Writer’s Note: It’s been a while. You can read the first installment here, but to recap: our Famed Detective was talked into attending a BYOR (Bring Your Own Rice) party at the large estate of one Señor Cuerpo by Q. In attendance were a mix Liverpool FC affiliated people along with LDA favorite Professor Joe Harry and the enigmatic Col. Joshua de la Torre. While in the middle of a toast, the lights cut out, and when they came back up, all of the Liverpool Players were missing with a nefarious note left behind. We pick up with our hero, LA-based, but Liverpool FC-contracted detective, AJ Joven, having just learned that Señor Cuerpo is alive.
It takes a long time for us to make our way from the dining room to the conservatory. I track my steps - about 200 paces - but it feels like a little over 3 years has lapsed between when the lights first dimmed and when Col. de la Torre and Professor Harry shouted at me to indicate they found proof that Cuerpo was alive.
I found it curious that they could possibly know this when the note clearly indicated that whoever was behind this nefarious act has clearly indicated that he held him along with the rest of the LFC players. My suspicions are already at a buzz when I find myself face to face with Cuerpo, himself.
The host for the evening is slouched in a big chair, his tie akimbo and the left shoulder of his suit with a slight tear. Harry and de la Torre are busying themselves around the room trying to find water and any type of refreshment to give to Cuerpo, whose body language communicates someone who is distraught, but there’s something about his eyes...
“Here,” Harry shouts, cutting my thought to the quick. “I’ve got some water for you, Señor.”
The host guzzles the water down and I can see his trembling hands begin to calm.
“I know you’ve just come through something frightening, Cuerpo - and I know you’re annoyed that I came here uninvited - but I think I can be a big help to you now,” I say. “So, please, tell us what just happened.”
When Cuerpo starts to talk, I’m struck again by the odd juxtaposition of a man with a Spanish title speaking with an accent that tips itself as mildly Scottish.
“I really don’t know what to say. The lights went out. I felt someone grab me. I didn’t hear a sound, but I remembered my jiu jitsu training and put it to good use, I guess. I couldn’t see the man, but I grabbed his arm and put him in a wrist lock until he let me go. After that, I just ran. Good thing I took those lessons from that redhead in South Carolina, huh?” Cuerpo chuckles at this, but it lacks the edge of nerves or relief that one might sense from someone who had just come out of something so tense.
“So, you couldn’t see a thing but you were able to disable a guy who grabbed you and run away without hitting anything? Boy, that’s...kinda lucky,” de la Torre says with his back to us. I’m no expert on reading the muscles in a person’s back, but I’d say there’s a lot of tension in him as he stares at the fire.
Looking up at Harry who has worked his way to the spot behind Cuerpo, I notice that he doesn’t seem too convinced either. Something feels off and all things point to Cuerpo. None of us is buying it either.
“Well, I guess it is, though this is my home after all, Colonel. And if you’ve got something to say to me, perhaps we could do deal with each other in a proper British way, yes?”
As de la Torre turns to face him, Harry breaks in with a yelp. In a corner of the room that was obscured by an oddly shaped bookcase, Harry seems to have found something. As I take a step toward him, though, he suddenly disappears, as if melting right into the wall. Stunned, I stop cold. A second later, I see his head poke out. He’s found a secret passage.
Walking through this path way, Cuerpo has been oddly silent. De la Torre made the smart call to carry the rear of the party, forcing Cuerpo squarely between him and me, while Harry leads us through this passage way. All of this is happening while I’m realizing that I had no explanation yet for how Cuerpo ended up in the conservatory from the dining room.
“What’s this path lead to, Cuerpo? Why didn’t you tell us this thing ex-”
I’m stopped cold as I run into Harry’s back.
“AJ...I think we have a problem,” he says.
The passage splits into three directions. Cuerpo has decided to clam up tighter than an Koppite’s colon in the middle of a title run. We won’t be getting more info from him. And now we have to decide how to proceed because time is running out. I think about Q and how despite my strong desire to punch him in the face, I would really love it if he’d just suddenly manifest himself out of nowhere to barrage me with a bunch of questions about Cafe Racers of Instagram. I need to get him back.
Harry, de la Torre, and I all look nervously at each other. There’s an odd sense of trust flowing between us, despite de la Torre being a stranger to me just a few hours ago. Poised and confident, he suggests that we all split up with one of us choosing to hold on to Cuerpo.
Before I can volunteer myself as tribute, Professor Harry steps forward.
“I’ll guard Cuerpo,” he says, resolute in this decision.
I still try to talk him out of it, though, but he dismisses me.
“AJ, we’ve been here before. I know you think I’m a simple mathematician who also loves video games, but trust me: in a former life, I could hold my on in a one-on-one scenario with a slippery opponent.” He pauses just a moment to regard Cuerpo with a light sneer. “I can take this guy. Go find the others. We’ll meet back here once we reach the end of our tunnels. Ataleggo, my friend.”
I clasp his outstretched hand. One last adventure between us, then. Ataleggo.
I take the middle passage and take my steps slowly. The tunnel is dank where I am, but I feel a slight sensation on my arms. Wind. There must be an opening further down.
I pick up the pace as the wind feels stronger and see a slight shaft of light. I break through the opening and find myself a block away from Liverpool ONE. No sign of Q, though. No sign of my friend.
I let out a groan as I work through the events of the night wondering why I cannot simply find the right permutation to these jumbled pieces to unlock it all. The tartan fabric. The seemingly familiar faces. The odd accents.
And it’s that last bit that does it. I suddenly realize we’ve been played. And the Mathematician is in danger.
I race back through the tunnel head back towards the fork. Just as I approach I se a bright flash and a loud bang echoes through the chamber. I skid to a stop and hope I haven’t made a loud noise. I press myself against the wall of the tunnel and inch closely. Smoke has filled the chamber and I can barely make out the shape of a man standing over the slumped form of another.
As the smoke clears, I see that the man standing doesn’t have a gun in his hands; the slumped over form of Cuerpo, however, holds a pistol before this man gently swabs it away. Who knew Harry could really defend himself like that?
When I announce myself at a distance - so as, you know, not to get cut down like Cuerpo - Harry turns and greets me with his trademark grin.
“Looks like 2+2=getting knocked out, eh?”
I groan but also I’m glad that my friend isn’t fine.
“How’d you figure out he was behind it, Joe? And, please, no math puns!”
“Fine,” he relents. “Well, it was pretty simple from the start really: why would Cuerpo want to even invite such prominent Liverpool players to a dinner party so late into the season if he weren’t invested in trying to slow them down some way? I always had suspicions that he was Injury, but I couldn’t piece it together. At least, until I saw the tartan fabric w/ the note.”
I nod. That was the clue hiding in plain sight. That and that Scottish brogue.
“Anyway, it just all added up,” he continues while I groan once more. “But it wasn’t until de la Torre distracted him with his questioning that I could pin point the entrance to the secret passage. I guess, there just isn’t any extra time for Fergie now, eh?”
Before I could criticize yet one more bad pun from Harry, the old man stirs at my feet. He’s chuckling and coughing.
“Oh, it isn’t over yet, boys. De La Torre picked the right tunnel, sure, that’s where the rest of the guests are. But up on a perch that he won’t be able to see - or reach cause, c’mon, he’s kind of short - I’ve got explosives. And, well, it’s just about full time right n-”
He never finishes that sentence. Or, I should say, I never hear it. Because it’s instant pandemonium. Everything comes apart and I have no way of piecing the image playing out before me.
Because where a blast and rocks and dust should be coming, out strolls Q, de la Torre, and the rest of dinner crew.
I don’t hear anything else, though I’m sure the man is upset and is cursing. I’ll learn later, that the bomb was diffused in classic Q fashion which is to say accidentally when he tripped over a wire while walking around the room in search of a cell phone signal. What I know in this moment, though, is my friend is alive.
While the others finish giving statements to the authorities, I learn from Q what else happened in the tunnel. As he leads me through everyone’s involvement, I’m surprised to see Joe Gomez and Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain when I thought we originally began the night with Mamadou Sakho and Philippe Coutinho.
Q tilts his head and looks quizzacally at me. “You must’ve taken quite the blow to the head there, AJ. Those players are long gone by now.”
I let out a short laugh that’s more relief than anything and brush off the cobwebs in my memory. The truth is, none of those details are really that important. My best friend is alive and we survived this rough patch.
“Hey, Q, let’s head back to my office. I’ve got a fresh bottle of bourbon with our names on it.”
“Let’s go, mate.”