Henry Streator’s house was dimly lit. Henry didn’t like all the surveillance, so he kept the lights down and the shades drawn as much as he could. Several blocks away and up a hill, Ralph parked her car. She was able to see the house, the Ladascan police stakeout car, the Soufte stakeout car, and the Quesonte stakeout car all parked in front. She looked behind her to see if she was the last one to the party. Nothing had changed from the night before when she had evaluated Streator’s house. She drove away.
A few moments later Fred and Frank parked in the same spot. They, too, saw Henry’s house and the cars parked in front of it. They, too, waited.
Several hours passed. Fred and Frank drove off, avoiding the three stakeout cars, only to park several blocks away. Dressed in black, Fred and Frank crossed through the backyards of the houses in between. Fred somehow managed to step on a cat’s tail as he bounded over a fence. The cat let out a yelp that started all the neighborhood dogs barking. Frank looked at him coldly.
Finally, they arrived in Henry’s backyard. Fred carried a slim pack with him, and Frank had several tools in his pockets. Frank looked at his watch. It was two minutes after one. He had contacted the company that supplied and monitored Henry’s security system and instructed them to turn off the alarm from their main office at exactly one o’clock in the morning. But Frank still tested the system to be sure. He set a small box next to the window sensor. A red light glowed.
“Figured as much, the alarm is still on,” Frank grumbled. Suddenly the light turned green, and he sighed with relief. “Oh good.”
They drilled out the lock on the window, slid it open, and crawled in, closing the window behind them. They were in the family room just off the kitchen.
Ralph had returned to Streator’s house and had been watching Fred and Frank. Rookies, she thought. Also fully clothed in black, she brought along a black bag containing all the items she had appropriated last Friday night. Ralph crept into Henry’s backyard from the side opposite Fred and Frank’s entry. She was aware of their movements and everything else that was going on around the house. Always be aware of your surroundings, her father’s transcendental advice echoed.
She slipped around the gazebo and came to the patio door. She jimmied the lock and slid a hair-thin card between the door and the jamb. The card was a powerful magnet with an adhesive strip. She held it against the sensor near the top of the door, opened the door, and then pressed the adhesive strip against the doorjamb to hold it in place on the sensor. Even though she had seen Fred and Frank disarm the system, she had learned, Never trust anything you don’t control. She had a few of her own truisms. She slipped into the kitchen and shut the door, leaving it unlocked.
Frank and Fred had already found Henry’s den, toward the front of the house.
Ralph went through the kitchen and into the hallway. She peered into the rooms, looking for the den, where she discovered Frank and Fred going through Henry’s desk and computer. She slowly backed away, thought for a moment about the other two invaders, and surveyed her surroundings. The house was still basically the same as the original layout that she had studied in the archives of the city planning commission office. Thank goodness, they keep those records forever.
It was an older house with a divided staircase. One flight descended from the upper level to a landing, where it separated into one staircase to gain access to the front of the house and another to the rear. Ralph decided to ascend the front stairs to Henry’s bedroom. She had just reached the landing halfway up when a door loudly slammed shut below her.
Frank and Fred froze and looked at each other in alarm.
In a flash Henry was up. He knew exactly what that sound was. He jumped out of bed, into his slippers and, grabbing his robe, ran out the door.
Ralph quickly retreated down the back set of stairs toward the kitchen.
Fred and Frank peeked out of the den and saw Henry stomping down each stair, grumbling all the way, “I’ll get him. He’s not getting away with it this time.” Frank and Fred hid behind the desk in the den.
At the landing, Henry headed toward the front of the house and the main floor, his robe floating in the breeze of his tailwind. He bolted down the hallway to his right and to the basement stairs.
In the den, Frank and Fred were unable to locate the envelope that Evinrude had given Henry. Taking advantage of the opportunity, they maneuvered upstairs into Henry’s bedroom.
Ralph backed further into the kitchen while Fred and Frank climbed the stairs.
In the basement, Henry made a beeline to the wine cellar and threw open the unlocked door.
Winston, crouched behind the stairwell, bolted (well, shuffled, like the elderly man he was) up the stairs, carrying a purloined bottle of port.
A moment later, Henry emerged from the wine cellar, shouting, “Where are you? Where are you? I will not tolerate you stealing my wine again!”
Winston quickly fled to the kitchen, opened the pantry, and blindly set the bottle on the floor just behind the door, next to Ralph’s leg. Winston then quickly shifted to the door of his own quarters at the far end of the kitchen, as Henry feverishly entered the kitchen. “What is all the excitement about, sir?” Winston yawned and stretched, pretending to have just woken up, while trying to hide his shortness of breath from Henry.
“You’ve been stealing my wine again!” Henry accused him. “A bottle of Trebuchet port is missing!”
“Do I use that one for cooking, sir?”
“At 500 credits a bottle, you better not be.”
While Henry and Winston argued, Ralph slipped out of the pantry (with the wine, her father’s favorite spirit.) and ducked into the den, as she had originally planned.
“Sir, I believe you are regrettably mistaken. The wine cellar is constantly locked, and you’re the only one with a key,” Winston pointed out.
“Well, it was open just now.”
“Did you forget to lock it?”
“No! I never forget to lock it. You must have another key,”
“In what manner could I have attained a key?” Winston shrugged his shoulders “You have the only one.”
“That’s right! And don’t you forget it.”
“If you’d like, you can inventory the wine in the wine rack to see if there are any extra bottles there,” Winston moved toward the wine cooler.
“I will. But I’m going to check the pantry first. That would be a perfect place to stash it on the way up from the basement.” Henry walked back to the pantry, turned on the light and looked in.
Winston bit his lower lip, a look of dread overcoming him.
Henry came out, disappointed. “Nothing in there.”
Winston, though bewildered, regained his composure. “Well…of course not, sir.”
Henry searched the kitchen thoroughly, as Winston double-checked the pantry for the bottle that now eluded him.
In the den, Ralph placed a black bag (filled with Henry’s diamonds, his correspondence with her, and the contents of the other safe deposit boxes) on the back of a shelf in the closet. It’s not about the money, her father used to say, ever so nicely, but sometimes you have to cut the sutluts loose. Now she could leave. She paused for a moment, taking an inventory of her surroundings. Winston and Henry were in the kitchen, Frank and Fred in the bedroom, and three sets of eyes were out front. What was a girl to do? Patience, echoed from beyond.
Outside Henry’s house, Detective Tom approached the lead car of the stakeout. He and the two agents he had met in the mall had decided to share the responsibility of the stakeouts, so they could get some much-needed sleep. He knocked on the window.
Inside, Dick startled, looked at his watch, and rolled down the window. “It’s early. What’s up?”
“On a stakeout, one shouldn’t be so startled.”
“I know. I’m not sleeping much anymore.” Dick closed his bloodshot eyes to soothe them. “Kid’s teething. There is no peace at home.”
“I can sympathize; it’ll be over soon. Wait until…he or she?”
“…becomes a teenager.”
“I thought it only got better.” Dick conveyed a young parent’s hopes.
“Let me just say, it takes a lot of restraint not to use this firearm sometimes,” Tom joked.
“So anyway, you’re early.” Dick started to worry. “We’ve been found out, haven’t we? Oh, I knew this would happen.”
“No, no we didn’t. I just heard from the precinct,” Tom explained. “They’ll be here shortly with a warrant to search the premises.”
“Well, it was good while it lasted.” Dick calmed a little.
“Yes, it was. We’ll need to collaborate more often. I called Harry to let him know what was going on, and he should be here soon. We don’t want our superiors to know what we’ve been up to.”
Fred and Frank discovered a briefcase and an envelope with a memory card in Henry’s bedroom. Frank pulled out the memory card while Fred removed a small computer from his pack, and they started transferring the information onto its hard drive.
Frank whispered, “This file is huge!”
Henry was now climbing the stairs back up to his bedroom. Winston discreetly searched the lower floors. And Ralph cautiously returned to the pantry to avoid Winston.
“You’d better hurry, he’s on his way back,” Fred warned, peering back from the doorway. They dashed into the closet, their computer still downloading the information.
Henry made a beeline to his bathroom.
The download finished. Frank and Fred quickly put the memory card back, monitoring the time by the sounds emanating from the bathroom.
The doorbell rang.
“What the anneheg now?” emanated from the bathroom, a sentiment shared silently by Frank and Fred.
Frank and Fred barely escaped into the hallway and rushed down the stairway. Henry exited the bathroom. Observing the increase in movement, Ralph decided the pantry had limited exits and darted out into the family room, which was open to the kitchen.
Frank and Fred glimpsed Winston walking toward the front door just as they headed down the back stairs into the kitchen.
Henry trudged down the stairs. Ralph spied Fred and Frank moving toward the patio door and froze. Hiding in plain sight is easy: don’t move. Simple but true; her father’s tips were always right.
Frank and Fred were in such a hurry to leave, they didn’t realize that the patio door was already unlocked.
Rookies. Ralph shook her head.
Winston momentarily paused to turn off the alarm, questioning whether he had set it or not when he noticed it was off. The bell rang again, and Winston opened the door. As he let Dash, Desi, and a uniformed officer into the house, Henry reached the bottom of the stairs.
Ralph crossed into the kitchen and watched through the patio door as Fred and Frank climbed over the back fence. She detached the magnet from the sensor—Always pick up after yourself, or someone else will. — and left, closing the patio door behind her. She passed the gazebo and disappeared over the side fence with her newly-acquired bottle of port.
“And to what, may I ask, do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” Henry huffed to Dash and Desi.
“We have a search warrant for the premises,” Desi told him.
“At two in the morning?” Henry asked.
“Routine investigative work,” Dash explained. “We have a search warrant for the premises.”
“You said that already,” Henry stated.
“Just reiterating the facts.” Dash was secretly enjoying taunting Henry.
“It’s two a.m.!” Henry yelled.
“You said that already.”
“Just reiterating the facts,” Streator snidely shot back. “Well, I guess it was inevitable. I’m a little surprised you didn’t search me earlier. But then, it is standard procedure to harass the victim if you can’t find the crook, isn’t it?” he went on sarcastically. “Oh, and I’m missing a bottle of port, please cavity-search my butler.”
“Valet, sir,” Winston reminded him.
“If it turns up, we’ll let you know.” Dash gestured for everyone to move in to the next room. “But for now, we need both of you to remain here in the living room with the officer.”
Henry plopped himself down on the couch and Winston quietly sat beside him. “Can we at least watch TV?” Henry pouted.
Desi and Dash, ignoring Henry and his comments, walked out.
Henry snatched up the remote and crushed the buttons, turning on the television. Newsflashes of Joe out on the town with Marsha broke into regular programming on every channel. After surfing through all the channels, Henry got fed up, turned off the TV, and threw the remote across the room. He looked at Winston angrily and said, “Well?”
“If you will pardon my candor, sir, I might remark that you are something of a sunisa.”
Desi asked Dash quietly, “Really, two a.m.? Why did it take so long to get the warrant?”
Dash replied, “The judge was at a dance club. Apparently, the mayor and his cronies seized the opportunity to take photos with the Earthling at some of the local hot spots. Elections are coming up.”
Joe could hear the muffled voices of people talking. He had been gagged and bound, and a hood was pulled over his head. He was thrown into the trunk of a car that was driving to an unknown location, which isn’t saying much since any place in Ngorongoro was unknown to him. He had tried to memorize the turns and count the seconds between them, but there were too many, and he wondered if his abductors had actually gotten lost a few times.
The car finally stopped, and they pulled him out of the trunk and down a long, twisting flight of stairs. Joe was pretty sure there were three of them. He caught two alien-sounding names: Oemay and Urlycay.
They plopped Joe into a chair and bound him to it, then removed the hood and gag. Before him stood three rather surly-looking Ladascans.
“Don’t worry, kid.” From his voice, Joe speculated that Oemay was addressing him. “It’s not personal, just business.”
“Now there’s a stale cliché.”
“See here,” Urlycay reprimanded him. “We don’t need any fresh talk from you.”
“Why don’t we just pop him in the brains and go?” the third one said.
“Because. Arrylay, we’re here to interrogate him, not kill him.”
“Oh, all right.” Arrylay slouched away to a work table across the room. Joe watched him wiring a small box on top of a football-sized metal cylinder.
“We need some answers.” Oemay grabbed Joe’s bound hands and looked menacingly into his eyes.
“As long as it’s not the proof to Fermat’s Last Theorem, I’ll be glad to help.” Joe tried to be witty.
“A wise guy, ay, what organizations do you belong to?” Joe couldn’t escape Oemay’s rancid breath as he pressed in closer.
“Several actually: The ABA — American Bicycle Association; the CIA — Cyclists Improving America; the KGB — Kogs, Gears, and Bikes; and I also participated in RAGBRAI once,” Joe attempted shallow breaths.
“Impressive.” Oemay leaned away and pondered for a moment, not recognizing any of the organizations. “What makes you think you can move in on the boss’s territory?”
“I’m not moving in on anyone. I was accidentally abducted.”
“Accidentally abducted, ay?” Urlycay argued. “Do you expect us to believe that?”
“Do you think we’re sutluts?” Oemay retorted in a huff.
“Just misinformed, maybe?” Joe studied the knots in the rope that tied him to the chair. He had been a scout most of his life and had an extensive knowledge of knots. Although they were formidable, Joe noticed they were tied wrong: simply releasing the tension on the rope would free him. But it wouldn’t be as simple as it sounded since the ropes were very tightly wrapped. “These are extraordinary knots,” he complimented his captors.
“Well, thank you. I tied them myself.” Urlycay boasted. “Bet you don’t have anything like that on your primitive planet.”
“Don’t get chummy with the hostage. We may have to kill it,” Oemay warned him.
“It’s okay. It’s not like I named it.”
Arrylay, now fitting a small device into the base of a speaker’s podium, asked Oemay, “Are you sure this is the same podium they’ll be using?”
Arrylay grimaced. “We need to get this bomb worked out before the press conference tomorrow.”
“Quiet, you clod,” Oemay scolded him. “Not in front of the prisoner.”
“Yeah,” Urlycay added his two cents’ worth. “He doesn’t need to know about the biological bomb.”
“I said, shut up!” Oemay loudly punctuated the last two words.
“Oh God, you’re not going to blow up a bunch of people because of me?” Joe struggled harder against his bonds.
“Of course, it’s because of you. You moved in on the boss’s territory. You’re affecting profits. He can’t have that,” Oemay informed him.
“This ain’t no ordinary bomb.” Arrylay perked up, patting the device. “It’s a compound explosive device. First, it’ll kill everyone within five meters, and then it’ll disperse a chemical agent that’ll make everyone within five hundred meters sick and die, eventually. And it’s travel-sized for convenience.”
“But why use it on innocent people?” Joe argued.
“Because Ambassadors Drakewood and Calloway aren’t innocent, they’re declaring peace,” Oemay explained.
“Isn’t peace a good thing?”
“Not if you’re the boss, and your primary source of income depends on conflict between the Quesontes and the Souftes,” Oemay added.
“I say we just pop him off now,” Arrylay said, tired of the debate. “What’s one Earthman, more or less?”
“If you count the four in the zoo, it would be a 20 percent reduction,” Joe watched for a response, but none came.
“Not until the boss says so.”
Arrylay sulked away.
“So, what’s your angle?” Urlycay asked. “Nine-volt batteries?”
“I don’t have any angle. I’m just visiting.”
“Don’t bring that up again.” Urlycay turned on a small TV in the corner just as an announcement began. “Look, we’re destroying you in the media right now.”
“Joe, the man from Earth, has apparently brought an infectious disease to Ladascus. Federal officials are warning everyone to stay away from the Earthman if you see him.” The news program showed scenes of overcrowded hospitals, filled with sick and dying Ladascans. Joe watched in awe and disbelief. He knew the images were false, yet they were so horrific he winced at the site of them.
“The boss owns the media,” Oemay taunted him. “He made you a public enemy. So, don’t get any ideas about calling for help.”
The report continued, “It’s the same virus that the military isolated during the Welles Panic of ’38, when a peaceful delegation desired the friendship of a small planet and died from a germ common to that planet. It was so deadly that the military isolated it and grew it for use in our biological armament.”
“So, you’re going to infect a large crowd of people, and they’ll think I did it?”
Oemay grinned, “And they’ll eventually die a slow, painful death. The two ambassadors will die instantly. And the new ambassadors will learn to play ball with the boss. So, if you go to the police, they’ll lock you up. If you go outside, people will turn you in. There’s nothing you can do. We hold all the cards.”
“Why are you over-explaining it like a bad movie?” Urlycay said. “I’ve been following along.”
“It’s ready,” Arrylay declared. “We need to deliver this and set up. I can install it in under a minute. No one will know.” He looked toward Joe and asked, “What about him?”
“Leave him here until the boss says different,” Oemay said.
“He’ll never get out of my knots,” Urlycay boasted.
They left, carrying the conveniently travel-sized bomb in a valise, and locked the door behind them. Joe could hear Arrylay complaining from beyond the door. “Why didn’t we get a building with an elevator?”
“Shut up!” Oemay said.
The television was still on, and the announcer continued his report, “The Earthling is extremely dangerous. He has not been decontaminated and should not be handled. If you see him, please contact the police immediately.”
Joe struggled against the ropes, veins bulging on his arms, his face turning beet red. He almost tipped over twice. A million thoughts ran through his head. What should he do? Who could he call? How would he call? Is gravity merely the energy of momentum? Where was the press conference they were talking about?
The TV announcer conveniently answered his last query. “At two o’clock this afternoon Ambassador Drakewood and Ambassador Calloway will make a public address at the Ladascan Interplanetary Spaceport to reveal their new peace initiative.”
Now Joe knew where he had to go, but he didn’t know where it was.
First, he needed to escape. It was a sophisticated knot but tied incorrectly. All he had to do was relieve the pressure on the rope somehow. Slowly, he wriggled his arm and was eventually able to slip his hand over the side of the arm of the chair. The rope loosened. Joe slid his hand out and was unbound in seconds. He went to the door. It was locked from the inside; they must have been more worried about someone getting in than Joe getting out. Joe unlocked the door and left.
Homer’s Log Day Five Point Five
Safe at the ranger station, eating a large pizza and gulping down a Coke, I felt my body go, “Ahhhh.”
The ranger came over, “You made short work of that pizza. You know, there are many edible things in the forest.”
“Yes. But my body prefers the many edible things in the city.” Homer smiled.
The ranger informed him, “I contacted Joe’s parents, and they’re on their way here.”
“Did you tell them about the aliens?”