12: Malibu-bu

They pulled into the cool, underground parking garage of what looked like a Pompeiian palazzo--the Glypha Museum of Art, at precisely midnight, Greenwich Mean Time (or around four p.m. Pacific Standard Time).

  They all felt a little sticky, despite the arctic gale blowing from the car's air conditioner. Somehow you never stop feeling the heat.

Paula pointed out that according to Architectural Digest they were "just a sand clod's throw from Johnny Carson's tasteful beach house decorated from stem to stern in various shades of beige, sand, camel, taupe, eggshell, oat, putty, cream, ivory, whole-wheat, vanilla, tapioca, meringue, ice, and lint." They were all duly impressed. Not.

Working at the Glypha were two of the Professors old chums, Fundicion Weiss, head of the publications department and author of a large body of speculative text on the McGuffin, and Bernhard G. Othic, Curator of Liberated (read: questionable) Antiquities.

Weiss met them at the elevator which opened out on a spectacular Pompeiian courtyard, every surface hand painted in the ancient style.

"Welcome to Malibu-bu," Weiss said, with the slight stutter he worked so desperately to keep in check. There was no shame in stuttering, it just didn't fit into Weiss' own view of himself as the ultimate charm-meister.

The Professor introduced Paula.

"Ch-charmed," murmured Weiss, taking Paula's hand and kissing it in a genteel manner.

The Professor introduced Arial who smiled coquettishly, one hand already held forward for the requisite kissing, the other held demurely behind her back, clutching an oversize purse.

"An exquisite p-p-pleasure," Weiss said, kissing her hand. Arial smiled again, while thinking that this guy must have won the "Mr. Smarm and Congeniality" award at curator school.

Wanting to keep Weiss simultaneously off track and at ease, the Professor introduced Dak simply as the man who started the trend of graphic designers designing clothing.

Dak had, in fact, designed a line of simple, comfortable, timeless, wrinkle-free unisex clothing in which all the pieces coordinated--kind of Grranimals for adults. You could dress in the dark and still coordinate. He called the line "Pieces," and his ads said, "You'll never be puzzled if you have enough pieces." (Lu Ci loved that.) Dak wore them exclusively, and they had become sometimes of a uniform for graphic designers everywhere--how convenient to know you can go to a strange city and spot like souls solely by their outfits.

"Hi," Weiss said, shaking Dak's moist hand as if was covered in motor oil.

Dak wasn't the kind of guy who had to prove he was macho by shaking your hand so hard you considered getting it x-rayed afterwards. But he squeezed Weiss' hand so hard that Weiss was unable to extract his hand until Dak let go.

"Fredrich," Weiss said, wiping his hand against his white lab smock and not even try to hide it, "we don't want to be late for our appointment with Bernhard."

Weiss and the Professor headed over intricate inlaid floors and through seemingly ancient halls towards the ultra modern conference room, leaving behind the two attractive woman, and the man with the sticky hand.

Dak and Arial headed in the opposite direction, stopping only long enough for Arial to admire the ancient nude statuary.

"Look at the tail on that guy," she said, waiting for Dak to glare at her. He did. She smiled. She just loved to toy with him. Dak had a theory that men liked to kill, while woman preferred torture.

Paula had been instructed to scour the tasteful gift shop for interesting presents to take back home. She gravitated towards a pre-raphaelite poster of an ancient Roman ticker tape parade--well, they were actually roses. This was all a cover, of course, her real job was... Dak had never told her what her real job was... "It must be really secret," she thought, thumbing through the postcards.

Bernard G. Othic was a little round man with little round glasses who looked like he'd stepped out of the 1930's. He hugged the Professor warmly. They all chatted about what had happened in 12 years since they'd seen each other, then got around to the McGuffin.

Dak and Arial found the door the Professor had told him about--the one clearly marked "Do Not Enter." Arial distracted the guard by doing what she called her "stupid bit" where she pretended to be a silly woman, lost and confused (guards love that), while Dak checked for laser scanners by using his belt buckle. He then proceeded to fool the electronic lock using his decoder watch, unfortunately still a beta-test model.

The watch, a marvel of silicon valley engineering, was given to him by a grateful venture capitalist for whom he'd given a corporate identity. The real reason Dak wore the watch (it was, after all, more than a little clunky and he much preferred the original Mickey Mouse watch that Arial had given him), was because of it's powerful password decoding feature that could, in seconds, run through millions of passwords until it hit on just the right one. Which it did, in three point one nine seconds.

The door snapped open and Dak slid through like a ferret. He'd placed a post-it note over the latch, and a few seconds later Arial joined him on the stairs down to the storage rooms in the basement.

The Professor was doing his job--keeping the two men occupied. Half his brain was listening to them talk, and laughing when appropriate. The other half was glancing discreetly at his watch and wondering how he was going to keep them occupied for until 5 p.m.

Dak checked his watch. It read 9:30 am. He sighed. The watch did everything but keep good time.

Arial's watch said 4:30. "I synchronized mine with the Professor's, Dak. You always forget..." Arial said, coldly.

Dak grabbed her by both shoulders and pulled her around, face to face. "Why are you so mean to me?" he asked.

"To keep you from getting killed, my little airhead," she said, with genuine sweetness in her voice.

"Oh, you..." Dak said, kissing her nose.

Chapter 13: The Value of nothing

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