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He had gone barely half a mile when he met a lame Fox and a blind Cat, walking together like two good friends. The lame Fox leaned on the Cat, and the blind Cat let the Fox lead him along.

“Good morning, Pinocchio,” said the Fox, greeting him courteously.

“How do you know my name?” asked the Marionette.

“I know your father well.”

“Where have you seen him?”

“I saw him yesterday standing at the door of his house.”

“And what was he doing?”

“He was in his shirt sleeves trembling with cold.”

“Poor Father! But, after today, God willing, he will suffer no longer.”

“Why?”

“Because I have become a rich man.”

“You, a rich man?” said the Fox, and he began to laugh out loud. The Cat was laughing also, but tried to hide it by stroking his long whiskers.

“There is nothing to laugh at,” cried Pinocchio angrily. “I am very sorry to make your mouth water, but these, as you know, are five new gold pieces.”

And he pulled out the gold pieces which Fire Eater had given him.

At the cheerful tinkle of the gold, the Fox unconsciously held out his paw that was supposed to be lame, and the Cat opened wide his two eyes till they looked like live coals, but he closed them again so quickly that Pinocchio did not notice.

“And may I ask,” inquired the Fox, “what you are going to do with all that money?”

“First of all,” answered the Marionette, “I want to buy a fine new coat for my father, a coat of gold and silver with diamond buttons; after that, I’ll buy an A-B-C book for myself.”

“For yourself?”

“For myself. I want to go to school and study hard.”

“Look at me,” said the Fox. “For the silly reason of wanting to study, I have lost a paw.”

“Look at me,” said the Cat. “For the same foolish reason, I have lost the sight of both eyes.”

At that moment, a Blackbird, perched on the fence along the road, called out sharp and clear:

“Pinocchio, do not listen to bad advice. If you do, you’ll be sorry!”

Poor little Blackbird! If he had only kept his words to himself! In the twinkling of an eyelid, the Cat leaped on him, and ate him, feathers and all.

After eating the bird, he cleaned his whiskers, closed his eyes, and became blind once more.

“Poor Blackbird!” said Pinocchio to the Cat. “Why did you kill him?”

“I killed him to teach him a lesson. He talks too much. Next time he will keep his words to himself.”

By this time the three companions had walked a long distance. Suddenly, the Fox stopped in his tracks and, turning to the Marionette, said to him:

“Do you want to double your gold pieces?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you want one hundred, a thousand, two thousand gold pieces for your miserable five?”

“Yes, but how?”

“The way is very easy. Instead of returning home, come with us.”

“And where will you take me?”

“To the City of Simple Simons.”

Pinocchio thought a while and then said firmly:

“No, I don’t want to go. Home is near, and I’m going where Father is waiting for me. How unhappy he must be that I have not yet returned! I have been a bad son, and the Talking Cricket was right when he said that a disobedient boy cannot be happy in this world. I have learned this at my own expense. Even last night in the theater, when Fire Eater. . . Brrrr!!!!! . . . The shivers run up and down my back at the mere thought of it.”

“Well, then,” said the Fox, “if you really want to go home, go ahead, but you’ll be sorry.”

“You’ll be sorry,” repeated the Cat.

“Think well, Pinocchio, you are turning your back on Dame Fortune.”

“On Dame Fortune,” repeated the Cat.

“Tomorrow your five gold pieces will be two thousand!”

“Two thousand!” repeated the Cat.

“But how can they possibly become so many?” asked Pinocchio wonderingly.

“I’ll explain,” said the Fox. “You must know that, just outside the City of Simple Simons, there is a blessed field called the Field of Wonders. In this field you dig a hole and in the hole you bury a gold piece. After covering up the hole with earth you water it well, sprinkle a bit of salt on it, and go to bed. During the night, the gold piece sprouts, grows, blossoms, and next morning you find a beautiful tree, that is loaded with gold pieces.”

“So that if I were to bury my five gold pieces,” cried Pinocchio with growing wonder, “next morning I should find—how many?”

“It is very simple to figure out,” answered the Fox. “Why, you can figure it on your fingers! Granted that each piece gives you five hundred, multiply five hundred by five. Next morning you will find twenty-five hundred new, sparkling gold pieces.”

“Fine! Fine!” cried Pinocchio, dancing about with joy. “And as soon as I have them, I shall keep two thousand for myself and the other five hundred I’ll give to you two.”

“A gift for us?” cried the Fox, pretending to be insulted. “Why, of course not!”

“Of course not!” repeated the Cat.

“We do not work for gain,” answered the Fox. “We work only to enrich others.”

“To enrich others!” repeated the Cat.

“What good people,” thought Pinocchio to himself. And forgetting his father, the new coat, the A-B-C book, and all his good resolutions, he said to the Fox and to the Cat:

“Let us go. I am with you.”

Harlequin was nowhere to be seen. I’ll come back and find her another time. Pine headed for the exit on the far side of room, winding her way between customers taking their seats in front of the stage. The air buzzed with a distracting anticipation. Her attention snapped back, however, when the bag was bumped off her shoulder, spilling its contents on the dubious-smelling carpet.

“Oh my goodness, I’m sorry,” a voice above Pine exclaimed as she bent to retrieve the items, stuffing them back into the bag.

As Pine straightened, she came face-to-face with a man and woman. They were both older, the man sporting an antiquated prosthetic arm and the woman a visor to help her see.

“It’s okay,” Pine assured them. She just wanted to get out of there, go home and make amends with Joseph and James.

“Are you all right?” The woman pawed at Pine’s arm; her fingernails had been filed to points.

Pine drew away. “I’m fine, thank you.” She tried to push past them. She didn’t have time to make small talk.

“Are you sure?” the man asked. His face was triangular, accentuated by high cheekbones and a pointed red beard shot through with white.

“You need to be careful, dear.” The woman purred. “Especially considering what you’re carrying.”

“Wait. You know what these are?” Pine patted the bag.

“We do. And we also know where you can get an exorbitant price for them.”

Why would that matter to Pine? “No, thanks. Look, I have to get home, my…father is waiting for me.”

“Your father? I didn’t realize synadroids had fathers.” The man chortled. “Did you hear that, Tabby? This synadroid has a father.

“Shut up, Todd.” The woman bared her teeth at him. “I’m sorry. Todd is an idiot. What’s your father’s name, dear?”

“Joseph Polendina. He’s—”

“Joseph!” The woman clapped as though delighted. “Joseph is a very good friend of ours. My name is Tabby—and you’ve already met Todd. Hasn’t Joseph told you about us?”

He hadn’t. But then, Pine hadn’t shown much interest in his personal life. “No, but—”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Tabby?” Todd stroked his beard as he considered Pine.

“I am.” The couple pulled her to the side, away from the crush of other patrons. Tabby lowered her voice, her face serious. “Those items you have there? They’re very valuable—to the right people. But we could help you make them even more valuable. Perhaps we could—”

“No. Tabby, I’ve changed my mind. She won’t be interested. We should just let her go. She needs to get home to her father. He’ll be happy with what she has, just as it is.” Todd turned to go, tugging gently on Tabby’s arm.

Tabby gave an exaggerated sigh and agreed. “Perhaps you’re right. It just would’ve been so lovely to help our dear friend Joseph out.” She shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry we wasted your time, dear.” She turned to walk away.

“Wait.” Pine grabbed Tabby’s arm. If they really were friends of Joseph’s, maybe they could help her. She was going to need a good apology after she’d skipped out on James, and he definitely wasn’t going to help her now. Where better to start than with Joseph’s friends? “What did you have in mind?”

The companions glanced at each other and grinned.

“What did you say your name was, dear?”