Bass saw to it that whoever had liberated the sparkplugs from Kitty 2’s car returned them, so we lost no time fleeing Innsbruck. We didn’t get very far. Less than a mile outside the city limits Kitty 2 was forced to slam on the breaks when we were blinded by an intense spotlight. As I squinted into the glare, I could make out large, dark shapes blocking the road.
“Stay in the car and keep your hands where we can see them,” an amplified voice boomed.
Kitty 2 gave me a look and revved the engine of her tiny car. I shook my head, hoping to discourage her, but I think she was more discouraged by the four men dressed in black combat fatigues pointing large rifles at us who emerged from the glare of the lights.
“Don’t shoot!” Kitty 2 yelled. “We’re not dangerous. We’re in a compact car for God’s sake!”
One of the armed men stepped to the driver’s side door, reached through the window, turned the engine off and took the keys. Another man approached me.
“Get out of the car, slowly,” he said.
I pretended to be stuck in slow motion, moving my hand toward the door handle a millimeter at a time.
“Faster than that!” the man barked.
I sped things up a little, opening the door and stepping out of the car.
“Put your hands behind your head,” the man barked.
I complied, taking a quick glance over my shoulder to see Kitty 2, standing with her hands behind her head as well. The two men who hadn’t approached the car came up behind both of us, wrenched our arms behind our backs and snapped handcuffs on us. Once we were restrained, the other men lowered their guns, and we were marched toward the row of spotlights. As I stumbled forward, I realized the shapes blocking the road were huge armored trucks. The faint hope I had held that this was an extremely aggressive speed trap shakedown faded. We were marched past the row of lights, and a small, balding man with thick glasses and a polyester suit emerged from one of the trucks, stumbling a bit before regaining his footing and approaching us.
“I want a lawyer,” Kitty 2 said before the man had a chance to speak.
The man chuckled.
“Terrorists don’t get lawyers,” he said.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Terror-what? We were just out for a drive through the countryside.”
The man took a rag from his pocket, and made a great show of cleaning his glasses before placing them back on his nose.
“I thought maybe my glasses had gotten smudged,” he said. “But now that I’ve cleaned them, I can see that the two of you do indeed appear to be soaking wet and covered in dirt and blood. Must’ve been some drive.”
“If you have to know,” Kitty 2 said. “We’re into some pretty weird stuff. Sex stuff.”
The men with guns, who had seemed a bit bored once they had us handcuffed, seemed to perk up a bit at Kitty 2’s declaration.
The man chuckled again.
“Oh, I know all about your proclivities Kitty,” he said. “We’ve been investigating the two of you since Mr. Waite contacted you.”
“It’s Kitty 2,” I said. “Kitty is the cat’s name.”
The man arched his eyebrows and looked at Kitty 2.
“You’re okay with that?”
“It’s hardly the worst thing I’ve been called. I mean, you just called me a terrorist.”
“I did,” he said. “But I don’t really think you’re terrorists. I just wanted to get your attention.”
“The lights and the heavily armed men weren’t enough?” I asked.
“I like to go the extra mile,” the man replied. “Anyway, I’m sure you two are exhausted, and we’ve got a lot to discuss. How about we adjourn to somewhere more comfortable?”
“How about you let us go, and come by my office during business hours? We can discuss anything you want then.”
The man chuckled again, and everything went dark as a sack of some sort was placed over my head, and I was tossed in the back of a truck, banging my head on the floor. I heard a door slam and an engine start. I called Kitty 2’s name, but got no response. I could only hope she was in the back of another truck, unharmed.
I lost track of time in the back of the truck, but eventually it slowed to a stop and the engine ceased to rumble. I heard the door open, and someone grabbed me and dragged me out of the truck. I heard a click, and the sound of a heavy door swinging open. Someone gave me a shove and I stumbled forward, then they grabbed me by my arm and dragged me down a hallway. I heard another door open, and I was pushed through it. The bag came off my head, and my captor removed my handcuffs. I was in a standard interrogation room with a table, two chairs and a mirrored window. Before I could ask any questions, my escort disappeared, slamming the door behind him. Exhausted, I sank down in one of the bolted-down chairs, put my head on the table and fell asleep.
I awoke sometime later in a puddle of drool. My neck was sore as I lifted my head off the cold, steel table and wiped my mouth on my sleeve. I had no idea how long I had been out. I stood up and stretched, then began to pace back and forth. After a few minutes the door opened and the bald man entered, holding a cup of coffee and a box of donuts. I gave him the evil eye as he set the food and coffee on the table and sat in one of the chairs.
“Where’s Kitty 2?” I asked.
“She’s fine,” he replied. “We just had a fascinating conversation about Innsbruck.”
“Where’s Innsbruck?” I inquired.
“There’s no need to be coy,” he replied. “I know you and your assistant were in Innsbruck, and I know you can offer me some insight into what happened there.”
I sipped the coffee. It burned my tongue.
“Sorry,” I said. “Can’t help you.”
The man sighed. “Would it make you feel better if I told you there’s nothing for you to worry about?”
“Easy for you to say,” I replied. “You’re not the one who’s going to end up dead in a ditch as part of what I can only assume is a government cover up.”
“If only it were that simple,” the man said, reaching into his suit jacket and pulling out a smartphone and placing it on the table. “Go ahead and check the news.”
I grabbed the phone and pulled up a news site. “HUMAN-FISH HYBRIDS ANNOUNCE EXISTENCE TO WORLD” one site blared. “SEA MONSTERS ARE REAL,” declared a more sensational site.
“It would seem word has gotten out,” I said.
“Yes,” the man said. “Someone uploaded a video to YouTube announcing their existence to the world.”
“And no one thought it was a hoax?” I asked.
The man sighed again. “No one fact checks anything anymore. All these sights, Buzzfeed, Gawker, whatever, they just run with whatever, and if it turns out to be a hoax they just laugh it off later.”
“Walter Cronkite is spinning in his grave, I’m sure,” I said. “So where does this leave us?”
“Well, I’m not sure where it leaves me,” the man said. “But you and your assistant are in the clear. Tell us what happened at Innsbruck and you can go…I’m sure you’ll be able to turn your experience into a book and movie deal at the very least. Unless…”
“Unless you want to work with us.”
“Who exactly is us?’”
“The Office of Creatures, Cults, Unexplained Phenomena, Lunatics, and Theosophy.”
“Your acronym is O.C.C.U.L.T, seriously?”
The man sighed again. I was worried that he was no longer chuckling and beginning to think he might be depressed.
“Yes,” he said. “When the agency was founded the original director insisted on having a clever acronym.”
“I like the acronym,” I said. “It’s better than NASA, that’s for sure. But I’m not really a 9-5 type.”
“Well, that’s fine.” The man replied. “I was thinking more of a contract position where we call on you as needed.”
“What would be in it for me?” I asked.
“Large amounts of untaxable money, mostly,” he said.
“Define ‘large,’” I said, interested.
“Most of our contracts are for the mid six figures,” the man said. “You don’t find many people who come out the other side of an experience like the one you and your assistant had unscathed. If they survive at all, they’re usually so traumatized they can barely function anymore. You two, though. You don’t seem fazed. It’s as if you’re both so self-centered that nothing can make you question your place in the universe. That’s why we’d be willing to pay you well.”
“An intriguing offer,” I replied. “But I’d have to discuss it with Kitty 2 first.”
“That’s understandable,” the man said. “You can see her soon. In the meantime, tell me what happened in Innsbruck.”
“It all started with a phone call,” I said.
I finished the story about three hours later. My interrogator said nothing the entire time, but took copious notes. When I was finished he stood up and stretched, yawning.
“I appreciate your cooperation. Do you need anything?”
“I need to see my assistant,” I replied.
“Sure,” the man said. “I’ll have her brought over.”
He left. As soon as the door closed I began to doubt my decision to cooperate. I figured Kitty 2 and I still had a 50/50 chance of ending up dead in a ditch or in solitary in Guantanamo Bay. My anxiety started to lift when, after about half an hour, the door opened and Kitty 2 waltzed in, smiling. I stood and we hugged.
“You were right about internet fame being fleeting,” she said. “After this, I can’t imagine anyone remembering I was dangled out a window.”
“I’m glad you’re okay,” I said.
“Same here,” she said. “I’d be very upset if I wasn’t.”
“Did they hurt you?”
“They fed me greasy fast food, but other than that, no.”
“What did you tell them?”
“Everything,” she said. “They didn’t even have to threaten me. I was just relieved that they wanted to hear it. You?”
“I told them everything, too,” I replied. “The guy offered us a job.”
“Yeah, my guy did that too. Could you believe that acronym?”
“It’s ridiculous,” I said. “What was your answer?”
“I told them I needed to talk to you,” she said. “If they pay half as much as they say they’re going to I’m up for it, but I’d understand if you didn’t want to.”
“I’m up for it,” I said. “I mean, how often can crazy stuff like this happen? I figure even if we agree, there’s a good chance we won’t hear from these clowns again. And if we do, well, I could do with a six figure payday.”
“Me too,” Kitty 2 replied.
As if on cue, the bald man entered the room.
“So, you’ve decided then?” he asked.
“Since you were obviously listening in, you already know the answer,” Kitty 2 said. “Now take us back to the city, please.”
“Sure thing,” the man said. “Come with me.”
We followed the man up a flight of stairs, down a concrete hallway and into an elevator with no buttons. When the door closed we were jerked upwards. The doors opened into a motor pool where a black SUV was idling. The man gestured and we climbed inside. Before I could close the door the man shoved a business card into my hand.
“In case you need to contact me,” he said. “But generally we’ll contact you.”
I put the card in my pocket without reading it and closed the door. I leaned back into the leather seat and closed my eyes. Kitty 2 was already asleep.
I woke when the car stopped. The driver got out and opened the door. I poked Kitty 2 and she jerked awake. We stepped out of the car onto the sidewalk in front of the office. I had never been so happy about the prospect of walking up three flights of stairs as I was right at that moment. The driver got back in the SUV and disappeared into the night. I took Kitty 2 by the hand and we went upstairs.