Monday, November 25, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 21

I popped the top on a cold Bud and watched the foam drip down on the bricks between my feet. 

“We’re fired?”  Jimmy asked.  “Can they do that?” 

“Apparently they can,”  Simon replied. 

“Fucking consultants,”  I said, shaking my head in disbelief.  “I should have known better.  You can’t believe a thing they say, the sneaky bastards.” 

We were all sitting on the front steps of the house, elbows on knees, in dejected shock.  The highs and lows of life offer no warning.  At least we still had a shitload of beer. 

“I’ve never been fired before,”  Jimmy said. 

Simon snorted.  “Jimmy,”  he said, “you’ve been fired from every job you ever had.” 

“I have?” 


“Oh.  Wow,”  Jimmy said.  “That would explain a lot.” 

Following the wise investment of our time in watching good looking guys & gals in spandex do and eat almost anything for the chance at making a couple bucks, Sandy had gutted us like fish with his recommendations.  The whole crux of the problem, he had told us, was that we were involved.  By taking us out of the equation, there was a much better chance of Zodar actually being caught, even though no one would be looking for him anymore. 

To add insult to injury, he charged us $30,000 for his services (which was a little higher than I thought fair) and walked out with our last bag of Cheetos. 

“So what now, Dick?”  Simon asked. 

I didn’t have an answer for him.  I just stared into the distance and shook my head.  I couldn’t believe it was over.  All the work, all of the time, and for what?  Nothing, that’s what.  Well, okay, I did have a new house.  And a nicer car.  And pretty close to $200,000 in cash.  But other than that, nothing. 

The worst part of it was that this moose had gotten into my head.  There was something going on, something other than the obvious, and I couldn’t figure out what it was.  I didn’t like that.  I felt like the moose was playing me.  I didn’t like that either.  My investigative senses were tingling like crazy, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  All I could do now was walk away. 

Or sit here and drink beer.  Which we had been doing for a couple of hours now.  Lesser of two evils and all that. 

“Well, I’m going to go in and catch the news,”  Simon said.  “Tomorrow morning maybe you can give me a lift back up to Wilmington?” 

I nodded. 

“Yeah dude,”  Jimmy said, “and if you’re heading up that way, I guess I could catch a ride back to my place too?  I heard the surf’s breaking 3 -4 feet, which is pretty good for around here.” 

“Sure Jimmy,”  I said.  “I’ll bring you home too.” 

“Cool,”  he said, and followed Simon inside, leaving me to my thoughts. 

I stared out across the yard, looking at all of the things around me and not really caring about any of them as I once had.  The big oak tree by the road that we’d played on as kids, swinging from a rope long since rotted away and diving into the street since there wasn’t a pond nearby.  Old man Potter’s yard, so green and well-manicured that we couldn’t help driving our cars over it as teenagers, spewing rooster tails of sod and flowers all over his house until he’d come out, fist raised, so angry that several times he had cardiac arrest and had to be rushed to the hospital.  And the sinkhole near the corner that all the kids had pretended was a bomb crater when playing soldiers, all of us jumping bravely into it for cover time and time again until the day Billy Sturgis, wounded by German sniper fire, jumped in and disappeared forever. 

Such memories, such good times.  Yet I was numb to it all.  We were off the case.  And knowing that it was my fault just made it worse.  Poor Jimmy and Simon; even though Jimmy still didn’t really know what was going on and Simon was only involved because he was afraid of me, their disappointment must rival my own, so obsessed were they in their zeal to see the rogue moose brought to justice. 

I took another slug of beer and felt my senses dull a little further as I continued drifting into oblivion.  As my eyes roamed mindlessly from one thing to another, they eventually settled on the Porsche, which was parked facing me on top of some hibiscus bushes.  I stared at it absently, taking in the yellow hood emblem with the stallion, the front grill, the headlights.  An altogether fine looking vehicle.  But after a few minutes, something about it seemed not quite right. 

I sharpened my gaze to figure out what it was that seemed wrong.  There was a dent on the front bumper, but that would have been from the airport when I hit the mechanical arm at the ticket booth.  No, as much as the dent detracted from the symmetry of the vehicle, that wasn’t it.  There was something else, something about the dent, but not the dent itself. 

I stood and opened the front door of the house.  Stuck my arm through and turned on the porch light.  There, now I could see it.  The color was different on the dented area, like a smudge of paint.  But it couldn’t be from the barrier arm at the ticket booth; that had been bright orange.  This was a darker color, a dark brown. 

I walked over to the car and bent down to get a closer look.  Ran my fingernail across the discolored area and examined what came off.  It was a smudge alright, but it wasn’t paint.  It was antler fuzz. 

At that moment Simon stuck his head out of the front door. 

“Dick,”  he said, “come in here, now.  There’s something that you need to see.” 

I followed Simon into the house, wondering what could be so important that he would actually have the guts to combine telling me to do something with the word “now”.  When I entered the living room, both Jimmy and Simon were staring at the TV with wide eyes, the box of Apple Jacks long forgotten on the floor.  Before I could say anything, Simon pointed at the TV and said, “Look.” 

If my mind had already been alarmed at the newly found antler fuzz on the car, it now positively reeled by what I saw. 

The camera showed a scene of desolation, brightly lit by powerful floodlights; farmland in South America that now looked like a battleground.  Crops flattened and burning, deep furrows dug into the earth, wrecked farm equipment toppled and strewn over the landscape. 

My mind only caught snippets of the excited reporter’s voice, but it was enough to piece together that this was the work of the spy moose, and that it had occurred just moments before.  It was a scene all too familiar; the world had been seeing this type of devastation for months now. 

But this time there was more. 

The camera and lights bounced excitedly across the field, following the beckoning reporter at a frantic pace.  Confusion reigned at the scene, people scampered back and forth across the camera’s eye, and shouts & orders crisscrossed through the darkened countryside. 

Suddenly, the camera stopped.  The reporter stood in front, trying to dominate the scene while pointing and talking in a never ceasing stream.  But the camera didn’t focus on the correspondent, it ignored him and moved instead to show an area marked off by yellow police tape and guarded by soldiers with very serious looking automatic weapons. 

It was clear the guards were not even going to consider allowing anyone to go into the cordoned area, but the camera itself did not know those boundaries, and slowly the picture zoomed past the yellow tape. 

A huge animal lay inert on the ground, filthy with dirt and shreds of organic matter, and riddled with bullet holes. 

A huge animal with antlers. 

Zodar was dead. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 20

The next day dawned bright and clear.  I hate that.  One of these days – I swear – I’m gonna move to New Jersey so I can enjoy some good old fashioned gloomy weather.  Probably move right next to the Newark airport; just to make sure I get the full “doom”  effect. 

Simon walked in the kitchen in his boxers and got a cup of coffee.  Didn’t say a word.  I had that going for me anyway.  I peeked in the living room and saw Jimmy sleeping on the couch in his favorite ducky underwear.  I had plenty of bedroom space (my new house had four in fact), but Jimmy didn’t feel comfortable unless sleeping on a couch, floor, or the backseat of a car.  I heard him murmur something about “caught in a river riptide”  and “washing up on the rocks”  and let him be.  Went to get a cup of coffee myself.  Made sure I turned the damn coffee maker off this time. 

I joined Simon on the back porch. 

“Well,”  he said, “what do we do now?” 

It was a good question, even if Simon was the one asking.  I had been pondering the same thing myself.  So many clues.  I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  Not that you can “make heads or tails”  of anything; I mean, if you think about it, it’s really a stupid thing to say.  Which is why I only think it but never speak it aloud. 

“Well, I was watching Nightline last night after you and Jimmy passed out and I got an idea,”  I said. 

“What was it about?”  he replied. 

“What, the show?” 

“Yeah.  What happened that gave you the idea.” 

“Nothing they said.  It just happened to be on when the idea came to me.” 

“You’re sure?” 

“Of course I’m sure.” 

“Because,”  he continued, “Ted Koppel’s a pretty smart guy.  He generally says some pretty insightful things.  I just thought that he might have said something that gave you an idea.” 

“Well, he didn’t.  I’m my own man.” 

“Okay, okay, I was just asking.” 

“No, you don’t think I can come up with an idea myself, is that it?” 

“I didn’t say that.” 

“Yeah, but you were thinking it.” 

“No, I wasn’t.  Look, Dick, you’re the smartest person I know besides all of my friends and everyone else I’ve ever met.  I mean that.  I was just trying to get a faint understanding of how you do what you do.” 

“Um-hmm.  Sucking up now, aren’t you?” 

“If you say so,”  he said.  “So, anyway, what was the idea?” 

“Well, I think we might just be stuck in the mire of the details a little too deep to see the big picture anymore.  I thought it might be a good idea to get another perspective.” 

“You mean like a 3rd party?” 


“Like a consultant?’

“Yeah, something like that.” 

“Where are we going to find a consultant who would be able to help us with this?”  Simon asked.  “I don’t suppose you happen to know one?” 

“Oh, I might.  I just might indeed.” 

Saul “The Sandman” Goldblatt arrived promptly at 3 o’clock, just as he promised he would.  I call him Sandy.  We go way back.  Well, technically that isn’t true; he has a suite in my building that he shares with his partners Don Johnson (like the actor, but no relation) and Don’s sister Stacy Johnson (like the girl I was hot for in high school, but no relation). 

One morning about six months ago I came back from Starbucks and accidentally walked into their office by mistake.  I saw the three of them and was so startled I dumped my coffee all over their carpet.  Since I thought I was being robbed, and being one who subscribes to the philosophy “shoot first, ask questions later”, I also promptly chased them around the room and blew about a dozen holes in their nice paneling (I was carrying a .40 automatic then). 

Once things settled down and I realized my mistake, I quickly apologized, and even though I kind of felt they owed me for the coffee, I didn’t push it, what with making a mess of their office and almost killing them and all.  Long story short; we got to talking shop, learned a little about each other’s business, and have become good friends and allies, though I haven’t seen any of them since that day.  So you can see why when I got to thinking about hiring a consultant, “Johnson, Johnson, & Goldblatt”  immediately came to mind. 

I took Sandy into the den and we sat down with Simon and Jimmy who were eating Apple Jacks right out of the box.  Sandy seemed very calm and confident, not like the last time I had seen him when he had been jumping around like a squirrel crossing a 4-lane highway as he had dodged my bullets.  I respected the fact that he had obviously taken time to work on his bearing and presentation skills.  Professionals do that kind of thing.  I gave him a knowing nod. 

“Hello Mr.  Lassiter,”  he said. 

“Please, call me Dick,”  I replied. 

“Yes, well, Dick then,”  he said, “what can I do for you today.” 

“We’re looking for some advice – my partners and me – regarding a case we’re working on.  I thought an outside perspective might shed some light on a few things that we haven’t been able to figure out.” 

“Such as?”  he asked. 

I laid it all out for him.  That dude that came into my office to hire me, the spy moose and his worldwide rampage, Rok Hard and the Barking Spider, the really weird trip to that country where the Dutch people live, the break-in at the shampoo factory and all of the mops that were missing, – no, wait, sorry, that’s something completely different – and all of the clues picked up along the way. 

“I see,”  Sandy said when I was finished.  I noticed that while he had been holding a notepad and pen the entire time, he hadn’t taken a single note during my story.  He obviously realized the sensitive nature of the case and opted not to compromise national security by writing any of it down.  He probably had a photographic memory and had memorized it all.  That would be bitchin’. 

“And what areas of the case would you like my firm to provide consulting services for?” 

“Well, everything,”  I said. 


“Yup.  Everything.  The whole shooting match.  The whole kit and kaboodle.  The whole nine yards.  The whole enchilada.  The whole – ” 

“I think I get the picture,”  he said

“Oh, okay.  Yeah, to be completely honest with you Sandy,”  I continued, ”we don’t have a clue what’s going on with this case.  Not a fucking clue.” 

Jimmy and Simon nodded vigorously. 

Saul was silent for a moment, his brow creased in a puzzled expression. 

“Mr.  Lassiter, – ” 


“Yes, Dick,”  he said, “I’m a little confused here.” 

“Boy, do we know that feeling,”  Jimmy chimed in.  Simon nodded in agreement, unable to add anything as he had just stuffed another handful of cereal into his mouth. 

“Are you asking Johnson, Johnson & Goldblatt to consult with you regarding your investigation,”  Sandy continued, “or are you asking us to completely take over the whole investigation for you?” 

“Um,”  I said, “it would be the second thing you said.” 

More nods from the nodding fools. 

“That seems rather unorthodox, don’t you think?” 

“Well, yes, in a way, but it’s been done before.” 

“It has,”  he asked, though in more of a ‘repeating the statement in a dubious ‘I-don’t-believe-it’’ sort of way than in the more conventional ‘asking because I really don’t know’ sort of way. 

“Yes.  In fact, I’ve done it before myself.  Twice, if I remember correctly.” 

“You have.”  Again, more of a statement thing. 

“Um-hmm,”  I said, nodding.  Jimmy and Simon nodded too.  A picture of well-oiled teamwork. 

“Could I ask, Mr.  Lass – I mean, Dick – how many cases have you worked on in your career as an investigator?” 

“Oh, boy, let me see here,”  I said, looking up into the heavens.  “Tough one there.  Um, wow, kind of hard to put a handle on it, but if I had to guess – and I’m really stretching here – I’d have to say .  .  .  um.  .  .  two.” 


“Plus or minus one,”  I concurred. 

“Yes, well.  You realize this is a little beyond the normal scope of my firm’s services, and as such, I’ll need to confer with my partners – ” 

“Dick,”  Simon rudely interrupted, “it’s 7 o’clock.” 

“Gotcha,”  I said.  “Hey listen Sandy, okay, that sounds fine, you go right ahead.  In fact, if you could just do that in the other room – your conferring and proposaling and all – that would be just great, because they’re doing a rerun of Fear Factor on TNT that we haven’t seen – ” 

“The one where they have to eat bull testicles,”  Jimmy offered. 

  – right now and we’ve been looking forward to watching it all day, so while we’re doing that, you can do, you know, whatever it is that you do and we’ll meet back up in a hour or so, okay?  Great.” 

I got up and ushered a confused looking Sandy to the next room while Jimmy and Simon pulled all of the cushions off of the couch searching for the remote control.  There was a slight panic when several minutes went by without finding it, but it eventually turned up in the guest bathroom medicine chest. 

We settled down in front of the tube and got ready for the first round. 

An hour later we had finished cheering the winner and were relaxing in the afterglow of another fine episode when Sandy walked back into the room. 

“Alright gentlemen,”  he said, “I have my recommendations ready.” 

Now we were getting someplace. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 19

Wherever the Impala was, it wasn’t here.  I figured that it was either A) still parked in front of the Barking Spider, or B) at whatever airport we had flown out of, or C) someplace else.  Shouldn’t be too hard to track down unless it was at “B”  or “C”.  But that didn’t help me now.  We needed some wheels. 

Simon could actually help in this respect, which is one reason why I bring him along on these things.  He doesn’t know anything important about cars – like which ones are cool, which ones are chick bait, etc. – but he does know some of the useful boring things; like how ignition systems work.  That knowledge comes in pretty handy when you need to do things like hot-wiring. 

He also knew how to open locked doors, but hell, I can do that.  Only difference is that he picks the lock while I just throw a brick through the window.  Sure, my way gets glass all over the seats, but it’s a lot faster.  Since he was along though, I figured I’d let him do it his way.  It’d give him a sense of worth and none of us would ruin our pants. 

“How about that one?”  I said, pointing to an older (but cherry) Corvette.  “I’ve always wanted a ’68.  Chrome bumpers, Candy Apple Red, and just look at that rear end.  Bet we can score some real skank with that.” 

Simon sucked his teeth in an exasperated way, which meant that he was getting ready to correct me on something.  This usually pisses me off and I’ve been known to pop him one in the jaw when he did it, but with my hands full with Jimmy and my bag, he probably figured he was safe. 

“It’s not a ’68, Dick, it’s a 1970,”  he said. 


“Yeah.  The differences are ridiculously easy to spot.” 


“Yes, really.  I could maybe understand someone not noticing the squared exhaust ports or front parking lights, but you’d have to be blind not to see the egg-crate side vents or wheel flares behind all four tires.  None of which were available in either ’68 or ‘69.” 

“Do tell.” 

“And GM has never offered Candy Apple Red as a stock color option for Corvettes – certainly not for the C3’s anyway.  This would be Monza Red, unless it’s been repainted.  And judging from the big block hood, this particular car has the optional 390 horse 454 with a 4-speed transmission and 10.25:1 compression ratio.” 

“Well.  Alright,”  I said.  “Is that good?” 

“Depends on your definition of ‘good’.  If it’s to go really, really fast and burn a shitload of hi-octane gasoline, then yes, it’s good.” 

“Coolness,”  I said nodding.  “Let’s go then.” 

“Uh, Dick,”  Simon said, “There are three of us, and one of us happens to be taped to a surfboard.  How do you expect us to all fit in this car?” 

Just like Simon to ruin everything with realism. 

I debated for a moment about just how much I really needed Jimmy along, but in the end, decided I couldn’t leave him.  He’d never figure out how to get out of the parking garage. 

“Alright, well, let’s find something else then,”  I said, none too happy at having to pass up the ‘vette. 

In the end, we narrowed it down to two potential vehicles; a Plymouth Voyager (Simon’s choice) or one of those new turbo Porsche SUV’s (my choice).  Simon droned on endlessly about all of the logical merits of the minivan; plenty of room for all of us and our stuff, built-in cup holders and child safety seat, blah, blah, blah.  I countered with the logical merits of the 450 HP Porsche, like having plenty of room for all of us and our stuff, scoring chicks, and having the ability to go 160 mph up a steep mountain path, should that ever be necessary. 

In the end, I got tired of arguing with him and just settled it by throwing a brick through the window of the Porsche. 

Simon wasn’t happy about it, but he set about sweeping the shattered glass off of the seat and getting the thing started anyway. 

I shoehorned Jimmy into the back and placated Simon by telling him that we were doing the right thing.  Whoever owned the minivan probably had a lot of kids and a single income; taking their van would be devastating.  Not having any children or a single income himself, this seemed to really strike home with Simon. 

As for the owner of the Porsche, well, come on, it’s a Porsche. 

The handling of our newly acquired off road vehicle was a little squirrelly and took me a while to get used to.  On the way down the spiral exit ramp, the rear end got away from me and I left some paint on the wall.  Then, after paying our parking fee, I shot off the line too fast and grazed the barrier arm at the ticket booth before it got all the way up.  Good thing it wasn’t my car or I would have been pissed. 

After misreading the traffic signs and circling the airport three times, I decided to take matters into my own hands and just drive over the medians and embankments in the general direction I wanted to go.  I’ll say this: although I sincerely doubt that any other Porsche SUV will ever have its tires actually touch dirt, they can rip up some sod if you need them too. 

We headed up to Winter Land.  Where I live.  At least I think that’s where I live.  Hard to tell sometimes.  Everything down here is called Winter Something.  Winter Springs, Winter Haven, Winter Park, Winter Etc.  Drove me crazy.  On more than one occasion I wound up sleeping in someone else’s house simply out of confusion.  Never caused a problem though.  People were pretty used to that kind of thing.  It happened a lot. 

I figured we’d crash at my house for a few hours and sort things out.  Jimmy woke up on the way and had to pee, so we stopped off at a Mobil station, stripped the duct tape off him (there was some screaming involved here), and pointed him to the bathroom.  We picked up some chips and beer while we were there too. 

The frenetic pace of the past few days was starting to catch up with me and I was dragging hard when we finally turned onto my street.  I’m a man of action as you are well aware, but even us worldly types get fazed sometimes, and I’ll admit that I was really looking forward to just being home for a while. 

As I pulled up to my driveway, two things happened simultaneously; I suddenly remembered that I had indeed forgotten to turn off the coffee pot before I left, and I noticed a big smoking hole in the ground where my house used to be. 

“Duuuuuude, bummer,”  Jimmy said. 

I sighed and felt my head loll forward as a feeling of utter dismay robbed my body of energy.  I rarely do that – head lolling that is – but there are times when it is certainly understandable if not totally appropriate and I figured this was one of those times.  Or the other. 

Simon made an admirable attempt at legitimate consolation.  “I’m truly sorry,”  he said.  “What a rotten time to have your house burn down.” 

Idiot.  Like there’s ever a good time to have your house burn down.  But that wasn’t really what was wearing on me at the moment.  Up until about 60 seconds ago, I wasn’t even aware that I had a house, so I didn’t feel a lot of loss.  That’s what was wearing on me. 

See, that’s the part about being a figment of someone’s imagination that’s the hardest to deal with.  I find out about things the same time you do.  I mean, let me ask you a question: what do you really know about me?  Only what I’ve told you, right?  You just automatically assume that what I’ve told you is only a small portion of my life.  That there’s a whole lifetime of experiences that you don’t know about. 

Problem is, there’s not.  What I’ve told you about me is also all I know about me.  My entire existence, all the things I do, all the people I know -my entire world – is all subject to the whims of someone else.  They want to burn down my house – poof – it’s toast.  They want me to punch someone – smack – I deck ‘em, even if I didn’t really want to.  And I have no past at all.  At least, not until someone makes it up for me. 

Don’t believe me?  Okay, watch this.  My house for instance, the same one that had apparently just changed itself back into isolated components of the periodic table, had been really cool.  From the outside, it was nothing special; just a single story ranch.  But inside it had a definite masculine feel; lots of wood, an open kitchen with a bar, and a sunken den with a 42”  plasma TV and surround sound.  Comfortable furniture.  Nice covered porch off the back with a built in grill, pool and hot tub. 

Now, all that?  Everything I just told you?  It’s bullshit.  I don’t mean that it’s not true – it is, now, and from the sound of it I’m really gonna miss the old place – but until just now, it didn’t exist.  I didn’t know about any of those things until just this very moment.  That’s my life.  That’s how it works.  I become aware of my world as it happens.  And if someone hadn’t thought me up and taken the time to write this, I wouldn’t be here at all. 

For a tough guy, that’s kind of a fragile existence. 

I opened the glove compartment and after rummaging around for a few seconds uncovered a bottle of Xanax.  Didn’t think the owner would mind my borrowing a few (at least not any more than he would at borrowing his car) so I popped a couple. 

I sat back, evaluated the situation, and listened to Jimmy and Simon arguing over whether or not you’d die if you ate the stuff that was inside a Stretch Armstrong – Jimmy insisted you would – and started feeling better as the drugs kicked in. 

By the way, I’m sorry for laying all that on you.  Everybody’s got their own problems and last I checked you weren’t Dr.  Phil.  Hey, you either learn to overcome your obstacles or you learn to live with them, right?  Besides, it could be worse.  I mean, I may only be a figment of someone’s imagination, but at least someone did think of me. 

“It won’t kill you,”  I told Jimmy.  “Do you really think anyone would be stupid enough to fill the inside of a children’s toy – one with a fairly delicate rubber covering I might add – with a toxic substance?” 

“I told you!  I told you!”  Simon yelled, smug and triumphant. 

“Oh, knock it off Simon,”  I said.  “We’ve got things to do.” 

“Like what?”  he replied. 

“Like finding a place to crash for the night.” 

“Well, we could get a hotel,”  Simon offered. 

“Hey, I know what,”  said Jimmy.  “Hold on.” 

He opened the door, scrambled over to my mailbox, and after heaving and pulling for a few minutes was able to get it out of the ground.  He ran with it down the street to the house next door, the one that belonged to the Mitchell’s, who were visiting relatives in Virginia.  He struggled with their mailbox for a few minutes, and after finally yanking it up, stuck mine in the ground in its place, then put the Mitchell’s mailbox back where mine used to be.  The switch complete, he jumped back into the car, grinning like a kid. 

“Check it out man,”  he said. 

“Oh, that’s just stupid,”  Simon said.  “I mean, what?  We’re already driving a stolen car, now were just going to move in next door, pretend that this is Dick’s house and that it was actually his neighbor’s house that burned down?” 

“Hold on there, Simon,”  I said.  “This might work out just fine.  I mean, I’ve always liked Bob & Janey’s house, and let’s face it, I’ve owned hammers that were smarter than they are.  They might not notice.” 

Simon didn’t like it, but hey, big surprise there.  We parked the car and got our stuff out.  I checked out my new digs, noticed that my yard looked a little shaggy, and made a mental note to fire my lawn service.  It only takes one bad neighbor to ruin a good neighborhood. 

I have to admit, it felt right, my new house.  And when my old key unlocked the door, I knew that it was meant to be.  Either that or I’ve been having an affair with Janey that was serious enough to warrant her giving me my own key.  I didn’t think I was that much of a dirtbag to do something like that to my friend Bob, so the fact that my key fit the door must have simply just meant that this was supposed to be my house. 

Don’t overanalyze things, that’s my motto.  No wait, that’s not my motto at all; my motto is “deny everything.”  Or is it .  .  .  oh, nevermind. 

We made ourselves at home (why wouldn’t we?), took showers and grilled some steaks.  I discovered that not only did I have cable, but 12 premium channels too, and soon all three of us were relaxing in front of the tube watching Rocky IV and downing some cold beers.  I felt better than I had in weeks.  Clean shaven, well fed, relaxed.  Life wasn’t so very bad at the moment. 

I sure was going to miss that 42”  plasma TV though. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 18

“That has got to be the most worthless trip I’ve ever taken,”  Simon said.  “I have to ask, Dick, what exactly was the point of that?  We just took a round trip to Europe, and other than getting drunk and arrested, what did we accomplish?” 

We were standing at the baggage claim back in Orlando International Airport.  We had accomplished that much anyway.  Tourists where everywhere; all excited about their vacations and getting ready to blow more money willingly than they could possible lose in Las Vegas under duress.  Fine with me.  Kept me from having to pay state income tax. 

“If I had to guess – and I do since I have no idea – I’d say someone’s trying to throw us off the trail,”  I replied. 

What trail?” 

“The trail of .  .  .  say, did you just ask me three questions in a row?”  I asked. 

“Um .  .  .  no.” 

“Good, because you know what I .  .  .  are you cranking me?  You’re cranking me aren’t you?” 

“What?  No way, Dick.  I’d never ask you three questions in a row.  You know I respect you too much to try something like that.  Besides .  .  .  I don’t want you to hit me.” 

Suddenly I noticed something that didn’t look quite right. 

“Hey Simon,”  I whispered.  “Why did everything we just said have three dots in it?” 

“What do you mean?”  he asked, looking around suspiciously. 

“Dots.  Three dots.  You know, I was talking and then ‘ .  .  .’ happened.  Then you started talking and ‘ .  .  .’ happened again, right in the middle of what you were saying.” 

“Really?  I didn’t notice.” 

“Well I did.  It happened on four consecutive exchanges.  Something strange is going on around here.  We were talking about three questions, and for no apparent reason three dots show up four
times.  This has got to mean something.” 

“Maybe just bad writing style?”  Simon offered. 

“Possibly, but I think not.  No, no, this is .  .  . this is –” 

“HOLY SHIT!”  Simon yelled, “There they are again!” 

  – a code,”  I finished. 

“A code?” 

“Yeah, an area code.  334.  Langley, Virginia if I remember correctly,”  I said.  “I think our CIA friend Mr.  Jackson Burroughs is trying to contact us.” 

“But Dick, 334 isn’t the area code for – ” 

“Just sit tight and keep a lookout for Jimmy,”  I said, “I need to find a phone.” 

Strangely enough, there was a phone nearby.  In fact, there were a lot of phones nearby. 

Almost as if planned, I thought. 

I found an empty one and fumbled around my pocket looking for a quarter.  Came out with a small white pill instead.  I didn’t recognize it and couldn’t remember how it had gotten there, and for a moment I wondered if I was supposed to be taking some sort of prescription drugs, in which case it might be a really good idea to take it.  But in the end, I just dropped it back in my pocket and lit a cigarette instead. 

Sure enough, it took about two seconds for some yahoo airport employee to come bounding up. 

“Excuse me, sir,”  he said. 

I ignored him. 

“Excuse me, sir?”  he said again.  “There’s no smoking in the airport terminal.  I’m going to have to ask you to put that out.” 

“Oh, come on,”  I said, “cut me a break.  I’m looking all decked out here with the trench coat and the hat, and I’ve got a really important call to make.  There should be some smoke here, you know?  It just ‘goes’.

“Besides,”  I continued, “if I went right outside these doors there, I’d be able to smoke, wouldn’t I?” 

“Well, yes, that’s outside the terminal.  It’s perfectly okay to smoke there, but here inside the terminal there is a strict policy against it.” 

“Look,”  I said, pointing at the doors, “that’s like, what, 20 feet away, right?” 

“Well, yes, about that.” 

“I could walk right out there in five seconds, yes?”           

He thought for a moment.  “Well, yes, but I don’t – ”

“What I’m trying to say is this:  It’s so close that if I wanted to, I could already be out there, could I not?” 

“I don’t – ”

“Do you not agree that I could already be out there if I wanted to be?” 

“Well, yes, but – ”

“So by admitting the possibility that I could already be out there, how do you know for sure that I’m not?  And since we’ve already agreed that I could be out there if I wanted to – and let me tell you right now, I want to – the only reason I wouldn’t be out there is if you didn’t want me to be.  Either way, I’m not doing anything wrong.  So go away.” 

He started to say something but caught himself and slowly turned away, looking very confused.  Good for him.  If he had kept pestering me I’d have decked him. 

“Hey,”  I called to him.  “Spot me a quarter will you?” 

He threw me one and I punched up 3-3-4. 

A lady answered.  “Information, can I help you?” 

“Yeah,”  I said, “Jackson Burroughs, please.” 

“Can you spell the last name?”  she asked. 

I did.  A few moments went by.  I suddenly wondered if I had turned off my coffee pot at home and couldn’t for the life of me remember. 

“Sir, I don’t have a listing for a Jackson Burroughs,”  she said. 

“Of course you don’t,”  I said, realizing that no one was just going to be dishing out phone numbers for spooks.  How naive of me.  “Just transfer me then.” 

“Transfer you to whom?  I don’t have a number for your party.” 

“Look, lady, I got a message to call the agency, and the only person there that would have wanted me to call is Jackson Burroughs, so please just connect me.” 

“Agency?  Sir, this is information for Montgomery, Alabama.  Are you sure you’re calling the correct number?” 

“Yes, I am sure.  And you can cut the charade, alright?  I know this is the CIA and you know this is the CIA so you can stop with the gatekeeper act and just transfer me.” 

“Sir, I can assure you that this is information for Montgom – ” 

Will you just transfer the damn call! 


“Hold please.” 

I holded.  Er, held. 

“Burroughs,”  said a man’s voice. 

“Jackson, Dick here.  Got your message.  What do you want?” 

“What the hell took you so long?”  he said, “I paged you hours ago.” 

“Had some trouble getting to a phone.” 

“Yeah?  Why don’t you get yourself a mobile?”   

“Mobile .  .  .  Alabama?”  I guessed. 

What?  No, no, a phone, a mobile phone, cell phone, whatever you want to call it.  Where the hell did you get Mobile, Alabama?” 

“Sorry.  Something just fresh on my mind.  Alabama.  Sweet Home.  You know how it is.” 

“I have no fucking idea how it is, nor do I care.  Where the hell are you?” 

I have to tell you, I wasn’t especially pleased with the way he was talking to me.  To be honest, between my recent conversations with Simon, the airport weenie, and the receptionist at Langley, it’s really pretty amazing that no one had gone to the hospital by now.  All I knew was that I was now on strange conversation #4 and just about fed up to here on taking crap from people, especially someone like Jackson who was only being a macho dick because he knew he was a couple of the United States away and not in any immediate danger of being beaten and pummeled until he was black and blue and swollen. 

“Earth,”  I said. 

“Earth,”  he repeated “You think you could narrow it down any more than that?” 

“I’m on land.  That should cut it down by about 70%.” 

“That’s as good as you can do?” 

“That’s as good as you’re gonna get.  And you got about two seconds to tell me what you want before I superimpose your face into a kiddie porn flick and post it on the internet.” 

“Alright, alright, calm down, calm down.  It’s been a little crazy here that’s all.” 

“Yeah?  You ever been to Amsterdam?” 

“No, why?” 

“Good times.  You should go.  Soon.” 

“I’ll bear it in mind.  Look, the reason I wanted you to call is because we’re getting a lot of weird HUMINT lately.  You know what HUMINT is, don’t you?” 

“I read Clancy.  Human intelligence.  Spy reports.” 

“Right, okay, well, the stuff we’re getting in doesn’t make any sense.  Did you know that people all over the world are wearing moose hats?  At first it was just a few sightings, but the damn things are popping up all over the place.  Kids, grownups; all over the world.  I’m telling you, it doesn’t make any sense.  Where the hell are they all coming from?  Are they related to what Zodar is doing?  We can’t make heads or tails of it.” 

“Seen a couple myself,”  I admitted. 

“Well that’s just for starters, you won’t believe the next thing.  Get this: Cod stands.  How does that grab you?  They’re popping up all over too, just like hot dog vendors except they’re selling cod.  And people are going crazy for it.” 

“Not so strange.  It’s a delicious fish.” 

“You don’t think so?  Man, it just seems so weird.  I remember being at Disneyworld one time and people were walking around eating turkey drumsticks.  I thought that was weird, but now, hell, that seems pretty ‘Father Knows Best’ compared to cod.” 

“Okay.  I’ll buy in.  Maybe a little strange.  But what makes you think that’s connected to Zodar?” 

“Well, nothing really, except that I think mooses like to eat them.” 

“They do?” 

“I think so,”  he said. 

“Well, that would definitely connect the two.” 

Something was suddenly bothering me, a feeling tickling at the back of my brain.  I giggled and told it to stop, which it did, but the feeling itself – that I was close to something – wouldn’t go away. 

“Anything else?”  I asked. 

“No, that’s it, but hey, isn’t that enough?” 

“Yeah.  Definitely some food for thought.” 

“Okay, I’ve got to go now, but stay in touch, alright Lassiter?” 

“Yeah,”  I said, and hung up. 

I walked back to the baggage carousel deep in thought.  Stinky Pete, a trip to Europe, moose hats, cod vendors, and the missing Chapter 10.  How did they all fit together?  Did they fit together?  That feeling in the back of my brain just wouldn’t go away. 

“There you are,”  Simon said.  “I was afraid you forgot about us.” 

The baggage carousel was deserted now except for Simon.  Jimmy was making the slow trip around the island on the moving belt, still duct taped to his surfboard.  I know that sounds mean, but he really doesn’t mind flying as checked luggage and the money we saved allowed me and Simon to fly First Class.  Okay, okay, we had more than enough cash to fly all three of us First Class, but Jimmy gets annoying sometimes too. 

“Well,”  I said, looking at Simon, “why haven’t you gotten him off of there yet?” 

“He’s heavy,”  Simon said, looking hurt. 

“Oh, never mind,”  I said and grabbed Jimmy & his board and threw them over my shoulder.  He was zonked out cold, cutting some heavy z’s, so I didn’t feel the need to untape him. 

I grabbed my bag with my other hand, Simon grabbed his, and we went out to the parking garage. 

“Uh, Dick?”  Simon asked.  “Where’s the Impala?”