“Historically, they moved state capitals to more central locations when the populations and therefore dynamics of power shifted, generally from east to west. The nation’s capital should be the same way. Washington’s current location says ‘America maintains the outdated paradigm that Europe and the Atlantic hold sway over everyone else.’ I’m not saying the new capital should move across the country to the west coast. This would communicate a sudden and drastic shift in policy that would embolden China and alienate long-standing Western allies. So I propose a new capital called Monroe, in honor of Manifest Destiny, be located in a newly created District of America somewhere in the middle, maybe Iowa or Utah.
Come on, Grove, Lindsay promised you’d give me a little back-and-forth,” Andy said.
“Oh, sorry, well, I guess besides the symbolism, as a practical matter that kind of move would wipe the slate clean as institutions entrenched in Washington since the Civil War, such as lobbying firms, government contractors, and professional legislators, would have to start over in a new city.”
Andy nodded but didn’t want to. Lindsay usually criticized his schemes, which I’d noticed only excited him further. People who agreed with him were boring, those who furthered his point confused him to the point of silence.
I appreciated the quiet of the work office but not because I needed to pay attention to the video on the computer screen. No one had even entered the Benn-MacLachlan laundry room while I watched it during my shift. I wasn’t surprised that my first surveillance operation had been a bust but was a little disappointed that I couldn’t remove The Case of the Missing Panties from my growing list of things to do.
It was dark and getting late, but after work I decided I had to retrieve from the laundry room Kate’s panties as well as my webcam and laptop — I had a paper due.
Lindsay let me in.
“I think it was too soon,” Lindsay said.
“Agreed, even if the panty pilferer doesn’t know about the surveillance, he or she certainly knows about the meeting and that people are looking out for him,” I said.
“Yes, or her. Let’s wait a week before we try again, during which the perpetrator will probably lay low as well.”
I grabbed my things from their perch on the stacked washer and dryer and opened the dryer for Kate’s panties.
“Actually, Lindsay, I stole them from a dryer in Anderson Complex-South. I don’t think anyone there noticed or cared that they went missing. If they did it’s a good way to scare up more business.”
“I can see the headline: Panty Pilfering Pandemic Spreads South.”
I continued in my best imitation of an NPR newsman: Grover Cleveland, who is not at all a pervert, has been interested in the case since the beginning and hot on the trail of the missing panties since robberies were first reported at Benn-MacLachlan. Since then, the incidents have only spread south to his dorm and even off campus, always to houses that hosted parties he attended.
We laughed as we climbed the stairs to the main lobby. Lindsay thanked me as she let me out the side door of the dorm.
I was still laughing to myself when a dark figure emerged from a stand of trees near the sidewalk and grabbed me, his arm around my neck.
The panties, computer, and camera fell to the ground as I gasped and struggled to break free.
“I’m tired of waiting,” PimpFlyG said into my ear.
I moved to catch my breath and said, “Is this really the best way to get what you want? Let me go, and just ask me what you want to know.”
To my surprise, he did.
“So where’s my money, Benjamin Franklin?”
“You do that on purpose, don’t you, as a sign of disrespect? Pretend not to know my name? Use the names of other presidents instead?”
“Benjamin Franklin wasn’t a president, I just couldn’t think of anyone else just then.”
I smiled and said “I’ve missed our chats. Now about the money: I think I know where it is.”
* * * * *
I had wanted to check the locker with Candace the next day, to make sure there was something there and that this wasn’t just another red herring, before telling PimpFlyG about it.
But PimpFlyG’s boss would soon be in town, so he insisted I return to the student center and open it immediately.
The loading dock was far more ominous than I remembered, but I might have been projecting my foreboding. I wished the room had windows and that someone had replaced more of the fluorescent light bulbs.
PimpFlyG and I went straight to the lockers and tried every lock.
Locker 15 opened and, in it, I saw a stack of money. And it looked like a good deal more than the $10,000 PimpFlyG said was missing. An overwhelming sense of relief overcame me before PimpFlyG grabbed my shoulder, swung me around, and punched me in the face. Hard.
* * * * *
I don’t know how long I was out, but it must have been a while because my neck hurt from laying on the loading dock’s concrete floor.
I stood slowly.
The keys dangled from the lock, and the locker was empty.
“Bastard,” I said, but I wasn’t surprised. I wouldn’t have left me my cut either. And, anyway, I’d been growing increasingly uncomfortable with the prospect of taking ill-gotten money as payment. In a way I was grateful to PimpFlyG for resolving my moral dilemma, but mostly I was relieved the cash had been there. Losing my finder’s fee seemed a fair price to pay to have him out of my life.
I adjusted my backpack, its contents now crushed from cushioning my fall, and prepared to leave.
I decided to do a final sweep before shutting the locker. I stuck in my hand and groaned as my fingers touched a small envelope.
“Fuck,” I said, “the mystery continues.”
I removed an unremarkable white envelope from the locker, put it in my backpack, and locked everything up, returning Jason’s keys to the labeled Ziploc bag in my pocket.
Exhausted as I exited the student center for the second time that evening, I remembered that I had a paper due and that the two pages I had written were on my computer, which I had dropped during my struggle with PimpFlyG outside Benn-MacLachlan along with Kate’s panties and my webcam.
Wanting desperately to get home and go to bed, I walked north once again and hoped my stuff would still be on the ground.
It began to drizzle, and I began to run.