Of course, I recognized the voice immediately. I could have kicked myself for not having figured out sooner just who I was dealing with. But there would be time for self-criticism later. At the moment, I was more concerned with the henchman who was rushing towards a portal on the far wall, no doubt intending to carry out the order that had just been given. My heart was in my throat.
“There’s no need to be hasty, Mr. Bob,” I said loudly. “But so help me, any harm visited upon her will be visited upon you and yours sevenfold.”
The henchman paused and turned back, presumably awaiting instructions. I stopped moving as well, so as not to appear threatening. Even the mysterious glowing orb came to a stop, hovering near the chute opening. Rippling light, reflected from the agitated surface of the pond, danced on the rough stone walls and ceiling.
After some moments, I felt that the pause was becoming more protracted than was strictly necessary. “Well?” I said tentatively.
“Leave it,” said the deep, gurgling voice of Mr. Bob. I was about to ask for clarification when I saw the henchman moving to rejoin the group at the water’s edge; apparently he had been called off. I breathed a little easier.
“Alright, Millik,” said Mr. Bob. “What’s your alternative proposal?”
“Can’t we just talk like civilized businessmen?” I asked. “I have no idea what this is about, but I’m quite willing to listen to whatever it is you wanted to talk to me about.”
Mr. Bob chewed it over for a bit before replying. “So we talk,” he said. “What then?”
“Then we can go from there.” I certainly wasn’t going to make any promises at this stage. To ask him to do so would have been rude, and foolish.
There was another pause. Then Mr. Bob said, “Alright, Millik. We’ll play it your way. Why don’t you come closer so we don’t have to shout?”
“How about a little more light?” I countered. Almost at once, lights came up. They were tastefully and skillfully placed, lighting the cave in an even light while remaining unobtrusive. I could see the figures on the shore quite clearly now. It was Mr. Bob in the middle, with a henchman on either side.
What’s important to know about Mr. Bob is that he is an enormous, man-sized, blotchy green bullfrog. He has opposable digits, and he rules the undercity with a somewhat slimy iron fist. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call him malevolent. Rather, call him amoral. At various points in my career, I have had dealings with him and his minions. They are at times dubious allies, at other times formidable opponents. Mr. Bob himself can be disconcerting to deal with, simply due to the fact that he is an enormous frog. Even when you’re used to that sort of thing, it throws you off a little.
Having no immediate need of it, I called back my orb, which slid into my hand. Then I floated slowly towards the group at the shore. I chose a spot about ten feet from them and alighted on the rock floor. Mr. Bob and his henchmen (well, one henchman and one henchwoman) regarded me impassively. Apparently, I had the first move.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s talk. I’d like to know why you kidnapped my wife. What do you want with me?”
Mr. Bob was unflapped. He regarded me with the calm exhibited only by powerful and dangerous people. “Easy now, Millik,” he croaked. “Let’s get something settled up front. We got the girl, so this meeting is conducted by me, not you.”
I tightened my mouth in irritation and waited for him to get to the point.
“I’ll cut right to the chase,” gurgled Mr. Bob. “We know that your organization is behind the fish in the sky. I want them gone. They’re, uh, bad for business.” He and his henchpeople shared a knowing chuckle, which caught in the frog’s throat and degenerated into several painful seconds of revolting hacking and retching.
“We want you to take care of it,” the frog continued when he was able. “And if you don’t get the job done, you can forget about seeing your wife again. Any questions?”