A Plague of Scoundrels - Excerpts

"A Plague of Scoundrels"





I needed to jump-start my strategy for rescuing the imprisoned Bockman. I tracked down a half-full bottle of English gin that languished in the kitchen cabinet. I filled a tumbler with ice cubes, grasped the gin bottle by the neck, and parked myself on the sofa to evaluate Bockman’s strange message. By the time the second glass was empty, I had settled my mind on three facts and a couple of “what ifs?”

Fact one. I hadn’t seen Bockman since the night he stood in his doorway, trailing glowing particles. The problem? The reliability of my sighting was on par with that of a hunter encountering Bigfoot. In my drunken state, hallucination had to be considered. But since that spooky night, I hadn’t found a scrap of evidence that Bockman had visited our shared living space. No dirty dishes, trash, or misaligned sofa cushions. Conclusion: He really had disappeared.

Fact two. Bockman was a strange duck, all wrapped up in Old English lore. Eccentric, yes. Stupid, no. He was astute enough to be the founder of Particle Shift Technology Corporation. That implied he had filed California incorporation papers. The state was tight-assed about proper business registrations.

Fact three. Bockman, or someone, had put the silver teapot and pewter charger in the box. Zimmerman validated that the items were genuine seventeenth-century English antiques in pristine condition. Explain that. And Bockman’s gold signet ring had also been included in the shipment, a foreshadowing of trouble.

Bockman’s note claimed he was being held captive in a dungeon. He assumed or prayed that a plea for help would get through to me. The only link between the two of us had been the box that appeared and disappeared. Now he was raising the ante?

But if Bockman were locked up, who could have sent the box? A romantic soul would yearn for Lady Greyhurst’s involvement. Some part of me wanted to meet the ex-mistress who inspired two guys to fight a duel to win her favor, or favors. No matter how it turned out, this adventure offered a rich vein of comedy material to be mined from Bockman and Lady Greyhurst’s misguided love affair. Based on what? I had no details. Even my free-rent agreement wasn’t in writing. Not even a handshake.

But what if all this was a ploy? Bockman’s plea—and the box shuttle—merely part of a silly computer game. What if I broke down his door and found him sitting in his baggy tights, laughing at my naiveté? Was he testing me to see if I had followed his instructions? If so, I could claim that my attempt to rescue him entitled me to lifetime free rent, a worthy payoff. But if he were gone, where would I go? Given my history of short-term relationships, I couldn’t count on staying with Linda the Cruise Lady.

I went over to my bedroom door and measured its thickness with my fingers, an inch and a half at the most. Bockman’s should be identical. Now, where was my toolbox? I dropped to my hands and knees and groped under the bed. Every bachelor has a set of handyman tools. You never knew when you could earn extra points by fixing some gal’s broken whatever.

I lugged my kit into the living room and took out my favorite battery-powered reciprocating saw. Revved the motor to the max and set to work cutting a hole in Bockman’s locked door big enough for me to step through. Maybe his dungeon also had a wooden door. Piece of cake. I had my tools. And thanks to my gin-induced buzz, I needed both hands to steady the saw.

The blade chattered a downward arc through the door’s panel. Sawdust fell onto the floor, covering my shoes. Neighbors must be wondering about the daytime racket. Bockman didn’t impress me as a guy who made loud noises. Chirping was more his style.

I guided my vibrating blade through the six o’clock position and circled back towards twelve. The fresh-cut section hung in place like a super-sized porthole without hinges. My cut was now complete. Not bad for a blitzed handyman. And just in case something dangerous lurked inside Bockman’s inner sanctum, I had better take my trusty power saw with me.

I kicked the circular cut as hard as I could. Wood flew inward. I stepped through the hole in the door and did my best imitation of a cop entering a dark, unknown danger zone. I crouched with my improvised weapon in front of me, ready to drill anyone who might threaten me. Actually, saber-saw him.

“Bockman?” I called.

No response. On my right, a man-sized form hid in the shadows. Danger. My finger tightened, and the saw surged to full power.

“That better be you,” I yelled and turned to confront the threat.

My eyes adjusted to the room’s dim light. Mounted on the right wall was a larger-than-life movie poster. Its wood frame spanned from floor to almost the ceiling. The colorful theater poster heralded Technicolor. Red words against a brown background proclaimed the message: The Adventures of ROBIN HOOD. STARRING ERROL FLYNN. My shadow man was an old movie portrait of a Hollywood actor.

“Clear,” I shouted.

No Bockman. No threat. The room was empty. The absurdity of my actions brought me down from my adrenaline high.

Bockman had claimed the locked room was his inner sanctum, office and computer center. This hideaway was hardly larger than a common workstation cubicle. The desktop held a standard computer setup. An olive-drab futon in one corner of the room was the only thing that qualified as bedroom furniture. The whole cubicle, complete with the black metal chair resting on an oversized plastic floor mat, looked like it had been lifted out of a failed small business.

I paced around the small room looking for another exit, a backdoor that would allow Bockman to come and go without being seen or heard. Perhaps hidden stairs leading to a courtyard or a trapdoor, something, anything. I struck out. My fresh-cut porthole through the door was the only entrance.

Iron security bars filtered outside light through a smudged window high on the room’s back wall. I reached up to the grime-coated window ledge and hoisted myself up for a better view. I saw an interior courtyard littered with trash. I craned my neck and looked towards the rooftops. The only street-level exit was on the courtyard’s far side. A heavy, padlocked chain secured a rusted iron gate. Bockman hadn’t gone through there. I let myself drop and landed back onto the floor without falling over.

I definitely needed to revise my strategy for finding my absent landlord. Printed flyers might work. Stick them on neighborhood telephone poles or fences. Missing. Small man. Height: Around five feet. Last seen wearing a black cape and lime-green tights. Sandy-colored hair. Van Dyke beard. Tends to be out of focus. Probably would get a few responses in San Francisco. Most likely requests to meet him.

I dusted dirt and a dried fly off my hands, pulled out the desk chair, and sat down. If this entry-level computer setup were any indication of his game-center capabilities, then the runt was playing with himself. I’d seen better workstations at the local library. Bockman’s grand Robin Hood adventure must be his imagination run amok. He was as phony as my ex-wife’s orgasms.

I studied the old, oversized movie poster. Above and behind the title lettering, a costumed Flynn pulled a bow and aimed an arrow at the movie audience. Olivia de Havilland stood behind Robin, her dark eyes lusting after her hero. Now I knew what Bockman’s funky medieval costume had been patterned after. Poor guy’s bird legs could never fill tights like Flynn’s. And his ribbon-tied shoes were a limp contrast to Robin Hood’s macho leather boots. Bockman had one detail right though. The jaunty cock feather in Robin’s hat.

Something about the room nagged at me. Doing improv comedy taught me to pick up on details that define a scene. That experience had given me a sense of stage setting. I swiveled in Bockman’s chair. What didn’t fit?

I had expected to find Bockman’s corporate office packed with high-tech gear. Instead, I had found a pedestrian plain-Jane office. Hell, Bockman’s computer center didn’t even have a bathroom. How had he managed? I never heard him use the one in the apartment. Only thing out of the ordinary was the Robin Hood poster.

An idea popped into my head. Happened to me on rare occasions. Bockman didn’t run his company from this setup. This office had been staged for effect if someone intruded into the locked room. Designed to be ignored. Put down and dismissed.

“Can’t fool me, Robin Hood Bockman.” I held my portable power weapon in a gunslinger stance, trigger finger poised. “You devious little twerp.”

With my best devilish grin I revved up my trusty saw and thrust at the poster. I aimed at Robin Hood’s hat, cut deep and trimmed off the feather. The blade kicked. I pulled it free and jumped back. The violated poster emitted a pulsating beam of blue light.

© Copyright 2008 by Jon Cory

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