[Let the balmy zephyrs of the previous chapter (in which our hero makes pancakes) whisper through your hair.]
Angie’s car had air conditioning, but I still found myself sweating from nervousness sitting there next to her. If she noticed she didn’t let on. I gave her directions to Frog’s house and for a time we drove in silence. After a while she asked, “Should we be worried about this? I mean if Frog was involved with that explosion or whatever it was, don’t you think there will be police or FBI or who knows who there scouring his place for clues?”
“They’d have to find it first.”
“And that would be difficult for the FBI, why?”
“Because of who Frog is. Look you don’t know the guy. He hates the idea of the government being able to come kicking in his door, and he figures that the best way to stop that happening is to keep the government from knowing where his door is.”
“Surely there’s some kind of record.”
“Frog gets his mail at a P.O. Box. He rents a place back in the boonies from some old redneck. Pays cash on the barrel-head. And he’s always checking his car for GPS trackers and stuff like that, looking in his rear-view mirror for someone following him.”
“It sounds like an exhausting life.”
“I always kind of thought of it like a hobby. Like maybe if he wasn’t a crazy conspiracy nut, he’d go just as crazy from boredom.”
“And he never had…you know, professional help?”
“He hates doctors. All doctors, but psychologists in particular. He thinks it’s their fault his mother was locked up.”
“His mother was mentally unstable too?”
“Not to hear Frog tell it. But yeah, I think she was.”
“Didn’t that ever worry you?”
“It used to. But Frog never hurt anyone, never stuck me as violent. And I got to thinking maybe there wasn’t anything wrong with him really. After all, what does it mean to be normal?”
She didn’t have an answer for this. A few minutes later we pulled onto a bumpy dirt road that wound through the wood for a spell before it opened into a clearing with a beat up looking trailer.
“Stop here,” I said. “You don’t want to run into the mote.”
When we were out of the car I was struck by how quiet the place seemed. The crunch of our shoes on the dry leaves sounded strangely ominous. Angie must have felt it too, because I saw her putting her hand into her purse where the gun was.
A few steps later we reached the edge of Frog’s mote. It kind of snuck up on you if you weren’t expecting it by some trick of camouflage Frog had built in, and Angie gasped when she realized that another couple of steps would have carried her into a trench seven feet deep with shards of sharpened rebar stuck sticking up at the bottom.
“The mote,” I said by way of explanation.
“I though motes were supposed to be filled with water.”
“Frog thought this would be more effective. Come on, there’s a bridge around back.” We tottered across the two-by-twelve plank that lay across the mote and I pulled my keys out of my pocket. “Frog gave me a spare,” I explained.
Angie looked at me her head tilted to one side. “He must have really trusted you.”
“Yeah,” I said, turning the key in the lock. “I guess so.” But in the back of my mind I began to ponder how we had slipped into referring to Frog in the past tense.
I opened the door, and let Angie go through first. She stepped inside and stopped, looking around at the inside of the trailer with something like awe on her face.
“It’s not what you expected, right?” I asked.
“I don’t know what I expected,” she said. “I mean from everything you told me he sounds like a bit of an oddball, but this…”
I couldn’t really blame her. The first time I had seen the inside of Frog’s home I had been a bit taken aback myself. Thing is, when you visualize someone like Frog you think of him as a clutter-bug, a messy bachelor type with piles of soda cans in the corners of the rooms and tables covered with piles of plates with crusted half-eaten meals all covered in mold and maggots.
So when you actually stepped inside Frog’s beat-up trailer, when you saw that he had it done up like the cover of some home living magazine, it could be a bit of a shock. Angie went over to his bookshelf and ran her finger along the spines. “They’re alphabetized,” she said. Then she added, “No, wait, these are out of order.”
“That can’t be right,” I said, looking over her shoulder. “Frog was always obsessed with keeping those straight.”
“You think someone else has been here? Looked through his stuff?”
“You think they came in, looked at one row of books and then placed them neatly back on the shelf? Nicest burglars, ever.”
“You mean the same kinds of burglars that steal all your pictures but leave the frames?”
The walls in Frog’s trailer were covered in picture frames. Just the frames. No pictures. “Those have always been like that,” I said. “Frog collects them.”
“How strange,” Angie relied, turning her head to one side as if that would help her understand what she was seeing.
“No, I’m pretty sure that’s about as close to normal as Frog gets,” I replied.
“So what are we looking for?”
“I’m not sure. Anything that might give us a clue as to where Frog is. Something out of place. Something out of the ordinary.”
“I’m not sure how you’re going to define ‘out of the ordinary’ in these circumstances,” Angie pointed out.
“I dunno. I thought it would be easy. Like the answer would jump out at me as soon as I walked in the door.”
“Well maybe we should start with the obvious. Where does he keep his computer? That’s where he would have sent the email from right?”
“If he made it back here, sure. But that’s a big ‘if’.”
“Still, its worth a shot.”
I led the way to Frog’s “War Room.” “War” and “Room” probably weren’t the first words that would have entered your mind when walking in though. They both would have been beaten out in a fairly large majority by “Library.” Bookshelves covered every inch of exposed wall space, and in the center of the room sat a wooden desk with a printer and a laptop on it. I sat down in the hard metal folding chair that sat in front of the desk and flipped the laptop open. And then I stopped and stared in bewilderment.
“What is that?” Angie asked.
“I honestly have no idea,” I replied.
The computer wasn’t even powered on yet, but there was something on the screen all the same. Literally on the screen, white marks that covered most of a small rectangle in the center of the screen.
“Is that…wite-out?” Angie asked. “If this has all been the setup to a very bad blonde joke I’m going to be very seriously pissed off.”
“It’s not a joke,” I said. Then I added, “But even if it was, you’d have to admire the effort he put into it.”
She gave me a “look”, so I shut up and hit the power button. The computer booted up painfully slowly and I drummed my fingers on the desk impatiently. An idea was starting to form in my mind, a tiny glimmer of a notion that I thought might have some merit.
When the OS finally finished loading I opened the browser and signed in to my email account.
“Oh, that’s clever,” Angie breathed, from over my shoulder.
I looked back at her.
“What?” she asked.
“Nobody says clever.”
“Some people do.”
“No. You’re the first one I’ve ever heard say it like that. You’re not from England are you?”
“What? No! And anyway, is that really the most pressing question on your mind right now? Open it already. This is exciting!”
I shrugged a little, and obliged her request.
The email loaded, and a I scrolled down the screen until the words lined up with the box of wite-out. The wite-out covered up most of the words with only a few left showing showing through. It was a brilliant but simple solution; but right at that moment I was more angry than impressed. Because with all the extraneous words covered, Frog’s message, the mysterious email, the missive I had been hit over the head and kidnapped for simply read: “This should keep them busy for a while.”
[This post doesn't have a picture like my previous posts. Yet. Turns out I didn't have any wite-out (yes that's really how it's spelled. Irony maybe?) in the house. Check back here in a few days to see what wite-out on a laptop screen would look like.]