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Authors: Robert Kroese

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BOOK: Mercury Shrugs
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Dr. Takemago turned to me. “What exactly is Mr. Keane doing?” she demanded.

I watched Keane impassively for a moment. “Woolgathering,” I said, eying Dr. Takemago for her response. Crickets.

She continued to watch Keane for some time, clearly agitated. Her hands were clutched in fists at her sides. I saw her lips quivering as if she were preparing for a confrontation. She took deep breath and said, “Mr. Keane, you have had adequate time to observe that sheep. If you have no other questions, I am going to have to ask you to leave.”

Keane mumbled something incomprehensible.

“Excuse me?” said Dr. Takemago.

“I said, ‘You’ll do no such thing,’” Keane remarked.

“Oh?” said Dr. Takemago, rising to the challenge. “And why is that?”

“Because I’m your only hope to keep your job.”

Dr. Takemago snorted derisively. “And how is that, Mr. Keane?”

Keane sighed. He straightened, facing Dr. Takemago, his hands tucked behind his back. “Other than the three of us and Mark here,” he began, “this lab—which could easily accommodate twenty or more scientists and technicians—is empty. Not even a wrangler to help you with the sheep. I can’t imagine all of your research has ground to a halt simply because one of your subjects has gone missing, which means that the lab has been intentionally cleared of personnel for some reason. Not on your orders, I assume.”

Dr. Takemago didn’t reply.

Keane went on, “It’s possible that they’re trying to hide the theft of the sheep—or some other detail about the case—from the other employees, but that seems unlikely. They aren’t going to be able to keep the sheep’s disappearance under wraps for long, and you haven’t told us anything that I couldn’t have learned from any low-level employee. Speaking of which, my fee is high enough that ordinarily when I’m hired by a corporate client like Esper, I’m met by one or more board members. Corporate officers uniformly possess an exaggerated sense of their own understanding of the strategic business realities affecting a case. This leads them to believe that I couldn’t possibly solve the case without their input. But rather than being called into meeting with the Vice President of Research and Development, who ostensibly hired me for this case, I was directed to speak only to you, a lowly researcher. No offense.”

Dr. Takemago scowled.

“And then there’s the fact that nobody has called the police. Perhaps, as you intimate, this is because the matter is too sensitive to be handled by the civil authorities. Or perhaps it’s because your superiors didn’t see the need.”

“What is your point, Mr. Keane?” demanded Dr. Takemago.

“My point, Doctor, is that your bosses have already determined who is responsible for your missing sheep. They set up this meeting with the sole purpose of seeing how you would react—to see if you would attempt to steer us away from suspecting you. This room is monitored, I assume. I’d wager the VP of R&D—assuming he really did hire me—is watching us right now. You’ll be followed when you leave the building as well. If you don’t incriminate yourself during this meeting, they’re hoping to spook you into making a mistake, like trying to contact your co-conspirators.”

Dr. Takemago’s mouth had fallen open in shock. “But I… I didn’t—”

“What your superiors fail to take into account is that if you were the sheep thief, you’d have anticipated suspicion and surveillance. In fact, given that you’re the obvious prime suspect, you’d likely have planned a strategy of misdirection, deliberately inviting suspicion in order to demonstrate your innocence and utter guilelessness. If you had conducted this heist directly under your superior’s noses, as it were, the last thing that would spook you into making a mistake is some eccentric detective poking around your lab, asking silly questions. This is one of the hazards of being an eccentric detective, by the way. Clients tend to rely on my reputation while discounting my ability. Esper hired me not to solve this case, but to put on my dog-and-pony show in your lab in order to flush you out. In addition to being completely misguided and doomed to fail from the outset, there’s one major flaw with this plan.”

“I didn’t steal the sheep,” said Dr. Takemago.

“No,” Keane said. “You didn’t.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Do you see this sheep?” asked Keane, walking over to Mark and patting it gently on its head. “The poor thing is terrified.”

“So?” I asked.

“Sheep are herd animals,” said Keane. “They hate being separated from their herd. It’s a little hard to tell, but this beast is having the sheep equivalent of a panic attack right now. Simply because it’s standing alone in this lab, a place where it’s probably been a hundred times before.”

The sheep let out a low bleat, and Keane scratched its ear comfortingly.

I held up my hands, indicating I wasn’t following.

“Well,” he said, “imagine how Mary feels. She’s in a strange place, alone, separated from her flock. “She must be out of her mind with fear.”

I was about to interject, asking if he was going to get to the point sometime this week, but then I saw Dr. Takemago bite her lip, and I caught a glimpse of the picture Keane was painting.

“Dr. Takemago’s surly demeanor is a cover,” said Keane. “She loves these sheep. She empathizes with them. You can tell by the way she fidgets when I approach it. It pains her to see poor Mark standing here alone in the lab, being harassed by a strange man. Maybe at first they were just research subjects, but she’s come to have strong feelings for them. She would never willingly remove Mary from her herd. I suppose it’s possible that she assisted the thief under duress, but it’s hard to imagine what sort of leverage the thief might use.”

“The usual, I suppose,” I offered. “Threaten her family, or—”

Keane shook his head. “Dr. Takemago tends to avoid eye contact and personal pronouns, engages in the bare minimum of personal grooming, lacks social graces, presents a virtually asexual affect, and demonstrates an abbreviated range of emotions. These characteristics, along with her chosen career in a highly technical, specialized scientific field, indicate that she possesses traits of autism and social anxiety disorder. I expect she has no friends and no close family. This job is her entire life, and those sheep are the closest things she has to friends. To get Dr. Takemago to betray her employer and cause suffering to one of her sheep, the thief would have had to threaten to take away something she values more than her job and her research subjects. There isn’t any such thing.”

Dr. Takemago stared at Keane with something that was either annoyance or awe.

“So,” I said, “this whole meeting has been a waste of time.”

“Not at all,” said Keane. “We’ve accomplished two important tasks. One, we’ve eliminated Dr. Takemago as a suspect and saved her job. Two: we’ve demonstrated that I’m the only person in this building smart enough to find the real thief.” Keane craned his neck back and addressed the ceiling. “So,” he said, “if it’s all the same to you, I’ll get to work on that.”

 

 

 

 

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More books by Robert Kroese you might enjoy:

“Mercury Begins”
(short story)

Mercury Falls

Mercury Rises

Mercury Rests

Mercury Revolts

Schrödinger’s Gat

The Foreworld Saga: The Outcast

Distopia

Disenchanted

Disillusioned

“The Chicolini Incident”
(short story)

Starship Grifters

The Force is Middling in This One

 

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Coming Soon:

The Big Sheep
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The Last Iota
(January 2017)

 

 

 

[1]
Only about half of this effect was due to the sudden proliferation of hormones in Lucas’s newly pubescent body; Christine had this effect on less excitable males as well.

[2]
He had in fact discovered
an
error, but the sheer volume of errors he had committed made that almost inevitable.

[3]
The latter was technically impossible, as all demons are immortal, but it didn’t stop them from trying.

[4]
Angels in Heaven have no need of money or most other material things, but Lucifer had wisely hidden several caches of Cuban cigars, single malt whiskey, and Silver Age comic books around Heaven in case of the eventuality that he was ever incarcerated there.

[5]
Balderhaz himself was thought to be stranded on the Mundane Plane, but his legacy lived on throughout the multiverse, in the form of secret facilities, Balderhaz Cubes, and various other artifacts of his eccentric genius.

[6]
Suzy had inadvertently uncovered an illegal government program to develop a so-called ‘suitcase nuke.’ The bomb was stolen by a terrorist organization called Chaos Faction, led by the demoness Tiamat, who nearly destroyed a medium-sized Midwestern city with it. For more details, see my previous report, titled
Mercury Revolts
.

[7]
Brimstone was the name of the secret, illegal government project to build a nuclear bomb to replace the one that was built by the secret, illegal government project called Wormwood.

[8]
Eden II was a self-contained ecosystem built by the eccentric billionaire Horace Finch. The actual purpose of the vast domed structure was to hide the existence of a huge underground particle accelerator that Finch believed would give him absolute mastery over time and space. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, the entire facility was accidentally sent 7,000 years back in time.

[9]
The result of another of Lucifer’s attempts at world domination.

[10]
For an explanation of how this came about, see
Mercury Revolts
.

[11]
The strong anthropic principle states that the universe can’t exist without consciousness. This is not to be confused with the strong misanthropic principle, which states that the universe exists to screw with us.

[12]
Savvy readers will note that if this instance of Mercury coexisted with his alternate self, then both Mercurys were mortal during this time, as I previously established that only one instance of an individual can be immortal on a given plane at a given time. If it makes you feel better, you can assume that Red Mercury remembered this and asked John to implement some kind of override using the miraculous powers of the Eye, and that I did not mention this development until now because it would have completely wrecked the flow of this very poignant and pithy final chapter. In fact, what the hell are you doing reading footnotes at a time like this? Get back to the story!

BOOK: Mercury Shrugs
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