Ralph was sick of his students making jokes about how he shot President Reagan, but there isn't very much he could do about it, short of quitting, or putting on the suit and beating them all up, or maybe getting a gun and trying to shoot President Reagan. Come to think of it, that might not be such a bad plan. Maybe he could put on the suit so he could make a quick getaway, get a gun, and try to shoot the President -- but then the aliens might come back for the suit. It's entirely possible that they wouldn't think that bringing down Mr. Bedtime for Bonzo was helping to save the world, although Ralph suspected that with a year's worth of newspapers and a free afternoon he could prove to them that it would.
In revenge, he set the kids to a special Friday pop quiz on the Shakespeare homework he'd assigned -- not that any of these delinquents could recognize Shakespeare if he bit them on the Corialanus, but the school required every high school English class to read a Shakespeare play every year. Then the little bastards had the balls to whine at him.
"Aww, bogus, Mr. H, you know we didn't read it!"
Oh, so now, when they wanted something, he was Mr. H. instead of Hinkley?
"Mr H? But no! I am a Hinkley," he orated in his best actor-pompous as he paced in front of the blackboard.
"Hath not a Hinkley eyes? Hath not a Hinkley hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, incapable with the same weapons, subject
to the same Jodie Foster fetishes, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer,
as a Smith is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you
arrest us, shall we not go to jail?"
The kids were too used to him even to look confused. They just muttered obscenities (not so under their breath) and filled out random bullshit under test papers. That was okay with Ralph. Tomorrow he was leaving the country for the first time ever, even if it was only because Bill was dragging him along for some FBI/Interpol thing, and he'd be back bright-eyed and bushy tailed on Monday morning to hand back a bunch of failed test papers. He was going to fucking England, man. No way his students were getting him down.
"Hey, Mr. H? Why Jodie Foster? Like, she totally blew in Foxes."
Amidst snickers, Ralph contemplated scones and crumpets and tests marked with bright red Fs, and smiled.
He was still being laughed at the next day as they slowly made their way through Heathrow customs.
"I knew you were bad at flying, Ralph, but I figured that was just in the suit." Bill didn't need to laugh that hard, did he? "You should realize the pilot probably still had his instruction book, and you've really didn't need to be quite so frightened."
"Go to hell," Ralph said. "Look at it this way: I know much better than you do exactly how dangerous flying can be. Right?"
Bill just laughed, and was still chuckling occasionally as a bland-faced man in a nondescript suit that them outside of customs and escorted them to an unmarked vehicle that practically screamed "law enforcement".
"Care to let us in on the joke, Agent Maxwell?" asked the driver over his shoulder in a plummy BBC voice, as they climbed into the car.
"Arun!" Bill grinned and punched the man on the shoulder. "Good to see you. How's it hanging?" The car started moving, and Ralph realized with a shock that Bill's friend wasn't the driver -- they were in England now, and the cars were all backwards and on the wrong side of the road. Cool! Bill was still speaking with his non-driving friend. "Nothing special, just mocking Ralph here. From his utter terror for the last six hours you'd think that Orville and Wilbur Wright themselves were ferrying us across the Atlantic in a glider built from Popsicle sticks. Ralph, Agent Arun Iyengar of Interpol."
The Interpol agent raised an eyebrow at Ralph. "So this is the civilian observer you insisted upon bringing along?" He examined Ralph as closely is the awkward angle probably allowed, and was clear from his face and he found Ralph wanting. "Really. Quite."
"Nah, don't underestimate him. He'll come in handy yet." Ralph was impressed; of course Interpol needed to believe that he was useful since they couldn't be told about the suit, but to hear something that smacked of praise coming from Bill... he hadn't expected it, that was all. "So brief us. Where we going?"
Agent Iyengar dropped his sneer and shifted back to a business-face. He presented each American with a fat folder full of glossy papers. "We're off to Nottinghamshire. In your dossiers you will see a introductory biography of William John Cavendish Bentinck-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland. Briefly, he was in 19th-century eccentric who preferred to live in seclusion, and had an underground maze excavated under his estate at Welbeck Abbey."
"Eccentric?" Bill asked.
Ralph paged through his folder. Some of the images and descriptions he flipped past were fascinating. Was that a live chicken in some sort of pneumatic tube? Or... no, a miniature train running into a basement? "Is 'eccentric' British for 'loony'?"
The British agent bristled. "He was a bit strange, but that's not why we're here. Shortly before he died, Portland -- who carried on lively correspondences, although he avoided human contact at all costs -- began an interesting epistolatory friendship with a 10-year-old girl in Buffalo, New York, named Frances Folsom. Evidence recently came to light indicating that, acting on his 'dear Fanny's' advice, Portland may have gained access to some vital relics of the British Empire and hidden them on his property. We can't find them, and we believe that the United States government may have the information we need to decode some --" he shuddered in distaste "-- clues Portland left in his will."
Bill must have known some of this already, because he didn't look surprised. Which left Ralph to ask the obvious questions. "Why would the U.S. government know anything?"
"Because Frances Folsom grew up to marry Grover Cleveland, 22nd president of the United States." The disdainful look returned, and Ralph thought he heard Agent Iyengar muttering under his breath, "goodness me, goodness me, what do they teach them in these schools?"
Ralph looked sideways at Bill. "And why am I here, again?"
"Moral support. You'll understand when you see the house."
"What are we looking for again?"
Ralph closed the door on the thirty-second room he'd investigasted. Unlike the earlier rooms, this one contained a billiards table and a wet bar. Like the thirty-one previous rooms, though, this room was painted pink, and had a free-standing sink. In this room, the sink was blue china, with little flowers, and was adjacent to the billiards table. "Strange, I think we've got."
"Frances Cleveland's diary implies we'll know it when we see it."
Ralph side and opened his 33rd door -- then slammed it immediately when he saw the bizarre creature, like a donkey and a zebra got stuck in a blender together. He was about to move on when he paused for moment to run his mind's eye over the decorations he'd seen in the last room. Warily, he eased the door open again. Once he looked past the disturbing horse-zebra thing that was stuffed and mounted in the middle of the room, the floor decorations called for his attention. The floor decorations in a lovely and probably very expensive wood inlay, that showed a squashed rectangle with a line through the middle, all inscribed within a circle. A wood-inlay floor from over one hundred years ago that looked exactly like the symbol on Ralph's suit.
"Bill," he called. "I think I've found it."
Disturbed, he leaned against the taxidermic nightmare in the middle of the room, dusty on its wooden stand.
The okapi licked his face.