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From the Trade Paperback edition.
“Flynn’s repartee is state of the art: rangily allusive, deceptively gentle. And Mcdonald’s blend of parody, farce, and sentiment . . . is rich, yet spare, edgily appealing.” --Kirkus
Flynn came through the men's room door showing everyone in the corridor his most beguiling smile.
The Secret Service agents, good lads that they are, gasped and reached for their guns.
"Is there another men's room nearby?" Flynn asked innocently. "This one's occupied."
"N. N. 13," Flynn said into the telephone.
In the lobby of the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria, Flynn had dialed the Pittsburgh number and given the operator his credit-card number.
The man who answered drawled, "Are you free?"
"Yes. I'm in New York."
"One moment, please."
In the lobby Flynn watched a man and a woman greet each other. He guessed her clothes cost thousands of dollars. The man's suit and shoes, too, looked as if they cost plenty. Nearby stood a little girl. Dressing her had probably cost hundreds of dollars. Scanning everyone in the lobby, Flynn wondered what the total value of their clothes was. Probably more dollars than it took to dress the entire Continental Army.
"Yes," Flynn answered.
"Zero. 1600. Lions' cage, the zoo."
"Rightio," said Flynn. "Rightio."
DOWN the path the little man stood near the lions' cage. Three tall men were standing around him.
Flynn knew N.N. Zero--John Roy Priddy--liked places where there were apt to be other small human beings--playgrounds, circuses, zoos. N.N. Zero was three feet ten inches high.
Flynn had bought two bags of peanuts.
"Hello, Frank." N.N. Zero reached up to shake hands.
"Hello, sir." Flynn did not stoop. From all the years working with N.N. Zero, Flynn knew well it was no kindness to stoop to him. It was a cruelty.
N.N. Zero was a little person, and he spoke softly.
Flynn maintained his posture and was grateful for his acute hearing.
N.N. Zero looked absently around at the three men with him.
They absented themselves.
There was calliope music, Octopus's Garden.
"How's Elsbeth?" N.N. Zero asked.
Flynn handed N.N. Zero a bag of peanuts.
N.N. Zero handed Flynn a fifty-dollar bill.
Flynn glanced at it and put it in his pocket.
N.N. Zero was always solicitous about Flynn's wife and children, asking for them each in order. He actually knew each of their characteristics as well, even to twelve-year-old Jenny not yet knowing she was gorgeous and nine-year-old Winny not yet knowing his compulsion to be a wit.
"Well, Frank. Did you knock off the President?"
"Was he appreciative?"
"He seemed mostly appreciative I didn't mess up his shirt. He had to give a speech."
"Running a private organization like N.N., Frank, we'll always need funds, and we'll always need access to the President of the United States. And as long as there is a K., there's a need for N.N. Yet no President, once he's told about us, believes in us much. We have to prove ourselves to every President, in some personal way . . ."
N.N. Zero opened his bag and threw a peanut into the lions' cage.
At the back of the cage lay a lion and a lioness. They were flea-bitten and fat but pretty together.
N.N. Zero asked, "Are you ready for an odd story, Frank?"
"The Irish love a story," said Francis Xavier Flynn, N.N. 13. "Don't we just?"
"Trouble is," said N.N. Zero, "we don't know the beginning of this story. Nor do we know the end of it. Maybe we're putting three things together that don't belong together. I don't know. Odd things have happened at three different places on the map. And I think they may have something in common. And even if they do, I'm not sure what it is, or what to make of it. The most recent event--if these are events--concerns us."
Flynn shelled a peanut and tossed it into the lions' cage.
Neither lion moved.
"About twelve weeks ago," N.N. Zero said, "there were one thousand eight hundred and fifty-six people, men, women, and children, living in the town of Ada, Texas. Today, as far as we know, there are two.
"One day the minister in that town, a Reverend Sandy Fraiman, called the office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Austin, and said that everyone in the town, except himself and his wife, had disappeared."
"Disappeared?" Flynn rubbed his ear. "This isn't a flying-saucer story, is it? I don't like flying-saucer stories. They upset my equilibrium."
"Everyone had left town except the minister and his wife."
" 'Left town.' Of their own volition, I take it. Tell me, sir. Do you think the man's sermons had been runnin' overlong? Were the people fleein' them, do you think?"
"The minister watched them leave. He called the F.B.I. on a Thursday. He said people had begun to leave town on the previous Saturday. More than half the town had left by Sunday night. The rest were gone by Wednesday. They simply packed up their cars and pickup trucks with personal belongings, and left. The minister stopped some of them and asked where they were going. Some said Dallas. Some said Oklahoma. Some said Las Vegas. Some said California."
"And none said the Promised Land? No wonder the minister was upset."
"The F.B.I. agent drove to Ada next day. He confirmed there appeared to be no one in town except the minister and his wife. He reported the minister appeared 'shaky.' "
"No wonder. He was the shepherd whose flock had escaped up the glen, waggin' their tails behind 'em."
"Get this, Flynn. After some questioning, the minister told the agent that on the previous Saturday morning he had found two large manila envelopes on his front porch, one with his name on it, one with his wife's name on it. In each envelope was one hundred thousand dollars in cash. Mostly fifty-dollar bills, some one hundreds, some twenties."
"Manna from Heaven."
"Exactly. The minister was delighted. He believes it's a gift to the church. It's a poor town, and apparently the church is in great disrepair. The F.B.I. agent filed his report, of course."
"The next week."
"A copy came to us in the pouch. A week after that."
Flynn tossed some peanuts he had shelled into the lions' cage.
"This made us mildly curious," N.N. Zero continued, "to see if any such similar incident had happened to any other small town in the United States. We discovered that in a small town in New England, the ministers left, and the townspeople stayed. East Frampton, Massachusetts--"
"I know the old place. Took my kids there summer before last. We ate at a--"
"A small island community, utterly dependent upon the tourist trade and a little fishing. Nothing more to worry about, if you'd believe it, than squashing rumors a shark with a yen for human flesh basted in suntan oil is prowling their waters."
"Not a refined taste, I think."
"The captain of the ferryboat, who lives on the mainland, mentioned to a fellow member of Kiwanis, who is a policeman in New Bedford, who told his chief, who mentioned it to the local F.B.I. agent--"
"Not a direct source comin' straight at us," commented Flynn.
From the Trade Paperback edition.