Wendy walked into the hotel room, dripping thick black ink onto the carpet. Her boss strode in behind her, his uniform spotless, and set a sealed plastic case onto the table. There were four other cases there, closed and locked, and two more empty.
"Well, that wasn't so bad, was it?" he tried, and Wendy twirled sharply to yell at him.
"The book exploded on me! I'm running out of clean uniforms here, you could've mentioned that 'dangerous' meant 'messier than Lacey at a fur coat photo shoot'"
The Middleman smiled his guilty smile, the one that somehow always looked rueful enough for her to forgive him, while still being smug enough she wanted to utilize some of Sensei Ping's training. "I didn't realize before we left that the Riddle Diary was going to be one of the artifacts we needed to rescue. Chin up though, Dubbie! We only have two of the stolen books left, and the next one only bites."
She glared at him, then stalked past him to the bathroom. "I am taking a shower." She growled. "We can go find your next stupid book once I'm clean." She shut the door behind her a little too hard, and slammed on the water, stripping impatiently as she waited for it to heat up.
"You know." she said to her reflection in the mirror, dark hair matted by shiny ink. "It's not even the fact that I'm covered in muck -again-, while he's spotless -again-. It's not that I've been running around like a maniac for three days finding these damn stolen books. It's not even that there's a secret library of books out there that do ridiculous things like shrink or explode."
She stepped into the shower, and let out a morose sigh as she started scrubbing at her skin. "It's that I'm in freaking London of all places, and he won't let me take even an hour off to go to the galleries."
Her mood was a little better by the time she had dried herself off with a too-fluffy white towel. The ink had come off easier than expected, and even seemed to have had some strange benefit on her hair, which had acquired a new bounce. She changed into a clean uniform and faced her boss, who was staring, entranced at the television.
"Right, what's next?" she asked. "Something something, book that bites, come on!"
"But Cassandra just went into the Doctor's body!" he whined, and Wendy rolled her eyes. Nip off to see the sights, oh no, but when it came to his precious show about aliens... she grabbed the remote and turned the TV off with a soft ping.
"I don't even know why you're so obsessed, it's a rerun anyways." she argued over his noise of protest, and steered him towards the door. "Now, let's go finish our job, okay? You can watch Doctor Who as much as you want after!" Boss-man shook his head, returning to his normal state of uber-professionalism, and grabbed the second to last clear case.
"Right! We can find that book faster than an eel in a pot of butter." They strode out of the hotel and into the middle of London. The Middleagents were ready!
Six hours later, Wendy felt significantly less ready. They had chased leads halfway across the city, without getting any closer to the copy of Lieber Dentata they were searching for. They had just left the house of a whimpering gentleman, who whispered that he had sold it to a used books shop, and muttered darkly about how "that beast deserves it". Exchanging a weary look, the two had thanked the man, and continued on to the next stage of their hunt.
The shop was set into the basement of a rowhouse, with a short set of stairs leading to the door. The sign on front read "Closed", but the door was six inches ajar, and Wendy could hear enough ruckus from inside that she didn't hesitate to enter. "Hello there, I'm from the...uh..."
The badge she was holding up was forgotten as she stared at the situation before her. A red-haired man in a Hawaiin shirt was on the ground, frantically attempting to take refugee inside a squooshy purple sleeping bag. Sitting on a desk above him was a wild-haired man with a glass of wine in one hand, and a makeshift fishing rod in the other. Tied to the fishing rod was what appeared to be a very old leatherbound book, jerking and snapping frantically of its own accord.
"Bernard please please Bernard! I don't want to die, please!" the sleeping bag man was begging. "I'll work harder, I swear, I'll buy you wine, cigarettes, anything!"
"I want bon-bons!" the dark haired Irishman screamed, and he brought the fishing rod down suddenly. There was a snapping sound from the book, and the man surged forward, yelping and rubbing at his bottom.
"Bon-bons, fine, yes!" The Hawaiin shirted man scrambled past Wendy and the boss, giving them a scared look as he shot up the stairs. "Bon-bons, bon-bons!" he was muttering.
"Well, we certainly seem to have found our book." The Middleman said congenially, attempting to break the awkward silence.
"Are you insane?!" Wendy demanded, stalking forward to the Irishman. He caught sight of her, five foot six inches of Latina fury, and dropped the rod, scrambling backwards over the desk and into his chair.
"Who are you! What are you doing in my shop! What do you want?!" he snapped rapidly, and took another swig of wine. He set the empty glass down with a thump, and began groping around his desk with both hands, his eyes solidly locked with Wendy's.
"What the [bleep] do you think you were doing to that poor man?! He could have been hurt! Do you have any idea the sort of psychological damage that sort of torture can have on a person?" Wendy was too angry to remember her credentials, "Making him scramble on the --OUCH!!"
She jumped backwards, shaking the book off her leg. What had felt like thousands of needles had sunk into her calf, but when she looked at the book, it appeared almost normal. It flopped forward awkwardly, and she took another jump back. "Uhh, bossman? Little help here?"
The Middleman was already on his way around the shop, and he pounced on the book suddenly, wrestling it into the case. There was a muffled yelp of "Gutenberg's Printing Press!" then a solid click, and he was standing himself up.
"There we go, now sir--"
"Bon-bons!" came the cry from the door, and the red-headed man was back. He was clutching a plastic bag to his chest nervously, looking around the room. Not seeing any sign of the book, he tentatively crept in.
The shopkeeper snatched the bag away, and began digging through it. He looked up after a moment, and blinked mildly at the two middlepeople. "Why are you still in my shop?!" he barked.
Wendy set a hand on the scared redheads shoulder. "Look, if you need help or anything, you can come with us. We'll find you someplace safe." Her boss shot her a frustrated look --it was the same look she always got when she was more focused on the people than the job.
The redheaded man blinked at her, confused. "I'm sorry?"
Wendy frowned. "You don't have to put up with that. Like...being attacked by books?"
"Oh, no, that's just Bernard's way. He's been a little cranky ever since the price of cigarettes went up again. He'll settle down after I put him down for his nap."
"Manny, where's my wine?" the Irishman whined through a mouthful of candy.
"It's on your desk. Now, is there anything else I can help you with?" Manny had an honest smile on his face as he turned back to Wendy. His hands were busy with a glass of wine on the desk, pouring it into a cup and handing it to Bernard.
Wendy opened her mouth to express further concern, when her boss grabbed her hand. "Come on, Dubbie. We've got what we need."
"I mean, he can't actually be happy, can he? That kind of life, it's no way to live!" Wendy was limping slightly as she walked, talking wildly with her hands.
"They seemed perfectly fine. And they both said they were happy."
"Are you kidding me? The man was being tortured with a book! A book!!"
The Middleman stopped suddenly, and set a hand firmly on her shoulder, meeting her eyes. "Dubbie, it's not our place to judge the relationships of others. Now, if we hurry, we can get back to the hotel before the new episode of Doctor Who airs, okay?"
Wendy rolled her eyes, then grinned as a sudden thought occurred to her. "You know what, boss? You go on ahead. I'm gonna take a quick little detour."
After all, what's the point of being in London if you couldn't stop by the British Museum for a few hours? Wendy had a new sketchbook to fill, and a lot of ideas.