(I put this up in the comment section at Tim's place a year or so ago. On the outside chance that I've picked up a couple of new readers since then, I'm posting it here).
“But Paco, don’t you understand? You stole my Johnson!”
Heads turned. Eyebrows arched. Lips curled up at the edges in lewd smiles. I grabbed him by the elbow and marched him to a far corner of Java Jim’s Coffee Shop and shoved him into a chair at a table by the condiment cart.
“Listen, you idiot! If you want to shout out in a public place that I lifted your wallet or strangled your cat or shoved your grandmother down the cellar stairs, feel free to exercise your larynx to your heart’s content. But don’t go around saying that I stole a Johnson!”
He gave me a puzzled look, but shook it off and got down to cases. “Paco, this wasn’t a Johnson, it was my Johnson: a first edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, published in 1755, which had belonged to Edmund Burke and included the latter’s marginal notes. It cost me a small fortune.”
I shoved my fedora back on my head and stared at this loopy specimen: Paul Smollet, Professor of English Literature at State College. An unprepossessing guy in his early thirties, medium height, dark but thinning hair, wire-rim glasses. He wasn’t a bad sort. Just nuts.
“Let me get this straight, Doc. I repossessed your car – a brand new Lexus – because you were three months behind on the payments, and you’re worried about a two-hundred year old dictionary that hasn’t even got a lot of our most useful modern words, like ‘computer’ and ‘molecule’ . . . and Johnson?”
“Paco, I don’t blame you for repossessing the car; you were just doing what the bank hired you to do. In fact, the main reason I had trouble making the car payments is because I had to shell out so much money for the books. But the two-volume dictionary was in the trunk; I planned on taking the thing from my office to my house after class yesterday and I had a couple of stops to make so I thought it would be safer there. But you towed the car away from the campus before I had a chance to remove it. You’ve got to help me get it back!”
“That shouldn’t be too tough. Let’s just go down to the dealership, pop the trunk and retrieve it.” Like a lot of things, it turned out to be slightly more difficult than I expected.
We drove down to Lorenzo’s Lexus Sales and Service and parked in front of the showroom, then walked through to the credit manager’s office. When I asked about the car in question, and outlined the problem, Jack Fink, the manager, squirmed in his chair and acquired a distinctly anxious expression.
“Well, yeah, we’ve got it around back, or rather, what’s left of it.”
That sounded bad. We went around to the lot, the professor practically breaking into a canter in his panic.
The credit manager finally came shuffling up to us. “Where is it?”, I asked.
He went over and gingerly laid a hand on it.
The thing looked like a dumpster that had been chosen for an overnight stay by a bum who liked to smoke in bed. It was a blackened, twisted wreck, and there was not even a prayer that anything in the trunk could have survived. The professor let out a little bleat like a new-born calf who’d lost his mother.
“What happened, Jack?”
“Beats me. The thing was towed in yesterday afternoon, and blew up around dinner time. The cops have been here and checked out what’s left.”
I turned to the Professor. “Ok, Doc, it looks like somebody had it in for you; they put a time bomb in your car and set it to go off right about the time you’d be leaving the campus. Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”
I drove him back to my office, waved him through the door, sat him down and poured him a shot of bourbon. He swallowed it, coughed violently, then settled down.
“You got any enemies, Doc?”
He mulled it over. “No, not really . . . well . . . no, it’s nothing.”
“Spill it, Doc. Let me be the judge.”
“Well, I’m on the selection committee for the library, the chairman, actually, and I’ve been at loggerheads with the head of the Islamic Studies Department, Sheik ibn Bakir. He wanted the college to order 50 copies of Anthony Lowenstein’s new book, and I vetoed the decision because of the book’s extremely poor research quality , then he wanted to order a couple of hundred copies of The Arab Peace Initiative, which is little more than a propaganda leaflet put out by the Saudi government, and I nixed that, too. You see, the college is on a pretty tight budget, so we have to be fairly selective. He did get kind of hot about it.”
I figured where there’s smoke, there’s likely to be a Muslim radical, these days, so I decided to pay the Sheik a visit. At first, I thought to send Sheila in, undercover, posing as a student. “Won’t work”, the professor said. “He never meets directly with female students; always fobs them off on his teacher’s aids. Besides, he’s a randy old goat, from what I hear, and has some pretty primitive notions about, er, courtship.” Sheila drew herself up to her full 5’7” and declared, “If he tried that stuff with me, he’d wind up with a stiletto-heel schlong kebab.” I filed that information away, along with a mental note to buy Sheila some flat-heeled shoes for her birthday. “Ok, I’ll tackle him head-on.”
Well, it wasn’t quite head-on. I wanted to reconnoiter the ground, first, so I broke into Bakir’s office late that night, or as I like to put it, I entered without his prior approval. I flashed the beam from the pen light around his domain. He was obviously a collector of posters, most of them featuring guys in white pajamas and ski masks. There were also a couple of pictures of some dyspeptic, four-eyed mullahs with whom I was unfamiliar. The books on his shelf were curious: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Dhimmitude for Dummies ; One Hundred and One Ways to Prepare Hummus; several Korans. I pulled a particularly bulky-looking Koran off the shelf, and a sheaf of loose-leaf notebook paper fell out. I examined the papers closely under my flashlight, and saw, to my consternation, a list of airlines, routes, timetables, a detailed schematic of the regional power grid, and a recipe for anthrax milkshakes. Suddenly, everything had come into focus – primarily because the Sheik had just turned on the overhead light.
He stood there, swathed in white robes, a green turban on his head, and a Smith & Wesson .357 caliber revolver in his hand.
“Good evening, professor. I’m with facilities management and there’ve been some complaints about the temperature control on this floor. Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”
He gave me a wicked smile. “Oh, I imagine it’s just you, my friend, but no need to worry. You’ll be cold enough soon.”
I feigned fear and dropped to my knees. His smile was positively malicious, now. “That’s right, dog of an unbeliever! Submit before the will of Allah! Perhaps He will accept your – how do you call it – your ‘death-bed conversion’”.
Putting my faith in Moe instead of Mohammed, I grasped the edge of the carpet and gave it a tremendous yank. The sheik did a back-flip, and his gun went off, plugging a picture of Saddam Hussein right between the eyes. Congratulating him on his marksmanship, I retrieved the gun, rolled him up in the carpet, fastened it with duct tape and called the FBI.
All the commotion attracted a crowd in front of the building, including Professor Smollet, who had been working late. “Great news, Paco! My Johnson wasn’t in the trunk of my car after all! It was still lying in my office under Fanny Hill!”
The FBI guy gave him a funny look. “Don’t ask”, I said.