“Listen to this,” he said to the operator.
“I already read it.”
“It comes over the wire,” said the operator. “I wrote it down.”
“Oh! Yes, sure. ‘Urgent need you telegraph me one hundred dollars. Coming home. Adam.’ ”
“Came collect,” the operator said. “You owe me sixty cents.”
“Valdosta, Georgia—I never heard of it.”
“Neither’d I, but it’s there.”
“Say, Carlton, how do you go about telegraphing money?”
“Well, you bring me a hundred and two dollars and sixty cents and I send a wire telling the Valdosta operator to pay Adam one hundred dollars. You owe me sixty cents too.”
“I’ll pay—say, how do I know it’s Adam? What’s to stop anybody from collecting it?”
The operator permitted himself a smile of worldliness. “Way we go about it, you give me a question couldn’t nobody else know the answer. So I send both the question and the answer. Operator asks this fella the question, and if he can’t answer he don’t get the money.”
“Say, that’s pretty cute. I better think up a good one.”
“You better get the hundred dollars while Old Breen still got the window open.”
Charles was delighted with the game. He came back with the money in his hand. “I got the question,” he said.
“I hope it ain’t your mother’s middle name. Lot of people don’t remember.”
“No, nothing like that. It’s this. ‘What did you give father on his birthday just before you went in the army?’ ”
“It’s a good question but it’s long as hell. Can’t you cut it down to ten words?”
📚 I hadn’t realised that Steinbeck’s East of Eden had wrestled with the concept of multi-factor authentication.