Jillian met us at the door when we got back. Getlo threw herself at Jillian as if we’d been gone for days.
“Did we miss Oprah?” I asked, bending to unclip the leash.
She shushed me, looking worriedly over my shoulder into the hallway. “The less said about that, the better.”
“Too much spaceship tour, too little message?”
She nodded as Warren came in and closed the door behind him. “Where’s Larry?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Isn’t he here?”
I glanced at her, then registered the alarm rising in her eyes.
“No,” she said. “We thought he was with you.”
“You think Ginger would have let him out of here without a full contingent of bodyguards?”
“No, but he isn’t here, so I assumed—.” Her voice trailed off and she swallowed. “Hank, there have been death threats. Where is he?”
I noticed now that there were more people in the living room than there had been when I left. Several of them were wearing black Spartan Security tees, but some looked like Dave clones, in shirtsleeves and ties and showing wires behind their ears.
There was a knock on the door, and I turned around to open it. Dave stood there, with Clyde, the golden retriever.
“I didn’t want to take the time to—,” he said apologetically, nodding at the dog. “They told me to come right away.”
“Getlo will be thrilled,” I said. “Come on in.” I turned to Jillian. “Now tell me what’s going on.”
Ginger appeared, a cell phone to one ear. “Where’s Larry?” she said, looking around in surprise as if he’d maybe decided to hide in the coat closet.
“Not with us,” I said.
“I’ll call you back,” she said into the phone, and snapped it shut. “He’s not with you,” she said. “That means he’s missing. Somebody has taken out a ten-thousand-dollar hit on him, and now he’s missing. Bloody hell.” She re-opened her cell phone, and pushed a button. “Come on, pick up, pick up,” she said under her breath. She heaved a sigh. “Voicemail.” Then she said, “Larry, it’s Ginger. You need to call me immediately—I mean immediately—when you get this message.”
“Ten thousand dollars?” I echoed, trailing them.
“On the Internet,” Jillian said. “It could be a hoax, but we’ve been going through the mail, and we’ve found ten death threats so far.” She gestured at two agents and two Spartan Security people seated around the table. Each had a mailbag on the floor next to them, and was opening mail with gloved hands. “Elvis has received six threats in his e-mail.”
Elvis entered from the bedroom. “But Jillian, I have also received many very friendly e-mails.” To me, he said, “I have received three proposals of marriage.” He squatted down to greet Getlo. “Getlo, you have made a friend too.”
Ginger said, “Elvis, Larry’s missing. We thought he went with Hank and Warren to walk the dog, but apparently, he didn’t.” She looked at her watch. “That means he’s been missing for an hour and a half, at least. We have to find him. Do you know where he is?”
The big guy straightened, his expression sober. “No, Ginger, I don’t know. Maybe he went to the ship.”
Ginger looked relieved. “Yes, yes, that’s likely. That’s probably where he is. Hank, could you take Warren and Jillian and check? You know where it is, right? Good. On second thought, better take Max, too.”
One of the suits, a white-haired man, said, “We’ll send an agent with them. McGreevy!” A tall, broad-shouldered redhead came forward. “Go with them.”
I wasn’t keen on leading the F.B.I. to the spaceship, but under the circumstances, I couldn’t think of a good argument not to. Larry had been shot the last time he set foot on the planet, so I knew he was vulnerable. And in those days, he’d had only a small group of paranoid dads to contend with. Now, there was a psycho on every street corner—in the District, probably two. And I didn’t think they’d be deterred by the District’s handgun ban.
I didn’t bother with the wig and sunglasses. Being able to see was a top priority, and I didn’t care about being seen. Max drove to save time. We parked on Beach and I led them through the woods. In the car I’d asked about the credibility of the death threats. McGreevy had shrugged.
“Hard to say,” he’d said. “Most of them probably aren’t very credible. The Internet one’s probably a fake. But we have to check them all out. Thing is, successful assassins don’t usually advertise their intentions first. What we do take seriously is the level of anger the threats represent.”
Under different circumstances, I could tell that the pigeons would have been a major source of entertainment. As it was, Warren just said, “Son of a bitch. Would you look at that?” I called Elvis, and the ramp appeared out of thin air.
The ship was just as we’d left it—empty. I called Elvis again for instructions. I needed to check all of the closets and storage spaces, just to make sure. I got clipped by a frip-frip racquet when I opened that door, but I didn’t even try to cram all the sports equipment back inside.
Outside the ship again, the ramp disappearing behind us, I called Ginger again. “Have you looked for a note?” I asked.
“No note,” she said. “We’ve looked everywhere.”
I put a hand to the temple that had started to throb, only partly from contact with the racquet. “Okay, okay,” I said. “I think somebody should go down and check out the Lincoln Memorial. I think we should scour the neighborhood.”
“Okay, Hank, but be as discreet as possible,” she said.
“We will,” I said. The last thing we wanted was an APB on a missing spaceman.
“Anyplace else you can think of?” Ginger asked.
She sighed. “Nothing we haven’t already tried.”
I paused. “Are we convinced that Elvis doesn’t know where he is?”
“No, I’m not,” she said. “But I’m convinced that if he does know, he’s not going to tell us.”
Max drove the car back while the rest of us walked. We came up behind the zoo and checked the shops and restaurants along Calvert, Connecticut, and Woodley. I stuck my head in Murphy’s.
“Of course, with the subway stop right here,” I said, “he could be anywhere by now.”
We divided up Adams Morgan, but an hour’s search turned up nothing more suspicious than a few more suits with short haircuts scouring the same area. We went home in defeat.
Elvis was working on his blog. Howard was nowhere in sight, so maybe he had joined a search party.
“You don’t seem too concerned about Larry,” I said. “The last time you let him out of your sight on this planet, he got himself shot.”
“Yes, and I am worried about that,” Elvis admitted, his eyes on the screen. “But Larry will do what he wants to do.” Then he turned to me, “You know, Hank, we have been living in the spaceship together for a very long time. And this is a very beautiful planet. He has been living inside this hotel room ever since we arrived. I cannot blame him for wanting to go outside for a while. I would like to take Getlo to the dog park.” He said this last wistfully. He turned back to the screen with a sigh. “And anyway, back on Larry’s planet, this is a special time for him. On your planet, you would call it an anniversary, I think.”
“Yes. One of his children died at this time—that is, when we adjust for distance and motion. So he is always sad when it comes because he remembers this child.”
“Larry lost a child?” I said. I felt my image of him shifting, rearranging itself in my head. “He couldn’t—well, revive the child?”
“As he explained to you, Hank, everything depends on the Almighty Spirit. It was this child’s time to return, so no, he couldn’t revive the child.”
“Jesus,” I said. I sank down on the bed. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how parents survive a thing like that.”
“You must not say anything to Larry,” he said, typing. “He might not want me to tell you. He is a very private person.”
“How long ago did this happen?” I asked.
“That is hard to say,” Elvis said. “Some people might think it was a very long time ago. But maybe if you had lost a child yourself, you would think it happened only yesterday. There are many different ways of experiencing time.”
I sat with my elbows on my knees, my chin in my palms, contemplating life. Somewhere in the vast, unimaginable reaches of space, there were planets with names I couldn’t pronounce inhabited by life forms I couldn’t envision. And yet, among these beings there were parents and children who felt some of the same emotions we felt and experienced some of the same crises of pain and loss that we did.
In the background, I was barely aware of the staccato clicks of Elvis’s furious typing. I’d never asked how he learned to type, even though it was clear he’d mastered it much more quickly than he’d mastered the guitar.
“Now will you read my blog?” he asked.
I got up from the bed and went to stand behind him, leaning over to read the screen.
Today I want to write about our mission, he’d written. I am very, very enthusiastic about our mission, because I want us to succeed and prevent Earth from being destroyed. I will tell you a very interesting story. When we heard that Earth was trying to send atomic weapons into space—this was back on Larry’s home planet, where I had lived only for a few gluks—Larry and I said, “Oh, we would love to go and save the Earth!” We had heard that Earth was a very beautiful planet with many interesting life forms, and so we thought that it would be a shame for Earth to disappear.
We traveled for a very long time to get here, but we couldn’t wait to arrive and deliver our message! The Earth people did not seem to want to save their planet, however, and they attacked us. We went away, but when our leaders asked if we wanted to try again, we said Yes! We did not think that Earth adults were very friendly, but their planet was beautiful, and we were very enthusiastic about saving it from annihilation.
When we came back, we found that Earth people had become very friendly while we were gone. They have sent many, many presents to Larry and me and my little dog Getlo. But they still do not seem very interested in universal peace.
So I am asking all of you out there who are reading this blog to write and tell me what Earth people want, and why you are not interested in peace.
Adios for now,
p.s. Larry says that soon we will have to do something that will surprise you. But I wanted to try this first. So please put on your thinking cats, and tell me how we can make disarmingment more appealing to you.
I patted his shoulder.
“Is it all right?” he asked.
“Well, I like it,” I said. “But you should probably ask Howard and Anna and Ginger. Diplomacy is their department. And Larry, of course, when he comes back.”
I drifted to the window and gazed out. Where the hell could he be? The answer, of course, was “anywhere.” From the distance my gaze dropped, and I had a thought. Maybe some places were more likely than others.
Now if I could only run the gamut of G-men and security guards, not to mention two dogs, and slip out unnoticed. With a wig under my jacket.