The elephant sat exactly where it wanted too, a minor miracle, in the curving angled office. His suit was of a military cut, with silver piping, and more gold braid than was common on modern uniforms. He had eased his bulk onto an aging bench, where it noticeably sagged on its degraded plastic legs. He was drinking tea, the tea cup held delicately in his massive... well, the could only rationally be described as hands. He looked young, in his mid-thirties at most.
Across the desk, Virgil Tracy sat with his elbows propped up on the table, holding his head up. A smiled kept playing across his lips as he chatted with his guest.
"Monsieur Tracy, I can assure you, I have spent hours with the Ministre de Intérieur, poring over customs records." The elephant's English was spoken with a heavy French accent. He paused to take a sip of his tea. "Madame Bizet hasn't entered our borders in over two years."
"But she did perform some services for you in the past, yes? I remember an INTERPOL record we received some years back mentioning her work with you." The elephant chuckled.
"That was was a private family matter, of interest to no one but the House of Loxo."
"Really? As I recall, the decapitated body of deposed President Isabelle Loxo was found in her suite in Côte d'Ivoire. Her head was apparently... stolen."
"As I said, it was a private matter."
"But your own family member?"
"The Remise-à-Neuf was a difficult time. This was merely the last mess to clean up." The elephant finished off his tea. "But as to your matter of this ring, it never entered the Kingdom. If you'll excuse me, Monsieur, I have a long flight back to Africa." The elephant heaved his bulk off the bench, and shook hands. "It was good to see you, Virgil." Virgil pressed a button on his desk. An aide entered.
"It was good to see you too, Zephir. Anna, see His Highness out, and would you see Mister Matrix in." The elephant managed to squeeze himself through the door, and a minute later was replaced by a bemused Enzo Matrix.
"Who in the name of the User was that?"
"That was his Highness Prince Zephir-Roland de Pachyderm-Loxo, from the court of Queen Flora of Equatorial Celesia, and he was here to lie to me in an open and friendly matter." Virgil pointed for Enzo to have a seat.
"Equatorial Celesia. It's the Elephant Kingdom, and tends to operate as a tax haven for old colonial exiles. Anyways, Sandiego bought a house there some years ago, and visited fairly often. We know she spent some time there after she stole the Ring. The Prince was here to tell me otherwise, as we both knew he would."
"But if you knew he would lie, and he knew that, why...?"
"It's polite diplomacy. If she was there for any length of time, it means she was doing work for them. There was a palace coup back in the early sixties that created a Republic for about thirty years before the monarchy was restored. During that time, many of the art treasures were looted or sold by the republican government for funds, and the palace itself was left a half-burnt ruin. After the Restoration, the elephants attempted to return their cultural treasures. When ever their attempts to do it legally failed to work, they turned to people like Carmen to help them out. Maybe forty to forty five percent of the total returned items have been due to her. To make a long story short, Zephir presence was a way of informing me that whatever Carmen was doing in Celesia, it had nothing to do with our search. Which means another dead end." A muffled roar interrupted Virgil. He glanced out the window and watched as a flash of red, silver and fire burned screaming towards the heavens. "God speed, Valentina." he murmured to himself, before he pored more tea. "How's Ecureuil?"
"He's fine. His legs are being checked by the MDs. He didn't tell them anything- not that it would matter much. You've been the Southern Hemisphere's worst kept secret for years.I didn't think it would be so easy to pull him out, though."
"Whiplash was never good at hiring goons that were sociopathic enough to really be decent guards."
"But this was far too easy. If I didn't know better, I'd..."Enzo trailed off.
"Well, it seems cliche to say it, but if I didn't know better, I'd say he was allowed to escape. I mean, its not as though-" Enzo was suddenly interrupted by the harsh ringing of the telephone. Virgil answered it.
"Island Actual, go ahead."
"Mister Tracy, this is Tin-Tin. We've had an unidentified bogey heading our way for the last seven minuets."
"What's its speed?"
"Pretty slow, sir. If it maintains present course and speed, it won't reach us for over an hour or two at minimum. I th-" there was a pause "Sir, they appear to be transmitting their registry code now... its... it is SIA Airship 144525-L..." Still holding the receiver to his ear, Virgil turned behind him to pull a book off the shelf, where he began to flip through the pages.
"SIA... SIA.... oh, there... Sovereign Illiopian Airshi-"
"Sir? Please advise, sir, do we let them enter our airspace or not? Mr. Tracy?" But Virgil wasn't paying any more attention to the phone. He was starring out the window, his skin pale, scanning the horizons for something he had thought to be impossible.