Mail-Order Millionaire

By: Carol Grace

Disgusted with herself for daydreaming, she turned on her answering machine at precisely five o’clock and went to get her jacket. Maybe Ariel was right, maybe she did need to get out and meet people. But what people? She already knew everyone in town. On the way home she prayed for cold weather, cold enough to make the sap run so she could make a living selling syrup and she’d never have to deal with irate customers or work for anyone again.

A hundred and twenty miles to the northeast, Max Carter scanned the sky from the weather station on top of Mount Henry. The wind blew across the rooftop observation deck, nowhere near the record two hundred and thirty miles per hour, but strong enough to knock all six feet three inches of him down to his knees as he tried to read the barometer. He picked himself up and braced his hands against the railing. This wouldn’t have happened if he’d had his new boots with the rubber chain-tread outsole on.

Ice built up on his goggles until he could hardly see. He couldn’t blame that on Miranda Morrison of Green Mountain Merchants, but just about everything else he could. He couldn’t stay outside long enough to take accurate readings, that was her fault. He couldn’t walk without sliding in the snow, that was her fault. And he couldn’t concentrate on fixing the broken psychometric calculator, that was definitely her fault. He stomped inside the observatory, removed three outer layers of clothes and hung them to dry next to the stove.

Of course, it might help his concentration to put away the Green Mountain Merchants catalog, or at least turn the page so he wouldn’t have to look at her picture anymore. He had to admit, it surprised him. Talking to her, he’d expected a little pinched face with rimless glasses and hair pulled tight in a bun. But she looked like an advertisement for health food instead of long underwear. He sat in his swivel chair, propped his stocking-clad feet on his desk between his computer and the shortwave radio and looked at her picture again.

Blond hair in a...what did they call it...a French braid? Wide brown eyes and pink cheeks. Not a trace of makeup, as if she’d just gotten up or was just going to bed. The long johns weren’t sexy, but she sure was, with high, full breasts, a narrow waist and long slender legs.

Dream on, he told himself. You picked the wrong kind of job for that kind of woman. Or any kind. Women liked to have their men around, not just half time, but all the time. Otherwise they got lonely and started looking around. You couldn’t blame them for that. He had once, but not anymore.

He hoped the weather would clear tomorrow so Fred could get up the road in the Sno-Cat. Not only would he bring the boots, but he’d also bring fresh food. That’s what he needed, hush puppies and crab cakes, not a call from a cool, unfeeling clerk with the face of an angel and the body of Venus in long underwear.

The next morning he ate the last of his bacon for breakfast. He called Fred at noon after a long morning trying to track the altocumulus clouds that were breaking up. “Mail come yet?”

“Yep. You got a bill from Green Mountain Merchants.”

“A bill?” He felt the back of his neck burn. “Is that all?”

“Nope. You got a postcard from Florida, want me to read it?”

“No, thanks. Is that all?”

“That’s it.”

“Looks like it’s going to clear today. What time are you coming up?”

“ ‘Bout three, I guess, unless I hear from Ellie. The baby isn’t due for another week, but you never know. You sure about the weather? Because I wouldn’t want to get stuck up there.”

“No guarantees, but it looks good right now. Don’t forget the box of food from New Orleans labeled Perishable.”

“The UPS people put it right in the tractor.”

Max hung up and dialed again. It was just past twelve. She’d probably be at lunch. She’d probably be at lunch for hours, knowing her. Not that he knew her very well, just well enough to know she didn’t take missing packages seriously. He braced himself for a recording. After an eternity a human voice answered, but it wasn’t hers. He was momentarily speechless. Should he explain the situation to this person, or should he ask for Ms. Morrison, or should he hang up and try again? He opened his mouth. “This is Maxwell Carter—”

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