Rudy examined the banknote with gloves and tweezers. Jay watched over his shoulder.
“I was trained by the Bureau, remember. I’m not going to contaminate it.”
Jay shrugged. “Orders.”
It was an ornate yellow bill, on good paper with a distinctive texture. The amount listed was 100,000 Imperials.
Jay commented, “The amount taken was very close to $100,000 dollars. So he may be paying for what he takes, only in his own money.”
“Can we track down which printer made these? It’s not cheap work.”
The FBI man held out the envelope and retrieved the Imperial note. “We had the same idea, but the goods bought with this note were a model 5800 Hancock printer and a large quantity of its ink and special paper. I have a feeling this was his very first purchase. He has enough stock to print Imperials for a long time, if these are all he makes.”
Rudy said, “So, he had the design all ready to go, swipes the printer, prints his cash, and pays for it on the spot. Nice.”
Jay nodded. “But if he is gracious enough to document everything he takes, it’ll make our job easier. These notes would be hard for a random thief to duplicate. Did you notice the funny long serial number? Every one is different, and no one has come up with an idea what it means. Is he sending a message?”
Rudy had noticed the number. It was twenty-four characters, full alphabet, uppercase, lowercase, and digits. No punctuation. “Or he may just be adding a method to defeat counterfeiters, just like a legitimate nation.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Suppose he’s telling us the truth, by his way of looking at it. Paying for goods wouldn’t count against the billion dollars. That’d just be a line of credit.”
Rudy nodded. “It is now, but I keep wondering, why did he announce himself to the world in the first place? We haven’t a clue how to stop these disappearances, and the only help we’re getting is from him. He’s playing a deep game and we don’t know the rules yet.”
Bob broke through the surface, and swam with easy strokes toward the shore. Every time his head went under the water, he could hear the faint, crisp chatter of the parrotfish chipping away at the coral.
He drifted to shore and let the surf nudge him as he rested on the sand.
A two-hour vacation is better than nothing. He needed to sleep tonight. Phase one was complete, but now the real job started.
He needed help, but he was also sitting on total riches. Hiring help would be risky. That much money and power was a huge temptation. Let anyone too close, and he risked losing his life, and the safety of the world. He would have to move very cautiously.
A lovely young blond in a sarong and a nametag came up.
“Would you like something from the bar, sir?”
Jeanne. UK. These places have quite an international staff. That’s nice.
“Yes I would. How about a virgin Piña Colada?”
“Right away, sir.” She smiled and headed back to the bar.
Oh rats. I forgot to bring money. He walked into the shade of a nearby palm tree and pressed his wristwatch.
A moment later she returned. He handed her a twenty and nodded her away.
The last time I had one of these was with Diana.
Mrs. Hill had the bills spread out over the kitchen table when James came in from school.
“No late shift today?” he asked.
“Well, I had requested an earlier shift, and to my surprise, they agreed. In that place, it doesn’t take a lot of time to build up seniority. By three months, I’m established. If I last a year I’ll be up for a management position.”
He laughed. “Seriously, how is the job?”
“So-so. The work isn’t hard. It’s the customers that get to me.”
“Oh, I get some of those. But the ones that wear me out are the ones who think that they can haggle me down on the price. Here in Texas we get a lot of customers from South American countries that come into a shop like that and stock up on linens or other items. Big purchases and it would help on my commission, but I don’t have any authority to change the prices. From their culture, that doesn’t make any sense. I explain, and they think I am trying to cheat them.”
“Can you get a different job?”
“Quit? No. I still need the paycheck and I can tolerate it.”
“Is money still tight? I thought Dad was getting more money?”
“We’re in better shape. The checks are coming in. But it’ll be awhile before we can start thinking about a new car, if that is what you are asking about.”
James shook his head. “No, that wasn’t what I meant. I was just worried about you.”
“That’s sweet. Things are okay.”
He noticed the phone. “Have you heard from Dad, lately?”
“Well, the athletic banquet is coming up. I was hoping he’d be able to make it.”
“Well, you know the place he works is outside the cell phone coverage area. We can call him, but I hate to fill up his phone’s voicemail.”
“Could you do it? Please.”
She agreed, and made the call. As expected, it immediately went to the voicemail.
“Don’t count on it, James. Even if he could get the time, travel is expensive.”
Greg Archer paused, thumbing through the want ads.
“Salesman Wanted—Mobile personable multi-lingual representative needed for international high-tech service sales. Great potential. Response G-12.”
He looked up at the nearly empty car dealership showroom. I make enough here to pay my rent, but I can’t live this way.
The ‘Mobile’ appealed to him. If it didn’t say that, he would suspect it was just another telemarketing firm. The ‘Great potential’ he discounted. The potential was up to the salesman. The multi-lingual and high-tech aspects might be a problem, but that could wait for the interview, couldn’t it?
He called the paper and accessed the G-12 voice mailbox and made his pitch.
Slick came into the lunchroom and scanned the heads, looking for his good buddy James. His eyes lit up and he wound through the crowd of students, plates and last-minute homework assignments, dropping into the seat next to him.
Slick just stared at him, grinning.
James waited, but Slick wasn’t going to budge.
“Okay, what is it?”
Slick glanced around the room. No one appeared to be listening.
“Sam just dumped Suzie.”
“What?” James was puzzled.
“Out in the parking lot, just now. I saw it.” He shook his head, relishing the memory. “She shrieked like a banshee. I’m surprised you didn’t hear it in here.”
James tried not to be interested. “What’s the deal?”
Slick’s grin widened. “Sam came in late last night and got the inquisition from his parents. They hit the roof, and laid down the law. Drop Suzie, or drop the Corvette.
“That Corvette is a really sweet ride.” Slick added thoughtfully.
James was disgusted at himself for the slight increase in his heart rate. Suzie didn’t care about him. He turned back to his lunch.
Slick nudged his arm. “So? Are you gonna make your play? You’ve got wheels again.”
He shook his head. “Sorry. Not interested.”
Slick sighed. “Suzie will be real disappointed then.”
James concentrated on his food. He had other things to worry about, and Suzie was a complication he really wanted to avoid.
When Slick couldn’t get a satisfactory rise out of him, he headed off to greener pastures and James retreated from the lunchroom.
Suzie was in his math class, last period. James dashed through the halls between classes and struck up a conversation with Coach Avery about spheres and how to calculate the rates of volume and surface areas. He managed to keep it running until the Coach had to call his class to attention. Suzie tried to catch his attention, but he was very deeply interested in his books all through the class.
James looked at his watch, but it was just habit. It was set wrong and he dared not correct it. Maybe the teleportation functions timed out, but maybe they didn’t.
The wall clock crept towards the end of class. James caught the teacher’s attention, and nodded towards the door. Can I leave early?
Avery had been the football defensive coach, and James always had been one of his favorites. One of the best things about being on the team was that, in this school, jocks got all the benefits. Avery waved him off.
James collected his books and left. He could feel Suzie staring at his back.
Lockers were two halls over. He stowed his books and headed for the parking lot.
Suzie was already there, leaning on his car. He turned in the doorway and went back in. If I’m lucky, she didn’t see me.
The final bell rang, and the halls were suddenly filled with bodies and noise. Down the hall, he saw Slick talking to Drake.
Can’t go that way. Friends could be more deadly than enemies sometimes. Letting on that he was hiding would be worse than confronting Suzie.
He turned towards the front offices. He could duck out that way. He toyed with the idea of faking another counseling session with Nurse Jameson, but dismissed it.
I need to just vanish until Suzie goes away.
James cocked his head to one side. That’s an idea.
It was approaching four o’clock. Paris was seven time zones away. The girl might be home asleep at eleven PM, but if so, he could just transfer to the work shed at home and play with Grumpy for awhile.
Where do I want to be when I return? Outside the school, because they locked the doors as quickly as they could manage at the end of the day. Out of sight, of course.
There were a couple of pillars in the entrance. That would do.