One of Our Whales Is Missing

In which Rick Renard, PR hustler par excellence, sets out to save Grimland's gentle giants of the deep. A short story
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That should have been the end of it. But the patrimonial gods were not yet finished with Rick Renard. The next flight home wasn't for a few days, so I decided to relax, tie up a few loose ends, see a few sights. I did not call Harpa, tempted as I was. Rick Renard may have faults, but he knows the score. She was Ragnar's woman, as she would put it, and I knew that her sudden attraction to me in the lagoon had been nothing more than a passing Black Death—fueled jealous impulse. I was happy to have been of service and to leave it at that.

I was contentedly nursing this thought over a mini-bar beer in my room when my tranquillity was interrupted by a furious banging on the door.

It was LaMoyne. He brushed past me and gave me that look he uses to convey extreme gravity.

"Turn on the TV."

You could get English subtitles if you pressed the right button on the remote. Usually I ended up with French or Italian.

The screen showed a dead whale lying on a wharf. I felt a pang for this magnificent creature, indignation rising in my chest.

"Murderers," I muttered.

"Shut up and listen."

On came Magnus Thorax-Remover. He was pointing to the whale's back. The camera closed in on what looked like a wire, maybe ten feet long. One end was anchored in the whale's skin. At the other was something metal, the size and shape of a small sled.

The subtitles said, "… The object appears to be an electronic apparatus that was implanted in the whale previous to its capture …"

"Capture," I snorted. "Cold-blooded murder of a warm-blooded—"

"Rick, will you please just listen?"

The camera showed people—the kind you see on TV shows with "crime scene" in the title—gathering around the device, frowning.

"… Its origin and purposing is not at this point known. It will be taken to the National Laboratory for close examination …"

"Something fishy here," I murmured.

"It's Grimland. Everything is fishy."

The phone rang.

"Mr. Renard?"

"Yes?"

"Good day to you, sir. I am Ingmar Vattelsson, of The Grimsbladderdag." The daily newspaper.

"Yes?"

"The reason for which I am calling is about the dewice which have been found on Mr. Turkkvekloffensson's whale?"

"Uh huh?"

"Well, I am at the National Laboratory, and the preliminary inqviry is establishing that it is a dewice to imitate the, the—I am sorry for my English—sonar signature of a submarine."

"Uh huh?"

"Specifically, an American submarine."

"So?"

"I am therefore wondering if you will be making a comment about this."

"Why would I?"

"Well, you are American."

"Along with two hundred and ninety-six million other people."

"Yes, but you have been here making a propaganda for the whale saving."

"Excuse me. I have been here consulting with Grimlanders of good conscience who feel passionate about ending the senseless slaughter of gentle giants of the deep. And about restoring Grimland to its greatness."

Silence.

"So that is your comment?"

"Yes. Please quote it in its entirety."

"Well, I must ask you therefore if you are in any ways connected with the U.S. military?"

"Military? I'm in public relations. I'm a strategic communicator."

"Thank you for commenting, sir. An excellent day to you."

"What's going on here?" I said to LaMoyne.

"I don't know, but what ought to be going is us."

"There's no flight for three days."

"There's one to Aberdeen, Scotland, in four hours. I think we ought to be on it."

"Do you mean run away?"

"'Those who run away today live to run away another day,'" LaMoyne said. "It's one of my favorite sayings. Suit yourself, but this strategic communicator is am-scraying. I'll start a Free Rick Renard movement as soon as I get back."

I paced my hotel room wondering what the next step was. Renard's Fourth Rule No. 1 of public relations is "Be pro-active." Take the fight to the enemy. But I wasn't sure who the enemy was.

I called Anders Gansevoort to see if he felt like springing for a private jet to wing me home.

"Sir!" he answered on the second ring, and it struck me how crisp and military-like he was for an environmentalist. I told him about the dead whale and the device and the reporter's call.

Silence. "Can't make sense of it myself. But I'd seriously consider exfiltrating yourself."

Exfiltrating?

"Anders," I said. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"You've done a damn fine job over there, Rick. But it looks like we've been compromised."

"Who's 'we'?"

"No time to explain. Time to come on in from the cold. This line may not be secure." While I was contemplating what instrument of murder to use on him, he hung up.

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Christopher Buckley

Christoper Buckley is an author, satirist, and novelist. His books include Thank You for Smoking and Supreme Courtship. Buckley was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush.

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