We sat around the table and stewed together. “I wish I knew who to punch,” Gertrude commented dryly.
Sara spoke up softly. “As I see it,” she said, “there are two known variables you could investigate. First is what the League has to do with the fish. And second is, why is Carver acting so strangely?”
Something clicked in my mind. “That’s it,” I said.
“What’s it?” asked Matilda.
“Carver. He’s my liaison to the higher levels of management. He might have information about the League’s involvement. And he’s been acting strangely. If I can interrogate him, I might just get both answers.”
“What is in your mind?” asked Sara.
I gave her a look. “As if you don’t know?” I asked. Sara can read anyone, especially me, like a book.
Sara gave a half smile. “I was being polite,” she said. “But don’t you think that ambushing Carver is a bad idea? He’s your superior for a reason, you know.”
“If I can surprise him, I think I should be able to take him,” I said with a confidence that I wasn’t sure I felt. “Besides, can you think of another way to get information from him?”
Heather shrugged. “You could always just ask him.”
The rest of us looked at her. “What?” she said. “You could.”
“Yes, I suppose I could,” I said, sighing. “But that’s not how things are done at the League. Things just aren’t like that between consultants and managers.”
“Maybe they should be,” said Heather.
“There is little value in contemplation of a reality that is completely in tune with one’s desires,” said Barbara, not unkindly, as she materialized in the center of the table. Before anyone could speak, she went on. “Andrew,” she said, turning to face me, “I don’t have long and my powers are weakening. I have come to warn you about your coworker.”
The instant she finished speaking, she abruptly vanished. Her disappearance was accompanied by a sound not unlike a balloon bursting. We all jumped. “Shit!” Heather exclaimed.
“My thoughts precisely,” I said. Despite my calm and collected appearance, I was deeply rattled.
“Do you think she’s dead?” asked Matilda.
“We have no way of knowing,” said Sara. “But if she is, we should honor her passage by heeding her final message.”
“What we heard of it,” grumbled Gertrude.
“She said something about a coworker,” said Heather.
“She meant Carver,” I said with a finality that barred further discussion. “I’ll deal with him tomorrow.”
“Why tomorrow?” asked Gertrude.
“Because I don’t know where he is right now, and I want to ambush him as he leaves work.”
We went to bed soon after that. I was deeply troubled and did not sleep well. The fish, the League, Carver, Barbara, and above all, the toast, weighed heavily on my brain.
Looking at it with the benefit of hindsight, it seems silly that it didn’t occur to me that Barbara may have been talking about someone other than Carver.