When last we left our hero, Mr. Steele had been ambushed and hustled into a MaryKay car by a gang of young toughs!
They speed away from the scene, just as the agency limo arrives. Chauffeur Fred parks the limo and gets out to wait for his boss.
His disgusted eye roll suggests he’s not surprised that Steele isn’t waiting!
While Fred waits resignedly for his superior to appear …
… Mr. Steele is getting to know his captors, whom he mistakenly assumes were sent by his irate “underling.”
“I sensed Laura was upset, but this was hardly necessary,” he complains. He figures out that the thugs aren’t from the agency and decides to make nice.
“Que pasa?” he inquires.
The pink car continues on its purposeful course, and we are given another clue that these guys have no respect for the law:
They totally run a red light!
The baddies take Mr. Steele to what appears to be an underground garage and muscle him out of the car. He’s still waiting for an explanation and makes another slightly slightly racist remark.
“Can’t we discuss this over a brandy and some tortillas?” (Oh, Mr. Steele. You’re better than that.) The guys hustle a protesting Mr. Steele out of sight, inexplicably leaving behind one guy …
… who perhaps is worried about messing up his mullet with too much rough-housing.
The mullet hairstyle has a long and ignoble history. It was known as far back as 1500 BC, when it was sported by Hittite warriors. Mark Twain was credited with creating the term “mullet” in his timeless classic Huckleberry Finn. The mullet began to rise in popularity in the 1970s, peaked in the 1980s and officially jumped the shark with Billy Ray Cyrus and Michael Bolton’s exaggerated styles in the early 90s. Will it make another comeback? Let’s hope not.
The less meticulously coiffed bad guys push Steele around a bit.
Always a gentleman, even under the most trying circumstances, the great detective asks if his oppressors mind if he smokes. He withdraws a gold cigarette case from his inside pocket
But wait! That’s no cigarette case! It’s a sneaky secret gun!
The bad guys hit the road in a hurry!
But wait! That’s no sneaky secret gun! Its a cigarette lighter! But who is that fellow who just popped up behind Mr. Steele?
The little man apologizes to Mr. Steele for his abduction. “I had no choice!” he proclaims. Mr. Steele is not placated.
“Am I to understand that you arranged this little get-together?” he demands? The little man explains that the thugs are really “good boys” who clean the offices at night.
The little man tells Steele that he had to hire the “good boys” to kidnap him, because he sits behind a computer all day and “isn’t equipped for that kind of trouble.” He hands Steele his card.
“Albie Fervitz,” Steele reads. “President, Ratooi Games International.”
Albie continues his soliloquoy: “Who knew five years ago that hacking around in my basement with George would turn into 350 million worth of Star Smash.”
Steele is impressed. “You invented it?” (Apparently Steele knows what Star Smash is. He doesn’t look like the Nintendo type!)
Albie tells Steele he and George were just trying to have fun.
“Now look at me. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. Food won’t even come near my mouth. And if my fingernails get any shorter, my hands are going to need corrective surgery.”
“You want my help,” Steele says, beginning to understand. Albie tells him that Ratooi is about to merge with Gruff & Reston Industries. But his partner, George, has disappeared!
“Gone. Erased. Blipped right off the screen of life.” Albie says it’s not like George to go missing; he’s getting “heavy mayday signals here.” How will he find George before the merger deal?
“You’re certain there’s been foul play?”
Albie tells Steele that if he woke up one morning and his right arm were gone, he’d know something had to go bump in the night! (Huh?)
Steele tells Albie to calm himself; he’s done the right thing … albeit a little clumsily. Albie reiterates that he’s out of his depth on this one:
“This is more reality than I’m used to dealing with.”
Steele wants to know who George is. Albie says his title is vice president, “but really we all do it together.” That is, Izzy, Sheila, George and himself. They formed Rattoi in grad school, whipped up a couple of video games, then … “Bammo!” He says none of them were prepared for their sudden success. Even worse, their good fortune has started attracting attention from “men in big, black limousines” who want to take them to lunch.
“Pressure from organized crime, eh?” Steele suggests knowingly. “Or perhaps kidnapping for ransom.”
“Or it could be that someone is trying to stop the merger,” Albie answers. It seems Gruff & Reston have been buying up shares of Ratooi; if they don’t finalize the merger as planned, the conglomerate will own controlling interest in the game maker. The upstarts from Ratooi had agreed to the merger, provided the whole staff stayed on. Now that George has vanished, the whole deal might collapse!
Albie wants to know if Steele can help – quietly, behind the scenes.
“Well, I normally function in purely an advisory capacity,” Steele says.
“Money is no issue, Mr. Steele!” Albie pleads.
Suddenly this case seems a bit more interesting! He gives Albie a reassuring clap on the shoulder.
“If it’s George that’s missing, it’s George we’re going to find,” Steele promises.
I’ll leave it there for now. What do you make of Mr. Steele’s James Bondesque cigarette case that converts to a gun-lighter? What about his condescending comments to the Hispanic youths? Albie is a creepy little fellow, IMO. His shirt open to the waist, that gold chain … it almost seems like he’s trying to be something different from who he really is (the nerdy tech guy). Is Steele motivated primarily by Albie’s promise of a big payoff to take this case, as he was with the Dillon Electronics case? Tell me what you think!