The Embassy receives a mysterious delivery. The Trade War between Oslea and the Aneolwah Islands creates product shortages.
He stood up from his desk when he heard a loud buzzing sound and approached the window. A large quad-copter drone was landing on the parking lot in front of the embassy. It was marked ashtabula.biz, the shopping and shipping company using Oslea as its proving grounds. His Administrative Assistant ran out to meet the flying machine but waited several feet away as it released its package.
When it buzzed away she picked up the box it was carrying to bring it into the embassy. Harman noted that it didn’t look heavy, but it was large and bulky. Dorothy’s eyes could just barely be seen above the top of the box as she made her way back. She winced when package slipped out of her hands and fell to the ground. She looked around furtively before picking it up again and scurrying into the building.
A moment later Dorothy entered the Ambassador’s office with the box. “Special Delivery, Mr. Harman.” She set the bulky package down next to his desk. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Harman answered. “I didn’t order anything.” He examined the box and found the address slip. “It’s for Ballencek. Is he in the building?”
“He’s on the grounds doing a security review,” she said. “Should I call him in?”
“No. Just send him in when he finishes.”
“Yes, sir. Is there anything else?”
“Not at the moment,” Harman said.
His Administrative Assistant looked expectant. “I can leave for the day?” she grinned.
He picked up several folders from his desk and handed them to her. “Uhh… here. File these for me, please. There are also some visa applications in here that need to be reviewed.”
Dorothy accepted the documents. “Of course,” she acknowledged disappointingly. She turned and exited the office.
Harman picked up the box and as he suspected it wasn’t very heavy at all, it was just large. He shook it and heard something rattling inside, but it didn’t sound as if anything was breakable. He put the package down again and rubbed his arms. His office was cold again. He stepped over to the smart thermostat and found that it read 63 degrees. Harman turned it up to 72 and shrugged on the sweater he kept in the office.
The Ambassador returned to his desk and opened a drawer to remove a marshmallow pie. Key Lime, another one of Oslea’s signature flavors and quite tasty.
The intercom on his desk buzzed. ‘Yes, Dorothy?”
“Mayor Guillermo Jackson is here,” she announced.
“Send him in.”
Jackson swept through the door but not as breezily as he normally did. “A spider web and it’s me in the middle so I twist and turn.”
Harman leaned forward in his chair and placed his hands on the desk. “What sort of troubles do you have?”
“Too many men, too many people, making too many problems,” he replied. “Can’t you see this is a land of confusion?”
Harman nodded. “I understand, Mr. Jackson. I tried to help Taft and Levigis find common ground on the trade dispute, but it didn’t end well.”
“It’s not enough. It’s not enough to give me what it is I want.” He said angrily. “I think it’s time to give this up.”
“I agree. Stores are starting to have shortages.” Harman displayed his half-eaten marshmallow pie. “This is my last one.”
The mayor leaned forward, put his hands on the desk, and looked at him intensely. “The payoffs and the ripoffs and the things nobody saw. It’s the lure of easy money, it’s got very strong appeal.”
“Yes. Well. I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Harman said.
The office door flew open and Bill Jr. burst into the room. “Dad! Did you see that! Pretty Cool! Oh! Here it is!” The Ambassador’s son rushed to the box at the side of the desk.
Harman stood and joined his son. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” the teen said. “All I did was program the delivery drone for autonomous flight from the warehouse here to the Embassy.”
“Very good,” Harman said encouragingly. “How’s the project going?”
“We’ve flown almost a hundred delivery flights so far,” he said excitedly. “The only hiccup was when a drone misread an address on ‘South 0’ as ‘South Zero.’”
Jackson folded his arms against his chest. “Someone always playing corporation games. Who cares they’re always changing the corporation names.” He offered skeptically.
“What’s he saying, Dad?” Bill Jr. asked.
Harman shrugged his shoulders, “Not sure.”
“Mr. Raini says the tests have been so successful that he’s planning on a major expansion at the port.” Bill Jr. said excitedly.
Mayor Jackson stepped to the smart thermostat and tapped on it. “The cool night brings back memories of a good life.” Harman joined him to check out the thermostat.
Even though he had turned it up to 72 just a few minutes earlier the temperature in the room was 59, even colder than before. “This is certainly odd.” He commented. “Ballencek will need to call the heating and air conditioning company.”
“There’s a problem out front, Mr. Harman.” Larry Ballencek wore a worried look on his face as he joined the others in the Ambassador’s office. The Security Officer carried a rock in his hand and placed it on Harman’s desk. “Look at this.”
Harman picked it up and examined the rock. There didn’t seem to be anything unusual about it. “It’s a rock.”
“Yes, sir. A rock.” He confirmed.
The nondescript rock obviously had some sort of significance to his Security Officer, but he couldn’t quite puzzle it out. “And what does this rock mean?” Harman quizzed.
“There’s a giant pothole in front of the Embassy,” Ballencek answered. “Right at the gate and security checkpoint.”
Harman handed the rock back to Ballencek. “I suppose we just call the street department and let them know.”
Ballencek’s eyes widened as if was telling Harman something he should already know. “Do you really want to deal with the Oslea Asphalt Association?”
Mayor Jackson let out a low whistle. “Man, there’s an opera out on the turnpike.”
“Indeed,” Ballencek agreed.
“Just put a metal plate over it for now and we’ll take care of this later.” Harman decided. He pointed at the box next to his desk. “You got a delivery a bit ago.”
“I wasn’t expecting anything.” Ballencek wondered as he stepped over to the package. “What could it be.” He picked it up and rattled it. Not very heavy. He put it back down, stripped the packing tape off the top of the box, and opened it up. He started laughing. He laughed so hard he had to lean against Harman’s desk.
“Okay, Lieutenant. What is it?”
Ballencek put his hand over his mouth and snickered for a moment more before catching his breath. “Sometimes you have to grease a few palms while gathering intelligence information.”
“Uh, huh,” Ambassador Harman waved his hand to coax Ballencek into providing more details.
“I disguise the line item in the budget as ‘Rubber Chickens.’” Ballencek picked the box up and turned it upside down. Dozens of rubber chickens spilled onto the floor, some of them squeaking as they tumbled out.
“Somebody at the State Department must have taken it literally and ordered these,” he said. “And the shipping label says it’s One Of 33.”