By J.J. Geddyup
It was raining in Tiny Town. A steady, persistent, rain somewhere between drizzle and deluge. An ornery rain that had overstayed its welcome, like some tiresome politician trying to grind out one more vote in a pointless election. Grey clouds blocked the sun, rumoured to be somewhere in the heavens, and painted the world in muted shades of dark and light, a charcoal drawing starting to run together and lose its definition at the edges. Wisps of fog cloud droppings cascaded down the many drainages like mosquito netting over beds in a malarial jungle.
Id been on stakeout undercover for the better part of 72 hours, skulking about the corridors and service passages of a large, well-known hotel. The good looking blonde whod hired me didnt given me much to go on. Pilferage. Missing supplies: tiny soaps, bottles of shampoo and hand cream, shower caps, and wash clothes. Only washcloths oddly enough, not bath towels or hand towels. I suspected an inside job. A clean freak. So far Id turned up zip and only managed to draw suspicion to myself from a clerk at the magazine stand whose overactive imagination probably cast me as some mad bomber. Must be losing my touch. Or maybe I just dont give a damn.
I turned in my report and collected my pay but had the distinct feeling the blonde from HR wasnt happy with my work.
"You didnt find anybody stealing supplies?" shed asked in an icy voice.
"Nope," I replied.
"Well then, whats been happening to them? They havent just gotten up and walked off by themselves now, have they?" Even her posture dripped sarcasm.
"What the hell does that mean?" she glared.
"What it means is your damn soaps and shampoos have gotten so tiny they mightve just fallen through the gaps in the service carts and got sucked up by vacuum cleaners being pushed around by lifeless, shoulder season zombies. I never found any pilferage."
I guess I could have lied and ratted out the worker bee I saw squirreling away slivers of soap. Shed have gotten fired and maybe been better off. On the other hand, she didnt look like she needed grief. Let blondie crack her own missing soap caper.
Once again, I found myself contemplating the manifold difficulties of being a private eye in Whistler. Investigating suspects in a town where people come and go at the speed of light and virtually nothing is considered scandalous. I was deep in thought, and drink, trying to figure out what exactly it was that kept me here, when the phone rang. It was Bob Barnett, the Piques editor.
"Youd better get down here right away."
I arrived at the low-rent walk-up offices in Funky Junky and found Barnett visibly upset. "Whassup?"
"Read this," he said, shoving a couple of wrinkled pages into my hand.
It started bad and got worse. "Rain or shine, youve just gotta love this time of year. The birds are chirping happily, everything looks so fresh and new with spring flowers popping up everywhere. What a sense of renewal!
"Theres always been a soft spot in my heart for spring. I dont know whether its the illusion of rebirth, of shedding the layers of winter and watching the snow melt away the ugly leftovers of the last several months or if its some biological imperative that just makes a guy feel like hes on top of the world. Regardless of whats behind it, spring makes me want to hug everybody.
"Its the season of puppies, cuddly new best friends, all paws and tails, with more enthusiasm than co-ordination, gamboling across Village Square with their happy owners keeping a watchful eye on them as they sniff out an unknown world and learn to socialize with other dogs.
"Its the time of passage when all our surroundings are buffed to a sheen and the dreariness of winter is wiped away. When muni workers are out in droves cleaning away the dull, grey gravel thats piled up by the sides of roads, blocking new grass trying to grow into the sun. When bright, colourful annuals get replenished and perennial plants bud and bloom and send up fresh new shoots. Windows are happily polished to bring in the outdoors and carpets are cleaned to welcome the muddy bare feet of summer."
"Whoa, dude. What is this drivel?" I asked.
"Supposedly its Maxs column for this week," Bob replied with a worried look.
"Exactly. Max who? I got this by e-mail and thought it was some kind of sick joke. I mean, this is the guy whos managed to piss off most of muni hall, all the local politicians and business owners, the RCMP and most of the people who live in this town in the past few weeks. Not to mention the tourists. Puppies? Flowers? Hugs?"
"Yeah, its weird all right. You dont suppose he went to some rave and, like, ODd on ecstasy or something like that. Just got all trippy and lovey-dovey and sort of got his brain stuck. Ive seen people thats happened to. Worse than Moonies, man."
"I dont know. I tried to get in touch with him to find out whether he was having me on, but I couldnt reach him. Couldnt find his Perfect Partner either. Cant seem to find anyone whos seen either of them since Tuesday."
"So you want me to try and find him?" I asked, hoping for a new assignment.
"You might not want to," Barnett said. "It gets a little weird at this point."
He turned and reached for a messy stack of papers sitting on the side of his desk. He pulled out a folded page of the strangest orange coloured paper and handed it to me. "This came midday Wednesday. Read it."
I unfolded the paper. It wasnt folded the way most people would fold a sheet of paper but almost the way a one-handed person might try to fold an origami swan. The note was typeset but in a strange font Id never seen before. The letters looked almost three-dimensional, like they were going to jump off the page.
"What do you think?" the nervous editor asked.
"I think its a joke. Probably Maxs weird sense of humour. Hes probably gone fishing or something and just not told anyone so the joke would work."
"So you dont think he was abducted, J.J.?"
"By aliens? I dont believe in em. By enemies? That I can believe. But by aliens who claim hes one of theirs? How gullible are you, Barnett?"
"Well, I have to admit, it would explain a lot of things that have always puzzled me about him."
"Point taken. But realistically, what would aliens do with $20,000 in small bills?"
"Good question. You think Pique should pay the ransom?"
"Is he worth that much to you?"
"Depends. Can you write a column?"