S... Is for a Lot of Things
Max felt his heart stop as he looked at his sister’s limp figure sprawled across the floor. He bent down and gently pulled her out of the room. 99 slammed the door to the freezer shut so that the rest of the noxious fumes would stay where they had originated. She then helped Max carry Marcy outside of the school and over to a bus stop bench on the other side of the street. After a few minutes, Marcy began to cough and regain some semblance of consciousness.
Max took in a deep breath of relief. “Thank goodness you’re okay! I guess this means my theory was wrong.”
“Which theory was that, Max?” asked 99.
“His wrong one,” wheezed Marcy.
“Well, I was thinking that the Kaos agents gassed Fairfax with a poison gas,” shrugged Max. “So much for me coming up with an insight as to what was going on.”
99 bit the inside of her lip as she thought to herself. “Max, that’s really not a bad idea. It’s just an idea that merits more investigation and it’s likely that you just might be right after we check it out.”
Marcy let out a snort. “I most certainly hope he was wrong! If that stuff was poison, then I shouldn’t be here!”
“Just what were you doing in there?” asked 99.
“99,” interrupted Max, in a nasally tone, “Marcy’s my sister and I’d like to handle this myself.”
“Right, Max,” sighed 99, rolling her eyes.
Max scowled at his sister. “Marcy, just what were you doing in there?”
Marcy sighed. “You’ll probably find most of this incredible, but I have a theory.”
“It’s probably wrong,” muttered Max.
Marcy ignored her brother and continued telling her story to 99. “I think that this spy bunch that’s abducting the girls has some sort of secret panel in that freezer.”
“And because of that reason you just decided to up and run into a gas chamber?” asked Max, incredulously.
“No!” said Marcy, her mouth forming a tight little frown. “I’ve had that theory since we read Miss Fairfax’s log book. What made me want to check out the freezer just a few minutes ago was the voice we heard upstairs in the dorm. There’s a heat vent right under the bed and that’s where all that moaning was coming from –at least that’s how it sounded. Since the freezer was right below the dorm, I thought maybe someone was locked in it.”
“Obviously, 99, this was the ‘old use the heat vents as a speaker system trick,’” concluded Max.
99 rubbed the side of her head with her forefinger. “Why would a freezer need a heating vent? It’s a freezer! It doesn’t use heat!”
Marcy shrugged. “I don’t know, but this freezer certainly has one –I watched the gas come out of it!”
“Then it’s probably for the air conditioner,” said Max off-handedly.
There were times when 99 found Max’s blindsided opinions endearing, but this was not one of those times. She looked over at Marcy, who was more interested in scratching her arm, and then looked back at the school. It was painfully clear to her that the only way they could wrap up the case was to go back into the school.
“Max,” said 99, pulling him away so that Marcy was out of earshot, “we’ve got to get back in there! It’s our only chance to end all this.”
Max bit the inside of his lip and looked at 99. “That, 99, is a dumb idea!”
“Max, it’s our only—“
“I don’t care, 99!” interrupted Max, raising his voice. “You’re not going in there again. First of all, it’s not safe. Second, Kaos probably knows who you are by now. Third, infiltrating that place is too dangerous for a girl and incase you haven’t been paying attention, you happen to be a girl, 99!”
“Thanks for noticing, Max,” muttered 99 sarcastically. “I suppose we’d better report all this to the Chief and let him decide what to do.”
Max nodded. He was about to grab 99 by the hand and start off down the street, but he remembered their tag-along. With some reluctance, he approached his sister who was violently rubbing her arm on the side of the park bench. He raised an eyebrow at this display. It did not surprise him that his sister had a few unusual quirks, but he strongly doubted that scratching herself on strange and rusted public benches could be counted among her habits.
“What are you doing?” asked Max. “If you keep that up people will stare!”
Marcy glared up at him. “For your information, Maxwell, I happen to have developed a rash –all thanks to your Kaos friends!”
Max shook his head and grabbed Marcy by the arm and ushered her over to where 99 was waiting. Before they headed in the direction of the police station, Max turned to her and crossed his arms across his chest. “Do you have anything else you’d like to declare?”
“Yes,” said Marcy, tilting her chin up. “I want workman’s compensation.”
* * * * *
Max tapped his pen nervously on the coffee table in Dr. Tipper Tarper’s waiting room. Marcy’s need for medical attention, combined with her barrage of complaints, shifted their visit with the Chief a notch down the priority ladder. Both Max and 99 found the idea of a person being examined and treated by a coroner a bit odd. However, Tarper’s medical reign in Rocksburg extended far beyond the realm of forensic science. The citizens of the fair town of Rocksburg, seeing only the “Dr.” before his name, assumed he was the Marcus Welby that could cure their sniffles. Tarper was only too willing to capitalize on this brand of ignorance. He justified his scheme by simply declaring that he was only an insignificant spec in a larger network of old men that were regularly passed off in clinics, universities, and government agencies as doctors.
This left 86 with nothing better to do but tap his pen and glance over at 99, who was pretending to file her nails. It was obvious to him that her current obsession with finger hygiene was an act because 99 was a stellar agent and a stellar agent never filed her nails on a mission. Files were too valuable to a spy to be used as a grooming tool and fingernail bits left too much evidence. Furthermore, public nail filing was just a messy habit and the 99 that Max knew was not prone to messy habits. What made this idiosyncrasy even more suspicious was that each time he looked away, she would stop filing her nails. She would then resume when he peered up from his pen tapping to catch a glimpse of her.
Plain and simple, 99 was giving him the cold treatment. Deciding not to let the knee-deep tension get the better of him, Max turned his attention to the half open door. No sooner did he fix his gaze on the threshold than did someone walk through it.
“Max!” exclaimed the Chief, walking into the room. “What on earth happened?”
“I think it was ‘the old gas the teacher in the freezer trick,’ Chief,” concluded Max. “This is the second time this week for that trick!”
“It could have all been prevented if someone hadn’t been so nosey,” sniffed 99, stuffing her nail file into her purse.
“99, would you stop being so judgmental,” snapped Max.
The Chief cleared his throat rather loudly and gave Max a hard look. “86 and 99, I will need cooperation from both of you in order to solve this case.”
The examining room then creaked open and Marcy, followed by Tarper, walked into the waiting room. Seeing the Chief in the room made her want to turn and go back into the examining room –even if it was the same room used to dissect corpses. She edged towards the door and looked at the coroner with a fretful expression.
“Are you sure I’m okay? Would you bet your life on it?” she asked.
“You’re fine!” insisted Tarper.
“But how would you know? You only work on dead people!” cried Marcy.
“You’re breathing, aren’t you?” asked Tarper, walking over to his desk.
Before Marcy could utter the word “Quack” that was forming on her lips, the Chief ushered her over to the vault. He then motioned for Max and 99 to follow him. Ready as ever, Max jumped up and headed for the door –only to trip over the coffee table in the process.
“I’ve requested another viewing of the body and I’d like Marcy to join us,” explained the Chief as he waited for Max to pick himself and the magazines up off of the floor.
Max put the magazines back in somewhat of a fanned out arrangement. He then walked up to the scowling Chief, the smirking Marcy, and the eye-rolling 99 and straightened his tie. Clearly it was time to divert attention from himself.
“Pretty convenient having a morgue and a doctor’s office all in one place,” remarked Max as they walked into the vault.
“Oh yeah,” nodded Marcy. "It's like one stop shopping –you can get diagnosed and pronounced dead all on one trip.”
The Chief and 99 traded pained looks as Max opened one of the vaults. At the sound of the drawer sliding open, Marcy walked over to the other side of the room and pretended to study a plastic model skeleton. Max groaned and pulled his sister back over to the group. He noticed that she was sucking her thumb and despite raised eyebrows from both the Chief and 99, she did not seem to have any inhibitions about her behavior. Rolling his eyes, Max pulled her thumb from her mouth and handed her his handkerchief.
“Thumb sucking is unnecessary, Marcy,” said Max, resting his hands on top of the drawer. “Miss Fairfax is one drawer over. No one is in this drawer.”
“But Max,” said 99, trying to hide an amused smirk, “what is that you’re resting your hands on?”
Max looked down and found that he was resting his hands on top of a sheet-draped figure. His first reaction was to do a double take. His second reaction was to scream and stick his thumb in his mouth all in one motion. Ignoring Max’s actions, the Chief pulled back the sheet covering the body.
“I’d like you all to take a look at her arm,” he instructed.
Max took his thumb out of his mouth and bent over the body. “It looks a little waxy, Chief. I’m sure make-up will take care of that –or we could lay her out in long sleeves.”
The Chief sighed and turned to 99. “Do you notice anything?”
“She has a rash like Marcy’s,” observed 99. “Isn’t that strange, though? Why a rash?”
“According to our lab work, 99, this is a side effect of the gas Kaos is using. Agent Temple had the same rash and we’ve come to the conclusion that a chemical used in the gas causes the skin to break out,’ explained the Chief.
“What about my theory that it was poison gas?” asked Max.
“For now, Max, poison is out,” said the Chief, shaking his head. “This is a type of new knockout gas. The boys in the lab tested it and they’ve found that it only causes the victim to loose consciousness for a period of time depending on how much gas is inhaled.”
“Well, it’s certainly not healthy gas,” snapped Marcy, scratching her arm. “By the way, you’re forgetting that Miss Temple drowned –in the bathtub.”
The Chief recovered the body and slid the drawer back in the vault. He looked over at his two agents and rubbed his chin. His situation was easily likened to being cornered on a chessboard. It was the point in the game where any move was a wrong one.
“Why do they keep changing their strategy?” asked the Chief to no one in particular. “There’s no pattern to any of this.”
“They’re educators,” explained Marcy. “They want to make you think!”
“Chief,” interrupted 99, “the school is the key to this case and we’ll never tie up all these loose ends if we can’t get back in.”
“We could wear haz-mat suits, 99,” offered Max.
The Chief only shook his head at that comment. “We need to know our enemies better before we make any house calls.”
“But Chief,” protested Max. “We don’t know who the culprit is –it could be the whole school or it could be just the lunch lady.”
“Maxwell, Maxwell…” sighed Marcy, clicking her tongue. “You’ve got to narrow it down through motive and means!”
“Marcy,” said 99 in a syrupy sweet voice, “why don’t you cut out the side commentary and help us out. Haven’t you noticed anything else unusual about the school?”
Marcy twisted her lips as she thought about the number of things that had bothered her during her tenure. “The clocks are all off beat in there.”
“She’s right,” nodded Max. “Plus they’re off by five minutes.”
“Max, that information is irrelevant! This is turning into a waste of time,” cried the Chief. He then looked over at Marcy. “Think, Marcy, do you find anything strange about the faculty?”
Marcy shrugged and sighed. “I don’t know… the teachers are all pretty normal –except for the ones that got killed. The school nurse and cook seem to be on the level. The headmistress is a bit eccentric. I think she’s obsessed with clocks.”
99 snapped her fingers. “I noticed that too. Maybe we shouldn’t dismiss the fact that the clocks are off. Kaos could be using them for something.”
“That’s still hard to say without knowing which Kaos agents are behind this,” frowned the Chief, shaking his head. “Is there anything else, Marcy?”
“Your only other suspect is the caretaker, Mr. Sexton,” said Marcy, making a face as if she had tasted something sour. “I really don’t like him!”
The Chief massaged his forehead and looked over at Max and 99. “That’s more information than we had before, but I still can’t send you back in there. As part of a contingency plan, I have a team of special agents coming up from Washington. Once they arrive, the school will be raided and this case will be closed.”
“Special agents” frowned 99. “Chief, why didn’t I hear about this contingency plan?”
“It was a classified contingency plan,” said the Chief, in a firm tone. “I’m sorry, 99, but I can’t afford to keep you on this mission. You’re out.”
“What about me, Chief?” asked Max, hoping his superior would show some leniency.
“Forget it Max. You were never in!” said the Chief, walking to the door. “Now, why don’t you both take some time off and relax. You’ll be contacted with any new developments.”
The Chief walked out of the room just in time to miss Max mimic his parting words. The idea of other agents taking over the case did not sit well with 86. He glared at the door the Chief had walked through and then, out of frustration, plowed his fist into one of the vaults. The vibrations caused the slightly ajar vault above to pop open and smack him along the back of his head.
“Nice of the Chief to drop that bomb on us,” muttered Max. “You’d get the impression he thinks we’re incapable with that kind of attitude.”
“Maybe the Chief’s right,” sighed 99. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with. Kaos could have anything planned.”
* * * * *
Mrs. Recktor’s office was abuzz with the sounds of ticking, chirping, and moaning. The ticking came from the several dozen clocks sitting in the room, the chirping from the coo-coo clocks going off simultaneously, and the moaning from the headmistress herself. After finding the freezer empty and both Miss Rivers and Mrs. Adair truant, it was apparent that her plan to eliminate the Control agent had been botched.
“I don’t see how we could have failed,” sighed Sexton.
“Then you should open your eyes and look at why your methods are so obvious!” snapped Mrs. Recktor, picking up an alarm clock on her desk and winding it.
“My methods? I was just following orders!” protested Sexton.
The headmistress clicked her tongue. “If you thought my orders were inadequate, then you should have spoken up! A good agent would do that. A good agent would also know that if you want to catch a spy, you’ve got to keep them guessing –hence why we stopped gassing people in the hall closet and in the bathroom.”
“At least Marcy Adair is out of our way,” mumbled Sexton.
“And you think that is a good thing?” sniffed Recktor, slamming the alarm clock down on the desk. “If she isn’t causing us grief, then she’s off telling her friend Ziegler about every nook and cranny of this building. I was secretly hoping that she would be our lucky victim.
“How do you propose we lure the Control agent back?” asked Sexton.
“How do you propose we lure her back?” demanded Mrs. Recktor.
“A threatening phone call,” suggested Sexton.
“Sexton, how many times must I tell you that stupid ideas get stupid results? She’ll just hang up on you and not give it a second thought,” scoffed Mrs. Recktor. “Why don’t you be just a little more cryptic and stick a fake message in her soup bowl?”
“Because we don’t know if she’ll be eating soup,” snapped Sexton. “If you really want to stick something in her soup bowl, then it might as well be poison.”
“Fine then,” sniffed Mrs. Recktor, sticking her nose in the air. “I propose we do nothing.”
Sexton’s jaw dropped. “You can’t be serious –that’s Plan 42! No one ever uses Plan 42!”
“Then let this be a first!” said Mrs. Recktor, pounding a fist onto her desk. “The simple fact is, Sexton, that we do too much for Control by throwing clues about all the time. They are just going to have to make do without our assistance for once.”
“You have a point,” agreed Sexton, drumming his fingers on the desk, “but I still wonder how effective this will be.”
The headmistress glared at the fingers tapping on her desk. She then picked up a ruler and cracked it across Sexton’s knuckles. “If you had read the Kaos Manifesto, you would recall that doing nothing is the best form of bait!”
Sexton rubbed his skinned knuckles. “I thought that nothing results in nothing.”
“Yes –as in nothing more of our friends from Control!”
* * * * *
99 let out a discontented sigh that evening as she walked into a somewhat deserted pub by the name of Hard Times. It was dinnertime and nearly time for Max’s Gibson. Considering this was the sole eatery in town that sold liquor, she was fairly certain that this was the only place her partner would be –especially after the day they had.
The bartender leaning against the horseshoe bar motioned for her to have a seat. Obliging, 99 marched halfway into the smoking section. She stopped in mid-step when she heard a familiar nasally voice. Glancing to her right, she could see that Max and Marcy were seated in a booth only a few feet away from where she was standing. Hoping he had not noticed her, she slid into the both behind his. As she listened to the chatter drifting from his booth, she discovered that the two were involved in a deep discussion. Wrinkling her nose at the idea of being excluded, she decided to eavesdrop like a good spy.
“Max, the reason that your boss won’t let you and that... that number girl go in there is because you’re not expendable,” explained Marcy.
“99 has a name, Marcy,” snapped Max.
Marcy groaned. “Sulking isn’t going to solve this mess, Maxwell. The sure way to find out what’s going on is to get captured. Infiltration! That’s what spies do, right?”
Max drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Yes, spies do that -just not sisters of spies, friends of spies, and acquaintances of spies. Marcy, don’t tell me you’re thinking of getting yourself caught!”
“I’m not thinking of getting caught –I’m counting on it,” she said, a grin playing on her lips. “Your friends with Kaos won’t be expecting me and I don’t work for Control so they wouldn’t get much by wasting their efforts on me. I’m going to go back to that school tonight and find out what’s so fantastic about that freezer. Then maybe –just maybe- I’ll find out why your spy buddies are getting killed and why innocent girls are being kidnapped!”
Hearing this, 99 could only shake her head as she glanced at Max’s booth. She watched him jump in his seat and lean closer to his sister. 99 looked down at her menu and decided that, had he been facing her, his black marble eyes had probably sprung out on springs.
“Marcy, that’s suicide!” cried Max. “You can’t do that –you’re a civilian! I’m a trained agent and I wouldn’t even consider going into a situation like that without a gun.”
“That’s why I took your mouser out of your suitcase,” snicker Marcy. “You might as well save your sermons, Maxwell. My decision is final! There is nothing you could do or say to make me change my mind.”
“How about pretty please with a cherry on top?” offered Max.
That said, 99 could not help but scoot in her seat so she could peer at their booth. She tried not to smile as Marcy rolled her eyes at Max. Marcy then got out of her seat and took a glance around the restaurant. Almost instantaneously she and 99 made eye contact that could only be described as a derisive glance. 99 pretended not to notice while Marcy bent down next to Max.
“Perhaps while I’m away, you could take the time to teach your girlfriend eavesdropping techniques that are not so obvious,” suggested Marcy.
99 glared at Marcy as she walked past her booth. Part of her wanted to clobber the woman, but the rest of her was not the type of person that would resort to violence… mostly. She looked over at Max with a degree of steeliness in her blue eyes. She watched him down his Gibson as she leaned over the seat back.
“And when do I get my eavesdropping lessons, Mr. Smart?” asked 99 in a huff.
“99,” sighed Max, “Marcy’s just acting jealous. She always used to get a little catty when I’d play with other kids.”
99 raised an eyebrow. “She’s also acting stupid! What is she thinking? There is a strong potential for another casualty and a civilian being a target certainly won’t make the Chief happy!”
“Yeah,” nodded Max. “That kind of thing is pretty bad for PR. 99, I tried to talk her out of it, but you see how she is! She’s headstrong, overeager, and she thinks she’s immune to danger.”
“Reminds me of someone else I know,” mused 99.
Max, however, missed that hint. He could not get his mind to move off of his sister plunging herself into some horrible unknown peril. At the moment, the idea was too much to condense into one small problem that could be dissected and dealt with.
“I just don’t know what to do about her,” he finally sighed.
99 got up and moved into the seat Marcy had been sitting in. “Max, why didn’t you ever mention that you had a sister?”
“You never asked,” shrugged Max. He looked over at 99’s annoyed scowl and took a deep breath. “Alright, 99… Marcy didn’t live with us. My father sent her away when we were still in grade school. He claimed that he couldn’t give her a pair of pants and send her to work because girls didn’t wear pants.”
“That’s absurd, Max,” said 99, flatly.
“Yes,” nodded Max, “it’s also not entirely true.”
“Then why did you tell me that?” asked 99, confused.
“Well that’s what my father told me. He was in denial. See, 99, Marcy’s… well she’s… she’s the weird one.”
99 nodded. “I’ve gathered that much.”
“But you don’t know all of it,” he said, shaking his head. “She has some sort of attraction to death, murder, and crime. It’s like she just sniffs it out. I don’t understand it –a nice girl like her…”
“What did she do?”
Max sighed and massaged his forehead. “To make a long story short, we were playing in a neighborhood we shouldn’t have been in –you know Washington. Marcy wandered away from the group and the next thing we know, she’s a witness to some guy shooting another guy. It was decided, after some of the mess had been sorted out, that it would be best if she were moved to where no one could find her.”
“Witness relocation?” asked 99.
“Kind of,” said Max, looking up at 99. “Well, 99, that’s the story! How’d you like it?”
“How did I… Max, what do you mean?” asked 99, wondering why he would ask such a question about a tale as depressing as the one he had just told her.
“Did I tell it with enough depth? Enough emotion?”
99 rolled her eyes. “Max, I think we’d better go after her and find out what she’s up to.”
Max looked up at 99 as if she had muttered something blasphemous. “What do you mean by the word we, 99? I can’t let you go with me –it’s simply too dangerous! You tagging along with me is out of the question and there is nothing –absolutely nothing- that you could do or say to make me change my mind!”
“Oh Max…” purred 99, leaning across the table so that they were eye to eye and almost lip to lip. “I want to!”
Max felt all his resolution give way as her perfume drifted by his nose. With that purr she had him cornered and he had no other alternative but to relent. He knew from day one that once 99 purred her request, any other word but “yes” lost all meaning.
Adding to the current meltdown of his spine was that the idea of kissing his partner had entered his head. He wanted to grab her and kiss her right at that moment –it was all too tempting. It was also all too unprofessional in a public setting as far as he was concerned. Max regained his composure and tried to look into 99’s blue eyes without turning into a pile of mush.
“Okay, you can come too,” he said weakly.
“Oh… Max!” beamed 99. “Thank-you!”
It was that “Oh Max” that made Mr. Smart really fly apart. He could not help but think of all the missed opportunities he had had with 99. There had been times just like this one that their lips had –almost barely- missed it by that much. The memories pounded into him like shrapnel, but this time, he decided, would be different.
His carpe diem in full swing, Max grabbed 99 by her shoulders and smashed his lips into hers. It was contact –and contact like no other. Fireworks exploded, bells rang, bands played, and roses bloomed. Just as his Chanel No. 5 filled ecstasy had begun, it came to a crashing and strangely dark end. Max broke away from 99 and gave her a confused look. The last moment he would ever remember from that kiss was his head crashing onto the table.
99 looked down at her unconscious partner and shook her head pitifully. “Oh Max… of all the times you would decided to kiss me, it had to be now. You just had to make a move when I was wearing my knockout lipstick.”
COPYRIGHT ©1999-2018 BY AMANDA HAVERSTICK.
Just hold your horses! Max might be in the land of nod now, but the show is far from over! Everything will simmer to a nice boil in the forthcoming Part Five.
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