A Collaborative Effort: Part 2
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.
Bob Kiwi paced the length of his apartment, thinking. That message from the missing scientist wasnt a good one. If he had his Danger Code translation right, Newts fellow inventor was in serious trouble. The Puffer project had apparently been reinstated, this time with dangerous criminal backings. He wasnt certain who had orchestrated the kidnapping, or what the pixie dust referred to; hed need to check the codebooks from his Danger Kiwi days to figure that out.
Too bad hed burned those books years ago. Secret Agent policy, and all. Makes it impossible for the enemy to get a hold of the key.
It also made it difficult for Bob to glean any useful meaning out of the coded message. Newt had seldom used the code, and since the close of his Danger days, Bob had allowed his decoding skills to lapse. And while the small yellow kiwi wracked his brain for memories of this particular code, Newt was searching for old editions of the codebooks, unread and forgotten beneath several years accumulation of scientific journals and thesis papers. Ferdie had promised to scour the Internet in search of possible references, doubtlessly enlisting assistance from his fellow encryption-savvy cyber-geeks as well.
Ferdia had stormed off to the precinct house, muttering something about federal agencies and permits and wheel boots. While Bob was fairly certain the bluebird and her partner would track down Newts visitors identities and possibly more about this Joe, whoever he was he seriously doubted theyd look into the code at all. Which was just as well the two had more than enough cases to work on already. And the Bob Kiwi Detective Agency was more than capable of locating Newts missing colleague on their own. They were professionals, after all. Regardless of the state of their office.
Their names are William Locke and Thera Strand, Ferdia reported, Theyre federal agents of some sort. Wouldnt give us the exact service, and I didnt catch their badge numbers.
They were driving a late-model Diablo, Squeaks added, Black, custom California tags. SPDDMN, I think.
Ferdia rolled her eyes, muttering something about men and cars.
The captain of the 42nd Precinct - Chief, as he was rather affectionately known - allowed himself a resigned smile. A Diablo? You tried to outrun a Diablo? He shook his head. No wonder the engines shot.
Chief! Ferdia objected.
All the same, the captain sighed, Thats rather unprofessional behavior for federal agents. I havent received any notification from the feds about actions in our precinct, but that doesnt mean much; our cousins dont think much of keeping us informed. Ill look into the matter.
Thanks, Chief, Ferdia said.
Squeaks nodded in agreement. Well run their plates to see if anything turns up on that end. If theyre bluffing, well find out.
Ive asked the local patrols to keep an eye out for their car, Ferdia added, Casey volunteered to keep tabs on it once its located.
The Chief sighed. Try to tread lightly on this, Birdie. The last thing I need is a call from the governor about territorial spats between branches of law enforcement. I get enough grief from our mayor as it is.
Part of me still says this has to be the wrong building, Thera informed her partner as they slunk around the side of building. William reached the fire escape first, tested it, and watched as the metal crumbled at his touch.
Plan B, he muttered, motioning for the skunk to follow. Back door.
Despite the dilapidated exterior, the entry possessed a rather sophisticated alarm system that actually took him a minute to bypass. Once inside William made straight for the staircase, ascending with a soundless step, Thera trying desperately to mimic him. Every time she hit a squeak he winced and turned to glare at her.
Sorry, okay, Im not a professional like you.
The office of the detective agency took up the entire third floor, which seemed to be the only one still in use. The level of security was no longer surprising, although it did take him a bit longer to crack the alarm code then usual. The main door opened silently to reveal an expensively furnished waiting room with two doors to choose from. Thera went left, while William headed straight back to what he figured was the inner office.
He was right.
While her lock-picking skills werent on the same level as her partners, Thera still managed to open the door to what turned out to be a small filing room lined with metal cabinets - all locked, of course. Unfortunately, not a single one was labeled.
What kind of idiot doesnt label their filing system, she silently snarled. How the heck do these guys find anything?
Meanwhile, William was working on the door to the inner office, which yielded quietly after some coaxing. There was a hallway with two doors on one side and one on the other.
Okay, before the yellow kiwi left, the front lights flicked off - which means your office is the large one, Bob. Heh, compensating for something, are we?
After the professional grade systems hed been encountering, the lock on the large office was incredibly pathetic. He was in less than twenty seconds and looked around in dismay.
Bloody hell, why hasnt this place been declared a disaster area, he grumbled as he waded into the waist-deep mess. The desk was only located by the position of the office chair, and even then it took some digging to find the surface of said desk. There was no organization to it; random papers were heaped in disorganized piles on every available space. The shelves lining the walls held even more papers - unlabeled files and tons of trophies that he didnt even bother with.
A short amount of professional searching revealed no hidden safes or spaces and definitely no secret panels, even in the floorboards. Half the filing cabinets were empty and left unlocked, except for the one with the handwritten manuscript entitled Top Secret: My Life as an International Spy and Kiwi of Mystery. Someone had stamped Confidential on it.
Iiwi slipped silently across the sky, gliding on muted wings and keeping as close to the shadows as she dared. Not too long ago, her indicator had informed her of a security breach at the office. Someone had picked, or at least bypassed, the main entrance and office doors. It was rather late for it to be Bob or Ferdie, who in any case would have used a key, so that meant it was probably a prowler. Shed warned Bob about lavishly furnishing the lobby in that neighborhood, that sort of thing was just inviting trouble and while she had no doubts as to her abilities to re-acquire any and everything lining her office walls, that didnt mean she looked forward to it. Thankfully, Ferdies paranoia had given her the perfect excuse for rigging the extensive security system running throughout the building.
Confronting burglars after a long day of bounty hunting wasnt very high on her list, but darned if she was going to kick back and let it happen. The office was only a few minutes flight away, and so long as she kept her approach stealthy and silent, shed have the opportunity to scope out the break-in and make a judgment call from there.
The dilapidated building loomed drunkenly into view, rising uncertainly out of a tumbledown collection of broken buildings and decaying lots. The windows were dark, but that didnt mean much. Penlights and night-vision goggles were becoming more and more popular these days.
Folding her wings in close, she dropped silently out of the sky, streaking for the third floor lobbys main rear window. Dropping just below the level of the window, she flared her wings out, buoying back up a few feet and coming to a soundless talon-point landing on the windowsill that kept her shadow well below sight of the window. Convinced her landing had gone undetected, she leaned forward, peering into the gloom inside.
The filing room door was open, a slight shadow announcing the presence of a single, bushy-tailed prowler. Off to the side, she could see Bobs office door hanging ajar not necessarily unusual, as Bob often forgot to shut his door, but not entirely common, as Ferdie often shut it for him. Her and Ferdies office doors were out of sight from her current vantage point, but as she could make out no other shadowy forms in the lobby, she opted for going in through the window anyway. Better to take care of the obvious intruder first, then secure their offices.
Prying the window open in a flurry of beak and talons, she hopped into the shadowy lobby, quickly stealing across the room and silently swinging the filing rooms door shut. The rooms occupant was so engrossed in the agencys case files baffling, given that few in those cabinets made for even the least bit interesting reading that they didnt appear to notice the doors closing, giving Iiwi more than enough time to pull down the steel storefront grating and lock it into place. (One of Ferdies more paranoid security features, as thieves were seldom interested in the detectives paperwork, but an aspect of it Iiwi was rather thankful for now. The grating was designed to protect San Vianos shops from all but the most determined criminals, and models of this design had been known to halt speeding, out-of-control automobiles from penetrating very far into plate-glass shop windows.)
That done, the scarlet Flier turned to the office proper, scanning the narrow hallway for movement. Thankfully, her office remained sacrosanct; only Bobs office door was open, and she swore she could just make out the sounds of paper rustling quietly among the chaos of files and folders strewn about inside. There was another intruder in the building.
And he had no idea she was there.
William was fast approaching the realization that, if there was anything to find, it take him at least ten years to find it in this god-awful mess. Granted, there were two more offices - but this was the one the yellow kiwi had gone in. Which meant there was some sort of sophisticated coded filing system to all this mess that only the kiwi understood. Ingenious and surprising, considering the avian in question. Perhaps there was more to this Bob fellow then met the eye.
A small clanging sound brought him out of his musings and William snapped to attention, listening intently. No further sounds met his ears, which meant it was probably Thera being a bit careless. Still, the paranoid thief lived longer then the bold one. Swiftly rising to his feet, William slipped towards the door when something caught his eye. He almost kicked himself for missing such a cheesy but obvious hiding place.
Sadly, it was while his attention was distracted that the scarlet-feathered harpy pounced, slamming into the middle of his back with fisted talons and taking him down. She was light enough that the impact didnt send him through the floor; however, it did hurt.
This is why I leave physical labor to the people who carry guns, William grumbled as he took stock of the bruises. The winged creature above him quickly wedged her talons beneath his shoulder blades, effectively pinning his arms spread out before him as they were, as attempting to shift his position now ground nerve and sinew against talon. Though the bird was lightweight, she kept her weight on his shoulder blades, and that and the talon-pin proved a rather effective way of immobilizing the mouse.
Looking for something? she asked, shifting her weight slightly as she mantled her wings over him, blocking his peripheral vision with flight feathers.
Just browsing, thats all. I dont suppose youd care to let me up?
I dont suppose I would. Anything in particular youd like to see?
Lets just agree that Ill know what Im looking for when I come across it. So, do you have a name, or should I just call you Scarlet?
Scarlet works for now, she grinned. Im not much of one for handing out my name to prowlers, after all. And Id ask your name, but I suppose Ill just have to wait and find that out when the police arrive. You and your friend picked the wrong detectives to mess with, Im afraid.
So youre also a detective. Funny, somehow I dont think youre Bobetta. Actually, I wonder if youre even a detective. Tell me, what does the name XYZPDQ mean to you?
Nothing, really. Fliers dont wear pants. She frowned. Though Bob was supposed to stop with the Danger Kiwi routine already. (*A/N: Iiwis taken XYZPDQ at its schoolyard meaning here eXamine Your Zipper Pretty Darn Quick.*)
Maybe some habits die hard, William replied, hiding a smirk. Danger Kiwi rung a bell and gave him a connection. Now to check one other hunch. Blame Newt.
If youd like, the bird shrugged, None of my business, anyway. What is my business is you, little thief. Whats a set of secret agents want with ol Double-Oh-Zero, anyway? He skip out on another coffeehouse tab?
While William was bantering with the redbird, Thera was cursing the existence of mad scientists in general. If Joe hadnt gotten his absentminded butt kiwinapped, then she wouldnt be locked in a fairly sturdy steel cage that absolutely did not belong in this wreck of a building. Instinct urged her to dig out the C-4, but common sense hastily pointed out no part of this building could handle that big a blast.
Okay, if I cant shoot it and I cant blow it up then I have to go through it, the skunk concluded, digging in her handy pack. She emerged triumphantly with a portable blowtorch and set to work. The fuel lasted just long enough to burn through two bars, which she carefully removed. After some finagling and a scorched tail, the highly irate skunk emerged with the urge to shoot something.
You know Scarlet, you really dont seem like a detective, William said conversationally as his ears picked up the intriguing sound of what, knowing Thera, was most likely a blowtorch.
Quite the contrary, little thief. I do a good deal of detecting. And I detect that two well-dressed souls that bypass my alarms and rifle through my colleagues files are a bit more than standard-issue burglars. Im just trying to deduce what, if any, effects this turn of events might eventually have on me.
Depends, little redbird, on two things. One, if you are just who I am starting to think you are, and two, where my partner is.
Cryptic, arent we? the Flier laughed. I wont pretend to know who you think I am. Your partner, on the other hand, is probably working on finding her way out of the filing room.
Not really, a new voice said from the doorway. Shes already out. Right now Id really love to shoot someone, but since Normandy there is giving me the stay calm signal, how about I just introduce myself. Special Agent Thera Strand.
The Flier froze, tensing, but kept her voice light. Pleased to meet you, she chirped. Myself, Im outta here! With that, she bolted, dart/rolling to the left, into the stacks of loose papers piled throughout the office. She flared her wings as she hit the papers, taking flight in a deliberate cacophony of scattered files and airborne notes. Hidden from sight in the confusion, she rolled, whipping around and charging the door, diving through as the skunk dove for cover. The hallway was short and the window hung open, and the scarlet missile made short work of the distance, shooting out into the darkness with a sharp cry.
Thera went charging after her, but the redbird had too much of a head start. Knowing Thera would be right back, William picked himself off the floor, dusting off his clothes as he did. Sure enough, Thera reappeared just as he reached the bust of Sherlock Holmes with the chipped nose. The false bottom was pathetically obvious; however, the only thing inside turned out to be some blueprints on very danger items.
Find anything, she demanded, holstering her weapon.
Nothing in the office, but I think we have all the information we need for the moment.
Who was the flier?
A myth of sorts; at least I always figured she was one. Right now shes not important. I have a lead on XYZPDQ, and we need to get back to the agency. Oh, by the way, youre ditching the Diablo. I think weve made too much of an impression.
Thera snarled something but grudgingly conceded.
Chief says the local feds dont know anything about agents in the vicinity, Ferdia said, placing the phone back in its cradle. She sighed, running a hand through her hair. Those badges looked real enough.
Have we called the Washington office yet? Squeaks asked. Couldnt they confirm which department the two are in and where theyre based out of, even without a badge number?
Perhaps, Ferdia slouched onto the desk, Itll take a bit of fast-talking, though. I didnt get that good of a look at those badges - theres no saying theyre FBI versus CIA versus NSA or any one of a dozen different agencies.
Her partner gave her a reassuring smile. Isnt that why there are two phones in this office?
Huh. Makes me glad I never see the phone bills here, the bluebird laughed, reaching for the phone and dialing the first number on a long list.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, a bored voice intoned on the other end.
This is Officer Ferdia da Birdie, San Viano 42nd Precinct. Im trying to contact two of your agents a William Locke and Thera Strand. Were working in conjunction with them on a case here in California, but Im afraid weve misplaced their badge and contact numbers.
One moment, please, the voice droned, cueing up some convenient muzak as he put her on hold. A good fifteen minutes later, the man returned, sounding just as bored as before. Im going to have to transfer your call, Officer, he informed her, Please hold.
As Ferdia groaned at the return of muzak-ed pop music, Squeaks set about contacting the California State Department of Transportation for the results of the registration and tag trace on the Diablo.
Department of Transportation and Public Works, a new voice greeted her over the phone, Mr. Grunfelt speaking. Im told youre looking for information on two of our agents?
Yes, Ferdia nodded, then realized he couldnt see the motion over the phone. Sheepish, she proceeded to explain their situation to this Grunfelt.
Ah, he replied, While I appreciate cooperative efforts between local and federal branches of law enforcement, I regret to inform you that I cannot reveal any information on undercover operatives.
But- Ferdia protested, stopping as the line clicked off on the other end. She stared angrily at the phone for a moment before slamming it down. Jerk.
Problems? Squeaks asked, quirking an eyebrow at her while jotting down the information from the DMV.
They transferred me to this department Ive never heard of, then gave me the run-around, she growled.
Perhaps this will help, the mouse grinned, dangling a notepage in front of her, According to the DMV, that Diablo is registered to the Hawthorne Agency, under the name of Reginald Fenton.
Its apparently a corporation of some sort in the city of Los Dimiosa, up north. The address is listed on the pad, along with their contact numbers.
So what are two possible undercover agents doing with Reggie Fentons corporate car?
Her partner shrugged. Your guess is as good as mine.
Great, Ferdia grinned. You make this call, eh?
After around an hour of departmental run-around and sitting idle on hold, Squeaks finally reached a living being in the Personnel Department.
There are several Strands, apparently, he informed his partner, as the Hawthorne employee searched for records on their other agent. There arent any Theras listed, but there is a Therese that matches the skunks description. She apparently works as an assistant to an analyst in their Marketing department.
Sir? the personnel worker interrupted, There is a William Locke on the roles. It took a while to locate him; apparently, he works in the mailroom.
The mailroom? Squeaks repeated.
That doesnt make sense, Ferdia frowned, Even if theyre using these positions as cover, they wouldnt want him in the mailroom. He wouldnt have much of an opportunity to access important information there.
Perhaps its not our William, the mouse ventured, moving his hand off the phone receiver to address the Hawthorne employee again. Can you describe this Locke for us? Were not certain hes the one were looking for.
Well, she replied uncertainly, The database doesnt say much about him. Hes been here for over a decade. Works the night shift, but most possums do. Other than that-
Wait, Ferdia interrupted, looking at her partner from across the shared phone receiver, A decade ago, that kid was in grade school!
Indeed, Squeaks nodded. Are you certain theres no one else by that name working there? A white mouse, late teens?
There was a pause at the other end of the line, and when the voice on the line came back, it was no longer that of the young Personnel employee. In a hushed and threatening voice, the man that now spoke to them sternly instructed them that there was no mouse by that name working at the Hawthorne Agency, that there never had been a mouse matching that description working there, and that rather large and imposing individuals in dark suits might be inclined to drop by Squeaks residence to discuss the matter further if they continued pursuing the issue.
Well! Ferdia exclaimed as her partner stared incredulously at the phone, Id say we hit a nerve there!
For a start, the mouse agreed. And that, if nothing else, warrants further investigation.
It seems were being investigated, Thera announced as she strolled into their office with Drew early next morning. The news that she would get the Diablo back in a few weeks had perked her up a lot. A pair of cops from a precinct in San Viano checked on both of us.
You do know how to make an impression, William replied, still engrossed in his PowerBook. They cant find anything, so why worry about them?
Arent you even the least bit curious about them?
Why bother? Neither of them are our target.
Wait, Thera said, startled. What about the kiwi?
Danger Kiwi? Hes a link, but hes not XYZPDQ. However, he does know who the codename refers to, which is why I requested his entire file.
Which I have right here, Drew put in, handing him the discs. *Very* interesting reading. Diverse background, I must say.
Okay, so if good old Danger Kiwi isnt who were looking for, then who is?
Three possibilities. The younger brother of the cop, the scientist, or the dim looking fellow who cant keep his beak shut.
You can probably count the brother out; his dossier is fascinating, but I dont think were looking for a conspiracy theorist, Drew informed them. The da Birdie family in general is just
well, interesting is a mild term.
The partner, however, is almost as much of a mystery as you are. Thera slumped sideways into her chair and started swinging her legs back and forth. Apparently he came into existence in the precinct a few years ago, because no verifiable record on the mouse exists before then.
Huh, yet another white mouse with no past, Drew muttered. What are the odds of that?
William shot him a dirty look before replying. Im still not ruling any of them out, especially since the taller brown kiwi has a past just as questionable.
Whats with this group, Thera demanded. Are they forming a club?
Like you have any room to talk, Drew pointed out. But shes right, this is a rather motley group. So far weve found nothing at all on the red flier you came across in the detective agency.
Any other leads on Joe?
Drew sighed. Nothing, unfortunately. All our sources and contacts are coming up dry on this one. Whoever took him is a professional and they dont intend to be found. Thats why we need to know what the message meant. Right now its the only clue we have.
Maybe not the only one, William said suddenly. Ive uncovered a few fascinating facts on both our resident mad scientists the most intriguing of which is that they like to switch identities. Which means theres a possibility our kidnappers have the wrong one.
So, Newt, Bob called, strolling into the scientists lab while nursing his third coffee of the morning, I was wondering if you happened to have any of the old Danger codebooks lying around- the kiwi halted mid-sentence, taking in the scene before him.
The lab was a shambles. Shelves were toppled, gadgets were scattered haphazardly across the floor, papers were strewn about, and far more puddles of colorful liquid were congealing than usual. The place looked as if a tornado had attempted to ransack it, then given up on the grounds that it was far more entertaining to see how much it could hurl off the shelves. And the worst part of it was, Newt was nowhere to be found.
Like many eccentric geniuses, Newt kept a rigid schedule. And that schedule included being in his lab generally blowing something up by eight a.m. sharp. A call to the inventors house yielded nothing but an answering machine, which he supposed meant the scholarly kiwi had not slept in or fallen ill.
Then again, Bob considered, Newt was also the quintessential absent-minded professor. Perhaps there was a meeting, or conference, or something like that that the kiwi was currently attending and had forgotten to mention to the others. The best way to figure this out, Bob reasoned, was to consult Beak. As Newts unofficial lab assistant, the Magi would probably know. Taking out his cell phone, Bob quickly keyed in Beaks apartment number.
Hi! Youve reached the humble home of Beak, loyal servant of the Great BaNAna. Im not in right now, but
Bob groaned, hanging up as the answering machine droned on. Then again, if Beak wasnt at home, and he wasnt at Newts lab, then he was probably
BaNAnarama, may I take your order please?
Beak! Bob yelled, straining to make himself heard above the hustle and bustle of the diner his friend felt compelled to work in, Its me.
Hi, me! Beak greeted him cheerily.
Bob smacked his forehead. No, I mean, its me, Bob.
Oh. Hi, Bob!
The yellow kiwi resisted the urge to pound his head against a nearby lab table. Look, Beak, did Newt mention anything about going out today? Any meetings, conferences, that sort of thing?
Beak paused, thinking. Not that I know of. Why?
Because Im at the lab, and he isnt, Bob huffed. Hes usually here by now.
Maybe he went looking for that Joe person, Beak ventured.
Dont be silly. Thats what were here for. Newts a genius inventor, not a cunning detective like me. Besides, the place is a mess, and hed never leave wait, Bob paused, frowning. Suddenly, this setup made more sense. Beak, get down here when you get off work. Our genius may have been kiwinapped.
Hanging up on the soda jerk, our hero then called his office, waking up a napping Ferdie.
Hey, Bob, the groggy bluebird mumbled, No word from the nerdlings yet on possible translations, sorry. Though I have found thirty promising references to pixie-
Ferdie, Newts missing, Bob stated, cutting off the bluebird before the geekspeak put him to sleep, The labs been torn apart, but I dont think anythings been taken well, other than Newt, of course. I think it might have something to do with what happened yesterday at the lab. Call your sister and get down here immediately. Leave a note for Iiwi, well want her in on this too. Nobody messes with my genius inventor.
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