The bar was closed, and Sam and Rick sat alone in the semi-darkness of Rick's Gin Mill, the only tavern in Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva. A half-empty bottle stood unevenly on the table, poised to shake at the slightest motion. Rick, head buried in his arms, ignored Sam's effort at conversation. But an email message that had just come in caused Sam to plead with Rick to respond.
"Boss, there's another email from her. Shouldn't you reply?"
Rick didn't answer, nor did he look up. He only made a slight negative motion with the top of his head.
"Boss, she's coming to Kyzyl. Shouldn't you let her know that you got her message?"
"No!" Rick's answer echoed through the empty bar. The bottle on the table shook a bit more.
"But Boss, she's going to find you here. This place isn't that big, and she knows exactly where to look for you even if she doesn't have an address. She must know you're back on gin, and she'll know where to look."
"Let her look. I have nothing to say to her. She'll leave quickly."
"No she won't, Boss. You know that when she finds you, you won't send her away. So why not answer her email and tell her she's welcome."
"Because she's not welcome. She drove me to latte over that damn parody and now she's driven me back to gin to forget her. Why should I welcome her?
"Because, Boss, we both know you need her. And she says she's got the answer to that last parody, the one about the green-eyed monster."
Rick looked up. "How could she have an answer? The line was unpunnable. It's just a trick to get us back together, and since it's a trick, her visit is pointless."
Rick put his head back down on his arms. But the possibility that Ilsa had indeed solved the puzzle of the parody nagged at him. After a short pause, he raised his head again. The expression on his face was almost radiant, indicating a potential "Eureka!" moment.
"Did she hint what the solution was?"
"No, Boss. Maybe you ought to read her email. To me it sounds encouraging, but you can tell better than I can. Read it, Boss."
"You know I haven't read her emails since we left Mogadishu. She flooded us with email in Makhachkala even though I had changed my email address. I don't know how she found the new one, but she did. And somehow, she found this one in Kyzyl. How did she even know there was a Kyzyl? No American except Richard Feynman ever heard of Tanny Tuva."
"Tannu Tuva, Boss. Only now they just call it Tuva."
"Well, whatever it is, it was my mistake to come here. How did I know the Tuvans don't drink gin? The only natives who come in only do so to ask if I'm REE-shard PHAIN-mun, that Cal Tech professor who was obsessed with the idea of coming to Tuva... and he never got here. Do I look like a Calori Tech scientist? At times I wish I were...
"Read it again, Sam, this time aloud."
Sam called up Ilsa's most recent email on the computer and read it to Rick. Sam was right. Ilsa's brief message clearly indicated she had made a breakthrough in parodying the passage from Othello about the green-eyed monster. But her statement was cryptic, as though she were teasing or enticing Rick. And, yes, she would be leaving for Tuva in a few days.
Rick paused a long time after Sam finished reading Ilsa's email. Then, with a determined look he hit the table with his fist, overturning the bottle.
"Sam, pack up! We're leaving for Paris in the morning. If she wants to renew this penpalship in person, she'll have to do it where it all started... in Paris. Send her an email, now, and tell her to meet us there. She'll know where. And leave the bar unlocked. Maybe if the gin is free, the Tuvans will like it a little better."
And with that, Sam and Rick ended their stay in Kyzyl. On their way out the door, they were stopped by an old Tuvan, surprisingly speaking in English, though somewhat broken: "Meester PHAIN-mun, at last I meet you."
Rick smiled, shook the stranger's hand, then took out a notepad and wrote on it before handing the page to the old man: "With my very best regards to an old friend," and signed it "REE-shard PHAIN-mun."