It had been several weeks since Sulky filed her federal complaint against the cigarette smoking man. The statue forbade smoking in a federal office and as Judge Parr used to say, “No one, simply no one, is above the law.”
On the other hand, the law sometimes gets a little skewed in bureaucracies, and Sulky was punished for her assertiveness by being assigned once again to the Why Files Section. Her reassignment was equivalent to a second trip to the bureau’s Russian Front. That is, agents sent there seldom returned for any serious work.
It was so unfair. She thought she had survived the ‘Flamingo Fiasco’ and had successfully detached herself from the manic and increasingly maniacal Agent Mutter, but she found herself yet again entering the Why Files office.
Mutter looked up from his G3’s computer console.
“What are you doing here?” asked Mutter.
“I’ve been reassigned to the Why Files.”
“No, Sulky. Not after all you’ve done.”
“Look, Mutter, this wasn’t my idea. I’m being punished.”
“Oh, that’s just great, Sulky. Maybe they’re punishing me as well.”
Sulky brushed back a tear and turned away attempting to hide her vulnerability.
“I’m sorry, Sulky. I was out of line.”
“Look, Mutter,” said Sulky, “We’ve got to be professionals. What’s past is past.”
“Okay. But we need to clear the air about one thing.”
“What’s that, Mutter?”
“I had no idea you were related to John Sulky and I had nothing to do with his assassination.”
“The bureau already cleared you, Mutter.”
“Yes, but you have to know it’s the truth.”
“Okay, but who else had a motive?”
“Let’s say they knew we knew, Sulky. Then he became a liability and they cut their losses.”
“A little far-fetched.”
“Perhaps, Sulky, but when there’s no logical explanation…”
“Yada, yada, yada, Mutter.”
“I don’t have time for this, Sulky. We have a Triple Three Four R condition in Woodbridge, England, and as you might recall, that means a repeat of serious inexplicable phenomena.
“Isn’t England a little out of our jurisdiction?”
“Well Sulky, the first incident involved a US Air Force Base, and therefore the UK Ministry of Defense has requested bureau help.”
“When do we leave, Mutter?”
The Woodbridge File
Sulky and Mutter unsuccessfully tried to appear impassive as they checked into the British Air Desk for the Concorde flight to Heathrow. It wasn’t everyday that a couple of civil servants could fly in luxury, and the excitement associated with flying first class at Her Majesty’s expense presented the distraction the two agents needed to put off the inevitable awkward conversation. A glass of champagne and a joint examination of the Woodbridge case file helped fill in some of the time.
RAF Woodbridge was located in Suffolk near the North Sea and served as a US Air Force Base during much of the Cold War. In the late 70s and early 80s it was home for the A-10 ‘Tank Busters’ that would have responded in the event of an armored attack by the Eastern Block across the Fulda Gap in West Germany. Woodbridge also served as an alternative storage area for theater nuclear weapons.
In late December of 1980, two USAF security police saw unusual lights outside the back gate of Woodbridge Base. Suspecting a plane crash, the police alerted the Deputy Base Commander. LTC Halt and a security team investigated and discovered a ‘landing site’ that showed unusual signs of radiation, and a number of pine trees that were damaged on the sides facing the site. The team also noted unidentified flying objects in the vicinity bearing colored lights and flying in unusual patterns at extraordinary speeds.
“Do we know anything about this LTC Halt?” asked Sulky.
“Yes,” replied Mutter, “As the Deputy Commander, he was certainly credible. On top of that, Halt was an amateur scientist and traveled extensively exploring caves.”
“What was the Pentagon’s reaction to this report?”
“Sulky, Halt was flown out of Woodbridge almost immediately. The Pentagon never clarified the reason for this transfer nor did it attempt to explain the sightings that night. The official silence on the case was very unusual as typically a spokesperson would attribute the sightings to atmospheric phenomena of some sort.”
“Mutter, that’s because almost all of the sightings were in fact the result of atmospheric phenomena!”
An Awkward Conversation
Mutter closed the file and slipped it into his attaché case. Sulky’s eyes followed Mutter’s actions and then returned to engage Wolf’s.
“What is it, Sulky?”
“You don’t want to talk about it…”
“Sulky, you never called, you never faxed, you never emailed me, and I had to face the grand inquisition by myself. You’ll have to excuse me if romance wasn’t the first thing on my mind.”
“Mutter, the bureau instructed me not to contact you while you were under investigation. My career was on the line.”
“I’m sorry, but I thought that the last night we spent together was special. I guess I assumed the ‘bureau’ couldn’t separate us. Maybe that was naïve.”
“Mutter, what are you talking about? This was a murder investigation. Someone killed John Sulky and every clue seemed to lead towards you.”
“You thought I did it?”
“No, but I could see no way to help you, and it made no sense for me to commit professional suicide. It was also in the back of my mind that you just might need someone in the bureau with information access.”
Maybe it was an illusion, but tears seemed to well up in Mutter’s eyes. “Sulky, I went through personal hell.”
Sulky took Mutter’s hand in her own. “I know you did, Wolf, but let’s put that behind us.”
Withdrawing his hand, “I’m not sure I can.”
The pilot interrupted. The plane was now descending towards Heathrow and anticipated a smooth landing.
Trevor Dade Hooper, Woodbridge Chief Constable, was about to finish his 30th and last year on the force and was looking forward to a quiet, hassle-free retirement. Though he’d miss some aspects of the job, he owed quality time to Margaret Brickhouse Hooper, his long serving wife, and to himself, for that matter. Thus, he was more than a little perplexed when he received calls from members of the Forestry Commission, the local Iron Monger, and Lady Margaret Kathleen Fitzgerald—all reporting strange lights in the sky over Rendlesham Forest on the same May evening. The fact that this paralleled an earlier incident in the same vicinity years earlier added an element of credibility to the claims and convinced Trevor to file an incident report with the MOD.
“That may have been a mistake,” mused Trevor to himself, as the clerk ushered the two FBI Agents into his office.
“Welcome to Suffolk, Agents Mutter and Sulky. I assume you’ve been looked after by the MOD folks at Bawdsey and are situated with adequate accommodations?”
“Thank you, Mr. Hooper,” replied Mutter, “the White Horse Hotel in Ipswich is just fine for right now, and thank you for your hospitality.”
“Let’s get down to business, then. You’ve read the file?”
“Yes, on the Concorde, but we have just a few questions.”
“Did the MOD ever do their own investigation of the 1980 incident?” asked Mutter.
“No. The US Air Force sent all the witnesses out of country before we had a chance.”
“But wasn’t that politically awkward for a guest unit serving on an RAF base to stifle an investigation?”
“You’re forgetting that Thatcher was PM and anything Ronnie Reagan and the Yanks wanted, they got.”
“Okay, Chief Constable, let’s move the clock forward to 1999. What’s the nature of the latest incident?”
“Very similar to the first except it happened during daylight hours, and instead of security police, we have members of the Forestry Commission and other local civilians who reported similar sightings, only some 19 years later.”
A Bird in Hand
After reviewing the statements from the witnesses and discussing options with the Chief Constable, Sulky and Mutter decided to return to the White Horse to get cleaned up, have dinner and get a good night’s sleep. They arranged to visit the sites of the two respective incidents in the morning.
That night, however, Mutter couldn’t sleep. He found himself tossing and turning—thinking about the John Sulky killing, his turbulent relationship with Sulky, the origin of the Pink Flamingos, and the incidents in Rendlesham Forest. He finally decided to go down to the hotel pub to have a nightcap.
As he sipped a pint of bitter, Mutter almost automatically surveyed the pub—recording details in temporary memory, comparing and contrasting them, and picking out those for permanent storage. After years of police work, Mutter had honed this process to a fine skill and, once in a great while, an incidental location like a bar presented the key to an investigation.
As an Anglophile, Mutter was so engrossed examining details, he neglected to spot Sulky as she sat next to him on a barstool. “So, are we a little jet-lagged, Wolf?”
Mutter jerked back into something approaching consciousness. “Oh, hi. Couldn’t sleep, but I’m not sure it was jet lag.”
“No, a combination of things. Like the pink flamingos. Who placed them? Who led us to John Sulky and why? It was almost as if we had some secret mentor—someone obviously concerned about the evolution of technology on Earth.”
“Mutter, maybe it was just one of his enemies.”
“No, Sulky, it was someone who had extraordinary foreknowledge of events—almost like a time traveler.”
“Someone from the future, Mutter? I’ll have whatever you’re drinking.”
Two in the Bush
After a breakfast of corn flakes, eggs, back bacon, mushrooms, and deep fried tomatoes washed down with hot white coffee and orange drink, Sulky and Mutter were picked up by an MOD jeep and driven via back roads to Rendlesham Forest and the rear entry of old Woodbridge base. A short trek through a forest path brought them to the incident site, which was roped off and guarded by the local police.
The two investigators spent several hours with the Chief Constable examining indentations in the ground, looking at scarred trees, and sifting through the brush looking for any additional clues that might suggest a plausible explanation for the sighting.
They then moved on to the site of the earlier investigation of the 1980 incident which had occurred just a few hundred yards away. The old site was, of course, grown over, and little remained to indicate anything out of the ordinary. It appeared that one of the dozens of UFOlogists who visited the site over the years had carved the word ‘Bard’ into a silver birch—perhaps bored by the lack of anything substantive to find here.
“Backwards that spells ‘Drab’,” thought Sulky, “and that just about sums up my life and it sure sums up this gloomy day.”
They made it back to the jeep for the return to Ipswich and Mutter appeared preoccupied.
“Mutter, you’re in one of your moods. What’s going on?”
“I can’t put my finger on it, Sulky, but there’s something wrong here.”
“You mean at the new site?”
“No, at the old site. It’s the way that tree carving appeared so clearly. It was old, but it stood out as if it had been carved recently. Like someone wanted us to see it…”
“Okay, I’ll bite. Why would they want us to see the word ‘Bard?’
“Think for a minute, Sulky. ‘Bard’ was carved in a Silver Birch tree. Where have you heard the phrase ‘Silver Bard?”
Sulky thought back to the incident at Fort Ontario. The note attached to one of the flamingos: “…forgotten by the silver bard. A secret held in plasticine.”
“There’s something here,” Mutter remarked.
The Silver Bard
Mutter and Sulky spent another few days re-interviewing witnesses, searching MOD and Pentagon databases, and re-examining evidence from the sites. The breakthrough occurred just as they were about to temporarily close the case. A cross search on personnel in the area, ‘Macrosoft,’ and ‘Macintosh’ yielded the name of a teacher at the local DoD school during the 1980 incident. This teacher later became a leading Macintosh columnist and wrote a monthly feature for one of the best selling computer magazines in Europe. He also contributed freelance columns and reviews to a broad range of Mac magazines, and eventually moved to Southern Spain where he now writes his Mac Factor column for My Mac Magazine on the web.
“Mutter, I don’t get it. Why is this person important to the investigation?”
“Let’s say you want to create a conspiracy to let Macrosoft dominate the world market and there is one other company that offers superior technology. One strategy is to ignore the competition and hope that Macrosoft uses its marketing muscle to bully them into submission. This runs the grave risk that the superior technology will be discovered by the mass media and Macrosoft will be forced to compete. A better strategy is to plant ‘journalists’ that appears on the surface to support the alternative technology, but who are so confusing that they inadvertently promote Macrosoft. In that way, the rest of the media take an occasional swipe but generally ignore the Macintosh as a serious alternative.
“But Mutter, what could transform a mathematics teacher into a computer journalist?”
“The teacher in question lived in Saxmundham—just a few miles from Rendlesham Forest and was home on the night of the incident in 1980. What if the base visit was simply a diversion and the real purpose of the visit was to embed a ‘sleeper’ program in this teacher’s brain? Four or five years later, when the Macintosh technology became a threat, the program was activated. I know this seems far-fetched, Sulky, but when you consider this explanation, the pieces seem to all fall in place.”
“I’m a little worried, Mutter. The last time we identified a suspect, he was murdered.”
“This is about more than computers, Sulky. This is about the future of our planet. It’s bigger than you, me, or some two-bit teacher turned journalist.
“Mutter, what are you trying to say?”
“I have to talk to this gentleman which means I leave for Spain in the morning. You’re welcome to come along.”
“No thanks. I think I’ll interview the publisher of My Mac and find out some background information on our man.”
El Puerto de Santa Maria, one of the oldest cities in Europe, is now the premier vacation destination for thousands of Spaniards, Germans, and Irish. El Puerto offers an unspoiled, pleasant atmosphere, fresh fish, delectable sherry, and access to some of the finest beaches on the Atlantic Coast. During the late spring and summer, Puerto’s numerous bars, restaurants, and discos open late and stay busy well into the morning hours.
‘La Rasaca,’ also known as ‘The Hangover Bar’ is the working class soul of El Puerto de Santa Maria’s party district, and though it attracts some tourists, it also serves as a local hangout for amateur flamingo enthusiasts and anyone who just likes to sip a sherry, ‘tinto verano,’ or a cerveza and enjoy the Sevillana music.
La Rasaca occupies part of a former Sherry Bodega and thus features high ceilings, arched entryways, and large oak sherry barrels. The ceiling fans, raised dance floor, square walk-around bar, and bullfight paraphernalia all add to the genuine Adalusian flavor. All of these factors are enough to attract a regular clientele on most nights, but there’s another remarkable facet of the La Rasaca experience.
On or about midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, an extraordinary transformation occurs. The waiters at the bar distribute small candles to each table surrounding the dance floor, the Sevillana music is cut, the candles are lit, the lights are dimmed, and Maria, the wife of the proprietor, appears on stage to sing a tribute to the Blessed Virgin. Everyone sings along through the deafening chorus of “OLÉ, OLÉ, OLÉ” that literally shakes the building. When the ceremony is finished, the lights come back on and everyone resumes drinking and dancing. The five to ten minute ceremony has a dream-like quality that is simultaneously charming and disturbing.
Mutter entered the bar at about 11:00 PM and sat at a table well behind the subject. After a short surveillance to assure himself that the subject was alone, he approached his table.
“Hi, is this seat taken?” asked Mutter.
“No, please sit down,” replied the subject.
“Do you come here often?” continued Mutter as he took a seat.
“Once in a while—though particularly on Saturday nights when Maria does her thing.”
“I don’t think we’ve met,” said Mutter. “My name is Sam and I’m new to the area.”
“Glad to meet you. You’ve come to the right place for entertainment.”
“So what are you doing in Spain?”
“I’m a computer consultant for the Department of Defense school system and I also write a little bit.”
“What do you write about?” Mutter asked.
“Mostly nonsense, but right now I’m working on an important project—the 50th anniversary issue of a Macintosh web magazine.”
Confirming the subject’s identity, Mutter slipped his right hand down to unbutton his holster. Just as he felt the handle of his weapon, a waiter arrived with a short candle.
“A web magazine?” asked Mutter with feigned interest. “What got you interested in writing?”
“Let’s talk later. It’s going to get very loud in here very shortly.”
Maria arrived on stage and faced the shrine of the Madonna over the dance floor. Lights were dimmed and a waiter lit the candles on each table. Mutter unholstered his weapon keeping his index finger taut on the gun’s trigger.
Sulky was surprised at the sheer scale of the Robertson estate as she pulled up around the circular drive. A tennis court on the left and a swimming pool on the right flanked the white mansion, and Sulky noted garages and stables through the back. She climbed the three steps on the front porch and rang the fancy brass doorbell.
A scantily dressed young lady answered the door. “Welcome to My Mac Manor. How can we help you?” she inquired in a deep, suggestive voice.
“I have an appointment with Tim Robertson and I believe he’s expecting me,” responded Sulky.
“Yes, dear. If you have an appointment he would be expecting you, wouldn’t he? Follow me.” Her pert buttocks flipped back and forth almost with a life of their own.
Sulky was shown into Robertson’s Study—an enormous room filled with shrink wrapped copies of software, new computer systems in their original boxes, and Mr. Robertson sitting at the end of a long refractory table.
“Hello, Mr. Robertson, I’m Agent Sulky from the bureau.”
“Have a seat, Agent Sulky. Sheila, I don’t wish to be disturbed, and please tell the rest of the girls I’ll be a little late this afternoon.”
“You’re always late, honey. That’s what we like about you!”
“Okay Sheila, that will be all. Now Agent Sulky, what can I do for you?”
“We briefly discussed one of your writers on the phone. Can you tell me how long he has written for My Mac Magazine and how he is reimbursed?”
“Well, Agent Sulky… Do you mind if I call you “Agent”?”
“You can call me anything you like. Please just answer the questions.”
“He came to work for us in October of 97 and he is paid approximately $4 a word. Please don’t let that little fact out as most of our writers work for free and they might be more than a little upset if they found out we paid this guy.”
“But why do you choose to pay him and not the others?”
“Well, honey, he’s just so damn superior to the rest.”
“Has he ever written anything that would lead you to question his loyalty to the Mac? Anything, say, really pro-Macrosoft?”
“Interesting that you should bring this up. His last column was entitled ‘The Write Stuff: Word Processing Tools for the New Millennium.’ It occurred to me that there was an awful lot of pro-Macrosoft stuff in there. In fact 12.3456 % of the adjectives modified nouns that were in some way related to software and software, after all, is what Macrosoft sells.”
“Thank you for being frank, Mr. Robertson. I think I have the information I need now.”
“Would you like to join us for a little drinkie in the hot tub before you leave, honey?”
“Sorry. I’m still on duty. I’ll show myself out.”
Maria stood in front of the bar, exhorting the occupants to sing at the top of their lungs. “OLÉ, OLÉ, OLÉ” responded the audience and at the peak of the performance, just as Maria’s hands were raised to the Virgin Mary, a shot rang out…