The Flat Earth Case

With some difficulty I knocked on the door to my office.  Why you may ask am I knocking on the door to my own office?  Well, I have a new client.

Yesterday I was sitting in my office waiting for the phone to ring.  A common occurrence in the private investigation business, feast or famine, deluge, or drought, either you are working like a madman trying to get some results or you are dealing with the monotony of nothingness.  But it was closing in on The Price is Right time, I had not liked Drew Carey initially, but now I really enjoyed the game show once again and turned on the finicky television in my office daily at eleven am to see if maybe the finalist would get double showcases.

But as I counted down the minutes till the words “come on down” were uttered I was interrupted by a rapid, almost woodpecker like knocking on my door.  Shouting come in; the door opened timidly admitting an old man.  It took me a second to realize he was not an old man, probably closer to my age but with a lot of gray hair mixed in with brown and it was in disarray, windblown but still clean. His clothes while wrinkled and a curious mix and match of old and new.  A new plain black t shirt, and an old almost threadbare blue unbuttoned shirt, new sneakers and worn and thin but repaired cargo shorts.

“Mr. Mitchell?”

“That’s me.”  I said.

“You are a private investigator?”

“That is what I tell the I.R.S.”

There was no laugh from the man. “Can you help me?”

I motioned for him to sit down, which he did so nervously.  “What do you need help with?”

Before he spoke, he surveyed my entire office.  I waited patiently as he took in my small, cramped office.  The inspection was not one of suspicion or paranoia, more fascinated or captivated by the newness of the space.  New to him, my office was my space, I was fully aware of everything in it, to me it was totally comfortable.

After he had taken in the whole space, almost doing a total three sixty turn in his seat to examine every corner, he turned back to face me.  He smiled, it was a forced smile, one that seemed practiced, coached, planned.  He finally spoke.  “I need you to help me prove the Earth is flat.”

Now normally proving a new scientific fact is way beyond my capabilities.  Let alone going against almost two thousand years of facts and scientific knowledge, a couple million-man hours of aircraft piloting, the entire oceanic shipping industry, not to mention the National Aeronautics and Space Agency.  But when someone is paying the bills, I am not required to produce the results they want.  I am simply required to do the tasks they hire me for.  I am willing to give it a shot even if I do not believe it is possible and I explained that to every client.  I did so to this gentleman as well.

“I know it is a lot to ask sir.”

“Call me Miles please, Mr.?”  I said fishing for his name.

After a long pause he said. “Bill Dana.” He said it with no conviction or certainty.

I was not sure that it was his real name, but he would not be the first client who used an alias.

He continued. “I need a quiet private place to work, and someone to drive me around to do research, maybe do some errands.”

“Well mi casa, su casa, or in this case, my office is your office.”

Bill simply nodded. “As for restitution, you can work it out with this person.” And he handed me a card. The card read Naomi Hickman, C.P.A. along with a contact number. He nodded and I took that as instruction to call the bean counter now.

After going through a secretary, I got Ms. Hickman on the phone promptly. Did you ever get the feeling that the other person on the phone was sucking on a lemon and they really enjoyed it?  That was what I got from this number cruncher; she took her lemonade sans ade.  She asked what Mr. Dana was asking me to do.  I stated he wanted me to help him prove the Earth was flat.

She paused very briefly then continued. “And will you help him Mr. Mitchell?”

“I will provide the services he is asking for, but I do not guarantee any results pro or con.” Then I quoted my daily price and expenses I would expect compensation for.

Ms. Hickman only stated, “Very good Mr. Mitchell.” She then explained I would be paid my fee at the end of every day that Mr. Dana came into my office and expenses would be paid only with an invoice with attached receipts.

I wanted to ask some questions but the C.P.A ended the conversation with a ‘good day’ and promptly hung up the phone.

Thus began my efforts to prove the Earth is flat.

The first day entailed me sitting behind my desk while Bill pulled a loose-leaf three ring binder out of his bag and began drawing diagrams and he put down equations and arrows showing how each related to others.  Bill did not seem bothered that I read a book while he was doing his calculations or that I washed the windows, cleaned dead flies off the windowsills or emptied the trash while he did his drawing.  It was not until three o’clock and I started to get rumbly in my tumbly that he broke the silence.

“Miles can you get us something to eat?”

“Sure, what do you want.”

“Hamburger, French fries and a coke.”

“Checkers?” I said pointing in the general direction of the fast-food place across Route 192.  “Okay?”

Bill looked up from his tablet and stared into the distance for a full thirty seconds.  I was about to change my suggestion to McDonalds which was equally close when he answered. “Checkers is fine.  Hamburger, not a cheeseburger.”

“Sure hamburger, not a cheeseburger, fries and a coke.”

Once I was out of the confines of my office, my brain began to turn. What had I gotten myself into it, was this guy a nut.

I corrected that, he was definitely some kind of nut, but he did not appear to be a dangerous one.  So, what did I know about Bill Dana?  He was not homeless, homeless people do not have accountants pay for things, and I have never been hired by one, for anything.  Plus, he was living somewhere decent with his clean laundry and good hygiene, even if his hair was uncombed. I also knew that his handwriting was crisp, clean and from my short glimpses of his calculation, he was either incredibly smart and he knew mathematics that were way beyond my understanding or they were one hundred percent gibberish.

I did wonder how long this case was going to last, and how would I get out of it if a real case came in. Like most things in my life, I decided to wing it, play it by ear, make it up as I went along, to improvise. Thinking on my feet had gotten me this far, no need to change things now.

Bill and I ate in silence once I returned although he kept checking his watch. At four thirty-five he stood up suddenly and said. “I will be back at nine thirty tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, nine thirty tomorrow morning.”  I replied.  He departed without another word and after a few minutes he emerged from the front of my building, crossed the street, and stood at the bus stop a little bit down the road. I watched him board Lynx fifty-five line and go eastward toward Kissimmee.

I called the accountants office and was informed by the accountant’s secretary I would have my fee for the day shortly.  I asked about the reimbursement for the hamburger and was told how to submit an invoice.  I wanted to talk to the accountant again but was told she was no longer in the office.

I did receive a full day’s fees in a few minutes.  I searched around for the receipt and realized I had not gotten one.  I was out ten eighty-eight for a Big Buford Combo. I need to be more careful.

I did some internet research and came up with very little.  Naomi Hickman was an accountant for a large Orlando firm with very little other information about her and nothing that seemed relevant. I looked for a Bill Dana and found nothing in the Orlando area that seemed plausible or matching the Bill Dana who had been in my office. I did have what I thought was an inspired idea and searched for Bill Dana and NASA but I all I came up with was a William Dana who was NASA’s first employee and a very accomplished test pilot, but considering how he passed away in 2014 that did not lead me anywhere.  I thought maybe his son, but a bit more searching revealed William Dana’s son was named Matt and the adult Matt looked nothing like Bill who had been in my office.

The next day my client, Bill, if that was his real name, arrived promptly at nine thirty a.m. on the nose. He came in and without a word began writing on his tablet again, after ten minutes he looked around. He asked me some questions to about the printer sitting on my desk and then looked over the one wall in my office.  He then created a list and asked me to go buy the items on it.

When I returned, after knocking, I heard my client say. “Come in.”  Juggling the boxes, I was carrying I let myself into my office.

“Did you get everything we needed?”

I was not sure why we needed these things but Bill was paying the bills so I went along with him. “Everything you wanted.”  I declared. In my absence Bill cleared a wall of my pictures and mementos and moved my end table but left the couch where it was.  I looked around and my stuff was leaning neatly in a corner.

“Good.”  Bill stated he proceeded to unpack the bags and parcels I had bought.  He put the ink cartridge in my printer and began printing full color graphs and charts that he had sent as pictures from his phone.  Then with the colored push pins he meticulously placed them on the wall.  Then the yarn.  Connecting the yarn to the push pins leading from one graph or chart to another in different colors.

It was interesting to watch, even though I could not follow his logic any more than I could understand his graphs, calculations, or diagrams.  This went on for a few hours when he asked me to get him a hamburger, fries, and a coke again. This time I remembered the receipt. The day ended again at four thirty-five, repeating the previous day’s events with an appointment of nine thirty again.

As soon as ‘Bill’ was out of the office, I got to my car hoping to tail the Lynx bus.  I failed. I caught the light wrong leaving my parking lot and Bill must have timed his arrival just right and caught the bus without waiting.  I tried to catch up to the bus but the rush hour traffic on Route 192 slowed me down and I never caught sight of the bus until it had traveled five miles. I had no way of determining if Bill got off before I caught up with the bus.  Curses, foiled for the first time.

I did submit the invoice that evenings with proper proof of expenditures.

The third day was different.  Bill sat and looked at his previous days handicraft and changed a few pieces of yarn, changing color schemes and adding some crisscross lines of differing colors as well. This took several hours. I puttered around the office and read my library book while he did this, he neither sought my input or seemed to need or want it.  At noon after he had a hamburger again, I opted for a chicken sandwich, he asked if we could do some field research. I agreed and got my keys and while walking to my car I asked if we should get gas. He timidly answered saying we were only going a couple of miles.  I nodded, and he gave me turn-by-turn directions to the parking lot of the Magic Kingdom.

I wish he had just said the Magic Kingdom, it was a bit annoying being given step by step instructions on how to get to a place I had driven to probably a thousand times.

After navigating the tram, Disney Security, then the ferry boat we made it through the touch point, my client used an annual pass and I used mine, he guided me to Tomorrowland treating me again like I had never been there before.

So, the mystery deepened, he had an Annual Pass to Walt Disney World, an expensive item. So, if he wasn’t homeless, what was his story be?

He surveyed the main plaza of Tomorrowland carefully, walking around it several times.  I was about to ask what he was looking for when without a word he took a seat near the exit of The Carousel of Progress facing towards the People Mover. He then took his tablet out of his messenger bag and started taking notes. I sighed and sat down next to him. Luckily, I had my own messenger bag with me containing a handy library book, I had gotten a fresh supply of books after day two of this case and I was glad I had.

I sat; he made notes. I read; he made notes. I hoped this location was helping him but I had no idea how this was going to lead to us proving the earth is flat, but I was happy to be getting paid, so I sat.  Sometimes I watched my client, sometimes I watched the tourists.

Disney calls all visitors ‘guests’ but I do not work for Disney, to me they are all tourists because I am a Floridian.  I took in the smells of the place, the popcorn, the turkey legs, the sweaty tourists mixed with copious amounts of sunscreen. The sounds were a mix of the carefully annunciated narration of the People Mover, the subtle futuristic background music prevalent in Tomorrowland, and the constant babble of the crowd.

Some people love Tomorrowland, me I have a sensible appreciation of it. It is hard to build a land that is supposed to be looking at the future with the technology we have today.  It has been a problem for Disney as well, they have had three versions in Disneyland, and two versions in Disneyworld, so in total that adds up to five different versions of Tomorrowland across the United States.  No other Land of the parks has ever had a full renovation like Tomorrowland, new paint jobs, yes, replaced, rides some, but not a general overhaul like Tomorrowland has.

Case in point was the Astro Orbiter, it had started out with its centerpiece being the Saturn V, the huge black and white rocket that had taken mankind to the moon. The Saturn V had been torn out in 1994 and replaced with a stylized centerpiece with numerous colorful planets.  I liked both, but gun to my head, I would go with the planets.

But the Astro Orbiter was a basic carnival ride, you climbed into a rocket shaped ride car that was lifted up and spun in a circle.  The most exciting thing about it was the view which were beyond the norm that you got at street level, a quick view of the castle, then a view of Space Mountain. The only reason I did not dislike this ride is because it took up no valuable park space, it was on top of the People Mover which was on top of a snack bar. So overall a well-thought-out use of valuable park space.  The Astro Orbiter was unlike some other cheap, off-the-shelf regular carnival rides that had crept into this high concept, highly imaginative well executed rides.  I do not like to call any ride’s out by name, just its initials, Aladdin’s Magic Carpet, which did not even have an interesting view.

Now the People Mover, with its full name being the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, was a wonderful ride. A tour around Tomorrowland, on a track that accelerates magnetically using linear induction motors.  Smooth and almost silent, it was supposed to be part of the transportation system in Walt’s Experimental Protype Community of Tomorrow, the dream that was changed into what it is today, EPCOT.  But park visitors now just get a pleasant ten-minute elevated tour around Tomorrowland, with peaks into Space Mountain, the new Tron ride, and Buzz Lightyear and properly placed dark sections. I had spent some time on the ride with my girlfriend Millie and always managed at least one good kiss while in the darker sections.

So, my client and I sat on metal benches with no backs.  He took notes of the People Mover, and how many ride vehicles were on the Astro Orbiter.  I looked over his shoulder and saw he had written at the top of the paper noting that the Astro Orbiter had twelve ride cars moving at eleven rotations a minute.

I shrugged, which was basically my whole attitude towards this case.  I mean I liked the money, but I am not sure how I felt about taking his money for doing nothing except getting him yarn and watching him make notations, that were indecipherable to me, and maybe everyone else on the planet.

I decided to see what happened tomorrow and if things did not change, I might just end the case, I might even call the accountant and try and get some real information from her.  It was after I reached this conclusion in my mind that Bill asked me for the time. I looked at my watch. “Three fifteen p.m.” I announced. I saw him go into his calculation mode and then he collected his things, secured his messenger bag, and asked me to be at my office at nine a.m. the next morning. I nodded and asked if he wanted a ride back somewhere. He shook his head. “I will catch the fifty-six Lynx bus line at the Ticketing and Transportation Center.”  I waved goodbye but he was already gone.

I was about to leave when I was tapped on the shoulder by a Disney Security Host. “Hi, are you friends with Bill?” She asked smiling.

“Ah not really, I just met him a couple of days ago.”

She nodded. “Oh,” Then she volunteered. “He is a frequent guest; I had not seen him much and I was beginning to wonder.”

I was curious now. “He comes here a lot?”

“Pretty regularly, he does not talk much, doesn’t ride anything, just sits and takes notes on different things, pretty harmless but he sticks out a bit.”

I nodded then tried to find out how much she knew. “Do you know where he lives?”

“No, just his name is Bill and he always leaves before dark.”  She put a finger up to her ear and concentrated on listening.  Then she keyed her radio. “Tomorrowland fifty-one from Carousel of Progress.” She waved apologetically and was off on whatever call she had to respond to.

Disney has some regular guests that are intellectually disabled. I know that Disney Security takes note of them, unofficially, they check on them, they ask if they are drinking enough water on hot days, helps them if they are confused. One of the terms they use is ‘frequent flyer’, that is to tell other Cast Member that they know a particular special guest.

Tomorrow, if he showed up, I was going to try and get some info.

That next day it rained almost all day. No Bill.

I arrived the next day at my office at nine am sharp again. No Bill. I wondered if I would ever see him again.  I was contemplating tearing down the yarn, diagram, notes art project on my wall when I got a case about some missing ribeye steaks.  I did not get back to my office till the next day, in the afternoon.  I found on my door a note from Bill in his crisp clean handwriting asking me to be back the next morning at nine a.m.

I was even earlier to my office then normal, ten till nine, incredibly early for me. Bill was there at nine sharp.  No good morning, no salutation, just a nod and he started examining his yarn and paper artwork.  I was glad I had not disturbed it.

He stood in front of the work for over an hour, something was bothering him though.  It was not obvious initially but I became aware that he was softly mumbling to himself. I caught a few words like ‘address’ and the phrase ‘answers there’.

He finally turned to me. “Can we take a longer field expedition today.”

I nodded. “Yes, we can, but I need to get gas first and this time can you give me a final destination before we depart.”  This caused a troubled look to cross his face so, I changed tactics. “Or you can just give me a general area before you get more specific. “

He answered with a rather sad look on his face. “Cocoa Beach, Florida.”


Roughly an hour and half later we were crossing the West Coca Beach Causeway on Route 520 and my client was becoming agitated the closer we got to the shore. The first half of the trip he had been his normal calm composed self, but as the miles decreased to our destination he started to fidget and look around more, crossing and uncrossing his legs, rolling down his window then rolling it back up.

We had just passed the turn off for Port Canaveral when he asked me to pull over.  I pulled off onto the sandy shoulder and Bill got out and had the dry heaves on the side of the road. He was still leaning over when I came alongside him. “Do you want some water?” He simply nodded and I handed him a cold bottle I had stored in a small cooler behind my seat.  I had wanted to be prepared so I packed my surveillance kit.  He swished and spit, and then he drank some down.  I hated to ask him if he was okay, because obviously something was bothering him but I was not sure he would share it with me, or that I needed to know. I did ask. “Shall we continue?”

He looked at me in kind of a shocked manner, like he was seeing me for the first time and he simply said a nearby  address.

Ten minutes later we were parked outside a ranch style home with a well- maintained lawn.  He motioned for me to pull in the driveway so I did, unsure of what was happening. I turned off the car and sat with Bill for a few minutes.  I knew that something important was happening but I was not sure what, I saw him looking around like a deer caught in the headlights, but underneath that was a calmness, maybe even some happiness.

At least that is what I was picking up.

I wondered if I would have to give my client a little nudge.  I got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side and leaned against the car. “Are we going in?”

Bill looked at me again like he had never seen me before and then back at the house. I opened the car door and he stepped out. I was about to say something else when the front door opened and an older much more worn version of Bill came out of the house.

“Charles why don’t you and your friend come in I just made a pitcher of Arnold Palmers.” The man in the doorway said.

Bill, or now as I knew him, Charles started walking up the sidewalk and I followed.

Charles walked straight past the man and down a hallway and into the kitchen.  I followed confused but optimistic and the older man followed. Charles had stopped dead in the kitchen and was examining it like he had first examined my office. But at the end of the scrutiny, he turned towards the older man with tear on his cheek and said. “Papa am I home?”

The older man bit his lip and said. “You are now son.”

The rest of the afternoon was Charles, formerly known to me as Bill, wandering around the house and looking around. He would notice something and his father would say something like. “Yes, we got that when you were ten.” Or “No that old chair got worn out and I replaced it with that one.”

All the while Charles was pretty stoic, as was his father but they would both get tears in their eyes on occasion.  I was not sure what was going on but I knew it was a reunion of sorts.

Charles finally made his way to what was apparently his old room. It was not the room of a child but of an adult that had returned to his childhood room. There were some well made models on the shelves, all of spacecraft, the Lunar Lander, the Space Shuttle, and the Mercury capsule. But also on the wall was a diploma from M.I.T. and a Certificate from NASA naming Charles Wasboski Employee of the Year seven years ago.

“Papa?” Charles said. “Would it be alright if I took a nap now, in my bed?” He said motioning to the queen-sized mattress.

“Sure son, I will be right here when you wake up.” The older man and I carefully backed out of the room and we stood just out of sight until we heard a gentle breathing.

That is when I saw the gentleman crying. I was just about to hug him when a voice that sounded familiar came from the living room. “Papa, where are you?”

“Back here Naomi.”

That is when I connected the voice with the name, Naomi Hickman the Accountant.

A tall stern looking woman came into the hallway and her father hugged her. They were both crying and that is when I extracted myself from the house and went outside. I dropped the tailgate on my station wagon, got my book out.

The sun was just beginning to go down when Naomi Hickman came out the front door.  I saw that she had been crying but had washed her face but it was still puffy from tears.  “I suppose you are curious about what is going on.”

“Curiosity goes with the job.”

“My brother was brilliant, PhD from M.I.T., job with NASA after school, he loved space, since he was a kid, knew all the early history.”

I thought well, that explained the non de plume of Bill Dana, the first official employee of the agency.

She thought of something. “He had the whole conversation between the Mission Control and the Apollo Eleven on tape, and eventually had it memorized.” She smiled. “He used to drive me crazy getting me to act it out with him.”

I simply smiled; it must be neat to have a sibling.

“He always got to be Neil Armstrong and I had to be the voice of Mission Control.”

“So, he got to say, ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed.’”

“More times than I can count.”  She said laughing.

“Ten years ago, Charles married a lovely girl, the family loved Cindy and Charles was nuts about her.  They had a child, a perfect life.”

I could see this story was hard for her so I wanted to skip over the details. “Something bad happened.”  I was not a question; I knew that life can be terrible sometimes.

“Drunk driver, the guy came out of nowhere. Cindy and my niece, Nelly.” She said choking back tears just thinking about it. “After a bit Charles moved back in here with Momma and Papa. He was not the same, but nobody expected him to be. Then Momma had a brain aneurysm ten months after Cindy and Nelly, she was just gone. Charles found her lying on the kitchen floor.” A deep sigh.

I quietly mouthed ‘whoa’, but I am sure Naomi did not see or hear it.

“Momma and Charles were close, and she loved to hear him talk about science.  She only had a high school degree, but she teased him by saying she thought the earth was flat and he had to explain to her in many ways that we could tell the earth was a sphere.”

That explained his quest help him prove the earth was flat.”

“A week after the funeral, Charles just disappeared. His car was found near Orlando. He was found at a homeless shelter three days later, but something had happened to my brother. He did not know Papa and me.” She choked back another sob at the memory. “We had him committed and the psychiatrist summarized that he had some sort of break with reality. The doctor said we could not force his memories to return, he would have to find his own way back.  So, we set him up with an assisted living home, a bus pass.  We made sure his needs were being met.  We would periodically try to talk to him, to stir some memories but it did not seem to help.”

“The Disney annual pass?” I asked.

“He went there a lot with Cindy, we thought maybe he could process the grief that way.”

“What made him come to me?”

Naomi shrugged. “He told the caretaker at his home that he was looking for something. The caretaker suggested you; he had heard you were a good person and arranged for Charles to get your address.”

“I am glad I could help,” I shrugged. “but he did all the work.”

Naomi smiled and looked towards the house. “Yeah, somehow in that wonderful brain of his he firgured out a way to come back home.”

I said with a bit of a smile. “The Eagle has landed back at Tranquility Base.”


For More Miles Mitchell Mysteries

The Shady Sherpa Case

The Turnaround Case

How High Is Up

The Case of the Unhappy Camper 

The Case of the Unhappy Camper -Audio Version 

The Photos To Die For Case

The Case of the Misplaced Ice Thingy 

The Case of the Distrustful Defensive Defender

Categories: A Miles Mitchell Story, Outrageous Lies and Tales

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