The Sodium Caper
by Frederick Rustam
33209:57 New Era.
Log entry 181.
Surveyship Admiral Duforishamet.
Leader Y. muKraxa.
We have shuttled down to Sol 3 (indigenous name) to obtain a small amount of critical material required for the ship's drive. This extended voyage has depleted our allotment. To obtain the material, we must agentize one of the planet's primitive inhabitants. Subleader Totomial and two guardsmen have been sent to locate a suitable subject. Meantime, we shall orbit to make the mandated colonization feasibility survey. Our vessel will be detected by the primitives, but their rulers will take no action against us and will not inform their subjects of our presence.
Long Live our Akhtal, Thurama II!
End of Entry.
In a forest clearing, the primitive inhabitant known as Rudy sat atop The Fort, a child's play-construction of stones, logs, and mud. He smoked a marijuana cigarette and awaited the arrival of local boys.
Rudy had previously escaped prosecution for child sexual abuse because his wealthy parents made substantial payments to his youthful victims and to law enforcers. Deciding not to tolerate more "incidents," they exiled him from his California hometown, agreeing to support him only if he moved Back East, far from his usual hunting grounds. They'd paid for his psychiatric treatment -- without success -- and it seemed more realistic to support him in exile than to heal his hopelessly-diseased mind. His family were determined that he not embarrass them by being brought to justice in the town which had been founded by their pioneer ancestor.
Rudy viewed himself as talented predator who knew how to exploit vulnerable boys. His success was mostly due to his natural rapport with them, he being a young man of extended adolescence. He communicated with juveniles in their own lingo, without seeming to be an adult talking down to them. He was skillful at winning their confidence by sympathizing with their problems. Indeed, his interests were pretty much the same as those with whom he abnormally associated.
Rudy was too smart to be seen often in public with young boys, though. In winter, he lured them to his apartment with pornographic videos. In warmer times, he met them outdoors where they usually hung out. The forest clearing where he now loitered seemed an ideal place, one where he was unlikely to be seen by adults. He'd driven here from the nearby trailer park where he now lived. It was his custom to rent a place that he could leave quickly if he came to the attention of local police.
Someone should have arrived by now, he thought.
An informant had told him The Fort was visited by boys from a nearby housing development. He always tried to find a bribable older kid who could keep him informed and warn him if others were complaining about him. He'd been told that some boys came to The Fort to drink beer and smoke dope, so Rudy had brought a couple of six-packs and some professionally-rolled smokes. "Be prepared" -- that's what the Boy Scouts had taught him before they kicked him out for fooling around in the tents of a summer encampment.
What the hell. He'd sit on The Fort's uncomfortable logs for as long as necessary.
Subleader Totomial and two guardsmen stopped on the trail. Ahead was the clearing with the child's play-construction. Through the trees, they could see a young man sitting there, smoking, a disgusting habit of primitives. They were close enough for an instrumental scan through the trees. "Excellent. He's probably a deviant and has good rapport with schoolboys. We'll proceed in armed mode." The guardsmen drew their stunners, and the party moved into the clearing.
Crack!... Rudy looked around as a fallen twig snapped behind him. What he saw made him stand up and face the three newcomers. They were tall, dressed in hooded black robes, their long, pale faces partly in shadow. Their hands were chalk-white but without fingernails. Two of them carried black tubes that looked like weapons. He made a quick threat evaluation as they walked steadily and menacingly toward him.
"Hey, what's up? You guys monks... or somethin'?"
The creatures stopped close to him. Their faces made them appear to be wearing rubber monster masks. Rudy chuckled, nervously. "Hey dudes, Halloween's a month, yet." Immediately, he regretted saying that.
Two of the visitors raised their tubes and aimed them. Rudy experienced a sickening feeling. He decided that this was no joke. Dignity discarded, he turned and began to run. After only a few steps, though, a painful shock surged through his body. He lost control of his legs and fell onto last autumn's moldering leaves. He remained conscious but unable to move or speak; even his eyes were frozen. In an instant, he'd become a helpless spectator. The guardsmen then carried him up the little-used trail which ended atop the western ridge.
Willis and Conway were friends, neighbors, and classmates. They lived near an entrance to the forest, a trail that began at the dead-end turnaround next to Willis's grandmother's house on Antietam Drive. This warm Saturday they were headed for The Fort to drink cheap, stale beer they'd bought from older boys. As they entered the forest, they passed Rudy's old red Toyota parked in the turnaround.
"Whose car is that?" asked Conway.
"Got me, man. Maybe there's some older guys at The Fort already," guessed Willis.
"I hope they brought their own brewski. I don' feel like sharin' mine."
They continued onto the large parcel of land known as Brown's Woods. It was named for Old Man Brown, a wealthy conservationist who'd bought it from a timber company that went out of business before they could log it off. Brown was now a recluse who no longer frequented his beloved woodlot, but he adamantly refused to sell it to developers. The parcel, reputed to be more than eight hundred acres, extended across the valley from ridgetop to ridgetop. It was sometimes cited as an amenity in real estate ads for homes in the adjoining housing development, Green Hills Estates, where developer-planted trees were still saplings.
As the boys entered the clearing, they saw a young man sitting on The Fort, smoking. He was short, blond-haired, and casually dressed. His clothes were wrinkled and soiled, but he didn't seem to be a vagrant. At his feet were two six-packs.
"Who's that?" queried Conway.
"I don' know," replied Willis. "He ain't from around here."
The man smiled and waved at the newcomers. "Hi, guys. Come on over. I got great brewski."
"We got our own," replied Willis, who saw that the guy was red-eyed, droopy-lidded, and dopey -- like he'd already drunk too much. "Who're you?" he demanded to know.
"Have a seat, guys, and I'll tell you." The stranger's friendly manner disarmed the boys. And he had premium beer, the kind they couldn't buy. He generously invited them to save their own for another day. They accepted; they'd never drunk imported beer before. Even given their lack of experience with serious alcohol, they could taste the difference.
"My name's Rudy. Wanna toke?" He offered them smokes and his Zippo. They accepted the dope but they wondered why he was hanging out at The Fort. They guessed that he must be college age or more.
"This is good bud," said Conway between puffs. "Yeah," seconded Willis. Both suppressed a coughing reflex.
"Only the best," verified Rudy. He'd bought it in an Oakland CA medicinal weed shop, using a prescription from an alcoholic physician who wrote them quite liberally. They smoked and drank for a while in silence. Then, Rudy spoke.
"You know, you guys're in a position to make some cash."
"How?" inquired Willis, cautiously.
"You see, I'm a confidential agent for some... foreigners."
Willis's eyes narrowed. "What kind of foreigners?"
"People from somewhere else. That's all I can tell you."
The boys figured the guy must be cracked, but they were reluctant to offend him by saying so. They thought he must be one of those crazy drunks who fantasizes when he's had too much.
Rudy continued, "My people need some material you might be able to get for 'em. But they want to stay out of the picture. If you can bring me the stuff, I'll pay you well for it -- even if you want gold rather than traceable bills."
The boys looked at each other, as if one of them might have figured what this stranger was all about. Gold? This guy is really something... or not. "What kinda material?" inquired Willis, cautiously.
"Sodium what?" queried Conway, who had a chemistry set. After he'd used up all its powered metals and nitrates to make backyard fireworks, he'd retired it to a closet.
"Plain old metallic sodium."
"Where're we supposed to get that?"
"From your school's chemistry lab."
"Ours don' have one. We're in middle school," informed Willis. But greed brightened Conway. "Not to worry. My cousin Eddie can get it from the high school lab, if the price is right."
Rudy took out his wallet. He gave each of the boys twenty dollars. "Just a little walkin'-around money for your interest." Then, he gave Conway a fifty. "Give this to your cousin. Tell him when he delivers the stuff, he'll get a lot more -- in gold if he wants that. And you two'll get four more bills."
"Aw right!" enthused Conway. "Damn straight," added Willis.
Rudy arose and led the boys over to the trees at the side of the clearing. He pointed to a small hollow in a trunk. "When Eddie's ready to deliver, leave a little piece of paper there with the letters 'NA' and the day and time he'll bring the stuff. Make sure nobody sees you doin' that. Got it?"
"We got it."
"See you later, then. Keep the rest of the beer." Rudy left the clearing by the western ridge trail.
The boys hid the remainder of Rudy's premium brewski in a thick shrub near the hollow tree. On their way home, Willis remarked, "I don' trust Rudy... or whatever his name really is."
Conway was having second thoughts, too. "Maybe he's a terrorist makin' a bomb. If Homeland Security finds out we got him somethin' he needed for it, we'll be in deep doodoo."
"Naw, he ain't no A-rab, an' he's too dopey to make bombs."
"What's his 'foreigners' want sodium for, then."
"Who cares? They got greenbacks and gold. Besides, if they're makin' a bomb, where would they set it off 'round here? This place is Nowheresville."
Sheriff Harvey DeKalb finished reading the letter which arrived in an envelope with a California postmark.
"What d'ya think?" asked Chief Deputy Earl Spiers, who had already read the anonymous tip about Rudy.
"I guess we'd better check it out. The guy could be operating around here. If he is, I want to know about it before he makes the TV news. Start with motor vehicle registration."
"Okay. I hope he's here. We'll deal with him, even if California couldn't."
"I hope he isn't here, Earl. But if he is, we'll move him on somewhere else."
After his Deputy left to use his computer, the Sheriff pondered the situation. The anonymous letter writer wrote that Rudolph Winerich had been questioned but had never been arrested and prosecuted. He was probably the slippery kind of pedophile who's careful and keeps an attorney on retainer. "Damn. Just what this county needs," he muttered in irony and speculated which one of the local jackleg lawyers the perv might have retained.
"You dumb guys'll believe any crap you hear," scoffed Conway's cousin, Eddie.
Willis waved his twenty in Eddie's face. "This ain't no crap! Or that fifty I just gave you!"
"What he told you is crap, dipshit!... 'Agent for some foreigners' -- faah! He's just a pervert tryin' to get in your pants. If we even plan to steal something for him, then we're a conspiracy he can blackmail us about."
"Eddie boy," retorted Willis, smoothly. "I think you're just afraid to meet the guy alone at The Fort."
This dare caused Eddie to discard his thoughtful warning. "The hell I am! I can get the stuff on Monday. You leave the note. Tell him I'll be there at sundown. If he's playin' a dirty game..." He drew his flipknife and popped its blade with a snap of his wrist. "He'll regret it."
"Hey, man, take it easy. He promised us more bills. Don' do anything to change his mind."
"He'd better have lotsa bills when I get there."
"He said he could pay you in gold," informed Conway.
"Yeah? I can dig that."
The boys deemed Eddie sophisticated. How many guys'd take gold instead of bills?
"He's here, all right, renting at Villa Mobile Home Park. Been there less than a month, but he's already changed his California car registration." Deputy Spiers showed the Sheriff the MV printout.
"Okay. I'll drop by his place on my way home."
"Want me along?"
"No, I don't want to panic him -- just quietly warn him."
Eddie entered the clearing in Brown's Woods. The perv was sitting on The Fort, smoking his fancy California weed.
He's only a little older than me. Rudy was bleary eyed, and his clothes looked slept-in. A lush. What's he really want sodium for? Eddie played it straight. "You the foreigner's agent?"
"Yeah. You bring the stuff?"
Eddie took a glass chemical bottle from his jacket pocket and handed it over.
Rudy scrutinized the contents of the kerosine-filled bottle. It was taped to prevent its glass stopper from falling out. The sodium inside it was fuzzy with brown gunk. "Is this all you could get?"
"That's all there was. There ain't much call for it, you know."
Rudy found his feet. "It'll have to do." He dug into a pocket and proffered some bills. Eddie carefully counted them.
"Not enough. I took a big chance. I want some gold."
"Okay." Rudy produced a golden billet. It was just long enough to fit into the palm of his hand. He gave it to Eddie. "This'll close the deal."
Eddie rotated the billet, which gleamed in the light of the setting sun. It bore no refinery markings, nothing to identify it as 99.999 finegold. "What's this?" He scowled at the "agent."
"It's an industrial ingot -- pure twenty four carat."
Rudy hefted the billet. It did seem heavy for its size. "I'm supposed to take your word about this thing? What's it worth?"
"It's worth what you can get for it -- more'n you imagine. Take it to a city gold dealer. Sell it and give Willis and Conway four more bills each. I promised 'em." He took a card from his shirt pocket. "Here's my name and where I'm staying. If you have a problem selling the gold, come and see me."
Eddie didn't like that idea. "Did you get this gold from your 'foreigners'?"
"Confidential, Eddie. Forget about it, unless you want Homeland Security to get interested."
"They lookin' for stolen gold, maybe?"
Rudy gave him a dopey smirk. "No, and make sure they don't start lookin' for you. Just keep your mouth shut and enjoy being a secret rich kid." Then, before Eddie could retort, he turned and headed up the western ridge trail.
"Did you talk to the pedophile?"
"He wasn't there, Earl. The resident manager promised to call me when he returns."
"Think we ought to be looking for his car?"
"Yeah. Put its description in the bulletin. Let's see where he's hanging out. No arrest. Just keep an eye on him is all."
"You got it."
"Where'd you get this?" The elderly man with the jeweler's lens attached to his glasses squinted at Eddie. He'd tested Rudy's billet. It was 24K pure. Eddie figured where he got his gold was none of the dealer's damn business, but he decided on caution. "An old guy gave it to me for fixin' his car after an accident."
The dealer stared at the billet. "Unusual shape, for gold." He put it on his scale. Eddie could see the weight on the LED display. "Six point seven three troy ounces. That's a lot of car fixing, young fellow."
"So, how much?"
The dealer punched his calculator. "$12,618, at the current international price."
Eddie whistled. "He was a rich old guy. Said he had lotsa gold. You want this 'billet'?"
"I'll give you an even twelve thousand for it."
Eddie hesitated, annoyed, but figured he'd better take the money and run. "Okay." It's got to be a lot more than that sodium was worth.
"Cash or check?"
"Cash," replied Eddie, as he looked around to see who might be observing him from the street.
Miss Orlinda Perkins, one of Willis's and Conway's neighbors on Antietam Drive, looked out her window to see what the day had brought her. "That red car's still there," she remarked to her yellow tomcat, Leo. "I'll bet it was stolen. I'm calling the Sheriff."
Willis and Conway were in Willis's room checking out their newly-purchased video games when the Sheriff and two deputies arrived at the turnaround. Attracted by their flashing lights, the boys ran to the window. The lawmen had pulled up next to Rudy's car.
"I wonder what's goin' on?" said Conway, airily. But he and Willis were struck with fear. They were afraid that the arrival of the Sheriff might have something to do with the "agent."
"They're checkin' that red car in the loop. It's been there longer than it oughta be. It must be Rudy's."
"Uh oh. That could bring us into the picture."
"Do you think they caught Eddie?"
"I don' know, but I hope to H-E-double-L Eddie didn' tell anyone 'bout us."
The lawmen entered the clearing in Brown's Woods. "What's this mess?" asked the Sheriff.
"It's a kid's fort," replied Deputy Spiers. "They play here."
"It's a good place for Rudolph What's-His-Name to frequent," mused the Sheriff.
They walked up to The Fort and looked down into it. Lying on his back, looking as peaceful as any corpse in Westmacher's Funeral Home, was the late agent. The buzzing of flies sounded loud in the quiet of the forest.
"He's hangin' around, all right," observed Spiers.
"Looks like he just laid down and went to sleep," added the other Deputy.
His autopsy showed that Rudy apparently died of heart failure. The Coroner was suspicious, though, and wanted to make some biochemical tests. The Sheriff and County Prosecutor advised against that, though. They felt it was a case of good riddance, and that the county didn't need the bad publicity that the mysterious death of a notorious out-of-state pedophile would bring.
They shipped Rudy home to California in a Duralumin box. His parents wept tears of relief.
Since there were no witnesses to link Conway, Willis, or Eddie to Rudy, the three escaped scrutiny in the matter of his death. They did, however, undergo weeks of fear that they might be arrested for suspicion of conspiracy to commit terrorism by stealing a hazardous material from the high school's chemistry lab. None of them ever spoke of the Rudy matter to anyone.
The boyos were so apprehensive, in fact, that they didn't even return to Brown's Woods to drink the premium beer they'd hidden. But some other boys found it, so it didn't go to waste.
When the chemistry teacher discovered that his sodium was missing, he complained to the Principal, but he was just told to warn his students that stealing chemicals would not be tolerated. The teacher was so miffed that he didn't replace the stolen metal, so future chemistry classes missed watching it react violently with water.
33209:61 New Era
Log entry 185.
Surveyship Admiral Duforishamet.
Leader Y. muKraxa.
Reference Log entry 181.
We have completed our colonization feasibility survey of Sol 3. Although much of the planet's physical environment is currently favorable for settlement, destructive anthropogenic warming is underway. The indigenous population is too large to manage by the standards of Colonization Criteria CB-C-2974, and monitoring of the primitives' entertainment media reveals that they are in retrograde state of emotional development. The material needed for our ship's drive has been obtained, and the primitive we agentized has been terminated. We have set course for homeworld. Hasten our return.
Long live our Akhtal, Thurama II!
End Of Entry.
© 2012 Frederick Rustam
Bio: Frederick Rustam is a retired civil servant who formerly indexed technical reports for the Department of Defense. Now, he informally studies information science. He so appreciates the value of records that he archives and indexes his own. He has yet to write the ultimate information science short story, but one of his most recent attempts, The Value of Records, appeared in the November 2011 issue of Aphelion.
E-mail: Frederick Rustam
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