At a quarter to four, Ned was too excited to stay at his desk. It had been a year since the last big case. And now, in fifteen minutes, there was going to be a real meeting. Not like the meetings they had every week to decide what kind of coffee to buy, but a meeting like the sort people had in dangerous districts, where there were drug lords and sabotaged helicopters. Ned, paced in front of the conference room. As he paced, he swung his arms in long arcs in order to make them less clammy; he might have to shake Detective Minscutto's hand.
At five minutes till four, Ned entered the conference room and put a mug at each place. He straightened the chairs and made sure the coffee was still warm. Soon, the door opened and Frank Wes came in.
"Evening," greeted Frank.
Without waiting for a reply, he went to the end of the long table, sat down, tucked his head into his arms, and fell asleep. Ned circled around the table, stopping occasionally to wipe a smudge from its surface or to shift a coffee mug. When he came back to the door, Parm Minscutto was standing there.
"Ned, sit down. Relax," he said coolly.
Ned swallowed nervously and chocked on his spit. Coughing and turning red, Ned took a seat. Parm went around the table and sat across from him.
"You seem pretty excited," remarked Parm.
"This case is going to be huge."
"Sure," Parm replied.
"I bet you've seen a lot."
Parm smiled and sipped his coffee before replying, "Oh, sure. I've seen a lot. I've sure seen a lot."
"Like I bet you've seen murders and gunfights," continued Ned.
"Oh sure, plenty. I've seen more of that than anybody should ever see." He sipped his coffee again, slowly and with a little flutter of his eyelids.
Ned was in awe, "Like you've seen robberies and hostages. And hijackings. You've probably seen loads of hijackings."
"Sure, loads. I've seen it all."
"So is this thing bigger than all that?"
"Sure, the biggest. I've read the report. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."
Ned nodded silently. This was just the kind of man they needed around.
"You see, Ned," Parm began, looking out into the empty room as he spoke, "human beings have come a long way. We used to live in trees for God's sake, now we live in big houses with AC. Air conditioning, we can change the air. We can vanish things into it too. Not just bunnies and cards, but diseases even. You ever heard of smallpox?"
Though he'd certainly heard of it and was pretty sure it came from having too much sex, Ned decided it was best to shake his head.
"Ned, that's because we vanished it. Right into the air. And we've got all these gadgets, now. Computers and phones and synthesizers. We never had any of that when we lived in trees. People think we've got hands in order to use gadgets, but that's baloney. The only reason we got hands in the first place was so we could throw things from our trees. Rotten fruit and little twigs. We had to invent the very idea of using our hands to make gadgets instead of throwing stuff. See, we've really come far," Parm paused and sighed. "But progress is man's best friend as they say. That means it's double sided. You understand?"
Ned shook his head. This time he really didn't know what Detective Minscutto was talking about.
"It's double sided, Ned. A dog talks with both ends. Man's best friend has two faces. One's good, the other stinks if you get my drift," Parm chuckled. "With progress you get a lot of good, but you've also got to get some funny business. That's what I normally deal with, this funny business. But since the beginning of time, human beings have had to contend with some even funnier stuff. Things that come along and eat the whole thing up, dog and all. So far we've managed to beat them back: famines, bubonic plagues, communists. Now we've got these Carters. These bastard Carters. I've read the report, Ned, we've got our hands full with this one."
Morven came in followed by three police officers.
"Oh, everyone's already here," he remarked after sitting down.
"Actually, Sargent Till isn't here yet," returned one of the officers.
Ned clarified, "Sargent Till's on leave. His grandma was hit by a polo ball."
"Well, let's get started or we'll go into dinnertime," began Morven. "Today, the Bureau sent us a real whopper. I'll outline the basics for you, then we can start discussing strategies. What we're after is something called the Carter Insurrection. It's an international political movement that's been spreading around and now has its sights on us."
Parm coughed and interrupted, "I don't think you've got it exactly right, Inspector Holltip. The Carter Insurrection isn't known to be international, nor is the league."
"I'm sorry Detective Minscutto, but you've made a mistake. The report directly states the Carter Insurrection is international. And I don't know what league you could mean."
"Inspector Holltip, did you read the report you were given?"
"Of course I read the report! The question is, did you read the report?"
"Don't doubt our man, Detective!" shouted one of the police officers.
"Yeah, this guy's our guy! Does he look like he can't read, Detective?" shouted another.
The third chimed in, "You think he can't read just because he doesn't wear glasses?"
"Settle down, men. Let's be civil now," urged Morven.
"Sure. There's a very civil way to figure all this out, Inspector. Show me your airplane!" the detective cried.
"Yeah, what in God's name do you mean?" echoed an officer.
"Your airplane, Inspector Holltip, your airplane."
Morven was at a loss for words. Detective Minscutto had certainly lost his mind. Was it because he hadn't had enough sleep recently? The Bureau's letter had said the detective got irritable when tired. This was definitely more than irritable, though, it was downright insane.
"I suppose you don't have an airplane then, do you, Inspector Holltip?"
"I obviously do not. And I'm beginning to think that if I did have one, I wouldn't let you within a mile of it."
"Excuse me," spoke Ned, "by your logic, Detective Minscutto, you must have an airplane since you've read the report."
Parm answered, "Ned, my friend, you're completely correct! I've got my airplane right here."
He patted his coat.
"Inspector Holltip, sir, should I call the hospital?" inquired an officer.
"I think you'd better."
But before the officer could reach the phone, Parm withdrew a thick paper airplane from his coat pocket and hurled it the inspector. With lightning reflexes, the police officer closest to Morven dove onto the table and took the paper airplane in the chest. A hush fell. The officer on the table, realizing he hadn't been wounded in any way, picked up the airplane and began to unfold it.
Parm exploded, "Officer, drop that plane this instant. It's classified material! That report is for my eyes only!"
"What you have in your hands, Officer, is a classified report on the Carter Insurrection! If you read a single word, you will have committed treason."
The officer froze and dropped the paper plane to the table.
"Detective Minscutto, the report you're referring to, this plane, is the report I allegedly did not read?"
"That's exactly right, Inspector."
Morven took the paper plane from the officer and glanced it over.
"You are correct, Detective. I haven't read this report."
Ned and the officers all began talking at once.
"Quiet, men. Ned, quiet! There has been a mix-up, Detective. The report I read discusses a man named Fedleman. This report talks about a man named Woolard."
"Where's this Fedleman report?"
"Unfortunately, it has been rendered unreadable."
"Certainly not malarkey. I was required by law to redact the entire document."
"This is certainly a strange turn of events," remarked Ned.
Morven looked at his watch and said, "I call this meeting to a close. We'll continue tomorrow. In the meantime I'll try to understand what's gone on. Detective, you'll let me borrow this report, of course?"
"I can't let you do that, Inspector. Tomorrow is Wednesday, I must have it with me."
"The report would have explained it to you. If you had read it."
Parm snatched the report from Morven and stomped out of the room. Ned ran after him, trying to apologize. He wasn't really sure what he was apologizing for, or what had even happened, but he didn't like it when people were angry. The police officers followed, shaking their heads and patting Morven on the back as the passed. Morven sat for a few minutes and then stood up. Frank was still asleep at the end of the table. Morven turned off the lights and went home.