The Unicorn Agenda: Part 1

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William L. Culbertson

Walking down the street one day, I saw a unicorn. At first, I thought little of it. I've been known to see odd things that others do not, and I learned early on to keep my mouth shut. But this unicorn noticed me, and that was unusual. He swung his head in my direction. After a quick once over with his eyes, his lips curled into a contemptuous sneer. Turning back to his mission he continued on in the bike lane deftly avoiding a speeding courier who never noticed him. Curious, I followed the beast for a block where he turned east on Talbot Street. I was about to follow, but remembered my other business. I stayed at the corner and watched until he turned into the alley halfway down the block.

Once the mythical creature was out of sight, I shrugged and headed off to my appointment with Gerald Stuyvesant, plenipotentiary administrator of Sterling Fund Investments. How had I managed to be hired by a man who controlled billions of dollars of other people's money? I'd asked myself that question several times since his secretary had made the appointment last Thursday. My usual clients' definition of high finance involved negotiating the interest rate on their second mortgage. However, I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth—even if that horse had a horn on its head.

By the way, my name's Mickey Holmes, private detective. Yeah, I've taken a lot of ribbing over my name. A private detective named Holmes? The temptation to be witty, especially on the part of my clients, is irresistible—and repetitive. What I don't tell anyone is that Mickey is a nickname I chose for myself long ago. When my parents named me, they must have wanted me grow up tough. Or maybe they just decided to inflict their sense of humor on me in perpetuity. For now, I will just say that it's sheer luck none of my friends—or enemies for that matter—have discovered my true given name.

Stuyvesant's office was so far up in the DMA tower that it would have been a three day hike up the stairway. My appointment was for mid morning, so I didn't have to navigate a crowd when I arrived. There was only two other passengers with me on the express elevator to the upper reaches of the building. The car glided in silent contempt past the first fifty floors before it got serious about delivering its passengers. I was the only one that got off on the seventy-first floor at the Sterling Fund's main office.

As elevator vanished behind me, I realized that outside the elevator was inside the office. The reception area was as large as my whole apartment and paneled in wood with lots of brass accents. Green plants gave it a park-like setting. On my way to the welcome desk out of curiousity I brushed against a plant—real vegetation. I could see three other people working at desks placed strategically in amongst the foliage. At a substantial wooden desk that faced the bank of elevator doors, a young woman sat looking at me. A name plate labeled her as M. Tavers. A scruffy looking gnome sat on a corner of the bare, polished desktop doing his nails. He'd glanced at me when I'd gotten off the elevator, but now he was absorbed in trimming a hangnail.

As I approached the desk, M.Tavers ignored the gnome and smiled politely at me. "May I help you?" The gnome took no notice of either of us.

I gave the woman a smile of my own—a level three, pleasant enough but still neutral. "Yes, I'm Mickey Holmes. I have an appointment with Mr. Stuyvesant."

She blinked twice at Stuyvesant's name and arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Just one moment, please." She looked down to a screen partially recessed into the top of her desk. Maybe I should have given her something more than a level three smile.

In a moment she looked up. This time she wore a look that radiated welcome. "Yes, Mr. Holmes. Marcus will be down in a moment to take you up. Won't you have a seat?" She nodded to a rank of upholstered armchairs nearby.

Sterling Investments was an international operation. That much I'd found out with the quick internet check I always do to make sure a prospective client can pay. And yes, they could pay—could they ever! The atmosphere of their reception area gave me a better perspective to what all those extra zeros in the numbers on their financial statement really meant. The armchair I settled into invited relaxation, but I resisted its lure because it put any piece of furniture I owned to shame. Maybe if slouched in it for a couple weeks and slopped coffee over the arms, I could level it out some, but at the moment I felt as if I'd been invited to sit in my grandaunt's tea parlor. I was out of my element. In unknown territory, I stayed alert. Who knew what might be hiding in all that foliage?

As it was, I had little time to vegetate among the vegetation. A young man in a well tailored suit strode out to greet me. He extended his hand. "Mr. Holmes? I'm Marcus. Welcome to the headquarters of Sterling Investments." After he shook my hand, he took my elbow and guided me towards a carved wooden door that slid aside to reveal another elevator.

Marcus—Was that a first or last name?—had a controlling hand on my arm, and that bothered me. I took a stumbling step to one side and excused myself for clumsiness. The wobble allowed me to slip his hand away without appearing obviously offended. In the elevator, I kept my distance lest Marcus grab me again. Or, accidentally soil his suit by brushing against me.

The ride upward was short and almost unnoticeable in its smoothness. The door opened again to a setting that looked like a classic Victorian library. Dark wood bookcases lined the walls. A fire burned in a marble fireplace at one end. This time Marcus made no move to guide me. He just stretched out his hand to an opening on the right. "Through that door, if you will. Mr. Stuyvesant is waiting."

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