They had been shot at. They had avoided countless booby traps. They had been served tiny delicate cups of the most aromatic and poisonous espresso. All of these events were framed as interrupted cribbage games. Maybe they played too much. The phlebotomist ruminated on this as they locked up their two-wheel drive all-terrain motorbikes across the street from Kirov Park. The Transnistrian passports had been excruciatingly expensive, but the ergonomist insisted it was justified, for complicated political reasons. The pieces rattled against the cribbage board and the very dangerous little notebook in the messenger bag as they strolled through the trail, looking for a man holding two empty water bottles.
The composer stood over the gunwale, pressed the small button, and blew into the instrument, discharging the contents into the dark green waters below. If they had known it was going to be this type of floating market, they would have picked a different watercraft. This explained the unprecedented difficulties when trying to secure their transportation with the Colombo office. The ichthyologist indicated one of the floating structures, and began maneuvering their craft towards it. The composer took a breath and the signal, a brief segment of “Message To You Rudy”, went out from the melodica.
The topologist carefully unfolded the graph depicting prime number frequencies. Across the scrub, the baker was returning from the Unimog, having concluded the search, and from the looks of their empty hands, unsuccessfully. They must have left it in the cab back in Calabar. Wonderful. Together, they considered the placement of the carved stone monoliths before them, their geometric arrangement random to the average visitor, but a clear reflection of order to the ancient people of Alok Ikom, and apparently, also related to the graph before them, with cataclysmic mathematical consequences.
The strategist made to pick up a card, then withdrew their hand. A cool breeze, laden with yesterday’s afternoon dust, stirred through the empty square near the Musée Ahmed Zabana, knocking discarded paper cups against the stone table’s legs. The tandem scooter, not something you usually see in these parts of Northern Africa, come to think of it the world, leaned against the bench the investigator slouched on. “Make your move” their eyes implored in exasperation, as the pair waited for the gift shop to open.
The Musée National stood like a squat block, facing the highway at an angle and mirrored to the left by the library. The hu hu sat inside, waiting in the wing housing the musical instrument collection. The surgeon nervously handled the endoscope case, dusty from the helicopter ride that had brought them to N’Djamena. The calligrapher was clearly nervous but their services would only be required for brief minutes while they inspected the inscription on the inside of the ancient calabash.
It was a peaceful suburban street, and they had taken great care to select a vehicle that would not stand out when parked along its sidewalks, a gold Taurus wagon. The very familiar nature of the setting — the shading trees, the mottled but well-kept asphalt, the toys scattered on lawns — made it feel like one of the most exotic places they’d been to in a while. The cartographer checked the coordinates on the fancy device strapped to their wrist, but any web search could have found them Brewster, New York. The ethnomusicologist leaned against the mailbox, labeled “Marie”, and scanned the canopy of the tremendous spreading oak planted square in the middle of the lawn, eyes peeled for that squirrel.
The pair powered down the sand-skis as they approached the slight concavity in the beach that had been described by the vendor in the spice market. The cliffs of Levera National Park did not seem to be an ideal place for smugglers to congregate, but the actuary would be the first to admit they did not know the first thing about smugglers and their habits of congregation. The blacksmith was better versed in these things, and they didn’t seem to be bothered by where the assignment was taking them. As the morning fog absorbed the last echoes of the recently-killed engines, they marveled at the conical shape of Sugar Loaf rising above the azure Caribbean water.
“Did you say you wanted FIVE?” asked the turkey-leg vendor, his incredulity betraying the slightest bit of Norwegian accent. The crowds at the Trondenes Middle Ages Visitor Park thronged past as the young man counted the hands available to the pair before him, performed a simple matching algorithm to the five turkey-legs being requested, and came up with a non-computing value. “We’re hungry,” offered the machinist helpfully. The gymnast kept an eye out for Sverre the allodialist. They needed to have a few words with him about the land titles, preferably in the privacy of the sleek three-man catamaran that had discretely brought them here. The half-darkening of the sky that passed for night at these latitudes meant the usual tactics were out and they would have to convince him to come willingly.
Getting into Darra Adam Khel had not been easy. Getting into Pakistan was relatively straightforward, with the right-colored passports and decoy suitcases full of Western tourist necessities. The ride towards the Khyber Pass had been less so, and the necessary disguises and bribes to get past the checkpoints that turned away foreigners were more of an ordeal than ordinary. The dusty vehicle, neither truck nor passenger car nor jeep but somehow all three, had been recalcitrant for most of the trip, providing constant frequent minor breakdowns, keeping the mechanic perpetually busy. Now they were on a shooting range on the roof of a well-stocked arms shop, surrounded by dozens of identical shops and shooting ranges. As the linguist lifted the replica Berthier carbine to their shoulder, they darkly thought it would be just their luck, after all of this, to be caught in some rooftop crossfire from other purchasers testing their new toys.