Cruising down I-95, top down, heading South. I handed the envelope Burroughs had given to me to Simon. It was full of money. About 300 G’s. Payment for services rendered.
I was enjoying the drive; the monotonous drone of the engine, the steady passage of highway, and the cool wind blowing by were all working together in a peaceful alliance until Simon had to fuck it all up by asking questions again. I really had to break him of that habit.
“I still don’t understand how you figured it all out,” he said. “Can you explain it again? I mean, from the beginning?”
I didn’t see much of a reason not to. We had a long drive back to Orlando and I could tell that neither Simon nor Jimmy were going to let me have any solitude. What the hell.
“Stinky Pete and Rok were old war buddies. Rok told me as much when I spoke with him a few weeks ago. They hatched a plan to make some big money, which, as I’ve already said, involved driving the price of grains up by reducing the amount of grains available. That way, they could charge outrageous amounts of money for the booze they were serving.”
“But if the price of grain went up, wouldn’t they be paying more for the booze in the first place?” Simon asked, his Ivy League pedigree paying dividends.
“Yes, unless they already had plenty of grain available, which they did. In fact, they bought up several large farms in the Midwest during the past few years. While they were destroying everyone else’s crops, theirs remained untouched, and the price skyrocketed.”
“Wait a minute. If they already had their grain, then why wouldn’t they just make their profit on the grain itself, rather than on the secondary product of booze? Isn’t that kind of stupid?”
“Hey, it was their plan, not mine.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
“Anyway, the problem they ran into was how to wreak that much havoc in the agricultural community without getting caught. During their years in covert field ops, they had heard rumors of this spy moose that the Soviets had dreamed up. The Cold War was long over and no one had seen or heard anything about Zodar in years, so they decided to make their own. That way, not only would it look like someone else was destroying all of the crops, it would look like there was a completely different reason for why they were being wiped out.”
“Clever,” Simon said. “But why did Stinky Pete disappear?”
“He didn’t. Someone had to operate the moose, so Stinky took off around the world to do that while Rok stayed back at the bar and started turning the profit. Say Jimmy, are you going to Bogart that whole bag of Doritos back there or what?”
“Oh, sorry dude,” Jimmy said, passing the bag up to the front.
“No problem,” I said, popping a couple chips in my mouth. “Anyway, they knew that since they were using an old Soviet weapon as their angle, the spooks would eventually get involved, and that there was a good possibility that they’d come looking to me for help. Stinky knew that I’d then come looking to him for some intel, so they torched the Roadkill and had it paved over to throw me off of their track. And it probably would’ve ended right there except that by sheer luck we wound up at the Barking Spider, where Stinky’s partner Rok is holding down the fort and coordinating Zodar’s strikes.”
“How did you figure that out?” Simon asked.
“It was the pins on the map of the world back in the situation room, although I didn’t notice it ’till later. Rok said he was tracking where the spy moose had already struck, but there were pins on several countries that Zodar hadn’t hit yet, including Columbia. Zodar didn’t go there until we were in Amsterdam.”
“Well that’s kind of bullshit,” Simon said.
“Huh? What’re you talking about?”
“You didn’t tell anybody about any pins that were marked on countries that Zodar hadn’t been to yet.”
“Well, it’s a bullshit clue. How are we supposed to figure out the mystery if you don’t give us all of the clues? I mean, it’s great that you knew that, but it doesn’t do anybody else any good.”
“Hey, lay off, will ya? Sherlock Holmes did that shit all the time. It’s absolutely acceptable.”
“Well, last I checked, this ain’t no Sherlock Holmes.”
“I swear Simon, I’m gonna just pop the fuck out of you if you don’t lay off. Here I am, busting my ass and making you two look good in the process, and I’m catching grief? You kidding me?”
Simon crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip.
“Just seems kind of unfair is all,” he said.
“You want fair? Play a fucking board game.”
“Um, hey,” Jimmy said cautiously. “What was the whole Amsterdam trip thing about anyway?” asked Jimmy. “What did we go there for?”
“To get us out of the way, pure & simple. I mean, what the hell do they grow in Amsterdam, right? Rok got us all drunk, put us on the plane, and then came along to give us some false clues so we’d think we were heading in the right direction.”
“You mean . . .”
“That’s right, he planted the hoof prints on the ceiling of the plane. And when I got too close to him back in the coach section, he clocked me a few times to keep me from getting a good look at him.”
“Makes sense,” said Simon. “Who better to navigate through the coach class of an airplane than someone skilled in jungle warfare.”
“But it was us that destroyed those dude’s country, right?” asked Jimmy.
“Not a chance, my friend,” I replied. “Remember the little guy you popped in the nards with your board? We assumed that he was the one holding back the dyke with his finger, and that by taking him out of action, the dyke burst. But c’mon, think about it. Holding back millions of gallons of water with your finger? He was just a tourist attraction, that’s all.”
“But then how . . . ” Jimmy started.
“Let me guess,” Simon said. “Rok again.”
“Bingo. Rok blows the dyke, we take the fall, and the next thing you know we’re tucked away all nice & tidy in a Dutch jail as far from the action as we can get, and no one has any idea that we’re there.”
“But someone did know we were there,” Jimmy said. “That dude that bailed us out.”
“Mr. I.P. Freeley,” I said, nodding.
“Hey,” said Jimmy, “is he the dude that wrote – ”
“The Yellow River, yes.”
“Wow, that was a great book,” Jimmy said. “I didn’t know that was him. I would’ve got his autograph. He really wrote good stuff.”
“That’s not all he did,” I said. “Remember that call I made to the library? I did a little background on The Yellow River and guess what I found? Turns out that the first edition was printed in Russian. After that I talked to that nice lady in Montgomery, AL again, and after she finally transferred me to Burroughs, I got some more information on Mr. Freeley. Seems he was on staff at the Central Moscow Community College at the same time our friend Zodar was.”
“You mean – ”
“That’s right. Freeley helped train Zodar.”
It was quiet for a moment while that sunk in. Then Simon asked the obvious question.
“But why would Freeley help us? And how did he know we were there?”
“Good question. And I couldn’t for the life of me figure that one out. Until I realized that the Zodar we were after wasn’t what we thought he was. As it turns out, Zodar – the real Zodar – was keeping an eye on us all along. Following us around. He was at the airport in Amsterdam disguised as a cod vendor, and again in Orlando disguised as the barrier arm, the one we hit with the Porsche, remember? Zodar had Freeley bail us out.
“The final piece that put it all together for me was the antler fuzz on the bumper. Zodar couldn’t have been in South America and Orlando at the same time, and yet I had evidence to that effect. That’s when it hit me that there must be two Zodars running around.”
“Cool, dude,” said Jimmy. “Well, I guess that takes care of that. Hey, you pass the chips back here again?”
“Wait a minute,” Simon said. “That explains one of the Zodars – the fake one – but what about the real one? Why was he following us around? Why did he get us bailed out when we got thrown in jail? What is he up to?”
“Actually, I figured that out a long time ago.”
Simon shot me a look. “What are you talking about?”
“Like I said. I already figured out what he’s doing.”
“Were you planning to share any of that information with us?”
“Okay,” he said after a few moments went by. “I guess this would be as good a time as any. Let’s hear it.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I said, ‘I can’t tell you’. Really, Simon, clean the wax out of your ears.”
“I know what you said, but why can’t you tell us?”
“Because I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You just said you figured it out a long time ago.”
“Then what is he doing?”
“I don’t know. Come on Simon, this isn’t that difficult to understand.”
Simon looked at me hard for a minute. “Okay, let’s say for a second that it is difficult to understand and that I happen to be the type of person who doesn’t do well with difficult things. In other words, pretend I’m Jimmy.”
“Duuuuude,” Jimmy said, “that is so cool. There’s gonna be two of me. This’ll be righteous dude. You’re gonna be like ‘Oh, man, it’s so cool to be Jimmy’. And we can hang out together and order pizza and be pals and stuff. I’ll teach you how to surf and – ”
“Jimmy, will you shut up!” Simon yelled.
Jimmy sunk back into the seat, a hurt look on his face. Simon let out an exasperated yet slightly sympathetic sigh, and after a moment of tense silence, tried his best to patch things up. With Jimmy, this isn’t really hard.
“Look,” Simon said, “I think that’s a great idea. But how about for our first ‘pal’ thing, we play The Silent Game. You know, where we see who can go the longest without saying anything?”
“Okay,” Jimmy said, already noticeably happier. Simon turned his attention back to me.
“Alright, Dick, what’s –”
“Duuuuude, you lose!” Jimmy said excitedly.
“We haven’t started playing yet!” Simon yelled back.
“Oh,” said Jimmy.
Simon took a deep breath. “Talk to me Dick,” he said to me. Then to Jimmy, “Now we’re playing.”
“Okay,” I said. “I figured the whole thing out back at the Barking Spider.”
“But we were just there,” Simon replied. “You didn’t say anything.”
“I win! I win!” Jimmy yelled to no one in particular. “I am the greatest of all time!”
“Not then,” I continued, ignoring Jimmy, “the first time we were there. After you and Jimmy were passed out. Something happened; I saw something, or heard something – I don’t know which – and figured out what was going on. The problem is, Rok knew I had figured it out too. And he realized that if I knew what was going on with the real Zodar, the fake Zodar would be unmasked as a phony and their cover would be blown.”
“So?” asked Simon.
I pulled out the manila envelope that Stinky Pete had given me and placed it on the seat.
“So that’s why he stole Chapter 10.”