The Wizard and the Weaver, Chapter 17: Fibber McGee and Molly, Too!

I scanned the group, gathering both my thoughts and my will. Two months–had it been no more than that? It seemed like a century had passed. But no, just two months since Damien Gray had informed me of his terminal illness. So much had changed since then.

People were still finding their seats. Trying not to show my nervousness, I fiddled with the control panel hidden on the back side of the podium, keeping tabs on everybody out of the corners of my eyes. For some of them, this would be the first time they’d ever been inside this conference room. It had taken me and my helpers nearly a year to complete the thing, an addition to our family home dug into the earth, hidden by an artificial hill built up from countless loads of dirt, topsoil, and seedling pines. The important thing was, of course, that no eavesdropper could listen in on our conversation.

Not unless they had technology capable of listening through a whole lot of combination low tech and high tech shielding, they couldn’t. If they did have that, our goose was already cooked and on its way to the Thanksgiving table.

The clock edged closer to three p.m. Midafternoon on a Saturday, overtime in the mundane working world. None of us present today lived in that world, though. Security Chief Jordan Phreeb came through the door last, stamping snow from his boots before slipping into a seat near the back of the room. It was time to start the show.

This bunch didn’t need a warm-up, so I started right into the meat of the meeting. “Good to see you all here,” I said with heartfelt sincerity, “especially considering the kind of year we’ve had. Let’s get right to it, shall we?”

I gestured to the oversized screen where the bullet points scrolled into view as I reeled them off. “First, the good news. Jordan has accepted the position of Security Chief for Rodeo Iron.” I paused while everybody turned to eyeball the former Marine, smiling and giving him thumbs up. “Relinquishing that position allows Sissy to hang with me more often,” I grinned, “since she simply can’t get enough of this big, black, beautiful body.”

With a straight face, my six foot warrior woman stood and bowed, triggering a spate of laughter.

“Seriously, folks,” I sobered, “we’ve needed to do this for a while. Likewise, Judi has finally gotten free of her role as office manager. She’s done an unbelievable job for more than a decade, but Gertrude Larsen can take it from here. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Gertrude is in the office today, working on Saturday, just because she feels there’s work that needs to be done. So the pressure is off; now Mrs. Jackson can stick to the simple stuff, like raising our two little angels and shooting bad guys.”

More laughter. Not because of the shooting reference, but because everybody in the room knew exactly how angelic our daughters could be. Either one was a handful, and that was on a good day. The kids were too talented and energetic not to get into trouble from time to time…to time…to time.

I raised a hand to still the laughter. We had a lot of material to cover. “Can you stand more good news?” A rhetorical question, of course. “Doc Menning and Jack Hill are finally agreed that our Purple Fire Wizard is once again in the pink of health.”

That got a round of serious applause. Jack got up, danced a little jig, air-curtseyed to everyone as if he were wearing an invisible skirt, and sat back down. His expression never changed, except that his eyes were dancing. Larry Menning had no reaction because Larry Menning was not there. The good doctor, for all of his truly admirable traits, was definitely not included as part of the new, massively expanded Inner Circle.

Which reminded me: It was time to get to that. “People, we’ve decided to make a few changes in the way we operate.” I let that hang there for a moment, letting the tension build. “Until this moment, as you know, our Inner Circle has been kept extremely limited–with one unfortunate exception. My traitorous uncle sat in on a number of our meetings in the past, which gave him intel we now wish he’d never acquired. But if wishes were fishes and all that….first off, let me say that everyone who was part of that Circle, with the exception of B.J., is still going to be very much involved. The Hill household, the Jackson household with the exception of certain information we feel best to keep from our girls until they’re a little older, Jordan Phreeb and his son Philip. Others were briefed as needed for specific missions, but not provided with each and every detail of our operation, especially our available defenses.”

I paused, taking a sip of water from my Aqua Fina bottle, stalling for effect. “Keeping the Circle relatively small made sense at the time. It does not make sense now, and I’ll get to that in a minute, after we identify the new Inner Circle members for the record. Those include my mother, Lou Jackson-Bowles, and her retired rancher husband, Sim Bowles. Also Soren “Seed” Kirk, Gilligan “Beets” Robertson, Chilly Bronson, Jewel Bronson–who considers herself married to Chilly despite their ages and will be using the Bronson surname henceforth–and last but not least, seated at the table to my left, the member of the ancient Umthnn race known to us as Diamond Paws.”

It was hard not to giggle. The kids, Chilly and Jewel, had known nothing about the alien until this meeting; it had been almost impossible for them to tear their eyes from the basketball headed, four eyed, four armed, four legged digger. Now they didn’t have to pretend; they could stare openly at the eight foot tall being. The eight foot tall being who rose from his special stool, putting down the Douglas fir firewood snack he’d been chewing. In most buildings, he had to duck his head or bonk it on the ceiling, but we’d built this conference room with a ten foot ceiling specifically to accommodate his massive size.

“Greetings, pilgrims,” Diamond said in his perfect John Wayne voice. He kept coming back to that one, though he did switch off to Robert Mitchum or Jimmy Stewart on occasion and could sound like Aretha Franklin or the comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite just as easily.

Chilly Bronson’s jaw dropped. Jewel’s eyes sparkled and she grinned ear to ear. “Wow.” Mom’s eyes twinkled, but Sim never turned a hair. As I’d only recently found out, there was a whole lot more to the old rancher than met the eye. Although there had certainly been clues, had I possessed the awareness to notice them. For example, it was from Sim that I’d first learned the principle of shoot, shovel, and shut up.

“Yep.” They’d need to get to know the Umthnn better over time, but time was on the short side at the moment; I needed to keep things moving. “The only reason Diamond has not been considered a true member before this is the simple fact that he’s not always been around. He had other obligations that kept him away, sometimes for a year or more at a stretch.”

“But I assure you,” Diamond added smoothly, “I’ll be hanging around for a while now. My kids are old enough they won’t kill each other, as they would have if I’d left the child raising to their mothers in the beginning.”

Chilly’s eyes were blinking rapidly, but he’d gotten his jaw closed. Maybe being a werewolf helped him adjust quickly. Jewel, on the other hand, didn’t need to adjust at all. She was purely entranced.

“Okay,” I continued, scratching an itch on my right arm absentmindedly, “the entire Inner Circle is here, with the exception of Wayne Bruce and Sissy Harms, who are entertaining Willow and Aspen over at Jack’s, and Philip Phreeb pulling monitoring duty in the Citadel. And since the gang is all here, I have to show you something.”

“Tree,” Jack interrupted, “you forgot to tell them why.”

“Why what? Oh! Why the people in this room, plus Philip and Sissy and Wayne, were all approved to become part of our Inner Circle. That,” I explained, “was really pretty simple. We realized every member of the group had all been in combat together, many times over the past decade…with the exception, in the original bunch, of B.J. Hennessey.” My tone turned grim; even I could hear it. “Philip Phreeb and I sat down together last week, spent a few hours together in the computer center. You all know I have a photographic memory, so I tapped that, went clear back to the first battles we ever had, clear back to the Wolf War. What we wanted to see was exactly who’d been contributing to our physical combat situations…and most especially, who hadn’t. On that level, of course, we knew Carolyn West was an outlier, our only true noncombatant. I rolled my memory reels, Philip typed in the data, and the spreadsheet program did the rest. Want to know what we found?”

Nobody responded to that. Guess they realized the question was rhetorical. “We found out that everybody currently in our Inner Circle–meaning everybody in this room, plus Wayne and even computer genius Philip–had stood with us against the vamcritter attacks on a minimum of six separate occasions, and everybody had been wounded at least once…with the lone exception of, you got it, Big Jude Hennessey.

“Early on, before we knew Heartbite even existed, he did fight. I’ll never forget his contribution to getting Judi out of Missoula back in the day, and if he could make it look good without pitting himself against opponents who were actually part of Kraznick’s Michigan group, he pitched in, all right. Like the night he and Jack and I snagged Doctor Menning out of Deer Lodge. But when the chips were down, he was nowhere to be seen. Heartbite would conveniently hit when he was off on a North Dakota sales run, or chasing some woman in Billings, or even just out shopping in Great Falls or Missoula.”

I paused, just for the timing of it. “That last time, when Jennifer and Horace were killed, some of you remember how he came roaring up in his Hudson, fire in his eyes, furious that he’d missed the chance to kill himself some Biters, right? But the point was that he arrived after the last shot was fired, after the last Biter was put down.”

“You mean,” Jewel started to ask, and then stopped, embarrassed that she’d interrupted.

“Yep. I mean the numbers made it clear. B.J. wasn’t lying. He really had been in cahoots with Mary the Mute, or if not her, with somebody in Kraznick’s organization…from the beginning. Seed and Beets always called that billionaire vamleopard Angle, and I have to say they got it right. He had every angle covered.”

“Not every angle,” Jack pointed out dryly. “Certainly not the Bronson angle.”

“No,” I agreed, smiling at our two young werewolves, “not the Bronson angle.” They both blushed.

“Now then, back to where I left off.” I pressed a button on the console. A life sized image came up on the screen. “This is, or was, Damien Gray. The image will be destroyed at the conclusion of this meeting, but we’d like you to know a bit about this man. Jack?”

The Wizard got up and walked over to the podium. I sat down in my reserved seat at the side of the room, watching everything but glad to have a break.

“It was my privilege,” Jack began quietly, “to know Damien Gray for more than thirty years. Soren, you remember when we met, that day in the Half Castle Chinese Restaurant?”

“Sure,” the inventor and former assassin nodded, “I remember.”

“Well, there’s a back room in that building, accessed through a hidden door in the men’s room.”

It takes a lot to surprise Soren Kirk, but that got his eyebrows up in his hairline. “That would mean….”

“Yes. The hidden room is dug into the hill behind the restaurant. It was that construction that gave Tree the idea for burying this conference room the way he did. Now, in that room is an intelligence operation, a literally underground operation, that rivals the best on the planet. For decades, Gray’s hacker contacts worked to fight against oppressive government, corporations that crossed the line into evil, bad guys of any and every sort. The vast majority of our essential intel came directly from Damien Gray.

“But,” he looked out over the audience, making eye contact, utterly solemn, “Damien Gray is dead. Pancreatic cancer was about to kill him, but he beat the cancer to it.”

“What?” Beets Robertson’s voice, inquiring. “Suicide?”

“Suicide with a purpose. He knew he knew too much. If the wrong person had been able to get hold of him while he was incapacitated but not yet dead, he could have spilled a whole lot of beans. I guarantee you that in the case of Rodeo Iron alone, he knew enough to put us all behind bars and more. There was a lot he didn’t know, but he knew enough. So he took himself out.”

Young Chilly Bronson’s sharp mind got it immediately. “You mean we’re cut off from the only best source of information we had?”

Jack nodded at the stocky boy in acknowledgement. “Even worse than that, my young werewolf. He turned his operation over to the best successor he could find…and we really wish he hadn’t done that.” Jack switched out the image on the screen, replacing Damien Gray with a big woman, towering over the hidden belt buckle camera the Wizard had used to take her photograph. Not fat, just…big. “This is the woman he chose to take his place. She goes by Lori Albright, not her real name of course, but we don’t care about that. The problem is that Damien felt we could trust her….”

“And you don’t.” Sim Bowles this time.

“We don’t.” The Wizard sighed. “Wish we could, but we don’t. I’ve gotta give Gray credit; he protected us pretty well. She doesn’t know that much about Rodeo Iron. Certainly not that some of us are wizards or shapeshifters or witches or aliens. As far as we know, nothing much at all…except that Damien told her she could trust us, and that’s a problem. Tree and I have met with her four times during these past two months. She knows our faces, obviously, and that Treemin is a rich black cat and sole owner of the multimillion dollar Rodeo Iron corporation. She knows we’re hunting for anything we can find on B.J., though of course we haven’t told her why we need the information–but she’s no fool. She’s brilliant, astronomical I.Q., and the few test searches we’ve given her have all come back looking like they should. Except one.”

“B.J.” Mom sounded surprised. “This Lori hasn’t been able to find anything on him? Nothing at all?”

“No. And now I’m turning this back to Tree.”

So much for my break. I got up and replaced the Wizard at the podium. “Mom, you’re the ex-cop in the room. Why would this sound suspicious to you?”

“That’s easy.” Lou Jackson folded her arms and looked at me with a stern expression. “You know the answer, son.”

“Yeah,” I smirked, just a little, “but I bet the folks would like to hear it from you.”

She snorted, not exactly a feminine sound. “Hey, you’re the boss. All right.” She got up, walked up to the front of the room–though well away from my position–and began lecturing. “B.J. Hennessey is my kid brother. I know him about as well as anybody can, and I know for a fact that no matter what else he does or does not do, he will never quit driving that antique Hudson of his. That’s a car that stands out like a sore thumb anywhere; a group of hackers set on his trail by a high I.Q. intel type should be able to pick up that vehicle somewhere. Even if he’s still got the permanent antique Montana plate on it, so he doesn’t have to register it anywhere ever again, it doesn’t exactly blend in. He insists on finding leaded gas for it, too, which is hugely difficult these days. There just aren’t that many places to look, at least not for a computer driven search in the year 2023, eh?”

A few heads were nodding thoughtfully, but she wasn’t done yet. “But even if he could hide the car, B.J. can’t hide B.J. He’s about the size of Shaquille O’Neal, for Pete’s sake. How many gorillas do you believe could hide out in a flock of sheep? Then again, let’s say my dear deranged bro did somehow manage to find a way around that. People talk about going black all the time–meaning disappearing from the system, not dating African Americans–but few realize how difficult that is to accomplish. Hennessey grew up tough on the mean streets of Hartford, Connecticut. He’s lived here on the former Trace Ranch property for the last twelve years. But he’s never even lived off grid, let alone gone truly black.

“Quite simply,” she continued, summing up, “I don’t think he left here with the skills. He’d have made a mistake somewhere by now, and this intel woman’s contacts should have been able to find him. I believe Treemin could pull it off if he had a mind to, but not Big Jude. It’s just not in the cards.” She sat back down, leaving the others to mull over what she’d said.

I didn’t let them mull for long. “That’s been our big red warning flag on Lori, okay? But worse than that, Jack and I both get a wrong feeling around her. You can see from the image that she’s not exactly beautiful, but in person, she comes across better than she does on the screen. She’s simply the opposite of photogenic. So it’s not her appearance. It’s something else. The Wizard and I’ve both felt it every time we’ve gone to the Half Castle, and the feeling gets stronger every time we go.”

“So…” Chilly raised his hand. “Um…why do we all need to know this? If you and Jack decided to, you know, cut her off or whatever, you could have done it without talking to the rest of us, right?”

“Good question.” I had to fight another urge to giggle, suddenly flashing on the Family Feud TV show where contestants always say good answer, even when a teammate has just come up with the stupidest answer ever. “I’ll respond in two parts. One is, we’re going to do just that, cut the Half Castle out of the loop, but we need all of you to know so that if you decide to have lunch in the Missoula area, you don’t eat there, even though their Chinese food is to die for. Trouble is, darkening their door could really lead to dying. If we can’t trust the owner, we can’t be sure that every patron in the place isn’t being recorded. From this day forth, having cashew chicken in East Missoula counts as a very, very bad idea.

“The second reason for briefing all of you is that Jack and I decided to use everybody to brainstorm a bit. Yes, our intuition is telling us to look out, beware, dragons be there. But we can’t seem to quite pin it down…and we thought perhaps somebody in this room could. Let’s take a break, hit the snack table, grab a piece of pie or a cookie or whatever. Study that image on the screen. Ponder. We’ll reconvene in twenty minutes.”

Jack and I filled our plates and sat down at one of the tables, watching the others. “Think it’ll work?” I asked.

He grunted, which could have been a yes or a no or an I don’t know. I shut up and forked a bit of Wayne Bruce’s cherry pie into my mouth. I knew it was Wayne’s; nobody could touch the gay man’s work in the kitchen. Our people were taking the assignment seriously; nobody was talking much, just eating or sipping coffee or juice and staring at the big woman on the screen.

The minutes passed quickly enough. I called the meeting back to order and asked, “Any volunteers? We’re greenlighting here, so there’s no such thing as a wrong thought.”

Ten minutes later, the minutes weren’t passing at all. We were stuck. Nobody had a clue, except for Seed thinking Lori Cartwright was extraordinarily unattractive and Beets thinking she reminded him of a girl he’d once dated.

“Honestly,” I admitted, “I didn’t expect this. But Jordan, you’re looking a bit thoughtful there. Whazzup?”

“Just thinking,” the Security Chief replied, “that maybe I should go relieve Philip at the drone monitoring station. If there’s anybody who might come up with something, it’s my disgustingly intelligent twenty year old son. Sometimes I can’t believe I contributed to producing that kid.”

“Why not? Can’t hurt.” Besides, it would give me time to hit the restroom I’d forgotten to visit during the break.

Fifteen minutes later, the younger Phreeb walked into the conference room. He’d outgrown his baby fat long ago; I noticed Jewel Bronson eyeing him appreciatively as he walked up in front of the tables and turned to study Cartwright’s image. Hazel eyes in an almost square face, solidly muscled despite spending more time with computers than he ever did working out, he was the very picture of concentration, Rodin’s Thinker without the seated pose. And with clothing, of course.

Nobody talked; we all knew enough to let the genius concentrate without distraction. I did keep an eye on the clock, though. Philip spent seven full minutes at the front of the room, sometimes moving right up to the screen. I’d swear his nose actually touched it once. Then he turned, strode to the back of the room, and took another long look, changing his position regularly, not exactly pacing but not staying in one place, either. His left fist clenched and relaxed, clenched and relaxed, a regular rhythm that had been a habit of his since early childhood, at least when his mind was working at warp speed.

And his mind was always working at warp speed.

Finally, still at the back of the room, he shook himself like a dog shedding water and let us have it. “Dad said you wanted to know what’s wrong with this picture, right?”

“Right, Philip,” I nodded. “Jack and I know she’s trouble. We just don’t know exactly why.”

“Uh-huh. Treemin, for one thing, she’s not human.”

The reaction in the room was less than one might have expected. Diamond Paws and I wre already facing that way. Everybody else had turned around in their seats to focus their attention on Rodeo Iron’s answer to the former Heartbite Clan’s whiz kid computer types, but judging by body language, nobody was getting excited. Nor should they; our group included one resident alien Umthnn, two young werewolves, a Purple Fire Wizard, and a shifter capable of assuming just about any animal guise she chose. Quite a few of us weren’t exactly human.

Nonetheless, I felt a chill run down my back. “Not human?”

“Definitely not.”

I wanted to ask how he knew that, but more importantly…”Do you know what she is, then?”

“Sure.” Philip wiped the back of one hand across his mouth as if he were making certain nothing from his lunch had attached itself to his beard. The man was hairy faced, but he was also fastidious. “We’re looking at a machine.”

Now there was tension in the room. My chill was back, too, and turbocharged at that. “A machine,” I said flatly. “A robot, then?”

He waggled a hand, palm down, his way of saying meh. “An android, maybe, which is a robot shaped like a human.”

“All androids are robots, but not all robots are androids?”

“Right. Or she could be a cyborg. Which is, of course, a being that’s part human, part machine, with the human part being dependent on the machine part.”

There was something he wasn’t saying, most likely because he assumed we already knew it. His stellar I.Q., I’d long since realized, caused him to do that all too often. “Either one doesn’t sound good, Philip.”

He blinked. “Definitely not. The thing is, there’s a huge difference between the two. And you’re going to ask me how I know she’s not human, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “There are several clues, but the easiest one is the eyes. The eyeballs are well done; they mimic natural human eyeballs so well that they might even be human. But the irises and pupils are not irises and pupils. They’re camera lenses.”

With that, the assemblage whipped around in their chairs in perfect unison, as if we were training for the Olympics in Synchronized Power Point Presentation. Every human eye focused on the screen. I knew Philip had 20/10 vision; perhaps that had helped him spot the mechanical eyes. That, and the fact that he’d obviously known what to look for. I couldn’t spot what he was talking about, though, so I manipulated the console controls, cropping the imaging and enlarging it so that the entire screen was filled with nothing but a seven foot head.

And then it was obvious. The lines between the various shutter leaves were subtle and extremely well camouflaged, but they were there. They were definitely there. The room filled with sharp intakes of breath, murmers, and a couple of “Well, I’ll be damned,” remarks.

I found myself nodding. Yes, Jack and I had been right; our guts had warned us. “Philip, you said she’s either a cyborg or an android, right?”


“You can’t tell which?”

“Not from just this one still image, no. But I can tell you one thing; it makes a powerful difference. If she’s a cyborg, lost her eyesight or had it removed and replaced with this technology, her brain might still be mostly human. I’ve read an article that talked about the Chinese developing this.”

“The Chinese?” I caught Jack Hill’s eye, his very human eye, my alarm mirrored in his own faded blue-gray orbs. We’d told no one , not even our lovers, about Lori Cartwright being a Chinese national.

“Yeah. But see, the scariest thing is if she’s an android, a full-on machine without a human brain at the controls. Because if she is….” His voice trailed off. He looked stricken, as gray in the face as I’d ever seen him.

“If she is…” I prompted, though I feared the answer.

“If she is an android,” he said with obvious effort, “then she’s completely powered by a computer brain.”

“A smart bot, so to speak?”

“Yeah. A smart bot. A really smart bot. An AI.”

It didn’t thrill me any, but I knew what that was. “Artificial intelligence.”


“A Chinese artificial intelligence.”


“A Chinese artificial intelligence working intel in American flyover country.”


I thought that over for three or four seconds before addressing the room as a whole. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have a good news, bad news update. The good news is that we have a clue or two regarding the nature of the new owner of the Half Castle. The bad news is, worst case scenario, we might be looking at a spy machine working against the interests of not just Rodeo Iron, but the United States as a whole. Philip, just how dangerous could our so called Lori Cartwright be?”

The computer whiz shrugged. “If she really has access to a truly elite hacker network like you say, then it’s possible she could gather enough information to affect the course of nations, and certainly not to our country’s benefit. If she’s an android, and her computer brain…Treemin, she could soak up enough knowledge to do almost anything. Destroy the United States? That would be easy; just influence elections enough to keep a Progressive in the White House. Which could be done by simply jiggering the vote totals in the swing states, or in half a dozen other ways. Blackmail against candidates would be a piece of cake. The list is endless.”

Jack Hill asked a great question. “If it were that easy, don’t you think the USA would already be history by now?”

“It might not have been that easy in the past,” Phreeb retorted, “but this is not the past. And with the developed nations moving more and more into communications at the speed of light, it’s all too possible.”

The waning remainder of the afternoon went by in a blur. We broke into mini-groups, two or three each, brainstorming, kicking around possibilities. At 5:30 p.m., realizing the energy in the room was vibrating like a buzz saw on steroids and should not be interrupted, I asked Jack to call over to his place, have Wayne Bruce cater supper for the bunch of us. Nobody else could have done it on such short order, but by 6:30 p.m., we were grabbing plates from the snack table that had been turned into an impromptu buffet table, loading up on burgers, fries, cole slaw, baked beans, hot dogs, and an assortment of sugar-powered desserts.

At 7:15 p.m., I called the meeting back to order. Jack Hill operated the keyboard, typing up the entries for our new To Do list. The list was extensive.

1. Divert more resources to Philip’s computer center in the Citadel (as we must become self sufficient regarding intel gathering ASAP). Amount of funding TBD.

2. Determine how to cut off contact with Half Castle in safest possible manner (knowing there is at this point no truly safe way to do that).

3. Devise method to encourage rank and file employees to avoid the Half Castle without telling them why (since any welder’s vehicle parked there might easily come back with a bug).

4. Determine protocol to sweep all employees and vehicles for bugs every day without them knowing it. (Put your brain to work on that one, Philip!)

5. Do background research on android and/or cyborg technology known to date….

I glanced one last time at the list. Not just those first five items, but the whole list. Twenty-seven things To Do. But enough; the clock declared it was already 9:27 p.m. Sufficient unto this Saturday was the evil thereof; the threats would still be there tomorrow.

“Let’s call it a night,” I decided, and people started heading for the door. I stood lost in thought, staring at the list on the screen, failing to hear Philip Phreeb the first time he spoke.

“Mr. Jackson!”

“Wha–sorry, Philip.” Our Cyber Chief stood at the doorway, last man out except for me and Jack. “You had something to say.”

“Yeah.” He looked positively embarrassed. “With all the–you know, Lori Droid and everything…I forgot to tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“Maybe ten minutes before Dad came over to tell me I was needed here, I, um….”

I had no clue what he was trying to tell me. He’d found an online girlfriend or something?

As it turned out, he’d found something, all right. “Tree, you know I told you the other day that I was finally satisfied that I’d created enough of a firewall fortress and rigged enough bounces to let me use the Internet safely without anybody tracking me back, right?”

Uh-oh. “Please don’t tell me you were mistaken. That our headquarters cyber security has been breached.”

“Oh, no! No, nothing like that. It’s…I’ve picked up B.J.’s trail.”

I stared at him, stunned. Mom had been exactly right. Lori the Machine had been lying to us all along. With her contacts, saying she hadn’t been able to locate my uncle after two months of trying, whereas our guy got the job done in two days, single handed? Fibber McGee and Molly, too!

“So,” I asked, “where is the big black fellow?”

He rolled his eyes. “That, you are not going to believe.”