Saturday, February 15, 2014

Serial Saturday: "The Misfortune Cookie," Part 4


When a man blindfolds you and demands information, the “spy” thing to do is refrain from giving it. Usually, the guys who don’t want you to see their faces are the guys who are up to no good and don’t want you to immediately find the nearest cop and set up a meeting with their sketch artist, nor do they want to have to deal with the mess of killing you.
When the guy starts twisting your arm, however, you really have to ask yourself just how much your information is worth. I, of course, had no idea for one thing, and for another I didn’t give a rip, so the minute my captor got physical, I squealed.
“Please don’t hurt me!” I screamed, almost weeping (because of the pain, okay? I wasn’t scared....much...), “I honestly have no idea what I was doing, the first message was in the fortune cookie I got off the platter, totally by random chance, and it said to set the timer for 10 o’clock, and to look by the southeast pillar, and so I did, and I’ve been following them ever since! I don’t know what this is, I swear, I’m just a patsy!”
Almost instantaneously, the pressure ceased. I heard whispering.
“Timer? What’s this about a timer?” The guy demanded.
I tensed myself, preparing for a lot of pain I knew was coming, but my better judgment didn’t quite get the message to my mouth in time. Before I could stop myself, I blurted, “I thought you guys knew everything: all the messages talked about a timer, how could you not know about that?”
The guy grabbed my wrist again, and I yelped, but he didn’t bend it this time. “Timer... that means a bomb... dangit, the slime-balls must be on to us! That must be what that package was: the bomb! We’ll have to move it out of the HQ.” He clapped me on the shoulder, which nearly scared the living daylights out of me, since I never saw it coming. “Son, you’ve saved us from getting blown to bits! We owe you our lives.”
“Um,” I asked, “since I had nothing to do with this, and I swear I won’t tell the cops about you, will you take the blindfold off?”
“What? Oh, sure.” Suddenly, the guy was in a much better mood, and a lot more obliging. He snapped the cloth from over my eyes, and I got my first good look at the guys who held me in the dim light of the train-car: all big, muscular guys, built like bulldogs and about as pretty, buzz-cut and looking bored out of their skulls to have to be the ones to “torture” a lead who turned out to be a wimpy patsy who broke down at the slightest touch. A couple of them might have looked a little bit grateful that I had apparently saved their lives with my information.
“So who are you guys, and who did you think I was?” I asked the man next to me, a swarthy fellow with short grey hair.
All six guys on the train looked sideways at each other.
“We’re a...gang, trying to track down...another gang.”
“Are they terrorists?”
The man paused, “They know how to look like them. Our headquarters are located underneath this train station, in an old subway tunnel that had been sealed off and forgotten. If that bomb had gone off, it would have collapsed the station and looked like an act of terrorism or arson, but more than that it would have killed us all, though no one would have realized it because no one knows about us.”
I shook my head, “So these guys infiltrated a package of fortune cookies to blow up a train station? I got myself in the middle of a gang rivalry?”
The grey-haired bulldog shrugged, “You could say that, except for the fact that now that you’ve saved us, we’ll have your back, and in return, you can help us find the other gang.”
I raised my hands, “Oh, please! Now that more responsible people know everything that I know, with all due respect I want out of this situation! I just want to go back to my normal life. I don’t do espionage!”
The man chuckled and shook his head, “Sorry, pal! You should have just given up on the first cookie! By now, though, they probably know what you look like, and know that you’re following them, so they’ll leave you more messages. As long as they keep doing that, you need to follow them, do as you’re told. But this time,” he handed me a small card with a phone number printed on it, “you’ve got us. Next time you find a message, you call me, and I’ll tell you what to do next.”
I let my head fall in my hands, “Oh great!” I moaned.
“What’s your name, pal?” the burly guy asked, standing to his feet.
“Josh*,” I told him.
“Well, Josh, get some rest, and keep a sharp eye out tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir.”
They drove the train out of the empty station and ended up near my car. I drove home and fell into bed.

The next morning, Mina called me at eight o’clock.
“Josh!” She cried in my ear, “Are you okay? Did the police catch the bad guys? Did you get hurt? Why didn’t you call me sooner?”
“Good morning, Mina,” I slurred, “you woke me up. I was out late last night, and I was sleeping till now, that’s why I haven’t called.”
“So did you catch them?”
I almost reassured her with the news that now I was in cahoots with a rival gang out to catch the troublemakers, but then I reasoned that the less she knew, the better. “I didn’t find another message, and I didn’t find the timer, either. I don’t even think there was a bomb at all.” Two lies and a truth; there was another message, but not a timer--that I could see. Was there still a bomb? If the Fortune cookie gang could find the others’ headquarters the first time, couldn’t they find it again? Before my thoughts could go further, I remembered that I was still on the phone with Mina.
“I’ll talk to you later, sweetheart; bye!”
“But Josh--” click! I hung up the phone.

The words of Detective Martinez returned to me. “You think...these guys are going to miss their target?”
I realized that I had been looking for the timer when I got the message from the Bulldogs, totally unrelated to the original message giving the location of the timer. If I didn’t grab it, and the Fortune Cookie Gang were expecting it to be lost in the explosion, so they wouldn’t send somebody after it--what if it was still there?
I grabbed my keys and drove back to the station. I combed the area carefully for anything suspicious or conspicuous. The timer was supposed to be here, but where? The only thing that stood out to me, there on the curb, was a hotdog stand at the corner of the building...the southeast corner. What if the gang had usual locations for stuff, like southeast corners?
I walked over to the hotdog seller.
“What can I get ya?” he asked immediately.
Since the clue of the first fortune had led me here, I attempted to be clever and use a clue from the second one. “I’d like a magnolia special,” I told the seller. The worst he could do was take me for an idiot.
Contrary to expectations, he took me quite seriously. He nodded wordlessly and reached under the counter for a paper bowl, ignoring the three stacks of them he had right next to him. He made a hotdog with ketchup and onions, placed it in the bowl and handed it to me.
I walked to the opposite corner and lifted up the hotdog. Sure enough, there was a message on the bowl.
Task completed,” I read, “You know where to go next.