Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude were about as thrilled with my new information as I had been. Which is to say, not at all. We were sitting around the kitchen table at the suite, discussing the matter.
“And what’s with Carver’s gibberish?” Gertrude was saying. “I’m surprised you didn’t just smack him upside the head.”
“I doubt that would have improved matters,” said Matilda.
“I don’t see how it could have made things worse,” Gertrude countered. “Both the League and Mr. Bob say that the other one is to blame for the fish, and they’re both insisting that Andrew get rid of the fish. I don’t see how the situation could be more fucked.”
Matilda and I nodded glumly at the same time. “How are you?” she asked me.
I thought about it for a minute before I answered. “I’m worried,” I admitted. “But I’m also confident that I can work this out. If I could just think of what to do next.”
As though it had been choreographed, we all turned to Sara, who was the smart one among us. Sara noticed us gazing expectantly at her and sighed wryly. “I’ll see what I can come up with,” she said.
While we waited, Sara started thinking. She absently chewed a fingernail. After a brief time, she looked back up at us. “I can’t think of anything either,” she said. We all sighed. “But it seems to me,” she continued, addressing me directly, “that you have some untapped resources. There’s that independent contractor, what was his name?”
“Roger Binks,” I replied. “But I don’t want to use him unless I have to. I don’t fully trust him.”
“There’s also Barbara,” said Sara. “Would she come and help if you asked?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but it’s certainly worth a try.”
Just at that moment, we heard the tick-tack-tick of dog toenails on the vinyl floor of the kitchenette. We all turned towards the sound, and there was Barbara making her way sedately toward us. She stopped at the foot of my chair and said, “Please convey me to the tabletop.”
I did as she asked. The beloved quartet looked at her with undisguised interest, and she returned their gazes. “Hello, Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude,” she said. “I am honored to meet you. Andrew holds you in high regard, and so indeed does the God of Toast.”
Heather blushed, and the others appeared flattered. Matilda spoke for them. “We are likewise honored, Barbara,” she said. “Thank you.”
Barbara nodded and turned to me with a businesslike air. “First,” she said, “I must ask that you not summon me in that fashion again.” I started to apologize, but Barbara held up a paw. “I am not offended,” she said. “You couldn’t have known, since I neglected to tell you, that calling upon an enlightened child of the universe in that manner is…” She trailed off as if casting about for the right word.
“A faux pas?” suggested Sara.
“Precisely,” said Barbara.
“It won’t happen again,” I said.
“Thank you,” said Barbara. “And now to the matter at hand. Why did you summon me? How may I assist you?”
I had no way of knowing how much Barbara already knew, so I explained the whole situation to her. She listened without interrupting until I finished.
“You have not answered my question,” she said. “What is it you want of me?”
“Well, that’s just it,” I said. “I’m kind of stuck on what to do next and I wondered if you had any ideas.”
“I see.” Barbara regarded me implacably. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way,” she said.
“You mean you won’t help us?” said Gertrude.
Barbara turned to her. “I didn’t say that,” she said. She turned back to me. “Tell me, what is it that you need right now?”
“We need your help,” snapped Gertrude. I gave her a warning glance and she flounced back in her chair, lips tightened in annoyance.
After some thought, I replied to Barbara. “I need to know whether the League or Mr. Bob is responsible for the fish in the sky.”
“I would tell you the answer if I knew it,” said Barbara. “Sadly, I do not. Is there anyone else you can ask?”
I thought some more. Then I said, “I can’t ask the League. Even if I could get the question to Management, simply posing the question would arouse suspicion.”
“True,” said Barbara. “Who else might tell you?”
“Mr. Bob,” said Sara.
Everyone looked at her. “It’s the only choice,” she said. “Sad to say, but he’s a safer person to ask than the League. If you ask to see proof that the League is behind the fish, he might even show it to you.”
I was about to protest when I realized she had a point. Whether I liked it or not, Mr. Bob was my best option for getting information at the moment.
“Where’s Barbara?” said Heather suddenly.
Sure enough, Barbara had vanished while our attention had been diverted.
“I think that’s our answer,” said Matilda. Even Gertrude nodded in agreement.