“I can see now why it was important for them to steal that chapter,” Simon said. “We would have solved this a long time ago. What a horrible thing for them to do.”
“I know,” I said, “and all to keep their sordid scheme of quick riches alive at the expense of mankind’s suffering.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. We could’ve had this book wrapped up by the end of Chapter 13 and been out of here.”
We were back at my house, resting in the living room after the nine hour drive. I had been trying to figure out why you got so tired from driving when all you’re really doing is just sitting there when Simon had spoken. Since I had just recently scaled back from two mysteries to one, I decided that taking mysteries one at a time was okay with me and left the “tired from driving” puzzle for a later date. Maybe it would turn into a future employment opportunity.
“Nah, the book would’ve been too short. Wouldn’t have even been worth printing,” I said.
“All the better for us, I say,” Simon replied.
“Be that as it may, we still have work to do. There’s a spy moose on the loose and he’s up to some serious no good. All the clues point to it.”
“Point to what?” asked Simon. Then to Jimmy, “Hey, can you break away from Cartoon Network for just a moment and help us out here?”
Jimmy broke his mind meld with the TV and looked over. “What?”
“Nevermind,” said Simon. “It was a stupid question.”
“Yeah, dog,” Jimmy said smiling, “you’re getting into the whole ‘Jimmy’ thing now, aren’t you? Pretty cool, huh?”
“Oh, shut up.”
Jimmy nodded and re-glued his eyes to the tube, still smiling his silly smile. “Yeah, dog.”
“I think we’re just going to have to do without the aid of surfer boy,” Simon said to me.
I nodded. “Probably be faster that way.”
“So bring me up to date on Zodar,” Simon said. “Having now read Chapter 10, I can see how that would have compromised Rok and Stinky Pete, but what leads do we have on the moose himself?”
“He’s after DisneyWorld. Wants to replace the mouse with the moose.”
“But how do you know for sure?”
“Think about it. Cod stands, much like the turkey leg vendors they have at the Magic Kingdom, but with a more Siberian flair. Moose hats appearing worldwide as tourists recently returning from our fair vacationland carry home souvenir hats graced not with familiar round mouse ears, but instead by big fuzzy antlers. And theme park commercials bombarding the airwaves featuring Mickey and Minnie waving gaily to the television audience.”
“Hold on. I can see the evil workings afoot in the cod stands and hats, but what’s so odd about the commercials?’
“Mickey has antlers.”
“Oh. I didn’t notice.”
“No doubt has anyone else. Yes, it’s a subtle game he’s playing. A game of methodical, subliminal replacement, so smooth that by the time he has replaced Mickey altogether, no one will even remember that there was ever anything but a moose.”
“The horror,” Simon whispered, aghast.
“Yes. With control of the largest entertainment empire in the world, his influence on the masses will be unstoppable. He’ll control the world.”
“But can you be sure, Dick?” Simon asked. “I mean, sure, the clues all point to it, but can you be sure?”
“Well,” I said, “in addition to the clues, there was also that little part where he told us, and I quote, ‘I’m taking over Disney World’, unquote. So, yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
We sat in silence for a while as I let Simon come to grips with the true magnitude of the situation and feel the troubling weight that I myself had been dealing with all by myself for the last five minutes or so. I share like that. Kind of guy I am.
“Well,” Simon said at last, “we’ve got to stop him.”
“Duh. You think?”
“Absolutely! Where’s the phone?” he said, jumping up and looking around. “We need to call the police, the Army, the Feds; hell, everybody! We need to get moving now!”
“Hold on there, oh mighty Simon,” I said. “We’re calling nobody.”
“What? Are you kidding me? C’mon, Dick, we’re gonna need help on this.”
“And who’s gonna believe you? The Feds? The police? What are you going to tell them? There’s another spy moose on the loose? No, Simon. This one is all us. We’re not going to get any help.”
“Besides,” I said, “this is personal.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Why do you think Zodar’s been keeping an eye on us? Helping us out even?”
Simon thought for a moment. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know.”
“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” asked Jimmy, finally free from the hypnotic spell of animated existence.
“Zodar,” I told him.
“Oh, that guy?” Jimmy said. “I thought we were done with that.”
“I’m afraid not, Jimmy.”
“Oh, okay,” he said. “Hey, I know. I’ll get some chips.” He bounded off to the kitchen, obviously upset with the peril at hand.
I turned back to Simon. “Zodar’s a creation of the Cold War. He was trained to function by Cold War guidelines. And even though the Cold War is long over, he can’t break from the rules of engagement that it was played by.”
Jimmy came back in and sat on the couch. “Pretzel?”
“Thanks, but not now,” I said.
“I’ll have some,” Simon said.
“Duuuude,” Jimmy said, smiling again. “You’re getting it. I can tell.”
“Jimmy,” I said, not hiding my annoyance, “I was right in the middle of a very important and dramatic explanation here. Do you mind?”
“Oh. Sorry,” he said. “Go ahead.”
I continued while Simon and Jimmy munched away.
“Like I was saying,” I said, “Zodar is driven by Cold War tactics. Action and reaction. Bluff and counter bluff. He’s playing a game of cat & mouse, but there’s no cat. That’s why he’s been helping us. He needed us to clear up the fake Zodar and stop Rok & Stinky so we could focus on him. He needs a cat.”
“Well, hell,” Jimmy said, “we can get him a cat. That’s easy. There’s cats all over the place. My mom’s got four or five – ”
“Not a housecat Jimmy,” I said.
“Oh,” he said. “What then? Like, a lion or something?”
“No, us Jimmy. Us.”
“Dude. That’s just weird.”
Thankfully Simon jumped in and brought a ray of sanity back into the conversation.
“I follow you, Dick,” he said. “It’s just him and us now.
“Exactly,” I said.
“But what are we supposed to do now? We know what he’s trying to do, and we have a fairly good if somewhat ludicrous idea as to how he’s doing it. But how do we stop him? We don’t even know where he’s at.”
“Of course we do,” I said.
“We do?” Simon and Jimmy chimed in unison.
“Absolutely. He’s here. In Orlando.”
“Okay, that narrows it down some. But Orlando’s still a pretty big place.”
“Right, but we don’t have to search blindly.”
“What do you mean?” Simon asked.
“Zodar has two weaknesses, remember? One is that whatever he turns into, he can’t hide his antlers. The other is that he has a soft spot for women.”
“Well, other than being a land of theme parks, what else is Orlando known for?”
“Um . . . . roads?” said Jimmy. “No wait; grass.”
“Beaches,” Simon guessed.
“No, gentlemen,” I said. “Think.”
They did. Paint dried. Seasons turned. Then suddenly, both of their eyes grew wide as saucers and they blurted out together –
“Exactly,” I said.
“My God,” Simon said to Jimmy, “I am starting to think like you.”
Next Week: Chapter 27