We walked into the bar and took three empty stools. Sat in them actually, since it’d be kind of stupid to take them anywhere. I mean, what the hell would you do with them? At any rate, we made ourselves comfortable and waited to be served. After a few minutes, the bartender came down our way.
“Hiya Rok,” I said. “Long time.”
“Actually, it’s only been a couple of weeks,” he said.
“Yeah. Maybe. What can I do for you tonight?”
I pursed my lips and shrugged. “Just talk.”
“’Bout what?” he said.
“I don’t know. Maybe a spy moose or two.”
“Not much to say. Looks like they got him. And without your help or mine.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Your help, I mean.”
“Look, Dick, this thing is over,” he said, resting his anvil sized elbows on the bar. “It was fun while it lasted, but there’s no game on anymore. The moose is dead, the jig is up, and that’s just how it is. I’m sorry that it wasn’t you that got him, but hey, that’s your problem, not mine. Now, do you want a beer, or what? I got a business to run here.”
“Not anymore Rok.”
I saw the first hint of fear in Rok’s eyes. He squinted and moved his face a few inches closer to mine.
“Just what are you trying to say?” he said.
“You said it for me, remember? ‘The jig is up’ are the words I think you used.”
“I think it’s time for you boys to leave,” he said. “Take a look around you. This is a dangerous crowd. Real easy for people to get hurt in here they say the wrong thing. Hurt bad.”
“Fair enough,” I said, nodding but not moving. “Say, Rok, what’s a beer going for around here these days?”
“A beer, Rok. How much you charging?”
I had pushed him as far as he was going to let me. Now it was time to push him further.
“You’re right, Rok. This is a tough crowd in here. Wonder what they’d think if I told them all about how you’ve been cheating them by jacking up the price of your booze?”
I let that sink in for a moment. As big as Rok was, there was no way he could take on everyone in the bar, and he knew it.
“What do you think Rok? You want to talk to me now?”
Just in case he wasn’t thoroughly on board, I directed his gaze to my hand, which was conveniently holding my mini-howitzer, which in turn was conveniently pointed right at his stomach.
“Why don’t you three come on in the back,” he said.
The situation room looked very much the same, but it was dark and seemed quieter now that it hadn’t been used for the past few days. Rok walked wearily to the back of the room and took a seat at the table, a man defeated. In the darkness I could see another figure already seated. I flipped on the light.
“Dickie boy,” Stinky Pete said, “How ya doing?”
“Just fine Stinky, just fine.”
“I don’t suppose this is just a social call to talk about old times, now is it? Who ya got there with you? Couple of federal types?”
“Oh, yeah, I recognize them now. Jimmy the burnout and Simon the Simple. How you boys doing?”
Jimmy seemed delighted to be asked and started to tell them, but Simon jabbed an elbow in his ribs to shut him up.
“Where are my manners?” Stinky said, “Ya’ll come over and have a seat, will you? Take a load off and all that.”
“We’ll stand, thanks,” I said, not wanting to get anywhere near the biceps of either Stinky or Rok. I preferred to rely on the 12 feet of open space and the muzzle of my gun between us to keep things cordial.
“Suit yourself,” Stinky replied, leaning back in his chair. “So what now?”
“Now I tell you a story.”
“Oooo, good, I love stories,” Jimmy said.
“Knock it off Jimmy,” said Simon.
“It was all very slick,” I continued. “I’m really amazed that you guys thought of it. Building a mechanical moose and sending it around the world to destroy every crop known to man. Not for political reasons. Not as an act of terrorism. But for the simple motive that’s behind almost every crime ever committed: Money.
“You two figured that if you could drive agricultural production to the brink of extinction, it would force prices of all agricultural products sky high. The same agricultural products used in the making of liquor and beer. The world goes hungry, but Rok and Stinky make a killing selling high dollar booze to the same poor saps that they’re starving to death. I guess when you get down to it, it’s always all about the Jack, isn’t it Stinky?”
“It was working too,” he said, “and we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling detectives.”
“Duuuuuuuuude!” Jimmy said, “that is so just like on Scooby Doo!”
“Shut up Jimmy,” everyone said in unison.
“So how did you figure it out?” Rok asked.
“Took me a while, I’ll admit. But I was trying to figure out one mystery when I actually had clues for two. I couldn’t see how they all fit together. The break came when I realized that they didn’t go together at all.”
Stinky nodded at me, then at Rok. “I knew you were going to be trouble the minute you showed up here asking questions. We could’ve just killed you Dick. But we never wanted to hurt you; we just wanted to get you out of our way.”
“I appreciate that. And I intend to do you the same favor. Not killing you I mean. All you need to do is give me what I came here for.”
“Now, Dick, you know I can’t do that.”
I raised the barrel of the gun and gave Stinky a good look at it. He reconsidered, as I thought he would.
“Alright, alright,” he said. “It’s in the desk drawer, over by the computer. Doesn’t make much difference now anyway.”
I looked at Simon and jerked my head. He walked to the desk, opened the drawer, took out a manila envelope, and handed it to me. I tucked it away under my trench coat.
“Been nice seeing you again, Dick,” Stinky said. “I guess you’ll be on your way now. If I ever need you for anything, I’ll give you a call.”
“Don’t bother. I don’t work for inmates.”
Stinky started laughing. “C’mon, Dick, it’s great that you know what happened and all, but you got no proof, my friend. And since I don’t fancy me or Rok making a confession anytime soon, it’s just your word against ours and let’s face it, who’s gonna believe you?”
At that moment the back door crashed open and six men dressed all in black burst through. For a second I thought these might be the same Kung Fu guys from Jimmy’s place come back for more (with automatic weapons this time) until I saw Jackson Burroughs walk in the room behind them.
“Nobody needs to believe him, Stinky,” he said. “We got it all on tape.”
With that, I nodded to Jackson and took my leave.
The parking lot of the Barking Spider looked very much the same as it had last time we were in town. Jimmy & Simon were waiting for me, sitting on the hood of the Impala, which, as it turned out, had been parked here the whole time. We were about to get in when Jackson emerged from the front door of the bar.
“Lassiter,” he called out. “Need a word.”
I told Jimmy and Simon to get in the car and then walked over to where Jackson was standing.
“Yeah?” I said.
“Listen, I just wanted to say thanks. This whole thing . . . ,” he said, looking away and shaking his head, “it’s not what we thought it was at all. Just want to let you know we appreciate your help.”
He held out the second manila envelope that I had seen in the past 10 minutes. I took it from him.
“You’re welcome,” I said, and turned to go.
“Dick, wait,” he said. I stopped and turned back to him. Whole lotta turning going on all of a sudden. Almost got dizzy and fell. Didn’t though. Wouldn’t be cool.
“While you were in there,” he continued, “I couldn’t help but hear. What did he give you Dick?”
“Nothing important,” I said. “Just my bar tab. Want to square my bill.”
“Bar tab, huh?” he said, chuckling. “Yeah, okay. Get out of here Lassiter.”
I started walking back to the car again but stopped halfway there and looked back.
“You might want to run a check on that Porsche over there. I got a feeling it’s hot.”
“Yeah. I’ll do that.”
The Impala cranked up on the fourth try and we blew out of the parking lot, leaving it covered with a shroud of exhaust.
Next Week: Chapter 25