MAY 05 --- Read Between the Pages

Holiday: Free Comic Book Day

"Hey, look! It's "Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds" - 1956, man! Lookit lookit lookit!"

"Yeah, Murdock, I see it, I see it. I also see the price. Not gonna happen, Murdock. No way."

"Aw, Faceman, you could work your magic with this guy, I know you could."

Face sighed. "Murdock, how many times have I said it? You can't con a conman. And these comic book dealers are sharp. Unless we've got something to trade, he's not coming down enough to make it worth the effort."

"Well, I got comics, back in my room. Maybe some of those?"

"I'd like to help you out here, I really would. But those comics you've got - well, they're uh, well read."

Murdock slumped. "Yeah, I guess they aren't in the greatest shape."

"Don't worry about it. There's enough dust on that jacket, it's not going anywhere soon. Give it a little time, the price might come down to within reason. Well, c'mon, Hannibal's waiting for us. Some guy up in Van Nuys..."

Murdock only half listened. Hannibal would go over everything again anyway. He really wanted that comic. Stupid, of course. It was way too much money and he knew it. And it wasn't that it was such a great comic. Not really.

But he remembered it. After all these years, he remembered it. One of the kids at school had sneaked in a comic book, when school had just started. The very first edition of "Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds". Murdock had been fascinated, and borrowed the comic. Grandpa had glanced at it, and frowned. Grandma didn't want it in the house. But Murdock had practically memorized it. It was his introduction to modern world fantasy.

Every Saturday, Grandpa would go into town, get supplies for the farm, pick up Grandma's grocery list, shoot the breeze with the other farmers at the market, and then come home, just in time for supper. And every time he brought Murdock a special present, a surprise. The kind of surprise depended on how Murdock had behaved during the week, how well he'd done his chores. It was getting close to Thanksgiving, and Grandma was particularly busy, finishing up the canning, and Murdock had worked his ass off, fetching this and that, washing jars, labeling in his careful print. And, on occasion, feeling a bit put out that no one expressed their gratitude, even though he knew they all were working extra hard. Nevertheless, he hoped his efforts would be remembered when Grandpa made this trip into town.

When Grandpa got back home, Murdock was eagerly waiting. The old man smiled at his wife, and handed Murdock a large flat package. Tearing it open, Murdock gulped, and gave a brave smile.

"It's a great shirt, Grandpa."

"Well, your grandmother wanted you to have something new to wear to church this holiday. And you've earned it - and then some. Why don't you take it upstairs and try it on for her?"

Dutifully, Murdock had traipsed up to his room and dropped the package on the bed. He took off his old shirt and pulled the new one out of its wrapping. And stopped dead.

Under the shirt lay a comic book. Not just any comic book.

The second edition of "Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds". He turned at the chuckle behind him. Grandpa stood in the doorway, eyes twinkling, a big grin on his face.

"Just keep it in your room, son. Grandma might not understand these things."

Murdock sighed, sitting in the back of the van. That, and all other future comics, had remained a secret between him and his grandfather. Seeing that comic in the store...

He still missed that old man.

Several weeks later, Face was dropping Murdock off at the VA. They hadn't had many jobs since the Van Nuys trek, and Face hadn't been around much. And today he had to leave quickly, since Decker's men had been hanging around more than usual. He pulled up behind the VA and reached into the back seat as Murdock hopped out of the Vette.

"Here, take this before you go."

Just from the size of the bag, Murdock knew it was another comic. He looked inside, curious as to what Face had picked out for him this time.

And stopped dead.

He looked down at Face, who was grinning from ear to ear.

"But, I did...where..."

"Well, it took a while. I had to find something to barter with, after all. And what I was able to pick up wasn't quite enough for this one, so I had to trade up. And then trade up again. Sorry about the delay."

"Sorry? Face, I..."

Face laughed, and gunned the engine. "Save it for later. I gotta get out of here before you're talking to me through bars. Oh, and Murdock - don't mention all this rigmarole to the guys, okay?"

As Face sped away, Murdock smiled, the comic clutched carefully in his hands. "Yeah, they might not understand these things."