A Life Less Ordinary


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The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

Miss Parker stood in the lobby, her arms folded and tapping an impatient foot as she glared at the clock above the reception desk. She told them twenty minutes and she’d meant every word of it. A single second longer and she’d go up there and drag them out of their separate suites herself.

“Hello, Miss Parker.”

Sydney stepped out of the elevator and she eyed the outfit he wore, from the white button-down to the deck shoes, her gaze pausing momentarily on the well-cut khaki pants, before noticing the sunglasses tucked into his top pocket.

“You look -- casual.”

He smiled. “Well, we are in California, even if it’s not quite at the height of the tourist season.”

Sydney looked at her outfit. If the eyes of every single man on the beach weren’t popping out of their heads at the cut of her pale lilac shirt, they certainly would be at the shortness of her skirt. Turning in time to see Broots getting off the other elevator, the psychiatrist knew that he had put his finger on it. At the sight of the technician’s attire, however, Miss Parker simply rolled her eyes and averted her gaze as quickly as possible, heading for the limo.

* * * * * * * * *

I pulled the sunglasses from the pocket of my white button-down, sliding them on as soon as we exited the building, not so much in need of protecting my eyes as protecting my identity. However, I do have to admit that Mona’s light purple shirt did more for her than Argyle’s entire outfit did for him. Although the apartment block was nice, it was some distance from the beach itself and also from a place that Argyle said he wanted to show me, where, as he put it so well, he had ‘financial concerns.’ That tidbit of information had me worrying right away, because I’ve seen a number of Argyle’s financial concerns and most of them usually end up with their windows boarded and the word ‘repossessed’ scribbled on a piece of paper and taped to the door.

As it turned out, I wasn’t too far wrong. The paper wasn’t there, but the two heavies at the door were doing the job well enough. And I could see Argyle and Mona’s dreams for a big wedding flying out the open top of my car. Of course, Argyle went over to find out what was going on. Rescuing him brought back memories of that fateful trip down in Atlantic City. But at least this time I got to him before they broke his fingers.

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, that's it, Pops or no Pops, I am not tolerating this any longer. Argyle has completely lost all his marbles, not that there were too many to begin with in that skull of his. Why does he think that these 'get-rich-quick-schemes' will work? Did he not learn from the last thousand times? That man truly needs to reconsider his current occupation, or lack thereof. Sigh. Can I please have a normal, dog, life?

* * * * * * * * *

We decided that -- business looking like it was going as well as business usually does where Argyle’s concerned -- we’d go for a walk along the strip. I’m not quite sure what really happens to my mind whenever I’m around Argyle, but I do know that it’s affected in a way that’s never good for the rest of me, although I’m not sure I can blame the amnesia I had the first time on him. Still, the fact that I was half-drowned the second time and repeatedly punched the third definitely had to do with Argyle’s inability to coordinate the actions of his brain with those of his mouth.

By now I’d entirely forgotten the reason for my earlier abrupt exit from the beach. I was soon reminded. We’d barely stepped onto the sand when we saw them. And it was “them.” I spotted the bad outfit first. If it hadn’t been for the lack of hair, I might have thought we were looking into a mirror. That and the fact that Miss Parker's skirt was a little shorter than Mona’s. But not by much…

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

Miss Parker walked towards the trio, watching as one girl of very obvious Asian descent poured suntan lotion onto his back and the other rubbed it in. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out wads of cash and tossed them in the direction of the women as the man reclined before looking up to see her.

“Work just ended, ladies. Have a good vacation.”

Lyle glared up at her from his position on the sand, even less pleased to see her cohorts appear on either side, as his two companions seized both the money and opportunity, and fled.

“Parker, I’m on vacation.”

“Not any more.” She dropped the order on his stomach. “Daddy wants to see you pull your finger out.” After a few moments, as he remained unmoving, still stretched out on the towel, she lowered her sunglasses and glared at him over to the top of them. “And I think he meant today.”

Lyle got to his feet and turned to pick up his towel. The sharp sound a second later made several beach-goers look over as Lyle straightened up, red finger marks clearly visible on his white behind and a towel covering his front, his face creased into a glare. “Why is it that any time you show up, my life gets much more unpleasant?”

Miss Parker shrugged as she turned to go back to the car, trying to ignore the sinking feeling she had as the heels of her shoes disappeared into the sand with every step. “Just lucky, I guess.”

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, so we didn’t get much chance at conversation. In fact, I hustled the two of them back to my car so fast that their heads were probably still spinning when we drove away.

Oh, yes.


Unfortunately, in certain situations, the smallest guy tends to get overlooked, and that was exactly what happened then. Usually the smallest guy would be Argyle -- there aren’t many who are smaller than he is -- but Dog has to fit into that category too. As I sped away, I looked into the rearview mirror and spotted him facing off against Miss Parker.

* * * * * * * * *

Ahem - JAROD!! I believe you have failed to realize that YOU FORGOT ME!! Damn! Now what am I supposed to do? Ow, ow, ow! This sand is hot! Still, maybe those people that Jarod was looking at could help me. Hmm, now there’s a familiar face. Still, at least he’s covered up a little this time. A little, I said. And those finger marks on his backside are quite attractive (and if dogs could laugh, I would).

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

“Hey, look, Miss Parker.” Broots knelt down in front of Dog, who was snarling and trying to look aggressive. “Isn’t he cute?”

“Adorable,” she commented dryly, her voice displaying anything but enthusiasm. A moment and a second glance later, however, she couldn’t help smirking.


She turned and eyed the outfit that Lyle had just donned.

“…they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

* * * * * * * * *

Excuse me, ma’am, but those are my paws you nearly trod on with your stiletto heels. Would you mind watching where you step?

Now she’s acquired quite an entourage: the balding, skittish one, the distinguished one, and now, the thumbless one. My, my, what a group.

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

As Lyle added a cap and sunglasses, she had to avert her eyes in a bid to retain her dignity. The choking sounds from away to her left suggested that she wasn’t the only person who had noticed the similarities of the two -- human and canine -- but, as she turned on her heel and stalked up the sand, she could at least be confident that nobody else would want to stand out like a sore thumb by trying to imitate the man who was following them, shaking sand out of his cream sandals and brushing it off his dark brown socks.

* * * * * * * * *

The thumbless man has raided my wardrobe. I will say that I believe the outfit may be better suited for him; however, I cannot believe he allowed someone to place that gob of white stuff on his nose. How does he tolerate that?

Hey, now, hold on just a minute, ma'am. I am NOT your dog, so please do me the honor of returning me to the ground. Excuse me? Please move your face away from mine. I am not in any mood to deal with humans.

You failed to heed my warning; I shall have to attempt another approach.

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

"Aw, damn it." Miss Parker relinquished her hold on the small canine and clasped her hands over her nose.

"What? What happened?" Broots scrambled to her side, concern enveloping his face.

"The little bugger bit me." She looked around for the dog, ready to kick him for his action, but he had scurried away. The Jack Russell terrier poked his head around Sydney's leg and growled at her.

Sydney extended an arm, holding the woman momentarily at bay. "Miss Parker, he is just a dog. He was only defending himself. How was he to know you weren’t trying to harm him?"

She made no reply, only crossed her arms over her chest and turned away, snarling at Lyle who was chuckling under his breath.

* * * * * * * * *

“What are we going to do, Jay-man?”

Argyle’s face was wearing a familiar, that is to say frightened, expression and his tones weren’t exactly that unexpected either. I knew fate must have had a twinkle in its eye when it made him fall in love with a woman called ‘Mona,’ and that was probably about all that joke deserved too.


“Don’t worry, Argyle.”

“That was the green I was planning to use to pay for the wedding, man.”

Argyle, having managed to recover from the pace at which he had been hustled back to the car, obviously now managed to forget that he was in one and tried to stand up. I reached over and yanked him back into his seat.

“We’ll work something out, Argyle!”

“Yeah, but…but man…man…that was the green, man! That was the cash so we could have a really big bang-up!”

“Like I said, Argyle, I’ll figure something out.”

I have to confess that my mind was somewhat otherwise engaged, trying to work out the problem of avoiding the Centre team, who obviously caught up with me pretty fast this time. Considering I hadn’t left any clues or hints in my last lair, I was beginning to wonder just how they’d managed it. Still, I gave half an ear and a lot less of my thinking processes to Argyle’s moans, having a good idea of their content already. Not that that was particularly cheering. You see, I’d been planning to pay for the wedding myself, out of Centre funds, naturally. The only problem was that if any of the foursome on the beach had actually seen me, they’d make darned sure I couldn’t. So I had to find some other option and right now that was the one thing I was clean out of.

Even as those thoughts were being considered, another struck me. We were going to need to find some way of paying for Benny’s funeral too and I knew that that, even from the little I’d seen, was sadly not too far away. So we had to find ‘green’ for two big events and the one thing we had was a boarded-up restaurant and a very large source of funds that was tantalizingly out of reach. No, not tantalizingly. Annoyingly.

* * * * * * * * *

ARGYLE! Not only did he force me to trot down to the beach with him, but, then those… people… appeared and he became impassioned in his escape with Jarod and forgot about me. FORGOT? ME? H-E-L-L-O! I am the DOG. Man's best friend. How does one forget man's best friend? Okay, so this IS Argyle, and he is more apt to forgetting simple things like that, but I am his best friend -- or so he has told me on several occasions.

Fine. I shall just TRY to find them. I can always go home and sit with "Pop."

At least I would if… Do you mind?! Put me down! You, sir, who appears to have as much dress sense as my so-called ‘beloved’ owner, how dare you pick me up and march off with me like this. Help!!! I’m being dog-napped!

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

“Shut that thing up,” the woman snarled as they reach the car.

“I’m trying, Miss Parker,” Broots protested. “But it won’t!”

“Well, it’s not coming in the car making a noise like that,” she told him firmly, picking up the furry bundle and dumping it in Lyle’s arms. “The twins can go in one car and meet us at the hotel.”

Lyle opened his mouth to object, but she was already seated in the driver’s seat and had started the engine before he could speak. Sydney shrugged and got into the passenger seat as Broots scrambled into the back and Lyle was left holding the canine with one hand and his towel with the other as they drove off.

The animal had fallen silent and Lyle glanced down to meet his eye, letting the dog drop to the ground and considering sending it on its way with a hard kick. The Jack Russell terrier moved several paces away, turning to eye the man once more, at which point Lyle’s face creased into a dark glare.

“What are you looking at? Scram!”

* * * * * * * * *

That was rude. No matter, I don’t much like being around you either, Thimbles. Now, which way was it back to that hotel? At least, if I go there, I stand a chance of being able to get a bowl of water or something. I know from personal experience that that large blue expanse isn’t something that a delicate canine palate like mine can bear.

* * * * * * * * *

And I think this just about brings us to: The Middle.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

Jarod pulled his computer out of the case as soon as the door was closed safely behind them and sat down on the sofa in the living room. Accessing the Centre’s travel log took almost no time and he was glad to see that Lyle had been in Long Beach for almost a week. That meant he wasn’t in town as a response to any sightings or other reports. But that still left the other three. Thoughtfully, Jarod leaned back against the cushions and stared out through the large windows that faced the ocean. In the background he could faintly hear Argyle telling Benny all about his latest ‘financial expedition’ and Jarod suddenly wished he’d stopped the man before he got into the bedroom. As if Benny needed any more stress than he had right now. Knowing there wasn’t anything he could do at that moment, Jarod pulled out his cell phone. He needed to find out what Sydney could tell him about the current situation.

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

“This is Sydney.”

“If I didn’t think that it was almost impossible, I’d say you sounded relaxed. You’re not lying on a beach in some sunny corner of the US, are you, Syd?”

“Not exactly, no.”

“Well, thank goodness for that. After all, what chance would the pursuit have if its four members just up and headed for the west coast whenever they felt like it?”

The psychiatrist tried to keep the amusement out of his voice. “Were you wanting something in particular, Jarod?”

“What are you doing in California, Sydney?”

“Attending a funeral.”

”Anyone I know? Lyle, for instance?”

“Keep hoping, Jarod,” the woman broke into the conversation as she entered the room, a damp cloth over the bite marks on her nose.

“I know you will be, Miss Parker, so I don’t need to bother. Is that it? Seems kind of extreme for the Centre to go to all that length just for a funeral.”

“How did you find out where we were? I don’t suppose you’re at a hotel just a few blocks away or something like that?”

“Oh, come on, do you really think that’s likely?” There was a pause. “That’s it? A funeral? Nothing else? No stray Files around, for instance?”

“Even if there were, Jarod, do you think we’d tell you?” The man leaned against the doorframe and straightened the glove on his left hand.

”Lyle, what a pleasant surprise! Shouldn’t you be trying your casket for size?”

“Keep dreaming, Pretender.” Walking over, the man abruptly cut the connection.

* * * * * * * * *

I returned the phone to my pocket before going out onto the large patio, where Mona was already lying on an inflated mattress floating on the clear water. A gloomy bridegroom was sitting on a sun lounge and staring up at the sky so I sat down on the next seat.

“So what was that about, that restaurant? I thought you got over that sort of idea when we were in Atlantic City.”

”B…but this was certified, Jay-dog! This was a sure bet.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. This all sounded far too familiar.

“So how much ‘green’ have you lost by the sinking of this little investment?”

Argyle reached into his pocket and handed over a sheet of paper. As I took it, my eyes fell on the figure at the bottom, circled in red, and I could feel my eyes pop.

“Are you insane? How did they convince you to part with this much?”

”Well, they said it had to happen, that it couldn’t fail, and that I’d double it, easy, in no time.”

Figuring that even a basic lesson in market economics would be inappropriate at this moment, I leaned back against the seat and shut my eyes. Usually doing that makes it easier to concentrate but Argyle started to tell me, all over again, that he had planned to use that money to finance the wedding and I could only come up with one way to distract him. Unfortunately that wouldn’t make him any happier. Still, desperate times…

“Argyle, we need to talk.”

Putting a hand on his arm, I stood up and steered him through the door, back into the apartment. Shutting the door firmly, I pushed him into the kitchen.

“Listen Argyle, I’ll find the money for the wedding. Don’t worry about it. But we’ve got something else that we have to pay for as well, pretty soon, and it’s going to be kind of expensive.”

He eyed me without speaking and I could see that he wasn’t following at all, so I tried something else.

“Remember a few years back, when your dad was taking those pills?”

“Yeah, but he stopped after you said they were fake.”

”Well, he’s taking them again. But they’re not made of sugar this time.”

“Y…you mean…”

He stared at me. Argyle may not be the brightest spark in the electrician’s kit but, where Pop was concerned, he could get the drift pretty fast.

“I’m really sorry, Argyle, but your dad won’t be able to be at your wedding. Even if he lives that long, he won’t be able to get out of bed by that time.”

“What is it? What’s…?”

“It really is a brain tumor this time. It’s not painful for him, but he doesn’t have long before he can be with your mother again.”

I’d guessed from Benny’s earlier fascination with the Pope that he was probably a member of the Catholic faith. I don’t follow a specific religion but I know more about that than some of the others. Sydney’s a Catholic, as was Catherine Parker, so I got to know a few things over time. Now, as Argyle went towards his father’s bedroom, I was hoping that what I’d said might be comforting for him, in a way.

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

“So which file are we looking for?”

”All that we know is that’s it’s one of the Blue Files,” Sydney responded calmly.

“And how do the three of you even happen to know this much about it? The Blue Files, if you will remember, are my responsibility.”

”And you’re doing a fine, fine job,” Miss Parker muttered under her breath but audibly and Sydney tried not to choke for the second time that day.

The phone on the table interrupted the sentence that Lyle had opened his mouth to begin, and he reached over, turning on the speaker.

“What is it?”

”Mr. Lyle? Your father just gave me some more information about that Blue File he wants you to track down. I’m sending it to you now.”

“Have we got anything as useful as a name, Valentine?”

“It’s Andromeda, Boss.”

“And how did I get the Three Stooges ‘helping’ -- and of course I mean that in the loosest possible terms -- with this one?”

“Apparently Jarod could be in the area too.”

Miss Parker stared at the floor and tried to stop her lips from twitching as she recalled moments of their last meeting, but the man standing in front of her never noticed.

”’The area’ being the city, the state or the country, Valentine?”

”I didn’t get that many specifics, Boss, but they can go running around after him while you keep an eye out for Andromeda.”

“Thank you, Valentine.” He disconnected the call, turning. “Well, now that we all have our proper duties allocated, perhaps you can leave me to do my job and concentrate on your own.”

He was about to leave the room when Miss Parker tapped him on the shoulder. “But I hope you haven’t forgotten about our poor, deceased friend Bennie in Receiving, Lyle? After all,” she eyed his hand. “You two have so many missing things in common that I’m sure you’ll want to join the grieving family.”

* * * * * * * * *

I decided to take the opportunity to find out more about what ‘they’ were doing here. Tapping into his bank account, I discovered that Lyle had obviously come prepared for this vacation, having withdrawn a substantial sum of money before leaving Blue Cove. As I was beginning to wonder if I could use this to my advantage, Argyle reappeared in the living room.

“Pop wants to talk to you.”

Judging by the look on Argyle’s face, Benny had told him the same thing as I did and I could only hope that my words had softened the blow a little. I watched him going out to the pool as I moved towards Benny’s room and could only hope that Mona might have the ability to be, at least, a little comforting.

On to Act III

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