Brantley and I were sitting in his kitchen drinking rum out of juice glasses. I hadn't been to his place for a long time, and I couldn't help but notice how neat and tidy everything was, how orderly his normally disorganized life seemed to have become. There were two bright red boxes and three large red cans on the counter near the sink. There was also a big red spray bottle on top of the refrigerator. All of them had the same familiar black and white label. "I didn't know you used Hefflington," I said.

"Well, I had a lot of cleaning to catch up on. Windows and floors mostly. And the closets were a shambles." Brantley put down his glass and yawned hugely. "Actually, I know the man who invented it. That is, actually, my uncle did."

"Your uncle invented Hefflington?" I asked, then yawned in sympathy with Brantley's yawn, covering my mouth with my hand. I thought this uncle story highly unlikely.

"My uncle Andrew. Andrew Hefflington. My mother's elder brother."

"But Brantley, that's a wonderful piece of luck," I said.

"And why's that?"

"Well it means you have a connection, doesn't it? I mean, can't you get the stuff for free or something?"

"Get Hefflington for free?" Brantley laughed. "When I was having all that trouble with the tax inspectors... You remember that, don't you? A couple of years ago?" He paused and looked at me over the rim of his glass; I nodded. "The agent told me to use Hefflington, but I couldn't afford it. And at the time you were at Port Royale, and I could never get through."

"Let's not dredge up the past. I was just wondering why you had so many boxes and bottles of the stuff."

"To be honest," he said and finished the rum in his glass in one quick swallow, "it was Agnes who started stockpiling it. There was a sale, you see. Where she works."

"How is Agnes, by the by?"

Brantley poured himself another rum, this time filling his glass to the brim and slopping a little on the table. "More?" he asked, but I just shook my head and put my hand over the top of my glass. "Agnes wants to get married. She's eager to move into this house, but she wants to be sure there's plenty of Hefflington here." He looked down at the table and shook his head. "Mainly because she's so damned worried about a breech birth. It runs in the family, you know."

"Agnes is pregnant? Well, no wonder she wants you to marry her." I paused to think what to say next -- I was awfully fond of Agnes -- and I noticed that there were three more tins of Hefflington on the floor underneath the table. "You are going to do the right thing, aren't you?"

"Oh, Lord, I don't know. Sometimes I just..." He took another swallow of rum. "Sometimes I just want to do what Uncle Andrew did."

"You mean your inventor uncle? What exactly became of him?"

Brantley answered in a low voice that sounded a touch too melodramatic.

"He disappeared."

"A magic act? An alien abduction?"

"I'm quite serious," Brantley said. "One minute his daughter could see him grooming his favorite mare with Hefflington. The next minute he was gone, leaving behind a maze of half-clues and a paper trail no one ever quite sorted out."

"How did he do it?" I asked.

"With Hefflington," Brantley said, looking down at the red tins on the floor.

I stood up and stretched my arms above my head. "You know, I have a great idea, Brantley. Let's go out for a bit. It'll do a world of good for whatever ails you."

"Don't worry. I'll do the right thing by Agnes," Brantley said, ignoring my suggestion. "We'll probably take our honeymoon in Port Royale." He paused and then added, "I thought of asking you to be my best man, old chum, I really did..."

"Just going to use Hefflington, then?" I asked, but Brantley was no longer listening.

About the author:

Alice Whittenburg's fiction has appeared in Locus Novus, Pif Magazine, Word Riot, and The Missing Fez, among other places, and she is coeditor of The Caf Irreal, an online literary magazine.