“Carter... Nick Carter,” Nick mused as he strolled down the hall.
His light blond hair, usually spiked, was down that day, hanging over his clear, blue eyes. Time to cut it, but now was not the time. As a trained agent of Himitsu Takana, an elite agency out to save the world, he had more important things to do.
After the original base in Japan was destroyed, the agency’s headquarters relocated to the United States. It was not a location he would choose, but the agency was home to him. It had been for four years now.
He blinked. Had it been that long already?
Not that he had been on active duty for all four of those years, much to his dismay. Still, it was life as he’d known it since he was only twenty-two.
Himitsu Takana was an agency known for having no ties to the governments of the world. It was like a mother, watching over the entire planet, with highly trained specialists to help protect the world from peril on a daily basis. People across the globe went about their business, oblivious to the chaos the agents at Himitsu Takana took on every day. With skills beyond those of civilians, all of them had been plucked out specifically, chosen for this extraordinary task. Their lives knew death by its face, and instead of quailing in its presence, they stared it down. Most of the agents had, at least.
Nick decided not to let his thoughts ramble on any longer.
He knew what he was on the hunt for, what he had to do. He made a turn, entering the room cautiously as he idly began to hum to himself. "Dum dum, da da, dum dum, da da, dum dum, da da, dum dum... do do do... do do do… do do do... do do! Dum dum, da da, dum dum dum, da da…"
He kept humming the Mission: Impossible theme as he crept to the next location. His eyes took in his surroundings as he remained in the darkness, just waiting to capture that precious object. An object so many would desire, so many would take for their own. When the coast was clear, he broke for its chest, opening it ever so carefully… and gasped.
The precious was gone.
Nick had kept it there under close guard, so he could use the item properly when the right moment came. Now it had been stolen before he had the chance!
His jaw clenched in determination. He would do what he had to, a mission he would give himself based on necessity. It was time to discover who took the lost and valuable item, which was irreplaceable and worth more than Nick could imagine.
He turned from the room and stealthily crept away. There were plenty of subjects known to sneak in at Himitsu Takana. Before he could go and question outsiders, there was something he knew he had to do first. He had to take on the task of questioning his own.
His first stop would be the most obvious suspect: his secretary, Mr. James Lancybassy.
Nick stormed down the hallway, determined to find out more information about his missing treasure. He spotted his first victim -- no, suspect -- obliviously plucking his eyebrows at his desk outside of Nick’s office.
Lancybassy’s short hair was a lighter shade of blond than Nick’s, but only at the ends. He was always well-groomed, and while he got along very well with the girls, he never seemed to have any romantic interests. Although Nick could never pinpoint a reason for Lancybassy’s strange behavior around him, he normally just ignored it and went on with his work. Today, though, his behavior only made him seem more suspicious to Nick.
“Lancybassy!” Nick called from a few feet down the hall, causing Lancybassy to jump in excitement and almost pull out half his eyebrow hairs. “Come with me,” he ordered, not pausing as he passed the desk.
Lancybassy grinned widely as he eagerly jumped up from his chair and hurried to catch up with the man he secretly desired. Maybe he finally realized how I feel about him! he thought to himself as he stood on the other side of the closed door. He waited impatiently, straightening his pink tie and fidgeting with his white shirt and gray pinstriped suit. Then he saw the doorknob turn.
“How’s it going, Nick?” Lancybassy said, trying to control his nerves as he stood in the doorway of the dimly lit room to which Nick had opened the door.
“Just sit down.” Nick motioned to the only chair in the room: a black, metal folding chair, placed at a metal card table with a bare light bulb dangling just a few feet above it. Nothing in the room was pleasant at all; there was no window, and the room itself was rather cramped and small. There were tall, black shelves lining the walls, and a closer look revealed boxes upon boxes sitting scattered all over them.
Lancybassy sat down and eyed Nick closely -- as he always did -- in an attempt to determine why they were where they were. “I hope you don’t think I’m an idiot, Lancybassy,” Nick said after about a minute in a calm yet unsettling tone. He was pacing back and forth, although there wasn’t much room for that in the small space.
“Of course I don’t think you’re an idiot--” Lancybassy began before Nick abruptly cut in.
“Because I KNOW what you’re up to!” Nick interrupted, his voice getting a bit louder. “I know there’s something you’re hiding from me,” he added after he’d calmed down for a moment.
“Hiding something?” Lancybassy repeated incredulously, surprised to learn that the forward advances he’d been making weren’t as forward as he thought. “Nick, I’m not hiding anything from you. Never have.”
“A likely story!” Nick exclaimed, slamming his hand down on the table and startling Lancybassy. “Now tell me where it is!”
Swing and a miss. Maybe it’ll hit him tomorrow. Lancybassy frowned, sighing to himself before realizing Nick was getting angry as he waited for his answer. “Where what is?”
“You know what ‘what,’” Nick answered, raising his eyebrows.
“No, really, what?”
“The ‘what’ I know you know about!!”
“No, I don’t! What are you talking about?” Lancybassy was thoroughly confused now, although his proximity with Nick -- who now had both hands on the table and was leaning in at almost eye-level with him -- was only giving him the urge to reach forward and--
“You know what I’m looking for!” Nick’s frustrated shout derailed Lancybassy’s train of thought -- as well as his chance to finally make his biggest move yet. After pushing himself away from the table, he continued pacing. “Just tell me where I can find it!”
“Stop playing coy with me!” Nick was extremely annoyed with Lancybassy now. He knew there was something Lancybassy was keeping from him, and he was in no mood to play games to find out!
“I’m not!” Lancybassy argued. Not right now, at least. “Just tell me what you’re looking for! I’ll help you find it!”
Nick sighed as he realized his secretary truly did not know the whereabouts of the precious. Too bad, he thought. That would’ve really helped explain why Lancybassy is so damn weird around me all the time.
He stood quietly for a moment, looking Lancybassy over to check one last time and see if he was lying, before walking over to the door. “No, Lancybassy,” he said solemnly as he opened it, walking out instead of holding it open like Lancybassy thought he was doing. “You’re probably safer not knowing.”
“Well, you know where to find me,” Lancybassy replied after he’d stopped the door from hitting his face. When he stepped into the hallway, he cupped Nick’s shoulder and grinned widely again.
“Yeah, sure, James,” Nick answered with defeat and brushed Lancybassy’s hand off of his shoulder. Both men stood in silence. With his hopes dashed once again, Lancybassy felt unsure about what to do now. Meanwhile, Nick scouted for his next suspect as the search for his missing valuable continued.
“So, you finally came out of the closet?” a familiar voice said from behind them, taking the two men by surprise. “You were in that supply closet so long I thought you’d both suffocated.”
Nick turned, smirking. “Hello, Red. Just the woman I wanted to see.”
Red Jewel, the agency’s medical doctor, cocked her head, a lock of her short, red hair falling over her face. She tucked it behind her ear, the corners of her lips curving upwards, and said, “Really. And why did you want to see me?”
The sound of breathing diverted Nick’s attention from her; he glanced over his shoulder to find Lancybassy still standing there. From a few feet away, he watched the two of them with a chill in his pale blue eyes. Nick frowned, turning back to Red Jewel. “Let’s step into your office, dear, and I’ll tell you.”
He put his hand on the small of her back as they walked down the hall to the medical ward, where she spent most of her time. She had her own little complex there with an examining room, a small infirmary for sick or injured staff members, a lab, and, of course, her office, the only room that was not all sterile white and stainless steel. He was glad to get into the office and away from the infirmary; it gave him the chills. Not just because it always felt cold there, but because it harbored bad memories of the days following his last mission…
Nick shivered, but instantly felt warmer when he entered the office. Gone was the stark whiteness, contrasted sharply by the dark, bold colors that decorated Red’s private domain. Staying true to her name, she’d had the walls painted a deep shade of red, and her desk and leather furniture were all sleek black. Exotic flowers and accent pieces in rich purple hues added color and character to her décor.
The first time he’d seen this office, he didn’t think it fit Red Jewel at all. He had just met her, and she’d seemed too sweet and innocent for the dark, edgy colors. Beautiful, yet mousy and meek, he’d pictured her in a room with floral prints, pastels, and pictures of wide-eyed kittens. But in time, he’d learned that Red’s medical quarters described her perfectly. Pure white and clean on the outside, but with a darkness, a playfulness, a fire hidden within. That was Red Jewel.
Today, though, he didn’t feel like playing. He was on a mission, and despite her sweetness, he had a suspicion that Red was the culprit he was looking for. “It’s always the quiet ones…” he murmured, eyeing her suspiciously.
Red Jewel turned. “What?”
“Never mind. Sit down.” He beckoned, waiting until she had taken a seat at her desk. Then he sank into the leather chair across from her and glared across the desktop, trying to look intimidating.
She blinked. “What? Why are you staring at me like that?”
Nick decided to try some psychology. “Oh, I think you know,” he replied, arching an eyebrow. When she didn’t respond right away, he steepled his fingers on the desktop and slowly tapped his index fingers together, waiting.
Finally, Red shook her head. “I’m lost, Nick. What’s going on?”
Ah, so she’s playing dumb, he thought. Well, he wasn’t going to fall for that. Red was too smart to be dumb; she was a doctor, after all. “Something precious to me has been taken. And I think you know just where it went!” he accused. “Where were you at 1400 hours??”
“Two o’clock? I was here, in my office, reading my medical journal,” she replied easily, holding up a thick periodical. “This month’s issue just came in the mail.”
“Let me see that,” growled Nick, snatching it roughly from her hands.
“You won’t understand it,” she teased with a wink.
Nick glanced up over the top of the journal, narrowing his eyes across the desk at her. “I’m not stupid. You don’t get to the rank of 008 by being stupid, you know. I know exactly what a--” He glanced down quickly at the journal, reading the first big word that jumped out at him, “--Etchy-mosis is.”
“Ecchymosis?” Red asked, raising her brows; she said it like "ek-uh-mosis." “Okay, Dr. Carter, what is it?”
“It’s, uh… uh…” Damn, why didn’t these medical journals have big words highlighted in yellow and listed in a glossary off to the side, like his textbooks in school had?
“It’s a red-purple discoloration of the skin, due to the passage of blood from ruptured blood vessels into subcutaneous tissues,” she defined in a brisk voice, as if she’d been reading it out of a dictionary. “In layman’s terms… a bruise.”
“Oh,” huffed Nick. His ego was now bruised… or etchy-motized, whatever that word was. Eager to change the subject, he lowered his eyes to the medical journal again and suddenly gasped, “Ah-ha!”
“Ah-ha!” Nick repeated, smiling triumphantly over the top of the journal, which he practically flung into her face. “What’s this?!” he demanded, shaking the journal under her nose.
“What’s what? I can’t see when it’s right in my face.”
Nick pulled the journal back. “This! Right here!” He pointed to a small stain on the margin of the page, a little circle of discoloration that was slightly darker than the paper around it. “That’s a fingerprint! You had something on your fingers when you read this page! Something you got from meddling around where you weren’t supposed to be, perhaps?” He waved the journal around tauntingly, triumphantly. He had caught Red Jewel red-handed!!
“Let me see that.” Red snatched the journal back and raised it cautiously to her nose. She sniffed once, then gave him an exasperated look. “It’s lotion,” she said. “I had just put lotion on my hands before I read this. Smell for yourself. It’s raspberry vanilla, the kind I always use.”
Suspiciously, Nick took a small whiff. Indeed, it carried the sweet scent of Red Jewel, which he now realized was the lotion she used. He was disappointed but not about to quit his investigation now. The mysterious fingerprint may have just been lotion, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a clue. “Alright then, tell me this – why did you put on lotion right then? Didn’t you realize it would get all over your magazine?”
“My hands were dry. I had just washed them.”
“Ah-ha! Ah-ha!” Nick cackled again. “And why did you wash your hands? Something on them, maybe? Something you got while you were taking things that weren’t yours?!”
Red blinked. “Nick, I’m a doctor. I work around bacteria all the time. I try to keep my ward as clean and sterile as I can, and that means washing my hands. Often.”
“Oh.” Nick slumped in his chair. Interrogating Red Jewel was impossible; she was just too logical. Even if she had taken the precious, he could see he wasn’t going to get anything out of her. At least not now.
He sighed. “Alright, you got me. You’re off the hook… for now. But I may be back, so don’t think you’ve outsmarted me.”
The corners of her mouth twitched. “I won’t.”
Nick narrowed his eyes at her one last time, then got up from his seat and swept dramatically out the door. He turned once to see if she would call him back and confess at the very last minute. However, she had already returned to her medical journal and was reading contentedly.
Frustrated, Nick stalked out of the medical ward.