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

I made sure the desk clerk in the lobby noticed my departure. "I'm going to the Riupa," I announced loudly but casually. This is a restaurant not far from the hotel. Once out the door, I beat it in the opposite direction. Aside from that, I had no plan.

I was a block away when I heard a panicky voice saying "Rick!" It was Harpa.

"It's Ragnar. He is knowing."

"Knowing? Knowing what?"

"About us lovemaking at the gluggsplatt."

"But—"

"Someone who is seeing us is telling him. He is smashing things and breaking things and cursing terrible."

"Oh, wonderful. What about the pills? Is he taking his pills?"

"No. He's vild man. And then he is getting telephone calls from the paper, asking about you. Rick, is true you are vorking for the U.S. government?"

"A vile canard." Rhymes with Renard, unfortunately.

"Vot?"

"Lies. Vicious lies. Where is Ragnar?"

"I think he's coming to find you. He take his ax and run out of the house. That's vy I come, to varn you."

"Did you explain that … the lagoon … that it wasn't my idea?"

"How can I tell him that? He vould kill me."

I reviewed the situation. The media were asking if I was a military agent, and I was being stalked by an ax-toting, bipolar six-foot-five Viking. Not encouraging.

My instinct was to get to the airport and crawl into the wheel well of the first airplane taking off. But Harpa said that her sister was out of town and she had a key to her apartment, where I could hide out until I had an evacuation plan. She dropped me off and went to check on Ragnar's movements.

The apartment was above a rave club. The water glass on the bedside table kept vibrating off the edge. It was a long night.

Early the next morning I bought a still-warm copy of The Grimsbladderdag. The front page showed a photograph of me next to one of the dead whale, and a close-up of the electronic device.

I called Harpa. She'd spent the night at a friend's place and had the newspaper in front of her. She sounded shaky. Ragnar had called her cell in a rage several times during the night, demanding to know where I was. He'd made quite a scene at my hotel. The good news was that he was now in police custody. Embedding an ax in a hotel front desk is, I was relieved to learn, against the law.

"The headline—what does it say?"

"'One of Their Vales Is Not … Here.'"

Either The Grimsbladderdag didn't go in for catchy headlines, or I was missing something. Missing.

"'One of Their Whales Is Missing'?" I said.

"Ya, that's it."

In her halting English, Harpa gave me the gist of the article. The device attached to the whale had been examined by experts, who pronounced it an SSDD, or Sonar Signature Decoy Device—a military-issue gizmo that sends out an underwater signal identical to that of a submarine. In this instance a U.S. submarine. It was to provide a decoy by fooling Russian submarines into thinking the whale was a U.S. sub, and tracking the whale instead.

Then she read how I was a CIA agent who had arrived in Grimland under cover of being a public-relations man and was assigned to foment an anti-whaling movement so that the devices would not be discovered by whalers.

"Oy," I groaned. Gansevoort's non-environmentalist manner suddenly came into focus. The duplicitous swine was CIA.

"Oy?"

"An expression. It's what some people back home say when they realize that the universe is in a conspiracy against them. Harpa, does the article say anything about the police looking for me?"

"'He is being searched by the authorities. If you haf seen him, alert to the police.'"

I heard a beep on the line. "Vait moment," she said. She came back on, a new note of alarm in her voice. "Rick—is Ragnar. They haf let him out of jail. Someone puts the money for to guarantee he is coming to the courthouse for—"

"It's called bail, Harpa. Not normally granted to ax-wielding homicidal psychopaths, but then I'm sure Grimland is a model of progressive judicial standards."

So there it was: not yet 8:00 a.m. and the day already a nightmare.

"Isn't there a ferry?" I said. "A boat—the kind that carries cars—to Scotland?"

"Ya. Two times a veek. Sunday and Torsday."

Today was Torsday. It left at noon. I felt the flutter of the wings of the Angel of Hope—probably exhaust from a passing bus.

"Harpa. Can you meet me? Near the ferry dock—by the statue of Grim. Bring some food—anything but shark meat—and some warm clothing. Something to make me look like a Grimlander. Sheepskin jacket, sweater, wool cap. Rubber boots. A pipe—you know, the kind the old sailors smoke."

"You vill escape on ferry disguised like fisherman? Is good plan."

"Make sure no one's following you. And don't go home. Do not go home."

"Ya, okay, okay."

I made my way inconspicuously to the waterfront. I had a scarf, and I wrapped it around my face, which made me look like a terrorist.

The ferry was loading. The boarding process seemed casual. I didn't see any police officers. There was a line of cars. A lot of the drivers had parked and gone off for coffee or, more likely, drinks. My plan—I now had one—was to get into the trunk of a car, hold the lid ajar, get out once aboard, and hunker down somewhere for an enjoyable two-day passage across the North Atlantic. It was at least preferable to freezing to death in the wheel well of a jet.

I waited in the shadows of a shed fifty or so yards from the statue of Grim. A few minutes after eleven Harpa drove up. I lit out of the shadows and was ten feet from her when a black sedan shot out of nowhere, headed right at me: the police, presumably. I didn't want to get Harpa in trouble, so I raced back toward the shed, the sedan in pursuit.

In high school I ran the 100 in twelve seconds, but at forty-one I was no match for a Crown Victoria. I was huffing down a wet cobblestone alley that smelled of 900 years of cod guts when I heard a distinctly American voice shout "Mr. Renard! Rick!"

I looked back, still running. Leaning out the driver's window was the embassy guy who'd visited me in jail.

I stopped and stood there, doubled over, wheezing.

He got out of the car. "Didn't mean to startle you. Come on, we need to get you out of here."

"That's what I was trying to accomplish."

"Okay. You can stow away on a ferry in the North Atlantic or catch a private plane leaving from the Navy base in twenty minutes. It's up to you."

"Plane," I gasped.

"Get in the back and hold the newspaper in front of your face, just like a real U.S. diplomat. I'll be the chauffeur."

I was reaching for the door handle when I heard an unnatural roar. Ragnar stepped out of the shadows, swinging a piece of wood—not an ax, thank God. I ducked.

I heard State Department shout something in Grimlandic that sounded like "Halt!" and then the sound of wood on cranium. I swiveled and saw my knight in shining armor out cold. The last thing I remember is a piece of wood approaching the side of my own head at a velocity not recommended by trauma specialists.

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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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