My organization responsible for the sky being full of fish? This was news. But my primary concern was with the safe retrieval of one Gail Millik. I thought quickly, choosing an angle. In the end, I decided that the circumstances called for open dealing.
“It’s funny you say the League is behind the fish,” I said. (“The League” is one name for the organization that employs me.) “Only this morning they assigned me to get rid of the fish. Are you sure your information is good?”
Mr. Bob narrowed his bulbous eyes, which made him look very strange. “My information is solid gold,” he said.
“Well then, that makes no sense to me. Fish removal is my full-time priority as of this morning. If my employers are behind the fish, why would they assign their top agent to clear the skies?”
There was a pause. Then I said, “I don’t think I want to know the answer to that.”
Mr. Bob chuckled. “The League is a many-headed serpent,” he said.
I was uncomfortable, so I decided to change the focus of the conversation. “That’s all very nice. But I want Gail back. You’re using her to threaten me into doing something I was already committed to doing. So why don’t you let her go?”
Mr. Bob shook his head. “I’m not going to do that. I find you do-gooders are easier to deal with if I have a little leverage.”
“That’s not acceptable.”
“Yeah? Well, that’s just too damn bad.”
I crossed my arms. “Mr. Bob,” I said, “You know I respect you. You also know that I could retrieve Gail and turn this place into a mud puddle without breaking a sweat.” My voice was cold. I was not making idle talk.
“But I don’t want to fight you,” I continued. “I just want Gail freed, and after that I want to get rid of the fish. You’re threatening me to do something I’m going to do anyway. You have no reason to antagonize me. And you have every reason to avoid pissing me off.”
Mr. Bob sat impassive for some moments. Then he said, “Let’s call it how it is. You couldn’t turn this place into a mud puddle, and I could make the girl dead long before you could get to her. However, you are powerful enough to be a major pain in the ass, and I’m sure I’d lose some good people in putting you down.” He turned to the henchman. “Bring the woman here,” he said. As the henchman turned and walked to the door, Mr. Bob said to me, “We’re going to compromise.”
“What are the terms of the compromise?” I asked.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the frog replied. He said no more, and neither did I.
After what seemed like a far longer time than it was, the henchman returned with Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude. My heart leaped to see them safe and unharmed. Gail was shackled at the wrists and ankles, and shuffled towards us with the henchman at her back. Matilda’s eyes sparkled at me, and I knew that the four of them were none the worse for their adventure.
This happy reunion was marred by Mr. Bob, whose tongue shot out and slapped Gail in the face. Where the tongue had struck her cheek, there was a small black square patch of some kind.
“What the hell?” snapped Gertrude.
“That’s the compromise,” gurgled Mr. Bob. “The woman can go free, but that patch’ll stay there until the fish are gone. Cross me, and I guarantee you’ll be unhappy with what happens to it.”
Meanwhile, the henchman had busied himself with removing the cuffs and shackles. Her hands freed, Gertrude reached up with clawed fingers to pull the patch from her face. “Don’t try it,” said Mr. Bob. “It’s sensitive to tampering, and will go off if you get too rough with it.” He turned a sidelong glance my way. “And that’s true down to the molecular level, Mr. Nanobot,” he said quietly.
I was impressed in spite of myself. Very few people know about the nanobots.
“Now then,” said the frog, “I think we can adjourn. Sherraine here will escort you out.” He turned and squished off, accompanied by the henchman. This left the henchwoman, who eyed us warily.
“This way,” she said simply, and started walking. Matilda, Heather, Sara, Gertrude, and I followed the woman. She led us around the pond and down a short passage to an elevator lobby. She pressed the “up” button, and the door slid smoothly open almost instantly. We were ushered inside. The woman pressed the button that said, “Street,” and then we were in motion. I took the opportunity to have Matilda fix my broken finger.
The elevator doors opened into a normal-looking living room. Normal, that is, except that where a fireplace would have been, there was an elevator instead. The woman led us to the front door and all but shoved us outside. The door slammed behind us.
My car was parked in front of the house. It’s those little touches that set Mr. Bob’s organization apart.
I turned to Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude. “What now?” I asked.
“We should go home and hug and kiss a lot,” said Heather. It sounded like a good suggestion to me. We went to the car and climbed inside. Then it struck me.
“Shit,” I snapped.
“What is it?” asked Matilda.
“I forgot to find out what happened to the house,” I said, sighing.