Author's Note – Morning! Next instalment of Agent Kate, hot off the press! As always, please review. This is probably my least exciting chapter of this story. Thanks go to GreatKateZonkeyMachine for beta'ing this. So… voila! Enjoy. Or don't. But do review.
Disclaimer – Still don't own the Mysterious Benedict Society. Still don't own California, but I'm working on that.
Kate Wetherall was stuffed inside a bag. Mere moments ago she had awakened to find herself sore and chafed from the rough material that surrounded her. Whatever it was, it certainly didn't do anything to prevent the freezing air from reaching her.
Trying to concentrate on something other than the considerable discomfort she was in, Kate recalled the fight in the supermarket and her untimely defeat. She must have been stuffed into this burlap sack by the Junior Tens and thrown into the back of a truck, judging by the vibrations and bumps normally associated with eighteen-wheelers. The truck must have been air conditioned, she decided, because November in Stonetown wasn't nearly as cold as this.
Quickly sizing up the situation, Kate realized that the Junior Tens were most likely taking her to their boss. The Ten Men had worked as mercenaries for whoever paid them the most, and she was willing to bet that the Junior Tens were no different. Whoever their boss was, she wanted to have an advantage when she faced him. That would mean that she would need to escape, and need to escape before she arrived wherever they were taking her.
She was tied up, but the knots weren't very expertly done and she would have little to no trouble freeing herself. The bag wasn't tied at all, but the opening was to the floor, making it difficult to get out in a hurry. There would probably be a Junior Ten standing guard to make sure she didn't do anything stupid – like try to escape – but Kate was confident that she could deal with him before she dealt with her. That just left the question of leaping out of the back of a truck that was moving at highway speeds, but that was easy – working as a secret agent, she did that sort of thing all the time.
Working quickly, Kate untied her hands with her teeth and untied her feet with her hands. She accomplished all this within the same amount of time that most people took to tie their shoes, and almost without moving the bag. From the outside, it would look like she was merely twitching in her sleep.
Once this task was accomplished, she slowly repositioned herself until her feet were at the bag's opening as opposed to her head. Mentally squaring her shoulders, Kate stood up and whipped the piece of burlap off her head.
She was greeted by the sight of Jeremy Bludgins, his face covered in bandages, staring at her in shock. This expression quickly turned to anger, and his hand whipped into his pocket, bringing out a razor-sharp pencil. "How did you get untied without me noticing?" he asked, raising his weapon to a throwing position.
"Wow! Look at that!" said Kate wildly, pointing at the steel wall of the truck behind the Junior Ten. It was the oldest trick in the book, and it worked like a dream. Jeremy said, "What?" and looked behind him. As he did, Kate's elbow crashed into the back of his neck, sending him sprawling. His forehead struck the side of the vehicle, and he slumped to the floor, once again unconscious.
Chortling slightly to herself at the easy victory, Kate stepped over Jeremy's motionless form and began to rummage in his pockets. She found dozens of pencils, a staple remover, a cell phone (she didn't want to know), a calculator, a digital camera (again, she didn't explore its purpose too carefully, lest its function be similar to the exploding calculator's), several sticks of chewing gum, breath mints, a plastic Homer Simpson keychain (what?), and a pretty blue ink pen. Kate frowned slightly. Didn't he have a laser pointer? He must – all the Ten Men had, and by the looks of things, the Junior Tens would have them too. It was conceivable, of course, that he just didn't store it in his main pockets. Kate began to look for secret pockets or hidden hiding places. Her efforts were soon rewarded; she had discovered a pocket on the inside of his sleeve, and inside she found what she had been looking for – his laser pointer.
She knew from Milligan that this little item would send out a ten-second laser beam, and that this would be her only shot for twelve hours, by which time she surely would have arrived at her destination. This would be her only try.
Kate carefully aimed the pointer at the back of the truck. Pushing the little button, she swept the device in a broad circle, leaving a trail of molten metal in its wake. As her ten seconds of laser power ended, Kate strode forward and gave the area inside the circle a good, solid kick. The steel plate fell out, landing with a crash on the road. Chill air flooded the room, and Jeremy gave a slight groan.
So the truck wasn't air conditioned, after all. How long had she been unconscious? Surely not long enough to allow the Junior Tens to drive to a place this cold.
The truck seemed to be losing speed now; perfect for a jump onto the pavement. They were still going highway speeds, but Kate had done much scarier things in her brief time as a secret agent. Leaping out of a rocket ship that was just about to take off and shooting down three miles of zip line, accelerated by a massive shockwave as the shuttle blew up behind her, for example.
But just as she was clambering out of the hole in the truck and preparing to leap, the vehicle stopped abruptly, sending her flying back into the cargo hold. She scrambled to her feet, but even as she did so, she heard Mathew McCracken and William Crawlings, Jr.'s voices directly outside.
"Jeremy! Your watch ended! My turn!"
"William, shut up and relieve him, already. The cargo hold isn't heated, you know. The poor boy will be frozen half to death in there!" The two men rounded the corner of the truck and stopped talking abruptly. "Oh. Miss Wetherall appears to have escaped." Mathew sounded worried.
They had seen the hole. Kate looked around. There was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to go but out. Even if she hid herself back in the sack, it would be pretty obvious that she had knocked out Jeremy and used his laser on the truck door. The only way out would be to fight.
Dashing over to the slightly stirring figure of the Junior Ten, Kate began emptying his pocket. She deposited the pencils in her bucket. That, at least, would give her some weaponry, if it came to bloodshed.
The door of the truck was suddenly ripped upwards. Mathew and William Crawlings, Jr. stood in the doorway, both with index cards drawn and ready to throw. When they saw Kate, they loosed the projectiles at her. She dodged, throwing a pencil at Mathew as she leaped over their heads and out into the frigid air beyond.
Unfortunately for her, William Crawlings, Jr. had the presence of mind to reach up and grab her ankle as she sailed over him. Kate swung upside down. It was lucky that she had installed the flip-top on her bucket, or all her things might have been lost. Grabbing a pencil, she stabbed her captors shin thrice. He roared in pain and dropped her, but not before Mathew pressed a white square of fabric against Kate's face.
She shook her head to throw it off, squeezing her eyes shut and holding her breath. The handkerchief fell away, but the damage had been done. The world was losing its color, turning to black and white, going out of focus, going… going…
When next she awoke, the truck was moving again and the temperature of the air must have dropped by ten degrees. Kate was no longer encased in burlap, but she was tied up, and more securely, this time. A Junior Ten sat several feet back, shivering holding a pencil at the ready. Beside him, she noticed with a lurch, were her bucket, her belt, and her shoes. She could see no way out.
Kate knew from Milligan and her careful testing of the Ten Men's weapons that the handkerchiefs would knock a person out cold for at least five hours, so she was slightly surprised to find the truck still moving. Where on earth were they taking her?
She twisted around, trying to see the place where she had burned the hole in the door.
"Don't move!" Garrotte's voice echoed in the steel box, muddling his words and distorting his usually crisp consonants. Kate froze. She was in no position to be rude and she knew it. What good would it do? She heard footsteps behind her – the Junior Ten approaching her, no doubt – and felt his drugged kerchief being pressed over her nose and mouth. And then, nothing.
The next few days passed in a sort of nightmare for Kate. Dreams of solving quadratic equations in the snow mixed confusingly with the waking world – which was a sleeping world. Every time she woke up, a Junior Ten would knock her out again. Once they fed her a stale doughnut, laughing at her attempts to bite their fingers while she ate. She was waking up again, this time (if her math was correct) for the hundredth and second time. They had been traveling for over four days.
Just as the Junior Ten stood up, handkerchief in hand, the truck stopped, sending him tumbling back to the floor. The sound of a doors slamming, relaxed conversation, and the crackle of Mathew's radio filled the frozen air. The back of the truck was wrenched open, making Kate squint.
When at last her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw before her a wonderland. Snow deeper than any that had ever fallen in Stonetown lay in drifts everywhere. The trees were sparse and bare, and no sign of animal life could be seen anywhere, save a remote stone tower that they were parked next to. Mountains surrounded the area, creating a great craggy landscape. Kate, unfortunately, was not allowed long to look at the scenery, for she was hoisted onto Mathew's back, still bound tightly, before she could even begin to take in the stark beauty of the place.
"Nunavut, Canada," grinned an extremely giddy looking Andrew Sharpe. "Like it?"
"Can't say it's much to my taste," muttered Kate.
"We're going to take you to our boss. Ha! The boss will be glad to see you! Apparently, you two have a score to settle."
"Is that so?" said Kate coolly, but she was wracking her brains. With whom did she need to settle a score? Who was this person who had employed the services of the Junior Tens? The Junior Tens wrapped a blindfold over her eyes and – by the sound of it – opened the tower's door.
They carried her for what seemed like hours, up flight and flights of stairs, conversing all the while in hushed tones. Kate only caught a few of the words – kill her… dungeon … probably … wait … Curtain – but on the whole she remained in the dark – both figuratively and literally speaking.
Finally, Henry McCraig removed her blindfold. Kate saw that they had come to a huge pair of grey stone doors engraved with the words: Quisnam gero a grudge est remuneror scelero. Mathew stood in front of the doors. He cricked his neck, cracked his knuckles, straightened his tie, and opened the heavy doors, grunting with exertion.
The room beyond was huge. It looked like a throne room, and indeed there was a throne, carved out of the same grey stone and draped with red velvet.
In the throne sat a figure. Kate saw, but did not quite comprehend. It seemed impossible. "It can't be you!" Kate said, still not willing to believe it.
The murderer of Mr. Curtain laughed softly. "So," she said, "you've come."
Author's note – That was quite a difficult chapter to write, and I'm still not satisfied with the beginning. Kate was being uncooperative, the Junior Tens were getting out of line (and in some parts quite disturbing, before I changed it) and everything I wrote sounded clunky and amateur. Like that story I wrote in second grade, not the things I write now. Ah, well. I hope you like it more than I do, because this was a rubbish (yet sadly, necessary) chapter. The next one shall be much better, as it contains actual plot. Thanks.