Joe Avery Meets the Goats Gruff
Charles C Cole
Humpty Dumpty was in town to expand his regional domination. Things had been going well financially, to the extent he was getting the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of people. A recent editorial in a reputable money magazine had nicknamed him: “Golden Egg.”
Dumpty had reason to believe one of his aggrieved competitors might orchestrate an “accident.” He hired a no-nonsense bodyguard, one of the billy goats Gruff, who stuck by him like an extra shadow – tantamount to hiring a bull to guard a China shop from inside the store.
But one can’t have enough eyes in a city this size. I was hired as backup and as local liaison, to watch from a distance, to scope out anything remotely potentially threatening.
Before my client checked in, I interviewed Reynolds the hotel dick, the captain of the bellhops, the desk manager, even Human Resources (for staff grumbling about hardship debts, a universal motivator). I even nosed about the nearest coffee shop and magazine stand, great places that served a cast of “regulars” and so were key resources for noticing new faces or uncharacteristic behaviors from old ones.
I had zero leads. But, in my experience, paranoia is always justified. If your alarm clock is going off, you didn’t set it by accident.
Gruff asked for a face-to-face while his boss was on a conference call. He wanted to doublecheck my efforts. I wasn’t insulted: he had more at stake (his livelihood) than I did. I made my way to the suite, leaving the brick-and-mortar detective to watch the lobby.
Gruff was leaning against the mostly closed door, one ear keen on the activity behind him. I stepped forward, expecting him to escort me inside, but he said: “Detective Avery, with all due respect, we can talk out here. Don’t want to be a distraction. It’s not like someone’s going to reach through the phone to throttle him. Besides I’ve got control of the world inside the room, and you have the world outside.”
“Sounds like one of us is understaffed,” I said.
“Not my problem.”
“What about your brothers? They as tough as you?”
“Tougher,” he said. “Why?”
“Why not hire them instead of me?”
“One: it’s your town. Two: with you, it’s all business. And three: we had a falling out, not that it’s any of your concern.”
“After we evicted that no-good bully troll from under the bridge, my brothers came up with the idea that we should take over the racket, a legit toll-collecting enterprise to manage the costs of maintaining the public thoroughfare.”
“That bridge was an essential convenience for mountain traffic, but it’d also been free for as long as I can remember. When it needed repair, the community came together to take care of it because it was the right thing to do, and we all benefited.”
“How’d the venture capitalists do?”
“They ventured. They failed. They got embarrassed and moved on to greener pastures. Found themselves a herd of flying pigs and started a delivery service. Only problem was: in our isolated county, if you need something, you make it yourself or buy it from a neighbor who makes it. In their case, they never quite found the goose that lays the golden egg.”
“Who needs the goose, when you can have the Golden Egg himself?” I asked. He tensed up.
“You suggesting something?”
Before I could answer, we heard a window shatter from inside the hotel room. I pushed my way through. Dumpty was shutting himself in the bathroom. Two billy goats had been airlifted to their destination by a couple of flying pigs each. While four pigs hovered outside, the goats were cautiously, unsuccessfully climbing over broken glass. (Why they hadn’t asked to be carried further inside is a question for another day.)
“That’s far enough!” I yelled. I only needed to stall them. The emergency call button on the wall was flashing, so I knew reinforcements were on their way. Dumpty had not panicked. Good for him.
The three brothers engaged in a stare-down of sorts.
“Should have guessed you’d be here,” said one of the new arrivals, chip firmly on shoulder.
“There’s plenty for all,” said the other.
“Leave now or be thrown out,” said my compatriot, composed and holding firm. “Those are your only options.”
Reynolds rushed in with a couple of pals. They were all out of shape and out of breath, but we had the bad guys outnumbered, and they knew it.
“Don’t anybody do something stupid; we’re going. We just picked the wrong room, that’s all. Could have happened to anyone.”
“Not if you’d used the door,” I countered.
The two uninvited guests invented dignity where none should be, nodding to each of us as they almost-solemnly stepped through the door and into the hallway.
Dumpty had seen enough to know he’d witnessed an unfortunate family squabble, but he’d also seen a lone employee stand up for him when it could have been easy (and beneficial) to look the other way.
The hotel apologized profusely and moved Dumpty to another room – for free, with the promise of keeping the incident out of the press. Reynolds was temporarily given hall duty while some low-level muscle was assigned ground-floor lobby supervision.
Gruff walked me to the elevator.
“You did good back there,” I said.
“Glad you think so.”
“Nobody expects you to betray family. You did what you needed to do. Based on their track record, those two will make another mistake soon enough. And someone else can turn them in.”
He shook his head at the thought. “Guess the city’s not so different from the country,” he said.
“How’s that?” I asked, though I had an idea where he was going.
“The more you include in the decision-making, the more likely you are to succeed.”
“I know that and you know that,” I said, “but I think Golden Egg is going to have to learn that lesson the hard way.”