The pipe lit by itself. It was subtle, but the old man knew what he saw. He'd been around the marketplace for too long—seen too many things. "I know what you are!" he shouted, after the stranger with the pipe.
"Pardon?" The stranger turned around.
"Your pipe!" pointed the old man.
"Oh, this?" The stranger laughed politely. "Just a toy, from England ..."
The old man ignored him. "Why don't you make yourself useful and fetch me something to eat," he growled.
The stranger sighed. He looked around, then he approached the old man sitting in the alley. "Hazmat, more coal!" As if on command, his pipe glowed more fiercely—the stranger took one, then two deep puffs. Then he reached into his shirt-pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.
He unfolded the handkerchief into a big square and, holding two corners, threw it neatly over the old man's empty, metal bowl. The yellow fabric sunk into the emptiness of the bowl.
"Hazmat, some food, now!"
The bowl began to shake. Suddenly, solid forms seemed to appear from inside the bowl, pushing their round shapes into the lineament of the soft, cotton fabric. The handkerchief bulged like leavening bread.
The old man pulled off the cloth and saw his bowl filled with ripe, purple figs, pruney-skinned and heavy with cinnamon flavor—
The stranger turned to leave.
"What, that's it!?" spat the old man. "Can't you do more? I'm 65 years old—and I've got a bad leg. These won't last me two days!"
The stranger looked warily at the old man, from head-to-toe. He put out his hand and pressed his forefinger into his thumb, forming a circle—then, peering with one eye through the circle, he examined the old man again. The old man felt uneasy, like a worm under a microscope. The stranger shook his head.
"I really shouldn't be doing this," he said, finally.
"Have mercy!" coaxed the old man. "Isn't that what your God asks of you?"
The stranger sighed. "Hazmat!" He ordered his invisible servant. The fire in his pipe glowed again, a luminous orange against the dark alleyway. The stranger pulled out a large wooden paintbrush from behind his back.
He sucked on the bristles. Then, looking around, making sure they were the only ones there, he pressed the tip of the brush next to the old man, against the dusty mud-brick wall the beggar leaned upon. Big, bold streaks of wet, black ink appeared—
One line, down. Then another, parallel, about four feet away. Two lines across—top and bottom—joining them, and the old man saw what was unmistakably a door. The stranger took another puff from his pipe, blew the smoke against the wall. Then he knocked on the design three times with his knuckle, and three times they heard the reverberation of something hollow, like a real door.
The stranger pushed open the door—
It opened into a room, glistening with treasure. Gold bricks, jewelry, money, stacked and scattered all around. The old man could not believe his eyes.
"Take three gold bricks, and be out," said the stranger. "Take no more—that'll last you plenty," he warned.
But the old man did not listen. He was already inside the room, never before had he seen such treasures, in such array. This must be the Third Heaven, he thought. He pocketed as much of the rubies and emeralds and pearls as he could. Then he went for the gold—
"Hey—hey!" someone shouted. "Stop right there!"
The old man froze. He found himself face to face with two heavily armed guards, pointing their rifles at him. He threw his hands in the air—"Gah!" he shouted.
"How did you get in here!?" questioned the guard, but the old man was too afraid to speak. He looked for the door—but the door was gone.
The guards brought the bewildered intruder before their employer, where the intruder, the old man, learned, the exact coordinates of the "Third Heaven": the private vaults of a notorious arms-dealer. Desperately he tried explaining himself—
The arms-dealer listened. The story seemed outlandish, to be sure—but the intruder looked so pathetic, there seemed no other explanation for how the old fool stumbled into his stash. So he ordered his guards to accompany the old man, back to the alleyway—if there was a door he needed to find it.
He waited inside his vault, with a club in his hand.
The guards and the old man returned to the dark, narrow alleyway, but there was no sign of the painted door anywhere. Where the old man had sat, was his bowl—empty now, as was before. But near the bowl laid the stranger's pipe. The old man reached for it—
"See—see?" he exclaimed. "I told you there was a pipe!" He blew on it frantically, maniacally. "Hazmat! Hazmat!" He imitated the stranger, but only charred, old resin and flakes of ash remained. The guards looked at each other. Then, at the crazy old man and his ordinary pipe, who began to feel very silly indeed.