Nikki and Adrian exited the cab they had taken to the Comfort Nights Hotel where Thomas Risby had arranged their meeting. In order to remain undetected by the Fanged Wolves, the head of the IDA had decided to rotate headquarters around different hotels and apartments in the city until they were ready to make their move.
Adrian pulled his sunglasses off with a scowl. Setting up headquarters in a hotel! That went against all procedures in the book! He huffed and stalked through the rotating doors into the lobby.
Nikki chuckled at her partner’s disapproval. Adrian was obsessed with rules and guidelines. Everything had to be perfect with him! It had been the best and worst day of her life when she had been assigned to work with him- best because his expression the moment she walked in was absolutely horrified and worst because, well, she was assigned to him. And not as a full equal either. No, she had to get stuck as his junior partner, which meant she had to obey him! She had managed to get by with her choice of clothes, but suddenly every decision she made had to be backed up by six different rules and procedures. It drove her mad!
She had to pick up her pace, eternally grateful that Adrian hadn’t made her wear heels. She had never learned how to walk in them properly. The first time she had tried, she had sprained her ankle; her mother had never made her try again.
Nikki caught up to Adrian when he paused to press the call button for the elevator. She idly wondered whether he would have left her behind if she hadn’t been fast enough. One look at his displeased face told her that the answer was a very probably yes.
The elevator dinged, announcing the arrival of their ride. Adrian barely looked at her as he moved in first. Nikki stuck her tongue out at his back. He may be the “perfect” agent, but he had much to learn in the ways of treating a lady. She leaned her head on the back wall, feeling the elevator lurch up to their desired floor. There was no elevator music, she thought appreciatively. The silence was much more agreeable.
“Stand up straight!”
Nikki reluctantly put her weight back on her feet as she pushed away from the wall. She glowered at the man to her side. Like she had decided earlier, the silence had been much more agreeable.
The doors slid open, and the two agents moved forward, Adrian slightly ahead of Nikki because- of course- he was the senior agent. They made their way down the brightly lit hallways, light glowing softly from lamps placed every few feet. The door they needed was at the end of the hallway, the last room on the left. She mentally noted the stairwell as she passed it. Judging the distance she came to the conclusion that it was a viable escape route should they need it.
Adrian rapped on the door with brisk, short knocks and stood back. He was tense, poised to move if needed, but with a call to identify themselves he relaxed. According to procedure, he smiled to himself, suddenly feeling a lot better about the situation.
He pulled out his identification, about to instruct Nicole to do the same when he saw she already had it in hand. He frowned at his own slowness and turned back to the door.
“Adrian Criston and Nicole Wright reporting in.”
A moment passed, then the sound of a latch being undone was heard. The door opened, revealing a man in full cowboy attire, spurs and all. Adrian felt his heart shrivel and die. Cowboy? Really?
The man gave a two-fingered salute. “Come on in! We have cookies!”
Nikki eyes lit up and she dashed past the two men in search of the desserts. They were on a decorative platter in the middle of the room, surrounded by three other people, two men and one woman, all sitting on the ground. She immediately invited herself into the circle and grabbed a cookie.
Her first bite was utter bliss. Nikki closed her eyes to enjoy it to its fullest, licking still warm chocolate from her lips before she took another bite. She felt a murderous glare burning into her back. When she opened her eyes, the others in the circle seemed both amused and sympathetic of her situation.
She blushed in embarrassment, sketching a bow to her new colleagues from her seat on the ground, a cookie in each hand.
“Hello, I am Agent Nicole Wright, but you can call me Nikki. Uh,” she held up the cookies, “thank you for the cookies.”
The man in the cowboy getup chuckled as he took his own seat in the circle on the floor.
“You are quite welcome, my dear. I made them just an hour ago for this very occasion.”
Adrian’s frown deepened at this comment, even more than it had become when he saw the group on the floor rather than at a table.
“An hour ago? It’s late morning! When did you get started working on the case?”
Cowboy man’s grin widened in response.
“I baked them right here!” He gestured to the hotel’s tiny kitchen. “Don’t worry! I was listening while I worked.”
Adrian was clearly still critical, but he reluctantly joined the circle, slowly adjusting his legs until he was comfortable. “Our superiors told us you think the Fanged Wolves are behind your agents’ disappearance?”
The man that Nikki recognized from her file as Thomas Risby gave a crisp nod.
“Yes, and I’ve been informed that you are familiar with the way that the group works.”
“That is correct. We have been in contact with one of their members-turned-informant of some of their work but we’ve never been able to find hard proof. He isn’t high enough up the ladder to know the details of their hits, but he hasn’t heard even a whisper of anything to do with a group of agents.”
Risby shrugged in return, seeming uncaring of Adrian’s dismissal of the gang’s involvement.
“Right now, they are our only lead. We went through my agents’ last known location with an ultra-fine-tooth comb and came up with very little. I’m having it analyzed as we speak.”
The female agent- Shannon? No, Sarah- continued for her leader.
“All of the computers that were at the location have been wiped. I’ve been trying to recover anything from them but it isn’t going well. Whoever took the agents knew their stuff.”
Nikki looked up curiously.
“Maybe I can help with that. I’m good with computers, and two heads are better than one, right?” She smiled enthusiastically at Sarah, her mind already running through ways to glean information out of the stubborn devices.
“That would help a lot, thanks. Once we finish filling you in, I’ll show you where I’m working on them.”
That decided, both women focused back on the rest of the group waiting on them. Nikki met Adrian’s eyes who nodded in approval. She fought against the urge to roll her eyes. Geez! She wasn’t a child! She knew how to do her job. She settled for ignoring him.
Cowboy man- Jack, she remembered- pitched in.
“Here’s the list of the evidence we found so far. We get the results tomorrow morning.”
Adrian and Nikki both took the sheet he offered, glancing over it to familiarize themselves with the content. The partial prints weren’t going to be any help for now. Very few of the gang members were on file and so did not have their fingerprints in the system. Blood might be a little easier because there were probably more of them who had been injured, but again, the records may be difficult to attain. Shoe scuff. She tapped her chin thoughtfully. It depended on the type of shoe, but that could narrow down the suspects if they could match the shoe with a supplier and then a store. Hmm. Something to look into. A thread? That could be from a lot and wouldn’t help much until they got the results back from forensics.
She looked over to Adrian who had his brow furrowed. He had likely come to many of the same conclusions as she had.
Risby cleared his throat to get their attention.
“What do you think?”
Adrian chose his words carefully. He didn’t like how this man worked, but Risby was the superior agent at the moment, so he needed to be polite.
“The evidence doesn’t prove that the Wolves are involved but it doesn’t disprove it either.” He shrugged. “We’ll do whatever we can to help.”
“Good. Now have a cookie, son. You’re making me feel stressed.”
Adrian startled at that. What? A cookie? But the man was staring at him. He had no choice. He delicately chose a cookie and took a small bite. His eyebrows shot up. Wow! These were good. Adrian shifted his eyes to look at cowboy- Jack, he told himself sternly- and felt a wave of irritation. He finished the cookie with swift bites, no longer appreciating the gooey chocolate in his rush.
“Can we move on?” he growled. Jack grinned at him, no doubt guessing what was going through his mind.
“Sure. Here are the photos from the crime scene.” He handed the two agents a file containing the documents and sat back with a wink to Nikki. She grinned back at him. It seemed she had an ally.
The third man who had yet to speak, Kost, described the layout of the building the missing agents had been staying in as Nikki and Adrian looked through the pictures.
“It is a small condo that they had purchased for the sole purpose of their investigation. The kitchen there,” he pointed to the one that Nikki held, “was where the foreign thread was found.”
At Adrian’s questioning look, he explained, “The only other place we found clothes fibers was in the agents’ bedrooms. It is possible that the thread is one of theirs, but it isn’t likely. That thread is sturdy, not easily broken. So why would a thread like that be out of the bedrooms when something more delicate was not?”
Adrian nodded and Kost continued his description.
“Across from the kitchen is the living room. That was where we found the blood.”
Adrian shuffled through the photos until he found the one he was looking for.
“As you can see, it is only a light smear. Whoever took them caught them by surprise.”
“Who’s to say they didn’t leave on their own?”
Risby answered that question. “The agents have orders to let us know if anything were to happen. If they had wiped their computers, they would have sent us a message first. There were other devices planted throughout the house that, if pressed, sends a nearly undetectable signal to our headquarters, alerting us that something is wrong. We received no such signals.”
Adrian conceded that those were valid points and turned back to the photos.
“The shoe scuff was in the hall leading to the agents’ bedrooms. There are four agents in all, two female and two male. They slept two to a room.”
“I’m guessing that the third bedroom was used for their work,” Nikki commented, rearranging the photos back into a neat pile and handing them to Sarah sitting next to her.
“That is correct. All of the laptops and computers were currently in that room when we entered, wiped like we told you. It was also where the two prints were found. They were probably getting cocky at this point and didn’t wipe the laptops as thoroughly as they should have.”
The room was quiet for a minute as the two new agents processed what they had learned. When Risby decided he had given them enough time, he asked, “Isn’t this the exact MO of the Fanged Wolves? Targeting law enforcement who may be getting too close, leaving little to no trace of their involvement, and no bodies found?”
“That is true. We will help you to the best of our abilities. Nicole? Contact our informant and let him know we are back in town and need his help.”
Nikki jumped to her feet, already drawing her phone out of her pocket to make the instructed call. Adrian turned back to the group in front of him.
“I can promise you that we will do our best to help you find your agents. This may be exactly what we need to finally bring down this gang.”