“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.
“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.
“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!”
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?”
“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.”
“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?”