Running through his front door and slamming it behind him like a boy from a mean water fight, Marty locks every lock he can find. And then he carries on through his dark house like a ninja, however, his stealth is completely thrown off by his stench.
Without turning on a single light, he navigates his way quickly and efficiently into the wall next to his bedroom door. He stumbles back, and then slips into the surveillance room. He expects to see the eerie glow of the familiar green menus and the blue tinted video streams. He staggers to a stop with bug eyes; the surveillance monitor has a serious case of screensaver mischief. Clamping his innocent eyes tight, he shakes his head and runs to refresh the screen. That was completely inappropriate and uncalled for. He expects this adventure to be uncalled for, but inappropriate is just…a bonus.
Then he blinks at the screen, trying to remember the instructions for sending a report. The user interface was designed for a computer game nerd with twelve fingers and an encyclopedia of command lines memorized in song form. But Marty eventually discovers how to set up a text box that will send words to the police headquarters.
And now comes the challenge of writing a description of what just happened without offering a psychological analysis followed by a diagnosis and a plea for a stress leave. Oh yes, and most importantly, he must try his hardest not to include any extended metaphors. Because that could take him places. He soon discovers that the text box will not allow him to write any more than ten words. It beeps at him. He bleeps back. It flips him a pop-up. He flips it a finger. Then he writes the first thing that comes to mind.
Neighbor shot spy with fake guns. Spy ran for sanity.
He feels like a cheesy journalist trying to find a catchy headline. And he just cannot bring himself to send it. It would be an injustice. His finger quivers over the mouse, but before he can make a decision, he is stopped.
“You do not want to do that,” says a voice.
Marty whirls around. Against his stark white wall stands a man in black, completely camouflaged and completely mysterious. For a moment, Marty thinks it might be the intruder from before. But he would have noticed footprints across his living room and dents in the hand railing if it had been.
“Who are you?” asks Marty.
“I!” announces the man in black. “Am the man…in black.”
“Is that so?” Marty drawls. “And what is a man of such blackness doing in my room?”
“Keeping you from making a most terrible mistake.” He steps forward. His voice is breathy and melodramatic, and doesn’t seem to come separate from the intense eyebrow action. “You see, it looks like you are writing a report to the police.”
“Thanks for letting me know, Mr. Paperclip. Would you like me to give you an honorable mention while I’m at it?”
The man boldly advances another step, takes a breath to speak, widens his eyes, and recoils back against the wall. “Man you stink!” he abruptly exclaims, completely out of character, his voice cracking for a moment.
Marty sniffs his armpits experimentally. “Hmm. Maybe a little.”
“No. All over. You smell like a…”
“A compost heap?”
“Exactly! A compost heap…”
“That’s what I figured. So when are you going to explain your presence?”
The man in black straightens up and returns to his soft and painfully cool voice. “I am here to make a deal with you.”
“Well I already have a deal with the police—”
“I know. I was there.”
Marty raises an eyebrow and swivels in his chair. “In my house?”
“Indeed. I heard every word.”
“Well then, what did we talk about?”
The man in black falters. “It would be hard to repeat what was said. The negotiations were rather…complicated.”
Marty smiles. Maybe he can give this man some credit. “What’s your deal?” he asks.
The man in black takes a hesitant step forward, sniffs, and then doesn’t come any closer. “The police have the wrong man. Now they are getting in the way of much more significant crime while searching to uncover Operation Drugs.”
“Operation Drugs? Gee, that sounds suspicious.”
“You would think. But the police cannot see past the code name without thinking about drugs. They’re obsessed with drugs.”
“Well…” Marty pauses. “It may explain a few things about their suspect.”
The man in black changes his masked expression but Marty can only see his eyebrows move. “Oh. There are drugs. But that’s nothing to do with their suspect. He’s just a customer.”
“Wait. So were they going for reverse-psychology when they gave their project the ‘code’ name of drugs?”
“No. They were just on drugs when they came up with the code name. Then they all giggled and high-fived. I was there.”
“Indeed. I am everywhere.”
Marty turns back to the computer screen. “Gee, that must be mildly uncomfortable.”
“It is what I do. I am in the man in black. And here is what I want you to do.”
Marty gives the man his full attention. “Shoot,” he says.
“I want you…to create a diversion.”
“Wow,” Marty says. “Like go sit in a corn field and shoot some clouds. You may have to elaborate.”
“I want you to divert the police. Keep their minds on drugs at all times.”
“Ha, that sounds like you’re saying…”
“Nevermind. Go on.”
“I want them to chase the lucky dragon on this one. A wild goose chase. A trip they’ll never forget. But keep their view hazy with smoke and mirrors. And then! Bong! They start seeing things. But only because you are fabricating clues and illusions. They begin to imagine things, hallucinate that they are actually high on finding drugs. But they never do because they don’t exist. They just think they’re getting hot. But you are the one leading them into this fantasy land. Do you understand?”
“In some ways I understand all too well.” Marty says with a grin. He would have voiced his admiration when the man in black had first begun his speech, but it was too priceless to interrupt.
“Good. I want you to keep them blind to what is actually going on,” finishes the man in black.
“And what is really happening?” asks Marty.
“That is confidential. I cannot tell you.”
“You’d have to kill me afterward right?”
“No. Just maim you.”
“That’s it? How does that work?”
The man in black mimes with his arms. “I would take your arm and crack it behind your back and—”
“Right,” interrupts Marty. “Just tell me what is in it for me if I do what you want.”
“I will split the earnings with you. And by earnings, I am referring to the price we get off of the black market.”
“Hold on. Are you stealing from the guy next door?”
“Indeed. A priceless artifact.”
“Are you certain of the priceless part? Because that could have easily been misinterpreted from the word ‘worthless’. Something that does not have worth, also would not have a price. Because no one would buy it. Kind of like, for instance, a toy gun. Kind of like the toy gun I got on my fifth birthday; my friend Jake wouldn’t buy it from me.”
“I know. I was there. This is different.”
“You were what?” asks Marty. “My fifth birthday…?”
“Indeed. I was there.”
Marty does not know whether to take him seriously. Seriously, as in, he is indeed a nutcase not just an unreasonable liar. But Marty is dangerously curious to press further to see if he cracks. “Let me guess. You were hiding in the cake?”
“Of course not. No one could fit in a birthday cake that size.”
Marty smiles. “But I didn’t even have a cake.” Marty thinks he’s got him now. Unless the man in black can tell his bluff. Or reply with something utterly outrageous.
“I know. I stole it.” Outrageous it is.
Marty blinks and quickly pushes to a new subject. “What sort of ‘price’ do you think we could get from this artifact you’re going to steal? And what chance do you have of actually stealing it. I mean, I don’t doubt your skills if you can steal my fifth birthday cake, but I want some guarantees before I do a thing.”
The man in black nods. “Indeed,” he says. “I will give you a forward payment for your commitment. And then, if all goes to plan, you will have twenty grand in your pocket by the end of this.”
“Pocket? Or bank account in a foreign country. You know, after we flee the country while being hunted by drug lord Mr. Dress-Up who wields a fake rocket launcher?”
“We will escape without a trace, rest assured.”
“And what is this forward payment you are willing to give me?”
The man in black steps forward, and removes a black sack from his belt. He holds his breath as he places it on his desk, and then he retreats into the shadows.
Marty opens the sack. He is met with a stack of five dollar bills. He quickly counts them. “You know…” he says slowly, “You could have just given me a single hundred dollar bill. All these fives…”
“Good luck!” the man hisses, as he makes his getaway. He runs across the room, throws open the window, and dives into the blinds.
Marty pockets the money, and watches with amusement as the man struggles to untangle himself and get over the windowsill. “There’s a door,” Marty says.
But the man in black seems to have it all under control, as he disappears over the ledge with the blinds wrapped around his torso. And such is his stealth that he even lands in a heap on the ground with no more than a thud.
Marty comes away from the window feeling dizzy. But somehow he can tell that this is just getting started.