Empire on Ice #38: Cravatman Versus The Chiseler
[Josh and Galavar are at Galavar's mansion, Firepond, sitting at a table on his sunny southern patio, having drinks. Galavar is drinking scotch on the rocks, and Josh is drinking a piña colada through one of those colorful loop-de-loop straws.]
Josh: You're not secretly Batman, are you?
[Galavar nearly chokes on his drink.]
Josh: Sorry, I mean the non-trademarked Joshalonian equivalent, Cravatman.
[Galavar nearly chokes on his drink again.]
Galavar: Why would you think that?
Josh: Well, it's just that you're a genial, mild-mannered, yet eccentric zillionaire who's always supporting charity and quick to help out on the side of law and order. You're too good.
Galavar: There are lots of good people out there. We can't all be Cravatman.
Josh: Yeah, I suppose you're right.
[Enter Benzan, running.]
Benzan: Galavar! By golly am I glad I found you.
Galavar: Hello, Benzan. Let's remember to greet our esteemed guest, His Majesty the Emperor. Good manners are an indispensable facet of good character.
Benzan: Oh, right! Hello, Josh.
Galavar: And now, what's got you so full of steam this afternoon, lad?
Benzan: I just heard on the police scanner that The Chiseler is up to her dirty old tricks again.
Josh: The Chiseler? You mean that second-rate rogue hacker who's always busting up my Internet?
Benzan: The same.
Galavar: What has she done this time?
Benzan: She cracked her way into the First Imperial Bank Online Charitable Transaction Network and made off with ten million Jiggities!
Josh: And very unfortunate. That money was headed for orphans and kittens.
Benzan: Orphans and kittens?! Holy bas relief, Galavar! Does that Chiseler have no shame?
Galavar: If ever she did, no doubt it was shaved off long ago like so much extraneous rock. [To Josh.] Unfortunately, my good sir, I need to take my leave of you.
Josh: So soon? We hardly got here.
Galavar: Alas, I've just remembered that I have a three o'clock commitment across town that I simply can't brush off.
Josh: Well, that's business for you. We all know how it goes. Thanks for the drinks.
Galavar: My pleasure, assuredly. Please feel free to dally about and enjoy yourself. My wait staff will attend to your every comfort. Dinner will be at seven. [Departing.] Oh, and tell Silence hello when she arrives! [To Benzan.] Come along, Benzan. I think it'll be a good learning experience for you to accompany me. [To Josh.] Good afternoon.
Benzan: Bye, Josh!
[Exit Galavar and Benzan.]
[A moment later, enter Silence.]
Silence: Just you?
Josh: Gee, thanks.
[She sits down.]
Silence: I just meant that I was looking forward to giving Gally a hard time.
Josh: [Inspired.] Say, it's not you, is it?
Silence: What did I do now?
Josh: "The Chiseler" absconded with some money from my bank a little while ago. That's not you, right?
[She holds up her hands.]
Silence: Not this time, Boss.
Josh: Because it's usually you.
Silence: Sir, I take umbrage.
Josh: But it is usually you.
Silence: Oh, I'm not disagreeing. I merely find it unflattering to draw attention to.
Josh: All right, all right. … Well, then I wonder who it could be…
[Afiach Bard's house is a tranquil cob cottage in a meadow in the woods. Her horse Spinach is outside in a paddock, grazing lazily. Galavar and Benzan arrive in the yard in kitschy costumes.]
Galavar: Take it all in, Sparrow. This is what a den of iniquity looks like.
Benzan: I think it's pretty.
Galavar: Perhaps on the outside. But, seething underneath, is the restless shame and unstable psyche of a criminal viper!
Benzan: You mean?
Galavar: That's right. We've found our Chiseler.
Benzan: Afiach? Are you kidding?
Galavar: I never kid. Let's go inside.
Galavar: Aha! The cocky caperer has come home to cook confections!
Afiach: Oh, hi Galavar! Hi Benzan!
Benzan: [Aside to Galavar.] Holy debunked disguises, Cravatman! She sees straight through our sartorial subterfuge!
Galavar: H-how do you know that it's me?
Afiach: Well of course it's you.
Galavar: But…I'm wearing a mask.
Afiach: [Cheerfully.] Yeah, you look silly! Why are you two dressed in such funny clothes?
Galavar: N-never mind that! We've come here to reclaim the money you stole from charity!
Afiach: What money?
Galavar: Come, now. Did you really think you'd get away with it?
Afiach: I don't know what you're talking about. But since you're here, you can help me make rum balls.
Galavar: Is that…is that soy sauce?
Afiach: It is.
Benzan: Why are you putting soy sauce in rum balls?
Afiach: To be honest with you, I don't actually know what goes in rum balls—except rum, of course. I do know they're brown, though, so I just picked out brown things, like liquid smoke and wheat bran.
Benzan: Is that Marmite?
Benzan: Those are going to be some very savory rum balls.
Afiach: Are they usually not?
Galavar: Never mind all these diversions, Chiseler.
Afiach: Afiach! ^_^
Galavar: Maybe by day. But you can't fool me.
Benzan: [Aside to Galavar.] Are you really positive that she's The Chiseler?
Galavar: [Aside to Benzan.] Watch. And. Learn. [To Afiach.] Where were you earlier this afternoon?
Afiach: At the grocery store. I just got home a little while ago. Did you know that the "express" lane at the checkout isn't actually for self-expression, or making vegetable oil?
Galavar: I think you might be the first person who ever made that mistake.
Afiach: It's not that I don't know "express" also means "fast," but it just never occurred to me that one checkout lane should be any faster than another. Why wouldn't they just make all the checkout lanes express lanes?
Benzan: It's for customers who only have a couple of items and plan to pay by cash or card. The per person checkout rate is faster.
Afiach: I know that now, after the cashier so kindly explained it to me. It's just so wonderfully surprising! Joshalonia has all kinds of fantastic innovations.
Benzan: [Aside to Galavar.] There's no way she can be a criminal mastermind.
Galavar: [Aside to Benzan, uncertainly.] Let's see this through. [To Afiach.] Afiach, what if I told you that ten million Jiggities went missing from the First Imperial Bank Online Charitable Transaction Network a couple of hours ago?
Afiach: Went missing? Does the bank give its money vacations?
Galavar: No, no it doesn't. This money was stolen, by The Chiseler. Perhaps you've heard of her?
Afiach: Well, I know what chisels are. I've used them to make some of my musical instruments.
Galavar: Aha! So you admit to stealing the money.
Afiach: Why would I steal any money? I had all the money I needed to buy my groceries.
Benzan: [Aside to Galavar.] If she was at the grocery store, she has an alibi.
Galavar: [Aside to Benzan.] Not necessarily. It was a virtual crime. She could have hacked in from any location. [To Afiach.] Afiach, you do know that the stolen money was intended for orphans and kittens, don't you?
Afiach: Oh, that's terrible. I hope The Chiseler spends it on them. Maybe she'll do a better job than the bank! ^_^
Benzan: [Aside to Galavar.] I'm telling you, Cravatman…her elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor, if you get my meaning. She's not a criminal.
Galavar: [Aside to Benan.] Every criminal has an Achilles' heel, Sparrow, and you're about to see hers. Watch this.
[Galavar steps closer to Afiach, standing across the kitchen counter from her. He leans in toward her.]
Afiach: You just stuck your hand in my bowl of anchovies.
Galavar: What? Oh, f—bother.
[He takes out his now-sopping right hand.]
Galavar: Afiach…The Chiseler likes to think of her petty crimes as elite acts of social subversion…even works of art. And she has one name that she absolutely can't stand to be called, one name that dispels her self-aggrandizing fantasy of importance and plops her down onto the multitudinous plane of chat room trolls and pimply teenagers. And whenever she gets called by that name, she can't help but react.
Galavar: And that name is…hacker.
[A pause, as each waits for the other to say something.]
Afiach: Okay. Why are you telling me?
Afiach: I told you, I'm Afiach. ^_^
[Galavar steps back, to Benzan.]
Benzan: [Aside to Galavar.] Holy counterfactual cogitation, Cravatman! You've really pinned the tail on the wrong donkey this time.
Galavar: [Aside to Benzan.] Indeed, it would seem I was mistaken. Though embarrassing, it's critical that we always be willing to admit our mistakes.
[He turns back to Afiach.]
Galavar: It would seem I was wrong about you, Afiach.
Afiach: You're still welcome to help me make rum balls. And then you can help me eat them!
Galavar: Uh…no. I think we'd better just be going. There's a criminal out there who sorely needs capturing. [He pauses.] Please don't take it personally that I mistook you for a deranged felon.
[Afiach shows Galavar and Benzan outside, and waves at them as they go. After they're gone, she walks over to Spinach, who is munching happily on his grass. She strokes his neck and gives him a candy, which he licks from her hand.]
Afiach: They sure are strange people, aren't they? I don't think I'll ever get completely used to the Joshalonian Empire.
[She looks back at the dirt path where they left, now empty.]
Afiach: Of all things. Me, a hacker.
[As she pets Spinach on his long face, still staring at the road, her left eye twitches once.]
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!