The Time That Booper And I Exfiltrated Mike Pence From Cuba
The following story is meant to be humorous. The characters are fictional. Any resemblance to Colin Kaepernick, a sitting Senator, the Vice President or a beloved talking conveyance is purely coincidental.
How Booper McCarthy and I came to discover, and subsequently rescue, Mike Pence from a failed covert operation in Cuba is a story I’ve long wanted to regale you with and, thanks to documents recently declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency, I at long last can.
It all began with a case I investigated as a member of the Ordinary Times Investigative Bureau. It is the case that saddened me most of all, that of a treasured childhood influence.
It all began on a lazy Tuesday in Building Three, Third Floor. Every Tuesday at the Northeast Campus of Ordinary Times is Free Food Truck Tuesday and I sat, crapulous after all that Korean barbecue, in my opulent leather investigation chair.
The phone rang.
“Excuse me,” a voice said in very stuffy Heightened Received Pronunciation. “But I am calling to speak to one Bryan O’Nolan. I am looking for a missing beloved children’s entertainer, and I hear he specializes in that sort of thing.”
“I am he,” I said, eagerly grabbing my notebook and pen.
“I am Sir Topham Hatt, and I have a rather tragic story to tell to which I hope you can add an happy ending. Are you familiar with the rail line I once operated on the Island of Sodor?”
“Of course, of course,” I replied. I am very familiar with the goings on on that island and its various railways.
“It was some years ago. All was happy and sunny and well on the Island. Then, one day, Thomas inadvertently caused much—” he was choked up now, “—confusion and delay.”
I let him cry for a moment, for he so needed it.
I cried with him, the old man.
“Thomas was taking Lady Hatt up his branch line,” he explained. “With Annie and Clarabel. Unfortunately, anarchists had gone in during the night and offset the rails just before a trestle. He hit the sabotaged section and jumped his rails. He and his driver somehow made it over the trestle, but Annie and Clarabel were tossed asunder and smashed on their sides into the embankment and utterly destroyed, killing Lady and Dowager Hatt. Only the brakeman survived by jumping free just as the roll began. It was a disaster.”
“I’m so sorry, so very sorry,” I said. I was choking back a tear myself, now, you understand, at such a tragedy.
“It gets worse,” Sir Topham said. “The decision was taken to move to CGI to save on insurance! All the trains and their drivers, brakemen and engineers were laid off. I got the axe as well, though I don’t put on the poor mouth, as you Irish say. The only ones unaffected were the Narrow Gauge trains and rolling stock up in the mountains who just went along with life as it had been before. The rest, Gordon and Henry; Edward, James and Toby, though neither Annie nor Clarabel—”
“Don’t forget Percy!” I exclaimed.
“How could I?” he said with a smile in his voice: an old, sweet smile in his voice. “Poor, sweet Percy.”
“So is this why there was the transition from engines and rolling stock who were reliant on people to move them about to weirdly autonomous CGI engines who just go about willy-nilly and narratives which make no sense at all?”
“Yes!” he said. “The best of the writers quit over this same change, if they hadn’t already quit over the firing of the actors. The insurance men were severe, but more severe still were the greedy producers, who wanted vapid, feel good children’s dumb show over real stories of life on the Island of Sodor. No depth, no feeling, no coherent storytelling; just…”
He trailed off.
“I understand,” I said. “Oh, how I understand! Now, Lord Hatt, I am more than happy to hear your fond reminiscences of blessed memory, but if I’m to track this Thomas down I’ll need a lead; I’ll need a starting point, if you will.”
“It’s Duck, the Great Western Pannier Engine, then,” he said. “He’s much changed and we’re not on speaking terms, you might say. I hear he’s in San Francisco, now. Oh, and a word to the wise: Ask after him; do not go looking for him.”
Now, before you could say Rice-A-Roni, I’d knocked up the Assistant to the Chief Investigator, one Booper McCarthy by name, and the damned fool and I were on our way to The City by the Bay. The City, Fog City, Baghdad by the Bay: San Francisco.
We stepped onto the dawn-lit street.
“Well, begorah,” said Booper. “So this is Frisco?”
“Don’t call it that, you bollocks!” hissed I. “We’re under cover, don’t ya know? Nobody here calls it that. As a matter of fact, that bowler hat upon your round Irish pate is not at quite jaunty enough an angle for such a wild and free municipality as this.”
He jauntied it some more until it looked like it was just about to tumble off the crown of his head.
“Good, and by the Holy Name of Jesus, by Mary and all the Saints above—” here we took a moment and said an Act of Contrition, a Salve, three Aves and a Pater Noster—“do not greet anyone with ‘Top o’ the mornin’, mate!’ or the game’ll be up before you can say Henry Baskerville.”
Just then a gentleman ambled up the street toward us dressed, I suppose, as Queen Boudicca, in a toga with a spangled belt just below the bust, a legionary plumed helm and a purple cloak.
“Well, top o’ the—” Booper began, my steely glare upon him “—mornin’ to you, er, dude!”
“Hey, hey, spirits of light,” Boudicca said. “What company you with?”
“I’m sorry,” said I. “We do not follow.”
“Theater, man. What company? What show?”
“Ah!” said I, thinking quickly. “We are in an experimental production of The Third Policeman. I play Sergeant Pluck and my dear friend here is Policeman MacCruiskeen.”
“Far out. Challenging the structures of reality through ethically ambiguous characterization and polydimensional moral topography,” he enthused.
Booper and I exchanganged a glance. He handed us a card.
Upon the card were only three letters. F, O and X.
“Sir,” I asked nervously. “Or madam as the case may be, could you direct us to a certain train by the name of Duck?”
“Duck?” he said. “Of course! He’ll be at this stop in just a few minutes.” And off he went, up and over the rambling hills of the city, like an Urban Tom Bombadil full of Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms.
The tram came up the hill with a tell-tale side-to-side wobble. It was clearly a trolley, but at the same time was very obviously Duck.
We boarded and sat behind the driver.
“I daresay, my friend Booper here is tall,” I said.
The driver gave me a glare of mild indignance.
“Yes, I daresay,” I said all the louder. “I was worried, when we boarded, that he would have to duck.”
The trolley gave a lurch and the drivers knuckles were white, tightened on the controls; his eyes were intently staring ahead.
“All we want to know,” I said in as low a voice as I could muster as would top the rambling bluster of Duck’s career through the city. “Is where is Thomas?”
The brakes squealed. All were thrown forward. An old woman toppled, several hundred dollars-worth of Ghirardelli Chocolate scattered down the aisle from her fatally upset shopping bag.
“The derailment museum,” a voice said, which we knew without asking came from the being of the trolley himself. “He’s at the derailment museum.”
We were then summarily disembarked from the trolley onto the sidewalk.
“A derailment museum?” I was at a loss. “We’re no closer than we were before!”
“No, Bryan!” Booper said. “I know this. It jogs a memory.”
He rubbed his temples.
“It does, now, does it?” I said. “I don’t ever recall you having a memory.”
“What?” I said.
“Where is Waldo?”
I cocked an eye at him.
Just as I was about to question him again, a muscular man with a glorious afro haircut—he looked like the sort of man who might have quarterbacked an NFL team to a championship game at some time, before injury, declining performance and negative press drove him from the game into a career endorsing social justice and sneakers made in sweatshops—interrupted us.
“Tren Blindado, comrade?” he said.
“That’s it!” cried Booper.
The next thing we knew we were on a multi-stop flight which brought us, surreptitiously, to Santa Clara, Cuba. Our final stage was on a grumpy barge called Bulstrode. The day was warm and the air tropical and close. As we neared the derailment museum, we heard a familiar voice leading a tour.
It was Thomas! We hid low in the bushes just outside.
“Now, Che,” Thomas said. “Had resource and sagacity—that means he was clever and wise!—and after that mean Mr. Batista called him a galloping sausage, Che got into Byron the Bulldozer and he bulldozed almost thirty whole meters of track! There was fierce—”
A hand gripped my shoulder, suddenly.
“Do not be alarmed, Bryan,” a voice said. “A more fortuitous meeting I could not have imagined.”
It was Michael and Romney! They were dirty, shabbily dressed and looked like they’d not slept for days.
“What are you doing here, friends?” asked I.
“We could well ask you the same question,” Romney replied. “But, in short, the situation is this: Michael and I headed a delegation to the Castro government regarding trade, primarily, but also a number of issues we felt would be in the best interests of our nations, a mere ninety miles divided. The delegation was headed by Michael Pence, President of the Senate, and myself, of the Junior Member from Utah and representative of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy and Environmental Policy. However, this was mere cover for a bold act of espionage to be undertaken by the Vice President and me. Said briefly, Michael and I were tasked by the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, to slip Fidel Castro what is called in the secretive world of espionage a “mickey”. That is, a draft of poison. Our objective was to see his more moderate brother Raúl in power, or so it was hoped—”
“Wait!” I cried. “Did you say you wanted to put Raúl into—”
“We are aware,” Michael said. “That he has been in power for the last eight years. At least we are now. What Romney has left out of his detailed narrative is that this cockamamie idea was his.”
“I do not recall that,” Romney said.
“I do. As it is, we are desperate for repatriation to the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
“I think I can solve both of our problems, Michael,” I said.
Thomas the Tank Engine took a break after his tour on a siding right near our hiding place. His driver wandered off.
“Thomas,” I said. “Do not be alarmed. My friends and I have come from Sir Topham Hatt, who misses you terribly and would love it if you returned to the Isle of Sodor.”
“Has he accepted,” Thomas said. “The need for permanent revolution and a dictatorship of the proletariat?”
“No,” I replied. “But may I ask when you were first drawn to socialism?”
“Oh course! It was the nationalization of the railways in the Transport Act of 1947.”
“Ah,” said I. “Did you not know that rail transport was privatized in the mid 90’s?”
“Well, bust my buffers, I had no idea! If only Sir Topham Hatt could forgive me!”
“He does, Thomas! He does!”
The next thing we knew, Mike was at the controls and Booper and I were shoveling coal like mad men and Romney was supervising officiously. I gather my technique of shoveling backhand was inaccurate and potentially inefficient. Regardless, Thomas steamed to Bulstrode in record time.
Bulstrode was dyspeptic.
“Oh, bother! Oh, bother!” Thomas said.
“Thomas,” Bulstrode said. “You’ll just make loading take longer!”
Bulstrode,” said Thomas. “Passengers are urgent.”
“Fine, but the Harbormaster won’t let me out,” he said. “He says we need to stay here due to red tide!”
“He’s a mean scarlet deceiver! Sail away, Bulstrode!” Thomas cried.
And away Bulstrode sailed, bringing us back to the lower forty-eight before he sailed Thomas on home to the Island of Sodor, but not before Thomas declared that Mike, Booper, Romney and I were really useful!