Before you read more of Jeff’s lies, I need to set the record straight:
A few years ago I managed to go a full 2 hours without gesticulating even once. It was on a bet.
The most we’ve ever been to Li’s Buffet in one week was 4 times, and it was a staycation, so it doesn’t count.
Jeff is dead-on right about how long it takes me to take someone’s picture. When he read that part to his wife (a Nurse Practitioner), he waited for her to laugh. She didn’t. He said, “What? Isn’t that part funny?” She said, “No. It’s too true to be funny.” But that’s why it’s funny, Barbetta. That’s why it’s funny.
And, most importantly, I am the Uno Master.
Scroll down or click on June 18th on the calendar to the right to read Chapter 1.
THE CASE OF DUSTY LIZARD
Two weeks after the stakeout I was sitting in Li’s with a plate of sesame chicken and spring rolls. I had carefully disguised myself as a tourist by wearing an “I Survived Pickett’s Charge” t-shirt and spreading a battlefield map on the table. Eventually Dusty came in with a camera in hand and Weatherman and the children in tow. Dusty had actually been to Li’s 18 times in the past two weeks, but I was a patient man. After they were seated, I picked up the map and peered over it watching Dusty.
There was something odd about Dusty’s mannerisms. She had periods of extreme calm interrupted by sudden bursts of rapid speech and excited hand gestures. Maybe the calm periods allowed her to rest up for the next eruption. And always the camera was nearby, if not actually in her hands. A briefcase handcuffed to her wrist would not have been attached much more securely than Dusty’s camera.
Then there was the family. Weatherman ate with one hand while constantly checking his iPad with the other. When he went to the buffet he took the iPad along and propped it on the sneeze-guard. He was completely consumed in the gadget. Each of the kids had some kind of electronic game. They would occasionally reach for a French fry, although not all of the fries made it to their mouths. Apparently blasting alien droid warriors is sometimes more urgent than eating. The result was that although Dusty appeared to be carrying on a conversation with her family, nobody was really listening. The whole scene was a charade permitting Dusty to maintain visual surveillance. Clever. Very clever. I wondered if Weatherman and the kids were conspirators or simply dupes manipulated by a master foreign agent. While I watched over the map and pondered that question, Dusty got up and approached my table, camera in hand.
“Excuse me,” she said with hands fluttering. “I’ve never seen that t-shirt before and it’s so funny. Do you mind if I take a picture of it?”
Refusing might raise suspicion so I said, “No, I don’t mind.”
I laid the map down and stood while she prepared to take a picture. Unfortunately Dusty didn’t just take a quick snapshot. While I fidgeted awkwardly, she pushed buttons, turned dials, adjusted settings, checked the flash, fished in a camera bag, set up a tripod, and peered through the viewfinder at objects near and far. Thirty long minutes later, she actually took the picture.
“Thanks,” she said with a grin before going back to her table.
My sesame chicken was unfinished, but I didn’t want it any more. Maybe the photo had been nothing, but I doubted it. I was afraid I had stared too long and too intently. I violated Rule 8 of the Private Detective Procedure Manual: “Furtive Is as Furtive Does.” So I left to nurse my pride and plan a new strategy.
I was sitting in my office the next day contemplating the Classic Peanuts comic strip when they came through the door and spread out around my office. There were three of them; all Asian, all in jeans and black hoodies, and all wearing identical sunglasses, which was odd because it was raining outside. A moment later Dusty came in and sat in a client chair. I looked at her. She looked at me. We looked at each other. She was in a calm moment.
“If you wanted to bring me a Chinese take-out menu,” I said cheerily, flashing my thousand-watt smile, “you could’ve just slid it under the door.” Neither the joke nor the smile had any effect on Dusty or the Asians.
“The photo at Li’s,” I said after another long silent moment. “That’s how you identified me.” She gave a little nod and half-smile and continued staring at me steadily.
All of a sudden Dusty leaned forward, put her hands on my desk, and said in a rush, “Why are you following me?”
I decided to play coy. “I heard that you run a private high-stakes Uno game,” I said. “I want in.”
“Don’t play coy with me,” Dusty snapped. “You don’t know what you’re poking around in. Leave this alone.”
“I can’t do that,” I said.
Dusty sat very still and quiet for several minutes. Then she jumped up and walked quickly toward the door while spitting commands at the thugs in what sounded suspiciously like Chinese. As soon as Dusty left, two of them came over, lifted me by the arms, and pinned me against the wall. The third stepped in front of me and cracked his knuckles. What was it with the knuckle cracking these days?
“You guys should start a boy band,” I said. “You could call yourselves ‘N Sushi.”
“Sushi is Japanese, moron,” knuckles said. Then my world went black.
Later that night I was sitting at home, tending my bruises, and wishing I knew a good Nurse Practitioner. I was also trying to figure out what to do next. I knew Dusty was guilty. I also knew that she knew that I knew she was guilty. That meant I wasn’t getting anywhere near her anytime soon. I decided to follow the advice of one of my favorite philosophers, Inigo Montoya, who said, “When the job goes wrong, go back to the beginning.” In this case the beginning was at Li’s.
To be continued …
The next installment should be the last. I wonder how it will end? Jeff hasn’t told me.