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"Ah, no thanks. So, whatcha up to these days, J.J.? Havent seen you since the beginning of the month. The Company got you down in Florida dimpling chads?"
"Whered you hear that?" he said, looking serious. "I didnt have anything to do with that and I dont do work for the Company any more."
J.J., Whistlers only private eye and way too scary a guy to actually consider a friend but even scarier to think of as an enemy had alluded to his past involvement with American intelligence types over the years Id known him but always seemed particularly uncomfortable at the suggestion he might still be on retainer.
"I only went to Florida to see some old friends. Thats the truth."
"Yeah, okay. You up on the mountain today?" I dropped the subject.
"No, man. It was the weirdest thing. I was about to go up and some dude in a mountain uniform stopped me. I thought they might have clued into my homemade pass but that wasnt it. He asked if I wanted a free lift ticket. I said Sure. He said Id have to be part of a focus group for a couple of hours. I figured, why not?"
"They must not have been very particular about who they were focusing on," I said. "Youre not exactly the mountains target market, you know. Whatd they want to find out?"
"There were half a dozen of us. We went up to the big building at Base II, down some stairs, along a long hallway and into some secret looking room with hard chairs and two-way mirrors. I thought the dude lied to me and I really was busted but then some happyface in a lab coat came out and started describing programs to us, asking us what we thought."
"What kind of programs."
"Stuff the mountains thinking of doing to stand out since it doesnt have the butt-kicking snow yet this season like theres been the last few seasons. High touch stuff to pamper the foreigners. Things that dont rely on waist deep snow."
"You wont believe some of this stuff, dude. Bucklers."
"Yeah. Guys who wait at the top of lifts and buckle your boots for you. Like porky boomers who cant bend over to buckle their boots without almost passing out. Theyd have some guy up there whod come over to do the buckles for them. Real valet-like, you know?"