They say it’s always calmest before a storm and it was certainly quiet around the office. No calls, no clients, no income. I took advantage of the down time to spend a lot of time in the library getting acquainted with the 500s, the block numbers Dewey saw fit to apply to the natural sciences. I figured my last five cases were going to come back to haunt me and I didn’t want to be caught flat footed.
If a mysterious rival is planning an unpleasant surprise for you, you’d better pay attention.
I combed through the newspapers, looking for evidence that plans were underway. I needn’t have ruined my eyes reading all those classifieds. When the first sign of trouble appeared, they appeared on the first page. A curator at the history museum called the police about a missing artifact, a helmet to be exact. Not a particularly valuable helmet as it turns out, but a theft regardless. When the police and reporters descended upon the museum, however, the museum’s director claimed it’d been a mistake, that the helmet had simply been removed from rotation for a while.
Museums will hide thefts for fear of increases in the insurance rates and they will often hire private detectives to look into it unofficially. I had a few calls out, so far with no reply. I sipped at my tea and let my mind drift. Holly and I had a date tonight at… the phone rang. I answered and Holly hurriedly told me she’d be running late and that I should just meet her, rather than picking her up. She sounded out of breath and hung up before I could ask what was going on. But not before she called me ‘sweetie’. Twice, She never did that. Something was wrong.
I did what any man would do in this situation… I paced, fretted, and drank too much tea. I wondered if the person behind all this really was, as I suspected, Peter. He was one of the really smart kids I went to high school with, but barely remembered. He had called Holly right before all of this madness began and sounded pretty interested when my name came up. I also wondered what roll the missing helmet would play in his new scheme. I couldn’t put it together with the other cases for the life of me.
About an hour before our date was to begin, I quickly put together a plan. I had a good idea what resources Peter, or whoever it was, had at his disposal. I just had to think how I would counter them. Simplicity and flexibility would be the key.
I wondered if I should tip my hand or pretend I thought that everything was normal. I decided to play dumb and show up ready for the date.
That meant that I had to dig my bowling ball bag and bowling shoes out of the closet. I went ahead and put the shoes on, but I removed the bowling ball from the bag and filled it with an assortment of items — paraffin wax, water proof matches, a needle and a spool of thread, a heavy flashlight, thick gardening gloves with ‘No-Slip Grip’, wire cutters, handcuffs, and a ball of thick twine.
It looked like ran, so I grabbed a long, sturdy umbrella while I was at it.
I drove to the bowling alley where Holly and I were supposed to meet. The rain turned the city into a smear of colored lights. I parked and got out of the car. The puddles menacingly reflected the bowling alley’s garish neon. I could only see bad omens everywhere I looked. What if I was wrong about everything? What if I couldn’t save Holly? What if I couldn’t save myself?
Before I became too morbid, the alley’s manager stuck his head out the door and told me I had a phone call inside.
He gave me directions to a secluded location. He just laughed when I called him Peter and told me it was, “too late for that now.” I asked how I knew Holly was safe.
He gave her just enough time to gasp, “it’s a trap,” before hanging up the phone.
I smiled firmly. Of course it was a trap. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to walk right into it… with my eyes wide open, naturally.
My destination was an isolated marshy region near the ocean. It also turned out to be at the eye of the storm. The air was eerily calm and the sky hung over me, balefully watching as I got myself ready and got out of the car.
“Welcome detective!” I started at the sound of Peter’s voice. “I did hope you would enjoy yourself this evening, but you look tense,” and with that sarcastic jibe, I found the source of his voice — a large metal speaker, clumsily hidden and painted green, connected by a long wire to somewhere out in the marsh.
I picked up the speaker, bracing its weight against my hip and hooking the umbrella over an elbow. It was awkward, but my gloves helped me keep a grip on the speaker and my bowling ball bag. I wanted to keep taps on Peter’s ranting as I followed its electric lifeline to it source — and hopefully to Holly.
In the distance, off to my left, I could make out a solitary figure — seated and illuminated by subtle flickering light. I recognized that light, it had fooled me once and it wouldn’t do so again.
The case that started this mess involved two stolen moths. One was real, the other was not. According to my research, while Lunar Moths were real enough, no such thing as a Lunar Halo Moth existed. And no moths that I read about glowed like the ones I saw did. I figured it was some sort of hologram and that the moths had been used to test how observant I was.
I didn’t catch on the first time, but I’m a fast learner.
As I got closer to the figure, I could see it looked like Holly. “Won’t you run to her?” he asked over the speaker. So he could see me. Good. That means he was close. I’d ruled out him having access to helicopters as I doubted he had access to military equipment, despite his boasts to Holly that he was a government agent.
Holly was bound to some sort of chair, a dentist’s chair maybe and in the faint pulsing light she emitted, I could see that the ground beneath her roiled and writhed with life.
Snakes, and a lot of them. Drawn, no doubt to a pheromone compound spread liberally over the area. I also guessed that if I hadn’t taken the precaution of making myself a pair of paraffin wax nose plugs, I’d be drawn by a pheromone designed just for me.
I’d figured that a snake invasion akin to the one at the Newfield Senior Apartments would come into play at some point this evening. If this was as good as Peter’s cunning plans got, I’d be home before midnight.
As I continued to follow the wires, he began to speak again, loudly and more rapidly, “Going to leave her behind, detective? You always were a cold fish.” I kept walking, listening to him rant, wondering when he’d get to his point and what, exactly, his point was. My pants’ legs were soaked to the knees and I shuddered to think what was happening to my bowling shoes.
Ahead, I saw a copse of trees on the marsh, surrounding what looked to be a partially collapsed building. I redoubled my pace.
The path continued towards the ocean cliffs and I could hear the roar of the waves below. The house, to which the wire I was following led, was open to the elements and much worse for the wear. I could hear the hum of a large generator. “End of the line, detective,” he said, the speaker crackling with moisture.
“Shut up,” I muttered and pushed the speaker, face down, into the swampy ground so I wouldn’t have to listen to him any more.
Finding Holly was easy enough. There were only two things in the house — a large generator and a woman tied to a dental chair, gagged and wearing bowling shoes. I made my way to her side, picking my way around broken glass, piles of mulch, and jutting charred beams. When I got to her, I dropped everything and quickly removed her gag.
“Are you all right,” I asked? A cliché, I know. Possibly even dumb. But I suddenly realized how much I’d come to care for her and it tied my tongue.
“I’m all right, for being kidnapped and tied to a chair,” she replied, “Listen! He’s very nearby, he plans…”
” I know what he’s planning,” I foolishly interrupted, “Lightening from the ground, earthquakes, revenge for some idiotic high school slight I don’t even remember.”
“No,” she said, “that’s not it. Get my bowling ball, he’s going to…” and that’s when the pain started.
Her body tensed and began to writhe against her constraints. I fell to the ground like a ton of bricks. A thousand bellowing gorillas were punching my brain over, and over, and over. I drooled as I tried to regain control of my limbs.
I first noticed his feet. He began to rant about tables turning, or was it worms, and shows being worn on other feet. I couldn’t focus, but I couldn’t escape his voice either as it grew in volume and pitch. I looked up at his face, contorted with rages and I suddenly remembered, clearly, through the pain.
I had played ball in high school. Not because I liked the attention it got, but because I liked to play. I’d been good enough that the other players overlooked my good grades and tendency to hang out in the school library. Not so good that they allowed me to be reasonable about their torment of the weaker students in school. I wanted to play, so I mostly kept my mouth shut.
Peter had been one of my teammates’ favorite targets and I had walked away from his torment more times than I could count.
My epiphany was brought with a slight reduction of confusion, but not of pain. I slowly forced myself across the rough wet cement towards Holly’s bowling bag. “…and then I found out you were dating her and that I could not bear,” Peter was screeching now, like a super villain at some kiddie matinee.
I finally fumbled open the bag, only to scatter my matches and watch my flashlight roll away from me. Wrong bag. I hope Peter was too preoccupied with his own pain to notice I was doing more than thrashing about uselessly.
I felt like my brain had turned to jelly. I finally made it to the bag and managed to get it open. Inside was a metal helmet. Antique. A museum piece. I pulled it free of the bag and shoved it onto my head. Inside it’s reflective metal protection, I was safe. In my research, I’d found theories that extra low frequency (ELF) waves — known to be generated by magnetic pulses, earthquakes, and elephants — could also be used as weapons to disable enemy combatants. They were just theories, so I’d ignored them. Holly hadn’t and had somehow been prepared. I stood up.
Peter stopped and stared, silent at last. I scooped up my umbrella. Holly still writhed in the chair. I had to stop the ELF waves and soon. Before the damage was permanent. The air was electric with anticipation, or… maybe the air was really electric, the way it is before a lightning strike. But thee was no lightning, as there had been earlier in the day. I dashed out into the muck that surrounded the collapsed structure. The gas Peter had hired farmers to inject into the ground had a distinctive smell. My nostrils flared as I circled the foundation.
I felt the hair on my neck stand on end and heard the crackle just in time. I leaped back clumsily, flailing with the umbrella. I hoped my rubber soles and the rubber grips of my gloves would protect me. I hoped the umbrella would hold at least a portion of the charge for a few seconds
Lightning burst forth from the ground and I stiffened my muscles. I didn’t want to end up like the Shutley cows.
It all worked as I hoped. The umbrella ribs sparked and the cloth began to smolder. Peter had been keeping his distance from the generator. I turned and threw the umbrella, point first, into it. As Peter stared at the light show, I rushed to Holly. Sparks landed on our sodden clothes.
I’d been right about Peter keeping his distance from the generator, it housed the device emitting the ELF waves. As I freed Holly there was a loud BANG from the generator and her muscles relaxed. She looked like an angel in my arms.
Peter meekly allowed me to place him in handcuffs. There was no phone, so I carried Holly back to the car, forcing Peter to walk in front of me. I figured if he ran, I’d let him go and deal with the consequences. I wanted to get Holly to a hospital. I needn’t have worried. He seemed a very different person. I’d find out later from the police that he hadn’t been a government agent, but an inmate at an asylum upstate.
Holly was fine, although she’d have headaches off and on for a few weeks. Gave me an excuse to extend my vacation and pamper her.
Peter had managed to pay for all the equipment thanks to Mrs. L’Avarus. She wrote him checks for helping her gain a greenhouse and lose a stepson. Holly and I visited Peter in the asylum a few times. We felt badly for him. He seemed happy to see us, but no longer quite knew who we were. Ironic that.
Holly and I are still dating. We count that night as our first date. It’s the night we realized we weren’t just good for each other, but that we were electric!