I sat across the table from Les. We regarded each other with solemn expressions, each putting on our best poker face.
Desperation had brought me here. I was hard-up for cash, willing to part with one of my rarest and most prized possessions.
Like me, Les is in his mid-twenties. We grew up together, but we couldn’t have looked less alike. Les is tall, stout, with a full head of hair. You can tell it wasn’t so long ago he was playing on the high school football team. Me, I’m wiry, short and balding, and still look like a geek.
That day I was decked out in my customary jeans and a t-shirt; Les, just getting home from the office, wore a suit and tie.
As much as this sacrifice I was about to make would pain me, I had come to his house to conduct the transaction.
I took the item from my knapsack, and — with no small amount of hesitation — pushed it across the table.
“There he is,” I said. “Han Solo, with the small head, in mint package.”
Les regarded it appraisingly. Then he reached into a box on the chair next to his and pulled out two figures, likewise still on their original cardboard backings.
“Dan,” he said, “I’ve got a first Luke Skywalker here, and Jedi series Boba Fett. Both of ’em, straight across. That’s a helluva trade.”
“No can do, Les,” I replied. “The only reason I’m parting with him is because I need the money. Three hundred bucks. That’s almost half the current price guide value.”
Les regarded me for a moment, then cracked a smile. “You’re right. It’s a deal I can’t pass up. I just hope Kate doesn’t freak!”
Kate is Les’s wife. She generally tolerates his collecting, since he makes good money and can afford the hobby.
“A toast?” he asked. “I’m gonna pour a scotch to celebrate the new acquisition.”
“Sure,” I said. “I could use one too.”
I followed him into the kitchen, and we lingered there a few minutes, caught up in a heated debate over whether Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon would have made a better Anakin Skywalker.
When we wandered back into the dining room, we weren’t prepared for the sight awaiting us.
Les froze. I bumped into him and nearly spilled my scotch.
Les could not even utter a word for a moment. He merely stood gaping. His six-year-old son was sitting at the table, clutching Han in one hand, Boba Fett and Luke in the other. Their packages were ripped open on the table. Tommy’s cheerful expression quickly melted when he looked up and saw his daddy’s face.
“Go to your room,” Les said, strangely calm.
He only had to say it once. Tommy dropped the collectibles like they were hot coals and scampered down the hall. Before he reached his bedroom door, he had burst into tears.
Shoulders slumped, Les slowly walked to the table and collapsed into the chair. He looked like a Wall Street investor who’d just learned the market crashed.
I took my seat across from him, saying nothing. I just shook my head and sipped my scotch.
After a few tense moments, Les looked up at me, frowning.
“Y’know,” he said, “maybe we ought to call the deal off. We never officially shook on it.”
I laughed, weakly. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. He’d always been good at dead-panning, but maybe he’d really flipped out over this. Were we going to get into a dispute over something his kid did?
Les stared intently at me for several ticks of the wall clock.
Then he picked up Han Solo.
“Give me back the money,” he said in a menacing voice, “or I will freeze Han in carbonite.” He dangled Han over his glass, then he began lowering the figure into the scotch.
I watched my old friend in bewilderment. I was really wondering if he’d gone off the deep end.
On a whim, I snatched up Luke Skywalker and exclaimed, “Unhand him, emissary of the Dark Side!”
Les grabbed Boba Fett. “Not until I collect the bounty on his head from Jabba. No whiny Jedi wannabe is going to stop me!”
Then they clashed, those 3.75-inch-tall action figures. We provided the crude sounds of lightsabers and laser guns. I almost knocked over Les’s scotch.
Suddenly Les stopped. He was staring over my shoulder. I swiveled in my chair.
Tommy stood in the hallway, observing us with bemusement.
“Go back to your room, Tommy,” Les said, “and bring out some of your new Star Wars figures.”
Tommy spun around and dashed away on his errand.
“You mean you don’t want to open up some more of your first series figures?” I asked.
“Very funny. Hey, by the way, if that isn’t enough to get you by until next week, just let me know. I can float you some cash. I’m, uh, also now in the market for a mint Luke and Jedi Boba Fett.”
“Thanks, Les. I could maybe part with Luke. I’d rather do that than be in debt, you know…”
Tommy raced into the room with an armful of action figures, dumping them onto the table.
“Wow.” I picked up Admiral Ackbar and examined him. “These new figures are more detailed than ours were.”
For the next half-hour, the three of us played, until my cell phone rang: It was my wife, wondering where the hell I was at.
I put away the phone and gave Les a wry smile. “Sorry, guys, gotta go. I just got called home for dinner.”
Nicholas Ozment teaches English at Winona State University. This is his fifth story for Every Day Fiction.