Title: A 'Short' Story
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Events take an unexpected turn during an Agency stakeout.
A 'Short' Story
There's an old Chinese proverb that says, "Every day cannot be a feast of lanterns". I realise that, but would it be so bad to let me have one good day every once in a while?
"Can you save it?" Darien asked anxiously, staring intently at the woman standing in front of him.
"I'm sorry honey," she replied bleakly, "It's so badly damaged, I think it's a lost cause. No chemical treatments I know of will sort this mess out. I realise it's going be painful, but I think we have to face facts, nothing short of a drastic intervention is going to work."
Darien swallowed nervously. This woman knew her stuff and if she said there was no other answer, then he had to accept her advice. The Keeper with all her scientific know-how hadn't been able to offer any assistance and had warned him that even an expert in the field was unlikely to come up with a solution. It looked like she was right.
"Okay, lets do it," he muttered, admitting defeat. "I don't suppose you offer anaesthesia do you?" he quipped weakly.
"I'm afraid not," she said with a sympathetic smile, moving over to collect the necessary instruments. "I'll save what I can, but I'm not making any promises."
Darien laid his head against the chair he was reclining in and let his mind wander back to that morning. The day had started so promisingly….
"There once was a Keeper called Claire,
Whose head sported lovely blond hair,
Our Bobby was smitten,
But like a shy kitten,
To tell her, he never would dare."
"I'm warnin' you Fawkes, if you don't quit it with those freakin' limericks, I'm gonna rip out your tongue and feed it to your rat!" Bobby exclaimed angrily. The kid wasn't the only one in danger either. He fully intended to make a certain other person suffer for buying his partner the cause of this obsession.
"Aw c'mon man, they're fun," Darien protested. The book of limericks Eberts had given him for his birthday had been a source of much amusement for weeks, but he'd read it from cover to cover and was now indulging his own imagination in creating new ones. "Anyway," he continued, " it stops my brain from turning to mush."
"Way too late for that my friend," Hobbes asserted, shaking his head in mock regret.
"Ha, ha, very funny," Darien replied good-naturedly. He was sure nothing could dampen his spirits today; after all, it looked like Arnaud was finally going to get what was coming to him. They were staking out a seemingly derelict building thought to be his arch-enemy's new base of operations. Checking his watch, Darien allowed himself a small smile; Arnaud should be turning up within the hour if the lead was legitimate.
The door at the back of the van opened noisily and a breathless Eberts hastily climbed in, carrying a large picnic hamper.
"Hey man, where've you been?" Darien asked curiously. "You've been gone over an hour and the nearest deli's only ten minutes away,"
"Oh…well, I only live a few blocks away, so I took the liberty of preparing our afternoon repast," he replied in his usual precise manner. "I see no reason why we should miss out on a nutritious meal just because we are engaged in a surveillance operation." He opened the lid to reveal cucumber sandwiches with the crusts removed, a large bowl of Caesar salad and half a dozen English muffins. A large bottle of sparkling mineral water and three crystal glasses completed the 'feast'.
"Christ Eberts, I knew we shoulda left you back at the Agency! This ain't no garden party at Buck House and we're NOT tryin' to impress the Queen!" Hobbes exclaimed loudly. "There's a long tradition for stakeout food ya know? Anything with a fat content so high it'll clog your arteries in seconds, and enough coffee to keep you awake for three days straight."
"Oh, I just thought…" Eberts muttered, crestfallen.
"Hey Ebes, don't mind him, his blood sugar's a little low that's all." Darien reached into the hamper and snatched a couple of muffins. "There ya go partner, chew on that," he said throwing one to Hobbes and taking a bite out of the other. "Wow, these are great Ebes, you make them yourself?"
Eberts blushed bright red, "Well, um, yes actually, it's my grandmother's recipe. I find baking rather therapeutic after a stressful day at the Agency. If you follow the instructions precisely the results are perfect. So much more satisfying than real life, where there are no such guarantees," he concluded regretfully.
"You can say that again Ebes," Darien agreed in a wistful tone.
"When you guys have stopped philosophising, you think we could concentrate on the here and now? I think we got ourselves a winner," Hobbes interjected pointing to a white SUV pulling up outside the derelict building.
"There he is," whispered Eberts, as a skinny figure clad in dark blue overalls, with matching baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, emerged from the vehicle and disappeared inside the single storey building. The three other men accompanying him, who were all dressed in a similar fashion, looked around furtively and then removed a number of bulging backpacks from the SUV before following him.
"Do we move in now?" Eberts asked, deferring to Hobbes' greater experience.
"You my friend are going nowhere," Hobbes informed him grimly. "I have enough trouble keeping the kid here in one piece without having to watch your back."
"Besides, you're much better at coordinating things than we are," Darien added quickly noticing Eberts' disappointment. "We'll keep in touch via the headsets and you can send in backup if we need it, okay?"
"Of course Darien," Eberts replied promptly. "I'll tell the others you're moving in and to stand by."
With that, the partners left the van. Darien grabbed Hobbes' arm and they quickly disappeared from sight.
Within a couple of minute they were visible again and positioned outside the entrance, listening attentively for any sounds within. When they heard nothing, Hobbes motioned for them to proceed.
Once inside, Darien quicksilvered his eyes to see through the pervading gloom. Cables hung loosely from damaged walls and piles of debris littered the ground, but otherwise the warehouse was empty.
"Not exactly a hive of nefarious activity huh?" Darien asked rhetorically, taking in the scene before him.
"Yeah, well they gotta've gone somewhere," Hobbes commented reasonably. "They can't just disappear into thin air."
Darien let his eyes rove around the interior, but could see no other exit. However, he did notice something. "Over there," he said pointing to an elevator at the far end of the room. "I guess there must be a basement."
"Some of us don't have your built in night vision my friend," Hobbes pointed out sniffily. "Mind helping me out a little here?"
Darien placed his hand over Bobby's eyes and let the quicksilver flow. "There you go…better?"
"Thanks Fawkesy. Okay, lets go check it out." He led the way towards the elevator, carefully avoiding the potential hazards strewn all around.
"How are we gonna get down there without letting him know we're coming?" Darien asked, hoping his partner would have a surprisingly sneaky spy tactic up his sleeve.
"Don't think the covert approach is gonna be an option here my friend," Hobbes admitted reluctantly. "We're gonna have to call in backup and go down there with a show of force."
Twenty minutes later Fawkes and Hobbes were packed into the creaking elevator car along with seven of the Agency's finest, ready to strike just as soon as the doors opened on the lower level.
"What is it about Arnaud and basement labs?" Darien moaned unhappily, in an attempt to distract his anxious thoughts.
"I guess being the slime he is, he prefers dank, dark places," Hobbes quipped, seemingly unconcerned by the tense atmosphere. He checked his weapon and stood poised, prepared for anything.
A slight jolt announced their arrival and as soon as the doors slid open Hobbes led the seven armed agents out into the corridor. There had seemed no point in Darien quicksilvering everyone, Arnaud's men were always issued with thermal glasses.
"All clear," one of the agents called, when it became obvious there were no hostile forces lying in wait.
Darien exited the elevator car and joined Hobbes as he made his way towards a large metal door standing ajar a mere ten yards in front of them. Pushing the door open fully they looked inside to find a storage room devoid of anything save a few discarded empty boxes and a manhole, with the cover removed.
"They must have gone down there," Hobbes said in disgust, staring down to see it led to a large, evil smelling sewer.
"No shit Sherlock," Darien replied sarcastically. His partner was one of the best agents he had ever met and could usually offer very insightful comments, but sometimes he just seemed to revel in stating the obvious.
Hobbes ignored Fawkes and addressed Eberts over the audio feed. "Eberts we're gonna need some protective clothing down here as soon as possible. They've gone into the sewer system."
Back at the van, Eberts acknowledged the request and pondered how the Agency budget was going to accommodate this unexpected expense.
"What the hell are these?" Darien demanded as Eberts handed out the items he had managed to procure to protect them during their foray down into the sewer. "Not exactly state of the art hazmat gear now is it?"
"I'm sorry Darien, but the Agency's hazmat suits are on lease to the FBI this week, providing much needed funds to facilitate the repair of the office coffee machine," Eberts informed him without a hint of embarrassment. "The items I managed to pick up at the local convenience store should provide more than adequate protection."
"Yeah, sure," was Darien's unconvinced reply. He looked down at the plastic rain cape, bright yellow rubber gloves and disposable shower cap he'd been given and shuddered at the new low the Agency's poor financial state was forcing them to endure. Sighing deeply, he put them on and followed Hobbes into the sewer. He could endure a few indignities if it led to the capture of one Arnaud de Fohn.
Slogging through the sewer pipe was just about the worst journey of Darien's life. They brushed past every sort of slime, fungi and lichen known to man, and probably some that hadn't even been classified yet. There was also the unmistakable stench of illegally dumped noxious chemicals. His tall frame meant he had to bend almost double to make headway and it didn't bode well for his troublesome back, in fact he could already feel the muscles preparing to rebel.
"What's that?" queried Hobbes half an hour later. Everyone stopped and strained their ears to listen. Muffled sounds from a half familiar song drifted to them through the echoing pipe. They moved forward and the words suddenly became recognisable.
"Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head,
Give 'em a twist, a flick o' the wrist,
That's what the showman said.
I've got a lovely bunch of Coconuts…"
"Strange anthem for a group of terrorists don't you think?" Darien asked in confusion.
"You ever met a terrorist who was firing on all cylinders? Takes a certain kind of wacko to blow themselves and anyone who gets in their way to kingdom come," Hobbes replied with a knowing nod of the head. "Get ready and be prepared for anything," he cautioned, addressing the others.
Just around the next curve in the pipe there was a huge crack, large enough for an adult to pass through. It seemed Arnaud and his cronies had headed that way. Squeezing through, the group found themselves in a relatively small natural cavern, with a broad passageway leading off to the left.
What the hell was Arnaud doing down here? Darien was beginning to get the feeling that their expedition was throwing up a lot more questions than answers and things were definitely heading to the town of Weirdsville.
They moved out, heading down the passageway. The singing was getting louder and around the next corner they were confronted by the four men they were tracking, busily chipping samples of quartz from the surrounding rock.
"Freeze!" Hobbes shouted impressively. His voice echoed and reverberated through the cave system, magnifying the sound threefold. The men stood transfixed and one dropped his tools on the floor with a clatter. "Don't move Arnaud, we have you surrounded and there's nowhere to run."
The faces of the four men were a mixture of fear and puzzlement, the reasons for which became abundantly clear when Darien moved forward to remove de Fohn's cap. What he revealed was a thin-faced man of perhaps fifty, with baggy eyes and a scar that ran across the full length of his forehead.
It wasn't Arnaud!
How abruptly a well-planned mission could go to hell!
The revelation that they'd been utilising valuable Agency resources to track a group of middle-aged spelunkers had sent the Official into a monumental meltdown. The cave explorers had apparently been tipped off about the discovery of the system of caverns by one of their relatives involved in condemning the earthquake-damaged building. Knowing it was due to be demolished in a couple of weeks, they had been sneaking in and out, eager to explore and collect the odd rock sample before the deadline destroyed their only means of access.
Unfortunately an overly eager informant had noticed their suspicious behaviour and mistakenly identified the leader of the group as Arnaud. A quick call to the Agency later and their not so merry wild goose chase had been initiated. It was doubtful the Official would ever be able to speak about the situation without literally foaming at the mouth.
However, Darien's own predicament was a much more pressing concern to him right now. The trip back through the sewer had been practically unbearable, but reaching the surface had proven a truly traumatic experience. Somewhere between entering the sewer and exiting it, he'd snagged his shower cap, splitting it and exposing his hair to some of the unidentified chemicals. These, mixed with the preparations already liberally coating his hair had caused an adverse reaction, resulting in the production of a glue-like substance that no amount of washing could remove.
"There," his stylist Mona announced finally, bringing him out of his reverie, "that's the best I can do for you honey."
Darien steeled himself for the grand unveiling and slowly opened the eyes he'd kept tight shut throughout the whole ordeal. Clumps of matted hair lay discarded on the floor around his chair and he feared the worst. Eventually plucking up the courage, he stared at his image in the mirror.
"Oh my God!" he murmured, imagining the teasing he was going to have to endure from his friends. His hair was less than an inch in length, probably the shortest it had ever been in his life. It was cold comfort at the moment, but what was that saying about the time between a good haircut and a bad one? It looked like the Padres' cap one of his colleagues had lent him at the scene was going to be essential attire for the next couple of weeks!