Later that evening, Evinrude looked over the menu at Al’s Pub and Grub. Not that he needed to; he was familiar with their fare. He just liked to be tempted away from his usual order every now and then.
The pub was more than just a bar. It was a quaint little eatery, adorned with a nostalgic fifty-foot mirror mounted behind a solid mahogany bar that gleamed as brightly as the day it was installed. Even though it was an older establishment, Al’s original fixtures were of such high quality that they aged well.
It was still twilight outside when Henry Streator entered, escorted by Michele, Evinrude’s aide.
“Good evening, Mr. Streator.” Evinrude stood.
Even though Evinrude was always polite and gentlemanly, Henry mistook his etiquette as arrogance and became tenser. “Hello, sir.” Henry was so nervous he almost trembled.
“Please, sit.” Evinrude gestured to the seat across from him. “I requested an extra menu in case you were inclined to join me.”
“Thank you…but no.” Henry hesitated for a moment, but then sat down. Michele took a seat by the bar and kept an eye toward Evinrude and the door.
“Have a trying day?” Evinrude asked.
“Well, I guess we’ll be getting down to business…. Are you sure you don’t want something to drink?”
“No!” Henry squeaked. He cleared his throat. “No, I’m okay.”
“Well, anyway…” Evinrude reached into his inside coat pocket.
Henry’s nerves jumped exponentially, imagining everything from being gunned down in public to…well, that was the only thing he imagined, but Evinrude merely pulled out an envelope.
Henry exhaled loud and long, calming himself.
Evinrude slid it across the table to Henry. “This memory card contains the information that was stolen. It still needs to be delivered on time. You’ll have to explain to your contact why it’s being transported through a different medium.”
“O-kaaay,” Henry said slowly. “You still trust me to follow through?”
“Well, the information is important and still needs to be delivered, and with all the people and pressure on you, I don’t believe you’ll do anything stupid.”
“No,” Henry answered timidly. “But why not just have an embassy aide relay it now?”
“The sensitivity of the information requires that my government’s involvement remain secret.”
In a booth in the back of the restaurant, Fred whispered to Frank, “You’ve got one good informant, but is it wise for us to be here? He has met us, you know.”
“I know he’s met us.” Frank’s seat provided a perfect vantage point to watch Evinrude and Streator.
“But doesn’t he know we’re here?” Fred said.
“It would be safe to assume he knows we’re here, but we’re going to pretend he doesn’t. It’s all part of the game,” Frank explained.
“Seems kind of silly to me.”
“Yes, I know. But if we’re lucky, he’ll buy us dinner, and since you didn’t notice, a big drop just went down.”
“Of course, I didn’t notice. I’m facing the other way. The only clear view I have is of the restrooms.”
“And a good thing, too, someone needs to watch our backs.”
“Well, what if I just look over my shoulder?” Fred asked, as he turned to do just that.
“No, that would be obvious and unprofessional,” Frank grabbed Fred’s arm to stop him.
“What if I drop my napkin and look behind me.” He moved his napkin to the table’s edge.
“Oh, please, come up with something original.” Frank rolled his eyes.
Fred tapped on his blazer pocket. “I have a mirror in my pocket.”
Frank gave him an odd glance. “Why?”
Fred gave up, exasperated. “Well then, what do you suggest?”
“Be more aware of your surroundings.”
“Oh,” Fred moaned, feeling the cold hand of lecture come upon him.
“If you hadn’t noticed,” — Frank glanced at the objects he was identifying to avoid physically pointing — “there is a truck-sized mirror behind the bar, and there are dozens of mirrored maisivrec signs all over the place. Look around, how can you not see him?”
“So, what should we do? Move in on them?”
“No, no. Just watch,”
“Whom was the drop made to?” Fred asked.
“Isn’t that odd?”
“Yes and no.”
Fred’s eyes saddened, he knew a lengthy explanation was to follow.
“You see this just complicates things. We can’t gain access to Henry easily with a regiment of people always watching him. And we wouldn’t suspect Evinrude to even try using Henry to move the goods. Most likely it’s just a decoy. But to be safe, we need to follow up and prove it, because there’s always that one chance in a million it might not be a decoy. This is Evinrude’s way of creating more work for us and slowing down our progress.”
“Touché, Monsieur Evinrude!” Fred lauded Evinrude’s strategic maneuver.
“Shhhhh!” Frank glared at him.
“So why don’t we just follow the guy, pop him off, and take it.” Fred leaned back, throwing his arms into the air.
“I’m an intelligence agent, not a murderer.” Seething, his teeth grinding, Frank pointed an accusing figure at Fred and began lesson number two. “There are rules to this business. They are unwritten and unspoken but understood just the same.”
“You’re making this up as you go, aren’t you?”
Frank gave Fred an evil stare. “If you kill, you will be killed. If you give respect, you will be respected. That’s why we play this game.”
“Well, I’m sorry. But this intelligence game” — Fred made quotation marks with his fingers — “just doesn’t seem so intelligent.”
“How many agents my age do you know?”
“Just you.” Fred thought for a moment. “And Evinrude.”
“What happens to most overzealous and anxious agents?”
“They don’t return from the field.”
“They don’t play the game?”
“Correct! You can be taught!” Frank exclaimed. “We are not enemies. We are opponents.”
“So now all we need to do is liberate that envelope from Henry Streator, copy its contents, and return it,” Fred said.
“Now you’ve got it,” Frank declared.
While Fred and Frank discussed the finer points of espionage, Henry was ready for his meeting with Evinrude to be over. He stared at the envelope on the table for an awkwardly long time, then reluctantly placed it in the inside pocket of his sport coat. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, our business is done. If you’d like you can stay for dinner, but you are free to go.” All three, including Michele at the bar, stood up at the same time. Henry left the restaurant, again escorted by Michele.
Evinrude walked toward the restrooms at the back of the restaurant and stopped at Fred and Frank’s table. “Would you two like to join me for dinner?” he asked. “I find myself embarrassingly alone since Mr. Streator decided not to stay. Just as well, I don’t think he would have been good conversation tonight.”
Fred just looked at Frank, not knowing what to do.
“Sure!” Frank exuberantly accepted, wondering if he should invite Evinrude to sit with them or go to Evinrude’s table.
Fortunately, Evinrude had already decided the seating arrangements. “Please join me at my table. I prefer a lot of exits. Old habits, you know.”
Frank and Fred stepped out of the booth and carried their drinks with them to Evinrude’s table.
“I see the two of you were having quite the lively conversation.”
“Just talking shop,” Frank said.
“I hate to talk shop all the time. And it’s hard not to, I’ll admit.” Evinrude waited as they were seating themselves, his etiquette requiring him to sit last. “But let’s give it a try.” He signaled the waiter over to the table. “Please allow me the pleasure of buying your dinner tonight.”
“We’d be glad to,” Fred graciously replied, not expecting such a social evening.
“Did either of you see the Ullamaliztli game last night?” Evinrude asked.
“No, I wanted to,” Frank said. “Job, you know.”
“I heard it was a nail-biter,” Fred added.
“It certainly was. So, are you guys Panthers fans or Trojans fans?”
“I’m neither,” Frank admitted. “I’ve followed the Rockets since I was a kid and my dad took me to my first real game. But if I were watching the game I’d lean toward the Panthers.”
“You’re a sutluts!” Fred exclaimed.
Frank did a double take at Fred. Evinrude smiled.
Fred’s enthusiasm was rebuilt by the newfound camaraderie. “The Trojans are awesome this season!”
Evinrude chuckled as he assured them, “Well, neither one of you will be disappointed, until the very end, of course. But you’ll both have enjoyed the game. I’ll get you a copy of it.” He leaned in and whispered, “Don’t tell, but I did not get the express written consent of the National Ullamaliztli League.” He winked, and they all had a good laugh.
Alfia and Joe drove through her quiet neighborhood toward home. Bugs splattered her windshield as if it were a humid midwestern summer night.
“First time I think I’ve seen a bug on your planet,” Joe commented. “Wreaks havoc on your windshields, too.”
“PaPARAZZI,” Alfia informed him. “Photographic and Phonetic Aerial Reconnaissance Android Zygotic Zombie Insects.” As Alfia turned onto her street, the bug strikes intensified. “We just call them gnats. The media and photograph-hounds use them to follow celebrities.” She sprayed the windshield with washer fluid, and the wipers smeared the splattered silicon wings and circuit boards, making the mess worse. Alfia sighed. I knew that would happen.
“Yep, just like on Earth,” Joe nodded “But we actually call the photograph-hounds ‘paparazzi.’ Looks like there’s still a group of them in front of your house from this morning.”
“You’re becoming a celebrity.”
“Wow, I’ve never had a public before.”
The reporters identified Joe and charged, engulfing the car in a mass of people, cameras, and gnats. Alfia carefully nudged the car through the crowd, into her driveway, and finally, the garage.
After the garage door fully closed, the two got out of the car. Alfia grabbed a spray can off a shelf with many other bug sprays on it and sprayed herself. She turned to Joe. “Cover your eyes, Joe.” She sprayed a mist over him, too.
“What was that?”
“Diluted lemongrass oil, kills gnats.” She put the can away and headed into the house. “Works on real ones, too.”
“Hello Alfia, Joe,” Marsha moved to them, taking Joe warmly by the arm “I made some coffee and pie. Hope you like pie, Joe.”
“Everybody likes pie.” Joe eagerly sat at the table.
“I’m a little hungrier than just pie.” Alfia pined for a heartier meal.
“There’s leftovers in the fridge if you want. I didn’t want to fill up. I might be eating out tonight. Are you hungry too, Joe?”
“I’m sure the pie will suffice until I get back to the hotel.”
“That may be trickier than you think,” Alfia said. “If they’re camped out like this here, I’d hate to see what the hotel looks like. And anyway, aren’t you beat, Mother?” Alfia was amazed that her mother was even awake, let alone expecting another night out. “You were up all last night, and you had to go to work today.”
“Oh, I’ll pay for it tomorrow. But I may just run into someone I know.” Marsha seemed to glide around the table as she poured the coffee.
“What are you hinting at, Mother?” Alfia became suspicious.
“Oh, nothing dear.” Marsha hummed quietly to herself.
Alfia’s mind was a convolution of questions and contradictions. Her mother didn’t usually hum. She is not that content of a person. What is she up to? Who might she run into? Does she have a new boyfriend? Is it Joe? No. No. No. I’ve got to stop thinking like this. I need a clear head tonight. Alfia shook her head and tasted the pie. Her favorite, strawberry-rhubarb with a lard crust, and it was warm. Alfia forgot her angst for a moment.
Marsha sighed coyly. “I sure would like to get out of this stuffy house tonight.”
Alfia looked at her, wide-eyed, unable to speak due to a large bite of pie.
Marsha went on, “Would you mind if I drove Joe back to the hotel tonight, dear?”
Joe looked at her, also wide-eyed, unable to speak due to a large bite of pie. Marsha winked at him.
After a big swallow and gulp of coffee, Alfia sarcastically asked, “Will you make it this time?
“Eventually,” she grinned like a teenager with a secret.
Shortly, Marsha and Joe again drove off to find adventure, with the media in tow. They didn’t want to be left out.
In another part of town, Mayor Nehru arrived at a late-night meeting with the most powerful men on the planet, the Establishment. The Establishment was composed of all the money and all the political power on Ladascus, and a few relatives.
In a poorly lit room, men in expensive business suits sat around a large conference table. Smoke from their cigarettes and cigars billowed down from the ceiling like an eerie fog. The boss sat at the head of the table, in the shadows, his black suit and black hat completely immersing him in the inky darkness. If not for his white shirt, tie, and boutonniere, he wouldn’t be seen at all. He spoke with a quiet, raspy voice. “Nehru, an unfortunate circumstance has come to our attention.”
Nehru, a little uneasy, knew only to speak when spoken to. “Please explain, sir. I’m afraid I was not informed of any situation.”
The boss was a man of few words. He waved his hand to his right, and a man in a bright suit spoke. “We created a syndicate that has thrived on the friction between our warring occupiers. Peace is something we cannot afford, Nehru.”
“I understand, but I assure you I have not promoted such a position.”
“No. But you are in a position to prevent the person who has. This Earth creature called Joe.”
“I can assure you he is harmless.” Nehru placed his right hand on his heart and tried to gaze into the boss’s shrouded eyes.
“That may be true, but the message the Souftes and Quesontes are using him for is not,” the man pointed out. “You need to bring the Earthman to us.”
The hand from the shadowed boss lifted, and the brightly-suited man stopped talking. The boss methodically said, “Normally a dip in Lake Protivin would cure our ailment, but the Earthman seems to be immune.”
Nehru felt an icy chill go down his spine. He knew the boss was not happy. A long, fluid gesture from the boss to his left, and a tan-suited man began to talk. “You see, it’s like this. We need to educate them on how things work…here. Now, these ambassadors think they can just declare peace, lift the trade embargoes, and walk away. This will significantly cut into our profit margin.”
“Maybe I could make sure Drakewood and Calloway understand our situation,” Nehru offered.
“You’re a good man, Nehru,” the boss rasped from the shadows. As if he were conducting a symphony, he flicked his wrist and another member of his ensemble continued.
“Our representatives already made them an offer,” the new spokesman was slow and deliberate with each word. “They refused. At two o’clock tomorrow afternoon, the ambassadors will learn of the gravity of their situation.”
For their first stop on their second evening out, Marsha treated Joe to a holographic horror flick, The Earthling! Joe frightened the audience out of the theater and into the lobby.
“In hindsight, this may not have been a good idea,” Marsha apologized to the police when they arrived. The police decided it would be fun to take a few PR photos of them, guns drawn, menacingly surrounding a handcuffed Joe.
As if on cue, Mayor Nehru barged in with a whirlwind of reporters, cameras, lights, and staff in his wake. (It was always said that Mayor Nehru knew good publicity when he saw it.) The media crowd doubled. This time, the mayor did not push Marsha out of the way and introduced them both to more people of local power and wealth. Marsha scanned the posse of posers with the mayor and was noticeably disappointed. Nehru decided to keep two uniformed officers with them for crowd control as he escorted them on another night on the town.
At the zoo, Joe awkwardly waved at the humans in the Earth exhibit. They awkwardly waved back. The mayor, looking uncomfortable, hurried on to the next exhibit.
Mayor Nehru treated them to dinner at Anopuac, the fanciest dining establishment in town. It was located at the top of a tall skyscraper, and Joe and Marsha could see all the city lights. (Joe thought Ngorongoro looked a lot like any Earth city at night.)
Marsha kept looking around, hoping to catch sight of someone, but no one ever showed. The night dragged on, and she rested her cheek heavily on her palm and her sighs deepened.
As they enjoyed dessert, Joe mused, “You know what I miss?”
Marsha, the mayor, and diners at all the other tables around them stopped to listen. “Chocolate, you don’t have chocolate. Smooth, shiny, dark brown decadence. Slowly melting on your tongue, the aroma filling your nostrils, rich, creamy delight running down your throat…chocolate just makes you smile.”
A moment of silence filled the room as everyone took a long cleansing breath, exploding into orders for dessert.
At another social hot spot, Joe regaled his audience of A-list Ladascans with stories of his adventures on Earth, and what a great place it was to vacation. He described skiing in the mountains; the warm sandy beaches in the Caribbean— “No gorgons, but we do have sharks” — and how people actually go into the water and swim, an alien idea to them indeed.
Marsha happened, not so unexpectedly, to run into Mr. Adams, or Dougy as she affectionately referred to him, the same rich and powerful man from the night before. She spent the evening dancing with him and seemed full of life again.
The mayor bid farewell due to the late hour but left the police escort with Joe, Marsha, and Dougy.
At a comedy club, apparently dumb Earthling jokes were all the rage. “How many Earthlings does it take to screw in an evacuated glass envelope containing heated metallic filament?”
Joe stood up. “I don’t know about light bulbs, but I do know how many Earthlings it takes to defeat a gorgon.”
The comedian fired back, “Look out! An Uluru!” Joe played along and ducked.
Joe and the comedian bantered back and forth for a short time, creating an entertaining encounter. The audience roared with laughter. Marsha had tears in her eyes from laughing so hard. Joe stole a bow and sat back down.
Afterward, they went to a nearby confectionary, where Joe enjoyed two scoops of a newfound frozen favorite. He saw, through the window behind Marsha and Dougy, the same mime from the night before. His heart dropped when the mime noticed him, too. Which new social faux pas will he ridicule tonight? Joe wondered.
Tonight, it was a re-enactment of the incident at the theater with the police. Their police escort was still with them and sitting at the next table, enjoying their own frozen dessert. They saw the mime taunting Joe and decided to arrest the silent actor. Marsha and Dougy watched as the officers apprehended the mute mimic. The mime, true to his art, didn’t break character and performed a silent protest all the way to the waiting squad car. Marsha and Dougy turned back to their desserts, and Joe was gone.
Even later that same evening, Dash and Desi were the only ones left in the office, laboring over the multiple files of evidence. Their desks were smothered beyond comprehension. Desi sorted through documents page by page, physically burying himself in paper.
Dash, more orderly by nature, had inadvertently spread all his documents across every horizontal surface in the room. He had spent the last several hours pacing around the room, glancing at one form and cross-checking another, his left hand in his coat pocket and his right rubbing his chin.
A muffled phone rang somewhere in the office. They both glanced at each other, speculating where the phone might be. Desi reached below a mound and liberated the phone from its paper tomb. With the ringing more distinct now, he answered it. “Uh hum? Yes. Thanks.” Desi hung up the phone. “The report came back on the phones.”
“Good news?” Dash asked, not expecting any.
“No,” Desi said. “There was nothing on or in the phones. Either the perpetrator was thorough, or the fumes from the bus destroyed anything that may have existed.
“Yet another disappointing outcome. I’m not surprised, though,” Dash said.
“Well, at least you’re prepared. Regarding another disappointing outcome, the database finally identified the office substituted in the surveillance recording the night of the robbery,” Desi informed Dash.
“Oh.” Dash perked up. “What office was it?”
“This one here, ours, but about twenty-five years ago.”
“Really?” Dash seemed more impressed than disappointed.
“I told you our opponent was clever,”
“Let’s assume, for a moment, that Henry Streator isn’t innocent of the crime.” Desi thought out loud. “What do we know?”
“When you infer a theory without facts, you invariably manipulate the facts to fit the theories instead of developing theories that fit the facts.”
“Anyway,” Desi looked sternly at Dash and continued, “Henry isn’t capable of entering a building in this fashion. So, he hired someone. How do you find someone with this skillset? How did he make the first contact with Ralph?”
Dash said sarcastically, “And so you continue the dark art of induction.”
Desi glared at Dash and decided to turn the tables. “I prefer to think of it as adducer, which allows for the precondition to be adduced from the consequence. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, in other words: after this, therefore, because of this. And as such, abduction is the formal equivalent of this logical fallacy because there are multiple possible explanations that can affirm the consequences.”
Dash was silent for an awkward moment as he processed Desi’s dissertation and then contributed to Desi’s reasoning. “So how did he make the first contact with Ralph?”
“That’s an explanation for the letter,” Desi assured his colleague, happy with his little victory. “Bear with me; I’m just going step by step. According to the letter, something went wrong.”
“Okay,” Dash admitted. “I’ll give you that one.”
“So, then what was miscommunicated?” Desi asked.
“If you were to direct someone to steal something,” Dash asked, “what information would you convey?”
“What to steal,” Desi answered.
“Yes, and that could have been a generality, such as the contents of the box,” Dash pointed out.
“Where it is or how to find it.”
“Yes,” Dash agreed. “They apparently got that right.”
“When to steal it,” Desi posed to his partner. “The heist took place on the wrong day.”
“That would make a lot of sense. Maybe there was a typo on the date of the original communication. Wait, now I’m making inductions! I warned you the dark side was seductive.”
“That would explain the insurance,” Desi added. “He arranged to increase his insurance coverage tenfold the following week. According to his insurance agent, it was to underwrite an exceptionally large item that he rarely dealt in.”
“That’s circumstantial, not conclusive evidence,” Dash pointed out.
“But we can create this scenario. Henry can’t afford to buy the diamond he is buying. We’ve seen his house. He just can’t. So, he buys it on credit. In the meantime, the diamond is stolen, and the insurance reimburses the loss, which in turn, pays for the diamond before it is due on the credit loan.”
“So,” Dash played devil’s advocate, “he didn’t gain anything, he just reclaimed his loss. The insurance company would only cover the value, so he sees no real monetary gain.”
“But,” Desi continued, “You’re assuming he puts the big stone into the box. What if he keeps it, breaks it down and sells off the pieces. Even broken down it would still be worth a substantial amount of money.”
“Okay, so what’s in it for the person committing the crime?” Dash asked.
“Money,” Desi replied. “He lets the thief keep the contents of the box to pay her off. Streator is reimbursed for the value of those diamonds as well. So now the insurance company has paid the thief and bought Streator a large diamond. He will then sell off the big diamond either whole or, more likely, cut it down into untraceable pieces and make a tidy profit.” Desi concluded, “So now, the thief is not only a thief but part of insurance fraud.”
“This thief is smart, wise and probably not greedy. She will be difficult to catch. What do you propose we do?” Dash inquired.
“Well, if it went according to plan, we’d watch for Henry to try and sell the cut-down diamond.”
Dash jumped in, “But he can’t since he didn’t purchase it yet.”
“Then our only hope is for one of the stolen diamonds to surface.” Desi sighed.
“And here we lie in a quagmire produced by inductive reasoning, that serves as a hypothesis to explain our observations, but in fact, there are an infinite number of possible outcomes,” Dash lectured.
Desi just stared at him. “I actually understood that. In your own idiosyncratic way, you just said ‘I told you so.’ But, if it were to turn up?”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”
“But, some powerful people want a piece of this heist back. This is where we increase the pressure on Henry Streator to encourage a mistake by either him or the thief.”
“A search warrant would do that,” Dash suggested as he picked up the phone. “I’ll call Judge Howell.”