Bill, he asks, "As a professional story teller, what is our contract with the readers? What do we owe them with every story we write, whether published for profit or given away? What do we absolutely not owe them?"
My answer is pretty simple. I consider myself an entertainer, first and foremost, the typing equivalent of a song-and-dance-man (not an "artist"... art might be something I sometimes might aspire to produce, but I don't kid myself it's my stock and trade). That defines what it is I'm providing to the reader--entertainment. I might try to slip some enlightenment or education in there occasionally, but if I don't give the reader something that's going to entertain them every time, at least on some level, I've failed miserably.
What do I not owe them? Mmm. Perhaps I don't necessarily owe them the ending they expect? Or owe them a story that goes in exactly the directions that they would want it to go?