With our search for Mr. Brown entering its second week, the trail seemed like it was getting cold. Just when we were about to give up and accept our Croatian clown consequences, we received another baffling ballad from Mr. Brown:
Halfway to here and halfway to there,
A circle’s a loop unless it’s a square.
A double construction of dubious fame:
One like the other, exactly the same.
A river, a lake, and cars down below,
I can tell you no more. Do you know where to go?
Well, of course I know where to go. I really don’t see why Mr. Brown had to spend a whole week being so coy about it.
After arriving at the (in)famous Marina City by way of Chicago Midway Airport, it was a simple matter for me to locate Mr. Brown’s unit. I rung the bell, and the door slowly opened to reveal an imposing figure in a large chair surrounded by small blue cans. Suddenly it all made sense: Mr. Brown’s hideout on Blue Mountain was nothing more than a big stack of Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Iced Coffee cans. I started to say something to him, but before I could, he spoke with a booming voice:
“At last you have found my Blue Mountain lair.
Perhaps you would like to pull up a chair?”
That one really sounded a bit forced, but I obliged, and took a seat in front of his makeshift coffee fortress. “So, I’m here. What were you going to tell me about the Croatian Clown Conglomerate?”
His voice boomed again:
“The clowns that you seek…”
Then there was a pause, and he started fiddling with something in his ear. In a much less intimidating voice, he muttered: “It’s not working. I told you it wasn’t working. I told you three times this week. Why didn’t you fix it?”
Mr. Brown’s intimidating voice returned, and he continued:
“Uh…the Croatian clowns are…around…someplace you don’t know.
And they also have a hiding place…and there’s this one clown….named Joe. Named Joe!”
I must have gotten a derisive look on my face, because Mr. Brown started to get upset. He bellowed:
“If you…think you can laugh at me like that…I won’t help you with the clowns!
And then you’ll be sorry because…they’re Croatian clowns!”
While Mr. Brown was stumbling over his words, I looked off to the side and saw some activity behind a curtain. I pulled it back and found what appeared to be a graduate student frantically trying to fix a microphone. Mr. Brown raged:
“Don’t touch that…that curtain!
Because…I’m getting…very angry!”
Just then the hapless graduate student appeared to have made a breakthrough, and he whispered into his microphone:
“Ignore the strange man standing behind the curtain.
Heed my words, or your defeat is certain!”
A moment later, Mr. Brown regained his composure and belted out the same words:
“Ignore the strange man standing…”
At that point, I interrupted him: “Wait. Stop. What’s going on here? Is that guy telling you what to say?”
The graduate student behind the curtain seemed to be mouthing words to himself, trying out various combinations. But Mr. Brown realized that his secret was out, so he stepped down from his throne looking dejected.
“Oh, it’s true,” cried Mr. Brown, who suddenly seemed much less intimidating. “All of the elusive supervillains speak in couplets. I just wanted to be taken seriously, so I hired a bunch of graduate students and paid them with an unlimited supply of Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Iced Coffee. It was working out so well until you came along.”
“So you’ve led other people to your hideout with your…his…cryptic poetry?”
“Well, not really. You’re the first one who ever managed to find me. No one else could ever figure it out. Or maybe they just ignored me altogether.”
I was about to ask him to at least make good on his promise to help me defeat the Croatian Clown Conglomerate when I noticed big red clown nose on his desk. I pointed at it and asked, “Are you…?”
“Yes, it’s true,” admitted Mr. Brown. “I’m the Croatian Clown Conglomerate. I’m not even Croatian, but it seemed like a good way to get your attention.”
“But why would you go through all this trouble?” I inquired. “Why put that hidden message on the bag of Kras Ki-Ki if there wasn’t even a Croatian Clown Conglomerate to begin with?”
“Because,” he said, and his demeanor became more serious. “Because there might not be a Croatian Clown Conglomerate, but there really is a secret world in the realm of snacks. You’re one of the only people who can actually see it. Everyone else looks right past it and just gobbles down the junk food, but you understand the secret messages and the underhanded machinations. I wanted to be sure you were still keeping an eye out for those things.”
“Of course I am,” I replied. “It’s my job.”
After taking several cans of coffee as a souvenir, I left Mr. Brown’s secret hideout and returned home. It had been quite an adventure, even if it seemed rather pointless in the end. At least I can say that one coffee connoisseur will sleep better tonight, secure in the knowledge that the FBFCR is still keeping the snack food world safe.