The now finger-sized Captain Koma struggled valiantly against the rubber bands binding him to my shoebox. It wasn’t enough to extract his national secrets and cupcake recipés — no. He would soon be witness to the abject humiliation of Australia’s most respected and underweight prime minister in 300 years.
I pulled back the curtain and surveyed Canberra. “Think of it, Koma. In each building, there is at least one toilet and sink. AT LAST, my extensive knowledge of plumbing espionage is paying dividends!”
“You know so little. Imagine,” I whispered, caressing the $80 million mainframe, “we can hear every conversation conducted in any loo in the city. Even the prime minister’s headquarters’ hindquarters.”
He banged his head contemptuously. The ducks were waddling closer and closer to the box. “What are you going to do to Rudd?”
I laughed. “You want to know my plan so you can escape and foil me! How delightful.”
I ate another candied yam from my tray of caramelized vegetables. This one was shifty, this Koma.
“You’re planning to spring coils of wires out the toilet and give him a massive coronary?”
Persistent little bug. “Ha! No… all I need are the records. Do you know who he’s called from that toilet? How many people he’s conference called? Once the public gets wind of this, they’ll be clamoring to put Ron Howard back on top!”
“Toy fiend! I mean, you fiend! I mean, wait — what?”
“RON HOWARD! Brilliant plan of mine, it is, bringing in a deposed former leader to create the appearance of legitimacy whilst I pillage your treasury.”
“You’re confusing politicians and Hollywood show-folk again.”
I sneered. “If you’re referring to my 2004 campaign to stop Jim Carrey from becoming president of the good ol’ U.S. of A. then you really didn’t pay any attention to my manifesto. He couldn’t have been president — he may have been a senator, but Jim Carrey was born in Kenya.”
“I don’t much care for the local pronunciation, thank you.”
Alternating the z-control knob brought up an oscillating display on the LCD output. The prime ministerial toilet was online!
“It is now…” I counted the ticks on my analogue watch, “3:25 PM, local time. As his usual habit, Kevin Rudd will now enter his private restroom and order a large pizza with extra garlic.”
“His one weakness! How did you—”
“You forget, I’ve been analyzing his sewage and communication lines for weeks. There’s nothing I don’t know,” I sprayed, spewing bits of hydraulic cupcake onto the nosy homunculi.
“No harm can ever come to the prime minister while in the sacred confines of the ‘Marble Ministry,’” Koma declared, referencing the common phrase coined for the prime minister’s secret, state-protected toilet.
“Really?” I asked, arching my left eyebrow while drawing in my lip provocatively. I grabbed a taped-up microphone and flipped to the out line. “KEVIN RUDD! THIS IS THE SPIRIT OF LOW-FLOW PLUMBING!”
The speakers buzzed. “If it isn’t the anus of the body politic.”
I have never been more insulted by anything said over the public airwaves, and immediately moved to censure the originator of that sentence. “Who is this?”
“Lars Plumberdale, executive flush co-ordinator.”
He sounded so familiar, but I couldn’t place the voice. “Where’s Kevin Rudd?”
A flushing sound drowned out any further communiques. Somehow, my plan to wiretap Kevin Rudd’s toilet and force him to publicly admit his office was haunted had gone horribly awry.
By now, Koma had freed himself and was using the broken rubber bands and a toothpick as a makeshift harness to bridle the carnivorous duck. “Come on,” I said, plucking him up like a tick on a dog’s ear.
The confused (and probably dyslexic) duck chased after us as I shimmied down the spiral staircase to the hotel’s lobby. I threw the concierge a dirty look and violently knocked over a potted palm tree. The security guards were too busy racing to fetch dustpans to remember my boyish good looks when the police would ask for my description.
Cleanliness. It had always been Australia’s Achilles heel.
I crossed the street discreetly, keeping my juggling act to under five pins and only one flaming chainsaw. Large men with swords and walkie-talkies stood outside the federal palace, flexing and keeping watch. There were more men than usual; something had happened.
“Howdy!” I shouted, trying to pull off the old “Dancin’ Texan” maneuver. “I’m here to see Kevin Rudd. You may have heard of him—”
“Nobody gets in,” the largest, angriest man said. His sunglasses were bulging with muscles, and his shoes looked like they could spit iron bullets.
“But I’m here to see him!” I danced. “He paid good money to see a leprechaun fight the world’s smallest kangaroo!”
They studied Koma closely. He put up a fight and totally beat on one of their moustaches, but I think what convinced them was the green suit I’d forced him into, and the shillelagh glued to his arm.
“Coming through!” I brayed, tossing aside interns and coatracks with equal measure. Finally, I arrived at Kevin Rudd’s office. He stood there, mouth agape, awed by the little man struggling in my fist.
“Is he rea—”
“Enough idle chatter. I’m the fabled garbageman-savant, Lou Tintarello. You may remember my travails on the US Board of Landfill Ecology?”
He hesitated. “THE Lou Tintarello?”
“Well, I ain’t his one-toothed grandpa. My grandpa was a circus performer, juggled from sunup to sundown until his shoulders gave out on him. Then he settled down and became a lion tamer. Tell me everything about the current plumbing-related mishap.”
Rudd wavered. He may have been wearing a large coat to hide it, but one arm was half the size of the other. “Someone stole an ancient statue from my private washroom.”
“Fascinating,” I said patronizingly. “You did a good job!”
“Where was your flushing co-ordinator?” Koma yelled from my hydrogenated vest pocket. “Lars Plumberdale?”
“I don’t have a flushing co-ordinator.”
“REAL Australians let the Coriolis Effect do their flushing,” I said with an air of unearned expertise. “This crime was obviously perpetrated by Ron Howard in an attempt to humiliate you.”
“Why? Why would Ron Howard do this?”
“POLITICAL REVENGE. Canberra’s most prestigious periodical, the Daily Beagle, has already confirmed as much.”
It was amazing someone so idealistic could survive the rigors of Australia’s cutthroat system of kickbacks and daily elections. He even had all his original teeth!
“What should I do?”
I weighed his options. “Australia’s border fence is a proven farce. Likely, Ron Howard has absconded with your statue to his homestead in the Philippines.”
Rudd slammed his tiny fist on the porcelain sink. “What can I do?”
“I’ll need surveillance footage from the room.”
“It’s a toilet.”
“You’re right, I’ve already got what I need. Here,” I handed him a piece of paper with an address on it, “at 7:45 PM tonight, Ron Howard will be at this address AND disguised as an old lady. Apprehend him at all costs!”
He saluted me. “You’re the best, Mister Tintarello.”
I stamped out of the building, touching each desk obsessively on the way.
“It was a long con, but we nailed him, Koma!”
The microscopic varmint gnawed to escape my denim slacks. “What? By getting him to go after Ron Howard?”
“You think I’m a no-neck who buried his head in the cat litter when it comes to Australian government, you frivolous bogart! Rudd wasn’t my target.”
He squirmed uncomfortably. “Then what…?”
“It was STAGED for you. So you wouldn’t warn him,” I said as I picked up pace.
My elaborately laborious plan was now hurtling inexorably to fruition! I flipped the lid to my portable mobile cellular devicicle and called mister “Plumberdale.”
“What’s going on?!”
“Plumberdale? The leak’s been mended. Repeat, the leak’s been mended.” There was a chuckle on the other line, then it went dead. I tried to resuscitate — no luck.
“This was all a wild goose chase to humiliate Ron Howard, wasn’t it? What’ve you got against Opie?”
“I don’t understand that reference, not being Australian. It was never about Howard, or Rudd. This was about getting a pot-shot at Australia’s REAL leader.”
“Was that a clone of Rudd?”
“Yes, but the original didn’t matter anyway. Remember, I’ve got all Canberran toilets wiretapped. Even toilets with… diplomatic immunity?”
He stared incredulously. “What does that mean?”
“My intended target has always been Australia’s rightful ruler, the Queen of England.”
His jaw dropped like a tea tray. “That’s…”
“When Rudd’s surly, surly swordsmen drag her out of her bath, the resulting diplomatic incident will shame them both and likely cause the British Empire to fracture! Warlords will roam the Outback once more, as it was in the days when Ron Howard’s iron fist was law!”
“But the statue…”
“The Torso of Artemis. I let Karl take it. After all, what use is it to him when the world’s only expert in ancient Greek belly dancing is… me? It’s about as useful to him as…” I had pretty much checked out by then. “You know, maybe a box. With another box in it.”
“WHY?! Why did you need to take me through all that?!”
I stopped. We were there. “Why, to distract you.”
A big sign hung over us, white letters on a green board.
Several of your favorite Heroes (or Villains) from all the Universes out there are competing for the dream job of a lifetime. Only the truly deserving will survive the boardroom, the others will be be fired. Who has what it takes to become The Company Apprentice?