madrigal sampson was wearing on me, and yet hadn't worn any clothing at all in over half a century. in fact, i was relatively free in that sense as well, having lost most of my wardrobe priming the dam. we were now mostly milling about an oaken tree fourteen miles to the south, like japanese day traders admiring stunning spheres of cantaloupe. except we were trading dates, not cantaloupe, and even madrigal couldn't feign enthusiasm for these transactions anymore. it was clear that we had picked the wrong line of work, and, without fail, the absolute worst dates.
madrigal could infuriate me with a childlike simplicity that was too complicated even for children. he had learned all of the wrong lessons from the zen riddles that had driven us terrified from the balkans in the late nineties. it was thursday; we'd finally gotten a decent haul to hawk. but madrigal would open the negotiations with a transparent effort to disorient and then rob the few customers who fell far enough through the overweening canopy and down into the oily gully to notice our fraying canvas sign duct-taped to the endlessly flowing lava.
'it's funny they call it a bottleneck dolphin,' madrigal would declaim, arching an eyebrow into the sky, 'because since the new lanes were opened traffic's been clear through the gills.'
perhaps this might have worked, but despite the poor english of the patrons, they knew the term to be bottlenose dolphin, and also that dolphins were mammals, sans gills. more confounding than anything was the choice of subject matter for the riddle: in this region, the mysteries of freeway traffic had been blamed on dolphins for milennia. but madrigal couldn't help sideways sanctimonies with the stuff of myth.