Jack swept into the room with his ever-present smile gracing his features, although this morning it seemed a bit brighter than usual.
“I come bearing gifts!” he announced as placed his load on the table. Nikki lifted her head from that same table and blinked blearily, her ears ringing as Jack’s voice seemed to echo around her head.
“Why do you have to be so loud?” She laid her head back down and closed her eyes again.
“What happened to you? I’m pretty sure you had time to sleep last night.” He checked his watch. “Yep! You had a full six hours.”
Nikki just groaned in response, waving her hand at Jack as though it would help make him go away.
Sarah saved Nikki from anymore of Jack’s interrogation as she stumbled out of the bedroom yawning.
“Nikki found a sliver of information still on one of the hard drives. We spent all night trying to recover it.”
Jack paused from where he had been opening the boxes of muffins and donuts he had brought.
“Did you manage to do it?”
Sarah’s lips quirked upward, but another yawn cut off her response. Nikki covered for her.
“You bet your stinkin’ loud mouth morning breath we did.”
Unfortunately for Nikki, Adrian chose that moment to enter the room. He froze, his eyes seeking out the speaker of those words until they landed on Nikki. The girl winced as she forced her head off the table into some semblance of sitting. She desperately wanted to rub her eyes to get them to stay open but she was in enough trouble already.
Jack felt pity for her plight and tried to diffuse the situation. He picked up the two boxes and held them in Adrian’s direction.
“Muffin? Donut? They’re fresh from the café.”
Adrian scowled at him and attempted to move past the cowboy to reprimand Nikki but Jack derailed him again.
“Are you sure? Sugar helps wake the mind up and jump-starts the nervous system. Besides,” he took a large, messy bite of muffin, spraying crumbs everywhere, “they’re really, really good!”
Adrian winced at the crumbs now on his pressed and ironed suit and pulled away, brushing himself off. He chanced a backwards glance at Jack and quickly sat down on one of the couches, pulling his work out to discourage Jack from pestering him any longer. The cowboy grinned. Crisis averted.
He glanced back at Nikki whose eyes were already drooping shut again and held the boxes out to her. She took one of each gratefully, anticipating the sugar rush that would help wake her up.
Sarah had gone back into the bedroom to shower and change before Risby and Kost arrived. The two men had gone to pick up the results from the lab and would be back in a few minutes. Nikki debated whether to do the same but decided against it in favor of a little more shuteye. She fell asleep still sitting up in her chair.
Jack pulled out a plate from one of the cabinets and put a few muffins and donuts on it. He made his way to where his papers were still sprawled out from the night before and sat down heavily in front of them. For a sadistic moment, he considered messing with Adrian like he had the entire afternoon the previous day but ultimately decided against it. The man needed a break.
Risby and Kost arrived right when they promised they would return. Sarah stepped out of her room dressed in fresh professional clothes and drying her hair with the towel so that it wouldn’t drip onto her blouse. She reached over and shook Nikki awake. Everyone gathered in the middle of the room to hear what the lab report said.
Risby took a seat on one of the couches rather than the floor like Jack, already knowing that he would have to get up again soon and not wanting to have to make the extra effort later. He motioned for Kost to brief the others on the results.
Kost nodded and opened the file, shuffling through the papers to find the one he needed.
“The fingerprints and the blood didn’t match anyone on file, but if we get prints and a DNA sample from a suspect, it will be a simple matter to match it. The thread is a heavy-duty silk thread, most commonly used to transport glass. The silk is smooth enough that it doesn’t scratch the products but heavy enough to hold the weight of glass. The most plausible theory right now is that the silk was cut and already unraveling when it was used in the kidnapping. It might have been used as a blindfold or to bind the agents’ wrists.
“The shoe scuff was a lucky find. It was made by BE YOU, which makes each pair of shoes unique. It’s possible that the scuff we found can be matched but the company hasn’t publicized its records. We’ll need an agent to go to the main building to go through their records.”
Jack raised his hand.
“Nikki and I got this.”
At Nikki’s protests, he told her, “The drive is 3 hours. I’ll take the wheel and you can catch up on your sleep.”
Nikki relaxed and said, “I’ll go with Jack.” Sarah gave an undignified snort at Nikki’s sudden compliance, slightly jealous of the other’s opportunity to get some more sleep.
“I suppose now would be a good time to fill you in on what Nikki and I found last night,” she told the group. Risby sat forward alertly, anxious to have another lead to follow.
“It was only a small file. It looks like someone’s diary entry.”
Sarah pulled it up on her laptop and showed the others. The document detailed most of the writer’s day, including lunch at the nearby restaurant and an intricate keychain that the person was considering purchasing. The interesting part though came at the end of the snippet.
I think I saw someone watching me today. It was only a glimpse here and there, but I’m pretty sure it was the same person. It might be nothing, but my gut tells me otherwise. If it keeps up I’ll tell the others.
The six agents mulled over this new information. The writer had been right to worry, even if it hadn’t done any good.
“Maybe someone saw something,” Adrian said. “Did you ask around the area?”
“We decided to wait for you two before we took any definite action. If this is the work of the Fanged Wolves, we need to choose our steps carefully,” Kost told him.
Adrian thought this over, his body going still as his mind ran through several different options.
“I think if we keep a low profile and not force the investigation we should be okay. We’ll stay away from the actual kidnapping and focus on asking about the safety of the area. How do you feel about being a concerned dad?”
Kost raised an eyebrow. “And what role are you going to play? It seems like I’ll be doing all the work.”
Jack choked on his coffee and burst out laughing at the implication that Adrian was trying to get out of work while Adrian turned red fast as he spluttered to deny the accusation.
“I would be helping my friend find a safe place for his children to grow up in! People would be more willing to talk to two friends rather than a lone stranger.”
Jack chuckled at Adrian’s desperate defense.
“It’s alright, kid. We understand.” Even Sarah had to turn away to hide her smile. Adrian huffed, his hand unclenching as he regained his composure. He looked to Risby for his approval.
“That sounds like a good plan,” Risby assured him. “When do you want to go?”
“It would be best if we got there early afternoon. We’ll need to set up some house-seeing visits.”
“Fine. I need a few hours to check in with the IDA so I’ll do that while you two are working on that. Sarah?”
Sarah glanced up from her laptop at her superior.
“Are you going to be able to find anymore information on the computers?”
“I think so. Nikki showed me some cool tricks and that diary entry opened up a few roads. At the very least I’ll be able to get a few more files of the diary but it’ll take me some time.”
“Take the day to do that then.” Risby scanned the group around him. “Is everyone clear on their duties? Good. Check in every three hours.” He stood up and headed out the door to make a phone call. Jack threw another donut at Nikki.
“Go get dressed,” he ordered.
“You too,” Nikki grumbled. She munched grumpily on the pastry as she ambled into the other room.
“Yes ma’am,” Jack called after her. The door slammed shut.
He leisurely stretched, ‘accidentally’ kicking Adrian as he did so, and stood up.
“Don’t eat all the muffins while I’m getting changed,” he warned his colleagues. “I want some for the road.”
Adrian rolled his eyes.
“You’re safe from me,” he promised the cowboy.
Jack eyed him suspiciously but let it go at that. He turned on his heel and marched out of the room. Adrian breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed behind his tormentor. Kost smiled sympathetically.
“You get used to it,” he told the younger agent. At Adrian’s disbelief he just smiled.
Nikki was fast asleep within seconds of getting into the car. In her sleep, she curled her legs up to her chest and leaned against the car door as though she was trying to become part of it. It was strangely endearing, Jack thought as he took a bite of muffin. He had made sure to leave a few pastries for Adrian. Whether there would be any left when he returned would be up to just how stubborn Nikki’s partner could be, which would lead to what Jack could expect from him.
Contrary to what most thought upon first introduction, Jack was serious in every aspect of his work. He used his eccentricities as a valuable tool in his arsenal, used to great effect in learning how other people thought and reacted.
That was one of the reasons Risby asked him to join the mission. Besides the fact that Jack was a good agent whose skills would be vital to the investigation, Risby was wary of the two agents who had been volunteered and wanted Jack to get a read on them. And in one short day, Jack knew that Nikki despised her partner but respected his abilities and success, even to the point of looking up to him although he wondered if she realized that last piece of information. It was a question Jack hoped to know the answer to by the end of this trip. But overall, Nikki seemed genuine, exactly who she claimed to be.
Adrian was a little harder to profile, simply because he was much more stoic and was more likely to shut down than share anything about his past.
The man didn’t like his partner, that was clear. But as far as Jack could tell, it didn’t affect his performance as an agent. The thing that bugged the cowboy was Adrian’s inflexibility. Through the various comments and passive-aggressive remarks he had made the day before proved that Adrian prided himself on following the rules to the letter, down to how he treated his colleagues.
To get to the position Adrian was in, though, an agent needed colleagues to like him and be able to bend the rules when the job needed it. Life rarely put a person in a situation where the rules fit perfectly, even more so in the field they were in.
That left two options. The first was that Adrian was not as perfect as he seemed and was skilled in covering his tracks. The second was more likely in Jack’s opinion – that Adrian was not who he claimed to be.
“M? Yeah, they’re here. They are exactly as you said they would be. What do you want me to do? The girl? Are you sure? Alright then. I’ll see what I can do.”