Jonas takes the package to the home of his friend, Snooker, and together they decide it’s time to see what the box contains.
Snooker poked at the box with a sausage-like finger. “Weird. Any idea what’s in it?”
After the strange phone call intended for Agent Jonas Brook, I absconded from my apartment, taking the package with me. I made a quick stop at Taco Bell for a couple Crunchwrap Sliders, then headed to my secret hideout, the home of my best friend, Snooker. I call it my secret hideout ’cause nobody goes to Snooker’s place, save for me and the man himself. His apartment, the basement he rents underneath a barber’s shop, is halfway between hoarder heaven and Watto’s junk shop from Star Wars, Episode One, a labyrinth of shelving stacked with gadgets, gizmos, and disused computers.
No way anyone was going to find me there. No way anyone would bother to look.
“Haven’t a clue,” I said, “and I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“But you do at the same time, right?” Snooker never stopped looking at the box, except to shift his eyes toward me each time he asked another question. The big chunk of a man almost salivated at the idea of opening the package, like it was a five-dollar footlong instead of a nondescript cube of cardboard. Which, in retrospect, is reason number two for taking it to his place.
“Right,” I agreed.
“You know, I’ve got an old ultrasound machine.”
“Like the thing doctors use to look at unborn crotchfruit?” When I said he had all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, I did so without a trace of hyperbole. Seriously, if Snooker didn’t have the piece of technowhatzit you needed, he’d find a way to get a hold of it.
“Yeah. Or you could, you know, just open it.”
Tearing through that ragged packing tape and opening the package up had been my first thought. My curiosity couldn’t match Snooker’s, but it was more than a little piqued. Okay, it was probably some kind of elaborate practical joke masterminded by one of my friends, but I’d never know until whatever goody they’d dropped into the little cardboard cube was in my hands. Still, part of me remained hesitant. What if this wasn’t a prank? What if it really did belong to some Agent Jonas Brook? If so, the woman on the other end of the phone call would be coming after me, gravel and all, and who knew what she was willing to do to retrieve The Football.
Remember, you’re the quarterback; your job is to hand it off to the running back.
The semicolon in between her words pried at my brain.
“I’m the quarterback,” I muttered.
“Huh?” Snooker looked confused.
“It’s what the smoking woman told me when she called. I’m the quarterback. She said it’s my job to make sure the football gets to the running back. How can I hand off the ball if I don’t know what the ball is?”
Snooker leaned his chair back on its back legs. The chair creaked as he balanced his impressive girth, wobbling forward and back. He pushed a pair of wire frame glasses up his nose with the same pudgy finger he’d used to prod the package. “Look, you’re preaching to the choir here, dude. If it was mine, you know, delivered to me, I’d have that puppy opened up faster than a pizza box in a frat house. But if you’re having second thoughts, maybe you need to take it to the cops or something.”
There it was, Snooker being sensible. Reason three for bringing him the box. As much as he craved knowing what the FedEx guy delivered to me, he still had a pragmatic side.
I stared at the box for a moment or three, then kicked Snooker’s chair hard enough to send him rocking backwards. He hung there for a moment, teetering, his eyes going wide, then gravity did its thing and he fell back to the concrete floor with a shout and a crash.
“What was that for, man?!” he interrobanged as he rolled to his hands and knees.
“You were acting down-to-earth,” I started.
“So you sent me down to earth,” he finished with a chuckle. He stood and added one word: “Jerk.”
“Let’s open it.”
Shoving my hand into the pocket of my jeans, I fished for my Swiss Army knife. The red plastic shell felt cool and smooth in my hand as I tugged it out. My thumb ran along the length of the main blade until my nail caught under the little divot used to flick the blade out. I did. Flicked the blade out, I mean. Then I made quick work of the layers of packing tape and flipped all four flaps of the lid up. Packing peanuts, the biodegradable kind made from starches, filled the package; I plucked one up and popped into my mouth. Snooker shuffled closer and peered over my shoulder.
“Well?” he asked.
The white foam puff stuck to the roof of my mouth. “Needth thalt.”
“Not the stupid packing peanuts, dude. What’s in the box?”
I scooped a couple handfuls of packing from the container and tossed them to the side. This elicited a grumbling complaint from Snooker, which I ignored. One of us would clean them up eventually, anyway. Probably him.
And there it sat, resting in a bed of white unsalted foam, sat The Football.
In all the wildest directions my imagination had run, I never once considered just how literal that name might be. Different ideas had run through my head, from some sort of tablet device containing government secrets to a super-advanced handgun with smart bullets. Or maybe just some super-spy’s little black book. But not this. Oblong, pointed at both ends, round in the middle, the object looked pretty much like a smooth pigskin. Only smaller. And silver.
What the heck?
Author’s Note: I swear, I’m not Snooker. He’s got more cool stuff than I do.