Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 146,497,694 Issue: 308 | 7th day of Gathering, Y9
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The Partnership: Part Two


by pandabearb

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The evening sun warmed my face as a gentle spray from the sea flew up on me. Land was just barely becoming visible on the horizon. It was the legendary Krawk Island, naturally. Usually I felt excited to be embarking on a new mission, but not today. Perhaps I just wasn’t as up to the challenge this time, what with little what’s-her-name yammering in my ear the whole trip here.

     “Oh, look, Kataok! See that Walein there that’s swimming? Last week I found one just like that except he had blue fins. I took him home and named him Lester and he’s my very first Petpet! Do you want to see a picture, Kataok? Do you?” Scout was already rummaging through her little bag excitedly.

     “No,” I replied flatly, without even looking her way. However, out of the corner of my eye I could see her arms slowly coming out of her bag and closing it. I always thought you had to see somebody’s face to tell they were sad... until now. The kid was too soft, and if she didn’t learn how to toughen up now, she’d never live through being an agent.

     “How much longer do you think we have until we’re there?” Scout asked in a quiet voice, which I wasn’t aware she had until this moment.

     I grunted. “An hour, maybe.” I began rubbing the scar on my face, thinking once again about Firestone’s boxes.

     Scout stared up at me unblinkingly, too long for my comfort. “What do you want?” I growled.

     “Where did you get that scar from?” she asked me curiously.

     I rolled my eyes. “A mob of angry Polarchucks,” I responded sarcastically, then turned away from her.

     She ignored my answer sullenly, and we stood in a silence that would have been awkward if I cared. But I guess she eventually seemed to feel a need to break the peace, as she spoke the most obnoxious words in history. “I’m bored.”

     I sighed, cursing the bad luck that landed me with this partner. “Don’t care. Go play with Pineapple, that plushie you have or whatever. We’re almost there.”

     “It’s Pickles! And I can’t. He’s taking a nap,” Scout responded, rolling her eyes as if that was something I was supposed to know. Never mind the fact that plushies don’t sleep since they’re not real and all.

     Choosing not to respond, I was relieved when the ship’s captain shouted across the deck, “Ten minutes until landing! I repeat, ten minutes.”

     “Hear that, kid?” I said in as close to a happy mood as I ever got. “We’re almost there. You read the packet that the Judge gave us, right?”

     Scout’s face lit up. “Oh yeah! I read it, like, three times at least. And don’t worry, I was real careful. Nobody was around looking over my shoulder or anything.”

     Just to humor her, and to satisfy the sarcastic part of me, I gave my best excited smile. “Well, that’s just super!” I said, matching her disgusting amount of enthusiasm. Then I quickly switched into business mode.

     “So here’s the deal. After this ship docks, an agent will be there to meet us with gear for the mission. I’m going to be a servant. Since you’re a kid, we’re not sure Firestone will hire you, so we’ll need to convince him. Don’t forget you’re poor and uneducated now. Don’t discuss the mission without my say, so that we aren’t overheard. And just call me 'Kat' in public, because people might know who Kataok is,” I informed her, with a tone that was not just a little condescending.

     “And what are you going to call me?” she asked, jumping up and down excitedly now. “Can I have a cool secret agent name too?”

     I raised an eyebrow. “No. You’ll be Scout, because nobody actually knows you so, unlike me, you have nothing to worry about.”

     She glared at me and wrinkled her nose. “You’re kind of snobby,” she said bluntly and promptly walked below deck to gather up her belongings.

     I stared, a little dumbfounded, before swiftly following behind her.

     * * * * * * *

     “Here are your bags. They’ve got clothes and the usually spy equipment necessary. I just got all the clothes new this morning,” Special Agent Dart, a blue Lenny, pointed out in a serious voice.

     I stared down at the items that Dart had laid in front of us, pleased with the job he had done. The clothing had clearly gone years without being washed and had numerous holes, perfect for a poor servant. Dart was a good agent and no fool, obviously important traits in rough parts like Krawk Island.

     Scout, however, had no appreciation for the Lenny’s skill. “What do you mean you just got them this morning?!” she squawked with displeasure shining bright on her face. “This stuff looks like it got attacked, eaten, and then spit out again by an angry mob of Polarchucks...”

     “I asked the store clerk just that, and she said they were,” Dart responded, deadpan.

     “Yeah right,” spat back Scout, with the temper that youth get when they’ve had nothing to eat for hours. “Everybody knows that Polarchucks don’t get angry.”

     “And they also don’t form mobs,” I added, smirking.

     “Nothing gets by either of you,” Dart said, with a mock sigh. “I did just get it new this morning, though, from a second-hand shop downtown. And it’s perfect for your “penniless” facade. So go to the inn and put them on, then wait outside. Somebody working for our old friend, Firestone will pick you up there. I’ve got to run, but you know the number if you need me, Kataok.”

     We shook hands, and then headed over to change and met in our new pathetic state in front of the Krawk Island Inn. I had donned a shabby black suit that was too small and very dirty. Scout looked almost comical in an oversized brown dress that overtook her white fur.

     It was probably wrong that the disgusted look on her face made me somewhat more cheerful. I opened my mouth to comment on her wardrobe but she stopped me with a glare. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she grumbled.

     I grinned. “You, not wanting to talk? That’s a first.”

     Just then, somebody tapped me heavily on the shoulder, and my mind quickly became alert. Whipping around I found myself staring at the middle of a giant mutant Grundo.

     He grunted something incomprehensible, but I had to assume that he was our escort and so I put on my best humble smile and replied, “’Ello, sir. You here to take us to Mister Firestone’s place of livin’?”

     Without showing any sign that he understood me, the Grundo pointed up the road, then began ambling forward. I heard a partly stifled giggle behind me and turned my head. Scout was in a fit of laughter, and I glared at her, while beginning to follow the Grundo.

     “What?” I asked her out of the corner of my mouth.

     She was wiping tears out of her eyes as she whispered back, “Well... I’ve just never seen somebody so funny looking before.”

     “Taken a look in the mirror before, kid?” I retorted and turned around again.

     It took a little under a half hour to trudge, slowly, to Firestone’s mansion. It sat unusually visible on a hill. It seemed to me that somebody involved in suspicious activity would want a location that was more hidden. The Grundo continued inside and I instinctively pushed Scout in front of me so that I could keep track of her better.

     As we walked in, the first thing that immediately entered my field of vision was this huge wooden staircase that completely covered the wall in the entrance hall. A bone chandelier hung from the ceiling, as menacing as it was magnificent. Whatever Firestone did for a living, it was clearly prosperous. Of course, it was precisely that career choice which I needed to find out.

     The Grundo mumbled something again, but I knew I heard the word “Firestone” in there so I assumed we were to wait while he got the master of the house.

     Caught up in remembering every detail about the mansion that I could, I almost forgot about Scout. Looking down at her, it was easy to see that the fact that we were actually here starting our mission was sinking in to her. She was clutching her bag tightly in front of her, but that didn’t stop her arms from shaking nervously.

     Feeling a quick pang of sympathy, I leaned over. “Just relax,” I said quietly. “Everybody freaks out on their first, second and even fiftieth assignment. I’ve been on hundreds of missions, and I’m still worried. But we’re going to be okay. For one thing, his staff doesn’t seem exactly intelligent.” I winked, meaning the Grundo of course, and she smiled feebly.

     I was a little disappointed in myself, feeling bad for this kid. Before the mission was over, I had a horrible feeling that my tough rep would be ruined because of her.

     We had been standing there for ages and I was beginning to get bored. Scout must have been bored too, because when I glanced at her a while later, she had begun counting the bones on the chandelier. But then we finally heard clopping coming from the hallway upstairs and both Scout and I tensed up.

     “Ah, I have been expecting you,” a Uni said, in a voice that was too smooth. He began descending down the stairs, in the same manner that royalty would. The first observations I made about him were that he was definitely rich, with his crisp, pirate clothes. The way he talked made me think he was well educated, and could probably easily persuade people to do his bidding.

     I pushed my thoughts aside, though, so that I could give a pathetic attempt at a bow. I noticed that Scout curtsied wobbly beside me as I responded, “Master Firestone, ‘tis an honor to meet you, surely. I’m Kat and this here is Scout. We’re right pleased to be under yours employment, sir.”

     “Of course you are,” he replied, with a dismissive wave and no eye contact. “Snorkle here,” he pointed lazily to the Grundo, “will show you to your living quarters. There you will find a written job description.” Here Firestone paused, seeming to think about something. “...You can read, right?”

     “Oh yes, sir. We learned our reading just fine, didn’t we, Scout?” I responded, trying to get Scout more involved and comfortable.

     But apparently, she would have rather been an innocent bystander because the look on her face showed that I caught her off guard. She just weakly nodded, while staring at the floor.

     Firestone seemed to sneer at this, as if he thought he was intimidating and relished in the power. “It looks to me as if Scout is a little over her head. I do not know that it would be beneficial for us to hire her.”

     “She can do it!” I blurted out, losing my cool for just a second. If Scout got kicked out of this house, Judge Hog would be blaming me and who knows what that would do to my career. Beside me, Scout shuffled her feet, with panic radiating out of her.

     “Oh? At this point I am not convinced that she can even talk,” Firestone retorted. “Tell me, Kougra, why I should hire you.”

     He was met with silence and I closed my eyes in frustration. Just for that moment, I found myself wishing that the confident, fearless, and slightly annoying Scout found her way back really soon.

To be continued...

 
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» The Partnership: Part One
» The Partnership: Part Three



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