Written and Read by Montgomery Thompson
Pal Tember sat at the green light until it turned red again. Waking from his daydream he looked around to see if anyone had noticed. Traffic was light in Legly that morning and Tember’s mood was even lighter. He had a severe case of Mim, and now he was trying to come up with any reason he could to stop by and see her again. Like an angel answering his prayer, Mim’s little girl pulled up beside him at the light.
“Hullo, Constable Tember.”
“Why hello, Maksey! What are you doing in town?”
“I was just talking to the other policeman. I gave him a movie of the aliens at the farmer’s house.”
Tember snapped out of his daze. “What?”
“It’s proof that I’m not lying about everything.” The light turned green. “Well, bye.”
Maksey pedaled off, leaving Tember sitting at the light staring dumbly after her. Just as the light turned red again Tember laid on the gas, screeched the cruiser around in the middle of the intersection, and drove back to the station.
“We’ve had a level one incident.”
“What’s a level one incident?”
“A break in, you durk! Someone stole the film right off the projector!” Chalo paced in front of the boys who were lined up in ranks. “As leader of this group it falls on me to make the call. This requires drastic measures. I have no choice. I’m going to have to go to the police.”
“The cops? Are you sure, Chalo?” Regin asked.
“Listen, the constable seemed nice enough and we need to get that film back. That’s the only thing that will make everyone take us seriously.” Chalo glanced at the door leading into the house and thought about his father, sitting on the couch. The thought hardened his resolve. “I’m positive. Someone broke into our headquarters and stole our property. We have to report this to the police.”
The boys just looked at each other.
“We’ll have to clean up the place if the cops are going to be here,” said Inder.
Chalo shook his head. “No, I’m going to them. Stay here. If I’m not back before nightfall, Inder, organize a rescue mission.”
The gangly lad saluted in response. “I’m on it.”
Chalo hopped on his bike and rode to the police station. He was sure that he would be interrogated, maybe even tortured, but he had to get that film back. It was the greatest discovery of the age and it belonged to the gang.
Rolling up to the station he bounded off the bike. No need to lock it, it was a police station. He strode through the doors. Best to make an impression, he thought. They weren’t dealing with some kid here. He slapped the top of the counter.
“I’m here to report a robbery.”
Startled, Sergeant Bemis got up from behind his desk. “What is this, kiddy day? Who are you? What robbery?”
“A movie was taken from our clubhouse. Someone broke in last night and stole it right off the projector. It’s very important. You have to find it and bring the culprits to justice.”
Bemis looked at the lad surprised. “You’re quite articulate for a lad your age. What’s your name, son?”
“My name is…”
“Chalo.” Tember had just come in the door. “The kid’s name is Chalo. He’s the leader of a group of kids, a local bike club. He lives over on Crescent Drive, that’s where their clubhouse is, in his garage.”
Chalo turned red. “You got nothing on me!”
Bemis walked around the counter. “Easy, kid! Geez, what the heck is going on with the kids in this town?”
Tember stepped in. “I just saw Maksey, Mim’s little girl. She told me she was here to hand in a film. I’m pretty sure she’s your culprit.”
“Wha…how?” Chalo stammered. The thought of a little girl getting one over on him was unthinkable.
“I said easy, kid! If I have to tell you again, I’m gonna put you in cuffs.” He seemed half-serious too.
“It’s okay, Sarge,” said Tember. “I would be upset if a little girl got the jump on me too, but she’s crafty this one. She said the film has evidence that will clear her of lying. More than anything she wants to be listened to and believed. I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt of we just took a minute to watch this little film and find out what all the fuss is about.”
“Nothing doing, mister, that’s my film,” Chalo interrupted. “Stolen property too!”
“The kid’s right, Tember. It’s his property, we don’t have any right to what’s on that film.”
Chalo was starting to like the fat sergeant.
Tember sighed. “Well, you’re right of course, but listen, son, it would really help us clear this whole thing up if we knew what was going on. Just let us take a look at the film and it might—”
“Sorry, I have my own plans. Just give me my movie back so I can get out of here. This place gives me the hee-bee gee-bees.”
The sergeant handed the film over the counter. Chalo took it and bolted for the door without saying a word. As the door shut behind him, Bemis held up his hand to Tember.
“I don’t want to hear it, not one word.”
Chalo shouted a victory yell as he flew out of the station parking lot. He had faced the cops and won. He rode hard for the only place in town he felt safe, the comic book shop. Never in a million years had he thought he was going to get out of there not only unscathed but with the film too. Now he had to decide what to do with it.
He pulled his bike up to the store and went in, deep in thought. He wasn’t showing it to the cops, that was for sure. As soon as they saw him throwing rocks at the farmer they would just throw him and the gang in jail.
Chalo perused the racks of his favorite section and tried to work it out. Who always helped the superheroes? Then his eyes came to rest on issue #141 BugMaster. The young man had been stung by a radio-inactive Fangamuncher and his true love, the news reporter Derla Graype , was his only connection with the normal world.
That was it! The news—they would broadcast the footage, then everyone would see the truth! There would be no way Chalo and the gang would be in trouble after everyone knew how they had cracked the case.
He ran out of the store and hopped on his bike. Swerving through traffic, he took the shortcut through the alley at Happer’s clip shop and rode several blocks to the television studio. Letting his bike fall to the sidewalk, he strode in with a newly found confidence.
The secretary at the front desk looked up at him expectantly. “You’re kind of young for a courier.”
“I have the story of the century. You have to put this on the news.” He held up the film.
“I’m sorry, unless you have an appointment with a reporter—”
“I do!” he lied.
“…and that would be?” She peered over her glasses with the kind of look that dared him to test her.
“With whom do you have an appointment? I need a name.” She pursed her lips tightly when he didn’t respond. “That’s what I thought. Now leave the studio before I call the police.”
Dejected, Chalo turned to go back outside. He couldn’t believe it. It had gone so well at the cops just to be shut down by a snooty secretary. He got back on his bike and rode around the block, his mind churning for options.
As he turned the corner to the back of the studio, he saw a news van being unloaded by two technicians. Chalo stopped and hid behind a dumpster as the technicians pulled an equipment case through heavy, double doors. They disappeared inside as the doors slowly closed behind them. Swallowing hard, he sprinted to the doors and stuck his foot into the gap. It hurt a bit, but he stopped himself from making a sound and waited until the technicians were gone. It took all of his strength as he pried the heavy door open and slipped inside.
The hall was long and dark. Light came out through cracks in several doors before the hallway turned to the right at the end. Chalo crept along, stopping at each door. He heard the sound of talking from behind the first door. It sounded like the radio guy and someone else. His heart rose in his throat. What was he doing? The gang was right; he was being crazy.
A sudden noise caught his attention. The two technicians were coming back down the hall. Chalo searched the hall for a door. There! He spotted a door with no light coming out from under it, and dark was good for hiding. As he closed the door behind him, he heard boots walking past and breathed a sigh of relief. Out of danger for the moment, he took note of his surroundings. It looked to be some kind of small movie theater. There were several rows of chairs and a couple of stairs that led up to a projector booth. In the booth were projectors of varying sizes. One had film loaded and ready to roll and a schedule hanging on the wall.
“Afternoon executive screening. That’s today. Oh shik! That’s in a few minutes!”
Quickly, Chalo took the film off the projector and replaced it with his.
“That should do it.” He smiled and went back down the stairs. He waited until he heard the technicians pass by as they came back into the building. Then he snuck out of the screening room, down the hall, and back outside. He was in the clear.
With a casual whistle, he walked back to his bike then rode off like a shot.
The sign on the desk read: Santi Shar, Advertising Manager WLEG. It was the only perk to her lousy job.
“Let’s go, gentlemen. I’m sure you’ll love what our producers have done for you.”
The gaggle of businessmen followed her like a pack of drooling dogs. The dress was doing its job.
“Right this way.” She led them down the dark hall and into the screening room. Once they were seated, she gave them the spiel. “This is the final proof for your ads. Any changes to your commercial will have to be small, text items only. No production changes, you signed off on those months ago…” Blah, blah, she thought, same old thing, and most of these guys knew the drill.
Bosco Sherf watched her carefully. The Army had spent good money on this ad and they expected results in the form of new blood. Recruiting was his command and he had put his neck on the line to convince his superiors that local television was the way to get bodies into boots.
Santi gave the order to roll film. Five minutes later, the stunned businessmen exploded into a sea of incredulous complaints. Santi leapt up the stairs to the projection room as Bosco Sherf ran for the nearest phone.
It had been days since Pal Tember had seen Mim. Should I call her? He wondered. She’ll probably think I’m stalking her. Maybe if he discovered what Maksey was on about it would lead him to a reason to knock on Mim’s door, but he needed a real reason. He didn’t want to come across as desperate.
His mother had told him once, “There’s nothing as unattractive as a desperate man.”
Maksey’s recent adventures had happened on the land outside the Townes’ farm. She had claimed to see something odd, and her sister had too, even if she wasn’t saying anything about it. The fact that she was keeping quiet about it made it all the more suspicious. Something had scared the poor girl and Tember was going to find out what it was.
It was his third time by the farm that day, but this time he knew as soon as he turned onto Namarin Road that something was up at Mortimer’s. A car was parked in front of the hedge, out of sight of the house. As Tember got closer he could see the car was plain, too plain. A government stooge, he thought.
Sure enough, standing at the hedge was a small man in a black suit throwing rocks at Mortimer’s back while the old man, mostly blind and deaf and with his back turned towards the road, shaped the bushes against the house with a power trimmer.
Tember couldn’t believe his eyes—the rocks bounced off.
He slammed the brakes and stopped the cruiser in the middle of the road. The man, unaware of Tember, reached into his jacket and drew out a pistol. As he leveled it at the back of Mortimer’s head, Tember ran across the road and seized the weapon. Tember easily overpowered the man, who spun around angrily.
“What do you think you’re doing? You’re interfering with a high level military operation. Now get out of here or I’ll have your badge!”
“Sorry, mister, but around here shooting somebody is against the law. Now put your hands over your head before I start putting holes in you.”
“You shik-brained country imbecile. I’m Pom Debry, Military Liaison of the Fremian Army. You mess with me and it’ll be the last thing you ever wished you never did!”
Tember had no idea and didn’t care. The man had pulled a gun on Mortimer after throwing rocks at the poor old man. Tember wasn’t a violent man, but he’d had enough of this joker. When his fist connected with the man’s flapping jaw, Debry went down like a wet sock.
Debry woke to a throbbing pain on the side of his face. The cell was bright and the bed hard. He sat up, angry but cautious. He didn’t want another clout from that lummox of a cop.
“Well, look who’s up. How do ya feel, mister army man?’ Sergeant Bemis leered through the bars. “You don’t look so good. Maybe you’ll think twice before doing something stupid like TRYIN TA SHOOT A DEFENSELESS OLD MAN!” Bemis screamed.
It scared Debry so bad he fell off of the bed and scrambled into the corner. “You…you’re all crazy! Nut cases, the lot of ya. When I get a hold of the regional commander he’s gonna have a thing or two to say about how you treat army personnel.”
The cell was the last of three that had been built into a short, dead end hallway off of the main office. Suddenly the hall went dark as a tall figure blocked the light. He was wearing a long coat and a wide brimmed hat. Debry could see Bemis and Tember exchange a few quiet words with the newcomer, then he came slowly down the hall.
“Major Debry.” The man’s voice was low and rumbled with authority. “Assault with a deadly weapon is a very serious offense, and one, I’m afraid, you’re going to have to answer to.”
He came up to the bars. The long dark coat, wide-brimmed hat, and grim look said it all: a Special Inquisitor. These guys had carte blanche to investigate any government service. They were like Special Forces and Internal Affairs all rolled into one.
A wave of nausea washed over Debry. What the heck was he doing here? Debry squirmed. “Look, I’m just following orders.”
“Which are?” the Inquisitor inquired.
“Which are classified, although I am happy to discuss them with you in private, Inquisitor…”
“Moore, Halkus Moore is my name. Fine, we’ll talk in private. Gentlemen, would you do us a courtesy?”
Tember looked at Bemis, who shrugged. “No problem, we’ll be in the office.” The two left, and Halkus came up close to the bars; his eyes bore into Debry like fiery knives.
“All right,” he rumbled, “I’m listening.”
© 2015 Copyright Montgomery Thompson
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