Monday, July 29, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 4

In the car, cruising up I-95.  Top down, sun shining.  My trench coat was hot as hell.  Me and Jimmy were heading North to pick up our third and final team member.  The engine on the old Impala wasn’t running in top form.  That plus the three surfboards sticking out of the trunk playing parachute were keeping us well under the speed limit. 

In addition to the surfboards, Jimmy’s “things”  consisted of spare ankle cords, a roll of sex wax, three bottles of Hawaiian Tropic (SPF-2), two pairs of cutoff jeans, a couple of T-shirts, his electric guitar and amp, and a Gameboy. 

“Where we going, Dick?”  He remembered my name.  I was touched. 

“Going to run up to Wilmington.  Pick up Simon.” 


“Yeah.  He’s going to be working with us.” 

“Does he know that?” 


“Oh.”  Jimmy looked out at the passing trees.  “He’s not gonna like you volunteering him again.” 

“Don’t worry about Simon.  I’ll talk him into it.” 

“Yeah, well.  You know, Simon doesn’t like me very much.  Do we have to get him?” 

“Yeah we do.  And don’t worry.  Simon likes you just fine.” 

“No he don’t.  He calls me that number thing.” 

Jimmy was right.  Simon didn’t care for him much.  Simon was at one end of the educational spectrum while Jimmy was at the other.  A dollar says you can guess who was at which end.  ‘That number thing’ was Simon’s way of poking fun at Jimmy.  He sometimes called him ‘Number 12’.  It started when we were eating at a Tai restaurant one night.  Jimmy had said something stupid (big surprise there) and Simon told him that most of the food on the menu was more intelligent than he was.  At this particular restaurant you ordered your meals by number.  Jimmy had ordered number ‘12.’

“He probably forgot all about that.  Besides,”  I said, trying cheer him up a little, “Wilmington’s on the coast.” 

“Yeah?  Okay.  That’s cool.”  He seemed a little better.  “Yeah.  Okay,”  he said again.  Personal affirmation.  “Can we go a little faster then?” 

“We’re topped out, Jimbo.” 

“Really?  I thought this big old thing had a V-8.” 

“It does, but one of the “V’s”  isn’t working real good at the moment.” 

“Oh.”  Jimmy the conversationalist.  “That’s okay, I like riding in cars.  I’m pretty good at it.” 

“Yes you are, my friend.” 

“I like watching things too,”  he added. 

“Lots of good things to watch while you ride in a car.” 


We rode in silence for a while.  Jimmy ate some Fritos and then dozed off.  Gave me some time to think.  Jimmy and Simon didn’t get along too well but both were crucial to my plans.  Okay, that’s a lie.  Simon was crucial.  Jimmy just needed something to do.  But he was also my friend.  Having him along would bring some balance to Simon’s extremely intelligent but obnoxious personality.  Jimmy would also be a good sounding board.  And, if we ran into someone with a gun, he would reduce my odds of getting shot by another 17% than if I had only one partner.  Cold reality.  But it was a cold world.  Well, except in Florida anyway. 

We crossed the South Carolina border and almost immediately passed what was undoubtedly the best deal on fireworks ever offered.  Made me think of Simon.  Nothing to do with fireworks.  Just that Simon had been wearing a yellow shirt the last time I saw him.  Bright yellow.  Just like the fireworks sign. 

Simon was a square peg.  As I’ve said before, a very smart man.  Went to school up North in one of those places covered with vines.  Harvard, or Yale, or Pepsodent;  can’t remember which.  Maybe all four. 

Maybe I’ll grow a goatee.  Give me an edgy look. 

Anyway, Simon was pretty level headed.  He was an asshole, but that was something I could live with since he won the intelligence battle between me and Jimmy hands down.  Had an IQ that I figured had to be way up there in the double digits. 

I met Simon when I was working part time at a Dairy Queen a few years back.  Investigation business hadn’t been exactly brisk then either.  I went into work one night and Simon was in the back kitchen staring at the water as it washed down the drain from the running tap.  I asked him what he was doing and he said he was “studying the effects of erosion in order to develop a theory which may provide a possible alternative to carbon dating”. 

I told him that I meant what was he doing here;  in the back of the DQ.  He didn’t work there.  Anyway, to make a long story short, we got to talking and before you know it we struck a bond.  I also got fired for fucking off in the kitchen for three hours.  The breaks, I guess.  Simon apologized about getting me fired but told me that if I ever got tired of being a private investigator I had a promising career just waiting for me in the personal petroleum distribution industry.  It’s good to know you have that kind of safety net. 

Simon always wore shoes because he had a couple of extra toes.  This was the only thing that he was really sensitive about and he tried hard to act like it wasn’t a handicap.  Because he wanted to be treated like any other person, I always did my best to respect his wishes, though in truth this did create problems on occasion; especially when we performed certain field operations (like sunbathing) which inevitable led to his being left to guard some cheap hotel room, often for days at a time.  Overall, Jimmy and I treated him just like one of the guys, and, aside from some good natured ribbing from time to time, made no mention of his abnormality (we did, however, occasionally laugh like hell about it when he wasn’t around; we’re sensitive that way). 

Although he was a pain in the ass, Simon was helpful and we had worked well together in the past.  I don’t think he really liked detective work and I know it rankled him to play second fiddle to myself.  But he’d always accepted when I needed him in the past.  Partly because he was my friend.  Partly because he knew I’d beat the shit out of him if he didn’t.  Like I said, cold reality.  Ain’t had my ass kicked by a pen yet. 

We hit Wilmington around 10 that night.  Would’ve made it sooner but we stopped at South of the Border to buy some authentic Mexican souvenirs.  Hey, who can resist all those signs? 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 3

Never liked the beach much.  Not a good home for a trench coat. 

I hadn’t seen Jimmy in a while but I knew he’d still be there.  Never strayed too far from the water for any amount of time.  Last I had seen him, he was living in a rented house in Daytona a couple of blocks back from the water.  I worried about that because it meant that he had to cross the street to reach the surf.  Nothing bad about Jimmy, but I’ve seen roadkill that had more common sense around traffic than him. 

Jimmy and me went way back.  Used to steal hubcaps together in high school.  I grew up and went to college.  Jimmy grew up and, well, kept stealing hubcaps.  Probably would’ve wound up a career criminal were it not for a little thing called aluminum rims.  Jimmy never could figure out how to steal those and as hubcaps phased out, so did Jimmy’s career as a thief. 

To pass time after that he started a rock band called Smash the Infants.  You’d be pretty safe in assuming that you wouldn’t hear many STI tunes on your average easy listening station.  But they were harmless.  Just kids who knew how to really annoy the hell out of everyone.  The band broke up years ago and Jimmy never really did much after that.  Except surf.  And help me out from time to time. 

I’ve never been able to put a finger on what made Jimmy tick.  In fact, further explanation at this point would probably prove to be fruitless.  Suffice to say that Jimmy was a living example of the classic inner struggle of intellectual well-being pitted against the respondent bipolar delusions of psychotic terminal stress as physically manifested in both sub-linear quadrants of the upper cerebral cortex. 

He was fluent in one language and had heard portions of at least three others, a couple of which he may have even been able to identify if given a hint and a few guesses.  He rarely wore underwear, and when he did, it was always something unusual, often with a farm animal motif. 

I pulled up to his house around 3 o’clock.  What Jimmy would refer to as “noon-ish”.  The yard looked as if it hadn’t been mown in weeks.  A VW bus that had seen better days sat in the weeds, with two spare engines baking in the sun on the ground around it, both missing what appeared to be some crucial parts.  Trash cans on the side of the house were empty, which meant that all of beer cans and pizza boxes were still inside. 

No doubt.  He still lived here. 

I left my keys in the car and walked up to the porch.  I never worried about car theft.  Anyone who stole Dick Lassiter’s wheels was in for a world of hurt.  Besides, not a big market for 72’ Impalas. 

The front door was open so I let myself in.  Jimmy was curled up on the couch, snoring softly.  To look at him, you might figure that he was the kind of guy who often got lost in his own home and wound up peeing in the kitchen sink by mistake.  To know him was to confirm that. 

I took off my shoe and clocked him in the head with it.  This was fairly standard procedure.  Jimmy lifted his head and tried to raise himself to one elbow but lost his balance and slid over the side of the couch, all in one graceful movement.  He landed on the floor with a gentle thud. 

“Wha..?”  he said, looking around the room dazed. 

“Wake up Jimmy, I need you.  Preferably with a pulse,”  I said. 

Jimmy groped under the couch and found his sunglasses.  After putting them on he surveyed the room again. 

“Are you the pizza guy?”  he said, looking in my general direction.  “How much do I owe you?” 

“Put a cork in it Jimmy.  It’s me.  Dick.” 

Jimmy looked around the floor, presumably in an attempt to find a cork. 

“Dick?  Whoa, shit.  Hey man!  What’s up?  What are you doing here?” 

Jimmy staggered to his feet and gave me what I presume is a cool surfer hug.  Hugs between grown men should be illegal.  Jimmy didn’t have a problem with it though. 

“Got some business.  Need some backup.  Thought you might be interested,”  I said. 

“Yeah?  Cool.  Count me in, dude.” 

“I haven’t even told you what it is.” 

“Well, you know .  .  .  hey, whatever man.  That’s cool too.” 

Jimmy’s life knew no warmth. 

“Sit down, I’ll get you a beer,”  I said. 

Jimmy’s kitchen would give Martha Stewart cardiac arrest.  Keeping the floor conveniently covered with trash prevented the need to sweep.  There was a urine soaked TV in the sink instead of dirty dishes.  Jimmy didn’t have dishes.  All eating and drinking was performed with the assistance of plastic, paper, and Styrofoam.  Saved on Ajax. 

The fridge held three cases of Schlitz and a phone book.  Jimmy liked Schlitz because he thought it was imported.  I grabbed two, waded back to the other room, and threw one at him.  He caught it on a one hop.  We popped tops and drank, Jimmy after waiting momentarily for the geyser of foam to subside to a slow trickle. 

“So,”  he said.  “How are the kids?” 

“I don’t have kids, Jimmy.” 

“Oh.”  Pause.  “Wife?” 



An uncomfortable silence closed in, so thick that for a moment we couldn’t see each other. 

“Um, how about those Bears, huh?”  Jimmy asked hopefully. 

“Jimmy, let’s cut to the chase here, okay?  I’m alive, you’re alive, and I need your help on an assignment of global importance.”  Just to make sure I wasn’t wrong I asked, “You are alive, aren’t you?” 

He checked for a pulse.  “Yeah, dude.” 

“Okay, here’s the deal .  .  .”  I sat down on a foldable lawn chair and filled him in on my surprise visit from Mr. Jackson Burroughs that morning, paying particular care to go over all of the important parts at least twice.  After half an hour I finished and leaned back.  “So, what do you say?  You in?” 

“Let me see if I got this straight.  All we gotta do is find this Burroughs character and let the KGB know where he is and we get some free cereal?  Nothing else?” 

“No Jimmy, we find the Moose.” 

“Moose?  What moose?” 

“Nevermind.  Just grab some things for an extended trip and meet me out front.” 

“Okay, dude,”  Jimmy said.  “You know, I’m ready for a change anyway.  The surf around here just ain’t what it used to be you know?  Pacific’s dead.  Tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking about moving out to the East Coast for a while.  Check out the surf there.” 

“Jimmy,”  I sighed, “  this is Daytona Beach.  Florida.” 


“You’ve been living on the East Coast for six years.” 

“Whoa.”  Bless his heart.  He looked so lost.  “That would explain a lot.” 

Suddenly, the door burst open and four mean looking guys burst in.  None wore shirts.  All of them had that “badass”  look about them.  They stared at me and Jimmy menacingly. 

“Friends of yours, Jimmy?” 

“Nah, shoulder hoppers.” 

The room erupted in motion and we had a big Kung Fu fight right there in the living room.  When we finished beating up the shirtless ones, I nodded to Jimmy and walked out the front door. 

I leaned on the hood of my car and lit a cigarette while I waited for Jimmy to pack.  I had an eerie sense of déjà vu, but I couldn’t quite place my finger on why. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 2

A good movie has a way of staying with you.  It can alter the way you think.  Change your life.  One of my personal favorites is a mid-80’s flick called Kill Squad.  In it, some guy gets into some kind of trouble.  Can’t remember what.  But apparently he needs some of his old buddies to help him with whatever it was.  He goes out to round up his first buddy and as soon as he finds him some bad guys show up and they have this big Kung Fu fight and the two buddies beat up all of the bad guys.  Then they both go to get the second buddy and as soon as they get there, more bad guys show up and they have another big Kung Fu fight and beat up all of those bad guys.  The same thing happens as they go to get buddy number 3, and again when they get buddy number 4.  Once they were all together, they went and found the rest of the bad guys, had one more great big Kung Fu fight, and beat up all of them. 

Roll credits. 

I had to admit, it kept me guessing the whole way through.  The reason I mention this, other than to relive a great cinematic experience, is because now I needed help and had to assemble my buddies, and I figured that this would happen in very much the same way that it did in Kill Squad, except for the Kung Fu fighting and bad guys and the fact that I only had to get two buddies instead of four.  Still, pretty similar. 

I picked up the phone to call buddy number one: Jimmy.  I didn’t get an answer and figured that there could be several reasons for this.  To sharpen my detective skills I analyzed the situation and pondered some of the possible reasons why Jimmy might not answer his phone.  Detectives do this.  Keeps us sharp.  I jotted down a few of the more likely possibilities of why Jimmy wasn’t answering:

-Jimmy was outside

-Jimmy was dead

-Jimmy thought he was dead and saw no point in answering

-Jimmy didn’t have a phone and I had dialed a wrong number for someone else who wasn’t home

-Jimmy was standing on his kitchen table and couldn’t get to his phone because his floor was covered with slithering cobras

-My phone was a prop

Intriguing, all.  But I didn’t have time to ponder them, so I decided to pay Jimmy a call in person.  I grabbed my coat and hat and walked out the door.  Got halfway down the hall and then ran back to get my snare.  Just in case I was right about the cobras. 

Damn, this is a short chapter. 

Next Week: Chapter 3

Monday, July 8, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 1 (Part 2)

“Zodar the Spy Moose,”  I repeated.  “Definitely a suspicious looking mammal.  So what’s the story on him?” 

“He’s a loose end left over from the cold war.  Seems the Politburo dreamed him up in the mid 80’s for deep cover work.  When the USSR dissolved, he fell through the cracks and they lost control of him.  Now he’s gone bad.” 

Jackson was looking at me, apparently waiting for some sort of an intelligent response.  He wasn’t going to get one from me. 
“Hmmmm.”  I said instead. 
“You mean, why did they develop a spy moose in the first place?  Good question.  But think about it; who would suspect?” 

I nodded.  Pure genius. 

“So what has this spy moose been doing since he broke ranks with the former USSR?”  I asked. 


“Beg your pardon?” 

“Corn.  And wheat.  Barley and hops.  Lentils sometimes.” 

“No shit,”  I said, searching my bag of clues and not finding any. 

“You look confused,”  Jackson said.  “You should be.  The free world has never had a threat like this before.”  He paused for dramatic effect.  “Zodar’s a crop killer.” 

“A cop killer?” 

“No, crop killer.  More technically termed as Agricultural Homicide.  A progressive, systematic annihilation of the entire Fruit & Vegetable group.” 


“Wow is right.  With his mighty antlers he’s already leveled most of the commercial farms in Asia and Eastern Europe.  At his present rate, he’ll have completed his work there by the end of the year.  After that, we believe he’ll then move into Africa to wipe out their farming industry.” 

“That part won’t take long.” 

“We expect a week or two, tops.  And then, he’ll move west into -” 

“Iowa!”  I said, my eyes opening wide with the realization.  “This is serious.” 

“Even more than you think.  Our intelligence abroad has brought another juicy tidbit of information to our attention as well.  It seems the destruction of all fruits and vegetables has the nasty side effect of putting a real hurtin’ on the Bread & Cereal group.” 

“My God.  I never would’ve thought...” 

“Who would?” 

I had to admit that by this point I was getting quite frightened.  Many of these grains were fairly important to certain types of beverages I enjoyed; namely alcoholic ones.  But suddenly, just before I became a quivering mound of spineless flesh quaking in fear on the floor, a thought hit me -

“Wait a minute Burroughs, I’ve got one question.  Why don’t we just replant the fields after Zodar has left?” 

Jackson stared at me for a long second.  “What are you trying to do, ruin the plot?” 

“What?  Well, no, but – ” 

“Then shut up.  Trust me, this is a bad thing.” 

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,”  I said, deciding it was time to change subjects.  “So why ‘Code Red’?  If he’s such a nuisance, why don’t you just take him out?” 


“How so?  And by the way Jackson, you’re talking in all caps.” 

“SORRY ABOut that,”  he said, shifting back to lower case.  “Like I said, it won’t be that easy.  Zodar was not so much trained as he was created.  I’m not saying that he’s like an android or a Six Million Dollar Moose – do you remember that show?  The Six Million Dollar Man?” 

I admitted I did. 

“What a joke that was!  No way would he have been that cheap!  Hell, we couldn’t make a bionic sperm with only six million dollars!  I can’t believe the public even bought that premise!  What a ridiculous concept!  I can’t stop shouting!” 

And with that we both burst into long and hearty laughter.  I pulled out a beer bong and we chugged some O’Douls and pretended we were Beavis and Butthead for a few minutes. 

“At any rate,”  Jackson said, back to business, “We just don’t know that much about his past.  But that doesn’t matter much anyway because the problem is the present.  Whatever he is, Zodar has a big trump card that he often plays when he gets in a jam: He’s a shape-shifter.  He can assume any form, any identity.  People, things, animals - anything at all.” 

“What about adverbs?” 

“Well, not those I guess.  But just about any noun you can think of should be no problem for him at all.  A perfect camouflage whenever he wants.” 

“That could make it tough.” 

“That’s why I’m here.  An ordinary hit team won’t work.  We can’t even find him.  We need your special skills on this.

“On the bright side,”  he continued, “he does have a couple of flaws.  For one thing, his antlers always seem to be exposed, no matter what form he takes.  Turn into a bus; antlers where the side mirrors should be.  A cup of coffee; big old honkin’ antlers hanging off the sides.  You get the picture.” 

“Good to know.  Might be useful.” 

I looked under the photo and saw a dossier on what we knew about the hoofed villain.  There was not much: Educated in foreign languages, ballet, and skullduggery at the Central Moscow Community College.  Four years of undergraduate KGB training in Siberia.  Proficient in Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, Antler Fu.  On assignment (classified -whereabouts unknown) from 1986 to 1992.  Started getting paranoid and unpredictable during the collapse of communist Russia (job security suspected as most probable cause).  Officially reported as having turned in 1993.  Whereabouts unknown from 1993 until 2004 when a 150 acre wheat farm was found completely destroyed by what was then technically described as “some sort of big mammal”. 

That was it. 

I stubbed out my cigarette, wondering exactly when I had lit it.  Or when I had started smoking for that matter. 

“So.  What is it exactly that you want from me?” 

“Find him.” 

“That’s it?  Just find him?” 

“That’s it.  You locate him, we do the rest.” 

“The rest?” 

“Don’t you worry about that.  You just find him.” 

I had to admit the little gray suited sleazebag had my attention.  This wasn’t an assignment, it was a piewalk.  No, cakewalk, cakewalk, that’s what it was. 

“I don’t work for free, even for Uncle Sam.  And I don’t work cheap, especially for Uncle Sam.  This will cost you.” 

“Don’t worry about that either.  You pull this off and you’ll be well taken care of.  Just keep track of your receipts.”  

“No money up front?” 

Jackson held out his hands.  “Mr. Lassiter, please understand the sensitivity of the situation.  Officially, I’m not even here.  The Agency can have no traceable involvement in your actions.  Should you run into trouble, a large sum of cash could be traced back to us.  We can’t have that.  You understand, of course, that we would deny even knowing you if this becomes public.  If you succeed, however, it all gets swept away and you become quite a wealthy man.”

It was definitely a tempting offer.  Aside from the fact that there was nothing in it for me except a vague promise of some future grant of an unspecified financial reward by a man I had never even met before, it was perhaps the opportunity of a lifetime. 

I turned on my potter’s wheel and starting making a bowl as I mulled it over.  Nothing quite like wet clay in your hands, spinning round and round, to relax the brain.  Soon I was fast asleep. 

I was awakened with a rough shake.  Jackson again.  Damn him. 

“So what do you think Lassiter?” 

“What do I think?  I think it’s a bad idea to pull the wheels off of three Hot Wheels cars and stuff them up your nose so far that you have to go to the hospital to have them removed.  I know that doesn’t really apply to this case, but still .  .  .   

“The assignment Lassiter.  Will you take the assignment?  I have to bring an answer back to Rochester.” 

“Thought you guys were out of Langley.” 

“Dammit.  How does everybody know that?  Yes, yes, Langley.” 

I let him squirm for a few more seconds.  Boy, did I have this situation under control or what? 

“Alright.  Deal.  But I’m gonna need some help on this.” 

“Lassiter, I already told you, we can’t – ” 

“No, no, no.  I’m not asking you for anything.  I just want you to know that I won’t be doing this alone.  I have my own people.” 

“Are they good?” 

“Are they good?  Are they good?  Is that what you’re asking me?” 

“That was the question,”  Jackson replied. 

I leaned back in my chair and crossed by hands behind my head.  “Let’s just say that they’re .  .  .  .  not average.” 

“Above average I assume.” 

“Yeah, you could assume that,”  I told him.  I didn’t tell him that he’d be wrong as hell, but sure, he could assume that. 

“Well then.  I’ll leave you to your work.  There’s no time to waste.”  He rose and gathered his things.  I kept a close eye on him to make sure he didn’t try to gather some of mine.  “I’ll be in touch periodically to check your progress.” 

“Yeah, got it,”  I said.  “Hey, just one more question, Jackson.”  

“What’s that?” 

“You said the moose had a couple of flaws.  Besides the thing with the antlers, is there anything else I should know?” 

Jackson Samuel Burroughs smiled as he walked out the door.  “Yeah.  He loves the ladies.” 

And that’s when I knew I would get him. 

Next Week: Chapter 2

Monday, July 1, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 1 (Part 1)

Clash of the Figments

 by Blaine Staat

This is a work of fiction.  Duh.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. 

 Copyright 2004 © by Blaine Staat

All rights reserved.  This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise – without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.

Chapter 1

I didn’t poop my shorts until much later – and I’ll never tell you exactly when I did – but it all started like this:

The last body falls to the ground and Tingaard the Mongol sheathes his sword.  He marches across the battlefield, oblivious to the smoke and human carnage all around, making his way straight towards the shivering damsel.  Wide-eyed with terror, she tries to push herself further into the corner.  A whimper escapes her trembling lips. 

Tingaard stops and stands like a giant in front of her.  His arm reaches towards her with an open palm. 

“Give me the delicious gum,”  he says. 
I reread the page and pictured it again in my mind’s eye.  It was epic.  It was bold.  It was fraught with glory, conquest, and the spoils of war.  It was also unbelievably stupid. 

And, upon further reflection, probably too introspective and moody for a Chiclets commercial.  I sighed, balled the paper in my hand, and launched another air ball at the steel wire wastebasket in the corner.  12 for 18.  66%.  Not a free throw percentage to brag about but good enough to be a multi-million dollar center for any pro basketball team. 

I’m not a writer by trade, but business was slow.  In this town, business was always slow in my real line of work.  This writing biz, not really my strong point.  Just trying to earn a few Lincolns on the side.  What puzzled me was that I was having such a hard time with it.  Four hours and still at square one.  I’d never tried to write a television commercial before, but, jeez, how hard could it be?  Especially for a stupid box of gum. 

Kicking my ass though. 

I threaded another sheet of paper into the beat up Smith-Corona and stared at the field of white.  Puzzled.  Why should this be so hard?  After all, I had a bachelor’s degree in English Composition.  Or was it Paleoanthropology?  Maybe Medieval History .  .  .  .  .  Hell, who could remember?  That was nine years ago at least.  Point was, I had a degree in something, and that in itself should be enough to belt out enough mindless crap to fill 30 seconds of air time. 

I sat back and pondered the mindless crap angle.  Could be something there.  Then came the knock on the door. 

I turned my head real slow like and stared at the door through the layer of smoke undulating across the room.  It was just past noon but my office was dark; wood paneling, bookshelves, and those really cool vertical blinds with the wide slats all working together to keep the midday sun at bay.  It wasn’t just me either.  Everybody thought they were cool.  The blinds I mean. 

The smoked glass window in the door bore a human shadow, the letters “RETISSAL DRAHCIR”  stenciled over what would be its neck.  I’ll be damned.  Could be a live one.  And just in time.  I leaned back, crossed my wing tipped feet on the desk, and called out. 


I’m a dick, you see.  By birth, by profession, and, yeah, sometimes by choice when needed.  Richard Lassiter.  Private Investigator.  Run a little gumshoe enterprise here called Top Dick Investigations.  And a damn good one too by my view, despite the fact that business wasn’t just jumping through my door.  That wasn’t my fault.  It’s just that where P.I.’s are concerned – real hard-nosed, trench coat wearing, Stacey Keach looking motherfuckers like myself – location can kill you.  And Orlando just didn’t lend itself to the cold, overcast, drizzly grayness that my breed require. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Plenty of crime in this town.  What attracted me to it in the first place.  I mean, we got enough wackos, sickos, and knife toten’ street punks to make L.A.  and New York look like a couple of blushing schoolgirls.  And one might think that any town dwelling under the specter of a corporate mega-conglomerate whose entire existence centered around a giant rodent would invite enough evil and darkness to make a black fedora commonplace.  But that just ain’t the way it works in this town. 

Little thing they got here called sunshine.  Hot, bright, and, unfortunately for me, shitloads of it. 

If I had any idea what was coming I wouldn’t have complained, though.  If I had any idea what was coming I would’ve shanghaied an airboat out of here and spent the rest of my days chasing down gators in the backwood glades. 

Okay, maybe that’s a little rich. 

The door opened and, much like a fragged Messerschmitt, reality as I knew it took a screaming nose-dive.  Mr.  Jackson Burroughs walked into my office.  He was a Washington type, I could tell right away.  Gray suit.  Schoolboy glasses.  Military hair.  No doubt a messenger from one of the many acronyms they had up there in D.C.  (And what better place for those institutions to reside other than a place that was in itself an acronym.)

“Mr. Lassiter.”  It wasn’t a question.  So either he had done his homework on me or he’d picked up on the fact that my name was pasted all over the office door in big black letters three inches high.  Either way, not a man to take lightly. 

I picked up the phone.  No special reason.  Then I put it back down.  Made him look. 

“My friends call me Dick.” 

“Okay, Dick then.” 

“You’re not one of my friends.  I was just letting you know.” 

He sighed, uncomfortable and impatient.  Good.  I like to stay in control of the situation.  Especially in my own office.  And always with an uninvited G-man. 

“Mr.  Lassiter, I’m Jackson Burroughs.  CIA”  Acronym identified.  He held out his ID.  To his surprise, I took it and gave it a closer examination.  Never been impressed with a quick flash of a badge. 

It was legit alright.  Burroughs, Jackson Samuel.  Fancy seal, real plastic laminate, important looking control number.  I studied the picture.  From the look of him I figured his ancestry probably had a long history of naming its children with the last names of famous dead guys.  Probably had a brother named Johnson.  Sister they’d labeled Coles.  Homely looking thing, but with a rack of golden boheebos that could stretch a sweater so tight –

Jackson reclaimed his wallet with a quick snap and it disappeared inside his jacket.  I motioned towards a chair and he sat down. 

“What can I do for you, Mr.  Burroughs?  Don’t get too many visitors around here.  I don’t recall having done anything recently to invite attention from the government.” 

“We’ve got a problem William.  A big problem.  That’s why I’m here.  We don’t know of anyone else to turn to except you.”  Burroughs apparently wasn’t big on small talk.  But for that matter he wasn’t too stellar on accuracy either. 

“The name’s Dick.” 

“Right, Bill.  Sorry.  I’m just a little nervous.  Like I said, this is big.” 

I opened my mouth to correct him again on the name but then realized that it would be easier to just let it ride.  Besides, what if he was right?  I’d look pretty stupid then.  So I just nodded and smiled back. 

“Mr.  Lassiter,”  he said.  “We know about your past.  We know you’ve been involved with some pretty sensitive cases.  Lots of things that we in the Agency term ‘Code Red’ assignments.  Top level secrecy and priority.” 

I had no idea what he was talking about so I decided the blank stare approach was the correct route to take.  My silence seemed to impress him.  He stood, walked to the window, and continued. 

“I certainly don’t expect you to discuss them, of course.  But we thought that with your experience in these types of situations, coupled with the high percentage success rate that you achieved in dealing with them, you might be able to help us with a current problem that, to date, we have been unable to resolve.” 

Talkative little shit all of a sudden.  He turned away from the window and stared directly at me. 

“In short, we require your services in a matter of extreme national security,”  he said sternly.  He turned away from the window and stared directly at me again.  Damn, how’d he do that?  Had to admit, it fucked me up a little. 

He opened his briefcase, pulled out a manila folder, and tossed it on my desk. 

“This is your assignment,”  he said, tossing the folder to me again. 

I turned the package over in my hands and nodded my approval upon seeing the markings stamped on its rich Corinthian exterior: “Code Red Directives”  and “Package contains 30% post-consumer content”.  What a fine, fine envelope it was. 

“Well?  Open it.”  This was Jackson talking again.  A rather annoying habit that he seemed to have. 

“What if I’m not interested?” 

“Then we’ll be forced to reveal your true involvement in that pesky little incident five years ago.  You know, of course.  The Cesium-131 debacle?” 

I sat there, a deer in the headlights.  No clue what this bozo was talking about.  He must have figured he’d struck a nerve.  He sat down, eyeing me expectantly.  What the hell.  I wasn’t exactly booked up for the month, and I didn’t really see a promising future in advertisements.  I’d play his game. 

“Ah.  Of course,”  I said.  I unwrapped the string closure and pulled out the documents inside.  The top sheet was a picture of a moose wearing sunglasses.  A lit cigarette hung from his lips. 

“That’s our problem,”  Jackson said.  “Code name is Zodar.  He’s a rogue Soviet spy moose.” 
Next Week: Chapter 1 (Part 2)