When we last left off: A rock band, the Calendar Squirrels, has disappeared, leaving behind their clothes. Were they raptured, or did they stage an alien abduction? Intrepid photographer Ralph Yollam is working with a mysterious private eye named L. Sage to learn the truth...
Thirty minutes and one cab ride later, the detective and the photographer were at the drummer's small house. The girlfriend, Rhonda, who was still a bit rattled, let the two in to investigate.
“One thing I don't get,” said Sage to Rhonda. “Why on earth did you scream when you found the pile of clothes?”
“It's a bit embarrassing,” said Rhonda. “A couple of years back, Darren and the boys got really drunk and went streaking. That's what I first thought happened.”
She led them to Darren's bedroom. Said bedroom was incredibly messy: a bunch of empty pizza boxes here and there, a few clothes on the bed, and an ugly trophy fish on the wall.
Ralph had seen this type of investigation before on Magnum, P.I. He asked Rhonda for some photos of the band, just to see if he could learn anything about the band or its local fanbase. Rhonda handed some over without a second thought, and walked off.
Sage, meanwhile, was digging through some boxes in the drummer's closet. Ralph chose to watch her, because she was a little more interesting.
“Hmmm,” Sage would say every few minutes, before turning a jacket or a pair of pants upside down. Every minute detail seemed to fascinate her.
About twenty minutes later, however, she let out a high-pitched squeak. She jumped up and down in happiness.
“Found some green goop!” she exclaimed. “It's a conspiracy! C'mere!”
Ralph hurried over. Sage grabbed his hand and squeezed some green goo onto it.
It looked like the real McCoy to Ralph. Sage lifted his hand to her face and took a whiff. She immediately recoiled.
“That can't be right,” she said. “It doesn't smell sweet enough.”
Rhonda had hurried back in after hearing Sage's squeak. “What's going on?”
Sage wheeled around. “What's the green goop for?”
Rhonda laughed a little. “Darren got that for an act he was running with the Squirrels. Clancy'd launch into a guitar solo, and Darren would sneak away from his drum kit, put on a stupid costume, and reappear on stage as an alien, kidnap the other members, and spray the crowd with green slime. It was a riot.”
She pulled a picture out of Ralph's hand.
“Darren had to stop the act a year ago after he freaked out a roadie and got punched,” she explained. “But here he is doing the act.”
Sure enough, the picture depicted a guy in an alien mask, holding the rest of the band hostage with a toy ray gun.
“That would explain the alien mask,” said Sage, pulling a squashed latex mask out of a bag. It resembled the one in the picture.
Ralph noticed the trophy fish on the opposite wall. “What kind of fish is that, anyway?” he asked.
“Red herring,” said Sage.
A couple of bus rides later, the two had found their way downtown. They were about to walk into Sage's building, when she did a sudden about-face. She grabbed Ralph's hand without breaking stride.
“Suspect in custody but isn't talking,” said Sage, holding out her cell phone. “Just got the text. Isn't that fun?”
They ran three blocks to the police station. A man met the two outside.
“Detective Held,” said Sage.
“Sage,” said the detective.
“This is my associate, Mr. Yollam,” said Sage. “He's a photographer.”
Ralph grinned. “Mr. Yollam is my father.”
The detective gave Ralph a sideways glance (Ralph's smile faded), then looked back at Sage.
“Lab says that the green goo is corn starch and food coloring.”
“And you have a suspect in custody.”
“Yeah, Sage, of course you would know that. We've got her in room A. Some elderly lady named Ida Sweeney, seen running from the back of the bar.”
The detective ushered them inside. Ralph leaned over to whisper to Sage, but she interrupted him before he could start.
“Of course he has a suspect. The good detective wouldn't invite us down here just to tell us what the goo is.”
Held explained that Mrs. Sweeney was being detained because her story didn't match up. She had attended the concert that night, and had run away from the back parking lot because her minivan had disappeared.
However, the “thief” had then driven the van home, leaving it unscathed – aside from some green goop in the back end. Regardless, Sweeney stuck to her story.
“Why are you keeping her, Held?” asked Sage. “She's just a little old lady.”
“We ran a background check on her,” said Held. “Your 'little old lady' is a bona-fide hippie. She was got into some trouble at a protest back in the 1960's, and did some community service. She was married to a doctor and inherited everything when he died. Nowadays she's pretty quiet, but our theory is she is having an LSD flashback.
“Either way, the goop in her van matches the goop from the scene.”
Even to Ralph, the whole thing seemed dumb. Sage crossed her arms.
“Ridiculous,” said Sage. “She's likely just looking for Woodstock in the modern scene. Does she have any family?”
“No boyfriend to speak of. Two sons, both out of state, and five grandchildren, but she refuses to call any of them.”
Sage squinted. “I'd like to talk to her."
The evening was beginning to cast shadows outside. Sage and Ralph sat in her office, musing over the day's events.
“It makes no sense,” said Ralph. “Why and how could a little old lady abduct a band? D'ya suppose she's a crazed old groupie?”
Sage laughed. “She's not physically capable of abducting three young men in under ten minutes and dumping off clothes. And it doesn't explain the goop.”
She poured another slug of whiskey into a coffee mug. “Still, I'm not going to rule out that it's the band's doing – maybe they hired Mrs. Sweeney to cart them off to another location.”
Ralph shrugged. “Heh, I'd let my girlfriend know if I were going to go somewhere. Wouldn't want to get punched in the face.”
Sage looked up. “Huh?”
“You saw how the girlfriend was that night,” Ralph said. “That couldn't be acting.”
“She'd tell us to call off the hounds and not look, it was just a stunt,” said Sage. “Good line of thinking.”
She relaxed again. “Plus, they did leave behind their guitarist...”
Her voice trailed off. She looked at Ralph.
“Go home, Red. Meet me at 232 Elm Street in the morning. We'll poke around Mrs. Sweeney's place and see what we can find.”
She took a gulp of the whiskey and fell asleep.
Ralph's car was out of the shop and roadworthy the next morning. He texted Sage and informed her that he could pick her up and drive her to Mrs. Sweeney's house.
He got a text back. CHANGE OF PLANS. MEET AT OFFICE.
Not long after, Ralph found himself knocking on Sage's door.
“Come on in!” she yelled.
Ralph pushed open the door. Sage was in the middle of the room rocking up and down on her heels.
He grinned. “How's it going, S-to-the-age?”
She put her hands on her hips and gave him a disapproving look through the ever-constant half-smile.
“You're trying too hard, Red,” she said. “It's annoying.”
“I've already been to Mrs. Sweeney's house,” Sage said. “Our man Held took me over there an hour ago. I didn't see anything linking her to the disappearances, aside from evidence that she'd baked about three hundred peanut butter cookies.”
Ralph cocked his head. “Why are you telling me this?”
Sage pulled a small framed photograph out of her pocket and handed it to Ralph.
“Mrs. Sweeney's grandchildren. Thought my pet photographer would appreciate this.”
Ralph examined the picture. There were five kids in order from oldest (late twenties?) to youngest (eight or nine).
“I don't get it,” Ralph said. “What am I looking for?”
“Second from the left,” Sage said. “He's wearing a rock crew shirt. He's a roadie.”
“It's a hunch, but I'm thinking that he might have met our band.”
She pulled out her phone, placed it on her desk, and looked at her watch.
“Our man Held should be calling us in three...two...one...”
“Well, damn,” said Sage.
She picked up the phone, dialed a number, turned on the speakerphone, and set it back on the desk.
“Held speaking,” said the voice on the other end.
“Held, sweetie, before I get after you for not calling me, can you look up something for me?” Sage asked.
Held grumbled. “What is it?”
“See if you can find anything related to our band's drummer and an assault a year ago.”
Typing was heard from the other end. Then Ralph and Sage heard a low whistle.
“Drummer Darren Wheatley was involved in an altercation with a roadie a year ago, but didn't press charges because the club fired the roadie,” said Held. “The roadie was named Waldo Sweeney.”
“Whoa,” Ralph whispered.
“Hello, motive," said Sage.
Two hours later, after a quick jaunt to the probate, Sage and Ralph pulled up to Mrs. Sweeney's late husband's lake house, which they'd found, Mr. Sweeney had left over in his will.
“Kind of funny, isn't it?” said Ralph as he parked the car. “Alien-obsessed rocker geek living in his grandmother's house?”
“Grandmother's lake house,” said Sage. “Cut the rocker geek some slack!”
The two started walking towards the house. As they approached the door, a banging sound could be heard inside.
Sage's half-smile erupted into a huge grin. “Stand back, Red.”
She kicked open the door.
She came face to face with Held. Ralph nearly had a heart attack.
“Where's the band?” Sage asked.
“Down in the basement,” said Held. “We came in through the side. The 'bangs' you heard...”
“...were the po-po boys knocking down the basement door,” said Sage.
“And Sweeney?” asked Ralph. His head was spinning.
“Long gone, but I found this note,” said Held. He handed a piece of paper over to Sage.
“Hmm,” she said. Ralph looked over her shoulder.
Scrawled in blue ink was a mysterious inscription: I HEARD THE VISITORS ON 19 METERS. WE'RE TRYING TO WARN THE WORLD.
Beneath it was a well-drawn sketch of a flying saucer attacking an 18th century schooner.
Sage raced through the house, Ralph and Held on her heels. She ran out the back door.
There was an awning over an inlet of lake. There was nothing underneath save water.
“Sweeney's on the water,” said Sage.
Lake police caught up with Sweeney in the middle of the lake. There was no struggle.
Bizarrely, Sweeney stuck to the story that he was trying to warn the world about an alien invasion.
“So that's basically how it ends, Red,” said Sage an hour later, as the two drove back to her office. “Waldo Sweeney was so convinced that he had heard alien voices on his shortwave radio one night that he came up with a goofy plan to 'abduct' someone and warn the city.”
“Then he'd heard about the Calendar Squirrels' concert from his grandma, and figured he'd also get even with Darren the Drummer for getting him fired,” said Ralph. “Cool.”
Sage gave him a raised eyebrow. She smiled the half-smile.
“Convoluted and dorky is what it is, Red,” she said. “But fun.”
“So how come we didn't get involved on a wild boat chase on the lake?” asked Ralph. “And why was Held already there?”
“I texted him,” she said. “I like a good time as much as the next girl, but come on – this isn't a buddy cop show.”
Sweeney was charged that evening, and Ralph had enough pictures of the band emerging from Sweeney's house, and Sweeney's arrest, that he was able to make a sale, and make the next month's rent.
A day later, Ralph tried calling Sage, but she wouldn't answer her phone. Ralph left a message and tried again, but she had evaporated.
He stopped by her office, but the door was locked. Taped to it was a large envelope labeled “Red.” He opened it and found two papers. One was a note:
Not feeling like seeing anyone today, Red. But riddle me this: what did Waldo Sweeney mean by “we're trying to save the world”? As in, plural?
Ralph didn't have time to think about it, because there was a postscript:
PS: I did this drawing of myself. I've never drawn a picture before. What do you think?