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February 24 – February 28
An Adventure of Christian Holmes
An interloper arrives at the CBI, claiming to be a data-collector from headquarters. Christian Holmes, together with Greg Belden, is assigned to help him.
As they work with the outsider, their doubts grow. Who is he, and what did he really come for?
More than one man will be tested, when inspection comes.
An Excerpt of
The stack of files was about a foot high, and I slid the folders back into the cabinet with grim speed. One and then another, one and then another. The last three days of my life had been eaten up by files – taking them out, bringing them to Lars, carrying them up the stairs, running them through the computer scanner, carrying them back down the stairs, filing them away. I had begun to feel a vague resentment of the basement, the scanner, and the awful printed papers.
I slipped in the last file, closed the drawer, and turned around. Belden stood nearby, pulling documents out of another cabinet.
I watched him, my feelings not wholly untinged by dread. He shut the metal drawer with an echoing clang and glanced at me. We shared an understanding look and headed out.
It took a minute or two to wind our way out of the cabinets to Belden’s desk. It was empty.
I took one of the chairs, accepting the break. “He’s gone.”
“Good.” Belden thumped down the files by the monitor. “I tell you, Holmes, that guy is a trial. I have been practicing superhuman restraint for three days, but I don’t know how much longer I can take it.”
He had shown more restraint than I would have expected, but sometimes he got a look in his eyes that made me fear all his restraint would break in an explosion of classic proportions. “I wonder where he went,” I remarked idly.
Belden sat in his chair; I realized, watching him settle in front of the computer, that I had begun to think of it as Lars’. Wherever he went, he had left his briefcase on the desk, his notebook laying open on top of it. His glasses, too, laid on the desk.
As I entertained the idea that Lars was farsighted rather than shortsighted, Belden began tapping on the briefcase. He tapped with both hands, first on the sides, then on the top. The hollow noise carried easily.
Abruptly he pulled his hands back, and then slowly rotated the briefcase. And he stared intensely at the open pages of the notebook.
The writing was, from his viewpoint, upside down, and it took me a moment to ask the question. “Are you reading that?”
“Trying.” He craned his neck, leaning forward.
“Belden, that’s …” Eavesdropping popped into my mind, but that couldn’t be right. “That’s snooping.”
“If you read it upside down, it’s detective work.”
“You know better than that.”
Apparently he did. Belden slowly straightened up and flipped the notebook shut. Then he picked up Lars’ glasses.
“I’m not hurting anything.” He turned the glasses over in his hand, peered through the lenses, and finally put them on.
I coughed back a laugh. “Not your style.”
Belden removed the glasses and set them down. Then he leaned back in the chair, hands folded together, and gave me a self-satisfied look. “Are you ready for my hypothesis?”
“I’ve been observing Daniel Lars. Here’s what I’ve noticed: One, he’s nosy. He gets introduced to someone, and next thing you know he has the person’s background and work history. Two, he carries around a briefcase”—Belden rapped it—“that he never opens. Three, his glasses are fake. Four …” He hesitated, shame crossing his face, but finished. “Four, he’s making notes about us.”
I glanced at the notebook, then back at Belden. “And?”
“And …” He paused, seeming to relish the suspense. “And so, he’s a reporter.”
“A reporter?” I let my skepticism bleed freely into my voice.
“An undercover reporter, doing a story on the CBI.”
“Ah. Well, then, I guess you shouldn’t have gotten into that food fight with Thompson in the lunch room yesterday.”
“We didn’t throw food.”
“I was speaking metaphorically. Anyway, Belden, the supervisor told us to work with him. He’s convinced that Lars is a CBI agent.”
Belden shook his head, adamant. “Mark my words, he’s faking us out.”
My gaze drifted, settled on Lars’ glasses. I had begun to wonder if they really were fake when Lars returned. He stopped in front of Belden, an air of expectation in his posture.
Belden, moving slowly, gave up the chair.
Lars settled in. “Agent Holmes, you and I will go over these numbers. Agent Belden, get me some coffee.”
I stared at him, but he casually put his glasses on and opened a folder. Then I looked at Belden. He stared down at Lars, rigid from his toes to his eyebrows. His expression was, in all the years we had worked together, new to me; I couldn’t read it. Yet I thought it was the expression of a man in a supreme act of self-control—or plotting retaliation.
Belden motioned vaguely upward. “You were just upstairs.”
Lars looked at him. “And?”
Belden grasped the edge of the desk and leaned in. “You know, Lars, ever since you first showed up with your glasses and your briefcase and your attitude, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you.”
Lars closed the folder, granting Belden his full attention. “What is it?”
Belden opened his mouth, but it took a moment for the words to come out. “Cream or sugar?”
Belden nodded—a jerky sort of nod, as if he wasn’t used to the motion—and took himself away.
I looked at Lars, who had quietly resumed his work. “You’re doing a good job of testing him.” So good I had started to think that some of it was just his personality coming through.
He didn’t answer. Lars paged through the file, and I watched. And for no good reason, it suddenly came into my mind that maybe Belden had a point after all. If Lars wasn’t a reporter, maybe he was something else we didn’t know about.
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