A Collaborative Effort: Part 4
"However much we guard against it, we tend to shape ourselves in the image others have of us."
Iiwi soared above the clouds, letting the thermals do most of the work of keeping her aloft as she glided lazily from cloud bank to cloud bank. This far up, she didnt need to fly all that fast to keep pace with the speeding Thunderbird below, opting instead to save her strength for any close-quarters dodging that might come about at the end of what promised to be a long flight. And while at this height she was hardly more than a faint red speck in the sky to observers on the ground, she made certain keep the clouds between her and her target, bouncing her shadow off the cottony puffballs to further mask her presence.
In all honesty, she didnt think the pair below had anything to do with Newts disappearance. True, they were rather young and arrogant for federal agents; but what her fellow detectives failed to realize in their territorial spats was that that simply ruled out the more clandestine branches of the federal services.
In their defense, Ferdia and Squeaks were used to being obeyed. Most of San Vianos police force could recognize them on sight as could a great deal of the local citizenry and neighboring counties and they tended to give the pair whatever information the two were after, often on the grounds that doing so generally tended to result in less property damage. Moreover, their precinct captain would often go to bat for them whenever higher-ups or politicians got their feathers ruffled over the pairs tactics. The two cops were accustomed to encountering the sort of stonewalling and subterfuge theyd run into with the young agents when confronting criminals or individuals with something to hide not fellow officers. The intimidation and scare tactics employed by the Hawthorne agency when they had called enquiring after the skunk and mouses backgrounds only further undermined their ability to trust their new allies.
However, the Flier mused, Ferdias anger and mistrust of the agents was largely misplaced. Cops be they from neighboring cities or out-of-state tended to trust their fellow officers in good faith, as they were working towards the same goal: finding and catching criminals. Federal agents, on the other hand, historically did not warrant such immediate trust too many criminals had been granted blanket immunity for local crimes in return for testimony in federal cases, or allowed to run wild while the feds tried to learn as much as they could of the larger criminal organizations and cells before bringing them in, leading cops to distrust their federal cousins on principle. This, in turn, led many federal agents to regard their local brethren as ignorant backwater hicks with negligible knowledge and experience. The mutual distrust hampered both sides, as neither shared leads or the identity of informants, each worried that the other would leak valuable information or jeopardize ongoing investigations leading to a vicious repeating circle all around. Iiwi smirked. Small wonder Ferdia and Squeaks didnt trust the two agents she was currently tailing and even less a surprise that said agents distrusted them in equally in return.
Her fellow detectives werent much different. Ferdie, conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, had adopted a stance much like his sisters insisting the agents were hiding something. However, as they had no reason to suspect the agents had been behind Newts disappearance, Ferdie contented himself with cracking the first missing scientists coded message. Bob, on the other hand, took the agents story at face value, figuring that in any case this was a job for Danger Kiwi and therefore not something hed be sharing with them anyway. Beak, eternally clueless, simply stated that he hadnt picked up on anything hostile from the agents, apart from a desire on the skunks part to deck Ferdia and lock the rest of them outside so the agents could speak with Newt privately. The Magi was currently focusing on trying to locate the missing scientists mind, though he had promised to meditate in the lab in case any useable mental residue remained of Newts kidnappers.
But Iiwi knew something the rest of the Bob Kiwi Detective Agency didnt namely, what had happened at the office the night theyd met the agents. It took quite a bit of sophistication to get past her security system. And the portable blowtorch had been a nice touch shed have to see about getting a hold of some heat-resistant ceramic tiles and paints from NASA, to go over the grating once it had been repaired. But the encounter had left her wondering just what sort of agents the youths speeding along the road below her were. Shed called the mouse a thief half in jest a jab at his ego and professionalism but black ops wouldve just cut the wires, and an ordinary fed wouldve tripped one of the redundant systems. The kid had skill.
This, if nothing else, piqued her curiosity enough to make her willing to shadow the agents while her fellow detectives busied themselves with finding Newt. The agents identities, or even an organization name, could go a long way in discovering those details of the case they were currently withholding after all, even if the abduction of their scientist had been a case of mistaken identity, the kiwi had been lured from the agency to put it into effect. That took planning and coordination; things that tended to leave a trail of one kind or another, if you knew where, who, and how to ask.
Barring that, it would give her a physical location for Ferdies hacker friends to zero in on. The original emailed message with its embedded header data and date/time stamps would doubtless be of use to them.
Iiwi sighed, adjusting her heading for a better view of the road as the speeding car below wound its way through a growing forest. No point in losing them in a quick car-switch, after all. She flapped her wings and suppressed a yawn, gazing down at the miles of serpentine paths stretching before her. That was the problem with these long trips: nothing to do inflight but think.
This had better be worth it, she grumbled, angling up into another thermal as the one she had been sailing on began to peter out.
I still dont see why you had to drive, Thera muttered a hours later as they cruised past the first few streetlights marking Los Dimiosa city limits. She was still sulking from having the keys to the Thunderbird taken away from her. I was going to behave myself.
William shrugged as he made the turn into the agency parking lot, aiming for the lower level. I just wanted to drive my baby one more time before turning her in. Besides, lets not antagonize our new partners too much.
Thera snorted. Please, I cant believe you actually went through with that. Drews going to have a fit when he finds out you basically recruited civilians.
Theyre police, not civilians. And, dont forget, the cooperation thing was *your* idea. I was just going along with the lie because Im your partner.
Bah. You know I only used that line because they actually caught us. We needed a legitimate excuse, you know.
Yes well, next time we break into the precinct at night. Anyway, this new alliance may have some benefits. We do have a little more information then we had before, and their assistance in the investigation.
But we dont need it! We can more than handle this. Besides, I dont trust those two an inch.
Thera shot him a weird look when William burst out laughing.
Its nothing, he said once he calmed down. Ahem. Like it or not they could be of some use to us.
Perhaps, she grudgingly conceded. William pulled into their assigned space and the two hopped out, both automatically going for their ID cards as they strolled over to the sublevel elevator entrance. However, why did you give them so much information?
William decided to ignore that for the moment. He fed his ID card in, waited for the right beep in the sequence that played, and yanked the card out quickly. A keypad immediately appeared and he typed in a random sequence of numbers, making sure his prints registered when he hit the keys. A moment later one of the lights on the bank of elevators lit up, and they waited for it to arrive.
So, will you answer my question, Thera demanded.
They obviously have very good resources; all the information I gave them they would have eventually found out on their own. As soon as they have the roster, you know theyll concentrate on only one name. We set them to chasing one lead while we follow the rest. With help, of course.
Thera blinked. Okay, that is a bit sneaky, I will admit.
The elevator arrived and they both stepped on, Thera moving forward to give the vocal floor command. But why give them the Periwinkle lead?
Well, from what I read, theyve obviously had more contact with the mad doctor then any of our agents. Experience is always better. Plus I find the situation just a little too coincidental. All three names on the same list, all with connections to this Danger Kiwi in one form or another, and he just happens to know the project name? Something doesnt make sense there.
So we just trust them to follow that lead and hope theyll tell us any others they come up with?
Of course not. Drew already has some of our people on the Periwinkle lead. Trusting them is not an option either way considering I doubt they trust us at all. But, like I said, they can be useful. This Ferdie seems to have some extremely unusual resources.
The elevator dinged, announcing theyd arrived and the two stepped off, heading left down the hallway to their office.
Should we have bugged their office?
No, the phone is enough. Theyd expect the whole office. Their apartments have been tagged, that should be enough.
Oh, I just remembered. The stuff from the sweep of Joes cousins house and lab should be back now. We can take a look at that stuff.
It was long since dark when the car reached the city limits of a small, nondescript town, making its way swiftly down near-empty streets before finally turning into a sheltered parking garage abutting a sizeable office building. The town wasnt much to look at especially at night, when it was little more than a handful of twinkling lights but it also meant Iiwi could cut her altitude without much risk of being seen. It was dark, after all, and if she was quiet, no one would notice her passage. It wasnt as if Fliers showed up on radar.
Dropping to treetop height, she wound around the stands of orange trees lining the grounds around the parking garage, making a show of snatching one of the brightly colored fruits from its bough as she passed. Alighting on a high but well-covered branch, she set about tearing into the orange while all the time keeping the cars occupants now approaching an elevator in sight.
Iiwi grimaced. The fruit was bitter the orange trees were, after all, only ornamental and no sooner had she folded her tired wings than their muscles began to ache. Still, her vantage point was good enough to show her she wouldnt be following the agents any further tonight. The keycard and passcode she could arguably fake, but the palm and retinal scans she couldnt at least, not without a trip back home for some fancy equipment and a gizmo or two. But shed seen enough to confirm part of her suspicions: the two young agents were indeed government agents of the more covert kind. Doubtless the Hawthorne building housed a lot more than standard cubicles; and if her Fliers magnetic field sensitivity was to believed, there was a lot more to the building than was visible above-ground.
Iiwi shuddered. She didnt do subterranean it was far too confining for her high-flying tastes. But it was the layout of choice for virtually every top-secret organization she could think of. Ferdie would be pleased this would give him and his conspiracy theory buddies some stories to tell. Moreover, the mere existence of an underground portion of the complex went a long way towards explaining why Ferdia and Squeaks had gotten the treatment they had while trying to verify the agents identities.
It also was a fantastic reason why sticking around much longer was a patently bad idea. There were suspiciously-patched panels lining the Hawthorne buildings upper floors not too unlike those around the White House that hid surface-to-air missiles and shed caught a glimpse or two of a laser sight among the camera tracers sweeping the area.
One camera in particular was rotating to focus in on a section of the grounds uncomfortably close to where she perched and hidden by foliage or not, she wasnt about to risk discovery by an infrared lens. Pitching the remains of the bitter orange off to the side and drawing the cameras attention to the rustling underbrush the fruit bounced into she dove back into the trees, weaving among their sparse cover as she picked up speed before climbing swiftly into the night sky.
Turning south, she sped away from the sleepy town as fast as her weary wings would take her, anxious to put some miles between her and Los Dimiosa before seeking out the thermal currents that would ferry her back home. There were hundreds of miles between San Viano and Los Dimiosa - many of them nothing more than vast expanses of open fields and unsettled forest. Plenty of space for an unwary Flier to go missing.
Iiwi dove, streaking along the treetops and desert floors as they shot past her. Perhaps she was just being paranoid. Perhaps not. Either way, she thought to herself, the sooner she was back in San Viano, the better.
William was just calling up the latest reports on his laptop when Thera stormed into their office, ranting at Drew, who trailed only mildly reluctantly behind her. Bringing up the rear of her little entourage of listeners were three other agents he knew well. Chen Xiaolong and Rami Doucet, both partners and cats, wore similar amused expressions on their faces as they nodded along sympathetically. Behind them was the third member of their four-person unit, a hyperactive bundle of energy named ADios Masters. Most of the world was convinced Dios should have been born a hummingbird; it certainly would have fit his personality, however some higher being with a rather twisted sense of humor had seen fit to make him a squirrel instead.
Still whining I see, William said archly, stretching in his chair. Thera shot him an evil look, then turned to glare at the two whod dared to laugh. Dios ignored them all, preferring to bounce into the room and onto a desk, where he folded into a position that few could achieve without needing the assistance of a crowbar and a chiropractor later on.
Actually, Im surprised by your actions, William, Drew announced, automatically taking the largest and comfiest chair in the office for himself. Thera hopped up onto the desk next to Dios while the cats wandered over to perch in the window. Involving unauthorized locals as well as sharing classified information with them so readily. Im not sure whether to yell at you or check to see if youve been replaced by a pod creature.
William merely smirked. Call it a hunch, he finally replied, starting a keyword search on the documents that had just uploaded. Some things can be worth a few risks.
Drew silently groaned. Experience had taught him to both loathe and go with the mouses intuition. His ability to read people was unfailing; however, William also viewed a situation from his own agenda. Just because he labeled someone as trustworthy didnt mean you wouldnt be stabbed in the back once the crisis ended.
Anyway, he continued, Ill arrange some clearance for our new-found friends. Try not to give away too many of our secrets, he said almost plaintively.
Thera rolled her eyes. So its the spirit of cooperation, eh? Bother. I suppose itll be worth it if they can dig up any new info on our friend Periwinkle.
Actually, Xiao and his teams have dug up something interesting on the good mad doctor, Drew replied. Thats why I want you guys to work with his team on this from now on.
Decided to put a watchdog on me, eh, Andrew? But William just smiled and nodded to the others. Right now playing friends was useful.
Rami stood. Its seems hes found a new source of funding. Our dear old friend Adrian Lords, to be precise.
Those two are in bed together? Thera demanded, shocked. What a pair!
The rest of the room winced.
Thera, I beg of you, Drew muttered, fighting back one horrific visual image. But yes, weve confirmed their involvement.
Still doesnt mean they have anything to do with Josephs disappearance, she replied, oblivious to the suffering shed caused.
Decided you dont want to work with anyone on this, little Thera? Dios queried, tilting his head to the side to look at her. The squirrel was the only one in existence who could get away with calling her that.
Of course not! Hey, come on, I love you guys. Itll be nice to work with you again, honestly.
So it is police that you object to, Xiao spoke for the first time.
No! Ive got nothing but respect for cops, okay! I just wish that pair would do what theyre told. Theyre going to be trouble, I know it.
William was very careful *not* to laugh.
We have a few other solid leads to follow up on, he put in, that we dont necessarily have to share. I suspect theres much more to this than just a pair of missing scientists.
Drew nodded. Well have the project details soon, plus we may have located the plane Joseph boarded. Im waiting to hear back from the search teams. Plus theres also the
CAR BOMBS, an extremely angry female voice shrieked, overriding the rest of the chipmunks sentence. I swear, I will start planting them tonight if I dont get a little more cooperation from you people!
William sniggered while Thera closed her eyes and sighed. Who let Leah near the filing cabinets again?
Punishment, Xiao explained, voice serene as always.
Rami decided to elaborate. She went a bit overboard on our last mission and the good Director felt some time off in the filing room would do her good.
Translation: the room was a mess again, Dios added.
What did she do, Thera demanded. The two of them had an open rivalry over who could be the most destructive.
Her job was to demonstrate the arms dealers latest portable launcher, Drew started to explain. Which she did, of course. On his mansion, limo, and the vehicle of his contact, an Asian diplomat looking to broker a deal.
The skunk didnt even bother to hide her grin. Always leave em hurting, she muttered.
There was a quiet Indeed in response.
Didnt I threaten you people enough yesterday, the voice continued in its tirade. Dont make me resort to sniper attacks to get my point across. Hopkins, Malone, and you, Vinders, get your lazy arses in here and put your files away like good boys before I put them in places that would make your proctologist wince!
As one, the group inside the office drifted into the main staff room to watch the drama unfold.
Almost every agent in there had frozen in place, and probably in fear as well. The tyrant of the filing room was on the warpath again. At only five foot two, Agent Leah Mackenzie looked harmless and possibly even ladylike, with every scarlet feather smoothed into place. The slight Irish accent she retained only reinforced the image, especially since most folks mistook it for a southern drawl. Overall, creatures had a tendency to write her off as too petite and feminine to be a threat. The joy she took from shattering their illusions was what got Leah up every morning. Her first day alone, she had gained a reputation for fearlessness by actually managing to drink the office coffee. Fresh brewed no less.
It was a well-documented fact that desperate and hardened marines wouldnt even touch the stuff.
It was well documented because Joseph had been bored one day.
Currently Leah was terrorizing those responsible for turning filing room into a war zone. In truth, she completely hated the job and cursed the Director every time she was stuck with it as punishment. Nevertheless, like everything else she did, the job received her full effort, which meant Leah was the only one who could get every single agent to put their files away. Correctly. She even terrorized the higher-ups when the opportunity arose. No one made a mess of her filing room and got away with it.
Poor agent Torg was new enough that he hadnt believed the horror stories. He was about to learn there was a reason why they sent Leah when the mission specifically called for physical intimidation and threats of violence.
Oh, no you do not, Leah snapped as her gaze fell on the hapless puppy trying to disappear beneath his desk. Get you lazy arse out here and put your own bloody files away, now! If you think I'm going to clean up *your* mess, just because your parents never got around to housebreaking you, *think again*! This agency does not have maids to pick up after you, sodding fool! We don't even have clerks! *You* are the lowest of the low, junior agent Torg, and you are *not* going to get away with pushing the boring bits of your job off on other people!
She turned to glare at the rest of the room in general as poor agent Torg slunk by, tail literally between his legs. That goes for the rest of you nitwits! If I find even one folder out of place, Ill
Drew cut her off before the violence could escalate. Agent Mackenzie, he called out, ignoring the slight edge of desperation in his voice, would you mind joining us for the briefing?
Few people could achieve Drews polite way of making inescapable commands. The scarlet tanager instantly went calm, and even managed a pleasant nod before crossing the room to join their group. Wisely, no one acknowledged those agents still rookie enough to dive out of the path of the Filing Valkyrie.
So whats this briefing about, Thera demanded once they had settled into one of the larger conference rooms down the hall.
Dios pulled several file folders out and began passing them around. I found the Double-Oh-Zero files, he announced cheerfully. Took me most of the day and I pissed off at least one CIA server by kicking its hard drive in twelve straight matches of Pong, but I got em. Take a look; theyre a very interesting read. This Danger Kiwi was one
Silently the each picked up a file and began reading about the exploits of the International Kiwi of Mystery. Several soft snickers were heard as pages rustled, but Drew was the first to actually snap.
I want to know how they could possibly call that mission a success, the chipmunk snarled, tossing his file onto the table. He apparently burned down the entire embassy!
Xiao looked over at him. Well, what was the mission objective? he inquired, closing his own file up.
To destroy a roll of microfiche that held a list of undercover operative locations throughout the world.
Was the microfiche in the building at the time?
Then I would say it was a success.
One does not blow up an entire building just to destroy a small flammable object!
Several inhabitants of the room just looked at him.
One does not become a junior division head without learning how to cave when youre outnumbered. Drew just sighed and picked up his file in defeat, resuming his foray into the outrageous.
We seem to have acquired some very fascinating individuals for partners, William mused out loud a little while later.
And whose fault is that, Thera snapped.
You can see why they gave Periwinkle so much trouble, Dios threw in.
Will we leave them to work on the Periwinkle angle? Rami softly inquired.
Thera shrugged. Is that wise, considering who his new backer is?
Lords isnt the type to go up against the agency directly, Xiao felt compelled to point out. Forced confrontations are not his style. This Periwinkle may be mad, but surely Adrian would keep him on a short leash.
Possibly, Drew drawled. What we need are details on the Pufferfish project. Without knowing what the two missing scientists were working on, we shouldnt rule out any possibilities.
I should have those files to you by morning, Dios, their resident hacker, responded. I had to leave off that search to find stuff about Periwinkle and this Double-Oh-Zero guy.
Id say from his file alone, this Bob Kiwi may warrant closer attention, William advised Drew. No one could have this high a success rate and be as incompetent as the reports make him out to be.
Ferdia flipped through the contents of the folder on her lap, scowling. You know, I find it a bitter irony that a freelancer like Iiwi is more reliable than our new federal friends.
You could have just waited until morning, Squeaks reminded her, eyes focused on the road before them as they drove back from the detective agency. Locke said theyd send their records over when they got in, and that town of theirs is a good evenings drive away. Even at the speeds they prefer to travel at, they may still be on the road.
Im surprised you managed to find that place on a map, Ferdia commented dryly.
I offered Callie a pound of gourmet cranberry-hazelnut coffee if shed call up the Hawthorne Corporation posing as a client, the mouse smirked.
Callie? Ferdia questioned, The sparrow from the 8th Precinct?
The one whos so addicted to coffee she makes Bob look like an amateur?
I think thats stretching things a bit.
Shes a ditz!
I get the feeling most of thats a caffeine-induced haze, Squeaks shrugged. At any rate, shes convincing enough not to raise suspicions, and after ten minutes of her hyperactive rambling, the Hawthorne operator caved and gave her directions.
Ah, Ferdia nodded, And from there you actually could use a map. But, she frowned, What about the coffee? Thats expensive stuff; they have to import it, and-
And Bob buys it by the case, the mouse grinned, I doubt hell miss it.
Ferdia quirked an eyebrow. I doubt therell be enough of you left to identify if he does, she commented, earning a chuckle from her partner.
Anyway, until we get our official copy of this, she continued, waving the folder of assorted data Iiwi had managed to piece together on project Pufferfish, from the agents at Hawthorne, we can at least start looking into the people involved in the project.
Any mention as to what exactly Puffer was?
Not yet, she shook her head, And our federal friends arent likely to tell us, either. We gave them too much information before.
Nothing they wouldnt have eventually found out about anyway, Squeaks shrugged. Especially if theyd finished going through our files.
Not the ones in the office, Ferdia muttered. I know better than that; Vernons been sneaking looks at our case reports for a while now, looking for procedural errors like theres nothing better he could be doing.
All the same, Squeaks glanced over at her, it has Locke and Strand at least going through the motions of working with us. Between that pretense and the taps they planted on the office phones, theyll leave us alone for awhile.
Oh, sure. Leave us all the busywork theyre just gonna send field agents out to do anyway, Ferdia grumbled. Were not going to get much out of this list, she sighed, A lot of the names here are marked deceased, and some of them are people whove been dead awhile.
Oh? Whos on the list?
She shrugged. Well, Newt, obviously, and the Hawthornes missing look-alike Joe. Among the deceased are the lead scientists of some labs up and down the California coast experimental stuff, mostly - plastics, drugs, hair care, and a handful of other things. Theres also a pair of chemists that made the best fireworks in the state until their lab exploded. She frowned. I remember reading about that; Im fairly certain one of them survived. Highbrock, I think; I wanna say hes comatose in a burn center out east somewhere, but Id have to check. Theyre all labs Periwinkle went after shortly before he kidnapped Bobetta. Remember?
I remember him killing a lot more than a handful of scientists, Squeaks frowned.
Yeah, but these were his only victims on the list. The rest I dont recognize wait
Another list; one with the assistants
.Theres a Manny Fisk, and an Oscar Halloway-
Fisk sounds familiar, the mouse ventured.
Ferdia nodded. Hes that Chemistry teacher that won some award or other last fall. We crashed his award ceremony chasing after the biker gang of rabid dingoes. We could look him up, take him down memory lane, I suppose but hes probably still sore about the whole burning-down-his-new-chem-lab thing.
It was an accident.
Whatever. Anyway, its the other one Im interested in.
She nodded. Remember the arms dealer Periwinkle lobbed a cruise missile at during his little rampage? The osprey?
The one on the private island, her partner nodded. Ozzie something, right? Headed a corporation of sorts?
Oscorp Enterprises, Ferdia sighed, running a hand through her hair in thought. And Halloway is an alias his familys passed down since before Oscorp even existed. Ill bet you anything Oz was planted there in the name of industrial espionage. Hed onlyve been sixteen or so; probably blended right into the background.
So we have a group of chemists working on a suspected weapons project a decade ago, with the son of a prominent arms dealer keeping tabs on their progress.
Weve also got the mad doctor Periwinkle systematically killing them off five years after it was finally cancelled, Ferdia frowned, gazing out the windshield as the streetlights streaked by overhead. It doesnt make sense. Even if Periwinkle managed to find out about the project, weapons arent his forte. Hes a biochemist.
Squeaks glanced her way, quirking an eyebrow.
An insane biochemist, Ferdia allowed, but still. Hes much more likely to build a Frankenstein monster than a bomb. She flipped through the rest of the file in search of project details.
Maybe hes branching out, Squeaks replied half-jokingly, Or he could be looking for a more efficient way of killing off his less insane colleagues.
Hey! Ferdia bolted upright, clutching a photo and angling it to catch the light of passing streetlamps. Pull over! she yelled, passing the sheet to her partner as their squad car slid to a halt. Do you know who this is?!? she asked, jabbing a finger at one of the lab-coated figures posing behind a line of test tubes, This is Periwinkle, ten years younger and minus the scars, growths, and insanity!
Squeaks squinted at the black and white group photo of the scientists in question. There is a resemblance of sorts, the mouse allowed, But thats not the name on his badge.
So he changed it, Ferdia shrugged, So what? Madness does that to scientists.
Theres Newt, and a remarkably similar double, her partner blinked, pointing to the row of scientists behind the young Periwinkle.
They worked together on this, Ferdia mused. Newt, Joe, and the others, before Periwinkle went insane. But what would a weapons project want with a biochemist?
Maybe he wasnt a biochemist back then. Or perhaps it wasnt a weapons program, Squeaks ventured.
Ferdia shook her head. Ozs family wouldnt have planted their heir-apparent there if they couldnt have benefited from it somehow. But we need to find out about Periwinkle and the other scientists, as well as who was funding this thing.
I agree, the mouse nodded, These kidnappings are too organized for a madman of Periwinkles caliber. His presence on this team could just be a coincidence.
As could Ozzies, but I doubt it, Ferdia sighed. And, Squeaks? Lets not mention this to the feds yet. Not about Oz, and not about Periwinkle.
Fine by me, her partner shrugged.
It was well past three when Squeaks returned to his apartment. Ferdia had insisted on getting a head start on their investigations into the scientists involved on the Pufferfish project, and the two of them had spent the better part of the night dredging up phone records, employment histories, bank statements even the occasional death certificate and autopsy report on each of the thirty-two known participants, to the point where the poor soul manning the Hall of Records simply refused to speak to them any more, and shunted them into the Halls voicemail system. Still, theyd had quite a pile of documents piling up in front of the fax machine by then, and had delved right in.
Theyd managed to track down the last known address of every surviving member including the comatose fireworks chemist lingering in an east coast hospital and managed to persuade (though bullied might have been a better term, given the time of day it was at that point) the local PDs into placing plainclothes detectives on each of them partly in case any were involved, and partly, as Ferdia pointed out, for their own protection. There was no telling whether or not whoever had netted Newt and his look-alike Joe would stop at two.
The hardest part of all that, however, had been convincing Casey to let them use his phone for the bulk of the calls. The finch had insisted on knowing what they were up to, and had been far too excited at the news that their phone was bugged. Theyd had to agree to let him in on the investigation to keep him quiet about the bug; not such a bad deal, considering the extra help pouring over the pile of countless faxed documents had been what finally freed them at quarter past two.
Still, if one of the remaining scientists went missing now, theyd need to keep Casey occupied with busywork to keep the finch off the case.
All the same, it was nice to be home and done with the day, Squeaks thought as he climbed the stairs to his floor. The key jangled softly in its latch, unlocking the door to allow the weary mouse entrance. The apartments lights came on as he strode in, illuminating the rooms with a soft glow that made Squeaks glad hed bothered spending all those hours rigging the computerized system in the first place. He was too tired now to fumble about for a light switch or feel his way around in the dark; it was enough of an effort just to nudge the door shut and throw the latches back into place.
A pair of bright yellow eyes glittered from beneath the couch, watching as Squeaks secured the locks, waiting until the exhausted mouse trudged away from the door before bursting forth in a scramble of talons, feathers, and padded feet. A kitten-sized ball of fluff bounded after the mouse, chittering gleefully and fluttering her tiny, pointed wings in excitement.
Squeaks chuckled, bending down to scoop up the purring gryphlet rubbing against his leg in true feline fashion. Hey, Scree, he greeted the creature, carrying her over to the kitchen countertops, Had a nice day?
The gryphlet warbled a few happy notes, lunging playfully at his keys as he placed them on the counter, batting them about and tugging at them with her beak. The mouse repeated his question, placing a hand over the keys to catch her attention. Pausing in her game, the gryphlet rocked back onto her haunches, gryph-grinning at her master and nodding enthusiastically.
Then she paused, looking thoughtful as the coding behind her security programs reminded her of the days events.
A man came heerre today, she reported, in a young voice accented with trilled rs and hissed ss, Did sssomething to the phone.
What did he look like? Squeaks asked. Show me.
The half-eagle, half-tiger kit nodded, flickering from view as the computer systems generating her hologram loaded video footage of the intruder in her place. As the image solidified, an individual in workmens clothes could be seen entering the apartment and fiddling with the phone jack briefly before departing. The mans outfit matched that of the buildings maintenance crew; glancing over at his phone, Squeaks caught sight of a note describing a wire fix lying beside it. Seen by a security camera, the entire exchange appeared innocent indeed, had recent events and an office wiretap not put him on alert, he probably wouldnt have thought anything of it.
sa lisstening devisse, Scree informed him, flickering back into view as the video footage faded, Tessted it. Transsmitss
ssomewherrr, she frowned. Harrrd to trracce. Encrrypted
Lets see it, then, Squeaks prompted, watching as the gryphlet disappeared again, this time to be replaced by a 3D model of the tiny wiretap patched into the phone jack. The display slowly rotated to show all angles of the device; to her credit, Scree had tried her best to identify and document its every feature.
Couldnt find a ssupplierr, her disembodied voice trilled apologetically.
Thats okay, Scree, Squeaks reassured her, Its probably a custom build, anyway courtesy of our friends in Los Dimiosa.
Shhould I dissable it? Scree chirped.
No, Squeaks shook his head as his holographic pet rematerialized, Theyd only come back, and wonder how wed found it. Leave it as it is. He paused, frowning. Did they see you?
Nnope, she stated, emphatically shaking her head, Went invissible. Passive sscan. Verrry carreful, she insisted, the image of seriousness.
Squeaks reached over and rubbed her head, easing up as she flickered, the tactile response beginning to overwhelm the aging holoprojector processing the illusion. The last thing he wanted was to overtax the unit and break it - old or not, he had been lucky to find one all the way out here; a replacement would be extraordinarily hard to come by. On top of that, he had spent countless hours tuning it to mimic his childhood pet. Screes speech was a bit of a compromise tigryphs couldnt talk, yet the computer was hard-wired to respond to spoken responses audibly but even so, she was a treasure. He suddenly felt quite fortunate that their visitor had not scanned the room for electronic activity or, worse yet, found the unit. Scree might be an excellent security system, scaring off burglars, detaining intruders, keeping an eye out for suspicious fumes or smoke but she could not touch the actual holoprojector unit that housed her. Squeaks had gone to great lengths to mask the unit and hide its signal, but it was difficult to gauge how sophisticated these Hawthorne agents were. He made a note to update Screes protocols to include what to do if one of said agents located her
Hed also have to get a hold of Ferdia. If his apartment was bugged, hers probably was as well. It wouldnt impact and investigation much, provided they werent being watched or followed as well and, at this stage of their investigation, that seemed highly unlikely, as they had yet to uncover any secrets worth keeping.
First things first, though. He was dead tired; time to get some sleep.
Why do these briefing meetings always have to be so bleeding early in the morning, Leah muttered blearily from her prone position at the conference room table. A mug of the nuclear waste masquerading as coffee was clutched firmly in one hand.
William smiled. Its 9:30, he felt compelled to point out as he took his seat at the table. Thera stumbled somewhat tiredly in behind him and slumped into a nearby chair. Some small part of her actually contemplated the coffee for a moment before shuddering in horror.
Late night, ladies? Drew asked as he followed Dios (and his ever present laptop) into the room.
Just working on some things, they replied in almost perfect unison.
Xiao paused in the doorway and smirked. Those two were a true pair of night owls, remarkable in their similarities. Dare we ask, he queried.
I wanted to look at some of our old case files on Periwinkle, Leah mumbled, already starting to drift back to sleep.
I had some other things to look into, Thera snapped, tone defensive when everyone turned to look at her. I wasnt the only one out late, you know. Normandy there was out until all hours too!
Drew started to look a bit nervous, causing the white mouse to grin in what he knew was an infuriatingly secretive manner. As you said, Thera, I had some other things to look into. Which reminds me - Dios, did you get the file I emailed you last night?
The squirrel nodded. Yep, no problem. Already started running that search; should have a few leads by the time the meeting ends. He patted his trusty laptop with wireless LAN capabilities.
Do you ever sleep? Leah demanded, rolling over on her side to glare at the overly chipper one.
I doubt it, the last member of their team commented as she wandered in and took a seat. The silver tabby was impeccably groomed, as always, causing the other two females in the room to mutter something about evil individuals who actually got beauty sleep.
Whats this search about, Drew demanded, looking from William to Dios in deep suspicion.
Both of them shrugged. Just a lead I may have stumbled onto, William replied modestly. Well see if it leads anywhere.
Anyway, I have all the info one can get on the Pufferfish project, Dios put in before Drew could start demanding more answers.
Excellent, the distracted chipmunk replied. I knew you could find a way to access that information.
I didnt get everything, he warned them, passing out hard copies.
Because a lot of the documentation has been lost or destroyed. I found what I could, and that took a *lot* of digging. The project ended in the eighties, and it was dismal failure, apparently. So the government pulled funding, locked everything away, and tried to pretend the whole thing never existed.
What made it so important? Rami inquired, thumping through the pages.
Well, it was begun during the huge oil crisis in the seventies, Dios explained. Supposedly it pulled in this group of scientists, all either the top names in their field or the rising stars. Their purpose was to create an organic-based synthetic fuel alternative that would be cheaper, more efficient, environmentally friendly, *and* cold-burning.
Stunned silence played merrily about for several minutes.
Not asking much, were they, William finally muttered.
Actually they came pretty close to succeeding. They had a decent working prototype apparently, except for the cold-burning requirement. According to the reports, one of the younger members devised a freezing process that should have solved the problem. However, after the formula went through the process, it lost all fuel efficiency, and no one could find a way around the problem. Eventually they just declared the whole thing a failure.
And Periwinkle was on the project, Drew inquired. Youre certain?
Dios nodded. Yep. A summer internship during the last stage of it. Just another inquisitive mad-scientist-to-be at the time.
Thera shook her head. If the project was such a failure, why go after the two scientists now? Its been almost twenty years.
Maybe he didnt, Leah replied. Could be just a coincidence. After all, our boy Adrian is funding him now. The Lords arent the type to throw away money on proved disappointments. Besides, how much involved were the missing kiwis? They would have been fairly young, right?
The squirrel wrinkled his nose. Im not sure. Like I said, a lot of the information is just
gone. No paper trails or hard documents anywhere. Plus a lot of the older members are dead - most of them within the past five years, and Periwinkle has been implemented in quite a few of their deaths.
A vendetta, maybe, William mused. Some sort of mad scientists personal vengeance list, perhaps?
Wouldnt he have just killed them then? Leah pointed out. Why kiwinap them instead?
Xiao shifted, then spoke. We must acknowledge that Periwinkle may have nothing to with their disappearance.
Maybe, Drew responded, but I dont want to give up on this angle completely. Its the best one we have at the moment. The lab boys still dont have anything conclusive to give us.
So dont let go, Thera muttered. Give the files to our new partners and let them track down Periwinkle. We know his most recent whereabouts, right? Itll keep them occupied and out of our investigation.
| Back to Part 3 | Onwards to Part 5 |