The Sky Was Full of Fish 34

It was about seven o’clock when I got back to the hotel. Carver and I had parted amicably, he to go to his dinner engagement and I to return to my hotel suite and brood. The beloved quartet was at the door as I walked in.

“Oh my god,” said Heather, staring at me in alarm.

“What is it?” I said.

“What happened to your head?” asked Matilda.

“You look like shit,” Gertrude chimed in.

This explained the odd looks I’d been getting on the street and in the lobby. Matilda placed her hands on my head and began pouring her soothing power into me. It was heavenly.

“Did Carver do this to you?” asked Sara.

“Yes, he did. But we parted on good terms.” I explained about the Armored Bilge. By the time I had finished my explanation, we had all sat down in the sitting area of the suite.

“So,” said Gertrude, “it’s nice and all that you have these new weirdo allies, but what does it get you?”

I shrugged. “It’s more than I had before I talked with Carver.”

“But it still doesn’t lead us to some kind of next step,” said Gertrude. “What are we going to do now?”

“We’ll just have to think of something,” I said, slightly annoyed at her tone.

“‘Think of something?’ We’ve been ‘thinking of something’ for days and nothing’s gotten rid of the fish.” Gertrude was speaking quite loudly now. “And meanwhile, there’s no toast.”

Matilda put her hand on Gertrude’s shoulder. “Easy, Gertrude,” she said soothingly.

Gertrude forcefully shrugged off Matilda’s hand. “Easy my ass,” she snapped, jumping to her feet and glaring down at us. “The God of Toast is dying or dead, and we haven’t done a damn thing about it. We need to do something. I need to punch someone. When are we going to do something?”

No-one said anything for a few seconds. Gertrude stood, breathing heavily and silently challenging us to refute her. I slowly got to my feet and looked her in the eye. “You’re absolutely right,” I said.

Gertrude blinked, her anger diffused by surprise. “I am?” she said.

I nodded. “Yes, you’re right. It’s time to do something.”

“Okay, what?” asked Heather.

“I’ve been going about this case all wrong from the beginning,” I said. “I haven’t been playing to my strengths at all.” I held up my right pinky finger. “This,” I said emphatically. “This is what I do. No more cloak and dagger.” With that, I strode to the door.

“Where are you going?” asked Matilda.

“Yeah, what gives?” demanded Gertrude.

“I’m going to the Complex, and I’m going to get to the bottom of these fish in the sky once and for all.” I put my hand on the door knob.

“Wait,” said Heather, taking my arm. “Let us come with you.”

“Yeah, I want a piece of this action,” said Gertrude.

“Absolutely not,” I said. “It’s too dangerous. Promise me you’ll stay here.”

In the end, I got their promise, albeit grudgingly. I left Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude in the hotel and made my way to the Complex, grim with purpose.

Click here for episode 35

The Sky Was Full of Fish 33

Carver walked behind me and took hold of my wrists. “I’m going to cut your bonds at this time,” he said. “But before I do, I want your assurance that you will behave with civility. You and I have much to discuss, and that is not facilitated by violence. Do I have your assurance?”

I wasn’t sure why Carver thought I was in any position to threaten him, even if my bonds were removed. Maybe he was being polite. In any case, I was far too intrigued at this point to want to fight. I nodded. Then, when Carver made no move, I said, “Yes, you have my assurance.”

“Thank you,” said Carver, and set about cutting the various cords that bound me. It felt good to be free again. I stood up and stretched a little bit, apparently too quickly, as my head started to swim. I sat down again and pulled the pinky binder off of my right hand. Carver, who had walked back to his own chair, tensed up a little bit when he saw me going for my finger.

“I’m just getting something for my headache,” I said. Without making sudden movements, I slowly produced a bottle of painkiller and showed it to him. He relaxed visibly. I popped a couple and waited for them to start working.

Carver sat down. “I am sorry about the crack to the skull,” he said. “I misjudged the size of the room.”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “By all means, let us have our discussion.”

“Very well,” said Carver. “I am the leader of a clandestine organization that operates within the League. The organization is called the Armored Bilge, and we work behind the scenes for the greater good, or what we believe to be the greater good, when the League fails to do so.”

“How often does that happen?” I asked.

“More often than the Armored Bilge would like. Hence our existence.”

“Why the secrecy?” I asked. “Why not just strike out on your own?”

“It’s been discussed from time to time, but ultimately, we are a self-correcting force in the League. In order to fulfill our goals and do the most good, we must remain a part of the organization we seek to shepherd.”

“What’s all this got to do with me?”

Carver smiled. “You have been considered for membership for some years now. It was not until very recently that I sought to test you, however. In the past, you always seemed a bit confrontational.”

I shrugged. “What can I say? I was a bit of a turd.”

“As you say,” Carver chuckled. “the test, as you may have surmised by now, involves engaging the candidate with perplexing or confusing language and gauging their reaction.”

“So all that nonsense was just you testing me for membership in the Armored Bilge?” I asked. Carver nodded. I frowned, perplexed. “But why use nonsense?”

“For two reasons,” Carver replied. “First, it allows us to test candidates without revealing ourselves in any way. Second, and more importantly, we of the Armored Bilge are absurdists. We feel that the bewildering power of the unexpected can be a force for positive change in the world. And more to the point, in the League.”

“What if I don’t want to join?”

Carver shrugged. “Then you don’t join. I assume you do not wish to do so?”

I nodded. “I’m honored to be invited, but I’m afraid I don’t share your guiding philosophy. Weirdness is to be endured, not embraced.”

“I’m not terribly surprised,” said Carver. “It’s unfortunate though; you have a gift for absurdity. You tested very well.”

“Thanks,” I said. I was relieved that I had not given offence by declining the offer. There was a slightly awkward silence, which I broke. “So what happens now?”

“I am authorized to place the Armored Bilge at your disposal. We of the Bilge are pro-Toast, and the outcome of your current quest is of great concern to us. The very fate of toast itself hangs in the balance. Call upon us if you have need, and we will answer.”

Click here for episode 34

The Sky Was Full of Fish 32

I laid it all out for Carver: The weird events that had plagued me since the fish in the sky had first appeared, the abduction of Gail Millik, the conflicting information I had received from Mr. Bob and the League, the truth about what was happening to the God of Toast, and my conclusions that he, Carver, was my only remaining lead. The only things I left out were Roger Binks and Barbara, having decided that those matters were my own business and didn’t concern Carver directly.

Through my entire speech, Carver remained mute and undemonstrative. When I stopped talking, he continued to regard me stonily. Finally, he spoke. “There are things you’re not telling me. Why?”

“They’re personal,” I said sullenly.

Carver leaned forward to regard me carefully. Then he leaned back again and puffed his pipe. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” he said. “You’re going up against both the League and Mr. Bob in pursuit of your goal, that goal being to eradicate the fish in the sky, thereby, you believe, saving the God of Toast from annihilation. Correct?”

I nodded.

“And when your investigation led you to me,” Carver continued, “you unflinchingly went after me, even knowing full well that I’m a Tier 3 member of the League of Heroes?”

“I thought you were Tier 4,” I said.

“I was reclassified.”

“Oh.” I myself was Tier 5. That Carver was two tiers above me made me feel a little better about my failure to nab him.

“In any case,” said Carver, “have I painted a fair picture of the situation?”

I nodded.

“And even in light of your current situation, you continue to defy me?”

“Anything I haven’t told you isn’t your business,” I said, gritting my teeth a little.

“In that case,” said Carver, “I only have one more question for you.” He paused, seemingly waiting for me. I raised my eyebrows as an invitation to continue.

Carver leaned forward to stare at me intently. “What loss is incurred when the music listens to a prawn?” he asked.

I blinked. So it was to be this again. I suddenly felt tired all over. But there seemed to be only one option, and that was to play along. I cleared my throat. “In the void of space, the prawn cannot be heard,” I said. “Not even by the music.”

“Space? Who said anything about space?” said Carver. “I’m talking about the fundamental truths to be found here, on Earth, in soups and sandwiches.”

“Roast beef is the culinary equivalent to a beard trimmer,” I said.

“And what answers would you look for in a beard trimmer sandwich?” Carver demanded.

“There’s a sock in the air between us, undulating softly,” I replied.

“I wish you would quit changing the subject,” said Carver. “We were talking about the elemental properties of my closeted bazooka shredder.”

“Leaving that aside for the moment, what do you intend to do about the undulating sock?” I asked.

Carver shrugged. “Do? What can I do? There’s kibble in the rhododendron.”

“The universe can be discovered in a jar of owl pellets,” I said. I was actually beginning to enjoy myself.

“Which brings us to the subject of robots,” said Carver, leading back in his chair with an air of satisfaction. “What will you do when the tenacious, gibbering robots come to you, demanding toast?”

Mentioning toast was a cheap shot in my book. I looked Carver dead in the eye and said, “Even my toast has toast.”

Carver nodded gravely. “A fair point,” he said. “And, I think, sufficient to my purposes.” He stood up, producing a small, lethal-looking dagger from somewhere. The blade glinted in the harsh light as he approached me.

Click here for episode 33

The Sky Was Full of Fish 31

When I awoke, I found myself tied to a chair with a binder on my right pinky finger. The room was dimly lit by a single hanging bulb, which revealed a significant quantity of dingy, dusty grunge layering all surfaces. Positioned directly opposite me, there was an electric blue padded wingback leather armchair, quite spotless and pristine. As you might imagine, it looked very out of place. There were some large multi-pane windows on the wall to my right, similar to the ones I had crashed through. These were all intact, so Carver had either moved me to another room or repaired the windows. I didn’t much care which. My head felt uncomfortably warm and stingy where it had impacted the wall, and it was achy everywhere else. Quick head movements were quite unpleasant.

While I was in the middle of making these observations and taking stock of my situation, Carver strolled into the room. “Ah, you’re awake,” he said, seating himself comfortably in the leather armchair and crossing one leg over the other. He leaned back, produced an ornately carved pipe from somewhere, and lit it. The delicious aroma of burning pipe tobacco filled the room.

“How’s the head? Not too painful, I hope?” he asked. I didn’t answer. He sighed and went on. “I can tell you’re eager for me to get to the point. It is this: You are to explain yourself for your actions this evening. I make this request as both a peer and your supervisor. Don’t leave anything out, and don’t waste my time. I have a dinner appointment tonight that I intend to keep, and I have no qualms about leaving you here until I get the answers I believe I’m entitled to.” So saying, he puffed complacently on his pipe and waited for me.

I briefly considered my options. From his words and demeanor, I surmised that he was using some means of lie-detection. This was rather limiting. I could attempt to lie, but with my right pinky finger out of play, I was in no position to elude lie-detection of any kind. Furthermore, I had my doubts that I could counteract anything of Carver’s, even with the use of my finger, after my abysmal showing in the alleyway.

I could just refuse to talk and hope for eventual rescue. Almost immediately, I ruled out that course of action. With the fate of the God of Toast at stake, there simply wasn’t time for a contest of wills.

That left telling the truth as my only real option. I remembered Heather’s talk of the previous evening, and her favorable opinions on open dealings. We had all scoffed at her naivety, but now here I was about to test her theories. I hoped I would survive long enough to tell her about it; I knew she would be pleased.

I cleared my throat. Carver, who had been daydreaming, turned his attention to me again. “Are you ready to talk?” he asked.

“I am,” I replied.

“What do you have to say for yourself, Andrew?”

“I am on a mission from the God of Toast,” I said.

Click here for episode 32

The Sky Was Full of Fish 30

The next afternoon found me positioned on a rooftop overlooking the entrance to the Complex. I had activated my visual redirection array, which effectively if not completely hid me from view, and my automatic levitation matrix was on standby. The building I was sitting on had three stories, and I dangled my feet over the edge and waited for Carver to emerge from the hologrammatically hidden alley.

Carver obligingly appeared before my posterior had completely fallen asleep. He stepped from the alley, seemingly materializing out of the false wall, and took a few steps. Suddenly, he stopped and cocked his head as if sensing something. I became worried. But then he seemed to shrug and continued down the sidewalk to the corner. I activated the levitation matrix and hopped off the roof.

I stayed with him for a few blocks, hovering about 25 feet above and behind him. From my vantage point, it was easy to keep track of him on the crowded sidewalk. After a while, the foot traffic began to thin, and I started looking for a good time and place to strike. I noticed a narrow alleyway a few dozen feet ahead and decided that would be the staging area. I pulled out a stun stick and readied it, moving in a bit closer.

When we were about five yards from the alleyway, Carver bolted completely without warning, dashing around the corner and out of sight. Cursing under my breath, I quickened to follow him, brandishing my stun stick. I had no idea how he had detected me, but at this point it didn’t matter.

I cruised into the alley at an altitude of about seven feet, only to find it completely empty. Never had I encountered such a bare alley. There wasn’t even any trash lying around. More to the point, there was no Carver. I became worried again. Then I heard a voice coming from behind and above me.

“Looking for me?” it asked tauntingly. It was Carver, of course. I whirled around to find him hovering a few feet above and behind me, his eyes glowing an intense electric blue. I whipped my stun stick forward to bring it to bear, but Carver flicked his fingers and it was gone.

“Shit,” I said conversationally. Carver’s response was to gesture arcanely at me. Bands of invisible force locked around my upper body and carried me upwards until we were eye to eye. I could feel mystical energy holding my right pinky finger immobilized as well. I was helpless, and unhappy about it.

We looked at each other for a few seconds. Carver’s glowing eyes were quite unsettling. Neither of us said anything. Then Carver sent his hands sharply to the left as though tossing aside a flowerpot. I flew in the direction he had gestured with stomach-turning speed and crashed through the second story window of the building next to us. It was dark inside, and I sailed across the room and careened into the opposite wall. Thankfully, it was drywall. Even still, my head hit hard and I was knocked unconscious.

Click here for episode 31

The Sky Was Full of Fish 29

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.

Click here for episode 30

The Sky Was Full of Fish 28

I got back to the hotel as quickly as I could. Once there, I ran across the lobby and frantically pushed the elevator buttons until the doors opened. Like a caged animal, I paced around inside the small metal box as it carried me upwards. When the doors slid open, I ran down the hall to our room and fumbled with the key until I managed to get the door open. Then I burst into the suite… and plowed right into Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude, who had come to the door to investigate.

Luckily, Sara acted quickly, using her telekinesis to slow our forward momentum and set us gently down on our feet by the couch.

“Thanks, I’m sorry, I’ve got to get to the kitchen,” I gasped, turning to bolt in that direction.

“Hold it, crazy eyes,” snapped Gertrude, whipping out a hand to capture my wrist. I was jerked to a halt, similar to how I would have been jerked had I been chained to a tree. I knew better than to fight Gertrude, so I forced myself to stop and wait.

Matilda took my wrist from Gertrude and placed her other hand on the side of my face. Almost instantly, I felt her soothing energy suffuse my body. It felt indescribably nice just to breathe easily. “You’re swimming in caffeine,” said Matilda, eyeing me reproachfully. “We’ll just take care of that.”

Gradually I became less jittery, but I remained alert. After a minute or so, I felt like a new man. It was then that I noticed the patch on the beloved quartet’s face was gone.

“Yes,” said Sara, reading my glance. “It fell off and evaporated a little after you left.”

“So where’s the fire?” asked Heather. We all groaned at the joke.

“Can we talk on the way to kitchen?” I asked. The beloved quartet nodded, and we walked in together. “The fire,” I explained, pulling out a piece of bread, “is that I think the God of Toast may be in far greater danger than we might have guessed.” So saying, I dropped the bread in the toaster and pushed down the lever.

When you are waiting for toast, a few minutes can become hours. But what if there were no toast at the end?

The toaster popped, and my fears were confirmed.

“It’s still bread!” cried Heather, pulling the bread from the slot. “It’s not even warm.”

“It’s the same at Mel’s,” I said. “And I have to assume it’s the same all over the world. The God of Toast is no longer able to exert his divine will.”

“And it’s got something to do with the fish in the sky,” said Sara.

“You know, maybe it will still toast, but it takes more heat now,” said Heather hopefully. Sandwiching the slice of bread between her palms, she held it out in front of her, level with the floor. Within seconds, her hands were radiating intense heat as she attempted to toast the bread.

“Anything?” asked Gertrude after a few moments.

“No, it’s still soft,” said Heather. “I’ll give it the ol’ twenty-three hundred.” By which she meant 2300 degrees Fahrenheit, which was her practical upper limit. She could go hotter, but it would hurt her.

Before she could get anywhere near that hot, however, the bread burst into flames and crumbled to ash. Heather shook her hands off over the sink and brushed away the ashes. “Sorry guys,” she said forlornly. “No toast.”

Click here for episode 29

The Sky Was Full of Fish 27

An hour later, I sat in a diner, goading my concerns with coffee and sucking down greasy eggs and toast. This particular diner, known as Mel’s, was one that I sought out from time to time when I needed to do some mulling. I find greasy spoon diners in general, and Mel’s in particular, to be refreshingly mundane, uncomplicated, and unthreatening.

I had asked Mr. Bob for more information concerning the origins of the fish, and he had given it to me with a certain gleeful satisfaction. As he unveiled satellite photos, film clips, and the like, it became more and more clear that the fish did, indeed, have their origin from within the League Complex. I spent some time carefully analyzing the material he presented for forgeries and doctoring, but as near as I could tell, they were genuine. Mr. Bob, for his part, took obvious pleasure in my discomfiture over his information.

The unavoidable conclusion was that Management knew about the fish, and where they were coming from. Management’s control over the Complex was absolute. The question was, why had they assigned me the task of stopping the fish when the ability to do so was almost certainly within their grasp? And why had they lied to me about the origin of the fish? Were they trying to get me killed by throwing me against Mr. Bob? Were they directly responsible for the fish, as Mr. Bob had not unreasonable asserted? Or were they simply complicit in allowing the Complex to be used as the staging area? Despite his actions, was Mr. Bob in cahoots with the League in order to set me up? And where did the other bit players in this drama come in? What of Carver? Or Harold? And what about Roger Binks? Who had hired him to kill me?

These questions, fueled by caffeine, whirled around and around in my mind until I was nearly dizzy. I had to stop going in circles. I took a deep breath and tried to quiet my mind by return my attention to my late-evening breakfast.

As I finished my toast, my thoughts went to the God of Toast himself. Somehow, he was mixed up in all of this as well. And Barbara, too. I wondered how they were involved.

Contemplating Barbara and the God of Toast made me hungry for more delicious, wonderful toast. I signaled the matronly waitress, who moseyed down the bar towards me.

“Yeah?” she said.

“Could I have some more toast, please?” I asked politely.

“Sure hon,” she said with a smile, and walked back into the kitchen.

She did not emerge for some time. When she finally did, she was without toast.

“Sorry honey,” she said to me, a perplexed expression on her face. “Toast’s off.”

A cold chill ran up my spine. “Off? What do you mean?”

“Something’s wrong with the toaster. It heats up and all, but the bread won’t cook.”

Click here for episode 28

The Sky Was Full of Fish 26

I wanted to laugh, but my indignation would not allow it. “Mr. Bob,” I said coldly. “Currently, you have arranged for my house to be replaced by a pond, and you have installed an incendiary device on my wife’s face. You have a strange way of wooing potential hires.”

“Now don’t get excited,” said Mr. Bob. “I realize I was a little hasty and heavy-handed yesterday. I’ve already disabled the device on your wife. As for your house, well, unfortunately that will take some time to rectify. But work is already underway, and it shouldn’t take more than a few days. I’m letting up on you because I’ve become convinced that you’re going to get the job done with the fish without my persuasion.”

There was a pause as Mr. Bob waited for me to say something. I did not oblige him, so he continued. “I like the way you handle yourself, Millik. You’re a straight shooter, and I can respect that. And I can definitely use someone with your talents on my roster. How’d you like to work for me?”

“You haven’t told me what the job would be,” I pointed out.

“I’m pretty loose with my people. I figure you can decide how you would want to fit in with the organization.”

“What about the League?”

Mr. Bob took a leisurely puff on his cigar before replying. “Well, there’s two ways to play it,” he said. “You can quit with the League and work for me full time, or you can stay with the League and be on my payroll as a double agent.”

“Double agent?” I repeated. “The League’s got all kinds of wizards and psychics. How would you make that work?”

Mr. Bob chuckled. “The League ain’t the only game in town, kid. They’re not the only ones who’ve got wizards and psychics.”

I had no response, so I waited for Mr. Bob to break the silence. After a moment or two, he did.

“So, Millik. What do you say?”

I chose my words carefully. “As much as I appreciate and respect your offer, I’m afraid I cannot accept it.”

“No?”

“No. The thing is, I’m a white hat to the core. It would never work.”

Mr. Bob shrugged. “Figured as much. Still, I thought I’d make the offer. You never know.” He stubbed out his cigar and leaned towards me. “Your turn,” he said.

Click here for episode 27

The Sky Was Full of Fish 25

Getting in to see Mr. Bob was surprisingly uncomplicated. That evening, I made my way to the house we had passed through on the previous evening. I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed, so I decided to take the benignly normal approach and knock on the door.

About ten seconds after I knocked, the door was opened by Sherraine. “Come in,” she said, to my surprise. Tentatively, I entered the house. “Mr. Bob has been expecting you,” she explained as she closed the door. “Come this way.”

I followed where she led, and soon we were in the elevator, going down. Neither of us spoke. For my part, I was too busy thinking. Being welcomed into the headquarters of Mr. Bob was the last thing I had expected. As a result, I was completely unprepared for what was happening. I used the time in the elevator to get my bearings and calm down.

The elevator stopped and the door opened into a lobby that I had not seen before. It was lushly appointed and furnished, and I surmised that it was Mr. Bob’s true headquarters. At the far end of the room, there was a large set of double doors. In front of them sat a desk complete with receptionist. This particular receptionist was a reptilian humanoid creature of indeterminate gender, but it had a lovely speaking voice.

“Welcome, Mr. Millik,” it said, standing up and walking around the desk towards us. The soft lighting glinted off its shiny black and green mottled scales as it moved. The three of us met in the center of the room.

“With your permission,” said the receptionist, “I will conduct you to Mr. Bob. May I take your coat? Would you care for some refreshment?”

“No thanks to both,” I said, trying not to sound rude. “Let’s just go in. If that’s okay.”

“Of course, sir,” said the reptilian receptionist smoothly. “Right this way.” I followed it towards the double doors. Sherraine moved to sit in one of the chairs that were tastefully arranged about the room.

The receptionist opened the double doors, each hand pushing a portal inwards. “Mr. Millik to see you, sir,” said the receptionist. It stood aside and I entered a room that was jaw-dropping in its urbanity. In the center of the room sat an enormous desk, behind which Mr. Bob had arranged himself.

“Ah, Andrew,” said Mr. Bob. “Come in, come in. Have a seat. Cigar?” A large green hand fished a huge cigar from a polished wooden humidor and brandished it in my direction.

I moved into the room warily. I heard the doors click to behind me. Mr. Bob and I were alone in the room. “No thanks,” I said. “I don’t smoke.”

“Neither do I,” said Mr. Bob, puffing on an enormous cigar of his own. “Cigars don’t count.”

By then I had reached the desk, and I stopped in front of it. Mr. Bob looked up at me for a moment, then said, “Well, are you going to sit, or are you going to make me crane my neck the whole time you’re here?”

I considered for a moment and decided to opt for politeness. I took a seat in one of the armchairs that were arranged near the desk. “Alright, I’m seated,” I said. “Now suppose you tell me what this is about.”

Mr. Bob gave a short croak of laughter. “Me tell you? You’re the one who came to see me, aren’t you?” I was about to make a retort, but Mr. Bob held up his hand. “Easy now, Millik. I think you already know what this is about. You’ve got business with me, and it just so happens I’ve got some business with you.”

“How did you know I was coming?” I demanded.

Mr. Bob snorted. “Of course I knew you were coming. I’m Mr. Bob.”

That, I had to admit, was a fair point. “Alright,” I said. “Who’s going first?”

“Nice of you to ask,” said Mr. Bob, flicking cigar ash into a tray on the desk. “I think I’ll go first. Got a proposition for you.”

“Oh?”

“That’s right. I want to offer you a job.”

Click here for episode 26