The Travel-ing Agent

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Travel-ing Agent

Of travel I’ve had my share, man.  I’ve been everywhere.” –Johnny Cash

Agent Stutson had never experienced such severe jetlag in her life.  She tried to sleep on the plane from Buenos Aires to Seoul, but the facts of the case were running rampant in her brain.  Truthfully, it was the lack of facts that concerned her.  She knew that she was in search of someone with brown hair who liked mountain climbing and had stolen the best grain of sand from The Rock of Gibraltar.  That was all the information she had and she knew it wasn’t enough.

If she were being honest, Agent Stutson was shocked at how little assistance she was afforded with this international mystery.  She was, by anyone’s definition, a rookie.  It said so right on her badge.  Questioning witnesses was only made more difficult by that fact.  Why should anyone take the time to describe what they saw to a labeled rookie?

The people she could get to converse with her were less than helpful.  Half the time the people stared back with no emotion and tried to crack jokes with her.  When they did have information to offer, it was only trace amounts.  No one could give a complete description of what they had seen or what the person looked like.  At best, they would offer a single fact or note, such as the suspicious character had a scar or walked with a limp.

Oh?  They limp?  Thanks!  Out of the seven billion people in the world, there are only a handful of individuals who walk with a limp.  I can’t thank you enough.  Really, you’ve just cracked this case wide open for me.  Let me put you on my back and give you a medal of honor for your cooperation with this case.  I’m sure my supervisors will be just as thrilled as I am with your dedication to furthering global justice.  Please, allow me the honor of shaking your hand.

Agent Stutson wanted to bang her head on the airplane seat in front of her, but it was occupied by a seven year-old boy and she didn’t have the heart to share her misery with the innocent.  Instead, she turned her thoughts to the how the case was going so far.

Less than five minutes after her post-interview clearance with security, The Chief had thrust the case file into her hands.  Little sticky notes reminding her of procedure and a GPS tracker/ Phone were tossed her direction.  The Chief told her to get to the airport and solve the case.  Agent Stutson didn’t even have time to ask if cab fare was reimbursed before the office door slammed in her face.

The first eight hour flight had passed quietly enough and Agent Stutson had arrived at The Rock of Gibraltar.  She didn’t notice any grains of sand missing, but she was getting paid to travel the world, so who was she to argue.  In the eight hours she was allowed to investigate, Agent Stutson had only found three people who had seen anything even remotely helpful.  One backpacker had seen a flag stitched to the backpack of the criminal and therefore deduced that that’s where they must be headed.  Unfortunately, the other two witnesses’ guesses were vague to Agent Stutson, so she took the cue from the maple leaf flag and took off to Canada.

She must have had luck on her side, because as soon as she stepped out of the airport, a person dressed all in black except for a brown trenchcoat ran right in front of her.  Agent Stutson reached out to stop the person, but they quickly pulled out a jetpack and roared off.  Agent Stutson stared in wonder for a few minutes, wishing she was afforded that kind of technology.

Once again, despite the stunning event that had just been put on, she could only find three witnesses to the thief’s troublemaking.  The only person whose statement she had remembered to write down was unsure if the person was off to Tahiti or Italy.  Strangely enough, there were only five flights leaving the entire day.  Of course, one of those was going to Tahiti and another to Italy.  Agent Stutson swore and flipped a coin.  She flew off to Tahiti on a whim.

When she arrived, no one knew anything.  As soon as she pulled a citizen aside, they gave her a blank look.  “Are you sure you’re not lost?”  The general public all gave her the same kind of answers.  “You must be in the wrong place”, they told her.  Agent Stutson went back to the airport, but the agency’s travel representative told her that she couldn’t travel straight on to Italy.  She would have to return to Canada, and then fly out to Italy.  Agent Stutson didn’t take the news well.

“Are you out of your freaking mind?  What sort of inane idea is that?  Why can’t I just take a direct flight?”  Screaming into the phone the agency had given her; Agent Stutson’s frustration only grew.  The representative on the other end would only reply, “That’s the way we do things, Agent.”  Of the seven days that had been given her, at least one was wasted flying back and forth so that she could finally arrive in Italy.  As soon as she arrived, she was ordered to sleep.  She couldn’t even leave the airport.  She was required to clock out right at that moment.  Of course, being ordered to sleep and actually resting were two very different things.

When the time was up, Agent Stutson bolted to the door.  As the sliding glass doors opened, she once again saw a black-clad figure with a brown trenchcoat.  She tried to get a good look at their features, but their fedora was pulled too low.  This time, the E.V.I.L. agent pulled out a giant pogo stick and bounced out of sight.  Agent Stutson wanted to cry, but at least she knew she was on the right trail.

Interviewing three people, Agent Stutson learned a few things about being a rookie investigator.  First off, she found out that a witness would never have more than one piece of information for her.  They might notice one thing about a crook or where they were going, but never both.  Second, she learned not to waste her time looking for a fourth or fifth witness.  They only repeated the exact same information that the first three had conveyed.

With eleven hours left to solve the crime, Agent Stutson found herself stretched to the limit.  How could headquarters put such a strict time limit on the case?  Didn’t they want the missing artifact to be recovered?  Why couldn’t they task a second agent to help her, especially since she was on her first case?  Her only real incentive to solve her first case was the promise of a quick promotion, but that goal seemed rather unattainable on this caper.  The change in time zones was confusing Agent Stutson, and she knew she didn’t have enough evidence to obtain a warrant even if she was on the right track.  She was going to have to figure out something fast.

The city of Seoul came into view as the plane began to descend.  Agent Stutson knew she wouldn’t be getting any rest.  Once again she would have to hit the ground running.  The agency claimed they gave her enough time to sleep and investigate, but The Chief kept sending her little messages reminding her that the trail was running cold and that she shouldn’t dilly-dally.  Agent Stutson would be thrilled if this case brought down the E.V.I.L. organization, but she knew it was just one more case in the bigger picture.  The question she really wanted answered was out of her grasp.  Where the sam hill was Elektra LosAngeles?

The Hungry Game

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Hungry Game

Julie was going to win.  It was that simple.  She could feel the urge building up inside of her.  The competition was fierce; they were all motivated to win.  But Julie was going to come out on top.  Victory would be hers.  She wasn’t above inflicting a little injury here or there to take the coveted prize. 

Things in the Sholm household had gotten a little intense over the years.  In retrospect, Susan Sholm never should have created pie-night each Sunday.  It had all started out so benign.  Jeremy, the oldest was on his way to college.  He only had a few months left as a high school student and his parents had run out of ways to get him to eat meals with them.  Jeremy was always making plans with his girlfriend or taking drives in one of his friends’ cars.  It wasn’t until Susan had been taking a pie out of the oven one opportune Sunday evening when Jeremy’s olfactory senses won out over his desire for independence. 

“Is that… pie?” Jeremy had cautiously asked.

“Yes it is”, Susan replied, an idea had already started forming itself in her head.  “Why don’t you stay and have some with us?”

“I don’t know”, he hesitated.  The plans he had tempted him.  But were they better than pie?

“Say, look at that”, said Roger as he hugged his wife.  “Is that strawberry rhubarb?”

“Uh huh”, Susan quietly affirmed as her face beamed.  She could see from the look on Jeremy’s face that she had won the battle.  It had been so long since she had made the pie that she had forgotten her mother’s old truism; there’s no beating strawberry rhubarb.

“I guess I could stay for a bit”, Jeremy said as he shrugged off his letterman’s jacket.  No sooner had the back of his t-shirt been laid bare when his little brother Joe ran and jumped on. 

“Piggy back ride!”, Joe demanded.

“Get off your brother, Joe”, Susan said.  She tried to pretend that she was upset at her youngest for clinging onto his older brother.  Still, part of her cherished the way the two boys played together so happily even though they were seven years apart.  She watched as Jeremy plucked his brother off his back and carried him, wiggling and laughing, under his arm and to the dinner table.  Julie, the middle child and the only daughter, sat down at the table and sighed at her brothers.  She slowly and reluctantly pulled off her headphones but didn’t stop her music that was blaring out of the speakers.

“Mom”, Julie asked, “What’s that?”

“It’s strawberry rhubarb pie.”

“But we never have pie”.

“I’ve been making that complaint for years”, Roger added.

“Don’t you like pie?”, Susan asked.

“I can’t remember the last time we had any”, she said with wide eyes.  She flicked the power to her music player off, her fingers fumbling with the switch while her saucer-like gaze remained fixed on the pastry. 

And thus, pie night was born.  Each and every Sunday there was a different kind of pie waiting to be ravenously consumed by the Sholm clan.  It had all started out so innocently.  Then, as always seems to happen, things got interesting. 

Joe had gone to a week-long camp over break and had returned with a new activity.  “Spoons” had been quite the craze around the log cabin table and Joe had taken right to it.  Everyone sat around a circular table at a pile of spoons lay at the center.  The catch was, there was always one less spoon than there were kids.  Each time the call was made, the kids scrambled to grab the spoon.  With each round played, the kids and spoons dwindled down until there were only two left fighting for the one spoon.  And that spoon had power.  The person holding that spoon got their first pick at dessert.

Susan had been wary when Joe excitedly regaled the family with how the game was played.  She thought it was a recipe for injuries, but Roger had suggested that they could all use a little reckless fun in their lives. 

Soon, every member of the family had their strategies.  Roger was the sneaky one.  He would often acquire a spoon in the first few rounds as he quietly and stealthily palmed a spoon when no one was looking.  Joe’s plan was quite frantic.  He would pull himself up onto the table so his belly was rubbing against the edge and flail about until he got his hand on a spoon.  Sometimes he would end up with two or three and he would do his best to hold on to as many as possible.  Jeremy was the quiet show of force.  He shot his arm out with all its muscles and tight skin and seized the spoon that he wanted and brought it home.  It was this single-minded, powerful move that almost always assured him the dessert of his choice. 

Julie was no slouch.  She was the schemer.  If she saw someone fumble a spoon or if she thought she could sneak her dad’s spoon away from him, she would strike quickly and efficiently.  Like a coiled cat, she sprang out of nowhere and pounced on the stray.  Susan, her daughter’s mother, was also after any spoon that happened to come her way.  Typically it was a spoon that got accidently sent sliding to the floor in all the chaotic rushing around.  Most nights Susan would tell herself that having her family around was enough for her.  If she had wanted pie that badly, she would have just made her own and not told anyone.  (Susan was actually not obsessed with pie.  Happily for her, no one had yet to discover the secret compartment in her breadbox that always hid a dozen or so baked chocolate chip cookies.)

Susan liked seeing her family huddled around the table, even if their attack modes were set to “annihilate”.  At least we’re all gathered together.  We’re having fun as a family; that counts for something.  I hope.  She assessed the crowd around her recklessly scratched up dining table.  Joe, naturally, was climbing all over Jeremy.  Tonight it was holding onto Jeremy’s wrist while his massive older brother lifted Joe up and down with one arm.  Roger was finishing up some article that he was reading on his phone’s screen.  Julie was the one that seemed a bit odd. 

For one thing, Julie wasn’t wearing her headphones.   She had taken them off earlier and earlier on pie night so as not to damage them in the tussle, but this was early even for her.  Julie looked like she was staring at the pie a little too intently.  Susan was about to say something when her husband’s voice broke the silence.

“Okay, what say we get this pie night started?”  All eyes quickly turned to Susan expectantly.  She tried to put her concern for Julie aside as they resumed their weekly ritual.

“Tonight we’re having apple cinnamon”.

A agreeable chatter filled the air and the three serious competitors rubbed their hands together (Julie wondered for the umpteenth time if they consciously knew that they all did that) while Joe ran to get four spoons. 

“I had an idea”, Julie offered.  Joe took his hand out of the silverware drawer and looked to his sister with a confused face.  “What if”, she continued, “the five of us all just went after one spoon?”

“You don’t think that would be a bit too challenging?  I mean, all those limbs in there; Julie I think it might be a little much”, Roger offered.

“Oh, well Dad, if you’re afraid you’ll lose then we don’t’ have to.”

“Afraid, Julie?  I taught you how to drive, that should prove I fear nothing.”

“Not even being beaten by your only daughter?  I know those other pie nights you’ve been trying to wear us down; maybe you just know you couldn’t take us when we’re all in peak condition?”

“You, young lady, have just talked yourself into a world of trouble.”  Roger cleared his throat and adopted his father-knows-best- voice.  “There shall be one spoon tonight, and the number of spoons shall be one.”

“Roger, maybe we should…”

“Mom”, Julie interrupted.  “If Dad thinks he can handle this, why don’t we give him a shot?”

Susan looked around to the other sets of eyes gathered at the table and saw the hunger building up.  They were already pushing their chairs away and leaning towards the table. 

“All right”, she said.  “But I’m not playing this round.  I’ll just to get the pie.”

“Fine, then you can be the one to call ‘Go’.”

Susan sighed.  “Go”.

No sooner had the word left her mouth than Julie leapt forth.  Her body half glided, half flopped onto the table.  Susan hoped that the table would hold her, and it did.  Susan shook her head at all the rough-housing her furniture had undertaken. 

The rest of her family grabbed and clamored to acquire the spoon from Julie’s grip.  But her nights of coming in second to the rough-housing men of her family had toughened her up.  She tucked the spoon into her stomach, rolled up in the fetal position, and felt herself fall to the ground.

She squeaked a sort of “oorf” noise as her body bounced of the cold linoleum, but she held fast to her trophy.  She had fought and planned for this symbol of power and wasn’t about to give it up for anyone.  Eventually, after Jeremy had tried prying her arms loose and Joe had tried tickling, the men conceded defeat.  Julie scrolled her eyes back and forth, saw that everyone had granted her victory, and stood up with her smile broad and cheerful.

“I won!”, she exclaimed.  “You are all slow.  I, am fast.  Like speed in human form.  This is me.  You are slow.  Simple.”

“Uh huh”, Roger commented as he tried not to laugh.  “The first pick of pie is yours.  Quite the plan you had there.”

Julie smiled as Susan set the pie in front of her.  She rubbed her hands together but stopped when Susan put a compass and ruler by the knife. 

“What’s this?” Julie asked, quite confused.

“Oh, I just thought we’d cut the pie into five pieces of the exact same size.  That way you get to pick, but we all get the same amount.”

“Uuuuuuuhhhh”, Julie exclaimed exasperated.  Her planning had given her victory, but Susan had still thwarted her.  Julie was the reckless one, but both of them were capable of planning ahead.  It was no surprise that Julie had schemed up a way to win.  She was, quite simply, her mother’s daughter.

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