have pumped, and pumped, and pumped, until he vanished incandescent within his own vacuum. He would have chased Rutherford’s atom that radiated continuous light eons after Planck proved the theory of finite quanta bundles. He was, in short and long, a frustrated but ever hopeful graph-filler who shared in many triumphs and never scored the signal victory. He yearned for fame and fortune, but his chance of traveling to Stockholm was nil. His secret desire was to gain appointment as chief of research in a corporation laboratory where he could evolve new formulas and thus accumulate his fair share of patent monies. To attain this goal he courted recognition, publicity, exploitation; small wonder on the evening just passed, entering Books’ apartment, he heard the tale and came quivering to point.

“Poppycock!” he said. “Can’t be done.”

Books said, “Are you sure?”

“From your description,” Dibblekorn said, “it smacks of transmutation. Impossible—oh, I grant you, they changed platinum into gold in Lawrence’s cyclotron back in ‘36, but that experiment had no practical value.”

“I knew it!” Books said. “The man is a crook. I’ll call—”

“Wait!”

The fairy step of providence echoed in Dibblekorn’s ear. The scoundrel must be exposed, yes, but in a fashion shaped to certain requisites. Dibblekorn mentally listed the puissant telephone numbers: Better Business Bureau, Police Department, FBI, Treasury, Federal Reserve, newspapers, television stations, radio stations, and Herb Caen. He could see the headlines, Eminent Scientist Exposes Latest Con Game. He would wear his baggiest suit and stringiest tie, be humble and succinct during the television interviews, but replete unto two columns with the press.

“Wait,” he repeated. “This is how we will manage it—”

Now, on Tuesday morning, he followed Books through the shop to the office where a roomful of gentlemen greeted him with ego-satisfying respect. They were gathered in answer to Books’ early morning calls, and they listened raptly as Dr. Dibblekorn reviewed the situation in complete detail.

“Has Ericson arrived?” he concluded.

“Yes,” said Federal Reserve.

“You have the proper warrants?”

Police and Treasury nodded.

“Are you gentlemen arranged?”

FBI said, “We are, Doctor,” and sketched the tactical deployment. Immediately following his dawn conversation with Books, FBI, with customary thoroughness, be it mouse or mountain, had secured blueprints of the office building housing Number 16. All entrances and exits were certified; men were stationed in Tea and Sweaters, on the street, in radio cars.

“How shall we play this, Doctor?” FBI finished.

Dibblekorn opened his wallet and removed five bank notes. “As I suggested, by making a purchase, thus placing him liable to various charges. Correct?”

“Check,” FBI said. “Are those bills marked?”

“They are,” Dibblekorn said, “and here are the serial numbers. You are witness, gentlemen. I now hand the marked bills to my friend” —he gave the bills to Books— “who will go to Number 16 and buy one can of instant gold. I have brought testing equipment. Within one hour, we shall have our proof.”

“Good,” FBI said. “Stations, please!”

Another man telephoned Tea and Sweaters to warn those watchers; yet another departed to alert the street guards and mobile units. The full might of federal, state, and local authority glowered across the worn bricks of Billman Place at Number 16. What could one mite do against the mighty?

“Ready, Doctor,” FBI called from a window.

Dibblekorn walked Books to the front door and patted his shoulder.

“Be calm,” he said, “but eager.”

Books nodded grimly and sallied forth. He crossed to Number 16, entered, and approached the desk where the unsuspecting Adrian Ericson rose in delighted welcome.

“Good morning,” Books said. “About your—” his lips silently formed the magic words.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking about it all night,” Books said. “I’d like to try a can.”

“Congratulations,” Adrian said. “Do you know, you are our first customer.”

He reached beneath the desk and presented a yellow can to Books.

“Five hundred dollars?” Books asked.

“Yes.”

“And the tax?”

“We absorb the tax,” Adrian said gravely.

He accepted the bills, placed them in a drawer, and came around the desk to escort Books to the door.

“By the way,” Books said. “What are your store hours?”

“Nine to twelve,” Adrian said. “One to four. Mondays through Fridays inclusive.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Adrian smiled. “Good day, and please follow the directions.”

“I will,” Books said. “I will!”

He forced himself to walk slowly to his shop; once inside he bolted for the office with Dibblekorn and the others in hot pursuit. Dibblekorn took the can from Books’ trembling fingers and read the directions aloud for all to hear. Their reactions were explosive.

“Instant gold!” Treasury snorted.

“Add sea water!” said Federal Reserve.

One reporter said, “This is supposed to make gold?”

“Mr. Ericson is an alchemist,” Dibblekorn laughed. “He would have you believe he has succeeded where thousands failed.”

He wrenched loose the key, wound the seal strip off—air escaped with an audible hiss—and removed the lid. All crowded inward to stare.

Treasury sniffed the contents. Dibblekorn took a pinch of the powder between thumb and forefinger.

“Very fine,” he observed.

Federal Reserve said, “What color do you make it?”

“Brown,” Treasury said. “No, it isn’t.”

“Gray?”

“No,” Dibblekorn said. “Neutral. Strange, very strange. Let us proceed.”

He hoisted his equipment case onto the desk and opened the lid. He set out a measuring scale, uncapped the flask of sea water he had dipped from the Half Moon Bay surf early that morning, and commenced. He poured exactly eight ounces of sea water into the can and stirred with a small spatula. Water and powder blended evenly into a fluid mud. Dibblekorn cleaned the spatula, replaced the lid, and carried the can to a dark corner shelf.

“Is that necessary?” Treasury asked. “We know the man’s a faker.”

“Absolutely essential,” Dibblekorn said. “Bear witness, gentlemen. We have followed the written directions to the letter. We have fulfilled every proposition. These scoundrels are famous for leaping through the smallest legal loophole when brought to trial. We will leave him none. In one hour’s time we shall prove what I already know: Ericson is a charlatan.”

The reporters gathered round and peppered Dibblekorn with questions. He spoke expansively, holding the floor with great good will and erudition.

* * * *

Adrian had opened his shop some twenty minutes before nine o’clock that morning; from a pin-sized aperture in his window, he watched Sweaters, Tea, and Books arrive and prepare for business. He saw the innocent infiltration of supposed customers who disappeared into the three shops. At nine o’clock he saw the coming of Dr. Dibblekorn and compared the corporeal figure with a photograph in his hand. “Welcome,” Adrian said happily, and hastened to the phone. He called the Ross number and said, “It has begun, Oscar. Dibblekorn just arrived. I expect my first customer within minutes.”

“Alone?” Oscar asked.

“No, he was preceded by others.”

“Official look?”

“Exceedingly,” Adrian said. “Excuse me, here he is.”

Adrian put down the phone and greeted Books, sold him one can of instant gold, saw him to the door, and marked the time: nine-thirty. Revelation (and extreme unction, should a weak heart be present) would occur at approximately ten-thirty.

“Twenty-two of eleven,” reminded Treasury. “Correct,” Dibblekorn said. “Now, gentlemen!”

He brought the can from the shelf, placed it on the desk, and removed the lid. Heads formed a tight circle of prayerful bent. Squeezed outside, Books stood on tiptoe in a frenzy of curiosity. Then, from the circle, came the strangulated voice of Dibblekorn.

“What—!”

“Henry,” Books gasped. “Henry!”

“It hardened,” said Federal Reserve.

“It feels like—” Treasury began.

Federal Reserve half screeched, “It looks like!”

FBI said sharply, “What is it?”

Dibblekorn snatched the small mass of dull yellow metal from Treasury’s hand; from his equipment case came various tools, instruments, and chemicals, those common agents used to test the authenticity of gold. Books was familiar with the tests. He wormed into the circle and watched as one, and then another, produced identical results.

“Henry,” Books ventured timidly. “That’s gold.”

“Haurrgh!” Dibblekorn growled.

“Is this possible?” said Federal Reserve.

“You saw the tests,” Treasury said. “They can’t lie.”

“Doctor,” FBI said. “What goes on here?”

Dibblekorn unleashed a monstrous barrage of technical jargon, tongue tripping over teeth, mouth salivating, jaw flapping wildly as he half-shouted the absolute physical and chemical laws that made this lump of metal an impossibility. The lump, being inarticulate, could not defend its properties, but merely lay inert, silently reflecting proof.

“Have you finished testing?” FBI asked.

Dibblekorn groaned.

“Do we take him?” FBI persisted.

Treasury looked up blankly. “No.”

“No,” echoed Federal Reserve. “We must continue.”

“We must,” Treasury agreed.

FBI said, “Continue what?”

“Further tests,” Dibblekorn said hoarsely. “Only one way to prove—”

“Prove what?”

“This!” Dibblekorn waved the lump.

“Am I to understand,” FBI said, “that this lump is gold?”

“No,” Dibblekorn said. “Yes—please, give us time!”

“All I want is a clear statement,” FBI said. “You want us to hold off?”

“Yes,” babbled Federal Reserve. “Hold off, watch him, we’ll be back!”

Federal Reserve, Treasury, and Dibblekorn bolted from the shop, heading for Sansome and Sacramento streets, where the Federal Reserve bastion of metallic purity squatted foursquare, serving the Republic.