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 author’s 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.
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)