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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 ā 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 Beldenās desk. It was empty.
I took one of the chairs, accepting the break. āHeās gone.ā
āGood.ā Belden thumped down the files by the monitor. āI tell you, Holmes, that guy is a trial. I have been practicing superhuman restraint for three days, but I donāt know how much longer I can take it.ā
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. āI wonder where he went,ā 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 Larsā. 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. āAre you reading that?ā
āTrying.ā He craned his neck, leaning forward.
āBelden, thatās ā¦ā Eavesdropping popped into my mind, but that couldnāt be right. āThatās snooping.ā
āIf you read it upside down, itās detective work.ā
āYou know better than that.ā
Apparently he did. Belden slowly straightened up and flipped the notebook shut. Then he picked up Larsā glasses.
āIām not hurting anything.ā He turned the glasses over in his hand, peered through the lenses, and finally put them on.
I coughed back a laugh. āNot your style.ā
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. āAre you ready for my hypothesis?ā
āIāve been observing Daniel Lars. Hereās what Iāve noticed: One, heās nosy. He gets introduced to someone, and next thing you know he has the personās background and work history. Two, he carries around a briefcaseāāBelden rapped itāāthat he never opens. Three, his glasses are fake. Four ā¦ā He hesitated, shame crossing his face, but finished. āFour, heās making notes about us.ā
I glanced at the notebook, then back at Belden. āAnd?ā
āAnd ā¦ā He paused, seeming to relish the suspense. āAnd so, heās a reporter.ā
āA reporter?ā I let my skepticism bleed freely into my voice.
āAn undercover reporter, doing a story on the CBI.ā
āAh. Well, then, I guess you shouldnāt have gotten into that food fight with Thompson in the lunch room yesterday.ā
āWe didnāt throw food.ā
āI was speaking metaphorically. Anyway, Belden, the supervisor told us to work with him. Heās convinced that Lars is a CBI agent.ā
Belden shook his head, adamant. āMark my words, heās faking us out.ā
My gaze drifted, settled on Larsā 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. āAgent Holmes, you and I will go over these numbers. Agent Belden, get me some coffee.ā
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 couldnāt read it. Yet I thought it was the expression of a man in a supreme act of self-controlāor plotting retaliation.
Belden motioned vaguely upward. āYou were just upstairs.ā
Lars looked at him. āAnd?ā
Belden grasped the edge of the desk and leaned in. āYou know, Lars, ever since you first showed up with your glasses and your briefcase and your attitude, thereās something Iāve been wanting to tell you.ā
Lars closed the folder, granting Belden his full attention. āWhat is it?ā
Belden opened his mouth, but it took a moment for the words to come out. āCream or sugar?ā
Belden noddedāa jerky sort of nod, as if he wasnāt used to the motionāand took himself away.
I looked at Lars, who had quietly resumed his work. āYouāre doing a good job of testing him.ā So good I had started to think that some of it was just his personality coming through.
He didnāt 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 wasnāt a reporter, maybe he was something else we didnāt know about.
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