Tinker Tailor Ourman Spy

My name is Ourman. James Ourman. I’m a secret agent for British Foreign Intelligence. I have a license to kill and I’ve personally stopped dozens of brutal dictatorships and anti-democratic movements around the world. But you mustn’t tell anyone. It must remain between you and I.

“Whatever you say, sir. Here’s your change. Next please. Welcome to Taco Hut. Will this be dine-in or carry-out?”

I ate my tacos with relish as they were out of hot sauce. After dabbing the napkin on my chin, I checked the stains for secret codes. Let’s see… Dry cleaning ready for pick-up… Call parents about Fluffy’s surgery… Russian counteragents infiltrating Foreign Intelligence… My god! What a disaster! That dry cleaning took two weeks. Why, I’m inclined to not even– GREAT CLOISTERING CARBUNCLES!

Russian counteragents? Infiltrating? Intelligence? Foreign? This is terrible. I’ll have to be much more cautious with how I handle information.

“That sounds like a good idea, sir. Here’s your dry cleaning.”

Ah, thank you. I must head for the secret location of the secret office in the back of the men’s corsetry shop at the corner of 12th and Avery so I can– Why are you all suddenly writing in little notepads? I guess this dry cleaner only takes checks. Ah well. Onward! To Secure Facility Echo Bravo 5!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I arrived at MI-OK-O-D-XS-Y-I-8-CVHA-IDK-I-L-B-6 and went straight to the chief, the man known only as R.

“Arrrrrgh!”

“Everything alright, chief?”

“Oh, it’s you. Just caught my hand in the drawer. Come in, Double-O H. Ooh!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, just banged my knee on the desk. Now, about these Russian counter-operatives. We don’t know who they are or how many have infiltrated MI-OK-O-D-XS–”

“That’s alright, chief, I did that on the way in.”

“Ah, excellent. Good man. Your mission, Double-O Negative, is to root out these moles and find out what they know, what they’ve told the Russian government, and who keeps using the men’s room stalls for tinkling rather than yucky doo-doos. We have plenty of urinals and I’m tired of sitting on a wet seat! My government-issued tuxedo pants can’t take the strain, I tell you!”

“Yessir. I’ll get started right away. You dirty traitor! Admit it, chief, you’re a mole! Confess!”

“Alright, I confess! Stop beating me with my office supplies! Good work, Double-O 43 Billion. Now go find the rest of us!”

“Yessir, chief.”

“Oh, and you’ll have a partner for this mission. I’d like you to meet Vladimir Ourman, agent Double-Nohl Shayst. Ourman, this is Ourman, James Ourman, agent Double-Oh Dear.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Vladimir. Say, chief, can I speak to you privately?”

“Yes, go ahead. He doesn’t know any English. Isn’t that right, Vlad?”

“Da, that is correct.”

“Excellent. Well, what I’m wondering is, can this man be trusted?”

“Of course he can. I trust him more than my own mother.”

“Didn’t your mother make you sleep on railroad tracks?”

“You see?”

“Alright, I’ll work with him. But I’m going to keep my eye on him.”

“Ew! Get your eye off me! Put it back in your socket! Disgusting.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We left R’s office and went down to see P for new gadgets.

“Ah, Double-O’Grady. Come right in. And I see you’ve brought our new recruit from Russia. Good, good. Now, what you see here looks like an ordinary briefcase. But for god’s sake, don’t open it! It’s filled with deadly snakes with enough venom to kill ten men. And in case the snakes aren’t deadly enough, there’s also a toxic gas that will kill whoever opens it.”

“Ingenious!”

“Thank you. Now for this watch. If you pull this lever, it emits a powerful laser out of the 12. And if you turn this knob, it fires a poisoned dart that will knock out your enemy. And if you turn the dial around like so, it activates the explosive inside, powerful enough to blow a 4-foot hole in a brick wall. And if you take it off, put it back on upside-down, and slap it eight times on the strap here, it summons an air squadron that will bomb the building you’re in.”

“That’s fantastic, P!”

“Thanks. I’ve been drinking more water to try and flush out my kidneys.”

“And the watch is much smaller than previous models.”

“Yes, we’ve got it down to 13 pounds. The rest is standard issue field gear. Pistol with a silencer, shoe with a dot matrix printer, and a car without a single trace of GPS or network software.”

“I don’t know how you do it, P. Now, about this silencer. Where do I screw it on?”

“Oh, it doesn’t attach. What you do is take the silencer, attach the rubber band here, and slingshot the bullet at the enemy silently. There have been budget cuts, I’m afraid.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We started our investigation by talking to Special Agent Ima Surfacedweller. We went into the sub-basement and rang the bell on her desk. She emerged from a burrow in the ground, shook the dirt off her jacket, adjusted the glasses over her tiny eyes with her alarmingly large hands, and spoke.

“Ah, Agents Ourman and Ourman. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“There’s a nasty wasty rumor going round that there’s a mole in the organization.”

She turned her head from side to side and seemed to get quite fidgety.

“A mole, you say? Surely not.” She wiped a hand across her mouth to remove what seemed to be earthworm crumbs.

“I’m af–”

“Yes?”

“No. I’m afr–”

“Yes?”

“No. I am afraid so. Saying ‘a mole’, I mean. This is of the utmost priority. We’ve got to figure out who the mole is.”

“Well, it certainly isn’t me,” Ima said through her elongated, snout-like mouth. “I’m no mole. I’m a surface dweller. It’s right there in the name!”

“Right, we understand that,” Vladimir chimed in after at least two minutes of being introduced and only two lines to show for it. “This is why we have come to you. We know we can trust an agent such as yourself, so we should like your help in identifying the mole which is definitely not you.”

“Well, since you put it that way, I might know of someone who could help you.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ima told us where to find an informant that seemed to know all the ins and outs of the intelligence community. His name was Ronaldo McDonaldo, but he was better known as the Man with the Golden Pun. Vladimir and I parachuted into McDonaldo’s private island in the South Pacific. We would have parachuted onto the island, but our ripcords were defective.

After we climbed out of the us-shaped holes and dusted ourselves off, we set out to find the Man with the Golden Pun. We’d only taken one step when we heard a voice announce, “Stay right there. Of course, you can stay left there if you prefer, ha!”

It was terrifying. Never before had I heard such an awful excuse for humor.

“Why are you here? And say it fast!”

Vladimir started to speak, but I held up a hand and stopped him. I rolled my eyes, sighed, and replied, “It fast.”

“Ooooh! You know that one! No fair!”

A well-dressed, fussy man with a bushy orange mustache stepped out of the shadows and approached us.

“Alright, spoilsports, what do you want? I’m busy. I’ve got to roast Dane Cook tonight and I’ve got a lot of carrots to chop. Ha HAAA! Bang-o!”

“Please, no more jokes. We’re from MI-OK-O-D-XS-Y-I-8-C–”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Woof, that’s even too bad for me!”

“Anyway, we’ve recently learned that Russian moles have infiltrated British Intelligence. I have it on good authority that you would be able to give us some names.”

“You want names? Sure. You’re Frank and you’re Gil. Ha!”

“Ugh. Please, stop.” Vladimir was looking green.

“Gills are on fish. Fish are in water. Water you gonna do to the moles?”

Vladimir fell to his knees. “The jokes! They’re the worst I’ve ever heard!”

“Skip the gags, McDonaldo. Just tell us who the moles are.”

“A crappy AAA team out of Lexington! Ha!”

Vladimir’s eyes welled up. “Please, James. Make him stop!”

“But seriously, what do you want with a mole? They’re short, they’re ugly, and they get in a nasty fight with anything that comes near them. Oh wait! I’m thinking of my ex! HA!”

I choked down vomit. Vladimir fell unconscious. I had to do something or we could end up dead. I unlocked my briefcase and threw it at McDonaldo. It fell open next to him and one of the snakes fell out of the side of it and lay limp on the ground.

“What’s this?” McDonaldo asked. He lifted the lid and examined the contents inside. “Did you poison these snakes? They’re all dead.”

I slapped my forehead. “The gas wasn’t in a canister or anything? I’m gonna kill that idiot.”

“You poisoned eleven of the deadliest snakes in the southern hemisphere. Wow. Um. How about I write a list of names right now and you leave the island without hurting me? Deal?”

“Deal.” My voice cracked, but I think I played it off as a hiccup.

Vladimir and I took the list of names back to the chief. His name was on it and he confirmed again that he was a double agent. He also confirmed eighteen of the other names. I bought an old joke book at an antique store for 75 cents and we worked them over McDonaldo style. Mother-in-law jokes. Ethnic jokes. Lawyer jokes. Even knock-knock jokes. In one day our list grew from dozens of names to hundreds.

As our investigation continued, the hundreds of local moles became thousands of moles in the field. And then I made a stark realization. I immediately called an unprecedented all-hands meeting for the entire global intelligence community.

After everyone gathered in Wembley Stadium and enjoyed the Pride of the Intelligence Community Marching Band’s performance of this season’s show, “Born in the NSA”, Vladimir and I took the stage and announced that we knew who all the moles were. Immediately, everyone pulled out their guns and shot everyone else. Within seconds, the entire world was devoid of spies except Vladimir and I.

We were shocked, then depressed, then confused, then strangely joyous, then hungry, and finally back to shocked. All of our colleagues. Our friends. Our co-workers. Also our enemies. Our rivals. People who tried to kill us. All gone. No one else like us remained.

So we got married. It was the only reasonable solution to us being the last two people in the espionage industry with all of the psychological damage that comes with it. No one else would be able to deal with us. Two months later we become James Ourman-Ourman and Vladimir Ourman-Ourman. Neither of us wanted to take the other’s name, so we hyphenated.

That was 35 years ago, and what a ride it’s been. We traveled the world, built a beautiful life in the Andes, and started a foundation for international relations so that some day work like ours would no longer be necessary.

And then it happened. Vladimir admitted one night that he had been cheating on me with a startup spy agency. Some young, hot organization who reminded him of the thrills of his youth. He’d become another mole.

Imagine his surprise when he came in for his final interview and saw me as the recruiter. We were both moles! Oh, how we laughed and laughed. And then we shot, stabbed, and poisoned each other. Bleh! [thud]

The End!

The Genie

My name is Dr. Buckminster Ourman, Ph.D., MA, BFA, MS, JD, LLC, TP, WC, MGM, WTO, IDIOT, pronounced “Ourman”. I’m the Anders Flanders-Sanders Professor of Comparative Correlation at Flotsam University. I was relaxing one Sunday morning with my coffee and a copy of the Big City Tribune Gazette Times Post News Sun Journal. Having read the Violence, Corruption, and Sports sections, I moved on to the classified ads. Let’s see.

“For sale: Slightly used coffin in good condition. All stains and odor removed professionally. Glad Uncle Dave is well, but need to recoup costs of remodeling his home into a combination strip club, casino, and wing joint. Interested parties respond to this ad. Uninterested parties come to Terry’s and get saucy!” Hmm, every part of that sounds risky. What else?

“Missed connection. You: attractive woman, 30s, blond. Me: roguish man, hirsute, fun-loving. I saw you on the subway and tried to say hi. You had headphones in, so you must not have heard me. I waved, but your book was blocking your face. I tried signalling my intentions with crude hand gestures, but you happened to turn to face the window. I tried yelling what I’d like to do to you and thought I saw you react with a flinch, but you must have just had a chill because you made no response. Reply to What’s Personal Space? c/o this newspaper.” Gross. What’s this?

“For sale: Dirty old pair of men’s underwear. Could have been owned by famous celebrity or powerful business tycoon. Found in a puddle near the airport, so anything is possible. $1200 OBO.” Intriguing! I might come back to that one. Ah, this looks interesting.

“For sale: Various genuine cursed objects. Come on down to Honest Sal’s Emporium of Darkest Mystery. Palms read, fortunes foretold, animals disemboweled and guts used for augury.” Now this sounds like a good way to spend my Sunday!

I came on down to Honest Sal’s. I got out of the car, looked down, got back in the car, went home, and put on pants. I came back on down to Honest Sal’s and went inside, confident in my attire’s perfect attendance.

The shelves and cases were filled with spooky totems, cracked idols, and mysterious papers. I was looking over some maps of uncharted lands and books written in forgotten languages when Sal came out from the back room.

“Hello, my friend!” he said. “Interested in something dark and powerful, are we? Might I interest you in the favorite eyeball of Nostradamus? Or maybe the lost raiment of King Hadz-na-Kloom is more your style? Or — and I don’t offer this to just any customer, but you look like a serious fan of the occult — maybe the mystic toenail clippings of Aleister Crowley?”

“Oh, I dunno. I’m just browsing.”

“Tell me, what sort of item are you looking for? Something to increase your luck? Or maybe you’re looking for a way to have more vigor?”

“Really? No! No, no. I guess I was just hoping there’d be something here that would really make me question reality and everything I thought I knew. Do you have anything like that?”

“Ah. A connoisseur. Take a look over here.”

He led me to a back corner and moved a pile of boxes out of the way, revealing a door with several locks on it. He unlocked them one by one and mumbled something in a strange, guttural language unspoken by humans. Then, as he gripped the knob, said, “This is one of our best sellers.”

He opened the door and I found myself staring into a psychedelic wormhole in an otherwise black void. An eye opened in the middle of it and a booming voice asked, “Who dares disturb my slumber?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Sal closed the door and locked it. “Well, it doesn’t look like it’s my day. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

I thanked him for his time and left the shop. I then went into the store next door, Spooks & Things. There, next to a basket of discounted monkey’s paws with only one or two wishes left, was a rusty old oil lamp with a sign that read, “Inside! Real Live Genie! Fool Your Friends!” I paid the clerk my fifteen cents and took the lamp home.

I rubbed my hands with excitement. Nothing happened. I read the instructions again and realized my problem. I rubbed the lamp with excitement and this time it began spewing mysterious smoke mysteriously! The smoke condensed into the form of a giant man in a turban. The genie!

“You’re a real genie! Wow!”

“Well, I should hope so,” he said. “Otherwise I’d be in trouble with the FTC for false advertising. What can I do for you, my master? You have three wishes.”

“I wish for infinite wishes!”

The genie paused and put a finger to his chin. “Hmm. You know, in my thousands of years in the Genie Corps, no one has ever thought of that. Consider it done. You now have infinite wishes.”

“Fantastic! Well, let’s get the big ones out of the way. I’d like a billion dollars, a fully furnished enormous mansion, and world peace.”

“Done, done, done. Come on, give me a challenge.”

“Wait. You didn’t grant them through some trickery, did you? You didn’t bring about hyperinflation and make a billion dollars the price of a loaf of bread or something or end war by killing everyone on Earth?”

“Nope, nothing like that. Your billion is worth just as much as it would have yesterday and no one died. The mansion isn’t on a sacred burial ground or haunted or anything like that. You’re all good.”

“Wonderful! I suppose I should think long and hard about how to use my other wishes. Mr. Genie — um, do you have a name?”

“Yes, Fred.”

“Okay. Fred, take a break. Relax. Help yourself to whatever you put in the kitchen.”

Weeks passed. I wished for an end to disease, no more poverty, and for all the answers regarding morality and religion to be known and available to everybody. The world was a utopia. No more suffering. No more quarrels over beliefs. Enough food and money for everybody to be comfortable. Everything seemed perfect.

One day, I felt so pleased with my world that I decided to leave the mansion and take a stroll downtown to witness everybody’s non-stop joy firsthand.

“Oh, Fred!”

“Yes, master?”

“I’m going to take a stroll downtown to witness everybody’s non-stop joy firsthand. Do you want to come?”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea, master.”

“Why not? I think it will be delightful.”

“Oh, no. It’s such a bother. Wouldn’t you rather stay here and just watch videos of happy people on the news?”

“I’ve done enough of that. I want to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells of a happy populace! Be back later!”

I got into the car, but it wouldn’t start. I tried the other 38 cars, all three planes, and the jet pack, but none of them would work. I ran to the gate, but it wouldn’t open. I began to suspect something was amiss.

I climbed over the gate and headed downtown. When I found a busy neighborhood, the people didn’t look any different than before. I found someone waiting for a bus and asked, “Isn’t it nice to be free of poverty, war, and all those other problems?”

“I wouldn’t know, bub,” he said. “Everything’s pretty screwed up as far as I can tell.”

That didn’t sound right. I investigated further. I checked a newspaper. War, disease, theft, violence. Nothing was solved at all!

I returned to my mansion and demanded an explanation.

“Well, it’s like this, master,” Fred began. “Solving all those problems without it causing some unforeseen bigger problem is, like, really hard. But changing all the information in here to say it’s been fixed is really easy! You’re rich and happy, so mission accomplished.”

It made a lot of sense, aside from being completely wrong and bad.

“You foolish twerp of a genie! I demand that you grant my wishes as I ask them from now on! Now, what do I want for my next wish? Ah, I know! Seeing as ending violence and fighting is too much for you, I wish to be more powerful than any army.”

“Sure thing, bro.”

Fred snapped his fingers and I immediately felt…well, exactly the same, really. “Did you do the thing? Am I powerful?”

“Yeah, of course! I made you a writer!”

“What!?!? Do you not understand me? Maybe English is your second or third language.”

“It’s my eighteenth, but I understood perfectly. Haven’t you ever heard that the pen is mightier than the sword?”

I blinked a few times. “I guess so, but that’s just a saying. It’s not literally true.”

“Sure it is! Here, I’ll prove it.”

Fred snapped his fingers again and a fearsome knight stood before me. He raised his sword and cut me in half.

Fred looked up from the dictionary. “Ohhhhhh, that’s what ‘literally’ means. My bad.”

With me dead, Fred was masterless and free to do whatever he wanted. He used his powers to take over the world and reigned over centuries of peace and prosperity that formed the foundation of humanity’s expansion throughout the universe. It was the dawn of a truly utopian era with no end in sight. So he can do all that but doesn’t know what “literally” means and he can’t make me survive one fight. Some genie.

William Shakespeare’s “Richard II”, Brought to You by Chevrolet

Act 2, Scene 1

JOHN OF GAUNT, nearing death, speaks with the DUKE OF YORK.

JOHN OF GAUNT
Methinks I am a prophet new inspired
And thus expiring do foretell of him:
His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last,
For violent fires soon burn out themselves;
But if the burn of athlete’s foot persists,
Relieve the itch with tough actin’ Tinactin.
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short;
He tires betimes that spurs too fast betimes;
With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder:
Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,
Consuming means, soon preys upon itself.
You should have taken the antacid used
By all the noble gentry: Prilosec.
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
Is brought to you by Subway. Eat ye fresh!
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm
By local Long & Foster realtors.
Find a realtor in your town today!
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
But harsh detergents ruin these fragile cloths.
Egad, there’s got to be a better way!
If only we had Clorox in our time.
Their bleach is color-safe and gentle, too!
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!
That’s why my doctor recommended Zoloft.
My crippling patriotic angst is gone,
And now I live my life with pride and ease.
Zoloft’s for adults 18 and up.
You may experience nausea or fatigue.
Consult your doctor if you shake or cramp
Or if depression symptoms still persist.
See our ad in Fitness magazine.

The Mystery of the Mysterious Twin Mystery

It all began with the universe exploding out of nothingness in a phenomenon known as the Big Bang. 13.8 billion years later, I was walking to the post office to mail my pet giraffe to the vet. It seemed to have broken its neck as I folded it into the crate so the vet seemed a pertinent destination for it. Yes, it’s because I wrestle with these type of big type questions that they pay me the medium bucks.

As I was hammering one of the giraffe’s horns down so it would fit in the mail slot, I saw a man carrying a package and running towards me in a rapid sort of run, followed closely by several uniformed policemen. Either they were all growing at an alarming rate, or they were heading straight for me.

As they approached, I conducted a series of scientific experiments, published them in peer-reviewed journals, and gathered criticism and suggestions for further study from my fellow intellectual giants. The conclusion was inescapable: they were running right at me!

Seeing men run towards you is enough reason to circle the day on your Date-O Brand Calendar of Well-Known Days, but imagine my shock when I saw that the chas-ed man looked exactly like me! Are you imagining it? If you are, draw it on a postcard, put it through an industrial-strength combination shredder and paint mixer, and email the scraps to imaginemy@shock.gov to enter a drawing for a drawing of a drawing room with a drawbridge and a chest of drawers drawn by Long Drawn Milliner.

Anyway.

As I stood stunned from this revelation, the mysterious lookalike looked back at the police. Not seeing where he was going, he ran into me and our parcels fell to the ground. At this point he got a good look at me and shared my surprise. With the police closing in, we did a mirror routine. When I touched my nose, he touched his ear! When he rubbed my stomach, I fell on my sit-upon in ticklish mirth. He helped me up as the police applauded our antics. He dusted me off and we picked up our packages, shook hands, and went our separate ways, him to the back of a police car with his box and me to the post office with mine.

I was pondering the strange sudden appearance of my apparent twin (things had been rather strange lately; why, just the previous week I had found an onion ring in my french fries!) when the post office clerk said the postage would be $3.86 and it should arrive by Thursday. This seemed awfully cheap for a package containing an entire giraffe, so I took the box back and opened it. Not a single hoof sprang out. Nary a brown spot nor blue tongue was ejected from the box with a force that would make Isaac Newton blush, no! In fact, the box was completely devoid of giraffes!

Bum bum buuuuuuummmm!

Oh! Oh, yeah! We must have switched packages. Ha! I thought perhaps he was a wizard. Oh, what a day. Hey! Is it Friday yet? Ha! So yeah.

Bum bum buuuuuuummmm!

I hied immediately to the local library, looked up “police” in the Encyclopedia Podcastia, and learned all sorts of fascinating facts, such as where the police take you when you’re arrested. I rehied in a jailward direction and confidently strolled up to the sergeant’s desk to explain that they’d arrested my apparent twin and our packages had gotten switched and could I please have my 13oz box of Giraffe-Os in exchange for the mysterious parcel my seeming doppelgänger had left?

I’d gotten as far as “Hello, I” when they tased me, shot me, jumped up and down on me, threw me off the roof, set me on fire, and force-fed me glass shards laced with uranium-235. The sergeant then swept the pieces of me into a dustpan, dumped them in a solitary trash can, and said, “Can I help you, sir?”

I reconstituted my molecules — I minored in it at Seventh Diminished College — and explained the situation to him. You already know that part, so I’ll skip ahead. The sergeant wasn’t convinced. He said I had escaped earlier that morning disguised as a crumpled up copy of the Big City Tribune Gazette Times Post News Sun Journal and that I must have changed clothes and come back to the jail.

“That’s absurd!” I protested. “If I were the prisoner, why would I return to jail?”

“Because it’s karaoke night and you didn’t want to miss Officer Krampus’ electrifying rendition of ‘O Canada’!” he said.

With that, he slammed the door shut and walked away, cunningly avoiding the pit I’d surreptitiously dug, filled with pointy sticks, and covered with palm leaves as he led me in.

I was trapped! Framed! Imprisoned! All past participles that accurately described my loathsome situation. As I bemoaned my befate, I found myself knocked unconscious by a sudden blow on the head. When I awoke I discovered someone had thrown an anchor with a note tied to it through the window. I read the note.

Oh, did you want to know what it said? I’m sorry. Ahem!

It said, “I have your giraffe. I shall break you out at midnight and we can trade. Have no fear!”

“But that’s illegal,” I said.

“Just shut up and be ready,” the note replied.

Midnight came. It left a cup of chamomile tea to help me get some sleep. How thoughtful! I took a sip and immediately felt something wriggling around in my mouth. I spit it out and zounds! Egad! Gadzooks! It was my double!

“Thank goodness you’re here,” I said. “Now we can escape and get to the bottom of this identical twin mystery.”

“You stay away from my mysterious identical twin bottom!” he said.

We disguised ourselves as a breeze and blew out the window. From there it was a quick 40-foot plummet to the ground and then a mere three miles of hobbling on broken legs to the nearest Civil War doctor’s tent. We were given ether, had our legs sawn off, and died of infection.

The End

EPILOGUE

The next morning, a guard found one of the jail cells empty except for a couple of packages. He opened one, unfolded the giraffe he found inside it, and stared at it for some time, quite puzzled. He opened the other one, found the jewels the missing prisoner had stolen, and took his lunch break. He was never seen again. The end.

The Actual End

Dangeons & Dragrubbs

The skeletons were a problem, but their slow shuffling meant there were more pressing things to worry about. The goblins, however, were relentless. Several squat, hideous archers were circling the battle on dire wolves and taking shot after shot. At least any goblin who got close enough to swing a sword at our heroes was slowed down as they stepped over their fallen allies’ bodies.

K’thargg, the half-orc barbarian, cleaved a goblin in twain with his enormous axe, spun around, and caught another under the chin, almost taking its head off. Somewhere in his walnut-sized brain he made a mental note to come back for it as a trophy.

“You’re welcome,” the dwarf bard Bothurl called to K’thargg. His pride that his inspiration helped K’thargg’s second attack land was palpable as he fired another crossbow bolt, knocking a goblin off his dire wolf.

The elf cleric Lumiel raised her holy sword towards the hordes of skeletons and mumbled something unintelligible. Half of them crumbled into dust. While it was nice to be rid of them, their sudden absence made it much easier for the ogres to charge into the battle.

The monk Jadu, the sole human in the party, was a blur as he ran to the nearest ogre and channeled his chi into his fist. The punch landed and the ogre was stunned for several seconds, giving the gnome rogue Tibbit ample opportunity to grab its purse before slashing its Achilles’ heels with her dagger.

Filomel, the half-elf wizard, stepped boldly towards the oncoming ogres and raised her hands in the air as she shouted, “I cast Earthquake!”

“You can’t cast that,” Amy said. “It’s not on your spell sheet.” She indicated the list on Chris’ character sheet as the other four players rolled their eyes.

“Okay, then I’ll add it to my spell sheet,” Chris replied.

“No, it’s not on your sheet because Filomel hasn’t learned it. Plus it would be really out of character for her since it’s an Evocation spell and Filomel is in the Divination class.”

“What’s that?”

“The spell class, like what kind of magic it is. Evocation is nature stuff like earthquakes and storms and Divination is like reading omens or locating something far away or telepathy.”

“Okay, so can I use Telepathic Bond on them and make them THINK there’s an earthquake?”

“I don’t think so. It’s not–”

“Yeah! Natural 20! Oh no! There’s an earthquake, you guys! Winnnnk.”

Amy sighed. “I can’t believe Erica is letting you play her character. Okay, with your crit roll, you use Telepathy to apparently convince the 31 remaining goblins, 16 skeletons, and 3 ogres that there’s an earthquake. I guess that would distract them from taking their turns, so it is back to K’thargg. Ooh, a natural one. Not good. Let’s see….”

As K’thargg swung his comically over-sized ax at a dazed ogre, he slipped in some goblin blood and did a front flip, landing square on his back. The air was knocked out of him and the ax that slipped out of his grasp came down on his head. Luckily, it was the blunt side that hit him so he only got a mild concussion which nobody noticed for three days.

Bothurl ran towards the same ogre, shouting vicious mockeries about the ogre’s smallness and rude things about his mother. The ogre slowly parsed the grammar of the insults and felt his heart sink just as Bothurl leapt into the air and drove a dagger down into his chest, literally making his heart sink.

Lumiel charged at the remaining skeletons, shouted something in tongues, and drove her sword into the ground. After a wave of divine energy tore through the skeletons, nothing remained but their swords and rusted armor.

Jadu stoically took–

“Contact Other Plane!”

“It’s not your turn, Chris. It’s Jacob’s turn,” Amy said.

“Can I use a spell that makes me skip ahead?”

“There isn’t one and no.” Amy took a breath and gathered her thoughts.

Jadu stoically took in what monsters remained on the battlefield. As he scanned the area, he turned to find the only ogre still on its feet roaring in his face. Fortunately, he had trained his mind to resist such distractions and simply pummeled the ogre’s chest with a flurry of punches until it fell down dead.

The last living ogre writhed on the ground, immobilized and confused. Tibbit slashed its throat and dashed off to loot some nearby bodies before the others got a chance.

“Okay, Chris. It’s your turn.”

“I cast Contact Other Plane.”

“You’re out of slots for that level.”

“What? Aw, man. I knew I shouldn’t have used Animate Objects to make the chicken bones dance around.”

“Hey, Bothurl uses a free action to shout out cutting words to Filomel. Roll some dice, ya dingus!”

“Fine. Okay, let’s try this.”

Filomel’s fingers drew an arcane symbol in the air. The sky darkened and a faint buzzing grew louder until it drowned out all other sound. A cloud of flying insects blocked out the sun as it swarmed over the battlefield.

“Okay, and?”

“And what?”

“What happens? What do the bugs do?”

“I dunno. I mean, they’re really gross and creepy, right? Yuck!”

“So…they’re gross. And that’s your turn.”

“Okay. Good job, idiot. K’thargg goes full frenzy and mops up the rest of the goblins. With a… 19, plus 5, plus 2. And that’s stacked with my–”

“Yyyyup. You got it. Everything’s dead. Anyone want to do anything before we move on?”

All of the players except for Chris cried out in unison: “Loot the bodieeees!”

20-sided dice rained down on the table and Amy tallied their rolls, mentally dividing them into various ranges of Difficulty Class each attained. “Okay, Jacob, Jadu found a rusty dagger — great for giving someone tetanus — and 30 GP. Darius, K’thargg finds 60 GP, an emerald, and a small cursed idol. Carl, Bothurl found 110 GP. Hannah, Lumiel found didn’t find anything. Ashleigh, Tibbit found 345 GP, a ring with a curious symbol on it, and a scroll. Chris, Filomel finds a very strange charm on a necklace.”

“Okay, put it all in a pile and I’ll cast Detect Magic on it.”

“Well, before you have a chance to do that, you hear the rumble of deep, steady thuds. It’s getting closer.”

“14 plus 3! Do I see anything?”

“You don’t see the source of the noise, but you do notice some branches parting as if something were passing through them.”

“It’s invisible! Anyone have any Sight spells or feats?”

“Nope.”

“Nothing here.”

“Mine isn’t prepared.”

Amy raised her eyebrows at Chris. “Does Filomel have anything?”

“Uhhhhhh, nnnnno. Nada.”

“Are you sure? Check everywhere.”

“I’m checking spells…items…background…I’m not seeing anything.”

Amy punctuated every word. “Check. Erica’s. Notes. On. The right. Anything about eyes or sight?”

“I, ah…hmm….”

“See Invisibility! You have See Invisibility!”

Chris was still looking through Erica’s notes. “I do? Oh, cool!”

“Okay. So there’s a big invisible thing approaching quickly and only you can see it. What do you do?”

“Punch it!”

Amy rubbed her eyes. “Chris. I know you’re still new and Erica was very nice to let you play her wizard tonight. But I need you to try and get in the character a little. It’s role playing, not just punching.”

“Okay. Role playing. Okay. So I see the invisible thing coming and I, um, hmm. Oh! I got it! I point at him and shout, ‘Brother?'”

“What?!?!”

Filomel’s jaw dropped as she took another step towards the creature that she and she alone could see.

“Brother, it’s been so long. Can it really be you? We were separated at birth! I’ve spent so many years searching…searching for you! Oh, brother! This is the happiest day of my life!”

“The monster isn’t your–”

“No, I haven’t spoken to Father. He went off to fight in the Great Battles across the sea and never returned!”

Amy tried to interrupt. “Okay, the giant invisible monster is about 30 feet in front of the party now and you see a giant fireball appear around where you think its mouth would be.”

“Brother! There’s no need for this! It is I, Falafel–”

“Filomel!”

“Falamal, and I wish you no harm!”

“And it’s breathing fire on you.”

“Yes! Yes, let us embrace as the long-lost twins that we are! No. No, I don’t know any of these people. Ha! Yes! They do seem like a bunch of dummies!”

“This isn’t how you–”

“Sure, I’d love to see your place! Let’s go. Bye, jerks! I’m gonna go party down with my invisible twin brother. He says y’all suck. Later, goobers!”

Chris moved Filomel’s miniature die-cast figurine off the board and started doodling a picture of Filomel hanging out with her giant, invisible, fire-breathing twin.

The other players looked at each other for a moment, then Carl rolled his die.

“That’s a 17 plus 3 plus 1, 21. I get my crossbow and shoot Filomel in the head. Hannah, you’ll resurrect her next week?”

“You got it.”

“Cool.”

“Okay, so Filomel falls down dead and the invisible beast lumbers away. Does anybody need a meal or a potion or anything?”

Bad Show #174: DRACLANTIS

EXT. OCEAN FLOOR JUST OUTSIDE ATLANTIS – NIGHT

Cold open on HARRY and PIERCE (two members of VAMP SQUAD SIX) fighting an AGENT OF S.T.A.K.E. They have black eyes. (NOTE: Their eyes are black like a shark’s when they are in full vampire battle mode.)

After some struggle, the Agent of S.T.A.K.E. kicks Harry. Harry floats out of the fight. He falls and his eyes turn from black to blue and dreamy. He watches the rest of the fight, frightened.

Pierce overpowers the AGENT and holds him in a headlock. Pierce pulls off his GLOVE, revealing a LEECH-LIKE MOUTH on his palm. Pierce puts his hand on the agent and drinks his blood.

Pierce swims away, leaving the AGENT’S BODY to float slowly down. A cloud of BLOOD floats out of the body. Pierce speaks as he swims past Harry.

PIERCE
Go on. Get yours, Harry. I left you some.

Harry swims over to the BODY dejectedly. He removes his GLOVE and drinks blood with it as Pierce did.

INT. DRACADEMY HALLS – LATER

HARRY puts a notebook in his LOCKER. PIERCE quickly swims up to him and slams the LOCKER.

PIERCE
What exactly was that back there?

HARRY
I…I froze. It won’t happen again.

PIERCE
It’d better not. If you’re gonna be one of the Vamp Squad
Six, then you need to step it up. If you can’t support your
fellow agents, we’ll gift wrap you and send you over to
S.T.A.K.E.
(Immediately softens)
Hey, I know what you’re going through. If Colonel Draquala
hadn’t sent Sanguina into the field, she’d still be alive. I
mean, she was your girlfriend, bro.

Pierce’s watch flashes. He looks at it.

PIERCE
Speak of the devil. I’ve got to see Draquala now.

Pierce exits. Harry lingers at the lockers.

EXT. DRACADEMY DORMITORY – EVENING

Flashback to SANGUINA and HARRY in front of the Dracademy dorm.

SANGUINA
It’s okay, Harry. It’s an in-and-out rescue mission.
I’ll be back and debriefed in a couple of hours.

HARRY
I don’t know, Sanguina. I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.

SANGUINA
You worry too much, tiger shark.

She kisses him.

SANGUINA
I guess that’s why I like ya.

INT. DRACADEMY HALLS

Cut back to HARRY reflecting. (NOTE: Not literally! They can’t cast reflections.) Harry sets his jaw and pulls out his PHONE. He types something we can’t see.

Cut to a shot of the phone screen. We see a TEXT MESSAGE to DIRK that says “Tonight’s the night. Draquala’s going down!”

Cut back to Harry. His eyes turn black. (NOTE: Their eyes are black like a shark’s when they are in full vampire battle mode.)

END ACT 1

The Mystery of the Stolen Grand Canyon

It was the most infamous crime of the early Mesozoic era: the mystery of the stolen Grand Canyon! Early one morning, tourists lined up along the canyon rim to marvel at nature’s splendor, only to find it had all been filled in with dirt. What happened to the empty space that used to be there? The Arizona state police were scratching their heads. After a few rounds with medicated anti-lice shampoo, they got back to work investigating the theft, but to no avail.

That’s where I come in. I’m Detective Lennie Ourman, Grand Canyon Village Police, Special Wonders of Nature Unit, and I had a theory. I believed the canyon was stolen by…thieves. But I had no proof! So I went to vacation police camp. After 43 years of hard work, long hours, and bribing my superiors, my superiors began to take notice.

“Congratulations, Ourman,” the chief said. “You’re being promoted from Detective to Grizzled Detective.”

“Thank you, sir! Now gimme a black coffee stay out of my way.”

“You’re way out of line, Ourman! You’re a loose cannon. Some day you’re gonna get someone killed!”

“Fine. Then I’ll take a cappuccino. Extra foam.”

The station barista backed up a cement mixer and began pouring the foam into my mug. “Say when!” she said.

I like more foam than most people, I guess. It took me eleven years to dig my way out. Not only had the crinminyal’s trail gone cold, but my wife had remarried and I owed $600,000 in overdue library book fees. Things were getting desperate. I decided to try a dangerously unorthodox method to find the crimninalles. I would go to the scene of the crime! I started at the drab flatlands where the Grand Canyon once sat and begin sweeping the area. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so I fanned out across northern Arizona and eventually came to Phoenix.

I checked anywhere someone might hide a giant hole. The University of Phoenix Stadium hadn’t gotten any deeper. The Agua Fria River didn’t have any new waterfalls. None of the surrounding mountains had become volcanoes. The crimininiminals hadn’t come this way.

From Phoenix, I circled back through Arizona and north to Las Vegas. For weeks, I resisted the temptations of sin and focused solely on my investigation. Then, weakness took hold. I could no longer fight the siren song of base pleasure. Dear reader, I’m ashamed to say it, but I abandoned my duties as an officer of the law. For the next eight months I slept all day and spent all night going to magic shows! Oh, the cheap thrills! The dramatic dance music! The awful puns! I had reached a new low.

I knew I’d hit rock bottom one morning as I awoke in a stranger’s hotel room surrounded by interlocking rings and levitating rope, my palms reeking of lighter fluid. I checked myself into a rehab center for magic addicts and began the hard work of learning to live an unprestidigitated life. I came out of it feeling healthier than I had in years, but wary that the lure of magic was something I would always struggle with.

Las Vegas wasn’t showing any results, so I took my investigation in the opposite direction, back through Arizona and into El Paso.

20 seconds later, I turned around and went back to Vegas. Wheeeeeeee!

Fourteen magic-addled months later, I pulled into a Los Angeles motel with no recollection of whose car I was driving or how I got it. All I knew was there were sequins on the floor and a wand in the glovebox.

I checked into the motel and immediately got to work. I talked to local police, food truck drivers, delivery people, bartenders, and geologists. No one had heard of any new large empty spaces in town, but they all pitched their screenplays to me. That gave me an idea.

I rushed to a studio and sold the movie rights to my investigation. We had a lot of great meetings and got Idris Elba attached as the lead, but it stalled out in development over the producer’s fears that there wasn’t enough action to make money in China.

As I signed my NDAs and left my contact info around the studio, the seventh screenwriter to take a pass at the script approached me. She was a sharp, warm woman of color who was getting ready to be a showrunner on a network drama and insisted on an inclusion rider. Hey, that’s awesome! Good for her.

“Hey, Ourman. Too bad about the movie. Most projects never make it to production, though, so don’t let it get you down. Incidentally, you know what’d be a good twist, is if the police, city council, and National Park Service were taking the canyon’s empty space as bribes from a rival canyon organization who filled it in to crush the competition. That’s the direction I would go. Anyway, see you around. Take care!”

I rushed to the airport and bought a first-class ticket on the next kayak back to Arizona. Six years of paddling later, I got back to Grand Canyon Village. I paid a visit to my old partner, Hannah Meyers.

“Hannah! How’s tricks?”

“Why, Lennie! I can’t believe it’s you. You’ve been gone so long, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

“I know, I know. I’ve been busy on this Grand Canyon case.”

“Still? Oh, Lennie. The canyon’s history. You’ve got accept it. The whole town has moved on. Whoever filled it in is long gone.”

“I know, but it’s just not right. And I might have it worked out. It’s loose, but it’s a theory. I think a rival canyon’s owners filled it in and paid off some locals with pieces of the hole to keep them quiet.”

“That’s ridiculous. No one would ever believe that. You’re crazy. You’ve been working this case too long. You’re obsessed. You need a break.”

“You really think so?”

“I really do. Hey, why don’t we grab a drink later and catch up? It’ll take your mind off this wacky theory of yours.”

“Maybe you’re right. I’ll, uh…I’ll call you tonight. See ya.”

She closed the door and I started walking the shambling, sagging walk of a defeated man. I was back to square one. I must not have been watching my step because my foot slipped into a gopher hole and I twisted my ankle. As I sat down and rubbed it, I noticed more gopher holes in Hannah’s yard. Hundreds of them.

I leaned over and picked one up. I immediately recognized the striations. These holes all came from the Grand Canyon! It was awfully clever to cut them down to gopher size. But who better than a cop to know how to hide evidence? She’d almost gotten away with it.

I stuck the hole in my pocket and got in the kayak. I rowed straight to the police station and went into the chief’s office.

“Chief! I’ve got a lead on the Grand Canyon theft! I think it’s– Say, has your office always had a 300-foot chasm in it?”

The chief stammered. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or the fact that he was now 83 years old. “Oh, um, you, ah, probably never noticed it before. We repainted 26 years ago and it really complements the chasm that’s always been here.”

I peered out the window with my handheld digital peer. “And those sinkholes next to City Hall. Those didn’t used to be there. And that gorge near the ranger station! I recognize that empty space! That up-and-coming Hollywood player was right! Whoever stole the Grand Canyon gave pieces of it to all of you so you’d keep quiet!”

“Ha ha! Oh, Ourman, that’s absurd,” the chief said. “What would I ever do with…I mean, how do you think we…You know, it’s…All right! Put your hands up!”

He stood up and pointed his gun it at me. He was remarkably quick for an 83-year-old. I didn’t even notice him taking the flintlock musket off the wall, loading the muzzle with powder and a lead ball, and stuffing it all down with a ramrod before aiming it at me. “I think we’ve had just about enough of your investigation, Ourman.”

I held my hands up and tried to reason with him. “It’s all over, chief. Why don’t you put the gun down? It’s probably all rusty anyway. If you shoot, it could backfire on you.”

“I’m not falling for that old trick!”

“All right, well, how about this old trick?”

I grabbed the hole out of my pocket and threw it as I ducked behind the desk. He fired, but the hole swallowed up the shot and most of the musket. I pulled out my sidearm and aimed it at the chief.

“I hate to do this, sir, but you’ve got the right to remain silent.”

“I know, I know.”

The chief, the town council, half the town’s police officers, and dozens of park rangers were all sentenced to 40 years for theft and mutilation of a national park. The holes were taken into federal custody and a team of specialists was brought in from the US Geological Survey to reassemble the Grand Canyon. A few pieces had been melted down and sold on the black market, but work has begun to remove the remaining pieces of dirt hovering in the air.

As for me, I’m now the Commissioner. We rooted out the corruption and established an amnesty program where anyone can return stolen pieces of the Grand Canyon, no questions asked. Things have quieted down and I spend most of my time walking around downtown, saying hi to the local business folks and petting nice dogs. I admit, I do enjoy a coin trick now and then, but I avoid the hard stuff. No birds or people getting sawn in half.

I was practicing forcing the three of diamonds one day, when Sergeant Nguyen came into my office.

“Sir! Something’s up at the Meteor Crater!”

“That’s Winslow’s jurisdiction.”

“They’re asking for your assistance, sir. The crater…it’s missing!”

Welp, here we go again!