Ecochondriacs [24]

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Please note well: In case you were wondering, even though November is over, I will be publishing the rest of this book here, section by section. But if you can’t wait to see how it ends, you can order this book in hard copy, and the link for that is here. In addition, audio chapters are being recorded and released on the new Canon App.

Larry Liberates Marsha

When Ken had first told Larry about his rumored theory that somebody was blackmailing certain inconsistent votes out of Sen. Marsha Hart, he had also said that the people doing it had been quite deft. In other words, they had not overplayed their hand, which would have made the good senator a vulnerable primary target back in Montana. In this speculation, he was right about the effect it was having, but wrong about the cause. The cause was something more like simple incompetence.

For the person with the dirt on her was none other than Hugh Hasani, and the dirt was located in the offices of Earth Fight. And by this point it goes without saying that they had not been clever enough to find the dirt themselves—that had been given to them by an overworked staffer at the DNC who had needed to get a few things off his desk. I use the phrase his desk advisedly because this staffer, now going by Heather, was already transitioning, with fake breasts and everything, and to apply the old pronoun might entail legal difficulties for, as the Victorians would have put it, the present writer. But the legal team for Satiric Writers Guild is a crackerjack team in every respect, and so I have made the decision to simply proceed. Let it stand. Stet. Whatever the editors may say about it, stet. Where was I?

Right. He had a pile of dirt on his desk, and he needed to offload some of it, and he had a cousin who worked for Earth Fight, and so that is how Earth Fight became a very important group of people in Sen. Hart’s eyes, although she didn’t even know who they were, and this made them even more important figures in their own eyes. They would certainly have been willing to demand that she roll over on every single vote, but they kept getting distracted by other stuff. And so, being stymied by their own laziness, they were thus failing to put the squeeze on her except at intermittent intervals. The effect was almost professional, and that is what had excited Ken’s grudging admiration. It was, alas, a misplaced admiration.

Larry had been thinking hard about what to do with the emails that he was now carrying around. They were burning  a hole in his pocket, not unlike that genuine silver dollar his grandfather had once given him when he was a kid. In this state, for some reason his thoughts had turned to the upcoming vice-presidential debates. He had met Billy Jerome several times, and thought that he might be willing to produce the emails in the middle of the debate, but after some thought he decided it was too risky. They would think, all his advisors would think, that it was a risky stunt to pull in a veep debate, and that it could easily blow up on them. And if they thought it was too risky for them, then it would be too risky for Larry to attempt going through Jerome. He corrected himself immediately. For Larry and Jill. Too risky for Larry and Jill. That seemed to fit somehow.

But as he was settling in to ponder it some more, his phone in his breast pocket chirruped at him. He pulled it out, tapped the screen, and his eyes got wide. “What?” Jill asked him.

The text message simply said, “We have Helen and Cody. Listen to the voice memo if you would like to learn how to get them back.”

So Larry poked at the little arrow that would play the memo, poking it three times. He started to say something about his stupid phone, but Jill interrupted. “I think it has to do with the size of your finger,” she said. “Let me.” She reached over, touched the screen, and the message began to play.

“My name is Asteroid. We have Helen and Cody,” the voice said. “If you would like me to send proof of that, I am willing to do so, but I am also happy to proceed straight to negotiations. My name is not really Asteroid.”

“Ask him for the proof,” Jill said. “Buy some time. But in the meantime, I think I know who that is.”

“All right,” Larry said, and typed in, “Send your proof.”

Then he turned to Jill, an activity he found himself wanting to do more and more. “How could you possibly know who it is?”

“He said neggotiashuns, with a hard g and a hard t,” Jill said. “I heard him speak once at a rally I had to attend. Same there. That is his own private shibboleth. And I have talked to him on the phone a few times also. He has called the senator from time to time. That is Hugh Hasani, from Earth Fight. He is not the brightest bulb in the pack.”

“And I know right where the Earth Fight offices are. I drive by them on the way to work, and I sing imprecatory psalms whenever I do.”

Jill stood up. “Well, let’s go then.”

Whoa, Larry thought. A woman of action.

She was standing at the door, car keys in hand, looking back. Larry hopped up and followed her. They both knew, without talking about it, that they couldn’t call the cops because Helen had no way of preventing her well-placed enemies from steam-rolling a local police department. To involve the police would be tantamount to giving up. They couldn’t really talk to the police until they had a plan in place for publishing the emails in a way that could not be spiked.

It was after business hours when they pulled into the run-down little strip mall where Earth Fight’s solitary office—international, national, and local offices, depending on who they were trying to impress, all rolled into one—was located. It was after business hours, but not yet fully dark. Larry told Jill to wait in the car while he walked around to the back. The office was three in from the end, and so Larry was able easily to count the back doors. After he had done so, he noticed an Earth Fight sign posted on the door for UPS drivers, so it turned out he needn’t have bothered with the counting. He took one look at the lock, and went back to get Jill. When the two of them got to the back door again, he took out a credit card, looked at Jill, and grinned.

“I do not have a criminal background, just so you know. I am simply mechanically inclined.”

Jill smiled back at him and said nothing. She hoped her smile was not of the adoring variety. Larry had the door open in about thirty seconds, and stepped across the threshold. He stood in the hallway for a moment, waiting for an alarm to sound, but nothing happened.

He walked down the central hallway toward the waiting room, and stood still for a moment. “This place is a pit,” he said, as if to no one in particular. Jill had turned into a side room momentarily, and looked both this way and that for any place where a couple of prisoners might be kept. Nothing there. But on the left side of that room sat a wobbly card table with a couple of dirty rags on it, and on top of them was a crescent wrench, about a foot long. For no particular reason other than personal safety, she picked it up, and hefted it in her hand. Nice.

The main offices were down the hall further, also on the right. Larry had gone down that hallway, but turned left to look over the waiting room first. He was saving the office area for last.

But when he had said that the place was a pit, one of the consequences of his comment was that he awakened Hugh Hasani, who had been asleep at his desk. About an hour earlier he had finished a Cup o’ Ramen, which was a typical dinner for him, and having worn himself out with all the thinking and figuring about how to steer clear of Rocco, he then laid his head down on the desk for a quick nap. He sat up quickly and quietly, just in time to make out Larry’s profile, just before Larry turned away from him to go into the waiting room. Larry Locke. He had seen that man multiple times on YouTube, where he always made a point of making some bile-filled comment, which he always signed HH. But that profile was unmistakable. That was Larry Locke. His enemy had walked into his lair. He would figure out what to do with the body later.

His right-hand drawer was already open, and it was where he kept his 9mm, which he picked up as he stood. He stepped around his desk and walked silently toward Larry, gun out-stretched and at the ready. Larry had gone all the way into the waiting room and stood still for a moment. He was looking around, first at the front door, and then to the left, where a couple of closets were.

Hugh stepped across the hallway and stood in the wide door-way into the waiting room. He quietly and cautiously drew a bead halfway between Larry’s shoulder blades. Hugh was a decent shot, but this would be impossible to miss. Larry’s shoulder blades seemed like they were a yard apart.

Jill, for her part, had come out of the side room she had been in, and was walking down the hallway, crescent wrench in her right hand. She looked up just as Hugh stepped just inside the waiting room and stopped.

Now, Jill was an athletic woman. Her principal sport had been volleyball, but she had also played a mean game of softball back in her day. She was a decent fielder, but her real strength was at the plate.

So without any reflection at all, she leapt forward, shifting both hands to her little crescent wrench of a bat. Her swing was angled slightly up, as though she were going for the fence. As she connected, she saw that Hugh had been just about to shoot an unsuspecting Larry in the back. The wrench made a satisfying thwack, almost as good as in the movies, and Hugh went forward onto his face. It was as though someone just pushed over an upright railroad tie, and the sound of him hitting the floor was also similar.

Larry spun around at the thwack and the thump, and looked down on a deeply unconscious Hugh. “Well, well,” he said, “It appears that I owe you my deepest thanks. A second time.” What a woman, he was thinking.

After a few seconds, he asked, “Did you see anything in that back room we could tie him up with? Their office staff can deal with him in the morning.”

“Just a sec,” Jill said. She darted back to the place where she had picked up the crescent wrench, left it there on the card table, and picked up a roll of duct tape that was on the window sill. She was back with Larry in about two minutes. “Here,” she said. Larry in the meantime had checked Hugh’s pulse, which was steady enough, took the duct tape, and promptly trussed him up in a way calculated to keep him from moving at all. “That should do it.” Hugh was still unconscious when he was done. “You must have sent him into the middle of next week,” he said.

When he stood up, he asked her, “Have we checked all the rooms, all the doors? These doors are closets. No basement steps, nothing like that?”

“No, this is it,” she replied. “The back room, the office with the desks there, and the waiting room here. No Helen and no Cody.”

Larry was now musing. Jill was thinking to herself that this was no time for musing.

“We need to get out of here,” she whispered at him. “We got the information we wanted. I don’t think he has them. He just wanted us to think he did.”

He shook his head. “Not everything we wanted. Not yet. I need to check on something Ken told me about.”

With that he walked carefully over into the office to a file cabinet that was in the corner, right behind Hugh’s desk, and Jill noticed, again not for the first time, how he walked like a cat. A great jungle cat, but a cat nonetheless. “What are you doing?” she said, following him.

“A long shot, but I would feel really bad about myself if I didn’t check. And we know her last name begins with an H, so I shouldn’t have to go rummaging through the whole file cabinet.”

“Maybe when we are safely out of here, you will explain yourself to me in a way that makes some kind of sense.”

“Happy to,” Larry said, and pulled out the top drawer. And there, about a third of the way back, was a thick file labeled Hart. “Ah, pay dirt,” he said, and lifted the whole thing out.

He grinned at Jill, and she grinned back, not knowing why. “We can go now,” he said. “Judging from the looks of this office, these people are not likely to have an organized set of back ups for anything. I think we can consider your boss, the good senator, to be someone who is now officially in the clear.”

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