Monday morning, Dash and Desi walked through a crowded street festival. Food, drink, music, and merriment abounded outside the Quesonte Embassy, forcing the two detectives to park their car quite some distance away. The two detectives had expected an angry mob outside the embassy, but deductive reasoning had failed Dash this time. He was miffed.
The Quesonte Embassy, like the Soufte Embassy, was an archaic building from the planet’s long-ago past. Parapets and towers rose from the corners, and steep, pointed roofs clawed at the sky over rounded walls of cold, dark stone. All encompassed by tall, thick walls with iron rails and gothic gates. All that was missing was a toccata and fugue in D minor.
At one corner of the embassy’s outer wall, a local band played to an enthusiastic audience. In the street, a number of food and beverage tents and wagons had sprung up overnight. And along another wall, tables and chairs made an impromptu maisivrec garden. Within the crowd were professional actors hired by the embassy to play up the hospitality and play down any negative or riotous influences. So far it was working splendidly. From the street, two figures could be seen looking down from an embassy window.
Evinrude and Ambassador Drakewood were observing the activity. Evinrude asked, “I understand trying to control the crowd with positive influence, but isn’t the maisivrec garden a bit risky?”
“I pondered that issue for a while,” Drakewood answered. “But then I figured, what’s a street festival without a few spirits involved? And I insisted on a low-alcohol selection. Hopefully, they’ll be more concerned with urinating than making a political statement.”
Evinrude looked down and saw several men urinating on the outer embassy wall. “Looks like they’re able to do both.”
Drakewood followed Evinrude’s stare to the men anointing the wall, scoffed, turned, and walked to his desk.
“This may be more of an opportunity than a setback,” Evinrude pointed out.
“To what, clean the wall?”
“The Earthling, Joe, could be a useful catalyst for normalizing diplomatic ties with the Souftes,” Evinrude suggested. “Maybe not he, himself, but this particular event could be the excuse both sides need to dismantle old barriers left by pride and delicate egos.”
“The Souftes and Quesontes have been bitter rivals for a long time.” Behind his desk, Drakewood manipulated a three-dimensional galactic map that clearly indicated the different sovereignties. “And yet the Souftes are our largest trading partner.”
“It appears to me that both sides have become weary of the animosity,” Evinrude shared an observation his vocation had given him. “And a more amenable accord may tip the balance of trade in our favor.”
“The Maxwell Treaty is a hindrance to economic growth for both sides,” Drakewood agreed. “We could definitely benefit from less-restricted trade.”
“Maybe an unofficial meeting with Ambassador Calloway would help you assess the situation.” Evinrude turned toward the window again and noticed the two detectives moving through the crowd.
Dash and Desi pushed their way up to a guard posted at the gate. “Dash and Desi of the Thirty-Third Precinct. We are here to interview Ambassador Drakewood,” Dash told the guard as they presented their identification cards. The guard looked on his electronic clipboard and checked their IDs. He stared at them for a moment, turned toward the inside guard and, with a wave, summoned him to unlock the gate.
“Not a very unruly crowd.” Desi tried to engage the guard in a conversation.
The guard looked at Desi for an uncomfortable moment and then responded, “I’d rather have an unruly crowd. It’s easier to know when to use violence.”
The two detectives were quickly escorted into a rather modern reception area, quite different from the building’s exterior. The guard ushered them to the reception desk.
“Hello, I’m Detective Dash, and this is Detective Desi,” Dash greeted Cheryl. “We are from the Thirty-Third Precinct. We have a meeting with Ambassador Drakewood.”
“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” Cheryl answered. “The ambassador won’t be able to see you at this time, but Mr. Boulougante has been instructed to meet with you in his absence.”
Before Dash or Desi could protest, Evinrude walked up from behind and greeted them, holding out his hand. “Good day, gentlemen. I am Evinrude Boulougante. Please accept my apologies for the change and allow me to show you to my office.”
Dash and Desi returned a quick and cordial handshake, then followed Evinrude down the long, plain hallway. They passed another room where they saw Joe surrounded by office personnel.
Apparently, he was very entertaining to them, since they were all laughing and talking with him. They were having such a good time that Drakewood could be heard shouting a phrase he had repeated many times already, “Miss Halliday! The staff had better not be talking to that alien again!” This was quickly followed by most of the employees scurrying back to their desks. Evinrude and the two detectives were forcibly pushed through his office door by the stampeding herd. (Eventually they would meander back to Joe, yet again.)
“I must say it’s been an adventure here today.” Evinrude smiled, almost chuckling as he closed the door on the scattering colleagues. “Please have a seat.” Desi took a seat near Evinrude’s desk, set down his electronic pad, and began to take notes. Dash remained standing.
Case #: 010313584508
Reporting Officers: Desi #8354011 and Dash #4323530
Desi entered his report: Evinrude’s white hair complimented his bushy, white mustache. When he smiles his eyes both squint and twinkle at the same time; he seems more like a grandpa than the ruthless assassin and espionage agent of the Disturbance. Evinrude was considered an “Ace of Aces” during the war and was regarded as a national hero. He was widely respected, even by his enemies. He remains perhaps the most widely known fighter pilot of his time, if not all time.
Evinrude asked, “What can I do for you, gentlemen?”
“We were to speak with Ambassador Drakewood,” Dash was abrupt, his patience was wearing thin. He started pacing and placed one hand in his coat pocket.
“Yes, I do apologize, but he has his hands full with the recent events filling the news these days. I am personally directing this case and can offer more help than Ambassador Drakewood is capable of.” Evinrude sat behind his desk and leaned back.
Dash scolded Desi over the radio, What did I tell you about embellishing the report? And why are you lionizing this guy?
Desi was more than a little star struck. He’s Evinrude Boulougante, Flying Ace!
Dash angrily lashed back, Keep it professional. Trying to hold two conversations at once, Dash pointed out the illogic and irony embedded in the recent current events. “The Maxwell Treaty was probably a bit optimistic, requiring the destruction of an indestructible ship. Apparently, the politicians didn’t think that one through. But as for me, I’m more interested in apprehending an extremely clever antagonist than the frivolity of politics. So, tell me,” Dash stopped pacing and stared Evinrude directly in the eyes. “What possible objectives would the Quesonte government secure from the procurement of the intelligence regarding a simple jewel theft?”
“Officially, I’m not at liberty to divulge that information” — Dash was about to interject with an “Aha!” but Evinrude cut him off, while also mimicking Dash’s garrulous diction — “but in this unscrupulous world of skullduggery, I have attained the lucid realization that the information is entirely tertiary to the proceeding of my endeavor and, in fact, may elicit a favorable and more rapid outcome.”
Dash, confounded for the second time in one day, stopped pacing and suddenly didn’t know what to do with his hands. He threw them behind his back and clenched them. He decided that he was having a bad day, and sent to Desi, He must be lying.
Desi, frantically trying to keep up with the notes, thought back, I have absolutely no idea what the two of you just said.
“Please, have a seat,” Evinrude offered to Dash again, but again he remained standing.
Desi asked, “So, what are you unofficially saying?”
“That Henry Streator is a courier we use from time to time, and the information he was transporting for us was stolen by your thief.”
“Mr. Boulougante,” Dash proceeded cautiously. “I appreciate your candor, but I find it inconceivable that you would expose yourself so readily. I suspect you will demand a quid pro quo.”
“As you should. I would be extremely grateful to you if you would allow me the opportunity to procure the information, once you have attained the stolen articles.”
“What exactly was stolen?” Desi asked.
“A small mediocre diamond of no consequence, one of many Mr. Streator commonly trades. Etched upon an inner plane of the diamond is data. To most, the diamond would look cloudy or flawed,” Evinrude explained.
“And I suppose you’d like us to remove this diamond from the evidence and return it to you?”
“We can’t corrupt evidence in that way,” Desi protested, his textbook training coming to bear.
“First you need to have the evidence before you can corrupt it. But yes, I’d like you to remove one particular diamond. One diamond more or less will not alter the effectiveness of the evidence.”
“And what do we get in exchange for this breach of protocol?” Dash turned and walked across the room slowly. Desi was indignant that Dash would seriously consider Evinrude’s request. He quickly amassed the entire book of police protocol and threw it electronically at Dash’s head. Dash stopped suddenly and looked back at Desi.
“My full cooperation,” Evinrude leaned forward and looked Dash squarely in the eye.
“How can we trust the Quesonte government?” Dash asked.
“You can’t,” Evinrude smiled and leaned way back into his chair. “But then, I didn’t say Quesonte cooperation, I said my cooperation.”
“How do we know that the Souftes don’t already have it?” Desi caught Evinrude’s attention.
“They don’t.” Evinrude’s confidence reassured them. “If they did, they’d be acting very differently, and besides, this thief was exceptionally good. I dare say he’s better than anyone we or the Souftes have.”
“She’s good,” Desi felt compelled to correct him.
Dash quickly admonished Desi, That was information he didn’t need.
He seems upright and honest. I feel it’s wise to show good faith toward his offer of cooperation.
“Pardon my bias. It shows my age.” Evinrude had just made the connection. He was relatively sure who had replaced his old adversary. But years of experience and a good poker face prevented Dash and Desi from discovering his realization. “A woman? Really?”
“Yes.” Dash regained control of the conversation.
“Do you know who she might be?”
“Pity. Well then, when you do apprehend her, tell her she has a job offer from the Quesonte government.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Dash started pacing again. “If you give us the girl, we’ll give you the goods.”
“I wish I could.” Evinrude chuckled at the cliché and asked, “I do have a question for you though. I know she rappelled from the roof and then left by parachuting out the window. But how did she get on the roof in the first place?”
“We haven’t figured that out yet.” Dash was bitter and angry about that fact. “But then, neither have the authors.”
Evinrude’s intercom buzzed. “Pardon me, gentlemen.” He pressed the intercom button. “Yes, Cheryl?”
“A couple of gentlemen from the Soufte government are here to see you.”
He turned to the two detectives. “If you don’t have any more questions, gentleman, I do have a busy schedule today.” Evinrude stood up from behind his desk and handed each of them a business card. “If you need me, please feel free to call.”
“Just one more thing, Mr. Boulougante.” Dash paused as he pocketed the card. “It’s not related to the case, but it has been puzzling me. Yesterday, you had an outstanding lead on us during our pursuit. Why did you double back and give it up?”
“That was you?”
“Us,” Desi clarified.
“Fortunately, I remembered a conversation at my neighbor’s barbeque the other night. I was talking to his kid about marching band. He plays the trumpet, same as me. Their school was having a festival that day, and it was his first time marching in a parade. He was very proud of that. And, if I had continued on that course, I would have driven right into the parade area, where a lot of children, parents, and other people would be. They did not need a high-speed chase brought to them, so I turned around and led you away from the school.”
“You risked getting caught to spare the lives of innocent Ladascans.”
“My conscience is not as empty as you believe it to be, detective, and besides, if I can’t do my job without risk to others, I’m not very good at my job.”
“I can respect that.” Dash gave Evinrude a firmer and definitely friendlier handshake. “Good day, sir.”
Dash and Desi left the room with Evinrude following them out.
They noticed Joe in the room down the hall, again surrounded by the curious crowd. And again, they were all laughing and having a good time talking with him.
Dash and Desi stopped at the reception desk where Frank and Fred were talking to Cheryl. Evinrude walked up to greet his counterparts from the Soufte Embassy. “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”
“Thank you for seeing us, Mr. Boulougante. I’m Frank Surovell, and this is my partner Fred Jackson.”
“Pleased to meet the both of you.” Evinrude gestured between the four men. “May I introduce Detectives Dash and Desi of the Thirty-Third Precinct?”
A sudden outburst came from Drakewood’s office. “Miss Halliday! The soon-to-be-unemployed had better not be talking to that alien again!” And again, they all hustled out of the room to the hallway, scattering back to their workstations.
Frank and Fred were bewildered by the office traffic jam occurring in front of them. Evinrude, Dash, and Desi were unfazed, as they had already been initiated to the new office ritual. After the confusion died down, they all greeted each other.
“May I ask you a question, sirs?” Dash asked politely.
“Go right ahead,” Frank replied.
“What possible objectives would the Soufte government secure from the procurement of intelligence regarding a simple jewel theft?”
Frank pondered the lengthy question a moment and then responded with his best indirect answer. “Jewels? No, don’t know about any jewels, but if the Quesontes are up to something you can rest assured that the Soufte government will not rest until all are safe from their tyranny.”
A grave silence saturated the room. It was so quiet you could hear an android’s thoughts.
Desi radioed Dash, Um…He does know he’s in the Quesonte Embassy, doesn’t he?
Dash replied, We’d better exit before another incident occurs.
Evinrude gave a hearty laugh and said, “I appreciate your vapid expression of our historical crux. You are a bold one, Mr. Surovell.”
Everyone relaxed, normal office chatter resumed, and Joe’s audience grew one by one, as they avoided the watchful eyes and ears of Ambassador Drakewood,
“Not exactly the artful dodge I expected for an answer, but close enough.” Dash’s faith in deductive reasoning was partially reconfirmed. “Good day, gentleman.” He nodded to Frank, Fred, and Evinrude and took his leave. Desi followed suit.
“Frank Surovell?” Evinrude pondered for a moment. “I’m familiar with your name. I was impressed with your work on the Arturo Express, and then you dropped out of sight. What happened?”
“You weren’t the only one who noticed me on that case.” Frank sighed. He never regretted his decision so long ago, but its consequences were still a burden today. “Let’s just say I offended a head of state, and nothing’s been pleasant ever since.”
“Say no more.” Evinrude nodded. “So, what can I help you gentlemen with?”
“We’d like Joe back,” Fred blurted out like a mother hen.
“Oh? Well, you do understand that he’s kind of in the middle of a controversy right now.”
“More than you know,” Fred said. “Ambassador Callaway is extremely upset about his presence. But by all rights, we do need to return him to his planet of origin.”
“Admittedly we are kind of embarrassed at losing him,” Frank added. “We searched for hours.”
Drakewood bellowed again, “Miss Halliday!” And the stampede cycled again.
Evinrude smiled. “I’m sure Ambassador Drakewood appreciates your kind gesture to take him off our hands. Right this way, gentlemen.” He led them down the hall to Joe.
“Fred! Frank!” Joe yelled. “It’s great to see you guys.”
“Hi, Joe. Are they treating you well?” Frank rushed to him and looked him over as an over-protective parent would a child.
“Considering that I caused an intergalactic incident, yes, they are,” Joe answered. “They put me up in a nice hotel last night, and I hang out here during the day. With all the attention I’m getting, I’m beginning to feel like a cute puppy brought to the office.”
“We’re arranging your transportation home,” Fred told him.
“Great! I bet Homer will be glad to see me.”
Two forest rangers were on a routine patrol when they happened upon Joe and Homer’s campsite. “Hey Jim, don’t we have a hiking plan filed for a couple of college kids trekking along the Divide?”
“Let me check,” Jim replied, pulling a small notepad from his shirt pocket and flipping it open.
“This campsite looks deserted,” the first ranger thought out loud.
Reading from his notepad, Ranger Jim said, “Yes, a Joe Ritz and Homer Bergman were supposed to get here by Friday and should have moved on Saturday to their next campsite. Can you read anything from their trail?”
“Well, if this big arrow is any indication they went that way.”
“Anything else? You are the tracking king,” Ranger Jim said.
“Yes, there is something else.” He took a long look around the campsite, then picked at the ground near the fire ring. He hesitated. “But it reads a bit weird.”
“Well, the two of them entered the campsite Friday afternoon around four pm and made camp. They ate dehydrated meals and hated them. One of them had Oreos, and they rejoiced. They discussed proper defecation techniques in the forest, frightening the novice camper with the smooth rock technique. One went to bed while the other waited for the fire to die out, and then he walked toward the lake. There was a — no, make that two — two tidal waves, a smaller one and a larger one. And then there was one camper, the novice. He stayed one day by himself and left early yesterday morning heading north…twice.”
“Hey, I don’t write them. I just read them.”
Cheryl popped her head into Evinrude’s office. “Evinrude, you should see this.” She looked at Frank and Fred. “And you two, too. This concerns us all.”
They excused themselves from Joe and walked down to Drakewood’s office. The ambassador was standing in front of the TV, trying to maintain a look of concern while gloating at the same time. He noticed them enter and stood aside so they could see the TV.
“THIS JUST IN!” yelled the news anchor. “A college outing has just uncovered yet another large cache of military weaponry, this one belonging to the Soufte government. Apparently, neither side is without sin. We go now to Joyce Bolan at the site.” The screen switched to a shot of an archeological dig, with a reporter standing next to Dean Stoyanova.
“Thank you, Rowan. I am here with Stanley Stoyanova, dean of Archeology with the University of Ngorongoro. Mr. Stoyanova, you say this dig had been an ongoing project for the university this past year. How odd that you would happen upon a Soufte military bunker less than twenty-four hours after a similar Quesonte bunker was discovered.”
“Yes, most remarkable indeed, but purely coincidental. We’ve been at this site for nearly a year now,” the dean lied. He and his students had only just started digging the day before at the bequest of Ambassador Drakewood and under the guidance of the ambassador’s aide, Mr. Hainey. “It has been an ongoing dig for the archeology department as a training facility for advanced archeological studies.”
“How do you interpret your findings, Dean?”
“It looks like both sides were up to the same thing,” he speculated.
“Why does that not surprise me?” the reporter retorted.
Drakewood turned to Fred and Frank, drawing their attention from the rest of the interview. “Looks like it’s your turn now, boys.” He gave a somewhat knowing smile.
Frank’s cell phone rang. He looked at it, and his heart dropped. He showed Fred the less-than-flattering caller ID picture of Ambassador Calloway. Frank walked over to a bottle of brandy sitting on a credenza behind Drakewood’s desk and poured himself three fingers. His phone kept ringing.
Drakewood, after a little gasp at Frank’s pretentious move to his liquor, watched in amazement.
Fred thought for a moment. “He’s not blaming us for that?” He pointed at the television.
Frank toasted Fred for getting the right answer and gulped down his drink. He walked over to Drakewood, shook his hand, and said in a hoarse voice, “Good scotch.”
Fred asked, “Aren’t you going to answer your phone?”
Frank looked at it for a moment and then slammed the phone on the corner of the desk. With a half-innocent look on his face, he raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders. “Oops.”
Drakewood immediately took out a handkerchief and massaged the corner of his desk, silently cooing as if to comfort it. Satisfied the desk wasn’t harmed, he looked up at Frank in questioning disbelief.
Immediately Fred’s phone rang. He looked at it and sighed deeply. “It’s Calloway.”
Drakewood spread his arms out in front of his desk to protect it.
Fred answered his phone. “Yes…Yes, Frank’s here. His phone… damaged.”
Frank made a gun with his hand and pointed it at his phone. His thumb dropped like the hammer on a pistol. Fred narrated into his phone, “His phone was shot.”
Frank slapped his hand against his forehead, shaking his head.
Fred tried to interpret. “Well, not shot, it was hit by a bullet in a shootout.”
Frank smiled and nodded.
“With who?” Fred looked to Frank for an answer.
Frank pointed at Evinrude. Evinrude pointed at himself in surprise.
“Why, none other than the notorious Evinrude Boulougante.” Fred started to get into the role of storyteller. “Boy, it was something! I can’t wait to see how he writes it up in his report. Evinrude? He’s dead. No. No, wait, I think he’s getting better. I need to end this call; local authorities are arriving en masse.” He hung up the phone, then noticed everyone looking at him and said, “Think one up and think it up quick.”
“Notorious,” Evinrude gloated proudly to Drakewood.
Frank and Fred bid their farewells, retrieved Joe, and left the embassy.
Evinrude said to Drakewood, “I like them.”
Drakewood responded, “They were entertaining. But don’t you try and pull a stunt like that on me.”
Alfia sat at the kitchen table, paging through the day’s paper. Dinner was in the oven staying warm. Her mother was running late, but finally, she entered through the garage door.
“You would not believe the traffic today!” Marsha exclaimed, dropping her keys on the end table by the couch and noticing the out-of-character television show Alfia was watching. “You’re watching the CBS? I thought you hated it?”
“Everything else is news about the invasion,” Alfia complained. “It’s the same drivel over and over again, lots of hype and speculation with no supporting facts or information.” The phone rang, and Alfia answered it. “Hello…Yes, this is Alfia…Earth? Where’s that? Oh, you can understand my reluctance to go outside of civilized space. And besides, it could take weeks to get way the anneheg down there…Okay. Okay, I’ll be down in the morning. Make sure it’s had its shots, I don’t want to catch anything funny…Okay. Goodbye.”
“Who was that?”
“A guy named Frank Surovell from the Soufte Embassy,” Alfia said. “Apparently, they accidentally abducted an alien that needs to be returned to its planet of origin.”
“Now, you see, that’s a good job. I like that job. You get to use that education I paid for. Why don’t you do it full time?” Marsha paused for a moment. “An alien, as in unknown species? Is it safe? Will you need an armed guard? Is it diseased?”
Alfia answered her mother’s first and only sane question, “Because the county can’t afford a full-time social worker, and if they could, it wouldn’t be a great paying job anyway.”
“I’ve never heard of Earth.”
Alfia pointed at the TV, still on the Earth channel.
“Oh.” Her mother stared, studying the Earthling’s features.
“It’s an accidental abduction, whatever the anneheg that is. I usually deal with runaways of known species,” Alfia explained. “But this is a special case, I guess. And since I specialize in long-distance returns outside our system, they decided to use me.”
“You see, there’s another skill you have to offer. Make that military stint pay off, too.”
“Please, Mother,” Alfia moaned.
“You could be a pilot. Haul intergalactic freight.”
“Are you kidding? Have you seen some of those intergalactic truckers? And you think being a jewel thief is dangerous.”
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.”
“It’s a moot point, Mom.”
“Why don’t you re-enlist?” Marsha badgered. “The military has good jobs. You’ve only been out for four years; they’ll take you back. And there are plenty of eligible bachelors, too. There’s nothing like a man in uniform.”
“No.” Alfia gritted her teeth. Moving into the kitchen, she felt compelled to clean something to avoid a tired, old subject. Fortunately, breakfast dishes were still in the sink. “The service wasn’t a good fit for me.”
“Earth, huh?” Her mother looked at the TV, as a rather over-confident starship captain was talking. “That captain guy is some sort of womanizer, isn’t he? Are they all that way? Don’t you come back with some sort of space seed inside you.”
“Is it safe?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll meet him tomorrow. I’d like to get to know whom I’ll be spending so much time with, especially since we’ll be confined in a small space for so long. I don’t want to be attacked, like when that kid from Zeta One tried to eat me.”
“Well you can thank the service for the close-quarters combat training,” her mother pointed out. “When do you have to leave?”
“Not sure yet, maybe this weekend. I’ll find out tomorrow.” Alfia stopped washing but left her hands soaking in the water. She stared out the kitchen window and into the sky, then she shook her head. “It’s a long trip to Earth.”
Frank and Fred took Joe to the Muitipsoh, the same hotel where the Quesontes boarded him the night before, and escorted him in.
“This is the same hotel Evinrude put me up in. They gave me a pretty swank suite and a guard. They called him a ‘chaperone’.” Joe made quote signs with his fingers. “I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately. Apparently, it’s some sort of anniversary on this planet. Forty-two years since some invasion and seventeen years since it ended.”
“That would be the Disturbance,” Fred told him.
“That is what they called it. Do you guys have time for dinner?”
“I think we have some time,” Frank said. “This will give our liaison time to get here.”
The three made their way across the vast lobby to the restaurant entrance. Fred quickly occupied himself with the menu posted outside.
“A ‘chaperone,’ you mean.” Joe again made quote signs with his fingers.
“Don’t think of it that way, Joe. You’re free to come and go. Think of him as a tour guide. Someone who knows the area and can escort you to see the sites, so you won’t get lost or create any more intergalactic incidents.” Frank smiled and gave him a quick wink.
“That’s fair.” Joe grinned and then changed the subject. “So, who won the Disturbance?”
“It depends on whom you ask,” Fred said, still concentrating on the dining selections.
“Or should I ask, Who lost?”
“Ladascus,” they both answered.
Homer’s Log Day Three
I’m writing this from atop a tree. Apparently, bears can climb trees, too. Now that I look at it, I suppose playing with the little bear cubs was a bad idea. If only nature would be a little less subtle with its signs of danger. The claw marks on the tree, the bear tracks in the dirt. Stepping in bear scat. (Ha, bet you didn’t think I knew that term.) Oh sure, it all seems obvious now. I hope this bear gets tired of waiting for me. Well, at least I can climb higher than the bear can.
I’m going to die, aren’t I?