Accountants At Large
"Don't try to screw with me, you little bitch," Travis growled.
"Hey, whoa. There's no need for that. She's just trying to make an honest living, there's no need for that." Oscar had to raise his voice to compensate for the truck rumbling by on the road just behind them.
"The actual per-cup value of that lemonade is seventeen cents. Seventeen. And it's probably," Travis picked up a waxed paper cup, took a sip, and grimaced, "It's watered down. Fifteen-five, and she's trying to sell this swill to us for a dollar a cup!"
"It's not swill," the little girl, Lily, said. Tears started to appear at the corners of her eyes. "I tried really hard."
"See what you've done? She worked really hard on this."
"Then she should be asking for a reasonable margin. Cost plus six hundred and forty percent is unreasonable." Travis seethed, gesticulated harshly at Oscar's chest.
"Think of it this way," Oscar crooned. He held up a hand in a placating manner. "The actual ingredients for a single watered-down cup of lemonade - "
"I followed the directions..." Lily's voice was small, riddled with sobs she tried to hide.
"Shut up, kid. I'm defending you," Oscar spared her a glance, "And much better than you could." He turned back to Travis. " - Costs at most thirteen cents." He picked up a floral-patterned cup, took a sip, and grimaced down at Lily. "Crystal Light? Jesus, kid, you are making this really difficult. You couldn't even spring for Minute Maid?"
"Shut up. Alright. Twelve cents per cup. Add in overhead cost, like the power bill, water bill, and the cost of her labor."
"She's six, how fucking valuable could her time possibly be? And don't factor in power and water like her parents are going to tax her earnings to pay their bills." Travis drained his cup and crushed it. He threw it toward the little trash bin by her table, but missed. He helped himself to another cup. "She may have a shitty father for teaching her about responsible business management and profit margins, but there is no way he's enough of a bastard to charge her utilities."
"Fine, but if this were a legitimate business -"
"If this were a legitimate business I would agree, but this is a lemonade stand."Travis gave the table, and the hand-drawn sign an appraising once-over. "And a shabby one, at that."
Lily's sobs turned into full-blown crying. She put her head down onto the white and yellow checkered table cloth, shoulders shaking.
"The actual value of her product is falling while her cost is rising. Surely you know that. It's hotter out here than the server room at work, and nobody is ever going to buy warm, watered-down lemonade. She is selling with that in mind, to cover her losses."
"She's selling at a six hundred and forty percent profit margin to cover her potential losses." Travis's voice fell flat.
Oscar heaved a heavy sigh and gave a relieved smile. "Precisely."
"Fuck that. I'm leaving you a scathing Yelp! review."
"Daaaaaaaddyyyyyyyyyy," Lily wailed.
Travis jabbed an angry finger at her crayon and posterboard lemonade stand. "This is what you get for swindling the American people."
"What's going on here?" Thomas stepped from his house and raced to his daughter's side.
"Your daughter is - " Travis began, but the narrator cut him off.
"I believe I can be of some use to you," The narrator said with his smooth, silky baritone. Using the voice he had used to seduce countless women, a handful of men, and - on a drunken night backpacking through the UK - several farm animals, the narrator explained the events that had transpired over the course of the previous few minutes.
Travis was not amused at the interruption.
What began as a rant about responsible profit margins and proper parenting turned suddenly toward the narrator, and a brutal and inaccurate review of the narrator's ability to remain impartial in a situation. What a douche, right?
Thomas hugged his daughter, reassuring her that her lemonade was delicious, paying her three dollars for a cup, and drinking it with a smile.
"Nineteen hundred and thirty percent profit," Travis spluttered. "Are you insane? How can you be supporting this?"
Thomas stood, getting right in Travis's face. "Get off my property right now. Never speak to my daughter again."
"He's just playing around," Oscar said, still unwilling to admit that a calm resolution was out of reach. It was, by this point. Far, far out of reach.
"Is that right? Let's see what the police think about his 'playing around' . . . Yes, I'd like to report a disturbance of the peace."
"Jesus, that was quick. What, does he have the police on speed dial?"
"It doesn't take very long to dial 911, Travis. Either that, or that's his Power."
"What," Travis chuckled, "he's super unwilling to handle his own problems?"
Oscar laughed aloud. "Right?"
"You what? Oh. Okay, one second." Thomas took a step closer, holding his phone out with a smug smile on his face. "Police dispatch wants to talk to you."
Travis took the phone, dreading what he knew was coming.
"A lemonade stand? Really?" The woman's voice on the other end of the phone sounded amused, and yet not at all amused. Women, eh?
"She's charging sixty eight cents more than she needs for profitable sustainability." Travis did his best to avoid sounding like he was complaining. He failed. "You shut the hell up, I am sick of your shit."
"What did you say to me?" The police dispatcher shrieked.
"I wasn't talking to you, Ariel, I was talking to the narrator."
"You'd better have been. And I'll tell you what you're going to do, Mr. Responsible Profit Margins, you are going to compensate that poor girl for her pain and suffering, and you are going to pay whatever she wants to charge you for the lemonade you've drank already."
"What pain and suffering? She's six! At most, that's seventeen fifty. Tops."
"And if you want to have sex ever again, then you had better round up on that seventeen fifty." Ariel breathed audibly for a long, otherwise silent moment. Travis cringed, leaning away from the phone as if his girlfriend's arm would any moment reach through the phone and bludgeon him with a stapler or a paperweight. It was beautiful.
In our lives, we don't see justice played out very often. When that dick that was playing a game on his phone sideswipes your car before speeding off, the best you can do is file a police report. When someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store, your utmost is to silently curse them and huff. Other than that, we're pretty helpless, and we know it. In those moments we wish that some mysterious Hand of Justice would stretch forth its hand and mete out some cold retribution on those who have wronged you.
Very rarely, if you stick around on this crazy world of ours, you will see that Hand of Justice act with righteous fury. In those moments, nothing in the world could convince you to look away, or to do anything but to watch in awe of the silent majesty of the moment. This was one of those times, watching Travis flinch away from the phone with every other word.
Uh, sorry about that, the narrator said. I'll try not to monologue too much, going forward. The narrator ended his lengthy aside, turning back to Travis with a satisfied grin on his face.
"And one more thing," Ariel calmly said, having long since run out of steam. "Could you pick up a couple of steaks on the way home tonight? It's my turn to cook, and I want to do something special for you."
"Y-yes, ma'am," Travis stammered, still standing askew.
"Now, tell me you'll behave, and give the phone back to Thomas. I love you."
Travis's whole body uncoiled just a little bit, when Ariel said that last bit. He found that he really didn't care much about preventing that little girl from becoming an amoral corporate giant that looked at the world with dollar signs in her eyes. She loved him, and wanted tonight to be special.
"Yes ma'am," Travis said. He'd almost called her mistress. He would never admit it, but it's true. He handed the phone back to Thomas, who immediately demanded details from Ariel, the police dispatcher. Nobody paid further attention to him; his part in their day had come to an end.
Oscar put a hand on his friend's shoulder and nodded his head up the sidewalk. "I think it's about time we got back, huh?"
With a grin and a flick of his wrist, Travis's wallet appeared in his hand and flicked open. That had always made him feel like a gunslinger, squaring off against some foe. Only his bullets were dollars. It's 2015, who uses bullets anymore?
Both men dug random bills from between receipts in their wallets, slid the bills across the table to the red-faced, puffy, weepy six-year-old, and walked away, leaving one hundred and fifty dollars behind.
For three cups of watered-down lemonade.
If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, give us a share!