“Batu means ‘rock’ in Malay” said the photographer, for the third time in a week. The sous-chef ignored the comment, also for the third time, and tried squinting in the darkness at the cribbage board. They had been wise enough to purchase a glow-in-the-dark deck after all these midnight assignments, but had yet to extend their ingenuity to the board. Tapping a foot in irritation, they knocked over the thermos full of hot cocoa set on the steps, and it would have rolled down several long flights of guano-covered stairs had it not been stopped by the tandem bike’s wheel leaning against the statue’s pedestal. Above them, Lord Murugan stared stonily into the dark.
The journey to the island had been placid, cutting through the postcard-blue waters on the kite hydrofoil like an experienced tailor shearing fine cloth for a new suit. Things were a bit more complicated now that they were at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The horologist consulted the mission notes, which simply stated “remove all anachronistic displays.” The historian, fearing seasickness, had taken a pill and was now having a comically adverse reaction that rendered them useless for these judgements. A security guard eyed them warily, but perhaps they could turn the situation to their advantage by playing up the effects as excessive inebriation.
The Shilin Night Market had seemed to grow even more chaotic in the intervening years, yet the vendors and customers still retained their preternatural calm, as if the events happening all around them were due to forces completely out of their control. As the skeptic checked the status lights on the Stinky Tofu Containment Device for the seventh time that mission, the inspector pinged the jetpacks they had secured under a table of bejeweled phone cases to make sure they were primed for a quick getaway. Their progress came to a sudden halt as they considered the sign before them: “Small Sausage In Large Sausage - $120”
The best place to hide seemed to be, ironically, right behind the ballot box. The numerologist and the baker had been underway on a wholly distinct mission, having already secured the deflated knifeboats inside a conveniently placed culvert. They now seemed to be caught in the crossfire of two opposing factions, each intent on some inscrutable and erratically violent purpose that seemed to be nothing but foiling the other side’s efforts. The roving skirmishes had drawn away participants and created a fairly event-free circle of balance where the pair could hunker down and plan their next move. It was going to be a long night.
The haberdasher heard a light thump and roll, then felt something tap against a shoe. It was a peach pit. Looking up from the stack of brochures, they saw the orthodontist grinning and wiping their mouth with a sleeve, glancing at the gap on the blanket where the fruit was drying in the sun, clearly suggesting that perhaps another one was in order. The tandem moped leaned against the back of the Gate of Hercules, shielded by its bulk from the bright Croatian summer sun. The peaches had hours to go, and they had forgotten to bring a game., having only whatever reading material they had managed to scrape up in the Hotel Pula lobby.
The paper bag sounded unusually loud as the pair passed it back and forth, sharing the dried apricots as they waited in line for the exhibit to open. Once again, their contact was to be intercepted in the gift shop, according to the dossier that they had found taped under the back seat of the Combi. The ornithologist scanned the sky for any migratory species, though they really should have known better. The magistrate felt at ease with the assignment; this was their first visit to Ankara, but the premise behind the Ulucanlar Prison Museum was quite familiar.
They had wandered through the town, having left the aquabus in one of the drainage ponds at the I-70 interchange. It had been a dusty drive, and the vehicle certainly could use the soaking. As they wandered through the town’s enormous collection of objects, they felt lilliputian. The dentist rattled the bag of tiles suggestively as they walked past the sign for the World’s Largest Rocking Chair. The typesetter did not hesitate to point out that at 678 inches, it was the tallest chair of any kind in the United States. It was a habit that was both tiresome and instructive. And it never got in the way of a quick game of mahjong.
The pediatrician scrambled on hands and knees after the rubber ball. It deflected off the base of the Monument to Fuel Tanker, his imperturbable brass cheer completely unaffected by the collision. The interlocutor looked around surreptitiously. Their aim was to provide some normalcy to the fact that two people were hanging out near one of the lowest-ranked attractions in Grodno while the sophisticated electronics built into their footwear communicated with the satellite and sorted out the problem with the statue. But maybe this game of jacks had not been the best idea for cover.
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.