Strange Cases: Behemoth - Part Five
KIKO LAKE, 4TH DAY OF SWIMMING, YEAR 9, 13:06 PM
Once Agent Steele had pulled his junior partner out of the six-foot deep footprint, he and Tanner stood on the edge to examine it as best they could.
“Well, it’s big,” the young cloud Kougra began cautiously as the older shadow Scorchio kept silent himself, arms crossed behind his back once again, his eyes narrowed to slits. “And round, without any visible signs of toes, so the mystery monster must have round, big, stumpy legs... but what about the impressions of the three campers?”
“Tell you what, I can do a good Lupe imperso –” Steele caught the icy glare of his partner. “Further down,” he added with a glum slouch. “Nearer to the lakeside... dunno why Behemoth came this far up just to turn back, though...”
“Well, sure, do you want to go about calling it ‘that big, illusive mystery monster’ all of the time? I, personally, tend to find a codename helps slim things down. Plus,” he added, trying to get his reasoning across by nodding, a decision that Tanner not only failed to pick up on, but confused him greatly, “it works out filing-wise, too. When the time comes for me to write up this investigation, I’ll be able to tag it with the name ‘Behemoth’ and file it under B.”
“Wait, wait, wait... you write it up?” Tanner’s hands were at his sides petulantly. “Why you? Why not me?”
“You? Fine by me!” The Scorchio flashed a smile, and Tanner knew he’d been stitched-up good. Before the Kougra could utter a word of protest, his senior colleague was away, down the embankment and coming to a rest, on bended knee, beside each of the three camper-shaped dents in turn, running them with a scrutinizing eye. “So,” he went on after Tanner had grudgingly rejoined him. “If Behemoth didn’t go up there,” he pointed a clawed finger back up the embankment, “and he didn’t stick around here for cocoa and ghost stories, then that can only leave...”
Tanner followed Steele’s eyes out to the tranquil surface of the lake. “What?” he asked, finally catching on. “Is our so-called Behemoth... thing is still in there, biding its time?”
“Then we’re not all that safe here, are we?”
“We’re fine, I think. After all,” Steele rose to his feet, hands now stuffed into his coat pockets. “We don’t have any fire on us.”
“Huh?” The young Kougra didn’t understand; what was he going on about now?
“Oh, didn’t I mention that? And didn’t you already figure this out for yourself?” Steele looked puzzled at his partner’s questioning glance. “Must’ve slipped my mind... you see, Tanner, at the time of the incident there were three other camping parties in the nearby area, but only these poor guys got attacked... care to guess why, for one million Neopoints?”
“Their campfire?” Tanner answered hesitantly.
“Exactly, but hope you didn’t take me on the whole ‘million NP’ deal.” There was a strange, excited gleam in Agent Steele’s eye as he turned back to gaze out over the lake. “So, whatever this Behemoth is, I reckon it must have an extreme fear of fire... luckily, the other parties were asleep at the time, so no fires from them. Who knows what we would’ve been dealing with had they all got together...”
Tanner shivered just thinking about the possibilities. “So, you’re saying that Behemoth suffers from pyro-phobia – I know that’s not a real word, before you open that sarcastic mouth – and is still there, somewhere, underneath the surface of the lake?” If he was mocking his partner, Tanner thought he was disguising it well. “So, what are we supposed to do now?”
“Well, we could always try putting your head under the water and yelling ‘Hey, ugly! Get up here, I’ve got matches!’ and see how it reacts...”
“That’s just plain stupid, Steele...”
“Yeah,” Steele admitted with a sheepish grin and a shrug. “The matches would have just gotten wet anyway... hey, wait a sec! What’s that?”
He pointed out to where a small, olive-green boat was anchored, its two occupants standing to one side, throwing a net out and slowly dragging it back in again.
“Fishermen,” Tanner answered flatly. “Look, can we keep focused on the matter at hand, here?”
“That’s it!” crowed Steele, leaping into the air with a click of his claws. “You want to find Behemoth, Kid, and that’s how we’ll do it!”
“Offer it some fish and see if it bites? Hate to break it to you, but don’t you think that thing has enough fish as it is down there?”
“Har-har... I’m splitting my sides here. Seriously, I want you to gather as many fishermen as you can find – Mr. McNulty must know a fair few – whilst I see if there’s anything I can find elsewhere.”
Tanner shot the Scorchio a withering glare. “You won’t find much information on a deckchair.”
“You trying to say I’m lazy or something?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Steele... fine,” he added reluctantly after a stony staring contest that he lost. “I’ll go and gather as many fisherman as I can, although I can’t believe you want to try what I think you’re intending to try...”
“That’s the spirit, Kid. I shouldn’t be long.”
“Don’t hurry back on my account,” Tanner muttered darkly at the back of his partner as Steele flew off back up the embankment.
Looking back out to the fishing boat and its two occupants, Tanner wondered just how and where he’d find enough fishermen to carry out Steele’s plan. Then, reluctantly, he trudged his way back up the embankment to ask Mr. McNulty, the campsite owner, for assistance.
Agent Max Steele was flitting through the woodlands surrounding Kiko Lake, his mind buzzing angrily with all the current events; Kojak just had to turn up, today of all days, and take a pop at him in front of his new partner, didn’t he? What was he hoping to achieve, anyway, working this case? It was already obvious that the answers well out of his league and comprehension...
When a figure stepped out from behind a broad tree-trunk, straight into Steele’s path, the Scorchio barely managed to stop in time, his wings folding in mid-flight so that he stumbled to a halt.
The figure itself was a Grarrl that looked like he’d just stepped out of a cheesy old detective novel, dressed in a full-length beige trench coat, a navy-blue hat pulled down over his head.
“You’re straying a bit far from your investigation, Agent,” he stated flatly in a voice that oozed authority despite the monotonous tones. “Do you have any idea why?”
“Huh?” Steele was baffled. “You’re questioning me about my business? And, anyway, how do you know my job?”
“It’s my business to know things,” was all the mystery Grarrl would say. “Information is my game... that, and the game I play to barter that knowledge.”
“Really?” muttered the Scorchio, feigning boredom. Silently, however, his mind was ringing alarm bells; who was this guy, what was his so-called ‘game’? What was he doing here? “That’s very interesting... now, if you’ll just excuse me...”
“I’m here because I know where you can go to find information pertaining to your ‘Behemoth.’ Agent Steele!” the figure announced abruptly as Steele tried to push his way past. The Scorchio stopped dead in his tracks.
“Where? And how do you know I codenamed it ‘Behemoth,’ that was only ten minutes ago! Have you been spying on me?” And, how in Fyora’s name do you know my name? Steele asked silently.
“Like I said, Agent Steele, I deal with information, and I don’t just give it away,” the figure snapped, evidently growing impatient with all the questions. “If you want to find out what I have to tell you, then you’ll have to play by my rules... and play the game.”
What kind of mentality is that for an informant? Is this guy for real? “Fine, fine, whatever!” exclaimed Steele, throwing his hands up in the air in exasperation. “Just what is your ‘game’... and, more importantly, who exactly are you?”
“More questions, Agent Steele, requires more information, I thought the NSB knew that much.”
“How’d... no, never mind, let’s just play your game.”
“Indeed, let’s... but, before we start, let me just lie out my one, and only, Golden Rule: if you win, I’ll answer a maximum of three questions to help you with your investigation. If I win, however...” The Grarrl paused, as if to contemplate on what could make the game fair. “If I win... you get nothing, and must tackle the case unaided.”
Steele stood there for ten whole seconds, waiting for the joke to end, and the real part of the deal to be mentioned. When silence continued to meet his expectant ears, he began to laugh. “Hah! That’s it? That’s your offer?”
“Take it or leave it, Agent Steele... my help can make your job extremely easier, whereas without me...”
“No, no, no! I’ll take it, of course I’ll take it! So, what’s the game?”
As if in answer to the bemused shadow Scorchio, the Grarrl moved to take something from his breast pocket. Before Steele had a chance to shift into any defensive position or grab a stick for a weapon, the item was withdrawn and held out before the agent. It wasn’t a weapon.
“A deck of cards?” murmured Steele, eyeing the deck’s colorful Jubjub backings. “You want to play ‘Snap!’ for information? Please...”
“Patience, Agent Steele, patience... wasn’t it you who advised your Junior Agent partner not to jump to conclusions only two hours ago? What was it you said, exactly? ‘Don’t go riding off into the sunset –’”
“Unless you’re sure you won’t get burned,” they finished together, Steele now really freaked-out.
“Nevertheless,” the Grarrl went on nonchalantly, as if nothing overly important had just happened with that last exchange. “We will not, as you suspected, be playing ‘Snap!’... it’s far too simple to be effective for the type of information you’re playing for... tell me, Agent Steele, have you ever played the game called Blackjack?”
“Twenty-One?” asked the Scorchio, giving it the name he was more accustomed to. “Yeah, I play it... a fair bit, too.”
“Good, then you already know the rules,” the mysterious Grarrl shuffled the cards, “but just so we’re clear; cards two through to ten represent their face values, royals also ten, aces one or ten... now, shall we begin?”
“Sure,” Steele replied after a hesitant pause. “Go ahead and start your game.”
After a bit more shuffling, the Grarrl dealt out two cards and handed them over, face-down. Then he dealt himself a pair of cards and looked at them, his face blank. Steele glanced at his own cards and cursed silently; a ten and a nine! Good, yes, but he didn’t dare risk drawing another card in the vainest of hopes of drawing an ace or a two, and yet the Grarrl only needed two more points to beat him.
The Grarrl observed him silently, deck proffered in his right hand. “Well...?”
“No, I’ll be alright – I stick.”
The Grarrl smiled, almost victoriously, at this and drew another card for himself.
“Well, well, well...” he murmured softly.
To be continued...