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Qualms

"Are you going to answer that?" Wade asked Drakken.

"I guess I'd better. Jim, Tim, will you two provide some backup?"

Wade hesitated a minute as the three other men headed for the front room. "Go out with them," Joss suggested.

Wade wasn't sure whether he should stay or go. He didn't want to leave the two girls alone with the monster, but he listened and reluctantly moved to join Drakken and the twins.

Jim and Tim moved to either side of the room and stayed back as Drakken opened the door.

The red creature filling the doorway was, if anything, less human than the Patchwork Man in the inner room. He wore a long, black duster under which a tail could be concealed and Drakken knew that his large cap hid the stumps of sawn off horns. His face appeared to have been carved by a sculptor with an imperfect knowledge of human anatomy and his grotesque right hand seemed to be composed of some rock-like substance. His face split in a wide grin as he saw Drakken, "Big Blue, should have known they'd call you in."

"You know, for a man who has left the BPRD you always seem to be with them," Drakken remarked.

"Still home to my friends," he said and moved slightly to the side so a pretty woman with haunted eyes and a tall man with greenish complexion and gills visible on his neck could be seen. The red man's good left hand reached into his duster and Jim and Tim reached for weapons. "Just getting the Doc a cigar," he assured them.

Jim and Tim relaxed only slightly as his hand came out with a cigar. Drakken sniffed it appreciatively, "Cuban?"

"Of course. You should buy some before you head home. Liz, light him."

The woman frowned slightly in concentration and a flame appeared in the air in front of Drakken who lit the cigar and drew a deep puff.

"Where's the prisoner?" the red creature demanded.

"We'd like to ask you a few questions before you see him," Wade told them.

"May we at least get out of the hallway?" the gill man asked. "We are somewhat conspicuous."

"Sorry, Abe," Drakken apologized. "Please, come in."

Jim and Tim moved back to the wall opposite the door, trying to maintain enough distance to insure they had time to react.

"You really think you got anything that would stop me?" the demon asked.

"Got some really large caliber armor piercing shells," Jim explained. "We think they might knock chunks off you."

"Recoil must be something fierce."

Tim answered, "We've got a new system for dissipating recoil."

"You'll let me have a look before I leave?"

"Sure, still has some bugs though."

"How about your quest for the perfect exploding shell?"

"Going nowhere," Jim admitted. "They keep blowing up in the barrel instead of waiting until they hit the target."

Wade, standing in front of the door to the inner room, moved to one side as the door hit him in the rear. Bego ran across the room and threw her arms around the red creature. Jim and Tim cursed under their breaths since she blocked a clear shot.

The demon chuckled and mussed her hair, "Little Blue, wondered where you had gone to… What happened to your eyes?"

"Plastic. shells," she explained. "Do. they. do. anything. for. me?"

He knew enough of women to know the right answer, "I think you're cute either way."

"And remember," Liz spoke up, "if you ever need a job I think the Bureau would like to have you."

"Is he carrying a gun?" Drakken asked.

Bego released the hug. "Not. any. more." As she stepped back they could all see a large pistol in her hand.

The red creature laughed, "You can't trust anybody these days."

"You weren't supposed to be packing," Abe complained to the red man.

"Sorry, just feel naked without it." He looked over at the twins, "You boys understand, I'm sure."

"We've got a bit of a moral dilemma. He," Wade jerked his head towards the doorway behind him, where the BPRD agents must realize the Patchwork Man was located, "says you're trying to kill him."

"Damn lie," said the demon.

"You were packing," Jim pointed out.

"So are you. Does that mean you want to kill me?"

"Let's all remain calm," Abe intervened. "You know us enough to doubt that sort of claim."

"We'd like to think so," Tim agreed, "but we really aren't sure what this is all about."

"We had some questions we wanted to ask your 'guest' on a problem he might have information about," Liz explained. "But he bolted before we made contact. That says we've got a leak. While we don't know if Herr Flickmann can help us with our initial problem he can certainly help us with our second problem, the security leak."

"Finding. a. leak. is. that. critical?"

"It might be in this case," Liz told her.

"Jim, Tim, why don't the two of you keep us covered while we question your 'guest'?" Abe suggested

"Hell," the red man grunted, "you know they're going to do that anyway."

"I agree with Abe," the woman said to the red man. "We want everyone to stay calm. We're all friends here and no one wants to hurt anyone. There's nothing wrong with showing we agree with their concerns."

The Patchwork Man looked no different from when the twins had left the inner room. He still sat on a heavy chair against the far wall, with the manacles on his wrists and ankles, and sections of chain visible on the floor between his legs and under the hands crossed on lap. Jim and Tim had gone into the inner room first and flanked him.

"We've got you covered," Tim whispered as he took up his position. The man on the chair looked slightly puzzled and Tim realized his words could be taken in different ways tried again, "We're trying to protect you."

The others filed in, leaving the room crowded. "What do you know about—" the red man began.

"Hush," Liz told him. "Stand in the back. You could make anyone nervous." She turned to the large man in the chair. "Wade says you told them we're trying to kill you."

"Wade?"

"That's me," Wade said, raising his hand.

"It's not true," Liz assured the seated creature. "We wanted to ask you a question about a case we are working on. When you bolted-"

"You may have been told your Bureau wanted to question me. I was told the orders from the highest level were to murder me."

In the background the demon growled angrily. Joss spoke up, "These three are pretty dang high in the-"

"'Dang?' Was heißt das?" the Patchwork Man asked.

"She doesn't 'Damn'," Wade translated.

"Well, she should give a damn," the red creature growled, "they don't get much damn higher than us."

"Look," Liz said, "rather than stupid arguing I'll tell you the question which was all we wanted to know. Can you tell us anything about Arctic ghouls? We know you spent years up there and hoped you could help us."

Herr Flickmann thought for a moment, wondering what interest they could have in the ghouls. "They are timid creatures, hiding at the edge of human habitation, waiting for their food. Why do you seek information on them?"

"They ain't so timid any more," the red man explained. "And they ain't always waiting for their food to be buried in the ground. We've got three Lapp villages where only skeletons remain. Every shred of flesh was gnawed off their bones."

"Sami killed?" the Patchwork Man was clearly bewildered. "I can not believe-"

"You can believe what you damn well please," the demon interrupted. "But your Lapp friends, or the Sami, or whatever you want to call them, are being killed and eaten. We want to stop the killing-"

Abe interrupted in a soothing tone. "Someone must have organized the ghouls, provided leadership."

"And you think that I-"

"We don't believe you had anything to do with it. We simply wished to ask you for any information you might be able to give us about the ghouls and their habits."

"I know nothing about current conditions," the Patchwork Man told them. "I've not visited the arctic in decades."

"That might be true," the man with gills agreed. "But even if you can tell us nothing important about the ghouls, we need to know who told you we wanted to talk with you."

"What does it matter who told me?"

"Well," Abe pointed out, "there is a chance whoever told you that might be the person working with the ghouls. We might have a traitor, spy, whatever you want to call him, in our bureau."

Emile Flickmann sighed, "I have no current knowledge of any value on the ghouls. The problem within your bureau is your problem, not mine. I live a life of quiet peace in retirement. I do not wish to be disturbed."

"So you'll let the Lapps die," Abe said in an accusatory tone.

"I am sorry, their ancestors gave me hospitality many years ago. But that was many years ago. I do not wish harm on anyone, but I can and will do nothing."

The red creature made a sound which might have been, "Worthless pacifist."

Bego spoke up, "I. heard. a. wise. man. once. say. that. those. who. remain. silent. as. evil. is. committed. are. accomplices. to. the. crimes."

The creature in the chair closed his eyes as Abe and Liz glanced at each other, wondering what the blue girl's words were all about. The Patchwork Man opened his eyes, "Truly wise men should be careful what they say." He looked at Liz, "That was really all you wished to question me about?"

"It was. We are trying to stop mass murder, and only hoped you might be able to help us."

"I will help you in any way that I can."

Liz smiled, "That will be wonderful." She hesitated for a moment, "Is there a chance you could return to the United States with us to help us identify your contact."

The creature thought a minute, then nodded his head yes.

Wade spoke up, "We should unchain you. I'm sorry about the methods we used."

"There is no need to unchain me." Emile Flickmann stood; the chain which had been on his lap fell to the floor, not connected to the heavy manacles on his wrists. Nor were the manacles on his wrists or ankles locked. He pulled them open and set them down on the chair.

"How did you get out of those?" Jim demanded.

"Joss. and. I. took. off. the. chains. and. unlocked. the. manacles. when. you. left. the. room."

"You unchained a monster when we weren't here?" Jim protested, clearly questioning their sanity. Wade said nothing, but the look Joss saw on his face suggested he harbored similar thoughts.

Joss flushed, "We kidnapped a man who was minding his own business, chained him like an animal, dragged him to his possible death, and he's a monster? Seems like if the word applies to anyone in this room it's probably us."

Even Jim knew to shut up. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room.

Liz finally broke the silence, "We apologize to you for our methods," she told the Patchwork Man. "Our work sometimes calls us to destroy creatures - but only those which kill the innocent. I want to believe whoever contacted you from the Bureau simply misunderstood the reason for our concern. If that is the case he-"

"Or she," Abe interrupted. "Let's not be sexist."

Everyone in the room smiled at once for the first time. "Or she," Liz continued, "will receive nothing worse than a letter of reprimand in his, or her, file. But if your contact is the person who organized the ghouls… We seek to protect the La-, the Sami. And if the ghouls return to their old ways we have no reason to hunt for them either."

"Sehr gut."

"Team Possible," she continued, indicating the others with a sweep of her hand, "is not part of us. But our director knows their ability and respect for life. I am sorry we felt compelled to question you this way, but our only desire is to save lives." She turned to the two men with her, "Let's get our own rooms for the rest of the night." Looking back to the tall creature, "We would like to leave on a noon flight, may we come back for you at eight?"

"I don't think that's a good-" the red man began.

"Show him some respect," Abe said, "We're lucky he doesn't have us all arrested."

The Patchwork Man actually laughed, a deep laugh, and so infectious several in the room joined in. "That gives me little time to rest, but I shall be ready," he promised. "It appears I have very little to pack." Joss had told him they brought some of his clothing along.

After the three left Wade spoke, "I, ah, guess we owe you a big apology. We should not have taken this job."

Emile Flickman paused before answering. "No, you should not. But I bear you no ill will. You acted from pure hearts and to help others." He turned toward the girls, "And Fräuleins Joss and Bego have reminded me I also carry responsibility." From habit he tried to click his heels, hard to do in bare feet, as he bowed to the two, then kissed the hand of each.

Bego glanced sideways at Joss, suddenly happy she was unable to blush.

"I wish I knew how to curtsey," Joss whispered loudly enough that everyone heard her.

"I. think. we. would. need. to. be. wearing. dresses. for. that."

As the group prepared to leave Tim spoke up, "I also need to apologize."

"Schwamm drüber, er, I think your expression is 'no problem'," the creature responded extending his hand for a shake.

"Me too," Jim admitted as he extended his hand.

"I don't suppose I could bother you for a little blood sample, purely for research purposes?" Drakken began.

"Don't push it, Doc," Wade hissed, "remember what Abe said. He could have us arrested."

"It doesn't hurt to ask," Drakken shot back.

"No samples at this moment," the Patchwork Man smiled. He pitched his voice lower, almost a growl, "But it has been many years since I visited your country. Perhaps when my trip to their Bureau is finished I shall stay for a time. I might visit your city. On a dark night, as you leave your laboratory to go home, a heavy hand shall fall upon your shoulder-"

He stopped. Drakken appeared so nervous he feared the blue man might faint or wet himself.

Wade pulled a card from his wallet. "If you do visit Middleton we would be honored to have you as our guest. Demonstrate we are capable of some good manners."

Herr Flickmann took the card, "Perhaps, but now I must rest."

The twins went out the door. Bego motioned with her hand for the monster to lean over, as if she wished to whisper something in his ear. When he bent over she suddenly kissed him on the cheek, "Thank. you. Meeting. you. has. given. me. hope."

"How is this?" he asked, puzzled.

"For. refusing. to. be. a. monster, despite. what. people. think. of. you."

Unable to find words he remained silent, but Joss noticed a grin on his face.

Even before the closed behind them Drakken's loud whisper came back, "Why did you invite him to visit us?"

The monster's smile broadened. They were Americans, and by all indications insane, but perhaps he would tour their country and even see them again.

Jim and Tim planned to stay in Germany for the weapons show. It would be a good chance to see what was going on and make some contacts. The other four took a late morning flight back to the states.

"I. am. glad. we. are. in. first. class." 'Anna Lipsky' told her 'father'. She turned around and looked to where Joss and Wade sat in the last row of first class seats on the other side. "Should. I. offer. to. switch. seats. with. Wade?"

"Not if you want either of them to ever speak with you again."

She smiled. Bego took pride in how well she had learned to smile. "You. are. right."

"So, what will you do when we get back to Middleton," the blue man asked.

"With. my. cousins. in. Germany. I. will. call. Erin. and. ask. if. she. wants. to. see. a. movie. with. me. The. third. musketeer. is. usually. out. with. Wade. but. it. will. be. nice. to. be. two. musketeers. again. for. an. evening."

"I am sorry," Drakken said, experiencing one of the rare moments when he thought of someone besides himself, and patting her on the hand. "You really are something like a daughter to me. If I can ever help you, let me know."

"Can. I. borrow. the. car. to. go. to. the. movies. dad?" She had a newly acquired state license even if she lacked an international license.

He laughed, "Yes." They each had books in their carry-ons, and spent most of the flight reading and sometimes chatting.

In the last first class row, on the other side of the plane, Wade apologized, "Well, I'm afraid it wasn't much of a honeymoon, was it?"

Joss sighed, "Just bein' with you is fun."

"The next one will be better I promise."

He was shocked by the look she shot him, "I don't wanna hear any more talk like that." The poor genius looked so crestfallen she had to add, "Not for a few more years anyway. I gotta get through college before I do any thinkin' like that."

"I'm through college," he reminded her.

She giggled, "Well, you still need to learn some more patience. Now ask the stewardess for a couple blankets."

While Wade got the blankets she raised the armrest between the seats and when Wade sat down and covered her up she curled up beside him, his arm around her, and she went immediately to sleep.

Wade enjoyed the feel of his arm around her until he too fell asleep. It was hard to be patient when he loved her so much. He felt like he'd been waiting for her all his life and feared she might find someone more worthy of her in college.

Tim went back to the hotel after seeing the other four off and called Zita. "Jim and I are staying in Germany for a couple days, everyone else is on their way home. Any messages for us?"

She swore at him briefly, "I'm not your answering service."

"I know you're not. Any messages?"

"Yeah, Erin is ready to skin both of your worthless hides."

"Ouch."

"I sent her flowers, signed by both of you."

"Thanks, Zee."

"It's coming out of your paychecks."

"Ah, man! You hardly pay us anything."

"And Destruction Inc. doesn't earn anything for the firm. I don't know why Lipsky and Load grubstake you with a lab and equipment in the hope you'll invent something profitable some day. All you do is play around and blow things up."

"Grubsteak? More like grubhamburger. I'm sure we'd be more inventive if they threw a few more shekels our way."

"Finish college or invent something worthwhile, then you can talk with me."

"Yes, boss," he grumbled.

"And what are the eight important words?"

"Keep my credit slips for the expense account?"

"Those are the ones. I'll tell Kim and your parents that you called."

"Thanks Zee."

-The End-