Thanks for your interest in Crossroads: Round One. Half of the entry fees go to the cash prize, half go to the Hidden Life Resources. Spread the word! Let’s give you(as the winner) and the Hidden Life both, lots of money!
The three-way intersection between Egress, Stratford and Wells has always been a source of trouble. The city has tried to make it safer with a ridiculous combination of lights, stop signs, yield signs and a cross walk, but these only serve to make the whole thing more confusing. It doesn’t help that Wells Avenue is actually a privately owned driveway and the private owner seems uncooperative, often moving and replacing signs, seemingly on a whim. The law seems unable to make the Professor cooperate. There’s a lot the law can’t do, and that’s usually when people come to me, as you know. This is not to say that I’m outside the law; on the contrary I have great respect for rules, whether physical or civil, but people are not always as predictable, and it’s my job to deal with that strange unpredictable variable. Anyway, I think you know all this. But in case you don’t I thought I’d make sure you had the details. That’s another thing you’ll learn about me, I’m a stickler for details. Oh, here’s one I may have missed.
My name. It’s MacCoy Blue, but you can call me Mac. or Blue. Some people do.
But I seem to have gotten things out-of-order (another thing important to me), so let me try to start at the beginning. It started with a cliché for a private eye. A blond-haired, sweet-faced, eye-candy of a cliché who poured into my office as gracefully as a Tiger Wood putt slides across the green.
“Mr. Blue” she purred.
“That would be me, doll. And who are you?”
“Not a doll, Mr. Blue. Ugh, I knew coming here was a mistake. You are apparently unable to perceive anything beyond your own presuppositions that any females that share my particular body shape and hair color are also stupid and helpless. I’m sorry Mr. Blue I need someone who can see past societal expectations and stereotypes..”
I put down my unlit cigarette (I hate smoking), took off my fedora, I got up from behind the desk and moved to intercept her before she could get out the door, ” Look I’m sorry. You’re right. Believe it or not I understand, people expect me to be a bit of a walking cliché myself. I guess sometimes I just fall in line with expectations. I’m sorry for the doll crack. Please, let’s try again.”
She seemed to consider, and I noticed beneath the flowing hair perfectly placed above her flawless cheeks and exquisite nose, were two very intelligent looking peepers., “Ok, Mr. Blue, we’ll try again. My name is Bambi.”
I stifled a chuckle, causing it to come out as a snort, “Well you’re not exactly helping yourself with that name, are you miss?”
The look she gave me went beyond judgment to outright damnation, but I rallied, “Well seriously, come on. You’ve got to admit, if you don’t want to play into stereotypes…”
She softened a little and sighed, “Well, it’s the name my parents gave me. Either they were unaware of the effect this name would have on males, or they were unaware I would have a 240 IQ. It hardly matters. To change would be to bow to conventions I refuse to acknowledge. But look here, Blue, we’re wasting time. I have to hire you. I hear you’re reasonably smart and good at your job, and besides…it just has to be you. Will you help?”
“Now we’re talking, how about a little details? What’s the situation?”
Bambi handed me a card with a logo on it of a molecule or atom or nuclear bomb for all I know, one of those shapes with the lines and balls on the end in some sort of sciencey formation. Even if I hadn’t recognized it as sciencey, the words emblazoned around the symbol in a circle would have told me. The League of Serious Scientists.
“LOSS?” I quipped.
She looked pained, “Perhaps not our brightest moment, but we are scientists, not graphic artists. We are a special group of some of the most intelligent and qualified scientists in the world but all of us face some handicap to being taken seriously: Me, and Brock and Clash. Anyway, the Professor gathered us together, gave us a chance when no one else would.”
“Wait, the Professor?”
“Yes, you know him.”
“Let’s just say I’ve run into him once or twice in my career.”
“Well, he’s missing. Even for a man of his unusual habits he’s never been gone for more than a day or two. it’s been a week and we’re concerned. And then there’s the machine.”
“I’d rather you just come look. Can you come meet us at the Professor’s house this afternoon at 3? We can pay you well”
And that’s how I ended up at the three-way intersection of Egress, Wells and Stratford. But I wasn’t the first.
In fact, there were more than a dozen people there when I arrived. Bambi was easy to spot, as were Brock (a hulking man with a boxers face and a scar down his right cheek) and Clash(complete with tattoos, long hair, studs and chains attached in an amazing variety of ways and places) standing next to her. The three of them standing there together: it was like they dared you to see them as they appeared, goading you into making judgements about them almost impossible not to make, and yet, based on Bambi’s words, it seemed their IQ’s together must easily exceed my bank account balance on any given day. Come to think of it that’s not actually hard to do, but you get the idea.
Bambi waved me over and I began to move towards them. They were gathered around a large imposing object. It looked more like a garbage truck then anything else, but without wheels. Huge, imposing dull metal with closed doors all around it. My first thought was that this must be The Machine. My second thought was to wonder how it had possibly gotten out here, in the middle of the intersection, at the end of the Professor’s driveway.
As I moved towards it I was aware of the other people and the conversations they were having but I tried to stay focused on the task at hand. Nonetheless, I must have made eye contact too long with one of them, a spindly smug looking man wearing an absurdly old-fashioned English outfit, like something out of Shakespeare in Love.
“Please sir,” he spoke at me in nobleman’s accent (or so I assumed), “Sir Dashwell Charles, director of the Scottish Players. Can you possibly help us?” He gestured to a troop of 4 women and one grungy looking man huddled around a trailer which seemed to have gotten stuck in the ditch at the opposite end of the Professor’s driveway, between the other two roads.
“I’m actually busy. I’m here to meet them.” I gestured at the League and pressed my way forward.
“Ah well, this is their fault after all. That infernal machine caused me to swerve and end up here in the ditch. I’ve tried to ask the circus freaks over there, but they refuse to lend us even so much as an elephant to pull out of the ditch.”
I looked where he pointed and saw another trailer, this one brightly painted with the odd insignia, “The Periwinkle Carnivores Amazing and Incredible Circus.” Standing in front of it, looking lost, were four extremely average looking people and one obvious ringleader, judging from the cropped riding pants, high boots, ruffled shirt and top hat. I was particularly mindful of trying not to judge by appearances this particular moment as I headed toward the League, but in this case I was right. Brandishing his whip the ringleader marched quickly towards us, “I keep telling you, we don’t have any elephants.”
“But they are pictured on your trailer, sir.” said Sir Dashwell stiffly,
“Those animals are exemplary, not real.” said the ringleader angrily, turning and pointing at the trailer. Sure enough it said so, right there under the picture of the elephants, “Elephants pictured are only exemplary.” I wasn’t sure that was exactly how one ought to use the term exemplary, but before I could comment Sir Dashwell answered him.
“That sir is nonsensical dialogue, and I know dialogue. You are trying to bamboozle the crowds with your paintings which bear no relation to your actual acts. Why, your bearded lady isn’t even bearded. And besides sir, you are short.”
I wasn’t sure what this had to do with anything, although it was true, the circus master came up only to my shoulder.
I left the two of them arguing and continued walking to the League.
Bambi, nodded at me as I approached, “These are my colleagues, Brock and Clash. Thank you so much for coming.”
“So this is the Machine,” I said.
“You really don’t miss a thing do you, ” said Bambi sarcastically but she smiled with surprising warmth and suddenly her IQ was the furthest thing from my mind.
It didn’t last. Almost as if she knew what her smile did, she stifled it and fixed her piercing gaze on me again, the one which hurt my soul and made me feel like my mother should have been childless.
“On March 23, the Professor called each of us for a special meeting. He said he had something to show us, a breakthrough on…well a particular project…and he needed us all here at precisely 3:10 pm. When we got here we went as normal up to the house.”
She pointed up the long driveway to the Professor’s oddly shaped house. From the outside it looked like a tube, or a rocket ship without thrusters, large and round, like a silo, but with more windows. It’s possible this impression was incorrect however, as much of it was hidden by large hedges and one large wall surrounding the entire structure.
“It’s important you understand that this Machine was not here when we arrived. The door to the house was was open and we entered.” she continued.
“Was this normal? To just walk in to his house without knocking?”
It was Clash who answered and his voice was soft and smooth, containing none of the bitterness or defensiveness that I now realized so characterized Bambi’s speech, “I realize it does sound odd, sir, but we treated it more like a lab or an office than his house. We did, because he did. We often just came and went as needed.”
Bambi continued, ” Be that as it may, we settled in to wait, wondering what kind of breakthrough he could have had.”
“What kind of breakthrough did he have? What were you working on?”
Bambi looked at me pityingly. I was finding her less beautiful by the moment, “I’m sure you wouldn’t understand, and it’s hardly relevant. Anyway, suddenly there was a large crash…”
“What?” said the tattooed young man.
“Crash, Clash. Not Clash.”
Bambi shot him a look and I was glad to see that i was not the only one who shriveled under it,
“As I was saying, there was a large boom and the house shook. The noise seemed to come from everywhere, but we determined it probably was from outside, and when we came out to the driveway we saw this.” Bambi gestured at the machine.
For the first time Brock spoke, and he was tentative as if the words were difficult to form. I noticed when he spoke, Bambi’s usual features softened and I made a point of cataloguing this in my head for later use. It’s the kind of thing that often proves useful to me in my line of work. “It definitely wasn’t here before. It definitely wasn’t. It wasn’t.”
I hated to admit it, but I was beginning to think Bambi might have been right the first time. “Look, why call me? You’re all immeasurably smarter than I am and you can’t even tell me what this machine is. Clearly you know or have some idea. It’s part of his breakthrough, which I won’t understand. You’re probably right about that by the way. This is not police work. It’s science work. So, I ask again, why call me?”
Bambi looked at the others, who both nodded slightly and she handed me a note. It was only two lines.
My name: MacCoy blue
and under that my phone number, which I will give you when I trust you more, but not yet.
I looked up at the League for explanation. Instead of explaining, Bambi handed me an envelope. It also had writing on it.
“If I should ever disappear under mysterious circumstances, if you can see this machine and I’m not here to explain, open this envelope.”
“It was taped to the machine, and your card was in it. So we called, or rather came by. That is you, right?”
“That’s me and it’s my number. But why?”
“Well you did say you knew him.”
“I said I’d run into him, and it wasn’t exactly what I’d call chummy. I don’t know anything about his disappearance. Why would he ask for me?”
Bambi just shrugged, looking discouraged, even a little (and only a little) like a damsel in distress and this brought to life my cliché driven gumshoe instincts.
“Look, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Which is what,” Bambi sneered and almost (but not quite) squelched years of evolved Private Eye response to distressed damsels.
“Well, I’m an investigator. I’ll investigate.” In my irritation and defensiveness, I no doubt said this louder than I needed or intended, and this probably explains why the next minute I was surrounded by performers.
“Good sir, ” began Sir Charles, “Did I hear you say you are an investigator? Why, we have just the case for you my friend.”
“Look here, son, don’t be wasting your time with this pompous windbag, the carnivores, on the other hand, do have a case for you.” spoke the diminutive ringmaster.
“My fine sir, we are in pursuit of a rare find, a magnificent lost document by the Bard himself, the culmination of his career, the epoch of all his skills, the quintessence of all his abilities, and I have proof, proof I tell you, of its existence. Help us find it and we will pay you handsomely.”
The ringmaster snorted, held out his hand and introduced himself, “I’m Petey Nambar, and what I’m looking for will make us both richer than you could imagine. Only the fountain of youth has been more sought than this precious treasure I offer you a chance to find. Only immortality itself offers greater promise. Only the sorcerers stone could pretend to be more valuable. I offer you the elusive formula to turn lead into gold. I know you scoff, but it’s true. It’s real. I have proof. Proof I tell you. Help us, and we’ll share it’s secrets with you.”
Well, anyway that’s why I’m writing to you. I’ve been told that you are a pretty good investigator yourself and I’m finding myself in the unusual position of having too many clients. I have no idea if any of them will prove to be as profitable as they claim, but if you successfully help me I will promise you at least a small token of my appreciation. I’ll be honest too. You’re not the only one I’ve asked, so I’ll reserve payment for whoever helps me actually find the Professor, or the Shakespearean manuscript, or the lead-into-gold thing. Which one you pursue is up to you. I’ll be out on another case for a couple of weeks, but just let me know of your interest and I’ll make sure I get the appropriate information to you by April 16th.
- Registration form must be filled out and fee of 10 dollars must be paid to enter.
- There is a window of two weeks from today until April 16 for people to register before the first clue is revealed. Everyone who registers before then gets their first clue at the same time.
- The cash prize will be exactly the value of 50 percent of the registration fees. So the more who plays, the more it pays. (yeah, yeah, that’s grammatically offensive, so deal.)
- The prize will be paid out in a gift card (Amazon or Apple, your choice) to the first person to solve Round One.
- Use these two weeks to invite as many people as possible to play. Use social media and word of mouth to get as many players as possible. 10 players means a 50 dollar prize. 100 players means a 500 dollar prize. Every one you get to play increases your potential winnings by 5 dollars.
- Register as early as possible. Perhaps there will be benefits for your initiative
- Do not obsess about which case to pursue (or which road to take). Just go with what interests you. All roads lead to the same destination if the clues are solved. All Players will ultimately travel the same roads.
- Pay attention to everything. Reread The Beginning, and even ads you may have seen for the game may contain beneficial clues.
- Get to know the characters through these ads, the story above and as I mentioned register as soon as possible and there may be benefits.