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The Man Who Knew Too Muchor, Possibly, Too Little
The face of the woman behind the reception desk at FBI headquarters in downtown Cincinnati was oddly familiar and a bit unsettling. Something about her skin didn’t look quite right. It looked like the skin of a dead person. It looked like you could peel her face right off her skull.
“Yes, may I help you?” asked the woman, but there wasn’t much help in the voice.
“We’re Wally and Cheyenne Shluffmuffin,” said Wally. “We’re here to see Special Agent Cromwell.”
“And you have an appointment?” said the woman.
“Well, no, but we’ve been here before,” said Wally. The Shluffmuffin twins were ten years old, had red hair and freckles and a tendency to attract creatures with sinister intentions, most of whom were not even human.
“And what was this in reference to?” said the woman.
“Well, we gave him some pictures,” said Cheyenne.
“Pictures . . . ?”
“Of the six buses that disappeared in downtown Cincinnati,” said Cheyenne. “And pictures of the people who were on the buses when they disappeared. Agent Cromwell said he was going to show them to people in his department and then get back to us, but we haven’t heard from him in over two weeks.”
“And these pictures were taken where?” said the woman.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Wally, deciding against saying they were taken in the cave of the Ont Queen, ruler of all giant ants in the state of Ohio. “Can we just please see Agent Cromwell?”
“No.” “Excuse me?” said Wally.
“Special Agent Cromwell no longer works here,” said the woman.
“No? What happened to him?” said Cheyenne.
“Dead?” said Cheyenne. “But we just saw him two weeks ago. He seemed fine.”
“Yes, two weeks ago he was fine,” said the woman. “But now he’s dead. It was very sudden. Sudden and tragic. We were all quite stunned.”
“What did he die of?” Wally asked.
“Heart attack,” said the woman, suddenly losing interest in the discussion and turning back to papers on her desk. “Is there anything else? I’m afraid we’re quite busy here today.”
“Who’s taking over for Agent Cromwell?” Cheyenne asked.
“Well then, can we at least get our pictures back?” Cheyenne asked.
“And what pictures would those be?” said the woman, studying her papers.
“We just told you,” said Wally. “Pictures of the six buses that disappeared downtown?”
The woman reached into a drawer, pulled out some printed forms, and held them out to the twins without looking up.
“Fill these forms out in triplicate,” she said, “stating what property you are claiming and the circumstances under which you are claiming it, attaching a notarized statement of value and a proof of loss form, and then we will process your claim. When the process is complete, somebody will be in touch with you.”
“And when do you think that might happen?” asked Cheyenne, taking the forms.
“Twelve to fourteen weeks,” said the woman. “This is our busy season.”
“Never mind,” said Cheyenne. She gave back the forms.
As soon as they got into the elevator and pushed the down button and the doors slid closed, Wally announced: “Cromwell was murdered.”
“Are you sure?” Cheyenne asked.
“But why?” Cheyenne asked.
“He knew too much.”
“How do you know that?” Cheyenne asked.
“I just know,” said Wally. “He either knew too much or he knew too little. He didn’t know just enough. If he had known just enough, he’d be alive today.”
“How much is just enough?” said Cheyenne.
“That is something we will never know,” said Wally.
“You think it was because of the pictures?” said Cheyenne. She sneezed and blew her nose into a tissue. Cheyenne was allergic to absolutely everything. “Oh god, Wally, I’d hate to think it was because we gave him those pictures. I’d hate to think we caused his death. Do you think we caused his death?”
“I’m sure of it,” he said. “But then what happened to our pictures? The whole thing sounds so bogus to me. A sudden heart attack, right? The onts must have a mole in the Cincinnati office who killed him. It might even have been that stupid receptionist we just talked to.”
“Why do you say that?” Cheyenne asked. “Did you get a good look at her face?” said Wally. “At her skin? Her skin looked like those rubber masks that Dagmar and Hedy used to wear.”
Cheyenne shuddered. Dagmar and Hedy Mandible were the two mysterious ladies who’d taken them out of the Jolly Days Orphanage to their home in spooky Dripping Fang Forest for a trial adoption. After discovering the Mandible sisters weren’t ladies but giant ants breeding a race of super-ants to enslave humans and end life on Earth as we know it, the twins managed to escape.
“I hate to say it, but I think you’re right,” Cheyenne murmured. “I sure hope she doesn’t think we suspect her.”
“We didn’t do anything to make her think we suspect her,” said Wally.
“Lucky I still have the negatives,” said Cheyenne. “I’ll get some more prints made. Who can we take them to, though?”
“Well, we sure can’t trust anyone in the Cincinnati office,” said Wally. “Let’s go to that FBI place in Quantico, Virginia, where they train their agents. Where they have the guys who profile serial killers and stuff. I doubt the onts have planted anybody in Quantico yet.”
“How will we get there?” Cheyenne asked. “We don’t have money for planes.”
“We’ll take the train,” said Wally. “It’s cheaper than flying and a whole lot safer.”
The elevator arrived at the main floor. The doors slid open and the twins stopped talking, fearing they might be overheard.
The receptionist switched off the small silver tape recorder on her desk. She hit rewind and then play. The voices from the elevator were thin and tinny but very clear:
“. . . to that FBI place in Quantico, Virginia, where they train their agents. Where they have the guys who profile serial killers and stuff. I doubt the onts have planted anybody in Quantico yet.”
e: 10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-family: 'Times New Roman'" “How will we get there? We don’t have money for planes.”
“We’ll take the train. It’s cheaper than flying and a whole lot safer.”
The receptionist hit stop and slipped the small silver tape recorder into her handbag.
Text copyright © 2007 by Dan Greenburg
Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Scott M. Fischer
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