“Task completed, you know where to go next.”
He paused, “That probably means the right guy was supposed to set the timer first, then go pick up the next message.”
“This one was in a hotdog basket.”
“Hmm, that’s different. Maybe that means you aren’t looking for cookies any more. Do you know where to go next?”
“Well, I found the hotdog seller by repeating last night’s clues. The next one led me from the office building to here. Maybe the next clue is somewhere around here.”
“Now you’re thinking! Call me when you get something.”
I went back into the train station. The third fortune had only said that the timer was at Grand and 22nd. Timer... was it a clock? No, wait--
I took in every area of the station: the ticket kiosks, the bag-check counters, the souvenir shop--hey, perfect place to hide a timer! I walked over to the shop, more like a booth surrounded by partitions.
I scanned over every item, but nothing looked like a timer for a bomb. I did find something interesting though: a bunch of Scratch-it lottery tickets. There was a green one with a picture of a fortune cookie in the corner that I thought I recognized; where had I seen it?
It hit me and I almost jumped right there in the store. There had been a scratch-card just like this in the cubicle at 16th and Main! This was my next clue! It made perfect sense: every fortune came with a series of six “lucky” numbers on the back. These numbers corresponded with six rows on the Scratch-it ticket. I pulled out the first fortune and turned it over. It bore the numbers 16-25-38-49-61-70. Those numbers were on this card! I scratched them out, well-aware of the seller’s frown as he watched me deface a piece of merchandise I hadn’t paid for. Where usually the scratched-off numbers revealed the amount won, this particular ticket had words in the spaces! “Make corner second and car rose.” At first I was disappointed because I was sure I screwed up somewhere to see only this nonsense bunch of words, but I pulled out the second fortune--the numbers on the back matched six numbers on the next card! Then I understood--four fortunes, four scratch cards, four pieces to the puzzle! I pulled the two cards behind the second one and proceeded to scratch off the numbers on all three of them. The completed message read:
“Make left turn on corner of main and second. Walk thirty paces and enter the black car parked by third rose bush from entrance.”
It was all I could do to keep from cheering; I had solved it! I had cracked the riddle! Now I knew where to go!
I turned back toward the entrance and knew it was too late: the proprietor of the souvenir shop had already called the cops. Detective Martinez was among them.
“Well, well, well, Josh,” he shook his head at me, “Taken up gambling now, have we?”
I started to tell him, but he raised his hands, “Pay first, then come with me.”
I paid for the four scratch-cards, apologized to the proprietor, and followed Detective Martinez out to the curb.
Once we reached the patrol car, Martinez asked me, “Would you mind telling me where you went last night? I had men following you, watching you, looking for you, and we couldn’t find you anywhere!”
I told the detective everything I had discovered the night before: the two rival gangs, the fact that I had saved one and now they were my allies, and the fact that the leader had instructed me to keep following the clues.
“Okay, this gang lord,” Martinez asked when I finished, “Would you mind describing to me what he looks like?”
I hesitated, “I’m not sure I should,” I said, “but I will say that he looked a lot like a bulldog, with short grey hair.’
Detective Martinez laughed at my description. “Grey-haired bulldog, eh? Shoot, I can think of a bunch of guys that’ll fit that description! Oh well, I guess we have to leave it at that. Keep following your clues, then, Josh, but,” he wagged a finger at me, “always remember to pay for them!”
He got into the car and drove away. I got into mine and drove down to Main Street. When I reached 2nd street, I turned left and found myself pulling up in front of the entrance to the Park on Main Street, on the far corner of the block. Rose bushes stretched off on the left side of the front gate, in a single, evenly spaced row.
Parked just around the corner of 2nd and Long Street, I saw a black car with tinted windows. This was it!
Brusquely I walked down the block to the car: thirty paces exactly. I entered the car. The back seat and front seats were separated by a partition. The car began moving slowly and silently as soon as I got in. Great! Just great! Was I even now being brought to the Fortune Gang’s headquarters, where their leader would discover I was not who they thought I was and kill me?
My cellphone rang and I just about hit the roof of the vehicle. Before I could pull it out and find out who it was, the car stopped abruptly and I heard shouting. In a manner reminiscent of last night, a hand grabbed me by the arm and hauled me blindly out of the car. It was the Bulldogs! But now they carried large guns and wore uniforms printed with the letters F.B.I.
Bulldog Leader clapped me on the shoulder, “I have to hand it to you, Josh,” he told me, “We’ve been trying to track down these troublemakers for a very long time, but they’ve always managed to outsmart us! Who knew an average guy like you could be the key to taking down a link of one of the biggest criminal chains in America!”
“You guys are FBI?” I squeaked, still not believing it.
“Yep,” Bulldog Leader answered, “by the way, my name’s Agent 14* (not his real name or number!). Thanks for the help, Josh. Mission accomplished!”
“Wait a minute!” I cried, “Did you say link of the chain? There’s more of these guys?”
Agent 14 scoffed, “Of course! There are three guys in the car, and we found three more hiding in the park watching for you. That makes six, but this whole operation is definitely the work of more than six! There are more out there,” he leaned close to me conspiratorially, “and they probably won’t be happy that you’re the guy who ratted them out. Just warning you, Josh; I’ll make sure the official report doesn’t mention you, but you just might find yourself marked for elimination.”
Just when I was enjoying my newfound sense of self-confidence, my hands got clammy and I found it hard to breathe. “E-e-elimination?” I spluttered.
“I’ll always have eyes on you, Josh,” Agent 14 promised, “but I can’t promise nothing will happen.”
They carted the six gang members away, and Mina and I... well, I won’t say where we went, or even if we left at all. We are in hiding, she and I, to protect ourselves and our families. We changed our names, and every day, we pray that nobody from any sort of gang will find us.
Oh, and I’ve sworn off fortune cookies, too.