“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.”
“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?”
“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.