Meet Joe Albuquerque
Concept contributed by: "Eric Clapton," Angelbot and Norman Greene
"My first job after leaving Hogwarts," the cloaked speaker reminisced through his personal cloud of firewhisky smoke, "was as a handler for the Dragon Squad, Southeast Zone. I had always liked magical beasts, and my two wand-hands gave me an advantage in dealing with their rough behavior. I could stun with one hand and ward off fire with the other, for instance. But I was too good at my job. One of my supervisors, whom I will call Burns, apparently felt threatened by me. So he had me loaned off to the Moldovan Bureau of Worm Control, where I spent most of my time staked out in an abandoned castle, watching to make sure that no one tried to sneak anything scaly across the border from Romania. It was very boring, and the Moldovan economy was so bad that they had to pay me in borsht.
"My opposite-number on the Romanian side of the border was a beautiful young witch named Ilona Ilonera. We used to pass each other on our patrols, on broomsticks, cruising high above the Prut River. Sometimes we flew together for a while, exchanging news and views. We became good friends, and worked closely on a couple of egg-smuggling busts. Then suddenly, mysteriously, she was replaced by a pudgy bald man named Romanescu, who threatened to arrest me if I crossed to his side of the river. Nothing happened for a long time, and I began to feel useless. Also, I missed Ilona so badly that I worried I might have fallen in love with her. I began to think about quitting the service and going back to my old village to serve Mr. Niblet.
"Then-thank you, I will have another-then I received an owl. It was from the RMB-you know, the law-enforcement arm of the International Confederation of Wizards. The message offered me a temporary job, with the possibility of a more permanent offer contingent on my performance. It sounded exciting-more exciting than border Worm Control, anyway-so I reported to the RMB Mission in Bucharest. I was interviewed there and told that I had been requested specially for a mission in Antarctica. I accepted the offer, bundled up as warmly as I could, and rode a very sooty floo trunk-line to a base camp somewhere on the Ross Ice Shelf.
"It was there that I found out who had asked for me. It was Ilona, who had evidently changed careers for much the same reason as I had. She and an American agent had been sent to infiltrate a coven of dark wizards who were reportedly assembling a weapon of mass destruction to use against Muggles. The American, a master of disguise, had gone undercover and Ilona was his control, monitoring his progress through a Franklin stove in the base camp. Her partner, code-named Mycroft, had sent his head into her fire every day between two and three in the morning, GMT.
"Mycroft had reported that the situation was worse than the RMB had feared. The dark coven had abducted dozens of young wizards and witches by sending out a diabolical imitation of the Hogwarts acceptance letter, only for a school called Penguarts. It was billed as an international school with a global perspective on magic, but actually it was a sweat-shop located kilometers below the surface of the ice-shelf. Some idiot herbologist had bred a strain of soporific fruit called Napples-"
The wizard called Merlin kicked the veiled witch Sadie under the table and hissed, "See?"
"-which these children were supposed to render down, ferment, and distill into a strong liquor with extremely depressing side-effects. The final concoction looked and tasted like hard cider, but it was actually suiCider. Once distributed in, say, Australia or Ireland or Madagascar, or even a larger area, there would be such a wave of Muggle mass-suicide that the wizards would have a clear field.
"Mycroft had said he was on the trail of even more dastardly deeds and was going to report at the usual time with the evidence...but he had not appeared in Ilona's stove again. By the time I arrived, he had been missing seventeen days. Ilona was so worried and relieved to see me that she fell asleep crying on my shoulder. The next morning I put on my best dragon-hide cloak and gloves, checked over both of my wands, and apparated into what Mycroft's map had marked as the Penguarts broom cupboard.
"It wasn't much bigger than a broom cupboard, to be sure. But instead of cleaning supplies, it contained Mycroft. He was made up as a fat, greasy, lantern-jawed brute with an eyepatch and a club foot. But somehow his disguise had failed. He was just sitting in the cupboard with his arms and legs tied to a chair, looking as though they had put an Imperius curse on him. He also hadn't eaten or washed in days and they had let him soil himself. But when I tried to bring him around, he just moaned and began to cry. That was when I realized that they hadn't cursed him at all. They had tested the suiCider on him."
"Lawks," breathed Endora, pushing her goblet aside.
"Lawks, indeed," said Spanky. He paused to sip from his own goblet. "But the worst part was that, while I was realizing the full nastiness of what they had done, someone outside the broom cupboard heard Mycroft moaning and opened the door. A witch, wearing a white surgical smock and a linen face-mask and carrying a rack of beakers full of golden fluid, saw me and screamed. She dropped the beakers, which smashed and splashed suiCider all over the corridor, and ran away calling for help. Alarms began ringing and blaring.
"I wanted nothing more than to disapparate the blazes out of there. But I couldn't leave Mycroft, and he was in no condition to disapparate. Any moment, though, I was going to be surrounded by dark wizards who, I was quite sure, wouldn't wait to hear whatever lame cover-story I could make up under pressure. They would come with wands blasting. What was I to do?
"The first thing I did was, I located the real broom closet-it was just across the corridor-and yanked out half a dozen brooms. Using a permanent sticking charm, I stuck them to the legs and arms of Mycroft's chair, making sure all the sticks pointed forward. That took about thirty seconds, and by now I could hear approaching footsteps.
"The second thing was, I sat on Mycroft's lap."
"Eeurgh," Sadie opined.
"Exactly," said Spanky. "I, in my very best dragon-hide suit with matching gloves and overcoat, made from a skin shed by a yearling Swedish Shortsnout, sat down on the lap of an unwashed American agent who had been widdling on himself for two weeks. It was a wrench, but I managed. Then it was up, up, and away!
"The brooms worked like a dream. We soared out of that closet, bowling over at least a dozen dark witches and wizards as we zoomed down the corridor. It was hard to keep from bumping the walls, ceiling, and floor at first. But then we hurtled into a huge open space. An ice-cave, filled with golden magical light coming from ice-chandeliers high overhead. And on the floor and mezzanine below, at least a hundred children trudged around enormous boilers and vats. Now I realized that I had another problem. I couldn't leave all those poor, kidnapped children behind. I had to rescue them too. But I didn't know how I was going to get away myself, and already the dark wizards and witches were running at me from all directions.
"It was awkward flying around on a chair, but I used all my Quidditch experience dodging curses and weaving between the ice-chandeliers. I shielded myself with alternating wands and shot ennervating spells at all the mesmerized kids below. Then I had an idea, and with both wands I started shooting Portus spells at all kinds of things-buckets, carts, measuring sticks, what have you. I was too busy making evasive maneuvers to think deeply about where the portkeys should go, so I sent them all to the only place I had ever made out a portkey to-the place we all made them out to, when we did portkeys for our N.E.W.T.s. Between shouts of 'Portus!' I started yelling at the revived youngsters, telling them to grab whatever was nearby, and if nothing happened, to grab something else. Kids started to disappear with little pops and sucking-sounds. And I tried not to think about the fact that they were appearing, one after another, in the little reception room off the Great Hall at Hogwarts.
"Some of the dark wizards disappeared too, an unavoidable side effect. But as school was in session at Hogwarts at that time, and apparition was out of the question, they would be unable to do any more harm to the children there. They would be lucky if they got away.
"Finally, after what must have been hours of crashing around the ceiling of that great cavern, watching people and things disappear below, there were only three ice-chandeliers still hanging from the ceiling and perhaps eight or ten badduns trying to shoot me down. Mycroft and I were singed by numerous curses, and one or two of our brooms had caught fire. I was sure I was getting a rash as well. I decided that all the children were as safe as I could make them, and that if I stayed any longer neither I nor Mycroft would ever escape. So casting a strong shield charm behind us and a blast of superheated air ahead-I had learned that spell from Shmedly, my old foe from the school days-I began to carve a vertical tunnel through the ice roof.
"It was a long and horrible journey, and we had to stop several times to fight off enemies on brooms. I'll pass over the frequent ice-falls, the miserable heat and humidity of our ascent, the exhaustion and hunger, and finally the waning power of our brooms that made me wonder if we would ever reach the surface. Suffice it to say that I needed Ilona's pepper-up potion nearly as much as Mycroft did by the time we rejoined her at the base camp.
"Once Mycroft was himself again, and we were all cleaned up-alas, my dragonhide suit was a total loss-we rode the floo trunk-line back to Bucharest where I was, indeed, offered a career as an RMB agent. Ilona got promoted. The American, however, was reprimanded because of his recklessness and the danger it created. I didn't think it was fair and apparently he agreed. That night, as Ilona and I were unwinding at a little wizard pub called the Smoked Herring, Mycroft caught up with us. He was out of his disguise, looking trim and well-set-up with thin, salt-and-pepper hair, two penetrating gray eyes, and a normal-sized chin.
"'Thought I'd say thanks and farewell at the same time,' he said, and he bought us each a drink. 'It's back to the States for me. A little leave, a little reassignment, and maybe I'll try to start my own practice. I've had about enough of twits like Iovanescu'-that was the chief of the Bucharest mission-'sitting safely out of wandshot and criticizing me when I'm out there with my neck on the line.'
"'What kind of practice?' I asked.
"'Wand for hire, wizard of fortune sort of thing,' he replied. 'You know, the same kind of work, only without so much static from the chain of command. Or at least if there is, I get to be the one making the static. You did good work by the way, you and that double-barreled act of yours. Why don't you come out and see me in a few months? Maybe I'll be able to offer you a job more in line with your talents.' And with a snap of his fingers, he conjured a gold-edged card on linen paper which read, ALBUQUERQUE & ASSOCIATES, Missing Wizards Located-Curses Traced-Howlers Delivered-Surveillance and Security Arrangements-Negotiable Rates. 252 Peanut Butter Blvd., Santa Perdita, Calif.
"'That has a nice ring, I guess,' said Mycroft.
"'Which one are you?' Ilona asked. 'Albuquerque or Associates?'
"'You don't think my name is really Mycroft, do you?' he laughed. He shook both our hands. 'It's Joe. Joe Albuquerque. Come out and visit when my office is set up. Both of you. Maybe I'll have some work you'll enjoy doing. So long for now.'
"He pulled his earlobe twice and disappeared with a loud bang. Ilona and I laughed at that, but then we had our own things to talk about, so we put Joe Albuquerque out of our minds. But before long, we had occasion to think of him again. And by then Joe's joke about my 'double-barreled act' had turned into a pet name for me, sort of an office joke. But before I go any further, I must make a visit to the Three Broomsticks-"
"Take this," said Harvey, tossing a galleon at his guest.
"Oh no, I couldn't..."
"It's a portkey," Harvey snapped. "Since I now know you can do the Portus charm, I'll expect you to be back and going on with your tale in a matter of minutes, rather than hours."
Behind his deep, dark hood, Spanky audibly gulped.
"All right then," he said.
"Three," said Harvey. "Two. One."
POP! Spanky was gone.
"Well, he did come right out and admit that he's RMB," Sadie said the instant Spanky was gone.
"He was RMB," Endora corrected, with an oddly defensive tone.
"Maybe he's still RMB, and he's working undercover," Merlin insisted.
"Then why would he tell us he was RMB?" Endora pleaded. "If he wanted to snow us, he would pretend to be something else."
"I could tell from the beginning that 'e was a copper," Sadie put in. "It wouldn't be a good cover unless he took that into account."
"Could you tell that, Harve?" Endora asked.
Harvey sighed, and made five fresh mugs of firewhisky appear at the snap of his fingers.
"Well?" Merlin asked. "What do you think?"
"I think," said Harvey, "that he might just do."
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