Later that night, Henry Streator left his residence, entered his car, and drove away. A small black car with Ladascan detectives followed him, while a small black car with Quesonte agents followed them, and a small black car with Soufte agents followed them. Henry, not in a small black car, drove to a large mall.
He entered the mall through the food court, not noticing the two men following him, or the two men following them, or the two men following them. The mall was more crowded now. Henry went directly to a mailbox near a stationary store and deposited a letter. One man from each pair that followed him quickly made a phone call and stayed near the mailbox, while the other shadowed Henry through several shops.
At the central postal center, a manager received three phone calls from three different people about the same mailbox. He thought that was odd.
The three men standing near the mailbox couldn’t help but notice each other. At first, they pretended to ignore each other by glancing away, reading the signs on the walls, or whistling nervously as they rocked back and forth from heel to toe. Finally, one of them couldn’t take it anymore and turned to the other two, sticking out his hand and greeting them, “Hi, I’m Tom, a detective with the Thirty-Third Precinct, and you two are?”
They both hesitated for a moment, unsure of how to proceed, until the agent from Quesonte spoke up. “I’m Harry, a courier liaison from the Quesonte Embassy.”
The third man looked around nervously as if he was being watched. The other two stared at him, waiting for a response. He finally caved under the peer pressure and cautiously said, “I’m Dick, a liaison from the Soufte Embassy.”
The three men then noticed Henry, across the mall atrium, walk out of a store with three men following behind him. Tom, Dick, and Harry all laughed. Henry and his tail of three noticed them laughing, but Henry didn’t think much of it.
The three following him became apprehensive, worried their covers were blown. They followed Henry into the next store.
“Well, Tom,” Harry said. “I do believe we are all after the same thing.”
“If only our bosses could reach an accord this quickly,” Tom added. “What say we work together? Get this done in half the time. And go home?”
“What if we get caught?” Dick rubbed his temples, trying to relieve his anxiety.
“That’s if we get caught,” Harry pointed out.
“If is good.” Dick relaxed, feeling he was an equal partner in their newly-formed pact.
“Now that we are all in agreement…” They all huddled in as Tom continued, “Don’t you find it kind of odd that in this day and age the thief chose snail mail as a means of communicating? Why not an email or coded messages in a chat room?”
“The thief is either a genius or a certified lunatic,” Dick commented. “But if you think about it, how much surveillance do we have on mail these days? None. No one uses it. That’s what makes it brilliant. We no longer have a means to trace mail through the system, except with a tracking device.”
Henry had finished making several purchases and was making his way back to his car. Three men followed. Henry drove home with his tail behind him three cars long, oblivious to the procession he led.
In a relatively short time, two postal employees greeted the men by the mailbox. They opened the mailbox and removed all the mail. Unfortunately for them, it was a busy mail day. The mall was sponsoring a mail-in sweepstakes, and there were quite a few entries stuffed into the box. The small group of men took the mail back to a copy center in the mall, commandeered a back room, and sorted through it. After several hours, only one piece of mail stood out as odd. It was a bland letter simply labeled “Ralph,” addressed to a rented postal box, and had no return address. They opened it and read:
Something has gone terribly wrong. Please be at the five fountains in Jilltramin Park on Wednesday at noon. I will be wearing a “9-volt battery” T-shirt.
They made copies of the letter and the envelope. The Soufte agent added a slim tracking device to the back of the letter. They resealed the envelope, and let the postal employees take the mail to the processing center to allow the letter to go through as it was originally intended. The three agents then shared a cab and went to the address on the envelope, a parcel store that lent out mailboxes in a small strip mall across town, where they found information regarding the owner of mailbox 2001.
After a short discussion, the three new comrades decided they would go home early since, as Tom reminded them, there were already two detectives assigned to the case. Once Dash and Desi followed up on the owner of box 2001, Tom promised, he would share any information they found.
Another trait of the random face printer and feature generator was the ability to copy ethnicity onto androids. While Dash was besmirched with ordinary features and a large nose, Desi was blessed with a richer, warmer, and darker tone to his green Ladascan skin, a slender waist, a muscularly defined upper torso, and a face that women always seemed to find adorable. It had always been supposed, by everyone in Desi’s office, that some quirk had happened in the ordering process, and Desi had been shipped to the Thirty-Third Precinct by mistake. His factory-given talents would have been better used at an exclusive, high-end nightclub or spa as an exotic dancer or male escort.
Case #: 010313584508
Reporting Officers: Desi #8354011 and Dash #4323530
Desi entered his report: It wasn’t long after receiving the information from our esteemed counterparts in the field that Detectives Dash and Desi were knocking on the door of a small, white house with pink shutters that featured a flower cut-out in the middle. The house was so small you could hardly get your big toe in it. The sun had set, it was eight in the evening, and a single light was on. The valiant detectives could hear the television on.
“Big toe? What did I say about narrating?” Before Desi was able to rebut Dash’s accusation, the door slowly swung open until a chain brought it to an abrupt halt. A small, round, wrinkled face peeked through the crack.
“Mrs. Sadie Sipowitz?” Dash asked.
“Yes.” She squinted at them through her thick glasses.
“Excuse us, ma’am, for disturbing you,” Dash apologized. “I’m Detective Dash and this is Detective Desi. We are from the Thirty-Third Precinct.”
“Well, usually I’m asleep at this late hour, but the Miss Ladascus Pageant is on, and I never miss it.” Although she was in her nineties, her voice had a smoky, sexual growl to it. She closed the door to unchain it, then reopened it. She stood small in her white housecoat, decorated in the same pink flowers that adorned the shutters, and a pair of yellow, fuzzy slippers. Her gray hair was tied back into a bun, ready for bed, but she still maintained a full face of makeup and an overuse of perfume. She continued, “I was a beauty queen once, myself. But how is it that I can I help you, kind sirs?”
“As I stated, we are detectives with the Thirty-Third Precinct,” Dash repeated.
“Oh! A government job.” Sadie straightened. She smiled, her eyes betraying her scheming. “That would have a good pension now, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, ah yes. Yes, it does,” Dash agreed. “But we’re investigating a robbery that occurred over the weekend. Believe it or not, your name has arisen as someone we would desire to talk to.”
“Are either of you two single?” Sadie asked.
“Well, yes, ma’am. We both are,” Desi replied
“You know, my granddaughter’s single, too.”
“We hadn’t had time to determine that fact yet, ma’am. But as I was saying, we’re investigating a robbery.”
“I’ve had nothing stolen,” she declared.
“The robbery was at the Shooman building. But somehow your name has arisen as someone we’d like to talk to,” Dash repeated.
“Well, I’m flattered.” Sadie giggled. “What was stolen?”
“Diamonds, taken from an office in the Allen Shooman Tower,” Desi added.
“Oh my, my jewel-thieving days are long gone. Oh, but I do remember Rocky. I was his moll. My brain might not have been perky then, but my body was.” Sadie sighed. “Nowadays, I’m lucky if I can make it to the street to pick up my mail.”
“Well, my deductive reasoning has led me to believe that you are not the unknown subject who jumped out of a two-hundred-and-thirty-sixth story window,” Dash quipped.
“Did I tell you I was Miss Ladascus once? It was back in aught thirteen,” she recalled again. “Rocky said I’d never amount to nothin’, but I showed him.”
“Yes ma’am, you did.” Desi stayed diligent and patient as the conversation revolved.
“My granddaughter was Miss Ladascus in aught seventy-nine.”
“My! Two pageant queens in the same family,” Desi complimented her. “Your husband must be very proud of your and Heather’s accomplishments.”
“Oh, he was. My Rocky passed not fifteen years ago. I’ve been alone ever since.”
“Really, you married Rocky?” Dash made a mental note of that.
Sadie eyed Desi alluringly. “She’s single now.”
“Your granddaughter?” Desi clarified.
“Yes, Heather, my granddaughter. Divorced actually, but no children.” Sadie’s voice softened, and her eyes glazed over. “I do wish to live long enough to see great-grandchildren someday.”
“Getting back to your mailbox,” Desi looked to his handheld device and sighed. He wouldn’t be able to use it in this interview. “We traced correspondence from a suspect to the mailbox you rent in the mall.”
“Oh, dear.” She grabbed Desi’s arm in panic. “Please don’t tell my granddaughter about my mailbox.”
“No, we won’t, if you don’t wish us to. Why, may I ask, don’t you want your granddaughter to know about the mailbox?” Desi asked as he tried to escape her surprisingly strong grip.
“That is sweet of you. You see, she doesn’t know about it. And if she found out, she’d make me give it up. How else could I get those nice things they sell on the shopping channel? If they came to the house, she’d notice.”
“So where do you put the stuff you buy from the shopping channel?” Desi gave up trying to free himself from Sadie’s grip.
“Well, I have another house that she doesn’t know about. Well, she did, and she told me to sell it, but I didn’t.” Sadie’s lips curled, and her eyes twinkled at the thought of one-upping Heather.
“Well, we’re not going to tell your granddaughter about your double life, unless, of course, you are the notorious jewel thief we’re looking for.” Desi winked.
“You look like a nice boy.” She patted Desi on the cheek, finally releasing his arm. “You know, my granddaughter is recently divorced and about your age. She was a beauty queen herself, you know.”
“Yes, in aught seventy-nine,” Desi answered. “I think I prefer the beauty of aught thirteen. But I would like to know if anyone else knows about your mailbox, or does anyone retrieve your mail for you?”
“No, no, just me. The shuttle bus takes me to the mall once a week to shop, and that’s when I get my mail. Do you suppose someone else is using my mailbox?”
“Possibly, in one form or another.” Dash fell into his contemplative mannerism, left hand in his coat pocket and right hand upon his chin. He would’ve started pacing if the stoop, upon which he stood, was larger. Mrs. Sipowitz gave him a glare to let him know she was speaking exclusively to Desi.
Desi jumped in, “Please don’t discuss this with anyone else. We are still in the middle of the investigation.”
“Are you kidding?” Sadie turned warmly to Desi. “My granddaughter will never find out about my mailbox, but she will find out about you.” An idea formed in her mind. “Do you have a card? You know, in case I need to contact you or something.”
“Here you go, ma’am.” Desi handed her his card hesitantly, starting to get a little worried about the flirting. He looked at Dash. Dash shrugged his shoulders.
Sadie looked at the card, holding it close to her eyes with one hand as she manipulated her glasses with the other. “Detective Desi #8354011, Thirty-Third Precinct.”
“My granddaughter’s going to like you, you south-of-the-border inamorato. She still owes me a great-grandchild before I die. I’m getting along in years you know.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Dash said. “I believe we have dominated enough of your time. We apologize for taking you away from the Miss Ladascus Pageant.”
“I understand,” she said coldly to Dash, then turned to Desi and touched him softly on the arm. “But you need to come back, at any time, and forget to bring your rather dry friend.”
“I will,” Desi assured her as he and Dash departed.
They walked back to the car without uttering a sound and got in. Dash started the car and drove away. Once they were far enough away from the house, he said to Desi, “Her glasses don’t appear to help her myopia. I don’t believe she knows you’re an android and can’t propagate.”
“Just because I can’t propagate
doesn’t mean I can’t satisfy.”
Dash sighed. “Please leave the boorish indelicacies to the humanoids.”
“Well, we can be sure of one thing.” Desi changed the subject. “The correspondence never made it to Mrs. Sipowitz. It must be intercepted along the way.”
“Pull up the trace on the letter,” Dash told him. “Let’s see if it’s made any significant progress.”
Desi brought up the information on his tablet device. “It appears to still be at the mail processing center.” He did a double take. “Wait! It just went dead!”
Frank and Fred returned to their office at the rear of the Soufte Embassy. Worn down from another rather unpleasant meeting with Ambassador Calloway, Fred plopped down in his chair, exhaled a big sigh, and complained, “He just won’t let the Joe issue die.”
“No. We’ll be paying for that mistake for a long time, but he did give us the information from our mole inside the Quesonte Embassy.” Frank inserted a disk into his computer and opened the file. “Hmm, this is interesting.”
“It appears that some high-level brass is arriving on Ladascus tomorrow.” Frank read on. “The Chief of Space Operations, the Secretary of Defense, the High Commissioner of the Prime Minister’s cabinet.”
“Is there a big meeting going on?”
“Doesn’t appear to be.” Frank searched deeper into the documents. “But they’re not arriving through the usual channels. They’re circumventing the embassy to go to safe houses around Ngorongoro. Apparently, they’re not officially here.”
“But the embassy knows they’re here, right?”
“That’s unclear. It looks like Evinrude’s aide is handling them. The ambassador may not even be aware of their presence.” Frank frowned, his eyes cold and hard as he studied the information. As the reality revealed itself, his jaw dropped, and he leaned away from the screen. “Mortimer was right. This is starting to look like a coup d’état.”
“Do you think Evinrude’s capable of gathering enough power to depose the existing regime?”
“He has been around for a very long time and probably has many friends in high places, especially military. Armed forces can be the deciding factor of a coup.”
“Or the beginning of a civil war,” Fred added.
“That would devastate the sector and drag us into a war as well.”
On Evinrude’s desk was an old, well-worn accordion file. The cord that wrapped around it had been replaced many times over the years, and its holes had been patched with tape. Over the course of his career, Evinrude had amassed a cache of information important only to him.
He was currently reading through a biography he had created on Ralph Rivadavia. The metal clip holding Ralph’s faded picture had been there so long it left a stain. At the top of the page, in bold letters, a date showed that Ralph had died five years ago.
He contemplated if Ralph might have trained a protégé — a family member or friend. The techniques and skills displayed in the Shooman Tower robbery were indicative of Ralph’s style. Evinrude caught himself reminiscing about the days when he had crossed paths with this particular nemesis, and he found himself smiling as an old nostalgic tune lit up the corners of his mind. Can it be that it was all so simple then? He began to wax rhapsodic of the way things were.
He turned to the police reports from Dash and Desi and chuckled at the moniker Desi had placed on their perpetrator: “The Ladascan Larcenist.” He wondered if his old mob connections would provide any leads. Evinrude made some phone calls to a few old friends.