“Did you hear that?” Eric’s eyes darted around the Ops room.
Nell lifted her head from the computer screen. “Yeah. What was it?”
“Not sure.” Eric got up and checked behind desks and in all the corners. “Oh no. This vent cover is loose.”
Nell came to his side and saw the cover hanging by only three screws. They looked at each other. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” she asked.
“That Kensi really did see something the other day?”
“Exactly. And not just a stupid toupee.” She jabbed him in the ribs.
He leaned away from her. “Whoa! What was that for?”
“For scaring my friend.”
“She’s my friend, too,” Eric pointed out.
“Yeah, but you aided and abetted Deeks with his stupid scheme.”
“Well, okay, I did. But the original idea was all his.”
“Like that makes it better?” asked Nell.
“Whoa!” Both Eric and Nell jumped back when they heard the blood-curdling scream.
A sixty-something woman staggered breathless into the room. “Something ran down the stairs at me!” She clutched her heaving chest. “I’m three weeks from retirement. I don’t need a fright like that! I already have a weak heart.”
“Calm down, Evelyn. What exactly did you see?” asked Eric. He rolled a chair over and pushed her down into it. Nell found a bottle of water and opened it for her.
“I don’t know. But it was definitely something that should live outdoors.”
Eric and Nell shared a look. “I think we should inform Callen,” said Eric. “We can’t have, well, whatever it is running loose and scaring our people.”
“Agreed,” said Nell.
Callen was at Hetty’s desk reviewing reports. He wanted to be sure everything was up-to-date before their Operations Manager returned. Out of his peripheral vision, he thought he saw something. His head snapped to the left, but nothing was visible.
Okay, maybe I’ve been reading too many reports and now I’m hallucinating.
Then he heard something. From somewhere behind him came a faint rustling sound.
The credenza. Something’s over there.
He took a flashlight from the drawer and shone it behind Hetty’s antique credenza. “Well, I’ll be . . .”
A scuffle ensued and suddenly one of Hetty’s teacups, which was sitting on top of the credenza, crashed to the floor.
Eric walked up and both he and Callen stared at the floor in shock. “Tell me that didn’t just happen,” said Eric as he sucked in a breath. “You know that was her favorite one.”
“I wish it didn’t just happen,” said Callen. “Kensi was right. There’s a mouse in here. I saw its beady little eyes.”
“I was coming to tell you that something scared the crap out of Evelyn a minute ago as she was coming up to Ops.”
Sam, Kensi, and Deeks all returned from interviewing witnesses at that moment. Everyone stared in horror at the broken pieces on the floor. Callen released a weary sigh. “I’ll have to find a replacement somewhere.”
“Royal Doulton. Discontinued pattern,” said Eric.
All eyes turned to him. “You know this, how?” inquired Callen.
“My Nana has the same set.”
A look of relief passed over Callen’s face. “Good. Can I buy one of her cups?”
“You can’t break up a set,” said Eric with a frown. “Besides, my aunt Millie has dibs on it. She even made Nana put that in her will.”
“Seriously?” said Deeks.
“In her will?” said Sam.
“Fine china is a point of honor with the Beale women,” said Eric.
“That’s why I prefer Styrofoam,” said Callen as he lifted his cup.
Nell joined the team. “Super bad for the environment.”
“How’s Evelyn?” asked Callen.
“She’ll make it to retirement.”
“Maybe we could blame this on a small earthquake,” said Deeks. Everyone stared at him. “Or not. Because everyone knows you can’t fool Hetty.”
“There’s always eBay,” offered Eric.
Callen nodded. “Yes, there is.”
“What about a Goodwill store or a consignment shop?” asked Deeks. “I found my kitchen table at a cool place downtown.”
Kensi looked at him. “You did?”
“Yeah. There was this sweet little old lady who was the manager. You and I could check it out.”
“We could?” Kensi was not into recycling other people’s stuff and couldn’t fathom why anyone else would.
“Go,” said Callen. “I’ll hit up some Goodwill stores. Eric, I need some addresses.”
Sam pulled out his phone. “I’ll call Michelle. Maybe she has some ideas.”
“And I will phone my aunt Edna,” added Nell. “She used to work in Fine China at Macy’s.”
“Here it is,” said Deeks. “But it looks different.”
“How long since you were here?” asked Kensi.
“Two years, maybe two-and-a-half. Looks like they’ve gentrified the place.”
Kensi pointed down the block. “There’s another store. How about we divide and conquer?” she said.
“Good idea. It shouldn’t take long.”
Kensi headed toward the other store as Deeks entered What Goes Around.
Wow, even the name’s changed.
An impossibly fussy young man came up to him. “Good afternoon, I’m Arnie. How may I help you?” His eyes roamed over Deeks and Deeks felt extremely uncomfortable.
“I’m looking for a teacup like this.” He showed him the picture on his phone of the broken fragments. “By the way, is Arlene still here? She’s helped me in the past.”
The man waved his hand in disgust. “That old biddy? She broke her hip, had surgery, and then moved to Phoenix to live with her son. I thought we’d never get rid of her.”
Deeks was annoyed. “She was a nice lady. Did you knock her down?”
Arnie gave a silly giggle. “Don’t be ridiculous. She was eighty-six and had osteoporosis.” He paused and stepped closer to Deeks. “Who does your hair?”
“My hair? Nobody. It sort of does itself.”
Arnie reached up and was about to touch Deeks’ hair, but Deeks stepped back. “Whoa, dude. No messing with the hair.”
Now if Kensalina felt the urge to run her fingers through it, well, that would be totally acceptable.
Arnie appeared miffed. “This isn’t my only job. On the weekends I am a hair artiste at the Hot Stuff Salon, but one day I’ll have my own salon. I’d really like to do you sometime.”
Kensi walked in and caught the last sentence. Her jaw dropped. Not so fast there, Romeo. She came up beside Deeks and slapped his butt. “He’s with me.”
Arnie jumped back. “Oh, I see. Well, my bad.” He started babbling about some sets of china at the back of the store and scuttled away.
Kensi let her hand linger and even squeezed Deeks’ butt cheek. He gave a yelp of shock and maybe even excitement. Arnie looked at them strangely when he returned with two teacups. Unfortunately, they were not a match and Deeks and Kensi exited the store.
When they reached the sidewalk, Deeks stopped and asked, “Who said you could touch me inappropriately like that?”
“Oh, it was appropriate for the situation all right,” said Kensi in that superior tone of hers. “Furthermore, you enjoyed it.”
“Actually, I did. Can you do it again?” he mumbled as Kensi went around to the driver’s side.